Friday, February 26, 2010

What’s black and white and misread all over?

Dale Tuggy quotes a famous passage from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola:

To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

This is a favorite of skeptics looking for a proof text demonstrating the manifest irrationality of the Catholic understanding of the Church’s authority. Dale does not seem to be making quite so strong or aggressive a claim, but he does regard Loyola’s position as “unreasonable” insofar as it amounts (Dale tells us) to the view that “tradition trumps sense perception.”

But that’s simply not what Loyola said. For one thing, he says nothing about “tradition” in the passage quoted. He speaks instead of what the “Hierarchical Church” decides. True, when the Church formally pronounces on some matter in a fashion that requires the assent of the faithful, she always does so in light of tradition. But tradition per se is not what is at issue in this passage. What is at issue is the epistemological status of the Church’s pronouncements themselves. That narrows things considerably, because while the Church does pronounce on many things, and while it is by no means only those pronouncements presented as infallible to which the faithful are expected to assent, the range of actual pronouncements is still narrower than the deliverances of tradition. (For example, there is support for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in tradition, but you will not find a formal pronouncement on the matter until relatively recently, which is why Aquinas was in his time free to disagree with it.)

Secondly, the subject matter of those pronouncements always concerns those areas in which the Church claims special expertise, namely faith (theological doctrine) and morals – namely, matters which are relevant to “the salvation of our souls,” in Loyola’s words. The Church does not claim special expertise or authority in purely secular matters. This is just basic Catholic theology, with which Loyola was of course familiar. The stuff about black being white if the Church decides it is meant as hyperbole – which should be obvious to any charitable reader, and certainly to anyone who knows that the Church has never claimed any special expertise in the physics, physiology, or philosophy of color perception per se.

Thirdly, Dale suggests that what (he claims) Loyola says about sense perception would seem to entail as well that tradition “would also trump a strong intuition of falsehood – as when a set of claims appears self-inconsistent.” That makes it sound as if Loyola’s view, and the Church’s, is that we ought to ignore what we know about logic if it seems to conflict with Church teaching. But as I have emphasized in my recent posts on the Trinity, the Catholic position is that even where theological mysteries are concerned, apparent logical inconsistencies can be and should be exposed as illusory. The Church rejects any attempt to pit revelation against reason, whether motivated by skepticism or by fideism. She teaches that while there are theological truths that cannot be arrived at by unaided reason, these truths nevertheless must not and do not conflict with reason. We must accept both the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and logic, and if there seems to be a conflict the theologian has a duty to show why this appearance is illusory.

Fourthly, the Church’s teaching about the epistemological status of her own pronouncements on matters of faith and morals is itself grounded in reason. She doesn’t say, in circular fashion, “You must accept what the Church teaches vis-à-vis faith and morals. Why? Well, we just told you why – because that is itself something the Church teaches!” The Catholic position rather follows from the Catholic understanding of divine revelation. As I have also emphasized in my recent posts on the Trinity, the Catholic view is that the occurrence of a divine revelation is something that should be and can be confirmed via its association with miracles, where the occurrence of the miracles in question itself can and should be confirmed by rational arguments. Still, if such revelation is to be efficacious, it cannot come to us merely in the form of a set of prophetic oral teachings passed on from generation to generation, or a book, or the declarations of a series of councils (though of course it can and does include these). For by themselves such sources of revelation are inherently subject to alternative interpretations, and being mere words on a page they cannot interpret themselves. In particular, they cannot tell us what they mean when the meaning is not entirely clear, and they cannot tell us how we are to apply them to new and unforeseen circumstances. Hence, if a revelation is to be efficacious, it must be associated with an authoritative interpreter. And since the human lifespan is relatively short, that interpreter cannot be identified with some particular individual human being if the revelation is to be efficacious over a period of centuries. It has to be embodied in an ongoing institution, and ultimately in an executive office whose occupants have supreme authority to have the final say in matters of controversy. Moreover, divine assistance must preserve this authority from error just as it preserved the original revelation from error; for if the authority can err in its interpretation and application of the revelation, the latter will, once again, be of no effect, even if free of error itself. In short, you can’t have an infallible Bible or infallible ecclesiastical councils without an infallible institutional Church and an infallible Pope. Without the latter, the interpretation and application of the former become arbitrary in principle, as every private interpreter becomes an authority unto himself. (I expand on this “arbitrariness” theme in this 2003 piece.)

Obviously this is bound to be controversial, and various details and qualifications would need to be spelled out in a complete treatment of the issue. The point for our purposes here is that the Catholic position is grounded in an argument about how a divine revelation given at some point in history has to be transmitted and applied if it is going to be transmitted and applied effectively. (If you want a more detailed presentation of the argument, see Mark Shea’s book By What Authority? for an excellent recent popular exposition.)

It should be clear, then, that the Church – and Loyola, in summarizing the Church’s view of her own authority – are not saying “tradition trumps sense perception,” nor, contrary to what skeptics suppose, are they advocating a shrill fideism. The claim, stripped of hyperbole, is rather: “Given the Catholic understanding of revelation – an understanding the Church herself insists is and must be in harmony with reason – we are obliged to assent to the Church’s formal pronouncements on matters of faith and morals rather than to any private interpretation that might conflict with those pronouncements.” Whether or not one agrees with this claim, it is hardly the jarring call to irrationalist dogmatism skeptics make it out to be.

Now, Dale might respond: “That’s fair enough as far as it goes. But what happens when we apply Loyola’s principle, as you claim it should be understood, to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in particular? In at least that case, isn’t the result pretty much the view I attributed to Loyola – namely, that we ought to reject what sense perception tells us when it conflicts with tradition, or at least with the formal pronouncements of the Church?”

But that is not the result; or, if the result is that we ought to reject what sense perception tells us, this is so only in a loose, innocuous, and uncontroversial sense. To see how, consider Jim and Bob, who are identical twins with similar personalities. You approach someone you take to be Jim, begin a friendly conversation, and after a few minutes say “Well, I’m late for a meeting. Nice chatting with you, Jim!” He responds: “I’m not Jim, I’m Bob!” If we conclude that your senses deceived you, are we committing ourselves to a shockingly irrationalist skepticism about sense perception? Are we endorsing a bizarre Bob-oriented fideism according to which “Bob’s say-so trumps sense perception”? Obviously not. Indeed, strictly speaking, it wasn’t really your senses that deceived you in the first place. The man you were talking to really does look like Jim; your senses told you as much, and they were right. The trouble is that you drew the wrong conclusion from this fact, because you failed sufficiently to consider that Bob looks and acts the same way.

Something similar can be said of one’s sense perception of the Eucharist. One might judge that it is bread that one is looking at, touching, tasting, etc., even though it is not bread at all, but the Body of Christ. But to say that one’s senses are deceiving one in this situation is to speak loosely. As in the case of Jim and Bob, strictly speaking your senses are not really deceiving you at all. They told you that the accidents of bread were present, and they really were present. (Aquinas thinks so. Why? Precisely because “it is evident to sense” that they are.) The trouble is that you drew the wrong conclusion from this fact, insofar as you assumed that the presence of the accidents entails that the substance of bread must be present as well. That is to say, you failed to consider that the accidents might still be present even if the substance is not. As in the case of Jim and Bob, what is going on here is not that what sense perception tells you should be “trumped” by something else. It is, in both cases, something far more mundane – the senses are accurate as far as they go, but haven’t given you the whole story, and since you failed to realize this you drew a mistaken conclusion. This happens all the time, and hardly only when non-Catholics come to Mass.

“But I don’t buy the metaphysics and theology underlying the doctrine of transubstantiation!” you exclaim. Fine, but that is irrelevant to the point at issue, which is that there is nothing in the doctrine per se, nor in the Church’s claim about her teaching authority, nor in Loyola’s colorful statement of that claim, that entails some bizarre pitting of tradition against sense perception. If one wants to reject the doctrine, or the Church’s claims about her own authority, shouting “You claim that tradition trumps sense perception!” is not a good reason to do so.

Dale offers a further consideration against the Catholic position, as expressed by Loyola. He says: “Suppose, contrary to fact, that Mother Church had long, strongly asserted that uneaten, consecrated wafers never rot. Then, you’re cleaning up the church, and find a wafer that you remember the priest dropping during Mass some months ago. It is rotten – covered with bread mold. You can feel, smell, and see the rot. Surely, you can (and will) reasonably believe that the wafer is rotten.”

Apparently Dale thinks this hypothetical scenario poses a problem for the Catholic view of the Church’s teaching authority. But it’s hard to see how. Consider another hypothetical scenario: Suppose, contrary to fact, that the Bible had asserted that all Volkswagens are poached eggs. Then, you’re cleaning your Volkswagen one day, and you happen to notice that it is not a poached egg. You can feel, smell, and see that the Volkswagen has no poached egg-like qualities at all, and many qualities that are incompatible with its being a poached egg. Surely you can (and will) reasonably believe that the Volkswagen is not a poached egg.

Now, having formulated this scenario, would you rush to the computer and write up a blog post entitled “Protestantism: The Bible trumps sense perception”? Would you think you’ve discovered a powerful objection to the authority of the Bible? Presumably not; in any event, I doubt Dale would think you had. For the argument seems to be: “We can make up a story where the Bible asserts something at odds with a veridical sense perception. Therefore the Bible is not in fact authoritative.” And this argument is clearly no good. Quite obviously, what matters to assessing the Bible’s authority is what it actually says, not what we can imagine it saying in some weird story we’ve made up. But this argument seems parallel to Dale’s implicit argument against Loyola’s view of the Church’s teaching authority. If the one argument has no force, then, neither does the other.

53 comments:

aletheist said...

Hence, if a revelation is to be efficacious, it must be associated with an authoritative interpreter. And since the human lifespan is relatively short, that interpreter cannot be identified with some particular individual human being if the revelation is to be efficacious over a period of centuries. It has to be embodied in an ongoing institution, and ultimately in an executive office whose occupants have supreme authority to have the final say in matters of controversy. Moreover, divine assistance must preserve this authority from error just as it preserved the original revelation from error; for if the authority can err in its interpretation and application of the revelation, the latter will, once again, be of no effect, even if free of error itself.

Just wondering, how do you square this with the situation at the time of Jesus? The Jews had the Law and the Prophets as their revelation, and the priests, teachers of the Law, Pharisees, etc. served as their authoritative interpreters. Jesus even acknowledged that these officials sat in Moses' seat and must be obeyed (Matthew 23:1-3); yet they clearly were not preserved from error, given His harsh words for them throughout the rest of the chapter. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts on this.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Aletheist,

Fair question. In answer, I’d emphasize that not everything the institutional authority pronounces upon needs to be infallible; and as I said, not everything the Catholic Church teaches as binding on the faithful, even in matters of faith and morals, is claimed by her to be infallible. The point is just that the authority had better be infallible on those occasions when infallibility is called for. In other cases the authority to make binding though fallible decisions is enough, and as you note, Christ taught that the scribes and Pharisees had such authority. So your example is not really inconsistent with what I said.

Furthermore, we might also note that the religion of ancient Israel was more law and ceremony oriented than it was ethics and doctrine oriented, and that the law and ceremony were fully incorporated into the life of the Israelite state and society. The official priesthood and the Davidic monarchy (when it existed) thus functioned as a kind of institutional authority adequate to the mostly legal and ceremonial needs of the time, though it would not have been adequate to the more abstruse and harder to settle moral and doctrinal disputes that would come into play with the advent of Christianity.

Third, to the extent that clarification of morals and doctrine was needed, this was taken care of by the line of prophets whose teaching came directly from God, was backed by miracles, and could thus be known to be infallible. A Church-like institutional authority to settle specifically doctrinal matters becomes urgent only after prophecy and its associated miracles cease as an ongoing public institution, as it did after the advent of Christianity. (The Catholic Church does teach that miracles and revelations can and do still occur, of course – as at Fatima – but she also holds that these revelations are merely private and not binding on the faithful, and are to that extent not like the prophetic activity and miracles we read about in the Old Testament.)

Daniel Smith said...

Dr Feser,

I was raised a Catholic but quit going to church as soon as I turned 18 (because I "didn't have to" anymore). At the age of 20, I had a born again experience and began voraciously reading the bible. I returned to the Catholic church, since that's what I knew, only to leave and become a Protestant when the priest explained this doctrine to me (he characterized it as the Church and the Bible standing eye to eye as equals).

I find an eerie similarity between that logic and the logic expressed by the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Their teaching is that mere men are not capable of understanding scripture correctly and that only those who have been empowered with divine authority (the "Watchtower") can rightly interpret Scripture. The problem - of course - is the problem of error. Any number of groups claim to be sole purveyors of truth - unless I personally have knowledge of the Scripture and divine revelation - how can I know which (if any) really has the truth?

The previous point about the Scribes and Pharisees echoes in my heart whenever confronted with such groups.

I hope you're not offended but I don't think any man - or group of men - has a corner on God.

David T. said...

Daniel,

If Dr. Feser will not mind me jumping in here...

Certainly no man or group of men has a corner on God. But God certainly has a corner on God, and a corner on the world as well. And if God chooses to select certain men to be his authoritative ministers on Earth, who are we to dispute Him?

This is the "scandal of particularity." The Jews did not choose God; God chose them. Peter, James and John did not choose Christ; Christ chose them. Why them and not somebody else? No one knows... but nonetheless they were chosen, and the RC Church is merely their descendants in authority, tracing a line all the way back to the original apostles.

That's the difference between the Catholic Church and religious sects like the Watchtower or the Mormons. Those groups must claim some sort of special revelation late in history, or some secret history only recently discovered, to support their authority. The RC Church is really the only Church with a serious claim to an authoritative tradition going back to Christ Himself.

A good reason to suspect that the Church is the true interpreter of the Bible, is that the Church was the historical authority that authorized the Bible. The canon as we know it today was decided by the Church at various historical Councils. That's the irony in apostates holding up the Bible to confute the Church... accepting the canon of the Bible as we know it is more or less to accept the authority of the Councils that determined it, and thus the authority of the Church.

Christopherus said...

Aquinas did not disagree with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. That is a bad translation and a misreading of his texts. See Thomas Mullaney, "Mary Immaculate in the Writings of St. Thomas", The Thomist 17 (1954): 433-468.

Lydia McGrew said...

"That's the irony in apostates holding up the Bible to confute the Church... accepting the canon of the Bible as we know it is more or less to accept the authority of the Councils that determined it, and thus the authority of the Church."

David T, I usually don't jump into Protestant/Catholic discussions, and maybe I'm just feeling curmudgeonly tonight, but I _wish_ Catholics who make the statement you just made would back up a bit and not make it. It seems such an _obvious_ conflation between _agreeing with_ somebody and _taking somebody for an authority_. The canon was not formed by the early Church in some sort of voodoo-like, black box manner, and indeed, it's to the advantage of skeptics to portray it as such to confuse the faithful. The reasonableness of the decisions on canonicity is something that can be examined and seen for oneself. Therefore, a Protestant is _perfectly consistent_ in taking the Bible to be an authority without thereby believing in anything remotely like the infallibility or the on-going teaching office of the institutional Catholic Church. He just thinks they did a good job in this case!

Frankly, there are even more degrees of reliance that fall _well short_ of the requirements of Catholic belief. For example, I take my car mechanic to be an "authority" *in one limited sense* on what's going on with my car, but I would definitely consider changing him if he started doing or saying things that seemed crazy to me. I don't make anything remotely like a "submission of faith" to him, and I don't even know that much about cars. But I do reserve the right to change mechanics!

So the whole "you accept the authority of the Church because you accept the Bible" argument should just be scrapped. Really. It's sheer equivocation, at the best.

David T. said...

My point was the distinction between the RC Church and sects that also claim a unique authority to interpret and define Christian dogma, like the Watchtower. In that contest, I don't see any serious competitors to the RC Church.

Certainly one can deny that Jesus deputized any authorities here on Earth, which is a respectable opinion, although difficult to follow through on. I applaud anyone who takes the time to do the historical research and establish the Biblical canon for herself.

In my experience, very few Christians do this, and they accept the canon because, well... it's just accepted as the canon. As a practical matter, such Christians are implicitly accepting the authority of someone; if not the RC Church, then a self-appointed committee of Bible scholars.

Lydia McGrew said...

"As a practical matter, such Christians are implicitly accepting the authority of someone; if not the RC Church, then a self-appointed committee of Bible scholars."

But even there, there is no inconsistency, only arbitrariness, at the most. Moreover, a Christian who thus "practically" accepts the "authority" of someone is not thereby logically bound to accept all the other teachings of said group. The person might believe that such a group was to be trusted about one thing but not another, or might believe (as some Protestants do, though I do not) that God took a special, direct hand in the preservation of the text and canon of Scripture, without therefore believing that God takes such a hand in the Roman Catholic Church in giving it binding teachings on an array of subjects. There are all sorts of positions that involve no inconsistency whatsoever.

What bothers me is the equivocal use of terms such as "authority" to make it appear that Protestants are already doing what they say they are not doing regarding some human authority. This simply isn't true. It would be possible for a Protestant to exist who gives the same "assent of faith" to the official teachings of some human institution, who considers them binding, but for that institution simply not to be the Roman Catholic Church. But by no means does such a position follow even from the crudest form of biblicism in which the person has never given a thought to the origin of the canon. There just is no inconsistency, and the de facto, practical reliance on the decisions made regarding canonicity in such a case is nothing like the submission to the authority of the Church required for Catholicism. Even so unthoughtful a Protestant can be completely consistent in refusing to accept Church authority in the Catholic sense.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi David T.

You said:

"the RC Church is merely their descendants in authority, tracing a line all the way back to the original apostles."

Perhaps the line can be traced back to the apostles, but along the way there were some 'less than apostolic' characters in that lineage. We've all heard the story where Aquinas was walking with a prelate one day who remarked, "Behold, Master Thomas, the church can no longer say, as St. Peter, 'Silver and gold have I none!'" to which Aquinas replied, "Alas, neither can we say what follows, 'In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.'".

If God gave authority to the RC church, he could have also taken it away when it left its first principles and became more political.

He did this to the Jews after all - he took away their sole inheritance and gave it to the Gentiles - it would not be a surprise if he did it again.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) said...

Even Dawkins admits from his point of view the Universe has the "appearance or illusion of Design". But he believes reasoning(falsely in my opinion) leads us to see there really is no such thing.

Thus why complain that the Church has the power to proclaim as "black" what might merely appear to be "white"?

It's not hard.

David said...

Actually, I never mentioned Protestants, only the Mormons and the Watchtower, which I'm guessing you don't hold are true Protestants. The difference between Mormons and the general run of Protestants is that Mormons do, in fact, claim an historical authority for their teachings that is in some manner analogous to the authoritative claims of the RC Church (although far, far weaker IMHO.)

I have no problem with anyone, Protestants or otherwise, accepting all, some, or none of whatever authorities they choose, or accepting all, some or none of the canon. They can be perfectly consistent doing so. Luther was not inconsistent in rejecting the Epistle of James, or Thomas Jefferson in cutting out Scripture passages he didn't like, or Elaine Pagels in preferring the Gospel of Thomas. Whatever floats your boat.

My point referred specifically to "holding up the Bible" in a public manner to confute the Church. Now the Bible is not being used merely as an aid to personal faith, but as a public standard of evidence that everyone should accept. Historically speaking, the reason the Bible has become a public standard of evidence is because it was backed by the authority of the Church for all those many centuries. When an evangelist knocks on someone's door, and hands the resident a Bible proclaimed to be the Word of God, and that person uncritically accepts it as such based on the general public recognition of the canon, that person is implicitly depending on the historical authority of the Church. The self-consistency of the evangelist's faith has nothing to do with it.

TheOFloinn said...

You might want to toss in the Eastern Orthodox Church when it comes to institutional continuity. They accept a couple of books the RCs do not - a 3 Maccabees, for example - but differ very little on Biblical matters. I think the same is true of the Coptic and Oriental churches, which can also claim some institutional continuity and whose doctrinal differences were said (by Paul VI, iirc) to have been disagreements over Greek grammar.

But Dr. Feser's original point may be lost here. And that is that hyperbole is a perfectly normal rhetorical tool. When people say, "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," one does not really expect equine a la carte.

It is only the modern scientific age that insists on a prosaic literalism. That is because science is, above all, remorselessly literal in its pronouncements. It must be. Factual observations must not be recorded allegorically. Formulae must mean exactly what their symbols mean. This reading protocol affected general norms and gave us religious fundamentalism and creation "science." So the late modern reads what Loyola has written and is almost incapable of going past the bare decoding of the words. That a passage might mean something more than the sum of the meanings of the words goes right past folks who are accustomed to reductionism.

Lydia McGrew said...

"When an evangelist knocks on someone's door, and hands the resident a Bible proclaimed to be the Word of God, and that person uncritically accepts it as such based on the general public recognition of the canon, that person is implicitly depending on the historical authority of the Church."

David, I'm afraid I can't get any meaning out of this that has any argumentative force. Or is it not intended to have argumentative force? Insofar as it is an argument, it _sounds_ like you are saying that the people in this scenario are accepting the authority of the Church without realizing that they are doing so and that it therefore, somehow, makes no sense for them subsequently to use their interpretation of the Bible thus accepted to argue against the Church. But you seem to be disavowing that argumentative intention elsewhere in your comment, so I'm at a loss to understand your point. Something or other seems to turn on the term "authority." Perhaps it would be clearer to say that the people in this case are making uncritical use of the results of an _act_ of the Church in history. But this doesn't in any way preclude their holding up the Bible publicly to confute the Church.

TheOfloinn, quite right. This is a sub-thread David and I are on. I made some comments at What's Wrong With the World that I think are more directly pertinent to the main post.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser

It feels like you left us hanging on a big point: If the Eucharist is trans-substantiated from bread to a human (Jesus') flesh, then going forward, we would expect a lost wafer to rot in the same manner as a piece of flesh, not a piece of bread. Or else, it should not rot at all.

Isn't this correct?

Gregory the Eremite said...

Anonymous 5:10am:

Aquinas deals with this in Ch 66 of part 4 of the summa contra gentiles.

In addition to the miraculous conversion of the substance, the accidents themselves are given the property of subsistence and are hence able to do and to suffer the things that the substance would have done had it still been present.

See also ST III.77.4.

David said...

Daniel,

Yes, it is possible to question the truth of the Catholic claim to Apostolic Succession. I'm just saying that the difference between the authoritative claims of the RC Church and groups like the Watchtower is not merely one of degree, but of kind. The Church's case, whether you ultimately find it acceptable or not, is based on "normal" historical scholarship; groups like the Watchtower don't rely on normal history (for the good reason that it provides no case for them), and instead claim either a latter-day revelation or a "secret history" that somehow escapes normal historical research.

Lydia,

"Perhaps it would be clearer to say that the people in this case are making uncritical use of the results of an _act_ of the Church in history. But this doesn't in any way preclude their holding up the Bible publicly to confute the Church."

I think the first statement is a good summary. As for the second sentence... the historical decisions for canonicity were not separable from doctrinal decisions. A critical reason the Councils accepted certain books in the canon was because it had determined that they did not conflict with doctrine. So when we deny the doctrine, we deny the basis in history on which the canon was determined.

Someone is perfectly within his rights to do this. But then the content of the canon becomes an open question, doesn't it? The same authority decided both the doctrine and the canon, and in an historical process that inextricably mixed the two. If you ask me to doubt the doctrine, should I not also doubt the canon? But the door-to-door evangelist doesn't do this. He asks me to doubt the historical basis of the doctrine, but not the historical basis of the biblical canon on which he bases his doubt of the doctrine, when the truth is doctrine played a critical role in determining the canon.

Daniel Smith said...

David,

If the RC claim of apostolic succession can be challenged due to a weak link (such as the succession from Peter to Constantine) and the other claims (Mormons, JWs) are challenged for similar weak links (though of varying degrees), then I think we're talking about a difference of degree and not of kind.

One could argue that the Mormon's history is not supported by archaeological evidence or that the JW divine revelation is bogus or that Martin Luther's interpretation of scripture is in error but the same arguments can be made against the RC church - that parts of the apostolic succession are not supported by archaeological evidence, that their divine revelations are bogus or that their interpretation of scripture is in error.

Which brings us back to my greater point: Unless I personally have knowledge of scripture and divine revelation of my own (via a personal interchange with God), I have no way of knowing whose claim to authority is valid.

Jime said...

This is an off-topic question.

In physics, Aristotle says that infinite is only potential, but it cannot never be actualized.

For example something may be infinitely divisible or susceptible of infinite addition, but you cannot reach a point where the infinite is actually reached.

My question is: Does it mean that, for Aristotle, infinite is a pure (ideal) potency?

Is consistent with Aristotle's philosophy the idea of a pure potency, without any possibility of actualization?

Because it seems to destroy the concept of potency: the potency of A is potency for something specific (let's say, B), which is its final cause.

But what does mean that infinite exist potentially, if the corresponding actualization doesn't and cannot exist?

It seems that infinite, for Aristotle, is a pure ideal potency that, as such, cannot exist as a final cause of anything.

Just thinking...

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

No, since the accidents of bread remain, it will look like rotten bread.

TheOFloinn said...

If the Eucharist is trans-substantiated from bread to a human (Jesus') flesh, then going forward, we would expect a lost wafer to rot in the same manner as a piece of flesh, not a piece of bread. Or else, it should not rot at all.

Isn't this correct?


No.

Anonymous said...

"No, since the accidents of bread remain, it will look like rotten bread."

Before it was bread, so its accidents were those of bread; then it comes to be a new substance, which going forth, must now have those accidents natural to the new essence, right? Otherwise, what is the point of trans-substantiation if the accidents of the new substance are not different from the previous substance?

This seems like basic Aristotle to me.

Dan said...

Anon, I think you mean to say that before trans-substantiation, the essential properties of the thing that appears wafer-like (the appearances are accidental properties) are the essence of bread.

Then, afterward, the essential property of the wafer is that of immortal flesh of Jesus. Thus, as time progresses, the transformed wafer cannot rot.

Anonymous said...

Dan

That makes good Aristotlean sense.

For the miracle to be real, the essential property changes and its nature follows a new formal causality. If it molds, its formal cause is breadness, and no trans-substantiation occurs.

Brandon said...

For the miracle to be real, the essential property changes and its nature follows a new formal causality. If it molds, its formal cause is breadness, and no trans-substantiation occurs.

This is like saying that if it dissolves in your mouth it must have been bread; it confuses accidental properties with substantial ones. There would be something to the formal cause part of the argument if the claim were that Jesus's body became the substantial form in which the accidents subsisted, but that's not what is meant by transubstantiation.

Anonymous said...

"This is like saying that if it dissolves in your mouth it must have been bread"


I think you are right, here.

Also, consider that we do not know the texture immortal flesh, so it could dissolve. But if it is immortal flesh, it cannot rot, so if a lost wafer molds, it is not flesh, but bread.

Pretty sure Aristotle would agree.

Brandon said...

Aristotle was a pre-Christian pagan and so obviously couldn't have given much thought to questions of transubstantiation, which would for him not even have even been on the table as a possibility; one might as well expect him to have something directly to say about the wave-particle duality of light. But in effect what your comment boils down to is that it can't be the body and blood because it has the accidents typical of bread and wine; which is not particularly useful in this context, where the question is whether you can have accidents typical of bread and wine by divine omnipotence not expressing the substance of bread and wine but something else.

Transubstantiation, in any case, is not the claim that immortal flesh takes on the accidents of bread and wine as its own accidents; it's the claim that the divine power sustains the accidents of bread and wine so that they express not the presence of the substance of bread and wine but the presence of the body and the blood of Christ. Moreover, putting it the way you have is again a clear confusion of accidental and substantial properties -- a pretty serious confusion even in terms of purely pre-Christian Aristotelianism. In effect, you keep saying, "But surely Aristotle would insist that it seems to be bread and wine (looks like it, acts like it)." Indeed he would; so does everyone.

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, putting it the way you have is again a clear confusion of accidental and substantial properties -- a pretty serious confusion even in terms of purely pre-Christian Aristotelianism."

I am not so sure it is I who is confused.

If the substantial form changes, its efficacy changes as well. Why does flesh decompose differently than bread? Formal causality.

Now Jesus' flesh is ever-alive, so it will not decompose be-causality of its form. So if the wafer molds, it is bread.

I ain't confused, are you?

a vegan said...

I could not agree more with Anonymous’ point, and it is not a trivial one.

The Catholic literal vs Protestant symbolic stance on the Eucharist is undoubtedly the single most harmful dogmatic hold-over of the over-rationality of Aquinas, who codified trans-substantiation.

The central role of trans-substantiation is undoubtedly why the largest Christian voice in the world – the Catholic Church – is muted on animal rights statements and ignores its own catechism on the sinfulness of harming animals. The Church will not speak out explicitly on the immorality of meat-eating in a the modern world of factory farming/slaughter precisely because it supports ‘eating human flesh’.

Bad theology from antiquated philosophical contrivances has profound consequences.

Brandon said...

Yes, Anonymous, it is you who are obviously confused. On an Aristotelian view distinct substantial forms can mimic each other in various ways so even in normal substantial changes not all forms manifest their typical accidents and virtually all forms can be made under certain circumstances to manifest atypical accidents because accidental forms and substantial forms are not the same thing. The substantial form is not the form of the accidents; substances are material causes of accidents, and thus the substantial forms not the formal causes of accidents. This is because (although in a different way from the way matter receives the substantial form) substances receive accidental forms as being potential to them, a point that was often noted in commentaries on Metaphysics VI and VII. Thus in an Aristotelian context it is entirely possible for substances to receive accidents that are not natural to them, or even contrary to their natures: this is what is known as violent change, and in early Aristotelianism, which held that water was naturally cold, even heating up a pan of water would have been seen as introducing an accident to water that was entirely contrary to its nature. The relationship between substance and accident you are suggesting is far more crude than has ever been countenanced even by the simplest and least sophisticated historical forms of Aristotelianism.

However, as I've had to point out for the third time now, transubstantiation is not the claim that the accidents of the bread and wine become the accidents of the body and blood; as usually explicated, it's the claim that the substantial form ceases to exist and is not replaced -- the accidents are sustained by efficient causality, namely, the unusual intervention of divine omnipotence. The accidents do not become the accidents of immortal flesh, and therefore there is no need for them to express nature of immortal flesh in any way. This point is not difficult to discover; virtually any look at a reliable reference text will show it.

Anonymous said...

Since you might be making things up and probably do not believe in dictionaries, the following definition probably will not mean anything: In Christianity, the change by which the bread and wine of the Eucharist become in substance the body and blood of Jesus, though their appearance is not altered."

"trans" means change, as in from one substance to another.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, thanks vegan, I cannot agree with you more, though I am not fully vegan yet.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Christopherus,

Yes, perhaps it's too quick to say flatly that Aquinas disagreed with it -- though that does seem to be the standard view -- but I think it's also too quick to say flatly that he did not. Early texts indicate that he didn't, later texts seem pretty clearly to show that he did, and the latest texts arguably give reason to think he might have returned to his early acceptance of the doctrine. So, it's a matter of controversy. In any event, there were other Scholastics who rejected it at the time, which suffices to illustrate the point I was trying to make.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

There are two issues here:

(a) What does the doctrine actually say, and

(b) Is the doctrine defensible

Perhaps you are addressing (b), and taking the view that it is not defensible. But Brandon is addressing (a). You should get clear on (a), though, before addressing (b).

Dan said...

Brandon

Anon seems right. You said “transubstantiation is not the claim that the accidents of the bread and wine become the accidents of the body and blood; as usually explicated, it's the claim that the substantial form ceases to exist and is not replaced…”

But from the monk himself in ST 76 - 3:

I answer that, As was observed above (1, ad 3), because the substance of Christ's body is in this sacrament by the power of the sacrament, while dimensive quantity is there by reason of real concomitance, consequently
_Christ's body is in this sacrament substantively,_

that is, in the way in which substance is under dimensions, but not after the manner of dimensions, which means, not in the way in which the dimensive quantity of a body is under the dimensive quantity of place.


Substance is there before and after as anonymous is trying to say. And as a new substance going forward, if we are to believe in Aristotle, we should see new accidents potential to immortal flesh, or there is no change.

Dan said...

Dr. Feser

Am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for such an illuminating treatment of the issue. After reading your take, I now have a question about Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius Loyola.

You said that Loyola, when he speaks of our believing what appears to us to be white to be in fact black on account of the Church's authoritative pronouncement on the matter, is referring to matters of faith and morals, since those are the matters the Church makes authoritative pronouncements on.

In light of this, my question is: Does Loyola believe that we should do what the Church mandates even if it goes against our conscience? Does he mean that if something appears truly evil to me, but the Church says it is good and must be done, that I must trust the Church, believe my own conscience to be in error, and do it? This would seem to be the moral analogue to the case of color Loyola uses hyperbolically to make his point. Here I am reminded somewhat of a line of John Paul II: "To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what he says, no matter how strange it may seem, and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible or attractive they may seem."

But if that is what Loyola means, does that not put him in conflict with Aquinas, who says that even a malformed conscience binds? I take Aquinas' view to imply that, for him, we have to obey our conscience in a case where it conflicts with the Church's authoritative pronouncement on a moral matter. I have heard this precarious dilemma described as follows: for Aquinas, the person with a malformed conscience has no good options, since he must either sin in obedience to his malformed conscience or he must sin in going against his conscience.

So, without having thought much further on the issue, it seems to me that on the one hand Loyola suggests following the Church's teaching when it conflicts with our conscience, while Aquinas believes that conscience must be followed even in cases where it conflicts with the Church's teaching. Do you think Aquinas and Loyola are really at odds on this question, or might their views be harmonized? Thank you in advance for your answer.

Daniel Smith said...

a vegan: The Church will not speak out explicitly on the immorality of meat-eating in a the modern world of factory farming/slaughter precisely because it supports ‘eating human flesh’.

Wow!

You call the eating of meat "immoral". Can you give the biblical case against eating meat?

Was Jesus condoning immorality when he spoke of "killing the fatted calf" in celebration of the prodigal son's return?

Were the priests committing sin when they slaughtered and ate lambs and bulls in obedience to the commandment?

Was Paul promoting sin when he told the Corinthians that it was OK to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols unless it caused a brother to stumble?

Was Jesus sinning when he commanded the demons to leave the demoniac and go into the pigs - knowing full well that the pigs (a whole herd of them mind you) would drown as a result?

Or is this something you feel so strongly about that you are attempting to co-opt some religious authority to bolster your case?

Dan said...

Dan S.

Get your knowledge on and read the FAQs here (these address your questions)
http://www.jesusveg.com/popular.html

Jesus, the new Adam, WAS vegetarian and preaches the flourishing return to the peaceable kingdom prophesied by Isaiah (return to Eden) where all creatures were vegetarian.

Jesus, like Jeremiah, cleansed his temple of the animal slaughter. He willingly substituted himself as an innocent creature to be eaten instead.

The Christian Churches know all this, but their malformed consciences (as anonymous above calls it) precludes their willingness to accept the responsibility for actively preventing this fundamental message of the Christ.

Jesus cleansed the Jewish Temple of animal-eaters; who will do the same for the Church?

(Not adherents of Aquinas, I assure you.)

a vegan said...

Dan

An excellent link.

In 1990 John Paul II (despite Aquinas' soul idea) said that we and other animals share the same spirit nephesh and are brothers who must love one another.

Anyone who would eat his brother is fairly unloving/unlovable, and at a minimum, I wish that he keep away from me, my family, and my dog.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how these combox sessions come to an abrupt end whenever somebody says something that seriously challenges another person's beliefs, rather than sparking increased comments and questions.

TheOFloinn said...

Or when someone begins talking to himself, using different names.

Anonymous said...

?

Brandon said...

Dan,

That's a much better line of reasoning than that presented by Anonymous. Yes, the presence is presence of a substance; this is not actually relevant to this question, however. As the friar (not monk) says (ST 3.77.1),

"The species of the bread and wine, which are perceived by our senses to remain in this sacrament after consecration, are not subjected in the substance of the bread and wine, for that does not remain, as stated above (Question 75, Article 2); nor in the substantial form, for that does not remain (75, 6), and if it did remain, "it could not be a subject," as Boethius declares (De Trin. i). Furthermore it is manifest that these accidents are not subjected in the substance of Christ's body and blood, because the substance of the human body cannot in any way be affected by such accidents; nor is it possible for Christ's glorious and impassible body to be altered so as to receive these qualities."

So there's really two different issues here that are being conflated: whether there is a substance present after the conversion (there is, Christ's body), and whether the substance after the conversion is the substance in which the accidents inhere (it is not; there is no such substance).

Dan said...

Brandon said, "So there's really two different issues here that are being conflated: whether there is a substance present after the conversion (there is, Christ's body)"

I am O.K. with your statements. What new accidents inhere, and what are new effects possible with the new formal cause?

Anonymous said...

"What new accidents inhere, and what are new effects possible with the new formal cause?"

Objection 2. Further, the form of the thing into which another is converted, begins anew to inhere in the matter of the thing converted into it: as when air is changed into fire not already existing, the form of fire begins anew to be in the matter of the air; and in like manner when food is converted into non-pre-existing man, the form of the man begins to be anew in the matter of the food. Therefore, if bread be changed into the body of Christ, the form of Christ's body must necessarily begin to be in the matter of the bread, which is false. Consequently, the bread is not changed into the substance of Christ's body.

Reply to Objection 1. This objection holds good in respect of formal change, because it belongs to a form to be in matter or in a subject; but it does not hold good in respect of the change of the entire substance. Hence, since this substantial change implies a certain order of substances, one of which is changed into the other, it is in both substances as in a subject, just as order and number.

Reply to Objection 2. This argument also is true of formal conversion or change, because, as stated above (ad 1), a form must be in some matter or subject. But this is not so in a change of the entire substance; for in this case no subject is possible.

Dan said...

anao

I know my answer is in there, but can you or any other commenter perhaps translate? Also, the term subject is unfamiliar to me.

Dan said...

Sorry. anao is spastic for anonymous.

The Social Pathologist said...

I'm rather late to this debate but for what its worth I'd like to chip my two cents in.

From my understanding of Thomas, it would appear that the view of St Thomas and St Ignatius are actually opposed.

As I understand it, Thomas's view was that where faith and sense contradict, it's our understanding of one or the other that must be flawed. Thomas does not argue that scripture is wrong, rather that our understanding of it may be. The whole Gallileo issue was a case in point.

Now I Know that the Church never "formally" condemned Galilleo but it did de facto. And the little thought experiment I like to engage in is "what should I have done as a member of the Catholic faith at that time?" Should I have followed the advice of my bishops(Ordinary Magisterium) who thought Gallileo wrong or my sense perceptions? What position would that have put me in? Or should I have gone to confession for reading Keplers book which was on the Index Librorum Prohibitum?

A lot of the "pro authority" camp of the Catholic Church are dismissive of Protestant concerns of Church error be that formal or de-facto, but I think their concerns are legitimate. Too many Catholics are GPS Catholics as outlined in this great essay by Bishop Anthony Fischer, (He's no trendy liberal).BTW it's the position I hold and best be described as being Catholic in a Protestant sort of way(Hat tip, Lydia McGrew)

Personally I think the Church is infallibly right in its principles but has been demonstrably wrong in some of its pronouncements on the application of those same principles.

The first duty of everyman is to the Truth.

TheOFloinn said...

Should I have followed the advice of my bishops who thought Gallileo wrong or my sense perceptions?

Safe on both counts. Bellarmine's complaint to Galileo was that he had in fact no empirical evidence that his mathematical model was physically real. Galileo was asking people to take his model on faith and deny their sense impressions. You could see the sun going around the earth.

He spent many years afterward trying to dig up some evidence that would prove him right, and the best he could come up with was the tides. He claimed they were "sloshing" of the ocean caused by the spinning earth. Not only did this contradict an earlier argument of his (on the objection of the winds) but everyone knew (even Aquinas) that the Moon had something to do with it. The oddity from the modern perspective is that it was the Church demanding empirical proof before she would change her readings and Galileo who wanted to be taken on faith.

It was not until ca. 1800 that Calandrelli observed parallax in a fixed star, and Guglielmini dropped weights from the tower of Bologna and measured an eastward deflection. This took care of the two "falsifications". Settele presented the evidence to the Holy Office. They looked it over and said, "Yup, that the empirical facts that Bellarmine wanted," and they lifted the ban on teaching Copernicanism as a fact.

The Social Pathologist said...

@TheOFloinn

The problem here isn't the Church's acceptance of Galileo. The Church was quite right to wait till scientific evidence was conclusively forwarded. The problem here was the Church's insistence that he recant, i.e insist that he hold a position which was not true, and punishing him (yes the punishments were mild) for holding a position which was congruent with reality. Even the Church has admitted that the case was badly handled.

The issues at stake here are not scientific but ontological. Who has the better grasp of reality? Papal infallibility means that the Pope and Church(under certain conditions only) are never wrong, because they are guided by the Holy Spirit.

However the Church claims that under the ordinary magisterium the faithful are required to give "obsequium religiosum" (assent of the faith and will) to propositions which could be fallible. Executive summary: You are required to believe in things which could be false (conversely they could also be true). If you can't see a problem with that then......Houston, we have a problem.

Brandon said...

Dan said:

I am O.K. with your statements. What new accidents inhere, and what are new effects possible with the new formal cause?

No new accidents inhere; the accidents remain the same -- the idea is that it's only what keeps them in existence that changes. Originally it was the substance of the bread and wine (with divine power concurring as a matter of general providence); after the conversion, it is simply divine power, in particular insofar as it can make Christ, as the Word made flesh, present. Moreover, there is nothing in which the accidents can inhere -- they simply exist because God wills that Christ be present through them, not because they inhere in anything. No new natural effects result, as far as the accidents go -- the accidents being the same absolutely anything that follows from them naturally remains the same. Thus one would expect the Host to deteriorate the same way it normally does; the only way it wouldn't would be if God chose to work a miracle in order to symbolize the fact that Christ is really present. There are new effects that might be broadly called moral effects, resulting not from the accidents but from the real presence of Christ.

Incidentally, it should be said in all this that we are talking on the assumption of what one would say in a Catholic Aristotelianism; in a strict sense there is no requirement in any authoritative that Catholics think of transubstantiation in terms of accidents at all; they can describe it any way they please as long as they recognize (1) a real change so that the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine but in some way are really Christ's body and blood; (2) that this occurs nonetheless in such a way that the ordinary appearances of bread and wine remain; and (3) that this does not occur by a change in Christ's body and blood (e.g., Christ's actual blood is not changed so that it tastes like wine) but only by a change in the bread and wine. Speaking of this in terms of accidents is just the standard way of doing it, and the way an Aristotelian would describe it.

Dan said...

Thanks Brandon

I think your thoughts in the last paragraph resonate better in my brain. I just can't get into the A-T of the Eucharist.

Daniel Smith said...

Dan said: "Get your knowledge on and read the FAQs here (these address your questions)
http://www.jesusveg.com/popular.html"


From that site: Q: "Doesn't Jesus eat fish after the resurrection, help the fisherman catch fish, and serve fish during the multiplication miracle?"
A: "First, regardless of whether the fish in these events are actual fish, Christians today must ask ourselves, considering the fact that we have absolutely no physical justification for consuming the flesh of any animals, why we would chose to do so."


I've seen enough of this type of reasoning elsewhere to classify the view that Jesus was a vegetarian as bogus wishfull thinking.

Bottom line: Jesus willingly caused the death of 2000 animals in order to save one human being.

Don't drag his name into your private war.