If the heading above sounds like a silly question, it’s because it is. But it’s one being raised by TurretinFan in his Christmas day assault on Bishop Olmsted’s good name. I became involved in the debate somewhat against my will. TF linked to this post, saying (in part):
I was also struck by the fact that the bishop’s stated identity was not Christ alone, but “Christ and the Church.” What he considers to be faithfulness to Christ is faithfulness to the rules of his church. However, in following the rules of his church, he’s not following God’s law. I’m not simply talking about his failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case, but about the fact that he offers worship (hyper-dulia) to Mary, engages in idolatry (in the latria of what is truly bread), and seeks to be right with God (evidently) through faithfulness rather than by faith.
There’s a lot of spurious accusations rolled into that. A few responses off-hand:
- TF seems to suggest that we should identify with Christ alone, not Christ and His Church. This is an attempt to tear asunder what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6) since the Church is the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, and is completely One with Him (Ephesians 5:25-32; Genesis 2:24). Scripture never pits faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the Church as against one another, but instead, depicts all those faithful to God as children of Mother Church (Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Cyprian writes, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” We can argue about what having the Church as Mother looks like, but there can be no question that the Church is indispensable to salvation. Even Calvin taught as much in Book IV, Chapter 1 of Institutes. So just as we can’t have the Father and not the Son (1 John 2:23), we can’t have Christ and not His Body and His Bride, the Church.
- TF recognizes, in using the Greek terms, that what’s offered to Mary is the highest form of honor (hyper-dulia), not worship (latria), yet he still calls it worship in English. Suffice to say that the honor given to Mary isn’t anything like worshiping the Eucharist, which we do, but is much more like honoring Father Abraham, which Scripture clearly does, or depicting Mary as a mortal Woman made Queen of Heaven by the Grace of God (Rev. 11:19-12:5).
- In attacking as idolatry those of us who worship the Eucharist, TF is being consistent. But he’s also saying – in effect – that no one from the time of Ignatius of Antioch (the first century student of the Apostle John) to about the eleventh century was Christian. The reason’s simple: while there’s debate amongst Christians about what the Bible means in its strongly Eucharistic passages, there’s no serious debate that the early Christians believed the Eucharist was not “truly bread,” but the True Bread from Heaven, Christ (John 6:32). I don’t see a way to reject the Eucharist as idolatry without saying that the gates of Hell overcame the Church almost immediately after the death of Christ. And if you concede that point, there’s not a particularly strong reason to believe that a mentally-tortured Catholic monk like Luther was able to single-handedly resurrect Christ’s Church (without explicitly called told to by Christ). So there’s not really any reason to think Christianity exists today. If we could all be wrong for a thousand years, why not two thousand? More fundamentally, it throws into serious question the promises of Christ in John 14, John 16, Matthew 16:17-19, and Matthew 28:20 to safeguard and lead the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding Her in all truth until the end of time.
- TF distinguishes between “faith” and “faithfulness,” but apparently not in the way that Scripture does. Faithfulness is living by faith, and to believe, but not act on that belief is worthless (James 2; 1 Cor. 13:2). But that doesn’t mean that actions alone are worth anything. The distinction is easily made. Christ sends the blind man in John 9:7 to wash out his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. The man is saved by faith in “blindly” going where he’s sent by Christ. Had he simply believed Christ could do it, but refused to get off his duff to get to Siloam, he’d have stayed blind. James 2:20 calls that sort of faith worthless. Conversely, had he gone every morning to the Pool of Siloam because he liked the pool, or because he was superstitious and thought the pool was magical, or any other reason apart from Christ, he would have stayed blind as well. That’s the legalism of the Pharisees: rote actions without faith. The waters themselves weren’t what healed him, but his active faith. I explored this in greater depth using Luke 17 here, so I won’t belabor the point, except to say that the reason Bishop Olmsted does the things he does is out of love of, and obedience to, God. He says so himself, and there’s no reason to think he’s lying.
Finally, TF makes the bizarre claim that abortion was, in this instance, self-defense. First, he characterizes what happened as Bishop Olmsted’s “decision to remove the ‘Catholic’ designation from St. Joseph’s hospital because it took the life of a child in defense of the life of the child’s mother.” Then there was that reference above to Olmsted’s alleged “failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case,” suggesting a grave misunderstanding of what self-defense is. When a commenter notes the obvious (that a helpless fetus isn’t an assailant, so pleading self-defense doesn’t make any sense), TF responds:
The baby was killing the mother. I don’t suppose the baby intended to kill the mother. I’m not sure how you got “unjust aggressor.” Nor do I think that the baby needs to be “guilty” in order for the baby to [kill] his mother. If the defense of the mother justifies the use of lethal force, then there is no doing of evil involved.
The implications of this are extensive and dangerous, and totally incompatible with Christianity.
St. Thomas Aquinas answers this really clearly in the Summa, that it’s lawful to kill in self-defense against an assailant (so long as the action is done to stop the person from killing you, and not because you want them dead), but it’s never lawful to intentionally kill an innocent person. (Article 6 and 7 here). The same is the rule under secular law: the legal defense of “justification” or self-defense is permissible only if it’s against a person using (or about to use) deadly force against you. New York’s laws are pretty typical here.
These rules are totally consistent with Scripture. Exodus 20:13 is a total bar to murder, the intentional taking of innocent life, yet Exodus 22:2 permitted the killing of a thief in the night without guilt. It’s not repealing or even modifying the Ten Commandments: it’s just explaining that killing a thief in the night isn’t murder. Even here, you could not kill a thief who broke in during the day (Ex. 22:3), since you presumably had other options (you could see well enough to strike a non-fatal blow, or call for immediate help, or just get out of the house). So we see both of Aquinas’ factors: first, it has to be a wrong-doer, and second, the principle of double-effect applies.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s important that self-defense doesn’t permit murder. Just consider the implications:
- A madman threatens to kill you if you don’t kill a group of schoolchildren. Can you kill them as “self-defense,” since not killing them would result in your death?
- You’re dying of kidney failure, and only one other person in your area is a perfect match. Can you kill him to take their kidney? Again, if you don’t kill them, you’ll die.
- You’re on a lifeboat, and there’s not enough food for all of you to live. Can you some or all of the others to ensure your own survival?
- A wolf is chasing you and your much-slower child. Can you kill your kid and lay his body out as bait to ensure that at least you survive? Is that “self-defense”?
In all of the above, the obvious answer, whether you’re religious or not (but especially if you’re a Christian) is no. But if you were to accept TurretinFan’s argument that you can kill anyone who gets in the way of your ability to stay alive at all costs, it’d be hard to avoid acknowledging the above as legitimate “self-defense.” At this point, of course, we’re no longer talking about what Christians mean by self-defense at all, but something warped and disturbing instead. You’ll find no reflection of this moral philosophy anywhere in Sacred Writ or any other orthodox Christian writings.
I know that there are some of you trying to distinguish the cases I mentioned above from killing a baby in “self-defense.” Perhaps you’re thinking, “But won’t the baby die anyways?” But that question is literally irrelevant for the issue of self-defense. You don’t consider whether the assailant would die otherwise, nor do you count the number of victims. If a gang of twenty people were trying to kill you, the doctrine of self-defense would theoretically permit you to kill all twenty. But if a dying old woman is in your way as you flee a burning house, you can’t purposely kill her to ensure that you get to freedom.
Given a number of factors, I don’t think TF is very well-informed on the subject of either Olmsted or the moral theology of self-defense. On the question of self-defense, that’s obvious enough: he’s articulating a half-formed moral theology with obviously-evil implications. But on the question of Bishop Olmsted, it’s more subtle. First, there’s the way he describes Bp. Olmsted as nervous and seemingly defensive. I’ll let the reader/viewer decide, but I think what TF sees as defensiveness and nervousness are just Olmsted’s normal mannerisms, as you can see from other videos in which he speaks publicly, like this one.
Much more importantly, he gets wrong why St. Joseph’s is losing its accreditation as a Catholic hospital. The reason that St. Joseph’s is being stripped of its title as a Catholic hospital is not only because it does something that the Catholic Church abhors as a mortal sin which incurs automatic excommunication (intentionally killing an unborn baby), but because it also refused Olmsted’s subsequent attempts at gaining transparency, to ensure that they weren’t violating Church teaching in other areas (it’s not a crazy idea that a “Catholic” hospital acting as an abortion clinic might also be doing things like performing sterilizations and giving out contraception, particularly since the “Catholic” healthcare group owning it also has significant interests in secular hospitals which do those things). When St. Joseph’s Hospital refused to either follow Catholic teachings or submit to the Catholic hierarchy, it was stripped of its title Catholic. This wasn’t a case where the hospital found itself in a morally gray area, made the wrong decision, and was immediately and mercilessly thrown out. This is the culmination of years of open rebellion, where a hospital refusing to be Catholic was finally told, in effect, “You win. You’re not Catholic.” It’s no more offensive than my telling Turretin Fan: you’re not a Catholic. He knows. And by their conduct, it’s clear St. Joseph’s knows, too.