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Idols – Ex 20:4-6

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Ex 20:4-6

The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region (commonly referred to as the Amazon synod) met in Rome from 6 to 27 October 2019. Pope Francis announced on 15 October 2017 that it would work “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region”, specifically the indigenous peoples.

The Amazon basin, according to one Vatican report, covers some 6,000,000 km^2, with a population of 2.8 million divided among 400 tribes that speak some 240 languages belonging to 49 linguistic families. The Synod defines the region to include all or parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.

On Oct. 21, five statues were taken, apparently quite early in the morning, from the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, four blocks from St. Peter’s Basilica. They were thrown off a nearby bridge into the Tiber River. These events have been a source of much controversy in the Church.

In a Universal Church, especially one that spans the globe, just like in any society, some Catholics do weird things; depending on what side of weird you may be standing on from the viewpoint of the other doing weird things from your point of view, being human.  They may be misunderstood, culturally, or not, or they may be wrong, or somewhere in between.  Welcome to being human.  Love one another.  Even if they throw your artwork off a bridge.  -cf Jn 13:34-35


-pachamama statue in Santa Maria in Traspontina

-Amazon synod participants bow in tree planting ceremony, Vatican gardens

Catholics ONLY WORSHIP GOD!!!!!!!! – dulia, hyperdulia, honor, veneration vs latria, adoration, worship

CCC 2132 “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.”


-by Karlo Broussard

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church approve of religious statues when the Bible forbids having graven images?

Catholics are known for putting statues and images in their churches and using them in their private devotions. The Catechism affirms such devotions, calling the “honor paid to sacred images” a “respectful veneration” (2132).

But, for many Protestants this is problematic, biblically speaking. God commands in Exodus 20:4-5,

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.

God says, “No graven images,” but yet the Catholic Church has images all over the place. God says, “Don’t bow down to images,” but the Catholic Church encourages such acts of piety. These Catholic practices contradict God’s word.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. In these verses, God can’t be condemning religious statues and images, because elsewhere he explicitly commands making them.

Consider, for example, the two gold cherubim (cast sculptures of angels) that God commanded to be put on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 25:18-20). God also instructed that cherubim be woven into the curtains of the tabernacle (Exod. 26:1).

When God gave instructions for building the temple during the reign of King Solomon, he commanded that two fifteen-foot tall cherubim statues be placed in the holy of holies (1 Kings 6:23-28) and that “figures of cherubim” be carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Later, in 1 Kings 9:3, we read that God approved of such things, saying to Solomon, “I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put My name there forever; My eyes and My heart will be there for all time.” God’s blessing on the temple is certain evidence that He doesn’t oppose having statues and sacred images in places of worship.

Another example where God commanded the making of a statue is Numbers 21:6-9. The Israelites were suffering from venomous snakebites; in order to heal them, God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that those who were bitten could look upon it and be healed (Num. 21:6-9). God did later command that the bronze serpent be destroyed, but only because the Israelites started worshiping it as a god (2 Kings 18:4).

2.  What God’s commandment forbids is the making of idols.

The context bears this out. Consider the prohibition that precedes it: “You shall have no other gods before me” (v.3).

Then after the passage in question, we read, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Given this contextual prohibition of idolatry, it’s reasonable to conclude that God’s command not to make “graven images” refers to making images to be worshiped as deities, or idols.

Accordingly, we note that every time the Hebrew word for “graven images” (pesel) is used in the Old Testament it’s used in reference to idols or the images of idols. For example, the prophet Isaiah warns, “All who make idols [pesel] are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.” Other examples include, but are not limited to, Isaiah 40:19; 44:9, 17; 45:20, Jeremiah 10:14; 51:17, and Habakkuk 2:18).

Since making idols is what this commandment forbids, the Catholic custom of using statues and images for religious purposes doesn’t contradict it, because Catholics don’t use statues and sacred images as idols. The whole of paragraph 2132 (referenced above) states the following:

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone.

Catholics don’t treat statues, or the people whom the statues represent, as gods. As such, the biblical prohibition of idolatry doesn’t apply.

This challenge from modern Evangelicals shows that there’s nothing new under the sun. The Catholic Church dealt with this sort of objection all the way back in the eighth century when it condemned the heresy of iconoclasm at the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

Iconoclasm was the belief that all religious images are superstitious. In response to this heresy, the council declared that religious images were worthy veneration and that any respect shown to a religious image is really respect given to the person it represents.

In having images or statues of Jesus, angels, Mary, and the saints in its places of worship, the Catholic Church is following the Old Testament precedent of incorporating images of heavenly inhabitants that serve as reminders of Who is present with us when we approach God in liturgical worship.

The representations of the cherubim in the Old Testament served as reminders that they were heavenly inhabitants present with God. Since humans have been admitted into heaven (Rev. 5:8; Rev. 6:9; 7:14-17), it’s reasonable to employ representations of them, too.

What about pious acts directed to the statues, such as bowing? Doesn’t Exodus 20:4 prohibit “bowing” before graven images? Well, the Bible forbids bowing before idols. It doesn’t forbid the physical act of bowing before something or someone when that something or someone is not an idol.

For example, Solomon was not guilty of idolatry when he bowed before his mother in 1 Kings 2:19. It was simply a gesture of honor given her as queen mother. Jesus Himself says in Revelation 3:9 that He will make “those of the synagogue of Satan” “bow down” before the feet of the Christians in Philadelphia. If bowing before another were, in and of itself, an act of worship, Jesus would be causing idolatry. But that’s absurd.

So, pious acts and postures can be legitimate when directed to the person that a statue or picture represents if the action is not used as a sign of the adoration or worship that is due to God alone. And such honor for the saints is their due because of what God has done for them. Jesus says, “If any one serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). The saints in heaven, who our statues represent, have served and do continue to serve Jesus. As such, the Father honors them. And if the Father honors them, we can too.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Are all religious images idols? How can you know?

AFTERTHOUGHT: Among some Christian communities, the commandment not to make “graven images” is listed as the second of the Ten Commandments. This differs from the Catholic numbering of the Ten Commandments. But seeing the prohibition to make “graven images” as part of God’s overall prohibition of idolatry provides an explanation for why the Catholic Church doesn’t consider it a separate commandment.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 1 – Reality


-for more detail, please click on the image

“How shining and splendid are Your gifts,
O Lord which You give us for our eternal well-being
Your glory shines radiantly in Your saints,
O God, in the honor and noble victory of the martyrs.
The white-robed company follow You, bright with their abundant faith;
They scorned the wicked words of those with this world’s power.
For You they sustained fierce beatings, chains, and torments, they were drained by cruel punishments.
They bore their holy witness to You Who were grounded deep within their hearts; they were sustained by patience and constancy.
Endowed with Your everlasting grace, may we rejoice forever with the martyrs in our bright fatherland.
O Christ, in Your goodness, grant to us the gracious heavenly realms of eternal life.”
-10th century

Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, we read: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3-4).

And those in heaven who offer to God our prayers aren’t just angels, but humans as well. John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). The simple fact is, as this passage shows: The saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth.


-by Br Vincent Mary Bernhard, OP

“Reality is not always something we can choose for ourselves, and oftentimes we neither understand nor acknowledge it. So what is reality, properly speaking? Reality speaks to the truth of an objective state of affairs in which we exist, forming our perceptions about ourselves and those around us. In light of this “objective state of affairs,” we often speak of people needing to “wake up to reality” and to live in a way that is “realistic”—and the Church invites us to do the same. She does just this through the feast days and solemnities of the liturgical year. By reflecting on the events of Christ’s life and the witness of the saints, we are shaken from our mental slumber and spiritual routine to ponder anew the reality that is the Christian life.

Today is the day that the Church awakens us from our spiritual lethargy, so that we may recognize the reality of sainthood. Far from being a “catchall” for the unknown saints in heaven, this solemnity is a final and dramatic reminder that the Church gives us as the liturgical year draws to a close. There is a multitude of saints in heaven, and we are called to join them before the face of God.

The Church upholds the example of the saints, not only showing how they attained heaven but that they attained heaven; the glory of resting in the heart of the Father is not only possible but within reach. Further, these saints are still united with us in the Mystical Body of Christ, and the same divine life sustaining them in glory is perfecting us here and now. “Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ,” we read in Lumen Gentium, “so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself” (LG 50). We are called to the same glory as the saints in heaven and are united with them right now as their brothers and sisters.

As Jesus Christ intercedes on behalf of the human race in heaven, so also do those who participate in His glory share in His intercessory prayer before the Father. The saints remain before the face of the Father as those transformed into the likeness of the Son, and because they exist in this reality, they pray on our behalf for our salvation. Their prayers are efficacious inasmuch as their wills are perfectly united to the divine will, and their power is evident inasmuch as they are united to us through Christ. We are, therefore, existing within a reality that transcends space and time, intimately connected with the saints in heaven through our life in Christ.

We are reminded today of this reality: our call to sainthood and the intimate relationship we share with those who have entered eternal glory before us. Let us call upon the aid of the saints in heaven as we are renewed in our vigor and zeal, that we may take heaven by storm. May the saints, through their witness and prayers, help us surrender to the reality of the Father’s love for us, the Son’s call to us, and the Holy Spirit’s saving work within us, so that we may be more perfectly conformed to Christ’s image and come to participate in his glory with the saints in heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 26 – Bl Robert Nutter, OP, (1550-1600) – Priest & Martyr


-Bl Robert Nutter, St Dominic’s Church, Washington, DC


-by Br Titus Mary Sanchez, OP

His demeanor was uncharacteristic of a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. An eye-witness to Robert Nutter’s execution wrote that he went “to the gallows, with as much cheerfulness and joy as if he had been going to a feast, to the astonishment of the spectators” (Modern British Martyrology, 197).

Cheerfulness and joy? In the face of death? Did he not know that in a few moments he was to have his beating heart torn out of his chest? Surely he had gone mad! The execution of this subversive and treasonous Englishman was supposed to extinguish his hope, not cause it to burst forth in euphoric praise of God!

“Blessed are you when men hate you … Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.” (Lk 6:22-23)

Blessed Robert Nutter is counted among the Douai martyrs, a group of English Catholic priests martyred in 16th and 17th century England. Each of these men was trained at a single English seminary in Douai, a city in northern France. It briefly relocated to Rheims for about 15 years, at which time Nutter received his theological formation. Why France? In an effort to eradicate Catholicism from the country, the English crown had forcibly closed and repurposed all churches, schools, and seminaries. In effect, they attempted to abolish the Catholic Church in England—no small feat.

The Douai seminary was established for the purpose of training Englishmen to be diocesan priests so that they could return as missionaries to their homeland, where the Church was enduring severe persecution. Indeed, during this time, agents of the British crown systematically hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed Catholic priests, charging them with high treason. Before being put to death, these priests could spend years in prison; interestingly enough, it was during this time that Nutter professed vows as a Dominican friar.

Of the 300 priests ordained at the Douai seminary during this period, 158 were put to death for bringing the sacraments back to their fellow countrymen. One could be so bold as to say that Robert Nutter and the Douai martyrs were not only ordained to be priests, but martyrs as well: they knew that their priesthood would likely culminate in the shedding of their blood. In perfect conformity to Jesus Christ—the Eternal High Priest—priests like Robert Nutter knew the stakes, but counted them as nothing compared to possessing the heart of Christ and bringing the sacraments to souls.

It is difficult to imagine the mindset of men like Nutter. In the depths of his heart, he desired to be a priest of Jesus Christ. He knew that he would be despised by his own government. He knew that while living out his priesthood, he would do so secretly, always aware that someone—anyone—could betray him. He realized that this could very well mean his own death, a death that would come only after gruesome periods of torture. If he survived, there would be no recognition or thanks from those he served.

Therein lies the aim of priesthood: to forget yourself, to become another Christ, and to mount the cross for the salvation of souls—so as to make present once again the saving mysteries of God. Nutter knew that the ultimate reason for his priesthood and martyrdom was the salvation of the Englishmen he served.

What can the priest of today learn from a man like Nutter?

Without hesitation, he ought to learn that as a priest, his life and his heart are no longer his own. Instead, his life and his heart belong to Christ alone. Conversely, in an abundantly generous grace, Christ offers his own Sacred Heart to his priest, so that he may live and love as another Christ. The priest who does not have the heart of Christ approaches “in sheep’s clothing, but underneath is a ravenous wolf” (Jn 7:15). Pray and fast often that our priests’ hearts would be conformed to the crucified heart of Christ!

Given the nature of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, it is quite plausible that Nutter would have actually seen the hands of his executors reaching into his chest to cut out his heart. Every priest, martyr or not, should cry out the words: “I give you everything Jesus! I give you my very own heart! You may have all!”

Bl. Robert Nutter, pray to the good Lord for us, and ask him to send holy priests who, by an interior martyrdom of the heart, are willing to make as their only desire the salvation of souls.”

Love,
Matthew

Love is love?

“Love wills the good of the other person.” CCC 2514-2533


-by Karlo Broussard

““Love Is Love.” It’s the new mantra of our culture, the moral wisdom of the age. It’s the battle cry of a movement led by those not so wise as a sage. (Channeling my inner Dr. Seuss.)

Joining the fray, the Coca-Cola Company has launched its “Love Is Love” campaign in Hungary. Peppered throughout train stations, on billboards, and on their Hungarian Facebook page, their ads feature both opposite-sex and same-sex couples with the hashtag #loveislove. The campaign came days before this year’s “Love Revolution”-themed Sziget Festival, a week-long music-and-art event held annually in Budapest.

The message of this slogan is a no-brainer: “Male or female? Who cares? Love is love, and it’s all good!” As Coca-Cola stated in a recent e-mail, the ads “do indeed try to convey a message . . . our belief that everyone has a right to love and that the feeling of love is the same for all” (emphasis added).

Kudos to those who developed the slogan; it has rhetorical force. It appeals to something innate: the desire for romantic love. In particular, it proposes love as the foundation of a sexual relationship, which is noble and worthy of praise (something we can’t say about the motivations behind the “hookup” culture).

But when you think it through, “Love Is Love,” the way it is used in this slogan, simply can’t be true.

Consider, for example, that when the slogan is used, “love” is rarely defined. And when it is defined, it’s usually called a “feeling,” as Coca-Cola Co. did in its defense of the ads. (Not too different from “Taste the feeling!”)

The problem is that it is so easy to hijack the word “love” and justify almost anything. The grotesque North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), for example, does just that. It seeks to justify sexual acts between adult males and young boys in the name of “love,” stating on its website,

NAMBLA’s goal is to end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships by . . . educating the general public on the benevolent nature of man/boy love (emphasis added).

Adopting the same reasoning as the Coca-Cola Co., NAMBLA appeals to the rights of all to express love through their bodies: “We support the rights of youth as well as adults to choose the partners with whom they wish to share and enjoy their bodies.”

Every bit of so-called wisdom that “Love Is Love” embodies—the feeling of love is the same for all and that everyone has a right to express that love—justifies the abuse that NAMBLA promotes.

Now, someone will inevitably respond, “What NAMBLA promotes isn’t true sexual love. Minors aren’t in a position to understand what’s involved in a sexual relationship. Therefore, they can’t really consent. The slogan ‘Love Is Love’ is meant only to express the idea that biological sex is irrelevant to romantic love and its expression in sexual activity among consenting adults.”

A member of NAMBLA, however, could counter and say sexual relationships with minors are consensual, as indicated in the above quote. But that aside, when push comes to shove, those who live by “Love Is Love” don’t really think all sexual love is equal. For these people, some things rob sex of its power to express true love, such as young age.

But if biological age has something to do with determining appropriate or inappropriate expressions of sexual love, perhaps biological sex does as well? Why should we think biological sex is exempt? Perhaps sexual activity among members of the same sex is not a legitimate expression of sexual love.

The only way we can know whether this is true or not is to know whether same-sex sexual activity involves willing what’s good for the beloved concerning his or her sexual powers, since the essence of love is to will the good of another (Summa Theologiae I-II:26:4; II-II:23:1).  [Editor:  In the natural order, and according natural law, the good, the fruit of sexual intercourse, is children.  Sexual intercourse was designed by God to unify a married couple and to further participate in God’s ongoing creation, and for NO other reasons!  Using human beings as a means to an end is abuse, not love.  The end never justifies the means, ever!  Although difficult, there is always a holy option however difficult it may be. Seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure reduces human existence to a piece of entertainment only to be thrown away when it no longer gives us a thrill.]

If same-sex sexual activity is not a good use—but an abuse—of our sexual powers, as traditional sexual ethics claims, then to engage in it is to reject the order of the good inscribed in the nature of human sexual activity. It would be an expression of contempt to use the good of human sexuality against what is good for the human person, as if the latter is a kind of evil to be supplanted or an obstacle to be removed.

The perversity of such behavior would be akin to a doctor who engages in her activity of healing as a doctor only to make someone ill. In such a scenario, the doctor positively rejects her good as a doctor—namely, healing— as an evil to be avoided. For a doctor to reject the order of a good doctor can only merit the charge of being an evil doctor.

Similarly, if same-sex sexual activity is an abuse of our sexual powers (which this author proves it is), then it entails a rejection of the human good for sex.

But actions that entail a rejection of the order of the human good cannot possibly be expressions of authentic love, even if they are done in the name of love. Such actions would be directly opposed to love, showing disdain for the other rather than appreciation. In the words of Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II), such a love could only be called an “evil love.”

In light of this, it becomes evident that the “Love Is Love” slogan is a smokescreen that distracts us from the real question: does same-sex sexual activity will the good of the other?

If it does, then the slogan is a true bit of moral wisdom. But if it doesn’t, then the slogan’s wisdom just ain’t “the real thing.”

Who wants a mantra that’ll come back to haunt ya?”

Real love,
Matthew

Purgatory 2

“Purgatory’s materiality refers to the persistent set of characteristics associated with purgatory that have been a continuous problem from its inception as a doctrine in the thirteenth century to the present. It has been variously described as a location on earth, as a place where souls are at once physical and spiritual, and as a condition that demands bodily mortifications and severe penances. In this sense, materiality is a category that encompasses three important sites where purgatory has presented theological, scientific, and logical difficulties for church theologians, scholastic philosophers, and others who have been responsible for working out the philosophical support for the doctrine: place, body, and performance. From the twelfth century to the present, representations in various sources, including medieval chronicles, exempla, early modern periodicals, and, later, in pamphlets, books, and magazines, and today on websites and in books, have depicted purgatory variously as a location on earth, a place simultaneously spiritual and physical, and, most recently, as a more abstract condition of souls experiencing the pain of loss. The version of purgatory as a physical location persisted into the nineteenth century. Pre-doctrinal representations of purgatory shifted so much with respect to historical context that it is impossible to identify a linear progression from that of a physical place to a condition of soul. However, this progression becomes pronounced in the modern era and by the mid-nineteenth century conceptions of purgatory as a place were subject to anti-Catholic polemicists and were actively discouraged by Church authorities. I have not encountered anyone, currently, who believes purgatory is a place on earth. Taking a “long view,” of purgatory suggests that material representations of purgatory have been discouraged in favor of representations clothed with abstract words such as process, state of soul, or condition. The progression from a “place” to a “condition” has been fraught with dramatic twists and intrigues, and even today the issue of purgatory’s material status is not definitively settled. Contemporary Catholic devotional literature about purgatory focuses on the material locations of place, body, and performance that were the focuses of purgatory devotions in eras past…

…statements about purgatory participate in a long tradition of interpretations of the doctrine that seem to have little in common with official definitions. Papal statements about purgatory, from its official codification as a Roman Catholic doctrine until today, emphasize its status as an afterlife “state” or condition, and deemphasize its material, concrete characteristics. Writing during the Council of Trent (1545–1563), Pope Pius IV insisted that attention to purgatory’s material aspects, such as where it is located and what types of punishments occur there, should be discouraged. “The more difficult and subtle questions, and which tend not to edification, and from which for the most part there is no increase of piety, [should] be excluded from popular discourses before the uneducated multitude.”6 Currently, papal discussions of purgatory, while briefer, are substantively no different. In his General Audience address of 1999, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, stated that the term “purgatory,” “does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.” And, on January 12, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the fifteenth-century mystic St. Catherine of Genoa did not focus on “purgatory as a place of transit in the depths of the earth,” or “as an exterior fire.” Rather, purgatory was an inner state.7 Shortly after, the Catholic News Service published an article that eliminated any possibility that the pope would be misunderstood as to purgatory’s physical reality. It was titled “Purgatory Is a Process, Not a Place.”8

Despite papal statements about it, authors of popular narratives about purgatory have characterized it very differently. In their reports and anecdotes, purgatory is a physical place of suffering. Souls in purgatory are depicted engulfed in real, not symbolic, fire, the evidence of which include burned charcoal–colored handprints on tables for the living to consider, such as can be found in the Purgatory Museum in Rome. It is tempting to suggest that these narratives are in tension with official, cleric-authored proclamations about purgatory. While in some instances this is the case, in other contexts it was clerics and theologians who wrote about purgatory as a place, and scholastics also wrote about the physical evidence left by souls in purgatory. What persists throughout these various narratives and their historical contexts, however, is the problem presented by purgatory’s materiality. Purgatory’s place, which has been described variously as being in Ireland [Editor: Definitely], or in Italy, in the middle of the earth, or as a place next to hell, has been a problem for those who attempt to locate it, and also for those who have participated in a tradition that downplays its concrete features. The following chapters examine several cases where the physicality of purgatory is its best advocate and its most problematic feature. In other words, this book is a history of the problem of purgatory—it’s characterization as a physical place of real, not symbolic, suffering.

While it may have been more common to associate purgatory with an actual earthly location in medieval Europe, as stated previously this belief persisted into the nineteenth century. For hundreds of years, and contrary to the proclamations of most popes on the subject, purgatory was believed to be either on earth or in the middle of the earth. I was not surprised to hear of (some people’s) belief that purgatory was on earth, and I am certain that her belief is not like the belief that prompted medieval knights to undertake journeys to Ireland in search of the real purgatory. But nonetheless what is important is that (some people) associate purgatory with an earthly place, not a condition. This inclination to attribute spatial and physical characteristics to purgatory, and the problems this creates, is intrinsic to its history. Scholastic theologians of the thirteenth century, who were most responsible for providing the theological support for the new doctrine, questioned where it was on earth, and they rarely questioned if it was on earth. William of Auvergne (1180–1249) posited the existence of two purgatories, one on earth, and the other somewhere else, perhaps near heaven. As recently as 1863, the French periodical “Le Liberateur des Ames du Purgatoire,” edited by the French priest Celestin Cloquet, described how the souls in purgatory resided inside the earth. Purgatory’s place on medieval and early modern world maps, or mappa mundi, persisted even as the Garden of Eden and heaven, the two most mapped religious destinations, gradually disappeared.”

Love,
Matthew

6. Council of Trent, The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent: Celebrated under the Sovereign Pontiffs, Paul III, Julius III and Pius IV (1848) (Ithaca: Cornell University Library Press, 2009), 233.
7. “Purgatory Inflames Hearts with God’s Love, Pope Says,” Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, January 12, 2011.
8. Cindy Wotten, “Purgatory Is a Process, Not a Place, Pope Says at General Audiences,” Catholic News Service, January 12, 2011.

Purgatory


-Dante and Beatrice in Gustave Dore’s “Submersion in the Lethe”, 1903


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“We’re called to become saints. The Father desires that we be united in friendship with him in this life in order that we might forever dwell with him in heaven. The heavenly union with God is a perfect union that can begin on Earth, but it can also be inhibited by sin. Since it acts against this union, sin is the greatest evil of all. In the words of the Catechism, “nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” than sin (CCC 1488). When we sin, we cloud our consciences, build vices, and harden our hearts. Sin hurts our relationships with each other and with God. God’s mercy blots out our sins, but it does not automatically fix the ways in which sin warps us.

Over time, growth in grace and virtue can put our inner selves back into order. Throughout the course of life, the Holy Spirit takes repentant sinners and makes them radiant with divine life and estranges them from sin and vice. He especially effects this through prayer, the sacraments, and redemptive suffering. This process is one of purification. Those who fully embrace the Spirit’s actions live with hearts that seek God alone, and they immediately enter heaven when they die. Not all who revere God, however, come to such a point in life. Their time runs out before they’re fit for the heavenly union; they are united with God, but imperfectly so. Hope is not lost, however. In his mercy, God gives us an intermediate state between heaven and Earth where he purges away the sins and impurities that still inhibit our union with him. He gives us purgatory.

In purgatory, God puts men and women face to face with their sins. There, they fully understand how they acted against God, and they cannot grasp for any distraction or rationalization in facing even the smallest things that still separate them from God. Saint John Henry Newman puts this reckoning in stark terms in “The Dream of Gerontius.” In the poem, a guardian angel addresses his charge, an old man who just died a holy death with his sins absolved:

And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn’d, as never thou didst feel.

His state now allows him to see his past sins on a spiritual level; he hates that he committed such acts. This is a painful realization because sin is a painful reality. If we could see sin as it truly is—an offence against God⁠—we would never sin. Purgation is like physical therapy after surgery, it’s painful but ultimately it heals. God reveals sin in order to remove all traces of it and to bind up our injured souls.

Dante expresses the healing of purgatory beautifully at the end of the “Purgatorio”—the second part of his Divine Comedy. There, Beatrice chastises Dante for abandoning the love he had for her and God and for choosing to obsess over futile things instead. Faced with the shame and gravity of his sins, he weeps and then gets plunged into the waters of the Lethe. The Lethe, according to Greek mythology, makes one forget the whole of life. Dante, however, adapts this river to suit his higher vision. His Lethe makes one forget his sins and the warped mentality they gave him in life; it restores lost innocence and heals interior wounds. It makes a person like a little child, ready to enter the kingdom of heaven.

That purgatory purifies, heals, and brings souls to holiness is a great mercy and a source of hope. Even men and women who have struggled with sin all their lives, but not yet reached “sainthood” in this life, can be made perfect after death and thereafter dwell with God. Let us thank God for the gift of purgatory and pray for those who dwell there, that God’s work in them may be complete.”

Love,
Matthew

Rosary: does the Bible really condemn repetitious prayer?

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that the rosary is a legitimate prayer when the Bible forbids repetitious prayer?

The rosary is a popular Catholic devotion that the Catechism endorses as a “form of piety” that expresses the “religious sense of the Christian people” (1674).  [It is a prayer form that developed for the illiterate, ordinary people as only clerics were taught to read and write.  Those same clerics were required to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a formalized way of singing the Psalm twenty-four hours a day, praising God for time, which is a holy gift from God.  Since ordinary people could not read the books for this form of prayer, the rosary developed, so they could say the simple prayers they had memorized in imitation.] But for many Protestants, the rosary, with its repetition of the Hail Mary (Lk 1:46-55) prayer, contradicts Jesus’ command to “Use no vain repetitions as the heathens do” (Matt. 6:7; KJV). It would seem that the Catholic practice of praying the rosary is a direct violation of Jesus’ command.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Jesus wasn’t condemning prayers that involve repetition, but rather the idea that the quantity of prayer determines its efficacy.

The Greek word translated “vain repetition” is battalogeō, which can mean to speak in a stammering way, saying the same words over and over again without thinking. But it can also mean “to use many words, to speak for a long time.” So it can connote either mindless repetition or quantity.

Which meaning does Jesus have in mind?

The context reveals that Jesus has the quantity of prayers in mind. For example, Jesus says in verse 7, “For they [the Gentiles] think that they will be heard for their many words,” as if their many words could wear down the gods in order to get what they wanted. This is the mentality of prayer that Jesus is telling his disciples to avoid—the mentality that sheer volume of words ensures that God hears us.

This explains why Jesus says in verse 8, “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The implication is that it’s futile to think a bunch of words is needed for God to hear a prayer, because he already knows it.

So, Jesus is not concerned with repetition simply. He’s concerned with the idea that simply multiplying words makes prayers efficacious.

2. The rosary is not meant to gain favors from God due to the amount of prayers repeated.

According to the Catechism, the rosary is an “epitome of the whole gospel” (971). It is meant to focus our hearts and minds on the mysteries of Christ’s life, mysteries such as his conception in Mary’s womb at the Annunciation, his birth in Bethlehem, his baptism and preaching ministry, his glorious resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.

Meditating on these mysteries is meant to give us a deeper knowledge of Christ and draw us into a deeper communion with him, so that we can be more conformed to him. And we include Mary in that meditation because her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). The rosary, therefore, is a way to meditate on Christ in order to foster a greater love for him. The repetition of prayers serves that meditation—and that’s a biblical thing.

3. The Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition.

We can start with Jesus Himself. Notice that right after Jesus condemns the “vain repetitions” of the Gentiles, he commands the apostles, “Pray like this…Our Father who art in heaven.” Does Jesus intend for us to only say it once? Are we forbidden to repeat the Lord’s Prayer? Most Protestants have said it many times; perhaps they say it more than once a day.

Another example is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father…remove this cup…not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Mark tells us that Jesus prayed this multiple times: “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words” (14:39). Surely, Jesus wouldn’t be violating his own command not to pray with “vain repetitions.”

We also have an example from the “four living creatures” (angels) that John sees in heaven: “Day and night they never cease to sing, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). If any prayer involves repetition, it’s this one!

The Psalms even give us forms of prayer that involve repetition. Consider, for example, Psalm 136. Its refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” occurs twenty-six times. Must we say that the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) who inspired the Psalmist to write this, is at odds with Jesus (the second person of the Trinity)?

Since the Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition, we can conclude that the repetition in the rosary does not violate Christ’s words.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Why should we think that a condemnation of useless repetition is a condemnation of any repetition? Couldn’t there be repetitious prayer that is heartfelt and helps us love God more?

[Editor: Ps 51:1]

AFTERTHOUGHT: One of the benefits of praying the rosary is that it protects us from focusing our prayer too much on what we want and need. Praying for our needs is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we pray about. The rosary helps us to focus on what should be the first object of prayer: Jesus.

Love,
Matthew

Lullaby for the dead

Like the sun quenched its first dawning
The moon lost to the sea
Like the dew lost unto the morning
So you, my love, were lost to me

I can hear now the pipers calling
On that far distant shore
And my tears now like leaves are falling
And I will see your face no more

You are sleeping, you are sleeping
Oh, no sleep or peace can comfort me
I am weeping, oh, I am weeping
‘Til I will sleep in sleep with thee

Seoithín seo hó, seoithín seó
Seoithín seo, seoithín ó
Seoithín seo hó, ó seoithín seó
‘Til I will sleep in sleep with thee

Love,
Matthew

Oct 19 – St Philip Howard (1557-1595), 13th Earl of Arundel, Husband, Father, Martyr


-Lord Arundel, age 18, by George Gower

Philip Howard (1557-1595), handsome, clever, rich – also impeccably aristocratic – seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. His conscience, however, and still more his wife, prevented his sinking into the abyss of privilege.

Born at Arundel House in the Strand, Philip was the only child of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife Mary, daughter of the 12th Earl of Arundel. Philip of Spain, later King Philip II, became his godfather.  He was baptized at Whitehall Palace with the royal family in attendance, and was named after his godfather, King Philip II of Spain. His home from the age of seven was a former Carthusian monastery.

Philip’s mother died shortly after his birth. His father, by his next wife, had two more sons and three daughters. Then, through a third match, to Elizabeth, widow of the 4th Baron Dacre, he acquired four stepchildren. In 1571 Philip was married at the age of fourteen to Anne, the eldest Dacre daughter, his step-sister.  It was an arranged marriage, which Philip resented at first.

Widowed again in 1567, his father, the Duke of Norfolk, intrigued on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he hoped to marry. Instead, he was executed in 1572 and the dukedom lapsed.

Philip, after two years at St John’s College, Cambridge, took up residence at court in the hope of restoring his family to favor. His wife he left neglected in the country.  His life had been a frivolous one, both at Cambridge and at Court.

Queen Elizabeth, however, never warmed to him, even though in 1578 Philip spent a fortune entertaining her at Kenninghall in Norfolk. His mother’s family, the Fitzalans, were far from impressed by his conduct. Nevertheless, in 1580 Philip succeeded his maternal grandfather as 13th Earl of Arundel.

He was present at the debate held in 1581 in the St John Chapel of the Tower of London, between Father Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, Father Ralph Sherwin and a group of Protestant theologians over Campion’s Decem Rationes. He was so impressed by the Catholics that he experienced a spiritual conversion. He renounced his previous, frivolous life and was reconciled with his wife.

Howard’s conversion influenced his behavior at Court and the change did not go unnoticed. Although he maintained his duties at Court and in Parliament, Howard did not go to any Anglican services. He had been one of the most spendthrift and gallant of Elizabeth’s courtiers, neglecting his wife; now Howard was solemn and devoted to Anne.

By 1585, it was a felony to aid a Catholic priest and an act of treason for an English Catholic priest to be in the country. Howard had a Catholic chaplain in his house in London and his castle at Arundel.

Another Jesuit missionary, Father William Weston, received Howard into the Catholic Church on September 30, 1584, three years after those debates in the Tower.

Unable to support the pains of recusancy, he determined to flee England and join recusants in Flanders. Anne, who was pregnant with his son, Thomas, would join him later. He would never see either of them again. Philip was a man of high profile, and his movements were closely watched by Queen Elizabeth’s spies. Arrested at sea, he was arraigned before the Star Chamber, and imprisoned in the Tower.

His father and grandfather (the poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey) had both been beheaded. Now Philip appeared to face the same fate.

In 1588 a Catholic priest called Fr William Bennet, imprisoned with him in the Tower, confessed under torture that Howard had instructed him to say Mass on behalf of the Spanish Armada. Bennet, however, later admitted he “confessed everything that seemed to content their humour”.

Howard was condemned to death, though the sentence was never carried out. Disdaining the offer of freedom should he return to the state religion, he passed his imprisonment in translating and writing spiritual works.

Queen Elizabeth never signed the death warrant, but Howard was not told this. He was kept constantly in fear of execution, although comforted by the companionship of a dog, which served as a go-between by which Howard and other prisoners, most notably the priest Robert Southwell, could send messages to each other. Although these two men never met, Howard’s dog helped them to deepen their friendship and exchange encouragement in each other’s plight. Philip Howard loved his pet, who is remembered along with him in a statue at Arundel Cathedral.

Howard spent ten years in the Tower, until his death from dysentery, was the official story. He petitioned the Queen as he lay dying to allow him to see his wife and his son, who had been born after his imprisonment. The Queen responded that “If he will but once attend the Protestant Service, he shall not only see his wife and children, but be restored to his honors and estates with every mark of my royal favor.” To this, Howard is supposed to have replied: “Tell Her Majesty if my religion be the cause for which I suffer, sorry I am that I have but one life to lose.” He remained in the Tower, never seeing his wife or daughter again, and died alone on Sunday 19 October 1595. He was immediately acclaimed as a Catholic (dry) Martyr.

He died on October 19 1595 after an illness of two months. Poisoning was suspected. “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world,” ran the Latin inscription in his room, “the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”

His son Thomas (1586-1646) succeeded as Earl of Arundel. Philip Howard was canonized in 1970.


-martyrs chapel, Horsham, England, please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Scientific Mythology & Triumphalism


-Crab Nebula, please click on the image for greater detail

https://www.catholicscientists.org/idea/christian-truth-in-an-age-of-scientific-mythology


-by Dr. Christopher Clemens, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, Jaroslav Folda Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy

“It shocks many people to find out that I am both an astrophysicist and a religious believer. It shocks some of my fellow astrophysicists and even some of my fellow Catholics. And I know it shocks some of my faculty colleagues at Chapel Hill. But why should this be? Why should it be a surprise that someone whose chosen profession is the scientific study of the universe is also a person of faith? Why the perception of conflict? Is it intrinsic to the business of science that it be “at odds” with religion? Or is it rooted in cultural attitudes?

Let us start by looking at certain aspects of the wider culture and of the culture of science itself.

One of the defects of contemporary culture is the undue and unhealthy reverence we show toward scientists. The public imagines scientists to be too smart to disagree with, too objective to be swayed by emotion or bias, and experts on every subject they choose to talk about. None of these things is true, of course, and the unquestioning acceptance of these notions does great harm. When the physicist Stephen Hawking said that his theories show that the universe has no cause, but simply “is”, or when the biologist Richard Dawkins rails against religion as a “virus” that should be eradicated, their words are given much weight. They are the great minds of our time, our culture supposes, and therefore we are not smart enough even to disagree.

In truth, scientists are anything but authorities on subjects philosophical, and have strayed very far from their own scientific method when they make these kinds of pronouncements. The question of why their words carry so much weight is an interesting one, and deserves to be studied, but here I want to explore what lies behind some of their anti-religious pronouncements. What I hope becomes apparent is that while scientists might be very good at their jobs, their thinking on the subject of religion is not always objective and clearheaded.

To begin, I need to introduce a concept that sounds like an oxymoron: “Scientific Mythology.” The great majority of agnostic or atheist scientists criticize Christians for their “superstitions,” but their own world views are often constructed around a kind of mythology, with scientists themselves as the mythic heroes. The enemy (or, more romantically, the “dragon”) in their myths is anything that stands in the way of free inquiry and the advancement of knowledge. In their terms, the enemy is “dogma,” and they will have none of it. These same scientists do not see that holding the advancement of knowledge or free inquiry as the supreme good is itself a kind of dogma; and this should help us realize that scientists are not always flawless in their logic.

In any event, a typical story in Scientific Mythology has as its hero a person with a new idea, and the story works best if the idea can be described as “heretical” — an adjective many scientists use to confer honor. In the course of the story, the hero encounters a “dogmatic” villain, preferably an immensely powerful one, and is often vanquished in body and spirit, but never in mind, and at the climax of the story he may mutter under his breath, “e pur si muove” (“it moves nonetheless”) or some other phrase to tell us that he has not given up his idea. The moral is always the same: today we know the “heretical” idea is correct, and we can scoff at the dogmatic villain who was powerful but wrong and honor the freethinking hero who was weak but right.

Many scientists are wedded to this kind of mythology to such an extent that it warps their view of history, adversely affects their scientific work, and even compromises their honesty. These are serious charges, the most serious ones you can level against a scientist, but I base them on close experience. Let me tell a story that illustrates what I am saying.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Texas, many of the professors there taught a scientific myth about the Crab Nebula and the Supernova of 1054. The Crab Nebula is a wispy cloud of gas and dust visible in the northern skies, which astronomers believe is the remnant of an exploding star called a supernova. Based on the distance to the nebula, and the rate that material in the nebula is expanding outward, we can calculate the year (1054 A.D.) that the supernova would have appeared in the sky and how bright it would have been. As it happens, in that year, Chinese and Japanese astronomers recorded the presence of a new star, bright enough to be seen even in daytime, which is what we would expect. However, there is no record that the event was seen in Europe.

From this absence of recorded evidence grew the myth taught by many of the UT astronomy faculty (which I have now traced back at least as far as The Feynman Lectures on Physics). The supernova of 1054, they taught, was not reported in Europe because the Europeans were in the grip of the Dark Ages, and the powerful and dogmatic Catholic Church enforced Aristotle’s view that the stars were unchanging. This Church was so effective at suppressing the observations that none survived in all of Europe.

This story has all the basic elements of Scientific Mythology magnified many times. The supposedly heretical idea, that a new star could appear, was verifiable by anyone who had eyes to see. The dogmatic villain was so powerful that it could convince the poor ignorant masses of a whole continent that they could not believe what their own eyes told them. A dark age indeed! Thank Newton we live in better times!

There’s just one problem with the story, it is patently ridiculous. Anyone who can read the Gospels will have a first inkling that something must be wrong with it: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:2) It is difficult to reconcile a dogmatic position that the heavens are unchangeable with a newly appeared Star of Bethlehem of Matthew’s Gospel. Or are we supposed to believe that Aristotle held a higher position in the medieval mind than even the Gospels? Well, it really doesn’t matter, because anyone who knows Western history, that increasingly esoteric and unpopular subject, will see a bigger problem. The ideas of Aristotle were nearly completely unknown in Latin Europe in 1054. Not until the 13th century did St. Thomas Aquinas and other Scholastic thinkers attempt to adapt Aristotelian thought to the foundations of Christian theology, and this was greeted with great suspicion at first.

To continue the story, near the end of my graduate studies at UT, I spent a lot of time working in the library, and I came across a book — I believe it was called The Historical Supernovae — and read an account of the supernova of 1006. This one was brighter than the supernova of 1054 and a little further south, and it was also reported in China and Japan, and … in the records of a European monastery. At this point, I had had enough. I copied the page from the book and brought it to one of our weekly group lunches. At the end of the meeting, I showed it to a professor whom I had heard teach the “mythological” version. He was a man whose scientific integrity I respected. I told him that he and many of the professors were teaching an error in the introductory astronomy classes. I explained everything that I have explained above, ending with an emphatic flourish: “and so, unless you have a convincing theory that some radical dogmatic change occurred in the 48 years between 1006 and 1054, you should probably change what you teach about the supernova of 1054.”

What do you suppose he said? His one-sentence reply was “I’m still going to teach it the way I always have.”

Apparently, his myth meant more to him than the truth. And he’s not the only one. I have found lots of interesting references to the myth of the Supernova of 1054. The most interesting is from a 1998 issue of Natural History magazine and was written by the director of the Hayden Planetarium (none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson), in an article, ironically enough, about the importance of checking the evidence before you believe something:

“In scientific investigations of the natural world, the only thing worse than a blind believer is a seeing denier. In A.D. 1054, a star in the constellation Taurus abruptly increased in brightness by a factor of one million. Chinese astronomers wrote about it. Middle Eastern astronomers wrote about it. Native Americans in what is now the southwestern United States made rock engravings of it. The star became bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky for weeks, and it continued to be visible in the night sky for months. Yet we have no record of anybody in all of Europe documenting the event.”

Tyson’s explanation:

“[But] Aristotle had said the stars don’t change. The Church, with its unmatched authority, promulgated the idea. People accepted it, believed it: a collective delusion that was stronger than their own powers of observation.”

Later in the same article, referring to some of the commonly held misconceptions about astronomy, Tyson lamented,

“One would think that in our modern and enlightened culture, people would be immune to believing falsehoods that are easily testable. But we are not.”

What can one say, except “how true”? You are allowed one guess as to where Neil de Grasse Tyson conducted his graduate studies….The University of Texas. (I know this because I was studying there at the same time.) Thus is the Scientific Mythology passed on to the next generation, except, with Tyson, the size of the forum is quite a lot larger. In a final irony, I found a 1999 article that claims to have found evidence that the 1054 supernova actually was reported in European records. But even that article couldn’t let go of the mythological version so easily. It ends by noting that Europeans never reported seeing the supernova in the morning, as the Asians did, and then speculates that the Roman church may have suppressed only the morning observations. Right … or maybe they just slept later in Europe.

There are many other examples of Scientific Mythology one could cite. Many of them have to do with the case of Galileo, which involved real abuse of authority and real injustice, though not as clear-cut as in the mythological versions.

To see how distorted the story of Galileo has become, consider the following fact that many historians and scientists forget to mention: the evidence Galileo presented for the motion of the Earth in his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” had to do with ocean tides and is completely wrong. Not his conclusion, mind you — the Earth does move — but the evidence he presented for it. So his critics in the Church were not wrong to insist on better proof before taking his advice about re-interpreting Scripture in light of heliocentric theory.

Scientific Mythology unfairly distorts history, but is often innocent and rather juvenile. Sometimes, however, it is coupled with something more pernicious, namely the idea that science and Christianity are in fundamental opposition. This usually takes the form of what one may call “Scientific Triumphalism”, in which science completely displaces theology, philosophy and everything else as the sole tool for understanding our existence.

Scientific Triumphalism is harmful both to science and to Christianity, and so full of subtle errors that I’m sure I haven’t worked them out fully. So let me proceed again with examples. I borrow the first example from the late Stephen Hawking, who was Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the very chair that Newton held. In a 2002 article from his 60th birthday symposium, Hawking described the situation in theoretical cosmology at the beginning of his career. (See http://plus.maths.org/issue18/features/hawking/) The big question in cosmology at that time (the early 1960s) was whether the universe had a temporal beginning, i.e. a first moment of time. Many scientists were instinctively opposed to this idea, because they felt that a first moment could be seen as a “point of creation.” It might even be a place where science broke down and one might have to appeal to the hand of God to set the “initial conditions” of the universe.

This widespread prejudice against the idea that the universe had a beginning grew out of the materialist philosophies of the 19th century, and by 1917 it held such sway that Einstein himself was afflicted with it. When Einstein improved upon Newton’s theory of gravity and used his new theory to construct the gravitational equations governing the universe, he found that there was no “static solution,” that is, the equations suggested that a universe dominated by gravity would either expand or contract. This idea was so philosophically “repugnant” (his word) that he added a constant, or “fudge factor” if you like, to the equations to balance them out. In effect he forced the equations to describe an eternal universe. He later called this his “biggest blunder”. The consequence of his blunder was that he failed to predict the cosmic expansion that Edwin Hubble would measure in 1929.

As it happened, there was a less dogmatic hero in this story, who took seriously the possibility, suggested by the equations, that the universe could be expanding. Do know who he was? His story falls so far outside the standard Scientific Mythology that you seldom hear it or even his name. He was the Belgian theoretical physicist and Catholic priest Georges Lemaître. Lemaître used Einstein’s Equations to construct the theory that later became known as the Big Bang theory and to predict the expansion of the universe two years before Hubble measured it. Here’s what Fr. Lemaître had to say about science and religion in his life: “There were two ways of arriving at the truth. I decided to follow them both.” He also said,

“Nothing in my working life, nothing I ever learned in my studies of either science or religion has ever caused me to change that opinion. I have no conflict to reconcile. Science has not shaken my faith in religion and religion has never caused me to question the conclusions I reached by scientific methods.”  [Editor:  me neither.]

To continue Lemaître’s story, the initial response of some to his theory of an expanding universe with a finite age was dismissal and even derision. Fred Hoyle, a Cambridge astronomer of firm atheist convictions, applied the name “Big Bang” to the theory as mockery. Hoyle hated the idea of a universe with a beginning, even after Hubble’s discovery that the universe is expanding. He did not believe the question was settled, but proposed that as the universe expanded new matter was constantly appearing to fill the void, so that the Universe could still be eternal. Hoyle was happier with the spontaneous and unobserved generation of new matter (which violated the principle of conservation of energy) than he was with a cosmic beginning.

Fortunately, one of the great features of scientific inquiry is that it relies upon observations of the universe itself to correct any biases that theorists might have. And that is what happened in the case of the “Big Bang” theory. In 1965, when radiation from the “primordial fireball” of Lemaître’s theory was observed by Bell Labs engineers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, even the diehard skeptics were convinced, and now the Big Bang is the standard model astronomers and physicists use to think about the universe. And almost all of them agree it had some kind of beginning very different from the conditions we see now. Happily, Fr. Lemaître is now beginning to receive greater honor from scientists for his contributions. In 2018, the members of the International Astronomical Union voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the famous “Hubble Law” describing the expansion of the universe should henceforth be called the Hubble-Lemaître Law. And this is another wonderful thing about science, which should give us hope: in the end truth does tend to win out over myth and prejudice.

My second example of Scientific Triumphalism are the radically reductionist views of Evolution of the kind promoted by Richard Dawkins and others.

Evolution by natural selection is an elegant, though incomplete, theory and a theory I enjoy thinking about very much. As a scientific theory, it is no more problematic for religion than the study of fetal development. If I tell my children in one moment that they were made by God and in the next I explain how they grew in their mother’s womb from a single cell through a set of magnificently orchestrated chemical reactions, I do not commit any theological or scientific error. As I once put it to a Christian audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, no laws of physics were broken in the creation of this human being you see here before you.” Reproduction strikes me as an economical way to create. And it illustrates a general principle of Catholic theology, which was stated as follows by the great Jesuit theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617): “God does not interfere directly with the natural order, where secondary causes suffice to produce the intended effect.”

Of course, fetal development is not only economical, it is also marvelous, wonderful, and, if you have ever tried to build anything remotely complicated, awe-inspiring.

Before applying the same logic to evolution, it is important to be clear about the meaning of the word. To “evolve,” in the literal sense of the word, is to “unfold.” If the unfolding of the first man and woman was through natural selection acting on the well-regulated natural interactions of matter, then what is there in that to threaten our faith? In saying this, am I going way out on a theological limb? Well, listen to what the great St. Augustine wrote more than sixteen centuries ago in his work De Genesi ad Litteram (“On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis”):

“But from the beginning of the ages, when day was made, the world is said to have been formed, and in its elements at the same time there were laid away the creatures that would later spring forth with the passage of time, plants and animals, each according to its kind. . . . In all these things, beings already created received at their own proper time their manner of being and acting, which developed into visible forms and natures from the hidden and invisible reasons which are latent in creation as causes. . .”

That is about as good an anticipation of evolution as one could imagine. And St. Augustine proposed it for theological reasons. So why is evolution considered so controversial and problematic, and why do even some Catholics feel a pit in their stomachs when some eminent biologists teach and defend the theory? Part of the reason is that some of these biologists are like the astronomers I described above. Some of them are interested not only in teaching us about evolution but also in telling us what it means … their materialist and triumphalist version of what it means. Which usually translates into “God is dead at last.”

For example, Jacques Monod, molecular biologist and 1965 Nobel laureate in medicine, argued in his book Chance and Necessity that because we arise from a process involving chance events we cannot be the result of any foresight, nor can we be the fulfillment of any purpose, divine or otherwise. “Destiny,” he said, “is written concurrently with the event, not prior to it.” Richard Dawkins, the most effective popularizer of evolutionary theory, is more blunt: “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics… Natural selection has no purpose in mind, it has no mind and no mind’s eye. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all.” Along with their presentation of evolutionary theory, both of these atheists present, as a logical conclusion of the theory, that we cannot be the result of any design.

My first response to this is that it is a logical fallacy. The presence of randomness in a process might just as much be evidence for design as against. In recent years, a whole new field of computational physics has emerged that relies upon the same principles we find in evolutionary theory. In this new field, programmers construct “genetic algorithms”, which breed and randomly mutate solutions to complex equations; and then they use these algorithms to explore the properties of physical systems. It turns out that this is the most efficient way to explore solutions to some complicated problems, and yet it relies on randomness and selection based on fitness. If we came upon a computer running one of these algorithms, we would not be able to discern its purpose simply by observing it in operation, but we would err if we supposed from its use of random mutation that it had no purpose or design.

For the more poetic, a different analogy: just as dust sprinkled randomly on a surface can reveal the prints left by a hand, so could the random exploration of physical forms reveal latent creatures laid down by God’s design in the very potentialities of matter. I don’t pretend to be proving that this is true, only showing that the randomness and selection by fitness intrinsic to evolutionary theory is not prima facie evidence against God, no matter what some well-known biologists may say.

I would also point out a curious paradox. In the interval of history between Isaac Newton and Werner Heisenberg, materialists told us God was dead because the laws of physics were deterministic. Once the initial conditions were fixed, the universe played out without the chance for free will. At best we could have Deism, where God winds things up and then sits back to watch. But it wouldn’t be a very interesting show since the end was fixed at the beginning. Now we know better, we know that all interactions in nature are pervaded with intrinsic randomness, including the interactions of beings like us. And what do materialists tell us this means? … That God is dead!

One of the problems with Scientific Triumphalism, the notion that science has displaced all other ways of arriving at truth, is that there are many questions it cannot provide answers to, including most of the important questions of life and how we should live our lives.

Modern science as we know and practice it emerged in the early modern period within a Western Christian culture. In the service of human flourishing it has done great good. But in an increasingly secularized West, science as a methodology for solving problems is in constant danger of pulling loose from its religious and spiritual moorings. Whenever this happens, the result is disaster. In ethics and in morality science cannot provide for itself. There are two things in particular it has to borrow from elsewhere, and these are “compassion” and “hope”. Concerning compassion, one way to put the problem is this: “compassion for the weak is not a principle of science.”

The more you think about that the more frightening it becomes. To be fair, all of the atheist scientists I have known who claimed to live by science alone actually had quite a lot of compassion for the weak. Whether this arose from the “law written in their hearts” by God (Romans 2:14-5) or from breathing what is left of the increasingly rarified religious component of the atmosphere of our culture I cannot say. But this compassion was certainly not an outgrowth of their scientific materialism. I have always been simultaneously puzzled by and grateful for the compassion of atheists, but I never inquire too deeply about it, out of fear I might trigger a recognition of what I have just told you: “compassion for the weak is not a principle of science.”

In fact, compassion for the weak is the virtue science most easily forgets. The flirtation with eugenics in the last century was an attempt to improve the human race by eliminating the so-called weak. In the United States it resulted in forced sterilizations and in Europe millions died. In the future, when we have constructed clear enough genetic maps to choose precisely between the weak and the strong, how many millions will die? The machinery is already in place, and our culture has already declared its willingness to cooperate in such an “improvement project” by assenting to the abortion of many millions of children.

In addition to “compassion for the weak,” science lacks the route to another important virtue, and that is hope. From observation we know not only that each of us will die, but that in the distant future our planet will undergo the same fate. Even if there is no catastrophic asteroid collision that wipes out all life sooner, in 5 billion years or so the sun will grow into a red giant star, boil away the earth’s oceans and atmosphere and leave a lifeless rock. Everything we have ever created or will create will be lost forever. Even if we can move elsewhere, the increasing expansion of the universe will eventually mean energy is too dilute to sustain life. Science gives us no reason to hope in the face of existential fears.

And the loss of hope has become a serious problem in the secular world. What is the leading cause of violent death worldwide? Is it war, or homicide? It’s neither. According to the World Health Organization, the leading cause of violent deaths is suicide, which is roughly twice as common as homicide and seven times more common than death from violent conflict. In many ways we live in our own Dark Ages, an era of despair. Never have so many, with so much, been so unhappy. Science can show us how to live longer, but it cannot show us how we ought to live or even that we ought to live.

Science itself is a great good and a great gift. It is not and never has been an enemy of religion. What is harmful to religion, and not only to religion but to science itself, is what I have called Scientific Mythology and Scientific Triumphalism. These are cultural phenomena that do not stem from the discoveries of science but from the vanity of some scientists who are unable to put science in proper perspective.”

Love & truth,
Matthew