Tag Archives: religion

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Who is Inanna?

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

 

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

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

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

 

Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thus the story of Inanna and her resurrection.

 

Inanna vs. Christ

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Clonmacnois Scripture Cross Jesus in the Tomb County Offaly Ireland

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, c. 400.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

For Further Reading (beyond the in-text links)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Question: Incorporating Native American Culture in the Catholic Church?

[UPDATED]

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Black Elk with daughter and second wife (c. 1910

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Reflection: I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 1)

How many unfinished series did I start with this blog?  Sheesh!

 

This is the continuation of a series of reflections on the Creed, begun during the Year of Faith (which was begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was concluded by Pope Francis in 2013).  Since we should always strive to grow closer to God, not just through years of Faith, I’ll pick up the reflections here.  This part of the series will look at what the Church teaches about Our Lord Jesus Christ.  As with previous parts of this reflection series, I will look at a section of the Creed each time.  If you want to read the previous reflections, you can find them here and here.

 

So then, let’s begin.

 

“I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ”

 

Image result for Jesus

JESUS!

“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”  Too often that question is reserved for evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses or some Evangelical televangelist.  But it shouldn’t be.  It is a serious question that strikes at the deepest levels of our spiritual life.  Oftentimes, however, our beloved Protestant brothers in Faith seek too narrow of a relationship with Jesus.  Yes, you MUST accept Jesus as Lord and as Savior, for that is the first, not the last, step in a dynamic relationship with Him.  Catholics are called to a radical relationship, not just accepting Jesus (as if that was the only thing necessary for salvation) but living His will in the world.  To paraphrase a prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, We are Christ to the world.  We are the hands and feet He uses to spread the Gospel.  This is the calling of EVERY Christian, no matter his or her denomination.  We cannot fulfill our mission without first accepting Jesus into our lives.  We cannot stop there; our act of Faith is not enough, for as the Epistle of St. James notes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The Creed uses the word “one” in reference to Jesus.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.  This was the testimony at the proper time.”  There is only one Jesus, one moment where God entered into history (more on that later).  Jesus alone is Lord.  Not Caesar (Paul was writing in the Roman atmosphere) but Jesus, crucified for our sake.  We won’t get into the controversy over this verse and the veneration of saints.  I will merely say this: praying to saints is the same as asking someone to pray for you here on earth, only the saint is closer to God, being as the saint is in Heaven.

 

The word “Christ” is the anglicized version of Christos, which in turn is a Greek version of Mashiach (Messiah).  All of these words mean the same thing: “Anointed One.”  Christ is THE Anointed One of God.  There were many Christs throughout the Old Testament.  Anyone anointed priest, prophet, or king among the Israelites was a Messiah, a Christ.  But Jesus is THE Christ, the ultimate Anointed One, for He has in His person the fullness of priest, prophet, and king.

 

“The Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

There is a crisis of Faith in the Church; there is always such a crisis, as there was in the earliest moments of the Church (did not Judas leave the Last Supper to betray Our Lord?).  We see a similar crisis in the earliest Christian centuries, when the Church faced persecution and death at the hands of the Roman Empire.  In 313 that all changed.  In that pivotal year, Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity the status of an accepted religion in the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed simply for their Creed.  Now churches could be built, preaching could commence on a grand scale, and Christian thinkers could meditate on the great mysteries of the Faith.

 

But with time to think, Christian thinkers began to question fundamental aspects of the Church’s theology.  A theological revolution erupted in Alexandria, Egypt when a priest named Arius, having reflected on the Scriptures, began teaching that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not God, that He was just a creature like everything else (the highest creature, of course, but still a creature).  Arius was clever, brilliant even, and had an overabundance of charisma.  Many followed his teaching, and enormous pressure piled upon the pope and bishops to accept his heresy.  Riots broke out in the streets of the empire as men and women of both theological camps sought to beat out the heretics (both sides saw the other as heretics) and establish themselves as the dominant theological voice in the Church.

 

People took their beliefs a little more seriously back then.

Image result

Serious debating for serious men!

Cries for a solution reached the ears of Emperor Constantine, and he called for bishops from around the Roman Empire to meet in a lovely city called Nicaea.  Even the pope sent representatives.  The debates between the bishops got intense (the story is that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, punched Arius after hearing the heretic defiantly argue his heresies at the council), and eventually, the orthodox side won by a landslide (only two bishops voted against the Church’s teaching that the Son was God).

 

That should have settled the matter, but men being what they are, an even greater Arian crisis erupted.  Heretics of political power captured and killed those who stood against them.  It looked as if the Church would crumble.  As St. Jerome would later write, “The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian.”  But the Church prevailed and today, very few so-called Christians claim that Jesus was not God.

 

The First Council of Nicaea clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus.  At Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the statement of belief composed at that council (with some additions about the Holy Spirit composed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381).  The wording of each statement in this creed was carefully selected, each emphasizing the truth of Jesus’ divinity.  Hence, in the Creed we repeat the words of the Council’s declarations.  We acclaim Christ as God.  All of those phrases (“God from God, Light from Light”) get at the fundamental teaching of Nicaea, that the Son is God, just as much God as the Father.  There is no big God and little God.  There’s just God.  Words like “begotten” and “Light from Light” indicate that the Son has the same Divine Nature as the Father, no more and no less.  They are equally God, “consubstantial” to use the word in the Creed.

 

What’s that?  You don’t know what “consubstantial” means?

 

Well, I guess we’ll have to address that in the next post in this series.

 

 

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Review: BOOKS READ IN 2016

I love to read. 

You know how people ask you about your hobbies?  Mine is reading (and writing, like for this blog!).  Pretty much always has been. 

In 2015, I tried to read as many books as I could during the year (including books read with my wife Sarah, of course).  I kept track of the books, which had to be books which I had never read before. 

I read thirty-eight, almost thirty-nine (so close).

This year, I tried again to read as many books as I could.  I also kept track of each book’s length, so I could see how many pages I read by the end of the year.  The list of books is below, with a little review for each.   

This past year was an adventurous one, what with my wife and I both delivering talks in Leeds, England about J. R. R. Tolkien in July, and with me delivering a talk about Pope Francis at Franciscan University of Steubenville in November.  My Tolkien talk was entitled “Tolkien and the Battle of the Somme” and the Pope Francis talk was called “Memory and the Family: Pope Francis’ View of History.”  I’ve indicated which books were read in the process of researching for these talks, in case people would like to read more about the topics. 

  1. Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church by Raymond E. Brown – 121 p – Fr. Brown’s take on several of the big “issues” in the Church today. Made me frustrated a few times. 
  1. Unless Some Man Show Me by Alexander Jones – 155 p – Collections of columns written about Scripture interpretation for a Catholic newspaper in England. Very useful. 
  1. The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson – 408 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A story from American Catholic history and culture for every day of the year.  I learned a lot!  I only wish there was a Bibliography so I could dig deeper. 
  1. Christ in His Fullness by Bruce Sullivan – 222 p – Conversion story and refutation of the major arguments that had held this former Church of Christ minister from entering the Church.  A very quick read. 
  1. Why Johnny Doesn’t Behave: Twenty Tips and Measurable BIPs by Annemieke Golly and Barbara D. Bateman– 122 p – A book on teaching for a change. It focused on how to deal with misbehaving children and implementing Behavioral Implementation Plans (BIPs)   . 
  1. The Ten Commandments by Charles Pope – 80 p – Short but sweet overview of the Decalogue and the Church’s teaching on the commandments.
  1. The Crown of Sorrow by Alban Goodier – 156 p – My Lenten spiritual reading this year. Slowly moves you through the passion account, beginning and ending with the Scriptures, to draw you into Christ’s Passion.  It worked well as a daily Lenten meditation. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling – 870 p – Read this with my wife. Harry is a whiny teenager, people start gathering to fight the evil guy and someone dies (da da DA!)
  1. J. R.R. Tolkien: His Life, Work, and Faith by Raymond Edwards – 88 p – Little Bio about Tolkien. Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. 
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 374 p – Part dystopian novel, part love letter to the 1980s. Had a predictable ending and parts that I really didn’t like (the full page apologia for touching yourself was not appreciated). 
  1. The Broker by John Grisham – 422 p – The only John Grisham novel I’ve read. Guy from Washington DC gets a pardon set up by the CIA and lives on the run in Italy. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling – 652 p – Read this with my wife. Harry’s less whiny.  Good mystery in this one. 
  1. Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth – 313 p – Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. About Tolkien’s early life and his time in World War I.  Very interesting. 
  1. Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury – 364 p – Collection of stories by the master of science fiction short stories. Included the story that inspired the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
  1. Prove It: You by Amy Welborn – 125 p – Book on morality written for teens.
  1. Why Be Catholic by Patrick Madrid – 230 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Good reflection on why it’s great to be Catholic.  The book weaves in personal stories about each topic. 
  1. Francis: Pope of the New World by Andrea Torinelli – 180 p – Short biography about Pope Francis written soon after his election. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – 759 p – The last Harry Potter book. It is the climax.  Anyone else feel like Rowling was inspired by C. S. Lewis while writing this one, especially by The Great Divorce?
  1. 2201 Fascinating Facts by David Louis – 376 p – Fun trivia facts on basically everything. A little dated (it was published in the late ‘80s).
  1. The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui by Affleck Gray – 178 p – The only book on Scotland’s hairy biped (like Bigfoot). Purchased in Scotland.
  1. Black Priest/White Church by Lawrence E. Lucas – 270 p – About overcoming racism in the Catholic Church during the 1960s and 1970 (when the book was written). I didn’t agree with all of the priest’s points, but it did make me think about what I can do to help race relations in my own experiences.  
  1. Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer – 227 p – Historical fiction for middle schoolers. Actually a pretty fun read. 
  1. On the Family by Pope Francis – 120 p – Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audience reflections on the family from 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. A Song for Mary by Dennis Smith – 374 p – Memoir of growing up as a Catholic poor kid in New York.
  1. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie – 247 p – My first Agatha Christie novel. I won’t tell you how it ends.
  1. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide by the Writers of the Series – 207 p – The title pretty much says it all. The only problem is that it was over too soon!
  1. Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell – 238 p – An adventure based on the TV show characters. Lots of fun when you hear the actors’ voices in your head while reading the story. 
  1. Pope Francis Speaks to the US and Cuba by Pope Francis – 175 p – All of the homilies, talks, and interviews Pope Francis gave during his visit to America in 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis – 225 p – The controversial Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the Family. Lots of good stuff, but the confusing parts are legitimately confusing.  Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism by Thomas L. McFadden Sr. – 138 p – Independently published. Argued that you cannot be a Catholic and hold that evolution, even theistic evolution, is true.  Lots of insults against Jesuits in this one.  Not too fun of a read. 
  1. Liturgical Question Box by Peter J. Elliott – 189 p – Adapted from the author’s column in an Australian Catholic newspaper
  1. Poor Richard’s Almanac, etc by Benjamin Franklin – 130 p – Little book of “advice” from Poor Richard. . . I mean Benjamin Franklin
  1. The Enchanted World: Dragons by the editors at Time-Life – 130 p – Part of a series of books published by Time-Life. Lots of fun stories and pretty pictures. 
  1. Irish Saints Robert T. Reilly – 169 p – Lots of short lives of great Irish saints (and some saints to be?).
  1. A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn – 293 p – Dr. Hahn presents the story of Salvation in an interesting, entertaining, and spiritually enlightening way. I’ve already begun incorporating material from this book into my lesson plans. 
  1. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter – 277 p – The official biography of the great author. Very interesting read.  I read parts of this for the Tolkien talk, and I read the rest of it later in the year. 
  1. Catholics in America by Russell Shaw – 149 p – Short bios of key figures in American Catholicism. Really made me want to read more about these people. 
  1. Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating – 340 p – This work of apologetics helped launch a revival of Catholic apologetics (which this blog is hopefully a small part). Very informative, looking at Fundamentalist arguments and answering them with the Church’s teaching. 
  1. Narrative Poems by C.S. Lewis – 186 p – Of the four poems in this book, only the first one, Dymer, was published in Lewis’ life. Good, quick read. 

And for those that weren’t keeping track, that’s 10,279 pages read in 2016. 

For 2017, I’m doing something different (again).  First, again I’m trying to read as many books as I can (my goal is forty).  Secondly, and different for this year, I have picked ten books that I have been meaning to read for a while (in some cases, over a decade).  The goal is to read all ten of them before the end of the year.  I own them all, so getting my hands on the book is the easy part.  The order of me reading them doesn’t matter, which hopefully will make things easier. 

Anyway, here’s that list (in no particular order):

  • Witness to Hope by George Weigel
  • The End and the Beginning by George Weigel
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton
  • Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
  • The History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock
  • The Life You Save May be Your Own by Paul Elie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • The Poem of the Cid by Anonymous
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

In other words, it’s looking like 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for reading!  Expect a short review of each of the ten, and every other new book I read this year, in January 2018.

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Question: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

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

 

Marcy asks: “Why was there a split between what I think of as the doctrine Peter and the doctrine of Paul?  Was it a matter of ‘money talks’?  And, of course, why no married priests if Peter was married?”

 

I don’t know if Marcy is getting at the famous phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  If she is, the best my research can show indicates that the phrase has nothing to do with these two Apostles.  Most of the sources I’ve found in my research say that the “Peter” in question is actually Westminster Abbey (aka, the Abby of St. Peter’s), while the “Paul” is St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Apparently, after King Henry VIII took over the monastery lands, including Westminster Abbey, in the sixteenth century, he used money from the monastery to pay for repairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Thus Peter was robbed to pay for Paul.  The phrase had nothing to do with the doctrines of the two disciples.  There is evidence for earlier references to the phrase, but they always have to do with moving money around and nothing to do with the actual Apostles.

 

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

 

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

 

But first, a little about St. Peter.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

For More Information

 

On “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”

 

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

 

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

 

 

On Married Priests

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Question: Can Catholics celebrate Halloween?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass freeing souls from purgatory

(Above: What happens during a Requiem Mass)

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

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

First, the party stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Question: Christmas trees and Yule Logs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Further Reading:

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

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Are Papal tweets infallible?

Are Papal tweets infallible?.  With the Pope’s new Twitter account going live tomorrow, this question seems to have come up in the press.

 

Silly press people.

 

Here’s a good reiteration of Papal authority, over at Improperium Christi.  The post also goes into what exactly the Church means by infallibility, which seems to be a controversial misunderstanding even today, almost 150 years after it was official defined at the First Vatican Council.

 

And if you haven’t seen already, you can follow Quidquid on Twitter @quidquidestest.

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God

“I believe in God”

Thus opens one of the oldest prayers in the Christian Tradition: the Apostles’ Creed.  Tradition states that the prayer dates back to the time of the Apostles, if not to the Apostles themselves.  “I believe in God.”  That’s how the prayer begins.  All of our actions, all of our daily lives, everything we think, do, say, everything about us centers on that one phrase, that one belief: there is a God.  The more specific phrase “I believe in one God” comes from the later Nicene Creed, formulated from the First Council of Nicea, held in 325.  This emphasis on there being only one God stems from the controversies that led up to the Council of Nicea.  The heretic Arius had denied the divinity of Christ, saying that to say Christ was divine would imply that there were two gods, not one.  The Council Fathers denied such a claim; hence the emphasis of there being one God.

Early on in Christian history, the believers in Christ had to express their belief in one God.  One could see the possible confusion.  Was there only one God?  The pagans in Greco-Roman culture seemed to say otherwise.  Was Jesus really God, and if so, why not someone else?  These were issues that the earliest Christians, those who followed the Apostles, had to answer.  One sees this in St. Paul’s trip to Athens (Acts 17:16–34).  Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers about the “Unknown God,” to whom the Athenians had an altar in the Areopagus.  This was the one true God, Paul preached.  He was unsuccessful, for the most part: “When they [the philosophers] heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time’” (Acts 17:32).  Paul wasn’t entirely successful, but we can see in this episode the early conflict between paganism and Christian monotheism.  This conflict predated Christianity, of course, for the Jews faced a similar conflict with their monotheism, and since the Christian is the spiritual heir of the Jew, he must expect the same conflicts.

If only people today were as polite as the Athenians were to St. Paul.

Today there is a renewed atheism and a renewed paganism.  The agnosticism of today’s world spits in the face of the ancient Greeks and Romans because at least the pagans believed in something, even if it was multiple gods or the spirits of nature.  Even some sort of bizarre mythology where Zeus or whoever had affairs with humans was a step above new atheists and agnostics because at least the pagans knew there was something beyond them, some spiritual realm.  Today’s “New Atheists” don’t believe in anything.  Today we must turn to basic proofs for God’s existence, renewing our basic belief in one God.

Now, fortunately for those speaking with someone who dismisses the Bible as a collection of myths and superstitious stories written down over the centuries, one can prove that God exists using logic, reason, and the natural world, without having recourse to the Scriptures.  St. Thomas Aquinas did just that, borrowing from the metaphysics of Aristotle.  He presents five classic arguments for the existence of God: from Motion, from Efficient Causality, from Necessity, from Perfection, and from Governance.  Since the gist of the arguments all boils down to the same point, I will focus on the first argument, based on Motion.

By Motion, St. Thomas is referring to the tendency of things in creation to go from a state of potency (able to do/be something) to actuality (being/doing something) and then back to potency.  This process occurs throughout creation, and can be seen in all things, living or non-living.  However, as both Thomas and Aristotle note, something cannot be potentially and actually the same thing.  A log cannot be potentially on fire and on fire at the same time.  It is either one or the other.  Things move from one state to another, and in order for a thing to move from potency to actuality, some other force must act upon it (the log doesn’t spontaneously combust; a pyromaniac lights it on fire).  Tracing the series of movements, one ultimately reaches an Unmoved Mover, a thing which is pure Act.  This must be the case, since if there was any potency in this Unmoved Mover, it would not be able to have any actuality in it, since in order for it to move from potency to actuality, an external force must affect it.  This Unmoved Mover is pure Act, and is what people commonly call God.

This proof does not provide a perfect description of God; the other four proofs expand our understanding of God.  The proof from Causality follows the same process as that from Motion, only this second proof focuses on how one cause leads to an effect; however, following the links of causes back to the beginning of time, one must conclude there is an Uncaused Cause, that is, God.

By Necessity, St. Thomas brings the issue of being into the discussion of God.  All things in the universe exist, but they don’t have to.  Things come into existence and they go out of existence, all without the universe collapsing.  Things in the universe share in existence.  They are not existence itself; their essence is something particular to them, but their essence is not existence.  They had to have gotten their existence, their being, from some other source.  There must be something beyond everything else, something which has as its essence existence, which is in its nature Existence itself.  That would be God.

The other two proofs are very simple.  St. Thomas uses Perfection to prove that, because we know something is better than another, there must be a perfect Entity that transcends all other things.  Our understanding of perfection must stem from a perfect source.  That’s God.  At the same time, the argument from Governance states that the order in the universe points to the fact that the universe could not have come to being by accident.  There must have been a great mind behind the universe; that Mind is God.

So God exists.  But what about the specific nature of the first line of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God.”  How do we know Hindus aren’t correct?  How do we know there are not multiple gods out there, or that we all become gods upon our death?  Let us look back at the argument from philosophy just discussed.  You cannot have multiple first causes, multiple sources of being.  You just can’t.  Try to think of a universe with two infinite, perfect sources of all existence.  Two perfect beings would be identical, and there cannot be two purely identical beings; they would be the same being.  It doesn’t make sense to have more than one god.  If it doesn’t make sense to have two gods, it doesn’t make sense to have a whole pantheon, nor to have everything be “God” as found in pantheism.

One God.  Basta, as the Italians say.  Enough.

But don’t Christians say there are three persons in God?  Doesn’t that mean we think there are three gods?

It’s hard to discuss the Trinity.  It’s one of those mysteries of Faith that truly transcends full comprehension.  God’s like that.  The Trinity is not one of the truths of the Faith that is knowable by Reason alone.  We need Faith in order to know God fully, and by knowing God through Faith, we are able to come into close communion with Him.

And we will focus on the Trinity in the next post in this series.

For further reading/listening:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catholic Encyclopedia, “God” – Note: This provides links to other articles about God in the Encyclopedia.

Sabatino Carnazzo, “Catechism 102: The Creed”

William Saunders, “Alpha & Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World”

Paul Scalia, “Credo: I Believe in One God”

Robert Barron, et. al, “Faith Seeks Understanding Pt.1: What Is God?” – This is part 1 of a series discussing God, the Trinity, and other aspects of the Faith.  There are links to other parts of the series from this video.

Robert Baron, Catholicism, Episode 3: “THAT THAN WHICH NOTHING GREATER CAN BE THOUGHT – THE INEFFABLE MYSTERY OF GOD” – An episode from the popular series about Catholicism.  See a clip from the episode here.

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Question: How was Joseph and Mary’s Marriage valid?

Just in time for Advent, here’s a post about the Holy Family.

Nicole asks: “How was Joseph and Mary’s marriage valid since it was virginal?”

A lot of people have dealt with this exact question.  In fact, it may be the most dealt with question I’ve answered on this blog so far.  I could fill up the rest of this post with links to other Catholic blogs and websites, video and audio sites, all answering the question, all saying the same thing.

Simple answer: yes.  Of course.  Validity in sacraments deals with whether or not the sacrament really happened.  A valid marriage basically means that, yes, the couple is really married.  Such was the case with Mary and Joseph.

The more elaborate answer (because, let’s face it, who really wants a simple answer) is one which can be found in the writings of that giant of the faith, St. Thomas Aquinas.  In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas deals with this question directly (Part III, Question 29, article 2, or III, Q. 29, art. 2) in a relatively short discussion.  His “I answer that,” wherein he normally gives the full answer to the question posed, is worth quoting in its entirety:

Marriage or wedlock is said to be true by reason of its attaining its perfection.  Now perfection of anything is twofold; first, and second. The first perfection of a thing consists in its very form, from which it receives its species; while the second perfection of a thing consists in its operation, by which in some way a thing attains its end. Now the form of matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of souls, by which husband and wife are pledged by a bond of mutual affection that cannot be sundered. And the end of matrimony is the begetting and upbringing of children: the first of which is attained by conjugal intercourse; the second by the other duties of husband and wife, by which they help one another in rearing their offspring.

Thus we may say, as to the first perfection, that the marriage of the Virgin Mother of God and Joseph was absolutely true: because both consented to the nuptial bond, but not expressly to the bond of the flesh, save on the condition that it was pleasing to God. For this reason the angel calls Mary the wife of Joseph, saying to him (Mat. 1:20): “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife”: on which words Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): “She is called his wife from the first promise of her espousals, whom he had not known nor ever was to know by carnal intercourse.”

But as to the second perfection which is attained by the marriage act, if this be referred to carnal intercourse, by which children are begotten; thus this marriage was not consummated. Wherefore Ambrose says on Lk. 1:26,27: “Be not surprised that Scripture calls Mary a wife. The fact of her marriage is declared, not to insinuate the loss of virginity, but to witness to the reality of the union.”  Nevertheless, this marriage had the second perfection, as to upbringing of the child. Thus Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): “All the nuptial blessings are fulfilled in the marriage of Christ’s parents, offspring, faith and sacrament. The offspring we know to have been the Lord Jesus; faith, for there was no adultery: sacrament, since there was no divorce. Carnal intercourse alone there was none.”

Make sense?  There are two parts to marriage: the giving of oneself to the other by way of the marital vows and the raising of children.  The exchange of vows makes the marriage valid, not the sexual union of the spouses.  In that sense, Aquinas says, the marriage of Mary and Joseph was valid.  But even though there was no sexual union between them (in the immediately prior question, Aquinas presents a defense of the perpetual virginity of Mary), the Holy Couple still performed the second part of marriage.  They raised Jesus, albeit not Joseph’s biological son, but still his legal son, as Jesus was born to Joseph’s legal wife (this last part is important, for it made Jesus a legal “Son of David” and therefore heir to the Davidic throne).  Mary and Joseph’s marriage was a real marriage.  In fact, their marriage was better than many marriages not only during our own time, but even at the time of Jesus.  As St. Augustine notes (Aquinas quotes him at the end), the only thing missing from their marriage was sexual intercourse, and since intercourse is not necessary for a real marriage, one can comfortably say that Joseph and Mary had a valid marriage.

Besides, we should remember that God is not bound by the rules concerning the sacraments.  He can work outside them, if He so chooses.  He can bring souls to Heaven outside of Baptism, for example.  Likewise, we can be sure that the marriage into which God was born was a true, valid one, and example to all who seek a pure, holy union.

Reflecting on the marriage of Joseph and Mary leads to much fruit.  I recommend it.  How Joseph must have felt, married to sinless Mary and foster father to the Son of God!  What father could brag of such a burden?  Likewise, when Christ speaks of true marriage, in His mind He must have turned to the holy example of Mary and Joseph.

We too should turn to their example.

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