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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Burning Heretics and the Will of the Spirit

A Reformed Protestant friend continues our discussion: 'I was just reading the papal bull issued to Luther --Exsurge Domine. One of the things the bull condemns and views heretical is item 33. "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit". So I guess the pope *_did _*believe that burning heretics is the will of the Spirit....' I wouldn't be surprised if various clerical authorities, including the pope, were supportive of capital punishment via burning at the stake. I can only be thankful that this is not dogma. Pope Leo X did not go on to state his objections to that item 33 as motivated by some doctrine that burning heretics is indeed the will of the Spirit. He didn't and I can only thank God for that. On the other hand, neither can the Church assent to Luther's assertion about the will of the Spirit because we have no authority to assert that. Scriptures do speak of rebels against God dying in various ways, some quite horrible. True, too, that Scriptures warn those who oppose God of unquenching/eternal flames in Hell. I know you call this equivocation, but, to me, that's exegesis. There are difficult passages like that couple dropping dead when St. Peter exposed them of pulling a fast one on the Church. Did St. Peter will them to die? I don't know, but he didn't act surprised when they did. Was it the power of God that slew them? Sure looks like it. God is a loving Father but also a righteous judge. I think item 33 up there from Luther opens up a point of apparent contradiction with Scriptures which can cause confusion. The proper doctrine is that God as righteous judge has the right to pass sentence over the guilty with severe penalties, but we have constant recourse to "the mercy of almighty God who does not wish the death of a sinner but rather that he be converted and live," as stated in the same papal bull. That item cited by the papal bull is not in itself clear about this complicated relationship between mercy and justice. Hence, I would agree that item 33 should be withdrawn in favor of a more complete explanation. Scriptures are clear about the severe penalties against those who cause scandals that cause the fall of those whose faith is yet weak. It is unpleasant to think about it, but the warnings against those responsible for such scandals are clear and are clearly severe. In that papal bull in question, I think what the Pope is saying is "don't say that" rather than saying "the opposite is true." Note as well that this was a rather violent age (16th century). An assent to such punishment on both sides of the Tiber reflects what is known about that period: tolerance had not yet taken root. Finally, I will again assure you that papal infallibility does not mean impeccability. Several popes were guilty of various villainy, including political maneuvers as well as directly condoning sinful acts, but not as dogma. Infallibility is always about universal doctrine on faith and morals, and is always given and driven by the Holy Spirit, in spite of the unsuitableness of the vessel (the apostles and bishops). When I trust the Magisterium, I am not putting my trust in the persons of the bishops and the pope, but on the Holy Spirit. I would also suggest reading through an informative discussion over at Amy Welborn's blog, Open Book, about torture, papal decrees and other such matters. There are some interesting insights in that discussion from a few months ago.

11 comments:

L P Cruz said...

Jeff,

I not only call the view stated in this blog equivocation, I also could not label it exegesis but eisegesis. Reading something into the text that is not clearly shown in the passage.

Firstly in the exsurge domine item 33. The pope condemns that point which Luther believes -namely he did not believe that burning heretics is the will of the Holy Spirit. The Pope condemns this then by logic - the Pope believes that heretics should be burned, and which they did with Wycliff and Hus and many others.

On the issue of Ananias and Saphira - they lied to the Holy Spirit. God is judge, he is the one who alone has the right to take a life, but the Pope is a human being, what right has he to burn a heretic? This is mixing the Kingdom of Christ with that of Caesar.

The epistles were written to counter heresies and false doctrine, the way the writers did it was to teach it was by instruction not by persecution.

The Christians were first persecuted by Jews, they were first killed by them, why? Because Christianity was viewed by Judaism as a heresy - that is, a heretical off shoot of Judaism. (Read life of Paul).

The early Christians did not practice burning heretics or false teachers in their camps, they did it by warning and instruction. Later on Protestants have a doctrine of two kingdoms, have you considered their doctrine on this?

Lastly may I quote independence, freedom, and the expulsion and extermination of all heretics from Germany.... . Witness to this is the condemnation and punishment in the Council of Constance of the infidelity of the Hussites and Wyclifites as well as Jerome of Prague.

How were these heretics exterminated, what punishment were given to Hussites and Wyclifites? How would you answer these questions?

Jeff Tan said...

Darn it, my response wasn't saved after all. :P More on this later then. Sorry Lito. I know you're looking forward to poking yet more holes at my response. He he..

Venerable Aussie said...

Jeff, you will find some interesting back-and-forward commentary on this issue at EWTN's site:

http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/results.asp?Forums=3&Experts=3&Days=2002&Author=&Keyword=burning&pgnu=1&groupnum=0

Venerable Aussie said...

Sorry, I don't think the full link appeared just then.

Go to:

http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/search.asp

and search under history - Warren - 2002 - keyword "burning".

Turns up a lot of interesting comments.

L P Cruz said...

Take your time Jeff, I am just asking questions. Honestly, I find it amazing that the indefensible is being defended.

You see, as I see it, RCs do not see the possibility that their leaders can teach false doctrines and so may mislead them. This to me is a blind spot or allegiance / a loyalty that is misplaced and should only be accorded to Christ - the head of his church, not Peter or anyone. You might find it strange that prots do and have done so - excommunicate their own pastors/ bishops and the like.

Jeff Tan said...

Okay we may be drifting off-topic here if I correctly understand your last comment. The post was about the papal bull condemning item 33 on burning heretics being against the will of the Spirit.

'The Pope condemns this then by logic - the Pope believes that heretics should be burned, and which they did with Wycliff and Hus and many others.'

I did say "I wouldn't be surprised if various clerical authorities, including the pope, were supportive of capital punishment via burning at the stake. I can only be thankful that this is not dogma."

So when you said 'Honestly, I find it amazing that the indefensible is being defended' what did you mean?

What I offered in my blog were possible reasons for the Pope condemning item 33, not merely on the basis of his possible support of the practice. I thought he might have reasons to condemn item 33 based on an exegesis of the passages in Scripture concerning capital punishment, e.g., stoning various offenders to death, and execution of various parties without recourse to human executioners. While the new covenant in Christ puts love and mercy above Law, it does not quite mean that those events and precepts in the old covenant never happened. To the untutored hearer, item 33 as a doctrine might present a false contradiction, and possibly a serious crisis of faith. I'm suggesting that the pope may have wanted a retraction on item 33 because it was not nuanced enough so as to avoid such potential confusion. I haven't found any evidence either way, so this is only a theory. As I already said earlier, the pope was likely to have been supportive of the practice of burning unrepentant heretics, given the times. I don't like it, but that's a possibility.

'as I see it, RCs do not see the possibility that their leaders can teach false doctrines'

Well, yes and no. We know that Arius was mistaken, as were Nestorius and various others, despite being among our leaders. However, we do believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church so as to keep her out of grave error. You believe this too but you and I believe in different mechanisms that operate. To you, it is the Holy Spirit guiding individuals with the correct interpretation of Scriptures. To the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, it is the Holy Spirit guiding individuals with the correct interpretation of the Faith handed down from the Apostles in Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. (The difference between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church is only that, for the latter, the authority to interpret and teach is shared among all bishops without having a single patriarch, e.g., the bishop of Rome, at the authoritative center.)

Furthermore, the doctrine of infallibility does not mean that popes may not teach in error. They can and have. Infallibility, which applies within strict boundaries, may hold when that which is being defined as doctrine is universal in character and strictly pertains to faith and morals. I am no expert, but based on that, I don't think Exsurge Domine pronnounced anything infallibly. However, every proclamation from the pope and even the bishops as a body or individually, must be accorded respect. I would certainly accept that because I am no expert whereas the bishops in council or individually, especially the pope, possess expertise in various ways, e.g., as exegetes, historians, linguists, and have, in turn, recourse to various experts in these and other fields.

Jimmy Akin suggests that Exsurge Domine was too ambiguous while not being addressed to the universal Church as infallible teaching on faith and morals. Read his piece where he uses Exsurge Domine to discuss how one might identify infallible statements from the pope.

Once again, to be clear, when I blogged about this, I was responding to your interpretation about the papal bull's condemnation of item 33. I was offering what I thought might be reasons for this condemnation. I was not, and am not, defending the practice of burning heretics at the stake, nor the support the practice had among various bishops and priests, including probably some popes. I do, however, understand how the spirit of the age may have influenced such support. You're right in saying that this mixes the Kingdom of Christ with that of Ceasar, which I don't subscribe to either, but this was a time when they were mixed up. A precedent exists, too, in the Kingdom of Israel, with the same mix of civil law and religion.

A good reading of history will clarify that civil authorities had their own reasons to be executing those found to be heretics: they tend to be seen as civil rebels. Their revolutionary notions can be incendiary, causing possibly violent civil unrest. The Church should have spoken against it, but for whatever reason there was, capital punishment for heretics had its adherents from civilian authorities too.

Please do have a read of Jimmy's piece above and tell me what you think.

Jeff Tan said...

BTW the post that I lost yesterday had an analogy between the condemnation of item 33 and the Orthodox condemnation of the filioque clause. Note that the Orthodox are aware that the Catholics do not mean that the Holy Spirit originates from the Son. They know that we mean, by proceeding from the Son, that the Son can also send forth the Holy Spirit in time. They are concerned, however, that the clause might confuse people into thinking this, and worse, think that the Holy Spirit is subservient. In short, they are trying to preserve a clear understanding of equality that exists among the three persons. The second concern, and probably just as big, is that the clause was added without an ecumenical council sitting to discuss it.

So that's my analogy that explains a possible reason for condemning item 33: it is a problematic doctrine. You call this eisegesis, unfortunately, but what I'm reading from that is based on practice, something empirical. At various times throughout history, the Church has had to condemn certain things not because she believes that the opposite is true but because that which is being condemned was inappropriate or confusing or requires clarification.

Another analogy I can think of is on various condemnations (by anyone) of translations of the Bible, not because everything in that particular Bible version was wrong but because that form and specific interpretation needed some "debugging." It becomes a matter of rejecting the whole due to some problematic aspects thereof that need resolution.

L P Cruz said...

An over stretching of the principle. As I said Jeff, we may condemn the practice of corrupting bible translations but in practice we do not burn these translators.

It is just interesting if the Roman Catholic heirarchy did anything to stop the burning of Huss or Wycliff. Burning is not a quick compassionate execution, it is a slow tortureous death with hatred for the subject.

Jeff Tan said...

'An over stretching of the principle. As I said Jeff, we may condemn the practice of corrupting bible translations but in practice we do not burn these translators.'

Ah, no, I think you missed my point, my apologies if I wasn't clear on that. Please read it again. I cited that example to illustrate what the reasoning might be behind the condemnation. Condemning a Bible translation does not mean the whole Bible translation is wrong but parts of it might cause problems for one reason or another, e.g., bad wording. Likewise, condemning the assertion that "burning heretics is against the will of the Spirit" does not mean that the whole statement is wrong if one considers the love and mercy of God, but the assertion might cause problems if not spelled out properly, e.g., how it relates to the justice of God as described in various texts in the Bible concerning horrible deaths as punishment or judgment.

'It is just interesting if the Roman Catholic heirarchy did anything to stop the burning of Huss or Wycliff.'

I don't know. From what I understand, he was safe until he reached a particular area where the local bishop (I think) and nobles were playing politics.

I agree, it is not a compassionate execution. I wouldn't say anything about "hatred for the subject" however as I really am not in a position to judge their hearts.

L P Cruz said...

Jeff,

Here is my take...

My point is that condemning teachings or beliefs is one thing, burning people because of them is another.

Pope Leo of Exsurge Domine condemns item 33, I suggest to you, because the Pope does not want to admit that the RC was wrong in condemning to burn to death Wycliff and Huss. The Pope and the RC have painted themselves to a corner. The Pope must condemn item 33 and must believe it is the will of the HS to condemn heretics otherwise they will have to apologize for burning Huss.

A recognotion of wrong doing on the part of an organization who claims to be infallible in pronouncements is self conrtradiction.

You shoot yourself in the foot when you believe your church magisterium is infallible. I will write to this later.

But for now see my post on Gerry Matatics.

Jeff Tan said...

Lito said: 'My point is that condemning teachings or beliefs is one thing, burning people because of them is another.'

Of course. No arguments there.

Lito said: 'Pope Leo of Exsurge Domine condemns item 33, I suggest to you, because the Pope does not want to admit that the RC was wrong in condemning to burn to death Wycliff and Huss.'

No pope would find facing up to those executions pleasant, if they came around to thinking about it. But I don't think that this was the reason for Pope Leo's condemnation of item 33, however. You assume that the Pope agreed with Luther in item 33 but chose to condemn it to save his pride or to defend the dogma of papal infallibility. What if Pope Leo actually believed that burning the heretic was proper? I did say from the first post that "I wouldn't be surprised if various clerical authorities, including the pope, were supportive" of burning at the stake.

So what of my explanations about item 33 being condemned for other reasons? I offered them as alternatives. Pope Leo may instead or in addition have had in mind, concerning item 33, the need to avoid possible confusion by adherents of item 33. What final judgment awaits the unrepentant heretic? Luther probably knew the nuances of a God who is loving, kind, compassionate, rich and mercy, but likewise just. Other people may take the premise of item 33 and take it too far: some have come to believe that no one will go to Hell.

But I'm not certain that my take is necessarily true. I haven't read any documents explaining the reasoning behind Exsurge Domine, but I can certainly see the possibility of other reasons.

BTW, where did you read that Wycliffe was burned to death at the stake?

Now, you will likely state that such an adherence of Pope Leo to burning heretics at the stake raises questions about papal infallibility. It would raise questions, but only if you confuse infallibility with impeccability.

How come Pope John Paul II managed to apologize concerning those executions? Because the burning of heretics was not dogma. He was apologizing for actions or lack of corrective action. I might add, the lack of corrective dogma pronnouncing that burning heretics was wrong. Exsurge Domine is not an infallible teaching and does not teach dogma.

'A recognotion of wrong doing on the part of an organization who claims to be infallible in pronouncements is self conrtradiction.'

Some suggested reading: Catholic Encyclopedia on Infallibility, Catholic Answers.