Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Open Forum 3

Welcome to Barque of Peter's third Open Forum.

As usual, if you want to address something I've written in the last five posts, fire away. If you want to wrangle over doctrine unrelated to anything ever discussed here before, fire away! Whatever's on your mind, state it. And if you just want to use the comments section as a place to discuss things with each other, and leave me out of it altogether--that's great too!

I'll just give three disclaimers:
1st--If this goes well, I'll do them a lot more often!
2nd--I reserve the right to use anything in the comments as fodder for future posts.
3rd--Let everything you say be said in a spirit of charity.

I will say that, sadly, the last two Open Fora haven't been shining examples of the third disclaimer, which really is the only rule. Granted, I'm partly if not mostly to blame. Sometimes my personal friendships with the people who comment most frequently cause some of our discussions to nosedive into the realm of the personal rather than the objective topics being discussed. Let's try to keep that from happening this time around--and I'm saying that to myself as much as to anyone else.

Finally, just a note about Barque's new look. The background image is a painting of one of St. John Bosco's visions. In his vision he saw a boat (the Barque of Peter) helmed by the pope, with bishops and cardinals round about. The sea is stormy and enemy ships are attacking the boat with traditional weapons, obviously, but also with books and pamphlets and other propaganda. The pope begins to steer the boat towards two columns rising out of the sea--the tallest one is surmounted by the Eucharistic Host, with the inscription Salus Credentium, or "Salvation of the Faithful"; while the smaller one has Mary on top, and the inscription Auxilium Christianorum, or "Help of Christians", below her.

Before the pope can reach the columns, he is mortally wounded, and many fear he is dead, but immediately he gets back up and continues toward the columns. A little while later, he again falls, this time certainly dead. The whole world around the Boat cheers at his death, but almost before they can even bury him, a new pope has been elected. This pope guides the ship the rest of the way to the columns, anchoring the bow to the Eucharistic Pillar and the stern to the Marian one. Immediately, the stormy sea becomes calm, and the enemy vessels break off their attack, and peace settles on the Church.

St. John Bosco had this dream in 1862. There are many, including myself, who see that it is being fulfilled in our own time, beginning with the reign of John Paul the Great, who, as Pope, had an assassination attempt on his life, from which he recovered (much like the pope in the dream). Later, when he did die, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, our current Holy Father, was elected within 8 days of John Paul II's death, which is a remarkably short period of time for a papal election--again, as indicated in the vision. Further it seems that Pope John Paul II made great strides in steering the Barque of Peter, the Church, toward the two columns of the Eucharist and Mary, dedicating the year from October 2002-2003 as the Year of the Rosary, and October 2004-2005 as the Year of the Eucharist. Pope Benedict continues to lead us there, especially with his allowance of Latin Mass on request, rather than by special permission of the bishop, and the healing of the schism between the Church and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) which had split over this issue. Meanwhile, the world about us continues to persecute Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular--many times with physical force, but seemingly in the past few years, with books and pamphlets, such as The Da Vinci Code, The God Delusion, and other militantly atheistic, gnostic, new age, or otherwise anti-Catholic and anti-religious propaganda.

It was based on this dream of St. John Bosco that I originally named this blog Barque of Peter. Up until now I didn't have the computer-savviness to trick it out as I have now, but hey, I'm learning. Hence the motif of the painting, with the two Columns in the outer margins. Read the entire text of the vision here. For more thoughts on St. John Bosco's vision, see here and here.

Anyway, the blog image works best on a screen resolution of 1024x768. If you have any suggestions for aesthetics, here's a good place to let me know as well.

God bless and Happy Easter.
He Is Risen Indeed!

(Category: Miscellaneous: Open Fora)


Christopher said...

Oh, goody! Another Open Forum. I like open forums.

I have a couple of questions: what is the value in catholicity? And why do you suppose Catholicism thinks it can only be achieved via Roman Catholicism?

Or, to frame the questions differently: why does the Roman Catholic Church insist that Christian social and doctrinal solidarity can only happen under the Roman Catholic banner?

Gregory said...

Interesting questions, Chris. In order to answer them adequately, however, you might need to define "catholicity" and "solidarity." I know for myself what those terms might mean, but you might have a rather different understanding of the terms, much like we apparently have a much different understanding of the term "institution".

Case in point: as far as catholicity is concerned, depending on your definition of the term, I would say that either the Church does not, in fact, think it could only, or best, or even find it desirable to be, achieved by the Catholic Church; or, on the other hand, the Catholic Church would say catholicity is only achievable by the Catholic Church since the Catholic Church is the definition of catholicity.

Thus, a definition of your terms would be most helpful to productive dialogue.

Christopher said...


I see your critique, and I raise you an answer!

By catholicity, I mean 'that philosophical ideal that denotes wholeness, ecumenicity, and purity without deviation.' By solidarity, I mean 'unity in the social and doctrinal trajectory and reality of the church.'

I hope that helps you with any possible answers you may have to my questions. Also, when you do answer, I will probably have more questions, and/or some criticisms/critiques (since I'm a remorselessly opinionated individual). None of my thoughts are a personal attack against you, but simply the musings of a less-than-perfect mind.

Gregory said...

Hey Chris,
I'm not entirely sure that your definition of "catholicity" was entirely helpful, since the terms denoted in your definition are also subject to some interpretation--particularly "ecumenicity".

However, lest I be accused of stalling or avoiding the issue, I'll attempt an answer anyway, trusting that you are, indeed, asking sincerely. I hadn't automatically assumed you were attacking me at all. Now, let's see what I can offer in response to your questions. My answers might surprise you.

Chris asked:what is the value in catholicity? By catholicity, I mean 'that philosophical ideal that denotes wholeness, ecumenicity, and purity without deviation.'The answer to your first question seems to me to be rather multi-layered, due mainly to your provided definition.

First of all, the value of catholicity as a "philosophical ideal" is simply that it provides a goal to aim for. If there are no philosophical ideals, then there are no calls to something greater. Either that is because there is nothing greater (as such, there are no philosophical ideals in Heaven, since all ideals there are realised (provided that those ideals are indeed ideal). However, that is definitely not the case for us here on earth. The alternative, then, is that there is no vision--and as Proverbs warns us, "For lack of vision, the people perish" (Prov 29:18). Thus the ideal, the vision, is a good thing to hang on to and pursue--provided the ideal is properly oriented to the things of God.

Hence we come to the next layer of your question: Is catholicity such an ideal? For that, we must look at the three parts of your definition:

First, Wholeness. It seems to me that wholeness as an aspect of catholicity is obviously ideal and oriented toward to the things of God--in particular, His design for creation, especially as it images Himself. God is indivisibly whole, and so His creation--particularly mankind, His own image--should ideally possess something of that wholeness (though, admittedly, not in the same way). A body is designed to function according to all its parts working together. A man without an arm is incomplete and handicapped. He cannot function in the same way as a man with two arms. He is not whole.

Wholeness goes beyond simple physical attributes. A man suffering from some sort of psychogical or mental problem is just as "unwhole" as the man with one arm--though the second man's lack is not physical (necessarily). Since man is a composite of physical and spiritual natures, it is only when they each are whole and together are whole that a man is whole. Whatever detracts from that wholeness, be it sickness, handicap, sin, or death, denies the wholeness which is his ideal state. It is true that perfect wholeness will only come at the Resurrection of the Body, but even now there are degrees of lack--and the ideal here and now is to minimise that lack.

One profound way in which man is lacking in wholeness is in the social dimension of life. For, as John Donne put it, "No man is an island, entire unto himself." We are created for relationship. Hence, any definition of wholeness must include that relational aspect. This is why St. Paul describes the Church in terms of a Body, because the relational aspect of a person is precisely how he fits into and contributes to the well-being of others, and vice versa. As Paul says, when one part of the body suffers, all suffer together. Thus it is that Wholeness is definitely an ideal to strive after.

Second, Ecumenicity. As I mentioned above, ecumenicity is a term over which there could be some disagreement in interpretation. As such, I will offer a response based on my interpretation of the term. If you interpret it differently, feel free to correct my understanding of your question, and I'll revisit this aspect.

"Ecumenicity" is defined as "being united" at, "especially as pertains to the Ecumenical Movement." The Ecumenical Movement, being a Protestant movement of the 1800s attempting to achieve Christian unity through non-denominationalism, doesn't seem to apply much to our question of "catholicity" especially as we will go on to examine whether the Catholic Church is best suited to achieve "catholicity" in terms of "ecumenicity." If we take the term to mean what states it as, we must say that wholeheartedly, the Catholic Church is not best suited to achieve non-denominational Protestant unity.

However, if we look at the root of "ecumenicity", we find "ecumenic", which comes from the Latin "oecumenicus: belonging to the whole inhabited world", which is from the Greek "oikein: to inhabit, and -ikos: -ic, pertaining to."

Thus, "Catholicity" is in part the philosophical ideal of, in James Joyce's words, "here comes everybody!" This ideal of wholeness, for everybody, is again something well oriented to God who "so loved the whole world."

Third, Purity without deviation.

It could be that "without deviation" applies to the whole three part philosophical ideal, and not simply to purity. It could also be that "without deviation" was a fourth element of "catholicity". I'm not sure based on the construction of your sentence. Clarification here again would be helpful.

As to Purity, since it is the "pure in heart" who will see God, it should be again very self-explanitory that purity as an ideal is well oriented to the things of God, and thus is a genuine ideal to seek after. What purity entails might be a bit more hazy. It seems to me that purity is, in essence, freedom from sin. Since none of us are, really, free from sin, we again must strive for that ideal through some means or another. In fact, we can often be so trapped in our sin that, as the Prophet warned, we may even call evil good, and good evil. In our sin, we are separated from God, and do not, in fact, see Him or know Him, and we often fail to correctly discern what is or is not sinful. This is why purity without deviation is an essential element of the ideal of catholicity. If deviation is permitted, then we continue to not know--or at least not be certain of--what is sinful and what is pure. Deviation itself is not something that is of God, for as St. James tells us, "with Him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change" (Jas 1:17). Hence, deviation is not of God, and thus is not an ideal to be sought after. If catholicity is to be an ideal, and thus have value, there can be no deviation within it.

Thus, Catholicity is the wholeness of man, in every aspect of his life--physical, mental, spiritual, and social; which is available and embracing of everybody; and achieved by striving for sure and stable purity. As such, this philosophical ideal, as you have defined it, is without a doubt of great value, as the outworking of it, if it were to be achieved and practice, would be peace, health, and union with God and each other.

Thus is my answer to your first question.

Gregory said...

Chris asked:And why do you suppose Catholicism thinks it can only be achieved via Roman Catholicism?I would heartily deny that Catholicism--that is, the Holy Catholic Church--thinks that the above defined ideal of catholicity can only be achieved via Roman Catholicism--that is, the particular expression of the Holy Catholic Church contained in the Latin Rite. The other 20-odd Rites of the Catholic Church would contend that they are just as able to promote catholicity as the Latin Rite.

Chris asked:Or, to frame the questions differently: why does the Roman Catholic Church insist that Christian social and doctrinal solidarity can only happen under the Roman Catholic banner?Again, I would contend that it does not. That said, I am sure that, your basic misunderstanding aside, you wonder why catholicity is perceived by the Catholic Church to be her particular domain.

Now, you have asked the question two different ways--the first, asking my opinion of it, and the second, asking the Church's own justification for it. I am not entirely sure that I am qualified to answer for the entirety of the Church's own justification, but I can freely submit my own opinion, especially in light of our conversation so far. I'm sure our upcoming debate will dive deeper into the Church's own view of it.

Let us look again at our definition and explanation of catholicity in light of our current question and see if we can't discern who is or is not most capable of satisfying each of these conditions.

First, Wholeness:
Since Mankind is God's creation and very image, and since, through the fall, that image has been effaced, mankind, separated from intimate union with God suffers lack. He is not whole. It is only thus through reunion with God that man can be whole. Thus our first principle--that wholeness comes from union with God--excludes all atheistic attempts at wholeness, ipso facto. That of course remains the case so long as our fundamental assumptions, a) there is a God, b) all ideals are ideal precisely because they are oriented to God, and c) that wholeness is only possible when it includes unity with God, remained unchallenged. Since we are both Christians, I believe we can skip merrily past that question.

Further, since wholeness as an ideal is dependent upon God's own wholeness, we can discount from possible satisfactory sources of catholicity, all religions that do not view God to be whole. This, to my mind, excludes polytheism, since the attributes of God which contribute to His wholeness are in polytheistic religions divided up among separate entities. Thus, the god of love is different from the god of wisdom. Further to this, one cannot be united to the Whole God and achieve wholeness, when one cannot be certain which god he should unite with.

We are then left with the monotheistic religions which can even begin to satisfy the human need for wholeness.

Islam, however, denies the possibility of union with God, who is wholly transcendent and independent. The only branches of Islam who even approach a concept of unity with God does so at the expense of the person--that is, the closer a person comes to union with God, the more his own person-ness is annihilated. This, it seems to me, would be the opposite of "wholeness."

Judaism and Christianity, both of which positively affirm a type of union with and relationship with God, are then the only ones with even a hope of providing wholeness. Yet, ancient Judaism, with the Temple and sacrifices, could only provide tentative and tenuous union with God, rather than the fullness of it--typified by the Temple Veil. With the Temple destroyed, modern Judaism at best can hope for the forgiveness of sins and union with God despite the absence of the covenantal sacrifices.

Finally, Christianity is defined by its belief in the possibility of union with God, and yet, in such a way that fulfils our wholeness, rather than annihilating our personhood. Moreover, Christianity teaches how God, who desired this union which had been lost, came down to us in order to repair it. And yet, His mission, achieved in Jesus, the God-Man, was not simply to atone for our sins, but, out of compassion for us, He healed diseases and handicaps, and cast out demons, demonstrating His concern for the entire human person. He then gave this instruction and grace to His followers to perpetuate the graces of holistic healing and ministry in the Church.

This wholeness is most readily demonstrated, and available, through the Sacraments which Jesus gave to the Church: Baptism, to wash away sins, and bring us into the covenant with God and the Church; Confirmation, to bestow the Holy Spirit in His completeness upon the person, and confirm their commitment to God and His people, the Church; Confession, to bring forgiveness when we have sinned, and grace to resist sin in the future; Anointing of the sick, to bring physical and emotional and psychological healing; Matrimony, to unite people in loving covenants to typify and example Christ's love to the Church, and to form the foundations of social wholeness in the world; and Holy Orders, to give the presence and authority of Christ to the Church, to administer all these other sacrifices, and to proclaim the truth of God's love. But most importantly, Christ gave us Himself in the ultimate Sacrament, the Eucharist--in which we experience the epitome of union with Christ as He enters into us when we receive Him, and we are transformed more and more into His image and likeness through this union.

Thus it is that we can exclude from contenders for catholicity all those Christian groups who deny these graces of wholeness given by Christ Himself to the Church--especially that greatest gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Second, Ecumenicity.

When it comes to answering the question based on our understanding of ecumenicity, it seems that we end up covering much of the same grounds as in wholeness. In fact, suitable to the notion of ecumenicity itself, a wider range of religions fit the criteria. In fact, it would be only those religions that touted an elitist type of ideal that would not fall under our category. Thus, Gnosticism, various tribal religions and the very notion of tribal religion, the New Age movement in its tendencies towards elitism, and secret cults and societies such as Freemasonry, the Illuminati, etc., would obviously not be included.

Since many other groups have already been eliminated in our discussion on Wholeness, we can perhaps skip on forward to Christianity.

That said, there is a practical dimension to the notion of ecumenicity as understood above, that could further limit contenders to the ideal of catholicity. However, this area becomes somewhat subjective. While many Christian denominations would "officially" welcome everyone, there is often a very specific cultural bent to the very makeup of particular denominations. Some denominations only exist in one country, for example, or are geared only toward one ethnicity. It is, then, only denominations that have demonstrated an open acceptance of all peoples into their ranks which could be considered ecumenical.

Finally, Purity.

Since all religions claim to proclaim the truth, and since all of them disagree as to what that truth is, we can see right away that not all can be equal contenders to catholicity. Since competing, contradictory views cannot all be right (though they could all be wrong), purity obviously takes on great importance. Now, obviously, moral purity--that is, sinlessness--cannot categorically be applied to a religion in the sense of "the truly catholic religion would be that in which none of its members are sinful", since a) practically all people are sinful, and b) a church with only morally pure members could not then at the same time be ecumenical, that is, embracing of everyone and inviting new members. Thus, for purity to be a valid characteristic of catholicity must not mean that its membership is entirely pure, but that its beliefs, teachings, practices, and rules must promote such purity and aid in its achievement.

Now, if purity then is freedom from sin, and the truly catholic religion is to aid one in freedom from sin, and since it is a sin to worship false gods, then it is clear that the truly catholic religion must direct persons toward the worship of the true God. Who that true God is is well beyond the scope of the argument here, and again, since we are both Christians, we can agree that it is the Triune God of the Christians.

Now, obviously, the truly catholic Church, directing people to God through purity, would also need to be able to say with clarity and precision what entails moral purity. This would be both in regard to correct worship and relation to God, and correct relation to others. Since these truths of right and wrong are unchanging absolutes, the truly catholic Church would not change on such moral issues, but maintain a constant teaching about them. It would not cave in from pressures from cultures that glorify one particular form of sin or another at any given era, but stand firm in the face of all resistance, knowing that this purity would be essential to that right relationship with God which is its focus. Thus, any Christian denomination that has changed its doctrinal positions on faith or morality, saying that what was once true is now false, and what was once false is now true, or that what once was sinful is now permissible, or what was permissible is now sinful, cannot be a contender for the title of "catholic." This again is why purity must be without deviation.

Further, it seems to me that the truly catholic Church would be able to further a person's quest toward purity in tangible ways, by granting remission from sins and spurring one on to holiness, in order to make its members pure.

Finally, the truly catholic Church, in that case, would be able to point to particular members as those who, having been obedient to it and through it to God, were actually pure or made pure--and as such, their connection to the Church--discussed in our section on Wholeness--actually makes the Church herself pure.

Now, while all religions, and more especially, all forms of Christianity, satisfy one or two, or in a limited way, all three, of these qualifications of catholicity, there is none which satisfies them completely the way that the Holy Catholic Church has throughout the ages, and continues to do so today.

Through community, works of charity, and especially through the graces bestowed through the Sacraments, the Catholic Church truly strives for the ideal of wholeness.
Through its universal acceptance of all peoples and its constant insistance that the Gospel is for everyone, rich, poor, weak, strong, as many as will receive it, all over the world, it truly is ecumenical. As James Joyce said, "Catholicism means: here comes everybody."
Through its constant proclamation and unchanging stance on moral and doctrinal truths, always ready to stand against everybody, if needs be, to proclaim the gospel and the right way to live it, the Church demonstrates its undeviating commitment to purity, helping us to achieve it through the Gospel and the Sacraments, safeguarded by its gift of infallibility, and able to point to thousands who throughout the ages have lived the Gospel so completely as to have been made pure--demonstrating this purity through miracles from heaven. Most notably of all these saints is the Virgin Mary herself, who, as a type of the Church, was kept completely pure and free from sin, and so her purity, or rather, Christ's purity in and through her, literally makes the Catholic Church pure.

Thus is my answer to your other questions. The short answer. I'm sure you'll have more questions desiring to flesh it out.

I'll just say for the record, though, that I greatly desire to finish my Rosary series by Pentecost. So I'll be paying more attention to it than to the Open Forum, so it may take somewhat longer for me to reply to your questions.

Still looking forward to our debate. Brandy agreed to moderate if her boyfriend can help (he's a Mennonite pastor).

God bless

Anonymous said...

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Sorry for offtopic

Anonymous said...

I would like too take time too thank the active members for doing what you do and making the community what it is im a long time reader and first time poster so i just wanted to say thanks.

Gregory said...

Dear anonymous(es),
You're very welcome. Sorry that I haven't updated in a while. Christmas has been busy and friends of mine were just married on the weekend, a wedding at which I was quite involved. Hopefully my life (and posting schedule) should get back to normal now.

Kane Augustus said...

Yeah, here's to hoping you get going with your posting and response schedule again. You've got a lot to answer, and I've issued some challenges to Catholicism on my own blog. I'd like to hear your perspective on the issues -- but not on me. ;)

Anonymous said...

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

The words of Epicurus ring still in my mind. My question is: how does the Catholic Church counter this?


...I do hope I've found the right forum...

Gregory said...

Dear Anonymous,
You have indeed found the "right" forum. Indeed, any of the four open forums here would have been appropriate, as well as any of the Open Forums that I host over at Doubting Thomist. Either way, no matter where on either of my blogs you post a comment, it's automatically emailed to me, so I'll always get it, so never fear :)

Before I answer your question, I'd simply ask one in return--more of a favour, really. That's simply to provide a name when you comment. A multiplicity of "Anonymouses" is a bit annoying. It doesn't even have to be your real name if you choose. Just something by which to address you, y'know?


Anyway, on to Epicurus. Just so you are aware, I've been planning to write an article on this quote for a while (either after I get a bunch of other stuff written here, or else more likely over at Doubting Thomist) so this reply will likely become a good bit of source material for that post.

Off the cuff, I'll reply with two succinct answers, and then elaborate. My first reply is that Epicurus' argument is actually nothing more than sophistry. (Sophistry: a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.) That is, the argument is ingeniously phrased as to appear to cover all the bases, but it makes a deceptive move in plainly ignoring various other alternatives. It is equally deceptive in that, if it does indeed originate from Epicurus, he himself believed in gods. Hence, to formulate an argument against one's own beliefs is either for the purpose of dialogue or deception. The Trilemmic formulation of the riddle doesn't tend to allow for dialogue--especially as it is used today by the "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins. As such, I tend to view it as sophistry.

Of course, simply saying the argument is sophistry isn't quite effective enough to reassure those who face it that it is nothing about which to worry. So we'll move on to my second short answer, and build from there.

As I mentioned, despite the ingenious formulation of Epicurus' argument, in that it appears to cover all the angles, there are many assumptions being made throughout that should themselves be questioned. St. Augustine, the great early Christian theologian, addressed the problem of suffering point blank when he wrote, "Almighty God would not permit evil to exist in his works, unless he were so almighty and so good to produce good even from evil" (Enchir. ii).

That, in a nutshell, is the Catholic Church's response to the problem of evil. But let's take a moment to crack that nut, shall we?

Gregory said...

The problem with our culture and society today is that as a whole we seem to suffer from collective Attention Deficit Disorder. We want our deepest questions answered before the popcorn stops popping in the microwave. But as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in response to why a loving and omnipotent God would permit evil, "To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil." (p. 309). For some reason, people today take such an answer as being evasive. This is another sophistry, masking the individual person's laziness in actually exploring just what the message of Christianity is.

In paragraph 324, the Catechism sums up by referring to St. Augustine's teaching that while we cannot fully understand why God allows evil, we can in faith be assured that He only does so to bring about a greater good.

So saying leads us to another element that Epicurus' riddle fails to address. He covers God being all-powerful and God being loving, but he fails to mention God's omniscience, His wisdom, nor any other aspect of His infinity.

The fact is, an all-powerful and good God would indeed bring about an end to evil. The ultimate sophistry in Epicurus' riddle is assuming that he knows better than the all-knowing God how to be rid of evil. In fact, Epicurus, and all who repeat his riddle, assume that he, and they, know better than God what actually is evil.

Of course, the fatal error in their questioning lies here: If the existence of evil demonstrates the non-existence of God, then the non-existence of God means that the world is simply the result of random chance, without design or intelligible order. The metaphysical categories of "good" and "evil" have no meaning in such a randomly constructed and meaningless universe--it simply is what it is. Now, if the universe simply is what it is, and good and evil have no objective criteria defining them, then it is impossible to determine what Good and Evil are, or even if they are. As such, "Evil" can not be proffered as an argument against the existence of God, because evil itself ceases to exist.

In other words, if there is something identifiable as "evil", that is, a deprivation of some good, then there must be an order, a meaning, a standard defining that the world ought to be a particular way. That is to say, if we can determine that the world is wrong, then we are at the same time saying there is a design to which the world should adhere. Design, of course, implies a Designer, i.e., God.

Gregory said...

As such, the only way for Epicurus' riddle to be internally consistent would be to redefine "evil" as "What I happen to not like," which, I suppose, according to Epicurean philosophy, might very well be how Epicurus might define "evil."

But then his argument runs thus:

"If God is willing to prevent things from happening which I don't particularly like, but not able, then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able but not willing [to prevent things that I don't like]? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing [to prevent things I don't happen to like]? Then whence come that which I don't happen to like?
If He is neither able nor willing, then why call Him 'the Great Vending Machine in the Sky'?"

Do we see what happens? If there is no objective standard of good or evil (which is the logical consequence of there being no God), then "evil" is simply what irritates me. Now, a great many things irritate me. My job irritates me because I have to do things that I don't want to, and can't do things that I do want to. So God should eliminate my job, because it is evil to me. Of course, no job means no paycheque, which means no food or clothes or housing. So, which should God eliminate next? The need for money for food, clothes, and shelter? Or the need for food, clothes, and shelter? How far do we take it? If we carry this line of thinking--that God should eliminate every evil, pretty soon He will be eliminating everything, because it somehow irritates someone, or He will eliminate everyone, because we're irritating each other or ourselves. If there is no objective standard for good and evil, ultimately, nothing has a right to exist.

I could continue to explore further reasons that bringing the trilemma to its logical conclusions really rather backfires on the person making the argument, but I think you get the point.

So, whence cometh evil? Ironically, it stems from God's Love, and His desire to love and be loved. He created the world and populated it full of rational beings like you and me, so that we could love Him and He us. But love requires a free choice, and so He gave us that choice, to love Him, the source of all goodness, or to reject Him and choose lesser goods instead. Evil, which is a deprivation of some good, results when a good is chosen in a disordered fashion. When, through sin, we choose not to love God, we become disordered in our desires, and this causes evil and suffering, both for ourselves, and for others, and to the world as a whole.

So, can God just "stop" the evil? Yes, but not without eliminating our freedom of choice. If He did so, He would negate the sole purpose of our creation. Since we were created to be free, eliminating our freedom would itself be evil--a deprivation of a good which we possess, or should possess, by our nature. In other words, in order to eliminate evil, God would have to commit a greater evil. As the old adage goes, two wrongs don't make a right.

So then, we're back to St. Augustine. God only permits evil because He's powerful enough to turn it into a greater Good. Our free ability to sin is the exact same things as the good of our free ability to love. And if we're willing to make that choice, then all the other evil, all the other suffering, all the other things we don't particularly happen to like, can actually become vehicles for His Grace to pour out greater good.

Gregory said...

We see this analogically in nature. The very notion of "exercise" bears this out. We want to "feel the burn" because "no pain, no gain." The often uncomfortable and sometimes painful exertion of our muscles leads to greater fitness, health, and strength.

Similarly, the suffocating struggle of the butterfly to emerge from the cocoon is precisely the necessary exercise it needs to be able to fly. The most fertile ground results from forest fires. Or, as Jesus Christ Himself said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

Nowhere is this better realised than in Jesus Himself. I would encourage you to spend some time meditating on the picture at the top of this Open Forum as you reflect on Epicurus' riddle and my response.

The Greatest Good entered the world, and encountered Evil head on. It was precisely through His Suffering that He conquered Evil--not to make it something we never experience, but rather to make our experience of evil something that can be grace-filled, that when we follow Him, and suffer with and through Him, that suffering will bring about greater good in our life, and in the lives of others (see Colossians 1:24).

Of course, the same choice that brought about evil is ours today. Do we choose the lesser good to avoid the suffering, or do we go through the suffering with faith, knowing that God will bring out of it something that we can't even imagine? (c.f. Ephesians 3:20-21.)

"We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good" (Romans 8:28, NJB).

By way of further reading, Robert Colquhoun over at Love Undefiled addresses this issue as well as provides some rational arguments in favour of God's existence in an article he wrote in the wake of the Asian Tsunami of Christmas 2004.

Anyway, I hope that helps answer your question.

God bless

Paul said...


Apologies for the anonymous mishap, I'll refer to myself as Paul from now on.

Thank you for your answer; I must say it gave me some good perspectives, as it was rather in-depth.

After discussing this question in a philosophy course (both the pros and cons), it is very nice indeed to have someone with a knowledge of the Faith talk about it, rather than someone who pretends to know about the Faith talk about it :)

Thanks again, and God Bless,


Gregory said...

Hey Paul,
Glad to make your acquaintance, and I'm even more glad to have been of some help to you.

Perhaps you'd return the favour? I slightly reworked my response to you above into an article of its own over at my other blog, Doubting Thomist, and have received a bit of a challenge from one of my readers, Kane Augustus. If you're so inclined, feel free to pop on over and contribute to the conversation :)

God bless