Category Archives: Question

Question: Can Angels Read Your Mind?

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

 

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

 

Anyway. . . .

 

Clare from Maryland asks a few questions about angels

 

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

 

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

 

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

St. Thomas with angels

The Angelic Doctor chillin’ with his crew.

 

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

 

Fair enough?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

For Further Reading

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Why is the Church against artificial insemination?

 

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

 

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

 

A few points, then.  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Image result for matt fradd the porn myth

To the question.  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enjoy! 

 

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

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

 

These questions all get at the same basic logical process.  

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Be ready.  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There is a huge difference those vows make.  

 

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

 

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

 

But then, tragedy struck.  

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Again, she would need constant care.  

 

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

 

Let us compare these two stories.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

calvin

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What does the Church teach about sex?

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

 

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

 

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

Image result for fall of adam and eve

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

See how that works?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And don’t have sex outside of marriage.  

 

 

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

 

Also, if you are interested in seeing more questions like these or other questions connected to theology, Church history, or anything in apologetics, feel free to email them to mrose811@gmail.com or Tweet @quidquidestest using #quidquidquestion.  

 

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Free.  Total.  Faithful.  Fruitful.

 

General Chastity Resources

The Chastity Project: https://chastity.com/

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

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

Evert, Jason.  Pure Love.

Evert, Jason.  Pure Manhood

Evert, Crystalina.  Pure Womanhood

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

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

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

 

Pornography

 

Integrity Restored: https://integrityrestored.com/

 

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

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

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

Loverde, Paul.  Bought with a Price

 

Contraception

 

USCCB on Contraception: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/contraception/index.cfm

Couple to Couple League: https://ccli.org/

 

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

Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (1968).  

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

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

 

Same-Sex Attraction

 

Courage International: https://couragerc.org/

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Who is Inanna?

Inanna (Ishtar) with a servant, 3rd Century Ad.  By Jadd Haidar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61102115

 

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

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

Here is THE story itself, the Akkadian version, on a clay tablet at the British Museum.  By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23281061

 

Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Inanna and her husband.  Clearly they love each other deeply.   Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37691709

 

Thus the story of Inanna and her resurrection.

 

Inanna vs. Christ

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Clonmacnois Scripture Cross Jesus in the Tomb County Offaly Ireland

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, c. 400.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

For Further Reading (beyond the in-text links)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Question: Incorporating Native American Culture in the Catholic Church?

[UPDATED]

 

HAPPY EASTER!  Check out what was in the blogpost basket.  

 

 

Jenne asks: “I would like to know more about how to “baptize” some of the different Native American spiritualities. The Church has been incorporating pagan ideas for thousands of years and I’d really like to see that happen with some of the Native American principles, especially their emphasis on stewardship of the earth/resources. How would we best go about that without watering down Catholicism or moving towards some kind of pantheism?”

 

Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha at Saint Francis Xavier Mission in Laprairie, Quebec.

The Church does have a long history of incorporating the cultures of a converted people into the Christian life.  Pope St. Gregory the Great, for example, urged St. Augustine of Canterbury, who was evangelizing England at the time, to refrain from tearing down the pagan shrines to the various gods.  Instead, Pope Gregory suggested using the temples as churches, clearing out the idols, of course, but keeping the location and even the building, as it was more comfortable for the new converts.  Likewise, we see throughout the Church a variety of cultural traditions that have sprung up from local, pre-Christian customs that were baptized, so to speak. And, of course, we have intellectual contributions like the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato in our Christian intellectual tradition.

 

As far as Native American culture is concerned, I agree that the Church can and should incorporate what is naturally good in Native American spiritualities while not embracing what is detrimental to the Faith.  In fact, such cultural appropriation has been practiced since the earliest missionaries came to the Americas. Think, for example, of St. Jean de Brebeuf, who served the Hurons in New France (Canada). Instead of merely trying to teach French to the Hurons, St. Jean learned their language.  It was EXTREMELY difficult, and he spent years learning how to speak it, eventually creating a written language for the natives, with which he translated a catechism and composed a Huron/French dictionary. He even used the language to write the “Huron Carol” for Christmas time.

 

There are also examples of using different prayers for Masses and feasts among Native American Catholic communities (translated into the Native American languages) that might merit classifying these liturgies not merely as translations of the Latin Roman Rite into Native American languages, but perhaps even the development of new, diverse forms of the Roman Rite.  

 

Many of the earliest missionaries met with hostile responses or martyrdom from several native tribes and confederations, but their sacrifice produced great fruit.  Think, for example, of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and her beautiful story. There are also several later, notable converts to Catholicism from various Native American tribes, including, perhaps most famously, Black Elk and Red Cloud of the Lakota Sioux.  However, converts from various native religions did have to abandon aspects of their native culture in the process of becoming Catholic; Black Elk in particular demonstrates this tension between the Native American pantheism and Catholic monotheism. Black Elk was a medicine man who became a catechist and worked with Jesuit missionaries to evangelize other members of his tribe.  Of course, I can’t talk about Black Elk without mentioning that his cause for canonization was opened last year.

Black Elk with daughter and second wife (c. 1910

What is so wrong with most Native American religions?  While most of the native religions have some sense of a Great Spirit, there is often a strong thread of pantheism.  Everything in nature is divine, not merely sharing in the existence of God, to use Thomas Aquinas’ metaphysics. Pantheism does not allow for monotheism by definition.  There can’t be one god if everything is god.

 

Which leads to Jenne’s original question.  Where can we have overlap? If we seek proper cultural appropriation with Native Americans, we must incorporate the good aspects of their religious practices and beliefs.  What would that look like?

 

To an extent, visible forms of this cultural appropriation began soon after the close of the Second Vatican Council.  The liturgical changes following the Council, while disruptive in many parts of the Church, were helpful in evangelization efforts in the developing world and among Native Americans.  The result was the Catholic liturgy with Native American trappings.  One report describes the following:

 

At St. Augustine’s [Indian Mission in Winnebago, Nebraska] for example, [Director of the Mission Fr. Steve] Boes burns sacred cedar branches instead of incense, spreading the fragrance with an eagle feather instead [of] an ornamental censer.

“The Winnebago and Omaha people believe cedar purifies– it helps to take away sin,” Boes said. “That natural symbol fits perfectly with the penitential rite of the Catholic Church … we ask God to lift us up and to purify us.”

Such inclusion of Native culture follows the tradition of the Church, saving what is good in a society and directing that goodness to God.  

 

For most Catholic Native Americans (and there are a lot of them, making up about a quarter of all Native Americans), the idea of a conflict between their Catholic Faith and their cultural heritage is strange.  Many of their tribes teach there is one Creator God, rather than holding a pantheistic view of the world. They pray to God using rituals and prayers similar to those practiced before their conversion to Christianity.  

 

The Church teaches that we are custodians of the environment.  A similar thought runs through most Native American cultures. While they use the environment, it is not an abuse of nature, but rather with the intention of working with it.  You find in Native American, and many other cultures around the world, a sense of gratitude towards natural things for allowing people to use them. Following the call of Pope Francis for a more proper “human ecology,” we might see in this respect for nature a model for our own interactions with the natural world.  

 

The condition, as always, is to make sure we ultimately praise the Creator of the world, not the creatures that inhabit it.  All thanks we give to the world for working with us should have as its final end praise and glory to God.

 

Jenne (and anyone else interested), I encourage you to check out resources the Church has put out in recent decades about Native American spirituality.  One is a homily given by Pope St. John Paul II at the Martyrs’ Shrine in Ontario, Canada in 1984.  There was also a recent directive distributed by the USCCB.  

 

[Update: Recently, specific dioceses have published instructions for working with Native American Catholics within their borders, as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did the day after this post was originally published].  

 

For Further Reading (all by my friend Peter J. Smith)

“St. Kateri and the Four Holy Martyrs from Kahnawake”

“Hundreds of Martyrs Sow the Seeds of Faith in the United States”

“America’s first paths of holiness: Lives of indigenous saints and martyrs”

 

 

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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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