søndag 19. juli 2020

Tolkien's Catholic Imagination

'Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story. But since the author of it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made [...] to be true on the Primary Plane.'

— J.R.R. Tolkien (from a letter to Christopher Tolkien, 28 October 1944)

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) is best known as the author of fantasy novels such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but how many know that he was also a deeply believing Catholic who let the faith permeate his imagination? In a letter to a Jesuit priest, he even described The Lord of the Rings as 'a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.' In the following, I shall give an introduction to Christian and Catholic elements in the two mentioned books, as well as in The Silmarillion – a collection of stories from Tolkien's universe, the so-called 'legendarium'.

1. Angels and Demons 

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien writes: 'There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.' This has obvious parallels to God creating the angels, and it is followed by a creation story about the origin of 'Arda' – which is the Elvish name for Earth. The most powerful of the Ainur is called Melkor, and he does not want to play along (literally, since the world is created by music). Instead of serving Eru, Melkor wants 'to subdue to his will both Elves and Men, envying the gifts with which Ilúvatar promised to endow them.'

After Eru has created the Earth, he binds the Ainur to it and from then on, they are called 'Valar, the Powers of the World.' Regarding this creation, Melkor tells the other Valar: 'This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!' Another of the Valar, called Manwë, leads the rest of them in battle against Melkor. This is reminiscent of the war in Heaven between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer, which ends with Lucifer being transformed into Satan. In Tolkien's legendarium, Melkor falls into the darkness and is called 'Morgoth'. He takes with him 'the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.'

While the Ainur or Valar in Tolkien's legendarium correspond to the archangels, there are also lower-ranking angels. These are called 'Maiar', and the wisest of the Maiar is called Olórin. Of him, it is said: 'In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows.' When Olórin shows up in physical form, he takes the name 'Gandalf'. The other 'wizards' in Middle-earth – Saruman, Radagast, Alatar, and Pallando – are also Maiar. So is Sauron, who becomes Morgoth's servant. But 'in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path.'

In connection with the Valar, Tolkien writes about Varda, also called Lady of the Stars, that: 'Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face.' Morgoth hates and fears her more than any other creature, and there are many similarities between Varda and the Virgin Mary. The Elves call her Elbereth, and 'they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.' Early in The Lord of the Rings, we get an example of this when Frodo and Sam hear the Elves singing: 'Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear! / O Queen beyond the Western Seas! / O Light to us that wander here / Amid the world of woven trees!'

2. Pilgrimage and Dragon Sickness

In The Hobbit, Tolkien writes about Bilbo Baggins that he 'was a very well-to-do hobbit', and that he 'never had any adventures or did anything unexpected'. For this reason, Bilbo is quite reluctant when the strange wizard Gandalf asks him to share in an adventure. Keeping in mind that Gandalf is a sort of angel in this universe, we can compare Bilbo's answer to our own response when God calls us to some task or vocation. Gandalf has to send a company of 13 dwarves for Bilbo to wake up from the safe life in his cosy hobbit-hole, and even then he asks: 'What am I going to get out of it?'

The dwarf leader is named Thorin Oakenshield, and there are some parallels between him and Jesus Christ. First, he has 12 companions, just like the Apostles: Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. Second, he is on his way to Erebor under the so-called 'Lonely Mountain' to restore his father's kingdom. When he gets there, he declares: 'I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain! I return!' There is a prophecy as to what will happen when he does: 'The streams shall run in gladness, / The lakes shall shine and burn, / All sorrow fail and sadness / At the Mountain-king's return!'

The trip to the Lonely Mountain is comparable to a pilgrimage, and Bilbo makes a journey that is at least as much spiritual as it is physical. In the beginning, he often thinks of 'his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing.' When Bilbo finds the 'One Ring' that has belonged to the creature Gollum, Tolkien writes: 'It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it.' It is a turning point in several ways, for afterwards we can notice a change in his behaviour. When the quest is ended, Gandalf says to him: 'My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.'

The main enemy of the book is the dragon Smaug, who sleeps on a pile of gold under the Lonely Mountain. The dragon is a well-known symbol of Satan, so we are reminded of Christ's victory over the devil when the dragon is killed. But the symbolism goes deeper. Smaug suffers from something called 'dragon sickness', described as 'the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded'. There is a tendency in all of us to be overly attached to our possessions, and several of the characters are exposed to it. Bilbo, with his great wealth, suffers from dragon sickness already at the beginning of the book. The pilgrimage can therefore be seen as a journey to slay the dragon in his own heart.

3. Priest, Prophet, and King 

There are more Catholic elements in The Lord of the Rings than I can cover in a short article. For example, God's providence is hinted at when Gandalf tells the story of how the Ring was discovered by Bilbo: 'There was more than one power at work', and 'there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker [Sauron].' There is talk of the 'Undying Lands' as if it were Heaven, the Elvish waybread that 'fed the will' can be likened to the Eucharist, there are similarities between the Elven Lady Galadriel and the Virgin Mary, and a sort of silent prayer is said: 'Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence.'

But the most pervasive element of the book is the parallels between three of the characters and the three offices of Christ: Frodo is a priest, Gandalf is a prophet, and Aragorn is a king. Frodo is the so-called 'Ring-bearer', and the Ring is a symbol of sin and the Cross. During the council meeting in Rivendell, he shows his willingness to sacrifice himself: 'I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.' Along the way he is helped by Samwise Gamgee, who is reminiscent of Simon of Cyrene when he carries the Ring for a while. This happens after Frodo is apparently killed by the giant spider Shelob and 'bound in cords, wound about him from ankle to shoulder', as if wrapped in a shroud before his symbolic resurrection.

Gandalf offers advice and exhortations to the other characters, but his most prophetic moment is his true prophecy that Gollum 'has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.' In his betrayal, Gollum is the one who resembles Judas Iscariot the most, but Frodo says: 'But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring.' Gandalf hints at the Holy Spirit when he says to the Balrog in the mines of Moria: 'I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.' He sacrifices himself for the rest of the fellowship, but rises again in the form of Gandalf the White – 'until my task is done', as he puts it.

In the beginning, Aragorn goes by the name of 'Strider' and nobody knows that he – much like Thorin – is a king in exile. This shines through occasionally, as 'in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone.' He heals the sick and wounded with a herb called 'Kingsfoil' (athelas), he goes down to the underworld to free the spirits of the dead, and he marries Arwen – as Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The coronation at Minas Tirith is reminiscent of when Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet: 'I would have the Ring-bearer bring the crown to me, and let Mithrandir [Gandalf] set it upon my head.'

4. Myths, Lies, and Truth 

In an autobiographical letter (the same one in which he claimed to be a hobbit himself), Tolkien writes: 'I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic. The latter fact perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter) asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel [...] were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary. Another saw [the Eucharist] in waybread (lembas) = viaticum'. Although we have seen many Christian and Catholic elements in Tolkien's works, it was not his intention to write a Christian 'allegory' of the same type as the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis (1898–1963). He wanted to create a myth.

Lewis was an atheist when he first came to the University of Oxford, and it was through conversations with Tolkien (both were part of a literary discussion group called 'The Inklings') that he found his way to Christ. One night, Lewis had said that Christianity is a myth and that myths are lies, even though they are 'breathed through silver'. In response, Tolkien wrote the poem Mythopoeia ('myth-making'), which contains his theory that the greatest truths can be reflected in myths – and the Gospel of Christ is the greatest of them all, since it really happened. Therefore, it is natural that this truth is also reflected in Tolkien's fiction.

A mythopoeic attitude is expressed in The Lord of the Rings, when Aragorn is asked: 'Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?' He answers: 'The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!' Later, Sam wonders 'if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, of course'. Even if the stories of our own lives will never be 'told by the fireside' or 'read out of a great big book', we can trust that God has prepared a place for us in His story.

torsdag 14. mai 2020

When God Wrote in the Sky: The Miracle of the Sun

'And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, [...] "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah." So he left them and departed.'

— Gospel of Matthew 16:1–4

'And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.'

— Book of Revelation 12:1

In his 2014 book Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen? [Why Doesn't God Write in the Sky?], the Norwegian theologian and philosopher Espen Ottosen deals with the difficult question of God's 'hiddenness': If there really is a God, why doesn't He make His own existence more obvious, so that everyone becomes convinced and starts to believe in Him? Ottosen tells a story about Inge, a Christian Scout leader who made a strong impression on him as a young boy. One night they were talking, Inge said: 'Why doesn't God write in the sky that He exists?' [1]

Ottosen writes that, according to the Bible, God already has written in the sky – at least 'in one sense' [2] – namely, when the sun stood still over a battle in the Book of Joshua: 'The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day' (Joshua 10:13). This made me think of the so-called 'Miracle of the Sun' which, according to the Catholic Church, took place at Fátima in 1917. I would like to suggest that this miracle was in fact a sign from heaven, and perhaps one of the closest things we have to a visible proof of God's existence.

Ottosen writes that he is 'a doubting man', and that he therefore has 'an abundant need to defend my faith – both to myself and to others.' [3] He says that he has read several of the books written by the 'New Atheists' – including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris – with great interest, and that he takes their objections to Christianity seriously: 'To me, it is a question of [intellectual] honesty. If there are no good answers – indeed, if the atheists and skeptics are actually right – there is little else to do but to give up the faith.' [4] I appreciate this attitude.

Fortunately, there are good responses to atheistic objections – and good arguments for God's existence. Ottosen presents several of these, and shows that he has knowledge of authors from C.S. Lewis to William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, Edward Feser and several others that are well known in the world of Christian apologetics. However, the most important objection he addresses in the book is that 'God often appears to be somewhat silent and passive.' [5] Why aren't there more miracles in response to prayers?

Ottosen writes about so-called dispensationalists, Christians who believe that God's miraculous intervention in the world is no longer necessary – and therefore does not take place. The argument goes like this: 'Before the Bible existed, God wanted to substantiate the message of the early Christians with powerful signs and wonders. But today, we have the Bible.' [6] Ottosen acknowledges that this may explain why God is perceived as hidden, but it does nothing to help those who actually experience this hiddenness: 'For what shall I say to those who beg and ask God to intervene with a powerful miracle? I have met people who have read a lot in the Bible, but who are still not convinced that they have thereby encountered God.' [7]

As is well known, the Catholic Church does not believe in the principle of 'Scripture alone' (Sola Scriptura), that is, that the Bible itself is enough. The Bible is read in light of Tradition, and in the context of a living Church which unites every Sunday to worship God together. In every Mass, a real miracle takes place: the essence of bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation. But the Catholic Church also contains a treasure trove of many more miracles – signs that confirm the Gospel (cf. Mark 16:20) – which, unfortunately, are not talked about as often. One of these is the Miracle of the Sun at Fátima.

On 13 May 1917, three shepherd children – Lúcia dos Santos and her younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto – were out herding sheep in an area known as the Cova da Iria near Fátima in Portugal. The Catholic historian William Thomas Walsh (1891–1949), who wrote the book Our Lady of Fátima based on eyewitness accounts from Lúcia and others involved, writes that the three children 'were startled by a flash so brilliant that they took it to be lightning.' Suddenly, there stood before them 'a Lady all of white, more brilliant than the sun dispensing light, clearer and more intense than a crystal cup full of crystalline water penetrated by the rays of the most glaring sun.' [8]

When the children asked where the lady came from, she replied: 'I am from heaven', and she asked them to pray five decades of the Rosary every day – so that God would put an end to the First World War, which was raging at this time. [9] She gave them an important message: 'Jesus wishes to make use of you to have me acknowledged and loved. He wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart.' She also asked them to return to the same place on the 13th day of each month, until October: 'In October I will tell you who I am and what I wish, and will perform a miracle that everyone will have to believe.' [10]

Although the children did not realise it from the beginning, it became clear that the Lady was the Virgin Mary. She had revealed herself to these children, just as she had revealed herself to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, and to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes in 1858. The Catholic Church recognises several such 'Marian apparitions' as credible, and many of them have led to miracles in addition to the apparition itself – such as the healing of illnesses. At Fátima, Mary also gave three prophetic warnings (or 'secrets') about events that would happen in the near future: the spread of Communist ideology from Russia, a new and even worse war after the one that ended in 1918, etc. As we know, these prophecies came true.

The day finally came, 13 October. The children had told everyone they knew about the fact that the Virgin had appeared to them, and as many as 70,000 men, women, and children had turned up to witness the promised miracle. It was raining heavily, and several in the crowd had soaking wet clothes. Finally, it stopped raining, and 'something stupendous, unheard of, almost apocalyptic' happened in the sky. Walsh describes it as follows:
The sun stood forth in the clear zenith like a great silver disk which, though bright as any sun they had ever seen, they could look straight at without blinking, and with a unique and delightful satisfaction. This lasted but a moment. While they gazed, the huge ball began to "dance"—that was the word all the beholders applied to it. Now it was whirling rapidly like a gigantic fire-wheel. After doing this for some time, it stopped. Then it rotated again, with dizzy speed. Finally there appeared on the rim a border of crimson, which flung across the sky red streamers of flame, reflecting to the earth, to the trees and shrubs, to the upturned faces and the clothes all sorts of brilliant colors in succession: green, red, orange, blue, violet, the whole spectrum in fact. Madly gyrating in this manner three times, the fiery orb seemed to tremble, to shudder, and then to plunge precipitately, in a mighty zigzag, toward the crowd. [11]
The spectators were not harmed by the sun falling towards them, but several people later said that it suddenly became much warmer. The whole miracle lasted for about ten minutes, before the sun climbed back up to its natural place in the sky. Those who had previously had wet clothes and umbrellas now discovered that they had dried up. [12] Theories suggesting that the experience of the crowd of 70,000 was due to some form of hypnosis or mass hallucination were rejected when it became known that credible eyewitnesses had seen the miracle from several miles away, [13] and the Miracle of the Sun was taken as evidence that the children were speaking the truth about the Lady who had revealed herself to them in the Cova da Iria.

We can easily understand why Mary would say that 'everyone will have to believe' this miracle. Would there have been any doubt in our minds that this was a genuine miracle if we had been there that day? Well, it depends. Ottosen points out that although Jesus proved who He was through signs and wonders, many people did not believe in Him because they simply did not want to believe: 'When Jesus had said this, He departed and hid Himself from them. Though He had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in Him' (John 12:36–37). 'Thus, it might not be so certain that God would gain very much from writing in the sky that He exists', Ottosen writes, for it is 'not at all certain that the result would have been an increase of Christian belief.' [14]

A confirmation of this suspicion is found in the fact that not everyone who witnessed the Miracle of the Sun at Fátima became Christians. It may seem like a conspiracy theory, but Catholic countries have a long history of very aggressive and sometimes violent opposition to the Church from radical and anti-clerical liberals, Freemasons and secret societies, such as the 'Carbonari'. This led to armed conflict in France, Italy, Mexico – and in Portugal. Following a revolutionary coup in 1910, a republican government was set up that was hostile to the Catholic Church. The same was true of Arturo de Oliveira Santos, who was the mayor of Ourém – the Portuguese municipality wherein Fátima is located. Walsh writes:
At twenty-six he joined the Grand Orient Lodge at Leiria, [...] He became indoctrinated wih the esoteric lore of a syncretistic and naturalistic religion which had been the chief opponent of the Catholic Church in modern times, and which already boasted that, by planning and carrying out the Portuguese revolution of 1910, it had taken a long step toward the total elimination of Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula. [15]
Avelino de Almeido, who was the editor of O Século – one of the biggest newspapers in Lisbon at the time – was also 'a Freemason who made no secret of his dislike for priests, sacraments, creeds and dogmas.' [16] It should not surprise us that neither Almeido nor Oliveira Santos converted to Christianity as a result of the miracle, although O Século – as well as other anti-clerical newspapers in Portugal – was forced to report that it had actually taken place. Oliveira Santos denied that there was anything miraculous about the incident, and 'he would have denied it even if he had been there.' [17] Walsh rightly compares him to the Pharisees who denied the resurrection of Christ, even after witnessing the death of Jesus on the cross.

The latter is a point that Ottosen also makes. Jesus told the Pharisees, who wanted a sign from heaven, that they were to receive 'the sign of Jonah', i.e. His own death and resurrection on the third day. 'Jesus clearly thinks this is sufficient', Ottosen writes. 'If saving faith is more than a thoughtful conviction – if it is also about loving God and wanting to do His will – it is not certain that an extra miracle will make someone a Christian.' [18] For those who sincerely seek God and want to believe, the resurrection is sufficient; for those who do not want to believe, nothing is sufficient. This is one of the most important conclusions Ottosen draws in his book.

It is possible that God doesn't perform more miracles or appear to those who do not believe in Him, because it wouldn't change anything. After Jesus was rejected in His own hometown, we read that 'He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief' (Matthew 13:58). In this context, Ottosen quotes the American philosopher Paul K. Moser, who believes that God will not reveal His existence to those who do not want a personal relationship with Him: 'It is obvious that God would not be obligated to reveal Himself to proud people who perceive themselves as intellectually exalted and who resolutely and firmly oppose God's way of doing things.' [19] Such were the mayor of Ourém and the editor of O Século.

But the three shepherd children at Fátima, and the humble peasants who made up a large part of the crowd who witnessed the Miracle of the Sun in 1917, were something else entirely. In the preface to his book, Walsh asks why the Virgin Mary would choose to appear in the Portuguese countryside, of all places. His answer goes like this:
Well, first of all she appears where it pleases God, and her. But the Portuguese have an idea that they were favored partly, at least, because their country has always been called a terra de Santa Maria; and in the Serra about Fátima, regardless of revolutions and apostacies in other places, the poor have clung for centuries with unwavering devotion to the recitation of her Rosary. [20]
Ottosen also quotes the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), who wrote that God 'hides from those who tempt Him, and reveals Himself to those who seek Him'. In other words, God is 'so disguised that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all their heart'. [21] The Lord says to the people of Israel: 'You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you' (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

In order for us to find God – not only in magnificent wonders like the Miracle of the Sun at Fátima, but in the 'still small voice' (1 Kings 19:12) that the noise of the world can so easily overpower – we must seek Him with a whole heart. In this we can look to the Virgin Mary, the one who revealed herself to three shepherd children in Portugal, as our greatest role model. When some very different shepherds came to the manger in Bethlehem, to worship the baby that Mary had given birth to that night, we read that she 'kept all these things, pondering them in her heart' (Luke 2:19). And on 13 July 1917, at Fátima, she said: 'In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.' [22]


[1] Ottosen, Espen. Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen? Litt om min tvil. Mest om min tro, 9. Oslo: Lunde Forlag, 2014. All translations are mine.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ottosen, Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen?, 11.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid., 64.

[6] Ibid., 23.

[7] Ibid., 24.

[8] Walsh, William Thomas. Our Lady of Fátima, 50. New York, NY: Image Books, 1954.

[9] Ibid., 51 & 52.

[10] Ibid., 68 & 80.

[11] Ibid., 145–146.

[12] Ibid., 146–147.

[13] Ibid., 148–149.

[14] Ottosen, Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen?, 192.

[15] Walsh, Our Lady of Fátima, 95–96.

[16] Ibid., 139.

[17] Ibid., 150

[18] Ottosen, Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen?, 209.

[19] Quoted in Ottosen, Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen?, 211–212.

[20] Walsh, Our Lady of Fátima, Preface.

[21] Quoted in Ottosen, Hvorfor skriver ikke Gud på himmelen?, 220.

[22] Walsh, Our Lady of Fátima, 82.

onsdag 6. mai 2020

Locke, Territorial Rights and Indigenous Peoples

"Vitoria's lectures were largely commentaries on Aquinas's moral theory. In the course of the lectures, Vitoria founded the great Spanish scholastic tradition of denouncing the conquest and particularly the enslavement by the Spanish of the Indians in the New World. In an age when thinkers in France and Italy were preaching secular absolutism and the power of the state, Vitoria and his followers revived the idea that natural law is morally superior to the mere might of the state."

— Murray Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1: Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, 102.

The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) is well-known for his labor theory of property in the second of his Two Treatises of Government, according to which one can acquire private property rights to a previously unused piece of land by "mixing one's labor" with it. [1] However, interesting things happen when this theory is used to justify the territorial rights of states. Cara Nine has pointed out that there is a difference between justifying territorial rights on an institutional level, which means justifying the institution of such rights in general, and justifying "token" (i.e., particular) instances of them. [2] Of the latter, many cases will involve the sometimes difficult relationship between indigenous peoples and states.

In this paper, I will attempt to answer the question of whether the Lockean theory of territorial rights is well-suited to address the claims of indigenous peoples—such as the Native Americans (or American Indians) of North America, the Aborigines of Australia and Tasmania, the Māori people of New Zealand, and the Sámi people of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia—to land that, at least according to advocacy groups within these peoples, was usurped by the state. I will focus on the particular case of the Native Americans since it is, as we shall see, directly related to the life and work of Locke himself. However, the general principles that are laid out in this paper could be applied to similar situations elsewhere.

1 John Locke and English Colonialism

In recent years, Locke's arguments in the Second Treatise—as well as modern natural-rights theories and political liberalism in general—have increasingly been associated with English colonialism and the dispossession of Native American lands. For example, David Armitage has written that the "mutually constitutive relationship between liberalism and colonialism" is "now a commonplace in the history of political thought." [3] This "relationship" has been the focus of much work by Barbara Arneil, who goes so far as to claim that "Locke's Two Treatises was an attempt to undermine the Indian's claims to land by creating a new definition of property." She explains that since Locke's definition of property was based on the value of agricultural labor, it would "specifically exclude the American Indians from claiming land."

There is, indeed, an interesting biographical connection between Locke and the English colonization of North America. Most notably, Locke played a central role in the administration of the Carolina colony (later to become the states of North and South Carolina) as secretary to the first Earl of Shaftesbury in the 1660s and 1670s. [5] Arneil writes that "Shaftesbury and Locke took on the task of defending England's policies in the New World." However, she also admits: “The question of whether Locke intended his Two Treatises to be a defense of the English form of colonialism can only be decided on the basis of circumstantial evidence," such as "Locke's adamant claim that the state of nature could still be found in America currently." [6]

On the one hand, it seems clear that Lockean arguments could be (and have been) used to justify the dispossession of the Native Americans, on the grounds that rights to land can only be acquired through agricultural labor. Hence, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) writes of the land in North America: "The Indians occupied, but did not possess it. Man appropriates the soil by agriculture, and the first inhabitants of North America lived by the hunt." Therefore, he argues, they had “only a short usufruct"—i.e., a right to use and enjoy the fruits of the land until the Europeans arrived to appropriate it. [7] Armitage, who is more cautious than Arneil to ascribe colonialist motives, nevertheless remarks that Locke's theory "became the classical theoretical expression of the agriculturalist argument for European dominium over American land." [8]

On the other hand, Paul Corcoran has recently argued that the "postcolonial" critique of Locke as "a callous ideological apologist for British imperial oppression and capitalist exploitation" is "speculative and suffers from evidentiary lacunae." [9] He points out that Lockean arguments could also be used to defend a "native right" of indigenous peoples to their homeland, based on an often overlooked passage in the Second Treatise: "the inhabitants of any country, who [...] had a government forced upon them against their free consents, retain a right to the possession of their ancestors." [10] On this basis, Corcoran concludes: "It remains speculative, but plausible, that Locke himself acknowledged and implicitly condemned the emerging dispossession of the Amerindians in his robust defence of native right." [11] It seems, then, that the record of history is ambiguous when it comes to Locke's actual position on this issue.

2 The Lockean Theory of Territorial Rights 

The question of whether "the" Lockean theory of territorial rights is well-suited to address the rights claims of indigenous peoples is not as simple as it might seem. As Cara Nine has pointed out, there are at least two ways of accounting for territorial rights on Lockean grounds. On the "individualistic" account, "individuals who own land contract together to form a state that has territorial jurisdiction over their individual properties." On the "collectivist" account, "a group of persons such as a state can gain territorial rights to certain lands through their collective labour on the land." [12] Nine rejects the individualistic account as inadequate to explain the territorial rights of states, since it might imply that individuals have the meta-jurisdictional authority to withdraw their properties from the state's jurisdiction at any time. [13]

I will not attempt to determine which of the two accounts is closer to Locke's original view, but simply move on to ask how the collectivist account—which Nine argues for—can be applied to the rights claims of indigenous peoples. On this account, "the state, a collective, can directly acquire rights to land" by changing it through labor. Unlike individuals, however, "[t]he state labours by creating, adjudicating and enforcing laws" within a certain region. [14] Further, the state is entitled to territorial rights over a region if, by establishing jurisdiction within that region, it helps to realize the Lockean principles of liberty, desert and efficiency. [15] In the difficult case of North America, we could try using these principles to determine whether or not the English state was ever entitled to territorial rights over that region.

2.1 The Principle of Liberty

"At the institutional level," Nine informs us, "it has been argued that a system of state territorial rights is the best way to protect and promote liberty." More interestingly, the Lockean principle of liberty can be used at the token rights level to justify the establishment of a new state. If "persons are denied basic liberties because their political groups do not have access to territorial rights, then there is a reason for limiting the territorial rights of existing states in order for the disenfranchised group to claim territorial rights." [16] Something similar to this line of argument was used by the inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies in the 18th century to justify their secession and establishment of a new state in North America, on the grounds that Britain was infringing upon their "basic liberties."

However, the same argument could also be used by the current Native American inhabitants of the United States to justify the establishment of a new state of their own—to be carved out of the existing U.S. territories, of course. Let us also consider that while this argument might have been okay to use for the inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies who had their rights infringed upon by the British state, it would not work for the representatives of that state who came over and began enforcing its laws all over the North American continent in the first place. That was not a case of secession, but of straightforward colonization. With all this in mind, I do not think an application of the liberty principle is the optimal strategy for my purposes in this paper.

2.2 The Principle of Efficiency

At the institutional level, the Lockean principle of efficiency is that "a system of rights to land that makes most efficient use of the land is to be preferred," and perhaps also that "the political organisation of people in different territories [i.e., the institution of states] makes more efficient use of land than that of individuals without territorial jurisprudence." At the token rights level, it might be one of the most "dangerous" principles when applied to certain cases of indigenous peoples. This is because it can be used as a limiting principle to give others access to a piece of land if "the current right holder [...] is wasting the land." [17] According to Arneil, the claim that the Native Americans were "wasting" their land was part of Locke’s justification for colonizing it. "In essence," it was thought, "waste land is the property of those who cultivate it, rather than those who occupy, hunt on, live on or mine it." [18]

This conclusion is seemingly avoided, however, by three provisos offered by Nine. First, the current right holder's right can only be limited if "others are being severely harmed because of the burden that the right places on them not to access or use the land." That was not the case for the English colonizers, who were acting on behalf of one of the most powerful states on the planet in order to set up its territorial jurisdiction. Second, one "does not have to establish that they are using land in a maximally efficient manner" in order to have territorial rights over it. Third, "efficiency is only relevant at the time of original appropriation" from the commons, so that "waste" land cannot be acquired by another people unless they are (figuratively or literally) dying. [19] That being established, I do not think the efficiency principle will take us much further.

2.3 The Principle of Desert

Out of all the Lockean principles, the desert principle appears to be the most basic. If we could determine who deserves a title to the land in question, then much of the case would be solved. This is how Nine formulates the principle: "if the value of land L is significantly attributable to an agent X, then agent X has a weak rights claim to L." It is a weak rights claim because "it can be defeated by other considerations, most importantly by another agent's prior rights claim to L." This prevents the principle of desert from being used, in a straightforward way, to defend English colonialism by someone who would argue that the state added more "value" to the land than the Native Americans did. Nine acknowledges this and warns: "We do not want to grant colonisers territorial sovereignty on the basis of their forced land use policies." [20]

If any prior claim can defeat the weak rights claim that comes from adding value to the land, however, should we not be determined to return every piece of land on earth to its original title holder? Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), in his lectures on the "New World," argued that the Spanish state did not have to "justify anew" its titles to land in America, "since the territories are occupied in good faith." He went on: "If the titles of rule had always to be proved by going back to the seeds of time, no tenure could ever be fully established." [21] We should take his point seriously: it seems that going back to "the seeds of time" in search for the very first occupant and possessor of a piece of land is a futile exercise, since it will most likely have changed hands many times (and often by unjust means, such as wars of conquest).

Of course, this complicates matters immensely. With the past being as muddled as it is, how can we possibly determine who—at present—deserves a title to the land in each particular case? The difficulty is compounded, in the case of North America, by the fact that neither the people who had their homeland taken from them nor the people who took it away are alive to settle the issue. In my fumbling attempt to get things right, there are a few important points to consider. First, as Nine puts it: "The state must establish its relationship with the land over time [...] before the state acquires a territorial right," and this "can be described as a 'deep' relationship in that the members of the state feel deeply attached to the land because they, their parents and perhaps their ancestors have worked hard to make the state successful." [22]

This deep relationship and attachment to the land of North America is no doubt felt by many groups of Native Americans, whose ancestors settled there and built up a traditional way of life in the time before European colonization. One could argue that this is more than enough to grant them territorial rights, and perhaps even quote Locke himself in support of it: "society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself." [23] At the same time, it is impossible to forget the current majority population of the United States—whose ancestors came over from Europe, but whose identity is now linked to the land on which they live. Is 250 years or more not enough for a people to become attached to the land? It would seem like an injustice to deprive them of their territorial rights at this point, even if those rights were acquired in an unjust way to begin with.

Concluding Remarks

In this paper, I have attempted to answer the question of whether the Lockean theory of territorial rights is well-suited to address the claims of indigenous peoples to land that, according to them, was usurped by the state. Along the way, we have seen that, while Locke's arguments could be used to defend colonialism and the dispossession of Native American lands, it is not necessarily so. We have also seen that there are at least two ways of accounting for territorial rights on Lockean grounds. On the "collectivist" account, the principle of desert has appeared to be the most promising, even though we run into difficulties when two peoples can both be said to have a "deep" relationship to the land. To conclude, I think the question can be answered affirmatively, but with an important caveat: The Lockean theory of territorial rights is well-suited to address the claims of indigenous peoples, if we can work out these difficulties.


[1] Locke, Two Treatises, bk. 2, § 27.

[2] Nine, "A Lockean Theory of Territory," 157.

[3] Armitage, "John Locke, Carolina, and the Two Treatises," 602.

[4] Arneil, "John Locke, Natural Law and Colonialism," 603.

[5] Armitage, "John Locke, Carolina, and the Two Treatises," 603; Arneil, "Trade, Plantations, and Property," 592.

[6] Arneil, "Trade, Plantations, and Property," 595 and 608.

[7] de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 1, 43-44.

[8] Armitage, "John Locke, Carolina, and the Two Treatises," 618.

[9] Corcoran, "John Locke on the Possession of Land," 12.

[10] Locke, Two Treatises, bk. 2, § 192.

[11] Corcoran, "John Locke on the Possession of Land," 2.

[12] Nine, "A Lockean Theory of Territory," 148.

[13] Ibid., 152.

[14] Ibid., 154 and 155.

[15] Ibid., 156.

[16] Ibid., 157 and 158.

[17] Ibid., 161 and 162.

[18] Arneil, "The Wild Indian's Venison," 73; cf. "John Locke, Natural Law and Colonialism," 592ff.

[19] Nine, "A Lockean Theory of Territory," 162 and 163.

[20] Ibid., 159 and 160.

[21] de Vitoria, On the American Indians, 234.

[22] Nine, "A Lockean Theory of Territory," 160.

[23] Locke, Two Treatises, bk. 2, § 220.


Armitage, David. "John Locke, Carolina, and the Two Treatises of Government." Political Theory 32,
no. 5 (2004): 602-627.

Arneil, Barbara. "John Locke, Natural Law and Colonialism." History of Political Thought 13, no. 4.
(1992): 587-603.

———. "Trade, Plantations, and Property: John Locke and the Economic Defense of Colonialism."
Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 4 (1994): 591-609.

———. "The Wild Indian's Venison: Locke's Theory of Property and English Colonialism in
America." Political Studies 44 (1996): 60-74.

Corcoran, Paul. "John Locke on the Possession of Land: Native Title vs. the 'Principle' of Vacuum
domicilium." Paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association, Monash
University, 24-26 September 2007.

de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, 2 vols. Edited by Eduardo Nolla. Translated by James
Schleifer. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2012.

de Vitoria, Francisco. On the American Indians. In Political Writings, edited by Anthony Pagden and
Jeremy Lawrance, 231-292. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Edited by Thomas Hollis. London: A. Millar et al., 1764.

Nine, Cara. "A Lockean Theory of Territory." Political Studies 56, no. 1 (2008): 148-165.

mandag 30. mars 2020

Hunting and Tobacco Smoking from a Catholic Perspective

'In the hunt [...] are revived, in transfigured form, some of the long-buried emotions of our forebears. The reverence for a species, expressed through the pursuit of its 'incarnate' instance; the side-by-sideness of the tribal huntsman; the claim to territory and the animals who live in it; and the therapy for guilt involved in guiltless killing.'

— Roger Scruton [1]

'The body is a temple, and the temple needs incense.'

— Michael Knowles [2]

Hunting and tobacco smoking are two practices which seem to have become more and more controversial in modern times—not least from a moral point of view. People ask if it is ever morally permissible to partake in these activities, and an increasing number of people have concluded that it is not. In this blog post I want to provide a quick outline of some reasons why I believe they are both morally permissible, and why I believe this is the position which Catholics ought to take. The reader is free to disagree, but he or she should—at least, if they are a Catholic—be able to argue for their opposing view.

1. Hunting 

The Church teaches that 'God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2417). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the killing of non-human animals, which is usually the end goal of hunting them; nor does the Church forbid us from eating meat or wearing clothes made from the bodies of dead animals. As Roger Scruton points out, angling (i.e. fishing) is also a type of hunting:
The comparative toleration of modern people towards angling stems from the fact that fish are so very different from us, in their appearance, habitat and behaviour, that it is no sign of a hard heart to look on their sufferings unmoved. The hare, the stag and the fox, by contrast, are near to us. [3]
Such differences in appearance, habitat and behaviour between fish and other animals are not, however, morally significant in themselves. And, while animals may also differ among themselves in other ways, these are always differences of degree—whereas the difference between fish, the hare, the stag and the fox on one side, and human beings on the other, is a difference of kind. Timothy Hsiao explains how it is morally significant:
Since all humans possess a rational nature, human life therefore has inherent moral significance. Animals, by contrast, do not possess a rational nature—otherwise they would be under moral duties to each other, which would imply that we should put lions on trial whenever they kill a zebra—and so their lives do not have any inherent moral significance. What generates moral standing is therefore a certain type of consciousness, namely, the capacity for rational agency. [4]
While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hunting and killing of non-human animals, the Church also teaches that: 'It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2418). In other words, there can be something about the way one hunts which can make it immoral—for example, if it is done in an unnecessarily cruel way. But, far from all hunters are cruel. Saint Hubertus (656–727), the patron saint of hunters (whose legend, along with that of Saint Eustace, inspired the Jägermeister brand of liqueur), is honoured as 'the father of ethical hunting behavior'. As the Catholic philosopher Taylor Marshall relates:
It is said that Saint Hubertus established the hunting principle of conserving wildlife, not killing a mother with its young, and preferring older bucks and bulls past their breeding prime. He also advocated only shooting an animal when a humane, clean and quick kill is assured. [5]
In fact, hunting—even when done for recreation and sport—can have side effects which are actually benefical to animals, such as those related to wildlife conservation. Scruton writes: 'If deer were never culled, Exmoor would contain nothing else besides suburban houses, and the highlands of Scotland would be treeless crags. If foxes were never killed, lambs, ducks and chickens would be reared indoors, in conditions that no decent person should tolerate.' [6]

A final moral argument against hunting is that it involves the unnecessary killing of an animal—unnecessary in the sense that 'it is not absolutely essential for the hunter's nutrition or continued existence.' But if it is always wrong to kill a living thing unless it is absolutely essential to survival, then it would be wrong to chop down a tree in order to make a piece of furniture—or, even less necessary, a beautiful statue of a saint—out of it. Moreover, while hunting is not ultimately necessary, it is necessary for the attainment of many good ends. [7]

In conclusion, my view is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hunting—even of the recreational variety—as long as precautions are taken in order not to inflict needless suffering on animals, and the animals are used to provide food and/or other goods to be enjoyed by human beings. I take this position to be grounded in natural law, and to be in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

2. Tobacco Smoking 

The Church teaches that: 'The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2290). The implication of this is that, just as food, alcohol and medicine can be used in a proper way and without moral fault, tobacco smoking is not intrinsically wrong—although it can be wrong when it is abused (i.e. done to excess). In the same way, it is a sin to deliberately overeat, and the sin of getting drunk on alcohol is comparable to that of drugs like cannabis and opium: 'Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2291).

Since drunkenness and 'getting high' are described as grave matter, putting oneself in a state like that with full knowledge and freedom of the will must be considered a mortal sin—it is hard to see how such a conclusion could be avoided. After all, the Apostle Paul warns us that 'neither the immoral [...] nor drunkards [...] will inherit the kingdom of God' (1 Cor. 6:9–10; cf. Gal. 5:21). While it seems obvious that tobacco smoking is not sinful in the same way (for one, it does not lessen the functioning of one's rational faculty), the consensus is clear that prolonged use of tobacco can be very dangerous. [8]

A moral case against smoking has been made on the basis of the so-called 'perverted faculty argument', which—as I believe the neo-Scholastic philosopher Edward Feser has shown—is indispensable to any defence of Catholic sexual ethics as objectively true and binding on everyone. (This is not to say that the 'phenomenological' approach of Pope St. John Paul II's 'theology of the body' is not valid and beautiful, but on its own it would be insufficient.) The perverted faculty argument can be used for more than just sexual ethics, as for example smoking:
To be sure, smoking to excess clearly does frustrate the natural end of breathing, and refraining altogether from breastfeeding one's children arguably frustrates the natural end of lactation, especially if we factor in the bonding between mother and child that is facilitated by nursing. But then, precisely for these reasons, people are inclined to raise at least a mild moral objection to smoking to excess, and even gently to recommend that it is, all things considered, better for mothers to breastfeed their children. [9]
The conclusion of the perverted faculty argument says that it cannot be a good for us to 'frustrate' the natural end/function of any faculty or organ in our body (e.g. the genitals, in the case of sexual sins, or the lungs, in the case of excessive smoking). It seems to be the case, however, that a certain amount of smoking—not just the performance of a smoking act in itself—is required in order to render the lungs less capable of performing their natural function. According to Feser, it is 'not plausible' to suggest 'that smoking as such interferes with the natural end of breathing (as if smokers qua smokers had to hold their breath any longer than is required by activities like speaking).' [10]

On the basis of all this, my view is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a single act of tobacco smoking (as opposed to, say, a single act of non-therapeutic cannabis use or a single act of masturbation). However, tobacco smoking would become wrong if it were done (with full knowledge and freedom of the will) to the point of excess—that is, to the point of causing (significant) damage to the lungs of the smoker. Moreover, I take this position to be in line with natural law and the teachings of the Catholic Church.


[1] Scruton, 'Thoughts on Hunting', 215.

[2] Available online at: https://twitter.com/michaeljknowles/status/975185131139944454.

[3] Scruton, 'Thoughts on Hunting', 215–216.

[4] Hsiao, 'A Moral Defense of Trophy Hunting', 32.

[5] Marshall, Taylor. 'Saint Hubert – Patron Saint of Bowhunters (and Jagermeister)'. Available online at: https://taylormarshall.com/2016/09/saint-hubert-patron-saint-of-bowhunters-and-jagermeister.html.

[6] Scruton, 'Thoughts on Hunting', 216.

[7] Hsiao, 'A Moral Defense of Trophy Hunting', 31 and passim.

[8] For more on why it is morally wrong to get drunk and take drugs, see 'Drugs, Marijuana, and Alcohol: A Catholic Teaching on Intoxication'. Available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vta0EYFg6A8.

[9] Feser, 'In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument', 408.

[10] Ibid., 407. Feser also points out that 'there are crucial differences between, on the one hand, an individual deliberate act of using a bodily faculty and, on the other, an ongoing and involuntary physiological process. Use of the sexual organs is an example of the former whereas hair growth, breathing, perspiring, and lactating are examples of the latter. Now the former has a specific end-state or climax, while the latter do not.'


Feser, Edward. 'In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument'. In Neo-Scholastic Essays, 378–415. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2015.

Hsiao, Timothy. 'A Moral Defense of Trophy Hunting'. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 14, no. 1 (2020): 26–34.

Scruton, Roger. 'Thoughts on Hunting'. In Dooley, Mark (ed.). The Roger Scruton Reader, 208–217. London: Continuum, 2009.

onsdag 25. mars 2020

The Church Confronts the Culture of Death

'When God is forgotten, [...] the creature itself grows unintelligible.'

— The Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes (no. 36)

Among the most controversial statements of Pope St. John Paul II was his description of the cultural climate in the modern world – especially in the West – as the 'culture of death'. I shall attempt to say a little about what he meant by this description, and how the Church has confronted such a culture with her own stand for the value of human life in all its stages.

With 'culture of death', the Pope was not only referring to a culture of acceptance for taking life (through, for example, abortion and euthanasia) which also leads to spiritual death, but to a culture based on the Gnostic idea that body and soul are separated from each other. After all, we say that death occurs when this separation takes place:
To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ: we must 'be away from the body and at home with the Lord.' In that 'departure' which is death, the soul is separated from the body. It will be reunited with the body on the day of [the] resurrection of the dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1005)
The idea that it is possible to distinguish between body and soul in the way we treat ourselves and other people contradicts the doctrine that man is a unity of body and soul (CCC 364). It dates back to the French philosopher René Descartes in the 1600s, but has its true origins in Gnosticism – a heresy that has been a thorn in the Church's side since the beginning. [1]

When man is, so to speak, torn apart in this way, there is a danger of thinking that what we do with our body has no bearing on the 'real' person (i.e. the soul or mind). Thus, we can begin to treat the body as an instrument or a means – a dead object or a 'lump of flesh', rather than the physical presence of a living person and thus as an end in itself.

The Church's response to the culture of death can be summed up with the content of three ecclesial documents, the so-called 'three vitaes' (from the Latin word vita, meaning 'life'): Humanae vitae, promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI in 1968; Donum vitae, promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1987; and Evangelium vitae, promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II in 1995. In the following, I will touch on some highlights of each.

1. Of Human Life (Humanae vitae)

Pope Paul VI writes that technological developments in modern times have made it tempting for man to extend his dominion to procreation – i.e. the transmission of human life (HV 1). This means that the Church's Magisterium must clarify 'the principles of the moral teaching on marriage – a teaching which is based on the natural law' (HV 4). The natural law says that one should always act in accordance with human nature.

Since man is by nature a composite of body and soul – so that the soul constitutes, to use a Thomistic term, the 'form' of the body (CCC 365) – the bodily dimension of man must also be regarded as morally significant, and the body treated in a manner that is in keeping with its own nature. To deny this involves a mental separation of body and soul which, if real, would result in death.

Catholic teaching therefore precludes 'any action which [...] is specifically intended to prevent procreation' (HV 14), including the use of contraceptives and the completion of the marriage act in a way that makes the transmission of life impossible. Such actions contradict the natural end of the act – which is union and procreation (HV 12) – and the spouses' bodies are reduced to instruments of pleasure. This is an objectification which, as we have seen, forms the basis of the culture of death. [2]

2. The Gift of Life (Donum vitae)

With the approval of the Pope, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith writes that the human body, by virtue of its union with a spiritual soul, 'cannot be considered as a mere complex of tissues, organs and functions'; it is 'a constitutive part of the person who manifests and expresses himself through it.' A consequence of this is that 'an intervention on the human body [...] involves the person himself on different levels' (DV 3). We are also our bodies.

The Church's teaching on the right to life from the moment of conception 'is further confirmed [...] by recent findings of human biological science which recognise that in the zygote resulting from fertilisation the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted.' The Congregation asks a rhetorical question: 'How could a human individual not be a human person?' (DV I.1). On this basis, the Church can never permit procured abortion. [3]

During in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), not all embryos are transferred to the mother's body; many of them are destroyed. But these embryos are 'human beings and subjects with rights: their dignity and right to life must be respected.' Human beings cannot be treated merely as 'biological material', and embryos which are frozen are 'exposed to an absurd fate' (DV I.5). These are some of the reasons why the Church does not permit in-vitro fertilisation.

3. The Gospel of Life (Evangelium vitae)

The Popes do not very often come out with definitive statements that are binding on all the faithful, but in Evangelium vitae there are a total of three such statements. Pope John Paul II invokes 'the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors' and confirms that the deliberate killing of an innocent human being (EV 57), procured abortion (EV 62), and euthanasia (EV 65) are deeply immoral actions.

The fact that murder, abortion, and euthanasia are wrong has always been the teaching of the Church, but these statements make it impossible to wiggle out of. The Pope also confronts a very widespread myth, namely that 'contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion.' The truth is that the culture of abortion is strongest where the Church's position on birth control is rejected, because this leads to a 'contraceptive mentality' (EV 13).

The Pope writes that 'we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the culture of death and the culture of life.' In this situation, we have ‘the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life' (EV 28). He also urges Catholics in every country to celebrate an annual 'Day for Life' in their own way (EV 85).

For a Culture of Life

I hope this brief tour of the 'three vitaes' has been helpful. There is of course much more that could have been mentioned, and I encourage you to read all of the documents in their entirety. But, finally, I want to emphasise 'the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law' (EV 72). A law that permits abortion or euthanasia is an unjust law.

The situation is difficult for Catholics who wish to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, but we can ask God for help in building a culture of life with love – in our own lives and in our local communities. This is where it begins, with us treating our fellow human beings as persons and ends in themselves. That way, we can begin to turn the cultural trend in the right direction.


[1] Descartes writes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy, that 'nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing; from this it follows that my essence consists solely in my being a thinking thing, even though there may be a body that is very closely joined to me' (6:9).

[2] According to St. Thomas Aquinas, 'the vice against nature [...] attaches to every venereal [i.e. sexual] act from which generation cannot follow' (Summa theologiae II-II, q. 154, a. 1). I will spare you the details.

[4] The first-century Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, states that: 'You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a newborn child' (2:2).

fredag 13. desember 2019

The Divine Institution: A Collection of My Catholic Essays

"The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine – but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight."

— Hilaire Belloc. Quoted in The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957).

The painting above shows a scene from the so-called "Cadaver Synod" of 897, at which Pope Formosus' exhumed corpse was put on trial in Rome by Pope Stephen VI. Unable to defend himself, Formosus had his papacy retroactively declared null, and his corpse was thrown into the Tiber. Later, Pope Stephen was put in prison and strangled to death by an unknown assassin. Stephen's successor, Pope Theodore II, annulled the Cadaver Synod in December of the same year, and rehabilitated Pope Formosus.

This shameful event gives support to the saying of Hilaire Belloc – or "Old Thunder", as the Anglo-French writer and historian was known – to the effect that the Catholic Church could not have lasted fourteen days if it had not been instituted by the Almighty Himself. Its leaders and general members are, like all human beings, too stupid and/or wicked to get by on their own. Like Belloc, I am – as a Catholic – bound to hold the Church divine. But, while it may be so in that case, the reason as to why I am a Catholic in the first place is far from resting on blind faith. That is a matter, at least partly, of the mind.

In order to show, in some small way, that an intelligent person can in fact be convinced of the truth of Catholicism by reasonable arguments, I have written a few short essays. All of these were written in 2015, during the very first year of this blog. I have done very little to the original blog posts, apart from translating them into English.

1. The Pillar and Foundation of the Truth (28 September 2015)

"The difficulty of explaining 'Why I am a Catholic' is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true."

— G.K. Chesterton. Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds (1926).

There are many people who believe in God, and many who call themselves Christians. So do I, but I shall not argue for any such "mere Christianity" here. In this blog post, I shall try to explain some of the reasons why I have chosen to remain an active member of the Catholic Church [since 2012/2013], rather than going to one of the many other Christian denominations out there.

Speaking of which, that is where I want to begin my investigation. According to the 2001 World Christian Encyclopedia, there are as many as 33,000 Christian denominations in the world. [1] This clearly contradicts Jesus' own prayer to the Father that His followers "may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one" (John 17:22-23).

So, why is this a problem? This is problematic because every Christian should strive to live in accordance with the will of Christ, and we read in the New Testament that His will, among other things, involves the unity of believers. As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Now, the fact is that there exists a myriad of different points of view among those who call themselves Christians. There are Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals, Mormons, and so forth. Every denomination believes that they themselves are following the will of Christ, but they cannot all be right. Therefore, they are often in conflict with each other, even though Jesus warns us that "no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25). This can all seem quite confusing to those of us who just want to follow Christ and do His will. To whom shall we go?

It seems unreasonable that Christ should have left His disciples on earth without a lodestar to guide us, so that we are constantly "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Fortunately, it is not so. Before leaving this world, Christ passed on His divine authority to the twelve Apostles, so that they could "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). We read in the New Testament that the Apostles were given authority to "bind" and "loose" (Matthew 18:18), to forgive sins (John 20:23) and to cast out evil spirits (Matthew 10:1). Jesus received "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18) from the Father, and the Apostles passed this authority on to their successors by the laying on of hands.

It is clear from both New Testament writings and the earliest historical accounts that the new people of God were, from the beginning, subject to a hierarchical leadership of "elders" (presbyteroi = priests) and "overseers" (episcopoi = bishops). Jesus says that "if your brother sins against you" and refuses to listen, you should "tell it to the Church [ekklesia]; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17). The Church is thus described as the highest court of appeal on earth. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the Council of Jerusalem in about the year 50, where the following decree was promulgated by the priests and bishops of the early Church:
It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:28-29)
Such a hierarchy is necessary for the people of God to stand together in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all" (Ephesians 4:5-6). If the truth was up to each Christian to discover through his reading of the Scriptures, it would have resulted in chaos, since "there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). The fundamental Protestant principle of sola scriptura ("Scripture alone") is unworkable. For, as the Ethiopian eunuch says: "How can I [understand what I am reading], unless some one guides me?" (Acts 8:31). A visible Church is needed to preserve the pearl of great price that Christ has left behind on earth in the form of His divine teaching. Already in about the year 107, we see that this visible Church is referred to as "Catholic" by St. Ignatius of Antioch:
Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. [2]
"Catholic" (katholikos) simply means common or universal; in other words, something that applies to everyone. So, too, the Catholic Church is the one Church that, through an unbroken line of succession, has passed on Christ's own authority and teaching, like a ship on the stormy seas of history. Cardinal Newman once wrote that: "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." [3] Anyone who has come to recognise that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) has no choice but to follow her teachings, for they are truly from God Himself. Therefore, Jesus says to His Apostles: "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

I hope that I have managed, in this blog post, to give an outline of why I am a Catholic. It is for exactly the same reason as why one should hold any other belief: because it is true. Truth is the only honest reason why any human being should believe in anything. I do not expect any of my readers to be immediately convinced by this, but I hereby invite you to consider Catholicism with a pure heart and an open mind.

2. Upon this Rock (6 October 2015)

"If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?"

— St. Cyprian of Carthage. The Unity of the Catholic Church (c. 250).

In a previous post, I explained some of the reasons why I am a Catholic. I wrote there that the unity of believers, Apostolic authority and the interpretation of Scripture were important reasons, and I still maintain that. But I wrote nothing whatsoever about the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who is a stumbling block for many. Why should the Church be governed by one man? For example, why can't we have a Church in which all the bishops share their power? In this blog post, I hope to show that the primacy of the Pope has been a part of the Church's tradition since the Apostolic period, and that the early Christians would not have understood the mistrust of Peter's successor.

In the New Testament, we read that Peter was given a special position among Jesus' first disciples. Whenever the names of the twelve Apostles are listed, Peter is always mentioned first (Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). Peter is considered a spokesman on behalf of the Church (Matthew 17:24; Mark 16:7; Acts 2:37-41; 4:1-13; 5:15), and Peter is one of three specially selected witnesses to the transfiguration of the Lord (Matthew 17:1-3; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). There are many other examples, such as Peter being the first to perform a miracle after Christ's ascension (Acts 3:6-12) and the first after Christ to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:40). We are told that people "even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them" (Acts 5:15). But Peter receives his greatest recognition in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says:
You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
Peter was actually called Simon when he first met Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but then he received a new name. Throughout the Bible, this is a sign that a person has been chosen for an important mission. For example, Abram is given the new name Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and Jacob is called Israel (32:28). Peter comes from the Greek petros, which means "rock". So, Jesus is saying that Peter himself is the rock upon which the Church is to be built. We also read that Peter receives the "keys of the kingdom heaven", and that Jesus gives Peter authority to "bind" and "loose" in a more distinct way than the rest of the Apostles. The early Church theologian Tertullian (c. 155-240) commented on this event in several places:
For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which everyone who has [...] made confession, will carry with him. [4] 
If, because the Lord has said to Peter, "Upon this rock will I build my Church," "to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;" or, "Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed on earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens," you therefore presume that the power of binding and losing has derived to you [...] what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring [...] this gift personally upon Peter?" [5]
In fact, many of the Church fathers and early Church councils acknowledge and take the primacy of Peter for granted, far too many for me to present them all here. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386) plainly describes Peter as "the chiefest and foremost of the Apostles" in connection with Peter denying Jesus three times and receiving forgiveness later. [6] The Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, states that:
There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors.
After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter had the opportunity to make up for his denials. Three times, Jesus asks him: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" And three times Peter answers: "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you" (John 21:15-17). During this conversation, Jesus commands Peter to "feed my lambs" (21:15) and "tend my sheep" (21:16), another confirmation of this Apostle's position as the head of the Church. As St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430) says, "who can fail to know that the most blessed Peter was the first [i.e., chief] of the Apostles?" [7]

It seems clear that, throughout history, Peter's successors as bishops of Rome have exercised precisely the same authority over the Church as Peter himself exercised over the rest of the Apostolic College. This can be seen in the decrees of the Council of Ephesus, which I quoted earlier. The Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, held under the reign of Pope Leo I, also confirms this truth: "This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo." [8]

On the basis of all of this, we have to conclude that the Apostle Peter was chosen by Jesus to be the head of the Church, and that his successors reign in his place. It is clear that this is the Lord's will, for He says that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). The papacy is, then, a necessary institution for preserving the unity of all Christian believers. As Pope Boniface VIII writes in the bull Unam Sanctam from 1302: "Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster." [9]

3. Theology from Above and from Below (17 October 2015)

"I have not in this work undertaken to refute all the vain opinions of the philosophers, but only such as pertain to theology, which Greek word we understand to mean an account or explanation of the divine nature."

— St. Augustine of Hippo. The City of God (426).

During my conversations with certain people educated in theology, it has come to my attention that there exists a distinction between so-called "theology from above" and "theology from below", a distinction I had never heard of before. It is supposed to have something to do with whether one starts with God or with man when conducting one's theological investigations. Since I thought this sounded a bit strange, I decided to get some more clarity on the matter.

In my search, I found, among other things, an article comparing the methodology of the nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge with the twentieth-century Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz. Their differences help to shed light on the theological divide. Hodge begins by defining theology as follows:
The science of the facts of Divine revelation so far as those facts concern the nature of God and our relation to Him, as His creatures, as sinners, and as the subjects of redemption. [10]
According to this view, theology must therefore be a study of divine revelation – that is, the teachings of Scripture, with particular reference to God and His relationship with us humans. This is what is called "theology from above", since it starts with what God has revealed from above. In contrast, Grenz describes the task of theology as follows:
The intellectual reflection on the faith we share as the believing community within a specific cultural context. [...] Theology systematizes, explores and orders the community symbols and concepts into a unified whole. [11]
According to this view, theology is not a study of God's self-revelation to a community of human beings, but that community's own reflection upon itself and its beliefs. This is called "theology from below", since the starting point is not what God has revealed from above, but rather how a particular faith community experiences itself.

With the distinction between two different theological methodologies laid out clearly for us, I am able to give my own views on the matter. It seems obvious to me that what is today called "theology from above" is the most correct starting point. It is also the most traditional, and in line with the definition of theology that we – I mean Catholics – have inherited from St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologiae, we read that
sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God. [12]
What is called "theology from below", and defined by Grenz as the self-reflection of a faith community, seems to me not to be theology at all. It is not God who is the object of this science, but the religious believers. As such, I do not see any significant difference between "theology" thus defined and sociology (the study of human society).

Such confusion can be detrimental, since one is in danger of reducing the faith to what Pope John Paul II called "a sociological Christianity, without clear dogma or objective morality". [13] If the basic principles of theology simply are what human society at any time believes (or feels) to be right, this would undermine the importance of the eternal truths that God has revealed to us.

4. The Spirit of Vatican II (19 November 2015)

"The 'Spirit of Vatican II,' summoned from no one knows where, marched forth in triumph and leveled centuries of Catholic tradition in the name of embracing the future, when all along, in the midst of the council fathers, something was happening that would empty thousands of Catholic schools and hospitals and convents and seminaries."

— Anthony Esolen. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (2008).

On 8 December of this year, it will be exactly 50 years since the Second Vatican Council closed its fourth and final session. This was the twenty-first ecumenical council in the history of the Catholic Church, where bishops from around the world were gathered in Rome, between 1962 and 1965, to discuss the Church's doctrines and practices in light of changes in modern society.

"In the latter half of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church underwent a tremendous development. A veritable breaking-up!" [14] This is how certain events surrounding said council were described by John Willem Gran, former Bishop of Oslo. All of this would prove to be the source of much confusion and conflict; today, many radical proposals for changes in the Church are still justified by referring to something so vague as the "spirit" of Vatican II.

What kind of "spirit" is this? When Pope John XXIII announced his plans to convene a new council, almost a hundred years after Vatican I (1869-1870), many were hoping for a new Pentecost. The Swiss theologian Hans Küng spoke as if the Pope had opened a window to let some "fresh air" into the Church. [15] People were optimistic that the time had now come to reconcile the Church with the world. Unfortunately, there were also liberalising forces that saw this as their opportunity to push for a revolution. The beloved "September Pope", John Paul I (who reigned for only 33 days), spoke some wise words about the Council:
The greater part of the ideas that are attributed to the Council today is not at all from the Council. For many the Council simply means change. Some things that we had believed or done before, according to them, are now no longer to be done, no longer to be believed. This has become the meaning of the Council. [16]
As I never get tired of pointing out, the actual documents of Vatican II are packed with traditional teachings. Both conciliar popes, John XXIII and Paul VI, were clear that the Council was to be of a predominantly pastoral character, and that it would not proclaim any new dogmas. Those who cannot find backing for their revolution in the documents, go beyond these by appealing to the "spirit" of the Council, which allegedly represents what the Council Fathers really meant to say. The Venerable Archbp. Fulton J. Sheen characterised this as an "anti-spirit" when he compared the chaos that followed Vatican II with earlier times of crisis in Church history:
The tensions that developed after the Council are not surprising to those who know the whole history of the Church. It is a historical fact that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in a general council of the Church, there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic. Even at the beginning, immediately after Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles, there began a persecution and the murder of Stephen. If a general council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the third Person of the Trinity over the assembly. [17]
Which specific consequences has this had? There are countless examples of liturgical abuse in Catholic churches, such as "clown Masses" and experimental dancing in front of the altar. Even the Norwegian theologian Ola Tjørhom admits that "among the drivers of progress, things sometimes turned a bit too quickly". [18] He writes of "bizarre burial rites and the use of liturgies with a home-made feel". [19] But even worse than all this is widespread opposition to the Church's magisterium on matters of faith and morals, as a result of misunderstandings or deliberate distortions of the Council's teachings.

One notorious example of this is the controversy that arose around the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) by Pope Paul VI. The letter did nothing but confirm the Church's teaching on artificial contraception, but it was nevertheless opposed by over 200 Catholic theologians who seemed to think that the Pope's only function should be to endorse the personal opinions of believers. [20] This is a controversial doctrine that is still being ignored by many Catholics today.

In the post-Vatican II era, several organisations have emerged that have a stated goal of changing unchangeable parts of traditional Catholic teaching. Among these are the international movement Wir sind Kirche, whose two founders were excommunicated in 2014. In addition, there is the Women's Ordination Conference, a group advocating for female priests and bishops, and Catholics for Choice, which advocates for legal access to abortion. Several such groups are affiliated with Catholic Organizations for Renewal.

In 1985, the so-called Ratzinger Report was published, a collection of interviews with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. There, he says that the years since the Council "have been undecidedly unfavorable for the Catholic Church." [21] Later, during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI, he said that the last half of the past century had been marked by "so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy." [22] There is no doubt that the Church in the West has declined in many areas, both in terms of belief and the number of active practitioners.

Today, 50 years later, it is high time to shed some light on the Church's situation in the world of today. Those who falsely believe that the Second Vatican Council represented a contradiction of traditional doctrine must be corrected, and the true meaning of the Council must be shown to all those who despair of the many changes that have taken place. It is time to wake up (cf. Romans 13:11).

5. The Hermeneutic of Continuity (29 November 2015)

"Vatican II is not treated as a part of the greater living tradition of the Church, but as a totally new beginning. Even though it did not issue a single dogma and wanted to be considered a humble pastoral Council, some recount it as though it had been a kind of superdogma which makes everything else irrelevant."

— Joseph Card. Ratzinger. Address to Chilean Bishops in Santiago (13 July 1988).

In an earlier post on this blog, I tried to give the reader some clues as to what has gone wrong in the Catholic Church over the past 50 years. I suggested that the problem lies in interpreting the Second Vatican Council as making a radical break with earlier Church history and tradition.

"Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?" asked then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. "Well," the Pope answered, "it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutic". [23] In this post, I will argue that the Council must be interpreted in continuity with everything that came before it.

During his opening address to the Council Fathers in 1962, Pope John XXIII made clear what the purpose of the Council was. He said, among other things:
The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. 
The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character. [24]
This excerpt should be sufficient to convince anyone who might doubt it that the Council should be read as a faithful continuation, rather than a rejection, of Church tradition. The Apostolic authority behind the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council is the same one that is at work in the documents of Vatican II: "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me" (Luke 10:16). It is not possible (for a Catholic), then, to recognise one council and reject another; they are inextricably linked to one another.

If the Council had actually come up with a lot of new doctrines, as those who advocate the idea of ​​a "rupture" claim, that would have contradicted the whole notion of the Catholic Church as a divine institution. Jesus Christ made a promise to His Apostles that "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). But if the Church continually contradicts herself on matters of faith and morals, she cannot – it seems – be possessed by the "Spirit of truth".

6. The True Meaning of the Council (13 December 2015)

"Nowadays, [...] the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations."

— Pope John XXIII. Address to Council Fathers in Rome (11 October 1962).

On 8 December 2015, Pope Francis opened the so-called "Year of Mercy" in Rome. Here in Norway, the Jubilee year was opened today, on Sunday 13 December. Quite appropriately, this was done on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

On this blog, it may seem like I have only negative and uncompromising things to say. This is partly because I started the blog as a way to structure my own thoughts (and there is little point in censoring myself), and partly because I am no supporter of hiding one's true opinions behind a cloud of vague insinuations. On the occasion of the Year of Mercy, however, I wanted to say something a bit more positive.

When Pope John XXIII opened the Council in 1962, he made it clear that the Lord's truth is unchangeable, and that the world is still full of "fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against and dissipated". [25] But, as we see from the quote above, the Pope also had a desire for a new and more fruitful relationship with the modern world. In short, it was about meeting people where they are, with mercy and open arms, as Jesus Himself did when He was on earth:
That being so, the Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her. To mankind, oppressed by so many difficulties, the Church says, as Peter said to the poor who begged alms from him: "I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk" (Acts 3:6). 
This must be said to be the true meaning of the Council. There is a time to be strict and speak the truth with boldness in the fight against lies and heresy, but there is also a time for mercy. As the Council suggests in Gaudium et Spes ("Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World"), our own time is of the last kind, considering the hopeless situation in which many of our fellow human beings find themselves:
Influenced by such a variety of complexities, many of our contemporaries are kept from accurately identifying permanent values and adjusting them properly to fresh discoveries. As a result, buffeted between hope and anxiety and pressing one another with questions about the present course of events, they are burdened down with uneasiness. This same course of events leads men to look for answers; indeed, it forces them to do so. [26]
Even St. Paul reminds us of the great importance of considering the situation in which we find those we are trying to reach: "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it" (1 Corinthians 3:2). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it will often be more fruitful to focus on what a great treasure and joy the Church allows us to take part in, rather than on what we have to give up as human beings. At the same time, it is important to emphasise – as several others have done – that true mercy can never be a distortion of the truth. [27]

In this joyous Jubilee year, let us pay particular attention to the fourteen works of mercy, both spiritual and corporeal: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead; to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor. For, as Jesus Christ says: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).


[1] Barrett, David B., George Thomas Kurian & Todd M. Johnson. World Christian Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

[2] Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8. Translated by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. In Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson & A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.). Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm.

[3] Newman, John Henry. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 8. University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.

[4] Tertullian. Antidote for the Scorpion's Sting, 10. Translated by S. Thelwall. In Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson & A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.). Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0318.htm.

[5] Tertullian. On Modesty, 21. Translated by S. Thelwall. In Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson & A. Cleveland Coxe (eds.). Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0407.htm.

[6] Cyril of Jerusalem. Catechetical Lectures, 2:19. Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. In Schaff, Philip & Henry Wace (eds.). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 7. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310102.htm.

[7] Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of John, 56:1. Translated by John Gibb. In Schaff, Philip (ed.). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 7. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701056.htm.

[8] Council of Chalcedon, sess. II. Translated by Henry Percival. In Schaff, Philip & Henry Wace (red.). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 14. Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3811.htm.

[9] Pope Boniface VIII. Unam Sanctam (18 November 1302). Available at: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Bon08/B8unam.htm.

[10] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, p. 21. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993. Quoted in Johnson, Gregory. "Theology from Above and Theology from Below" (1997). Available at: http://gregscouch.homestead.com/files/hodgegrenz.html.

[11] Grenz, Stanley J. Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the Twentieth Century, pp. 18 & 78. InterVarsity Press, 1993. Quoted in Johnson, op. cit.

[12] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 1, a. 2. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1001.htm#article2.

[13] Pope John Paul II. Address on 6 february 1981. Quoted in Lefebvre, Marcel. An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 9. Fowler Wright Books, 1986.

[14] Gran, John Willem. Det annet vatikankonsil – oppbrudd og fornyelse, p. 7. Oslo: St. Olav Forlag, 2001.

[15] Wiltgen, Ralph. The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II, p. 77. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2014.

[16] Likoudis, James & Kenneth D. Whitehead. The Pope, the Council, and the Mass: Answers to Questions the "Traditionalists" Have Asked. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006.

[17] Sheen, Fulton J. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen, pp. 292-93. New York, NY: Image Books, 1980.

[18] Tjørhom, Ola. Fornyelsen som forsvant. Et kritisk blikk på Den katolske kirkes utvikling fra 1850 til i dag, p. 130. Oslo: Cappelen, 2014.

[19] Ibid., p. 135.

[20] McInerny, Ralph. What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained, ch. 3. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1998.

[21] Ratzinger, Joseph & Vittorio Messori. The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, p. 29. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1985.

[22] Pope Benedict XVI. "Meeting with the Parish Priests and the Clergy of Rome" (14 February 2013). Available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2013/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130214_clero-roma.html.

[23] Pope Benedict XVI. "Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia" (22 December 2005). Available at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html.

[24] Pope John XXIII. "Opening Speech for Council of Vatican II" (11 October 1962). Available at: http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/teach/v2open.htm.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Gaudium et Spes, 4.

[27] See, e.g., Pentin, Edward. "Bishop Schneider: Real Compassion Doesn't Mean Concealing the Moral Truth" (27 November 2015). Available at: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/bishop-schneider-genuine-compassion-doesnt-mean-concealing-the-moral-truth.