Monday, December 31, 2012

If the Holy Family Was on Facebook

... their recent activity would look something like this:

Very well done. For a more humorous take (yet still reverent), see The Nativity ... If It Happened Today.

Pax Christi,

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Birth Pangs of Mary: Part 4

My critic responded to Part 3 of my series on the birth pangs of Mary. This is probably her best effort yet, but I am still not convinced that I should dispose of this doctrine. What do you say? Leave a comment and let me know.

As before, her words will be indented and italicized.
At the top of your November 29 thread (The Birth Pangs of Mary: Part 3), you wrote, "My critic responded to my latest post on the birth pangs of Mary." At the words, "latest post," you provided a link to your November 27 thread (... : Part 2). The truth is that I had not "responded to [your] latest post." If you check, I responded twice to your first post -- on October 7 and November 23. Thus, I did not even read "Part 2" until after I had read "Part 3."
The majority of what I shared in Part 2 and Part 3 I already provided in the comments section of Part 1. I added a paragraph or two of new material just so I could give you a more substantial response. It's difficult to really get into it in the combox since one doesn't have the ability to format and blockquote and all that. I structured our debate the way I have so that it would be easier to follow. Point-rebuttal, point-rebuttal, it just works better that way. I hope you don't think I was trying to be dishonest or to misrepresent you in any way. That was not my intent.

Speaking of "pangs/pains," I'll apologize in advance if today's message of mine gives you a few dolors! They cannot be helped, unless I censor myself mercilessly.
No need for you to censor yourself. I've heard much worse, I can assure you, and I learned a long time ago not to take this sort of back-and-forth personally. My caricature probably makes me look younger than I am. This is certainly not my first rodeo.

I want to start by giving you a bit of advice for you, as a veteran apologist to a younger one:
If you have a weak argument in mind, it is better to omit it, lest you taint your whole essay by appearing to be foolish or careless.
Only in your mind is my argument weak. I shall defend it shortly!

Here's why I offered the above advice:

Last time, I wrote, "There is no record of such a thing in the scriptures nor in the earliest Church Fathers." [I just added the emphasis.]

To this, you responded, "Don't speak so soon. There is in fact a substantial record on this point. From the early Church fathers:"

At this point, you quoted a passage from "Ascension of Isaiah," including the words, "... and we heard no cries of pain."

First, "hear[ing] no cries of pain" does not mean that pain was not felt. It is quite possible that Our Lady made "no cries of pain" on Calvary despite her suffering.
According to the Ascension of Isaiah, many thought that Mary had not given birth because the midwife had not gone up to her and there were no cries of pain. But, these are reasons not for an absence of birth but for the miraculous nature of that birth. No midwife + no cries of pain = something extraordinary. I think that's the whole point of the passage. I really doubt this was intended to mean that Mary had pain, but she held it in.

Second, and more important, you misidentified the "Ascension of Isaiah" as a work of "one of the earliest Church Fathers" (my phrase, which you were claiming to refute). The "Ascension" is an apocryphal work, written by an unknown person, not by any of the "earliest Fathers of the Church."
Any time someone quotes from the early Church "fathers", early writings of anonymous or uncertain authorship are always included as well. That's just common Catholic apologetical practice. Even the Catechism quotes from such works (for example, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Didache, the Epistula ad Diognetum). I think you're splitting hairs now.

Next, you quoted a passage from the "Odes of Solomon," including the words, "she labored and bore the Son, but without pain."

First, as with the "Ascension of Isaiah," the "Odes of Solomon" was written by an unknown person, not by any of the "earliest Fathers of the Church."
Even documents of unknown authorship are valuable because they witness to the faith of the people from the period in which they were written. I don't think you should be so quick to dismiss these works. It is very common practice to refer to them.

Second, you defeated your own purpose with the quoted passage, because it says that Mary "labored." This means that she suffered "labor pains!" What was "without pain," according to the "Odes," was the delivery of Jesus into daylight. THAT moment was presumably painless, because, in keeping with Mary's conjugal virginity, no physical defloration occurred (so said the "Roman Catechism" after the Council of Trent).
There's no reason to believe that if she labored, then she must have felt pain. If she can deliver without pain then she can labor without it. Read the passage from the Odes again: "And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain ..." The qualifier could just as well refer to BOTH the labor and the delivery.

At this point, you at last quoted from one of the "earliest Fathers of the Church," St. Ignatius of Antioch ... but your quotation was ineffectual and not helpful to either of us, since it did not make any reference to Our Lady and pain.
Here is the quote from Ignatius again:
"Mary's virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her childbearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God." (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 19; c. 107 AD)
Ignatius is alluding to the negative effects of the original sin. Sexual relations, childbearing, and life itself were tarnished by what Satan was able to compel Adam and Eve to do. Yet, Mary's childbearing was "hidden from the prince of this world." This means that Satan was not able to tarnish her childbearing as he has for all other women. The original sin brought pain in giving birth, and Mary was spared from that. Instead her childbearing was "brought to pass in the deep silence of God," where great mysteries beyond human experience are revealed.

Finally, you quoted from St. Gregory of Nyssa, including the words, "the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement."

Here, once again, I have two objections:

First, it was the "delivery" that was painless -- but "delivery" is a separate event that follows after "labor pains."
First, here is the quote in question:
"Of Him then His mother's burden was light, the birth immaculate, the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement, neither beginning from wanton desire, nor brought to pass with sorrow. For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy." (St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Nativity 388 AD)
Now, it seems to me that he's using the word "delivery" as an umbrella term to refer to the labor and the birth. I tried to find the "Homily on the Nativity" where this quote originated to read Gregory's words in context, but I couldn't find it. I did however find a different homily of his on the Nativity, and here he expresses himself more clearly:
“Rejoice, thou that art full of Grace,” he said, “the Lord is with thee.” The words now addressed to the Virgin are the antithesis of those addressed to the first woman. The latter was condemned to the pangs of childbirth on account of sin; in the case of the former, sorrow is expelled through joy. In the latter case, sorrows precede parturition; in the former case, joy is the midwife of parturition. “Fear not,” says Gabriel. Since the expectation of travail arouses fear in every woman, that fear is banished by the promise of an agreeable childbirth.
We see from this that Gregory believed that Mary did not experience the pains of childbirth.

Second, St. Gregory of Nyssa was not one of the "earliest Fathers of the Church." He was writing 350 years after the death of Jesus. If you look at the writings of the men I had in mind (when I initially referred to the "earliest Fathers") -- Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian [if he can be included as a "Father"] -- you will not find statements declaring that Our Lady was without pain.
First of all, I don't think the quotations I provided from this earlier period should be discounted (for the reasons I've already given).

Secondly, if in fact it could be said that the earliest fathers did not mention the painless birth of Christ, this could just as easily be because they were focused on other issues instead, such as the Christological heresies that were floating about. Or it could be because the Spirit had not yet led the Church to a fuller understanding of Mary's perpetual virginity that included a painless birth. There are other plausible reasons other than because they didn't believe in it. Of course, this assumes there's an actual scarcity of material on the subject, and I'm not convinced of that yet.

Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, your requirement to find proof from the "earliest" fathers is arbitrary and unnecessary. Since when do we discredit certain early Church fathers because they lived in the 4th century instead of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd? Their witness is just as important as the rest in establishing doctrine. The Catechism quotes Augustine more than any other early Church father, and he lived in the 4th and 5th century. Gregory of Nyssa is a towering mind in the early Church, eminently saintly and orthodox. It might be wise to listen to what he has to say.

So, my friend, as I stated above, "If you have a weak argument in mind, it is better to omit it, lest you taint your whole essay by appearing to be foolish or careless." You did not support your position with a quotation from "the earliest Church Fathers," and your quotations either left open the possibility of labor pains or actually affirmed their presence ("Odes").
If I thought it was weak, I wouldn't have presented it. We'll let the reader decide who has the stronger arguments.

May we move onto another sub-topic?
Yes, please do.

I have taken a look at Brant Pitre's analysis, and (unlike you) I have not found it to be "convincing." Now, why is Brant Pitre unconvincing? I just looked at more than ten Bible translations, and I found what I expected to find: They all have what he would mislabel "a loose translation."
There are numerous versions that confirm his translation as well. Perhaps you missed these?
Bible in Basic English: To the woman he said, Great will be your pain in childbirth; in sorrow will your children come to birth;

Common English Bible: To the woman he said, "I will make your pregnancy very painful; in pain you will bear children.

Contemporary English Version: Then the Lord said to the woman, “You will suffer terribly when you give birth. But you will still desire your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Knox Bible: To the woman he said, Many are the pangs, many are the throes I will give you to endure; with pangs you shall give birth to children

New Century Version: Then God said to the woman, "I will cause you to have much trouble when you are pregnant, and when you give birth to children, you will have great pain.

New International Version: To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

New Jerusalem Bible: To the woman he said: I shall give you intense pain in childbearing, you will give birth to your children in pain.

New Living Translation: Then he said to the woman, "You will bear children with intense pain and suffering.

Today's NIV: To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
We can both count bible translations. I'm not really sure if it proves anything.

The problem is that his translation of the Hebrew is not accurate. The actual, literal meaning is this: "To the woman He said, 'Multiplying, I multiply your sorrow ... .'" The repeated word is verbal (multiply/increase), not adjectival (great).

But even if we were to accept, "Great, great," that would not help Brant Pitre. He seems to be unaware of the fact that ancient Hebrew did not have adjectives of the comparative and superlative degrees, so a word was repeated once to denote a higher degree (and repeated twice to denote the highest degree). Thus, "Great, great" (like "Multiplying, I multiply") denotes "(to make) greater" -- as "holy, holy, holy" denotes "holiest." This is why so many (non-literal) Bible translations correctly use variations of the RSV's words: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing."
This is the part of your response that kept me from posting this sooner. I was trying to research the Hebrew, but, not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I was unable to definitively settle the matter. It does appear to me that both translations are equally plausible.

As Catholics, when a passage is unclear, what do we do? We turn to our Tradition. There is a long and firm tradition that has understood pain in childbirth to be a result of the fall. Church fathers, popes, theologians, authoritative documents throughout the history of the Church all say that Mary had a painless childbirth, and the main reason for this is because of her preservation from original sin. As a Catholic, I side with that, and I really don't see why it shouldn't settle the matter.

Final sub-topic:

Last time, I wrote, "As a mother who suffered both at her Son's birth and death, Mary is an excellent role model for mothers of today. She would not be as good a model if she did not suffer in giving birth."

To this, you responded: "That doesn't follow any more than it would follow from her other unique prerogatives that she failed then to be a role model. Is she no longer a role model for us [because] she committed no sin? No" [etc., with other examples].

You did not read my words carefully enough. I did not say that Mary would "no longer [be] a role model" if she did not suffer in giving birth. Instead, I said that she "would not be as good a role model."
So be it. My argument still applies. Mary's other unique qualities don't lessen her ability to be a role model for us, so neither should a painless birth. She doesn't become "not as good of a role model" for having a painless birth any more than she does for being sinless, or a perpetual virgin, or assumed into heaven.

Also, it was a logical fallacy for you to contrast this with the commission of sin. We women do not want to sin, so we do not want or need a role model for that. But we do want to do a good thing, like accepting suffering in childbirth, so it is good for Our Lady to be our role model for that.
You want to do a good thing by having a healthy sex life with your husband, yet Mary never had sex with Joseph. Would she "not be as good a role model" for this reason as well?

If I were in the midst of a painful half day of labor, and if I were to moan, "Blessed Mother, you went through this in Bethlehem, so please help me to accept the pain," you would tell me, "Stop that this minute! Mary felt no pain, so don't you dare say that to her. Talk to St. Monica instead!" (;-D)
First of all, I think that what she experienced at the foot of the Cross in giving birth to the Church makes her the perfect intercessor in such a circumstance, or in any moment of intense pain. Laboring mothers, cry out to her! Mary understands the fullest depths of human suffering.

If you don't buy that argument, there is another reason why laboring mothers would turn to Mary. Wouldn't such women long to have the peace and joy that Mary felt in giving birth to Jesus? Satan is the reason for the pain they are feeling, and Mary is victorious over him! Could these women not pray to Mary for a participation in that victory, for some of the peace and joy that she felt, so that they too may bring life into the world with ease? Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Either way, Mary is perfect role model and intercessor. I don't think her painless parturition diminishes that in any way.

All right, my friend. You can have the last word, if you wish. If I have not convinced you by now, I never will, so I will be satisfied with the opportunities received.
It's good for Catholics to hammer out these sorts of things. Good, well-intentioned Catholics investigating the ramifications of certain doctrines (in this case, Mary's immaculate conception and perpetual virginity) within the parameters defined by the Church. This is how dogma develops, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us, as He guides the Church, to the proper conclusion. I know you intended to give me the last word, but if you wish to respond, you are welcome to it.

Pax Christi,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bible Commentary on Acts 23:5

Masaccio, "St. Paul,"
from The Pisa Polyptych

This probably won't be of much importance or relevance to most people, especially as it really has nothing to do with the season of Advent, but I was already putting this together for a friend so I thought it wouldn't hurt to post it here. Some random soul might desperately search Google one day looking for Catholic bible commentary on Acts 23:5, and I will be there to serve him.

Except for Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary and the IVP Commentary,  all of the sources found here are Catholic. When possible, I linked to what was available online. The rest I transcribed from my personal library.

Without further ado ...


Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, New American Bible: Revised Edition (2010), Acts 23:
[23:5] Luke portrays Paul as a model of one who is obedient to the Mosaic law. Paul, because of his reverence for the law (Ex 22:27), withdraws his accusation of hypocrisy, “whitewashed wall” (cf. Mt 23:27), when he is told Ananias is the high priest.

George Leo Haydock, Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible Commentary (1859):
Ver. 5. I knew not, &c. Some think St. Paul here speaks ironically, or to signify that now he could be no longer high priest, since the Mosaic law, with its rites and ceremonies, was abolished. But St. Chrysostom rather judges that St. Paul, having been long absent from Jerusalem, might not know the person of the high priest, who was not now in the sanhedrim but in the place whither the tribune had called the council, and who did not appear with that habit, and those marks which distinguished him from others. (Witham) --- It seems rather surprising that St. Paul did not know that he was the high priest. The place which he held in the council, one would suppose, would have been sufficient to have pointed him out. The apostle's absence from Jerusalem is perhaps a sufficient reason to account for his not knowing this circumstance; especially, as the order of succession to the priesthood was at that time much confused and irregular, determined by favour of the Roman emperor, or by purchase. (Calmet) --- At all events, any difficulties we may now find in assigning a probable or true reason, are merely negative arguments; and therefore too futile to be an impeachment of the apostle's veracity. (Haydock) --- St. Cyprian supposes that St. Paul, considering the mere shadow of the name of priest, which Ananias then held, said: I knew not, brethren, that he is high priest. (Ep. lxv. 69. nu. 2.) St. Chrysostom says, that the apostle here shews the wisdom of the serpent; but that in his preaching, teaching, and patience, he used the simplicity of the dove.

Early Christian Writings, e-Catena: Compiled Allusions to the NT in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Acts 23:
Acts 23:5 - in Cyprian, Epistle LIV
-although they had begun to be sacrilegious, and impious, and bloody, the Lord having already been crucified, and had no longer retained anything of the priestly honour and authority-yet Paul, considering the name itself, however empty, and the shadow, as it were, of the priest, said, "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy, people."[22]

St. John Chrysostom, Homily III, I Colossians 1,15–18 — “Who is the Image of the invisible God":
304 [. . .] Do not, I pray you, think that these things are spoken from us; it is the Grace of God which worketh in the unworthy, not for our sakes, but for yours. Hear ye then what Christ saith. “If the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it.” (). And how becometh it worthy? If “they receive you” (Lc 10,8), He saith. “But if they receive you not, nor hear your words, …verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodore and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” What boots it then, that ye receive us, and hear not the things we say? What gain is it that ye wait upon us, and give no heed to the things which are spoken to you? This will be honor to us, this the admirable service, which is profitable both to you and to us, if ye hear us. Hear also Paul saying, “I wist not, brethren, that he was High Priest.” (Ac 23,5). Hear also Christ saying, “All whatsoever they bid you observe” (Mt 23,3), that “observe and do.” Thou despisest not me, but the Priesthood; when thou seest me stripped of this, then despise me; then no more will I endure to impose commands. But so long as we sit upon this throne, so long as we have the first place, we have both the dignity and the power, even though we are unworthy. If the throne of Moses was of such reverence, that for its sake they were to be heard, much more the throne of Christ. It, we have received by succession; from it we speak; since the time that Christ hath vested in us the ministry of reconciliation. [. . .]

Grant R. Osborne, Editor, IVP New Testament Commentary, Acts 22, Conversation with a Roman Tribune; Defense Before the Sanhedrin:
Acts 22:22 - 23:11 [. . .]Paul pleads ignorance, declares the Old Testament law's requirement and in so doing subordinates himself to the authority of the Word of God. He does not speak ironically: "I didn't know he was the high priest, because he was certainly not acting like one" (contra Marshall 1980:364). Nor was his curse a simple sin of ignorance because Paul did not know from whom the command came or did not understand that he was the high priest (contra E. F. Harrison 1986:367). Rather, it was a sin of omission. Paul did not take into consideration the man's position when he made the declaration (Polhill 1992:469). Paul's prophetic curse, given in hasty anger, had violated a basic biblical precept lived out by David in his dealings with Saul. Though an officeholder dishonors the office through his conduct, one does not have liberty to dishonor him (1 Sam 24:6; 26:9-11). Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people (Ex 22:27 LXX).

How do we cope when a sophisticated cynic's punishing rejection of our integrity drives us to lash out in anger? Like Paul, we must respond in humility, quickly admitting our fault and subordinating ourselves again to the authority of God's Word. "It is not our mistakes that do us in; it's our pride that keeps us from admitting them" (Ogilvie 1983:316). [. . .]

St. Augustine, On the Mounts, 1043:
58. [. . .] For when he was smitten with the hand by order of the high priest, what he seemed to say contumeliously when he affirms, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall,” sounds like an insult to those who do not understand it; but to those who do, it is a prophecy. For a whited wall is hypocrisy, i.e. pretence holding forth the sacerdotal dignity before itself, and under this name, as under a white covering, concealing an inner and as it were sordid baseness. For what belonged to humility he wonderfully preserved, when, on its being said to him, “Revilest thou the high priest?”174 he replied, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shall not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”175 And here he showed with what calmness he had spoken that which he seemed to have spoken in anger, because he answered so quickly and so mildly, which cannot be done by those who are indignant and thrown into confusion. And in that very statement he spoke the truth to those who understood him, “I wist not that he was the high priest:”176 as if he said, I know another High Priest, for whose name I bear such things, whom it is not lawful to revile, and whom ye revile, since in me it is nothing else but His name that ye hate. Thus, therefore, it is necessary for one not to boast of such things in a hypocritical way, but to be prepared in the heart itself for all things, so that he can sing that prophetic word, “My heart is prepared,177 O God, my heart is prepared.” For many have learned how to offer the other cheek, but do not know how to love him by whom they are struck. But in truth, the Lord Himself, who certainly was the first to fulfil the precepts which He taught, did not offer the other cheek to the servant of the high priest when smiting Him thereon; but, so far from that, said, “If I have spoken evil, hear witness of the evil;178 but if well, why smitest thou me?”179 Yet was He not on that account unprepared in heart, for the salvation of all, not merely to be smitten on the other cheek, but even to have His whole body crucified.


Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Roland E. Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968), Vol. II, pg. 207: doesn't have any commentary on vs. 5, but a line from the commentary on vs. 3 may apply:
His whole answer is ironical; he poses as the exemplar of obedience toward the Law and would not think of insulting the high priest, quoting Ex 22:27 to support his contention.

Dom Bernard Orchard, General Editor, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (1953), pg. 1042:
5. St. Paul, who may have been looking around the Sanhedrin to see whom he could recognize, heard the high-priest's order, without knowing from whom it had come.

Reginald C. Fuller, General Editor, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (1975), pg. 1099:
22:30 - 23:11 Paul before the Sanhedrin -- This whole scene has been impugned as an invention by Lk owing to various difficulties, of which the most serious is Paul's failure to recognize the high priest (5). The tribune could well have permitted the investigation in order to discover the rights and wrongs in the case, or even the charges. The account is clearly simplified, e.g. Paul's opening remark is impossibly truculent as it stands. The quarrel he sparks off between Pharisees and Sadducees is naively represented (6-10); but it is far from impossible that they eventually ranged themselves on one side or the other according to the differences of belief of v 8. As v 28 makes clear, the scene serves the apologetic purpose of showing that the Jews had no valid case against Paul in Roman eyes; he was being lynched for a theological difference of opinion, in which one party was in fact on his side.

Ronald Knox, A New Testament Commentary for English Readers (1954), Vol. II, pg. 55-57:
22.30 - 23.11. St Paul before the Council. [. . .] Then comes the shocked protest of verse 4; which one of his quick changes of mood, St Paul recognizes that the has made a fault in reverence, not to the man but to his office. The Rabi in him comes out instinctively, and he quotes Exodus (22.28). Did he, thereupon, catch some sardonic piece of comment, "Just like a Pharisee--knows the law by heart, and doesn't keep it"? This would account for the sudden diversion of verse 6; but verse 6 may be divided from verse 5 by a long interval of time, and of procedure.
It is just possible to see the thing happening in this wa, if we are content to recognize that the members of the Council had been convoked, at the captain's summons and under his auspices. Verse 10 will mean, not that he sent an urgent message back to the barracks, in response to which the military marched through the streets and invaded the Council-chamber. They will have "come down" from some gallery in which they had been posted for fear of violence in the ante-room. If we picture to ourselves a formal meeting of the Council in its judicial capacity, verse 5 becomes wholly inexplicable. We have no independent grounds for imagining that St Paul was short-sighted, and even if he had been, he would have been cound to recognize the high priest from the position in which he sat. The idea that "I did not know it was the high priest" means "I was not prepared to recognize him as the high priest when he talked like that" is surely fantastic. St Paul must have failed to recognize him simply because he was one of a crowd, interjecting his ill-bred demand like a common heckler. [. . .]

David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (1992), pg. 308:
2-5 Sha'ul's outburst is certainly not the behavior of a man who had heard and understood Yeshua's command to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39). Yeshua himself, when struck, argued the injustice of it without vexation or irritation (Yn 18:22). But no claim of perfection is made for Sha'ul. Like the heroes of the Tanakh, whose failings are reported faithfully along with their victories, he is shown to be a man who has not yet achieved the goal, as he himself admits (Pp 3:12-13, 1C 9:25-27). God saves imperfect people.
I didn't know, brothers, that he was the cohen hagadol. It has been suggested that this line drips sarcasm, that Sha'ul knew perfectly well who the cohen hadadol was but means that he wasn't acting like one!

The Catholic Biblical Association, A Commentary on the New Testament (1942), pg. 399-400:
22, 30 -- 23, 11: The Sanhedrin. [. . .] 5. In this investigation conducted by the Roman tribune the High Priest may not have been conspicuous, and St. Paul may not have known him personally.

Jose Maria Casciaro, Director, The Navarre Bible: Acts of the Apostles (1998), pg. 236:
5. Many commentators think that Paul is being sarcastic here, as if to say, "I would never have thought that anyone who gave an order against the Law like that could be the high priest". Others think that the Apostle realizes that his words may have scandalized some of those present and therefore he wants to make it clear that he respects the Jewish institutions and the commandments of the Law.

I'm afraid that's all I have. There are other sites that have collections of articles on the book of Acts. You might be able to wade through these and find more information:

I hope that helps!

Pax Christi,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Birth Pangs of Mary: Part 3

My critic responded to my latest post on the birth pangs of Mary. As usual, his words will be indented and italicized.

My friend, you just used the word, "witness." What those Fathers/Doctors stated was not a "witness," but a theological opinion, based on faulty reasoning. They did not OBSERVE (witness) Our Lady having no pains, and it seems awfully unlikely that she volunteered to the first Christians that she gave birth with zero pain.
You misunderstood my use of the word "witness." I didn't mean that they were all crowding around Mary when she gave birth, or that they received some special revelation from Mary about it. What I meant was that, with their writings, they are witnessing to a particular belief and tradition regarding Mary.

There is no record of such a thing in the scriptures nor in the earliest Church Fathers.
Don't speak so soon. There is in fact a substantial record on this point.

From the early Church fathers:
"[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’" (Ascension of Isaiah 11 [A.D. 70]).

"So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . " (Odes of Solomon 19 [A.D. 80]).

"Mary's virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her childbearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God." (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 19; c. 107 AD)

"Of Him then His mother's burden was light, the birth immaculate, the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement, neither beginning from wanton desire, nor brought to pass with sorrow. For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy." (St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Nativity 388 AD)

"How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God's word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father's gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God? ... It was fitting that she who saw her Son die on the cross, and received in her heart the sword of pain which she had not felt in childbirth, should gaze upon Him seated next to the Father." (St. John Damascene, Second Homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God)

"So far as He was born of woman, His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while so far as He had no father, His birth was above the nature of generation: and in that it was at the usual time (for He was born on the completion of the ninth month when the tenth was just beginning), His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Isaiah 66:7)." (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, IV, 14)
For more from Scripture, the scholastics, popes, councils, and catechisms of the Church, see The Virginity of Our Lady In Partu: The Painless, Miraculous Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Instead, the Fathers/Doctors whom you mention apparently didn't WANT Our Lady to have suffered in giving birth, so they (mis-)reasoned that she could not have had pain. It is as though they approached the whole matter too "romantically" and not with reason.
On the contrary, they have very good reasons for their belief in the painless birth of Jesus.

For one, they see it as following from her preservation from original sin, since one of the results of the original sin is pain in childbirth. I realize you think Gen 3:16 means that God simply multiplied a pain that would have already existed, but the analysis from Brant Pitre that I provided seems to refute that claim. You'll have to prove otherwise before you can sell me on that point.

Secondly, a painless birth follows from the theological notion of Mary as eschatological icon. If Mary experienced the first-fruits of Christ's redemption in her own Immaculate Conception as the New Eve, it is easy to see why they would believe that she would similarly be able to taste the fruits of the eschatological age described by Isaiah (66:7-8), when women would be delivered from the curse of Eve.

The fathers provide other reasons too, which you can read in the quotes I provided. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, "For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy" (Homily on the Nativity, 388 AD). According to St. John Damascene, it was fitting that the pain which is typically felt in childbirth would be for Mary reserved for Calvary, when she suffered with Christ to give birth to the Church.

I previously explained why a sinless Mary COULD have had pain, just as a sinless Jesus could have had, and did have, pain.
I never said that Mary was incapable of pain. I just said she didn't experience the pain of childbirth.

As a mother who suffered both at her Son's birth and death, Mary is an excellent role model for mothers of today. She would not be as good a model if she did not suffer in giving birth.
That doesn't follow any more than it would follow from her other unique prerogatives that she failed then to be a role model. Is she no longer a role model for us b/c she committed no sin? No. What about because she conceived by the Holy Spirit, or b/c she was a perpetual virgin, or b/c only she can say that her son was divine? All of these things make her unlike any other human being or woman, yet she doesn't fail for all these reasons to be an exemplar and role model for us. Well then, her painless childbirth should not disqualify her either.

The fact is that Mary is a role model for us because of these special gifts. They point to her as the realization of what we all hope to receive in Christ:
  • perfect sinlessness (Immaculate Conception);
  • purity, complete commitment to the Lord, life without pain (Perpetual Virgin);
  • resurrection of the body, new life in heaven, crown of glory (Assumption);
  • bearing Christ within us (Mother of God);
  • bringing His salvation to all the world (Coredemptrix)

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Birth Pangs of Mary: Part 2

Someone who I believe is a Catholic recently posted some words of criticism in response to my post from September on the birth pangs of Mary. I would like to respond to these criticisms. His words will be indented and italicized.
I'm sorry, my friend, but you are very wrong. The fact that Mary "did not receive the stain of original sin" did not render her incapable of physical pain in childbirth. Her Son experienced the most exquisite pain in the history of mankind even though He "did not receive the stain of original sin" and even though He was divine.

I believe that Mary could and did experience physical pain in giving birth to Jesus. Such pain is not necessarily a punishment for one's own sins. If it were, one would have to say that Jesus was a sinner.
Your logic doesn't follow. The original sin only guaranteed the pain of childbirth, not the pain (both physical and spiritual) of dying on the Cross for all man's sins. In other words, the preservation from original sin would remove the pain of childbirth, but not the pain that Christ experienced. The example of His pain doesn't really prove anything.

Some people have claimed that all pain in childbirth is the result of original sin. This is incorrect, and it arises from a misreading of Genesis 3:16. Note what that verse states (RSV): "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing." Aha! Even before the original sin was committed, there was to be pain in childbearing. The sin caused that pain to be "greatly multipl[ied]." Had Eve given birth in the Garden of Eden, she would have felt pain -- just as our Blessed Mother did (even though she did not lose her virginity).
I find Dr. Brant Pitre's analysis of the passage to be more convincing. From a follow-up comment to his post on the birth pangs of Mary, we read:
While the English translation of Gen 3:16 make make it sound as if Eve experienced pain in childbirth before the Fall ("I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing" RSV), this is the result of a loose translation; the Hebrew original has no such implication. Literally, it reads "Great, great, will I make your pain and your travail" (Hb Harebah arbeh itzboneka weheroneka) (Gen 3:16). The Hebrew is simply a superlative meaning "Exceedingly great." There is no implication that pain in childbirth was pre-Fall; nor does the text of Genesis in any way suggest that Eve had children before the Fall. Indeed, when the literary unity of Genesis is taken into account, Gen 4:1 ("And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain..") implies the opposite, with Cain as the first of a series of problematic first-born sons (Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, etc.)
I think that yours is the misreading.

That said, perhaps there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion regarding the pain that Mary experienced in giving birth to Jesus. I believe that Mary did not experience pain in childbirth and I am defending that belief, but as I understand it, Catholics are not bound to believe anything in particular about it. It is noteworthy that the early Church Fathers (as well as many medieval theologians and doctors of the Church) are unanimous in their belief that Mary did not experience this pain. I think that is a very strong witness.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jesus Was a Seamster

[Note: A seamster, one who sews garments, not a teamster, a member of a labor union]

One of the things I love the most about my job as a Director of Religious Education is that every day it affords me the opportunity to learn more about my faith, which has been a passionate hobby of mine ever since my conversion in 2002. Today, a parishioner called and asked if I would explain to her Jesus' words to the rich man, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:24; cf. Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25). She was confused because sewing needles seemed to her to be a modern invention, and she seemed to recall a priest telling her once that the "eye of a needle" was actually a reference to a small passageway into a city.

I was delighted to help, primarily because I had always just assumed that Jesus was referring to a sewing needle and had never stopped to consider whether or not this was an anachronistic interpretation. Could Jesus be referring to something else here? I couldn't wait to find out!

What Exactly Is the "Needle"?

After about an hour reading through the various commentaries on my bookshelf and consulting sources online, I discovered that my initial reading of the text was correct. Jesus is indeed referring to a sewing needle.

Here are the sources that confirm this interpretation:

Robert Sungenis, The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, pg. 97:
Greek: ῥαφίδος (raphidos = needle). Some have understood this to refer to the passageway through a walled city, such that the camel would have to stoop to enter. But this has no precedent. Classical Greek (e.g., Corpus Hippiatricorum) and the LXX (Exo 27:16; 38:23 [37:21]) use the word ῥαφίδευτού (raphideutou = "needlework") containing the root ῥαφίδευ in reference to a needle for stitching.

Ronald Knox, A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Volume 1: The Four Gospels, pg. 43:
In verse 24, there is no need for such ingenious conjectures as that the "camel" meant a kind of rope, or that the "Needle's Eye" was the name given to some gate-way. Our Lord deliberately exaggerates his effects; cf. Matthew 7:3.

David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, pg. 60:
Needle's eye. It is obviously impossible for the largest known animal in the region to pass through the smallest opening normally encountered. Late manuscripts and versions which substitute "cable" or "rope" for "camel," likewise commentaries which suppose the "needle's eye" refers to a small gate kept open in a large gate closed to protect a walled city, are later efforts to tone down Yeshua's starkly incongruous image.

Catholic Biblical Association, A Commentary on the New Testament, pg. 134:
To try to explain camel by a similar-sounding Greek word meaning "rope," or to interpret an eye of a needle as meaning a low gate in the walls of a city through which pedestrians, but hardly camels, can pass, are futile attempts to whittle down the force of Christ's words.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, pg. 438:
The eye of a needle, we are sometimes assured, is a metaphor; the reference is to a small opening giving independent access or egress through a much larger city gate. ... But this charming explanation is of relatively recent date; there is no evidence that such a subsidiary entrance was called the eye of a needle in biblical times.

Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol II: The New Testament, pg. 97:
24. easier for a camel: The figure of the camel and the eye of the needle means exactly what is said; it does not refer to a cable or a small gate of Jerusalem.

George W. Knight, The Illustrated Everyday Bible Companion, pg. 237:
NEEDLE. A tool for sewing. Jesus compared the difficulty of the wealthy reaching heaven with a camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19:24).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Needle":
Some writers have attempted to show that rhaphis referred to a small gate of a walled oriental city. No evidence of such a use of the word exists in the terms applied today in Biblical lands to this opening.

Easton's Bible Dictionary, "Needle":
Some interpret the expression as referring to the side gate, close to the principal gate, usually called the "eye of a needle" in the East; but it is rather to be taken literally.

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, "Matthew 19:24":
Jesus, of course, means by this comparison, whether an eastern proverb or not, to express the impossible. The efforts to explain it away are jejune like a ship's cable, kamilon or rapi as a narrow gorge or gate of entrance for camels which recognized stooping, etc. All these are hopeless, for Jesus pointedly calls the thing "impossible" (verse 26). ... The word for an ordinary needle is rapi, but, Luke (Luke 18:25) employs belonh, the medical term for the surgical needle not elsewhere in the N.T.

J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel, "Mark 10:25":
It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. ... Lord George Nugent (1845-6) introduced the explanation that Jesus referred to the two gates of a city, the large one for the beast of burden, and the small one for foot-passengers. This smaller one is now called "The Needle's Eye", but there is no evidence whatever that it was so called in our Savior's time. In fact, as Canon Farrar observes, we have every reason to believe that this smaller gate received its name in late years because of the efforts of those who were endeavoring to soften this saying of Jesus.

Is It Likely That This Is What Jesus Was Referring To?

Of course, all of this begs the question: Is it likely that Jesus was referring to a sewing needle? Did people in his day even have sewing needles? Would Jesus and his audience have known of such things? The answer here is yes.

Wikipedia, "Sewing Needles":
The first needles were made of bone or wood; modern ones are manufactured from high carbon steel wire, nickel- or 18K gold plated for corrosion resistance. ... A variety of archaeological finds illustrate sewing has been present for thousands of years. The Romans left elaborate traces of their sewing technology, especially thimbles and needles. Even earlier Stone Age finds, such as the excavations on the island of Öland at Alby, Sweden, reveal objects such as bone needle cases dating to 6000 BC. Ivory needles were also found dated to 30,000 years ago at the Kostenki site in Russia.[3] The oldest needle in the world was made of bone, dated to Aurignacian and discovered in Potok Cave (Slovene: Potočka zijalka) in the Eastern Karavanke, Slovenia.[4] Native Americans were known to use sewing needles from natural sources. One such source, the agave plant, provided both the needle and the "thread."

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Needle":
This saying ought to be accepted in the same sense as Matthew 23:24, "Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!" Christ used them to illustrate absurdities. A rabbinical parallel is cited, "an elephant through a needle's eye." ... The fact that needles are not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible should not be taken to indicate that this instrument was not used. Specimens of bone and metal needles of ancient origin show that they were common household objects.

Catholic Biblical Association, A Commentary on the New Testament, pg. 134:
A camel through an eye of a needle is a proverbial expression meaning that something is impossible. Similar paradoxical expressions are found not only in the Talmud but also in Greek and Latin literature.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, pg. 438:
"To contrast the largest beast of burden known in Palestine with the smallest of artificial apertures is quite in the manner of Christ's proverbial sayings" (H.B. Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 3rd ed. [London: MacMillian, 1909], p. 229). In Jewish rabbinical literature, an elephant passing through the eye of a needle is a figure of speech for sheer impossibility (cf. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berakot 55b).

Easton's Bible Dictionary, "Needle":
The Hebrew females were skilled in the use of the needle (Exodus 28:39; 26:36; Judges 5:30).

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, "Matthew 19:24":
The Jews in the Babylonian Talmud did have a proverb that a man even in his dreams did not see an elephant pass through the eye of a needle (Vincent). The Koran speaks of the wicked finding the gates of heaven shut "till a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle." But the Koran may have got this figure from the New Testament.

John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, "Matthew 19:24":
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God: thus, when the Jews would express anything that was rare and unusual, difficult and impossible, they used a like saying with this. So ... to one that had delivered something as was thought very absurd, it is said, "perhaps thou art one of Pombeditha who make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle." ... And not only among the Jews, but in other eastern nations, this proverbial way of speaking was used, to signify difficulties or impossibilities. ... All which show, that there is no need to suppose, that by a camel is meant, not the creature so called, but a cable rope, as some have thought; since these common proverbs manifestly make it appear, that a creature is intended, and which aggravates the difficulty: the reason why instead of an elephant, as used in most of the above sayings, Christ makes mention of a camel, may be, because that might be more known in Judea, than the other; and because the hump on its back would serve to make the thing still more impracticable.

J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel, "Mark 10:25":
The needle's eye here is that of the literal needle, and the expression was a proverbial one to indicate that which was absolutely impossible.

The various entries on embroidery were interesting to me because it confirmed in my mind that the Hebrew people were accustomed to using needle and thread, and were in fact quite skilled at it:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Embroidery":
em-broid'-er-i (riqrnah; the King James Version Needlework): Riqmah was applied to any kind of cloth which showed designs in variegated colors. The method of manufacture is unknown. The designs may have been woven into cloth or drawn in by a needle or hook (Judges 5:30; Psalms 45:14; Ezekiel 16:10,13,18; 26:16; 27:7,16,24). Ma`aseh raqam is translated "the work of the embroiderer" in the Revised Version (British and American) instead of "needlework" (Exodus 26:36; 27:16; 28:39; 36:37; 38:18; 39:29; Judges 5:30; Psalms 45:14). Raqam, "embroiderer," occurs in Exodus 35:35; 38:23. The fact that this word is used instead of `aragh, "weaver," would lead us to suppose that the embroiderers' work was either different from that of the weaver or that a "raqam" was especially skilled in fine weaving. Another word, choshebh, is used to describe a skillful weaver. "Cunning work" in the King James Version of Exodus 26:1,31; 28:6,15; 35:33,15; 36:8,35; 39:3,1 is rendered in the American Standard Revised Version "work of the skillful workmen." The passage has been freely rendered "designers." In the Revised Version (British and American) of Exodus 28:39 shabhats is translated "weave." In Exodus 28:4 occurs the word tashbets, which is translated "broidered" in the King James Version and "checker work" in the Revised Version (British and American). If this kind of work is what it is supposed to be, it is more truly "needlework" than the embroidery.

George W. Knight, The Illustrated Everyday Bible Companion, pg. 237:
NEEDLEWORK. Embroidery or delicate sewing. Embroidered robes and curtains were used in the tabernacle (Exod. 28:39; 36:37).

Smith's Bible Dictionary, "Embroiderer":
Various explanations have been offered as to the distinction between "needle-work" and "cunning work." Probably neither term expresses just what is to-day understood by embroidery, though the latter may come nearest to it. The art of embroidery by the loom was extensively practiced among the nations of antiquity. In addition to the Egyptians, the Babylonians were celebrated for it.

Concluding Remarks

By way of summary, one could condense all of the information provided here into the following points. Regarding the identity of the needle:
  1. The Greek word used here for needle, ῥαφίδος (raphidos) is used both in classical Greek and the Septuagint to refer to a needle for stitching
  2. That this would refer to the smaller gate of a city is an interpretation that is considered novel, modern, or recent in origin, and likely used to tone-down the force of Jesus' language.
  3. There is no evidence that people from biblical times referred to this gate as "the eye of the needle".
  4. It's worth noting that the word for an ordinary needle is rapi, but, Luke (Luke 18:25) employs belonh, the medical term for the surgical needle. This reinforces Jesus' intention to refer to an actual needle.

Regarding the likelihood that Jesus was referring to a sewing needle:
  1. People in Jesus day, and even in Old Testament times, used sewing needles and were familiar with them. They were common household items.
  2. Jews around Jesus' time and even those of other middle-eastern nations would liken anything that was impossible or absurd to an elephant passing through the eye of a needle.
  3. Jesus was probably borrowing this expression, substituting the more familiar camel.
  4. It was typical of Jesus to speak in such a proverbial and/or hyperbolic manner.

This certainly settles the question in my mind. If you have any questions or comments, let me know.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

God's Plan From the Beginning for Our Salvation

Could you clarify the Church's position on Romans 8:28-30 and predestination?

This can get a little confusing, but try to hang with me here. First of all, here is the passage in question:
28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
You might be surprised to learn that Catholics believe in predestination, we just don't understand it the same way that Protestants (particularly Calvinists) understand it.

Now, what is predestination? It involves a lot of things. Catholics believe that God has a plan for the world and everything in it. This plan was written from the very beginning. We also believe that this plan mysteriously incorporates the free-will actions of men. As the Catechism says, "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace" (no. 600). God alone initiates salvation (in other words, the first initiative is always His), and this salvation is extended to all men. It is possible for all men to be saved. If some of them aren't, it is not because God has decreed that they be sent to Hell, but because they have destroyed the divine life within their souls and have persisted in this state. "God predestines no one to go to hell" (CCC, no. 1037).

These are the basic parameters of the Catholic understanding of predestination. Within these parameters, there is room for debate concerning how all of this works itself out.

Regarding, Rom 8:28-30, we see that some are selected for divine adoption by an eternal decree of God. That’s basically what predestination is. These elect were chosen because, in His foreknowledge, God saw that these souls would respond to His grace and persevere in it. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined” (vs. 29). When they respond to this grace they are added to the family of God, so that Jesus becomes “the first-born among many brethren” (vs. 29). They are justified, and ultimately glorified (vs. 30).

Essentially, this passage is about the plan of God for our salvation and the power of God’s grace to achieve it. Nothing here is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Salvation Outside the Church: Council of Florence vs. Second Vatican Council

How do you explain the dramatic contrast between the Council of Florence on the topic of salvation for those outside the church and Vatican II?

First, it’s important to have in front of us the statements in question, so that we can analyze them together. Here is what the Council of Florence said on salvation outside the Church, from the "Bull of Union with the Copts":
It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the church's sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the catholic church.
The Second Vatican Council speaks of salvation outside the Church in Lumen Gentium, nos. 14 and 16. Here are the pertinent sections from those two articles:
14. This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. [. . .]

16. [. . .] Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. [. . .]
Having the documents before us, we could say that the Council of Florence provides a strict expression of the salvific necessity of the Church, whereas Lumen Gentium provides a broader expression. I think there is a way to reconcile the two.

First of all, we have to remember that this "Bull of Union with the Copts" was written in 1442, 50 years before anyone in Europe knew anything of the Western Hemisphere. The mindset of the time was that the gospel had already been proclaimed to all the nations and if anyone was not a full member of the Catholic Church it was because he refused to be, not because he was invincibly ignorant or innocent of failing to join Her. That this mindset was at work is confirmed by the fact that: 1. These words are directed to “Jews or heretics and schismatics”, in other words, formal heretics, people who knowingly and obstinately reject the truth of the Church; and 2. The last clause of the passage in question is, according to Fr. William G. Most, a quotation from the early Church father Fulgentius, whose words were directed specifically to heretics.

What all of this means is that the Council of Florence does not have in mind people who had no opportunity to know Christ and His Church, or who are prevented in some way from accepting this truth. When read in this light, the Council is in agreement with Lumen Gentium. After all, we do read in no. 14, “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”

What this also means is that no. 16 is not a contradiction, but a caveat, a further explanation upon the Church’s teaching on salvation outside the Church. The Second Vatican Council is merely wishing to clarify that the Church’s teaching on this (and there have been many strict expressions of it, besides what we see from Florence) is not meant to condemn those who are non-Catholic through no fault of their own. It’s important to point out that Lumen Gentium is not the first time we find a broad expression of the teaching on salvation outside the Church.

Pius IX, in Quanto Conficiamur Moerore of August 10, 1863, taught:
7. [. . .] There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.

8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom "the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior." [. . .]
On August 9, 1949, the Holy Office condemned (here) the error of Leonard Feeney who held that those who failed to enter the Church formally, even with no fault of their own, could not reach salvation. The decree says (numbering is mine):
12. [. . .]Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

13. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.
Pius XII had said that a man can be "ordered to the Church by a certain desire and wish of which he is not aware," that is, the one contained in the good dispositions mentioned by the Holy Office (cf. Mystici Corporis, no. 103)

Gaudiem et Spes, another document from the Second Vatican Council, cites Lumen Gentium no. 16 when it says:
22. [. . .] All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 16). For, since Christ died for all men (cf. Rom 8:32), and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery. [. . .]
There is also this, from Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio:
10. The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.
What we see from this is that Lumen Gentium is not a novelty or an aberration. Instead it is a further development and elucidation of the one Catholic faith.

I am quite indebted to the following articles for the bulk of what I have written here. They are also yours to consult for more information.
Pax Christi,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Catholic Q&A: Part 31

This post continues my series of short answers to common questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Is predestination practically encouraging or assuring to you?

Yes. One of the most reassuring passages in all of Scripture has to do with the unfolding of God’s plan for us:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
It’s good to be reminded that God is not an angry deity out to get us, but a loving Father who has great plans for our salvation.

What is the point of all the severe penances of a Rose of Lima or Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena?

I’m sure each saint had her own reasons, but generally, penances are performed for two reasons: 1. To gain mastery over one’s fleshly desires, and 2. To atone for the negative effect of sin upon the Body of Christ. If these penances are especially severe, it is because the penitent has much to gain mastery over, or because there is a great deal of sin that must be atoned for. Note that a person can atone for his own sin, or the sins of others. Since there is great sin in the world, great acts of penance are in order.

Severe acts of penance (such as self-flagellation, wearing an undershirt made of hair, eating only bread and water for a prolonged period of time, etc.) are only recommended for those who have made extensive progress in the spiritual life. Otherwise, it’s difficult to sustain such a practice, and easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it.

Whom do you think the Bible is talking about when its speaks of those through whom Satan would perform powerful miracles, whom God would deceive by a powerful delusion so that they would believe the lie, etc?

You must be referring to 2 Thes 2:9-12. Here is the passage in question:
9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, 12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Now, first of all, Satan doesn’t perform his powerful miracles through those who are deceived but through the deceiver, the “lawless one” who is mentioned. This lawless one is the “man of lawlessness, the son of perdition” from a few verses prior (cf. vs. 3-4). He is most often identified with the Antichrist (cf. 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7), or with the second beast from Rev 13:11-18. Exactly who this lawless one will be is difficult to say. Most scholars identify the beast with the Roman Empire.

Those who are deceived, who are handed over to a powerful delusion, are those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (vs. 10). Since Paul talks right after this about holding on to “the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter,” I can’t help but think that those who forsake this tradition will be the ones who will easily fall prey to the lawless one and his claims of authority and divinity.

What do you do with all the biblical passages that seem to skip over purgatory? To have died is to be freed from sin? (Rom 6:7) We who are still alive will be caught up to meet him in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever?(1 Thess 4:17)

First of all, these passages don’t refute the Catholic understanding of Purgatory. The “death” referred to in Rom 6:7 is not physical death but the death to sin and to the old man (the former way of living) that takes place in baptism, when we die with Christ and rise with him to new life. This passage has nothing to say about Purgatory.

1 Thes 4:17 refers to the Final Judgment that takes place after the Second Coming of Christ. The purging of sins has already taken place at this point, so obviously all that is left is eternal life with Christ.

That said, the Bible does not skip over Purgatory. The idea of a purging after death is present in the Word. I grant that it may be implicit, but it is still present. Since it is all too much to provide here, I’ll refer you to my two-part defense of Purgatory: Part 1 and Part 2.

Why all the bowing in church (genuflecting, bowing during songs/liturgy, etc.)?

We perform various gestures and postures during the liturgy because the liturgy engages the entire person, body and spirit. In the liturgy, we want to communicate with our bodies what is our interior disposition and belief.

We stand when the priest processes towards the altar to begin the Mass because we believe an important person has just entered our midst, the man who will stand in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”) and make the Sacrifice of the Mass present to us. We sit during the readings from the bible because that is the posture of listening and reflection. God is speaking to us through his Word, and so we must be able to receive Him. Bowing is a gesture of respect, and so when we recite the Creed during the Mass, we bow during the phrase, “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man” out of respect for the Incarnation. We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer (when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus) because kneeling is the greatest act of reverence, rightly reserved for when the Savior Himself is in our midst.

Everything we say and do say something about what we believe is happening at that moment in the Mass.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Catholic Q&A: Part 30

This post continues my series of short answers to common questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

What do you think justification by faith, not works, means? What does it mean to you personally?

As a Catholic, I would not make the dichotomy between faith and works that you have made here. Faith is never “not works.” In fact, the kind of faith that saves is that which is “working through love” (Gal 5:6). So, I don’t place a wedge between the two. Instead, I have always considered them to be two sides of the same coin.

As to the role of faith, it is necessary for salvation, as the Catechism explicitly states (cf. no. 183).

Are we really justifed by faith, or are we actually justified by love?

I think this is another false dichotomy. Faith and love are not at odds with one another. If I have faith so as to move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing (cf. 1 Cor 13:2). Faith and love together make the breastplate from the armor of God (cf. 1 Thes 5:8). Love issues from a sincere faith (cf. 1 Tim 1:5). Grace causes an overflowing of faith and love (cf. 1 Tim 1:14). As such, I say we are justified not by one or the other, but by both. We are really justified by faith and love.

How do or should Catholics think about their eternal destiny? Who can have confidence and under what conditions? Again, a personal answer would be helpful.

Catholics believe that, by God's grace, we can enter into friendship with the Lord and receive the forgiveness of our sin. We have absolute certitude that, if we were to die in this state of righteousness, then heaven would be ours. But, we also believe that, because of free will and the concupiscence that comes with our fallen nature, this same person can choose to sin against God so grievously that he destroys the divine life within himself. In other words, he can fall from the state of grace. Because of this radical possibility, there can really be no absolute certitude of final perseverence, or of remaining in that state of righteousness and friendship with God for one's entire life.

Note that this doesn't mean that Catholics live in fear. Such mortal sins are generally rare, and they are usually the end result of a long and steady decline deeper and deeper into sin, as man continues to indulge certain unhealthy desires. People don't just wake up one day and commit mortal sins. The typical Catholic slips and stumbles with everyday vices as he strives to grow closer to the Lord, to be obedient to Him and to discern His will. When the Catholic falls, he simply returns with a contrite heart to the Lord, who forgives him and restores him to his former state of righteousness. When, by God's grace, he succeeds in doing God's will, the divine life within him increases and his attachment to sin decreases, to the point where certain sins no longer have the same luring appeal that they once had.

Salvation is a process, and as long as the Catholic continues this process of striving for the Lord and always seeks His grace, then he can have a "moral certitude" that he will persevere to the end. In other words, he has good reason to believe that he will stand before the Lord one day with his grace and faith intact. This certitude increases as he gains mastery over himself and his fleshly desires and he gains freedom from his attachment to the various sins that used to tempt him and cause him to fall. His hope is that, by God's grace, he will not only be cleansed of all sin, but even all attachment to sin, and he will grow closer and closer to God to the point of achieving eternal bliss with Him in heaven.

Note, the prevailing Catholic virtue is not fear, or guilt. It is hope: hope in the Cross, hope in the resurrection, hope in God's grace to bring us into eternal beatitude with His Son.

What does it mean to prepare oneself for grace?

I guess you could say that preparing oneself for grace takes place through prayer, when you ask God to soften your heart and make it open and docile to grace so that when you receive grace (primarily through the sacraments) it will have true, transformative power in your life. God does not make anyone a saint against his or her will. We must be open to the grace of God, and to me, preparing oneself for grace means praying for this openness.

Of course, the preparation that God makes within us to receive His grace is itself a grace. Grace always has the first initiative.

What does it mean for God to love us if he constantly threatens to take his love away, and even for an individual act? Or conversely, if God's love is reduced to a desire for our salvation whether we're presently in or out of grace, what kind of love is it that suddenly ceases at death and becomes hatred?

We should not understand the effect of sin as God taking His love away, as if He were a petulant child who decided to take his ball and go home because you displeased him in some way. God IS love. Everything He does and every experience of Him is a consequence of this love. He always, always loves us. The problem is, we don’t always love him. We fall from the state of grace (or, to put it another way, we destroy the divine life within us) whenever we fail to love God, not when He fails to love us.

It can only be this way. One cannot commit grave sin and expect to remain in a state of righteousness. It is unjust (and as such, unloving) for sin to go unpunished, or for God to declare righteous a soul that is marred by sin. Note however that even someone at odds with God, or in an unrighteous standing before God, is still loved by God. The very life and being of said person has sprung forth from and is sustained by the love of God. Every grace and blessing and good thing this person has ever received was the fruit of this love. This love will also cause God to shower His grace upon the sinner, to compel him to repent of his sin and return to the Lord. And when the sinner repents and seeks God’s forgiveness, it is the love of God that will justify and sanctify him.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

No One Is Good But God Alone

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk 10:18). Jesus seems to be denying that He is God! Is that really what He is doing?

Of course not! Jesus affirmed His divinity in many places in Scripture. He took upon Himself the divine name (cf. Jn 8:58). By calling God His Father He meant to make Himself equal with God (cf. Jn 5:17-18). The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus after He said to them, “I and the Father are one” (cf. Jn 10:30-31). He is the “son of man” who told John, “Fear not, I am the first and the last” (Rev 1:13, 17).

Jesus certainly made no secret of the fact that He was God and would never deny His divinity. In fact, when Jesus had the opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding as to His nature, He did not do it. During Jesus' trial before the Jewish leaders, the High Priest said to Jesus, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt 26:63). Jesus responded by saying, "You have said so," or as the NIV has it, "Yes, it is as you say" (vs. 64).

What all this means is that there must be some other way to understand this passage. It appears to me that the rich man thought that flattery would get him somewhere with Jesus, that if he addressed Jesus with enough complimentary words then Jesus would declare him righteous. Notice how the rich man ran over and knelt down in front of Jesus, instead of just walking over to Him. And, he began his address by saying, “Good Teacher.”

Of course, Jesus knew what was in the rich man’s heart. Recall the second reading. Jesus is the one who is “able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” As the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say, “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”

So, when Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone,” He is basically saying to the rich man: “If you are going to call me ‘good’, let it be because you acknowledge my divinity, not because you think that by calling me good you can get something from me. I am good because I am God. Period.”

And since Jesus is God, He knew that greed was what kept the rich man from embracing God fully and so was able to tell the man exactly what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The rich man, of course, did not expect such a penetrating analysis of his weaknesses, and so he went away sad. But that’s Jesus for you. When you encounter God you encounter yourself.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, October 07, 2012

"Lepanto" by G. K. Chesterton

On this day, the anniversary of the Christian victory over the Muslim Turks in the Battle of Lepanto, hear this from G. K. Chesteron, his beautiful and rousing poem devoted to that victory:

Our Lady of the Rosary, of Fatima, and Help of Christians ... ora pro nobis

For more on the Battle of Lepanto, go here.

Pax Christi,

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rev 12 and the "Birth Pangs" of Mary

As I understand it, Catholics believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain, but in the Book of Revelation it says that she was in pain. Is there a contradiction here?

The passage you are referring to is Rev 12:1-2. It reads as follows:
1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
Now, we have to remember that the Book of Revelation is full of symbols that have many layers of meaning. The woman from Rev 12 is representative of Mary, Israel, and the Church. Sometimes only one of the three is evoked, other times all three are present. The meaning of symbols in apocalyptic literature is often very fluid in this way.

So, we have a woman experiencing the pangs of child birth. In one sense, this woman is Mary. After all, she gives birth to a son who will rule all the nations (vs. 5) and is the mother of all Christians (vs. 17). But, since Mary did not receive the stain of original sin, she could not have experienced pain when Jesus was born. Therefore, this pain must refer to something else.

I think the pain and anguish we read about here is spiritual, not physical. After all, when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to Simeon, he prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart because of her son (cf. Lk 2:34-35). Jesus’ Passion and Death are the source of this pain. She suffered bitterly at the foot of the Cross as her Son hung there alone and dying.

Of course, like I said, this woman can also represent Israel. In this case, the pangs of childbirth symbolize the great suffering and longing that the Israelites experienced in their exile. Isaiah said Israel was “like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs, when she is near her time” (Isa 26:16-18). The prophet Micah uses this same analogy: “Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon” (Micah 4:10).

As the Church, we experience this same suffering and longing as we await the Second Coming. Paul told the Galatians that he was “in travail” until Christ be formed in them (4:19). According to him, “the whole of creation has been groaning in travail” and “we ourselves … as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).

Pax Christi,
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