Archive for the ‘The Dimond brothers’ category

Robert Sungenis vs. Peter Dimond on NA and Islam

October 10, 2011

I can’t help but to comment on the recent debate between Robert Sungenis and Peter Dimond on whether Nostra Aetate 3’s teaching on islam is heretical. The comment won’t be long though, for the general impression of the debate was simply that of a “foolish controversy” (Tit. 3:9).

The debate can be listened to here. The debate was not a formal, public, well-organized debate like most of the ones Sungenis has done with James White. It was rather a privately organized, rather poor-quality (probably via Skype or something) debate, where both parties kept repeating more or less the same arguments for about an hour, changing turns every 2 minutes.

Robert Sungenis

Sungenis’ arguments can be summed up in his post-debate summary here. He did a good job in showing how esteeming other religions is in line with Paul’s approach in Acts 17 (as well as Romans 1-2, perhaps). Sungenis also pointed out that NA 3’s “esteem” is linked with monotheism (as well as other elements common between us, perhaps), not all of islam.

Sungenis did a poorer job in answering Dimond’s quotes from earlier Popes as well as St. Thomas. Sometimes he didn’t answer at all, he didn’t seem to be familiar with the particular texts or prepared to deal with them in this context. Sungenis also lost a lot of credibility in trying to explain away consistent papal teaching on Vatican II (labeling them mere “private opinions”).

Sungenis’ intention to keep all Church doctrine together is laudable, but he ends up not “thinking with the Church”. In my view his problem is in the hierarchy of truths: for him, infallibility, authority and inerrancy are in the center (if there’s one error, there can be all kinds of errors and the whole thing goes), rather than at the periphery where they should be (the Gospel, Christ and the Church communion are in the center, inerrancy and infallibility were late developments from, not the foundation of the faith).

Peter Dimond

Peter Dimond did a good job in showing the contrast between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar approaches to Islam. They truly are very different, although some aspects might be explained by different emphases. Dimond did a good debating job as well, sometimes making the debate a bit awkward for Sungenis (eg. the Thomas Aquinas quote as well as the post-conciliar papal teaching argument).

Dimond’s problem is his obsession with heresy. He sees heresy everywhere, when he is in no position to judge. Dimond is also obsessed with ex cathedra dogmas and infallibilities. The fact that a Pope has stated in an encyclical that something is a dogma does not make it a dogma, for encyclicals are not dogmatic definitions. He should point to the dogmatic definition rather than non-infallible papal documents to prove his point.

Dimond suffers from the same problem as Sungenis: a failure to recognize the development of dogma and a fixation in the, say, 13th-19th centuries. The fact is that 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th century Christianity looked very different than medieval Catholicism should make a Catholic open to further developments as well.

Jesus Christ does not change, but he lives and works miracles in His Church, one of which is Her new attitude toward Islam, which can facilitate world peace, fruitful religious dialogue and hopefully true and informed conversions.

Magisterial heresies and Sedevacantist inconsistencies

October 31, 2010

Today I took a look at Dimond’s book on No Salvation Outside the Church. While recognizing the problems and not claiming to be able to address all the arguments, I will simply share one thought that came to me while reading the presentation.

It seems that while the Dimonds claim the Church apostatized in Vatican II so that the papal see has been vacant ever since, they are forced to admit pre-conciliar heresy, error or weakness in certain magisterial documents which teach along the lines of Vatican II (on baptism of desire and invincible ignorance).

What the Dimonds do in these situations is that they point out that these documents were not infallible and thus could contain errors. Then they point out other texts from these same sources that support their understanding.

But the problem is this: by the same standard, you could acquit the modern Popes as well, because all the materials the Dimonds quote to show the modern Popes are heretics, are non-infallible documents. None of the post-conciliar Popes has made an infallible declaration. And then you could quote some of the more traditional sounding pieces from these Popes to show they are all right after all.

In other words: The Dimonds claim to “prove” the modern Popes are not Catholics (and thus no Popes) by showing that they are heretics or that they allowed or supported heretical ideas. But by the same method you could show that many preconciliar Popes were personally heretics, and thus no Catholics but antipopes.

The idea of “pure and unchangeable infallibe doctrine” as interpreted by the ultratraditionalists seems to be a naive fantasy in light of how doctrine has actually developed.

Peter Dimond vs. James White on justification

February 10, 2010

The two people I’ve been dealing with in my previous posts, James White and Peter Dimond, have actually confronted each other as well, at least on one occasion. On this YouTube video you can hear br. Peter calling James White’s radio program, wanting to debate justification (or perseverance, or losing salvation, however you’d like to put it). What then follows is a 15-minute discussion on Ephesians 5:5-8, Romans 8:28-32, etc. Sometimes the dialog makes me smile, sometimes it makes me roll my eyes. Here are my comments.

Since I obviously agree more with br. Peter on the basic doctrines of soteriology, and since the video is on White’s channel serving his apologetics purposes (he gets to give the 7-minute commentary at the end, making it look like it was a clear victory for him), I will have more to say against White than against Dimond. However, I do think Dimond deserves some criticism, which is what I’ll start with.

Dimond’s defects

First off, Dimond’s major argument isn’t a very good one to begin with. Eph. 5:7 doesn’t “clearly prove” (note the language again – I talked about this in my previous post) that a justified man could lose his salvation, all it says is that Christians shouldn’t be partakers with people who will be excluded from the Kingdom of God. One needs to make huge assumptions about the word “partakers” and about the consequences of disobedience to this exhortation in order to think this verse teaches what Dimond thinks it “clearly proves”. Nor does Trent’s Decree on Justification use this passage to argue that one can lose salvation.

Secondly, Dimond doesn’t get White at all most of the time. When White asks about being baptized and not gaining justification (he seems to mean final justification i.e. what he would rather call glorification), Dimond starts talking about adults putting an obstacle and receiving the mark but not the character of baptism. But worst of all, Dimond doesn’t really seem to understand White’s main argument: what is it in Romans 8 that makes Dimond think that 8:30 talks only of a small part of all the justified, and not all Christians?

Thirdly, White makes a good point about Dimond’s double standards: Dimond insists on going to passages that define what a Catholic is when he wants to “prove” that the Pope is not a Catholic, but in dealing with justification he won’t go to passages that talk specifically about justification. I’d level the same accusation at him from another angle: Dimond thinks with the mind of the Church in soteriology, but he does the opposite in ecclesiology.

This helps us to understand a fascinating point: the basis on which White dissents from the Church’s teaching on justification is the same basis on which Dimond dissents from the Pope’s Catholicism. Fundamentally, White and Dimond share the same problem of private interpretation, picking their texts and insisting on their interpretations of them, over against the Church. They both have good arguments, but good arguments and a bright mind don’t guarantee truth. It’s at the same time illuminating and terrifying to realize that at least one of these men is really and truly (as long as the law of non-contradiction is valid) in error (both generally speaking and in their criticism of the Church). Here’s where I think White is wrong.

White’s wrongs

First of all, White claims that the Catholic teaching on justification is based on assumptions and eisegesis instead of the text of Scripture, which in his view demonstrates the Catholic belief to be a “doctrine of demons”. Well, the Catholic doctrine, like it or not, is based on the apostolic tradition, always seen by the Church to be evidenced in the Scriptures as well. The Apostles didn’t teach their congregations to forget their oral teachings and then try to come up with a consistent theology from their writings. They taught their converts something, and that teaching can be discovered in early Christian writings.

Now, White recognizes the Catholic doctrine goes “back to Augustine”. This is an interesting admission, and it makes me ask White whether he thinks Augustine believed a doctrine of demons. Was Augustine in the camp of the enemy, and not a true Christian? But White should know, and I think he does, that the Catholic doctrine goes back further than Augustine. It goes back all the way – or can White show us a post-biblical pre-augustinian Christian that believed that justified Christians could not lose their salvation? Were all post-apostolic Christians deceived by doctrines of demons?

White claims Romans 8 demonstrates that what we believe is a doctrine of demons. Well, there’s no discussion of demons there, no discussion of the gravity of various mistaken views on the doctrine of justification. All it says is that God glorified those that he justified. Just like Dimond assumed Eph 5:7 “clearly proves” his position, White assumes Rom 8:30 “demonstrates” his. Both are just as naive. Romans 8:30 is a text open to many interpretations, as a consultation of the various exegetical commentaries would easily demonstrate.

I haven’t studied this enough to make any definitive pronouncements on the verse, but one thought does come to mind. All the verbs are in the past tense – couldn’t this be describing what God has already done to Christians? White is assuming “glorified” means future heavenly glory, but does it have to mean that? And here is where Dimond’s good points come in: there are many passages in Romans itself which give us good reason to question that Paul wanted to teach that all justified Christians would necessarily be ultimately saved.

Dimond cites eg Rom 11:20-22, which White deals with only briefly in a way that isn’t convincing at all. Paul is here talking about Gentiles that stand in the new people of God “by faith”, having God’s favor or “goodness”. If we are consistent in our Calvinistic or Catholic theology, we must admit these people have been justified. And yet Paul says they will be cut off and merit God’s severity if they do not continue in God’s goodness, if they lose their faith. What God did to unbelieving Jews, he can and will do to Christians, who do not persevere in faith. I could add Rom 8:13 from Romans 8 itself – addressing to Christians a real threat of “death” if they live according to the flesh.

I should add that these passages, as well as others also cited by the Church’s official teaching at Trent (eg 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 10:12), have led world-class Pauline scholars to conclude that Paul really did believe that one could lose one’s salvation. It’s not as if the Catholic Church simply held on to an external, eisegetical, “infallible” authority, contradicting the clear and perspicuous teaching of Paul, which anyone can see in the text itself. No, many leading Pauline scholars, not clinging to any external infallible authority but trying to understand Paul as well as possible in his own terms, come to the same conclusion as the Catholic Church, and not to the Calvinistic position held by James White.

Concluding comments

There’s much more I could say, but I will save something for later posts, too. One of the funniest things about White’s presentation is his accusing Dimond of assuming that there are these Christians that are justified but won’t be glorified, while he tries to defend his position from the warning passages by assuming a category of non-justified members in the visible Church. This needs to be dealt with in detail later, but suffice it to say that the Catholic understanding of initial justification for all the baptized explains Paul’s words to the Ephesians much better than the Reformed (so clearly tradition-based and not Scripture-derived) view that says the words are really true only of some members.

Another issue is the whole rhetoric about the “man-centered” versus the “God-centered” reading of the Bible. First of all, who defines man-centered and God-centered? It’s not like there are only two ways of reading the Bible, there are hundreds of ways of interpreting biblical soteriology alone. Many of these systems could justly call the Calvinistic interpretation a “man-centered” one (eg. N.T. Wright has done just that in his recent book Justification, and a more radical OSAS system could easily do the same). Second, the whole problem is an unbiblical one – the Bible contains passages about God and man, but no hermeneutic guidelines to harmonize them.

Lastly, I would again point out how smart apologists can use strong words and skillful rhetoric, only to expose their naivety to the critically-minded. According to Dimond it was “obvious” that White didn’t have an answer to Ephesians 5 when White was simply trying to get to the heart of the matter. According to White “everyone”, or “anyone who’s fair-minded” could see that only White wanted to do exegesis. But Dimond was also bringing up a valid exegetical point in regard to Romans 8 needing to be in harmony with Romans 11.

Many people, and especially convinced apologists who believe they’re defending truth, have a hard time admitting that other people can hold opposite beliefs in good faith and with good reasons. They like to think their position alone is reasonable and so clearly true that anyone who would see the evidence and deny it would be dishonest or unfair. Yet reality is very different. We need to proceed on the path of truth with a lot of humility, a willingness to learn, and most of all with a respect for others, because ultimately we must be in it for the salvation of souls.

Sedevacantism and the hermeneutics of discontinuity

February 8, 2010

The Most Holy Family Monastery (MHFM) has posted a huge number of videos on YouTube, all of which I will not attempt to answer. I will, however, deal with one recent video, posted on the 15th of January 2010, claiming to present the “most specific and irrefutable heresy of Vatican II”. I hope this post will illustrate the weak and subjective foundation that the Sedevacantist schism is based on.

The argument of the video is as follows: The Council of Florence declared ex cathedra that anyone who holds a view different from the Catholic Church’s teaching on Jesus Christ or the Trinity is rejected by God. This simply reiterates Matthew 10:33: Jesus will deny the one that denies Jesus. But Vatican II, in Nostra Aetate 4, declared that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or cursed by God”. Br. Peter Dimond then declares this statement “blatantly heretical”. He cites as his main proof the fact that Vatican II uses the very same verb (rebrobare=to reject) as Florence, but to teach the exact opposite.

Based on this evidence, Dimond says that “there can be absolutely no doubt that Vatican II denies the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Florence”, and that “anyone who would deny that Vatican II teaches heresy, in light of these facts, is simply a liar”. Well, all I can say is that Br. Peter is hereby refuted, because in my mind there definitely is a doubt about whether Vatican II denies the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Florence. Why would the Catholic Bishops want to deny something they all believed one is bound to believe? Even if I’m wrong, the doubt is there, and so Peter Dimond is wrong.

Furthermore, even though I have now seen the “light of these facts”, i.e. two magisterial documents as interpreted by Br. Dimond, plus one linguistic argument by the same man, I can and will still “deny that Vatican II teaches heresy”. Do I do that because I’m “a liar”? No, I do it because the argument doesn’t convince me at all. It’s not that clear and irrefutable, despite all the triumphalistic words of Br. Dimond. Let me illustrate.

St. Paul, in Romans 3:10, writes: “There is none righteous, no, not one”. He is talking about non-Christians. But in the Acts of the Apostles, 10:22, it is stated that Cornelius, a non-Christian, was a “righteous” man. Does this make Acts a “blatantly heretical” book? Let me cite additional evidence. Paul uses the Greek term dikaios in Romans 3:10. But Acts 10:22 uses the very same Greek word, dikaios, to teach the exact opposite! Now, “anyone who would deny that Acts teaches heresy is simply a liar”, right?

Wrong. What we have here is simply a challenge, a difficulty, one out of thousands and thousands of difficulties that can be thought up by comparing all the different data we have in the sources of faith. If even in the canon of Scripture two authors can use the same words in seemingly opposite ways, and yet we believe there is no true contradiction between them, why would we apply a completely different standard to Florence and Vatican II? Why would we insist on a hermeneutic of discontinuity in Church documents while insisting on a hermeneutic of unity in reading the Bible?

As St. Thomas says in the 8th Article of the 1st Question in the Summa, “the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated”, “the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered”. This is the attitude the Catholic should take with regard to the Scriptural as well as the Magisterial documents. I’m not sure if I have the right answer to the difficulties presented above, but I treat them as difficulties, not as demonstrations of the falsity of the faith. One possible answer to the Nosta Aetate problem would be that the point of the document is to say that God hasn’t rejected Jews in the sense that he still wants them to be saved (and that through the Church, which has just been called the new people of God).

But the main point, I think, has been established. Although MHFM wants to make it look like Vatican II is clearly and irrefutably heretical, it’s not all that objective after all. It comes down to one’s subjective, fallible opinions on which arguments demonstrate what, and most of all it comes down to one’s hermeneutics. If we want to find problems and contradictions, we’ll find them. If we want to solve contradictions and find the unity, we’ll succeed in that as well. The question is simply whether we want to argue against or with the living, hierarchical Church. Who do the promises in Mt 16:18, 28:20, John 16:13, etc, apply to?

Sedevacantism and the Most Holy Family Monastery

February 4, 2010

Another immediate reason for putting up this blog was the need to address some of the many issues raised by Sedevacantist apologists such as the Dimond brothers of the Most Holy Family Monastery. They too have an active YouTube channel, not to mention their website with many articles attacking the post-Vatican II Church.

So far I am less acquainted with Sedevacantist arguments than Protestant arguments, but since there seems to be much less material out there dealing with Sedevacantists than with Protestants, I feel the need to point out some of the major problems I see with this movement. I hope to study the issues more profoundly as time permits, but for now I’d like to share some insights that will hopefully help readers to think critically with regard to the claims made by the Sedevacantists.

First and foremost, the biggest problem with Sedevacantism seems to me to be the same as the biggest problem with Protestantism, that is, its utter subjectivity and inner divisions due to the lack of a universal authority such as the communion of Bishops headed by the Bishop of Rome. Sedevacantists raise themselves above the Magisterium in judging the Pope or the Church to be in error. They declare their articles and videos to be irrefutable, yet many disagree. It’s one man’s word against another’s.

Yes, they have some good arguments, and so do the Protestants. But the problem is they can’t provide a unified alternative, either. When you look at Sedevacantist websites, you soon get a grasp of the desperate situation the position leads you to. You have no living Magisterium to guide you – you only have your own intellect and the conflicting opinions of others. Each Sedevacantist group or individual is trying to interpret Church documents as coherently as they can, but without an authoritative guide they end up differing from one another and condemning each other as heretics.

Take Most Holy Family Monastery (MHFM), for example. They hold to the strictest possible view of extra ecclesiam, even denying baptism of desire. Gerry Matatics, another Sedevacantist apologist, allows for a certain understanding of baptism of desire. Once friends, the Dimond brothers and Matatics now condemn each other on their websites. MHFM has a whole list of heretics to avoid, most of whom are traditionalist Catholics critical of the post-conciliar Church. Prominent Sedevacantist voices are condemned for supporting Catholics that aren’t traditional enough.

The number of questions dividing the Traditionalists is overwhelming. Is one a heretic if one believes that martyred catechumens can be saved? Is one in mortal sin if one financially supports a validly ordained Novus Ordo priest? What about attending a Traditional Mass where Pope Benedict XVI is prayed for? Was John XXIII a valid Pope, and is one a heretic if one believes the opposite? What about attending a Mass offered by a group that preaches a different understanding of extra ecclesiam? Is one a heretic if one doesn’t absolutely reject the possibility of the current Pope being the true Pope?

Once you start going down this road (whoever doesn’t agree with my interpretation of Tradition is a heretic), you’ll end up believing in extra me nulla salus instead of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. How does one know God’s truth is found in one’s personal interpretations of religious documents, when one is almost alone in the world? Of course it’d be flattering to imagine oneself an end-time prophet.

But God never promised that during the Great Apostasy he would make sure the remnant is sustained through an American YouTube channel, he never indicated that in the Great Tribulation his Truth would survive through the clever articles of an isolated monastery. Rather, it was Peter and the apostolic college that received the promises.