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The Dawkins Challenge, Challenged Print E-mail
By William E. Carroll   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The responses to my recent column on Richard Dawkins’ challenge to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation were amazing, if not surprising. One reason for the sheer number of comments was that Richard Dawkins’ web site linked to my column soon after it appeared. There was a strong reaction on that site, too, and some of the commentators crossed over to write here.

My original column was an examination of issues far broader than transubstantiation. In the short space of a column, I certainly could not offer a full analysis of Catholic doctrine. Today I want to emphasize, or perhaps re-emphasize, a few salient points to help, I hope, calm the waters of cyberspace – but also to bring greater clarity to an often badly framed debate.

That the bread and wine at Mass become the body and blood of Christ, that Christ is really present under the external forms of bread and wine, is a matter of faith for Catholics.Faith in the real presence has its source in an interpretation of Biblical accounts of the Last Supper: an interpretation made official, as it were, in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Trent (1545-63).

The doctrine of transubstantiation is a making clear what is believed. It is not a proof of the real presence of Christ. In fact, a proof is not possible. It would be an error in both reason and faith to claim otherwise. Several central elements of Christian belief – for example, the Trinity and the divinity of Christ – cannot be known to be true by reason. Theologians, using philosophy, seek to explain these truths of faith.

Such explanations are examples of the general Catholic commitment to the complementarity of reason and faith, rooted in the view that a conflict is not possible between what faith reveals and reason discloses. For a believer, after all, God is the author of all truth – of both reason and faith. Conflicts arise (and indeed they do) when mistakes are made in either or both realms.

Some will already object that I have spoken of the “truth of faith,” an appeal which they would reject from the start. But they ought not find it strange that Christians think faith is a source of real knowledge about God and the world.

For Catholics, making belief intelligible means operating in the domains of the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology. To entertain arguments for the intelligibility of what is believed, even to try to refute such arguments, you have to grant that there are disciplines in addition to the natural sciences that provide access to reality. If you think that philosophy and theology contain only opinions, and unsubstantiated ones at that, then that very claim needs to be resolved before we can examine any argument for the intelligibility of a specific belief such as transubstantiation.


        The Last Supper by Carl Bloch (1876)

It’s literally impossible to argue philosophically (about substance, accident, matter, body, change, etc.) with someone who refuses to accept the first principles of philosophy, or who reduces all first principles to the natural sciences. Since these principles are “first,” they are prior to and not the result of a proof. Hence, arguments about them can often be frustrating. As Aristotle observed: if you choke on water with what do you wash it down?

To say that what is believed, because it is a belief, cannot in principle be made intelligible, is to make a philosophical claim that needs to be examined. To reject claims of faith because they do not originate in what science tells us is to embrace the unwarranted assumption that only science leads us to truth. Behind this assumption lies another that needlessly limits what is real to the material and empirically verifiable.

It’s true that even if you grant that it is possible to make intelligible what is believed, it does not follow that any particular proposal (for example, transubstantiation) actually succeeds. This requires separate analysis and there have been lively debates among believers over the centuries about how to understand the real presence.

Many comments on my earlier column involved confusion about key terms. I have written elsewhere on the conclusions about “nothing” Lawrence Krauss draws from his cosmology. Just as different senses of “nothing” in cosmology require us to understand the vocabulary proper to physics, so too, analyses of claims in philosophy and theology about topics such as Christ’s “body” and “real presence” require careful attention to the vocabulary proper to these disciplines.

Errors abound in the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology when we are misled by “univocal predication,” that is, thinking that the words we use, even simple ones, have only one sense. An example: A dog knows its master. A man knows which dog is his. God knows the people He creates. We rightly use “to know” in all three instances, but in each case it means something at once alike but quite different from the others. The meaning is analogical.

An important function of philosophy is to help us to understand better how analogy works, to see, for example, that Christ's body, really present in the Eucharist, has a special sense. Again, if you think that philosophy and theology are mythical edifices, then the vocabulary they employ becomes vacuous, a kind of linguistic nothingness. Among other things, my previous column tried to raise these broader issues, to show what topics must be addressed before others can be tackled.

Arguments require commonly accepted starting points if they are not to be mere shouting matches. Those non-believers who disparage philosophy and theology as only “word games,” or who think that religious faith cannot be a source of truth, have an obligation to think about the philosophical assumptions that undergird their claim.

Much of the controversy about transubstantiation and Richard Dawkins has proceeded from a lack of attention to the assumptions behind the discussion.

 
William E. Carroll is Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science, Blackfriars, University of Oxford.
 
 
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Comments (49)Add Comment
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written by Jon S., June 20, 2012
Excellent column. It might help the cause if we communicate to atheists (who are Modernist rather than Postmodernist) that all of us who are seeking objective truth - regardless of discipline - are, or should be, playing by the same rules, which are first principles such as the principle of noncontradiction, the principle of the excluded middle, the principle of identity, the principle of correspondence, and the principle of the unity of truth.
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written by Other Joe, June 20, 2012
I just want to get a quick word in before the rogue wave swamps the little lifeboat in which we oar about herein. In classic quantum physics, the observer interacts with events at the quantum scale. Consciousness and intention are seemingly baked into the quantum pie. It is suggestive. There is nothing empirical about intention and consciousness, which (at least in probable terms) could be said to precede the first quantum event. It is a tiny point and one easily shouted down by poorly developed assertion, but one I wanted to make. And perhaps the editor could limit respondents to - oh - five thousand words and 10 individual responses, or some such formula. My granny used to say, “If you can’t make your point in a small contained area, it’s not a point, it’s spillage.”
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written by kfsoh, June 20, 2012
Well said, William! One hopes the invitation to more deeply examine one's assumptions (be they epistemic, hermeneutic or philosophic) is embraced. No doubt entering a centuries-old conversation spouting materialist ideosophy is a unsettling experience, and likely painful for those whose views have ossified (prematurely or otherwise).
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written by Grump, June 20, 2012
Scientism rejects anything that cannot be measured or "proved." What, then, constitutes "proof?" History records that Jesus performed many miracles that defied reason but still the skeptics of the day were not satisfied nor are they now. "It must be of the devil," they said back then. Today, they say if miracles did happen there must be a reasonable explanation, but more likely they just deny that any happened at all.

That old atheist Voltaire said, "Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe." Where he errs is in the premise that "the power of reason" is allocated equally to all. Some people can reason better than others. And some people have more faith than others.

Khalil Gibran said, "Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof." This makes sense because we sometimes grasp a truth within ourselves that we cannot articulate in a way that others can comprehend it.

Blaise Pascal perhaps bests sums up the conundrum: "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't."

Beyond reason, there is the mind's eye. Einstein said logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you anywhere.

I find it supremely ironical that Dawkins, Hitchens and many other self-described atheists wrote books with "God" in the title. Hitchens, for one, would have been astounded perhaps to learn that he had more in common with Thomas Aquinas by asserting what God is NOT -- Apophatic theology -- a running theme of Summa Theologica.

If there is no God, why do atheists keep talking about Him so much?









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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
"written by Jon S., June 20, 2012

Excellent column. It might help the cause if we communicate to atheists (who are Modernist rather than Postmodernist) that all of us who are seeking objective truth - regardless of discipline - are, or should be, playing by the same rules, which are first principles such as the principle of noncontradiction, the principle of the excluded middle, the principle of identity, the principle of correspondence, and the principle of the unity of truth".

So are you saying that atheists (and atheist scientists) are unacquainted with the rules of Logic? One wonders how science can proceed without them. You appear to be claiming them as the sole property of believers.
Aristotle who formulated a system of Logic was not a "believer" in the Christian or Catholic sense,-he was a "pagan" using what we now call the "scientific method",ie logic and empiricism. Only trouble is, he was woefully short on empiricist, ie materialist, evidence.
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written by Louise, June 20, 2012
I find it interesting that Richard Dawkins calls his organization “The Foundation for Reason and Science”. Hmmm, are they two separate things after all? What is the science of reason? Isn’t it Philosophy? And doesn’t philosophy by its very nature involve wonder? And doesn’t wonder by its very nature transcend reason? So when you identify reason as one of your goals aren’t you by that very fact stating that you are looking for something beyond yourself to explain yourself?
Now look at the mission statement, “The mission of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.”
On one hand they are a foundation for reason and on the other hand they have already excluded any true search by reason through adopting an outcome based mission statement that is really an ideological statement rather than a statement of open enquiry.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Other Joe
"There is nothing empirical about intention and consciousness--etc".

Perhaps a course in neurophysiology might help you to see otherwise?

"Intentiality" is initiated within the physical material brain. We know this because we can make empirical observations, mesurements and experiments to discover empirical data concerning neurotransmission which correlates with intentional behaviour. You might retort that "correlation is not causation";--except that when it occurs repeatedly in multiple observations, it very likely is just that. You have the burden of proof that it is not.
Consciousness is likewise detected by empirical measurements of phenomena that are associated with the condition of being conscious, and which are absent when the person under study is unconscious; eg stress levels as measured hrough plasma cortisol and adrenaline levels, response to pain, and absense of ability to communicate. Sensory perception,neural processing in the brain, and intentional output (to muscles),oral responses etc, are all part of a neural feed-back loop, which detects the outside world, and makes appropriate responses to it.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
W.Carroll
"or who think that religious faith cannot be a source of truth, have an obligation to think about the philosophical assumptions that undergird their claim".

Faith is the antithesis of "knowledge, (otherwise why prefer it over knowledge itself)?.
Argument:

So,-Premise 1 Faith is not knowledge.

And if, (Premise 2) Knowledge is Truth.

Then (conclusion) Faith is not Truth.

I think this is both valid and sound. Who says atheists don't use logic?

If you want to argue that Premise 1 is incorrect and that Faith is Knowledge, then the burden of truth is on you. ie you have " an obligation to think about the philosophical implications that undergird your own claim.
("Shifting the burden of proof" is a logical fallacy.)
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Hello Grump.
"If there is no God, why do atheists keep talking about Him so much?"

Because unproven Christian assertions impinge upon all our lives, with their attempt to take over, education, science and politics. We are acting in defence.

Why believe only the alleged miracles of Jesus, when Buddha, Apollonius of Tyana, Perigrinus, assorted Roman Emperors and Greek and Roman heros all did similar things long before him (allegedly).
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written by Grump, June 20, 2012
Nice try, Reg, but your false syllogism collapses under the weight of further investigation. Your attempt to link faith to knowledge fails because you have drawn the wrong conclusion from two premises. Here's another example:

Premise 1: People who have just run a marathon sweat a lot.
Premise 2: You are sweating a lot.
Conclusion: Therefore, you have just run a marathon.

Look forward to more sillygisms.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Louise
" And doesn’t wonder by its very nature transcend reason"?

Why should it? It is reasonable to feel wonder in the presence of something beautiful or splendid. It is a universal human reaction

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written by Adauctus, June 20, 2012
Reginald, with all due respect, your argument breaks down at premise 2. If I may quote one of the great men of our time: "Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall." - Indiana Jones
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Thanks for that Grump.
"Premise 1: People who have just run a marathon sweat a lot.
Premise 2: You are sweating a lot.
Conclusion: Therefore, you have just run a marathon".

This looks like the fallacy of the Excluded Middle, also I think it is a False Analogy.
Either I did not express myself clearly, or you have misread my "sillygism" (no need to be rude).I distinctly attempted the opposite to what you claim: I attempted to decouple Faith from Knowledge. Premise 1. I postulated that Faith is not knowledge. Premise 2 I postulate that Knowledge is Truth, (if it is not truth then it is not knowledge,-it is an error). I concluded that Faith is neither knowledge nor Truth.
Perhaps I need a proper logician to explain where I have apparently gone wrong.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Grump
Mea culpa.
I meant to say: "Fallacy of the undistributed middle".
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written by Louise, June 20, 2012
Reginald, My questions are real, not rhetorical and so I appreciate the response. It’s probably obvious but I am not highly trained in philosophy. You say “It is reasonable to feel wonder…” Agreed!!!!
But what is wonder? What do you think about this definition?
“ Wonder is reason recognizing its natural limits and hoping that it is made for something greater.”

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written by Grump, June 20, 2012
Reginald, I found your book on-line and am reading it. Very well written. I think, however, it is religion and especially Christianity which is playing "defence," as you put it. This has been the case somewhat before and ever since Galileo peered through his telescope into the heavens and caused panic in the Church by disputing the creation account of Genesis.

Fast-forward to the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. There, as with Galileo's heresy trial three centuries earlier, two opposing world-forces faced each other.

Williams Jennings Bryan and his followers fought passionately to maintain the validity of a belief system that placed the question of origins in the words of their god. In the process, they made themselves look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.

As Neil Postman wrote in "Technopoly," a book that shows we live in a Huxleyian Age rather than an Orweillian one in which TV is today's "soma," Bryan erred in assaulting science completely.

Quoting Postman, "To say, as Bryan did, that he was more interested in the Rock of Ages than the age of rocks was clever and amusing but woefully inadequate. The battle settled the issue, once and for all: in defining truth, the great narrative of inductive science takes precedence over the great narrative of Genesis. and those who do not agree must remain in an intellectual backwater."

So, for the past 80 or so years, the religionists are the ones on the defensive while the non-believers have had the upper hand. You and your ilk are winning, Reg, so there's no need to spike the football and worry about old-fashioned ideas that pose no serious threat. Or is there?

As an agnostic with leanings toward the faith in which I was born -- Catholicism -- I am enjoying this discussion immensely. I'm not exactly refereeing but I like to play devil's advocate to each side because, unlike you, I have not made up my mind about God.

Perhaps out of this some light will shine within all of us.
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written by John Shearer, June 20, 2012
I hope the conversation continues if for nothing else, to help those like me who are not specialists in philosophy and theology to find the main points of disagreement between Mr. Dawkins and Catholics. Please, let's stay out of the weeds. The roots of the disagreement should be fairly simple to describe and both sides should be able to agree on the point of departure.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
"written by Adauctus, June 20, 2012

Reginald, with all due respect, your argument breaks down at premise 2. If I may quote one of the great men of our time: "Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. "

This depends entirely upon what you mean by "Truth". If a fact is a correct fact, then it is a Truth (concerning the entity or concept under discussion). If as I suspect you propose a Aristotelean or Platonic defintion of a universal "Truth" as being some metaphysical entity which is (probably) unknowable, and as yet unknown,-then it is a hypothetical fact to which we are not yet privy.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Grump

Thanks for your kind words ,- I am glad you found my book; I had almost forgotten about it. It is my first and only attempt at writing, and it was meant as a collection of a number of talks I had given in my capacity as "The Great Convenor" of my U3A Philosophy group. I have not attempted to publish it properly, as there are nany better books on the subject; eg Chrisopher Hitchens, Dawkins & Co.
One of my reader's reaction to it was that he thought it was hilarious!--and certainly it was written rather tongue in cheek. May we all find Truth,--whatever that is.
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written by Other Joe, June 20, 2012
Reginald, are you seriously proposing that intention is the product of neural activity? ""Intentionality" is initiated within the physical material brain." Is it? By what? If intention is a product of neural patterns, then intention doesn't initiate, it follows. If that is true, then there is no such thing as thought, or free will, there is no point at all to your voluminous ruminations, and no reason to care about them.
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written by Grump, June 20, 2012
As a matter of curiosity, Reg, I'm wondering whether you were born into a family of believers and, if so, how you arrived at your current atheistic stance. Or were your parents atheists also? Please forgive me if this is too personal a question and I would understand your refusal to answer it.

Thank you in advance and may the Truth be known to all of us.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Louise
"Other Joe,
Yes it is, by afferent (incoming) neural transmissions from the five sense organs and structures, including proprioception from your joints, which tell you about your posture (with your eyes closed). Consciousness consists of being aware of the outside world because our senses have captured and internalised it and our CPU (our fronto-orbital cortex) is the program computer which makes sense of it, and matches it to "pictures" we already have stored in our memory. That is how we recognise our parts of the world. some people say consciousness is Epiphenomenal,-merely a by product of the underlying neural processing that is going on. If so, it is a very interesting and useful epiphenomenon, as processing power of our cerebral cortex aids our ability to direct to useful purpouse all the ideas which arise from our minds and to explore the world. After processing in the brain signs, l may be allowed out to the body along efferent nerves, to service muscle,digestion, locomotion and new ideas. So it all goes round in circles, in feedback loops, some bits coming, others going. All these movements have causes which are themselves caused ad infinitum, so basically we are pre-determined in our actions, but with enough freewill to be able sometimes to choose between one deterministc chain and another. I have heard freewill described as taking action, without planing or foresight, or preparation; sounds quite random and chaotic.
As to the point of my voluminous ruminations; it does not matter if I do not possess total freewill; rather I might be adding to a store of accumulaed wisdom which my ancestral chains of previous determination have adapted me to the life in which I find myself."
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 20, 2012
Louise
But what is wonder? What do you think about this definition?
“ Wonder is reason recognizing its natural limits and hoping that it is made for something greater.”

We can seek situations of wonder using our reason to locate it, and when we have found it we can sink into a warm fuzzy emotional state and just enjoy it ustily, even erotically; let it take us over, and just for the occasion let down our reason guard, and just enjoy.
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written by Jacob, June 20, 2012
I'm a veteran of the war on Christmas so let me know and I'll lead a mortar squadron deep into enemy territory!
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written by Louise, June 20, 2012
Reginald: "We can seek situations of wonder using our reason to locate it, and when we have found it we can sink into a warm fuzzy emotional state and just enjoy it ustily, even erotically; let it take us over, and just for the occasion let down our reason guard, and just enjoy."

But what is wonder? Are you saying wonder is the absence of reason coupled with the presence of enjoyment? If so, what causes the enjoyment, the absence of reason or something about the situation of wonder? it seems like agreeing on a definition of wonder is a first step in any discussion about reason and science. As Carroll’s article above says, “Arguments require commonly accepted starting points if they are not to be mere shouting matches.” Not that we are shouting…
Have you ever read Fides et Ratio by Blessed John Paul II? Here’s an excerpt from that work:
(4)…Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation: human beings are astonished to discover themselves as part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all sharing a common destiny. Here begins, then, the journey which will lead them to discover ever new frontiers of knowledge. Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 21, 2012
Grump
I was born in South Africa to an elderly father (63) who was of the Dutch Reformd Church (Calvinist), so there was a lot of "Honour thy father and thy mother" sort of thing, and threatened or actual (mild) corporal punishment. My mother was 23, and raised as a vague Anglican who thought that if she said "Jesus" in every other sentence, that made her a Christian. I was the only child, christened at the local Anglian Church. We went to the Anglican church regularly, and I prayed until I was 16, and was confimed and went along with it all, thinking it was normal, except that none of my prayers ever worked,-not ever, and no-body ever replied or acknowledged them; it was a one way conversation.Even then I thought it was vey bad-mannerd of God, but excused him on the grounds that he had a lot to think about. When my hormones kicked in I began to think independently, and I also discovered Ancient Egypt and other ancient religions and cultures,-and philosophy; and then I also came across a copy of the National Secular Society magazine, The Freethinker, which made me say to myself: "Good Heavens, there are other people who think like me". Next day I woke up and said to myself, "This (Xianity) is all a load of codswallop, I am not going to believe in it anymore". ( The last straw was when I prayed to pass my first qualifying medicalschool exam, and promptly failed; (I passed it a year later).

The rest is history.
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written by Other Joe, June 21, 2012
Reg, there is only one being imaginable with total free will. His creation must do with a little bit of free will, which is like being a little bit pregnant. And yes, we are stuck within the limits of our bodies, brains and all. That's how it works. It's amusing, but I have heard free will described as the ability to choose one deterministic chain or another. But even a little bit of free will (ever tried to quit smoking?) is free will and it is sufficient to choose between generation and degeneration. I am unconvinced that wisdom accumulates except in the individual, but I would love to see your data.
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written by Grump, June 21, 2012
Reg, sounds a bit familiar. My prayers never got much beyond the ceiling either. I was born into a Catholic family, etc, etc., and was very much a believer. Forty years ago, my son's best friend (12 at the time) was hit by a car and taken to the hospital. I prayed all night for that boy's recovery and he died the next day. Not soon after I read "Of Human Bondage" and was struck by Philip's unanswered prayer for God to heal his clubfoot. It resonated deeply. So began my journey toward disbelief.

Now at the age of 70 that disappointment still sticks in my craw. Yet I hold out hope there is a God and that He was just busy that day with other more pressing requests and never got to mine. (rationalization).

Kant said there is the "idea of God" and "God" and they are two different things. I've always believed in the idea, which always has had appeal to me, but not God Himself.

It is only the unique person of Jesus Christ who tugs constantly at my heart and beseeches me to return, as so eloquently expressed by Francis Thompson in The Hound of Heaven. I cannot adequately put it into words but there remains a sliver of faith and longing in my old bitter agnostic heart despite all the disappointments and sufferings I've experienced in my life.

I hope we both find what we're looking for.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 21, 2012
Other Joe,
But what is so significant about having freewill anyway? Surely any large-brained animal,ie other primates, cats, dogs) also have a degree of freewill(within the limits of determinism), to do what they want? -or do you claim cats etc are just mechanical robotic automatons?
Consider the Euthypro argument: Does God have complete freewill to define "goodness"? If so then anything goes, and "goodness" could included eating babies if God says so (using his freewill). But if God is constrained by his Nature to be good, then there exists a Goodness" and a "Nature" which are prior to and independent of God, and to which God myst conform in order to be good. Therefore God is not omnipotent and has no more freewill than we do.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 21, 2012
Hi Louise,
Some concepts cannot be analysed ad infinitum but must be accepted as a "brute fact", and I do not think it surprising that intelligent Humans (and other lesser primates) can experience wonder in aspects of Nature etc. I study Paleoanthropology as a basic science, not second hand from a religious leader who is presumably neither an anthropologist or an ethologist, and necessarily is seeking confirmation bias for Christian ideology.
Having said that, the Pope does not say that only Christians can experience wonder; he speaks of human beings generally, including atheists.
I sing in two local choral groups; (I dont say "choirs",-that would be too "churchy" for an atheist). We are doing a repeat of Karls Jenkins version of Stabat Mater (a very Catholic work);--and I love the music, the words blend in nicely and poetically,(though some critics disagree), and i get an emotional lump in my throat whenI sing "stabat mater dolorosa, iuxta crucem lacrymosa",--"or "vidit Jesum in tormentis". So why is that, seeing that I am an atheist?
It's not because the story is necessarily true;it could apply equally well to Varina weeping at the foot of the cross upon which the rebel gladiator-slave Spartacus had been crucified, (according to Hollywood); or it could be complete fiction;(othewise why do people read novels and get emotional about them (perhaps)?
In other words I am a normal emotional human being doing what humans do and in no way deprived by not believing Jesus was divine.
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written by Renegade, June 21, 2012
In any case the Columnist is right in a sense that before any reason based thinking person can have a conversation with a religious one, they must accept that said person is party to specialist knowledge. Knowledge may I add that they didn’t acquire from personal experience per se or vicariously from observable data but by personal revelation.

To criticise this chain of thinking according to the Columnist is to dismiss the schools of philosophy and theology in one stroke. This is utter nonsense.

If a Doctor were to claim that they’d invented a cure for AIDS for instance and then when asked to prove it tried to point out the merits of medical research without substantiating their claim, would you believe them? Moreover wouldn’t the onus be upon them to prove that they had indeed invented said cure?

You might feel this is an unfair analogy. After all it is Atheists who give ideas merit on how closely the match reality but let’s examine the alternative when a religious person decides that bread and wine consumed under certain circumstances literally become the body and blood of Christ.

Firstly – does the fact that you do not want this claim to be tested using scientific methods mean it cannot? I think we all know what the results would be if “transubstantiated” bread were compared to the regular sort in a Laboratory!

Second –does the argument from personal revelation stand up on its own terms? There are millions of people who accept Jesus as their Saviour for instance who believe that the bread and wine are merely symbolic for exactly the same reason that Catholics believe they are in some way divine. It’s for this reason that Atheists invented such constructs as the Invisible Pink Unicorn and (my personal favourite), the Flying Spaghetti Monster as there is no way to disprove such claims using faith based reasoning. What does this say for the doctrine of Transubstantiation?

For the logicians out there I would also say that the doctrine is based on a false premise. Jesus ostensibly died to account for man’s original sin i.e. the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. It follows logically that if we can prove that there was in fact no “first man” and “first woman” in the way the Bible describes (which we can!) then no original sin was committed. If that is the case then Jesus either died for nothing which begs the question why we venerate his so-called sacrifice or that transubstantiation is true and it is the Bible which is incorrect – you can’t have it both ways!
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 21, 2012
I would add to the above that when Catholics say they accept "Evolution", they don't mean naturalistic Darwinian evolution, but a strange chimera called "Theistic Evolution"; (Grump,-you will find a long rant by me on that subject, in my book). So if Catholics accept evolution but claim that God guided it so that Homo sapiens emerged from its predecessors, Homo habilis, or H.ergaster or whoever,--then he did not in fact manufacture Adam in the way described in Genesis. Therefore the Genesis story is lie, error or metaphor; (with apologies to C.S. Lewis).
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written by Other Joe, June 21, 2012
Reg, small point if I may. The Creator would have existence prior to matter in a condition of eternal is. Time does not exist without matter. In a condition without time, there are no prior conditions. All relationship is without tense. We know through revelation that there are three persons in the Trinity, and while this is in essence a mystery to those of us in these dimensions of time and space, the revelation indicates that God is in eternal relationship and love. While God can do everything (create all that is), He cannot do any thing - such as indulge in absurdity. Terms such as “nature” have no meaning in the context. Similarly, it is meaningless to speak of constraints. God is not constrained by love, He is love. He is in the language of math a singularity, wherein values are infinite. There cannot be love without other. Our modest (and yet miraculous) gift of some free will is enough to allow us our otherness, and to have the last word on whether we choose to see life as having meaning or to see it as a crap shoot down a dark and dead-end alley. It is our choice.

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written by Louise, June 21, 2012
Reginald, I’m not going to continue the discussion here on this post because TCT doesn't really seem to be designed to have long lasting conversations on a particular post. However, surely we will meet again on future articles!
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 21, 2012
OK Louise, nice talking to you.

Other Joe: Now you are retreating into mysticism and preaching and are unassailable by reason. You claim to have revelation of the Trinity? Is that personal?--too subjective and not evidence. Is it scriptural?--a late invention, and I believe not official until the Council of Nicea around 325,--but I would have to research it, and life is too short. That just leaves the "Catholic Tradition" , which to our minds is making it up as you go along. I wonder why I have never had a personal revelation of the Trinity or any hint at all of the Divine? But as we all know, and as "Renegade" pointed out above,-there is no real possibilty of meaningful communication between believers and unbelievers; we just talk past each other; we are two different species, or as if from different planets,-though don't get me wrong, I am enjoying the discussion and am happy to continue if you think it worthwhile.
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written by Other Joe, June 21, 2012
Reg, John Polkinghorn has written well on the subject of the development of ideas over time in both physics and in theology. In each case, a breakthrough leads to a paradigm revision, which following generations develop using reason to tease out new implications. We are always approaching truth, but we never quite get to the whole truth. This is as true in physics as it is in theology. Both disciplines find faith indispensable. I think that a believer and non-believer are not so different, but rather profound differences in the definitions of terms used bifurcates the conversation to the extent that in effect each talks past the other. One might attempt to agree on definitions, but the list is long and as you have noted, life is short. Faith is a worldview. It illuminates the great questions and provides a template for a coherent definition of terms. One has to put one's faith in some fundamental proposition. Is there intelligence in creation, or is it some steady state involving infinite multiverses, or black holes within black holes, or pick your favorite un-testable mechanism? I repeat; the choice is up to the individual. Empirical data are not applicable.
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written by Grump, June 21, 2012
Atheists often make fun of the Genesis account of creation, which starts so simply: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth." Rather, they prefer the "scientific" much more complicated version:

About 14 billion years ago, give or take, there was nothing but a lot of hot air in the universe. (where the "universe" came from no one explains). Then for some unexplained reason things got real hot and expanded and suddenly there was a big explosion. Boom! Then things got cool, baby. Actually things cooled down so much over time that soon particles began appearing out of nowhere. To make a long story short (which otherwise could fill several scientific tomes), these little bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam formed the building blocks of life -- tiny squiggly things came into existence, which soon became bigger squiggly things and so forth. It wasn't long -- maybe a couple or two billion years, give or take -- that the creepy-crawlers began developing legs and fins and brains and organs and muscles and wings and all sorts of appendages. This would result eventually in all sorts of plants and animals including land mammals, one of which was our ancestor, the ape. The ape became a sort of man at first, and then later, man as we know him today. It was quite a blast, all in all.

Ockham was right: The simplest explanation is likely the correct one.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 22, 2012
Atheist scientists tend to have strong feelings about John Polkinghorne! One can be both a scientist and a theologiasn but only in strictly segregated compartmemts. Of course , waering his theology hat he will claim that this motivates him to "discover God's creation", though atheist- scientists seem to have equal motivation for doing science for non- religious reasons. The point is, what has theology done for his physics? Has he played a leading role in discovering the Higgs Boson for instance? (Its actual discovery now seems imminent). Can you change or influence the outcome of a chemical reaction by praying over a test-tube?-I don't think so, so why bother and kid yourself? Francis Collins is notorious for having come across a frozen waterfall during a forest walk, which happened to be in the shape of a Cross,-whereupon he fell to his kness in worship! Very quaint, but how did it help his science (as one-time managerial leader of the Human Genome Project , and now of the National Institute for Health)?
Theologians can do science up to a point,-but then the crunch comes at the frontiers of science, like Origin of the Universe, naturalistic Darwinian Evolution, Population control using contraception and maybe controlled abortion (and you know the Catholic views on that!); condemnation of maybe a quarter of humanity for preferring their own sex to the opposite. These are all scientific and demographic problems at which Catholic scientists may cause confusion by trying to put God into the mix, just to keep him going in case we all forget about him because he is redundant,-certainly in science, and now also in ethics, and epistemology generally.
In other words we have better reasons for getting on with each other than the threat of Divine sanction if we don't; that attitude belongs to a byegone age.
Polkinghorne has been roundly savaged by scientific colleagues, and likewise Teilhard de Chardin,--he of the "Omega Point" in the "Phenomenon of Man". You should read the deconstruction of it by Sir Peter Medawar (a serious biologist).
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written by charles allan , June 22, 2012
Why does Richard Dawkins believe in a theory with no evidence. All the scientific apparatus in the world cannot
create one single atom and can provide no evidence that
things created themselves either from nothing or from something else.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 22, 2012
Other Joe-continued:
"One has to put one's faith in some fundamental proposition.Is there intelligence in creation, or is it some steady state involving infinite multiverses, or black holes within black holes, or pick your favorite un-testable mechanism? I repeat; the choice is up to the individual. Empirical data are not applicable".

Yes but you are assuming too much. I agree we need some fundamental axioms; eg Euclids Postulates which make the most minimal assumptions, eg he restricts himself to defining points and lines mostly, in order to have some rules for doing Geometry.
But to assume without evidence that there is a kind of complex Person, a superman, in the sky with ready-made intelligence that just exists uncreated and not evolved is an Argumentative Leap (Logical Fallacy).
You say that we can choose our favourite untestable mechanisms;-well the way science operates is that some of these hypotheses are now becoming testable, then we will have greater choice to decide which is most probable, based on the empirical data which you seem to want to deny.
You can call that "faith" if you like,-but it is the kind of faith that has historically produced results; ie faith in reason, logic and observation, and the possibility of continued progress through the scientific method.
If as so many Christians do, you want to say we are criticising an unsophisticated kind of God, and that "Sophisticated Theology" has moved on, and God is now removed to some other region of space/time where nasty atheist scientisrs can't attack him,-then this is pure guesswork, and such a God is unknowable, and speculation about Him/Her/It is entirely pointless.Better to regard it as a fable and move on.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 22, 2012
Grump, you disappoint me. So are you a Young Earth Creationist now?--or are you just playing rhetorical games again, being Devil's Advocate? I try to argue consistently for one side; that is our only hope for discovering "Truth"; all you are doing is sowing confusion.

Charles Allan: I am not going to get bogged down in showing you the massive evidence for evolution. You can read it for yourself; Dawkins would be a good start, but he does not own Evolution, it is accepted by virtually all biological scientists ( and even your own Church, after a fashion), whereas your apparent antipathy to it is religious and ideological. say no more. You appear to be ignorant of nuclear science as well. Consider Plutonium: an artificial element that does not exist in Nature; where did it come from?-answer: man made it by nuclear fusion-synthesis.
It is only one of several artificial man -made heavy atoms.
Next, you claim that matter cannot come from "Nothing"; well we have already discussed "Nothing", and pointed out to you that the empirical evidence that you despise, has demonstrated, in the Large Hadron Collider and other particle accelerator machines, that virtual particles appear spontaneously out of the void, ie "Nothing"; so there you are; check the literature for yourselves.
This implies, if you had not noticed, tht the Big Bang could indeed have come out of "Nothing" spontaneously.
As for Ockams' Razor: I, along with most scientists and philosophers, regard this as a far simpler explanation than that there existed/exists, a superman who is both 1 and 3 beings, who loves us all indescrimately, no matter what we do; but at the same time casts us into Eternal Hellfire at the drop of a hat,-and who has a "Purpose" for us, but does not know what it is,-and who plays games with us by making the world look as though it evolved naturalistically, but in fact he made it himself in less than one week, by the same sort of process, ie "ex Nihilo" (from nothing),--which nevertheless you are strenulously denying is possible if profane scientists try to imitate it. Call that simple?
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written by Paul, June 22, 2012
Reginald,
as was pointed out by Grump, your premises don't work the way you gave them unless you want to claim (2) _Only_ knowledge is truth. Which is really two premises (2a) All knowledge is truth and (2b) all truth is knowledge; which is where we'd start to disagree (with 2b). Otherwise, (3) does not follow from just (2a) - which is what you stated, as other things can also be truth.

Renegade,
(Firstly) - transubstantiation is a change in "kind" not "matter" - so it can be tested and it is expected to be baked-wheat matter and fermented grape matter (at least in normal cases). There are several cases of physical transformation as well, such as Lanciano in 1574, which was put to the laboratory test and was found to still be fresh human heart flesh and fresh human blood some 400 years later. The normal change in "kind" is more analogous a like most of the cells of your body are recycled every few years (2? 20? something on that order) but we still say you're the same person, you're "kind" has not changed. Transubstantiation is the opposite claim, that the matter (usually) stays, and the "kind" changes.
The scientific method, by its very construction, cannot test for "kind," any more than it can test historical events - it can only analyse physical processes that repeat.

(Second) is basically a point about revealed vs. invented - which goes back to a question of credibility - transubstantiation was claimed to be revealed and Catholics believe the people making that claim are credible, and thus believe in their revelation. The existence of other groups that only give partial (or no) credibility to the same people is only relevant in so far as they can provide reasons why they don’t think the people are credible. For instance, claiming something completely inconsistent is a good reason to lack credibility - which ties back to reason and philosophy - transubstantiation, for example, is not necessary (implied) based on what we can rationally know, but it is also not inconsistent with what we know. Based on what we know today in physics, it's kind of like super string theory - it might be the way things work, as it's consistent with what we know, but we don't have any evidence to suggest it's the way things actually work. Except in super string theory's case, we hope to eventually know enough to decide that point (or formulate a version that we can decide), while transubstantiation outside of what we can ever expect to know for sure - and it's believed for the singular reason that it was revealed - Someone else told us how it actually works.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 22, 2012
Paul, I don't think I said "0nly" knowledge is Truth did I?-maybe I did. But even so, to deny that knowledge is Truth requires us to know what precisely is Truth,-if it isn't some kind of knowledge of something; any ideas?

I won't reply for Renegade, he is a friend of mine, but I rather doubt if he is monitoring this discussion as much as I am; he has work to do, and I am retired with time on my hands. So if he does not reply, do not assume that he is stumped by your rather involved reply to him.

--other than to say that physicists would refer to a change of "state" rather than "kind", (that sounds like YE Creationism again when referring to "species".
What you appear to be saying is that it is alleged and assumed that Transubstantiation is a divine revelation and therefore immune to scientific testing,-and that we must not even try; whereas superstring theory, ike other theories, is open to continued research and investigation. This is the difference between Science and religion.
As for "consistency", Remember Galileo, who debunked the geocentric view of the solar system, which had been consistently wrong ever since Aristotle and Claudius Ptolemy fior about 2300 years?.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 22, 2012
Paul; thanks for drawing my attention to Lanciano,-of which I had never heard, but assumed from your description that it was something to do with St Januarius; (a similar "miracle").
In the interests of Truth (and aren't we all interested?)--I googled Lanciano, and discovered among all the uncritical acceptances of it, one atheist commentary, which I am sure you would be interested in, from the point of view of a balanced account.
Here is an analogy from one of the commentators:

"I’ve analyzed (in a particularly stringent and methodical way) a piece of wood I found in my garage and it’s real wood. This wood is rather old, not sure just how old but it was already there when I moved in, so it’s obviously part of original cross on which Jesus was crucified and therefore Jesus was the son of god, died for own sins and god exists – so anyone convinced?"
=-obviously he is not.
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written by Grump, June 22, 2012
Reg, I enjoy yanking your chain and getting a rise out of you. Still, my non-believing friend, be assured I have not thrown in the towel yet. I remain squarely in the uncomfortable position of not knowing which side is right, which is why agnosticism makes the most sense.

At least I admit it, while most everyone else here including you appear to have it all pretty much figured out.

Concede at least, Reg, that the Big Bang is a bit stale and can't really be taken seriously. If you don't like Genesis, then let's hear something better than the BB, which is amusing at best when taken literally. As a man who puts science and reason above faith, you ought to be able to come up with a better theory of how we all got here.
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written by Reginald le Sueur, June 22, 2012
I lost you all for a while, but I'm back! Yes I do tend to rise to the bait.
I realize the BB has its critics, not least Stephen Hawking who says that a prior Universe may have collapsed to a "small" dense object, but cannot have become a singularity. Maybe infinite density is impossible or the Pauli Exclusion Principle forbids it. But singularity or heavy ball of matter, it seems that there likely was something prior to our Universe, or co-existent with it , or both. And if one prior Universe why stop there?--maybe an infinity of Universes,-without reason or cause; just another "brute fact". The Megaverse does not have to conform to human notions of "beginnings" and "endings".
We are all agnostics, in the sense tht none of us (obviously ) knows everything (except maybe the Pope!)--but don't believe people who claim that "it has been revealed to them by God". Who do they think they are?-so important that God tells them individually everything he gets up to from day to day (or Universe to Univese)? What arrogance. Yes atheists can also be agnstics. I am not qualified to dream up explanations; I will rely on the scientists to try and put something together. Put not your trust in revelations (or Revelations).
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written by Grump, June 22, 2012
Reg, to answer your question, I am not "youth earth," "old earth," "gap," or whatever, creationist. I believe it's scientifically impossible to determine how old the earth or universe is.

In "day-age" parlance, a "day" in the beginning before there was a sun or earth could have been thousands, millions, billions or trillions of years.

Some scientists (Kurt Wise, i.e.) are in rough agreement with Bishop Usherr's 4,004 B.C. "start," but that is absurd to me as well. It seems science has at least proven that the earth is more than 6,000 years old.

The age of the universe is secondary to the main question: Who or what or why or how did the universe and all that is in it come into being? Go back as many "years" as you want and put down a stake and Someone or Something was there at the "beginning."

Before 13th century monks invented the clock, people told time by sundial, hourglass or wax candles. Before there was a sun, maybe there was no measurable "time" as we know it. God, it is said, lives in an "eternal present."

Conjecture all we want. We will never fully know how it all began. Some theories are more appealing than others, but they are still theories. Meanwhile science and faith continue to war on.
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written by Reginald le Sueur, June 23, 2012
Grump: What is your basis for deciding that dating the Earth is impossible? Have you studied cosmology, cosmic background radiation, the rate of the expansion of the Universe, Geology and Radiometric dating methods, and the evolution of the solar system? Or do you reject acquairing such knowledge on principle in case it upsets your Faith?--you will never find Truth that way.
O come on; you are not still using that " A million (billion, trillion) years is but a day in God's sight" ploy?--you disappoint me again. Anyway the aritmetic does not work. Try dividing 13.72 billion years (age of the Universe) by 6 (God working days); you will get a very messy figure;--no Aristotelian perfect numbers or circles there. I have already mentioned that "beginnings" are human constructs; anyway where are you measuring from?-beginning of our Universe, a total meagaverse,-or what? As I have explained, this is on the boundary of knowledge so none of us , scientists and theologians,know the answer-yet; and making up "Creators" does not help one bit. Where did he come from?
If you claim he is "eternal" and uncaused, then if one thing can be eternal and uncaused, then why not the Universe itself?--at least we know for sure that that exists.
Of course there was time before our Sun. The Sun is about 4.66 billion years old, and therefore there was about 9 billion years of time before that,-in our Universe alone.
Instead of closing your mind to the very possibility of progress of knowledge, why not actually srudy some real science,? read something, google something,-but don't for God's sake think you can learn anything but anti-materialist propaganda from priests.
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written by Filipe V de Melo, June 24, 2012
Dear William,

Excellent post. It’s refreshing to “hear” Catholic Teaching correctly explained, nowadays.

I wanted to point out that it is incomplete to simply post that “Faith in the real presence has its source in an interpretation of Biblical accounts of the Last Supper: an interpretation made official, as it were, in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Trent (1545-63)” without the third pillar of Fatith. After all, the “Deposit of Faith”, depends on Holy Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and The Magisterium (Church Authority). Your statement refers to Holy Scripture and the Magesterium (the Councils) but leaves out TRADITION. Yet, we know that the Real Presence is also confirmed by Tradition...

The Didache: 14 [A.D. 70].

Pope Clement I: Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 [A.D. 80].

Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110].

Justin Martyr: First Apology 66:1-20 [A.D. 148] and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [A.D. 155].

Irenaeus: Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189].

Cyprian of Carthage: Letters 63:14 [A.D. 253].

Serapion: Prayer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice 13:12–16 [A.D. 350].

Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures 23:7–8 [A.D. 350].

Gregory Nazianzen: Letter to Amphilochius 171 [A.D. 383].

Ambrose of Milan: Commentaries on Twelve Psalms of David 38:25 [A.D. 389].

John Chrysostom: The Priesthood 3:4:177 [A.D. 387]; Homilies on Romans 8:8 [A.D. 391]; Homilies on First Corinthians 24:1(3) [A.D. 392]; (ibid., 24:2); and Homilies on Hebrews 17:3(6) [A.D. 403].

Augustine: Letters 98:9 [A.D. 412] and The City of God 17:20 [A.D. 419].

...to name just a few.

In Jesu.

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