Pope Antiochus Epiphanes

The first book of Maccabees tells the history of Antiochus Epiphanes:

From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks.

In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

This led to the persecution discussed in the last past.

It is not difficult to find analogies with the Jewish attitude described there, that one should not depart from one’s traditions in any detail, neither to the right nor to the left. This compares pretty well, for example, with the attitudes of many Catholic traditionalists today. Simply consider this post the other day by Steve Skojec:

OnePeterFive exists because we have a vision for the Church. It is a vision not of our own making, but one that has been inherited from our forebears in the Faith. We look back over the continuity of 20 centuries. We observe the struggles, the heartache, even the martyrdom — but also the accomplishments, the civilization-building prowess, the glory and honor of Christendom. Our motto here seems simple, but it entails a great deal. How do we “rebuild Catholic Culture and restore Catholic Tradition?”

One painstaking day at a time.

We confront what is happening in the Church because we know this is not how it should be. We know, by reviewing times past, what the Church could be again. Catholicism is the greatest thing that has ever happened to the world — first and foremost, through the unique and exclusive salvific graces Our Holy Mother Church provides to mankind — but also through her influences on art, music, law, governance, science, education, and everything that makes civilization possible. And we know that the Church can be — that it will be — the guiding force of the world again.

Every day, we get up and ask God for help and guidance in this overwhelming task. We brace ourselves as we survey the devastated visage of this crowning achievement of human history. We look for the evil lurking in the shadows, and we shine the light. We look for the good that is, or was, and we begin the process of restoration and recovery.

We do this work because we love the Catholic Church, and we want to see it made great again. Because we believe that nothing is more important than returning the Church’s focus to her most important mission: the salvation of souls — knowing that all these other things will flow naturally from the first.

There are some differences, of course. The purposes seem to be different, insofar as Steve says that the purpose is “the salvation of souls,” while Mattathias says that the purpose is to “live by the covenant of our ancestors.” And Steve is interested in restoration and rebuilding, while Mattathias wants to preserve what is already present, or at least was recently present, in his community. But the fundamental orientation is the same: it is such and such a concrete culture, as a whole and in every detail, that must be preserved, or if no longer present, restored. One should depart from that culture neither to the right nor to the left.

Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium discusses his intentions:

25. I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.

26. Paul VI invited us to deepen the call to renewal and to make it clear that renewal does not only concern individuals but the entire Church. Let us return to a memorable text which continues to challenge us. “The Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself, ponder the mystery of her own being… This vivid and lively self-awareness inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged her and loved her as his holy and spotless bride (cf. Eph 5:27), and the actual image which the Church presents to the world today… This is the source of the Church’s heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws introduced by her members which her own self-examination, mirroring her exemplar, Christ, points out to her and condemns”. The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ: “Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth”.

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

An ecclesial renewal which cannot be deferred

27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.

If we do not read carefully, and if we were completely ignorant of the conditions of the real world, this could seem pretty consistent with Steve Skojec’s remarks. The Pope wants “renewal,” while Steve wants “rebuilding” and “restoration.” The Pope says that the Church should be faithful to her calling, and it is hard to see Steve disagreeing with that.

Nonetheless, a more careful reading, and knowledge of the real world, leads one rather to say that we have here virtually the most violent opposition possible. Pope Francis in fact more or less foresees the difference between the careless and careful readings when he says, “I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.”

The basic difference is this: for Steve, renewal would consist in rebuilding and restoring. What Pope Francis wants, as Steve would consider it, would consist in tearing down and destroying. This is made clear most of all when the Pope says that the Church needs an impulse “capable of transforming everything,” in such way that things are “channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [the Church’s] self-preservation.”

Steve might agree that everything needs to be transformed. But definitely not in the way that the Pope wants it transformed, but rather in the way the Pope rejects in the phrase, “rather than for her self-preservation.”

What does Pope Francis mean by this? It is easy to see that the Pope wants to preserve the existence of the Church, and in fact is proposing a means to accomplish it. Earlier in the text, the Pope says:

Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.

The Church is to be preserved by transforming everything in such a way that it becomes attractive to those outside, who will then enter it for the sake of the joy and the beauty they see. Once again, Steve Skojec might find himself mainly in agreement, but the disagreement is about what kind of transformation is needed. For Steve, we need to rebuild what already was in the past. For the Pope, we have to leave that behind forever. This is actually why he rejects “self-preservation,” even while proposing a means for the Church to preserve itself. His real rejection is a rejection of preserving what was in the past.

The Pope is not wrong that the Church has often been harmed in the past by a “self-preserving” attitude, as for example in the case we discussed concerning the text of St. John. But it does not follow that the Pope’s proposal to “transform everything” is necessarily a good idea either. In any case, we can leave this for another time.

The disagreement at least is clear. Steve wishes to rebuild and restore all that was; the Pope wishes to abandon all of that, and transform everything in a completely new way. This is why I said that there is really the most violent opposition possible here. For the traditionalist, the intentions of Pope Francis are like the intentions of Antiochus Epiphanes in the passage above: the elimination of the previously existing culture and its replacement with something new.

The natural consequence of this situation is this kind of talk about persecution.

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Neither to the Right nor to the Left

Consider this passage from 1st Maccabees, previously discussed here and here:

The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, every one of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

As I said earlier, the main thing here is not to say that “our religious beliefs are true,” but fidelity to “the covenant of our ancestors.” We can note also the mention of “the law and the ordinances,” which is not mainly about what is true, but about what should be done.

This idea of fidelity to the ancestors appears to have been a fairly typical attitude of the Jewish people throughout history, perhaps explaining why they managed to remain a fairly coherent people even while deprived of a country for many centuries. This is unusual but not unique.

Maimonides explains the situations in which one should be willing to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate the law:

The entire house of Israel are commanded regarding the sanctification of [God’s] great name, as [Leviticus 22:32] states: “And I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel.” Also, they are warned against desecrating [His holy name], as [the above verse] states: “And they shall not desecrate My holy name.”

What is implied? Should a gentile arise and force a Jew to violate one of the Torah‘s commandments at the pain of death, he should violate the commandment rather than be killed, because [Leviticus 18:5] states concerning the mitzvot: “which a man will perform and live by them.” [They were given so that] one may live by them and not die because of them. If a person dies rather than transgress, he is held accountable for his life.

When does the above apply? With regard to other mitzvot, with the exception of the worship of other gods, forbidden sexual relations, and murder. However, with regard to these three sins, if one is ordered: “Transgress one of them or be killed,” one should sacrifice his life rather than transgress.

When does the above apply? When the gentile desires his own personal benefit – for example, he forces a person to build a house or cook food for him on the Sabbath, he rapes a woman, or the like. However, if his intention is solely to have him violate the mitzvot, [the following rules apply:] If he is alone and there are not ten other Jews present, he should transgress and not sacrifice his life. However, if he forces him [to transgress] with the intention that he violate [a mitzvah] in the presence of ten Jews, he should sacrifice his life and not transgress. [This applies] even if [the gentile] intended merely that he violate only one of the [Torah’s] mitzvot.

All the above [distinctions] apply [only in times] other than times of a decree. However, in times of a decree – i.e., when a wicked king like Nebuchadnezzar or his like will arise and issue a decree against the Jews to nullify their faith or one of the mitzvot – one should sacrifice one’s life rather than transgress any of the other mitzvot, whether one is compelled [to transgress] amidst ten [Jews] or one is compelled [to transgress merely] amidst gentiles.

The basic idea is that ordinary situations and in unimportant matters, it is better to violate the law than to be killed, but one must be willing to be killed in order to avoid violating the law in important ways, which Maimonides specifies as “the worship of other gods, forbidden sexual relations, and murder.”

But in two situations, he says, you must be willing to die for any law or custom whatsoever, no matter how small: when a gentile is trying to make you violate the law before other Jews simply for the sake of scandal, or when an oppressor attempts to suppress the Jewish faith, laws or customs.

This would not be understood only to refer to violations of things commanded in Scripture, but to any Jewish custom whatsoever. For example, the Talmud says:

When R. Dimi came, he said: This was taught only if there is no royal decree, but if there is a royal decree, one must incur martyrdom rather than transgress even a minor precept. When Rabin came, he said in R. Johanan’s name: Even without a royal decree, it was only permitted in private; but in public one must be martyred even for a minor precept rather than violate it. What is meant by a ‘minor precept’? — Raba son of R. Isaac said in Rab’s name: Even to change one’s shoe strap.

The example of a “minor precept” is that if the Jews of a certain time and place wear sandals or shoes that differ from those of the gentiles, one must be prepared to suffer martyrdom rather than change even the details of one’s shoes, at least in the two situations discussed above.

Modernism Responds to Pius X

Earlier I quoted Pope Pius X against the Modernists:

4. But since the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage, Venerable Brethren, to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connexion between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil.

Pius X proceeds to begin to lay out the doctrines of the modernists as “firm and steadfast,” and as a systematic whole:

5. To proceed in an orderly manner in this recondite subject, it must first of all be noted that every Modernist sustains and comprises within himself many personalities; he is a philosopher, a believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apologist, a reformer. These roles must be clearly distinguished from one another by all who would accurately know their system and thoroughly comprehend the principles and the consequences of their doctrines.

Agnosticism its Philosophical Foundation

6. We begin, then, with the philosopher. Modernists place the foundation of religious philosophy in that doctrine which is usually called Agnosticism. According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject. Given these premises, all will readily perceive what becomes of Natural Theology, of the motives of credibility, of external revelation. The Modernists simply make away with them altogether; they include them in Intellectualism, which they call a ridiculous and long ago defunct system. Nor does the fact that the Church has formally condemned these portentous errors exercise the slightest restraint upon them. Yet the Vatican Council has defined, “If anyone says that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made, let him be anathema” (De Revel., can. I); and also: “If anyone says that it is not possible or not expedient that man be taught, through the medium of divine revelation, about God and the worship to be paid Him, let him be anathema” (Ibid., can. 2); and finally, “If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men should be drawn to the faith only by their personal internal experience or by private inspiration, let him be anathema” (De Fide, can. 3). But how the Modernists make the transition from Agnosticism, which is a state of pure nescience, to scientific and historic Atheism, which is a doctrine of positive denial; and consequently, by what legitimate process of reasoning, starting from ignorance as to whether God has in fact intervened in the history of the human race or not, they proceed, in their explanation of this history, to ignore God altogether, as if He really had not intervened, let him answer who can. Yet it is a fixed and established principle among them that both science and history must be atheistic: and within their boundaries there is room for nothing but phenomena; God and all that is divine are utterly excluded. We shall soon see clearly what, according to this most absurd teaching, must be held touching the most sacred Person of Christ, what concerning the mysteries of His life and death, and of His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

As I remarked in the earlier post, Pope Pius X’s condemnation is sweeping and general, and surely many of the people who possessed many of the attitudes that the Pope considered modernist did not in fact embrace a systematic view such as the above. In a Modernist response, anonymous just as those accused by the encyclical are anonymous, one or some of the modernists responded to the encyclical (taken from the opening of this book):

A document so weighty, both in substance and form, as the Encyclical which we have reproduced at the end of this book; an attempt so deliberate to present “Modernist”* views to the public under a false and unfavorable light; a condemnation so authoritative of us Modernists as dangerous foes of Christian piety and unconscious promoters of atheism, make it a duty, which we owe to our own conscience, to the collective conscience, of the faithful, and to an anxious and expectant public, to lay bare our whole mind without reserve or concealment. We cannot possibly remain silent under the violent accusation which the chief authority of the Church, albeit recognizing us as her faithful subjects and as resolved to cling to her till our last breath, heaps upon our head. Hence there is nothing arrogant in our reply, since it is an elementary principle of justice for those who are accused to defend themselves; nor can we believe that this right has been taken from us at a moment so critical for the fortunes of Catholic Christianity.

They remark in the note on the name “Modernist”:

Let us say, once and for all, that we use this term only that we may be understood by those who have learnt it from the Encyclical, and that we do not need a new name to describe an attitude which we consider to be simply that of Christians and Catholics who live in harmony with the spirit of their day.

The following chapter begins to comment on the “systematic arrangement” laid out by Pius X:

First of all we must lay bare an equivocation by which inexpert readers of the Encyclical might easily be misled. That document starts with the assumption that there lies at the root of Modernism a certain philosophical system from which we deduce our critical methods, whether biblical or historical; in other words, that our zeal to reconcile the doctrines of Catholic tradition with the conclusions of positive science springs really from some theoretical apriorism which we defend through our ignorance of scholasticism and the rebellious pride of our reason. Now the assertion is false, and since it is the basis on which the Encyclical arranges its various arguments we cannot in our reply follow the order of that fallacious arrangement; but we must first of all show the utter emptiness of this allegation, and then discuss the theories which the Encyclical imputes to us.

In truth, the historical development, the methods and programme of so-called Modernism are very different from what they are said to be by the compilers of Pascendi Gregis.

So far from our philosophy dictating our critical method, it is the critical method that has, of its own accord, forced us to a very tentative and uncertain formulation of various philosophical conclusions, or better still, to a clearer exposition of certain ways of thinking to which Catholic apologetic has never been wholly a stranger. This independence of our criticism in respect to our purely tentative philosophy is evident in many ways.

First of all, of their own nature, textual criticism, as well as the so-called Higher Criticism (that is, the internal analysis of biblical documents with a view to establishing their origin and value), prescind entirely from philosophical assumptions. A single luminous example will suffice–that furnished by the question of the Comma Johanneum–now settled for ever. In past days when theologians wanted to prove the doctrine of the Trinity they never omitted to quote from the Vulgate (1 John v. 7): “There are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” Now the italicized words are lacking in all the Greek MSS. of to-day, cursive or uncial, and in all the Greek epistolaries and lectionaries, and in all the ancient translations, except the Vulgate, in the works of the Greek Fathers and of other Greek writers prior to the the twelfth century, in those of all the ancient Syrian and Armenian writers, and in those of a great number of the Latin Fathers. This silence of East and West is all the more remarkable as the passage would have been of priceless value in the Arian controversy. That it was not then appealed to, proves that it did not exist at the beginning of the fourth century. Moreove, a collation of MSS. and their comparison with the works of the heretic Priscillian, discovered a few years ago, makes it clear that the verse in question comes from Spain, and was fabricated by that heretic (A.D. 384) in favour of his trinitarian views, of which Peregrinus made himself the propagandist. Now it is plain that in order to arrive at such a conclusion and to study such a literary problem critically, no sort of philosophical doctrine or presupposition is required. The same can be said of a whole host of biblical and historical problems whose impartial solutions, leading to results so different from those of traditional Catholic criticism, are the true cause of that revolution in religious apologetic which we find forced upon us by sheer necessity. Does one really need any special philosophical preparation to trace a diversity of sources in the Pentateuch, or to convince oneself, by the most superficial comparison of texts, that the Fourth Gospel is a substantially different kind of work from the synoptics, or that the Nicene Creed is essentially a development of the Apostles’ Creed?

The modernists have the better of the argument here. One might say that this kind of argument regarding the Comma involves philosophical presuppositions only by making arguments like, “This presupposes that our memory is valid,” “This presupposes that these manuscripts really come from those times,” “This presupposes that the others who have studied this question were being basically honest,” and so on. But these things are really just common sense, not some special philosophy. Nor are they even premises, in general, in the sense that my memory of drinking coffee this morning is not a premise in an argument that I drank coffee this morning; I simply assert that I did, and my memory is an efficient cause of my statement, not an argument for it.

The modernists bring up this example not as an irrelevant detail, but because it was precisely the kind of thing they were criticized for. Thus we have this from the Acta Sanctae Sedis in 1897 [this document, page 637]:

« Utrum tuto negari, aut saltem in dubium revocari possit
« esse authenticum textum S. Ioannis, in epistola prima, capo V,
« vers. 7, quod sic se habet: Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium
« dant in coelo: Pater, Verbum et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres
« unum sunt? »
Omnibus diligentissimo examine perpensis, praehabito que
DD. Consultorum voto, iidem Emi Cardinales respondendum
mandarunt: « Negative ».

The decree asserts that the authenticity of the text cannot be safely denied or even called into doubt. Now I have previously discussed such decrees. These should never be understood as attempting to settle the truth of the matter definitively. Rather they are making a rule: you are not allowed to deny this or even to call it into question.

Pope Pius X complains in Pascendi:

Finally, and this almost destroys all hope of cure, their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.

For Pope Pius X, calling into question the authenticity of the Comma would be “the result of pride and obstinacy,” because one questioning it would be in disobedience to the above decree. But given the kinds of arguments that are involved, it is easy enough to see why the people questioning it would ascribe this rather to a love of truth.

All of this might call to mind earlier debates. Here is Philip Gosse, quoted at length in the linked post:

I am not assuming here that the Inspired Word has been rightly read; I merely say that the plain straightforward meaning, the meaning that lies manifestly on the face of the passages in question, is in opposition with the conclusions which geologists have formed, as to the antiquity and the genesis of the globe on which we live.

Perhaps the simple, superficial sense of the Word is not the correct one; but it is at least that which its readers, learned and unlearned, had been generally content with before; and which would, I suppose, scarcely have been questioned, but for what appeared the exigencies of geological facts.

Now while there are, unhappily, not a few infidels, professed or concealed, who eagerly seize on any apparent discrepancy between the works and the Word of God, in order that they may invalidate the truth of the latter, there are, especially in this country, many names of the highest rank in physical (and, among other branches, in geological) science, to whom the veracity of God is as dear as life. They cannot bear to see it impugned; they know that it cannot be overthrown; they are assured that He who gave the Word, and He who made the worlds, is One Jehovah, who cannot be inconsistent with Himself. But they cannot shut their eyes to the startling fact, that the records which seem legibly written on His created works do flatly contradict the statements which seem to be plainly expressed in His word.

Here is a dilemma. A most painful one to the reverent mind! And many reverent minds have laboured hard and long to escape from it. It is unfair and dishonest to class our men of science with the infidel and atheist. They did not rejoice in the dilemma; they saw it at first dimly, and hoped to avoid it. At first they believed that the mighty processes which are recorded on the “everlasting mountains” might not only be harmonized with, but might afford beautiful and convincing demonstrations of Holy Scripture. They thought that the deluge of Noah would explain the stratification, and the antediluvian era account for the organic fossils.

A parallel passage could easily be written on the opposition between Pope Pius X and the modernists. While I don’t have a source at hand at the moment, it seems that Alfred Loisy did state after his excommunication that he had secretly been an atheist for many years. There is no way of knowing, however, whether this is true in a literal sense or was simply his own retrospective analysis of his past state of mind. In any case, it is quite sure that many of the modernists were not secret atheists, but simply men like the geologists in Gosse’s passage. Conflict came to light between the actual facts of geology and the current understanding based on the text of Genesis, and something had to be said about that conflict. In a similar way, in the modernist controversy, conflict came to light between the actual facts of history and the current understanding based on the Church’s traditions, and something had to be said about that conflict.

Gosse complains that the geologists are classed with “the infidel and the atheist,” in effect for their recognition of geological facts; Pius X accuses the modernists of secret agnosticism or atheism, in effect for their recognition of historical facts.

In both cases, the accusation is that an atheistic metaphysics, and likely an atheistic epistemology, comes first, and is responsible for the conclusions that are drawn. And in both cases the accusation is false. Epistemology cannot come first in principle, and it does not come first in practice in these cases. You might be able to argue that these people have ended up with a mistaken epistemology, and you might be able to argue that it does not follow from the facts from which they have drawn it. But they have drawn it from facts, mistakenly or not, and not the facts from the epistemology.

This is ultimately why, despite the lack of firm definition of the term “Modernism,” the controversy has remained until this day. This is why accusations of modernism continue to be thrown around, as a few years ago when Bishop Fellay accused Pope Francis of modernism:

What Gospel does he have? Which Bible does he have to say such things. It’s horrible. What has this to do with the Gospel? With the Catholic Faith? That’s pure Modernism, my dear brethren. We have in front of us a genuine Modernist…

If one wishes to criticize the views which are characterized as “modernist,” whether in the early 20th century or now in the 21st, one will make no progress without the acknowledgement that it was first the consideration of certain facts that led to those views, rightly or wrongly. Attributing them to some general system is simplistic and wrong.

Fr. Brian Harrison’s Bomb Shelter

Fr. Brian Harrison complains about “Bomb-Shelter Theology”:

Those who anxiously whittle down and attenuate the traditional Catholic faith to the point where it includes no affirmations whatever about physical, material realities (such as conception, virginity, crucified corpses, the earth, sun, stars, etc.), on the grounds that such matters fall within the competence of “science,” do a very good job of what they set out to do: their theological bomb-shelter is indeed impregnable against any possible bomb which might be launched by physicists, geologists, historians, etc. No such missile could ever damage that kind of “faith,” any more than a cloud can be damaged by firing a shot-gun at it: there is nothing solid there with which the shot might possibly collide. Nevertheless, if the Catholic Church ever came to adopt, or even officially permit, this scientifically-ever-so-respectable theology, her rational credibility would suffer death by the “asphyxiation” of self-contradiction. Let us see why this is the case.

The Roman Catholic Church’s basic stance toward religious truth is not that of a plodding investigator. Rather, it is that of a faithful witness. Unlike scientists who search for truth in nature, or Protestants who search for it in the Bible, the original Church dating back to Christ Himself claims to have possessed the truth already for two thousand years, handing it on faithfully and continuously from generation to generation, like a flaming Olympic torch which is scrupulously kept alight as it is passed from runner to runner. This is why her theologians can never simply imitate the methodology of other disciplines, in which the mark of intellectual integrity is open-mindedness, and a modest willingness to acknowledge and correct past mistakes. That kind of “modesty” is a luxury which the Catholic Church simply cannot afford; or at least, she can afford it only to a limited and circumscribed extent: that is, in regard to past teachings or theological positions to which she has never committed herself in a thoroughgoing or definitive way.

For the credibility of an investigator and that of a witness have to be judged according to very different criteria. An investigator only need avoid self-contradiction in what he says at any given time. Provided he does that, he may – and indeed, should – contradict what he said only yesterday, if he happens to have found new evidence overnight that his previous view was mistaken. But a witness in a court of law is subject to more exacting requirements. Unlike the investigator, he is asking us to believe certain things on the strength of his word, not on the basis of publicly available data which the rest of us can inspect and evaluate for ourselves. He is asking us to trust him as a reliable source of information which is otherwise inaccessible to the rest of us. This means that in order for him to be credible in the claims he makes, he must avoid not only contradicting himself while under cross-examination today; he must also avoid contradicting today what he said yesterday -or the day before. Once he gives his clear, emphatic, sworn testimony to something, he must forever stick by it, and be able to defend it, on pain of destroying his whole credibility. Now, things like creeds and dogmas and solemn papal or conciliar definitions are the emphatic “sworn testimony” of the Catholic Church in bearing witness to the truth of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ and in the natural moral law. So are those doctrines which, even though not defined in such specific documents, have been taught by a solid consensus of Popes and Catholic Bishops round the world as being “definitively to be held.”

This analogy should help us to see the folly of those modern theologians and exegetes who think it admissible to indulge in “bomb-shelter” theology to the extent of discarding or “re-interpreting” those definitively taught doctrines from our Catholic heritage which they feel are – or even might be in future – vulnerable to scientific bombardment. Because they are imitating the investigative mentality of the merely human disciplines (“let’s be humbly willing to correct our mistakes”), they can enjoy a superficial aura of intellectual sophistication and respectability, especially if (as usually happens) these scholars work in a university environment. What they fail to realize is that, precisely from the standpoint of intellectual credibility, this “pick-and-choose Catholicism,” which clings to scientifically “untouchable” doctrines while surrendering the scientifically “vulnerable” ones, is simply laughable. If the Church were an unreliable witness on any one definitive doctrine – a “sworn statement” – then there would be no justification for continuing to believe any of the rest. If it were true that science could demonstrate the falsity of one or more such doctrines, the intelligent response would not be to “correct,” “reinterpret,” or otherwise patch up those particular doctrines, while continuing to preach and teach the rest as though nothing had happened. The intelligent response would be that which has in fact been chosen by such ex-theologians as Charles Davis and Anthony Kenny (but not, for instance, by Hans Küng): complete abandonment of the Catholic Church. Outright apostasy can at times have a certain amount of intellectual integrity and coherence about it; mere heresy is always intellectually bankrupt.

Fr. Harrison seems to be saying something like this: Catholics only believe in Catholic doctrine because they believe that the Church is trustworthy. If the Church ever “committed herself in a thoroughgoing or definitive way” to something, and that thing turned out to be false, then the Church would not be trustworthy. Therefore there would be no reason for anyone to believe any of its doctrines.

Fr. Harrison continues:

There are many theologians today who speak as though revelation deals only with transcendent mysteries that are quite beyond the reach of human science or reason. But in fact the Church’s two-thousand-year witness includes “sworn testimony” not only to `intangible´ mysteries such as the Trinity, the Real Presence, Grace, the Redemptive value of Christ’s death, life after death, and so on, but also to “solid” truths in a more or less literal sense: those involving physical matter existing on this earth in time and space. The Church has insistently proclaimed as revealed truth, for instance, that Jesus was conceived in His Mother’s womb while she was yet a virgin, and that His mortal remains were raised to life in His resurrection. As both Vatican Councils affirm, revelation includes not only the completely transcendent truths, but also others “which in themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason” but which for many people would in fact be difficult to ascertain by their own unaided reason. Thanks to their inclusion in revelation, however, such truths “can, in the present condition of the human race, be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty, and without the contamination of error.”

In his work, The Science of Historical Theology,  Msgr. John F. McCarthy has emphasized the importance of these revealed truths which are also accessible to reason – or at least, to some people’s reason -and in particular those such as we have already mentioned, which belong to the field of history. As he says, they can be described as “revealed history,” or “past revealed reality.” The virginal conception of Our Lord, for instance, is a historical fact which is accessible to most of us only through revelation. (Indeed, it was accessible to the natural reason of only one person, Our Lady herself. Mary knew, without any help from revelation, that she had never had intercourse with any man and yet was pregnant. St. Joseph and all the rest of us needed a revelation from on high to guarantee such an extraordinary fact.)

Today’s fashionable bomb-shelter theology, however, in what might be called an overreaction to the Galileo case, refuses to accept the idea of “revealed history.” One such theologian of my acquaintance scoffed at such a concept as an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms. According to him, if a truth is revealed, then by definition it cannot be historical, and vice versa. And he appealed to Vatican II’s teaching on the “rightful autonomy of science” (which here means “science” in a broad sense to cover history as well as the physical sciences) in order to justify his position. He pointed out that in this passage the Council rebukes those Christians who neglect this autonomy. Such believers, it says, “have occasioned conflict and controversy and have misled many into opposing faith and science.”

This theologian’s thinking went more or less as follows: “We churchmen burnt our fingers badly over the Galileo case. We went right out on a limb by making statements that were open to scrutiny from the human sciences: statements about concrete, empirically observable things and facts in time and space. And what happened? The limb was rudely chopped off! We were shot down in flames! Then we were almost shot down again when some of us tried to argue with what turned out to be the scientific fact of evolution. Now at last, with Vatican II, we’ve learned our lesson. From now on, theology cannot afford to present as revealed truth any kinds of propositions which, now or in future, might come up for scrutiny by the human sciences – history, biology, astronomy, geology, or whatever. All such propositions come under the jurisdiction of these sciences, and belong to their area of “rightful autonomy.” The Church must stick to ethical statements, and truths which are completely supernatural: the kind which no human science could even investigate. That which science cannot in principle even touch, it can certainly never disprove!”

In other words – according to this approach – the task of showing the harmony between faith and reason should now be carried out by sorting through our inherited doctrinal baggage and classifying its contents according to subject-matter. Those which make statements (especially controversial ones) involving historical and physical realities (e.g. dead bodies or the conception of babies) can now be discarded as excess baggage. We are to leave them lying above ground, as it were, where they will be exposed to possible bombing-raids on the part of the historical or physical sciences. If they never actually get hit, well and good. But if they do, it doesn’t matter. They are expendable, negotiable. Meanwhile, we will gather up the remaining doctrines – the purely transcendent or supernatural ones we have received from our Catholic heritage – and scurry off with this “survival kit” to an underground bunker with a sign on the door saying “revealed truth.” Here, in our theological bomb-shelter, our faith will be utterly impregnable from all possible scientific explosions.

But this line of defence against the accusation that faith is unreasonable will not work at all. In the first place, it is clear that Vatican II cannot mean by the “rightful autonomy of science” the idea that revelation, by definition, can never include any statements of a “scientific” (i.e. physical/historical) nature. That would make the Council contradict itself. Gaudium et Spes cannot be read as contradicting Dei Verbum, which, as we have seen, repeats the teaching of Vatican I that some revealed truths are also truths in principle accessible to unaided reason. (In fact, the Council even gave a specific example of such truth: the textual history of the first sentence in Dei Verbum, §19, shows that it was carefully drafted so as to maintain that the historicity of the Gospels is a truth which is both revealed and accessible to unaided reason.) In rebuking Christians who do not respect the “rightful autonomy” of science, Vatican II did not mean there cannot in principle be any such thing as a revealed physical/historical fact; rather, it means that we must make very sure (by means of a careful exegesis of Scripture and careful survey of what has been said by the Church Fathers and Magisterium) that a given historical/physical proposition really is revealed, before we go asserting it as such to all the world. The Council had in mind here the Galileo case specifically. But even assuming that Galileo’s inquisitors were scientifically wrong (and there are now – since the 1970s – some Catholic and Protestant scholars with PhD’s in physics and astronomy who maintain that they were scientifically right, i.e., that geocentrism is the truth) their error was not in supposing that if the Bible makes assertions about physical reality, these must be accepted as revealed truth (a supposition which they did indeed make – and very rightly). Rather, their error lay in faulty exegesis: in supposing that the Bible does in fact assert a particular physical proposition (geocentrism) which it does not really assert. We have to say that that was the error which led them to trespass unwittingly into the autonomous domain of science.

After some additional discussion, he concludes the section:

It should be clear by now why this kind of dogged persistence in sticking by what we have said for two millennia is not “triumphalism,” pride, obscurantism, or mere “fear of change.” It does not harm the Church’s rational credibility at the bar of reason, as bomb-shelter theologians imagine, but is essential precisely in order to save it from the manifest irrationality of their own “solution.” A witness, in contrast to an investigator, cannot afford to “correct” serious mistakes, because he cannot afford to admit ever having made them! Imagine a witness in a court of law who finds himself embarrassed by the contrary evidence of a certain Miss A., or by that of several other witnesses in regard to his activities on a certain date at Village X. And imagine the response if the witness tries to get out of his difficulty by asking the court to continue believing only certain areas or sections of what he had previously sworn emphatically under oath: “Yes, well, what I said about Miss A. wasn’t really too accurate, I guess. But I assure you that what I said about Mr. B and Mrs. C is God’s truth! And as regards what I said about what happened at Village X on April 15, you’d best forget that. But you can take my word for it – scout’s honor! – that on April 16 I spent the whole day at Village Y, just as I said before!”

Nobody in the courtroom, of course, will henceforth take this witness’s word for anything. He has destroyed himself. And neither will any intelligent agnostic (the type of “modern man” for whom an attenuated, “demythologized,” bomb-shelter theology hopes to make the faith more credible) take the Church’s word for anything, if she retracts her previous emphatic “sworn testimony” on even one important point. If the Church could be wrong in proclaiming for two thousand years (in the teeth of rationalistic opposition, ancient and modern) that Jesus’ dead body was raised to life on the third day, why should anyone in his right senses regard her as trustworthy when she keeps on proclaiming that there are three Persons in one God, or that we are destined for heavenly glory after death?

Here, then, we see the basic error of bomb-shelter theology. It is so intent on guarding the faith from all possible attacks from the “bombs” of the secular scholarly disciplines that it unwittingly prods the Church toward a suicidal self-contradiction. In its excessive preoccupation with appearing “respectable” in the sight of the physical and historical sciences, it unconsciously flouts the first principle of the even more fundamental science of logic.

Bomb-shelter theology, as defined by Fr. Harrison, would attempt to make only statements which cannot ever have any empirical consequences. This is in fact absurd, although not exactly for the reasons that he gives. The main problem is that if it has no empirical consequences at all, it cannot have any evidence in favor of it. But any statement that people make has evidence in favor of it, and therefore it cannot avoid having some empirical implications.

However, one can make sure that those implications do not vary much from the implications of opposing theories, and this is more precisely what people actually do when they engage in this project. This has problems as well, although it is not absurd, as it is to say that one’s statements have no empirical implications at all. The main problem here is that to the extent that you make the implications match the implications of opposing theories, you reduce the amount of evidence which is left in favor of your theory. In the end, the probability of your theory will be close to its prior probability according to your implied prior probability distribution. But for many or most religious claims, this prior probability cannot be very high, and so, at least in many cases, there will be little reason to think that the claim is true.

Nonetheless, there are serious problems with Fr. Harrison’s response to this idea. Fr. Harrison claims that after a person has perjured himself, “nobody in the courtroom, of course, will henceforth take this witness’s word for anything.” This is not true even in real courtrooms, where for example people are sometimes believed about various things even after they have falsely accused other people, or falsely confessed to a crime themselves.

But it were true in real courtrooms, this would be because the person has been proved to be a liar. If it were simply proved that a person had made a mistake, that would not mean that no one would trust him about anything else. If 90% of the things a person says are true, and 10% are false, then if you take one at random, there is a 90% chance it is true, even after you notice that 10% of the things that he says are false.

Let’s look again at one of his opening paragraphs:

The Roman Catholic Church’s basic stance toward religious truth is not that of a plodding investigator. Rather, it is that of a faithful witness. Unlike scientists who search for truth in nature, or Protestants who search for it in the Bible, the original Church dating back to Christ Himself claims to have possessed the truth already for two thousand years, handing it on faithfully and continuously from generation to generation, like a flaming Olympic torch which is scrupulously kept alight as it is passed from runner to runner. This is why her theologians can never simply imitate the methodology of other disciplines, in which the mark of intellectual integrity is open-mindedness, and a modest willingness to acknowledge and correct past mistakes. That kind of “modesty” is a luxury which the Catholic Church simply cannot afford; or at least, she can afford it only to a limited and circumscribed extent: that is, in regard to past teachings or theological positions to which she has never committed herself in a thoroughgoing or definitive way.

There is an error here very similar to the error of Kurt Wise. If the Church ever commits herself to something in a “thoroughgoing or definitive way,” and then admits that it was wrong about that thing, he says, then we will know that the Church was wrong in its claim “to have possessed the truth already for two thousand years.”

Just as Wise was implicitly assuming that he was personally absolutely certain that Scripture is inconsistent with evolution, Fr. Harrison is implicitly assuming personal certainty about something here.

In the first place, what does it mean to say that the Church committed itself to something in a “thoroughgoing or definitive way”? Does it mean the Church said, “This doctrine is true, and if it turns out to be false, then all of the teachings of the Church are false?” It is doubtful the Church has ever said such a thing, or ever would say such a thing. And even if it did, Harrison’s argument would not follow, since if the Church could be wrong about the doctrine, it could also be wrong in claiming that all of its other teachings would be false.

More likely he means to say that the Church teaches something in a definitive way if it claims as much certainty as the Church can have. “This doctrine is true, and there are no doctrines about which the Church is more certain.” Again, Fr. Harrison’s argument would not follow. If the Church can be mistaken in its most certain doctrines, that does not necessarily mean that all of them are false, just as said above about someone who is right 90% of the time. It simply means that the Church does not possess absolute certainty.

It could mean, however, that the Church is making that very claim: “There is a 100% chance that this doctrine is true and no possibility of it being in error.” Again, however, Fr. Harrison’s argument would not follow. If the Church made such a claim and turned out to be wrong, this would simply mean that the Church was wrong not only about the doctrine, but also about its ability to have absolute certainty about it. It would not follow that it possessed no truth at all.

Basically Fr. Harrison is assuming in advance that he knows that either the Church can have and does have absolute certainty about various things, or that there is no truth in the Church at all. But there is nothing necessary about this in principle.

In a second part of the essay, he sets out a syllogism with which he says that certain theologians conclude that the opening chapters of Genesis are not historical in genre:

  • Major – All Scripture (including Genesis 1-3) is inspired by God, and is therefore without error in all that the writers intended to assert.
  • Minor – Science has demonstrated that Genesis 1-3, understood as a factual, historical account of how the world and man began, would be in error.
  • Concl. – Therefore the author(s) of Genesis 1-3 did not intend to assert in these chapters a factual, historical account of how the world and man began.

He then criticizes this using a parable:

Consider this little parable. In a certain far-off land the dominant religion includes the dogma that on the dark side of the moon there are large craters full of salt water. Comes the twentieth century and space-travel. Rocket-ships finally get to photograph all angles of the moon, including the dark side. The believers are cast into deep anguish and a crisis of faith by the terrible news that, while the new photographs indeed show plenty of craters, all of them are bone-dry! At first there is a reaction of rejection. The hierarchy assures the faithful that the photographs are all faked, as part of a Satanic plot. As time goes on, however, this becomes hard to sustain, since some astronauts of hitherto unquestioned orthodoxy themselves take part in a space-flight to the moon and see for themselves the faith-shattering emptiness of those great craters, reporting this sad news to their brethren on return.

Many of the faithful leave the Church in disillusionment; but for others, faith does not remain shattered for very long. The more learned theologians soon come up with a “bomb-shelter” solution which satisfies well-educated, sophisticated believers. It can be set out in another syllogism.

  • Major – It is revealed truth that there are salt-water craters on the dark side of the moon.
  • Minor – Science has demonstrated that no water of any sort is observed in the craters on the dark side of the moon.
  • Concl. – Therefore there is invisible salt-water in the craters on the dark side of the moon.

This eminently reasonable solution comes to be accepted by the bulk of the faithful, because after all, it is logical (the conclusion follows ineluctably from the premises); it is orthodox (the traditional dogma is faithfully preserved); and by accepting the minor premise, this revised faith is perfectly in line with the latest developments in science. Armed (and comforted) by this modern development in doctrine, the guardians of the new orthodoxy can afford to shake their heads condescendingly at the tiny minority of fundamentalists, who, in their naive literalism, regard the new theology as nonsense and continue to insist on the hypothesis of hoax and fraud in all the photographs and testimonies regarding the craters. These theological illiterates, locked into their narrow, fortress mentality which leaves no room for growth or flexibility, keep on stubbornly maintaining that if the traditional interpretation of moon-water turns out to be indefensible, the whole religion will be indefensible. The only perplexing thing for the more enlightened believers is that the great bulk of their contemporaries seem to agree with the fundamentalists on this last point. The new theology, designed especially to make faith more credible for modern scientific man, seems to hold little attraction for him. The churches keep on emptying, as a greater consensus grows outside the Church that there is, quite simply, no water of any sort on the dark side of the moon.

What lesson, then, can be learnt from this comparison? Somebody will say that my imaginary syllogism is a mere caricature of the very real and currently respectable one regarding Genesis. And perhaps some non-Catholic reader will say that I seem to be very free in throwing stones for one who himself lives in a glass house: who am I to go laughing at a belief in “invisible water” when I and all orthodox Catholics profess a firm belief in the invisible Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist?

But I am not laughing at a belief in “invisible water” as such. If the conclusion to my second syllogism raised any sort of a smile on your lips, dear reader, then ask yourself why it did so. After all, suppose I had begun my tale by saying, “Once upon a time there was a tribe that venerated water as the source of all life. One of the mysteries handed down from their ancestors was that a certain sacred shrine contained an ancient phial which, as far as human eyes could see, was quite empty, but which in fact contained a sacred, supernatural water – the source and well-spring of all earthly water.” I suspect this would have elicited very few guffaws. You might have thought, “Well, they were pretty superstitious tribesmen. Anyway, what next? If this is a joke, I’m waiting for the punchline.” Whereas when you read the Conclusion to my syllogism about the moon-water, you immediately knew it was the punchline of a joke.

And that is precisely the point. What makes the “invisible water” laughable in the syllogism is the fact that it comes at the end, and not at the beginning. One expects religions to have mysteries, but normally they are traditional mysteries, handed down from what are (or at least, what believers understand to be) the authoritative, foundational sources of the religion itself. (This of course is the case with Catholic belief in the Eucharistic Presence.) But in our parable of the moon-water, its invisibility is a brand-new “mystery,” which no believer (or unbeliever) has ever heard of before! It pops up out of nowhere at the end of a syllogism. And it springs, moreover, not from some kind of organic or logical development based on the religion’s own doctrinal and spiritual patrimony; rather, it is forced abruptly upon the believers by a minor premise coming from an outside source which is coldly indifferent – even irreverent – toward these sacred sources: the merciless glare of empirical observation. The real incongruity in the situation, of course, is that the learned theologians are engaging in sophistry in accepting this new “development,” while the “stupid” fundamentalists (like the faithless bulk of their ordinary fellow-citizens) have enough common-sense to see that the whole thing is completely “phoney,” even if they might not be able to explain in an abstract way where the fallacy lies. As in the old fable, it takes the simplicity of a child to see that the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

It is not in fact as easy as one might think to give an abstract exposition of this common-sense insight; but perhaps the basic grievance of the poor fundamentalist gives us the clue. For the reason we have already given, his major complaint with the new theology of moon-water – and a very reasonable one it is – will not so much be its intrinsic implausibility (his faith may well already include other marvels as wondrous as invisible water), but rather, “Why didn’t we ever hear before now that the moon-water was invisible? And anyway, since when were we supposed to learn our religion from astronauts rather than from the gods?” Reflecting on these naive, but very pertinent questions, we can perhaps formulate the following principle:

If, in a syllogism wherein the truth of at least one premise is not immediately obvious, the Conclusion: (a) is not itself true in any obvious way; (b) is the sort of proposition which, if true, is normally reached by quite different methods of inquiry from those of the syllogism; and (c) has never been, and is not now, supported by any evidence from those methods proper to it, or by any other evidence independent of the Major and Minor of the syllogism; – then in that case it is gratuitous and unscientific to affirm that Conclusion as true. Rather, it should be presumed that one (or perhaps both) of the premises which entail such a groundless assertion must be false.

In the case of our parable, the Conclusion fulfilled condition (a), because the assertion that invisible water exists is by no means obviously true. It fulfilled condition (b), because it is the kind of proposition which, if true, would normally have to be proposed as a supernatural mystery, backed up by some pretty convincing and well-attested miracles on the part of the one proposing it. This is not, however, the way in which the sect’s theologians arrived at their “new mystery.” And it fulfills condition (c), because the founding fathers or prophets of the religion never so much as hinted that the moon-water might turn out to be invisible. Nor has any new prophet appeared declaring that the invisible water is indeed there, and backing up his claim with some astounding prodigies. And finally, there is not a shred of evidence from any other independent source for the truth of the conclusion.

(There could conceivably be such evidence, of course. We can imagine a scenario in which, with the further advance of technology, space-ships can not only photograph, but also visit, the craters. But as the first landing-craft approaches the crater-floor, disaster strikes! As it descends past the rim of the crater, still 400 feet above ground-level, the craft is rocked by a resounding SPLASH! The crew feel first their boots, then their trousers and other clothes, soaked by a rising inundation of … water no human eye can see! With the whole of planet earth watching in horror on television, the craft takes its passengers to an invisible watery grave; but the last words transmitted to earth by the doomed radio-man before his equipment sputters out remain forever engraved on the memory of the human race: “The water! It’s (gulp) – it’s (glug) – SALTY!!” For the faithful, victory has indeed been snatched from the jaws of defeat: the naked Emperor turns out to be clothed in splendor and majesty after all. The only moon-water believers who seem slightly embarrassed in the midst of this spectacular triumph are the more radically progressive bomb-shelter theologians, who have for years been teaching the new generation of clergy not to be so naive as to anticipate this kind of outcome from the long-awaited crater-landing. It had become axiomatic in such sophisticated circles that moon-water is to be understood as not only invisible, but also intangible.)

Once again, certain readers may object that while some people might find this all very diverting, there is no serious point to it all. After all, am I not just caricaturing responsible modern theology by my syllogism about the moon-water? Well, only in that its Major premise is clearly a lot more implausible than that of the first syllogism (i.e., the divine inspiration of the Bible), so as to make the point more clearly. But I am seriously maintaining that the reasoning process which leads today’s respectable Christian theologians to postulate a “non-literal,” or “non-factual,” literary genre for the Genesis creation accounts is every bit as invalid and unscientific as that which led our “moonies” to revise their theology in such a startling way. They produced a brand-new mystery unsupported by any appropriate evidence: invisible water. And our learned men since the middle of the last century have also produced a brand-new mystery, unsupported by any appropriate evidence: an invisible literary genre.

However, our real-life situation regarding Genesis seems to me more desperate. A century and a half after the existence of a “non-historical” literary genre for Genesis 1-3 was suddenly “deduced” from the studies (not in Hebrew literature, mind you, but in geology and biology) of scholars such as Lyell and Darwin, our exegetes are still looking for it. One recalls here the status of the planet Pluto in the late 1920s: astronomers had deduced that it “must” be out there before they actually spotted it with telescopes. Since their deduction was based on methods proper to the discovery of heavenly bodies, it is not too surprising that they found what they were looking for in short order (in 1930, to be precise). And since our deduction about the existence of a “non-factual” literary genre in Genesis 1-3 was not based on methods even remotely connected with literary criticism, it is also unsurprising that we have not found what we are looking for, even after more than a century of searching. Unsurprising – and also unreassuring as regards any reasonable prospect that the search might one day be successful. Since all appropriate literary methods have so far failed to identify the creation accounts as belonging to any known “non-historical” genre (such as poetry, drama, apocalypse, fiction, midrash, allegory, parable, etc.), and since the field of literature (unlike that of nature) now contains very little unexplored territory, then it might be time to recognize honestly that this genre which just “has to” be there is one which is permanently undiscoverable by any method at all which human ingenuity can devise! In terms of the parable, our “water” has failed not only the visibility test, but also the tangibility test. For us, not only the crater photographs, but also the crater landing-craft, have failed to discover that “water” which we believe “must” be there. This is why I say that our fantasy syllogism about the moon-water, far from caricaturing the real-life syllogism about science and Genesis, is actually too gentle with it! Today’s new “orthodoxy” regarding the literary genre of Genesis 1-3 is in fact more ridiculous than the “new interpretation” of moon-water produced in the moonies’ hour of crisis. They felt obliged to postulate the reality of invisible water; our most respected Catholic theologians have for decade after decade felt obliged to postulate an invisible and intangible literary genre for the Genesis creation accounts.

Fr. Harrison’s “principle” that “If, in a syllogism wherein the truth of at least one premise is not immediately obvious etc” is false. This should be obvious from the ad hoc method with which he came up with it in order to refute the syllogism concerning Genesis. But in any case, it would be easy enough to give examples where he would not deny that the conclusion is true, despite matching his principle. For example, using the methods of Gödel’s theorems, one can construct an equation which has no solution in the integers, and which cannot be proven by the methods of arithmetic to have no solution. One proves that it has no solution with a quite different method. It can easily be seen that this will violate his principle, unless we groundlessly assert that it has solutions nonetheless.

However, he is correctly recognizing that a syllogism “goes both ways” in terms of evidence. If the premises would ensure that the conclusion is true, then the improbability of the conclusion is evidence against the truth of the premises. The claim about the invisible moon water does indeed seem improbable, and this argues that for the likelihood that one or both of the premises is false. And the same thing is true about the argument about Genesis. To the degree that you think it unlikely that Genesis could have such a genre, you should think that it is likely that one or both of the premises in that syllogism are false.

And this is the real issue for Fr. Harrison. The conclusion of the Genesis syllogism seems improbable to him. And to the extent that this is true, this means that one of the premises is probably false. But we wouldn’t form the syllogism in the first place unless we thought that science has shown something about the origins of man and the world. This suggests that the false premise is the major premise. And Fr. Harrison doesn’t like this conclusion. Consequently he would prefer to think that science has not shown anything about the origins of man and the world.

As we have seen, religious views often have semi-political motivations. We can see this in Fr. Harrison’s parable: “For the faithful, victory has indeed been snatched from the jaws of defeat: the naked Emperor turns out to be clothed in splendor and majesty after all.” The terminology of victory and defeat indicates this kind of motivation. Someone who wanted to know the truth would not be defeated if his error was corrected, but he would be attaining the truth, which was after all his goal. Thus Socrates says in the Gorgias, “And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute; for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another.” We can see the same thing in the questions, “Why didn’t we ever hear before now that the moon-water was invisible? And anyway, since when were we supposed to learn our religion from astronauts rather than from the gods?” To the degree that someone is interested in the truth, learning something new is not an issue, nor does it matter from whom it comes.

Objecting to “bomb-shelter theology,” Fr. Harrison is building himself another kind of bomb shelter. If he conceded that the Church was somewhat mistaken about various things it has said in the past, in principle it would still be possible that there is divine truth in the Church, as I said in the first part. But given that situation, Fr. Harrison would feel that it is probable that there is no such truth at all in the Church. And likewise, if Fr. Harrison accepted the minor premise, he would feel that it is likely that the major premise is false. By asserting that science has established nothing about human origins, it seems to him that he is asserting something which is overall more likely to be true. In his parable, he says, “These theological illiterates, locked into their narrow, fortress mentality which leaves no room for growth or flexibility, keep on stubbornly maintaining that if the traditional interpretation of moon-water turns out to be indefensible, the whole religion will be indefensible.” Here his intention is to defend this kind of theology, but it in fact really is a “narrow, fortress mentality.” And not simply because one should allow for the possibility of growth, but also because one should allow for the possibility that one’s whole religion is indeed indefensible.

Apart from all this, Fr. Harrison is making a mistake similar to that of Kurt Wise in a second way. Just as Wise was mistaken about the meaning of Genesis 1, Fr. Harrison is mistaken about it in more or less the same way. We have already seen that Genesis 1 is not about the order of time, but about the order of matter and form. And inasmuch as this interpretation was already suggested by St. Augustine, he is also mistaken in speaking of this as an “invisible genre” which does not previously appear in Christian tradition.