Social Doctrine on Abortion

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published by the Roman Catholic Church clearly outlines how Christian politicians should treat abortion. Since Protestant churches are sorely lacking in applied ethical standards, we might learn from these documents both how to deal with unjust, evil laws, and how to anticipate martyrdom:

When — concerning areas or realities that involve fundamental ethical duties — legislative or political choices contrary to Christian principles and values are proposed or made, the Magisterium teaches that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals”. In cases where it is not possible to avoid the implementation of such political programmes or to block or abrogate such laws, the Magisterium teaches that a parliamentary representative, whose personal absolute opposition to these programmes or laws is clear and known to all, may legitimately support proposals aimed at limiting the damage caused by such programmes or laws and at diminishing their negative effects on the level of culture and public morality. In this regard, a typical example of such a case would be a law permitting abortion. The representative’s vote, in any case, cannot be interpreted as support of an unjust law but only as a contribution to reducing the negative consequences of a legislative provision, the responsibility for which lies entirely with those who have brought it into being.

Faced with the many situations involving fundamental and indispensable moral duties, it must be remembered that Christian witness is to be considered a fundamental obligation that can even lead to the sacrificing of one’s life, to martyrdom in the name of love and human dignity. The history of the past twenty centuries, as well as that of the last century, is filled with martyrs for Christian truth, witnesses to the faith, hope and love founded on the Gospel. Martyrdom is the witness of one who has been personally conformed to Jesus crucified, expressed in the supreme form of shedding one’s blood according to the teaching of the Gospel: if “a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies … it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

One of the footnotes here points to John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, which says:

73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should be guaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.

Climbing the Mountain of Time

As Pope Benedict XVI  says, speaking on Christian laughter: 

We climb up the mountain of time, bearing with us the instruments of our own death. At first the goal is far distant. We do not think of it; the present is enough: the morning on the mountain, the song of the birds, the sun’s brightness. We feel we do not need to know about our destination, since the way itself is enough. But the longer it grows, the more unavoidable the question becomes: Where is it going? What does it all mean? . . . the fear rises within us that perhaps the whole of life is only a variation of death; that we have been deceived and that life is actually not a gift but an imposition. Then the strange reply, “God will provide”, sounds more like an excuse than an explanation. Where this view predominates, where talk of “God” is no longer believable, humor dies. In such a case man has nothing to laugh about anymore; all that is left is cruel sarcasm or that rage against God and the world with which we are all acquainted. But the person who has seen the Lamb—Christ on the Cross—knows that God has provided. . . Because we see the Lamb, we can laugh and give thanks. . . 

Stellman and Hahn

Jason Stellman’s notice of conversion has been the topic of the week in certain Reformed circles. A lot of good commentary has been offered on why this conversion happened and what was wrong about it. Peter Leithart, in particular, has penned several great entries on the subject.

Stellman’s trajectory matches Scott Hahn’s in many regards, with the exception of Hahn being into theonomy for about ten seconds before he jumped. This reminds me of a post I wrote seven years ago, which said in part:

So under Hahn’s linear view, when one linchpin was pulled out of his system, the entire thing collapsed. Sola Scriptura was not taught in the Bible, therefore his Protestant apologetic was made of straw.

Opposed to this viewpoint is a web based, nonlinear, postmodern epistemology. This type of thinking has been described as “all of the beliefs in the system standing in relations of mutual support, but none being epistemically prior to the others.” (Greco and Sosa) My pastor said that Hahn could have started from the fact that angels exist, and built upon that, for example, rather than Sola Scriptura.

I’m more of a critical realist, so I’m not sure that I totally agree with this approach, but I do think it has merit. In my view, the historical record does not support the outlandish claims of apologists for Rome and the Eastern Orthodox. St. Luke painting icons of Mary anyone?

Catholics as Just Another Denomination

Mark Horne says:

But what if Roman Catholics are sectarians dreaming they constitute the historic and perpetual center of the identity of the Church?

What if the real Catholic Church is simply continuing on and the Roman Catholic Church is pretending that it is not lacking that full communion because it has created without warrant autistic conditions for fellowship?

Evangelicals have many issues to work on as they continue through history. But there is nothing to rejoin. If the Roman Catholic Church and another denomination join and receive, then that is simply two denominations uniting together. And if they join and receive under the shared assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is some kind of perpetual “center” that all others are “peripheral” to and must come “back” to, then all that would mean is that the Christian people of the other denomination have become persuaded of sectarian superstitions.

Calvin’s Education

In our day seminary costs a lot of money. I sometimes wonder how Calvin and the other Reformers did it? How did they get their education, how did they preach and write so much? Well, in some cases, if not most, they were coming from somewhat wealthy families. Carlos Eire writes of Calvin:

He had, after all, grown up Catholic and funded his entire education with income from ecclesiastical benefices.

A benefice was revenue from church property granted to an individual. This biography says:

Having distinguished himself at an early age, Calvin was deemed worthy of receiving the support of a benefice, a church-granted stipend, at the age of 12, so as to support him in his studies. Although normally benefices were granted as payment for work for the church, either present or in the future, there is no record that Calvin ever performed any duties for this position. Later on he held two more benefices, for which he also did no work. Thus supported by the Church, at age 14, Calvin was enrolled at the College de la Marche in the University of Paris, though he quickly transferred to the College de Montaigu.

So Calvin benefited from a church-funded education, he did not work his way through school like many of his modern followers are forced to do.

The Petrine Office

This is me thinking out loud. The prominence of Peter in the New Testament is striking, but it does not mean what the modern RCC says it means. So what does it mean? I’m not sure. The famous passage from Matthew 16 says:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell 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.”

It looks to me like Jesus is addressing Peter, not everyone. Peter features prominently in the Gospels and the early part of Acts. He is given a lot of attention. His post-Resurrection restoration by Jesus is portrayed at length. Why? Why the focus on him?

Thoughts:

Peter was flawed, he was not infallible, he made mistakes.

He was not in charge of the church in Jerusalem.

Paul says Jesus appeared to him first of all.

A party in Corinth claimed to be of him.

He led the church in the earliest days.

Peter was the rock, the leader of the early Church, but it was leadership in council, a conciliar model. He was not even first among equals, but one of perhaps a triad of leaders.

I believe that he did go to Rome.

The NT cannot possibly lay obedience to the See of Rome on believers as a necessity.

Jesus built the church on Peter in some sense.

The gates of hell did not prevail in some sense.

I Can’t Interpret the Bible but I Can Interpret History

Perhaps responding to recent apostasies, Mark Horne put the problem with certain conversions to Rome and the East perfectly:

You are not impressing anyone when you claim that you don’t have the ability to read the Bible for itself but you do have the ability to study all of Christian history and identify the supernatural office that can tell you what to think.

If you can really read and argue from history in the hope of persuading others, then why not simply argue for your views from Scripture?  If you aren’t following your own authority in deciding which church to submit to then how are you following your own authority when you read the Bible and believe what it says? If you are willing to argue over the meaning of the last papal writings, why not argue over the meaning of Scripture?

The fragmented nature of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches gives the lie to the “unity” narrative. And yes, you think you can interpret history perfectly, but not the Bible…patently absurd.

Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:

Contents:

1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized

I CAN”T WAIT!!!!

Byzantine Baptism

I am excited about the Justinian Code being online. Check out the following laws and commentary and see how seriously re-baptism was taken by the Church. And then think about how trivial rebaptism is in our day where people get baptized 2,3 or multiple times since we have lost the wicket on what the teaching of the Church is on the matter.

That the Holy Baptism be not Repeated. 

(Ne sanctum baptisma iteretur). 

1.6.1. Emperors Valens, Gratian and Valentinian to Florianus, Vicar of Asia. 

 We deem unworthy of the priesthood the priest who unlawfully repeats the holy  rite of baptism.  For we condemn the error of those who, despising the precepts of the  apostles, by rebaptising those who have already  received the Christian sacraments, do not purify them but defile and pollute them under pretense of cleaning them.

Given at Constantinople October 17 (377). 

See C. Th. 6.16.1.2. 

Note. Baptism was believed to purify the recipient from guilt of previous sin.  The  Donatists held that this sacrament administered by polluted hands was inefficacious.   Hence when anyone was received into their fold, they rebaptized him though already  baptized by the priests of the orthodox church.  The Eunomians and Novations, too, rebaptized converts to their faith.  This was considered sacrilegious.  Boyd, The Ecc. 

Edicts of the Theod. Code 61, 62. Gothofredus on C. Th., 16.6. 

1.6.2. Emperor Honorius and Theodosius to Anthemius, Praetorian Prefect. 

 If any person shall be discovered to rebaptize anyone imbued with the mysteries of the Catholic faith, he, together with him who has permitted this infamous crime provided the person persuaded to be rebaptized be of an age capable of crime shall be punished by death. 

C. Th. 16.6.6. 

1.6.3. Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian to Florentius, Praetorian Prefect. 

 No heretic must be permitted to rebaptize, either free persons or their own slaves who have been initiated into the mysteries of the orthodox, nor forbid those (slaves) whom he has bought or whom he has in any manner, and who have not yet joined his superstition, to adhere to the religion of the Catholic Church.   

 1. If anyone does so, or if a free man permits himself to be rebaptized, or if asks to repeat it, he shall be condemned to a fine of ten pounds of gold.  Neither of them shall have power to make a testament or a gift.

Giving Alms

How can we give alms in our modern context? By alms-giving I do not mean tithing to the Church. Perhaps the church you attend has mercy ministries or otherwise helps the poor, and if this is the case, so much the better. But in the earliest Church right up until recently, giving alms to the poor was one of the cornerstones of our religion. The Biblical witness is clear:

Blessed is the one who consider the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; (Psalm 41.1)

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2. 15-16)

The Catholic Church teaches “giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”

It goes without saying that if the Church took care of her own, and then the wider circle of her local community, we would have no need for welfare, medicare, or any other form of soft socialism. 

But I give no alms to the poor. Who are they, where are they, how would I do it? Should it be a direct gift of cash? Paying bills for them? How should it be given? Where are the guidelines? It seems to me that older civilizations had clearly delineated poor and mechanisms for giving to them. I don’t know what that would be now.