Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gene Bridges on the Holy Water Debate

Gene Bridges, from Triablogue recently had this to say about my use of Scripture in the holy water debate. I would like to respond to him in full. Hopefully, this can remain a charitable discussion.

Normally, I would reserve comment for after the debate, but given DA has been helping Nick in the Holy Water debate, and that fact that DA has yet to actually, you know, exegete any of the texts in his list of Scriptures allegedly justifying the use of holy water in the NT church, I couldn't resist.
Just to be clear, all of the arguments in the formal debate itself are mine. He has only "helped me" insofar as he defended my opening statement against others (such as yourself) who were commenting on the debate while it was taking place.

Nick writes, responding to TF:
Turretinfan: If we were trying to make unclean spirits clean, sprinkling holy water on them might make sense. But we are not, so it doesn’t. Ritual uncleanness for which the OT prescribed washing is unlike spiritual uncleanness, for which the OT prescribed sacrifice.

Phatcatholic: This is not true. Scripture specifically said that the "water for impurity" was used "for the removal of sin" (Num 19:9).
Nick, please exegete this text. How many times does this have to be asked of you?
Once? As far as I know, this is the only post that has been directed at me. I suppose I could have jumped in while you and Dave were going at it, but my style of debate is a little different than you two so I decided to just stay out of it. Hopefully, since you and I don't have the history that you and Dave do, we can have a more amicable discussion.

Since you don't seem to have bothered, I'll do it for you.

1. This text is dealing with ritual uncleanness. This is not spiritual uncleanness due to sin for which sacrifice was made. Rather this is ritual uncleanness which signifies something greater, sin. That' s the point of the ritual law. Disease, death, etc. are all "unclean" things. They are "unclean" because disease and death are inversions of the created order for mankind. The reason they are present is due to the noetic effects of sin. That's why the water is indexed to the heifer.
I hope you will excuse my ignorance on this point, but I don't understand the distinction you are making between "spiritual uncleanness" and "ritual uncleanness." My understanding is that, if anyone breaks the ritual law on any point, he commits a sin, and sin makes him spiritually unclean. It was a sin to touch a dead animal, or a woman who was going through her period. Sin is a very spiritual matter and it requires a spiritual remedy.

Plus, how many ways are there for someone to actually be unclean? I'm only aware of two: physical and/or spiritual. If you touched a dead animal you were unclean, whether you got a speck of dirt on you or not. When you broke the law on that point it had a spiritual consequence, and of course, the required remedy (the water for impurity) had a spiritual consequence as well.

2. This water in your text is dependent on the ashes of the heifer. Tell us, Nick, why are you selecting this as an example of "holy water," but deselecting the rest of the ritual? Why not sacrifice a red heifer too?
Types, by their very nature, only go so far. I wasn't even using that passage as an explicit example. But, the fact remains that the water in question is holy and it is being used to remove spiritual uncleanliness. That's the only reason why I cited it.

3. From Keil & Delitzch:

The Law concerning Purification from the Uncleanness of Death.—Ch. 19.
Num. 19.In order that a consciousness of the continuance of the [. . .]
Num. 19:2-10a. Preparation of the Purifying Water.—As water is the [. . .]
Num. 19:2ff. The sons of Israel were to bring to Moses a red heifer, [. . .]
Num. 19:3.The sacrifice itself was to be superintended by Eleazar the [. . .]
Num. 19:5, 6. After this (vv. 5, 6), they were to burn the cow, with the [. . .]
Num. 19:7-10a, etc. The persons who took part in this—viz., the priest, [. . .]
Do you expect me to respond to all of that? I guess I can if you really want me to, but I would have rather respond to your own words, instead of a great big copy-and-paste. Also, you seem to be making an argument from authority by utilizing what "Keil & Delitzch" have to say. The problem is, I've never heard of those guys (sorry!) and so their opinion on this matter doesn't really mean a whole lot to me. Finally, do you know what the "shotgun approach" is? It's when you overwhelm someone with a massive amount of information and then, when he/she can't respond to it all (b/c of the undue burden placed upon the person's time and energy) then the person with the shotgun claims the victory. I hope that's not what you are doing here.

Moving on...
Thank you!!

Turretinfan: It has not been established that “Holy Water” is, in fact, holy.

Phatcatholic: There's holy water in Scripture (cf. Exo 23:25; Num 5:17; 19:9,13-20; 2 Ki 2:19-22).
Of course, Nick, you never exegeted those texts. I realize you had a word limit, however, so I am willing to extend charity to you in that regard. Now would be a good time for you to exegete these texts as well. Thus far your reasoning seems to be "Look for examples of water being used, assume these are examples of "holy water."
You are right, the word-limit severely hampered me. I thank you for understanding that.

Now, you'll notice that tfan is rejecting the very notion that water can even be made holy. I am showing him, with those passages, that he is wrong. Water can in fact be made holy, and it is in that limited sense that it is thus "holy water." I'm not saying that it is "holy water" in the developed sense, as in "water that is blessed by a Catholic priest." Those passages are merely examples of water that was made holy, and/or water that was used in the same way that "holy water" (in the developed sense) is used today. Basically, the passages in question provide the principles that inform the practice, which, if you'll read the introduction to my opening statement, is all I ever set out to provide. I think that when Dave posted my opening statement on his blog, he may have caused some confusion regarding my use of Scripture when he did not include that introduction. Hopefully, we can resolve this.

If you read the passages, water is definitely being made holy and is being used as holy water is used. God blessed the water (cf. Exo 23:25); the priest took "holy water" (Num 5:17); the "water for impurity" is used to remove sin and uncleanliness (cf. Num 19:9,13-20); Elisha makes the water "healed" [KJV], "purified" [NAS], or "wholesome" [RSV] (cf. 2 Ki 2:19-22). These examples contradict tfan's implication that water cannot be made holy.

Turretinfan: PC says that he is not willing to take John Paul Perrin’s word for the fact that the use of holy water against demons was simply a medieval superstition. Perrin however, documented his claim with an appeal to a Roman Catholic doctor (physician) who testified to that fact.

Phatcatholic: Physicians do not have authority in theological matters.
In that case, you as a Catholic layperson have no authority in theological matters either, so you have thereby defaulted the debate. You've also just "excommunicated" Dr. Art Sippo from the realm of Catholic apologetics. That's a real timesaver.
The difference is that I base the legitimacy of my position upon the soundness of my argumentation, not upon my reputation or the status I have in the Church. In other words, nothing is ever right simply b/c I say so. Instead, it is right b/c of the evidence and the argumentation that I provide.

However, I'm simply supposed to believe that water is superstitious b/c some unnamed doctor a long time ago told Perrin that there were many superstitions among the people in medieval times? I mean, give me a break! Tfan wants me to simply take this guy's word for it. That's an argument from authority, and if you're going to make an argument like that, then you have to make sure the person you are citing is an actual authority.

a. Nick, TF is not citing a physician's testimony as an authority on "theology." Rather, he is citing him as an authority on history. Does one have to be a theologian to cite history?
No, but if you are going to use someone as an authority on history (which you just said tfan is doing here), then the person better actually be an authority on history! I dare say neither Perrin nor the doctor he talked to are authorities on this matter

b. This is also rhetorical shorthand to keep you from interacting with the material cited in that text. A word to the wise: you should sometimes let some items pass by in concluding a debate. Choose your battles well. If you can't mount an actual argument, don't mount it. Rather, your time would be better spent elsewhere, like, for example, exegeting the Scriptures you cite.
I don't engage in "rhetorical shorthand." I don't play tricks and I don't dodge anything. The sentence I provided pretty much said everything I wanted to say about that. But, you are right about me trying to do too much with my concluding statement. I have yet to master the art of working well within a defined word limit. Thank you for the advice.

Pax Christi,

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