Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Publishing Whatever One Wants To: Rome's Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, and Current Trends in Catholic Apologetics
05/30/2008 - James SwanOver the last few years I've focused on current popular Catholic apologists, that is, those whose names you may hear on Catholic Answers, or find on The Journey Home. In order to be familiar with Catholic argumentation, the best way to do so is to actually hear them make their own arguments and interpretations of Catholic doctrine.
I purchase their books as well. I buy these books because not only am I interested in how they argue, I like to see how they document their claims. I'm sure there are much better well-trained Catholic scholars who present far better argumentation (in books that cost a whole lot more). But the books that sell, and the apologetic book your Catholic friend at work has is probably one of the many books of popular Catholic apologetics put out in the last twenty years.
I have a number of these books on my desk at the moment. For instance I've got Not By Scripture Alone by Robert Sungenis staring back at me. This book was dedicated to John Paul II, and was checked over for accuracy by two Monsignors. Hence, it obtained what is called the "Nihil Obstat" and the "Imprimatur." I'm assuming many Protestants have no idea what these two words mean.They typically appear on one of the first few pages of a Catholic book.
Nihil Obstat: "A Latin phrase meaning that 'nothing stands in the way,' the nihil obstat is a designation that must be given before a book receives impramatur, the Church Permission for publication" [Alfred McBride, O.Praem, Catholic Beliefs From A to Z (Michigan: Servant Publications, 2001), p. 117].
Imprimatur: "From the Latin meaning 'let it be printed,' an imprimatur is given by a bishop for books on certain scriptural or religious topics. It is required for all Catholic versions of sacred Scripture and liturgical texts as well as religious books that will be used as textbooks or for public prayer. Otherwise, an imprimatur is not needed for every religious book" [ibid., p. 86].
I can appreciate Rome's desire to keep some sort of official standard that Catholic writers should abide by. I can even appreciate that Sungenis took the time to obtain these stamps of approval, as well as any others within Rome's walls that do likewise. It was a recent comment in a discussion on Dave Armstrong's blog that got me thinking about this. In yet another episode of "When Catholic Apologists Attack Each Other" someone commented on a recent book by Sungenis:
"Not By Bread Alone didn't ever get an imprimatur, either. Sungenis said it was because of some technical issue, but that wouldn't have stopped him from getting one later."
Armstrong responded, "Sadly, the Imprimatur is not always a safeguard anymore. My books don't have them (except for The New Catholic Answer Bible, and my books are perfectly orthodox. And some that have them are not orthodox."
The same person then asked, "Yeah, imprimaturs don't mean what they used to. Did you submit and get turned down or just never submit them?" He then noted the Catholic Apologetics Study Bible by Sungenis was turned down, as was Not By Bread Alone.
Armstrong: "Sophia Institute Press, the publisher of my three main books, chose not to do it. It wasn't really in my hands. OSV did for the Bible: probably because that seems more 'serious': being a Bible and all."
I'll pass over Armstrong's comment that not all books with the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur are orthodox, which is an interesting Roman authority problem to say the least! Give Sungenis at least this much credit, at least he tried to get the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur (by the way, this Catholic blog has some sort of obsession over this issue, and spends ample time documenting every move Robert makes- they claim, "In the end, it is noteworthy that Sungenis has not received an imprimatur on any of his books over the last 10 years"). Armstrong on the other hand, simply puts a disclaimer on his blog, and pretty much stated above he doesn't even try to obtain them.
Well, what's the big deal? "An imprimatur is not needed for every religious book." Well, it could turn out to be a big deal for those apologists serious about their Catholicism. Say you're a Catholic apologist without the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, and a local parish has invited you to give your testimony or an apologetics lecture. You decide to bring some copies of your book to sell. The problem though is, Canon Law says leave them home if you don't have the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur:
Can. 827 §4. Books or other writings dealing with questions of religion or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in churches or oratories unless they have been published with the permission of competent ecclesiastical authority or approved by it subsequently.
Canon Law also states:
§2. Books which regard questions pertaining to sacred scripture, theology, canon law, ecclesiastical history, and religious or moral disciplines cannot be used as texts on which instruction is based in elementary, middle, or higher schools unless they have been published with the approval of competent ecclesiastical authority or have been approved by it subsequently.
§3. It is recommended that books dealing with the matters mentioned in §2, although not used as texts in instruction, as well as writings which especially concern religion or good morals are submitted to the judgment of the local ordinary.
Read this whole section of Canon Law here.
One has to wonder how seriously the recent batch of Catholic apologists take the above statement (§3). I just looked through my shelf of Catholic apologetic books, and many of the recent volumes do not have the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, while the older ones typically do. If Canon Law recommends something, what seems to be the problem for these folks? I'm tempted to say for some of them, their continual claims of submission to Rome fall short when it comes to having a career as a Catholic apologist. Sure, they say they submit to Rome, but they don't submit all their books for ecclesiastical approval.
It's easy to pick on the failure of Sungenis to attain official approval, and let's face it, he's produced some eclectic material. On the other hand, it seems to me many Catholic apologists don't even try to follow Canon Law on this. Why is the failure of Sungenis such a scandal, while a multitude of Catholic writers not even trying to gain the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur not? It's easy to claim that one's books are "perfectly orthodox," but one wonders if these apologists ignoring Canon Law while complaining about the orthodoxy of a fellow apologist who at least makes some sort of attempt to adhere to it have the right to complain.
I'm not just picking on Armstrong. He simply serves as an example since he's put forth a lot of effort going after Sungenis recently (by the way, Armstrong explains the problem with Sungenis and Gerry Matatics: "'Insufficiently converted from Protestantism' more than amply explains Matatics and Sungenis, as far as I'm concerned. But it's not Protestantism per se: it is an extreme form of fundamentalist Calvinism"). There are many more besides Armstrong that publish books without the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. I'm simply asking why they don't follow the guidelines their teaching authority puts forth- this just happens to be the same authority they defend in their writings.
The Relic of Relics
05/21/2008 - James WhiteThis morning I noted Erik Raymond's blog entry on relics here (Hi Erik!). There are few things more repulsive to the life-long Protestant than relics, and nothing more creepy than entering an old style traditionalist Roman Catholic church filled with skeletons and bones and the like. The relic trade continues to this day, despite how often modern Roman Catholics try to sanitize this glaring example of gross superstition and unbiblical idolatry. To be honest, just allowing modern Rome's representatives to "spin" the pictures of people bowing in front of corpses and skulls and femurs, lighting candles and fingering their rosaries, is normally enough refutation in and of itself for any semi-literate reader of Holy Scripture. The few texts they cobble together have to be so grossly isolated, so completely removed from any meaningful biblical context, so as to provide automatic refutation upon the most basic contemplation. It only took a moment or two with Google to pull up the images found here.
Modern Rome, and its apologists, is truly an enigma. On the one hand you have the liberalism found throughout the scholarship of Rome. Inclusivism at best, universalism at worst, is the watchword of the day. On the other hand you still have the worst of medieval superstition in many lands, and Rome's apologists have the gall to try to stick all of this under one grand banner of "Mother Rome." The relic trade was well worthy of Erasmus' scorn half a millennium ago, when he rightly noted that one could build an entire ship out of all of the "genuine fragments of the cross." Bottles of Mary's milk and feathers of the Angel Gabriel were a dime a dozen then, and were just as much of a fraud as they are today. But what is worse is that the theology that gave rise to this gross superstition remains in Rome today. Ask the faithful flocking to Fatima or Lourdes or any of the other of a thousand shrines today. Ask the people on their knees praying to dead bones. And then be reminded: Rome remains as much of an opponent to the gospel of grace as she has ever been.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:8-14
2 Timothy 1:8-14
05/13/2008 - James Swan
Recently, Dr. Eric Svendsen was on Iron Sharpens Iron discussing "Mary: Her Role & Status in the New Testament & Roman Catholicism." Part one of Dr. Svendsen's interview can be heard here, part two here. Dr. Svendsen has written one of the most thorough books responding to Roman Catholic Mariology, Who Is My Mother? The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism (New York: Calvary Press, 2001). For those of you interacting with Roman Catholic argumentation, this book and these two interviews contain very helpful insights in understanding crucial issues in Mariology.
During the second interview, I took a minute to call in with a question for Eric based on a book I recently purchased: Where Is That in the Bible? (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001) by Patrick Madrid. The book is designed to "deflate standard objections to Catholicism," and to "use Scripture to bring people into (or back into) the Church." Madrid includes a section on Mary. In attempt to prove the Biblical basis for the Immaculate Conception, Madrid states,
"Mary was 'full of grace'- a term that signifies and implies (though it does not explicitly prove) her Immaculate Conception and freedom from sin. Throughout the Old Testament, there are many people, places, and things that are "types' of prefigurements of greater and more prefect [sp.] things that would come in the New Testament... The New Testament fulfillment of any Old Testament type is always more perfect and more glorious than the type itself. There are no exceptions to this scriptural rule. As we will see, Mary's sinlessness, her Immaculate Conception, was the perfect fulfillment of several imperfect Old Testament types...The first of these types was the immaculately created cosmos (cf. Genesis 1:2). It was from this pristine organic material, as yet unblemished by sin or corruption, that God formed the body of the first Adam (cf. Genesis 2:7). Jesus Christ is the 'second Adam" (cf. Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ, the second Adam was formed from the body of this Immaculate mother Mary" (p. 67-68).
I read this statement from Madrid to Dr. Svendsen and asked him to comment on Mary typology. His answer can be heard here:
In regard to Madrid's argument that the "created cosmos" represent Mary's Immaculate Conception, we do see in the Bible that indeed, Christ is a type for Adam. Paul says so explicitly in Romans 5:14, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." On the other hand, search the Scriptures high and low, you will not find Paul, or any of the Biblical writers explaining how Mary is a type for the "created cosmos."
I've been going through a number of my Roman Catholic books specific to the Immaculate Conception and have yet to find any official presentation of this particular Marian parallel. I'm tempted to say it's yet another example of private Roman Catholic interpretation, or perhaps it's a variation of a statement from Irenaeus:
10. For as by one man?s disobedience sin entered, and death obtained [a place] through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. And as the protoplast himself Adam, had his substance from untilled and as yet virgin soil (?for God had not yet sent rain, and man had not tilled the ground?), and was formed by the hand of God, that is, by the Word of God, for ?all things were made by Him,? and the Lord took dust from the earth and formed man; so did He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam [into Himself], from Mary, who was as yet a virgin. If, then, the first Adam had a man for his father, and was born of human seed, it were reasonable to say that the second Adam was begotten of Joseph. But if the former was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent that the latter also, making a recapitulation in Himself, should be formed as man by God, to have an analogy with the former as respects His origin. Why, then, did not God again take dust, but wrought so that the formation should be made of Mary? It was that there might not be another formation called into being, nor any other which should [require to] be saved, but that the very same formation should be summed up [in Christ as had existed in Adam], the analogy having been preserved [Against Heresies 3.21.10].
The parallel implied by Irenaeus has to do with the virgin birth, not the Immaculate Conception. This doesn't stop Roman Catholic apologists from using Irenaeus as supporting this doctrine. Irenaeus is said to make statements proving his implicit faith in the Immaculate Conception with his use of the Eve and Mary parallel (Mary as the Second or New Eve).
Madrid appears to have been making this parallel between Mary and creation for quite a while. Back in December 1991, Madrid wrote an article for This Rock Magazine entitled "Ark of the New Covenant." Madrid stated,
"Mary's Immaculate Conception is foreshadowed in Genesis 1, where God creates the universe in an immaculate state, free from any blemish or stain of sin or imperfection. This is borne out by the repeated mention in Genesis 1 of God beholding his creations and saying they were "very good." Out of pristine matter the Lord created Adam, the first immaculately created human being, forming him from the "womb" of the Earth. The immaculate elements from which the first Adam received his substance foreshadowed the immaculate mother from whom the second Adam (Romans 5:14) took his human substance."
Interestingly, Dr. White actually addressed this very statement in The Roman Catholic Controversy:
"This is a rather unusual interpretation. Mary foreshadowed in Creation? There is no emphasis in the original Hebrew text on the 'immaculate' elements of the earth, or the idea that Adam was formed in the 'womb' of the immaculate earth. Don't misunderstand, I have no problem with the types that are directly presented to us in Scripture- Paul uses such an allegory in Galatians 4:2-31. But I also realize that there is no end to the types that one can find in Scripture, nor any controls on how far you can take such an interpretive method" (p. 204).
This type of exegetical "find what one needs" within Roman Catholic interpretation is actually allowed within their system. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, "all persons, events, or objects of the Old Testament are sometimes considered as types, provided they resemble persons, events, or objects in the New Testament, whether the Holy Ghost has intended such a relationship or not." That is, make the connection that is needed. Whether or not the author of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, actually intended it is not a factor. This is exactly what happens with Mary typology. Catholics go through the Old Testament finding people, places, and things that are "types' to grant Biblical status to their extra-Biblical Marian beliefs.
Madrid states in the beginning of his book that Catholics who use it will be able to show non-Catholics things in the Bible that haven't been pointed out to them before (p.12), and that his method of using scripture is "a more thoughtful stance" in which "Catholics draw implications from the biblical text" (p.11). He says, "I as a Catholic look not just to Scripture alone...but also to the Church and its living Tradition of interpreting Scripture" (p. 10). I would be very interested to find out where the Church and living Tradition has infallibly declared creation as a type for Mary. In the guide on how to use his book, he explains how one can know the Catholic Church's understanding of the gospel is accurate by comparing it with what the Church has taught since the days of the Apostles. It would be very helpful for Mr. Madrid to actually trace the parallel between Mary and creation back to the Apostles. If such cannot be done, the claims made to historical continuity with the Church collective ring hollow. When Madrid refers his readers to Tradition as the "Church's lived understanding of the depositum fidei, which is nothing less than the faith once delivered to the saints" (p.16), he needs to also point out the vast amount of private interpretation put forward by Roman apologists in interpreting the Bible, especially in his own book.
Some Roman Catholic Issues: Transubstantiation/Apocrypha
05/09/2008 - James White