Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of the Last Things

Many people are struck with fear when they consider the end of life and the life thereafter. Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – these are indeed sobering topics. And, while a certain element of trepidation in the face of the “last things” is natural and good, as Christians we also face these moments with courage and hope because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Of course, if one does not know Jesus or what His Word teaches about the last things, then it can be difficult to see how anyone could face these things with confidence or security. Let us see what Scripture says so as to come to terms with God’s plan for the end of our earthly lives and life after death.

To Live Is Christ and to Die Is Gain

When God created Adam and Eve, he actually created them for life, not death (cf. Wis 2:21-24). Everything in the Garden was theirs to enjoy, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned them, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). They did not heed the warning, and as a result they and all their descendants suffer death. God’s curse to Adam after his disobedience is plain: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

Death is the separation of the soul from the body and the end of one’s life on earth. It is the effect of original sin (cf. Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22) and fundamental to the human experience (cf. Eccl 9:5; 2 Sam 14:14; Job 14:5; Psa 90:10). When that day comes, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7).

To our great fortune, God became man and conquered death (cf. Rom 5:17; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14-15). To those who love God and their neighbor Jesus offers eternal life (cf. Mt 19:17-21; 25:45-46; Lk 10:25-28; Jn 6:40; 8:51; etc.). Now, this does not mean that Christians no longer die. We remain mortal beings. But, in Christ, death does not have the final say. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8; cf. 1 Thes 4:14).

It is only when Jesus comes again at the end of time that death will be definitively defeated. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). When that day comes, “death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54-55).

The Day of Judgment

According to the “Glossary” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, judgment is “the eternal retribution received by each soul at the moment of death, in accordance with that person’s faith and works.” Judgment is when Christ Himself decides whether one’s soul is fit for heaven or hell.

This definition applies specifically to the Particular Judgment, the judgment that every soul receives immediately upon its death. There is also a Last Judgment that will coincide with the second coming of Christ.

Scripture is clear that the judge of all things is Jesus. “He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; cf. Acts 17:30-31; Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1). When Scripture speaks of judgment, it is almost always in reference to either the punishments and rewards we receive in this life according to our fidelity to God, or to the Last Judgment at the end of time. But, there are indications of the Particular Judgment as well. The clearest passage is from the Letter to the Hebrews:
“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb 9:27-28)
Since no eternal reward can be received without a judgment, the Particular Judgment is also implied in the passages that speak of receiving one’s eternal reward immediately upon death (cf. Lk 16:22; 23:43; Acts 1:25; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23).

As for the Last Judgment, one may wonder why such a judgment is even necessary. Isn’t the Particular Judgment sufficient? Why do we have to be judged twice? There are at least three reasons for the Last Judgment.

First, it is the Last Judgment that will put a definitive end to all evil. All that is good will be separated from all that is evil and then evil will be no more (cf. Isa 11:6-9; Mt 13:49; Gal 1:4; 2 Tim 4:18; Rev 21:3-4). Secondly, this Judgment will serve to vindicate the justice and mercy of God. The works of every person will be made known to all (cf. Mt 10:26; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 3:13; 4:5). In this way, we will see why some merited heaven and others hell. We will finally come to understand why and how God’s plan unfolded in the life of every human being and of all creation.

Finally, since the Judgment occurs after the Resurrection of the Body – when the human body of every person will come back to life – it serves the purpose of allowing us to experience heaven or hell as complete human persons. The righteous will receive glorified bodies of perfect strength and immortality, and the unrighteous will receive bodies that will add physical pain to their spiritual torments (cf. Jn 5:29).

Let Heaven Rejoice and Earth Be Glad

As we have already seen in our discussion of death, if we die with and in Christ then we will live with Him forever. This eternal life with God is what we refer to as “heaven.” Scripture does not tell us a great deal about heaven. After all, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). But, there are a few things that we can know about it.

Once Adam and Eve committed the original sin, heaven was closed to man, as symbolized by their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the angel that was placed to guard the way to the Tree of Life (cf. Gen 3:23-24). As a result, all souls went to Hades (or “Sheol” in Hebrew) where they experienced comfort or torment depending on how they lived (cf. Job 21:13; Psa 9:17; 89:48; Isa 38:10; Ezek 31:16; Lk 16:22-23). When Jesus died, He descended into this “prison” (1 Pet 3:19) with “bars” (Job 17:16), preached the gospel to the righteous souls (cf. 1 Pet 3:19; 4:6) and led them out of Hades into heaven. “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives’” (Eph 4:8).

This new abode of the righteous, where no unclean thing shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27; Heb 12:14), is now the promise and the hope of every Christian. “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:2).

Why? For one, there are “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). Heaven is a place of great rewards (cf. Mk 9:41; Lk 6:23; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Gal 6:9; 1 Pet 1:4) where we will reign with God in authority (cf. Dan 7:27; Lk 19:17-19; 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:21; 22:5) and rest from this world’s many labors (cf. Heb 4:11; Rev 14:13). Heaven is a wedding feast where the saints will eat and drink with the Lord forever (cf. Mt 8:11; 25:1-13; Lk 22:30; Rev 19:7-9).

As amazing as all of this is, the greatest joy of heaven will come from being with God and worshipping before His unmediated presence (cf. Psa 16:11). The angels already behold the face of the Father in heaven (cf. Mt 18:10). When we enter heaven, we too will be given eyes to see God in all of His great power and glory. “When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2; cf. Psa 17:15; Mt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12). Job’s heart fainted within him at the thought of such a vision! (cf. Job 19:25-27)

When we behold this vision, worshipping the Lord will be irresistible. Scripture reveals heaven as a place of perpetual worship of our Trinitarian God (cf. Rev 4:9-11; 5:8, 12-14; 7:11-12). “Day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4:8).

The Unquenchable Fire

Of course, if a person does not die in righteous standing before God, his soul cannot experience eternal friendship and blessedness with God. Scripture is clear that those who die with mortal sin on their soul will go to hell (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8). Hell is also the abode of Satan and his demons, who were cast out of heaven after their revolt against God (cf. Job 4:18; Lk 10:18; 2 Pet 2:4; Rev 12:7-9).

This place or state of existence is given many names. It is called “a burning place” (Isa 30:33), “the devouring fire” with “everlasting burnings” (Isa 33:14), “the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43; cf. Mt 3:12; Mk 9:48), “the furnace of fire” (Mt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8; 25:41; cf. Jude 1:7), “the hell of fire” (Mt 18:9), and the lake of fire and brimstone (cf. Rev 19:20; 20:10, 15; 21:8).

It is also called “the outer darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and “the nether gloom” (cf. 2 Pet 2:4, 17; Jude 1:6, 13). It is a “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:1-2; 11:7) of “eternal punishment” (Mt 25:46), destruction (cf. Mt 7:13; 10:28; 2 Thes 1:9; Jude 1:10), torment and anguish (cf. Lk 16:23-25, 28) where the worm does not die (cf. Mk 9:48) and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30). Since hell cannot be a place of both fire (which produces light) and darkness (the absence of light) these descriptions are probably metaphorical. But they do communicate unquestionably that hell is a place of tremendous pain.

Of course, the greatest pain will come not from the fire or the darkness or the gnashing of teeth but from the reality that the soul is eternally devoid of the Lord. In hell God’s presence is lost forever. As Paul writes, “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9). How hopeless is life without God!

Conclusion

With this quick survey of the last things in Scripture, an important theme comes to the fore: The “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31; cf. Ezek 13:5; Isa 2:12; Lk 17:30; 1 Thes 5:2; Philem 1:6) is harrowing or hopeful depending on the state of one’s relationship with Him when He comes. Sinners will prefer death by an avalanche of mountains and rocks over the wrath of God (cf. Rev 6:15-17), whereas the saints will be granted access to the Tree of Life once closed to man (cf. Rev 22:14) and to “the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of Praying to the Saints


I have written about and defended the practice of praying to the saints many times in the past. What I am attempting to do here is take all of that information, all of those many arguments and Scripture passages, and bring them together into one comprehensive defense of the practice of praying to the saints. This is the one-stop shop, so to speak.

While being comprehensive, I have also attempted to restrict myself to around 2,000 words so that this post does not become to unwieldy. Of course, I have also tried to soak this tract in as much Scripture as possible. I hope you find this helpful.

Introduction

To non-Catholic Christians, there aren’t very many religious practices as peculiar as praying to the saints. “Shouldn’t we only be praying to God?” “What could a dead person possibly do for us?” Even though, from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have been praying to the virtuous men and women who have gone before us, it is still important for us to consider why this is a worthwhile practice and to see if it can be validated by the Bible. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people pray to the saints or how long they’ve been doing it if God Himself does not approve!

Well then, let’s break open the Word and see if it confirms or denies the practice of praying to the saints.

The Saints: Alive in Christ

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
When you live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body” then you will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if you die in righteousness than you will live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long, long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof enough that the saints are very much alive. At any rate, how could Samuel appear to Saul (cf. 1 Sam 28:7-20), or Jeremiah appear to the Jews preparing for battle (cf. 2 Macc 15:12-16), or Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (cf. Mt 17:1-3) if the souls of the just do not live on after death? In Christ, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

Not only does their union with Christ ensure their eternal life, it also maintains their membership in the Body of Christ. God’s “plan for the fullness of time” – which has already been realized in the lives of the saints – is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). In Christ, we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). By holding fast to the Head the whole Body is joined and nourished and knit together (cf. Eph 2:20-21; 4:15-16; Col 2:18-19).

Members of the Body Intercede for One Another

To “intercede” for someone is to take that person’s need or petition to God. When you ask a friend to pray for you, you are asking for your friend’s intercession. Christians ask people to pray for them all the time, and they do it because they believe that prayer is powerful. The more people who are praying for you, the better!

This sort of intercession is a common practice in Scripture. For example, Moses often prayed on behalf of the people, that God would refrain from inflicting His just anger upon them (cf. Exo 32:11-14, 30-34; 34:9; Num 14:17-20; 21:7-9). Paul constantly implored the various churches to pray for him, his ministry, and those who were with him proclaiming the gospel (cf. Rom 15:30; Eph 6:19; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thes 5:25; 2 Thes 3:1; Heb 13:18). The instances are even more numerous of Paul and the other Apostles and members of the Body of Christ praying for each other (cf. Acts 8:15; 9:40; 28:8; 2 Cor 9:14; 13:9; Phil 1:9, 19; Col 1:3, 9; 2 Thes 1:11; Pmn 1:22; 3 Jn 1:2).

This essential bond of love and unity that compels us to seek the prayer of others and to pray for one another really typifies what membership in the Body of Christ is all about. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1; cf. Mt 5:44; Eph 6:18; Jas 5:16). Since, as we have seen, the saints in heaven are alive and members of the Body, they must also be seen as participating in this worthwhile act of intercession.

The Saints: Committed to Us and Our Needs

What we find in Scripture is that the saints in heaven do in fact play their part. Far from being disinterested in human affairs now that they have achieved perfect unity with God, the saints show themselves to be keenly involved in and aware of what happens to the Body of Christ on earth.

Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). Something about beholding the “Beatific Vision” (the vision of God in all His glory) makes the angels aware of the mistreatment of God’s children. Jesus also told us that there is joy among the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents (cf. Lk 15:7, 10). We are “a spectacle” to them (1 Cor 4:9). The virtuous men and women who have gone before us make up “a great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

The Saints: First Responders

Not only are the saints aware of us and our needs, the love that fills their hearts also compels them to do something about it! In the Book of Job, we see an angel asking the Lord to deliver man from death and return him to his youthful vigor (cf. 33:23-26). The Lord Himself told Jeremiah about how Moses and Samuel (who were long since dead) pleaded with Him on behalf of the people (cf. Jer 15:1). Zechariah spoke of an angel who lamented to the Lord that He had yet to show mercy to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (cf. Zech 1:12). The martyrs in heaven cry out to God to judge and seek vengeance upon those who take the lives of God’s faithful people (cf. Rev 6:9-11). In heaven, the angels and saints offer our prayers to God like incense (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

What all of this proves is that it is in fact possible for a person to communicate his needs to the saints, and for the saints to intercede for us, to take those needs to God. When you tell a fellow Christian about a need that you have and you ask them to take that need to God, this is essentially no different than what Catholics do when we pray to the saints. The saints too are our fellow Christians, and as you can see, they care greatly about our needs.

Cry Out to the Heavens

You might still be wondering: If all of this is true – if you really can pray to the saints – how come we don’t see anyone doing this in the Bible? The example of David is illustrative here.

In the Book of Psalms, we read that David cried out in prayer, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word!” (103:20). And again: "Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (103:21). And again: “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” (148:2). David was a man after God's own heart, yet he wasn't afraid to cry out to the hosts of heaven. If David can implore the angels and saints, than so can you.

The Prayers of the Righteous Are Powerful

James tells us in his letter, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16). Or, to put it another way, “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). No one is more righteous than a saint in heaven! We must also consider that the saints come from almost every walk of life you can imagine. They took up every occupation, spoke every language, lived out every vocation, and hailed from every nation. They know what it’s like to be us and to have the needs that are unique to our situation in life.

And so, because they are perfectly righteous and they understand the difficulties of this world for every man, the saints can pray perfect prayers on our behalf. Who wouldn't want that! Once all the evidence is considered, the question at hand seems to be not so much “Should you pray to the saints?” but instead, “How could you not?”

Could This Be Idol Worship?

Even still you may have some lingering doubts. It can be difficult to get used to praying to anyone other than God. It might even feel like idolatry to do such a thing. But, keep in mind: a Catholic's intentions when he prays to God are different from his intentions when he prays to the saints.

Praying to the saints is not idolatry for the simple fact that Catholics do not worship the saints, nor do we intend our prayers to them to be an act of worship. When we pray to God, it is an act of worship because to pray to God is to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things, we are his humble creatures, and we depend on Him for all things.

However, when we pray to the saints, it is simply to invoke their intercession. We want to communicate our needs to the saints because, as we've already seen, we know that they understand the unique fears and anxieties that we face and we know that they can make a perfect entreaty to the Lord for us. No faithful Catholic would ever turn the saints into gods, or try to derive secret or hidden knowledge from them, or really enter into any type of false worship of the saints. Catholics consider themselves bound by Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching of the Church to worship God and Him alone.

Isn’t Jesus the One Mediator?

You may be also wondering how praying to the saints would square with Paul's reminder that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5-6). The key here is to understand what Paul means by "mediator."

First, here is the passage in question:
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.
Now, a mediator is someone who works between two estranged parties to bring them to agreement. Paul basically tells us in vs. 6 that this is what he has in mind when he refers to Jesus as the one who “gave himself as a ransom for all.” God and mankind are the two estranged parties, and Jesus brought them together again by “paying the ransom,” by dying for us.

The saints don’t compete with this one mediator because in no way do they attempt to do what He did. The saints don’t pay the price for all man’s sin. Jesus Christ is the one who “tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14), not the saints.

Praying to the Saints Gives Glory to God

This discussion of what Jesus has done for us brings us to a final point: Ultimately, praying to the saints is all about Jesus. He is the one who granted them victory over death. He is the Head that unites all the members of the Body together. He is the one who hears the prayers of the saints – both those on earth and in heaven – and answers them faithfully. He is the reason why we have any hope of being where the saints are: alive with God forever.

And so, we Catholics say: Give glory to God! Pray to the saints!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 11, 2013

In the Wake of the Pope's Resignation, Some Tools to Help You Defend the Papacy

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will be resigning from the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter (see the Declaratio). On Feb. 28, the See of Rome, the See of Peter, will be vacant and a conclave will have to be convoked to elect the next Pope of the Catholic Church.

The media firestorm has already begun. Liberals are already hoping that the next pope will finally allow contraception and women priests. Protestants are wondering why the Church needs a pope at all. The papal office is under fire and needs to be defended. I'm up to the task ... are you?

If you are in need of some resources, here are the blog posts I have written over the years in defense of the authority of the Pope:

If anyone has any questions, just let me know.

VIVA IL PAPA!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Is Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time is the period of the liturgical year that falls between Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. Thus, having just concluded the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are now in Ordinary Time.

Often, when we hear the word “ordinary” we think of something that is mundane, or banal, or dull. But, we should not think of this time in such a way.

The word “ordinary” comes from the Latin word ordinarius, which means "customary, regular, usual, orderly." This time is called ordinary because the Sundays that fall within it are numbered and succeed in an orderly fashion.

Christmas and Easter, with their climactic joy and celebration, are the great mountain peaks of the liturgical year. Ordinary Time, then, is the vast verdant meadows that lie between. As Christians we are called now to descend these peaks and, like sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd, pasture and graze in these meadows with Christ as He feeds us with His Word and His Eucharist. This makes the color green, with its connotations of life and growth, very appropriate.

Without a great liturgical feast to prepare for or celebrate, the Sunday liturgy becomes all the more important during Ordinary Time. According to The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, the days of Ordinary Time, especially the Sundays, "are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects" (no. 43).

If you are not in the habit of making the most out of your Sunday, now is the time. Remember, God did not say to keep holy the Lord’s “hour” or the Lord’s “45-minutes” (if the homily happens to be short). We are called to keep holy the Lord’s day.

Perhaps before the family heads off to church, someone (ideally the father) could read the readings for the day aloud and everyone could discuss their meaning. Or, on the ride home from church, the parents could ask the children if they remember what was mentioned in the first reading, or what the pastor talked about in his homily.

When you get home, don’t immediately turn on the TV or hop on the internet. Take a trip to the library and have everyone check out a book. Take a nap. Exercise. Write in a journal. Play outside. Visit a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while. Do something nice for someone else. PRAY! Worshiping the Lord, doing good works, and rejuvenating yourself is really what Sunday is all about.

For more on Ordinary Time, see the following: Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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 ...

ONLINE:

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.

IN PRINT:

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,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic
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