Teresa showed me a blog post that she intended to respond to by one of her fellow conservatives in the blogosphere, Mr. Dixon Webb of Bump's Stump. The article is entitled Catholicitis. I was provoked by it out of my most recent break from bloggery. I said, "Respond on your blog as you wish, but I intend to take this man to task in the response area of your post," and I began to write what I was going to put up there. She liked it so much after she read it that she decided to let me publish it here as a guest post. What follows is that response.
Response to THE CHURCH - RIGHT AND WRONG, the first paragraph of Catholicitis: Mr. Webb seems to equate "illogical ideas" with the requirement of a "leap of faith." That's an improper conflation that I cannot excuse or let pass without a correction. If an idea is truly illogical, that means it implies a contradiction. Faith, then, cannot rescue it. Faith is applied when the logic and evidence are not sufficient to compell us to any belief, but one or more persons with whom we have established a relationship of trust provide us with their testimony on the matter. That is not the same as accepting an illogical idea, that is, an objectively contradictory proposition or set of propositions.
In life we cannot get by without accepting as true some propositions that we cannot personally verify. We can call that faith in an equivocal sense, depending on what we believe and why (I believe daddy is my father because my momma tells me so...I believe my wife loves me because she tells me so), it can even be morally praiseworthy, and the lack of such faith could be considered a serious breach in a relationship. The supernatural virtue of faith is present when such benefit of the doubt is applied and the presumption of truth granted to doctrines received by divine revelation. When logic does not compel us either to accept a belief or reject it, faith of some sort is required to take any position on the matter at all. Illogical ideas do not afford us this flexibility. Illogical ideas, when rightly understood as such, compel the intellect to reject them.
Response to THE JEWS, the second paragraph of Catholictis: I had never heard of this sad chapter of the history of my Church, and I am surprised about that, because I have swum through a vast sea of anti-Catholic B.S. over the last decade and a half since my reversion to the faith of my youth following a nine year sojourn in agnosticism. I find it very vexing that none of the attacks against the Church to which I was exposed have ever had nearly as much basis in objective, verifiable facts as this one. I had long since begun to assume that such attacks would always turn out to be bogus for the very good reason that they always had before, every single time I took the trouble to check them out (and I always check them out). Mr. Webb, then, deserves some distinction for pointing out facts that could, if developed, amount to a substantial, worthwhile objection, with considerable moral weight, to the holiness of the Catholic Church. But the paragraph leaves it undeveloped, so I will wait for further elaboration before commenting on this regrettable episode.
Response to WOMEN AND THE CHURCH, the third paragraph of Catholicitis. Mr. Webb's citation of Aristotle has me scratching my head a bit - but to give his intelligence and rationality a degree of the benefit of the doubt that he almost never extends to Catholics or other religious people that I have seen in my brief persual of his blog, perhaps he does this because there are some Church Fathers who accepted Aristotle's misogyny without due critical reflection, though I would like to see him take the trouble to cite those. Otherwise there is a missing step required for arguing that Aristotle's position should be attributed to the Catholic Church.
I am gratified that Mr. Webb does not attribute "vile attitudes about female inferiority and impurity," to Jesus at any rate. The truth of his statement that "there is nothing in the gospels to indicate that Jesus himself could have held" such views has consequences to which he has failed to give due consideration. Our Lord Jesus had many followers who were women, and they were indispensable to the support of His earthly ministry. But when he chose those that he would ordain as the first priests, and when he actually did ordain them, there were no women among them. No women were present at all. Since Mr. Webb concedes that our Lord was not afflicted with "vile attitudes about female inferiority and impurity," those could not have been the motive behind His decision to reserve the sacrament of Holy Orders exclusively to men. Although there are other theological reasons why this could be (none of which having anything to do with a presumed inferiority of the female sex), that one indisputable fact -- that Jesus excluded women from the priesthood He conferred upon the twelve disciples (the act by which he made them apostles) is sufficient all by itself to establish the truth of the authoritative, apostolic teaching in the quote that Mr. Webb accurately attributes to the Blessed John Paul II. The Church would be overstepping Her divinely granted authority to extend that sacrament beyond the limits set by Jesus Christ.
Response to CONTRACEPTION, the fourth and final paragraph of Catholicitis - "The arguments for what passes as church doctrine are intellectually contemptible. Pope Paul VI endorsed a truly perverse teaching on contraception - one rejected by his own picked panel of loyal and intelligent Catholics."
Mr. Webb finds arguments that he does not even cite, let alone take the trouble to attempt to refute, "intellectually contemptible." Fine. Personally, I find the arrogant attitude expressed throughout his piece comtemptible (but not intellectual). He has no more of an obligation to pay any attention to my judgement of contemptibility than I or anyone else has to give consideration to his unsupported assessment. What I find even more puzzling is the implication that the Church's teaching since 1968 was some sort of arbitrary novelty. What Pope Paul VI "endorsed" in Humanae Vitae was simply what the Church has always taught. He had no authority to change it. The Church has always taught that contraception is a grave sin and could not be condoned. Traces of that teaching can be found in patristic documents dating to the first century A.D., and they get more explicit and definite starting in the late second century. Biblically, the only time the issue is directly addressed is in Genesis 38, the sin of Onan, and there it obviously condemns the practice in the strongest possible terms.
The Catholic teaching on contraception is actually, up until 1930, the universal Christian teaching. IThat began to change in October 1930, when the Seventh Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church granted very limited permission for some married couples under some unspecified circumstances to use birth control. I give here the text of Resolution 15 of that Conference:
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.
Voting: For 193; Against 67.
Note what is presented as the primary and obvious method for avoiding parenthood, which can only be licitly done under a "clearly felt moral obligation". Note that no method may be used at all except "on Christian principles", and abstinence should be used unless there is a morally sound reason for avoiding it. Notice the last sentence regarding what is strongly condemned.
At that time, those who argued against the majority and opposed this resolution predicted that it would open the floodgates to sexual license, and soon contraception would be used as liberally by Christians as by non-Christians, with no thought whatsoever of Christian principles and no consideration whatsoever of abstinence as a means to licitly avoid procreation, let alone that it would remain the "primary and obvious means" to do so. Can any intelligent observer not confirm that these predictions have long since been borne out in every detail?
The Catholic Church did not let the Lambeth debacle pass without using the occasion to cite the ancient and unchanging doctrine of the Church founded by Jesus Christ on the matter of birth control. In December 1930, Pope Pius XI published Castii Conubii, his encylical on Christian Marriage. If there is any significant difference between Castii Conubii and Humanae Vitae, it is merely this - that Pope Paul VI had to do what Pope Liberius did at the height of the Arian controversy, when Constantius exiled the latter to Thrace for his support of Athanasius against Arianism: stand up for Christian doctrine against the weight of a vast majority,a world, of heretical opposition within the Church. Pius XI did not have to face the same degree of opposition when he presented the same unalterable doctrine that Paul VI later presented. Mr. Webb calls the panel selected by Paul VI "loyal and intelligent Catholics," (the only time he exhibits intellectual charity to Catholics is when they happen to agree with him against the teaching of their Church) and while I will not take the trouble cast doubt on the intelligence of the members of that panel, Mr. Webb plainly has no clear idea what it means to be a loyal Catholic.