Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Geocentric Double Standards and Exaggerations on Magisterial Documents

Jane: I don't know what we did, but it must've been something dreadful.

Michael: He sent the police after us and the army and everything.

Jane: Michael, don't exaggerate.

One thing I have noticed in reading modern geocentrist material is that so far, to a man, they materially exaggerate the nature and authority of the magisterial documents generated in the Galileo incident and, as a corollary, consistently downplay the nature and authority of the documents that have emanated from the Holy See since that time.

Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. presents a good summary that supports what I have already laid out elsewhere:

In the case of Rome's 17th-century insistence on geocentrism, we have a teaching which: (a) was promulgated only in disciplinary documents, not in formally doctrinal ones; (b) was never promulgated directly and personally by any Pope, only indirectly, through the instrumentality of the Vatican Congregations of the Index and the Holy Office; (c) was endorsed by the papacy for only 141 years (1616-1757); (d) was never greeted with the emphatic and morally unanimous endorsement of the world's Bishops, only a respectful acquiescence; and (e) never in any case affected the concrete lives and destinies of any more than a handful of professional scientists such as Galileo. (Roma Locuta Est - Causa Finita Est)
Father makes some important points. I would emphasize with him that the documents with which we are dealing are uniformly disciplinary—he is correct that the Catholic Church has never issued any doctrinal decree affirming, geocentrism. And he is right that there is no document specifically on geocentrism "promulgated directly and personally by any Pope". But that is not how the matter is presented by the geocentrists. They consistently exaggerate the authority of the relevant documents.

I first noticed this when dialoguing with one "Cassini" (a pseudonym) on the Catholic Answers Forum. I noticed that he consistently referred to the 1616 decree from the Congregation of the Index and the 1633 decree from the Congregation of the Holy Office as "papal decrees". This is an error of fact, plain and simple. I said in my reply to him:

the 1616 and 1633 decrees concerning Galileo were not “papal decrees”. Period. They were issued by Roman congregations. A papal decree and a decree from a Roman congregation are two different things. No amount of cajoling can make one into the other. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia states that the 1633 decree “did not receive the pope’s signature”.

In fact, neither decree was actually signed by the Pope. I will return to this point in a moment. For now it is sufficient to note that these are not papal decrees. But they are consistently presented by geocentrists as if they are. In an extended discussion on Dave Armstrong's blog, "johnmartin" (also a pseudonym) spoke of the 1616 and 1633 decrees as "Papal statements". And geocentrist Mark Wyatt edited the Wikipedia article on "Modern Geocentrism" to say this: "three popes have made official declarations against Galileo and Copernicus' writings (as well as other heliocentric writings) and in support of the geocentrist viewpoint" (Wikipedia, "Modern Geocentrism", 21 Oct 2005).

But the prize for the most egregious exaggeration has to go to Bob Sungenis, who recently wrote: "all the popes prior to the last 100 years were directly preaching against heliocentrism." Really now? Every Pope, from St. Peter to St. Pius X was "directly preaching against heliocentrism"? An interesting assertion, but total nonsense. It is distinctly reminiscent of Sungenis' false claim on his other fixation—the Jews—that, "all popes prior to the [sic] Vatican II have made very strong statements against fraternizing with the Jewish religion" (documented here and here, section 8.) Sungenis' nonsensical exaggeration that "all the popes prior to the last 100 years were directly preaching against heliocentrism" strikes a stark contrast with Fr. Harrison's factual statement that "Rome's 17th-century insistence on geocentrism . . . was never promulgated directly and personally by any Pope".

Father Harrison's statement is a fact, but there is one seventeenth-century papal document that has at least some connection to the geocentrism controversy. It is a papal bull called Speculatores Domus Israel promulgated by Alexander VII. It is true that in some sense it touches upon the geocentrism controversy. But even here we find the geocentrists materially misrepresenting the content and the authority of the document.

First, the facts. In 1664, Pope Alexander VII undertook to republish the Index of Forbidden Books. The Index at that time contained hundreds of works, spanning dozens of different topics. Along with the republication of the Index, Pope Alexander also attached the various decrees that had been promulgated by his predecessors in conjunction with various works being placed on the Index ("the aforesaid earlier classifications and annotations (wherever these exist) will be cited, along with the decrees by which the books were originally censured.") His stated reason for doing so was "quo rei ab initio gestae series innotescat," or, following Fr. Brian Harrison's translation, "In this way the case history of each censured book will be made known" (GWW2, p. 225).

The salient point to consider is that this papal bull was not about Copernicanism. It was about which books were to be placed on the Index. This fact is obscured by the way geocentrists cite this bull. Yes, amongst the many decrees that were included were those connected with the various prohibitions of heliocentric works. But it does not place any special weight on heliocentrism, nor does it explicitly cite the text of any of the prior decrees, whether on heliocentrism or any other topic. It lends no additional weight to any of the decrees attached to it—rather, as Alexander VII states himself, his purpose was to establish "the case history of each censured book".

But what do geocentrists do with this papal bull? First, they emphasize that this was truly a papal action, which is true as far as it goes. Some Vatican documents are reviewed by the Pope and ordered to be published by him, but they only carry the authority of the curial dicastery that actually wrote the document and do not carry the authority of a papal document or act. Such documents are referred to as having been approved “in forma communi.” Other documents are reviewed by the Pope and approved by him in a special way such that they are officially made “his own” and therefore acquire the full authority of a formal papal act. Such documents are referred to as having been approved “in forma specifica.” When a Pope wants to elevate the weight and authority of a document from “in forma communi” to “in forma specifica” all he must do is to sign it with the Latin phrase “in forma specifica approbavit.” (Consecrated Phrases: a Latin Theological Dictionary, p. 62)

But while it is true that Speculatores Domus Israel represents a papal action put forward in forma specifica (with papal authority), we need to ask, for what purpose was that authority invoked? To promulgate a doctrinal decree on heliocentrism? No. It was invoked to promulgate a disciplinary document.

Now geocentrists will on the one hand admit the importance of this distinction. Speaking of Alexander VII's bull, one geocentrist plays up its importance by appealing to its approval in forma specifica:

In this way, the pope’s decree against books teaching heliocentrism was in the forma specifica venue, one of the highest magisterial vehicles for the dissemination of papal authority. (GWW, vol. 2, p. 224).

Interestingly, in his response to me, this same individual took a dramatically different tack when the distinction between in forma communi and in forma specifica was to his disadvantage. In that case, he soft-pedaled the fact that the 1616 and 1633 decrees of the Congregation of the Index and the Holy Office were both approved only in forma communi, not in forma specifica ("Response to David Palm on the Galileo Issue", p. 10). While this double standard is telling enough, his assertion elsewhere that the authority of another document promulgated by this same Pope somehow bleeds over to elevate the authority of Speculatores Domus Israel is downright silly:

What is significant about the genre of Alexander VII’s decree is not only its forma specifica venue but also how popes following him regarded Alexander’s previous decrees. For example, in Pius IX’s dogmatic declaration on the Immaculate Conception in 1854, he cites as supporting documentation the writings of Alexander VII more than any other pope. In reference to Alexander VII’s apostolic constitution, Sollicitudo Omnium Esslesiarum [sic] of December 8, 1661, Pius IX says Alexander VII “authoritatively and decisively declared the mind of the Church” (GWW, vol. 2, p. 226.)

So, according to his argument, Alexander VII issued an apostolic constitution, a document bearing the Church's highest authority. This apostolic constitution was on a topic entirely unrelated to Copernicanism. But it was cited by a later Pope. And this somehow automatically elevates the authority of all of Alexander VII's decrees, even one manifestly issued in a form bearing a lesser authority and on a disciplinary topic at that. Anyone who knows anything about ecclesiastical documents will see that this is utter nonsense.

Second, the geocentrists play up various strongly-worded phrases in the document. Thus Pope Alexander states that he "approve with Apostolic authority by the tenor of these presents, and: command and enjoin all persons everywhere to yield this Index a constant and complete obedience..." (Wikipedia, Alexander VII). Certainly this is a strongly-worded phrase. But to what is it directed? Is it directed to establishing anti-heliocentrism as a binding doctrine of the Church? No, it is directed to the republication of the Index of Forbidden Books. Catholics are indeed expected to respect and obey the Pope, even in a disciplinary matter such as the Index of Forbidden Books. But again this does not make any particular thing on the Index a matter of binding doctrine. The Index itself was duly modified several times—including the removal of the various Copernican works—and was eventually done away with altogether. Clearly, then, these are matters of discipline and not of doctrine, even though certainly Catholics are expected to abide by the disciplinary injunctions of the Pope.

But the most egregious abuse of this papal document is when the geocentrists misrepresent it as if its main topic was Copernicanism. For example, Mark Wyatt stated in his edit of the Wikipedia article on Modern Geocentrism: "Alexander VII, in a Papal Bull declared that 'the Pythagorean doctrine concerning the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun is false and altogether incompatible with divine Scripture' and the principles advocated by Copernicus on the position and movement of the earth to be “repugnant to Scripture and to its true and Catholic interpretation" (Wikipedia, "Modern Geocentrism", 25 Oct 2005.) This gives the impression that the central topic of the bull was the condemnation of Copernicanism. But this is simply false. The subject of the bull was the republication of the Index of Forbidden Books. Many decrees, not just those dealing with Copernicanism, were attached to this publication in order that a complete history may be established. And—this is important—in no case was the text of any of them cited in the bull. It is highly misleading to state, as Wyatt did, that Alexander VII's bull "declared" anything with respect to Copernicanism. It is false to present Speculatores Domus Israel as if its subject was Copernicanism.

The obvious proof that Speculatores Domus Israel was a disciplinary document is that the contents of the Index were duly modified several times and eventually the Index was done away with altogether.

So, to summarize, the Congregation of the Index, which issued the public 1616 decree, had as its competence which works should and should not be included on the Index of Forbidden Books. At that time it was ruled that works presenting the Pythagorean theory as a thesis rather than a hypothesis should not be read by Catholics and therefore a number of works that did so were put on the Index. It was therefore a disciplinary decree and not irreformable.

The Index of Forbidden Books was duly and authoritatively updated several times, including the deletion of all of the works concerning Copernicanism from the Index. This, then, covers not only the 1616 decree but also Pope Alexander VII's republication of the Index, prefaced by the papal bull Speculatores Domus Israel.

The 1633 decree of the Holy Office, which was also approved in forma communi, concerned the person of Galileo and his breach of the 1616 decree by continuing to publish books and teach the Copernican hypothesis as a thesis. This too was a disciplinary action against him. Yes, it was publicly announced, as the geocentrists have pointed out. But the Catholic Encyclopedia rightly states:

As to the second trial in 1633, this was concerned not so much with the doctrine as with the person of Galileo, and his manifest breach of contract in not abstaining from the active propaganda of Copernican doctrines. The sentence, passed upon him in consequence, clearly implied a condemnation of Copernicanism, but it made no formal decree on the subject, and did not receive the pope's signature. (Galileo)
The seventeenth-century Popes knew perfectly well how to promulgate doctrinal decrees binding on the whole Church. But they consistently refrained from doing so with regard to geocentrism.

(The geocentrists constantly insist that only another formal, canonical trial can reverse the 1633 decree. They assert that "Canon Law" says so, while never actually citing Canon Law to that effect. They cite various private conversations or correspondences to try and establish this assertion, but never anything official or magisterial. Readers should always be aware of this lack of supporting evidence when evaluating such claims.)

I propose that the Church officially reversed the disciplinary actions of the seventeenth century as follows:

16 August 1820 The Congregation of the Holy Office, with the pope's approval, decrees that Catholic astronomer Joseph Settele can be allowed to treat the earth's motion as an established fact. . . .

11 September 1822 The Congregation of the Holy Office decides to allow in general the publication of books treating of the earth's motion in accordance with modern astronomy. . . .

25 September 1822 Pope Pius VII ratifies this decision. . . . (from Finocchiaro, The Galileo Affair, p. 307)
Thus the Holy Office—the same Roman congregation that was involved in 1633—reexamined the issue and gave permission throughout the Church to present non-Pythagorean views of the solar system as theses rather than just as hypotheses, a reversal of the discipline expressed in the 1616/1633/1664 decrees. Note well that this is not simply a matter of removing books from the Index. This was an act of the Holy Office giving positive permission for Catholics to teach non-Pythagorean views of the solar system. This really is, then, the reform and reversal of the earlier ruling.

In addition, as I have already pointed out, the Church also laid out general principles on which such questions may be addressed. Pope Leo XIII stated in the papal encyclical Providentissimus Deus 18-19 that the Holy Spirit did not put any such information about the physical nature of the universe in sacred Scripture. This was reiterated by his successor Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu 3. And this is bolstered by John Paul II in his speech to the Pontifical Academy of Science in which he echoes his predecessors by stating that, "the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world" (here). As geocentrist advocate "Cassini" has candidly admitted, "The only interpretation of note in the history of the Church that the encyclical [Providentissimus Deus] could be referring to was the fixed sun/moving earth heresy [sic]" (link).  Geocentrists have yet to propose any reasonable alternative issue that Leo XIII (echoed by Pius XII) was addressing.

Thus it is the official papal doctrinal teaching that the matter of geocentrism is not a matter of faith and morals and that Catholics are free to hold various views on cosmology.

But even if this were a matter of faith and morals the decrees of Roman congregations—especially those confirmed only in forma communi—are not infallible or irreformable. By definition "not infallible" means liable to err. As Ludwig Ott states:

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called "silentium obsequiosum." that is "reverent silence," does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error. (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 10; emphasis mine).

Numerous Catholic scholars and scientists of great erudition and fidelity to the teaching of the Church have concluded that, indeed, the 1616 and 1633 decrees of the Roman congregations do rest on an error. Indeed, a Roman Pontiff has explicitly admitted that there was an error. Pope John Paul II said publicly that, "The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture" and that "the sentence of 1633 was not irreformable . . . the debate which had not ceased to evolve thereafter, was closed in 1820 with the imprimatur given to the work of Canon Settele" (here).

It is clear that the Church considers this matter to have been officially dealt with and that Catholics have freedom to embrace the view of cosmology that they believe best fits the scientific evidence.

And my personal advice to the new geocentrists — Don't exaggerate.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pope Leo XIII On Literal Interpretation and the Unanimous Consent of the Fathers

I mentioned on this blog that, unfortunately, there are some Catholics out and about noisily claiming that the view that the earth is the immobile center of the universe is a core part of the Catholic faith. I have already explained elsewhere why this view is untenable, but there are a few additional aspects of this issue that I want to examine over the course of the next weeks.

Much is made in the new geocentrist circles about Pope Leo XIII's dictum that the exegete of Scripture is, "not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires" (Providentissimus Deus 15).

From this papal teaching, modern geocentrists conclude that we are bound to what they claim is the "literal" interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, namely, that the sun revolves around the earth. But this claim is undermined by this admission made by a prominent geocentrist writer:

the most important fact that is invariably missed by modern biblical exegetes who advocate heliocentrism is that Scripture's phenomenal language (e.g., the "sun rises" or the "sun sets") also applies to the geocentric system. In the geocentric system the sun does not "rise" or "set"; rather, it revolves around the Earth. When the geocentrist sees a beautiful sunset he does not remark: "Oh, what a beautiful revolution of the sun," just as the heliocentrist does not say: "Oh, what a beautiful rotation of the Earth." The geocentrist knows that the sun "rises" or "sets" only with respect to the Earth's horizon, and therefore, reference to a "rising sun" in Scripture is just as phenomenal in the geocentric system as it is in the heliocentric. (Galileo Was Wrong, vol 1, p. 226).

Here the geocentrist seems not to realize that he has actually dismantled the geocentric appeal to Pope Leo XIII's dictum concerning the "literal and obvious sense" of Scripture. By admitting that both "geocentrists" and "heliocentrists" view these passages of Scripture as utilizing phenomenological language, he therefore admits that neither of them take these words in their "literal and obvious" sense. The literal and obvious interpretation of “the sun rises” or “the sun goes down” is that it literally goes up or down, not that it revolves around the earth and so it only appears to go up, or that the earth rotates on its axis so that it only appears to go down. There is nothing “literal and obvious” about taking the phrase “the sun rises” or “the sun goes down” to mean that the sun revolves or that the earth rotates. The words by themselves do not convey either meaning.

So, both “geocentrists” and “heliocentrists” interpret these words in light of what they believe to be the physical motions of various heavenly bodies. And even the geocentrist admits that the words themselves do not convey the details of the underlying physical reality. From the words themselves, one cannot determine which is correct - the sun revolves around the earth or the earth revolves around the sun. That information simply is not there.

A typical geocentrist response might be that some of the passages cited in support of geocentrism contain phenomenological language, but not all of them do. However, an examination of the passages cited reveals that, in fact, they do all employ phenomenological language. Passages like 2 Kings 20:11 and Isa 38:8 describe the movement of the sun’s shadow on a sundial, not the movement of the sun itself. And another prominent passage claimed for geocentrism, Psa 19:5-6, speaks of the sun coming forth from its “tent” and its “rising” - again, admitted above to be phenomenological language. [Please see my Addendum and correction at the end of this essay.]

Both the geocentrist and non-geocentrist agree that these passages are not to be taken literally, but represent the language of appearances, the phenomena that were visible to the observers. But once the geocentrist admits this, he can no longer appeal to these passages as if they literally describe the underlying physical phenomena. And once they no longer literally describe physical phenomena, then no case can be made from them concerning “the essential nature of the things of the visible universe” nor can any claim be made to Leo XIII's dictum concerning the literal sense of Scripture.

But the geocentrist has a ready reply. What, then, of the teaching of Trent, Vatican I, and Leo XIII that we must never interpret Scripture contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers?

At least one geocentrist has fixated exclusively on the words of a selected sentence of the First Vatican Council and claimed that, on that basis, any view expressed by the Fathers, even if they do not cite Scripture, even if they make no indication that it is a matter of faith and morals, falls within the sphere of the “unanimous consent” to which we are bound (see here). It is bad enough that this ignores the previously section of Vatican I that specifically mentions “faith and morals”. But it also ignores the clarification that Pope Leo XIII made when discussing both Trent and Vatican I:

His teaching, and that of other Holy Fathers, is taken up by the Council of the Vatican, which, in renewing the decree of Trent declares its "mind" to be this - that "in things of faith and morals, belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture which has been held and is held by our Holy Mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret Holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the Fathers." (Providentissimus Deus 14; my emphasis).

It is only in matters of faith and morals that the unanimity of the Fathers binds. This is the teaching of Trent, Vatican I, and Leo XIII.

Now, keeping these two points in mind, we progress to Providentissimus Deus 18 where Pope Leo XIII explicitly states that in areas where the writers of sacred Scripture utilize "more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses", the Holy Spirit "did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation"

Therefore, both the appeal to Pope Leo XIII's reference literal sense of the text and the appeal to a supposed unanimous sense of the Fathers fails to establish any obligation on a Catholic to interpret various passage of Scripture in support of geocentrism.

I have already touched upon the events of the seventeenth century in connection with the Galileo case and have explained why I do not believe that even those official ecclesiastical actions constitute a binding of Church to geocentrism as a matter of faith. I hope to return to address some details of those actions in future postings. But to summarize here:

Since 1) it is in matters of faith and morals that the Church exercises her authentic magisterium and 2) it is only on matters of faith and morals that the unanimity of the Fathers may be invoked as binding and 3) Pope Leo XIII and Pius XII made absolutely clear that the Holy Spirit "did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation", therefore it cannot be said that the Church ever taught geocentrism as a matter of faith in her ordinary magisterium. And it is admitted even by the geocentrists that she has never done so in her extraordinary magisterium. Geocentrism is not now, nor has it ever been, a part of the Church’s ordinary magisterium (on this, see also Jeffrey Mirus, Galileo and the Magisterium: a Second Look)

[ Addendum:

It has been pointed out that the specific argument I used in the first edition of this essay with regard to Joshua 10:13—namely, that the sun is said to go “down” demonstrates that the biblical author employed phenomenological language—is incorrect because the Hebrew text does not actually include the word “down”. This is true, but the problem with this counter-argument is that it ignores that the word that is used, bô' (בּוֹא , “enter”), “always means ‘set’ when used of the sun” (A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 285; see Gen 15:12, 17; 28:11; Exod 17:12; Exod 22:26; Lev 22:7; Deut 24:13, 15; Jos 10:13; Judg 14:18; Judg 19:14; 2 Sam 2:24; 3:35; Ecc 1:5; Isa 60:20; Jer 15:9 (figuratively); Amo 8:9; Mic 3:6 (figuratively).  The scholarly Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon defines the word thus, “of sun, set (go in, enter . . .  opposed to יצא go forth, rise)” (my emphasis).

This highlights the phenomenological nature of this language.  In English we speak of the sun “rising” and “setting”.  The ancient Hebrew in both prose and poetry spoke of the sun “going forth” and “going in”.  But “rising”, “setting”, “going forth” and “going in” with respect to what?  With respect to the horizon, of course.  And again, once the horizon is the frame of reference for a description of the sun’s course the geocentrist cannot insist that it describes literal astronomical motions, for even in their own system they would have to admit that the sun does not literally “go forth” from one horizon and “go in” to the other in its continuous orbit around the Earth.  As Bob Sungenis himself has admitted, "The geocentrist knows that the sun 'rises' or 'sets' only with respect to the Earth's horizon, and therefore, reference to a "rising sun" in Scripture is just as phenomenal in the geocentric system as it is in the heliocentric (GWW1, p. 226; emphasis mine).  Well the same exact thing may be said about the Hebrew idiom of speaking of the sun "going forth" and "going in", which also is clearly, "with respect to the Earth's horizon".  This is phenomenological language and as Pope Leo XIII insists, the Holy Spirit did not intend to teach anything about the “essential nature of the things of the physical universe” through the use of such phenomenological language.

In this vein I’d have recourse to another phenomenon that has been enlisted by geocentrists, namely, the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. At Fatima, tens of thousands of people saw this event, as described by journalist Avelino de Almeida: "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people."

Here we have another miracle concerning the sun (and let me note at the outset that I do consider both the Fatima event and the event recorded in the book of Joshua to be miracles). The eyewitnesses indicated that from their vantage point the sun moved. But the fact is that this was not a universal phenomenon. It was a localized apparition. We know this because the only people who saw this phenomenon were those at Fatima and the Holy Father in Rome. No one else in the world reported witnessing this event. But the language used by the witnesses to describe the miracle, by itself, does not tell the reader whether this was a localized apparition or a universal event.

And this is precisely the point I was making in the essay—that is the nature of phenomenological language. To return to the text of Joshua, we can see that were this a localized apparition rather than a universal event the language would be the same. A poster on the Catholic Answers Forum put it well:

(1) If there was a natural explanation, then it wouldn't strictly be a miracle. (2) It certainly was a miracle. (3) In fact I believe it was the same sort of miracle that took place at Fatima.

Note, however, that in neither case is it necessary to assume that either the earth or the sun actually departed in any way from their ordinary motion. Why? Because in neither case were these miracles witnessed by the entire world. The miracle at Fatima was witnessed only by those present at Fatima, and by the Pope in Rome. Not a single other person in the entire world reported seeing the sun dance and fall towards the earth that day, which is a huge indication that the motion of the sun at Fatima was a localized vision, not a true physical displacement. Likewise with the miracle of Joshua: nobody else in the entire world reported seeing the sun stand still (or refuse to rise) for 24 hours. Not a single pagan culture existing in the world at that time recorded that event in their history. You know what that tells me? That Joshua's miracle of sun was a localized apparition, not a true physical cessation of any celestial motion. Now, am I denying that God could have moved the heavenly bodies in such a miraculous manner, if He had so chosen? No, I'm not denying that. I'm simply saying that, even though He could have, it certainly doesn't look like He did. Instead, as usual, He chose to be significantly more subtle. (

Two counter-arguments may be addressed briefly by way of anticipation. First, I anticipate that my reply will elicit yet another exaggerated appeal to a supposed “unanimous consent of the Fathers” on Joshua 10:13. The main thing to keep in mind when discussing this matter of the Fathers viz-a-viz geocentrism is that, as Popes Leo XIII, Pius XII, and John Paul II have made clear, geocentrism is not a matter of faith. Nor is it ever presented as such by any of the Fathers of the Church. The same writer on the Catholic Answers Forum summarizes well:

…providing quotes which prove that the Church Fathers personally held geocentrism (which is all John Salza does) is not the same as providing evidence that they held it to be a a [sic] revealed truth of the Christian faith. In fact, none of the Church Fathers (much less all of them) ever made such a claim. Again, let me point out that when Saint Thomas argues for geocentrism in the Summa, he argues based on the observations of a natural scientist and a pagan: Ptolemy. Not a single Church Father. Not a single passage of Scripture. Ptolemy. Geocentrism is a question for natural science, not a truth of the Catholic faith. (

Second, there are those who claim that various alleged accounts of a "missing day" in certain ancient cultures and even "proven" by NASA. This notion was popularized by one Harry Rimmer in 1936. Rimmer put forward no substantial evidence for his assertions and there as been much written subsequently to undermine his credibility. See here, here, and here, for just a few sources. As for the various accounts brought forth from other cultures, any accounts of an allegedly common event would have to be documented as accurate and shown to present the event as having occurred on exactly the same day, otherwise the "evidence" would be useless to establishing anything more than a local apparition. Suffice to say that if one examines these alleged witnesses closely, it turns out that they are highly variable and conflicting. Thus their combined testimony does nothing to establish the events related by Joshua 10:13 as a global and indeed cosmic event.

As the author of Galileo Was Wrong states:

God’s omnipotence has no limits. There are innumerable ways God can accomplish the task at hand if and when the normal laws which govern the universe are set aside to make room for God’s divine ingenuity (GWW2, p. 66).

That is correct and thus a Catholic is not bound to any specific understanding about how God wrought the miracle related in Joshua 10:13f. But this passage by no means necessarily implies, let alone proves, a geocentric universe. ]


A Cardinal Comes Home

My wife must just look particularly quotable to reporters. This is the second time at a Catholic event that she's been approached by a reporter for comment. The first one was another event at which then-Archbishop Raymond Burke ordained two men to the priesthood in the traditional Roman Rite, the first time that had been done by the prelate of a major See in his own cathedral since the promulgation of the Pauline Rite.

My family got to know Bishop Burke when he was the relatively new bishop of La Crosse, some twelve years ago. We have been privileged to have him as a dinner guest in our home and to interact with him on a number of occasions. The Diocese of La Crosse has a remarkable number of traditional Latin Mass apostolates for such a small diocese. The reason for that is Bishop Burke. Bishops throughout the country are now more and more bold in confronting dissident Catholic politicians in their flocks. The reason for that is Bishop Burke. He has truly been a leader in the episcopate of the Catholic Church. But the funny thing is that he is one of those men who really did not want or seek "higher office". He was simply chosen, essentially against his will. I think that bodes well for what God has planned for him.

We were both disappointed and yet pleased to see him move from La Crosse to become Archbishop of St. Louis. Then we were both disappointed and pleased to see him moved to the Vatican to become the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. But now we are just plain pleased to see him elevated to Cardinal.

The first American Pope? But let us pray that it may be so.

So what did my wife have to say to the media?

Lorene Palm of Westby, who brought her children to attend the Mass, said it was exciting to have a cardinal come from this diocese.

"We're thrilled."

And that about sums it up.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Geo What?

Yes, alas there is a group of Catholics out and about arguing that it is a core part of Catholic teaching that the earth is the immovable center of the universe and that all the other bodies of the universe revolve around the earth.

My own commentary on the matter to date may be found here:

Geocentrism: Not at All an Infallible Dogma of the Catholic Church

The key to that whole commentary is the teaching of the Popes that the Holy Spirit did not put details about the physical universe in sacred Scripture:

There can never, indeed, be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own lines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us, "not to make rash assertions, or to assert what is not known as known."(51) If dissension should arise between them, here is the rule also laid down by St. Augustine, for the theologian: "Whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so."(52) To understand how just is the rule here formulated we must remember, first, that the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Ghost "Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation."(53) Hence they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the sacred writers-as the Angelic Doctor also reminds us - `went by what sensibly appeared,"(54) or put down what God, speaking to men, signified, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to (Providentissimus Deus 18; my emphasis).
This teaching was reiterated by Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu 3. The attempts I have seen to bolster the claim that Leo XIII and Pius XII couldn't really be talking about geocentrism here are ridiculous. Indeed, the apparent motion of the sun with respect to the earth is the classic example of phenomenological language that is, "in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science". Bottom line is that if the Holy Spirit did not put such details in sacred Scripture, it's not a matter of faith.

I am most concerned with the theological implications of holding geocentrism as a matter of faith. As I argue in the article cited at the top of this entry, I believe that it results in a de facto denial of the Catholic Church's indefectibility. But I have examined the proposed scientific evidence for the view and find it implausible, to say the least.

Here are some good sources looking at a variety of aspects of this question:

Geocentrism Disproved: How Newton's Laws Prove the Sun Orbits, by Ken Cole

As the Universe Turns: Is it physically possible for the whole universe to orbit the earth?, by Gary Hoge

Dialogue on the Center of Mass of the Universe: Why the earth can't be the center of mass of the universe, by Gary Hoge

Dialogue on the Center of Mass of the Universe, Part 2: Why the earth can't be the center of mass of the universe, by Gary Hoge

Geocentrism: Was Galileo Wrong? by Dr. Ethan Siegel

Flogging a Pink Unicorn: Why Modern Geocentrism is Intellectual Blancmange, by Dr. Alec MacAndrew

Here is some great commentary by a couple of science-savvy homeschooling moms:

The New Geocentrism
Up-to Date Cosmology
Relative Claims to Absolute Truth
Geocentrism -- where's the physics?
A final note on geocentrism

Also see Dr. Jeff Mirus', Galileo and the Magisterium: a Second Look and Dr. Thomas Lessl's The Galileo Legend and Dave Armstrong's "No One's Perfect": Scientific Errors of Galileo and 16th-17th Century Cosmologies Rescued From Inexplicable Obscurity.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Jewish People in Salvation History

The Catholic Tradition has always seen that there is a place for the Jewish people in salvation history, even after the establishment of the Church by the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Church is indeed the New Israel, but that does not mean that God is simply finished with Israel according to the flesh. I have written on this in several places and wanted to collect those essays in one place:

The Ongoing Role of the Jews in Salvation History

Here's a piece that I co-authored with Michael Forrest for publication in Lay Witness magazine:

All in the Family: Christians, Jews, and God

And here is a response to some criticism that was leveled against that article:

A Response to a Critique of "All in the Family"

Here is another short article co-authored with Michael Forrest responding to some comments by Bishop Cyril Bustros in the wake of the recent Synod of Bishops for the Middle East:

On the Relationship Between the Jewish People and God (the final comment below this article contains some additional detail in response to the feedback we got.)