Tag Archives: controversy

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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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part V)

Pope Francis and Israel's President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree as a symbol for peace after their meeting at the president's residence May 26. (CNS photo/ Amir Cohen, EPA)

If you missed parts I through IV, check them out here

PART V

Chapter Four of Laudato Si is entitled “Integral Ecology.”  Here, Pope Francis again focuses on the interrelatedness of all of creation.  Everything in creation, every animal and rock, person and plant, is essentially good, since it has being, which comes from God (even mosquitoes!).  We are part of nature, not just living in it.  What we do to nature affects us, and what we do to ourselves affects nature.  The problems in today’s society are not divorced from the problems in the natural world.  As Pope Francis says, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).  As such, we need to study and develop ways to live with nature and with each other, respecting others and the creation God gave us.  We depend on nature for our physical existence, for food, water and shelter.  “We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about” (140).  This, the Holy Father notes, is why “sustainable use” natural resources are so important, so that we can utilize our world while allowing it the chance to grow back.  One of the best examples of this is planting trees where forests were harvested, or having fish farms to protect wild fish populations. 

Two social issues expand on the pope’s discussion of sustainable use.  The economic systems of our nations should reflect our effort to protect the world, and our society should enforce laws which deal with environmental and human factors.  Economies are only helpful in so far as they help the people of a nation, and they should take into account environmental factors as well as human ones.  A nation which has laws protecting the environment or defending the innocent, but does not enforce such law, does more harm than good.  What good are laws if they are not enforced?  This leads to a culture of disrespect. 

Speaking of culture, Francis next turns his attention to a “cultural ecology,” which is not as much a culture of ecologists, but rather approaching human culture with the same care as one approaches the environment.  This is an important discussion because we face not just the extinction of plants and animals in our world, but also the extinction of entire ways of life.  Too often man-made environmental changes, either exploiting or protecting the ecosystem in question, ignore the needs of indigenous groups, who have coexisted with their natural neighbors for centuries, in some cases for millennia. 

Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems. (145)

Because of their important role in understanding an ecosystem, indigenous cultures should be brought into environmental discussions.  “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best” (146).  Working with these people, rather than against them, shows respect for the whole ecology of a region. 

Pope Francis next examines how we can incorporate this ecology into our daily lives.  It is, in a sense, about taking care of our own environment, specifically where we live and work.  The pope’s reflection calls to mind Christ’s teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), for if we do not properly love ourselves, we cannot properly love our neighbors.  We cannot care for the world-wide environment if we cannot care for our local, personal environments.  In this context, Pope Francis addresses again the issue of extreme poverty, which plagues so much of the world.  In these situations of disease, filth, and violence, it may seem that all is hopeless. 

However, as human history shows, “love always proves more powerful” than the evils of a corrupt city (149).  We need to remember that charity isn’t just giving money; it is acting in love, namely the highest form of love.  Charity is that sacrificial love of another, caritas in Latin, agape in Greek.  It is the love which St. John the Evangelists, the “beloved disciple,” uses to describe God (1 John 4:8).  So in charity, we help out neighbors, whether it be giving money to help them, or helping build them proper homes (in paragraph 152, Pope Francis notes that “lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world”). 

This section on ecology in our lives has a lengthy paragraph on “human life and the moral law” (155).  In this paragraph, Pope Francis looks at how we view our bodies, for how we view our body correlates to how we view our environment.  This is one of those paragraphs that I’m pretty sure socially liberal fans of the encyclical did not read (along with the ones discussed earlier about abortion and overpopulation).  I say this because here Pope Francis speaks out about gender identity.  The discussion in the encyclical is brief (it is only part, after all, of a larger tapestry about our common home), and there is a lot more that could be said about the issue in light of the Church’s teaching.  However, Francis felt addressing the issue of gender identity was important, particularly in light of charity.  Here are the Holy Father’s words:

Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” [here he is quoting Pope Benedict’s address to the German Parliament, the Bundersrat, in 2011].  It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.  The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.  Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.  Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.  In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.  It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” [here he is quoting one of his own Wednesday Audience addresses from April 15, 2015]. 

Pope Francis is clearly rejecting the popular manipulation of the body.  He isn’t talking about staying healthy or trying to loose weight.  He is talking about gender identity.  He is talking about masculinity and femininity and the role those two aspects of human nature play in our lives.  There are certain traits, gifts from God, associated with being a man and being a woman.  We must embrace who we are and not seek to change our gender to fit our wants.  If I am a man, then that is part of who I am.  The same goes for women.  Otherwise I cannot “recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different,” which is literally every other human being in existence besides me.  If people in society cannot recognize themselves for who they are, then we have a society which cannot communicate, which cannot relate to its own members.  There is an important difference between men and women (and it is more than their reproductive organs).  Differences aren’t bad, of course; they are essential.  A woman isn’t less than a man because she is not a man, nor is a man less than a woman because he is not a woman. 

It is an important discussion, one which I should discuss in a later post.  For now, I would like to move to the end of the encyclical. 

Pope Francis concludes the chapter with a brief discussion of two points: the common good of society and justice between human generations.  Remember a point made during our last reflection: the Church’s teaching concerning care for the environment falls under God’s prohibition against stealing.  We cannot steal the gifts of God from later generations, in particular the gifts of our world.  We cannot rob our children of their planet, nor should we simply solve the immediate problems and leave the larger ones for someone else.  That is not the way a family solves its problems; our human family should not turn to that solution either.  In other words, when we plan how to protect our common home, we must think of long standing solutions, cures rather than bandages.  Take a polluted river, for example.  A short term solution to the pollution would be to remove the garbage that collects along the river’s banks.  A lasting solution, in light of what Pope Francis teaches, would be to educate future generations to respect the not pollute, to conserve water, etc. 

Nor should we sit back and say there is nothing wrong with our world from where we sit, so there is nothing we should do.  The pope’s major issue here is individualism, which is when we make ourselves the measure of the rest of the world.  It stems from one of the great moral evils of our modern world: utilitarianism.  The Holy Father is writing against such selfish evil, the “what’s in it for me” mentality that infects pseudo-philanthropy.  But we are not the center of the world.  Our world is more than an extension of our personal yard.  It is a home shared with all of humanity, our extended human family.  We must first recognize the other man, the stranger whom we dread to meet.  Again, the refrain of the encyclical appears: the environmental problems in today’s world stem from an even greater problem in our society. 

We need a proper human ecology. 

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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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REFLECTION ON LAUDATO SI BY POPE FRANCIS (PART IV)

For those of you just joining us, this is Part IV of a VII part series on Laudato Si.  Click on the links to see Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Feel free to comment and get the conversation going.  

PART IV

Chapter Three of Laudato Si looks at the human causes of the environmental problems today.  The Pope’s focus, however, isn’t on destructive acts of pollution or carbon emissions; rather, Francis looks at the more cultural causes of the crisis.  He first takes up the threat of an over-technological world.  While there are obvious advantages to technological advances (such as faster transportation and simplified means of communication), one must be naïve to ignore the fact that new technology has brought with it new evils.  “We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare” (104).  The Holy Father points to the problem of using useful technology as “an epistemological paradigm” to govern and guide our lives (107).  The risk, of course, is one of priorities.  We can use technology to better our lives, but we should not make our lives or our society revolve around the technology we use.  This is particularly problematic in today’s economically and politically charged world (for conservative Catholics who scoff at Francis’ economic views, he quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate to support his economic teaching in par. 109).  

Pope Francis connects these economic and technological issues with the ecological focus of the encyclical through teleology.  If we immerse ourselves in a technological life or economy, we will find ourselves thinking in the moment, and not looking towards the future.  We forget future generations, the ones who will suffer as a result of our recklessness.  We have to think bigger than ourselves.  In ecological terms, that means we have to think beyond solving immediate environmental issues and instead look at solving the bigger problems:

Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system. (111)

We must have a cultural revolution, where we change how we live to help save the world.  We must turn from our “modern anthropocentrism” before we lose everything. 

But such a change cannot come at the cost of innocent human lives.  “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected” (117).  Repeatedly, Pope Francis returns to the connectedness of our world, of human life and life on earth.  Our relationship with our home can only be fixed if we fix our broken relationships within our human family.  “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence” (119).  This means, Pope Francis again reminds us, that we cannot say that we must protect the environment if we support or justify abortion.  In par. 120, the Holy Father cries out, “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” 

Peter Singer should take note. 

I remember, almost two decades ago, going with my family to a prayer vigil the evening before the March for Life in Washington D.C.  There was a short skit at one point, followed by a song.  In both the skit and song, endangered animals (whales, pandas, etc) came together and sang that we must “save the baby humans / don’t let them disappear.”  While some might have thought the whole thing tacky, it struck a chord in my animal fanatic heart.  I knew at that young age that abortion was wrong, but I hadn’t thought of abortion and conservation as connected.  Both abortion and a reckless treatment of the environment stem from a moral relativism that infects our culture.  So Pope Francis writes,

In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.  (123)

Life’s connectedness is the theme of the Holy Father’s encyclical, and he will develop it a lot more in a later chapter.   

The rest of chapter three focuses on two seemingly different moral points: the rights of workers and experimenting on plants and animals.  Both points are essentially linked, for the Church’s teaching on them stems from the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”  The connection between workers’ right and stealing is obvious.  By depriving workers of their wages, an employer steals what is due to the worker.  We have a “vocation to work,” as is seen in God’s command to Adam to take care of the garden in Genesis 2 (128).  It is no accident that one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance is “depriving workers of their wages.”  A just wage is essential to allow people to live comfortably.  That much is straight forward. 

How, then, does biological research on plants and animals fit into this discussion?  Simply put, if we needlessly destroy plant and animal life for our own selfish ends, we are stealing from our human neighbors, including future generations, and abusing a gift given to us by God.  It is wasting life.  Pope Francis is very clear that it is fine to experiment with plants and animals to help humanity, but you must not, as the Catechism says, “Cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” (CCC 2418; see Laudato Si, 130).  As far as genetically modified food is concerned, Francis does not reject growing and consuming such food.  However, he does condemn large corporate farms driving out and bullying small, private farm, destroying the smaller farmer’s way of life.  Again, Pope Francis focuses on subsidiary as the guiding principle when dealing with social issues (134-135). 

Wrapping up this discussion of human-environment interaction, Pope Francis once again brings up the issue of those who defend the environment without defending human dignity, particularly with experimenting on human embryos: 

There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power. (136)

This is a clear condemnation of research into things like embryonic stem cells or using genetic material obtained from aborted fetuses; by extension, the paragraph condemns the trafficking of aborted baby body parts, a barbaric practice which has recently come to light (if such a phrase is appropriate for such behavior) in the United States.  We cannot justify experimenting on human embryos, especially when the embryo is killed for such experimentation.  We cannot seek to put the rights of plants and animals above our own human brothers and sisters, especially above those who, in their innocence, have not yet breathed our planet’s air, or had the chance to feel the sun touch their skin, or enjoy the coolness of a breeze (see CCC 2418).  We must be wary of using technology to oppress a section of our human family, whether that portion of humanity is born or unborn. 

To use others in such way is, frankly, inhuman.  

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part III)

Introduction?  Check.

Chapter One?  Check.

Chapter Two?  Ok, here you go.  

PART III

In Chapter Two, Pope Francis launches into a beautiful spiritual examination of man’s stewardship over Creation.  Beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis, Francis traces man’s responsibility for the world around him, and notes that the rupture we have with the environment stems from the Original Sin, which broke our relationship with God and our world.  We are responsible for creation, not in a domineering way, but in a caretaking way (67).  God alone dominates creation; we share in his dominion, but since “we are not God,” we are responsible not for ruling over creation, but rather for “tilling and keeping,” for cultivating and protecting (67).  Even when the Israelites travel into the Promised Land, God notes that it is His land, and that the Israelites are journeying there (Lev. 25:23; Francis quotes the verse). 

This responsibility carries into our relationships with each other.  Pope Francis examines the story of Cain and Abel in light of this role of man as caretaker.  “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered” (70).  Yet, God does not leave us when others treat us with injustice: “The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible” (74). 

One of the key points that Francis drives at in this section is that God is a Creator, for creation must have a Creator.  Those who seek to be atheist environmentalists miss that essential component to an authentic ecology.  Those noted naturalists, like my favorite, David Attenborough, should note what the pope says in this chapter:

The world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things, . . . “the love which moves the sun and the stars.” (77; quote from Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 145)

The Holy Father also addresses divinizing nature, as pagan religions do (78), and the error of applying evolution to the spiritual world (81).  All three of those errors (atheistic ecology, paganism, and spiritual evolution) harm our understanding of nature and view it in an askew way.  It is only in having a correct theology and anthropology that we can truly see the wonders of the world God created. 

While developing this ecological spirituality, Pope Francis brings up again the unity of creation.  Everything in creation, because it comes from God, is worthy of respect.  However, Francis notes, there is an order in creation.  Even though all of creation is worthy of respect, man has a special dignity, unique among all other creatures.  That said, there is not a hierarchy in mankind based on nature.  A person is not “better” or “worth more” because of his or her race, creed, gender, financial status, age, or health.  We cannot measure each other in such a way and expect to treat the environment correctly.  In a truly profound statement, Pope Francis stresses, “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted” (91).  We can’t claim to care about poaching and selling exotic animals if we don’t care, or even engage in, selling people through pornography or prostitution, or if we disregard the poor and needy, or if we support abortion and euthanasia for the unwanted baby or sick patient.  We must respect creation and each other. 

In Jesus we find a man uniquely in touch with the natural world, for He alone is both God and man.  What happens when the Creator enters Creation?  Miracles, to put it simply.  His calming of the sea, His walking on water, the miracles of healing, and of course the Eucharist all point to Christ’s dominion over creation.  Pope Francis doesn’t mention this directly, but you can see this connection in John 6.  That passage starts with the feeding of the five thousand, showing that Jesus had control over nature.  Then Jesus walks on water and calms the storm, showing how He has full control over His physical body and can use nature to do what He wants it to do.  Finally, Jesus tells His disciples how they will receive eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which He can give to them through a mysterious way.  Why do Peter and the Apostles stay with Jesus?  Because they know He has control over nature and His Body; if Christ says to eat His flesh and drink His blood, then He’ll find a way that we can do just that.

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part II)

To read part one of my reflections, click here.

On with Part II!

Chapter One is the more controversial chapters in the encyclical, because it is here that the Pope examines scientific diagnoses for the Earth’s problems.  Pope Francis agrees that man-made climate change and pollution are big problems.  The pope makes a profound point: the throwaway culture that leads to pollution also leads to throwing away human lives.  In such a culture, as populates the developed world today, what is useful is used and what is not useful is discarded.  It’s the classic utilitarian philosophy that grew out of the Industrial Revolution, reheated for a new generation of oppressors.  The Holy Father examines this further in the encyclical, connecting disrespect for the environment with abortion and euthanasia, as they are symptoms of the same spiritual disease. 

Many commentators have noted that Pope Francis uses incorrect scientific data to argue that man-made climate change occurs, that we are responsible for rising oceans, destroying food chains in the oceans, rising carbon dioxide levels, etc.  Such commentators, however, often miss the purpose of the Holy Father’s discussion.  He is seeking to encourage an “honest debate … among experts” (61) on the issues and their solutions.  We are responsible for some changes to the planet.  The pope is requesting that the human family step back and examine what role we’ve played.  We must admit that we’ve done something to the planet.  What cannot happen is a wistful glance at the planet and assume we can still live the way we have for far too long (see 59). 

Francis focuses on climate change in paragraphs 23-26, referring back to the topic in a few other occasions later in the encyclical.  The majority of the discussion, however, is not over whether we caused the change (Pope Francis notes that, while the majority may have come from human causes, there are some natural reasons for a changing climate, such as volcanoes and solar influences); the focus is on the effects of the change, particularly for the poor in developing countries.  When we break the planet and ignore our needy brothers, we break civil society.  Mankind has affected the planet, sometimes for the worse, and we need to recognize our responsibility towards the planet and towards each other.  What Pope Francis is pointing out is that, no matter how you view the scientific data, all must understand that we have a role in tending to this planet.  Tending is the right word, because we have the same responsibility as Adam and Eve; the Earth is our Garden of Eden.

Whenever the Holy Father addresses an ecological issue in this chapter, he includes in his discussion how the environmental changes affect human society.  For example, in his discussion about water shortages, the Pope looks not only at how the loss of fresh water affects species living in areas near water, but in particular at the affect such shortages have on people.  He notes,

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.  Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.  Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. (30; emphasis in the original)

Likewise, in his discussion of biodiversity, Pope Francis looks at a theme which he will address throughout the encyclical, one which becomes the backbone of the entire work: the interconnectedness of all of Creation.  Over-fishing, for example, hurts food chains and the livelihood of local people.  We lose who we are when we lose respect for the planet. 

The Pope also has a warning concerning excessive uses of the digital world: “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.  In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.”  It is a teaching which I have tried to emphasize with my own students.  We cannot ignore those who came before us.  This is not merely a matter of Faith; it is a matter of who we are as human beings.  To isolate ourselves in a digital world formed by “tweets” and “likes” is to separate ourselves from true human interaction and, ultimately, interaction with the created world, prepared for us by God. 

Also in Chapter One is one of the passages that many (politically) liberal readers do not like, and so tend to ignore in their praise for the encyclical.  Pope Francis condemns using population control to solve environmental issues:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.  At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’ . . . .  To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. (50)

The Holy Father’s comment about pressure from countries that make economic aid “contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’” should leave a sour taste in the mouths of certain politicians in the USA.  That seemingly essential liberal link between birth control and helping the poor has always befuddled me.  The starving people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas cannot be fed by condoms and abortion clinics.  Such efforts might remove the mouths to feed, but it does not feed the still hungry mouths.  It is a true international scandal. 

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part I)

PART I

I have not been in the Catholic cultural commentary business long.  I was a freshman in college when Pope St. John Paul II died, and was in the midst of teaching when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned.  As such, I have not witnessed much stirring and controversy concerning a papal encyclical.  Not too many non-Catholics pay much attention to letters from popes, especially when they deal with theological topics.  This is a loss for such non-Catholics, since they miss out on a wellspring of spiritual commentary and guidelines for their lives. 

Such was not the case surrounding the promulgation of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si.  Everyone, it seemed, had a view about the encyclical, whether positive or negative.  That is what happens when such a crucial issue like the environment is discussed.  Climate change, pollution, deforestation, and over-hunting/fishing have all been controversial topics in the last few decades, both in religious and secular media.  So the pundits began punditing.  Pope Francis, to be sure, would revolutionize the Church, casting his lot with political liberals, and joining with eco-terrorists and communists to destroy western society.  At last, he would show his true colors and present for all a Church which has finally gotten with the times, so to speak.  Both sides of the debate painted such a picture. 

On June 18, the Vatican published the official text of the encyclical (a previous draft had been leaked earlier that week).  I tried my hardest to avoid reading commentary before I finished the encyclical myself.  It was hard.  Everybody was talking about the encyclical.  I was live tweeting my thoughts, so that I wouldn’t forget anything, all the while not reading what everyone else on the Internet posted about the encyclical. 

As a result, I was able to read through the entire encyclical, reflecting on it more closely than if I had read commentaries before reading it. 

What follows is the fruit of such reflection.  I will go through each of the chapters in the encyclical, looking into what is great and what is more or less so-so.  I want the readers to know up front that I loved the encyclical, and hope to reflect on it for years to come.  Originally, I planned writing a short, one part post about the encyclical.  Instead, I’ll be posting several short posts, allowing for more depth and reflection.  I hope everyone enjoys them. 

Let’s start with the Introduction.  The title of the encyclical comes from the prayer of St. Francis, where the saint praises God through nature.  It is a beautiful prayer.  If you haven’t had the time to sit and read it, check it out.  Anyway, back to Pope Francis.  The Holy Father begins by noting that our sister, “Mother Earth,” is crying to Heaven, for we have abused her.  The role of believers in respecting and fixing “our common home” is one of the main focuses of the encyclical.  In the Introduction, Pope Francis reflects on his papal predecessors, who had also written about caring for the environment in the context of the Church’s social justice teaching.  In particular, Francis points to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI for their contributions to the discussion.  Likewise, Francis notes the contributions of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, with whom Francis shares “the hope of full ecclesial communion” (7).  The issue, Francis notes, isn’t merely that people need to develop technology to save the environment, but also that people need to change internally.  “Otherwise, we would be dealing merely with symptoms” (9).  It is in St. Francis that Pope Francis sees his model for this encyclical and his entire papacy, a model of loving God through creation, seeking the Creator in His works.  In doing so, Pope Francis hopes to encourage dialogue about what is wrong with the environment and what we, as a human family, can do to help “our common home” (Pope Francis uses that phrase eleven times, including in the full title of the encyclical, to refer to the Earth). 

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Question: A Doxology for the Our Father?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps!

For further reading:

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

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

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

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