Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

9/10/2012 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In taking the message of the Gospel to unbelievers, we have the certainty of the Magisterium behind us, and not a one of us--if we are faithful to the teaching authority of the Church--will ever be found to have wax noses.

The medieval scholastics had a pithy saying about reason.  Reason has a "wax nose," a nasus cereus.  It is a curious saying intended vividly to suggest that reason is malleable and, like a pliable wax nose, can be pointed in any direction one wishes.  Scripture also has a "wax nose," and seems to be infinitely plastic. Thanks be to God for the charism, the gift, of the Magisterium

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

9/10/2012 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Magisterium, teaching authority, wax nose, reason, faith, scripture


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The medieval scholastics had a pithy saying about reason.  Reason has a "wax nose," a nasus cereus.  It is a curious saying intended vividly to suggest that reason is malleable and, like a pliable wax nose, can be pointed in any direction one wishes. 

As an example of reason's pliability, we might take the example of abortion.  A reasonable argument can be made that condemns abortion as a manifest intrinsic evil which the law in no event should allow.  Unfortunately, the same reason can develop an argument to the contrary, to justify abortion as a good. 

That reason shows abortion to be an intrinsic evil--without any reference to Scripture--we see very ably done by, for example, David S. Oderberg in his book Applied Ethics.  Yet reason can be recruited to justify abortion as, for example, in the famous essay of Judith Jarvis Thomson entitled "A Defense of Abortion" which is de rigeur reading in most modern ethics classes. 

I am convinced that Professor Oderberg is right, and Professor Jarvis wrong.  But Professor Oderberg and Professor Thomson could argue all day, and it is highly unlikely that either will convince the other one of whose reasoning is wrong. 

There appears to be no solution in pure reason.  The problem thus becomes intractable, and we end up simply arguing about it all day.  But, surely, both camps cannot be right?

During the Protestant Reformation, something similar happened to Scripture.  Theologians began to note that Scripture, like reason, also has a wax nose.  That is to say, Scripture, like reason, can be pointed in about any direction one wishes.  Scripture is not by any means perspicuous.  It does not interpret itself.  It requires reason to understand and interpret it, and so, ultimately, it suffers from reason's wax-nose syndrome.

The wax nose of Scripture can shown by the fact that Scripture is interpreted by the infamous retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book Living in Sin? to allow homosexual acts and consider them good, but the Christian counselor Joe Dallas in his book The Gay Gospel: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible comes to the exact opposite conclusion. 

Again, we could set Bishop Spong and Mr. Dallas across from each other all day, and it is highly unlikely that either will budge one bit from his assurance that the Bible teaches what he thinks it teaches on homosexuality.  We reach an impasse, with no one to tell us who is right and who is wrong.  Who is it that is "writhing Scripture," and who is not?  Surely they both cannot be right?

Cardinal Ratzinger drew upon the old scholastic saying in pointing out this problem of intractability in a speech in August 2002 entitled "The Beauty and the Truth of Christ" given in Rimini, Italy:  "All too often," Cardinal Ratzinger stated in the speech, "arguments fall on deaf ears because in our world too many contradictory arguments compete with one another, so much so that we are spontaneously reminded of the medieval theologians' description of reason, that it 'has a wax nose': In other words, it can be pointed in any direction, if one is clever enough. Everything makes sense, is so convincing, whom should we trust?"

What all this suggests is that neither reason alone--sola ratio, which is the fundamental axiom of the Enlightenment--nor Scripture or faith alone--sola scriptura or sola fide, which are the mottoes of the Protestant Reformers--are adequate to the task of answering the question of whom we should trust.  We feel we can't trust people with wax noses who can make them point anywhere they want.

"Lord to whom shall we go?"  (John 6:68)

The Lord, of course, knew that reason and Scripture have wax noses.  In Ecclesiastes, we learn of King  Solomon's search for wisdom, and his desperation at finding it without recourse to God.  "Behold, only this have I found out: God made mankind straight, but men have had recourse to many calculations." (Ecclesiastes 7:29) 

That reason and scripture have wax noses can be found (although not in so many words) in Scripture itself.  St. Paul spoke of the rationalization of sin--reasoned sin--the result of futile reasoning and darkened hearts.  (Rom. 1:21)  That's why moral philosophers and theologians have to speak of right reason, as distinguished from reasoning which is erroneous.  St. Peter spoke of how St. Paul's letters and the other Scriptures are misinterpreted by people to their own destruction. (2 Pet. 3:16). 

St. Paul seems to believe that reason has a wax nose.  St. Peter seems to believe that Scripture has a wax nose.

The Gospels tell us that, in distinction to the teachers of the Mosaic law, Jesus taught with infallibility, or, as the Gospels put it, "as one who had authority."  Jesus did not teach with the wax noses of the scribes and teachers of the Mosaic law.  (Matt. 7:29)  From a physical perspective, Christ's infallibility, his teaching authority, however, would leave us once he ascended into heaven.

The Lord therefore knew that, after His ascension, we would be in need of something else, something other than wax-nosed reason and wax-nosed scripture if we were to know the words of eternal life.  And He generously provided to us His children by assuring that His authority, and His infallibility, would remain on earth even after His ascension into heaven. 

Jesus told His apostles: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it.  But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. . . . The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."  (John 14:16-18; 26). 

It is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church promised by our Lord that is our remedy for the wax nose of reason and the wax nose of Scripture. 

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this gift: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.  Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.  This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome." [CCC 85]

This gift given to us by Jesus is what we call the Magisterium, a term derived from the Latin magister, or teacher. 

Under certain circumstances, the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church enjoys, as a result of the promise of Christ himself, the charism or gift of infallibility.  When exercised, the infallibility of the Church's teaching office provides certainty in matters of faith, matters of speculative reason that relate to the faith, or matters of practical reason that relate to the moral law.

"The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism [the word charism comes from Greek charisma, meaning a "gift" of God] of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed." [CCC 2035]

"The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God."  [CCC 2036]

Thanks be to God for the charism, the gift, of the Magisterium.  It is what assures that our reason and our Scriptures do not have wax noses. 

In the examples given above, the Magisterium, of course, has plainly taught us that abortion is an intrinsic evil, for example in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae.  It has taught that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil as, for example, in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Homosexualitatis problema

Without the gift of the Magisterium, our salvation would be founded on wax noses--either our own or someone else's whose decisions we decided to follow--and it is inconceivable that a good God, Who promised He would not leave us orphans, would have left us floundering so when our salvation was at stake.  

Because of this great gift of the Church's Magisterium, we can know with the certainty of faith, that Oderberg is right and Jarvis wrong, that Bishop Spong is wrong and Joe Dallas right. 

Because of the gift of the Magisterium, we can understand what St. Peter said many years ago: "We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.  You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."  (2 Pet. 1:19-20)

The assurance of truth--in faith, in reason, and in the natural moral law and its requirements--that the first Christians had after Pentecost and expressed by St. Peter in his epistle, is the same assurance that should burn in our hearts as we labor in the fields of this country, a great part of which is in partibus infdelium, to spread the good news of the Gospel in what has been called the New Evangelization. 

In taking the message of the Gospel to unbelievers, we have the certainty of the Magisterium behind us, and not a one of us--if we are faithful to the teaching authority of the Church--will ever be found to have wax noses.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2014
Sports:
That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
Lay Missionaries: That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.



Comments


More Living Faith

Let the Holy Spirit Teach us How to Become Prayer Watch

Image of St. Paul wrote to the early Christians in Greece, telling them to pray without ceasing. (1 Th. 5:16-19) They did not live lives of ease, in any sense of the word. They had families, occupations, bills, and yes, difficulties and struggles beyond what many of us could imagine. They also suffered greatly for their faith. Yet, he instructed them to Pray without ceasing. Did he really mean it? I believe that he did.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he ... continue reading


Pope expresses regret with exodus of Christians from Mosul Watch

Image of

By Elise Harris (CNA/EWTN News)

In his weekly Sunday Angelus address Pope Francis mourned the fleeing of the last Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul, who were told by ISIS forces last week to either convert, pay the Jizya tax or leave. (CNA/EWTN News) - "They are persecuted; our brothers are ... continue reading


Your Catholic Voice Foundation delivers for Sisters of St. Joseph

Image of They're on their way, thanks to you.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

An order for 350 Bibles for a Catholic school in Grenada has been shipped to the sisters free of international shipping charges, thanks to you, the readers of Catholic Online. The shipping charges stood at approximately $800, and was covered by donations. Now, Your ... continue reading


This is Ch__ch. What is missing?

Image of What's missing? You are!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What's missing from this church? You are! Are we mistaken? Show up and tell us you are already there and get your daily prayer and more for FREE as our thanks.Click here now to say you're there!Now you can share this question with your friends. Are they at church? continue reading


Unaccompanied migrant children need our help

Image of This is an image of immigrant children presently housed in conditions that would be unconstitutional for convicted felons. These children are without their families, alone and afraid and without control over their future, they are the victims of many culprits.

By Tony Magliano

Tens of thousands of children fleeing desperate conditions have entered the United States asking for help. And many more are coming. What kind of welcome is being offered to them? The answer to that question is still largely undetermined. According to Human Rights ... continue reading


Freedom, Choosing and Becoming: Moral Life and Truth Watch

Image of Our Moral Life in Christ.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

What we choose determines who we become. Choosing what is good changes the chooser, empowering him or her to proceed along the pathways of virtue and develop the habitus - or habits- which promote Christian character. The Catechism of the Catholic Church ... continue reading


Pope Francis warns of migrant children falling prey to 'racist and xenophobic attitudes' Watch

Image of Pope Francis is calling for help and concrete solutions tot he plight of migrant children now flooding U.S. borders.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As hundreds of thousands of migrant children from Central and South American continue to flood the United States across the border of Texas, Pope Francis is calling for help and concrete solutions. Speaking at the Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretariat yesterday, ... continue reading


Pope Francis seeks 'urgent intervention' for migrant children flooding U.S. border Watch

Image of The U.S. has deported Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old this week. It was the first such flight since President Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back illegal immigrant minors from Central America.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In response to the thousands of unaccompanied South American children flooding the Texas border, Pope Francis has called for "urgent intervention." The pontiff says the U.S. needs to welcome and protect minors who travel on their own to seek a better life in ... continue reading


Pope Francis prays and appeals for peace in the Holy Land

Image of Pope Francis waving during the Angelus address.

By Elise Harris

Pope Francis asks us to pray for peace. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Following his reflections on the Sunday's Gospel parable of the sower and the seed, Pope Francis called for peace in the Holy Land, asking participants to join him in a moment of silent ... continue reading


Should Catholics go out of their way to help fellow Catholics?

Image of Catholics should help Catholics in every way.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What is Catholic to you? Is Catholic a part of your core identity, is it part of who you are? Are you a Champion of the Faith? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - We call ourselves Catholic, but how often do we live our Catholic identity? Are we lapsed Catholics, ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Song of Songs 3:1-4
1 On my bed at night I sought the man who is my ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
2 Thus I have gazed on you in the sanctuary, seeing ... Read More

Gospel, John 20:1-2, 11-18
1 It was very early on the first day of the week and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Mary Magdelene
July 22: She is called "the Penitent". St. Mary was given the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter