Category Archives: Christology

Dec 25 – The Incarnation & The Theological Virtues

Theological-Virtues

Founding Mothers & Fathers of the United States were trained in Virtues, literally, as children.  It was foundational to their education.  See books by Bill Bennett.  The Virtues led and formed the framework in their alphabetical training, reading, and writing.  It does not bode well, this practice & these virtues have fallen out of practice/ fashion in their creation, imho.

In Christian philosophy, theological virtues are the character qualities associated with salvation. The three theological virtues are:

  • Faith – steadfastness in belief.
  • Hope – expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up.
  • Love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.

They occur in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:13.

In Catholic theology, it is held that these virtues differ from the Cardinal Virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being “infused”—through Divine grace—into the person.

The theological virtues are so named because the object of these virtues is the divine being (theos). Other virtues have vice at their extremes, and are only virtues when they are maintained between these extremes. In the case of the Theological Virtues, they do not contribute to vice at the positive extreme; that is, there is no vice in having an unlimited amount of faith, hope, or love, when God is the object of that virtue.  (Ed. There is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” with the Theological Virtues, as their ultimate aim is God, Himself.)

More than one vice can be the opposite of each theological virtue:

  • Lack of faith may give place to incredulity (as in atheism and agnosticism), blasphemy or apostasy.
  • Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism.
  • Lack of love may give place to hatred, wrath or indifference.

Symbolism:

Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:

Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle
Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm
Charity – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit

john_sica
-by Br John Sica, OP

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fittingness of the Incarnation in several reasons, including how it raises our minds and hearts to an increase in faith, hope, and charity. Here I highlight a few of these reasons with respect to the Nativity of Christ and its manifestation.

1. Faith.

Faith, as St. Thomas defines it, is the habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the will assent to what is non-apparent. Faith rests in God as First Truth Speaking. St. Thomas says that faith “is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks.” In Jesus Christ, we literally hear God’s own words, from His own mouth. St. Augustine says that, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”

But note that Jesus became an object of faith before He began His public ministry. Indeed, Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and proclaims Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). St. Thomas says that “the Magi were the ‘first-fruits of the Gentiles,’ who were to believe in Christ.” Simeon’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the Magi, who sought Him in response to the sign of the star and who did Him homage.

2. Hope.

Consider what hope is. The theological virtue of hope relies firmly on God for what is necessary for eternal life. In hope, our human will clings to the goodness of God for us. Augustine says, “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” Why should the Incarnation correspond to hope, as St. Augustine suggests? In hope, we formally depend on God’s merciful omnipotence: that He is omnipotent shows us that He can save us, and that He is merciful—as shown by the Incarnation—shows us that He wants to.

In the Incarnation, God pulls out all the stops. One Dominican commentator has noted that “no greater way is intelligible by which God could communicate Himself to the creature” than by uniting human nature to His Person. Seeing the Christ child in the manger, we know that God took the most extreme means to save us from sin, and we have confidence that He will continue to offer us the means to be rescued from our sin and given sanctifying grace.

3. Love.

While hope clings to God as good for us, charity clings to God as good in Himself. The divine goodness is what primarily motivates us to charity. But secondarily, St. Thomas explains, it is aimed at “other reasons that inspire us with love for Him, or which make it our duty to love Him,” and these “are secondary and result from the first.” The Incarnation is the greatest of these secondary reasons. The history of Christ’s Nativity and infancy counts powerfully towards this. Seeing that Christ became a weak and helpless infant becomes, for us, a motive to love in return. As Augustine said, “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”

Love breaks forth in acts of joy and peace. We experience joy in the possession of the good and peace when we are at concord, even within ourselves. At the Nativity the angels announce good news of a “great joy” (Lk 2:10), and their hymn of praise wishes “peace” among men of good will (Lk 2:14). All of this is because the Savior is born in the city of David, whose Nativity incites us to the acts and effects of love.”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 1 – Mater Dei

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-Theotokos, “God-bearer”, icon, 16th century, Moses before the burning bush, notice the Christ seated on His mother’s lap who IS the burning bush of the OT before whom Moses kneels & removes his sandals.

In the few meaningful, thoughtful exchanges I have had with Muslims & Jews regarding the Christian belief, once in Kuwait, where a small Kuwaiti man in local attire held my hand as we walked back to his camera shop, men holding hands and walking is not a sign of erotic attraction but purely of friendship, photos of US Presidents &  Saudi kings walking hand-in-hand, are plenty & current, and then with a rabbi in Chicago, the objection is NOT the Resurrection!  A man rising from the dead, no problem!!!  It is the Incarnation.  That God would have to take a shit, Muslim objection.  Let alone suffer horribly?  Meekly?  At the hands of his enemies?  God?  Is 55:8-9.  Or, a Perfect Man?  Not within the Jewish tradition.  David, the best of Jewish heroes, was a bastard!  Bathsheba was just the cherry on parfait.  Apologies for any interpreted, unintended, vulgar pun.  Read your OT.


-by Br Alan Piper, OP

“Of all the traditional titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary—e.g., “Tower of David,” “Gate of Heaven,” “Queen of Angels”—perhaps the most impressive is “Mother of God.” The transcendent omnipotence of divinity is entrusted to the gentle intimacy of maternity, even to a certain unassuming and gentle young woman. It’s not, of course, that Mary was the source of God as such (the opposite is the case). The meaning of “Mother of God” is that the person to whom she gave birth in human flesh, whom she nursed and raised, was and is God.

But the maternity of Mary is real only if Jesus is also really human, and only if he received his humanity from her. The early Church had to withstand the mistaken idea that God’s dignity cannot allow that the Word’s embodiment and suffering be more than a mere appearance. St. John writes, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 1:7). In opposition to this error stands the Mother of God. One could apply the phrase “a body you have prepared for me” (Ps 40:6) both to the immaculate Mary and to the body that she was prepared to provide for Jesus. She is the only human being to whom Jesus had an immediate family tie. And she is the only one to whom he bore a true family resemblance. In the face of Mary we perceive something that will be reproduced in the embodied God.

There are a few texts that seem to diminish the importance of Mary’s motherhood but actually further disclose it. Once, when a woman from the crowd cried out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you!,” He corrected her, saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). The wonderful irony is that no one was more attentive to that word and more obedient to it than the mother of Jesus. What is perhaps her most distinctive utterance comes at the start of her motherhood: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—”be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). In Mary’s obedience and in her meditation on the word, we begin to see the deeper meaning of her familial relation to Jesus: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21).

Called to be the mother of the Son, Mary came to share by grace in the life of the so-called divine family that is the Trinity. At the scene of the Incarnation, Mary is surrounded by the Holy Trinity: “The Lord is with you,” which arguably refers to the Father; “you will bear the Son of the Most High”; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Lk 1:28, 32, 35). The Son became man in her, and in the Son Mary came to share by grace in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). This is the purpose of the Son’s coming: “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Here Mary’s motherhood is interwoven with her daughtership.

As daughter of God, Mary is the pattern of our own glorification. As mother of God, she is also mother of her Son’s body, the Church. She intercedes for us and continues to give birth to Him in our hearts. This is part of the message of today’s feast. The Church repeats to us what Jesus said to John: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27).”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 26 – Jesus, welcome to our nightmare!!! Exactly.

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-Andrei Rublev, Nativity, 15th century (please click on the image for greater detail)

luke hoyt

-by Br Luke Hoyt, OP

“St. Stephen’s memorial is always the day after Christmas. But somehow, it always surprises me. We’ve only just arrived at the cozy stable with the little baby under the shining stars, and now we have to commemorate the Church’s first martyr, a guy who was stoned to death?

Sometimes I feel a similar surprise when I see traditional iconographic depictions of the Nativity. I mean, I know that “Away in the Manger” is a little saccharine. But some of these icon Nativity scenes make it look like Jesus was born in a haunted graveyard. In his swaddling clothes, Jesus looks like a little mummy child. Not only is Mary not holding her baby – she’s not even looking at him. Instead of a stable with a dusting of snow on the roof, they’re in a cave – a cave which looks like some rent in the earth which reveals the realm of Hades. And where is Joseph? He’s huddled in a corner with a serious expression on his face, being addressed by some creepy old guy – who happens to be the devil.

After the kinds of Nativity scenes that many of us are used to, this is like a Christmas-themed nightmare.

The question arises, then: what is the Church’s Tradition saying to us in all of this, in its artistic tradition and its liturgical calendar?

It’s saying that Christmas is not a holiday for the content of the world.

Jesus was not born in a secret oasis, removed from the world’s darkness and pain. He was born in that battleground which is our earthly existence, in this world which is indeed something of a haunted graveyard.

We sometimes suppose that the holidays (and perhaps especially Christmas) are events which only happy people with lots of friends and family are entitled to enjoy. And maybe that is the case with some holidays. But it’s not the case with Christmas.

Christmas is a holiday for the broken of the world. It is a holiday for those who feel the darkness and loneliness of the cave; for those who experience, with St. Joseph, the temptations of the Evil One, struggling to maintain faith in the Christian mystery; for those who, like Jesus in his swaddling burial clothes, feel the weight of their feeble mortality; for those who, like St. Stephen, experience the hatred of the world.

Each Christmas, to all the broken and lonely people in the world, Jesus says: this one’s for you.”

Mt 11:5-6

Paolo_Uccello_-_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_WGA23196

-Paolo Uccello, 1435 (please click on the image for greater detail)

St Stephen Martyr, Protomartyr of Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners!

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Jesus Christ: True Masculinity

vitruvian-man

-“Vitruvian Man”, Michelangelo, 1490 AD, pen and ink with wash over metalpoint on paper, 34.4 cm × 25.5 cm (13.5 in × 10.0 in), accompanied by notes based on the work of the architect Vitruvius, ~75-15 BC. It is kept in the Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe of the Gallerie dell’Accademia, in Venice, Italy, under reference 228. Like most works on paper, it is displayed to the public only occasionally.


-by Fr James Brent, OP & Fr. Benedict Croell, OP.  Fr. James Brent OP is an assistant professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.  Fr. Benedict Croell OP is the director of vocations for the Eastern Province Dominicans. Both live with their community of almost 90 friars at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.” -Psalm 133

“Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate example of the vocation of a man. He reveals in Himself what men were meant to be and who men are called to be even still today.

Today many men find themselves confused about what it means to be a man. Various philosophies and movements in our society have undermined once widely received standards of true masculinity. For example, it was once widely understood that a man was supposed to protect his wife and his children. But today it is common to see men escorting their pregnant girlfriends into abortion clinics. Once upon a time, it was widely understood that sexual intimacy with a woman was the privilege that comes with making a life-long commitment to her in marriage, but today the widespread use of pornography has all but wiped out any sense of intimacy in human sexuality.

Furthermore, the shifting demands of feminist ideology have sent mixed messages to men about how they are to act around women. Is the man supposed to pursue the woman in a romantic relationship, or is he to be pursued? Is he supposed to pay for her dinner as a sign of gentlemanly respect? or is he to let her to pay in acknowledgement of her self-sufficiency as a woman? These and a host of other examples are the everyday confusions confronting men.

There are two extremes at work in our society. At one extreme we find a kind of hypersensitive male: insecure, indecisive, excessively preoccupied with emotions and the way he looks. At the other extreme, we find a kind of machismo male: egotistical, emotionally hard, indifferent to others, and ready to use women for his own pleasure.

How are men today to find their way through this disorientation about the meaning of masculinity?

Jesus Christ is the way. Jesus stands as the point of balance between these two extremes. He is gentle but firm, He is full of strength and power, but places that strength and power at the service of all, including women. He speaks with women and interacts with women, always telling the truth and always affirming their dignity and worth. Even though He is filled with the power to cast out demons, to heal and to walk on water, He is meek and humble of heart. He radiates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, purity, and self control. He even lays down his life on the cross, crucified in weakness (2 Cor. 13:14). He emptied himself, and took the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). In all of these ways, Jesus shows us what true masculinity is.

All men are called to imitate Him, but this is not easy. In fact it is impossible to do this by our natural strength. True masculinity is too complex and the balance it requires is too difficult to determine. No man could possibly imitate by his own natural strength the masculinity of Jesus. But the good news is that Jesus – now risen from the dead – offers to men everywhere a share in His own true masculinity. The true masculinity of Jesus is a gift He offers to us by grace. The best way for men to live in our complex world is to turn to Jesus and to ask Him for this grace. Let us ask the Lord in prayer, to imprint upon our souls through the grace of the Holy Spirit a living share in the true masculinity of Jesus.

Sometimes people get the impression that religious life or priestly vocation is emasculating.  After all, how can a man, who gives up a salary earning job, gives up a wife, and makes a vow/promise of obedience, truly become a man?

Religious life seems to take away three things that men often use to show off their masculinity: big money, beautiful wife, and personal independence. But it is precisely here that religious life and priestly vocation shows it’s power to make a man to be a man. For true masculinity does not lie merely in big money, a beautiful wife and personal independence. And the vows of poverty,  and/or promises of celibacy and obedience remove from a man’s life the illusory possibility of finding his masculinity in these things.

A man who is called to religious life or priestly vocation is called to identify with Jesus in a profound way, and by identifying with Jesus, he finds the meaning of true masculinity.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 2 – The September Massacres & The Authority of Jesus Christ

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joachimkenneyop
-by Br Joachim Kenney, OP

“For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Luke 4:36). Jesus stupefies the people of Capernaum in the Gospel today by the authority with which He speaks, an authority that even drives out demons by a simple command. It’s interesting to consider that the response of the people to Jesus’ authority was one of wonder and respect. It’s questionable whether He would get the same response today.

Our reaction to authority is often one of opposition. The reluctance to accept authority has long been embedded deep in man’s soul.

However, in the last few hundred years with the advent of liberalism and its stress on individual autonomy, this reluctance has come to be embraced by society at large as something good.

A cruel and bloody manifestation of this occurred on this day in 1792 in Paris when over 200 Catholic priests were executed in the course of the September Massacres of the French Revolution.

While there are not any executions of clergy going on in the West today, people, even many of those professing to be Catholic, still ignore the authority of the teachings of Christ’s Church.

When they think of the Church, they often think of an institution seeking to control the lives of its members by imposing lots of arbitrary rules on them. “Why doesn’t the Church mind its own business?” they ask. Docility can be fostered, I think, by getting an accurate understanding of the nature of authority.  (Ed. note:  it is this editor’s oh so humble opinion, the crowds recognized the Lord’s authority due to His holiness of life, not merely to his powers over demons, or other objects.  We are all aware of those who possess great power and wealth.  However, our obeisance, not withstanding sycophants, is given only to those who blow us away with their holiness of life.)

The basis of God’s authority – and hence of the Church to whom He has delegated this authority – is that He created the universe and sustains it in existence at every moment.  (If God stopped thinking about creation, it would vanish, classical catechesis goes.)

All things participate in His existence. He is the source of all and has made each thing, including human nature, according to some plan or idea that He has of that thing. “In wisdom you have made them all,” the Psalm 104:24 says.

God has instilled a marvelous order in creation, and He knows every one of His creatures better and more intimately than we know ourselves.

Just as an ENGINEER 🙂 can explain how to use a design of his in a way that will achieve the purpose for which he made it, so in a far more magnificent way, God explains to man through the teaching of the Church how to achieve the purpose for which man is made – everlasting happiness with God in heaven.

It is out of concern for the flourishing of her children that the Church teaches us to avoid sin and grow in virtue. The power of Christ’s grace, dispensed through the sacraments that He instituted, makes this possible. Christ vested the Church with His authority. It is only by entrusting ourselves to her care that our struggles with our own demons can be won.”

AMEN!!!!!!

Love,
Matthew

What does it mean to be “Alive!”?

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP (Br Thomas graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in Physics before joining the order.)

“As someone who has made it far enough into your day to turn on your computer and start reading this blog post, I doubt that you are harboring many doubts about whether or not you are alive, let alone whether life exists at all. It might surprise you to know that this exact worry was aired in a recent op-ed by Ferris Jabr, an editor for Scientific American. He boldly claims that nothing is truly alive and, what’s more, that this knowledge is “liberating.”

On the surface, life seems like one of the most obvious parts of nature to understand. The squirrel runs, the rock doesn’t. The seed sprouts and grows into a full blown tree, the log just sits there. Some things move and grow and reproduce of their own accord, other things need a good shove to get them going. The difficulty, as always, is in the details. Growing crystals, self-replicating molecules and parasitic viruses seem to mimic some of the powers we attribute to life, and provide counter-examples that make the definition of life more difficult for biologists to nail down.

Jabr’s revelation is that we need not be worried about the definition of life, because life is merely a mental construct anyways—there is nothing there to define. He argues that because there is no identifiable property or set of properties that scientists have been able to agree upon as the defining aspect of life, it simply is not there. Life is a “pure concept” that can be useful at times, but can just as easily be set aside. Everything that exists is really just a particular arrangement of fundamental particles, and we can find some of the features of life at many different levels of these arrangements from chemicals to whole biospheres. Life just becomes a useful way of labelling certain kinds of complexity we encounter in the real world and, unbound by a hard and fast definition, we are free to use it as we see fit.

Needless to say, there are a whole host of objections to Jabr’s proposal—scientific, philosophical, and theological. In fact, it’s a bit hard to decide where exactly to begin. One could argue for a robust definition of life as an internal principle of movement, object to Jabr’s implicit reductionism that assumes we can simply explain everything as collections of molecules, or present the whole host of ethical and legal ramifications to trivializing the concept of life.

Here, I simply want to link Jabr’s argument to a number of other skeptical arguments that seek to overturn common sense ideas in the name of science—and argue we’re better off for it. It’s an undeniable fact that modern science, particularly since the beginning of the twentieth century, has revealed that the world we live in is more complicated, wonderful, and at times bizarre than people ever expected. Nevertheless, the fact that we now take for granted almost unimaginable concepts like wave-particle duality and curved spacetime does not mean that the purpose or goal of science is to come up with weird ideas and to overturn our natural expectations. Scientific investigation of the very large and the very small did not reveal that our everyday assumptions completely fail. It clarified the bounds in which our everyday assumptions actually work, namely everyday applications.

Skeptics like to claim that a single difficult case can invalidate our preconceived notions, no matter how much previous experience and reasoning they are based on. Yet our understanding of the world and of nature, properly considered, need not be some well-constructed but fragile house of cards that cannot bear even the slightest jostle. Aristotle had a helpfully robust view of what it meant for something to be natural, namely that it happened “always or for the most part.” This is not simply a premodern “fudge factor,” but a deep insight into the fact that nature is at once usually reliable and a bit unpredictable, and this particular balance of consistency and fallibility allows for the beautiful order amongst all of its pieces.

While Aristotle applied the principle to understanding natural processes, in an analogous way we can apply it to our definitions and reasoning about those processes. Life is “always or for the most part” easily identifiable. The fact that there are inanimate substances that seem to mimic aspects of life need not destroy our confidence in the fact that there really is a difference between living and non-living. We should not look at difficult cases with fear for the possibility of life, but embrace them as a fascinating opportunity to work out the bounds of our understanding of life.

A full response to Jabr and his argument would need to actually address his concerns about the definition of life and the difficult cases he brings up. While I think just such a response is possible, it is worth noting that the skeptical perspective—that a few counter examples is all it takes to overturn consistent and well supported ideas about nature—has a tendency to create worries no one ever really had, and to solve them in a way no one really appreciates. A healthy view of natural philosophy can accept the corrective and enlightening role of difficult cases without fearing that it will lose the very foundation it was built upon in the process.”

800px-Christ_Pantokrator,_Cathedral_of_Cefalù,_Sicily

Rev 22:13

Love,
Matthew

You can’t pay for that!!! aka, Taste & See!!!

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Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1634, oil on canvas, 158 cm (62.2 in) x 117 cm (46.1 in), Hermitage Museum, Russia

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-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

““Excuse me, sir. You’re not going to be able to pay for that.” His words flew like a dart. I was startled. My thoughts raced: “Is he talking to me?” I stood paralyzed. “It must be me.” My heart sunk. “Sir, I don’t think you make enough money to purchase that.” The second time was harsher. Embarrassed blood flushed my face. I lowered my gaze and mumbled something apologetic as my feet carried me away to anywhere else.

A few moments earlier, I had been enraptured by beauty. My friend and I had just entered the art gallery, and the first painting captivated me: Rembrandt’s Descent from the Cross. I delighted in its mastery and especially its use of light, and I wanted to share this wonder with my friend. But as I began to point out Rembrandt’s technique, my finger went too far. I triggered the security guard sitting behind me, and he intervened swiftly and bluntly.

As we hurried away from the scene of my embarrassment, a part of me became defensive. My finger wasn’t that close. If he only knew me, he would know that I’m not the type of person who goes around touching paintings. What kind of person did he think I was? I’m a respectable art gallery-goer.

But something more disturbed me. I had felt a certain familiarity with the painting—that wasn’t a painting of just anything or anyone; that was my Savior, my brother, that was the moment of my redemption. Yet the guard’s words paid no regard to this. It was as if I were a stranger looking at an antique artifact. Sure, some might see a priceless, untouchable masterpiece, but I saw a family portrait.

Then my thoughts came to a compromise. On one hand, I’ll grant to the guard that I could never pay for that: whether the painting or its subject. In fact, the painting shows just how much He paid for me, for all of us. I can’t explain why Jesus would make such a down payment for us, but I’m glad He did.

But on the other hand, I will not apologize for getting too close to Jesus. Sure, keep your fancy painting in mint condition, but I’ll take my Jesus, who for our sake, took on our brokenness. He handed himself over to us, and we scourged and crucified him. He who knew no sin became sin—and even now he bears the glorious marks of his sorrowful passion.

My Jesus is touchable. Just recall the dinner-party with the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The Pharisee murmured to himself: “does not Jesus know who is touching him? If he were a prophet, he would know that she is a sinner.” Yes, Jesus knows who touches him. He knows my unfaithfulness, my brokenness, my slowness to love, my insecurities, my sins.

But he is more than a prophet—he is a savior. He not only knows my sins, but takes them on himself, nailing them to the cross. And now he lavishes us with forgiveness and healing, pouring out mercy in the confessional.

This is a Savior who comes to us even today in a piece of once-bread and a sip of once-wine, inviting us not just to touch, but to taste, to take and eat, to be united to his very Body and Blood.

So next time I go to the art museum, I will mind the boundaries with refined etiquette. But the next time Jesus comes to me in the Eucharist, may my soul forget all its boundaries. O gates, lift high your heads; grow higher, ancient door. Let him enter, the king of glory!”

Blessed & fruitful Easter!

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord & The Heresy of Adoptionism

Baptism-of-Christ-xx-Francesco-Alban
-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.

athanasius murphy

-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?

It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.

But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.

Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.

The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 27 – St Cyril of Alexandria, (376-444), Patriarch of Alexandria, Father & Doctor of the Church, Pillar & Defender of the Faith, A Man’s Man of Christian Love

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After taking a look at the life of St. Cyril, it’s easy to see him as a man who always came into a situation with both barrels blazing. Seriously, Cyril took no prisoners.

Cyril was born at Alexandria, Egypt. He was nephew of the patriarch of that city, Theophilus. Cyril received a classical and theological education at Alexandria and was ordained by his uncle.  He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch of Alexandria on Theophilus’ death in 412.  Before Cyril became Patriarch, he had to survive a riot that ensued due to a rivalry for the Patriarchy with his rival, Timotheus.  Thus, Cyril followed his uncle in a position that had become powerful and influential, rivaling that of the Roman prefect.

When he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, he “assembled a mob” that plundered and closed the churches of the Novations1. Novations had been persecuting Christians in the area.  Cyril also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since Alexander the Great.  The Jews of Alexandria were also political backers of the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, governor of the Roman Diocese (political, not ecclesiastical) of Egypt. Expulsion from a territory was a secular power that belonged to the pagan Roman Prefect.  But the Jews had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians. Expelling their enemies may have been the only possible defense for the Christians.  The Roman Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, though was very angry at Cyril for usurping power that was his.  Cyril offered Orestes a Bible; a gesture which would mean Orestes’ acquiescence to Cyril’s religious authority and policy, which Orestes rejected.

Yes, you guessed it, a serious brawl ensued as a result of the conflict between Cyril and Orestes. 500 (yes, five hundred) monks came swinging out of the lower deserts of Egypt (Nitria) to defend Cyril. Can you imagine 500 men with big beards and worn-monastic habits storming into a fight against Orestes’ soldiers? One word comes to mind: Fortitude. One of the monks, Ammonius, actually beamed Orestes with a rock during the skirmish. Orestes had Ammonius tortured to death. Cyril actually honored the remains of the rock lobbing monk for a time.

Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, a pagan female astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence. Indeed many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Several Christians thought that Hypatia’s influence had caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital.  A Christian mob, however, led by a lector named Peter, took her from her chariot, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died, finally burning the pieces outside the city walls.  Cyril did not support this action and it caused him much embarrassment and political difficulty after the fact, but since this Peter was only a lector, and not a member of the clergy, Cyril could distance himself from this event.

Cyril, in league with Pope Celestine I, is most known for intellectually duking it out with Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). At one point, the Emperor (Theodosius II) had both Nestorius and Cyril arrested. The emperor, however, cut Cyril loose after Papal Legates showed up on his doorstep saying that Pope Celestine endorsed Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius.

So what was the big deal with Nestorius? Well, he promoted the heresy of Nestorianism, which says that “Mary was not the Mother of God, Theotokos(Θεοτόκος), since Christ was Divine and not human, and consequently she should not have the word theotokos (God-bearer) applied to her.”  Dyophysitism.  (Caution to the reader:  there are LOTS of “physitisms”. Don’t ask.  It gets very long, shades of grey, & complicated!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂  And you thought ecumenism was easy?)

Nestorianism goes, well, “out-of-its-way” to overly emphasize the disunion, or, at best, a very loose union between the human and Divine natures of Jesus, preferring the term Christotokos, in terms of whom Mary gave birth to; arguing that it was only the humanity of Christ which was born at the Incarnation, and not the Deity.  Conversely, the implication, at least, with Theotokos, possibly, Nestorians would argue, was it suggesting the Divine nature was also somehow created at the Incarnation?, which they could not stand.  However, Theotokos, properly understood, contains none of these objected to and objectionable connotations.  Nestorianism is a clear heresy from orthodox Christianity, negating the hypostatic, ὑπόστασις, union.  (How’s that for ten cent words?  Church techno speak! It helps to know a little Greek, Latin, & Hebrew.  It does.    Nicean orthodox Christianity says “True God & True Man”, in which it means:  two unique, full, complete natures, perfectly united in one person.  Dear Reverend Fathers on this distribution, how did I do?  Whew!  Did I pass?    These distinctions are NOT trivial, meaningless, nor unimportant.  Depending on how the Church defines the nature of Christ, it gives a whole new reading, meaning, & coloring to the interpretation of Scripture, tough enough as it is.  Better get it right!  Better!  🙂

Cyril was the bedrock for the third general Council of Ephesus in 431, which declared Nestorianism a heresy. Oddly enough, a group of bishops that sided with Nestorius convened their own council after the one at Ephesus and deposed Cyril (this is the point where Cyril and Nestorius got arrested by the Emperor).

The exegetical works of St. Cyril are very numerous. The seventeen books “On Adoration in Spirit and in Truth” are an exposition of the typical and spiritual nature of the Old Law. The Glaphyra or “brilliant”, Commentaries on Pentateuch are of the same nature. Long explanations of Isaiah and of the minor Prophets give a mystical interpretation, after the Alexandrian manner. Only fragments are extant of other works on the Old Testament, as well as of expositions of Matthew, Luke, and some of the Epistles, but of that of St. Luke much is preserved in a Syriac version. Of St. Cyril’s sermons and letters the most interesting are those which concern the Nestorian controversy. Of a great apologetic work in the twenty books against Julian the Apostate ten books remain. Among his theological treatises we have two large works and one small one on the Holy Trinity, and a number of treatises and tracts belonging to the Nestorian controversy.

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-Cyril, from the 2009 film “Agora”

“By nature, each one of us is enclosed in his own personality, but supernaturally, we are all one. We are made one body in Christ, because we are nourished by One Flesh. As Christ is indivisible, we are all one in Him. Therefore, He asked His Father “that they may all be One as We also are one.” – Saint Cyril of Alexandria

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers. The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves. It is held, therefore, that there is in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: “When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” – from a letter by Saint Cyril of Alexandria

But the biggest reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria is a ‘Trooper’ is his doctrine, which has been quoted by multiple Church councils—Cyril has the title Doctor of the Church. Here is an excerpt from his book on the Divine Motherhood of Mary:

“In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that He is and has always been God, and that for our sake in these latter days He took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”

Prayer in Honor of Mary, Mother of God

“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, venerable treasure of the whole universe, lamp that is never extinguished, crown of virginity, support of the true faith, indestructible temple, dwelling of Him whom no place can contain, O Mother and Virgin! Through you all the holy Gospels call blessed the One whom comes in the name of the Lord.

Hail, Mother of God. You enclosed under your heart the infinite God whom no space can contain. Through you the Most Holy Trinity is adored and glorified, the priceless cross is venerated throughout the universe. Through you the heavens rejoice, and the angels and archangels are filled with gladness. Through you the demons are banished, and the tempter fell from heaven. Through you the fallen human race is admitted to heaven.

Hail, Mother of God. Through you kings rule, and the only-begotten Son of God has become a star of light to those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor

Love,
Matthew

1Novation was born about the year 200. He was a man of considerable learning, apparently educated in literary composition; the first writer to use Latin in the Church. His immediate rival in Rome, Bishop Cornelius, spoke of him sarcastically as ” that maker of dogmas, that champion of ecclesiastical learning”.  During the persecutions of emperor Decius in mid third century, Novatian took the position that those who had stopped practicing Christianity, the “Lapsi”, during the persecutions, to save themselves, could not be accepted back into the Church even if they repented and that the only way to reenter the church would be by re-baptism. Cornelius and Cyprian of Carthage did not believe in the need for re-baptism. Instead they thought that the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back into the church.

During the election of the bishop of Rome in 251, Novatian opposed Cornelius because he was too lax in accepting the return of Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. His party then consecrated him as a rival bishop (antipope) to Cornelius. He announced throughout the empire his election, as had Cornelius, as both parties appointed bishops and priests in cities where the incumbent favored his rival, thus creating a widespread schism in the Church.

By the end of 251, Bishop Cornelius assembled a council of sixty bishops that condemned and excommunicated Novation apparently over the legitimacy of his claim to the ecclesiastical throne of Rome. It was only later that Novation began to be called a heretic and this appeared to be over the question of the Church having the power to grant absolution in certain cases.  Novatian is known for his writing of which only two have survived, the De Cibis Judaicus and De Trintate (On the Trinity), an interpretation of the early church doctrine on the Trinity which is his most important work.  Novationists called themselves καθαροι (“katharoi”/Cathari) or “Puritans” reflecting their desire not to be identified with what they considered the lax practices of a corrupted Catholic Church. They went so far as to re-baptize their own converts. Because Novatianists (including Novatian) did not submit to the bishop of Rome, they were labeled by Rome as schismatics.

Novations were Montanists, another name for a heretical group, who took their name from a priest and Anti-pope, Montanus.  Montanus preached that those who fell from grace were out of the church forever, as opposed to the orthodox position that by sincere contrition and repentance the fallen might be readmitted. In addition they believed that the value of the sacraments depended on the purity and worthiness of the priest administering the rites. In time they merged with the Donatists who sprang up in Carthage, 4th century in a split with Rome over the failure of a their man to win the bishop’s seat.  The Novations also held second marriages were not valid.

Resurrection

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Every Christian must, by necessity, struggle with the belief in Resurrection:  His, our own.  St Gregory replies to the objections of his time…which sound a lot like the ones we imagine, too.

“Because human reason is so weak, there are some who – judging divine power by the limits of our own – insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God.  They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated.  They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor – the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it.  They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the Resurrection – as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of.  Not only does the earth return to the earth, as God’s word says, but air and water also revert to the like element.  Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust – wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world.  And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God’s knowledge is weaker than your own power?  Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God’s hand?”

-On the Making of Man, 26; St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-394 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor & Father of the Church

Love,
Matthew