Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Flower Of All Evil: A Quickie Rumination

     I never expected this. Seriously.

     I’ve been deluged with email from readers demanding to know why there hasn’t been a Sunday Rumination – i.e., a piece on some aspect of faith and the spirit – for a few weeks. I’d thought those essays were among my less popular ones, and that they wouldn’t be missed among the rest of the bilge I post here. It appears I was wrong. Even way wrong.

     Okay. I’m just back from a road trip, and half-drunk at that – it doesn’t take me long, and driving 677 miles is enough for me to “feel the need” – but I’ll do my best.

     I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll like what you read. Far from it.

     Would you like my opinion on the absolutely most important passage in the Gospels? It doesn’t matter what your answer is, because you’re going to get it regardless:

     But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
     Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
     Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

     [Matthew 22:34-40]

     That passage is so critical to understanding Jesus’s New Covenant that Church teaching routinely omits it. Reflect on that for a moment and let the contradictions pile up in your forebrain while I fetch more tawny port.

     Ah, still here? Very good. The illuminating question is this: If my assessment is correct, why would Church teaching not refer to that passage at every relevant moment – i.e., at every proclamation that this or that prescription or proscription is binding upon all Christian faithful? Why would it be referenced only in passing, as a general instruction toward love of neighbor and charity?

     If you’re having trouble with the answer, read the last verse above – Matthew 22:40 – until the answer beats you over the head with a tire iron.

     I don’t know why most Liberty’s Torch readers are...well...readers of Liberty’s Torch. Every now and then I have an opportunity to ask opportunity I seldom exploit. When it comes to the Christian stuff, the question is often too painful for me to entertain.

     Do you know why it concerns me? Because I think the Gospels are the most important written documents on Earth. Because whether you prefer the King James version of the Bible, or the New Revised Standard version, or something else with which I’m unfamiliar, there’s no evading this:

All Christian authority resides in the Gospels, and none outside it.

     Given that Jesus was the Founder of Christianity and the sole possessor of Divine authority to proclaim the Law, how could it be otherwise?

     The Gospels are conspicuously silent on certain matters about which the Church is quite vociferous – even strident. Some of those matters have been subjects of controversy for decades. Consider just these three:

  • Contraception;
  • Homosexuality;
  • Papal infallibility.

     There isn’t a single word in the Gospels about any of those things. Yet the Church has made grandiose claims on all three, and on other matters for which no Gospel text is relevant, as well.

     Papal infallibility is particularly troublesome for its circularity. “I’m infallible,” said Pope Pius IX. Why? “Because I said so, and after all, I’m infallible.” Would any secular authority be accepted on that basis?

     Catholics (and many non-Catholic Christians) trust papal pronouncements as reliable guides to right belief and action. However, they would almost certainly do so without this business of papal infallibility. After all, the pope isn’t a lone man issuing decrees ex cathedra on his sole say-so; he has the College of Cardinals and the assistance of worthy theologians worldwide to assist him in his cogitations. On subjects relevant to Christian theology and ethics, the weight of presumption should be with the pope in the absence of powerful counter-evidence.

     But that’s a far cry from claiming that if the Pope says so, it cannot be otherwise.

     Reflect on that for a moment.

     A great part of fundamental Christian doctrine was laid down not by Jesus, but by Saint Paul: i.e., Saul of Tarsus, who’d been a Pharisee until his “road to Damascus” conversion. Saint Paul was not one of the original Twelve. He was added to the roster by the eleven Apostles some time after the Pentecost and the beginning of the Great Commission, in part because of the fire of his faith and in part because of his “work ethic:” his willingness to preach far and wide and to endure hardships and hazards many other believers found too daunting.

     But Paul was a Pharisee by upbringing and long habit. Much of what he laid down as Christian doctrine was imported from Pharisaic Judaism: i.e., from the Levitical Covenant that Christ’s New Covenant superseded. It is legitimate to question such doctrines – and to ask where in the Gospels we can find any substantiation for the notion that some particular Pauline doctrine “hangs from” the two Great Commandments.

     Quite a lot of Catholics, especially the most orthodox, will be angry with me for the above. That only makes the questions posed here that much more imperative.

     In Shadow of A Sword appears the following passage:

     [Christine’s] brow knotted. “Do you think [Louis is] with God now? Even though he said he didn’t believe?”
     Ray paused to organize his thoughts.
     “We are taught,” he said carefully, “that no good man will be denied his just reward in the next life. Going by what you’ve told me, Louis was more than a good man, much more. I’m nowhere near that good, and I’ve never known anybody who was nearly that good. If he had doubts, they clearly didn’t keep him from living the faith in every imaginable way. And there aren’t many who can say that, even among the clergy.” He rose, went to the west-facing window and surveyed the day briefly. All was quiet beyond. He turned back to her. “If God is just, and He is, then Louis is with Him.”
     “What about...” She paused and looked away. “What about all the sex?”
     “Was he promised to anyone? Were you?”
     She shook her head, and he smiled.
     “A peccadillo, if even that. The commandments forbid adultery, which is the violation of the marital promise of fidelity and constancy. The physical love you shared with him strikes me as the only imaginable way the bond between you could have been expressed. I expect God would see it the same way. Have no fear for him, dear.”

     Father Ray has quite obviously departed from “orthodox” Catholic doctrine in the above. Church doctrine makes the claim – utterly fantastic to me – that the Sixth Commandment – “Thou shalt not commit adultery” – confers upon the Church blanket, plenipotentiary authority over all sexual and parasexual conduct.

     I don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. And I cannot sit idle and allow the claim to go unchallenged. But my dissent has caused other Catholics to rain huge amounts of disparagement trending toward hatred upon my head. Yet they cannot substantiate their positions except by saying that “this is what the Church teaches.”

     Well, if they disliked Father Ray’s “literalist” interpretation of “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” they’re going to hate the romance novel I’m about to publish.

     At first I thought this would be a “quickie” Rumination, which is why I titled it thus. Clearly it’s more than that. But I’m going to let the title stay as it is. I’m also going to substantiate the first portion thereof, so you can have some sense of where my thoughts are trending.

     All evil ultimately flowers in hatred:

  • Hatred of God;
  • Hatred of others;
  • Hatred of Jesus’s New Covenant and its specific dictates.

     It cannot be otherwise. Neither is it possible for persons desirous of authority beyond what is properly theirs to pervert the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind, without becoming His enemies: persons who hate Him and desire to displace Him at the right hand of God.

     Clerics – from the lowliest parish deacon all the way to the Holy Father – who attempt to substitute their own preferences for the teachings of Christ are indictable under that observation.

     More anon.

     UPDATE: I've closed comments because some commenters are more interested in hurling insults than arguing. I can be wrong; indeed, I've been wrong quite often. But if you want to demonstrate to me that I'm wrong, insulting me is the wrong way to go about it.


Ron Olson said...

I am one of those who prefers your religious stuff above above your excellent other essays. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I believe that if you are a Catholic, all authority resides in Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition

And it always was that way until some heretic started saying something about Sola Scriptura...

Francis W. Porretto said...

So which traditions are Sacred, and on what authority, and why not the others?

Human authority cannot decree something to be a sin. Only Christ can do that. If there is Gospel substantiation for, say, the Church's ban on contraception, please find it for me, as I cannot. Also, connect it to one of the two Great Commandments, from which hang "all the paw and the prophets."

Clyde said...

If you love God, you obey his laws. That is what is meant by all the law and all the prophets hang on the greatest commandment. It's not a statement overruling the old law (the moral law, at least).

I believe the Gospels do condemn premarital sex, and Jesus himself defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Further, if Peter and the other Apostles - who were intimately familiar with the teachings of Jesus - didn't express disagreement with the teachings of Paul, and even accepted him as an Apostle, I don't see how you or I are in position to argue.

Anonymous said...

Francis, I have a question. You seem to regard Paul's writings differently from the four gospels, and especially the words of Jesus. The nuns taught me years ago that the whole Bible was God's word and was interpreted by the Church... are you coming from a different place than that? (sorry if that sounds like a noob question, I just haven't read enough of your stuff to know your position). -BH

Francis W. Porretto said...

Clyde: Paul, a former Pharisee, was an extremely forceful personality. Both his epistles and a lot of peripheral accounts testify to that – but even more important, he was a loose cannon. He traveled alone almost all the time. Much of what he wrote that's been incorporated into the New Testament appears to have no connection to the Great Commandments, nor to this critical passage:

>>> And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [Matthew 19:16-19] <<<

If those are the requirements for salvation, then no matter what Paul or any other mortal said, there are no others. I know of nowhere that Jesus added to them. Moreover, those requirements descend directly from the two Great Commandments, which many things the Church teaches do not. I hope you don’t need a thorough explanation.

Concerning premarital sex, if you think Jesus forbade it, please show me the passage. I can’t find any such. As sex between unmarried persons is not adultery – i.e., it doesn’t violate any sworn vows – the commandment as I read it does not touch it. Atop that, the Church has altered its positions on sex, parasexual acts, and sexual pleasure several times over the years. I hope you don’t need a thorough explanation of that, either.

The Church is an institution that offers stature to men, and men who seek stature are always eager for more. And stature – including perceived wisdom or authority – tends to be used. Over the years the Church has tried to condemn many things as sinful, including chess, other games, and a number of sports, ultimately to its own embarrassment. But all its pronouncements of that sort have pointed in a common direction: the proscription of activities that compete with the Church for attention, obedience, energy, and revenue.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Anon: Yes, I do regard Paul’s writings as less authoritative than the Gospels themselves. The Gospels are the teachings of Christ, as far as anyone alive today knows. Paul imported much from the Levitical covenant into Church doctrine – much that has no connection to any teaching of Jesus. But unlike the Levitical covenant, which was assigned to the Jews specifically – my theory is that it was intended to prepare them to produce the Messiah – Jesus’s New Covenant was for the whole world and every man in it. Please see the comment above for further thoughts.

The Bible is a multifarious document. Much of the Old Testament, though illuminating, must be taken as allegorical rather than a record of actual events. But regardless of which parts of the O.T. are historical records rather than religious allegories, when it comes to what’s binding upon Christians, Jesus is the Authority. The Church has often taught otherwise and occasionally does so today – consider the divorces the Church calls “annulments” and Pope Francis’s condemnations of capitalism and praise of socialism, for example – which, though I style myself a Catholic, is one of my major problems with the Church.

I have an ecclesiatically approved pamphlet titled “What It Means to be a Catholic” by Father Joseph M. Champlin that says the following:

>>> Catholics believe that an individual's conscience is the ultimate determinant of what is wrong or right for that individual. Moreover, God will judge us according to the fidelity with which we have followed our conscience.<<<

That is also Church teaching. It makes a dramatic contrast with the Church’s frequent assertions of the authority to override the individual conscience with doctrines that cannot be associated logically with either the two Great Commandments or the ones Jesus proclaimed to the “rich young man” in Matthew chapter 19.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Francis, I appreciate your taking the time to interact with my questions. God bless. -BH

Mike said...

John was on Patmos around 95 AD. When and by whom were the present form of the Bible written?


Council of Jerusalem

It seems the whole Bible is a form of baptism/death and resurrection/ go and sin no more/ a transformation of spirit

Hebrews 8:8-13,

We are our own priests who approach God the father through Jesus Christ, the rent in the curtain. It is between us and our Creator.

Clyde said...

You stopped quoting before you got to the relevant portion of Matthew 19 - the man goes on to say he has done all those things, so what else? Jesus doesn't say, "oh, that's great! Keep it up and I'll see you in Heaven!" He tells the man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor. The man's heart isn't in it, and he departs.

Jesus's point wasn't to list the behaviors that must be performed or avoided to work your way into Heaven; it was that one cannot work his way into Heaven. This is particularly important given the historical context of the Pharisees belief that the Law was simply a checklist rather than a way of connecting with God.

Several passages quote Jesus as describing sexual immorality as sinful, including at least two (where Jesus) explains that food does not defile a person. Here the typical translation is fornication that is regarded as unacceptable. Fornication is defined as sex between unmarried persons. More generally, the Greek word translated as sexual immorality would've been understood at the time to include homosexual acts.

I suppose you could debate the translation, although the burden would fall on you to show it is incorrect.

Jack Imel said...

Thanks for doing the Sunday one, Francis ...hopefully you did not use up all the midnight oil. I like it that usually there is also great participation in the comment box, some well worth reading. I think you have made a good point of the difference between churchology and the Church. Another thing ...the conscience. Some people think they have built it themselves; or that they can ignore it, or disparage it, or cover it up with pious intent (or evil intent). Thank God for His abundant grace...

Francis W. Porretto said...

Clyde: I knew you would quote the continuation of that passage from Matthew 19. It was a trap I laid for you, and you fell into it. There’s no requirement laid upon us to surrender all wealth or personal property if we want to be saved. The “rich young man” felt he had to do more. His conscience was pricking him, for reasons we’re not told. So Jesus – the Son of God, and therefore able to discern things about others that we regular mortals cannot – challenged him personally with a more severe test. Do you think you’ll be denied salvation because you aren’t a wandering mendicant?

Concerning the other passage you referred to:

>>>Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. [Matthew 15:17-20]<<<

In the KJV quoted above, the word used is “fornications;” in the NRSV it’s “sexual immorality.” In either case the context as Jesus spoke it must be taken into account. Now, I’ll allow that this admits of uncertainty. However, my sense for the time is that “fornications” should be understood in the light of the marital bond, which developed for specific reasons:
1: To guarantee as far as possible the security of a woman of childbearing age and her minor children;
2: To guarantee that the man would not be obliged to support children other than his own.

Sex between the entirely unmarried was fairly common then and there as here and now, but sex that produced offspring was regarded as imposing an obligation on the father-to-be to wed the mother-to-be. Not to do so was unacceptable, a denial of the implicit responsibilities attendant upon sexual congress. That’s my interpretation of “fornication” in the classical world: sex that rejects responsibility for the consequences. Homosexuality I’ll address at another time. For the moment, note that it clearly doesn’t constitute adultery, and it can’t give rise to pregnancy.

I can understand that this grates on many persons’ sensibilities...which is why you’ve been equipped with an individual conscience. Let it guide you.