Wednesday, September 30, 2020

St. John of Damascus and "Filioque"

St. John Damascene is frequently brought up in the filioque debate. Edward Siecienski recounts in his excellent book that Damascene's statement that only the Father is Cause of the Holy Spirit was the primary stumbling block for the Greek delegation at the Council of Florence.

Damascene's views on the procession of the Holy Spirit are subtle, but it is clear from a number of places in On the Orthodox Faith that he understands the Holy Spirit to proceed from the Father through the Son. Indeed, he says this explicitly. Of course, some people might interpret this procession through the Son as a merely "temporal" procession.

However, what is less often noted is Damascene's teaching in his somewhat less accessible work, On Heresies. If I recall correctly, it received no mention in Siecienski's book, but it is important for making clear that Damascene's procession through the Son is not merely in the temporal sphere. At the end of the work, he gives a creedal statement explicating the main dogmas of the orthodox faith. Here is the relevant passage:

Think of the Father as a spring of life begetting the Son like a river and the Holy Ghost like a sea, for the spring and the river and the sea are all one nature. Think of the Father as a root, and of the Son as a branch, and of the Spirit as a fruit, for the substance in these three is one. The Father is a sun with the Son as rays and the Holy Ghost as heat. (St. John of Damascus, On Heresies, 103)

While this makes it clear how the procession is certainly through the Son, clearly, the river plays a role in the production of the sea, the branch plays a role in the production of the fruit, and the rays play a role in the production of the heat. In other words, the Son plays an intrinsic causal role in the production of the Spirit. On the other hand, from this analogy one can easily discern a sense in which only the Father is the cause of the Spirit.

This is the same as what Latin theology says, and in fact these analogies are almost identical to those given by the Latin writer Tertullian, who says explicitly that the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son and is clearly referring to the eternal relations in the Trinity. (See Against Praxeas Chs. 4 and especially 8 for the analogies.) Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Damascene's original source for these images ultimately traces back to Tertullian.

The issue is that the Greek Fathers mean by "proceed" and "cause" to also include the fact that the Father is the Source of the entire Trinity, including of the procession which happens through the Son. Whereas the Latins have a more minimal conception when using the word "proceeds," and are merely signifying that both Father and Son play some sort of causal role in the production, even though the Son's role is secondary. The Latins, after all, affirm that the Spirit proceeds "principally from the Father," as St. Augustine says. For more on this, see here. That is how St. Maximus was able to defend the Latin filioque as orthodox.

The problem is that Easterners who agree with the commonly held monopatrist view of Photius cannot accommodate Augustine or the other Western Fathers and saints, since this theory holds that the only procession through the Son is in the temporal sphere, while in the Trinity itself the Son and Spirit are like two completely separate branches from the Father, without any ontological relation to each other. There's no way to accommodate that within the Western Fathers, who already teach the filioque early on. But clearly the catholic Church cannot anathematize half of the Church Fathers. Western theology, on the other the hand, can easily accommodate the teaching of the Eastern Fathers that the Spirit proceeds through the Son, and that the Father is the source of the entire Trinity. As a number of Orthodox scholars have recognized, properly interpreted, there is not a contradiction between the Western and Eastern Fathers' views on the Holy Spirit's procession.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Did the Council of Vienne Rule Out Substance Dualism?

I recently received a message from a reader, asking whether the Council of Vienne rules out the view in philosophy of mind known as "substance dualism." According to substance dualism, the soul is an incorporeal substance which can exist separately from the body. Famously, a version of substance dualism was held to by Descartes.

I thought the response I wrote might be of interest and help to some readers. I would argue that, whatever other issues one might have with substance dualism, this position is not ruled out dogmatically. (This is not to say that I endorse the position or that I even consider it reasonable, of course.)

The ratified decree of the Council of Vienne, promulgated by the Apostolic See, says this:
Moreover, with the approval of the said council, we reject as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the catholic faith every doctrine or proposition rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter. In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.
Here is the answer I gave to the questioner, which I've adapted from our exchange:

"It has been a while since I investigated this, but yes, I was pretty convinced at the time that the condemnation does not rule out substance dualism. Here are a few reasons:

1) The text itself just says that the intellectual soul is per se and essentially the [substantial] form of the human body. That's what it says. That statement is not equivalent to the statement that a substantial form cannot be a substance. Someone might personally think that follows, because of a certain metaphysics of substantial forms. But the Council itself does not assert that.

(Incidentally, as far as the metaphysics goes, Aristotle himself says that the form is a substance, in Metaphysics. The interpretation of these texts is quite convoluted of course, but it's clearly there. I'm not saying Aristotle was a substance dualist, of course.)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Richmond Lattimore's Conversion

A short eulogy written for Richmond Lattimore, perhaps the most famous modern English translator of Homer, by Father George Rutler, the priest who baptized him in the Catholic faith. Excerpt:
After the monumental translation of The Odyssey and even more transporting Iliad, he Englished the four Gospels, the Book of Acts and Epistles, and the Revelation whose author he did not think was the Apostle John. There was one evangelist he preferred for his elegant Greek, and when recovering in hospital from surgery he said that his doubts about the Faith had disappeared "somewhere in Saint Luke." He announced that he would be baptized at Easter. At the public baptism, with closed eyes and head uplifted, Dick solemnly recited the Creed whose Greek was his vernacular. He instructed that at his funeral this story be told to all his academic colleagues.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Vatican II on the Historicity of the Gospels

Sancta Mater Ecclesia firmiter et constantissime tenuit ac tenet quattuor recensita Evangelia, quorum historicitatem incunctanter affirmat, fideliter tradere quae Iesus Dei Filius, vitam inter homines degens, ad aeternam eorum salutem reapse fecit et docuit, usque in diem qua assumptus est. (Dei Verbum 19) 
Holy Mother Church has firmly and with utmost constancy maintained, and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels, whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up. [Emphasis added]

Contradiction Between Luke and Matthew on Judas' Field? Part II

In the previous post, I began discussing the apparent contradiction between Luke and Matthew on who purchased Judas' Field of Blood. I made some important preliminary points about parentheses and quotation practices in Luke, and I said I will try to show how the two passages are consistent by modifying the placement of parentheses. I will then argue for a slightly different translation of verse 18.

So, where should we place the parentheses? I'll just give you my answer. But it is a worthwhile exercise for the reader to consider what happens if we consider different placements of parentheses. (Or even whether we should have any!) There are actually many options here, several of them are interesting, and different placements might help explain the consistency of Luke's passage with Matthew's in different ways. But here is how I would do it, and I will explain why:
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. 18 Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out." 19 (This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
Not a huge change in placement, but a rather significant change in meaning. It changes the relevant passage about the Field of Blood (verse 18) from being merely Luke's narration to part of Peter's discourse.

Why is that important? In particular, how does this mere matter of placement make verse 18 any less in tension with Matthew 27:7? After all, just because Peter said it, that doesn't make the statement say anything different, right?

Well, no, actually, because as any linguist worth his salt will tell you, the meaning of an utterance is extremely sensitive to the context of utterance in which it occurs, i.e. to the discourse in which it is uttered. For example, the utterance "John is not a bad worker" can convey something completely different depending on whether it is uttered (a) by John's friend, in response to someone unfairly maligning John as a bad worker, or (b) by John's unimpressed supervisor, in response to the question "Isn't John such an amazing worker??"

So what does it do to the meaning of verse 18 when it is moved into Peter's speech? Well, it turns the statement from a mere reporting of a fact by the narrator, Luke, into a partly rhetorical and oratorical device, in an impassioned and prophetic speech given from the mouth of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, as he leads them with the first guidance they have received in an address since the Ascension.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Contradiction Between Luke and Matthew on Judas' Field? Part I

One difficulty in the New Testament is the apparent contradiction between Ss. Matthew and Luke in the recounting of Judas' death and the purchasing of a field.

There are two main problems: (1) How did Judas die? (2) Who bought the Field of Blood?*

In Acts, Luke describes Judas' death while recounting a speech of St. Peter's. Luke seems to say that Judas died by falling and bursting open (presumably from a height?). He also seems to claim that Judas purchased the Field of Blood himself.
Acts 1:15-20 (NRSV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
Compare with Matthew, who says that Judas died by hanging himself. He also seems to say that it was the chief priests who purchased the field:
Matthew 27:1-10 (NRSV)
1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
In short, we have the following apparent contradictions regarding Judas' death:
Luke: Judas died by falling (from a height?) and bursting open. 
Matthew: Judas died by hanging himself.
Also, regarding the field:
Luke: Judas bought the field. 
Matthew: The chief priests bought the field.
As with most alleged contradictions in the NT, one can easily come up with some way of reconciling these passages. After all, they do not form a logically inconsistent set.

For example, you might claim that Judas hanged himself over a cliff, the rope broke, and he fell down and burst open. You might also hypothesize that Judas later arranged the purchase of the field at the behest of the priests. Thus, if one had particularly strong reasons for believing in biblical inerrancy beforehand, one might opt for a harmonization like this, even if it is not plausible in itself. (Incidentally, one good reason for believing in biblical inerrancy is that it is the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, including of Vatican II, as I explain here.) It would be better, though, if we could find a plausible way of explaining these apparently divergent accounts.

Literary Forms and Catholic Teaching on Inerrancy

Magisterial documents clearly show that biblical inerrancy is the teaching of the Catholic Church, including of Vatican II. Nevertheless, many have been confused by a common mistranslation of Vatican II's document Dei Verbum:
Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures. (Emphasis added)
In fact, Dei Verbum says this:
Cum ergo omne id, quod auctores inspirati seu hagiographi asserunt, retineri debeat assertum a Spiritu Sancto, inde Scripturae libri veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causa Litteris sacris consignari voluit, firmiter, fideliter et sine errore docere profitendi sunt.
In truth, the document just claims that "the books of Scripture teach truth." No demonstrative "that" can be found. There is no "eam" or "illam." Hence, no phrase "that truth" which might limit the truth of the Scriptures' statements to only the (presumably smaller) number of statements which are there "for the sake of our salvation." So there's no reason at all to think that Vatican II justifies abandoning previous unambiguous papal statements on inerrancy, statements which only have ever been affirmed and then reaffirmed.

Furthermore, it is clear that Vatican II's teaching on inspiration positively entails inerrancy given the first half of this passage, which identifies "all that the sacred authors assert" as also being "asserted by the Holy Spirit." Since the Holy Spirit by His very essence cannot be in error, it is analytically true (by definition) that His assertions are true. Hence, "all that the sacred authors assert" is true.

We can formalize this argument:
  1. The set of statements that are asserted by the sacred author in Scripture = the set of statements asserted by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. [Statement actually made by Dei Verbum. Also see end-note.*]
  2. If A asserts p, and A is not in error, then p is true. [Analytic truth; by definition]
  3. The Holy Spirit cannot be in error. [De fide; also known by reason]
  4. So, all the statements that are asserted by the sacred author in Scripture are true. [By 1-3]
1 - 3 logically entail 4, which is what inerrancy is. I see no way out of this.

Of course, all this still leaves open the question of what the sacred authors assert. Here, the Church has plainly noted the value of historical-critical studies of the Bible, and obviously does not insist on a literalistic interpretation of all of Scripture. Furthermore, the Church has clearly exhorted interpreters to be attentive to the authors' uses of "literary forms" or "genres" - phrases that rather inadequately express the full range of interpretive tools available to orthodox biblical exegetes.

In actuality, it might be better to speak of sacred authors' uses of "literary devices," and of "literary customs" that were taken for granted among the authors and their peers (although even here, this is still probably inadequate to cover all that is meant by "literary forms"). See, for example, Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritusecs. 33 ff. - a text that absolutely must be read by Catholic interpreters to understand the nuances of the Catholic position on inerrancy.

So, for instance, at least to the best of my understanding I cannot see a problem with views like Michael Licona's, which claim that Gospel authors rearranged materials in a partly non-chronological way in accordance with literary customs of their time, and were therefore neither trying to mislead the audience nor trying to convey an exact chronology of events. At least, that is, I cannot see a problem from the perspective of Catholic dogmatic teaching on inerrancy. (This isn't necessarily to say I agree with Licona's view, of course.)