Tuesday, September 7, 2021

When does life begin?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 

2270 Human life must be respect and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. [Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:15 are then cited in support].

2271 Since the first century the Church hyas affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. ...

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grace offense. The Church ataches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. ...

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: ...

Arguably the most famous Catholic layman in the world today is President Joe Biden, and readers here are likely familiar with the fact that over the past year or so a debate has broken out within US Catholicism (and beyond, because it has a "liberal" v "conservative"//Francis v Burke etc globalizing aspect to it) about whether Joe Biden's views on abortion are reconcilable with his continuing to receive the eucharist. This debate and the Catholic life and character of Joe Biden are reported on comprehensively in this Politico article, "A Private Matter: Joe Biden's  Very Public Clash with his Own Church." (H/T: Bowman Walton). As an aside, a fascinating line in the article is this:

"There is no such thing as mainstream, there is no such thing as extreme, and there is no such thing as liberal — there is Catholic.”"

Even more recently, within the last week when the Texas state legislature has passed a "smart" law which effectively bans abortions in that state after a woman is six weeks pregnant while (so far) avoiding being struck down because it is "unconstitutional," Joe Biden's views have hit the headlines again.

With the help of Auntie Google, here is Joe Biden through the years:

2008 (NYT): "Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, departed Sunday from party doctrine on abortion rights, declaring that as a Catholic, he believes life begins at conception. But the Delaware senator added that he would not impose his personal views on others, and had indeed voted against curtailing abortion rights and against criminalizing abortion."

(This past week, but referring to 2015 views), 3 September 2021 (New York Post): "President Biden delivered a broadside Friday against the controversial Texas anti-abortion law, at one point saying that he did not agree with the proposition that human life begins at conception.

However, Biden struck a different note while he was vice president, telling an interviewer in 2015, “I’m prepared to accept that the moment of conception is a human life and being.”"

Then, this week past, after the Texas decision: 

3 September 2021 (Catholic News Agency): "President Joe Biden (D) said on Friday, Sept. 3, that he does not believe life begins at conception - contradicting his previous statements on when life begins.

Biden answered a reporter’s question on abortion on Friday, after addressing the August jobs numbers at the White House. “I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception,” Biden said. “I don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.” "

There is no intrinsic reason why Biden (2021) cannot be correct. Our understanding of things can change. One moment we believe the sun travels around the earth, the next the earth is travelling around the sun. But is Biden (2021) correct and Biden (2015), Biden (2008), nearly all Catholics everywhere and many, many other Christians wrong?

It is only possible that Biden (2021) is correct if some kind of redefining is taking place because it is not like the biological facts of "sperm and egg meet and SOMETHING TAKES PLACE" have changed. We could, for instance, define the beginning of life as, say, around about 13 years of age, when a "differentiation" takes place and the life form realises that he/she/they do not have to do everything Mum and Dad say, have a teen rebellion phase, and thus (so to speak) "the individual is born". Ok, I am jesting, but (I can only presume) that Joe Biden is now thinking that life begins at some stage later than conception. Definitions of when life occurs, if not when sperm and egg combine, could occur through theological and/or sociological and/or legal considerations.

I gather some would focus their definition on when the heart starts beating, others on when birth takes place, and so forth. 

I also observe that when (say) Jim and Josie are trying to conceive a child, the instant they know that life has been conceived in the womb (and sometimes couples "know" right after conception has taken place), that life is the child, the human being they have desired. But when (say) parliamentarians are debating some revision to abortion law, perhaps around the number of weeks which may elapse for when an abortion is legally permissible or the range of conditions for which abortion is permitted, the language tends not to talk about a "child" and "abortion" itself becomes a euphemism for what is being legally permitted. That is, within society, there are a range of definitions occurring in a variety of contexts in talk about the same biological phenomenon of a living being in the womb.

Back to the President: isn't the challenge here for Joe Biden, or any of us who profess the name of Christ, that the definition of "when life begins" is theological as much as it is biological or anything-else-ogical?

The Catholic Catechism is right to cite those Scriptures which understand life in God's eyes as beginning at conception.  Those Scriptures are common to all Christians. Perhaps even more importantly, what those Scriptures speak of is the comprehensiveness of God: the God who sees and oversees all of life, the God from whom nothing is hidden and to whom all is present.

It looks like Joe Biden (the individual) is theologically in an awkward place. I think even we Protestants can say that, whatever the awkwardness of the place that "President Biden" is in in relation to the debate within US Catholicism about whether he should be given communion or not. (I say "President Biden" because I suspect that if 1. Joe had retired from politics, and 2. Joe had changed his mind from 2008/2015 to 2021, there would not be a debate about whether communion should be given to former politician Joe Biden.)

Certainly, Protestants can have some sympathy for US Catholicism: the beliefs of Catholicism about when life begins are very clear, very solid and very much adhered to. To deny these beliefs and present for communion is a challenge in respect of the meaning of communion (which, among other things, is a sacrament of belonging in a context where belonging and believing are tightly connected). Protestants, after all, are themselves denied communion in Catholic churches because of what we (do not) believe.

I personally find it a puzzle that Biden has shifted from a position of "I believe life begins at conception AND I am committed to legal abortion being available in a civil society which is not uniformly Christian" - so many Christian, Catholic and Protestant politicians would adhere to - to his current position.

What the articles above do not convey is the rationale within his own mind for his new definition of when life begins.


Unknown said...

Hi Peter

CCC 2271 is true. But in the sub-apostolic age this was most likely a detail of two more obvious tenets of faith: the providence of God in giving life, and the proper relations in Abraham's family. Presumably, if one lives a daily life mindful of sub-apostolic precepts, one is in communion with the Body.

But those precepts do not take one close to a precise definition of life (2270), a theory of civil rights (2270), or a theory of church-state relations (2273). Nor do they invite an inference that the discipline proper to the family of Abraham has an analog in the criminal justice of modern (never mind postmodern) states. Moral certainty about all that depends on beliefs about modern knowledge and government that are beyond the scope of faith in Jesus Christ that the apostles could recognize.

And, among those who agree that disciples should not procure abortions, each of those views has a robust alternative. Perhaps viability rather than conception is the moment that matters. Perhaps rights are an historical construct. Perhaps ministry to induce penitence in the Lord is nothing like secular judges imposing fines or imprisonment. Perhaps states will best reduce the incidence of abortion with measures that are local or that support prospective mothers. Mitt Romney (US Senator, LDS Mormon bishop) has proposed to help families with children that includes prenatal support for the sake of the unborn.

The debate in the NCCB here is about the relationship that the RCC will have to a secular state in America. That is, it reopens questions about how and maybe whether Catholics can be loyal citizens of such a state that had seemed closed by the work of John Courtney Murray SJ in the 1950s. We can see this, not just in the logic of the matter, but in many of the comments reported from the bishops' debate. That is, some Catholics have drifted into a new stance toward American constitutional order and want to use the eucharist to coerce other Catholics into it.

Every NCCB is a powerless advisory body alongside the ordinary hierarchy. In this country, it normally gets little attention from RC dioceses and parishes, let alone from the news media. But the party for more coercion is pushing this matter into the spotlight. Why are they trying to reach fellow Catholics through the secular news media? It's not an obvious thing for believers to do. Their motivation could matter more than the occasion.


Unknown said...


Arguments about mores often fail at two points.

(a) If the truth of the conclusion is patent, then how have others failed to discover it?

Empathy with those with differing views is a moral virtue, yes, but it is also an intellectual one. And a good faith effort to persuade helps its interlocutor on the journey to a changed mind.

(b) If the conclusion is warranted by evidence, then what evidence, were it to exist, would dissolve the warrant?

This follows from what evidence is.


Anonymous said...

BW, I have read your comment three times and still don't know what you are saying. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I cannot avoid the impression that you are blurring the obvious fact that Joe Biden, whom you extolled in contrast to Trump, is at complete loggerheads with the teaching of his church about the moral status of the unborn child. Nobody can doubt this fact, embarrassing as it may be.
And your sweeping statements in your second paragraph are simply mistaken historically to anyone who knows how the laws on abortion in the United States functioned prior to Roe v. Wade; to the many legal scholars who have condemned the reasoning (as well as inadequate scientific knowledge) in Roe v. Wade; and to anyone with a grasp of Natural Law and its relationship to the state. You don't even have to be religious to grasp this - just courageous enough to look at the truth.
You will know of course that Democratic-run states like New York and Virginia have widened their abortion laws to the very cusp of infanticide. In New York state more black babies are aborted now than are born. If that does not trouble one's conscience, something is wrong.
Unless one believes that the difference between a human person and a disposable thing is her / "its" location and passage through the birth canal miraculously transforms the thing into a person. This belief is called Magical Thinking.
The humanity of the unborn child isn't hard to demonstrate scientifically- which is why secularists avoid thinking about this. Talk about "viability" is nonsense. Newborns aren't viable by themselves. Does that make killing ghrm OK? Apparently yes, in New York State.
The simple fact is that the moniker "Catholic Democrat" is really an appeal to tribalism, signaling to voters of Irish/Italian/Mexican etc heritage that you are "one of their tribe". Useful in working class Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the rust belt. Cuomo, Pelosi and Biden are at one in this. A far cry from the day when Catholic Democrats like Daniel Moynihan acted in defense of all the weak, the born and the preborn.
Since then, feminism, secular humanism and the rhetoric of cultural Marxism have become the guiding stars of the left and Biden, in his quest for the White House jumped on that bandwagon. Otherwise he wouldn't have gotten the nomination. Whether the wheels will stay on his wagon, given the dèbacle of the past three weeks, remains to be seen. But he certainly won't be recalled as a consistent or insightful thinker. And not as meaningfully Catholic.


Father Ron said...

In rather extreme old age (92), I have come believe that there is no such thing as a 'Community Conscience". God made us to be individual expressions of God's-Self in what has proved to be a less-than-perfect world. In that world God has given us each a sense of right and wrong (an individual conscience) and we have to live with that reality.

Of course, we do not exist in our own private bubble, and what each of us decides to do can have a profound effect on other people. AND YET; we cannot be another person's conscience - we can only hope that ours is at least as clear as that of our neighbour.

On the question of abortion - or euthanasia, for that matter (and former Evangelical Archbishop George Carey has publicly supported this process for its legalisation) - what is most intimately involved is the life (and conscience) of the person directly involved.

I strongly suspect that no woman takes the prospect of abortion lightly. Catholics, for instance might prefer to be allowed to use contraception - a process seemingly OK for non-Catholic Christians, even though the R.C. Church still considers this to be a sanitized form of contempt for life - though non-Catholics may not agree with this!

My whole thinking on moral issues is that we have to take responsibility for the conduct of our own lives - remembering that what we do can have an effect on the lives of others. (I well remember the early lesson of "Mister Do-as-you-would-be done-by" at primary school. None of us can abdicate our (adult) personal responsibility for what we in this world that affects the lives of other people. Jesus was often acting in support of specific sinners he encountered - against, sometimes, the religious sensibilities the so-called "Righteous"

I, personally, do not like the idea of abortion, although I do recognise that there are certain conditions under which this might be a better option (the health or well-being of either mother or child) - but not without social/medical support. There are, of course, known cases of 'spontaneous abortion'. This is considered medically (and spiritually?) to not be not under condemnation, being thought of as a regrettable, yet natural, occurrence.

I think that President Joe Biden has enough personal contact with The Triune God in the practise of his Catholic Faith; that he has learnt to live with what American society sees as incumbent upon the political leader of their country - as any astute politician will realise, if s/he want to stay in office. Pope Francis has his own eirenic way of allowing the POTUS to be what is expected of him in that position - despite the protests of some of his bishops in the U.S. The morality of Joe Biden compares very favorably against that of his predecessor - who wanted to appear 'righteous' in the sight of his people, but failed dismally.

Unknown said...

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy mind, and all thy strength... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets."

Thank you, James, for the kindness of reading my 3:02 three times.

I seem to have mentioned the CCC and USNCCB that + Peter mentioned, but not the Joe Biden, Donald Trump, American abortion history, state politics, Catholic Democrats, and various -isms that your 8:54 does.

As a follower of Jesus, I view politics only through the lens of his resurrection, ascension and enthronement in heaven. So far as I can determine, one who believes in the omnipotent Father does not trust a political faction about matters of faith.

In practice, I tend to ignore opinions that do not flow from a distinctly Christian experience of the blessed Trinity. Nothing else matters.


Anonymous said...


As we see in the Bible, abortion was not forbidden by law in the Land of Israel. Indeed, Exodus xxi 22-23 shows that feticide was not a capital offense, and a fetus's lack of personhood is mentioned several times in the Talmud. Consequently, even ultraorthodox Jews tend to be strongly pro-choice today.



So, hypothetically, any who only follow explicit legislation in the plain sense of the Bible are free to procure abortions.

But that would not be God's will for a Christian.


Anonymous said...

"I view politics only through the lens of his resurrection, ascension and enthronement... In practice I tend to ignore opinions that do not flow from a distinctly Christian experience of the blessed Trinity."

Very Amish, I'm sure. Does that mean you can't discuss politics with a non-Christian - or even vote, either?

But the majority Christian tradition, rooted in natural law (and universal rationality) as well as numerous themes in the New Testament, has never seemed so absolute to me. The whole point of Lewis's The Abolition of Man - especially its appendix - is to demonstrate the existence of natural law across many different religious and cultures.
As for abortion I am sure you know that in the first century Greco-Roman world abortion was widespread and entirely legal, and so was the exposure of newborns. Do you imagine that Jews, let alone Christians, happily acquiesced in this "cultural practice"?
Not at all. One of the reasons Jews considered the homes of Gentiles as "unclean" was the regular practice of home abortions, as Allison and Davies noted in their ICC commentary on Matthew.
If we are returning to such a world - and infanticide is pretty nearly the law now in New York State under the aegis of former Governor Andrew Cuomo - that is because Christianity has been progressively driven out of the Democratic Party.
Maybe the Amish have a point after all.


Anonymous said...

BW, your comment on Exodus 21.22-23 is very poor exegesis. Read it again and see what it actually means.
The Talmud is no guide for Christians either, Messianic or otherwise.
If you really want to know what the first and second century Church - the Church of the Apostles and their pupils, the Apostolic Fathers- believed about the common practice of abortion, then you know of course to look not at the fifth century Babylonian Talmud but the Didache or the Epistle of Barnabas or the Revelation of Peter.
All of these sources are easy to find.
Up your game, BW!


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter al,

At the heart of all of this is the tendency towards 'inflexibility', a subject mentioned in today's message from Pope Francis, below my comment here. I well remember being gently counselled by my Superior in my time in S.S.F.,when he discerned my own tendency in this direct. He referred me to the line of a Holy Week Antiphon: "Rigid sinews, gently bend!"


“Behind every inflexibility there is something bad, which is not the Spirit of God… For, despite all the difficulties we may pose to His action, also despite our sins, God does not abandon us but rather abides with us in His merciful love. God is always near us with His kindness. He is like that father who went up to the terrace every day to see if his son was returning: the love of the Father never tires of us. Let us ask for the wisdom to always be aware of this reality, and to turn away the fundamentalists who propose to us a life of artificial asceticism, far removed from the resurrection of Christ. Asceticism is necessary, but wise asceticism, not artificial.”
Pope Francis

Peter Carrell said...

Dear James
I realise there is a way to read your recetn comments as written in a boisterous slightly tongue in cheek way but I can read your comments as more "ad hominem" than I like to see here ...

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

My 7:43 notes what the Exodus xxi 22-23 meant to Jews in the Land of Israel.

They likely understood what they wrote in the language they spoke.

The Talmud was compiled much later, but on this point the number, depth, and consistency of its references show a solid memory of life in the Land. Abortion was not forbidden.

Jews before Christ could not have read the later sub-apostolic writings.


Many Christians believe that they are supposed to try to follow the plain meaning of an uninterpreted Bible. If their text is in the OT, that would be its everyday meaning in ancient Israel. The Jews often know something about that. The links supplied are representative of the rabbinical consensus.

Of course, other Christians find further meaning in OT texts that the first readers would not have seen. So long as we have some explicit creedal warrant for reading a text in that way (eg Ephraim Radner's Time and the Word, free on Scribd) we can look first at the warrant and then at the reading. Offhand, I do not recall such a reading of Exodus xxi 22-23.

I too mention the sub-apostolic witness against abortion from time to time. The firm prohibition was not in scripture, unknown to the Jews, and contrary to most pagan culture. The Body innovated.


Anonymous said...

Hi James

If one's faith is the lens on politics, one trusts Jesus. (On which, see Matthew W Bates, Salvation By Allegiance Alone.) But if one's politics is the lens on faith, then one trusts instead in some power of this world. Not a wise allegiance, but recently a common one.

Nobody would say that Abraham Kuyper was uninvolved in politics. He was the prime minister of the Netherlands. But his political theology was grounded in a Reformed ecclesiology that is itself founded on a doctrine of God. His writings continue to influence one stream of American conservative politics.

Nor would anyone say that Howard Thurman, the mentor of Martin Luther King Jr, was uninvolved in politics. But his theory of non-violent resistance to evil was grounded in an experience of union with Christ inspired by the Quaker Rufus Jones who was of course inspired by St Paul. Through King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the late John Lewis's Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Thurman's theology influenced the theory and practice of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

A Christian who starts from God and thinks toward politics can get there.

But I would not at all discourage Anglicans from at least browsing the highlights of Anabaptist spirituality. It can be helpful to those who have no idea what a church is for-- or even what being a Christian is-- if it is not telling its society what to do, whom to punish, and where to kill. And it puts second millennium notions like *two kingdoms doctrine*, *just war doctrine*, *law of nations*, *natural law*, etc in something nearer to an apostolic perspective. But at this late date the premise that membership in the body politic is not membership in the Body of Christ is taken for granted in most parts of the world. We are all Anabaptist now.

Possibly an even more rewarding resource could be testimony from churches whose societies were never part of Christendom. They, like the apostles themselves, have no choice but to start with Jesus, be his Body, and then grope toward a tentative relationship to their societies.



Anonymous said...

Father Ron, you might like this.



Unknown said...

And Peter, you might like Cultural Liturgies. That's James K A Smith's trilogy of Christian social criticism.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, worldview, cultural formation.

Imagining the Kingdom: How worship works.

Awaiting the King: Reforming public theology.

Smith's easy book, You Are What You Love: The spiritual power of habit, is effectively an introduction to his, well to his habit of examining all our myriad desires in light of a Christian and often Reformed understanding of love.

If you read any of them, you may hear Cranmer's collects in your mind's ear as you do.


Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman, for your link to the article about Pope Francis' recent declaration to his audience at the Vatican. What struck me particularly was this truth:

'The pope continued his series of talks on St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians by looking at what faith in Christ brings.

"With faith and baptism, people become new creatures, "clothed" with Christ and children of God in Christ, the apostle writes. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Pope Francis, whatever other Christian leaders may think of him, probably speaks for more Christians than anyone else on earth. We need to 'listen to him' (IMO)

(See - kiwianglo - for the article by Australian Bishop (Professor) Dr Stephen Pickard for a similar understanding of what Christian unity is really all about).

David Wilson said...

(Rather late in the day here.) Thank you Bowman for the links to Jewish thinking on abortion. The comment on "not deriving law from poetry" is an interesting one. I am inclinded to join James in criticising the interpretation of Ex 21.22-23. I do not think it clealy indicates that foeticide is not culpable. The ESV has a suitably literal translation:

"When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life..."

'child' here corresponds to 'yeled' in Hebrew and 'paidon' in the LXX (plural in the Hebrew and singular in Greek). This give continuity between what is in the womb and children who have been born - it was a 'child' before it came out. The context for v23 is the blow to the woman 'so that her children come out'. That is the context for the 'harm' and therefore the payment 'life for life'. If the blow simply killed the woman, the coming out the the child would not affect the punishment. So, 'life for life' must apply to the death of the child.

However, I'm not sure this necessarily justifies the prohibition of aborting early pregnancies. That what 'comes out' is described as a child might mean that it needs to be recognisable as such. A very early pregnancy which was ended this way would not result in something like a child emerging. I would say this speaks of the value of the unborn certainly in the third trimester, and perhaps in the second. It is less clear for the first.

I recall reading somewhere that at some stage the Catholic Church recognised the human life as starting at 'quickening' - which is when movement from the unborn is first dectected. This leads to the passage which is for me a more compelling one for the significance of the unborn: Luke 1:39-45. That the unborn John the Baptist ('brephos' in the Greek, as used for the 'baby lying in a manger') should "leap for joy" in response to the arrival of Mary does indicate not only independent response but somehow spiritual awareness. However, it is the arrival of Mary which prompts the response, so does not necessarily ascribe significance to the unborn Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you, David, the day may be just beginning. I enjoy the precision of your comment.

Nobody here or at the links assigns a value to abortion per se that is positive or neutral. The act is evil, even if some say that it is occasionally tragic evil.

But within that consensus there are differences of understanding. These are alternate ways of construing biblical languages, reading the scriptures, interpreting divine law, relating that to nature, obeying it as persons, following it in the Body, and representing it to secular states.

Less obviously, the absence of an express prohibition of abortion in the OT means that all parties have in their own histories inferred a divine prohibition where none had existed in the pre-exilic Land. They have tacitly accepted that discovery or maybe creativity has a place in serious obedience to God.

These same differences were evident in threads on That Topic. But because the stakes for churches were so high and the disagreement so wide, those debates tended to be too hot-headed for useful inquiry into our differences. So of course I am intrigued to have a topic where the church stakes are comparatively low-- I was surprised that + Peter took it up-- and where everyone from James to Father Ron is on common ground.

So how have your findings, David, affected the predicament of a biblical positivist? At the outset, he had a heavy prohibition with no text for it, and with Exodus xxi 22-23 widely cited as proving the absence of his prohibition. So to keep open the possibility that he will find an explicit prohibition in another text, he needed to show that this text should not be construed as the rabbis do (cf JPS 1917).

He may feel better if he thinks that what they read as "her fruit" should have been read down the millennia as "her baby," although that could be mere projection into the semantic field. It helps him a little more, if he can show that "harm" could never have referred to the mother as the rabbis think and must refer to the fetus. He can't. But as you show-- and as the rabbis know-- he has at least that ambiguity.

Meanwhile, he faces another challenge: Numbers v is widely read as describing a priest making an abortifacient and administering it to a suspect woman in the Presence of the Lord as a trial of her fidelity. If the Bible has a positive command to perform an abortion-- and if this command was recognised as such in the pre-exilic Land-- then all appears to be lost for simple biblical positivism.

Which is not at all to say that our hypothetical positivist is wrong about abortion per se.


Unknown said...


Yes, it's odd of me to discuss a hypothetical position, the Simple Biblical Positivist. But surely dear readers have noticed that, when discussions online get heated, voices who usually discuss scripture in other ways default to that one. Since no account of "discovery or maybe creativity" has won general acceptance among Anglicans, these voices cannot cite scripture in the way they usually read it. No wonder we talk past each other.


Can there be a Complicated Biblical Positivist? Yes, although he should stipulate his (or her) complications.

In the talmudic tradition, rabbis take explicit OT law, and that only, as absolute. Which is rather Positive.

But they also recognise many weaker inferences from the scriptures as having rabbinical authority. So, they presumptively disapprove of abortion as a reasonable but not air-tight inference from a law against masturbation. Which is Complicated, since that inference sits alongside others about the relative rights of personhood.

Christians do much the same thing when they affirm Jesus's stringent non-violence in a rather Positive tone, but then Complicate it by arguing that the *agape* upstream of non-violence may require killing to protect its object. That precept too was once "discovery or maybe creativity."


What I call Positivism is often disparaged as Fundamentalism or asserted as the Authority of Scripture. But in itself, the position need not carry the baggage of either. Everyone in the room occasionally argues in that mode.


Why any Positivism? When fists start pounding the table, it is serene to recall that different souls following different historical exemplars have different stakes in it.

Sticking here to magisterial Protestants, the primacy of scripture meant both similar and different things to Luther, Calvin, and Hooker. And all three sorts of primacy figure in discussions here.


Peter Carrell said...

It is a challenge to read the Bible and to read it consistently.

I've noticed on Twitter in recent days some comment about an approach of Kevin DeYoung to a biblical injunction:

“Weep with those who weep” is an important, biblical command. But it should not be taken as a one-size-fits-all formula that demands a rigid application in every situation where people are sad or distraught.

—@RevKevDeYoung https://thegspl.co/3E6WUmd

Given some of Kevin DeYoung's approaches to other matters, it is, well, intriguing, that he has this more or less "I'll interpret the Bible as I please" approach to this particular text.

And to put that observation in context, I think most of us, maybe even all of us, have for one or more verses in the Bible our own free for all approach, even if we don't exercise that option for most other verses!

Unknown said...

Honestly, Peter, I haven't read Kevin DeYoung in years.

Reformed readers of a certain temper need for the Bible, even the NT, to have more law and less precept than a Positivist can detect. So they necessarily fudge what wisdom will be treated as law and what as a good idea.

Conversely, I lean to a more Luther-ish heuristic in which a new relationship with wisdom-- Wisdom-- effects the transition from the Land to the Body. Law has not completely fallen away, but it has lost its old function, supplanted by the Way.

Any great religion will have among its adherents some who are temperamentally better suited to the ethos of another one. So we have Christians who think like Jews, just not as well as the rabbis do.


Anonymous said...

Pope Francis (to five reporters whilst flying from Bratislava to Rome):

"When the church defends a principle in an unpastoral manner, it acts on a political level. And this has always been the case, just look at history. What must the pastor do? Be a pastor. Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning, not condemning....

"But is he a pastor for the excommunicated too? Yes, he is a pastor and must be a pastor with him, to be a pastors with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion and tenderness.

"The entire Bible says so. Closeness is already there in Deuteronomy where he says to Israel: “Tell me what people has its gods as close as I am to you?” Closeness, compassion. The Lord has compassion on us as we read in Ezekiel, in Hosea. Tenderness was there already in the beginning. It is enough to look in the Gospels and the things of Jesus.

"A pastor who does not know how to act with God’s style, is slipping and does many things that are not pastoral.

"For me, I do not want to specify, since you spoke of the United States, because I do not know the details well of the United States, I will give the principle.

"You could say to me: “But, if you are close, tender and compassionate with a person, would you give the person Communion?” This is a hypothesis. Be a pastor, and the pastor knows what he must do at all times, but as a pastor. But if he goes out of the pastoral dimension of the church, he immediately becomes a politician: You see this in all the accusations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations the church makes...

"With this principle, I think a pastor should be able to move about well. The principles are taken from theology. Pastoral ministry is theology and the Holy Spirit who is leading you to act with the style of.God. I dare say up to here. If you say: can you give or not give? This is casuistry, what the theologians say.

"But always this condemnation, condemnation. Enough with excommunications! Please let’s not make more excommunications. The poor people, they are children of God and they want and need our pastoral closeness. Then the pastor resolves things as the Spirit tells him."


Anonymous said...

Sam Sawyer SJ:

"What Pope Francis highlights here is that closeness, compassion and tenderness are not pastoral *constraints* on how fervently one announces other theological truths but are *themselves* theological truths about who God is in relationship with human beings.

"Acting pastorally “with God’s style” is not in opposition to speaking forthrightly about the moral truth of abortion as unjust violence and saying clearly, as Pope Francis did, “whoever performs an abortion kills” and that “accepting this is kind of like accepting daily murder.” Acting pastorally with God’s style does not mean soft-pedaling these truths. Instead, it means finding ways to remain close, as God does, even to people who refuse or are unable to accept these moral truths.

"...there is a tendency among some Catholics to treat pastoral judgments about the application of these teachings as tantamount to heresy if they are not strict enough. Often, someone taking this kind of position argues that the theological principles involved are so clear that they admit of only one practical conclusion: Communion must be denied.

"Thus, anyone who disagrees must really be unwilling to fully accept the underlying theological claim rather than making pastoral judgments about how best to remain close to someone who rejects or resists some parts of the church’s doctrine, as they say they are.

But stated clearly in this way, the poisonous role of distrust becomes obvious. The conclusion drawn from distrust is effectively circular, guaranteeing that anyone who arrives at a different pastoral judgment on a matter of sufficient import must be assumed to be rejecting a theological truth."


Anonymous said...

Which seems to say that, in Francis's view, Catholic **enthusiasts** for excommunication reject either (a) that "God’s style is closeness, compassion and tenderness," or (b) that a pastor must remain in "God's style" even to "defend a principle," or else (c) that "the Holy Spirit [leads pastors] to act with the style of God" in the moment.

Insofar as the enthusiasts are themselves pastors, this is concerning. And they may indeed be concerned that their pope has obliquely compared them to the perfectionist Jansenists at Port Royal and the inquisitors who burnt Joan of Arc.

Francis's way of framing this reminds me of Stephen Holmes's friendly critique of Calvin's doctrine of double predestination. Stephen is an English Baptist defending hell from a flowing tide of universalism, but he faults Calvin with failing to explain how God's love follows sinners even there. That failure has resulted in a popular image of God that teeters unstably between the compassion of Jesus on the cross and the dark, loveless wrath that every abused child fears. And very often, those who are bullied become bullies themselves.

Theologians like Stephen argue that one can consistently say-- without gaslighting-- yes, excommunication and hell are real, and yet even in them God is still loving his sinners. I too have taken a few such positions. But when I see pious mobs reaching for torches and pitchforks because they do not like or trust God's "closeness, compassion, and tenderness," I wonder whether human nature can take in such subtle both/ands.


Father Ron said...

AVE, Bowman! You have expressed 'The Great Love of God as Revealed in the Son' almost as eloquently as Pope Francis. "Christ died for sinners". Perhaps the Holy and Righteous have no need of Him.Off to Mass this morning to feed on Him Who has Redeemed us. Agape, Fr. Ron

Unknown said...

Thank you for your kindness, Father Ron. But Ezekiel xviii 23 puts Francis's point in just a few words.