Saturday, December 31, 2022

On the death of Pope Benedict XVI

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later to become Pope Benedict XVI.  During my high school years in the early 80s, I had only a vague awareness of the doctrinal controversies roiling the Church.  I then knew little more than that they had something to do with liberal theologians and their opposition to Pope John Paul II.  My first clear memory of Ratzinger himself is from the very end of that decade, when I had left the Church and was on my way to becoming an atheist.  I read a magazine article about him and his work as the pope’s chief doctrinal officer.  The impression it left me with was of a man of deep learning and gravitas.  For some reason, what stood out especially was a remark of his quoted in the article, to the effect that a sound theology “cannot… act as if the history of thought only seriously began with Kant.”  (I later learned that this came from a lecture of his since reprinted as the third chapter of God’s Word: Scripture – Tradition – Office.)

Friday, December 23, 2022

Why did the Incarnation occur precisely when it did?

Why did the second Person of the Trinity become man two thousand years ago – rather than at the beginning of the human race, or near the end of the world, or at some other point in history?  The Christmas season is an especially appropriate time to consider this question.  And as is so often the case, St. Thomas Aquinas provides guidance for reflection.  He addresses the issue in the last two Articles of Question 1 of the Third Part of the Summa Theologiae.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

When do popes teach infallibly?

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that popes are infallible when they speak ex cathedra or exercise their extraordinary magisterium.  What that means is that if a pope formally presents some teaching in a manner intended to be definitive and absolutely binding, he is prevented by divine assistance from falling into error.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church, and the pope when exercising it, are also infallible when they simply reiterate some doctrine that has been consistently taught for centuries.  (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the criteria for determining whether some such doctrine has been taught infallibly.)  Even when papal teaching on faith and morals is not presented in a definitive and absolutely binding way, assent is normally required of Catholics.  (The rare exceptions are something I’ve also addressed elsewhere.)

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Is God’s existence a “hypothesis”?

Over at Twitter I’ve caused some annoyance by objecting to the phrase “the God hypothesis.”  The context was a discussion of Stephen Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.  My view is that to present theism as a “hypothesis” that might be confirmed by scientific findings is at best irrelevant to actually establishing God’s existence and at worst harmful insofar as it insinuates serious misunderstandings of the nature of God and his relationship to the world.  Since Twitter is not a medium conducive to detailed and nuanced exposition, here is a post explaining at greater length what I mean.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Davies on classical theism and divine freedom

I’ve long regarded Brian Davies’ An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion as the best introduction to that field on the market.  A fourth edition appeared not too long ago, and I’ve been meaning to post something about it.  Like earlier editions, it is very clearly written and accessible, without in any way compromising philosophical depth.  Its greatest strength, though, is the attention it gives the classical theist tradition in general and Thomism in particular, while still covering all the ground the typical analytic philosophy of religion text would (and, indeed, bringing the classical tradition into conversation with this contemporary work).  The fourth edition adds some new material along these lines.