Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Sola Scriptura and the Constitution

Conservatives who advocate originalism or textualism when in comes to interpreting the Constitution are sometimes accused of advocating a “sola scriptura” view of the Constitution. Since such charges are typically made by Catholics to Catholics, the allegation has a certain sting to it, as if holding a particular theory of constitutional interpretation someone made one a bad Catholic.

Yet there needn’t be anything inconsistent about interpreting the Constitution in one way and the Bible in another. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, given to us for the salvation of souls; the Constitution is a legal document. What’s sauce for the goose ain’t necessarily sauce for the gander in such a context.

In any event, it’s not clear to me exactly what it would mean to have a sola scriptura view of the Constitution (which for sake of flourish I shall call the sola constitutionola view), or what is supposed to be objectionable about it. Presumably the idea is that sola constitutionola is to the Constitution what sola scriptura is to the Bible. Okay, so what’s sola scriptura? According to the Missouri Synod, sola scriptura is the belief that:

The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine.

By parity of meaning, then, sola constitutionola would be the view that the Constitution is inerrant and infallible, and that it is the sole rule and norm for legal doctrine.

If this is what sola constitutionola means, then no originalist believes in it and it is silly to suggest otherwise. No one says that the Constitution is inerrant and infallible; nor do originalists think that the Constitution is the only legal authority. They are perfectly willing to recognize other sources of law, such as state and federal law, treaties, etc.

What view, then is sola constitutionola supposed to mimic? Is it the view that the meaning of the Scriptures does not change over time? If so, then I fail to see what is objectionable even from a Catholic perspective.

Originalism is the view that the Constitution ought to be interpreted according to its original public meaning, i.e., the way the text would have been understood at the time of ratification. So far as I know, no Protestant believes something analogous about Scripture. All Christians believe, for example, that many passages in the Old Testament refer to Christ, yet pretty clearly they would not have been understood by the general public to refer to him when originally written hundreds of years before his birth.

The Constitution is a public document ratified by a large number of people and subject to much debate before hand – that it could have a secret meaning is unthinkable. The Scriptures, by contrast, are inspired by God and everyone accepts that they contain many mysteries. The same goes for the view that Scriptures are to be interpreted according to their plain meaning. I highly doubt that the Constitution has a spiritual sense.

I admit I am not nearly as clear on this issue as I would like to be, but as far as I can tell, the doctrine of sola constitutionola is either plainly false or perfectly acceptable.

May 17, 2009 Posted by | Catholicism, Law | 1 Comment

Stop the Presses: Vatican Gives Positive Review to Angels and Demons

Well, sort of. If you read past the title of this Huffington Post piece on the subject, the review (from L’Osservatore Romano) doesn’t sound all that positive (I guess calling it “harmless” is kind of positive).

My understanding is that in Brown’s previous book, the Catholic Church was accused of murdering millions of women and of perpetrating the greatest conspiracy of all time in furtherance of its anti-women agenda. Whereas in Angels and Demons, the Church is the victim of a giant conspiracy, and is accused of having killed a few thousand people in furtherance of its anti-science agenda. So I suppose that’s progress. Continue reading

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Catholicism, Film | 1 Comment

Here Comes Everybody

The other day I was reading Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth and was struck by a particular passage. In describing the calling of the apostles, Benedict notes that they represented a wide cross section of Jewish society at the time, from peasant fishermen to Hellenized Jews, from members of what we might today call a terrorist organization opposed to foreign occupation, to what we might call a collaborator with that occupier. Pope Benedict then goes on to state:

We may presume that all of the Twelve were believing and observant Jews who awaited the salvation of Israel. But in terms of their actual opinions, of their thinking about the way Israel was to be saved, they were an extremely varied group.

As a member of a Church that includes both Father Sirico and Mark and Louise Zwick, I can certainly relate. Sometimes in seems that no matter the political fight, you are likely to find Catholics on both sides of the issue (even if they tend more towards one side or another in a given case). Often these fights can be quite acrimonious. Lord knows I’ve contributed my fair share to such acrimony. But especially as it is Holy Week, we need to remember that Christ died for all of us, whatever political disagreements we might have.

April 9, 2009 Posted by | Catholicism | Leave a comment

The Pope is Right on Condoms

Last week, while traveling in Africa, Pope Benedict came under withering criticism when he suggested that condoms were not the answer to the AIDS crisis. “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms; on the contrary, it increases the problem.” But as Dr. Edward Green, Director of of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard School of Public Health noted in an interview yesterday, from an empirical perspective the Pope was absolutely right:

I am a liberal on social issues and it’s difficult to admit, but the Pope is indeed right. The best evidence we have shows that condoms do not work as an intervention intended to reduce HIV infection rates, in Africa. (They have worked in e.g. Thailand and Cambodia, which have very different epidemics) . . . What we see in fact is an association between greater condom use and higher infection rates. We don’t know all the reasons for this but part of it is due to what we call risk compensation. This means that a man using condoms believes that they are more effective than they really are, and so he ends up taking greater sexual risks. Another fact which is widely overlooked is that condoms are used when people are engaging in casual or commercial sex. People don’t use condoms with spouses or regular partners. So if condom rates go up, it may be that we are seeing an increase of casual sex.

(HT: Mirror of Justice)

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Catholicism, Contraception | Leave a comment

SSPX Forbids Bishop Williamson From Discussing the Holocaust

The following is a statement issued by Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general of SSPX:

We have come to know of an interview given by Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Fraternity of St. Pius X, on Swedish television. In this interview he spoke of historical questions, in particular on the question of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis.

It is evident that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesial authority if it is not a question of faith and morals. Our fraternity does not claim any authority over other questions. Its mission is the propagation and restoration of authentic Catholic doctrine, as found in the dogmas of the faith. It is for this that we are known, accepted and appreciated throughout the world.

With great sadness we acknowledge the extent to which the violation of this mandate has damaged our mission. The statements of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any way the position of our society. For this, I have prohibited him, until further notice, from speaking publicly on these political and historical questions

We ask for the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act. As we recognize how imprudent the statements were, we affirm with sadness that they have directly affected our fraternity by discrediting our mission.

This is not acceptable, and we declare that we will continue preaching Catholic doctrine and administering the sacraments of grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Continue reading

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Catholicism, Ecumenism, History | Leave a comment

Pope Lifts Excommunication of SSPX Bishops

By way of a letter of December 15, 2008 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Mons. Bernard Fellay, also in the name of the other three Bishops consecrated on June 30, 1988, requested anew the removal of the latae sententiae excommunication formally declared with the Decree of the Prefect of this Congregation on July 1, 1988. In the aforementioned letter, Mons. Fellay affirms, among other things: “We are always firmly determined in our will to remain Catholic and to place all our efforts at the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept its teachings with filial disposition. We believe firmly in the Primacy of Peter and in its prerogatives, and for this the current situation makes us suffer so much.”

His Holiness Benedict XVI – paternally sensitive to the spiritual unease manifested by the interested party due to the sanction of excommunication and trusting in the effort expressed by them in the aforementioned letter of not sparing any effort to deepen the necessary discussions with the Authority of the Holy See in the still open matters, so as to achieve shortly a full and satisfactory solution of the problem posed in the origin – decided to reconsider the canonical situation of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, arisen with their episcopal consecration.

Based on the faculties expressly granted to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in virtue of the present Decree, I remit from Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta the censure of latae sententiae excommunication declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare deprived of any juridical effect, from the present date, the Decree emanated at that time.

More. (HT: Laudem Gloriae)

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Catholicism | Leave a comment

The Pope vs. the Dalai Lama on Sex

The video focuses pretty exclusively on the Dalia Lama’s conservative views on sex. If he’d wanted, he could have quoted various theology of the body related statements by the Pope* on sex, which would have made him seem more progressive on the subject.

I once got into an argument with a friend over my claim that Catholicism was the most pleasure friendly of the traditional religions. My reasoning was that most traditional religions place significant restrictions on pleasure seeking activities involving food, alcohol, games, dancing, etc., whereas with Catholicism such restrictions are pretty much limited to sex (there are things like Lenten fish fries, but this is pretty minor), and when it comes to sex, pretty much all of the traditional religions are, well, traditional. He wasn’t convinced, but I think this video kind of re-enforces the point.

*The program on which the clip appeared came out in 2004, so John Paul II was still Pope at the time.

(HT: Restrained Radical)

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Morality | Leave a comment

No Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

Now that the turkey is digested and the Christmas season has begun in earnest, I would like to make a request of whoever reads this that I hope will not seem naive, or sentimental, or overly moralistic. The request is this:

Please don’t lie to your children about Santa Claus.

Lying is repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Cf. Psalms 5:7; Proverbs 6:17; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9). And section 2485 of the Catechism says that “[b]y its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” Yet every year millions of Christian parents choose the occasion of our Lord’s birth to lie to their children about the existence of a jolly old fat man who lives in the North Pole. Continue reading

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Children, Family, Morality | 1 Comment