Monday, September 29, 2008

Light of Nations (Part One)

It would be quite wrong to take the [Second Vatican] Council’s decrees as a complete exposition of the Faith”. ~Pope Paul VI

Prayer of the Council Fathers

“We are here before You, O Holy Spirit, conscious of our innumerable sins, but united in a special way in Your Holy Name. Come and abide with us. Deign to penetrate our hearts. Be the guide of our actions, indicate the path we should take, and show us what we must do so that, with Your help, our work may be in all things pleasing to You."
"May You be our only inspiration and the overseer of our intentions, for You alone possess a glorious name together with the Father and the Son."
"May You, who are infinite justice, never permit that we be disturbers of justice. Let not our ignorance induce us to evil, nor flattery sway us, nor moral and material interest corrupt us. But unite our hearts to You alone, and do it strongly, so that, with the gift of Your grace, we may be one in You and may nothing depart from the truth."
"Thus, united in Your name, may we in our every action follow the dictates of Your mercy and justice, so that today and always our judgments may not be alien to You and in eternity we may obtain the unending reward of our actions. Amen.”

[Composed by St. Isidore of Seville and recited at both the First Vatican Council and at the beginning of each session of the Second Vatican Council]

I. Introduction

Over on his blog, Turretinfan has offered a lengthy reply to the article I wrote here critiquing his claim that the Catholic Church teaches that Islam is salvific. At the time I wrote the article, Turretinfan originally advanced the premise that Vatican II had proclaimed that a Muslim who ZEALOUSLY followed Islam could be saved from eternal destruction. His example of a zealous follower of Islam that the Catholic Church would claim is saved had to do with a Muslim man who first cut out the tongue of his daughter and then killed her after “debating” her about the merits of Islam after he discovered that she had converted to Christianity. His original comments were:
“Question for my readers who follow Vatican 2's proclamation that "the plan of salvation includes" Muslims: Can you see from the example above that zealously following Islam leads to eternal destruction? If so, how do you justify to yourself your church's claim? Can you not admit that your church has erred on this point?”
In other words, Turretinfan would have one believe that the Catholic Church teaches that a parricide who kills his daughter can be saved through such a zealous example of his Islamic faith. My response to his original salacious charge has already been posted on this Blog. Since my friend, Jamie Donald, provided an excellent summary of what the Catholic Church states in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regards to whether non-Christians can be saved outside of the Catholic Church, I originally was going to only supplement that response with several post-Vatican II magisterial documents that I felt would be helpful for BJ Buracker and the reader and more authoritative than “Hoffer on Lumen Gentium 16.” However, after I saw Turretinfan’s reply and the fact that he subtly altered the premise of his claim much in the same manner that Senator Obama has recently altered his campaign slogan from “Change You Can Believe In” to “Change We Need,” I felt that I had to give a more in-depth response. He wrote:
“The question is whether God graciously rewards those who follow Islam, not whether adherence to Islam is itself meritorious in the sense mentioned in the above block quotation. [My sur-rebuttal: God does not, but the question he asked originally suggested that the Catholic Church did so teach such] Catholicism claims not to believe in such salvation through meritorious adherence to religion. [My sur-rebuttal: Wrong. Adherence to the Catholic faith out of love for God and each other does save.] ”
He goes on to state:
“[...] I should point that many Roman Catholics do actually believe that following Islam will save you. "I believe that all roads lead to the same place," is the way I once heard a very elderly Roman Catholic put it. [My sur-rebuttal: Fallacious argumentation and irrelevant to boot as many Protestants, the Reformed variety included, believe the same thing.] That, however, is a moot point. Inclusivism, as popular as it may be amongst the laity, is not (as such) official church dogma, at least not yet. [My sur-rebuttal: Wrong. Pluralism is a heresy. Inclusivism is official Catholic dogma. If he had actually read Lumen Gentium as TF claims he did, he would have known that.]
Next, I should point out that saying that Muslims who practice Islam faithfully will be saved is different from saying that Islam itself is salvific. [My sur-rebuttal: this is true, but why didn’t you say that in the first place?] In fact, given the emphasis on grace, a consistent, conservative Roman Catholic would be hard-pressed to argue that even Catholicism itself is salvific (since salvation is by grace, not adherence to religion) [My sur-rebuttal: Objection! TF engages in fallacious reasoning of the Petitio Principii variety here. Without waiving the objection, I would state that God uses the Catholic Church as His primary vehicle to distribute both sanctifying and actual grace. Thus, in that sense adherence to religion is salvific. That being said, I would agree with Turretinfan to the extent that faith in another religion besides Catholicism is not salvific.]

Finally, I should note that Mr. Hoffer doesn't ever seem to dispute that Muslims who are Muslims (not Muslims who become Christians) are able to be saved as such. [My sur-rebuttal: Muslims who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or have never heard it preached might have a possibility of being saved, just like Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, pagans, animists, etc. . . It would appear that Christ has a means even for them to overcome their ignorance. Cf. 1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 2:4-10] Furthermore, that is the best and plainest sense both of Vatican 2's Lumen Gentium and JP2's Dominus Jesus (which, again, Mr. Hoffer does not seem to expressly dispute) [My sur-rebuttal: I may not have expressly disputed it because that was not the point I was contending against. I would respectfully voice my dissent to TF’s claim that his reading is the “best and plainest sense”of Lumen Gentium or Dominus Iesus. I will address this point at length here.]

In his attempt to escape the consequences of his erroneous claim that the Catholic Church teaches that a Muslim who zealously follows the tenets of his religion can be saved, his new argumentation demonstrated Turretinfan has more erroneous ideas about Catholicism. Turretinfan’s reply misinforms his audience on so many levels as to what Lumen Gentium states, let alone what the Catholic Church has taught for the last 2000 years on the subject as to whether non-Christians can be saved without belonging to the Church, I felt compelled to respond in the manner that follows.

You see, the problem is with his methodology. Given that Lumen Gentium is a conciliar and an authoritative magisterial document, one can derive the “best and plainest sense” of the few scraps of words that he is taken out of the document only by reading them in the context of the document itself and side-by-side with the other conciliar documents. Additionally, since the Catholic Church is interpreting Apostolic Tradition, the “best and plainest sense” of Lumen Gentium can be derived only from reading the document in the context of other authoritative expressions of the Catholic Church made throughout the Church’s history.

In his book, Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England Addressed to the Brothers of the Oratory in the Summer of 1851, pages 322-323, John Henry Cardinal Newman discusses the fundamental flaw of the Protestant way of studying Catholic doctrines:

Picked verses, bits torn from the context, half sentences, are the warrant of the Protestant Idea, of what is Apostolic truth, on the one hand, and, on the other, of what is Catholic falsehood. As they have their chips and fragments of St. Paul and St. John, so have they their chips and fragments of Suarez and Bellarmine; and out of the former they make to themselves their own Christian religion, and out of the latter our Anti-Christian superstition. They do not ask themselves sincerely, as a matter of fact and history, What did the Apostles teach then? nor do they ask sincerely, and as a matter of fact, What do Catholics teach now? They judge of the Apostles and they judge of us by scraps, and on these scraps they exercise their private judgment,—that is, their Prejudice[.]
Excerpted from Characteristics from the Writings of J.H. Newman. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. (1876), arr. by William S. Lilly with the Author’s approval

Turretinfan’s undertaking to summarize what the Catholic Church teaches in regards to Muslims from a snippet of the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium 16 and Iesus Dominus is a modern-day example of what Cardinal Newman decried. While it is true that the Catholic Church teaches that God’s plan of salvation does include Muslims, he is wrong in suggesting that a part of God's plan as the Catholic Church teaches is that Muslims can be saved by a zealous adherence to Islam or that they can be saved at all if they reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be blunt, the Catholic Church has never endorsed the heresy of Pluralism (which Turretinfan mistakenly calls Inclusivism). While one may choose to take snippets from the language of Lumen Gentium and then choose to give such snippets a facile interpretation that would suggest that the Catholic Church believes that other religions may be salvific, such a view is not sustainable when such excerpts are placed back into the context and read with all of the documents of Vatican II or the documents that have been promulgated later and studied next to what the Church has taught since the time of the apostles. It is important that Catholic documents be read in a Catholic manner in order to obtain a truer understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

We will start by reading some of the opening documents of the Second Vatican Council in the next posting.

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