Category Archives: Question

Question: Interpreting and Dating the Bible

Caravaggio MatthewAndTheAngel byMikeyAngels.jpg

St. Matthew and the Angel (destroyed in 1945)

Marcy asks a big, multi-part question.  I took the liberty in breaking this rather large and varied question into five smaller questions.  I hope you don’t mind, Marcy!

 

Let’s take them one at a time.

 

  1. “If the Ten Commandments (or even just the two main ones—love one another and don’t have other gods before me) are the laws by which God wants most western religions to abide, why are things so muddled with the conflicting dicta of other parts of the Bible?”

 

First, let’s look at the Divine Law.  Marcy mentions the “two main” commandments, which could be simplified as the scribe did speaking to Jesus: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).  That’s the basis for all law, whether it be religious or civil.  Everything boils down to how we honor God and how we treat our fellow man.  Most Christians and non-Christians can agree with that division, even if they disagree with the laws themselves.

 

Christ’s division of the Divine Law into “Love God” and “Love Neighbor” also reflects the Natural Law, those ethical rules we discern through reason.  Pagan tribes, uncontacted by missionaries, still honor the gods and have an understanding of respecting others.  Our definition of Natural Law comes not from the Bible but from philosophers like Aristotle, Confucius, and Buddha.  It is the moral teaching that affect all of mankind.  It is why, for example, Thomas Jefferson could write in the Declaration of Independence that the rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are “self-evident,” or the Nazi war criminals could be tried for “crimes against humanity,” or that every major ethical philosopher has some variation of “Treat others as you would want be treated.”

 

So that’s God’s plan: Love Him and Love people.  Real love.  Willing the best for others and acting accordingly.  That is our moral plan for life.

 

So if that’s all we need, why the other, “conflicting” laws?

 

I can’t get into everything.  That would take a book (see at the end for a list of them).  Me?  I have a blogpost.  So I will focus on why there are so many laws when the basic laws are so simple.

 

The answer is, of course, that the laws are simple, but people aren’t.  Perhaps it might help to look at the problem in light of God’s paternity.  Parents often find themselves dealing with children who need clearer guidelines.  Before, it might have been simple enough to say “Don’t move” to a baby (like that ever works) but now you must say “Stay there and don’t put the diaper in your mouth”).  The intention of the parent is still there, but now there is another rule in place to ensure the end is reached.  Of course, that doesn’t always work, and even a perfect parent has days when the children just do not listen.  Likewise, parents may know that one day they will have to have rules in the house that do not apply to the babies.  I do not, for example, need to tell my older son Benjamin that he must bring the car back before a certain time, or tell my other son Jacob that he cannot stay out past his curfew.  They’re toddlers.  They don’t need to have those rules.  When the circumstances change, and the children get older, the rules multiply; laws I had not enumerated now come into force.

 

So it is, in a sense, with God and His Law.  God’s law to mankind used to be very simple: have babies, care for creation, and don’t eat from this one tree.  Adam and Eve broke the tree rule before they could even get to the babies and caring for creation.  As a result, there were consequences.  As we travel through the Old Testament, we see how God has to refine and clarify His intentions with Israel.  He gave them the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and the people swore to follow them, but when Moses went back up the mountain to get plans for how to build the Ark of the Covenant, the people revolted and began worshipping a golden cow.  As a result, God took away the priesthood from every family, gave it to the Levites, and gave the Levites very clear instructions on how to worship.  We call these instructions Leviticus; it’s the third book in the Bible.  Later, the Israelites AGAIN broke the law, and so God had to clarify His law AGAIN (this time in the book of Deuteronomy, which literally means “second law”).  So it was again and again.

 

When Jesus came, He continued this refinement of the law.  “You’ve heard it said,” Christ would say.  “But I say,” He would continue.  Christ gives us a New Law that does not remove the old one but rather fulfills it, demonstrating the realities to which that the Old Law pointed.

 

“Conflicting data?”  Remember something very important: we must read the Bible as a whole, not each part in isolation.  We are also not asked to read the Bible alone; that can (and does) lead to confusion on so many points.  The Bible was, after all, written over several centuries by different people in different historical situations.  It is here that the Church’s Magisterium is so essential.  The Magisterium’s particular role is interpreting what God has revealed to us, whether through Scripture or through Tradition.  We should not ignore what the Church has to say about these important points, especially when looking at more controversial topics in the Bible.  God does not contradict God, and truth does not contradict truth.  We have to adjust our understanding of Scripture and the world to God’s, rather than force Him into our narrow frame of mind.

 

Christ established the Church to guide the faithful to salvation and to provide grace through the sacraments.  I might, in a later blog post, go over how we know the Church was established by Christ and that Christ intended it to have the role it does today.  For now, this brief excurses will have to suffice.

 

  1. “Why even use the other parts?”

 

The Bible is much more than laws, just like a library is much more than rulebooks.  There are poems, histories, sagas, proverbs, letters, biographies, visions, and short stories.  All of them teach, but not all of them are laws in the strict sense.  The purpose of Scripture is not just to tell us laws.  It is to tell a love story, that of God for us.  The story helps us understand the laws, just as knowing about your family would help understand any rules particular to your household.  This world, creation, is God’s household, and we are all His children.  The Church’s theology picks up on this.  Theologians refer to the external activities of the Trinity, i.e., whenever God does something outside of Himself, as the “Divine Economy,” from the Greek word oikonomia, meaning “managing a household.”

 

  1. “Who were the authors?”

 

On the one hand, we know the names of several authors of various books in the Bible.  For example, the New Testament letters were written by Sts. Paul, John, James, and Jude.  The Gospels were written by Sts.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  St. Luke also wrote Acts of the Apostles, and St. John is named as the author of Revelation.  In the Old Testament, we know that David wrote most of the Psalms, that Baruch was the scribe for the prophet Jeremiah (and wrote down his own prophecies).  Hebrew tradition names Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, and we can ascribe the words of the various prophets to them or a scribe that travelled with them.

 

On the other hand, we don’t know who wrote most of the Bible.  We can estimate when certain works were composed, but most of Scripture is was written by anonymous authors over the centuries. However, we can see that certain books were written by the same author.  For example, 1 and 2 Chronicles seem to have been written by Ezra the scribe (who also wrote the book Ezra in the Old Testament), but modern biblical critics aren’t sure and so they refer to the author as “The Chronicler.”  Most of the historical books were written by anonymous historians who drew from previously written sources.

 

All of that said, we should also keep in mind that all of the human authors of Scripture are the secondary authors.  The primary Author is God.  He ensures that nothing needed for our salvation is missing from Scripture, and it is because of this that we speak of the Bible as inerrant and inspired.  When we ignore God as the primary Author, we miss the whole purpose of the book.

View the Great Isaiah Scroll

Sample of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Isaiah Scroll)

  1. “When did they write?”

 

As mentioned, the Bible wasn’t written in a couple years; more like several hundred years.  While we cannot figure out the exact date of composition for many of the books (that information is simply lost in time), we can estimate for several of the books when they were composed using evidence within the text and from other historical information.

 

Dating books in the Old Testament is particularly challenging.  Even though the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch or Torah, specifically Genesis through Deuteronomy) are attributed to Moses, we do not know for certain when they were written down.  We do know that there were copies of them in writing during the time of the kings because the scrolls of the Torah were found abandoned in the Temple and were read to King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22), which means scribes wrote them down before 600 BC.  Even scholars who tend to date these documents as “later” date them to the 720s BC, over a century before Josiah’s reign.

 

We can date books by the writers ascribed to them.  For example, even if they did not write them down themselves, many of the Psalms are attributed to specific individuals, such as Kings David and Solomon, which would put their composition between 1000 and 922 BC.  Solomon is also the ascribed author of Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes, again, dating those books’ composition to no later than 922 (when Solomon’s son split the united Israelite kingdom through his arrogance).

 

We can also date the composition of books by what they discuss.  For example, scholars estimate that Ruth was written around the time of King David because of the genealogy attached to the end; the whole story is a sort of background to the rise of David as king.  We can date when the anonymous “Chronicler” wrote 1& 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah because of the genealogy of high priests described in Nehemiah 12 (dating the composition around the early fourth century BC).  We know that 1 & 2 Maccabees were written by 100s BC because they describe the events of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks in Israel, which ended around 160 BC, and because both books are in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) which was completed before 132 BC.

 

Unfortunately, not all of the books are so easily dated.  However, we do know that the entire Old Testament was completed by the translation of the Septuagint.

 

As far as the New Testament books, we know that they were completed by the death of John the Evangelist (around AD 100).  Historical critics who tried to date the books later into the AD 100s or even the 200s have been shown to be wrong by more recent scholarship.  The general consensus is that the four Gospels were written before AD 70, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.  The letters of Sts. Peter and Paul were written before their death in the late AD 60s.  The Gospel of Luke was written before Acts of the Apostles, which was written before Paul’s final arrest and execution (probably before the fire in Rome in AD 64).  For more on the dating of the Gospels, check out this article I wrote about their historicity.

 

  1. “What happened to the parts written by women?”

 

In the Ancient World, literacy was the precious possession of a few special individuals.  As such, scribes (those who could read and write) were respected and pretty much guaranteed an important position in society.  Recent studies have found that more people than previously thought could read and write in Judah prior to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, but even then the number was a few hundred, very small in relation to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites (see here).  Even by the time of Christ, when more people could read and write thanks to the education systems of the Greeks and Romans, the majority of people could do little more than write their name.  Scholars estimate at most 10% of the Empire’s population could read or write more than their signature.

 

If literacy was that rare among the general public, it was even rarer for women.  Rich women might be able to read or write, but the common ladies could not.  So the simple answer to the question “what happened to the parts written by women” is that they never existed because women, for the most part, didn’t write.  The fact that there is no tradition of direct female authorship of any Biblical books should not be ignored in this regard.

 

However, the Church has long reminded us of the important role women have in society, in salvation history, and in the inspiration of stories and details in the Bible.  Remember that three of the historical Biblical books (Ruth, Judith, and Esther) have female protagonists, and women play a huge role in Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, and 2 Maccabees (where we find the story of the brave mother who encourages her seven sons to die rather than blaspheme God).   It might be argued that these early stories of heroic women (especially where the stories refer to the inner thoughts of these heroines) were drawn from the reminiscences of the women themselves.  In that sense, they might be seen as the book’s author.

 

In the New Testament we see a similar scenario with Mary, Jesus’ mother.  The details of Christ’s infancy narrative, especially in Luke’s Gospel, were drawn from the authors’ conversations with Mary.  Luke even hints at this by saying that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  How does an author know the inner thoughts of someone unless he spoke with her?  We also know that Mary lived with St. John the Evangelist after Christ’s death.  St. John wrote the most mystical of the four Gospels and emphasized repeatedly in his first letter that “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8ff).  What better source of that reflection than God’s own mother.

Six women of the Old Testament - Eve, Miriam, Yael, Ruth, Judith and Esther

Six Old Testament Women (Eve, Miriam, Jael, Judith, Ruth, and Esther)

Church of the Dormition, Jerusalem

 

So I hope that answers your questions, Marcy, or at least whets your appetite for more.  Feel free to check out some of the resources I linked to in this article, or some of the resources in the tabs at the top of the page.

 

And everyone, if YOU have a question you want answered, go ahead and send it in.  I’ll get to it eventually . . .

 

 

For Further Reading

 

On Biblical Interpretation

Scott Hahn, A Father Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture

_______, Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church

Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.  

 

On Difficult Bible Passages

Trent Horn, Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties

Matthew Ramage, Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and St. Thomas Aquinas

 

On Bible History and Dating

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Books: Are They Reliable & Relevant?

F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Books: Are They Reliable?

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Question: Baptizing Babies without the Parents’ Permission?

A reader named Tom asks a question that has also come up in conversation within my own family (yes, we do get into religious discussions). 

 

Tom asks, “Despite 8 years of grammar school plus 4 years of Catholic education, my married daughter has consistently refused my requests to baptize her 14 month daughter. She cites not wanting to be a hypocrite since she and her husband do not go to church. Can I secretly baptize the baby using the proper form and rubrics?”

 

It is a tough question, with an even tougher answer.  Not that the answer was particularly hard to find.  I consulted a textbook I used in graduate school about the sacraments, which pointed me to the appropriate parts of the Code of Canon Law. 

 

The simple answer is no, you should not secretly baptize your grandchildren. 

 

However, in order to understand this short answer and why the Church holds this position, we need to look at infant Baptism, why the Church even allows infant Baptism, and why it is illicit to baptize a child against his parents’ wishes. 

 

First, why do we baptize infants at all? 

 

Infant Baptism in the Orthodox Church

I had to include this.  It’s one of my favorite baptism pictures.  I got it here.

The first converts to the Faith were, of course, adults.  We read about the adults coming to listen to and be baptized by Jesus’ Apostles (see especially the story of Pentecost in Acts 2).  However, very early on we hear references to entire families being baptized (see Acts 10, the story of Cornelius’ conversion with his household, and Acts 16, where Paul’s jailer converts, along with his whole family).  The entire household would include, of course, children, even infants.  This seems to echo Christ’s request in Matthew 19 to “let the little children come to me.”  Following this example, the Church has been baptizing anyone, whether infants, children, or adults, since the beginning. 

 

How does that work?  Isn’t Baptism about the assent of faith a person makes?  How can anyone under the age of reason (which is usually around 7 years old), much less an infant, be properly baptized? 

 

The Church has an explanation.  In those above the age of reason, their free assent is essential for Baptism.  However, for those under the age of reason, the faith of the child’s parents is sufficient for Baptism.  We see parallels to this in secular society.  School-aged children must turn in permission forms to participate in various activities.  Parents of minors are often held legally responsible for crimes committed by their children. 

 

At the beginning of the Baptism ritual, the parents of the child are asked, “What do you ask of God’s Church for [child’s name],” to which the parents respond, “Faith” or “Baptism.”  The priest then says, “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”  To which the parents respond, “We do.”  Likewise, after the various professions of faith and litanies of saints have been said and right before the actual Baptism occurs, the priest asks one more time, “Is it your will that [Child] should be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?”  The parents respond, “It is.”  

 

This isn’t mere ceremony.  The dialogue above provides the required consent of the parents to baptize the child.  They are making, in a sense, a spiritual down payment.  They are saying, in effect, “We are speaking for our child now, and we will raise him so that he will share our profession of faith.”  That assent is the assent needed for Baptism. 

 

This, then, gets at the heart of Tom’s question.  The only way the Church can baptize babies is with the consent of the parents.  There must be a reasonable prospect of the child being raised in the Faith.  In other words, the child may not be able to consent to Baptism now, since he is still so young, but he should be instructed in the Faith from the cradle so that he can embrace the Faith once he attains the age of reason.  Parents have to be instructed in the Faith, particularly in Baptism, before the sacrament is conferred (CIC 851.2).  The Catechism (CCC) puts it this way: “The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop” (1253) and “For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism” (1254, emphasis in the original). 

 

The Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici in Latin, CIC for short) deals with the legal aspects of the Church, and as such has some important information to help answer Tom’s question.  The CIC makes very clear that Tom’s secret baptism of his granddaughter under ordinary circumstances would be gravely illicit.

 

Let’s start with the minister.  The ordinary minister of Baptism is a priest or deacon.  However, in an emergency, anyone (even a non-believer) can baptize, as long as the person being baptized wants to be baptized and the person baptizing has the intention of at least doing what the Church intends.  I want to stress that this whole course of action is only permissible in an emergency, when a proper minister is not available or cannot reach the person being baptized in time.  It is not appropriate for just anyone to baptize without the approval of the local bishop (see CIC 862). 

 

The second issue is the location of the baptism.  Churches, oratories, and chapels are ordinary places for baptism.  They have a designated space for the ritual.  Homes are not places for baptism.  In fact, the CIC uses very strong language on this point: “Apart from a case of necessity, baptism is not to be conferred in private houses, unless the local ordinary has permitted it for a grave cause” (CIC 860).  The only reason one could have the baptism in a home or, say, a hospital, is if the person is likely to die before reaching the parish.  If Tom was thinking of just doing the baptism in his home, he would be performing the sacrament illicitly, which is [or maybe??] a mortal sin. 

 

The last issue is the most important.  This is the issue of the faith of the parents.  Canons 867 and 868 deal extensively with the legal aspects of infant Baptism, and they clearly reiterate the importance of the parents’ faith in getting the infant baptized.  Canon 868 states,

 

§1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:

 

1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;

2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason. 

§2. An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents.

 

With the exception of §2 above, if an infant is baptized without parental permission, the baptism would be valid (actually take place) but illicit (in violation of Church law).  Knowingly performing a sacrament illicitly is pretty serious, and has moral consequences for the one performing the illicit sacrament.  For the sake of his own soul, Tom should not go through with the baptism. 

 

However, there might be a solution.  Tom notes that the reason his granddaughter isn’t being baptized is because the parents are worried about being hypocrites because they do not attend Mass.  Perhaps the solution to this problem isn’t secretly baptizing the child.  Perhaps it is in reeducating the parents.  The real problem seems to be that the parents do not realize not only the importance of getting their children baptized but also the importance of going to Mass and Confession, as well as growing in the Faith as adults.  There are a number of resources I’ve listed on this page (see the “online resources” and “print and video resources” tabs at the top of this page) that will help both of the parents in this regard.

 

If the parents still refuse to attend Mass, perhaps they would consent to Tom taking their daughter to Mass with him.  This could be a weekly treat for Tom, parents, and child alike, and perhaps, in time, could lead to the parents allowing their daughter to be baptized. 

 

And of course, there is prayer.  We often underestimate the power of our prayers, especially when we don’t see the immediate results we want.  However, God always hears us, like a father hears his children, but even better.  Perhaps Tom could pray, if he hasn’t already, for the conversion (or reversion) of his daughter and her husband, or that they at least look into changing their own lives for the sake of their own daughter.  Grown children are often resistant to advice or preaching from their parents, and we can never convert anyone.  But with prayer and loving encouragement, we can be a witness of God’s love to our family, and trust that one day their hearts will be converted by the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

 

 

 

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Question: On Devil’s Advocates and Infallible Canonizations

Would you look at this.  

 

A Q/A post!  

 

Renee Lin from Forget the Roads [go check out her blog] asked me several years ago (sorry I’m just now getting to it, Renee):

 

“Perhaps you know the answer to this.  It is my understanding that the position of “devil’s advocate” in the canonization process has been done away with.  Could you tell us why?  I think the process is fascinating – I also think that the idea of a devil’s advocate was a good one, so when, why and by whom was the decision made to eliminate the position?  I was also wondering if the declaration of sainthood is infallible.”

 

Let’s look at the infallibility of canonizations first.  This is a topic which comes up every so often when there is a big name canonization and in particular came up when the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII happened.  It would take a while to get into the gritty details of the discussion, so see the For Further Reading below for a plethora of articles discussing this point.

 

The simple answer is yes, canonizations are infallible, in that during the canonization the Pope states, without error, that the saint is in Heaven and that the universal Church can safely turn to him or her to intercede for us.  However, it is not the sort of infallible declaration one finds, say, in Pius XII’s declaration defining the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  It isn’t an infallible statement about dogma, because the fact that an individual is in Heaven is not drawn from Divine Revelation, as are the other declared dogmas on faith and morals.  In other words, we know that Mary was assumed into Heaven because we can draw the conclusion based on Scripture, but Scripture does not tell us that any specific saint is in Heaven, so we cannot declare the saint is in Heaven based on Divine Revelation.

 

The canonization is infallible not because it was directly revealed by God but because the evidence collected (miracles through the saint’s intercession, his life of heroic virtue, etc.) points to the fact that the saint is in Heaven.

 

Here’s the actual prayer the Pope says when canonizing:

 

To the honor of the Holy Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and for the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and Our own, after due deliberation and having implored the Divine Assistance by prayer, and by the counsel of many of our brothers, we declare and define Blessed [insert saint’s name here] to be a saint, and we enroll him/her in the catalog of the saints, commanding that he/she be held among the saints by the universal Church, and to be invoked as such by pious devotion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

It’s a pretty powerful prayer.  It cuts no corners, leaves no doubt as to what is going on.

 

The way in which a canonization is not infallible is in reference to the specifics of the individual’s holiness.  The pope is not teaching that the person being canonized is perfect, or even great at what he or she did.  What is being declared is that the person is in Heaven.  True, saints tend to be models of sanctity, but they are not always models for living other ways of life.  Pope St. Celestine V, famous for being one of the popes to resign, was a terrible papal administrator.  He was a very holy man, but he was not strong in policy.  We should not look to him for an example of how to lead others; instead we should see in Pope Celestine an example of humility.  He was canonized not because he was a great pope, but because he made it to Heaven.

 

Like I said, check out the “For Further Reading” for more on this.

 

On to the Devil’s Advocate.

 

No, not the movie with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.

 

The role of the Devil’s Advocate, officially known as the Promoter of the Faith (the Promotor Fidei), was one of canon law, both the Promoter of the Faith and his “opponent,” the canon lawyer tasked with arguing the sanctity of the proposed saint.  Prior to the 1980s, when Pope St. John Paul II changed some of the regulations for the canonization process, the Devil’s Advocate had the role of raising objections to someone being considered a Servant of God.  Sometimes they were legitimate concerns, such as concerns about the person that had not been brought up by the postulator for the cause, but sometimes they were really nitpicky, focusing in some cases on the use of particular words found in the documents of the case.  These objections would be answered by the side supporting sainthood, and then the Promotor of the Faith would send more objections.  This happened three times before the person was declared a Servant of God, allowing the canonization process to move forward and the reports of miracles to be examined.

 

On the one hand, having the Devil’s Advocate in such a direct, constant position in the canonization process helped make sure that there was no doubt about the sanctity of the people canonized.  It made the process go slowly, to be sure.  However, in some cases the cause of a canonization could be held up for decades because of the debates, all written, back and forth between the two sides.  The canonization process, then, relied heavily on the arguments and arguing skills of these canon lawyers.

 

This brings us to Pope John Paul II and his changes to the canonization process in 1983.  In his apostolic constitution Divinus Prefectionis Magister, the Holy Father laid out the changes to the process, streamlining the whole thing.  He didn’t get rid of the Devil’s Advocate entirely; instead, the position of Protector of the Faith received a more concentrated role.  Instead of running the entire opposing position in the process, the Protector is part of a group of figures who read through the Position (the evidence that a person led a holy life) and submit questions about it.  As one commentator puts it, “Instead of a candidate being on trial and having to face accusations by the Promotor Fidei as the Church’s ‘prosecutor,’ the procedure now takes the form of a committee meeting where experts present reports.”  The emphasis in the canonization process is no longer the legal debates but rather the weight of the biographical study within the Position.  The direction of the canonization process is not directed by canon lawyers but rather by historians.

 

There is still an area for debating the merits of a particular person, but it is no longer the role of one man, one Devil’s Advocate.

 

This, of course, does not mean it is easy for a person to be declared a saint.  It isn’t, and it can still take many years and be stalled in the early investigation process.  There is also the process of going from Servant of God to Blessed (which used to require two verified miracles but now only requires one) and Blessed to Saint (again, only one miracle needed instead of two), which can take a very, very long time.  Think, for example, of Queen Isabel of Spain (died 1504) or Mateo Ricci (died 1610), who have both been declared Servants of God but have not had any miracles reported in their name to move them on to become Blesseds.  The same could be said about Pope Benedict XIII, who was declared a Servant of God in 1755, with no progress to his cause since.

 

Again, see below for some more to read about this.

 

I hope this helps answer your questions, Renee.

 

God bless!

 

For Further Reading

 

On Canonizations and Infallibility

Donald S. Prudlo,Are Canonizations based on Papal Infallibility?”

Dr. Prudlo also recently published a book examining how the Church’s understanding of papal infallibility grew out of it’s teaching about canonizations.  Something like that.  I haven’t read it yet, just going from the short info you can read online (you can get it here or here)

Edward McNamara,Canonizations and Infallibility

La Stampa with Giuseppe Sciacca, “Are canonizations infallible?”

Camillo Beccari, “Beatification and Canonization,” Catholic Encyclopedia (1907 edition) 

 

On the Devil’s Advocate

Unam Sanctam Catholicam (blog), “History of the Devil’s Advocate”

Matthew Bunson, “Devil’s Advocate Role Eliminated from Canonization Process”

John Paul II, Divinus Perfectionis Magister

Richard Burtsell, “Advocatus Diaboli” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

William Fanning, “Promotor Fidei” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

Jason A Gray, The Evolution of the Promoter of the Faith in the Causes of Beatification and Canonization: A Study of the Law of 1917 and 1983  [Note: I didn’t actually read through any of this one, as I found it towards the end of writing this post.  However, it looks interesting, so check it out.]

Kenneth L. Woodward, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why.

 

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Question: Why did God become a man?

I’ll get back to the reflections on Laudato Si next week.  This week, I want to answer a reader’s question.  It’s been a while since we looked at a Q&A. 

Ironic, since that’s the original purpose of the blog. . . . 

Anyway, so Marcy asks, “Why would God decide to come to us as one particular gender? It seems like such limiting form for an omnipotent and infinite being. And why male? Assuming heavenly omnipotence, why would he/she/it do something that would make many of his human creations feel so left out, disconnected, disenfranchised, and second-class, especially if said being could know all things and see how such a choice would be used against women? (Or anyone who wasn’t a white male.) (And don’t tell me about virgins and mothers. It doesn’t help.)”

Above: The Sinless One helps the Sinner.

There’s a lot in this question, much of which neither I nor any other human being can answer, since it requires knowing the mind of God.  But I have a feeling that Marcy doesn’t want me to just write “I have no idea” and leave it at that.  So I’ll do my best. 

Let’s first look at the gender of God.  God is pure spirit, meaning He does not have a physical body.  As such, He does not, properly speaking, have a gender, since one’s gender is linked to one’s physical body.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes.  He is neither man nor woman: He is God.  He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although He is their origin and standard” (CCC 239).  So God is beyond male and female.   

So why did he reveal Himself as male?  Why not female? 

Remember something very crucial, something too many people who read the Bible forget: God did not give His Revelation to the modern world.  I don’t mean, of course, that He does not speak to us, for He speaks to all ages through His inspired Word.  What I mean is this: the Bible itself was written in a specific historical time by specific historical people.  God spoke to/through these people, and He used images that they would understand.  That does not make what they wrote wrong or anything like that, any more than a parent’s attempt to explain something complicated to a child makes the parent’s explanation wrong.  We all do that, using metaphors to explain what we know, but others don’t understand. 

We see this in the creation story.  It wouldn’t have helped the Israelites understand God’s role in creating if the creation story began, “In the beginning, God formed hydrogen atoms and compressed them into a tiny bundle of atomic energy.  Don’t worry about what atoms are; you won’t be able to detect them for another three thousand years.  And thus the atomic cloud expanded, and the atoms mixed and crashed into each other to form other atoms” and so on and so forth.  It’s hard to understand even today, and we HAVE the technology and science to understand.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my explanation here is lacking in some crucial detail, but hopefully you, kind readers, will move past my poor understanding of astrophysics and see this crucial theological point: God teaches to our level of understanding.  This includes when He teaches about Himself. 

In the ancient world, it was understood that the male of an animal (people included) gave life through sexual intercourse.  To use sort-of philosophical lingo, the woman was a passive receptor to the man’s active fertilization.  Remember that mammalian eggs were not discovered until 1827, and human eggs were not discovered until a century afterwards.  For the majority of human existence, people thought that the seed of the man gave life to the woman’s dormant womb.  Hence the strange phrase “sprung from your loins,” referring to a child of a man.  You see this ancient sexual image in the creation account.  God injects life into the passive world through His Word.  John Paul II draws out this point in one of his reflections which makes up his Theology of the Body (specifically the one on September 12, 1979), noting that Genesis 1 uses terms like “separated” or “placed” when speaking of inanimate objects, but uses the terms “created” and “blessed” when discussing the creation of animals and man.  When God creates living things, He gives them life in a unique way, different from the rest of creation. 

In the ancient world, that makes Him the Father, the source of all life.  In fact, the ancient Israelites called God Father for that exact reason, since He was the source of all that is.  It wasn’t until Christ came that we learned that God is Father in a completely different way: His divine paternity did not begin with His creating time, but rather is from all eternity as the Father of the Divine Son (see CCC 238-242 for a detailed discussion of this point). 

So God revealed Himself as the source of all creation, as Father.  However, He did not limit Himself to only masculine terminology.  We see God compared to a mother several times in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read how Moses reprimanded the Israelites for rejecting God: “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you / You forgot the God who gave you birth.”  This quote shows the creative paternity of God (begetting is typically a paternal term in the Old Testament) and an interesting maternal aspect of God, one where God gives birth to the Israelites too; in a sense, it is a double reference to the Israelite’s dependence on God as a son would be dependent on his parents.  The Old Testament prophets likewise draw out the image of God as a mother, usually in reference to animals (Hosea 13:8, in reference to those who embraced pagan worship, reads “I will attack them like a bear robbed of its young, and tear their hearts from their breast; I will devour them on the spot like a lion, as though a wild beast were to rend them”) or to mothers of newborns (Isaiah 49:15 has the important comparison between a neglectful mother and God, that even if mothers forget their babies, or the child in their wombs, God will not forget us, and Isaiah 66:13 sees God comparing Himself to a comforting mother). 

Keep in mind, just as with the references to God’s paternity, we don’t have God saying, “I’m a woman” just as we don’t have Him saying, “I’m a man.”  Also keep in mind that God isn’t saying to the Israelites, “I am a mother,” but is rather saying, “I’m like a mother.”  These are metaphors and analogies.  Analogies are not the same thing as equivocations.  God isn’t equating Himself with a mother goddess, but He is comparing His love to a love which any human can understand, that of a loving mother. 

The best example of Christ comparing Himself to a mother is in the famous passage in Luke 13:34 (the equivalent is found in Matthew 23:37):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!

Above: Don’t mess with Mama Hen!

Again, we see the image of God as a caring mother who would do great things for the Israelites if they would only follow Him.  But since they won’t, “Behold, your house will be abandoned” (Luke 13:34). 

So God revealed Himself using primarily masculine terms and images, but He also used feminine metaphors to explain other aspects of His divine love. 

So why did God choose to be incarnated as a man instead of a woman, or in a particular gender at all?  The phrasing of Marcy’s question has two alternatives to Christ being incarnated as a man.  On the one hand, Christ could have instead been incarnated as a woman, and such an incarnation could have allayed some of the sexism that has reappeared throughout human history, scandalously among Christians; on the other hand, Christ could have been incarnated as a hermaphrodite, a man-woman, and would theoretically have been “free” from gender roles, more indicative of God’s genderlessness, as discussed above.  Wouldn’t either of those have been better ideas, in the long term? 

Here’s where I stir the controversial gender pot.  From what I can tell, Christ’s Incarnation as a male was not a divine coin flip (“Ok, heads I come as a man, tails as a woman; flip the coin, Gabriel”).  God became a man, not just any human, as an essential aspect of the Incarnation.  I will give three reasons. 

The first reason involves creation.  Remember the point we made about fatherhood in the ancient world seen as the cause of life, planting the seed in the fertile woman.  Now, we know that you need a woman as much as a man to have a baby, but as pointed above, as far as the creation of the world is concerned, only one source was needed: God.  God made everything out of nothing (hence the earlier biblical language of God as father and mother, even though God has no passiveness in Him), so He is the only source of creation. 

We need to keep this in mind when discussing Christ.  Christ’s coming is a new creation.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3).  These phrases are reminiscent of the creating Father from Genesis.  In coming Christ does not create a new physical world.  Rather, He gives us new spiritual life.  He is the source of that life, just as God is the source of life in the original creation.  To emphasize this connection, it was more appropriate for God to be incarnated as a man.

The second reason is the historical context of the Incarnation, “the fullness of time” in St. Paul’s words to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4).  Christians reflecting on the historical context of the Incarnation, from earlier writers like St. Paul and St. Augustine, to modern writers like Warren H. Carroll and Brennan Pursell, note that the time of Christ’s Incarnation was really a great moment for God to become man.  The known world was “at peace” in the Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus; Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had fertilized the intellectual world with discussions of existence, truth, and the immaterial world, ideas that had been spread through the conquests of Alexander the Great; Hebrew priests prayed and sought purification in preparation for the coming Messiah, understanding that soon the prophecies of Daniel and Malachi were coming true.  These three cultures, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, paved the way for the coming of Christ, and provided the historical context for the Incarnation. 

This historical context provides a key to why God became incarnate as a man.  Few would argue against the fact that the early Roman Empire was a man’s world.  In fact, one of the reasons some Romans avoided Christianity was because Christians taught that men and women were to be treated with equal respect.  For the Hebrews, the testimony of women was often dismissed in court.  These two points are crucial for understanding why God came as a man.  If He had come as a woman, both the Romans and the Hebrews would have rejected His (Her) preaching out of hand, simply based on gender.  By coming as a man, Christ gives weight to his teaching, touching the hearts of those who otherwise would not listen.  Crowds of thousands gather to listen to Him speak; they wouldn’t gather if He had been a She.  In a similar way, Christ as a hermaphrodite might have done more harm than good, as such a figure would not command respect, perhaps less than a female Christ would.

Why did He come as a man?  To get His Gospel spread throughout the world so that everyone could be saved, especially the marginalized women of antiquity.  The love of Christ extends to all men and women.   

The third reason involves the coming of the Messiah, as far as the Israelites were concerned.  The Messiah was to come as a fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the Davidic kings of old.  God promised David that his kingdom would last forever (see 2 Samuel 7); the Messiah would be the heir of David’s throne, a son of David.  Likewise, the Messiah was expected, somehow, to right the wrongs of Israel.  Christ did this in an extraordinary way, by taking on the role of the New Adam (see Romans 5), atoning for Original Sin just as Adam was responsible for causing Original Sin (if you ever come across someone who blames Eve for the Eden issue, tell them to read the WHOLE Bible.  Even though Eve was partly to blame for disobeying God, Adam ALWAYS carries the most weight for the sin). 

The masculine aspect of Christ’s Incarnation did not stop Christ from using women as his evangelists.  One needs to look no further than Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) and how she evangelized her entire village.  We can see among Christ’s early followers a lot of women, albeit not among the Twelve Apostles, but certainly among those who helped with the early Church and who listened to Jesus (remember the story of Martha and Mary?  I wrote more about that earlierOf course, there is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who holds a place in the Church higher than any other saint. 

The most basic answer to all of this, to why God came as a man, and why we refer to God in masculine pronouns and titles, is that God wanted it that way.  Remember something so crucial, so neglected in our day: we are not God.  While we can theorize what could have happened, or why something happened one way versus another way, we have to keep in mind that things happen for a reason.  God came as a man for a reason.  Perhaps His reasons were none of the ones listed above, and my entire post has been a poor attempt on the part of a finite man to rationalize the actions of the infinite God. 

One final point.  This whole question centers on the issue of God limiting Himself in the Incarnation to one gender.  In a sense, this issue falls into a classic idiom, missing the forest for the trees.  Yes, by coming as one gender or another, God limited the physical body of the Incarnate Word.  However, we must remember that the Incarnation itself was God, in a sense, limiting Himself.  As that early Christian hymn recorded in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians states, Jesus Christ,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:6-11)

The Incarnation shows the deep humility of God, for in emptying Himself of His divine splendor, by coming as one of us, He allows us to come to Him in a way we could not before.  Adam sinned by trying to make himself a god.  God rectifies what he did by making Himself man, with all his physical limits. 

I hope this long answer actually answers your question, Marcy.  If not, feel free to refine your question in the comment box below.  Actually, everyone else, be sure to comment on the post with questions and thoughts, to further the discussion. 

For Further Reading:

Brumley, Mark “Does the Bible Support the Feminist God/Dess?”  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

John Paul II, “Biblical Account of Creation Analyzed” Delivered 12 September 1979.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

I also go more into the nature of God in my second Reflection on the first part of the Creed.  

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Question: A Doxology for the Our Father?

Debbie from Maryland asks, “Why did we add the doxology at the end of the Our Father at Mass?”

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass, the priest and people recite together the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him how to pray.  After all say the words, “but deliver us from evil,” the priest alone says the following: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day.  In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  The people respond with a doxology, a prayer glorifying God: “For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours now and forever.”  Prior to the late 1960s, the Roman Missal did not include the doxology.  However, most Protestants, when reciting the Our Father, say a similar doxology.  Did the Church add the doxology to the Mass in order to appease Protestant critics?  Is there another reason for the addition?

Doxologies in general are not a new concept.  The Hebrew Scriptures have multiple doxologies, oftentimes attached to one of the great Psalms of praise to God.  For example, Psalm 41:14 praises God in a manner similar to the doxology attached to the Our Father: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from all eternity and forever.  Amen.  Amen.”  In 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, David sings a song in praise of God; it begins with a doxology, saying that God is “from eternity to eternity.”  The New Testament also has several doxologies.  One of the clearest examples of this is in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where there are several statements glorifying God, each one ending with “Amen.”  They are little prayers peppering his letter.  Likewise, the “Glory Be,” a prayer which dates to the earliest days of the Church and appears in various Christian prayers, from the Divine Office to the Rosary, is a Trinitarian doxology

Clearly, doxologies are good, longstanding traditions in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the Catholic Church has no problem with doxologies accompanying her prayers. The question is: why do we have a doxology at the end of the Our Father during Mass, but when we say the Our Father at other times, we do not have a doxology?  What precedence is there for the doxology accompanying the Our Father?

The controversy over the Our Father’s doxology begins in the Gospels, or at least in translations of the Gospels.  Most translations of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, where Our Lord teaches the Our Father to His disciples, do not include the doxology.  The two earliest editions of Matthew’s Gospel do not include the doxology (the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus), while the third earliest (the Codex Washingtonensis, held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) does have the line.  The first two editions date to the 4th century, but the third dates to the late 4th/early 5th century.  That’s not much of a difference when dealing with ancient manuscripts.

Speaking of ancient manuscripts, the earliest reference to a doxology accompanying the Our Father is found in one of the Church’s earliest writing’s, the Didache.  This is important, because the Didache was probably written in the late first/early second century.  This means that early in the Church’s history a doxology went with the Our Father.  This practice continued in the eastern part of the Church.  Today, following this ancient tradition, the Eastern Churches (whether in union or not with the Roman Catholic Church) include a doxology at the end of the Our Father in the Divine Liturgy: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.”

An added doxology never really picked up in the West until the Protestant Reformation, and even then, it didn’t happen right away.  It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England that the doxology appears in Protestant editions of the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer.  It seems that the addition was made by Protestants to distance themselves from the Church.

As Fr. Zuhlsdorf notes, “Catholics didn’t use the ancient Catholic prayer and Protestants did, in order to be Protestant, which is ironic.”

So we can see that, in both the Orthodox Church and in Protestant congregations, particularly in the English-speaking world, there is a tradition of using a doxology with the Our Father.

Fast forward to the 1960s.  While working on what would eventually become the Novus Ordo, or the Ordinary Form, of the Roman Missal, the liturgists included the doxology in the Mass after the Our Father.  These liturgists didn’t explain why they made the change.  Perhaps, given the Church’s liturgical history, they sought to be ecumenical, trying to reach out to Protestants and the Orthodox by including in the Mass a prayer praising God which would make them feel more at home.

Additionally, there was a push by many liturgists to bring back into the liturgy more practices and prayers from the ancient Church.  One can see this in the inclusion of the second Eucharistic Prayer, which was composed by St. Hippolytus in the early 3rd century.  As the Our Father doxology is just such a prayer, it would make sense that it was part of a larger push to reawaken in Catholics a sense of their tradition, a sense of the Catholic past.  At a time when many in society sought to break with their cultural ancestors, perhaps the liturgists sought to bring back these ancient prayers to save the Church from a similar wreckage, to reinvigorate the Church and help the faithful recognize their true identity as Christians.

In the end, however, without any notes left by the liturgists themselves, our guesses must suffice.  The doxology does not seem to have been added in any malice or heretical mindset.  On the one hand, if the prayer was added as a touchstone for Protestant and Orthodox converts, the addition is a genuine extension of Catholic welcome to our separated brethren.  On the other hand, if it is a sort of antiquarianism, perhaps it was done with the hope of using the old to transform the new, to use the voice of Tradition to transform the modern man’s heart.

One final note about the Our Father’s doxology.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s meditation on the Our Father, which forms the bulk of the section on Prayer, there is a portion devoted to the doxology.  The Catechism reads, “The final doxology . . . takes up again, by inclusion, the first three petitions to our Father: the glorification of his name, the coming of his reign, and the power of his saving will.  But these prayers are now proclaimed as adoration and thanksgiving, as in the liturgy of heaven.  The ruler of this world has mendaciously attributed to himself the three titles of kingship, power, and glory.  Christ, the Lord, restores them to his Father and our Father, until he hands over the kingdom to him when the mystery of salvation will be brought to its completion and God will be all in all” (CCC 2855).

I hope this helps!

For further reading:

Saunders, William.  “Who Added the Doxology?”  Available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/DOXOLOG.HTM.  Accessed 10/27/14.

“Is the Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 a Late Addition?”  Available at http://www.kjvtoday.com/home/is-the-doxology-to-the-lords-prayer-in-matthew-613-a-late-addition.  Accessed 10/27/14.

Zuhlsdorf, John.  “QUAERITUR: Why is the Protestant “For the kingdom, the power, the glory…” in Our Catholic Mass?”  Available at http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/02/quaeritur-why-is-the-protestant-for-the-kingdom-the-power-the-glory-in-our-catholic-mass.  Accessed 10/27/14.

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Question: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

We are back!  Well, we’re back with a QUESTION!!!!!

Marcy asks: “Why was there a split between what I think of as the doctrine Peter and the doctrine of Paul?  Was it a matter of ‘money talks’?  And, of course, why no married priests if Peter was married?”
I don’t know if Marcy is getting at the famous phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  If she is, the best my research can show indicates that the phrase has nothing to do with these two Apostles.  Most of the sources I’ve found in my research say that the “Peter” in question is actually Westminster Abbey (aka, the Abby of St. Peter’s), while the “Paul” is St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Apparently, after King Henry VIII took over the monastery lands, including Westminster Abbey, in the sixteenth century, he used money from the monastery to pay for repairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Thus Peter was robbed to pay for Paul.  The phrase had nothing to do with the doctrines of the two disciples.  There is evidence for earlier references to the phrase, but they always have to do with moving money around and nothing to do with the actual Apostles.

 

However, there is a deeper topic of discussion here.  Marcy mentions the debate over the doctrine of St. Peter vs. the doctrine of St. Paul.  Many Protestant theologians embrace the writings of St. Paul as an antidote to the theology of the Catholic Church, and since the first pope is St. Peter, these theologians set up St. Paul as an antidote to St. Peter.  It is a hot topic in many interdenominational debates.

 

In order to approach this hotly debated topic, we must first get to know the two great men in question, Sts. Peter and Paul.  Both men helped form the Church.  If there was a divide between them, if one’s beliefs were suppressed for the other, then perhaps the entirety of Christian history is a lie.  That would be bad.

 

But first, a little about St. Peter.

 

He was a fisherman named Simon, a strong man, tough and weathered by years on the Sea of Galilee.  He was like all of us, a sinner.  He admits as much to Jesus when Our Lord helps him catch a miraculous net of fish.  He was outspoken, saying his mind, a sometimes-flaw which Christ used to spread His Word.  Christ did not choose him randomly to be the “Rock” upon which He would build His Church.  Matthew 16 is clear on this; it was a defining moment in Church history, and as such merited the change of the Apostle’s name from Simon to Peter.  Yet this same man who declared Christ was the “Son of God” later tried to forbid Christ from going to Jerusalem.  Christ’s rebuke of Peter serves to remind us that though Christ works with us for our salvation and the salvation of others, He is in charge, we are not.  Jesus used this man of conviction, in spite of his brash nature, to transform the world.  It was Peter who, after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, stood up and took charge of the Apostles; Christ had, after all, left Peter the task (see Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-19).  No one challenged him.  When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, it was Peter who addressed the crowd, and 3000 joined the Church that day.  Peter was the leader, and the Church followed his lead.

 

Paul was similar to Peter in that he too had great faith and spoke his mind.  Unlike Peter, Paul (whose original name was Saul) was well educated and, notably, a Roman citizen.  He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most notable rabbis of first century Jerusalem.  On fire for God, Saul joined the Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem.  He was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there when a blinding light knocked him to the ground, and Christ’s voice announced that Saul was persecuting Him, not merely His followers.  This conversion transformed Saul.  After retreating to the Arabian desert for three years, Saul met with the Apostles in Jerusalem.  During this time, Paul drew into Christ, and soon he referred to himself not by his given name (Saul) but by a Greek version of that name (Paul).

 

These two men are, as Fr. Robert Barron says in his Catholicism series, “the indispensable men” of the early Church.  The Church would not exist as it does today if not for these men.  They together formed a huge bulk of the New Testament.  St. Peter wrote two letters contained in the Canon of Scripture, as well as working with St. Mark on his Gospel account.  St. Paul is responsible for the bulk of the New Testament, penning the majority of the New Testament Letters, as well as working with St. Luke to write the third Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.  These two men, Peter and Paul, presented to the Church an authentic understanding of Christ’s mission and teaching.  St. Peter helped spread the word to Jewish Christians; St. Paul’s preaching earned him the title “Apostle to the Gentiles.”

 

What, then, of this split between their teachings?  Did they teach different doctrines?  If so, who was right?

 

The controversy stems from a rather strong passage in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (2:11ff).  Here Paul describes how he went to preach to the Gentiles, as Peter, James, and John preached to the Jews.  However, while in Antioch, Paul stood up to Peter “to his face” because Peter ate with the Jewish Christians but not the Gentile ones.  Protestant scholars see in Paul’s statement proof that he and St. Peter were at odds with each other, and that Paul had enough authority to counter the authority of Peter.  Peter, it seems, taught one thing while Paul taught something else, and given the chance, Paul would reject Peter’s authority.  Does this mean Peter was not really in charge of the Christian Church following Christ’s Ascension?

 

The answer lies in the Acts of the Apostles (side note: remember to read the Bible, especially St. Paul’s letters, as one book; St. Paul’s writings fit into the historical narrative relayed in Acts of the Apostles, and oftentimes the historical writings are helpful for making sense of Paul’s writings).  In Acts 10 there is the story of a Roman centurion named Cornelius.  Cornelius was one of the “God-fearers,” pagans who believed in the one true God, but didn’t want to go through the rather painful process of becoming Jewish.  Cornelius received a vision telling him to send for Peter.  He does this immediately.  The next day, as the messengers from Cornelius approach the place where Peter stayed, Peter himself received a vision of a sheet with all sorts of animals, clean and unclean.  Peter, though very hungry (it was lunch time), refused to touch the animals, saying “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14).  A voice responded, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  This happened three times, and at the end of it, Peter was confused.  Then he met the messengers from Cornelius, and things started to make sense.  He went with the men to Cornelius, and long story short, Cornelius and his household were baptized, even though they were not Jewish.  They became the first Gentile Christians, baptized by the hand of Peter himself.

 

Now as time progressed, many Gentiles became Christians.  Some of the Jewish Christians (converts from Judaism) were upset that the Gentile Christians didn’t have to follow the law of Moses before becoming Christians.  Other Christians said the law of Moses no longer had the authority it did before Christ.  Christ fulfilled the law, the logic went, and so we don’t need the explicit law any more.  Paul supported this latter view.  The final decision on this question finally came at the Council of Jerusalem (the first council of its kind in Church history).  There the Apostles decided that Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were equal, and that Gentile Christians did not have to follow the Mosaic law (the whole story is in Acts 15).  Peter not only supported this decision, it was his speech in the council that rallied the Apostles to agree.  So there in Acts 15 Peter and Paul agree on this issue of Gentile vs. Jewish Christians.  They are the same, and one can interact with both groups.  All are one in Christ.

 

What, then, of Galatians 2:11 ff?  Look at what Paul says he said to Peter.  First, the context.

 

Chapter two of Paul’s letter begins by Paul saying how he went to Jerusalem to defend his ministry to the Gentiles.  He gives a beautiful, reflective summary of the council in Jerusalem:

 

“When they [the other Apostles] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do” (Gal 2:7-10).

 

Paul left the council with the blessing and prayers and support of Peter, James, and John (Peter = Cephas).  However, the very next verse is the startling one: “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”  Does Paul know better than Peter?  Does a normal bishop dare stand up to the pope?  The rest of the passage holds the answer.

 

For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.  And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin?  Certainly not!  But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.  For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.  (Gal. 2:12-21)

 

This isn’t an example of a bishop (Paul) splitting off from the pope’s (Peter’s) teaching.  This is a bishop reminding the pope of his own teaching.  Paul does this reprimand not to break off from Peter or to try to take control of the Church, but to unite the Church, rallying the faithful around the teaching of the Apostles.

 

And before anyone gets too excited, no, this episode does nothing to diminish papal infallibility.  Peter was causing scandal through his actions (a discipline-related matter), but he did not break from the set doctrine of the Church.

 

So there was no conflict between Peter and Paul.  In fact, one finds in one of Peter’s letters an endorsement of Paul’s letters: “Count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.  There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3: 15-17).  Likewise, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul lists Peter first among those who saw the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:5).  Paul also discourages the Corinthians from distinguishing between his teaching and that of Peter.  As Paul states, “let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3: 21-23).

 

Peter and Paul together transformed the Church.  It is no wonder that the Church celebrates both men together on June 29 (which, on a completely unrelated side note, is also my wedding anniversary).

 

 

Above: An Icon of Peter and Paul.  See, they’re bros!

One final note about Peter.  Marcy asked why there are no married priests if Peter was married.  We know that Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (see Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 4 for the story).  Why, then, can’t priests be married?

 

The celibate priesthood is a discipline of the Church.  Disciplines can change.  In the early church, some priests were married (as we mentioned in the post about the question of women priests in Church history), and this discipline is still practice in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.  Likewise, in the Roman Catholic Church, certain clergymen who convert from certain Protestant groups (like former Anglicans) may, under certain circumstances, be ordained even though they are married.  There are also permanent deacons in the Roman Rite who are married.  However, there is a major condition for all of these men, whether they are Eastern or converts or permanent deacons: married clergy must be married prior to receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, that is, before ordination.  Married men can become priests.  Priests can’t become married men.

 

There is a lot more which could be said about this.  I have a special section in the For More Information below concerning married priests.

 

For More Information

 

On “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”

 

http://idiomation.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/rob-peter-to-pay-paul/

 

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/rob-peter-to-pay-paul.html

 

 

On Married Priests

 

Thurston, Herbert.  “Celibacy of the Clergy.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 3.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.  Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm

 

Catholic Answers.  “Celibacy and the Priesthood.” Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://www.catholic.com/tracts/celibacy-and-the-priesthood

 

“Clerical Celibacy (Catholic Church).”  Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_celibacy_(Catholic_Church)

 

Cattaneo, Arturo.  Married Priests?: 30 Crucial Questions about Celibacy.  San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2012.

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Question: Can Catholics celebrate Halloween?

Kristy, who writes at Granola Vogue, asked a question (and to emphasize just how BEHIND I am, I had joked with her that I hopefully wouldn’t be writing about it around Halloween. . . ) about everybody’s favorite candy-giving, creepy movie watching, totally spiritual holiday: “I read your latest post on Christmas [sorry to interrupt again, but this kinda shows just how old this question was] so I was wondering where does the Catholic Church stand on celebrating Halloween? Where does it fit it, if at all into their beliefs?”

A fine question, Kristy.  Let’s look at the history of Halloween first, compare its historical celebrations to today’s, and see what Catholics say about it.

Halloween got its start as a religious feast.  It is the day before All Saints’ Day, one of the holiest feasts of the year, when the Catholic Church celebrates all of the saints in Heaven, especially those who have not been declared a saint by the Church (remember, the Catholic Church doesn’t make someone a saint; she declares that that person is a saint).  The word “Halloween” is adapted from its proper, liturgical title: “All Hallows’ Eve.”  “Hallows” is an older English word that we still use in some contexts (for example, in the “Our Father” we say in the first line “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name”).  The word “hallow” means “holy,” and thus “All Hallows’ Eve” celebrates the eve (evening) before the feast of All Saints (the holy ones of God).  The words combine to make Halloween.

The feast of All Saints’ Day wasn’t established in the Church calenders until 615, when Pope Boniface IV established the Feast of All Martyrs to commemorate the conversion of the Pantheon in Rome into the Church of “St. Mary of the Martyrs” (“Santa Maria dei Martiri”).  There had been earlier celebrations commemorating the Church’s martyrs, but this was the first time it was made official by the Pope (it was celebrated on May 13).  This feast was later turned into the Feast of All Saints by Pope Gregory IV in 840 and moved to November 1 in 844 by that same pontiff.  Several commentators note that the establishment of both the feast in honor of All Martyrs and the feast in honor of All Saints marked an attempt to turn a sometimes pagan Europe towards God, baptizing the day in honor of the saints, rather than towards pagan gods.  To highlight the importance of the feast, Pope Sixtus IV made the feast a holy day of obligation in 1484, meaning all Catholics were to attend Mass that day.  Pope Sixtus also established a vigil feast for this major feast day (what is now called Halloween) as well as an octave to extend the feast’s celebration.  However, the octave and the liturgies attached to the eve of All Saints were removed before the mid-1950s.

(Above: Raphael’s “The Disputation of the Sacrament,” aka, What they do in Heaven)

All Souls’ Day (November 2) has a much shorter history.  Since the beginning of the Church (and before, as noted in 2 Maccabees 12:38-46), the faithful have offered prayers for the dead, so that they might be freed from the stain of sin and brought into paradise.  The feast of All Souls’ Day grew out of this practice, first in local monasteries as a way to pray for those monks and loved ones who had died (particularly from the 6th through 11th Centuries), then in the major cities (Liege by 1008, Milan by 1125), and eventually to the whole world.  Pope Sylvester II recommended the feast for the Universal Church (but did not require the feast be added to the universal Church calender) in the 11th century, and as is often the case in matters liturgical, once the feast gained the support of the Pope, it spread throughout Europe.  It wasn’t until very recently (1915, under Pope Benedict XV), however, that the feast became an official one on the universal Church calendar (and a special exemption from the two-Masses-per-day rule was given to priests).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass freeing souls from purgatory

(Above: What happens during a Requiem Mass)

So that’s a quick summary of the history behind All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days and the creation of Halloween as a liturgical celebration.  Halloween is, as you can see, at its roots a Catholic celebration: remembering the saints who dwell with God in Heaven and the departed who left this world in need of our prayers.  In that way, it is very Catholic to celebrate Halloween.

But what about Halloween today?  Where did we get all the holiday stuff, the ghosts, the monsters, the jack-o-lanterns, etc.?  Is the Church ok with all of that?

First, the party stuff.

The connection with All Souls’ Day reveals right away the emphasis on ghosts and things that go bump in the night.  Ghosts are often connected with souls from Purgatory who cannot find rest.  A church in Rome contains relics of visitors from Purgatory (these and other ghost-like visitations were the subject of a recent book, Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory), emphasizing the need for prayers for the faithfully departed, especially those who have no one to pray for them.  The accounts attached to those relics are real ghost stories.  It is little wonder, then, that ghosts and other denizens of the night are associated with the two feast days of the Church which focus on the afterlife, not on the lives of heroic men and women but on what happens to us when we die.

Many of the familiar Halloween features stem from pagan European practices.  The most commonly noted is a festival in Celtic areas (Ireland, England, Scotland, etc.) prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries dedicated to Samhain, their god of death.  This feast marked the Celtic New Year.  Rituals included offering burnt sacrifices in huge bonfires and wearing animal skins as costumes.  The hope was that these would keep the god at bay, as well as protect the people of the villages from the evil spirits released into the world by Samhain.  From these Celtic areas, we also find familiar rituals which may be the ancestors of our Halloween celebrations.  In Ireland people joined a parade led by a druidic priest in an animal mask who went from house to house begging for food in the name of another god, Muck Olla (those who would give food were blessed, while those who didn’t were cursed).  The Irish also started carving turnips for the feast.  Scottish peasants wandered the fields at night with torches to keep evil spirits at bay.  When Roman legions conquered the Celtic regions, their Latin customs of autumnal harvest rituals mixed with the Celtic festival.  Christian missionaries attempted to baptize the festivities (as they did with festivals near Christmastime), resulting in a strong emphasis in Celtic Christianity on death and physical mortification.

Similar rituals arose in Frankish and Germanic Christian kingdoms.  French Catholics in particular had a festival known as “Dance Macabre” in honor of departed souls, often dressing in costumes to represent people throughout their life.  French monks in the monasteries in Cluny developed devotions in honor of the souls in Purgatory, offering special Masses for the dead (the Masses of the Clunaic monks inspired Pope Sylvester II, who himself was French, to spread the celebration of Mass for the Dead).  These rites and rituals became popular among the lay faithful, and soon became part of Christian culture.

Our modern understanding of Halloween came about when all of these features mixed together in America, the world’s cultural melting pot.  French, Irish, Scottish, and German immigrants lived near each other, intermarried, and formed a new culture.  The Irish tradition of carving turnips and asking for food became our tradition of carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating.  The French devotion to prayers for the souls in Purgatory and their costume-filled “Dance Macabre” mixed with Celtic fears of ghosts and goblins.  Other cultures mixed and mingled, and eventually our modern holiday of Halloween formed.

This leaves the biggest question of them all: can a Catholic celebrate Halloween?  I would say yes, provided they avoid the more disturbing facets that have slithered into the holiday’s celebration in recent decades.  The focus of the holiday turned from remembering the dead, praying for them, and invoking the saints, to a disturbing obsession with evil.  This evil appears in various forms, and its not always as obvious as the evil in a horror movie.  Many children (and those who wish they were children) dress in costumes for trick-or-treating.  Those costumes speak volumes.  A cute costume might draws “awwws” and “how sweet.”  Gory costumes draw the opposite reaction.  Girls dressed in overtly sexual costumes draw a very disturbing reaction.  Costumes of children dressed as witches and zombies seem more appropriate.  Mix this with attempts by modern witches and druids to claim Halloween as their holy day and the water gets murky.  The Christian origins of the holiday fade into obscurity.

Christians are divided into four groups regarding Halloween.  One group just doesn’t celebrate it, not out of any dislike but simply because they don’t want to.  Another wants nothing to do with it, some because of its connection to pre-Christian Europe, some because of how disturbing some of the celebrations of Halloween have become.  A third group, on the other end of the spectrum, celebrates the holiday like anyone else, without any concern over the controversies mentioned above.  The fourth group, which I lean towards, seeks to embrace what is properly Christian, reclaiming, so to speak, Halloween.  Rather than wandering the streets dressed as monsters, children trick-or-treat dressed as saints or religious figures.  Others dress in some heroic costume (knights, soldiers, policemen, etc).  Other costumes work too (I was a shark when I was very young!) and there is room for some monstrosities, gentle ghosts and lovable witches.  However, it is not my place to say in definite terms “this is wrong” or “the parent who allows this or that costume is a bad, sinful parent.”  These, of course, are mere suggestions.

There is a place for terror during Halloween, for it reminds us of the end of our lives.  Halloween brings to our attention a terrifying reality: we will all die.  Even those who emphasize the spiritual aspect of the holiday know that this reality is at the root of the celebration.  The saints, though heroic and in Heaven, had to die to reach their triumphant state.  The souls in Purgatory likewise had to die to reach their state of purification.  Those in Hell suffer the worst fate, for in their death they have separated themselves from God.  It is of this reality that Halloween seeks to remind us.  Horror has its place in reminding us.  Perhaps it is the easiest way to shock us into drawing back to God.

No matter the costume or the celebration, this main focus of Halloween should be maintained.  We should recall those who have gone before us, either celebrating in the triumph of the saints or pray for those who still journey through Purgatory.  Some suggested practices help refocus our attention during the holiday.  Reflections on the saints form a delightful part of the celebration. Readings from the lives of the saints or their writings might help to remind Christians young and old of the great patrimony of our spiritual siblings in Heaven.  In this way, a new generation of Christians can reorient themselves towards Christ through His saints.

For Further Reading (note: most of these websites are articles discussing the history of Halloween in more detail):

http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/hallween.htm

http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpentecost12aa.html#1a

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Oct2001/Family.asp

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/overviews/months/10_2.cfm

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6210

http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/October-2012/Culture–Time-for-Catholics-to-Embrace-Halloween.aspx

http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/784/Truth_about_Halloween.html

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/all-hallows-eve-or-halloween

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm – Catholic Encyclopedia article about All Saints’ Day

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315b.htm – Catholic Encyclopedia article about All Souls’ Day

Van Den Aardweg, Gerard J. M.  Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory.  Rockville, IL: TAN Books, 2009.

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Question: God of the Old vs. God of the New?

And we’re back!

Sheila (who blogs at http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com/) asks: “Why is the God of the Old Testament so different from the God of the New? One minute it’s the flood, fire and brimstone, and the next it’s ‘God does not desire the death of the wicked.’ One minute it’s ‘sacrifice these animals in this way,’ and the next it’s ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’”

This is a question which troubled the Church in the early days.  It boils down to the apparent contradiction between the harshness of God in the Old Testament and the gentleness and love of Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus is supposed to be God, right?  Well, then why does He pretty much contradict what God said to the Israelites?

There are three basic ways of approaching this question.

The first is that the Old Testament and the New Testament tell the story of two different gods, one harsh and evil (that would be the Old Testament) and one good (Jesus in the New Testament).  This was the belief of the Gnostics, whom we’ve discussed before.  Typical monotheists don’t like the idea of having two co-eternal, equally powerful deities, one pure good, the other pure evil.  Besides, Gnostics had a whole bunch of other beliefs that made their argument rather unpleasant.  As discussed in the post on Gnostics and my reflections on the phrase “I believe in one God” from the Creed, belief in multiple gods doesn’t work.  So we don’t have two gods fighting.

The second idea is worse than the first.  There isn’t agreement between the two parts of the Bible on the most important point, that of the nature of God.  How, then, can we trust the Bible?  We can’t.  Therefore, it’s a bunch of [insert preferred insulting word].  While we’re at it, we can’t even know if God exists.  He must not, since if God did exist, and was good, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.  God must be made up.

Clearly this idea has problems too, the main one being that it rejects the existence of God.  While we don’t have time to get into the arguments for the existence of God, let’s leave it at this: Something can’t come from nothing.  This is discussed in greater detail in my earlier post on belief in God, mentioned above.  Its one thing to read the Bible and decide that God is mean, cruel, and terrifying; it’s another to claim it is entirely made up.  Many of the arguments that Jews and Christians invented God stem from the arguers preconceived ideas that all religions are inventions of people.  The widespread use of this argument is surprising, since it’s hard to argue using a source (the Bible) that the arguer has claimed to be unreliable.

But there is a better way. . .

The third idea is that maybe, just maybe, we need to look at the Bible as a WHOLE, searching for points of continuity rather than disunity.  When that happens, a remarkable image appears.  God is not a vicious “god monster,” as one atheist wrote; rather, He is a loving parent, a loving Father, wanting the best for His children.

Let’s start with the Old Testament.

We first meet God in the first verse of Genesis, the first book in the Bible: “In the beginning, when God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Earth was a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (Gen 1:1-2).  God is Creator, and in the course of creation makes everything good.  The first Creation account uses the statement “God saw that it was good” as a refrain, showing that ALL of creation, mankind especially, is good.  Thus God creates everything.  Why did He create?  Not because He was lonely, but out of love, for it is better to exist than not exist.  In that sense, because He created all things and is the origin of all that is good and whole, God is called Father.

The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of God as Father to the human race.  Like any father, God faces rebellious children.  This rebellion started with Adam and Eve, the first humans, who rejected God’s instruction to avoid eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (on a related, though not strictly theological note, the comedian Bill Cosby has a hilarious standup routine where he compares the Fall of Adam and Eve to “brain-damaged” children).  From then on, God had to play that most unfortunate role of parents: Disciplinarian.  Now, I don’t have children yet, but I do teach them (or at least teenagers, who are sometimes more childish than children), and I hate having to be the disciplinarian.  You tell students to do something, and to avoid doing this other thing, and before you know, they have done the very thing you told them not to do, and have somehow forgotten what they were supposed to do.  So it was with the people of God.

Trace the story of Salvation History and you can see this.  Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and have two sons: Cain and Abel.  Both are supposed to offer sacrifice to God, and they do, but Cain’s is half-hearted; without giving his heart to God, his sacrifice is moot.  When God prefers Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s (Abel was righteous, and therefore gave his best to God), Cain kills Abel.  He is exiled from the family, and he starts his own, each generation separating themselves more and more from God, eventually becoming the “men” mentioned in Genesis prior to Noah’s Flood (Gen. 6:1-4).  Meanwhile, God’s blessing bestowed upon Adam at creation is passed down to Seth (born after Abel’s murder), from whom Noah is born.  Noah listens to God, while the rest of mankind doesn’t (Genesis notes regarding the men of that time: “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”), and as a result God wipes out the rest of the human race.  It was not out of some evilness on God’s part that he wiped out everyone but Noah.  The other people of that age were so evil that they had no room in their hearts for God, for any goodness.  Hence Noah and his family are spared.  The often used metaphor of cutting off limbs to prevent the spread of disease is apt here: in order to save mankind, Noah and his family needed to be protected from the evil that infected man.

Such was God’s plan.  But, as is often the case with God and men, God’s will is contingent (for more on this, see Dr. William Marshner’s lecture series on Predestination from the Institute of Catholic Culture), and man fallen human nature rejects what God had planned.  No sooner had Noah and his family descended from the ark than sin appears again in mankind’s story.  A drunken, passed out Noah is unable to prevent his son Ham from having relations with Noah’s wife (Ham’s mother).  The biblical phrase “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father” (Gen. 9:22) refers to this sin (see Leviticus 18).  A curse comes down not only on Ham but on Ham’s son, Canaan, who would be the fruit of the incestuous relationship.  Why the curse on the son?  Often in the Old Testament, when some curse falls upon the descendent of an evil person while the evil person gets off free, there is more to the curse.  Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo at the Institute of Catholic Culture explains in an audio lecture that Ham, by having sexual relations with his mother, shows that he was trying to take over the family, for in those days one took control of a family or kingdom by having relations with the mother.  Ham, as the youngest of the sons, would not hold a place of authority in the family.  He wanted to control Noah and the whole family, and his son Canaan would allow him to do just that.  The curse that made Canaan the slave of the other brothers ruined Ham’s hopes to rule.

Similar stories abound throughout the Old Testament.  Whenever the Lord establishes a chain of command or sets up some regulations, people rebel or try to usurp the authority of the legitimate leaders.  Why the elaborate laws of Leviticus?  The Israelites had been led out of Egypt, and therefore shown the power of God over the false gods of the Egyptians.  But when Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people got impatient and had Aaron, Moses’ brother, set up a golden calf for them, their attempt to continue the Egyptian pagan worship they had partaken of while slaves in Egypt.  As a result, the original laws and plans that God had given Moses were nixed, and thus God gave the Israelites the ENTIRE book of Leviticus.  Everything is specified, particularly how the people are to worship, how they are to live, how they are to interact with each other.  There is nothing, NOTHING, left out, or at least nothing that the Israelites might need.  Hence the heavy burden of the Law the Israelites bore throughout their history.  Yet even with these rules, the people managed to mess things up.  Hence the “wrath of God” flaring up every once in a while.

Again, think like a parent.  God laid out the rules for the Israelites, but they couldn’t listen, so he clarified it, and clarified it, and clarified it.  Soon there were hundreds of laws, and still the people turned from God.  Even the priests and scribes began abusing their position among the people.  It was why God spoke through prophets, condemning the empty sacrifices and prayers of the priests, who were more concerned with outward rituals than internal devotion.  Jesus frequently quoted these passages.  In fact, most references to the merciful, loving God from the New Testament are connected with Old Testament prophecies.  “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” though spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees who complained about Jesus dining with sinners, comes from the prophet Hosea.  The New Testament passage follows the calling of Matthew by Jesus.  Our Lord says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).  We should follow our Lord’s instructions.  The prophecy in Hosea reads as follows:

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have slain them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.

But at Adam they transgressed the covenant;

there they dealt faithlessly with me.  (Hosea 6:5-7)

The story of Salvation History is as follows:

1)  God lovingly gathers His people to Him, and makes a covenant with them.

2)  The people follow God for a while, until they get distracted like Doug the dog from Up.  They usually start worshipping some false god, usually influenced by their pagan neighbors, and there are usually women involved.

3)  God sends/allows some horrible thing to happen to His people (natural disasters/enslavement/conquest by an enemy).

4)  God sends a prophet, calling the people to repent.

5)  The people cry out to God, saying they are sorry for their sins (or they reject the prophet, often beating or killing him).

6)  God lovingly gathers His people to Him, and makes a covenant with them (or, if they rejected the prophet, worse things happen to them.  Do you know what happened to the lost tribes of Israel?)

Viewing the Old Testament from this perspective changes everything.  No longer is it a chronicle of a wrathful god against an innocent people.  It is a story of a loving Father who time and again offers His hand to His children, only for them to run away.  But when the children find themselves in danger, in pain, or trapped by evil, they call out to their Father, and He answers and helps them.  It is our story too.

Now look at the New Testament.  How does the story of Jesus fit with the story of the Old Testament?  It’s not a mystery; Jesus explains it in a parable:

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”  He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, `From heaven,’ he will say, `Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, `From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know whence it was.  And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

            And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while.  When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’  And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.”

            When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

`The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’?

Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him.”  The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them.  (Luke 20:1-19)

Jesus, of course, is the Son.  What’s more shocking is that the people listening to the parable KNOW that Jesus is the Son.  Jesus ends the parable by saying, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them [the tenants]?  He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.”  In other words, God will give the blessing, the special place of the Israelites as the chosen people of God, to all the nations, rather than the Israelites.  The scribes and priests know this is what Jesus means, for they respond, “God forbid!”  But they do what Jesus prophesied anyway.  Did they recognize that they were fulfilling the prophecies of the death of the Messiah?  The Scriptures do not say, though we can imagine many a heavy heart the night of Good Friday as more than one mouth uttered, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The Bible is all one story.  God’s wrath and Jesus’ love are the same, just as a parent who punishes does so out of love, for the benefit of the child.  How will the child know that what he has done is wrong if he is not told so, or punished when he has done wrong?  So also with the Israelites.

So also with us.

The difference between God’s portrayal in the Old Testament and His portrayal in the New is one of perspective.  Frequently the Old Testament tells the story of God having to punish His unruly children.  The New Testament provides a view of Him reaching out His hand to us, so that we can take the hand of Jesus and walk with Him into eternal life.  Recall what Adam and Eve would do before the Fall.  They would walk with God.  When Adam heard God walking in the garden after Adam had sinned, he hid.  There is a story from the Eastern Church fathers that, when Christ went down to bring from Hell (not Hell proper, but what is sometimes called the “Limbo of the Just”) the Old Testament heroic men and women who had been waiting for their chance to enter Heaven, Adam was the first to meet Christ.  Adam, the story goes, heard the footsteps of Our Lord, recognized them as the footsteps from the garden, and rather than hiding, ran to meet his Lord, to walk with Him again.

A story, yes, but a beautiful one.  We too should run to Him, so we too can walk with our Lord.

Now, Sheila, this is only a brief look at this question.  Unfathomable numbers of words address this issue in much greater detail, and with much more finesse.  Hopefully I have at least turned you in the right direction.

For more information:

Carnazzo, Sabatino.  “Swords and Serpents: A Study of Salvation History.” – Describes the whole Bible as one big book (in just 6 hours!).  Shows how God has worked throughout Salvation History.

________.  “Genesis: In the Beginning.” – In-depth examination of the book of Genesis, with particular attention paid to the first few chapters of the book.

Carroll, Warren H. A History of Christendom.  Volume I.  The Founding of Christendom.  Front Royal, VA: ChristendomCollege Press, 1985. – Traces God’s hand in human history, drawing from Biblical and pagan histories, from Genesis through the ascension of Constantine to the Roman imperial throne.

Catholic Answers Live, April 11, 2011 (with Timothy Gray) – Radio show, the first half of the show deals directly with this topic.

Marshner, William.  “Are You Saved? The Catholic Doctrine of Predestination” – Discusses the details of God’s will in history and in our lives and how our choices can affect God’s contingent will.

Olson, Carl E., “The ‘Angry God’ and the ‘Loving God’: Can We Reconcile How God is Portrayed in the Old and New Testaments?”  Catholic Answers Vol. 27, No. 2 (May/June 2013), p. 12–14. – Pages refer to the print edition (online edition also available).  Includes a short discussion of the classic example of “Angry God,” that of the war against the Canaanites.

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Question: The Dating of Christmas and Easter

The Date of Christmas

“Adoration of the Child” by Gerrit van Honthorst

This second part was, originally, to follow closely behind its predecessor, but circumstances beyond my control, and my tendency to over-research, delayed this post’s creation for far too long.  My original hope had been to have it online by the end of the Christmas season.  Lent is here, so I guess it will have to serve your Lenten meditations.

Oh well.

In the first of these two posts, we dealt with Marcy’s question: “Why are there so many pagan items incorporated into the celebration of Christmas (Yule log, Christmas tree, etc.)?”  I hoped to show that such pagan celebrations arise in Christian traditions because the Church, when preaching the Faith to these pagan peoples, incorporated what was useful into the life of the Church, creating an authentic culture.  In this second post, we will deal with her question involving the dating of Christmas: “Why is the date for Easter set according to a phase of the moon, instead of on a fixed date, like Christmas, and who set it up like that? Why is Christmas placed so close to the winter solstice instead of closer to the assumed actual time of year that Christ was supposed to have been born?”

The question assumes one commonly held belief concerning Christmas: the birth of Christ actually occurred during the spring.  Several pieces of evidence are put forward to support this.  The key one is that Luke’s Gospel reports that shepherds who were “in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Luke 2: 8).  The obvious implication is that the area around Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth, would be too cold in late December for shepherds to be watching their sheep at night.  Christ must have been born during a warmer time (maybe Spring or Autumn, during the feast of Tabernacles, the harvest feast for the Jews), and thus December 25 is wrong.  The date, the theory continues, was chosen, like the Christmas tree and Yule logs, to incorporate pagan celebrations into the newly formed Christian Faith, a way of making new converts feel more at home.  That is the reason why the Church moved the celebration of Christ’s birth to December, away from its real date.

Often repeated, such evidence is, and with each repetition it sounds that much more convincing.  However, we should not be so quick to throw out the traditional date of Christmas.  There is evidence in favor of it, as well as against it.

First, let’s address the whole shepherd issue.  Does the presence of shepherds and sheep remove the possibility of a December Christmas?  Taylor Marshall, a professor and chancellor at FisherMoreCollege [http://www.fishermore.edu/] in Texas, notes that “Bethlehem is situated at the latitude of 31.7,” a latitude with “rather comfortable” outside temperature in December (Marshall, 52).  A quick glance at the weather nowadays in Bethlehem (January 2013) has a nighttime temperature of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, not balmy, but bearable.  At the same time, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that “Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season” (Martindale, “Christmas”).  The issue of shepherding in the winter thus remains open.  We cannot reject the December dating of Christmas because of a shepherd-based argument.

The second argument against the dating of Christmas in December is the claim that Christians simply put Christmas in December to coincide with one of several pagan festivals: the festival of Saturnalia, which celebrated the winter solstice (the festival ran through middle/late December), or the celebration of the Natalis Solis Invicti, a celebration of the Unconquered Sun’s Birth (held on December 25).  The Christian Church, in an attempt to bring in more pagan converts, acquired these older pagan feasts, and thus made Christ’s birthday coincide with these festivals.

Is there evidence for such an acquisition?

Again, Dr. Taylor Marshall goes through a truly scholastic (in the original sense of the term) discussion of these points.  Regarding the winter solstice, he notes that the dates recorded for the celebrations (sometime between December 17 and December 22) do not coincide with the date for Christmas.  Now, this counterargument seems dismissive, but, then again, the connection between the winter solstice and Christmas is one of temporal approximation; there doesn’t seem to be any theological or spiritual connection between the coming of winter and the arrival of Christ.  If anything, springtime would be a better symbol, rather than the winter solstice, for the arrival of Christ, the life for the world.

The connection between Christmas and the celebration of the Natalis Solis Invicti is likewise tenuous.  Though there was a pre-Christian tradition of sun worship in Ancient Rome, the festival in honor of the Natalis Solis Invicti do not predate the celebration of Christmas in December.  The earliest references to the Natalis Solis Invicti occur during the reign of Emperor Aurelian.  Aurelian established the celebration in AD 274 with the intention of unifying various pagan rituals, possibly in reaction to increased Christian activity in the mid-3rd century.  Contemporary Christians did not seek to connect the date of Christmas to the festival.  Only in the 12th century does one find scholars connecting pagan festivals and Christmas, often with the explicit purpose of dissuading people from celebrating Christ’s birth.  On the contrary, many Church Fathers refer to the celebration of Christmas on December 25, whereas March 25 was given the date not only of the Annunciation, and therefore Christ’s Incarnation, but also the date of His crucifixion.

The argument over whether Christ was born in the spring versus the winter does not seem a part of the early Christian Church.  A more pressing debate in the early Church, it seems, was not if Christmas belonged in the spring, but rather if Christmas was on December 25 or January 6 (the Western half of the Church solved this problem in typical joyous fashion: 12 days of Christmas, from December 25 through January 6).

As far as Easter is concerned, much debate raged over when it should be celebrated.  What time of year was never an issue; all four Gospels are very clear in putting the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus in the context of the Jewish feast of Passover, commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  This answers the first part of Marcy’s question: Easter is so intrinsically linked with the feast of Passover (which, in turn, is based on the vernal equinox and the cycle of full moons) that to deviate from that context might diminish the importance of the feast.  All Christians, since the beginning, saw in the feast of Passover a precursor of Christ’s Passover from death into life through His resurrection.  On all of that, Christians agree.

The controversy, rather, was over what day of the week to celebrate this greatest of feasts.

Two camps emerged in the first centuries following the end of Roman persecution (because, of course, when one is worried for his or her life, one doesn’t quibble over when to celebrate Church feasts).  One camp said that Christians should celebrate Easter three days after the Jewish celebration of Passover, regardless of the day of the week on which this celebration fell.  The other major camp held that the Church should celebrate Easter near the time of Passover, but on a Sunday, in commemoration of how Christ rose on the “first day of the week.”  This controversy went through several phases during the first millennium of Christendom.  Popes and Church councils would decree, eventually, that Easter was to be always celebrated on Sunday, though not without some heavy debates (the last big debate over this issue arose at the Synod of Whitby, England, in 663; Wilfrid, a British cleric who sided with the Sunday date for Easter, by that time the official decision from Rome, persuaded the contingent of Irish monks to celebrate Easter on Sunday by invoking the Irish fidelity to the Holy See).

So there you go.  I hope that cleared up everything, or if it didn’t, just let me know.

Happy Lent!

For Further Reading:

Marshall, Taylor.  The Eternal City: Rome & and Origins of Catholic Christianity.  Dallas, TX: St. John Press, 2012. – Defends outright the traditional dating of Christmas.

Martindale, Cyril Charles.  “Christmas.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 3.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013. Available at  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm.

McGowan, Andrew.  “How December 25 Became Christmas,” Biblical Archaeology Review, n. d.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/Christmas.asp.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (Pope Benedict XVI).  The Spirit and the Liturgy.  Translated by John Saward.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. – See especially Part II, Chapter 5 (“Sacred Time”) which has a fascinating look at the history of setting the dates for Easter and Christmas.

Thurston, Herbert.  “Easter Controversy.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 5.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05228a.htm.

Tighe, William J.  “Calculating Christmas,” Touchstone, December 2003.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v.

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Question: Christmas trees and Yule Logs

Yes, yes, Christmas Day has passed us, but we are still in the Christmas Season.  Christmas, like Easter, is SO important a feast that it stretches over weeks, giving its name to an entire liturgical season.  With Christmas we celebrate the manifestation of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, to the world.  For nine months, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity dwelt in the womb of Mary, His mother; on Christmas Day, He was born.  With Easter we celebrate the redemption wrought by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; He died so that our sins might be forgiven.  These are important feasts, so it makes sense that we focus our attention on these mysteries of our salvation.

In light of all of this, Marcy asks: “Why is the date for Easter set according to a phase of the moon, instead of on a fixed date, like Christmas, and who set it up like that?  Why is Christmas placed so close to the winter solstice instead of closer to the assumed actual time of year that Christ was supposed to have been born?  Why are there so many pagan items incorporated into the celebration of Christmas (Yule log, Christmas tree, etc.)?”

Thanks to Marcy’s excellent questions, we will divide this discussion into two major topics: The dating of Christmas (compared to the dating of Easter) and pagan influences on Christmas celebrations.  We will look at the latter topic in this first post, and will take up the question of dating Easter and Christmas in the next post.

Many Christian religious traditions (not just those involving Christmas) developed from ancient pagan rituals.  It is part of being Catholic.  The word “catholic” means universal, and from the beginning of the Church, from its earliest days of evangelization, Christian missionaries have sought to incorporate the rituals of those converted into the rituals of the liturgy and Christian living.  In a sense, the Church “baptized” these pagan rites to aid the spiritual life of the former pagans, who would more likely than not reject the alien practices of the larger Christian cities (Rome, Constantinople, etc).  Such an embracing of pagan practices made it easier for recent converts to adapt to their new Faith.  It always helps to show catechumens not only the truths of the Faith, but also how their previous beliefs had already prepared them to accept Truth.

One sees this incorporation of pagan practices throughout the missionary activity of the Church, especially following the conversion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.  Pope Gregory the Great encouraged St. Augustine of Canterbury, when evangelizing the British, to convert pagan temples into churches and pagan rituals into Christian festivals to which they might be connected.  Similar stories abound involving the Christianization of Ireland, Germany, and France, the preaching of the Faith in Asia and Africa, and the conversion of the Native Americans in both North and South America.  In all of these cases, the earlier pagan rituals were adapted to the Christian beliefs so that the culture of the people might remain intact.  The Church, as guardian of culture, always seeks to find the best in true culture, rejecting what is evil and elevating what is good.

So it was with Christmas.  Many of the traditions associated with Christmas stem from earlier, pre-Christian practices which the Church saw as beneficial for the faithful.  The Christmas tree is perhaps the clearest example of this.  Stories connect the Christmas tree with the story of St. Boniface, the 8th century missionary to Germany, who chopped down an oak tree worshipped in a pagan village (well, he started to chop it down, but a powerful wind finishes the job for him).  When Boniface didn’t die (the pagan priests said the gods would strike him dead if he chopped down the tree) the people converted.  The story concludes with Boniface pointing to an evergreen fir sprout growing near the felled tree.  No more human sacrifices, Boniface said (human sacrifices were prevalent in pre-Christian Germany), and pointed to the evergreen as a counter to the fallen tree.  The evergreen thus became a symbol for Christ, for just as the evergreen remained green through the dead of winter, so also Christ conquered death and sin.  Now, whether Boniface actually taught this or not does not matter; what does matter is that subsequent Christian generations have adopted the evergreen as a symbol of eternal life in Christ.  The actual practice of decorating the tree didn’t come about until the 15th and 16th centuries in Germany; the History Channel’s website names Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, as the one who first put lights on the trees.  Until the late 19th century, Christmas trees were seen as a specifically German particularism.  Thanks to the mixing of immigrants in America, the popularity of the Christmas tree has spread.

The Yule log, on the other hand, does not have a missionary saint as its legendary origin; it seems that St. Boniface even banned the early ancestors of Yule logs.  It seems that the ceremony stemmed from people lighting their fireplaces during the winter; it was only in the 16th century that Englishmen started holding elaborate ceremonies where a log was burned publicly.  Even then, the Yule remained, for the most part, a household tradition, less connected with religion and more connected with winter.

So why the pagan traditions in Christmas?  Because there was nothing overtly anti-Christian about them.  Having a tree to symbolize eternal life in your house far outshined the ritualistic human sacrifices of the Germanic pagans.  If it didn’t hurt the Faith of the former pagans, then the Church saw such traditions as helpful, and either allowed them to exist or utilized them, leading to cultural flourishing.

For Further Reading:

Martindale, Cyril Charles.  “Christmas.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia. – Provides some information concerning the background of some Christmas traditions.

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