Friday, February 16, 2007

What about Limbo?

According to Fr. John Hardon, S.J.,

WHAT IS THE FATE OF UNBAPTIZED INFANTS? The fate of the unbaptized infants is left to the mercy of God. It is generally taught that the souls of those who depart this life with original sin on their souls, but without actual sin, go to limbo.

WHAT IS LIMBO? According to St. Thomas, limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness but without the supernatural vision of God to which we have no natural right.

[Fr. John Hardon, The Question and Answer Catechism]

The words, "generally taught," means that this teaching is among the "common teaching" (sententia communis) of Catholics, which according to Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pertains still to the field of "free opinion," and is accepted by theologians generally. In other words, it has not been formally proposed as doctrine (sententia certa) of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal and speaking as a theologian, stated:

"Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally—and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as Prefect of the Congregation—I would abandon it since it was only a theological hypothesis. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism. To put it in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). One should not hesitate to give up the idea of “limbo” if need be (and it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed “limbo” also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer); but the concern behind it must not be surrendered. Baptism has never been a side issue for faith; it is not now, nor will it ever be." (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report (1985), pp. 147-148)

"Pope [John Paul II] made a decisive turn in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, a change already anticipated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when he expressed the simple hope that God is powerful enough to draw to himself all those who were unable to receive the sacrament." (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World (2002), pp. 401-402)

John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae stated, to women who have had an abortion:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. (no. 99)

In another English version of Evangelium Vitae, from the Vatican web page, the same paragraph states:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. . . . The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. (no. 99)

The latter version does not reflect the Latin edition which was officially published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by John Paul II affirms:

1258 ... desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

The "decisive turn" and "change" which Cardinal Ratzinger refers to above pertains to the shift that the above papal teachings have taken in comparison to the non-immutable teachings of earlier popes. For example…

Pius XII, Address to Italian Midwives (1951):

If what We have said up to now concerns the protection and care of natural life, much more so must it concern the supernatural life, which the newly born receives with Baptism. In the present economy there is no other way to communicate that life to the child who has not attained the use of reason. Above all, the state of grace is absolutely necessary at the moment of death. Without it salvation and supernatural happiness—the beatific vision of God—are impossible. An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism; to the still unborn or newly born this way is not open. . . . so it is easy to understand the great importance of providing for the baptism of the child deprived of complete reason who finds himself in grave danger or at death's threshold.

The Roman Catechism, promulgated by Pius V explained the urgent need to baptize infants:

"The faithful are earnestly to be exhorted to take care that their children be brought to the church, as soon as it can be done with safety, to receive solemn Baptism. Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death."

The pre-Augustinian view is expressed by St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

It will happen, I believe . . . that those last mentioned [infants dying without baptism] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, though unsealed [by baptism], they are not wicked. . . . For from the fact that one does not merit punishment it does not follow that one is worthy of being honored, any more than it follows that one who is not worthy of a certain honor deserves on that account to be punished. [Orat., xl, 23]

Although not explicitly called “limbo” the pre-Augustinian teaching above is such that those who die in original sin only will suffer from what is called poena damni (excluded from the Beatific Vision of God), and not suffer what is called poena sensus (torment).

St. Augustine’s early teaching tends to agree with the above. Prior to the Pelagian heresy, St. Augustine wrote in De libero arbitrio III, discussing the fate of unbaptized infants after death:

"It is superfluous to inquire about the merits of one who has not any merits. For one need not hesitate to hold that life may be neutral as between good conduct and sin, and that as between reward and punishment there may be a neutral sentence of the judge."

Yet St. Augustine later appears to change his view. He influenced the Synod of Carthage IV (AD 418) to condemn the proposition that “an intermediate place, or of any place anywhere at all (ullus alicubi locus), in which children who pass out of this life unbaptized live in happiness" (Denzinger 102).

There is some evidence that suggests Pope St. Zosimus confirmed the above condemnation from Carthage, although other manuscripts contain a different canon 3:

Can. 3 It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: "In my Father's house there are many mansions" [Jn 14:2]: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where the blessed infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For when the Lord says: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God" [Jn 3:5], what Catholic will doubt that he will be a partner of the devil who has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ? For he who lacks the right part will without doubt run into the left." [Denzinger 103, footnote 2]

Thus, without using the word “limbus” St. Augustine contends against the common teaching that limbo is a place of happiness for those who die in original sin only, yet excludes from the Beatific Vision of God. He instead asserted that the fate of infants who die without sacramental baptism includes both poena damni and poena sensus, yet the poena sensus which infants suffer is the “mildest condemnation of all” (De peccat. meritis I, xxi). This view seems to be the one held for centuries in the west, to include St. Anselm (d. 1109).

Peter Abelard (d. 1142) rejected the notion of material torment (poena sensus) and retained only the pain of loss (poena damni) as the eternal punishment of original sin (cf. Comm. in Rom.). While other teachings of Abelard were condemned, this particular view was not, and it became accepted by Catholic theologians. Peter Lombard (d. about 1160-64) popularized this view ( Sent. II, xxxiii, 5). It was accepted by Pope Innocent III, who asserted that those dying with only original sin on their souls will suffer "no other pain, whether from material fire or from the worm of conscience, except the pain of being deprived forever of the vision of God” (Corp. Juris, Decret. l. III, tit. xlii, c. iii -- Majores). Many theologians held that this poena still implied some “spiritual torment.”

St. Thomas Aquinas
appear to have been the first to hold the view that limbo was a place of natural bliss. He denied that they suffer from any "interior affliction." In other words, he denies they experience any pain of loss (nihil omnino dolebunt de carentia visionis divinae -- "In Sent.", II, 33, q. ii, a.2). He furthermore denied that these souls have any knowledge of the supernatural destiny they have missed. In St. Thomas' view "limbo" is not a mere negative state of immunity from suffering and sorrow, but a state of positive happiness in which the soul is united to God by a knowledge and love of him proportionate to nature's capacity.

The only magisterial text which I could find that even mentions "limbo of the children" is the condemnation of the Jansenist errors from Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei, Aug. 28, 1794, "Baptism" section 3:

26. The [Jansenist] doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable, that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of the limbo of the children) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of the punishment of fire, just as if, by this very fact, that these who remove the punishment of fire introduced that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about which the Pelagians idly talk,--false rash injurious to Catholic schools." [Denzinger 1526]

The nature of the punishment of those who do indeed die in original sin only is still debatable within Catholic teaching. What is not debatable, I think, is that if one does indeed die without being either sacramentally baptized or extra-sacramentally baptized by desire, then they will never enjoy the Beatific Vision of God (the eternal lack of the Beatific Vision is called "hell"). In other words, the teaching that those who die in original sin only descend immediately to hell, but to undergo a punishment different than that of the wicked, is taught universally in several magisterial texts to include Ecumenical Councils.

Innocent III, Ex parte tua, Jan 12, 1206:

"The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell" (Denzinger 410)

Council of Lyons II, 1274:

"The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments." (Denzinger 464)

John XXII, Nequaquam sine dolere, Nov 21, 1321:

"...the souls...of those who die in mortal sin, or with only original sin descend immediately into hell; however, to be punished with different penalties and in different places." (Denzinger 493a)

Council of Florence, 1438-1445:

"the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds" (Denzinger 694)

Council of Trent declared that justification from original sin is not possible...

"...without the washing unto regeneration or the desire for the same." [Paul III, Council of Trent, Session VI, January 1547, chapter V].

Catholic doctrine (sententia certa or "certain teaching") does not affirm as certain teaching that aborted/miscarried infants absolutely go to heaven. Yet Catholic dogma (de fide dogma or "truth of the faith") does affirm that IF anyone dies without being in a state of grace (infants included), then they descend immediately and eternally to hell “to undergo punishment of different kinds.”

Citing the above magisterial texts, Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (1960), describes the following teaching as de fide (immutable truths of faith):

"Souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God." [de fide]." (p. 113)

Consequently, in all that has been discussed about limbo, there are two open disputes:

  1. What is the nature of the punishment for those who die in a state of original sin only? Theologians from Augustine to present have disagreed on the matter.
  2. Can infants be sanctified extra-sacramentally, even within the womb, by “desire?” Many theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas claim they cannot. Others, such as St. Bernard of Clairveaux (d. 1153) and Cardinal Tommaso de Vio Gaitani Cajetan (d. 1534) have asserted that they can.

The above two questions have never been definitively resolved by the Roman Pontiff, and as such, the various theories still remain free opinion in accord with Catholic dogmatic theology.

As for the first question, Pope Benedict XVI seems to have expressed the opinion that the it is academic, and the various theological opinions about limbo ought to be abandoned.

As for the second question, the most rescent magisterial texts promulgated by John Paul II seem to show a shift from St. Thomas' and Pius XII's view toward that of St. Bernard, Cardinal Cajetan, and others who have long asserted that an extra-sacramental means of sancitification is not only open to adults "by desire," but is also possible for infants.

If God chooses, extra-sacramental sanctification can even include an infant in the womb (eg. St. Mary, St. John the Baptist). According to Jer. 1:5: "Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee." According to Luke 1:15: "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb."

I personally believe that for those not sacramentally baptized, they can indeed be extra-sacramentally sanctified by God, and as such, attain the Beatific Vision of God in heaven if God so chooses. I refrain from claiming that this is automatic, as if God owed all mankind the supernatural gift of heaven. I disagree that God is obliged to give heaven to anyone, as this “obligation” would be contrary to the nature of “gift.” Instead I leave such judgment to the mercy of God.

I also believe, and it is Catholic dogma that one must be supernaturally born from above to enter heaven, even if an infant. Baptism or its desire is absolutely necessary to be born from above, according to the Council of Trent. Thus, any who dies in original sin only, by definition, have never been born from above, and as such are eternally excluded from the Beatific Vision of God. Yet, I don’t believe that infants who die without sacramental baptism necessarily die in a state of original sin.

From Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, under heading "25. Souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God. (De Fide)", Book II, Section 1:

"The spiritual re-birth of young infants can be achieved in an extra-sacramental manner through baptism by blood (cf. the baptism by blood of the children of Bethlehem). Other emergency means of baptism for children dying without sacramental baptism, such as prayer and desire of the parents or the Church (vicarious baptism of desire--Cajetan), or the attainment of the use of reason (baptism of desire--H. Klee), or suffering and death of the child as quasi Sacrament (baptism of suffering--H. Schell), are indeed, possible, but their actuality cannot be proved from Revelation. Cf. D 712." [emphasis added]

(Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Edited in English by James Canon Bastible, D.D., Translated from the German by Patrick Lynch, Ph.D., Tan Books, Rockford IL, Fourth Edition, 1960, first published in English in 1955, pg. 114)

The Sacrament of Baptism confers baptismal grace ex opere operato [1]. Our desire, expressed through our prayers for infants (born or unborn) who die without having received sacramental baptism confers grace ex opere operantis [2]. I believe we should not discount the power of such a prayer.

Pope Benedict XVI commissioned a theological study of the question of limbo. The October 2006 commission is continuing to work on their statement. The document could be released sometime in 2007.

See also: What does the Church teach about limbo?

God bless,




[1] Ex opere operato - The Catholic teaching that the grace of a sacrament is always conferred by the sacrament itself. Ex opere operato literally means “from the work performed.”

Provided that the Catholic receiving the sacrament freely chooses to receive its graces [i.e., proper disposition], the grace conferred by the sacrament will be efficacious (effective).

It is not that the sacrament is a mere sign that the grace has already been given, or that the virtue of the priest or recipient determines the grace. Rather, Christ works through the sacrament itself.

Compare with Ex opere operantis, which refers to pious actions in general.

[2] Ex opere operantis - The good disposition with which we perform a pious action.

Our good disposition determines the amount of grace we obtain through some act of piety such as the Friday abstinence, or through the use of sacramentals such as rosaries or scapulars, or in the seeking of indulgences.

For example, praying a Rosary will give little or no grace if we make no effort to focus on the mysteries or if we simply pay no attention to what is going on. The same for other acts of piety; if we make no interior effort but only go through the motions we will receive little or no grace.

If we make a sincere effort to concentrate on the pious action but are distracted by involuntary thoughts then we are well disposed and will receive grace in proportion to our efforts.

Compare with Ex opere operato , which refers to sacraments.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Introduction to Catholic dogmatic theology

The following excerpt is from the introduction to Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. It provides a pretty good overview of Catholic dogmatic theology. Its description of the "theological grades of certainty" are particularly helpful.

The book can be purchased here:

God bless,



Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma

by Dr. Ludwig Ott


§ 1. Concept and Object of Theology

1. Concept
The word theology, according to its etymology, means "teaching concerning God" (Phrase in Greek), de divinitate ratio sive sermo: St. Augustine, De civ. Dei VIII I). Thus theology is the science of God.

2. Object
The material object of theology is firstly God, and secondly, created things under the aspect of their relation to God: Omnia pertractantur in sacra doctrina sub ratione Dei, vel quia sunt ipse Deus, vel quia habent ordinem ad Deum ut ad principium et finem. In sacred science all things are considered under the aspect of God, either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. S. th. I I, 7.

As regards the Formal Object a distinction must be made between natural and supernatural theology. Natural theology was first expounded by Plato. It is called by St. Augustine, in agreement with Varro, Theologia Naturalis, and since the 19th century it is also called theodicy. It is the scientific exposition of the truths concerning God, in so far as these can be known by natural reason and thus may be regarded as the culmination of philosophy. Supernatural theology is the scientific exposition of the truths about God under the light of Divine Revelation. The formal object of natural theology is God, as He is known by natural reason from creation; the formal object of supernatural theology is God, as He is known by faith from revelation (cf. St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei VI 5: S. th. I I, I ad 2).

Natural and supernatural theology differ: (a) in their principles of cognition, unaided human reason (ratio naturalis), reason illuminated by faith (ratio fide illustrata); (b) in their means of cognition, the study of created things (ea quae facta sunt), divine revelation (revelatifo divina); (c) in their formal objects, God as Creator and Lord (Deus unus, Creator et Dominus), God one and three (Deus Unus et Trinus).

§ 2. Theology as a Science

1. The Scientific Character of Theology

    a) According to the teaching of St. Thomas, theology is a true science, because it uses as principles the securely founded basic truths of Divine Revelation and draws from these new knowledge (theological conclusions) by a strict scientific method and unites the whole in a closed system.

But theology is a subordinate science (scientia subalternata) because its principles are not immediately evident to us in themselves, but are taken over from a higher science, from the truths communicated to us by God in revelation (cf. S. th. I I, 2: Sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science namely the knowledge possessed by God and by the Blessed; Sacra doctrina est scientia, quia procedit t ex principiis notis lumme superioris scientiae, quae scilicet est scientia Dei et beatorum).

The questions posed by the Schoolmen were exclusively those pertaining to speculative theology. The development of historical research at the beginning of the modern era led to an extension of the concept of "science" which permits its application to positive theology also. By "science" in the objective sense is understood today a system of methodically worked-out knowledge about a unitary object. Theology possesses a unitary object, uses a methodical process adapted to the object, and unites its results in a closed system. The dependence of theology upon Divine authority and that of the Church does not derogate from its scientific character, because theology belongs to the revealed truth given by God into the hands of the Church, and therefore these cannot be dissociated from the object of theology.

    b) Theology transcends all other sciences by: the sublimity of its object; by the supreme certainty of its knowledge which is based on the infallible knowledge of God; and by its practical purpose which is eternal bliss, i.e., the ultimate destination of mankind (cf. S. th. I I, 5).

    c) According to St. Thomas theology is both a speculative and a practical science, since, in the light of Divine Truth, it contemplates on the one hand, God, the First Truth, and things in their relation to God and on the other hand it contemplates the moral actions of man in relation to his supernatural ultimate goal. Speculative theology is the more noble since theology is concerned above all with Divine Truth. Thus the final aim even of Moral Theology is to bring men to the perfection of the knowledge of God (S. th. I I, 4).

The medieval Franciscan School appraises Theology primarily as a practical or affective science, because theological knowledge by its very nature is aimed at moving the affections or the will. The main object of moral theology is the moral perfection of man: ut boni fiamus (St. Bonaventura, Proemium in IV libros Sent. q. 3).

The ultimate reason for the various answers to the problem lies in the various estimations of the hierarchy of the powers of the human soul. St. Thomas and his School, with Aristotle, recognise the primacy of the intellect, the Franciscan School with St. Augustine, that of the will.

    d) Theology is "Wisdom," since its object is God the ultimate origin of all things. It is the supreme wisdom since it contemplates God, the ultimate origin, in the light of the truths of revelation communicated to man from the wisdom of God Himself (cf. S. th. I I, 6).

2. A Science of Faith
Theology is a science of faith. It is concerned with faith in the objective sense (fides quae creditur) that which is believed, and in the subjective sense (fides qua creditur) that by which we believe. Theology like faith accepts, as the sources of its knowledge, Holy Writ and Tradition (remote rule of faith) and also the doctrinal assertions of the Church (proximate rule of faith).

But as a science of faith it seeks by human reason to penetrate the content and the context of the supernatural system of truth and to understand this as far as possible. St. Augustine expresses this thought in the words: "Crede, ut intelligas" Believe that you may understand (Sermo 43, 7, 9); St. Anseim of Canterbury, with the words: "Fides quaerens intellectum" Faith seeking to reach the intellect (Proslogion, Proemium) and: "Credo, ut intelligam" I believe that I may understand (Proslogion I); Richard of St. Victor with the words: "Properemus de fide ad cognitionem. Satagamus, in quantum possumus, ut intelligamus, quod credimus" (De Trinitate, Prologus). Let us hasten from faith to knowledge. Let us endeavour so far as we can, to understand that which we believe.

3. Classification
Theology is a unitary science, as it has a single formal object: God and the created world, in so far as they are the objects of Divine Revelation. As Revelation is a communication of the Divine knowledge, so theology is, in the words of St. Thomas, a stamp or impression imposed by the Divine knowledge, which is unitary and absolutely simple, on the created human spirit (S. th. I I, 3).

Theology is, however, divided into various branches and departments according to its various functions, which are all sub-divisions of the one theological science :

    a) Dogmatic Theology, which includes Fundamental Theology, i.e., the basis of Dogmatic Theology.

    b) Biblical-historical Theology: Biblical introduction, Hermeneutics, Exegesis; Church History, History of Dogmas, History of Liturgy, Church Legal History, Patrology.

    c) Practical Theology: Moral Theology, Church law, Pastoral Theology, including Catechetics and Homiletics.

§ 3. Concept and Method of Dogmatic Theology

1. Concept
On the ground of its proposition to the faithful by the Church the whole field of supernatural theology could be called dogmatic theology. In point of fact, however, only the theoretical truths of Revelation concerning God and His activity are dealt with in dogmatic theology (doctrina credendorum: the science of things to be believed), while the practical teachings of Revelation regulating the activity of men are the object of moral theology (doctrina faciendorum: the science of things to be done). Thus dogmatic theology can with Scheeben (Dogmatik, Einleitung n. 2) be defined as "the scientific exposition of the whole theoretical doctrine revealed by God about God Himself and His activity and which we accept on the authority of the Church."

2. Method
The method of dogmatic theology is both positive and speculative. Positive dogmatic theology is concerned with doctrines that have been proposed to our belief by the Teaching Authority of the Church (dogmatic factor) and that are contained in the sources of Revelation, Scripture and Tradition (Biblical-Patristic factor). In so far as it defends the doctrine of the Church against false conceptions, it becomes controversial theology (apologetic or polemic factor).

Speculative dogmatic theology, which is identical with the so-called scholastic theology, strives as far as possible for an insight into the truths of faith by the application of human reason to the content of revelation.

The positive and speculative methods must not be separated from each other. The ideal lies in the harmonious coalescence of authority and reason. This is, indeed, expressly prescribed by Ecclesiastical Authority : Pope Pius XI, in the Apostolic Institution "Deus scientiarum Dominus" 1931, directs that Sacred Theology "is to be presented according to the positive as well as to the scholastic method." The speculative exposition is to proceed "according to the principles and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas" (Article 29) (cf. St. Thomas, Quodl IV 9, 18).

§ 4. Concept and Classification of Dogma

1. Concept
By dogma in the strict sense is understood a truth immediately (formally) revealed by God which has been proposed by the Teaching Authority of the Church to be believed as such. The Vatican Council explains: Fide divina et catholica ea omnia credenta sunt, quae in verbo Dei scripto vel tradito continentur et ab Ecciesia sive solemni iudicio sive ordinario et universali magisterio tanquam divinitus revelata credenda proponuntur. D 1792. All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God written or handed down and which are proposed for our belief by the Church either in a solemn definition or in its ordinary and universal authoritative teaching.

Two factors or elements may be distinguished in the concept of dogma:--

    a) An immediate Divine Revelation of the particular Dogma (revelatio immediate divina or revelatio formalis), i.e., the Dogma must be immediately revealed by God either explicitly (explicite) or inclusively (implicite), and therefore be contained in the sources of Revelation (Holy Writ or Tradition).

    b) The Promulgation of the Dogma by the Teaching Authority of the Church (propositio Ecclesiae). This implies, not merely the promulgation of the Truth, but also the obligation on the part of the Faithful of believing the Truth. This Promulgation by the Church may be made either in an extraordinary manner through a solemn decision of faith made by the Pope or a General Council (Iudicium solemne) or through the ordinary and general teaching power of the Church (Magisteriurn ordinarium et universale). The latter may be found easily in the catechisms issued by the Bishops.

In this view, which is th. usual one, and which is principally expounded by the "Thomists, the Truth proposed in the dogma must be immediately and formally contained in the sources of Revelation either explicitly or implicitly. According to another opinion, however, which is held by the Scotists, and also by several dominican theologians (M. M.** Tuyaerts, A. Gardeil, F. Marin-Sola), a Truth can be proposed as a dogma, if it be only mediately or virtually contained in the sources of Revelation, that is, in such a manner that it may be derived from a Truth or Revelation by the aid of a truth known by Natural Reason. The Scotist view permits greater room for play in the formal action of the Teaching Authority and makes it easier to prove that the Dogma is contained in the sources of Revelation but its validity is challenged on the ground that the Truth of the Dogma is supported not solely by the authority of the Revealing God, but also by the natural knowledge of reason, while the Church demands for the dogma a Divine Faith (fides divina).

Dogma in its strict signification is the object of both Divine Faith (Fides Divina) and Catholic Faith (Fides Catholica); it is the object of the Divine Faith (Fides Divina) by reason of its Divine Revelation; it is the object of Catholic Faith (Fides Catholica) on account of its infallible doctrinal definition by the Church. If a baptised person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy (CIC 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication (CIC 2314, Par. I).

If, despite the fact that a Truth is not proposed for belief by the Church, one becomes convinced that it is immediately revealed by God, then, according to the opinion of many theologians (Suarez, De Lugo), one is bound to believe it with Divine Faith (fide divina). However, most theologians teach that such a Truth prior to its official proposition of the Church is to be accepted with theological assent (assensus theologicus) only, as the individual may be mistaken.

2. Protestant and Modernistic Conception

    a) Protestantism rejects the Teaching Authority of the Church, and consequently also the authoritative proposition of the content of Revelation by the Church. It claims that the Biblical Revelation attests itself. In spite of this, and for the sake of unity of doctrine, a certain connection is recognised between dogma and the authority of the Church. "Dogma is the valid teaching of the Church" (W. Elert). The liberal movement of the newer Protestantism rejects not only the authoritative doctrinal proclamation of the Church, but also the objective Divine Revelation, by conceiving Revelation as a subjective religious experience, in which the soul enters into contact with God.

    b) According to Alfred Loisy († 1940) the conceptions which the Church represents as revealed dogmas are not truths which have come from Heaven, and which have been preserved by religious tradition in the exact form in which they first appeared. The historian sees in them "the interpretation of religious facts acquired by the toil of theological mental labour" (L'Evangile et l'Eglise, Paris, 1902, 158). The foundation of the dogma is, according to the modernistic viewpoint, subjective religious experience, in which God reveals Himself to man (religious factor). The totality of religious experience is penetrated by theological science and expressed by it in definite formularies (intellectual factor). A formulary of this kind is then finally approved by the Church Authority, and thus declared a dogma (authoritative factor). Pope Pius X has condemned this doctrine in the Decretum "Lamentabili" (1907), and in the Encyclical "Pascendi" (1907). (D 2022, 2078 et seq.)

As against Modernism, the Catholic Church stresses that dogma according to its content is of truly Divine origin, that is, it is the expression of an objective truth, and its content is immutable.

3. Classification
Dogmas are classified:

    a) According to their content as : General Dogmas (dogmata generalia) and Special Dogmas (dogmata specialia). To the former belong the fundamental truths of Christianity, to the latter the individual truths contained therein.

    b) According to their relation with Reason as : Pure Dogmas (dogmata pura) and Mixed Dogmas (dogmata mixta). The former we know solely through Divine Revelation, e.g., The Trinity (mysteries), the latter by Natural Reason also, e.g., The Existence of God.

    c) According to the mode by which the Church proposes them, as : Formal Dogmas (dogmata formalia) and Material Dogmas (dogmata materialia). The former are proposed for belief by the Teaching Authority of the Church as truths of Revelation; the latter are not so proposed, for which reason they are not Dogmas in the strict sense.

    d) According to their relation with salvation as : Necessary Dogmas (dogmata necessaria) and Non-necessary Dogmas (dogmata non-necessaria). The former must be explicitly believed by all in order to achieve eternal salvation; for the latter implicit faith (fides implicita) suffices (cf. Hebr. II, 6).

§ 5. The Development of Dogma

1. Heretical Notion of Dogmatic Development
The Liberal Protestant concept of dogma (cf. A. von Harnack) as well as Modernism (ef. A. Loisy) assumes a substantial development of dogmas, so that the content of dogma changes radically in the course of time. Modernism poses the challenge: "Progress in the sciences demands that the conceptions of the Christian teaching of God, Creation, Revelation, Person of the Incarnate Word, Redemption, be remoulded" (cf. D 2064). Loisy declares: "As progress in science (philosophy) demands a new concept of the problem of God, so progress in historical research gives rise to a new concept of the problem of Christ and the Church." (Autour d'un petit livre, Paris 1903, XXIV.) In this view there are no fixed and constant dogmas; their concept is always developing. The Vatican Council condemned Anton Günther's († 1863) application of the idea of development in this sense to dogmas as heretical: Si quis dixerit, fieri posse, ut dogmatibus ab Ecclesia propositis aliquando secundum progressum scientiae sensus tribuendus sit alius ab eo, quem intellexit et intelligit Ecclesia. If anybody says that by reason of the progress of science, a meaning must be given to dogmas of the Church other than that which the Church understood and understands them to have let him be anathema. A.S. D 1818. In the Encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950), Pope Pius XII rejected that dogmatic relativsm, which would demand that dogmas should be expressed in the concepts of the philosophy ruling at any particular time, and enveloped in the stream of philosophical development: "This conception," he says, "makes dogma a reed, which is driven hither and thither by the wind" (D 3012).

The ground for the immutability of dogmas lies in the Divine origin of the Truths which they express. Divine Truth is as immutable as God Himself : "The truth of the Lord remaineth for ever" (Ps. 116, 2). "Heaven and earth shall pass away : but my word shall not pass" (Mk. 13, 31).

2. Development of Dogmas in the Catholic Sense

    a) From the material side of dogma, that is, in the communication of the Truths of Revelation to humanity, a substantial growth took place in human history until Revelation reached its apogee and conclusion in Christ (cf. Hebr. I, I).

St. Gregory the Great says: "With the progress of the times the knowledge of the spiritual Fathers increased; for, in the Science of God, Moses was more instructed than Abraham, the Prophets more than Moses, the Apostles more than the Prophets" (in Ezechielem lib. 2, horn. 4, 12).

With Christ and the Apostles General Revelation concluded. (sent. certa.)

Pope Pius X rejected the liberal Protestant and Modernistic doctrine of the evolution of religion through "New Revelations." Thus he condemned the proposition that: "The Revelation, which is the object of Catholic Faith, was not terminated with the Apostles." D 2021.

The clear teaching of Holy Writ and Tradition is that after Christ, and the Apostles who proclaimed the message of Christ, no further Revelation will be made. Christ was the fulfilment of the Law of the Old Testament (Mt. 5, 17 ; 5, 21 et seq), and the absolute teacher of humanity (Mt. 23, 10: "One is your master, Christ" ; cf. Mt. 28, 20). The Apostles saw in Christ: "the coming of the fullness of time" (Gal. 4, 4) and regarded as their task the preservation, integral and unfalsified, of the heritage of Faith entrusted to them by Christ (1 Tim. 6, 14; 6,20; 2 Tim.1, 14; 2,2; 3,14). The Fathers indignantly repudiated the claim of the heretics to possess secret doctrines or new Revelation of the Holy Ghost. St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer III 1 ; IV 35, 8), and Tertullian (De praesc. 21) stress, against the Gnostics, that the full truth of Revelation is contained in the doctrine of the Apostles which is preserved unfalsified through the uninterrupted succession of the bishops.

    b) As to the Formal side of dogma, that is, in the knowledge and in the ecclesiastical proposal of Revealed Truth, and consequently also in the public faith of the Church, there is a progress (accidental development of dogmas) which occurs in the following fashion:

      1) Truths which formerly were only implicitly believed are expressly proposed for belief. (Cf. S. th. I; II, 1, 7 : quantum ad explicationem crevt numerus articulorum (fidei), quia quaedam explicite cognita sunt a posterioribus, quae a prioribus non cognoscebantur explicite. There was an increase in the number of articles believed explicitly since to those who lived in later times some were known explicitly, which were not known explicitly by those who lived before them.)

      2) Material Dogmas are raised to the status of Formal Dogmas.

      3) To facilitate general understanding, and to avoid misunderstandings and distortions, the ancient truths which were always believed, e.g., the Hypostatic Union (unio hypostatica), Transubstantiation, etc., are formulated in new, sharply defined concepts.

      4) Questions formerly disputed are explained and decided, and heretical propositions are condemned. Cf. St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 2, 1 ; ab adversario mota quaestio discendi existit occasio (a question moved by an adversary gives an occasion for learning).

The exposition of the dogmas in the given sense is prepared by theological science and promulgated by the Teaching Authority of the Church under the direction of the Holy Ghost (John 14, 26). These new expositions of dogmatic truth are motivated, on the one hand, by the natural striving of man for deeper understanding of Revealed Truth, and on the other hand by external influences, such as the attacks arising from heresy and unbelief, theological controversies, advances in philosophical knowledge and historical research, development of the liturgy, and the general assertion of Faith expressed therein.

Even the Fathers stress the necessity of deeper research into the truths of Revelation, of clearing up obscurities, and of developing the teachings of Revelation. Cf. the classical testimony of St. Vincent Lerin († before 450). "But perhaps someone says: Will there then be no progress in the religion of Christ? Certainly there should be, even a great and rich progress . . . only, it must in truth be a progress in Faith and not an alteration of Faith. For progress it is necessary that something should increase of itself, for alteration, however, that something should change from one thing to the other." (Commonitorium 23.) Cf. D 1800.

      5) There may be also a progress in the confession of faith of the individual believer through the extension and deepening of his theological knowledge. The basis for the possibility of this progress lies in the depth of the truths of Faith on the one hand, and on the other in the varying capacity for perfection of the human reason.

Conditions making for a true progress in the knowledge of Faith by individual persons are, according to the declaration of the Vatican Council, zeal, reverence and moderation: cum sedule, pie et sobrie quaerit. 1) 1796.

§ 6. Catholic Truths

Corresponding to the purpose of the Teaching Authority of the Church of preserving unfalsified and of infallibly interpreting the Truths of Revelation (D 1800) the primary object (obiectum primarium) of the Teaching Office of the Church is the body of immediately revealed truths and facts. The infallible doctrinal power of the Church extends, however, secondarily to all those truths and facts which are a consequence of the teaching of Revelation or a presupposition of it (obiectum secondarium). Those doctrines and truths defined by the Church not as immediately revealed but as intrinsically connected with the truths of Revelation so that their denial would undermine the revealed truths are called Catholic Truths (veritates catholicae) or Ecclesiastical Teachings (doctrinae ecclesiasticae) to distinguish them from the Divine Truths or Divine Doctrines of Revelation (veritates vel doctrinae divinae). These are proposed for belief in virtue of the infallibility of the Church in teaching doctrines of faith or morals (fides ecclesiastica).

To these Catholic truths belong:

1. Theological Conclusions (conclusiones theologicae) properly so-called. By these are understood religious truths, which are derived from two premisses, of which one is an immediately revealed truth, and the other a truth of natural reason. Since one premiss is a truth of Revelation, theological condusions are spoken of as being mediately or virtually (virtualiter) revealed. If however both premnisses are immediately revealed truths, then the condusion also must be regarded as being immediately revealed and as the object of Immediate Divine Faith (Fides Immediate Divina).

2. Dogmatic Facts (facta dogmatica). By these are understood historical facts, which are not revealed, but which are intrinsically connected with revealed truth, for example, the legality of a Pope or of a General Council, or the fact of the Roman episcopate of St. Peter. The fact that a defined text does or does not agree with the doctrine of the Catholic Faith is also, in a narrower sense, a "dogmatic fact." In deciding the meaning of a text the Church does not pronounce judgment on the subjective intention of the author, but on the objective sense of the text (D 1350 : sensum quem verba prae se ferunt).

3. Truths of Reason, which have not been revealed, but which are intrinsically associated with a revealed truth, e.g., those philosophic truths which are presuppositions of the acts of Faith (knowledge of the supersensual, possibility of proofs of God, the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of will), or philosophic concepts, in terms of which dogma is promulgated (person, substance, transubstantiation, etc.). The Church has the right and the duty, for the protection of the heritage of Faith, of proscribing philosophic teachings which directly or indirectly endanger dogma. The Vatican Council declares: Ius etiam et officium divinitus habet falsi nominis scientiam proscribendi (D 1798).

§ 7. Theological Opinions

Theological opinions are free views on aspects of doctrines concerning Faith and morals, which are neither clearly attested in Revelation nor decided by the Teaching Authority of the Church. Their value depends upon the reasons adduced in their favour (association with the doctrine of Revelation, the attitude of the Church, etc.).

A point of doctrine ceases to be an object of free judgment when the Teaching Authority of the Church takes an attitude which is clearly in favour of one opinion. Pope Pius XII explains in the Encyclical "Humani generis" (1950): "When the Popes in their Acts intentionally pronounce a judgment on a long disputed point then it is clear to all that this, according to the intention and will of these Popes, can no longer be open to the free discussion of theologians" (D 3013).

§ 8. The Theological Grades of Certainty

1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."

2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.

4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.

6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata). Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opimo tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called "silentium obsequiosum." that is "reverent silence," does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.

§ 9. Theological Censures

By a theological censure is meant the judgment which characterises a proposition touching Catholic Faith or Moral Teaching as contrary to Faith or at least as doubtful. If it be pronounced by the Teaching Authority of the Church it is an authoritative or judicial judgment (censura authentica or iudicialis). If it be pronounced by Theological Science it is a private doctrinal judgment (censura doctrinalis).

The usual censures are the following: A Heretical Proposition (propositio haeretica). This signifies that the proposition is opposed to a formal dogma; a Proposition Proximate to Heresy (propositio heresi proxima) which signifies that the proposition is opposed to a truth which is proximate to the Faith (Sent. fidei proxima); a Proposition Savouring of or Suspect of heresy (propositio haeresim sapiens or de haeresi suspecta); an Erroneous Proposition (prop erronea), i.e., opposed to a truth which is proposed by the Church as a truth intrinsically connected with a revealed truth (error in fide ecclesiastica) or opposed to the common teaching of theologians (error theologicus); a False Proposition (prop. falsa), i.e., contradicting a dogmatic fact ; a Temerarious Proposition (prop. temeraria), i.e., deviating without reason from the general teaching; a Proposition Offensive to pious ears (prop. piarum aurium offensiva), i.e., offensive to religious feeling; a Proposition badly expressed (prop. male sonans), i.e., subject to misunderstanding by reason of its method of expression; a Captious Proposition (prop. captiosa), i.e., reprehensible because of its intentional ambiguity; a Proposition exciting scandal (prop. scandalosa).

As to the form of the censures a distinction is made between Damnatio Specialis, by which a censure is attached to an individual proposition, and the Damnatia in Globo, in which censures are imposed on a series of propositions.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Letters to a teenage skeptic #2

This is a continuation from Letters to a teenage skeptic, #1  See also Letters to a teenage skeptic, #3, #4, and #5.
My beloved Son,

You said:

... I don't know what epistemology means ... I'm liking my theology class this year, which goes into doctrine and theory more than bible facts. ... Theology is interesting to study, even though I may not believe them, some religious theories make me think

In your next reply to me, could you describe what might have led you to doubt the existence of God?
That will help me to figure out how best to respond. Also, answer the questions you see below.

As for epistemology, it is the theory of knowledge. Some skeptics erroneously cling to a theory that only that which is seen is to be believed. That's absurd, as it is not how anybody on the planet actually gathers knowledge or commits to certain decisions in their life. For example, I have never seen the dark side of the moon. Should I therefore doubt its existence? Of course not. Even though I have not personally experienced something, I do also conclude based upon reason and the testimony of others.

Truth is objective, and it is defined as "that which corresponds to reality." Beliefs are, on the other hand, subjective--they vary from person to person. People come to believe something to be true because of three things: 1) experience, 2) testimony of others, and 3) reason. Since all three of these things often vary from person to person, it is no wonder that beliefs often vary from person to person.

Some people have experienced much, some have experienced less. Some have heard much testimony regarding what is true, some less. Some people are skilled at reasoning. Some people are not. Those that are less skilled at reasoning, less experienced, and have received less testimony regarding the truth tend toward beliefs which are not true.

With regard to reasoning, it can be difficult for many.

Reasoning can be either inductive or deductive.

Deduction (Lat. de ducere) means "to lead, draw out, derive from; especially, the function of deriving truth from truth." It is an inference by which from general truths already known we advance to a knowledge of other particular truths necessarily implied in the former.

The typical expression of a deductive inference is the syllogism. Granted the truth of the prior judgments, the consequent must follow; and the firmness of our assent to the latter is conditioned by that of our assent to the former. An example of dedution is as follows...
  1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause.

  2. The universe has a beginning.

  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Induction is the complement of deduction. In other words, it is inference by which from particular truths already known we advance to a knowledge of general or universal truths supported by the former. In this form of reasoning, the premises of an argument support the conclusion but do not ensure it.

  1. All observed crows are black

  2. Therefore all crows are black

The conclusion is reasonably supported by the premise, but not absolutely proven in the strict sense. Unless we are certain that we have seen every crow (which is impossible), there may be one of a different color. Consequently, with inductive reasoning, the premises--at best--may predict a high probability of the conclusion, but do not absolutely ensure that the conclusion is true.

For example,
  1. All observed beginnings have a cause

  2. Therefore, all beginnings have a cause

The above is an argument based upon inductive reasoning. Unless we have observed everything that had a beginning (which is impossible), we can at best, only predict with high probability that everything which has a beginning has a cause. It is a reasonably certain conclusion, based upon the preponderance of evidence.

The "law of gravity" and other scientific postulates such as the "Big Bang" theory of cosmology are also based upon a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning. Such theories rely upon inferences toward general conclusions based upon particular observed evidence. Very few things can be argued by deductive reasoning alone. When skeptics often want to limit theological "proofs" to deductive reasoning, it shows that they take a biased approach to theology whereas they allow for inductive reasoning for drawing reasonably certain conclusions in all other fields.

Inductive reasoning is cogent, and it is used in decision-making in all fields of study, such as civil and criminal law, philosophy, science, economics, politics, military studies, and theology. Consequently, we ought to approach our study of theology with the same epistemological standard as we do with other fields of study. For instance, we convict murderers with much reasonable certainty, based upon the preponderance of evidence, even if we did not "see" them actually commit the murder. Thus, the trustworthy testimony of others is a valid means of obtaining knowledge from which we can draw certain conclusions. Trustworthy testimony ought not to be excluded from our epistemology, but should be joined with our own experiences and our reason in forming our beliefs.

Moreover, God wants us to reason. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD” (Is 1:18); “You shall reason with your neighbor” (Lev 19:17); “[I] lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me” (Dan 4:34); “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” (1 Pet 3:15).

In order to reason, we need to learn how. What follows is a quick primer on logical reasoning...

Objective Truth
  • Truth is objective: “truth is what corresponds to reality"

    • Real (Webster’s) = “not artificial, fraudulent, illusory, or apparent”

    • Reality (Webster’s) = “the totality of real things and events”

    • Truth (Webster’s) = “the body of real things, events, and facts

  • Truth and reality, therefore, are synonymous--the totality of things, events, and facts which are not artificial, fraudulent, illusory, or apparent

If we share the same reality, then "truth for me" must be the same as "truth for you"—truth must be objective.

There are false claims of “subjective” theories of truth. However, truth is a real concept, not simply a word that can be redefined into whatever we want it to mean. To do so would result in linguistic confusion. We should resist trying to confuse the objective concept of "truth" with the subjective concept of "belief."

False "subjective" theories of truth
  • Pragmatic: “truth is only that which works”

  • Empiricist: “truth is only that which we can sense”

  • Rationalist: “truth is only that which can be proved by reason”

  • Oneness or syncretist: “truth is only that which is the harmony of all ideas”

  • Emotional: “truth is only what I feel”

Human Reason – 3 acts of the mind
  • Human reason manifests itself in three acts of the mind:

    • Understanding

    • Judging

    • Reason

  • These three acts of the mind are expressed in:

    • Terms – either clear or unclear

    • Propositions – either true or false

    • Arguments – either valid or invalid

In other words, our mind can understand terms, judge propositions, and reason arguments

Essential Rules of Reason
  • A term is clear if it is intelligible and unambiguous

  • A proposition is true if it corresponds to reality

  • An argument is valid if the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises

The conclusion must be true if all the terms are clear, the propositions are true, and the argument is valid. To disagree with the conclusion of any argument, it must be shown that either an ambiguous term or false premise or a logical fallacy exits in that argument. Otherwise, to say “I still disagree” is to say “You have proved your conclusion true, but I am so stubborn and foolish that I will not accept this truth. I insist on living in a false world, not the true one.”

Questions for you to answer...
  1. What was it that caused you to doubt the existence of God?

  2. Do you agree that there is a difference between truth and belief (the latter is subjective, the former is not)?

  3. Do you agree that if the terms are clear, and if the propositions are true, and if the argument is valid, then the conclusion must be true?

  4. Do you agree that "truth for you must be the same as truth for me?"

Love you and God bless,


See here for more: Letters to a teenage skeptic #3