Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Humble Request to Turretinfan Pursuant to 1 Peter 3:15 Concerning His Endorsement of Garry Wills’ Book, “Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition”


Mr. Fan, a Presbyterian gentleman whose writings I have interacted with before posted this article on his blog on February 25, 2013:

Dr. Garry Wills is a lay Roman Catholic. His PhD in classics is from Yale (1961) and he taught history for 18 years at Johns Hopkins University. The Los Angeles Times describes him as "American Catholicism's most formidable law scholar," and the New York Times describes him as "One of the country's most distinguished intellectuals." Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America," won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993. In 2008, John L. Allen, Jr. described Wills as "perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years" in the National Catholic Register. His writings generally focus on historical topics, many of them on the intersection of history and religion. I wonder if calling him a "Roman Catholic Darryl Hart" would be taken as the mutual compliment it would be intended to be?

Some think that the dwindling number of priests can be remedied by the addition of women priests, or married priests, or openly gay priests. In fact, the real solution is: no priests. It should not be difficult to imagine a Christianity without priests. Read carefully through the entire New Testament and you will not find an individual human priest mentioned in the Christian communities (only Jewish priests in service to the Temple). Only one book of the New Testament, the Letter to Hebrews, mentions an individual priest, and he is unique -- Jesus. He has no followers in that office, according to the Letter.

It is not surprising, then, that some Protestant communities are able to be good Christians without having any priests. Some priests of my youth mocked them for that reason. They said a Protestant ceremony was just a town meeting, without the sacramental consecration and consumption of the body and blood of Jesus. When I was told one of my pastors that I had admired the sermon of a visiting priest, he said I should not be looking to have my ears ticked, like some Protestant, but should concentrate on the mystery of the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, he was implying, we would have no religion at all.

                        (Why Priests, Introduction, p. 2)

Gary Wills' proposal is going to be shocking to traditionalist Roman Catholics, partly because it would require a radical change in Roman Catholicism, and partly because that radical change would like the Reformation, at least as to a substantial part of its ecclesiology (his position was compared to that of Luther in the New York Times).

We hold to the priesthood of believers, and maintain that Christians have direct access to God through the sole mediation of Christ. Thus, we reject the idea of merely human priests, affirming instead the apostolic model of a church without priests.

Wills' proposal is one that is surprisingly ecumenical. While there would still be certain issues regarding worship that would need to be addressed, removal of the priesthood would be a major stepping stone toward Roman Catholicism being in ecumenical union with "Protestants."

Will Will's proposal be adopted? It seems unlikely. Those in power in Rome have every vested interest in maintaining the structures of power that require a priesthood.


I would note that I commented on Mr. Fan’s article.  You will not see the comment on his blog as he without the courtesy of an explanation deleted it.  Unfortunately, I did not save it either.  I forgot that Turretinfan often deletes comments where the facts do not fit his narrative.  His actions demonstrate the difference between a mere polemicist and a true apologist.  If one is going to defend one’s faith, one first needs to defend what one says while doing so.  I would humbly suggest that the arbitrary use of a “delete” key does not fulfill Saint Peter’s admonition, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks.” (1 Peter 3:15).

Since I do not remember my original comment verbatim, I am going to make my request for explanation a bit more formal here.  I took the liberty of re-posting Mr. Fan’s article in its entirety so one can not say that I was being unfair or uncharitable towards him in asking him to give an explanation.

            Dear Mr. Fan:

            Pursuant to 1 Peter 3:15, I am asking you give an explanation for the assertions you made in your article of February 25, 2013 entitled, “Garry Wills - Why Priests? - Introduction”.  Accordingly, I have posited some questions hopefully you will take the time to answer:

1.         Had you read Mr. Wills’ book before writing your article? 

2.         While you made sure to go through Mr. Wills’ credentials at the beginning of the article, I note that you left out the fact that he did not either obtain an imprimatur or nihil obstat which indicates that the book contains nothing that is contrary to the faith.  Did you intentionally leave off that fact?

3.         By endorsing Mr. Wills’ conclusion that the Church should abandon the institution of the priesthood, do you now also endorse his exegesis of the Letters to the Hebrews claiming that it is non-inspired writing that was added to Scripture by a faction of Christians who wanted to justify having a priesthood?

4.         By endorsing Mr. Wills’ book do you now also agree with Mr. Wills’ conclusion that Jesus’ death on the cross was neither sacrificial nor redemptive?

5.            While we can see that you agree with Mr. Wills’ opinion that the early church did not have the office of priesthood, do you also agree with his opinion denying the priesthood of Jesus Himself?

            I hope that after considering my questions, Turretinfan chooses to take down his article since it endorses a book that contrary to important matters of faith shared by both Protestants and Catholics. 

God bless!

Update:  Mr. Fan has posted a comment and a PS to his post.

First, the comment:

       It's hard to understand how someone could conclude that agreeing with Wills' conclusions
       means I agree with every argument he's made, but apparently someone did. To answer that
       question, no - not every argument. Some of Wills points are valid, some are not. Why anyone
       would expect me to agree with everything a Roman Catholic author rights (sic) is mystifying.


Now if Mr Fan had not deleted my comment, his readers would have known that Mr. Fan's comment is a misrepresentation of what I had said.  I never said there that Mr. Fan agreed with every point that Wills had written.  I only asked Mr Fan if he agreed with certain statements that Wills had made in arriving at his conclusion.  I formed no conclusions myself.  Why anyone who claims that he is writing for the glory of God and portrays himself to his readership as a sincere defender contending for the faith would want to misrepresent what another wrote is equally mystifying.  How exactly does a lie about what someone else says advance  the glory of God in any way whatsoever?    

Mr Fan also posted this PS:

P.S. I seriously doubt that any of Garry Wills' books (from his prize winning books, to his least well recognized books, and including this book) has been submitted for nihil obstat or imprimatur. Naturally, a book (like Why Priests?) that argues as one of its main points that there shouldn't be priests, is not a good candidate for either certification.

At least we know that Turretinfan reads this blog and has read this article specifically even if he will not admit it.  That said, based on his comments, one must naturally come to the conclusion that Turretinfan does not have a clue how one would go about obtaining an imprimatur or a nihil obstat or why it is even important.  One can obtain either without the Church agreeing with the positions advanced or contentions made.  An imprimatur and a nihil obstat do not mean that the Church agrees with the contents of the book; only that there is nothing in the book that is contrary to the teachings of the Church.  


Jamie Donald said...


I had noted Mr Fan's comment and was going to list it here. But you beat me to the punch.

Having said that, I remain mystified at the answer Mr Fan provides -- even if he were not misrepresenting your comments. He and his co-religionists frequently lecture us that it is through "critical discernment" that they accept some conclusions of an author while rejecting others. Thus, it is not imperative to accept everything a particular expert or writer has to say.

In and of itself, that statement is OK. But to simply assert that statement does not go far enough. It does not explain why conclusion A should be accepted as valid while conclusion B should be rejected. Was the same method used to arrive at both conclusions? If yes, then maybe the method was wrong; and while conclusion A may still be "correct," the incorrect method does not truly support it. In this case, asserting the conclusion with an invalid method is just a fancy form of the asserting the conclusion fallacy.

Perhaps the method used is the same, but due to whatever reason(s) it does not truly apply to the second situation. In this case, one could easily support accepting conclusion A while rejecting B.

Perhaps the author has differing levels of expertise between the first and second situations. This could lead to a faulty conclusion B, based on faulty information or faulty understanding of the information.

I could go on with several more examples, but I think I've shown well enought that simply saying you don't accept everything that someone says or writes is not "critical discernment." Critical discernment actually requires the analysis to give the reason why.

I took your pointing out Wills' themes which Mr Fan would find objectional and coupling it with 1 Pet 3:15 as a challenge for him to provide the answer to that "why."

So far, the challenge is unmet.

-- Jamie Donald

David Waltz said...

Hi Jamie and Paul,

I have had a number of my own posts deleted by TFan too (as well as some edited without my approval). In addition to this 'Calvin's Geneva' inspired behavior, his penchant for 'double-standards' has made it abundantly clear to me that it is an utter waster of time to attempt to comment in the combox of his blog anymore (I have not done so for months now).

Now, with that intro of sorts in place, I find TFan's use (uhhh...misuse) of Dr. Wills to be yet one more example of hypocrisy on the part of an anti-Catholic polemicist. It brings back to mind John Bugay's appeal/s to Dr. Peter Lampe, a liberal Lutheran scholar, to bolster his charges against an early mono-episcopacy in Rome. (See THESE THREADS for some examples.)

It seems gents like TFan, John Bugay, James R. White, et al. refuse to acknowledge that the very presuppositions liberal scholars employ to undermine the Bible are of the same nature/order as the ones behind their anti-Catholic conclusions.

Grace and peace,


Paul Hoffer said...

Jamie, your analysis is pretty spot-on. Also quoting someone just because they share the same conclusion is dangerous to others’ faith. Just because a Catholic dissents from Catholic dogma and parrots a particular Protestant distinctive does not make that person's views worthy of adoption.

Jamie writes: “Critical discernment actually requires the analysis to give the reason why.

I took your pointing out Wills' themes which Mr Fan would find objectional and coupling it with 1 Pet 3:15 as a challenge for him to provide the answer to that "why."

Me: The request I made to Mr. Fan is not so much of a challenge as an entreaty to consider the harm that he could do to someone’s soul by failing to offer critical analysis of Wills book which contains things neither a sola fide Protestant nor a “traditionalist Roman Catholic” can maintain without compromising the Word of God.

David said...“I have had a number of my own posts deleted by TFan too (as well as some edited without my approval).”

Me: This particular trait of Turretinfan is one that I find not so endearing. It defeats the purpose of communication. Why have a blog and invite feedback, only to delete or edit it he disagrees with it to avoid interacting with it? Just as harmful to the ends of meaningful discourse is Mr. Fan’s habit of deleting one’s comments and then set up a strawman’s caricature of what that person said just so he can knock it.

David wrote: “I find TFan's use (uhhh...misuse) of Dr. Wills to be yet one more example of hypocrisy on the part of an anti-Catholic polemicist.”

Me: Unfortunately hypocrisy is a lamentable tool wielded at times by Catholic apologists as well. Any sort of dissimulation defeats the very purpose of Christian apologetics, which is, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) Apologetics is not about winning debates or an argument or refuting or humiliating a hostile opponent as many commonly think. Apologetics is about presenting a series of claims to gain a deeper and more reasoned assent of the believer, to cause true inquirers to recognize with a moral certitude the reasonableness and trustworthiness of a particular religious view, and to discredit the skeptic’s argumentation (not the skeptic personally) through a demonstration that his argumentation should not be credited with reasonableness or trustworthiness. And for Catholics, apologetics further offers to an individual the means of discovery the reasonableness and trustworthiness of Christian revelation as realized in the Catholic Church, as well as the corresponding obligation of accepting it for themself. Further to be a Christian apologist is to be a bridge to Christ and leading others to Him, to bring peace to the Body of Christ, not division. And based on 1 Peter 3:15-16, if an argument does not build up faith, inspire hope or instill love for God and one’s neighbor, then it should not be made. I sometimes fall short of achieving this when I write or talk with others about my faith, but it is a goal that I do try to keep before me and one that I have come to understand more clearly as I have matured in my faith.

David writes: “It seems gents like TFan, John Bugay, James R. White, et al. refuse to acknowledge that the very presuppositions liberal scholars employ to undermine the Bible are of the same nature/order as the ones behind their anti-Catholic conclusions.”

Me: Adoption of the view that the enemy of my enemy is my spiritual brethren is not one I would use in making an explanation for the reason for my hope in Christ.

God bless!

Steve said...

Fr. Barron's review of the book...


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Steve, Thanks for the link! Fr. Barron is a great teacher and theologian. Mr. Fan would be far better off to listen to what Father Barron has to say than what some dissenting Catholic wrote in some book.

God bless!