Showing posts with label Roman Catholic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roman Catholic. Show all posts

Thursday, 23 January 2014

I am not a Roman Catholic

I am not a Roman Catholic. I was not born in Rome, I have not lived in Rome, heck – I have never even been to Rome. I was, in fact, born in England, and hence, since Irish Catholics are Catholics from Ireland, Mexican Catholics are Catholics from Mexico, I propose that I should be called an English Catholic.

Why is “English Catholic” misleading, and why am I referred to as a Roman Catholic, anyway, even by other Catholics who know I am not Roman? In a very limited sense, the name is not wrong: the Catholic Church’s leader is Bishop of Rome, and what is sometimes referred to as the Holy See is, in fact, the Roman See. Somewhat deeper, the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, referred to the Church as “Sancta Catholica Apostolica Romana Ecclesia,” (Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church). Perhaps that solves the mystery, then, the reason people call me Roman is that Vatican I said so.

Not so fast. The first draft of the document did not actually have the term “Apostolica” in it, and it was added in response to the English speaking bishop’s complaint that the word “Romana” might be deemed to support the Anglican Branch theory, which basically says that the Catholic Church is in fact divided between Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The Council did not wish to support such an odd claim. The East, the West and the English together formed the full Catholic Church, according to this theory. Whilst these churches are indeed in schism with respect to each other, they each conserve apostolic succession, and so are true churches. It is not surprising that only Anglicans believe this, and not all of them, at that.1 And yet, if it is the case that I can be called a Roman Catholic just because the First Vatican Council said so, then I can equally be called an Apostolic Catholic or a Holy Catholic. If only the latter were true!

The absurdity of these other adjectives, equally proclaimed by Vatican I, make it clear that it was probably the Anglicans’ doing that I be called a “Roman Catholic.” This does not make it true, for even if one accepts the Vatican I argument, “Roman”, “Apostolic”, “Holy” and even “Catholic” are attributes not of the person, but of the Church. Were I to be ordained a bishop, then I might in some sense be apostolic, were I to become fully sanctified, then I would be holy – there is very little sense in which I will ever become Roman, however.

So I am not a Roman Catholic. I probably should not even be referred to as Catholic, just as Christian, for a Catholic is simply a Christian in the true sense of the term. To think otherwise is to implicitly accept that there is such a thing as, for instance, an English Catholic, distinct from a Roman Catholic. As John Henry Newman pointed out, however, when the Church of England decided to install a bishop in Jerusalem, even the Anglican Branch theory broke down, as when one wishes to install bishoprics where another of the so-called branches of the Church of Christ exists, one denies ipso facto the legitimacy of the others.2 The fact that the Catholic Church exists worldwide, and counts among it English Catholics such as myself testifies that, even if the Church of Christ does not “subsist in” the Catholic Church as she claims it does in Lumen Gentium (the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), it is not Roman other than the limited sense given above, which stands behind the First Vatican Council's statement. 

1 For a Catholic treatment of the issue, the CDF’s “Dominus Iesus” is probably the best place to start, and a link to the declaration can be found here:
2 Well, Newman did not quite say that it broke down, but it was at the very least strained.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Scientific Argument against the Bible

Much could be said about the Bible's lack of regard for how the world really works, how it really began and how many other things came to be. Some have said that the Bible has simply collected an array of folk legends, while others claim those legends to be true in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Does science give us a tool to point out the backwardness of the Bible?

To answer that question, we shall need to examine exactly what it is which seems so out of sync with reality. We can grab the infamous creation story in Genesis 1 and the story of Noah's flood. There is undeniable evidence that the universe is many billions of years old, that the Earth is a few billions of years old (hence, that neither were created in short periods of hours or a week), as well as there being absolutely no reason to believe, from a scientific perspective, that there was ever a global flood that wiped out all the living creatures on the Earth, with the exception of some in a boat. Needless to say, we now know that the incredible diversity of life did not come about at some exact moment some half a dozen thousand years ago, but over a much longer time via processes described by biology. The argument would then be:

1.  Any person, collection of persons or document(s) that assert the aforementioned falsehoods is wrong and errant. (P implies Q - asserting these things implies the asserter is wrong)
2. The Bible asserts these things. (P: Scripture does indeed document those stories.)
3. Therefore, the Bible is wrong. (Q: therefore, by modus ponens, the Bible is wrong)
 Stripped of rhetoric and word play, this is what the argument is. Evidently, one can embellish the argument by calling the Bible "a collection of Bronze age myths", but really, the point Christopher Hitchens makes with that remark is that the Bible is old, it was written before humankind knew very much about how the world operates and therefore, people should move on from such nonsense.

Actually, even though I reject the second premise entirely, I would not be particularly distressed even if the conclusion was true. So what if we have an errant Bible? So what if it is wrong about cosmology and biology? Indeed, in the next entry when I discuss the historical argument against the Bible, this conclusion may well be inescapable. For this particular version of the argument, it seems to clearly fall down at premise 2.

Am I going to justify that statement? Nope! What I will instead do is cite this survey from the United States which indicates that most of the denominations of Christianity do not declare there to be any reason to believe that there is a conflict between the Scriptures and modern science, including cosmology, geology and evolution.
Some denominations look like "Pac-men", but I think the Roman Catholic Statement has it best:
"It is important to set proper limits to the understanding of Scripture, excluding any unreasonable interpretations which would make it mean something which it is not intended to mean."
And also the Church of England's:
"There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6:25-33)."
 Whether or not you agree with the Roman Catholic Church's dogmatic stances, they have a very prudent and un-dictatorial view of the Bible and science.

If you would like to know how I myself understand these passages (which are incredibly rich once you stop trying to get them to say something they do not), feel free to shoot me an email.