In some of the posts on this blog I have mentioned absolutizing. Quite a few people are not certain what I mean when I mention absolutizing. In a previous post I explained what I mean; but I think it might be helpful to go over the explanation again here before we get into what I really want to discuss.
Absolutizing can be done in any field, but we will focus on biblical absolutizing. Absolutizing is, essentially, not seeing the big picture. You know, not seeing the forest for the trees.
An example of biblical absolutizing is the belief in sola fides. The Bible speaks of the importance of faith. It even says that faith saves. If we take these passages and isolate them from the rest of Scripture, we can begin to build a picture of faith being the only thing necessary for salvation. Then, we come across any passages mentioning the necessity of good works, we must bend our interpretation of these passages to fit with our preconceived notion of sola fides. This is one problem Martin Luther ran into.
Another example of biblical absolutizing is sola scriptura. There are no passages of Scripture which mention that Scripture is to be the sole measuring stick for what we believe, how we worship, how we should live, and how our church is to be structured. Yet, there are passages which mention the reliability and necessity of Scripture.
If we interpret such passages to mean that Scripture alone is sufficient, then we must bend our interpretation of scriptural passages that mention the authority of the Church, and the authority of an unwritten tradition.
We see the problems that arise out of absolutizing certain passages of Scripture. Yet, absolutizing is not the only exegetical problem for many Christians. It appears that Christians do not often understand the idea of the existence of exceptions in Scripture. Because Our Lord did not normally mention exceptions to the laws of God, many Christians often just assume (whether consciously or not) that exceptions do exist. Allow me to give some examples.
The fifth commandment (or sixth, depending on how you number them) says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, my father is an intelligent man, but in my conversations with him I have discovered that my father does not believe in an exception to this commandment. It seems reasonable, since no exception is explicitly mentioned. Actually, Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek” when we are wronged. So, no taking of human life is ever permissible.
When one looks at Scripture as a whole, however, one can see that there are, indeed, exceptions to the fifth/sixth commandment. Jesus never condemns soldiers for being soldiers. He never forbids war. In fact, a glance at the totality of Scripture reveals that we have the right to self-defense. No human has the right (strictly-speaking) to take the life of another. Yet, God gave life to all of us. We have a right to use any reasonable means to preserve that life when it is threatened by another. Furthermore, we have the duty to protect the innocent and defenseless. All human life is precious to God. It is precisely for that reason that we must defend those who can’t defend themselves. Unfortunately, that may sometimes require us to take the life of the aggressor. This is unfortunate, but the aggressor himself has no right to attempt to take the life of a defenseless individual who has just as much right to life as he does. Hence, it may be permissible to take the life of the aggressor. He forfeits his right to life by unlawfully attempting to take another’s.
Matthew 23:9 tells us to “call no man your father”. Protestants use this passage to try to convince Catholics that they are wrong for calling priests father. By doing so, it is argued, we are violating Jesus’ command in Matthew 23:9.
What Protestants tend to forget is that verse 10 of the same chapter tells us to not call anyone master, either. Now, if you have ever referred to your physician as doctor-by Protestants’ reasoning-you have violated Jesus’ command. The word “doctor” comes from the Latin word for “master”. So when Protestant ministers use the title doctor for themselves, they are calling themselves master. Hence, Protestant ministers (and the people in their congregation) are violating Jesus’ command.
We can take this one step further. If Jesus literally meant for us to call no one our father, then we can not refer to our biological father as father. So what do we call our father? Should we call him sperm donor? When leaving my father’s presence should I say, “Goodbye, my source of genetic material!” No one would seriously suggest this. Neither does anyone practice this consistently. It can be reasonably assumed, therefore, that Jesus didn’t mean to be taken so literally. There are, obviously, exceptions.
In some of my conversations with Traditionalist Catholics I have been told that everyone must be baptized with water in order to even have a chance of going to Heaven. This idea comes from John 3:5, which requires baptism for salvation. Yet, is this the only way to be baptized?
Jesus never actually mentions any form of baptism, and Traditionalist Catholics sometimes maintain that it is Church Teaching that no other type of baptism can be recognized. It is a fact that the Church does, and has, recognized other types of baptism.
In Catholicism there have always been three types of baptism recognized. The first is baptism in the traditional sense. This is being baptized “by water and the Spirit”, and being baptized in the names of the Trinity.
The second type of baptism is known as baptism by desire. Catechumens who die before the reception of baptism are recognized by God as baptized. He credits them with baptism simply because they were in the process of trying to receive the sacrament. The Catechumen can not help that he/she died (excluding, of course, willful suicide, or taking an unnecessary risk). Why would God send such a soul to Hell?
Another example of baptism of desire is someone who is raised outside of Christianity for his/her entire life, but who is willing to accept truth wherever he/she believes they have found it. By being open to the truth, this person would be credited by God with baptism of desire.
The third form of baptism is baptism of blood. A person is credited with such baptism when, while not being a baptized Christian, he/she dies for the Faith. This is baptism of blood.
If you need a biblical example of a non-Christian obtaining salvation without actual reception of baptism, then look no further than the account of Jesus’ Passion in Luke 23. Here one of the criminals crucified with Jesus asks Him to “remember me when you come in your kingly power”. (Verse 42) Jesus then tells the man he will enter Heaven that very day. (Verse 43)
So we can see that absolutizing certain passages of Scripture does not help us in biblical exegesis. In fact, absolutizing passages of Scripture causes us to distort the real meaning of those passages, and to misinterpret other passages which seem to contradict the ones being absolutized.
We have also seen demonstrated how there are exceptions to many of the laws laid down in Scripture. Common sense and the Church tell us that such must be the case. Scripture itself demonstrates that such is, indeed, the case!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity