Reflection: RIP Brendan J. McGuire

On the morning of October 9, 2020, the feast of St. Denis and his companions, and of St. John Henry Newman, recently canonized, we who walk in this vale of tears lost one of our greatest exemplars of the Christian life: Dr. Brendan McGuire, beloved professor and scholar, father and husband, and, above all, authentic man of God.  In the coming days, the social media feeds of everyone in the Christendom College community and beyond will see stories shared by students, alumni, friends, colleagues, and family alike talking about this great man. 

If I might be so bold, allow me to add my own contribution.  

I had the honor of having Dr. McGuire as a professor the spring semester of my senior year at Christendom.  If memory serves me correctly (which it might not), he had recently been hired as a full-time professor at the College, having up to that point been a mere adjunct (he may have been hired as a full-time professor the year after I graduated, but I’m not sure).  Everyone who met him knew he was a genius, yet not the sort of genius that lords his intellect over you, nor the type of brainy person who cannot engage in a simple conversation about simple things.  He was approachable and understanding, and this combined with his amazing knowledge of his subject matter made him a superb teacher. 

How did I end up in his class?  I needed one more history course to complete my history major, and I had my choice of several courses, all of which appealed to me, both because of the course content and because of the professor.  Yet I finally settled on taking “Reconquista and Crusade” under McGuire, for my underclassmen friends, who had enjoyed him for their core history classes, insisted I had to take McGuire’s class. 

And so, since this was my last chance to take a class taught by him, I did. 

And I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I made in college, and easily one of the most transformative.  For now, reflecting back after more than a decade of my teaching career, and seeing the trajectory of who I am today, I can point to Brendan McGuire as one of the most profound influences of me, not only as a teacher and a scholar, but as a Christian man.  I can point to that upper-level history class in Thomas Aquinas Hall, to sitting in those seats, watching and learning from a man who, though just three years older than me, transformed my understanding of the word “teacher.” 

I can say with certainty that no teacher or professor of mine, from kindergarten through graduate school, had a more direct impact on me as a teacher today, than Professor Brendan McGuire. 

Reflecting back, I realize that the impact of McGuire’s teaching was quite immediate.  That same semester, when I was taking his Crusades class, I was also taking part in the Teaching Practicum program through the College.  As part of that program, I prepared my own lesson plans for classes that I would teach under the mentorship of a master teacher (in my case, Anne Carroll at Seton School in Manassas, VA, for her sophomore world history class).  As I prepared for the lessons, I had in my mind the model of McGuire captivating the classroom.  Not what he taught, since I was to focus on events in the 19th century, rather than the Middle Ages, but how he taught.  I consciously began thinking, as I was preparing, “how would McGuire teach this?  How would he act?  What would he do?” 

At the end of this post I will provide links to recordings of his lectures, both audio and video (especially video, if I can).  They will give you a sample, a taste, of the electricity that filled the classroom when McGuire began to teach. 

How did McGuire teach?  Simply put, he taught with the passion of what one might call evangelical zeal. 

He had notes, yes.  It was clear.  There they were, sitting on the podium in the front of the room.  But did he need them?  Sometimes, though hardly.  He had the stories he told memorized, the spelling of names at the tip of his fingers.  The notes usually stayed on the podium, while McGuire charged around the room, up the aisles, down the sides, to the board, then back to the students.

Rarely did he need to double check his notes.

You were sucked in, no longer sitting in a chapel-turned-classroom nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by students and paper and laptops.  You were marching with the crusaders, beholding banners and flags fluttering with the wind, seeing heroes and villains vying for the holiest place on earth.  There you were, and yet not there.  You were seeing this pageantry, and understanding it from a far, as one looks at some event with the hindsight of the future. 

So it was in McGuire’s class.  

From then until now, I have consciously tried to follow his style.  I have tried to know my topic well enough that I can be among my students when lecturing, rather than pinned to the podium, which seems so distant.  I have tried to infuse in my lessons the energy, the passion, which filled every McGuire class period.  “If McGuire was teaching this, how would he do it?”  This I asked myself in those early days as a student-teacher, and so I ask myself today. 

I don’t lecture as much as I used to in my classes, which is a pity and a gift.  Nowadays my students do more of the work, scrounging for the information themselves, rather than me simply giving it to them.  But I still enjoy lecturing when I get the chance, and every time I do, I still try to be like McGuire. 


I kept up with McGuire after my graduation, though nowhere near as much as many of my friends, who can and will share many beautiful stories about this pious, brilliant man.  For my part, I would chat with him during campus visits for Homecoming or other events. 

I listened with delight to his frequent lectures for the Institute of Catholic Culture (again, see below), even attending one in person with my wife Sarah, then my fiancée, on Valentine’s Day 2013.  Brendan gave the entire forty-plus minute lecture without his notes, which he had forgotten at his chair. 

I heard him present about his exciting historical and archaeological findings concerning the Rose Mosque in Istanbul (he had planned to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed setting, but I don’t know if that ever came to fruition).  I deeply enjoyed his presentations delivered at two of Christendom’s Summer Institutes. 

It was during one of those Institutes, during a break when he and I were briefly catching up before he would go on stage and present his paper, that he revealed something about his character, which I’m sure other people knew but which surprised me. 

Public speaking terrified him. 

The size of the audience did not matter; he even felt nervous before the start of his class lectures (though on this occasion he had good reason to be nervous, as his talk that day was before the rest of the Christendom history department, his former dissertation advisor, and another noted historian).  That struck me because, as I told him, I would never have thought that.  The confidence he exuded when he spoke covered completely his concern; indeed, that afternoon his talk enthralled the audience, so much so that the woman next to me uttered a soft “wow” while applauding. 

“Imagine having him for class,” I turned and said to her. 



For me, this insight into McGuire’s courage, which allowed him to overcome what could have been a crippling obstacle to his vocation as teacher, puts his fight against cancer in a tremendously spiritual perspective.  When McGuire and I spoke about his fear of speaking, he had already faced cancer once. . . and beaten it.  He suffered from a rare type of bone cancer, which normally manifests itself in juveniles, but which did not affect Brendan until he was 28 years old.  It is perhaps because of Brendan’s fullness of life, his energy and vigor, which helped him through session after session of chemotherapy.  And it worked!  A year after receiving his diagnosis, McGuire was officially clear of cancer. 

Sarah and I joined some of his family and friends to hike up Old Rag, a mountain trail near Front Royal, to celebrate his recovery.  The man who had only a year earlier been fighting for his life now outpaced us easy, leaving Sarah and I to catch up.  That was almost a year before our conversation outside the Summer Institute; all was well.  His health returned; he presented lectures and traveled, publishing an article in the Journal of Medieval History.  His family grew, and he devoted time to them and to his students.  

Then the cancer returned.  And again, McGuire beat it. 

And again. 

And again. 

Each time the man returned, his passion for his students and family remained unquenched, his love of learning and teaching as evident as it was when I sat in his classroom.  Unless you knew what he had been suffering, you could be forgiven for thinking that the master teacher lecturing to a classroom of students (albeit, with a noticeable limp) or a parish hall packed to overflowing was perfectly fine. 

Spiritual masters place a huge emphasis on the importance of fasting, because by denying yourself in small ways that you can control, you are more prepared to accept spiritual challenges and dangers that unexpectedly come your way.  Like a well-trained athlete, whose regular practice prepares him for the field or court, so fasting helps align your will to that of our Lord’s. 

I can’t help but think that Brendan’s triumph in those little things of life, embracing his vocation each day, helped him face the much more massive challenge which was in store for him in the last decade of his life, especially as his end came.   It came suddenly, from what I understand.  He was teaching on Wednesday and Thursday, conversing and carrying on with his students, colleagues, and friends.  He went to the hospital on Thursday night, not too unusual considering his battle with cancer. 

Then, by the time our world woke on Friday, he had died. 

We really do not know the day nor the hour when Christ will call us to Himself. 



I want to close this tribute by connecting one of my other historian heroes, Warren H. Carroll, with Dr. McGuire.  The comparison is apt, as McGuire was a student of Carroll’s as an undergrad, and likewise taught for years using some of Carroll’s books in Christendom’s history core classes.  Carroll was overjoyed when he learned that McGuire had returned to Christendom to teach. 

Don’t take my word for it.  Hear Carroll himself. 

As part of Christendom College’s 30th Anniversary celebration, Carroll gave a speech to the undergraduate students entitled “Thirtieth Anniversary Reflections from the Founder” (I was there).  Towards the end of his speech, Carroll devoted considerable time to naming and describing alumni, current students, and even (possibly) future students of Christendom College, who would make their mark on the 21st Century. 

In and amongst other notables, Carroll had this to say about his young disciple, Brendan McGuire:

Then consider Brendan McGuire of the class of 2003, who was just hired to teach history at this college (and I think he’s here), who had the only straight-A record ever attained here.  Not surprisingly he was the valedictorian. . . He spoke splendidly at his graduation on the nature and purpose of this college.  Brendan McGuire, now just 24 years old, will go on to make his mark on the nation and on the world in the 21st century. 

Dr. Carroll, throughout his life, repeatedly called for a rejection of relativism and announced the gospel that “Truth exists,” followed by the central historical Christian claim that “The Incarnation happened.”  These watchwords embodied the scholarship, teaching, and life of Brendan McGuire.  As a medievalist, McGuire faced his fair share of controversial topics, and it could have been easy to dismiss the stories of miracles and other incredible tales from medieval records (as many skeptical historians do today) or embrace these incredible tales without any critical examination (as some religious writers do).  Yet we see in the lectures and articles published by McGuire that healthy, authentically Catholic balance between Faith and Reason, a search for the authentic story of our Faith. 

McGuire did not produce a hefty body of peer-reviewed works and books.  A survey of recordings and webpages featuring his teaching demonstrate that this was not because he lacked the desire nor the intellectual prowess to create such scholarship.  He did not have the time.  It was not, it seems, his calling.  Yet he was a scholar, in the fullest sense of the world, and a teacher like no other.  Much of academia emphasizes peer-reviewed scholarship as the sign of a successful academic, a sign that you are making an impact on the world, or at least in your discipline.  In a way, McGuire’s career is a rejoinder to that cliché.  The impact of his career will spread far beyond the journals and conferences where he could have made his mark. 

His impact will spread beyond academia because he focused on his students, on his family, and on Christ.  A man faces many decisions in his life, and he must decide where to put his emphasis, to entrust his life.  Brendan McGuire could have, when faced with his diagnoses over the last decade of his life, buried himself in historical research, to the detriment of his family and the Faith.  He could have sought a position where he would research and write, and not teach, or at least teach with little interest in the wellbeing of his students.

But he didn’t.  He put his life into his family, his Faith, and his students.  He was a man who lived his life as something good, not something to be feared or grasped at, like Adam and Eve grasped in Eden.  All of us, then, are his students if we are attentive to him and his practical wisdom that seems so simple, and yet transcends our mere life. 

That, then, is the legacy left behind by Dr. Brendan J. McGuire.  As Dr. Carroll predicted, Brendan has made his mark on the nation and the world, wherever those of us who heard his lessons live and teach. 

We face death with a mixture of sadness and hope.  Sadness at the loss of one so loved, and hopeful in the Resurrection of Christ, for we are an Easter people.  I know we should pray for the repose of Brendan’s soul, that he might enjoy eternal life with Him to whom he dedicated his life.  At the same time, and I do not say this flippantly, I wonder if, just maybe, we should not only pray for Brendan, but also start asking for his intercession. 

Brendan McGuire has died; he has left this mortal coil.  Yet he is now more alive than we are, for he is alive in Christ!  And we who hope in Christ, as I said, hope in His Resurrection.  We can take comfort in these words from C. S. Lewis, which McGuire quoted at the very end of his Valedictorian address in 2003: “A Christian never says goodbye.”

Christendom Mourns the Loss of Beloved Professor Dr. Brendan McGuire

Eternal rest grant onto Brendan McGuire, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and those of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

All pictures featured in this post come from Christendom College (

More by and about Dr. McGuire. 

His obituary and teacher profile from the Christendom College website. 

His essay, “ISIS and Its Historical Context” through Christendom College’s Principles publication. 

His talks for Christendom College’s Principles lecture series, one entitled “The Crusades and the Political Misuse of History,” the other entitled “In the Fullness of Time: Historical Context for the Incarnation” (which comes with a Q & A session). 

Lectures delivered by Dr. McGuire for Christendom College’s Summer Institute, as well as a lecture he gave in honor of St. John Henry Newman’s canonization. 

McGuire speaking about the academics program at Christendom for parents and prospective students. 

Articles by McGuire on the Crisis Magazine website

Lectures he delivered through the Institute of Catholic Culture (you may need to set up an account to view these on the website, but the audio recordings are also available to download through Podcast apps and on Youtube). 

McGuire, Brendan J.  “Evidence for Religious Accommodation in Latin Constantinople: A New Approach to Bilingual Liturgical Texts,” Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 39.3, 2013.

McGuire review of David M. Perry, Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

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Question: Moral Evils, Scandal, and Burning Witches

Welcome new readers!  And Welcome EVERYONE to the first official post of 2020.  


Here’s a good ol’ fashioned #QuidquidQuestion!  



Steve, via email, asks a fascinating set of questions concerning the ranking of moral evils.  The questions come from a discussion comparing the evils of the current sexual abuse scandal in the Church with the historical evil of executing supposed witches by Puritans.  The conversation moved to a discussion of which evil was worse. This led to a thought on the part of Steve: 


Evil acts are evil acts, but shoplifting of a candy bar (an evil act) is not on par with the acts mentioned in the listed conversation. 


And then two questions:


1) Can evil be quantified/qualified?


2) Is the evil of the current church scandal the equivalent of burning witches or other such immoral actions?



Here are some thoughts in response.


First, let us assume that the actions of the sexually abusive priests and the Puritan executioners were true sins, not just evil acts. 


Evil acts are merely actions which are neither good nor neutral; they are evil either in themselves (intrinsically evil actions), in intention (the reason the person is doing the action) or in the circumstances (something about the context of the action makes it an evil action).  Intrinsically evil actions are never just, or good, actions; these include things like murder, which can never be justified by intentions of the doer or the circumstances of the murder. 


However, even a good or neutral act could be done wrongly or “evilly.”  For example, someone with a sizable income could donate money to a charity in order to make someone else look bad.   In that situation, we have a good act (donating money) + good circumstances (donations to a good cause, which don’t bankrupt the donor) + bad intention (using charity as a way to harm another person’s reputation) = a bad act. 


Another example might be a stay-at-home mom who prays the Divine Office daily, with the intention of growing closer to God.  These are a good act with a good, even holy, intention. However, if the mother neglects her duties towards her family as a result of her praying, this would actually be a bad action (“evil”) because of the circumstances.


That is what moral theologians mean by saying an act is morally bad or evil.  We discussed this in a prior post laying the groundwork for a high school-aged discussion on sexual ethics. 


Whether someone is guilty of a sin or not depends on whether or not the person

  1. a) knew that their action was evil, and
  2. b) had full consent in performing the action. 


Let’s look at the shoplifting, which Steve brings up in his question.  Someone could steal a candy bar from a convenience store on purpose, knowing that stealing is wrong, but choosing to do it anyway.  In that case, such a thief is guilty of the sin of stealing. If, however, the person did not know that stealing is wrong (perhaps he was never taught that stealing was wrong), or if he was forced to steal the candy bar (perhaps his life or someone he cares for is in danger), then he would not be guilty of the sin. 


This DOES NOT make stealing a good action, but it does lesson or even remove the guilt that thief might have for stealing the candy. 


This brings us to the question: Can evil be quantified or qualified?  In a sense, yes. As I mentioned above, there are actions which are, in themselves, always evil; good circumstances and intentions cannot make them good acts.  These actions, thus, are more evil than other actions. The horrific murders committed by Jack the Ripper are in a different category of evil than the teen who steals a candy bar from the store, or a man who is envious of another man’s nice new car. 


While all three of these actions are sins, if done with full understanding of the evil and with full consent of the will, the murders are far worse than shoplifting or envy. 


Again, as with our discussion of guilt, this DOES NOT make shoplifting or envying others a good or acceptable action.  Just because there are eviler actions one could do does not make lesser sins not sins. Sins are sins.


That said, the Church distinguishes between mortal and venial sins, or, to use the language of 1 John 5, between “deadly” sin and “not deadly” sins.  Murdering five women in Victorian England would be a mortal sin. Shoplifting a candy bar would still be a sin, but it would more likely be a venial sin.



What of the comparison between burning witches and the current sex abuse crisis in the Church?  These are two different types of evil. I am going to get into how they differ in a second, but I want to be very, very clear: THESE WERE BOTH EVIL ACTIONS.  Whether the Puritans or priests are guilty is not for me to judge (although I will have something to say about that below).  Even if the Puritans or the priests were, in a sense, not-guilty for these actions, that would not make the actions good, or even neutral. 

Image result for salem witch trial contemporary art


Regarding Witch Trials: One could argue that those who called for and encouraged the burning of witches in Europe and the American colonies were not guilty of the sin of murder against the “witches” executed.  I say this because the circumstances or intentions of the people involved may have lessened their guilt (again, this is not saying the “witches’” deaths were good things). The people who witnessed against the “witches” may have been forced or uninformed of what was happening.  The prosecutors may have thought that they were defending the common good of society; just as a murderer or a traitor endangered the common good, so also, the standard argument went, did witches. There were shocking flaws in the way the witch trials progressed; some of that was by design, others unintentional because of the hysteria surrounding the trials. 


In other words, a lack of full consent, unclear circumstances, and good intentions may have lessened the guilt of those involved.  Should they have done the trials? No, and I think that clearer heads could have prevailed if the court system was more structured and balanced. 


This isn’t the place to talk about the Medieval or Spanish Inquisitions, but there is a reason why such hysteria did not erupt in places like Spain or in Medieval France (where the Inquisition was strong).  The Inquisition structure allowed more vetting for cases, and sensational accusations were not allowed. If evidence of heresy could not be produced, then the inquisitors threw out the case.  



Regarding Sexual Abuse by Clergy: Honestly, I have a very hard time coming up with the same type of rational for diminished guilt that I laid out above for the Puritans.  At least the Puritans could say they were defending the common good of society, that there was a potential spiritual danger, theoretically, in someone infecting the community through Satanic communications.  Evil should be eradicated from our lives, and societies should work to order themselves to the common good, so that people can reach their ends as human persons. 


What of abusive priests and those who defended, transferred, and hid them? 


I do not see the same sort of justification.  Worst, of course, would be the abusers themselves, who abused the victims, the sacrament of Holy Orders, and the trust of the faithful.  Bishops and those in ecclesial authority that covered up the abuses likewise abused; while their abuse was non-sexual in nature, their abuse of power, authority, and the trust of the faithful was, likewise, scandalous. 


Those that protected abuser priests, like the Puritan witch hunters, could appeal to protection of the common good as an explanation for their actions.  However, what aspect of the common good did they seek to defend? It would appear that they sought to avoid scandalizing the faithful, as if to keep the image of a morally perfect priest would protect the integrity of the Church.  In that process, in making a deal with predatory priests, they allowed the evil to grow and fester. In doing so, they inadvertently broke the confidence they sought to protect. 


In many cases, bishops, et al. trusted the opinions of the psychotherapists rather than their own theological training and traditions.  Perhaps they thought, like many today, that depravity is a matter of psychological failings, rather than spiritual evil. Perhaps, if they had acted with more vigor, with zeal like those in Salem, balanced with the reason of the Church’s tradition, then we could have avoided the scandals.  Perhaps the evil would have been blotted out before it spread like a virus throughout our Church. 



PRAYERS!  We are called to pray for those who have done evil, both to us and to others.  In light of that perennial teaching of the Church, please continue to pray (or begin to pray) for those who hunted witches, who were victims of their hunts, for those who do seek in evil a way to live their life.  Please continue to pray (or start to pray) for priests who committed the evils of abuse in any shape and form, but especially those who sexually abused those under their care. Pray for their victims and for the Church. 


Bring all of these prayers to Christ crucified, who died for both abuser and their victims, for witch hunters and their prey.  May all of us be open to the graces He provides to all of us each day. 



For Further Reading


Robert Barron, Letter to a Suffering Church resource site


Tim Staples, “Mortal and Venial Sins?”


Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials, 1692


Jess Blumberg, A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials  


Thomas Aquinas, “On Mortal and Venial Sin” (Summa Theologiae I.II, Q. 88).  

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Question: Can Angels Read Your Mind?

I had hoped to get this angel-themed question out in time for October 2, the feast of the Guardian Angels, but I didn’t get to posting it.  My wife Sarah didn’t get a chance to look over it either, so all grammar, logical, and stylistic issues are my own.


Unless she looks over this later, in which case, I’ll update.


Anyway. . . .


Clare from Maryland asks a few questions about angels


Can angels read your mind?  Can Mary and the saints read our minds and hear our thoughts?  Also, is it wrong to ask your guardian angel its name? 


These are great questions, ones which, honestly, I did not know the answers to until recently, and I did not know the reasons why, exactly, until writing this blogpost.  Everybody learns something today!


If you want to know way more about angels than you ever thought you could ever know, then check out Questions 50-64 of the First Part of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.  Thomas delves into pretty much everything he could about the angels, from their nature to the extent of their relationship with us.  Thomas was drawing upon the rich resources in Scripture and Tradition about the angels, and more modern writers, like Jean Danielo, Peter Kreeft, and Mike Aquilina, likewise draw on the work of the appropriately named “Angelic Doctor.”

St. Thomas with angels

The Angelic Doctor chillin’ with his crew.


So let’s briefly look at Clare’s questions.  To answer these questions, I’ll focus on what St. Thomas says in the Summa.  I will also put some “Further Reading” at the end of the post if you want to dive deeper into the theology of the angels with some other books and resources.   There are a lot of good resources out there; some of it you have to be cautious of, as angels have been dragged into the whole New Age movement, and have been misinterpreted by movies and TV.  Here, we’ll stick to what the Church says.


Fair enough?


First, can angels read your mind (and, relatedly, can the Mary and the saints do that)?  The short answer is no, they cannot.  St. Thomas answers this point in ST I.57, a4.  Do angels know secret thoughts?  No, because they are not God.  God alone can know our inner thoughts, that is, what is not revealed but which stays in our mind.  It is part of His omniscience.  Angels (and saints) do not have that ability or power.


However, angels are incredibly rational.  They have a perfect intellect, meaning they fully understand a situation and can more perfectly arrive at a more logical conclusion based on evidence than we can.  Thomas examines this in I.57, a3, “Whether angels know the future.”  In that discussion, he lays out how there are two ways of “knowing” the future: by examining known causes and by knowledge of future events in themselves.  The first way is how angels and men know the future, that is, by recognizing the signs that point to a future event.  We know that something will fall because we see it start to fall, and we know that gravity is pretty consistent here on Earth.  The second way is how God sees the future.  Thomas specifies that this knowledge of the future is not just knowing what must happen, or what will likely happen, but also what could have happened otherwise, “for God sees all things in His eternity, which, being simple, is present to all time, and embraces all time. And therefore God’s one glance is cast over all things which happen in all time as present before Him; and He beholds all things as they are in themselves.”


Now, Thomas says, look at the question of angels reading minds.  An angel can know someone’s thoughts by the effects worked by the man’s actions.  That’s not surprising; it is, after all, how we know what someone is thinking.  However, angels and men cannot know the inner thoughts of someone unless the person reveals them (and thus it because an example of the first way of knowing someone’s thoughts).  Thomas’ reason for arguing thus is that rational creatures (men and angels) are subject to God, and God, above men and angels as their Creator, knows their inner workings, knows their will, and thereby knows their inner thoughts.


As far knowing the name of your guardian angel, the answer is likewise clear.  The traditional response is that you should NOT ask your angel its name, NOR should you give him a name.  The reason, as with many things in the spiritual and moral life, is an issue of authority.  We give nicknames to our friends and name our pets and children because we are equal to our friends and superior to our pets and children.  That said, we are NOT superior to the angels.  They are above us in being, as they are immaterial beings with perfectly unchanging intellects and will.  It is not our place to give names to things superior to us (which is why it is not a good idea to start calling college professors by their nickname to their face, unless you have their permission).


Think back to the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel.  Jacob asks the name of the angel, but gets a curt response: “Why should you want to know my name?”  If you know the name of someone, in a sense you control that person; you can call upon them and they answer you.  The angel’s name was none of Jacob’s business.


We do know the names of three angels, the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, because God revealed their names in Scriptures, and their names are thus a part of Divine Revelation.  We can call upon those archangels by name, and they will help us.  Scripture gives the names of no other angels, and we are not encouraged to speculate about such things.


If meditations on such matters by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas are not enough, we can see a more recent reflection by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  In the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (promulgated in 2001), the Congregation writes the following, concerning the naming of guardian angels:


Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations. . .  The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture. (217)


Do angels have names?  Yes, but it is not for us to know them.  Perhaps, in Heaven, God will reveal to us our angel’s name, just as we will see our whole life’s story, seeing every moment where our heavenly helper and guide kept us on the path to Him who is Lord of us and of the Angels.



Readers, if you have a Quidquid Question, feel free to shoot me an email or tweet at me using the hashtag #QuidquidQuestion.  See the banner above for more how-to help.



For Further Reading


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I. 50-64 (especially 57, a4-and a5)


Peter Kreeft, Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them (Ignatius Press, 1995)


Mike Aquilina, Angels of God: The Bible, the Church, and the Heavenly Hosts (Servant, 2009)


Jean Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church (first published in 1957)


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Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND THREE!)

Ok, this is the last of the senior sexual ethics questions.   Here is the first part, and here is the second part


I PROMISE we’ll be getting back to more typical Quidquid material next post.  Whenever that will be. 


Why is the Church against artificial insemination?


There are reasons the Church is against artificial insemination, especially as practiced today.  I turn your attention to two magisterial documents, both put out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life) and Dignitatis Personae (The Dignity of a Person).  All other statements dealing with the topic of artificial human reproduction draw from these two important documents.  


Also, we should be clear that the Church’s qualms here are with human artificial insemination.  The procedures can be performed on pandas, elephants, and other animals, as well as plants, without any moral complaint.  


A few points, then.  


First, we must remember that children are not rights.  No one has a right to a child, as if a child were listed with food, shelter, and clothing as essential things for our lives.  Children are not property to be created, bought, and sold. They are human beings. They have their own dignity and natural rights.  


Second, the Church has issue with how these artificial procedures separate the sexual act from the process of creating life.  Sex is life-giving and love-giving. These procedures aren’t really life-giving, in the way sexual intercourse is. Really, they are life-making.  Just as the Church is not in favor of separating fecundity from sexual acts, as is found in recreational, casual sex, so also she is against life-making from sexual process.  


Third, the process of artificial insemination often involves other ethical issues.  The sperm used in the fertilization is typically procured via masturbation. Most egregious is the fact that many of the unused embryos (that is, developing babies) are either frozen, used in other IVF procedures, used for experimentation (and destroyed), or simply discarded (and die).  This does not get into the potential for “designer babies.”


For a brief overview of the Church’s teaching, as well as notes referencing key passages in Donum Vitae, see CCC 2373-2379.  



Are the people who run and work in the porn industry looked down upon by Catholics?


For a lot more on this topic, see Matt Fradd, The Porn Myth.  He draws a lot on statistics about pornography, including information relevant to this topic. 

Image result for matt fradd the porn myth

To the question.  


The Church has always taught we should hate sin but love the sinner.  Producing and distributing pornography is gravely wrong on several levels.  Let us parse this out.


Viewing pornography is wrong.  It reduces another person to the level of an object.  The person in the pornographic material is not viewed as a person, but rather as a thing through which the viewer will receive sexual satisfaction.  There is a similarity between using pornography and owning slaves; both stem from a mindset that views certain people as objects to be used. As such, many pornographers abuse in various ways the subjects of their pornographic materials.  One study found that over 88% of pornographic material contains some sort of physical abuse of women, while of the same sample size, 48% contained verbal abuse, again against women.


This doesn’t even get into the negative effects pornography use has on viewers, nor the reality of underage pornography, where subjects as young as 12 or 13 are made up to look over 18, or not, as there is a market for child pornography.  


The Catholic response to all of this should not be “oh my, pornographers are horrible people,” even if we look at the moral wasteland that is the porn industry.  We should pray for them and for the subjects of pornographic material, many of whom have no choice to be in those videos or pictures. The subjects often enter the industry out of desperation, or a need for funds, or (in the most dire cases) because their life was threatened.  Recall the sex trafficking video you watched last year in Theology. One of the girls interviewed was tricked into the world of prostitution, and was trapped by her pimp into being raped; the rape was recorded and distributed as pornography.


Few little girls and boys announce that they want to be porn stars.  That’s never, as far as I can tell, one’s primary goal in life.


The problem with pornographers is that they bring others to sin, be it their subjects or their audience.  All for easy money.


If you watch, make, or distribute pornography, especially of minors, please stop and get help.  Talk to a priest.  Talk to a counselor.  Talk to someone.  But get help.  


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Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND TWO!)

Welcome to ROUND TWO of questions my seniors asked last semester about Christian sexual ethics.  I think I will do one more post after this, and then get back to regularly scheduled nothing. . . 


Then answer one of the exciting reader questions that I haven’t answered yet! 


If you haven’t read ROUND ONE, make sure you go and do that.  The answers below make references to what was said before.  Also, if you want some resources, check out the list at the end of the Round One post. 




Q2: (a) Why is the church so overbearing about sex? Like if someone has sex before marriage, are they going to hell?  

(similar Questions asked: (b) Why is premarital sex wrong, but in marriage that’s the end goal?; (c) Why is it a sin to have sex with your future husband or wife?; (d) Is it wrong to engage in sexual activity before you get married if you think that the you are going to get married to them?; (e) What is your opinion on people deciding to lose their virginity when they “feel like they’re ready”?)


These questions all get at the same basic logical process.  


Premise 1: Sexual activity between people is a very serious thing.  

Premise 2: People should only do serious things only when they are “ready.”

Conclusion: People should have sexual activity whenever they are “ready.”  


There are several issues with this syllogism.  The first premise is fine. Sexual activity is a very serious thing.  Most (I think most; is there a survey on this?) reasonable people agree that sexual activity is serious, and that the hookup culture does much more harm than good.  The statistics are not just depressing, they are terrifying. The American Sexual Health Association, for example, notes that “One in two sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25.”  That doesn’t include psycho-emotional effects, which are much more nuanced and more difficult to measure (without just listing a bunch of anecdotal evidence).  


The second premise is, likewise, true.  Going back to our jumping off of the Grand Canyon example from Q1: If you are going to jump off of the Grand Canyon, please make sure you are “ready.”  Make sure you have your hang glider and are properly trained in how to glide. Make sure someone else knows of your plans, so they can rescue you if you are alone.  Make sure you have rested, eaten, have hydration, etc. All of that good stuff. Because if you aren’t ready, it will be a long, long way to the bottom of that gulley.  


Be ready.  


But that conclusion!  It assumes something rather risky, that we are the arbiters of readiness.  That we determine what it means to be ready.


What does it mean to be “ready” to have sex?  Sexual attraction? The maturity of the couple?  The stability of the relationship? A particular age?  Income? Time spent dating? An engagement ring? Shared bank accounts?  


How do we know any of that means we are ready for sex?  How did WE determine this criteria? If you look at the list above, almost everything on that list is normally found in a stable marriage.  If you want a situation where you and your significant other are mature enough to make big decisions, have a structure set up to provide stability in your relationship, have reached a particular age, have been together for a substantial period of time, and have made shared promises to each other, then look no further than marriage.  Marriage has everything desired for sexual readiness.


There is a huge difference those vows make.  


Let me put two situations before you (full disclosure: I’m stealing this story from Fr. Jaffe, current pastor at Christ the Redeemer parish in Sterling, VA, who told this story at a day of reflection for engaged couples, which the future Mrs. Rose and myself attended before we were married)


Harry and Sally were an adorable engaged couple excited about their wedding day.  They were to get married on a midsummer Saturday, and then head to Europe for their honeymoon.  Everyone was so happy for the couple.


But then, tragedy struck.  


On the way to their rehearsal dinner, the night before their wedding day, Harry and Sally were in a horrific car wreck.  Harry was ok, but Sally sustained severe damage to her spine, paralyzing her from the neck down. She could do nothing for herself, and now required individual care for what used to be routine, like eating and bathing.  The wedding was postponed while Sally recovered.


Harry, at first supportive, soon found himself exhausted by the situation, and, terrified by the enormous burden he would have to carry, called off the wedding, the engagement, and their relationship.  With words of apology, he handed Sally’s nurse a breakup note to read to Sally, looked at his now ex-fiance one last time, turned and walked out of the hospital room and out of Sally’s life forever.



Now, let’s rewind and move the tragedy 24 hours later.


Harry and Sally were wed that midsummer Saturday.  The crash was not on the way to the rehearsal dinner, but on the way to the airport for their European honeymoon.  Harry was fine in the crash, but Sally suffered the same debilitating injuries.


Again, she would need constant care.  


Again, faced with the pressures of such a life, Harry crumples and hands the nurse not a break up letter but divorce papers.  When he walks out of Sally’s life, he likewise walks out of his marriage.


Let us compare these two stories.


In the first story, I think we can agree that, to an extent, Harry is a colossal jerk.  Did he really love her? We don’t really know, but he could have been a better man. But at the same time, while we may not like what he did, there wasn’t anything morally or legally wrong with what he did.  He was not bound to care for Sally, as he was just her fiance, which is really, in a sense, being a boyfriend with an end goal in mind (as symbolized by the engagement ring).


The vows change everything.  Harry promised at the wedding to be true to Sally “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, ‘til death do us part,” or something similar.  He is going against what he said, and is doing it in quite an impersonal way.


The vows make a difference.  What was once just a mean thing to do has, by those circumstances, become a morally bad thing.  


So it is with sex.  The vows make a difference.  The vows are VERBAL PROOF that you are “ready.”  You can never know if your significant other is “ready” until they have sworn they are.  That is why the words of the couple at the marriage are called vows. It isn’t merely a contract, an agreement between parties; it is a covenant.  The two become one new family. The promises, the vows, become incarnated in the marital embrace of the couple that night, and as Scott Hahn puts it, “God has designed it so that when the two become one, they become so one that nine months later you might just have to give it a name.”  


To wrap this question up, I’m going to give a short reply, based on everything I’ve said here and in the previous answer, to each of the questions


Q2a: Overbearing is kind of harsh.  Grant it, it is hard to follow the Church’s teaching on sex, especially if you are of the mindset that you know your body better than God.  And it is always hard to follow the rules for anything.


Let’s use a sports analogy.  Let’s pretend we’re playing soccer.  The match begins and I immediately pick up the ball and run towards the goal. You punch me, and then proceed to hit the ball with a baseball bat.  The goalie, seeing the ball coming towards the goal, hops on a horse and flings rocks at the other goalie. And so it goes, chaos reigning, everyone doing their own thing.  



From the greatest comic of all time, Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson, I give you CALVINBALL!


Bottom line: that isn’t soccer.  I don’t know what it is, but it sure as heck isn’t soccer.  That’s because in soccer there are set rules that distinguish it from other games.  If you violate the rules of soccer, there are consequences, because otherwise the game cannot proceed properly.  


The consequence of rejecting God, of kicking Him out of your life, is Hell not because God likes it when we choose Hell over Him, nor because the Church is a bunch of prudish old men who hate sex.  It is because when we violate the law of sexual relationships, we are going against God’s direct commands and plan for us. We build our own Hells and lock ourselves in. God cannot save us because we won’t want it.  


Q2b:  I hate comparing sex to buying a car, because it sounds so tacky and crass, but I think the comparison is appropriate here.  It gets at the story of Harry and Sally, above. If I am test driving a car, I am not supposed to take it onto the interstate and drive four hours, go sightseeing, eat inside the car, run errands, and then drive the four hours back.  That would be wrong, because I do not own the car. However, once I do own the car, I can do those sorts of things. In fact, the test drive prepares me for the ownership of the car. In this example, test driving isn’t having sex before marriage so you can get practice in before the “real thing.”  The example points to how there is a difference between before and after buying the car. There is a difference between sex before and after the vows. One is incomplete, the other exactly the way things should be.


Q2b, c, and d: I addressed these already above.  


Let’s talk, really quickly about the phrase “losing” your virginity.  I lose my cell phone, my car keys, my books, my way while driving, my wife in the mall, my kids at. . . I won’t get into that.  My point is, losing is a negative process.


Your virginity is something special, something precious.  It is part of who you are. You don’t lose it the way you lose your keys or that essay for English class you printed during 1st period.  You lose it because someone took it from you, or because you gave it away like it was nothing, like Esau and his birthright. However, you can reclaim your virginity!  You can’t undo what you’ve physically done, but you can make a promise to your future spouse to wait for him or her, to wait until you’ve promised in word to give yourself fully to this person whom God has chosen for you.  Then you can give, as if new, your virginity. Because if you give in that context, you do not lose your virginity but perfect it in its ultimate purpose.


A quick word to those who lost their virginity because someone took it from them.  You have been wronged. You have been robbed of something beautiful. But the person or persons who stole your virginity have not changed who you are.  You are as precious as ever; no evil done by another can taint your inmost heart. Your virginity might be “lost” in a physical sense, but you did not give it.  You too can give it to one who deserves it. Again, those vows, the verbal give and receive of love.  

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Question: Sexual Morality Questions from Seniors (ROUND ONE!)

This past fall, I had the privilege of teaching a new senior apologetics course at Bishop O’Connell High School, where I am chairman of the Religion Department.  The course, entitled “Sharing the Faith in the World,” taught students not just the answers to theological controversies, but more importantly how to have intelligent, reasonable arguments based in logic rather than impulse.  It was a very student-centered course, meaning that I let the students direct the topics of discussion, rather than I, as the teacher picking the topics and lecturing.  The majority of the class involved students selecting topics within Apologetics (be it natural, Christian, or Catholic), researching both sides of the issue, and debating both the orthodox and heterodox positions.  It was a lot of fun, and I hope to teach the course again next school year. 


In the course of our discussion of Christian apologetics, the students wanted to examine in detail the topic of Christian sexual ethics.  Due to the constraints of time, we were unable to examine EVERY aspect of this huge topic, instead focusing on what the Church teaches about sexuality and why.  As such, there were many questions the students had that were left unanswered.  I collected many of their questions together, and composed short answers for them. 


I have decided to post several of the questions here, not just because I need to post something (although that is true; I have not been very good at posting every month), but also to show off my creative, inquisitive, and intelligent high school seniors.  Having spent a semester with these students, I can assure readers that many of the students are mature and serious when it comes to matters of religion.  Their questions stemmed not from a desire to trap the teacher or somehow prove that the Church is stupid in her teaching on human sexuality; rather, these questions are questions for which the students honestly seek the answers.  


I have not included all of the questions here, both because of time and because their questions come out of already having learned the basics of Christian sexual ethics.  Also, the answers may seem incomplete not because everything that could be said about the topic is in the answer I posted, but rather because my answers were meant to be short responses, with the hope that the more interested student might dig deeper into the wealth of the Church’s teaching on this essential part of what it means to be a human being.   I will post the resources I sent them at the bottom of this post as well, for interested parties.  


So, without any more preambling, here are some student questions, with my humble answers, fixed up so that you, my beloved Quidquid readers, can follow along.  


What does the Church teach about sex?

(this isn’t a question they asked, but I’m including it to lay the groundwork)


The Church’s teaching on sexuality can be summed up in a short little phrase: Sex is beautiful.  Sex is an essential part of marriage, and it brings new life into the world and builds a bond between husband and wife.  Every aspect of Christian sexual ethics goes back to those main points.


The Church draws her vision of human sexuality from Genesis, where sexual intimacy appears in the context of married life.  The Creation stories portray sex as a command (“be fruitful and multiply”) and as a gift (see how Adam burst into song at the sight of Eve in Genesis 2: 23, and how that reaction is immediately followed by references to marriage and the original innocence of our first parents).  

Image result for fall of adam and eve

Adam: First brat to yell “I DIDN’T DO IT!”

The Fall in Genesis 3 led to the division between men and women, which manifests itself through sexual sin (Genesis 3: 7, 16). Thus is the damaged world we see around us, but it was not supposed to be that way. Jesus makes that clear in his teaching on marriage (Matthew 5: 27-32; 19:1-15).


So what should sex be like?  Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (par. 9, 12) expresses this clearly (that said, I’ll use the language more familiar to you).  All sexual acts should be Free (that is, not forced), Total (a complete gift of the two people to each other), Faithful (exclusive to the other), and Fruitful (open to new life coming from the marital act).  This can also be summed up in the two-pronged aspect of marital love: Life-Giving and Love-giving.


If one of these aspects is not present, then the act does not follow the Church’s teaching on sex.  Keep in mind, as well, the three parts of an act which you learned last year in Morality class: the Object (what the action itself is), the Intention (why the person is doing the action), and the Circumstance (the context of the action).  While some violations of Christian Sexual Ethics are in themselves evil, that is, the Object is evil, others are violations because of the Intention or the Circumstance. All three (Object, Intention, Circumstance) must be good for an act to be good.


Let’s explain using a violation that everyone (I hope) agrees is bad: rape.  The Catechism defines rape as “the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person” (CCC 2356).  If the Object in rape (sexual intercourse) is morally neutral, the Intention and Circumstances are clearly morally evil (due to the violation of consent, the violence against justice and charity, etc).  Rape also fails the Christian Sexual Ethics test. It is not Free, as someone is being coerced into the act. It is not Total, as there is not a gift of self; rather, one party is taking what should be freely given.  It is Faithful, as it does not come from a context of exclusivity. It is not Fruitful, as rarely is the rapist open to new life. Likewise, it does not build up the relationship between the two people (Love-Giving) nor does it have as its goal the righteous act of bringing life into the world (Life-Giving).


See how that works?


If a sexual act fails to be Free, Total, Faithful, or Fruitful and/or is not Life-Giving or Love-Giving, then it is not justifiable.  You should not do it, nor should anyone else.


Q1: Is it impossible for sex outside of marriage to be holy and involve God?


Sex has a purpose, a reason for its existence.  God created it with that purpose. As with anything else in life, it is never a good idea to decide we know better than God.  About anything. Ever. God, in laying out the foundation of the universe, created the laws that govern the universe. Like gravity.  Gravity pulls and pushes planets and stars into their orbits, shaping worlds out of clouds of dust. It also drags you to your death if you swan dive off of the Grand Canyon.  Don’t mess with God’s laws.

As I mentioned earlier, sexual acts should follow the laws God laid out for them, just as we should follow laws of nature (airplanes and jetpacks aside).  When we don’t follow the laws, bad things happen. When we make, say, an airplane fly, we don’t defy the laws of gravity; rather, we use gravity and other laws of nature, such as wind dynamics and other things I do not have any sort of authority to discuss, to create lift, which leads to the craft flying.  Or falling, with style.



Back to extramarital sex.  What’s wrong with it? Well, God created sex to work within marriage.  Of course, people can, and do, have sex outside of marriage, but there is always something lacking in these extramarital sexual encounters.  Perhaps the openness to life is curtailed, either through contraception or non-intercourse sexual acts which make it impossible for life to come from the actions.  Or, perhaps the union of the two partners is not a factor, as is often the case with casual sexual encounters. Or perhaps the sexual union is open to life (or at least non-contraceptive) and is between two people who, honestly, usually really care about each other.  They genuinely want what is best for each other, and want to spend their lives together.


Except in this case, of course.  See, if you and I genuinely care about another person, we would avoid doing anything that would harm them, especially in a permanent way.  Few honest lovers seek, for example, to chop the arms and legs off of their beloved. We want what is best for them. And yet, in a moment of selfishness, the lover and beloved seek their own wants over what is best for the other.  Rather than a selfless giving of oneself, as a married couple does on their wedding night, there is a twinge of selfishness.


The couple, in engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, sets themselves against God and His will for marriage.  They are saying, if they are properly informed of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, that they do not care what God has planned for them.  They do not want to wait; they are calling the shots. They are like the Prodigal Son, who told his father to his face that the father was more good to him dead than alive, who was only concerned for his own wants and desires.  


But let’s assume it isn’t that bad.  Let’s assume the person doesn’t know better, that they were never taught God’s plan for sexuality, and that they act out of ignorance because, as far as they know, sex before marriage is the norm in society, and if you don’t have sex before marriage, then there is something wrong with your relationship.  What then? Do they get sent to Hell?


That’s a matter for the next set of questions.  


For now, the short answer to your question.  I would say that, for the Catholic/Christian, not only is extramarital sex not holy, it is mortally sinful, and should be avoided at all costs.  


Don’t jump off the Grand Canyon.  Don’t dismember your significant others.  


And don’t have sex outside of marriage.  



WHEW!  That is enough for right now.  Below are the promised resources that might be of interest to readers of this post.  


Also, if you are interested in seeing more questions like these or other questions connected to theology, Church history, or anything in apologetics, feel free to email them to or Tweet @quidquidestest using #quidquidquestion.  



Free.  Total.  Faithful.  Fruitful.


General Chastity Resources

The Chastity Project:

Evert, Jason.  Theology of the Body in One Hour (Totus Tuus Press, 2017)

Evert, Jason.  If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Purity (Catholic Answers, 2009).

Evert, Jason.  Pure Love.

Evert, Jason.  Pure Manhood

Evert, Crystalina.  Pure Womanhood

Evert, Jason and Crystalina Evert.  How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul: 21 Secrets for Women (Totus Tuus, 2011).   

Sri, Edward.  Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility (Servent Press, 2015)

Bonacci, Mary Beth.  Real Love: Answers to Your Questions on Dating, Marriage and the Real Meaning of Sex (Ignatius Press, 2012)




Integrity Restored:


Fradd, Matt.  The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography (Ignatius Press, 2017)

Fradd, Matt, ed.  Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women who Turned from Porn to Purity (Catholic Answers Press, 2013)

Fradd, Matt and Cameron, ed.  Restored: True Stories of Love and Trust after Porn (Catholic Answers Press, 2015).

Loverde, Paul.  Bought with a Price




USCCB on Contraception:

Couple to Couple League:


Coffin, Patrick.  The Contraception Deception: Catholic Teaching on Birth Control (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2018).

Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (1968).  

Smith, Janet E., ed.  Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader (Ignatius Press, 1993)

Smith, Janet E., ed.  Why Humanae Vitae Is Still Right (Ignatius Press, 2018)


Same-Sex Attraction


Courage International:


Harvey, John F.  Homosexuality and the Catholic Church: Clear Answers to Difficult Questions (Ascension Press, 2007)

Mattson, Daniel.  Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace (Ignatius Press, 2017).

Schmitz, Mike.  Made for Love: Same-Sex Attraction and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2017).

Check, Paul and Janet E. Smith.  Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same Sex Attraction (Ignatius Press, 2015)


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Review: Books Read in 2018

One of the (now annual) features of this blog is my review of the various books I’ve read in the previous year.  For the past few years now, I’ve kept track of the new-to-me books I read in the previous year, and have included short reviews of them for your edification.  As even a cursory skim of the titles below would reveal, many of the books are unrelated to apologetics or other branches of theology. That said, I find that people are often interested in what other people read, and would love pithy little reviews of what they are reading.  


No?  That’s just an obsession of mine?  


Well, anyway, I’m posting the list with my comments for my sake, if not for the rest of the Internet.  


You might recall from last year’s review (here and here) that my goal for this year was to read all of the books my wife and I own by people we know personally which I had not yet read.  When I posted last year’s review, I was excited that, by the end of the first week in February, I had read six books, including three written by people we know.  I planned on plowing ahead, especially during the summer months.


But I ran into a literary brick wall: two massive, 500+ page books.  That slowed my reading to a crawl, and thus I was unable to finish ALL of the books by people we know that we own.


But I did read several of them, and I have indicated below which ones were from that list.  




Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton – Written prior to the the release of Jurassic Park (one of my all-time favorite books!) but never published, this newest from Crichton (who died a few years ago) is a historical novel looking at the 19th century dinosaur bone wars between Cope and Marsh.  It is good, a really fast read, but it does feel like a draft work, like something that could have been expanded into something more like Crichton’s other works.  Still, I recommend it, especially if you like dinosaurs.


The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis – I read this one as a challenge to my students.  I regularly assign book reviews for my religion students, and this year was no exception.  They picked the topic of the book, and I picked the title. So we have Lewis’ short collection of lectures on the moral crisis of our day, which became even more abundantly applicable in light of the #MeToo movement.  Men have ceased to be men (hence their abolition) because we have given them free rein to do whatever they desire, but then attack them for doing what we allowed them to do. Lewis wrote decades before the Sexual Revolution, but he saw even in the 1940s the risk of the morality that would flourish in the 1960s.  If only we had listened to his warnings.


The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf – The first of the “by people we know” books, this volume traces the history of the major medieval crusades and argues that they were not horrific attacks against helpless Muslim populations but were something more spiritual.  Weidenkopf was a professor of mine in graduate school and directed my MA thesis, and this book feels like his courses. The work surveys some of the best scholars in crusade-studies from the past few decades, and his copious notes refer to noted historians like Jonathan Riley-Smith and Thomas Madden.  A good work for those who hope to better understand the history of the crusading movement, especially in response to those who use the crusades as ammunition to attack the Church.


The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander –  I read this with my wife, Sarah.  The 1985 Disney cartoon of the same name does not do the book (or Alexander’s fantasy realm) justice, despite being a pretty good movie.  Adventure! Bad guys! Gurgi! I wish I had been introduced to this series as a kid.


Death and Immortality in Middle Earth edited by Daniel Helen – This was one of the “by people we know” books.  Remember back in 2016 when Sarah and I gave talks at the 2016 Tolkien Seminar in Leeds, England?  Do you want to see what you missed out? Well, now you can, with this great little book, containing essay versions of the talks given at that conference.  Mine starts the book, as my talk did the Seminar, and Sarah’s is about midway through it. All of them are good reads. Get yourself a copy!


One Man Perched on a Rock: A Biography of Dr. Warren H. Carroll by Laura Gossin – I’m including this in the category of “books by people we know” even though we don’t personally know the author.  However, we do know, or knew, the subject of the book. This is the only substantial biography of Warren H. Carroll, founder of Christendom College.  It draws largely upon an unpublished autobiography by Carroll and interviews with people who knew Carroll personally and were involved with the creation of Christendom College.  If you want to introduce someone to the work of Warren H. Carroll, I would actually recommend giving them this book, and then introduce them to his historical writings. [Side note: I am quoted in the book!]  The book shys away from analyzing Carroll’s thought from a historiographical perspective (it is more put in context of his biography); if you want a short, amazing [he says humbly] introduction to Carroll’s thought as a historian, check out my essay in the most recent issue of The Catholic Social Science Review.  


The Real Story of Catholic History by Steve Weidenkopf – Another one of the “books by people we know,” and again, another by this former professor of mine.  This is a wide ranging work, looking at a lot of different historical questions and topics. Each chapter, so to speak, responds to a question/objection to the Catholic Church rooted in her history.  Weidenkopf then explains why opponents of the Church hold this position, citing various anti-Catholic and anti-religious works, and then responds by referring to the historical record. More often than not, the response requires simply presenting the real story behind the objection (hence the title of the book).  A good vade mecum for historical apologetics.


Marry Her and Die for Her by Costanza Miriano – St. Nicholas brought this book and its companion, Marry Him and Be Submissive, for my wife and I last Christmas.  While this book is, outwardly, directed towards men, it is just as much, if not more so, directed to women.  The chapters are letters to friends of the authors who are going through relationship/marital/parenting issues.  Good, insightful, funny.


Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? by Carl E. Olson – I read this book as a reviewer for Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  Rather than writing out a new review here, I simply direct readers to their website and give this brief recommendation: This is a comprehensive examination of why the historical, physical Resurrection of Jesus really did happen.  Get it. Read it. Share it with others.


Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly – I read this book as spiritual reading during Lent, and it definitely helped me understand why Matthew Kelly is so popular as a contemporary spiritual writer.  Kelly provides forty short reflections on Christ’s life, inviting his readers to draw into a relationship with Christ, not simply to learn about Him. That was an important point for me, as too often I turn my spiritual reading into an academic exercise, rather than a chance to build my relationship with God.  Kelly’s short book helped me refocus on Him this year.


Angels and their Mission by Jean Danielou – I read this in conjunction with another book report given to my students.  This was a fascinating study, examining angels as discussed in both scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.  Since I do not know enough about angels, this little book was a welcome read this year.


The World’s Last Night by C. S. Lewis –  I read this with my wife, Sarah.  A collection of essays by the master Christian apologist ranging from topics as varied as prayer, education, Faith, and, as the title would suggest, the end of the world.  A good short read, whether as spiritual reading or for fun.


No Turning Back by Donald H. Calloway – Another book by someone we know.  Fr. Calloway served his diaconal year at my parish right in the midst of my early teen years.  He was no ordinary seminarian, as he had a conversion and vocation story like no other. You know how St. Augustine had a troublesome youth?  Calloway’s was (dare I say) more troublesome. If you want to hear the compelling, Divine Mercy-filled story of how this rebellious, intoxicated Dead Head (he still has the tatoo) went from being a teenaged gang member to travelling the world, sharing the love of Christ, read this book.  If I could get every student I teach to read one contemporary theological book, this would be it.


The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander – The third of the Prydain Chronicles series, I read this with my wife, Sarah.  This book has a our heroes encountering a giant cat (and his oversized master), a bumbling prince, a scheming Chief Steward, and an evil previously thought vanquished.  Read it with your kids!


The Church: Understanding the Church from the Teachings of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium by Mark A. Pilon – This book, unfortunately, does not seem to be available for purchase online anywhere.  That makes sense, since I think the author, a priest from the Arlington Diocese who recently passed away, wrote the book as a textbook for high school students at Bishop O’Connell High School (where I teach).  It does provide a good overview of ecclesiology and a thoughtful reflection on Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document on the Church. I had Fr. Pilon as a professor in graduate school, so this book falls in the “books by people we know” category.  


How to Do Apologetics by Patrick Madrid – I read this book because we were incorporating it as a required text for the apologetics course we offer at O’Connell.  Madrid brings together decades of experience in the field of Catholic apologetics in this short, accessible book. The work does not just give talking points for when engaging objectors to the Faith (“if your opponent says X, you say Y”), but rather looks at how to use logic in argumentation, as well as how to approach different audiences.  Informative as well as instructive.


The Best of Triumph edited by Christopher Briggs (?) –  I have a question mark here for the editor because the book does not actually list an editor; I am drawing this information from a footnote in Warren H. Carroll’s The Crisis of Christendom (which I reviewed before on this blog).  This is a MASSIVE book (650+ pages) that includes only a fraction of the essays, articles, book reviews, and editorials from the nine-year run of Triumph Magazine.  It includes several essays by people Sarah and I know/knew (Warren H. Carroll, Anne Carroll, William H. Marshner, and Mark A. Pilon) and other key figures in mid-twentieth century Catholic thought (L. Brent Bozell Jr., Frederick Wilhelmsen, Michael Lawrence, among others).   Reading the section surrounding the promulgation of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae was helpful when writing my own reflections on the encyclical this past year.  If you want to explore the key ideas of orthodox Catholic thought in the United States, you should read this book.  


Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten – This may surprise you, but this was not a book of deep theology (get it?).  With the movie adaption of this book coming out in 2018, I had hoped to read the novel first, and, finding it in a bookstore, I bought it and read it really quickly.  It was fun, a bit silly, with plenty of giant-shark-eating-people action that you would expect from a novel about a living Megalodon shark going on a people-eating rampage.  


The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn – Another book I reviewed for Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  As I noted in my review, this book is revolutionary in its radicalism.  Radicalism here doesn’t just mean intense; it also means getting at the root of something.  Hahn’s solution to much of society’s issues is fixing the “first society,” that is, the family.  


Seventy Years of the Communist Revolution by Warren H. Carroll – I read this as one of the “books by people we know.”  This is the first edition of Carroll’s The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution, which is his massive work tracing the history of international communism from its ideological roots to its collapse in the 1990s.  This first edition, however, does not go so far forward or backward in time (the book came out a couple months before the fall of the Berlin Wall).  This book’s scope is still wide reaching, covering all of the major places where Communism extended its tentacles. What was really interesting (and really nerdy on my part) was comparing some passages in Seventy Years with the matching passage in The Rise and Fall, and how the information changed and developed even in the short (less than five years) span of time between the two editions.    


Rejoicing in the Truth: Wisdom and the Educator’s Craft by Christopher O. Blum – Another book by someone we know, this collection of essays on education comes from a former history professor of mine at Christendom College (who is now with the Augustine Institute).  I highly recommend this book for teachers who are seeking ways of reevaluating their curriculum to reflect a Catholic vision of academics. There is even an essay that might help mathematics teachers teach in light of the Church’s intellectual tradition.  


The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman – I read this with my wife, Sarah.  It is technically written by someone we know (kinda) but this wasn’t a book we own, so I don’t know if it counts towards my goal.  I guess not (technically). This is the first of Doman’s “fairy tales retold” series, and it goes through the story of Snow White and Red Rose, updating the setting to modern New York City, rather than the Teutonic woods.  The bear isn’t a bear, but is Bear, a heroic gentle beast of a man. There is adventure, there is romance, there is (a little too much) girly talk, and a healthy splash of Catholicism.


The Third Spring by Adam Schwartz – This was by one of my history professors at Christendom College, adapted from his dissertation.  Here, Schwartz examines the lives of four notable British converts to Catholicism (G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones) and how their life and work fits into their contemporary intellectual and cultural historical setting.  The recurring theme was how these men found in Catholicism an intellectual and spiritual rebellion against the spirit of modernity. A fascinating book, although it was a bit challenging to get through (it is, after all, his dissertation).


A Popular History of the Catholic Church by Philip Hughes – This was a book on tape.  No, I mean it. I listened to a cassette tape version of this book.  The book succinctly traces the story of the Church from the days of the Apostles through the first half of the twentieth century (Hughes composed it just before the Second Vatican Council convened).  An enjoyable, informative read, this was more than just a list of names and figures, and yet at the same time was accessible and beautifully written.


The Encyclopedia of New and Rediscovered Animals by Karl P. N. Shuker – Again, another (seemingly) strange addition to this list, but not so strange to those who know me.  I love animals, and I love cryptozoology, and this book is a fascinating mix of the two. The book chronicles many (but obviously not all) of the animals discovered or rediscovered since 1900.  They range from fantastic (like the megamouth shark, the coelacanth, the Komodo dragon, and the okapi) to the obscure yet important (including at least one new phylum of invertebrate). I read it all the way through, cover to cover, which is probably not how you should read it.  However, it is definitely a good pick for animal lovers, especially those who seek something new and exciting, awaiting discovery out there.


Certain Sainthood: Canonization and the Origins of Papal Infallibility in the Medieval Church by Donald S. Prudlo – This was the last of the books by people that we know and the last book I read in 2018.  Both Sarah and I know Don Prudlo, but for very different reasons (he is a friend of her older brother, and I had Don as a professor in graduate school).  I thought this book was going to be a difficult read, but I was wrong. It was very engaging, especially as its topic was how the Church’s understanding of papal infallibility as defined at the First Vatican Council really stems from the theological wars against heretics in the High Middle Ages.  Central to the book is how canonizations by popes became a doctrinal litmus test to determine someone’s orthodoxy. Did they accept saints canonized by the pope as legitimate saints? Was it because they rejected the idea of saints, or the authority of the pope, or was it that they just didn’t like the saint?  You’ll have to read the book to see how that all irons out.


Thus the review of books past.  Now to look forward to the future.  


Call it a New Year’s Resolution.  Call it an attempt to be more productive, or professional, or anything like that.  Call me crazy.


Whatever you call it, here are my goals for this year (and yes, they include goals for this blog and for reading)


  1. Read at least 40 new-to-me books before January 1, 2020.  This would break my personal record for most books read in a year (since I started keeping track).  There are several books I would like to read this year, but I am not binding myself to particular titles.  
  2. Post at least once a month on the blog.  I feel like I have neglected this place in recent months (years. . . ), and I mean to make amends.  They might not all be the greatest posts ever, but they will exist, and that’s got to count for something, right?  
  3. Submit at least one paying article per month.  I often write articles for Catholic Exchange and similar sites, but am looking into writing for other publishers as well.  
  4. Complete the roughest draft of a book-length manuscript.  I have several I am currently gestating, none of which are near completion.  Let’s see what 365 days gives us!


In closing, here is a picture of Elijah Charles Rose, my third son, born just as 2018 was ending (specifically December 28). 



God is good!  

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Reflection: Humanae Vitae at 50

The official Vatican newspaper’s headline with the encyclical. Picture from 


Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Humanae vitae.   On July 25, 1968, Blessed Pope Paul VI signed this monumental encyclical, easily one of the most controversial papal document of all time, and certainly the most controversial piece of Paul VI’s magisterium.  In it, Paul VI defends the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception.  It isn’t merely a “no” to artificial birth control; Paul VI offers a beautiful examination of human love, and how artificial birth control disrupts one of the fundamental aspects of marital, sexual love.


I’ve spent much of this past month researching and writing a series of articles on the encyclical for Catholic Exchange.


The first article examines the historical context of the encyclical, namely the controversy over artificial contraception that arose in the early 20th century, as well as how Pope St. John Paul II took the teaching of the encyclical and presented it anew during his pontificate.


The second article looks at the key questions Paul VI sought to address in the encyclical.  The article gives a good summary (in my opinion) of the essential teaching of the encyclical.  If you want the main points of what Paul VI taught, check that out.


The last article, out today, looks at the famous “predictions” of Paul VI in Humanae vitae.  What he said would happen if we ignored the Church’s teaching on life and sexuality came to pass.  However, there are signs of hope.


To those who have read the encyclical, I encourage you to read it again.  I’ve read it several times at this point, and I get something out of it every time I reread it.


To those who have not yet read it, I say: READ IT!  There’s the Official Vatican Translation or Dr. Janet Smith’s translation, both of which are online.  Either way, read it slowly, carefully.  Make notes.  Print it out and highlight or comment.  Read it with the scriptures open.  Whether you agree or disagree that artificial contraception is immoral and should not be practiced, you will get something out of this encyclical.


Our society is sick, both inside and outside the Church.  Humanae vitae may have the antidote to our contemporary poison.  Authentic human love will transform our lives.  Stronger families will lead to a stronger society.  Aligning our will to God’s cannot steer us astray.


My hope is that, on this fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae, we may finally begin following its teaching.

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Question: Was the Resurrection of Jesus based on stories from Near Eastern mythologies?

The Easter Season may have passed, but “we are an Easter people.”  The Church calls us to make “Alleluia” our song and live out the Paschal mysteries everyday of our lives.


In that vein, let us examine an important Eastery point of discussion from Marcy:

“The story of the death and resurrection of the Sumerian goddess Inanna closely mirrors the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, yet predates his appearance by more than 3000 years. Discuss.”


This is a great point, leading to a fascinating discussion about a story which many people, Christian and non-Christian, have never even heard of.  Marcy has her finger on the pulse of an important debate in Christology, ongoing since the first Christmas. How can we believe the extraordinary Christian claim that Jesus of Nazareth is actually God incarnate?  


Non-Christians maintained in the first centuries of the Christian Era (as they do today) that Jesus was merely a man.  We see this throughout the Gospels. It was because the Jewish officials saw Jesus as merely a man that they had him crucified; a man, after all, should not claim to be God.  Ancient Roman historians, such as Tacitus, referred to Jesus of Nazareth as a man, a real historical figure, but not as a god (though other writers, like Pliny the Younger, note that Christians were worshiping Christ as God in Pliny’s day, before AD 112).  


Fast-forward to the Enlightenment, when thinkers held Reason up as an antidote to religious Faith.  Critics of Christianity began to propose that the story of Jesus was merely a rehashing of other ancient mythologies adopted by the earliest Christians.  Depending on which aspect of Christ’s biography these critics sought to explain or “correct,” Our Lord would be lumped together with mythical heroes born of young maidens, or magical healing gods, or, as in this blogpost, dying and rising gods (we see a similar version of this thought in writers like Joseph Campbell).  


The idea of a widespread “dying-and-rising god” myth, of which Christ was just one iteration, came from The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (first published in 1890).  Frazer pointed to several examples of gods that “died and rose from the dead,” including Osiris (Egyptian), Dumuzid/Tammuz (Sumerian), and Adonis (Greek).  Unfortunately for Frazer’s posterity, as more archaeological discoveries occurred throughout the twentieth century, more historical evidence mounted that Frazer was incorrect about every “dying and rising god” in his study.  In their respective myths, these gods either never really died, or they never really rose from the dead.


So in that light, let’s look at the story of Inanna (Ishtar in Assyrian mythology) and see if her story closely resembles that of the Resurrection.

Who is Inanna?

Inanna (Ishtar) with a servant, 3rd Century Ad.  By Jadd Haidar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


The Sumerians were the first civilization to develop the art of writing.  They lived in Ancient Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and had a complicated polytheistic mythology through which they worshiped a pantheon of gods and goddesses.  Inanna was a Sumerian fertility goddess, and as such has more than her fair share of sexually explicit stories in Sumerian mythology (she’s the Sumerian equivalent of Aphrodite or Venus).  Men and women appealed to her to solve impotency problems and to win spouses; prostitutes made her their patroness, as they played an important role in fertility cults in the ancient world.  She was also a goddess who loved war, and was said to “feast” on battles (sex and violence meet again). She was associated with the planet Venus, with its appearance in the morning and the evening.  Archaeological evidence indicates that worship of Inanna began around 4000-3000 BC, and that her cult grew to prominence during the reign of Sargon the Great (around 2300 BC).

So far, nothing in Inanna’s story connects to that of Christ’s Resurrection.  She seems no different than other mythological fertility goddesses. Now let us examine the story to which Marcy refers, that of Inanna’s descent into the underworld, her “death,” and her “resurrection.”  Although there are two variations of this story, we’ll focus on the older and more detailed Sumerian version of The Descent of Inanna (called here Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World), which dates to between 1900 and 1600 BC.  

Here is THE story itself, the Akkadian version, on a clay tablet at the British Museum.  By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5,


Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld


Inanna decides to travel into the Underworld to tell the queen of the Underworld, her sister Erec-ki-gala, that Erec-ki-gala’s mortal husband had died.  Inanna dresses herself attractively with symbols of her power and instructs her minister, Nincubura, what to do if she, Inanna, does not return from the Underworld in three days: appeal to the other gods, for Inanna would be dead and in need of resurrection.  


Inanna arrives alone at the gate to the Underworld and demands entrance.  Her sister allows her to enter, but sets a trap. As a result, Inanna is stripped of the symbols of her authority and judged by the Anunnaki, the seven judges of the Underworld.  


They looked at her — it was the look of death. They spoke to her — it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her — it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook.


Thus her “death.”  Interesting that Inanna’s corpse is hung on a hook, and Christ is hung on a cross.  But there is more:


Three days pass, and Nincubura travels to the various gods, pleading for their help in saving Inanna.  The response of most is identical [to that of Inanna’s father?]:


My daughter craved the great heaven and she craved the great below as well. Inanna craved the great heaven and she craved the great below as well. The divine powers of the underworld are divine powers which should not be craved, for whoever gets them must remain in the underworld. Who, having got to that place, could then expect to come up again?


Only the god Enki is moved by Nincubura’s plea.  He creates and sends the gala-tura and the kur-jara (two “sexless” figures, as the Wikipedia article on all of this says) to get the corpse of Inanna from Erec-ki-gala.  They arrive at Erec-ki-gala’s throne, and receive the corpse as a gift. After the gala-tura and the kur-jara sprinkle Inanna’s corpse with life-giving water and a life-giving plant, Inanna revives and begins to rise from the Underworld to the realm of the gods.  The Anunnaki freak out, so to speak, because no one “has ascended unscathed from the underworld.”  


So Inanna, accompanied by the Anunnaki, travel to several people close to Inanna to select a substitute for her.  She does not allow any of them to be the substitute, however, for they show true devotion and sorrow at her “death.”  Eventually, they find Inanna’s husband Dumuzid, who is not mourning his wife (he’s dressed rather nicely and relaxing under a tree, with some versions of the story depicting him being waited on by slave girls).  So Inanna gives him to the Anunnaki as her substitute. Off he goes to the Underworld so she can survive. She cuts a deal with Erec-ki-gala so that she and her husband can see each other for half of the year.


Inanna and her husband.  Clearly they love each other deeply.   Public Domain,


Thus the story of Inanna and her resurrection.


Inanna vs. Christ


Those familiar with Christ’s Resurrection accounts from the four canonical Gospels can already see there are some surface similarities between Inanna’s myth and the story of Christ.  Both figures were hung in their death: Inanna on the hook, Christ on the cross. Both figures were dead for “three days,” or at least returned to life on the third day. But the differences run deeper than the similarities.  Here are a few of them.


  • Inanna is a goddess, one among a pantheon of gods and goddesses, who seeks her own selfish wants and needs.  She was forced against her will to become a corpse as a punishment for offending her sister through her pride.  
    • Christianity is monotheistic, and the Son of God is both man and still completely God (see our recent reflections on the Nicene Creed).  His Incarnation occurred not as a punishment but as a willing sacrifice for what WE did (and continue) to do wrong.  In becoming incarnate the Son “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), not losing anything of His divinity, but in an act of supreme love and humility, Christ took upon Himself our humanity.  The Incarnation was an act of humility, the opposite of the pride displayed by Inanna.


  • Despite the fact that Inanna becomes a corpse, there is no indication in the story that she first becomes human.  She remains merely divine, not human, so one wonders if her “death” is even really death, in the sense that we think of death.  
    • Christ died like we die.  Even skeptics who deny Christ’s divinity argue that he did, indeed, die via crucifixion.  Likewise, the consistent teaching of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth really died a human death on the cross.  Without a real death, there can be no real resurrection. But as God, Jesus could not die; hence the need for Him to be both man and God.  


  • Inanna returns to life thanks to the efforts of her minister and the god Enki, who uses his own creations to bring about Inanna’s resurrection.  
    • Christian theology teaches that Christ rose from the dead not because God took pity on Him but because Christ HIMSELF is God, and therefore rose through His own power.  He did not rely on or need creation to bring about His resurrection. And there is no pantheon of other gods to restore Christ to life.


  • Inanna escapes the Underworld by using her husband as a replacement.  
    • One of the crucial aspects of Christ’s Paschal Mystery (His suffering, death, Resurrection, and Ascension) is that He underwent the fullest extent of human suffering (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc), died, returned to life, and went to Heaven body and soul (never to die again) all with full consent of His will.  No one takes His place; rather, he takes our place, taking upon Himself the guilt for our sins, even though He was innocent of any sin.


Clonmacnois Scripture Cross Jesus in the Tomb County Offaly Ireland

Christ being prepared for burial, from the High Cross at Clonmacnois in Ireland,


The story of Inanna is one of many pagan myths that share some similarities to the Resurrection of Christ.  While at first the idea that Christians merely borrowed pagan ideas to flesh out the story of Jesus seems appealing (to the critic) or troubling (to the believer), examining the literary evidence shows that the pagan stories are very different from the Christian one.  The key difference between these myths (stories) of paganism and the story of Christianity is, as C. S. Lewis noted, “the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”  To Lewis, “myth” does not mean something untrue, but something beyond mere reality.  Myth gets at the deeper truths beyond the facts, reaching realities the sciences cannot.  Most myths are not historically true, of course; they tell a story to educate and entertain.  Unlike the myths of paganism, Christianity myth, as Lewis notes, is one of historical reality.  


The Incarnation is a story which is simultaneously historically and spiritually true.  It teaches us truths greater than the greatest pagan myths, namely that God loves us so much that “He came down from Heaven.”  Perhaps one could say the pagan myths borrowed from Christianity, not in time, since the pagan stories usually came first in time, but in truth. Christianity, after all, teaches that Truth came and dwelt among us.  


It is a natural to see death as an evil and to desire life eternal.  The “dying-and-rising god” motif taps into that desire to conquer death.  Perhaps it is an inner remembrance of Eden, when we lived without fear of dying and walked with our God.  Under slavery to death, our salvation came not by some manipulative deity’s guile but by the sacrifice of the God who made us, and loves us, at our hands.  All of the “dying-and-rising god” myths, each grasping in shadows at this ultimate truth, find their answer on the cross, on the day that death was conquered not by a goddess who sends her husband to die in her place, but by Christ who laid down his life so His Bride, the Church, could live.
The stories of Inanna and other pagan mythological figures are shrouded in mystery.  No one believed figures like Inanna or Adonis were originally real, historical men and women.  They were gods outside of this mortal world. Christianity is different; ours is a religion deeply drawn from historical truths.  The Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus took place in a particular historical place at a particular historical time, and the records come from eyewitness accounts of the historical events, namely the four canonical Gospels.  


Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, c. 400.


Permit a quick equivocal example of what skeptics do in stating that Christians merely applied pagan myths to the life of Christ:  Mahatma Gandhi achieved great success in bringing about social change through peaceful, non-violent protests. The story goes that Martin Luther King Jr. achieved the same.  Could we just say that followers of King merely took stories of Gandhi and, with the best intentions, applied them to their civil rights leader? Of course not, because there is a historical record of the words and actions of King written by those who lived with him, those who heard him speak, and those who saw him do his peaceful, non-violent deeds.  For his part, King was clear about Gandhi’s influence on his own protests.  If King was not so upfront, contemporaries of him could have easily remarked that his protests were merely the protest of Gandhi adapted to an American civil rights situation, instead of an India vs. British civil rights situation.  


Skeptics millenia from now might incorrectly claim King did not exist, or that his teachings and actions were exaggerated to mimic those of Gandhi, cashing in on the success of the Indian.  This sounds ridiculous today, but that is a similar objection to the story of Christ in light of pagan myths. Just as we should honor the memory of both King and Gandhi, so we should likewise honor Christ, who through His Resurrection demonstrated the most profound truth of history, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).


It is truly Good News, a better tale than even the most beautiful pagan dreams.  



For Further Reading (beyond the in-text links)


Olson, Carl E.  Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: Questions and Answers about the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Ignatius Press, 2016).  


Pitre, Brant.  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (Image, 2016).


Broussard, Karlo.  “Why Jesus’ Resurrection Is Not Borrowed from Pagan Myths”


Mark, Joshua J.  “Inanna’s Descent: A Sumerian Tale of Injustice.”  Ancient History Encyclopedia, February 23, 2011.


Heffron, Yaǧmur.  “Inana/Ištar (goddess),” Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2016


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