Invincible Ignorance and Pascal's Wager: Irreconcilable?

An apparent contradiction is at play in apologetics and salvation theology; two claims are made which seem opposed to each other. The first is the claim of Pascal's Wager, a favorite argument of Professor Peter Kreeft's (among others) for why we ought to live like God exists. The second is the doctrine of Invincible Ignorance, which is often interpreted to mean that those who do not believe in God or His Church may still find themselves in heaven; this was certainly the view of C.S. Lewis (see The Last Battle), as well as a number of prominent (and orthodox) Catholic Theologians.

---Pascal's Wager---

Pascal's Wager was a chapter in the Pensees, in which Blaise Pascal presented an argument aimed not so much at the atheists of his day as the agnostics. The outline of the argument is as follows:

  1. Man must satisfy both his intellect and his will; the demand of the intellect is to know and obey truth, the demand of the will is to seek and find the good and to avoid evil.
  2. The agnostic claims that we can't know truth absolutely.
  3. However, we must ultimately live as if we did know truth: ultimately, we must live as if there is God, or as if there is not God. While we may claim intellectually not to know, not living as if there is God is equivalent to living as if there is not God.
  4. Since we must make a choice, our intellect is not offended by having made this choice. We therefore must choose based on our will.
  5. Having settled the demands of the intellect, we must now turn to the demands of the will:

First Cause and Contingency

Doctor Stephen Hawking's latest book is set to be released soon, and with much fanfare. There's no surprise here, given how well-received was his last major work, A Brief History of Time, written nearly a quarter of a century ago. Although I have heard relatively little about the book--beyond that it was in the process of being written--there is one detail which has been widely disseminated, perhaps even by Dr Hawking himself.

Priestettes, VOT"F", Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Gnosticism

A couple of days ago, I wrote a somewhat rambling piece about Voice of the "Faithful" (VOT"F") Chicagoland's open letter to the Holy Father*. I focused on one passage in particular, namely the one in which VOT"F"C attempts to rebut the "metaphor argument" (e.g. the "sexual symbolism" argument) against ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood**. However, I had time only to consider the first half of that passage, which concerns their mistaken view as to the role of a priest. Today, I'd like to spend some time considering the second part of that passage, in which they make an even more grievous (and an even less well founded) error concerning Christ himself. Let's have another look at the passage in question, this time with the emphasis on its second part:

"The metaphor argument, that the priest should be male because he represents Jesus, the male priest, is simply fallacious. The priest does not represent Christ, but serves as leader of the community of men and women worshiping God in communion with Christ. Further, since the Risen Christ is neither male nor female, any gender based symbolism ascribed to the presider is meaningless" (emphasis mine).

On the Infalliblity of the Teaching in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

In discussing the possibly of the Church's ordaining of women to the priesthood, I generally like to note that the Church's teaching is infallible, and that it cannot be changed. For me as a Catholic, this means that the teaching is decisive, authoritative, binding (both to my intellect and my will), and final. One tactic which I have noticed increasingly is the insistence that the teaching is not infallible--this even by some Catholics who presumably do accept that the Church can teaching infallibly on matters of doctrine and morality. Their argument hinges largely on an interpretation from Canon Law (itself fallible) which states that in order for a teaching to be infallible, there can be no speculation as to whether or not the doctrine has been taught infallibly.

Such speculation exists in the case of the teaching regarding priestly ordination. Therefore, it is concluded by some that the teaching against ordaining women to the priesthood is not infallible. This speculation is apparently not dispelled by Pope John Paull II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which stated rather conclusively that

Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches....Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Evidence and Arguments

But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Yesterday on my Equus nam Veritas blog, I wrote about epistemology, belief, and faith, and how these things are related to each other. In writing that piece, I wrote that many people who are unbelievers simply choose not to believe--that their lack of faith is an act of the will as much as of the intellect--but noted (in the footnotes) that the opposite charge may be fairly leveled at believers:

A Response to Dr Robbert Veen's "Why We Still Need to Talk about Heresy"

Note, this is written in response to a post on the Christian.com blogs by Dr Robbert Veen. Dr Veen's post may also be found on his blog.

Though Karl Barth must certainly be counted among the theological giants of history--quite possible the greatest Protestant theologian ever to live--I have only passing and indirect familiarity with his works. Certainly, he has had the respect of a number of Catholic theologians, notably Popes Pius XII and Benedict XVI. With that said, I have a few comments concerning the thought of Mr Barth, as conveyed by Rev Dr Robbert Veen. That is to say, I have somewhat of a critique of Dr Veen's latest post.

First, I should note that I agree with a good deal of what he says. His section "Heresy as a Contradiction" is quite good, and I find myself in agreement with much of it.

Hard and Soft Anti-Catholicism

On Monday, I posted on my blog a distinction which ought to be made between anti-Catholicism and counter-Catholicism. I ended on a kind note towards the counter-Catholics--many of whom are my friends--but before that had this to say about the anti-Catholic crowd:

Compare this to the anti-Catholic bigot and his line of argument. It relies as much on insult and mocking as anything. He'll blaspheme the Eucharist, hurl verses out of context trying to "prove" that the Church is the "Whore of Babylon," scoff at the clergy and any number of doctrines and practices. Often he will not wait for an answer. For him, any stick is fine so long as it can be used to beat the Church. His arguments are generally dilatory or sophistical in nature, with little interest in getting to the truth of the matter or seeing the Church as anything other than the tool of the anti-Christ.

He relies on Mr Jack Chick and Mr Lorraine Boettner to (mis)inform them about what the Church really teaches. He lives inside an impenetrable wall through which neither reason nor logic and facts concerning the Church can reach. Aside from Chick and Boettner, there are a few very good examples; Mr James White of alpha-omega ministries; really, any program which targets specifically active Catholics for "conversion to Christianity" is likely run by anti-Catholics; this website is another great example (which started the conversation). Charity may be extended to all of these folks--some believe (albeit falsely) that they are acting in charity--and God knows they need it, but they have made themselves outright enemies of the Church. The only other things which may be offered is prayer and witness in action.

I should address a few loose ends from these remarks. There is hope even for the anti-Catholic crowd, if only a glimmer. However, even the distinction between counter-Catholics and anti-Catholics doesn't go quite far enough, because there are two broad groups of folks who fit into the anti-Catholic crowd. I will call these two categories "hard anti-Catholicism" and "soft anti-Catholicism." There are myriad small distinctions between them, but I will be writing more broadly today.

The Place of Works in Salvation

I previously wrote about the importance of works as the manifestation of faith.

Works matter, not because we earn our salvation through these, but because they are the exercise of our faith. They are what gives life to faith, and what makes it manifest. They also become yet another channel for grace, both for ourselves and for others: a grace which strengthens our faith. This is not by any means to our own credit: our good works are the response which faith, hope, and love require of us to be effective. These latter three virtues are granted to us by God—as are any graces. He has willed that salvation must be a cooperative venture: it is a gift to us, but one with which we must cooperate. It is by our works that we engage in this cooperation with Divine grace; God calls us, and we must respond, which we do through our works. Just as sin can be in the body or the spirit, so too must salvation be participated in by both body and spirit.

This is a statement with which the more orthodox and faithful of Catholics would agree. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to cooperate freely with his plans” (see paragraph 323). The form which this cooperation takes is, on the one hand the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—and on the other hand our works; the former are spiritual things which may be manifested in the latter, but the latter are often physical things which can strengthen the former.

Sola Fide and Works

For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; Not of works, that no man may glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them. For which cause be mindful that you, being heretofore Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh, made by hands; That you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the conversation of Israel, and strangers to the testament, having no hope of the promise, and without God in this world. But now in Christ Jesus, you, who some time were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh: Making void the law of commandments contained in decrees; that he might make the two in himself into one new man, making peace (Ephesians 2:8-14).

The first sentence of this passage is often quoted by Protestants of every sect as “proof” that man is saved “through faith alone.” This is done in spite of the fact that the word “alone” appears nowhere in this or any other verse pertaining to salvation through faith by grace. An interesting point of my own personal experience with his passage is that I have never heard the whole passage quoted to me by any of my Protestant friends—to say nothing of those who would prefer to be outright opponents—only the first verse is ever quoted. Perhaps this is because it is easy to assume that the “core” of the message is contained in this first verse, and that the rest are just the details.

Libel, Damned Libel, and the Mainstream Media

The Setting

There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there’s the kind of thing reported by the mainstream media. I am referring here to three cases of sexual abuse, in neither of which is implicated the Holy Father, but both of which are constantly mentioning said Supreme Pontiff. The first is the case of the priest—Fr Peter Hullerman, sometimes referred to as “priest H.”—who sexually abused minors while serving in the Archdiocese of Munich. At the time, the archbishop of that diocese was Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). The second is the so-called Murphy Case, involving s priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involving Fr Lawrence Murphy, who was accused (though never formally convicted) of molesting up to 200 children. The third and final case is a lawsuit one launched in Kentucky which “seeks to have the pope deposed over claims that the Holy See was negligent in failing to report abuse claims.”

It is of the utmost interest that justice be done in regards to all of the child abuse cases. People of good conscience can agree on that point in good faith, and can agree that the people who are directly involved can and should be prosecuted. The scandals themselves are widespread geographically (though everywhere involved only a very small number of the clergy—about 4% in the US by one account, and as small as 0.3% by another), and some occurred as recently as 20 years ago. Because of the sensitive nature of these cases, they ought to be dealt with both fairly and justly, being careful to separate those guilty of abuse from those not guilty, and those who actually harbored these molesters from those members of the hierarchy who were not involved in any cover-ups.

Unfortunately, this is not the approach taken by the mainstream media. These are much more interested in forming a witch-hunt, both against the Church writ large and against the Pope himself. Unfortunately, the negative effects of this media frenzy are already being felt here in the states, as people’s favorability of the Holy Father is dropping. The Holy Father, for his part, is scarcely implicated in these despicable deeds.

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