William of Ockham is the Least of Rome’s Apologists’ Worries

Historians and apologists for Rome heap a lot of blame on William of Ockham for philosophical and theological ideas that unleashed Protestantism and produced the West’s decadence and Walmart. Why Christendom itself doesn’t receive the blame for Ockham is one of those chicken-and-egg questions, I guess.

Now it turns out that Ockham was not the only one who challenged Aquinas, the theologian Jesus founded. Duns Scotus has his own explaining to do.

It turns out he may explain the Mass better than Aquinas because transubstantiation makes Christ’s presence dependent on the location of the bread (sort of like “bread presence” rather than “real presence”):

It concerns the claim of St. Thomas Aquinas that Christ’s body is present on the altar because something that was there before, the substance of bread, has been converted into that body. The “accidents” of the bread—for example, its whiteness and roundness—remain, but these do not belong to the body of Christ; otherwise that body would have to be white and round, which it is not. So far, so good.

Among the other accidents of the bread, however, is its location, there on the altar. For what a thing is, its substance, is no more the same as where it is than it is the same as how it looks (round and white). But in that case, how can we say that Christ’s body is there on the altar—since, ex hypothesi, it cannot get its “where” from the “where” of the consecrated bread? The doctrine of transubstantiation, as explained by Aquinas, thus fails to secure the real presence of Christ’s body on the altar. “I do not know of any satisfactory answer to this problem,” Kenny continued. “If I did, I would give it. Since I do not, I must leave it, as the writers of textbooks say, as an exercise for the reader” (A Path from Rome, 1986, 167–168).

These questions may seem abstruse, perhaps even improper, since the sacrament is rather to be adored than quibbled over. But the question of Christ’s presence now on the altar is a genuine one, and central to the consecration and adoration of the Eucharist. It is a question that many others besides Thomas Aquinas sought to answer, and a seriously inquiring intellect might rightly be disturbed, even scandalized, if forbidden to ask it. But for a long time Thomas’s answer was accepted just because it was his. This was an unnecessary constriction of Catholic thought. Unfortunately, some Catholic intellectuals seem still to be constricting themselves in this way. One might call their position “exclusivist Thomism.”

According to Scotus:

The subtle Scot distinguishes between presence and transubstantiation, claiming that one can exist without the other (Ordinatio IV d.10 q.1). Christ could be there on the altar now without transubstantiation, and the bread could be transubstantiated without Christ being there on the altar. Christ’s presence on the altar is not a matter of his appropriating the “where” of the transubstantiated bread, or of his retaining this particular accident and not others.

It turns out that Scotus also differed with Aquinas on the immaculate conception in ways that may make Roman Catholics and their nostalgia for Christendom perk up:

The most famous difference between Scotus and Thomas is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which Scotus got right and Thomas got wrong. But surely, one might say, we no longer need Scotus to tell us about the Immaculate Conception. Didn’t Blessed Pius IX tell us all we need to know in his dogmatic pronouncement? Perhaps. Note, though, that Thomas was not alone in failing to defend the Immaculate Conception. Every Scholastic theologian before Scotus, including fellow Franciscans like St. Bonaventure, failed in the same way. None was able to give a defense of it that would avoid creating a serious theological problem somewhere else.

Consider in this regard one of the arguments that Thomas himself gives against the Immaculate Conception (Summa Theologica III q27 a2). If the Virgin Mary had in no way incurred the stain of sin, she would not have needed Christ as her savior and so Christ would not be the savior of all men and women. Scotus’s answer is that Christ is indeed Mary’s savior, for he saved her in advance of her incurring the original sin that, as a natural descendant of Adam, she would have incurred otherwise (Ordinatio III d.3 q.1). Christ is thus her savior, as he is the savior of everyone else. Moreover, he is her savior in the most excellent way possible, for he saved her from ever having had sin, including original sin, while everyone else is saved only after incurring at least original sin.

And then there’s Scotus’ view of pets which has some appeal in this corner of Christ’s spiritual kingdom:

Can animals go to heaven or be resurrected? Pope Francis was recently reported to have said that they can—but inaccurately, as it turns out. Still, the pope said enough in his encyclical Laudato si’ to suggest the thought that it’s at least possible. Section 243 of the encyclical reads: “At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God, and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude…. Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all” (emphasis added).

Does this remark mean that animals can or will be in heaven, not indeed as sharing the beatific vision, but as sharing resurrected life with beatified human beings? Thomists will say no because the sense-souls of animals, unlike the rational souls of humans, perish at death, and what has altogether perished cannot be brought back numerically the same. Scotus thinks this view false and argues, in his usual subtle and involved way, that the numerically same thing could in principle be recreated after having ceased to exist. He appeals in defense not only to divine omnipotence but to reported miracles of saints actually bringing animals back to life (Ordinatio IV d.44 q.1 n.19). Let those, then, who want to think of their pets being with them in heaven be consoled with Scotus, and perhaps with Pope Francis, for assuredly they cannot be consoled with Thomas. But then, if Thomas is not the unique measure of orthodoxy, there can be no harm or fear in leaving him for Scotus and Pope Francis—and one’s favorite pet.

I have no dog in this fight other than reminding western Christians that the medieval church, let alone the ancient one, was hardly as unified and regulated as contemporary Roman Catholics make it seem. By the nineteenth century, Rome may have achieved the sort of market share in Roman Catholic dioceses that on the eve of Vatican II AT&T had in the phone business. But that consolidation and coherence took awhile and came with a price.


Evangelicals Are So Sexy

(Thanks to Alice Kinnon from Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco)

I cannot recommend sufficiently highly the interview that Ken Myers did sometime back with Robbie George about his book on marriage. The missus and I listened to it (again for me) over the weekend and I started to wonder what kind of instruction the family values evangelicals were giving about marriage low those many years ago when they took the familial high ground only now to have lured gays and lesbians up to the same summit. I further wondered whether guys like James Dobson were interested in the function of marriage or was family life (and the sex that went with it) a means toward personal fulfillment. If Jesus could be turned into my boyfriend, could marriage become one long date (with consummation at the end)?

In an older Protestant view of marriage, we don’t see much acknowledgement of the pleasures of sex:

Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Confession of Faith, 24.2)

The divines may have been worried in their private lives about whether their wives were fulfilled in the bedroom, but they didn’t try to find biblical justification for the delights of love making. Instead, they kept to the point and looked as sex’s function. No fun here. Sex is duty ( turn-on for workaholics?).

This echoes the way Roman Catholics have also thought about marriage and sex (and accounts perhaps for Robbie George’s insights). For instance, I recently came across this discussion of sexual pleasure which appealed to Thomas Aquinas:

Hence it should be noted that the conjugal act is sometimes meritorious and without any mortal or venial sin, as when it is directed to the good of procreation and education of a child for the worship of God; for then it is an act of religion; or when it is performed for the sake of rendering the debt, it is an act of justice. But every virtuous act is meritorious, if it is performed with charity. But sometimes it is accompanied with venial sin, namely, when one is excited to the matrimonial act by concupiscence, which nevertheless stays within the limits of the marriage, namely, that he is content with his wife only. But sometimes it is performed with mortal sin, as when concupiscence is carried beyond the limits of the marriage; for example, when the husband approaches the wife with the idea that he would just as gladly or more gladly approach another woman. In the first way, therefore, the act of marriage requires no concession; in the second way it obtains a concession, inasmuch as someone consenting to concupiscence toward the wife is not guilty of mortal sin; in the third way there is absolutely no concession.

Minus the stuff on mortal and venial sin, Aquinas’ point strikes me as sensible to any man who has tried to figure out the difference between his legitimate and illegitimate sexual desires.

But if you go to the heady days of the 1970s, just ahead of the curve of the family values promoting Religious Right, you find lots of material not just from Marabel Morgan but from Tim and Beverly Lahaye (who helped give Kuyperian w-wism a footing among evangelicals via Franscis Schaeffer) on the best ways for man and woman to — ahem — “have it all.” Steven P. Miller observes this outpouring of evangelical writing about sex in his recent book (hide the children if not the women):

The husband-wife authorial team — an arrangement common to the genre — offered a vision of sexuality that, if quite traditional when compared to the “key parties” of 1970s lore, was hardly a paean to Victorian mores. . . . they specifically attacked the “old Victorian nonsense that a ‘nice lady doesn’t act as if she enjoys sex'” To the contrary, the authors maintained an abiding concern with female orgasm. In the modern era, they argued, most wives either expected to — or should expect to — receive vaginal or clitorial stimulation from their husbands, who needed the know-how necessary to satisfy such new, but fair standards.

Of Morgan Miller writes:

Morgan and her fans suggested numerous creative strategies for greeting their hardworking husbands. Possibilities for a six o’clock surprise included “pink baby-doll pajamas” and “the no-bra look.” “What about it girls?” Morgan asked her readers. “Are you in a marriage rut? Would your husband pick you up for his mistress?” One critic quipped, “A man married to a Total Woman wouldn’t know whether he’d be coming home after work to Lolita or Bathsheba.” . . . The Total Woman was much more candid about sexual intimacy, however, even as it diluted kinkiness with Christian humor. One Southern Baptist woman, Morgan wrote, “welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron. That’s all. He took one look and shouted, ‘Praise the Lord?'” (The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, 23, 24)

All of which makes me think that if Protestants are going to restore some measure of sanity and restraint about sex and its consequences, we may have to listen less to Carl or Tim than to older generations of repressed Christians who must have had some kind of sex life since they procreated but knew better than to write about it.