Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Biblical illiteracy, natural law, positive law, the Old Law and the New Testament

http://www.smh.com.au/national/letters/earth-experts-are-not-exactly-on-the-same-page-20091111-i9uv.html?skin=text-only

Recently Mr. Bill Muehlenberg published at his blog a post entitled Biblical Illiteracy in Public Life. Here is perhaps some more evidence of such illiteracy, from the letters page of last Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald (November 12, 2009):

Hockey uses the logic he condemns

[…]

At last, we are told we don't have to take the Old Testament literally. So, as the Reverend Con Campbell tells us (Letters, November 11), we can now ignore Leviticus and don't have to stone people to death for working on the Sabbath, or sacrifice goats and sheep. Presumably, we can also ignore the bit where it says homosexuality is an abomination. Thank God for that.

Ian Matthews Bondi

Con Campbell says that although the Hebrew Bible pointed to Jesus and was fulfilled in Him, Jesus gave his followers a ''new law, which is why we don't stone people … or sacrifice goats and sheep''. Yet Matthew 15.4 says: ''For instance, God's law is 'honour your father and mother; anyone who reviles his parents must die.'''

This is hardly new. It repeats Exodus 21.17 and Leviticus 20.9. When I read Matthew, it points straight back to the Old Testament.

John Lees Castlecrag

If Old Testament law was superseded by the ''new'' law of the New Testament, I wonder if Con Campbell can explain the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.18: ''I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.''

How then can any Christian so lightly dismiss the laws Jesus himself unequivocally proclaimed as remaining in full force to this very day, and beyond?

Damien Leer Goulburn
I submitted a letter to the editor (under my real name, of course!), providing Mr. Leer’s desired explanation, but neither it nor such an explanation from any other correspondent has been published. I find this disappointing; one would expect that if the topic were, say, the climate change debate, then if a supposedly pluralist newspaper published a letter whose author posited a certain piece of data as a ‘killer fact’ against the case for climate change then that newspaper would publish a letter refuting this ‘killer fact’ if such a letter were received and met the newspaper’s criteria for publication of correspondence. The same reasoning is clearly valid here too: Given that Mr. Leer adduces Matthew 5:18 as a ‘killer fact’ against the argument for the abolition of the Old Law, one might have hoped that, if for no other reason than balance, the Herald would have published a rejoinder to it if it received one (which, of course, it did)—especially given that Mr. Leer all but demands such a rejoinder. Disappointing though this is, there is an upside: I now have the opportunity to elaborate on these matters without revealing my identity! (And there's another upside, which I only noticed as I re-read this post after publishing it: One of my Scriptural citations was incorrect—as you will see shortly, I wrote "Jn. 5:28", but it should be Jn. 19:28.)

So here is the letter which I submitted for publication—as you will see it is perfectly polite and tranquil in tone and, with a word count of eighty, is comfortably beneath the Herald’s limit for letter length:

Damien Leer wonders how to explain Matthew 5:18 if the Old Law was abolished (Letters, November 12). The explanation is to be found in St. John’s Gospel: Mr. Leer’s quotation says that the Law will not pass “until everything is accomplished”, and as His Passion drew to its end Our Lord knew “that all things were now accomplished” (Jn. 5:28), so that by His death the New Testament replaced the Old Law. Thus the Old Law died on the Cross.
Let’s begin by having a closer look at the Scriptural citations: In the Douay-Rheims version, Matthew 5:18 says

For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
[http://www.newadvent.org/bible/mat005.htm—see the accompanying gloss at this web page for an explanation of the meaning of “amen” in this context]
Turning now to St. John’s Gospel, Chapter Nineteen, we find the following:

28 Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. 29 Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth. 30 Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost.
[http://www.newadvent.org/bible/joh019.htm]
So the Old Law was to last till, in Mr. Leer’s version, “everything [was] accomplished”. And by the time Christ’s Passion was consummated, everything was indeed accomplished, so that the Old Law passed.

Readers knowledgeable in these things might have recognised the references in my letter to Pius XII’s Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, §§29, 30:

29. And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area - He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel [30] - the Law and the Gospel were together in force; [31] but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees [32] fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, [33] establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race.[34] "To such an extent, then," says St.Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, "was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom." [35]

30. On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death, [36] in order to give way to the New Testament of which Christ had chosen the Apostles as qualified ministers; [37] and although He had been constituted the Head of the whole human family in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, it is by the power of the Cross that our Savior exercises fully the office itself of Head of His Church. "For it was through His triumph on the Cross," according to the teaching of the Angelic and Common Doctor, "that He won power and dominion over the gentiles";[38] by that same victory He increased the immense treasure of graces, which, as He reigns in glory in heaven, He lavishes continually on His mortal members; it was by His blood shed on the Cross that God's anger was averted and that all the heavenly gifts, especially the spiritual graces of the New and Eternal Testament, could then flow from the fountains of our Savior for the salvation of men, of the faithful above all; it was on the tree of the Cross, finally, that He entered into possession of His Church, that is, of all the members of His Mystical Body; for they would not have been untied to this Mystical Body through the waters of Baptism except by the salutary virtue of the Cross, by which they had been already brought under the complete sway of Christ.

[Footnotes:]

30. Cf. Matth., XV, 24.
31. Cf. St. Thos., I-II, q. 103, a. 3, ad 2.
32. Cf. Eph., II, 15.
33. Cf. Col., II, 14.
34. Cf. Matth., XXVI, 28; I Cor., XI, 25.
35. Leo the Great, Serm., LXVIII, 3: Migne, P.L. LIV, 374.
36. Jerome and Augustine, Epist. CXII, 14 and CXVI, 16: Migne, P.L., XXII, 924 and 943; St. Thos., I-II, q. 103, a. 3, ad 2; a. 4; ad 1; Council of Flor. pro Jacob.: Mansi, XXXI, 1738.
37. Cf. II Cor., III, 6.
38. Cf. St. Thos. III, q. 42, a. 1.
[my bold-type emphasis]
So Mr. Leer’s dilemma is a false one. (I would like to bring this to his attention, but although he has an eponymous Blogspot blog, it is inaccessible to me. Perhaps if there are any Facebook users here they could let him know via his Facebook account, or page, or whatever the right word is.) Now to consider Mr. Lees’s letter: He says that

Yet Matthew 15.4 says: ''For instance, God's law is 'honour your father and mother; anyone who reviles his parents must die.'''

This is hardly new. It repeats Exodus 21.17 and Leviticus 20.9. When I read Matthew, it points straight back to the Old Testament
But this is precisely what one would expect, since, as Pius XII taught, “while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area … the Law and the Gospel were together in force”. So execution for reviling one parents was obligatory for Jews before Our Lord’s death, but afterwards, the punishment to be applied is left to the discretion of families (which obviously do not have the authority to impose the death penalty), the Church and the State. Nevertheless, the wages of sin is death, and if cursing one’s parents no longer incurs death of the body, it certainly continues to incur death of the soul (assuming, of course, that the usual criteria are met—grave matter, full advertence, free choice). For the Commandment to honour one’s parents—and the corresponding prohibition against reviling them—is a matter of natural law; and although positive law (such as the Mosaic Code) enacted by a competent legislator can, among other things, state the natural law explicitly and impose in this life sanctions proportionate to those which transgressors would expect to face in the next life, the absence of such positive law by no means extinguishes the binding force of the natural law of which it was an expression. With this in mind we turn, finally, to Mr. Matthews’s letter, in which he says that

At last, we are told we don't have to take the Old Testament literally. So, as the Reverend Con Campbell tells us (Letters, November 11), we can now ignore Leviticus and don't have to stone people to death for working on the Sabbath, or sacrifice goats and sheep. Presumably, we can also ignore the bit where it says homosexuality is an abomination.
Let’s look at each of his points in turn: Now as a matter of natural law one must set aside a certain portion of one’s week for rest from unnecessary servile work in order to elevate one’s thoughts to the higher things. In the absence of positive law, the particular day of the week to set aside is one’s own choice. In the positive law of the Old Law, that day was from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. But this positive law no longer applies, so Mr. Matthews is right on this count. (Though for those under the spiritual authority of the Church, of course, we are bound by the positive law of abstaining from unnecessary servile work from 12:00 A.M. Sunday till 12:00 A.M. Monday, under pain of grave sin.) Also as a matter of natural law, the virtue of religion requires that one offer up sacrifices of some sort to God. In the absence of positive law, the particular thing(s) to be sacrificed is (are) left to one’s own decision. The positive law of the Old Law prescribed a number of different offerings and the manner in which to be offered, but these prescriptions are no longer in force, so Mr. Matthews is also right on this count. (Though for those under the spiritual authority of the Church, we must offer up sacrifices such as the various fasts and abstinences.) But Mr. Matthews fails on the last count: as a matter of natural law, homosexuality is intrinsically disordered (since ‘order’ is, by definition, a principle of direction towards some end, and human sexuality, like all animal sexuality, is ordered towards procreation) and buggery (‘laying with a man as with a woman’, as the Old Law puts it) is intrinsically evil, since it is an abuse of the faculties from which it proceeds (which is of the definition of intrinsic evil). Whereas a competent legislator can revoke or replace a positive law if that law ceases to conduce to the good of those whom it binds, natural law can never cease to conduce to the good of those whom it binds, since the good is, by definition, that which suits the nature of the being which desires it, and so it (the natural law) is irrevocable, applying as long as a thing’s nature is its nature, as long as a thing is what it is—which is to say, forever. Buggery suits the nature of neither the sodomite nor the catamite in any respect, and so the natural law can never cease to proscribe it.

Feast of St. Gregory the Wonder Worker, Bishop, Confessor, A.D. 2009.

11 comments:

matthias said...

Beautiful Cardinal. Christ by His death ensured that we are no longer under law but under Grace . The lack of publication by the SMH is in keeping with Fairfax media's anti Christian bias.would it be reasonable to ask Christians to boycott all of their media outlets? The Christian radio station -Light FM switches to the Fairfax radio news half hourly in the morning and hourly pm.It would be interesting to see what would happen if they decided to forego this service and take a feed from elsewhere, on a matter of principle.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's start a Fairfax media boycott!

+ Wolsey

matthias said...

But let's not give them ammunition but rather do it quietly and subtly so that they cannot say the it was a hierarchical order

Cardinal Pole said...

"Beautiful Cardinal. Christ by His death ensured that we are no longer under law but under Grace ."

Thank you, Matthias. Just one thing, though: Although we are no longer bound by the Old Law, the Church nevertheless has the authority to impose obligations (obligation is, of course, the formal effect of law) on her children.

Regarding a Fairfax boycott:

There is a way we can produce the desirable effects of a boycott while still availing ourselves of free Fairfax content: Use the text-only version of the Herald's website:

http://www.smh.com.au/text

This has four desirable effects:

1. We can continue to get Fairfax news free-of-charge.

2. But we are not exposed to any Fairfax advertisements, and Fairfax's website stats will show this, so that Fairfax will suffer by being less desirable to its advertisers, who obviously are interested in advertising at sites which receive the most traffic.

3. Furthermore, we avoid the occasions of sin posed by the scandalous advertisements which secular news outlets do not hesitate to display.

4. Lastly, if your computer's as slow as mine the text-only version could save you a bit of time!

Cardinal Pole said...

P.S. I'm glad to see you back here, York.

Louise said...

That's cool - I didn't know you could read text only versions.

Cardinal Pole said...

"That's cool - I didn't know you could read text only versions."

Also, I understand that the A.B.C. offers a text-only e-mail news service. I'm not sure whether the Murdoch websites offer text-only content, though; probably not, I'd suspect.

Just one self-correction to make, though, with regard to my effect number 2: Actually, advertisements in pop-up windows can still come up, but these are infrequent, usually innocuous, and are easily dealt with.

Anonymous said...

You claim Damien Leer quoted a verse that said "until everything is accomplished", which is not correct at all. The verse he used (Matthew 5:18) clearly states "until heaven and earth disappear". As a matter of fact, John 19:28 (the verse you used instead), doesn't even refer to any matter of law at all, whether old or new. Perhaps such errors in your argument are the real reason your letter was not published?

Cardinal Pole said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. You wrote that

"[I] claim Damien Leer quoted a verse that said "until everything is accomplished", which is not correct at all."

Here's Mr. Leer's letter again, copied and pasted straight from the original letters page website:

"If Old Testament law was superseded by the ''new'' law of the New Testament, I wonder if Con Campbell can explain the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.18: ''I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.''

"How then can any Christian so lightly dismiss the laws Jesus himself unequivocally proclaimed as remaining in full force to this very day, and beyond?"
[my emphasis,
http://www.smh.com.au/national/letters/earth-experts-are-not-exactly-on-the-same-page-20091111-i9uv.html?skin=text-only]

You also wrote that

"The verse he used (Matthew 5:18) clearly states "until heaven and earth disappear"."

1. Mr. Leer's clearly states "until everything is accomplished", too.
2. When a thing disappears, it ceases to appear; it does not necessarily cease to exist. Now see Matthew 27:45:

"Now from the sixth hour, there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour."

and St. Luke adds, in Verse 45 of Chapter 23 of his Gospel, that "the sun was darkened". And when things have been plunged into darkness, they may be said no longer to appear, may they not? So both the 'heaven and earth' condition and the "until everything is accomplished" condition were satisfied. I thank you for pointing out my failure to address the 'heaven and earth' condition, which it did not occur to me at the time to address, so it was an unfortunate omission on my part. Nevertheless, my conclusion--that with Our Lord's death the Old Law was voided--stands. Now how do you interpret those verses, Anonymous?

"As a matter of fact, John 19:28 (the verse you used instead), doesn't even refer to any matter of law at all, whether old or new."

Nor did I say that it did. It does, however, show that everything was accomplished on the Cross, and Matthew 5:18 shows that the Old Law was to be voided when the two conditions given were satisfied, which, as I've showed, they were. So I ask again: How do you interpret those verses, Anonymous?

"Perhaps such errors in your argument are the real reason your letter was not published?"

I doubt it; I get the impression that the Herald's letters editors aren't all that interested into looking too deeply into such arguments; see the last rather blasé reference to them in last Saturday's Postscript section (available at http://www.smh.com.au/text/articles/2009/12/11/1260034359793.html).

Cardinal Pole said...

Two corrections to that comment:

1. Third-from-last paragraph: Change "that the Old Law was to be voided" to "that the Old Law could be voided".

2. Last paragraph: Delete "last" from "see the last rather".

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