Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Sexual Person" and Why I Became a Catholic

A couple days ago I blogged about a book purportedly about Catholic moral theology called “The Sexual Person” by two professors associated with Creighton University, and the US Bishops clear rebuke of the arguments presented therein.

Basically the authors deconstruct all Scriptural and magisterial sources of authority for moral reasoning by applying a radical historicism. In other words, “The biblical authors, the church fathers, and the popes just reflected the cultural norms of their day, plus they aren’t as smart as we are now, so we can disregard their views about sexuality.”

For me, reading the arguments from “The Sexual Person” were a blast from the past.

While I was in high school, and an ardent Dutch Calvinist, a report was made to my denomination’s synod from one of our sister denominations, concerning their committee on sexual morality. After years of study, this Calvinist denomination’s committee was unable to affirm almost any of traditional Christian moral teaching. The only principle remaining to guide one to moral sexual relations was “justice love.” Wherever “justice love” was present, sex was moral. They recommend that our denomination accept the same “principles” of “morality”—ones essential re-articulated now in “The Sexual Person.”

Looking over the reasoning our sister denomination was using, I realized their “hermeneutic” could be used to defeat any Scriptural teaching.

That was the beginning of a gradual dawning on me—which would eventually lead to Rome—of the realization that Scripture alone was not sufficient to conserve the deposit of the faith, because various hermeneutics could make Scripture say almost anything one wished.

One needs to be guided by tradition, but even tradition is not enough—there also has to be a living voice of the salvific community.

“When Scripture is disjoined from the living voice of the Church, it fall prey to the disputes of experts,” Benedict XVI says.

The living voice just spoke through the mouths of the US Bishops. I am thankful for them.


Sister Mary Agnes said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, which gives a clear example of how Scripture can be interpreted to say just about anything and why God gave us the Teaching Authority of the Church to guide us in understanding His Word.

Michael Barber said...

Key point: there is no possible way to interpret something from a purely "objective" stand point. If contemporary philosophical hermeneutics have taught us anything it's this--pure objectivity is a modernist myth. Furthermore, as Gadamar, McIntyre and others observe, it is impossible to read a text apart from a tradition. Given that, isn't likely that if God intended to reveal himself in inspiring Scripture, would he not also see to it that there would be a tradition through which would could reliable read it?

I think so.

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, EITHER by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess 2:15).

Unknown said...

Exactly! And not only a living voice, but an infallible one, as Bl. John Henry Newman points out in his, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:
, “…the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one…if Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must humanly speaking have an infallible expounder. Else you will secure unity of form at the loss of unity of doctrine, or unity of doctrine at the loss of unity of form; you will have to choose between a comprehension of opinions and a resolution into parties, between latitudinarian and sectarian error.”

JoAnna Wahlund said...


John Bergsma said...

Going off of what Danny and Michael are saying, it's like this: The Catholic system is the only one that can work; either (1) God set up the Catholic system, or (2) God set up something that doesn't work. I'll throw in my lot with (1).

Jorge said...


Scripture has not failed one bit to “conserve the deposit of the faith.” It has been preserved for us on every page, hasn’t it? As far as its practice, the failure isn’t in God’s written word; rather, the failure lies in the “ignorant and unstable” who twist the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Are the pronouncements of the “living voice” somehow exempt from the same kind of hermeneutics which twist the Scriptures? Certainly not.


What are these traditions which Paul makes reference to, which were taught to the Thessalonians? Are they different in content from that which has been preserved in Scripture? It’s interesting that you emphasize the word “either” in the verse. What does it mean? Does it mean that the content of that tradition, which was being taught orally, can also be found in what has been written? If so, how is this verse speaking about a living tradition which is distinct from Scripture?

Anonymous said...

Jorge, According to St. Irenaeus, the rule of faith (which is distinct from Scripture) is required to employ a correct interpretation of Scripture. The key lies in one's interpretive lens, which is inescapable. The Catholic Church has interpreted Scripture authoritatively, employing this regula fidei. Scripture lies within the heart of a living, breathing, believing community, which has been alive for 2,000 years. It cannot be severed from that community's regula fidei. That would do a disservice to the very nature of Scripture itself.

Jorge said...


Concerning Irenaeus - you are correct. But that "rule" was, for him, the same in content as Scripture. And I don't think that he could ever have imagined that "rule" to contain *everything* that the Roman Catholic Church believes (and requires all the faithful to believe) today.

I agree that God has blessed his people (i.e., the believing community) with Scripture, but I cannot limit that community solely to the Roman Catholic Church. I believe that community includes all who believe and teach what Jesus and the apostles preached and taught.

It's obvious we're not going to agree on everything. What prompted my comment here was seeing how the power and clarity of Scripture was, in my view, being unnecessarily diminished.

We all have our interpretive lenses, it's true. But if God's inspired Word can be twisted, how much more the non-inspired words of human beings? The problem of (mis)interpretation doesn't go away by having a magisterium, for their interpretations have to be interpreted as well.

John Bergsma said...

Dear Jorge:

The Scriptures are inerrant and infallible, we agree.

Far be it from me to diminish the authority of Scripture.

On the contrary, those who separate the Scripture from the Church and the Church's tradition are the ones who end up diminishing its authority, for it is the Church and her Tradition that teach that it is authoritative in the first place.

Leaving the interpretation of Scripture up to each individual, which is your position, definitely diminishes its authority, as Scripture becomes twisted to fit each person's opinions.

Your definition of the Church is not helpful because there is not even common agreement on "what Jesus and the Apostles preached and taught." Your definition of the community is so vague that one could never know what the community thought or taught for sure.

That certainly was not the paradigm with which St. Paul operated, because he called the Church "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). It's impossible for the Church to be that unless it is visible and unified.

God bless,


Jorge said...

Hi John,

Thanks for responding.

I don’t advocate the separation of Scripture (and its interpretation) from the church or tradition. What I hold to is that both the church and tradition must be subservient to Scripture. Scripture’s authority ultimately rests not in the fact that the church teaches it, but in the fact that it *is* the very Word of God.

Everyone who reads or hears Scripture de facto interprets Scripture. This is inescapable; all modes of communication involve interpretation. So given that the Roman Catholic Church claims to interpret Scripture authoritatively, those who seek to access that interpretation of necessity engage in their own personal, fallible interpretation of it.

God still speaks through Scripture clearly enough to hold his people accountable for understanding, believing, and obeying it (even though, as Peter acknowledges, there are some things therein which are hard to understand). To hold that Rome’s teachings are somehow clearer than Scripture or that without her one couldn’t understand Scripture is to diminish Scripture’s authority.

From within God’s church, God raises competent and stable teachers who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of God’s Word, help the flock better understand and obey the Scriptures (Eph. 4:10-14; cf. 2 Pet. 3:16). As such the church certainly is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

God’s church is both visible and invisible. It is visible where his Word is faithfully taught, lived, and proclaimed. It is also invisible in that God alone infallibly knows all who are truly his redeemed. His church is comprised of “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2).

If you don't like this definition then take it up with Paul! (Tongue in cheek.) Or perhaps you could suggest a better one?