Thursday, August 18, 2005

Descended into Hell?

What does "He descended into hell" mean in the Apostle's Creed?

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, an angel is "in a place" by the application of his power to the place. Non-corporeal substances are not "contained" by the place they are in, but more correctly said to "virtually contain" the thing or place by their their angelic power. Similarly, St. Thomas implies that Christ's beatified soul is "in a place" by the application of His power to the place. His power virtually contains the thing or place by the power of His beatific soul. But Christ's soul can be said to apply power per suum effectum (through His effect) and per suum essentiam (through His essence). The Catholic Church condemened the teaching, arguably held by Peter Abelard, that it was only Christ's power that descended into hell. Yet, St. Thomas Aquinas asserted...

"Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, penetrated to all the lower parts of the earth, not passing through them locally with His soul, but by spreading the effects of His power [per suum effectum] in a measure to them all: yet so that He enlightened only the just [per suum essentiam]: because the text quoted continues: "And I will enlighten all that hope in the Lord." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 52, 2)

St. Thomas contends that Christ's soul, descended into hell by application of his power per suum effectum, to both the hell of the damned and the prison of the just. Yet, also asserted that Christ's soul, per suum essentum et effectiam descended into the prison of the just. It was by the application of his essential and effective power, according to Christ's soul, that "He visited 'interiorly by grace,' according to His Godhead." (ibid.)

God's power is everwhere by His effect, but not necessarily everywhere by His essence. So too with Christ's human soul, as it is united hypostatically to the Divine essence. Yet, it is certain that Christ's soul can be in more than one place per suum essentiam et effectum, unlike angelic essence, as a consequence of the hypostaic union with the Divine essence (e.g., real presence in the Eucharist, per suum essentiam et effectum). Therefore, Christ soul after bodily death and before resurrection can rightly be said to be "in the place" of damned, the place of the limbo of the fathers, and the place of heaven, all simultaneously, but in a different sense.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts, "In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him. (CCC 637)."

In his General Audience teaching (, John Paul II states, "The Apostle [Peter] adds however: "In spirit (Christ) went and preached to the spirits in prison" (1 Pt 3:19). This seems to indicate metaphorically the extension of Christ's salvation to the just men and women who had died before him." Peter's words are a figure of some deeper theological truth. 1 Peter 3:19 has not been interpreted in the same manner "everywhere, always, and by all" in the history of Catholicism nor has it been definitively interpreted. For example, St. Augustine taught that 1 Peter 3:19 was a metaphor or figure which meant the "prison" of the body while on earth, and the "preaching" was that of the Godhead and the Patriarch and Prophets of Judaism.

Under the papacy of St. Pius X, the following article describes "descended into hell" of the Creed in this manner:

"descended into hell ... was no doubt a remembrance of I Peter, iii, 19, as interpreted by Irenaeus and others, which caused their insertion." ( CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Apostles' Creed )
Yet, according to St. Thomas' testimony, 1 Pet 3:19 had not always been interpreted by the Church in the same sense:

"[St. John] Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii): "As He evangelized them who are upon the earth, so did He those who were in hell"; not in order to convert unbelievers unto belief, but to put them to shame for their unbelief, since preaching cannot be understood otherwise than as the open manifesting of His Godhead. which was laid bare before them in the lower regions by His descending in power into hell. [St.] Augustine however, furnishes a better exposition of the text in his Epistle to Evodius quoted above, namely, that the preaching is not to be referred to Christ's descent into hell, but to the operation of His Godhead, to which He gave effect from the beginning of the world. Consequently, the sense is, that "to those (spirits) that were in prison"--that is, living in the mortal body, which is, as it were, the soul's prison-house--"by the spirit" of His Godhead "He came and preached" by internal inspirations, and from without by the admonitions spoken by the righteous: to those, I say, He preached "which had been some time incredulous," i.e. not believing in the preaching of Noe, "when they waited for the patience of God," whereby the chastisement of the Deluge was put off: accordingly (Peter) adds: "In the days of Noe, when the Ark was being built." "(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 52, 2)
St. John Damascene seems to describe 1 Pet 3:19 differently that does St. Augustine. St. Thomas perfers St. Augustines metaphor to St. John's. Both claim "preaching" above as a metaphor for the "open manifesting of His Godhead" but in different ways and in different contexts. John Paul II seems to describe preaching in the same metaphorical sense.

St. Thomas asserted that Christ soul was "in the place" of the hell of the damned and the limbo of the fathers simultaneously.

"A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting. In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. so that He visited them "in place," according to His soul, whom He visited "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 52, 2)
Consequently, "He descended into hell" may mean that Christ's beatified soul, "by application of His essence and power to the place", and not merely per suum effectum, but also per suum essentiam, "virtually contained" the souls of the just in limbus paternum, thereby visiting them "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead.

God bless,


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is Natural Family Planning (NFP) a heresy?

Some have suggested that Natural Family Planning (NFP), which is periodic abstinence from sex to avoid pregnancy, is a heresy promoted since Vatican II. If this is to suggest that every use of NFP is sinful, then they are terribly mistaken.

One so-called "traditionalist Catholic" stated on a Catholic Answers Forum discussion ...

"We have never used NFP because we believe that it is up to God to decide how many children we should have."

God certainly does, whether you use NFP or not.

"We traditionalists Catholics call this Catholic birth control when NFP is used."

Aren't traditionalist Catholics called to submit to the pope as their superior in matters of faith and morals? Do you agree with Pope St. Pius X, for example, when he asserted that "there can be no holiness in dissension with the Pope?"

"We have been taught before we got married by priests that there are various reasons for not having children ... but it is abstinence that is used."
Yes. Catholics call this Natural Family Planning (NFP).

"... why do they insist on not resisting the temptation to give in to the birth control mentality that has been promoted since Vatican II? Obviously there is something wrong with Vatican II just from this immoral practice of Catholic birth control."
Ah, your ignorance of pre-Vatican II teachings of the Catholic Church is showing. Observe,
"The first time Rome spoke on the matter [of periodic continence to avoid pregnancy] was 1853, when the Sacred Penitentiary answered a dubium (a formal request for an official
clarification) submitted by the bishop of Amiens, France. He asked, "Should those spouses be reprehended who make use of marriage only on those days when (in the opinion of some doctors) conception is impossible?" The reply was: "After mature examination, we have decided that such spouses should not be disturbed [or disquieted], provided they do nothing that impedes generation" (quoted in J. Montánchez, Teología Moral 654, my translation). By the expression "impedes generation," it is obvious the Vatican meant the use of onanism (or coitus interruptus, now popularly called "withdrawal"), condoms, etc. Otherwise the reply would be self-contradictory.

The next time the issue was raised was in 1880, when the Sacred Penitentiary issued a more general response . The precise question posed was this: "Whether it is licit to make use of marriage only on those days when it is more difficult for conception to occur?" The response was: "Spouses using the aforesaid method are not to be disturbed; and a confessor may, with due caution, suggest this proposal to spouses, if his other attempts to lead them away from the detestable crime of onanism have proved fruitless." (This decision was published in Nouvelle Revue Théologique 13 [1881]: 459–460 and in Analecta Iuris Pontificii 22 [1883], 249.) One could not ask for a more obvious and explicit proof that more than eighty years before Vatican II, Rome saw a great moral difference between NFP (as we now call it) and contraceptive methods, which Catholic moralists then referred to as onanism. This was the doctrine and pastoral practice that all priests learned in seminary from the mid-nineteenth century onward. Before Pius XI was elected, Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Benedict XV all clearly approved of this status quo established by their own Sacred Penitentiary and never showed the slightest inclination to reverse its decisions of 1853 and 1880."

[Fr. Brian Harrison, Is Natural Family Planning a Heresy? (This Rock: February 2005)]
I recommend the following book by Peter Vere and Patrick Madrid, called More Catholic Than The Pope - An Inside Look At Extreme Traditionalism.

God bless,


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch

"1. The Pontifical Biblical Commission - Am I to reject Wellhousen source criticism since the PBC says that Moses wrote the whole Torah? Is there any way I can look at it more ambiguously? Benedict XVI wrote, in his book on Genesis, that the first creation story was probably written during the Babylonian Exile. Was Cardinal Ratzinger spreading heresy?"

I'm not familiar with what Wellhousen says specifically, but Catholics are not bound to reject the JEDP redactor hypothesis as though it were a condemned opinion. (For an quick blurb on JEDP redactor hypothesis, see 4th question here: Quick Questions (This Rock: March 1994) . Neither ought the JEDP hypothesis to be understood as binding Catholic doctrine. It's merely a speculative hypothesis, which as of yet has no binding authority upon Catholic beliefs. I tend to agree more with the GELND theory, which claims that the Pentateuch is a compilation of five sources: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. ;)

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote,
"There were times when Israel was so preoccupied with the sufferings or the hopes of its own history, so fastened upon the here and now, that there was hardly any use in its looking back at creation; indeed, it hardly could. The moment when creation became a dominant theme occurred during the Babylonian Exile. It was then that the account that we have just heard -- based, to be sure, on very ancient traditions -- assumed its present form." (In the Beginning -A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)

Has Cardinal Ratzinger contradicted the authentic teaching of the Church? I don't think so. Cardinal Ratzinger isn't even denying the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He is stating a hypothesis of later redaction from very ancient traditions which may have given us the present form of the Genesis account.

What the 1906 Pontifical Bible Commission (PBC) railed against were those that would state as fact that Moses was not the author based upon their so-called certain "scientific evidence" regarding bible authorship. There's a difference in presenting a theological speculation or hypothesis in contrast to presenting an opinion as though it were fact which we are to trust as more authoritative than magisterial teaching. For more on the proper role of the theologian, including the problem of "dissent" versus "personal difficulty" regarding Catholic teaching, I recommend the following Instruction on the Vocation of the Theologian, promulgated by Pope John Paul II:

Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Compare Cardinal Ratzinger's biblical hypothesis (a hypothesis to which Catholics are free to assent or dissent) to the PBC responses in question:
First Question: Whether the arguments amassed by critics [as of 1906] to impugn the Mosaic authenticity of the sacred books designated by the name Pentateuch are of sufficient weight, notwithstanding the collective testimony of witnesses to the contrary found in both Testaments, the persistent agreement of the Jewish people, the constant tradition of the Church, and the internal evidence derived from the text itself, to justify the statement that these books do not have Moses as their author but were compiled from sources for the most part posterior to the time of Moses.

Response: Negative.

(Pontifical Bible Commission, Responsum de Mosaica authentia Pentateuchi, June 27, 1906; ASS 39 (1906) 377-78; translated by Dean P. Bechard, The Scripture Documents - An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings, 188)

The Church has responded that the 1906 arguments against Mosaic authorship are not of sufficient weight to decidedly discount Mosaic authorship, given the testimony FOR Mosaic authorship by Scripture and Catholic tradition. This response refutes the school of thought that would, with a pretense of scientific certainty, totally discount the traditional Catholic view of Mosaic authorship. Does this mean that after Moses died, the Church refutes the possibility of redaction of the biblical texts? No. That's NOT what the PBC asserted. Observe,

Second Question: [First part:] Whether the Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch necessarily postulates such a redaction of the whole work that requires us absolutely to maintain that Moses wrote with his own hand or dictated to amanuenses all and everything contained in it; [Second part:] or whether it is possible to admit the hypothesis of those who think that he entrusted the composition of the work itself, which he himself conceived under the influence of divine inspiration, to some other person or persons, but in such a way that they faithfully rendered his own thought, wrote nothing contrary to his will, and omitted nothing; and that the work thus produced, being approved by Moses as the principal and inspired author, was made public under his name.

Response: Negative to the first part; affirmative to the second part.

Third Question: Whether it may be granted without prejudice to the Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch that Moses in the production of his work made use of sources, whether written documents or oral traditions, and from these, in accordance with his special purposes and under the influence of divine inspiration, he selected some things, either verbatim or in substance, summarized or amplified, and inserted them into his work.

Response: Affirmative.

Fourth Question: Whether, granted the substantial Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch, it may be admitted that in the long course of the centuries certain alterations have been introduced into the text, such as additions after the death of Moses either appended by an inspired author or inserted into the text as glosses or explanations; certain words or forms translated from the ancient into more current languages; or finally, faulty readings that can be attributed to the error of copyists, concerning which it is permissible to investigate and judge according to the norms of criticism.

Response: Affirmative, subject to the judgment of the Church. (ibid, 189)

The PBC responses above are not mere theories, but are authoritative decision published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Acts of the Apostolic See), which means it is an authentic magisterial decision that until abrogated by the Roman See, requires religious submission by Catholics. What it states is not immutable, but it certainly is nothing that can be replaced by the counter-magisterial views of any theologian.

In short, as St. Thomas Aquinas asserted: "We must abide rather by the pope's judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well versed he may be in divine Scripture" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Questiones Quodlibetales, IX:8).

I also try to keep in mind the articulate perspective of C.S. Lewis with regard to the trustworthiness of biblical criticism (or lack thereof):

C.S. Lewis on Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

God bless,