Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Jun 5 – St Boniface & the Christmas tree


-St Boniface icon in the care of St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“Today we celebrate the feast of St. Boniface (680–754), known in Church history as the Apostle to the Germans. Boniface is regarded as “probably the greatest missionary since St. Paul” for his extensive travels and successful evangelization efforts in modern-day Germany.[1] While he is well known as a great bishop and evangelizer, Catholic legend, based on actual historical events, also holds that Boniface is the founder of the use of a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

The story of the Christmas tree begins in England, where the very young Winfrid decided to enter a Benedictine monastery over the objections of his parents. Winfrid grew in holiness and piety but yearned to leave the monastery and bring the light of Christ to the pagan Germans just as the monks had brought the Faith to England a century earlier. Winfrid heard reports that Pope Gregory II (r. 715-731) had sent missionaries to Bavaria in 716 and decided to travel to Rome to become a missionary to the Germans. Pope Gregory was delighted at the arrival of the eager Winfrid and after a period of time commissioned him to preach the Gospel in the regions of Thuringia, Bavaria, Franconia, and Hesse. In recognition of his special missionary commission, the pope also changed Winfrid’s name to Boniface.

The newly named monk traveled to Hesse (central Germany) in 721 and “with his tireless activity, his gift for organization, and his adaptable, friendly, yet firm character” achieved great success, including the conversion of the twin chieftains Dettic and Deorulf.[2] Boniface also established Benedictine monasteries throughout his area of evangelization, including the great monastery of Fulda in 744.[3] News of his great achievements reached Rome, where he was recalled by Pope Gregory to provide a status report. Impressed and pleased with Boniface’s efforts, Gregory consecrated him archbishop for all Germany east of the Rhine (without a specific episcopal seat) and placed his territory under the pope’s jurisdiction. Imbued with this new authority and pontifical mandate, Boniface returned to Germany in 723.

Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.

His fellow missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”[4] Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor.

The Germans were astounded. The holy bishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said,

“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”[5]

Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.

Boniface continued his missionary efforts into old age when in 754, he left for a trip to Frisia with fifty monks. Their work was successful and many pagans agreed to receive baptism. When the appointed time came to celebrate the sacrament, a large armed crowd of pagans approached the missionaries. Knowing his time to die was at hand, Boniface discouraged his followers from fighting and said, “Cease my sons, from fighting, give up warfare for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day; the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!”[6] The ferocious pagan attack left Boniface and his fellow companions dead and celebrated as martyrs for the Faith.

His later biographer, Othlo, recalled Boniface’s deep love for the people who he endeavored for so long to bring to Christ:

The holy bishop Boniface can call himself father of all the inhabitants of Germany, for it was he who first brought them forth in Christ with the words of his holy preaching; he strengthened them with his example; and lastly, he gave his life for them; no greater love than this can be shown.”[7]

In the centuries that followed, the Catholic tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus spread throughout Germany, and German immigrants in the eighteenth century brought the custom to the New World. Although there are many stories, legends, and myths surrounding the founding of the Christmas tree, including the claim that the custom originated with Martin Luther, there is only one story rooted in a real person and a real event: Boniface, converter of the Germans, who destroyed Thor’s mighty oak.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

[1] John Vidmar, OP, The Catholic Church Through the Ages (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005), 83.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans”, on March 11, 2009in Church Fathers and Teachers – From Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 80.

[3] Boniface placed Fulda under the jurisdiction of the papacy, which was a novel concept at the time. This was the same arrangement for the more well-known monastery at Cluny in the early tenth century.

[4] Fr. William P. Saunders “The Christmas Tree”, Straight Answers article in the Arlington Catholic Herald, available at http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/columns/williamsaunders/straightanswers/68.asp.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., 46. Quoted in, Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface”,March 11, 2009.

[7] Othlo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., lib. I, 158. Quoted in, Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface”,March 11, 2009.

[8] The Washington Post – The Mini Page, “O Tannenbaum*!”, December 6, 2009, SC5. For Boniface chopping the oak tree see Fr. John Laux, Church History – A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1989), 221 & Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom (Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1987), 276.

Theology & Marriage 2

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“The Catholic ideal of married life is rigorous and difficult. Catholic spouses are to surrender their own selfish interests in service to a transcendent goal — to bring one’s spouse and one’s children to God. Sometimes that self-surrender calls for enormous and painful sacrifice, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the Cross for the sake of the Church. Most importantly, the Catholic Church recognizes Christian marriage as a sacrament, which means that God promises us the grace to meet those difficult demands.

Early Protestants, on the other hand, simply denied that marriage is a sacrament. Instead, they threw up their hands and asserted that the demands of Catholic marriage were too difficult. Therefore, they called for a relaxation of those demands and an end to the Church’s control over marriage. Protestant thought went on to emphasize more strongly the sexual dimension of married life, and eventually the romantic element as well, while deemphasizing the role that suffering plays in union with God.

My Protestantism offered me little solace in the face of a hopeless marriage, but Catholicism seemed to offer me a way to reconceive my suffering. Suffering willingly embraced becomes sacrifice, and sacrifice can bring a deeper experience of God’s grace….

I started thinking about the differences between Protestant and Catholic notions of sex and marriage. I discerned four major differences between the two traditions:

1. The Catholic tradition opposes both contraception and sodomy in marriage. Most Protestants allow them.
2. The Catholic Church exalts virginity, celibacy, and perfect continence over marriage. The Protestant tradition has always rejected this.
3. The Catholic Church does not allow Christian divorce and remarriage. Although Protestantism values lifelong fidelity in a broad sense, Protestant tradition has always allowed divorce in at least a few circumstances, such as adultery.
4. The Catholic Church regards Christian marriage as a sacrament that conveys grace. As a sacrament, Christian marriage (not all marriage) ought to be governed by Church law.

Protestant tradition, rather, has always asserted that God ordains marriage, but not as a sacrament. For Protestants, marriage is a civil institution rightly governed by civil law. Protestants and Catholics have different views of marriage, I came to understand, because they have different views about the foundational concepts of morality, spirituality, salvation, and human happiness. Catholics believe that the ultimate end of human life is loving union with God and neighbor. Aided by grace, we ought to bend every fiber of our being toward that end. Catholic ideas about marriage and contemplative life reflect that lofty calling.

The Protestant tradition also extols loving union with God but has always been more skeptical about the Christian’s moral potential. Catholics take quite seriously Christ’s command to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Relying on God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments, and through diligent cooperation with grace, Catholics believe that all God’s commands can be obeyed. By contrast, the Protestant tradition teaches that sin always remains and that perfect holiness in this life is impossible. Early Protestants argued, therefore, that we ought to relax the discipline of Christian life (including marriage) to accommodate human weakness…

Catholic marriage: “It is a love which is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” –Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), no. 9.

If you approach married life in that way, it becomes impossible to objectify your spouse for your own gratification. Instead, you beg for God’s grace and bend every fiber to order your life toward this transcendent goal. You would be willing to bear suffering, abstinence, and abnegation if they serve that great good. You would, in fact, learn to imitate Christ…

The ideal of celibacy reminds all Christians that the goal of life is spiritual friendship, not personal aggrandizement or pleasure seeking. A few Christians can take up that life in radical detachment from the world, but many more Christians live spiritual friendship through marriage.

The Christian ideal of marriage was very different from the ancient Roman practice. Pagan society expected chastity of women, but not of men. Roman men were allowed prostitutes and concubines, and then to avoid the unwanted consequences of such promiscuity they resorted to forced abortions, infanticide, and rudimentary and extremely harmful contraceptives. Women suffered disproportionately from these practices, which became one of the reasons Roman women were more likely than men to become Christian. The Catholic doctrine on chastity was liberating.

The Catholic Church advocated personal commitment to God over all other social commitments, even for women. This was a particularly radical idea in patriarchal Rome, where women were expected as a matter of course to acquiesce to the will of men. The Church, however, venerated virgin martyrs, such as St. Lucy, who went to their deaths for refusing to marry against their will. Unlike many other cultures of the era, canon law has refused from the very beginning to recognize the validity of forced marriage.

“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.” –Tertullian, “To His Wife,” in Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, Ancient Christian Writers Series, no. 13, trans. William P. LeSaint, S.J. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951), 35–36.

…The differences between Protestant and Catholic teaching on marriage have their roots in two fundamental issues. First, the Protestant Reformers thought that Catholic teaching on human sexuality was just too difficult. Second, the Reformers resented the authority that the Catholic Church exercised over Christian marriage. The way they tried to solve these “problems” theologically was to naturalize Christian marriage, removing it from the realm of the supernatural. A major part of the Reformation, therefore, was an attack on the sacramentality of Christian marriage.

The Reformers never denied that God instituted marriage at the creation of Adam and Eve. They simply denied that Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament. “Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God,” Calvin wrote, “and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet are not sacraments.” –Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.34.

…In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul teaches that Christians must not engage in sexually immoral behavior. That is not terribly surprising. What is surprising is the reason he gives. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Paul writes, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15).

In this text, Paul teaches that a Christian’s very body has been permanently changed in a way that identifies him with Christ and thereby affects his sexuality. The Christian literally carries the body of Christ with him into the marriage bed. While I found the idea to be somewhat arresting, I quickly saw that it had profound implications for the doctrine of marriage. If two baptized people got married, then Christ would necessarily be implicated in a very profound, very intimate way in their union.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 53-56, 58-59, 63-64, 67-68). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Theology & Marriage

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I hoped one of us would get hit by a bus. (I didn’t care which one.)…Murder, maybe. Divorce, never.”

“Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, once wrote that it is pointless to debate brilliantly about the Trinity if, by being an arrogant ass, you are displeasing to the Trinity[, and] that is [also] the Catholic point of view.”

“I once asked an attorney who handled both criminal defense and divorce cases if he was ever afraid to defend murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders. “Oh, no,” he said. “Often, you are the only person supporting the accused and they are genuinely grateful. What really scares me are the divorces. You wouldn’t believe how vicious these people can get.””

“With God’s help, prayer is a battle against ourselves. Prayer is where we cast off self-deception, artifice, pride, and egotism. Prayer is where we learn to stand naked before God and transparent to ourselves. Prayer is where we take up the Cross of Christ, allow ourselves to be slain, and entrust our resurrection to God alone.”

“The Church, for a Catholic, is a divine reality, the presence of Christ in the world…The Catholic Church sees Herself as the living embodiment of Jesus, as Christ’s real presence in the world. “Whoever beholds the Church,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa, “beholds Christ.”

…How could something so human — so full of incompetence and flesh and pride and ambition — be the living presence of God in the world?…

I caught a glimpse of something I had never seen before. Salvation isn’t just about going to Heaven when you die, escaping the world, or simply having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s about being Christ in the world, embracing life with both hands, and raising it all up with as many people as possible in transcendent joy. “Whoever beholds the Church beholds Christ.” That mediocre priest, that baby, that grandmother, that college student, and even that corrupt medieval pope: Could God be present in that? Could a man love that?…

Being Catholic — being Christ in the world — doesn’t exempt you from flesh and blood, even from ambition, pride, and sin…It is a life visibly marked out by and for transcendence.”

“In Catholic thought, contemplation means having a deep, intuitive, almost experiential awareness of God through the life of prayer…the Church teaches that marriage is also a kind of full-time Christian spirituality, and one that offers a deep, interior experience of God.

Keeping this mystical dimension of marriage in view is absolutely necessary if we are to understand how to approach suffering in marriage. For many people today, the fact of personal pain would seem to justify almost any decision meant to relieve that pain. Are you in a difficult marriage? Then why not leave and try something else? Have you discovered that your sexual urges don’t line up with the demands of heterosexual or monogamous marriage? Why deny yourself satisfaction? But the Catholic Faith teaches that such suffering can be supremely meaningful, leading even to a mystical union with God.

One of my major concerns in writing this book is to urge suffering couples to a vigorous practice of the Catholic Faith. My hope is that Catholic couples will discover new strength for their marriages and that non-Catholic couples will consider what the Catholic Faith has to offer…my aim is to point married couples beyond the tools of psychology or natural marriage and to help them embrace a transcendent vision of Christian conjugal life….

I saw our lives potentially bound together through the mystery of suffering, and reshaped through the mystery of redemption. I felt that the universe was giving me a choice: Will you embrace suffering and redemption, or will you shelter yourself through the pursuit of pleasure?…

But I was coming to realize how the Protestant understanding of grace, assurance, faith, and salvation obscured my awareness of myself. Protestant teaching asserts that everything we do is sinful, but everything is forgiven — if we are “saved.” This is not a doctrine that encouraged me in critical self-examination or growth in virtue. By focusing so heavily on my general depravity, sinfulness, and inability to save myself, I felt strangely freed from responsibility to root out individual faults.

In studying Luther and Calvin, I found, however, that my experience was not unique. John Calvin was a man who confessed the sinfulness of humanity but was incapable of confessing his own personal fault. In tens of thousands of pages of material by and about him, I do not recall Calvin ever admitting wrong, apologizing, or taking responsibility for failure. Calvin divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, the pious and the impious — and he was always on the right side while his enemies were always on the wrong side.

Unlike Calvin, Luther had a tormented conscience; he felt he could never do anything right, and it was this profound guilt that drove him to concoct his new theology. Luther was so convinced of his ineradicable corruption, guilt, and sinfulness that he despaired even of God’s grace to change him. Even to try could lead only to frustration. The solution for Luther was not to focus on ethical behavior toward others but on absolving one’s own conscience.

It really is an extraordinary position. “Whoever wants to be saved,” Luther said, “should act as though no other human being except him existed on earth.” In an important sense, the Reformation doctrine of grace flows from this one man’s attempt to assuage his conscience. Luther articulated a brand-new theology, one that simply denied human freedom and insisted that man plays no role in his own salvation.

Now, to say that Luther and Calvin were flawed men is not surprising or informative. We could say that about anyone. Far more important to me was what I learned about how their flaws worked their way into Protestant theology, and ultimately into my life. There were cracks in the foundation of my religious tradition and those cracks found their way into my heart.

What does all this have to do with my marriage? I was discovering that my Protestant theology did not provide an adequate moral compass, sense of hope, or spiritual inspiration to meet the challenges of marriage. My historical studies further shook the foundations of my worldview, challenged me to deeper self-examination, and forced me to explore new answers to my moral malaise.

I became convinced that Reformation theology advanced neither Luther nor Calvin, as human beings, toward holiness. I began to see their theology, rather, as a highly sophisticated form of self-justification. In one sense this was an easy conclusion to reach, since I found in Luther and Calvin the very same flaws I found in myself. Therefore, if I was going to advance out of my morass, I was going to need different guides. Eventually, these concerns pushed me to seek holiness in the Catholic tradition and in the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

The intellectual history of Protestantism became for me a mirror in which to contemplate my own moral and spiritual dilemma. My tradition formed me to expect absolute assurance about salvation, regardless of my own behavior. Revealed in the lives of my Protestant mentors, though, I began to see how this attitude could have harmful effects not only on marriage, but on all manner of social relations.

I came to believe that my mentors and heroes in the faith had been worse than socially awkward: They had been dangerous ideologues, immune to criticism, utterly cocksure, and willing to impose their views with deadly force. This discovery was disquieting, to say the least. I always thought Catholics were the tyrants and ideologues, leading crusades and inquisitions and so forth, but now I was seeing the seed of interpersonal tyranny in my own tradition…

The Puritans of New England attempted to build an entire civilization on the distinction between the elect and the reprobate. Around the same time, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which was composed in England to provide an authoritative guide for building such a Protestant civilization, promised that the elect can have an “infallible assurance” of their election.

In Protestant thinking, “elect and reprobate” is not the same thing as “good and bad.” Instead, it is having “true faith” that distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. The elect, by virtue of having accepted that faith, can be infallibly certain that they are elect, even when their lives are morally disordered in other ways. Put crudely, you can meet an arrogant, self-righteous, lecherous egotist who knows for sure that he is one of God’s elect, destined for Heaven.

I was that egotist.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 8, 11, 13, 29-30, 34-35, 44, 49-51). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Did the Ascension really happen?


-Ascension Chapel, Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, UK, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Matt Nelson

“At the climax of the forty days spent with the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Catholics have always understood this to be a literal, miraculous event. We believe it really happened—and as a Church we profess it every Sunday.

But the dogma also has its detractors. Some have made a mockery of the doctrine, likening the “flying” Jesus to an Apollo spacecraft, as was a common jest among atheists in the 60s and 70s. Others deny the possibility of the miraculous altogether. Still others, like Episcopalian theologian John Shelby Spong, read the ascension as non-literal and symbolic: “A modern person knows that if you rise up off the Earth (as in the ascension), you don’t go to heaven. You go into orbit.”

Considering such criticisms, how can Catholics defend the reality of Christ’s ascension?

One might sympathize with Spong’s objection above. After all, isn’t heaven supposed to be “beyond” the physical universe? It’s an interesting objection, one to which C.S. Lewis offered what I find to be a satisfying rebuttal. After His Resurrection, it may have been that Our Lord,

“…a being still in some mode, though not our mode, corporeal, withdrew at His own will from the Nature presented by our three dimensions and five senses, not necessarily into the non-sensuous and undimensioned but possibly into, or through, a world or worlds of super-sense and super-space. And He might choose to do it gradually. Who on earth knows what the spectators might see? If they say they saw a momentary movement along the vertical plane – then an indistinct mass – then nothing – who is to pronounce this improbable?”

So it may have been that Jesus, still in bodily form, chose to ascend not to the stars, but simply from the ground as the beginning of the super-physical journey to heaven. This still assumes, of course, that miracles are possible. But are they?

Miracles are by definition supernatural events; and science only examines natural phenomena. To make a definitive claim about whether miracles can occur, one must look beyond, for example, microscopes and rulers and ask if such events are possible on philosophical grounds. Perhaps you have heard some version of David Hume’s objection that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. The assumption is that God, if he existed, would have no right to create a supernatural effect in the natural world. But why not? The believer’s claim has consistently been that God is the First Cause of all physical reality. This means he is the creator and sustainer of the natural laws and the things they govern. He is the supreme Lawmaker.

It is absurd to charge him, then, with breaking his own “laws” since he is under no moral nor logical obligation to cause effects only via the normal physical causal relationships he himself upholds. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga has asked, why can’t we think of the laws of nature as descriptors of how God usually treats the matter he has created? And as we find that so many established theories end up being inadequate to explain all relevant phenomena, how can we say we even know with complete certainty what “the laws” are?

Another step in fortifying our defense of Christ’s ascension is to show that there are good reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. If the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection may be rationally entertained, then so may be his ascension.

One of the most effective ways to make the case for the Resurrection is to use the minimal facts approach proposed originally by scholar Jürgen Habermas. This involves considering the historical facts accepted widely by all experts (most skeptics included), then demonstrating that the resurrection, rather than a natural explanation, is the best explanation for them. Such well-evidenced facts—what historian Mike Licona calls “historical bedrock”—include Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the reported appearances of the risen Christ, the empty tomb, and the sudden conversion of St. Paul, enemy and persecutor of the first Christians.

Another theory is that the disciples were hallucinating when they saw the resurrected Jesus. This hypothesis is plagued from the start by the fact that entire groups claimed to see Jesus at one time (1 Cor. 15:3-6). Group hallucinations are unlikely since people share neither brains nor minds. But even if mass hallucinations did occur, what could explain St. Paul’s conversion? What are the chances that he and Christ’s followers would hallucinate the same risen Jesus? The most tenable explanations for all these events involve a real person, Jesus, risen from the dead after his Crucifixion.

Could the account of the ascension itself be questionable? With St. Luke is our primary source, how can we trust that he is telling us history and not an allegory? John Shelby Spong finds this explanation most likely: “Luke never intended his writing to be understood literally. We have greatly misrepresented Luke’s genius by reading it literally.”

The problem with this reading is that Luke explicitly rejects its possibility. The evangelist clearly asserts in the prologue to his Gospel that his intention is to describe real history. Furthermore, when Luke describes the ascension there is no hint of embellishment, which is strange indeed if he did not intend it literally. In the gospel account he simply tells us that Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:52). In Acts, he writes that Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Cold and clinical, like a serious historian interested only in the facts, Luke just tells us what happened—and that’s it. It is also notable that because the Gospel accounts were written only a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, there would have been eyewitnesses of Jesus still alive to correct or object to Luke’s account. But there is simply no record of such an objection.

Indeed, Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles (which are “companion volumes”) have been touted by scholars of ancient history and archaeology as impressively accurate. The great archaeologist Sir William Ramsay famously acknowledged St. Luke as “a historian of the first rank.” More recent studies of Luke’s historical accuracy, such as that by classical scholar Colin Hemer, have further confirmed the deservedness of this high praise. Thus, when Luke describes Jesus’ bodily ascension into the heavens, we have many good reasons to believe that St. Luke was reporting real history, “a narrative of the things which have been accomplished . . . just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:1).”

Love,
Matthew

Plague, the Catholic way

In 1575, the black death/plague descended on Milan [Ed. Ambrosian rite, as Milan was the city also of St Ambrose.  My novice master’s religious name was Ambrose.] The city’s bishop, St. Charles Borromeo, hastened both to action and to prayer. Borromeo sold his own possessions to fund the relief effort and persuaded many wealthy citizens to contribute generously. He organized his clergy to care, materially and spiritually, for all in need. He created and staffed hospitals and quarantine houses. [Ed. we get our word “quarantine” from the forty days plague victims were required to isolate themselves, “Italian: quaranta giorni”.] Concerned by the growing ranks of the unemployed (sound familiar?) he created jobs for, or otherwise supported, large numbers of unemployed workers. Though he instilled strict distancing policies, he was nevertheless desperate not to forego his own personal contact with the suffering. Accordingly, St Charles made everyone, including his own household, treat him as though he had the plague; he went so far as carrying a long pole to keep healthy-looking people at bay when going about his business. He also made a special point of ensuring that the most vulnerable—that is, the orphaned infants whom he took “particular pleasure in rescuing”—received adequate love and attention.

Mindful above all of his flock’s spiritual needs, Borromeo went to great lengths to ensure people, despite everything, received proper religious care: “While he did not neglect their bodies, his principal solicitude was for the salvation of souls.” Most strikingly, at the peak of the epidemic, with churches closed and people confined to their homes, he had outdoor altars erected all around town, “where Mass was said daily, so that all could attend from their homes.” [Ed. the Mass “online” of its day?] He also instituted door-to-door confessions—“the confessor sitting on the doorstep outside, and the penitent kneeling within”—and home-delivery of the Eucharist on Sundays, administering the sacrament at the doorstep “as if they had been cloistered religious.”

“It did not escape him that the forty days of quarantine, if given up to idleness, afforded many temptations to sin; he therefore was heedful to provide that this time should be spent so as to promote the glory of God and the salvation of their souls.” To this end, he organized a number of activities and resources to help his flock homeschool themselves in piety and virtue. Prayerbooks were also distributed to each household, so the whole city might pray in unison at seven times of the day and night, “singing psalms and hymns in two choirs, after the manner of a chapter of canons, and saying suitable prayers, each hour being announced by the ringing of the great bell of the cathedral.” Copies of inspiring readings were translated into the vernacular and published, including works by our third-century friends Sts. Cyprian and Dionysius, relevant sermons and letters from other saints, and an account of the Franciscan St. Bernardine’s ministrations in plague-torn Siena in 1400.

Aged just nineteen, Bernardine volunteered to work in Siena’s plague hospital and encouraged his friends to do likewise. Nursing the sick and dying, he “labored with such readiness and cheerfulness of mind, that it seemed as if he were engaged in the care of his father, of his brothers, or of his own children. This should cause little astonishment, for in serving the sick, Bernardine served God, who is more than father, brother, or son to us.”

And that was not all: To provide still further against the evils of idleness, St. Charles sent round a pastoral letter, suggesting how the rest of their time might be profitably spent in mental prayer and spiritual reading, and granted special indulgences to those who practiced these exercises and prayed for the sick.

According to Borromeo’s biographer, thanks to his concern for the spiritual sustenance of the quarantined, “Milan might at this time have been not unfitly compared to a cloister of religious of both sexes serving God in the enclosure of their cells, an image of the heavenly Jerusalem filled with the praises of the angelic hosts.”

St. Henry Morse (1595–1645) and St. John Southworth (c. 1592–1654) ministered illegally to London’s Catholics during a seventeenth-century outbreak of plague. Though neither liked the other’s methods, they got results. Both were later martyred for these and other “crimes.”

Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig (1911– 1945), was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 for preaching in defense of the Jews. Imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, he volunteered to serve quarantined inmates who were infected with typhoid. He contracted and died from the disease. He was beatified a “martyr of charity/love”, instead of a martyr from violence, similar to St Maximillian Kolbe or St Damien De Veuster, in 2016.

St Marianne Cope

Love, trust in Him, always,
Matthew

Interdict, actual grace, sanctifying grace & pandemic

The Church as sacrament

I know it is difficult for others to understand how the well catechized Catholic sees and understands the Church.  The Church, herself, is a sacrament.  Not a club.  Not an association.  Not something convenient, social, or popular to belong to, rather, the Church is an absolute necessity and vehicle for salvation.  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846)

Both CCC 847 and Gaudium Et Spes 22, regarding salvation outside the Church, say, basically, “may”, “ought”. They do not say “will”, “shall”, 51% chance, or any other equivocation from the original formula of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. And while Mt 18:18, and God gives His authority to His Church, His continuing presence on earth, God does not give away His power to save whomsoever He shall choose, whensoever He may choose.  He is God.  His Church recognizes this.

Actual & Sanctifying Grace

While belonging to the Church is a “necessary” vehicle, Mt 7:21. Therefore, all before baptism bear the deficiency of original sin, baptism is regenerative in grace. It is grace, sanctifying grace, to be in “the state of grace”, conscious of no mortal sin unrepented and absolved of, that makes us acceptable to God, to be in, to remain in the presence of God after death.  God in His infinitely brilliant, beyond comprehension brilliance, where no sin cannot be unconsumed, does not tolerate less than His own grace in His presence.  My mother would call her children, I assume my sister, too, but there was never much question about her, but definitely her sons and regularly ask, “(Name) are you in the state of grace?” Lovingly, like a mother who says, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother” would do.  Right?  Everybody knows what that’s like.  Right?  Everybody got those calls from their mothers.  Right? 🙂

Sanctifying grace stays in the soul. It’s what makes the soul holy; it gives the soul supernatural life. More properly, it is supernatural life.

Actual grace, by contrast, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It’s transient. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside, so to speak. It’s a supernatural kick in the pants. It gets the will and intellect moving so we can seek out and keep sanctifying grace. You can obtain supernatural life by yielding to actual graces you receive. God keeps giving you these divine pushes, and all you have to do is go along.

Sanctifying grace implies a real transformation of the soul. Recall that most of the Protestant Reformers denied that a real transformation takes place. They said God doesn’t actually wipe away our sins. Instead, our souls remain corrupted, full of sin. God merely throws a cloak over them and treats them as if they were spotless, knowing all the while that they’re not.

But that isn’t the Catholic view. We believe souls really are cleansed by an infusion of the supernatural life. Of course, we’re still subject to temptations to sin; we still suffer the effects of Adam’s Fall in that sense (what theologians call “concupiscence”); but God has removed the sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to get dirty again. Our wills are given the new powers of hope and charity, things absent at the merely natural level.

He sends you an actual grace, say, in the form of a nagging voice that whispers, “You need to repent! Go to confession!” You do, your sins are forgiven, you’re reconciled to God, and you have supernatural life again (John 20:21–23). Or you say to yourself, “Maybe tomorrow,” and that particular supernatural impulse, that actual grace, passes you by. But another is always on the way, God is never abandoning us to our own stupidity (1 Tim. 2:4).

Once you have supernatural life, once sanctifying grace is in your soul, you can increase it by every supernaturally good action you do: receiving Communion, saying prayers, performing corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Is it worth increasing sanctifying grace once you have it; isn’t the minimum enough? Yes and no. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. The minimum isn’t good enough because it’s easy to lose the minimum, due to our original sin.  Our defect, not God’s.  Our defect in preternatural justification, holiness, and grace lost in original sin.

We must continually seek God’s grace, continually respond to the actual graces God is working within us, inclining us to turn to Him and do good; even as original sin causes tempts us to turn away and do evil. This is what Paul discusses when he instructs us: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:12–16).

Sacraments as primary vehicles of grace

BALTIMORE CATECHISM #3
LESSON 13 – ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL

Q. 574. What is a Sacrament?

A. A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

In Catholicism, the seven sacraments are the primary vehicles of grace. To be deprived of them is a serious matter to Catholics for the above stated reasons. If, like in Japan, where for 200 years hidden Catholic communities maintained the faith from the seventeenth century when Catholicism was made illegal in Japan, and clergy expelled, until the nineteenth century when hidden Catholic communities who had kept the faith in Nagasaki and Imamura without clergy were rediscovered by returning missionaries, Catholics would believe God would supply the necessary graces for salvation in the absence of the sacraments.

However, as a means of censure, prohibition of the sacraments could mean the endangerment of one’s soul. Interdict today, it has a long history and technicalities, has the effect of forbidding the person or community, often referred to as “personal” or, in the case of a community, “local”, interdict from celebrating or receiving any of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, or to celebrate the sacramentals. One who is under interdict is also forbidden to take any ministerial part (e.g., as a reader if a layperson or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) in the celebration of the Eucharist or of any other ceremony of public worship.

However, in the case of a ferendae sententiae interdict, as opposed to latae sententiae, or automatically, similar to excommunication, ferendae sententiae interdict is one incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court, those affected are not to be admitted to Holy Communion (see canon 915), and if they violate the prohibition against taking a ministerial part in celebrating the Eucharist or some other ceremony of public worship, they are to be expelled or the sacred rite suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary. In the same circumstances, local ordinaries (bishops) and parish priests lose their right to assist validly at marriages.

Automatic (latae sententiae) interdict is incurred by anyone using physical violence against a bishop, as also by a person who, not being an ordained priest, attempts to celebrate Mass, or who, though unable to give valid sacramental absolution, attempts to do so, or hears a sacramental confession. Automatic interdict is also incurred by anyone falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favors in connection with confession or attempting to marry while having a perpetual vow of chastity.

An interdict is also the censure that canon law says should be imposed on someone who, because of some act of ecclesiastical authority or ministry publicly incites to hatred against the Holy See or the Ordinary (Bishop), or who promotes or takes up office in an association that plots against the Church, or who commits the crime of simony.

Our pandemic imposed interdict


by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Many saints have lived through tumultuous times—much like our own. Look no further than the fourteenth century; it seems to bear a striking resemblance to our present state of affairs. In fact, a quick read through one saint’s writings and you would think that she was living today.

Saint Catherine of Siena was born in the middle of the fourteenth century when the black death swept through Europe. Italy was far from united at the time, for all of the city states were embroiled in near ceaseless warfare (of smaller or larger scale) with one another.

At times, the Pope was even placing cities under interdict so that there were many who could not receive the Sacraments on account of their rebellious leaders. Saint Catherine was sometimes called on to act as an intermediary in these conflicts, such as when she traveled to Avignon in order to convince the Pope to lift the interdict on Florence.

Despite these many tribulations, the Catholic Church and her members persevered through this period of upheaval and uncertainty. And how did they do it? We can look to St. Catherine as a model. Her response to all of the troubles in the world was to implore the Lord to act through his Christian servants, both lay and ordained. She prayed for their renewed fidelity to the vocation God had given them. Whenever she prayed thus, she never failed to include herself as needing the same help she was asking for others.

Saint Catherine’s humble trust in God can serve as an example for us during these uncertain times. Below is an excerpt from a prayer that she said on Passion (Palm) Sunday in 1379, a little more than a year before her death at the age of 33. Perhaps you will find her centuries-old appeal to resonate with the needs of our present day and age.

“Oh Godhead,

my Love,

I have one thing to ask of You.

When the world was lying sick

You sent Your only-begotten Son

as doctor,

and I know You did it for love.

But now I see the world lying completely dead—

so dead that my soul faints at the sight.

What way can there be now

to revive this dead one once more?

For You, God, cannot suffer,

and You are not about to come again

to redeem the world

but to judge it.

How then

shall this dead one be brought back to life?

I do not believe, oh infinite Goodness,

that You have no remedy.

Indeed, I proclaim it:

Your love is not wanting,

nor is Your power weakened,

nor is Your wisdom lessened.

So You want to,

You can,

and You know how

to send the remedy that is needed.

I beg You then,

let it please Your goodness

to show me the remedy,

and let my soul be roused to pick it up courageously.

Response: [St. Catherine pauses here to listen to the Lord’s response.]

True,

Your Son is not about to come again

except in majesty,

to judge,

as I have said.

But as I see it,

You are calling Your servants christs,

and by means of them

You want to relieve the world of death

and restore it to life.

How?

You want these servants of Yours

to walk courageously along the Word’s way,

with concern and blazing desire,

working for Your honor

and the salvation of souls,

and for this

patiently enduring pain,

torments,

disgrace,

blame—

from whatever source these may come.

For these finite sufferings,

joined with their infinite desire,

You want to refresh them—

I mean, You want to listen to their prayers

and grant their desires.

But if they were merely to suffer physically,

without this desire,

it would not be enough

either for themselves or for others—

any more than the Word’s Passion,

without the power of the Godhead,

would have satisfied

for the salvation of the human race.

Oh best of remedy-givers!

Give us then these christs,

who will live in continual watching

and tears

and prayers

for the world’s salvation.

You call them Your christs

because they are conformed with Your only-begotten Son.

Ah, eternal Father!

Grant that we may not be foolish,

blind,

or cold,

or see so darkly

that we do not even see ourselves,

but give us the gift of knowing Your will.

I have sinned, Lord.

Have mercy on me!

I thank you,

I thank you,

for You have granted my soul refreshment—

in the knowledge You have given me

of how I can come to know

the exaltedness of Your charity(love)

even while I am still in my mortal body,

and in the remedy I see You have ordained

to free the world from death.”

-“Prayer 19” in The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanne Noffke (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 212-15.

Love & hope, trust in Him ALWAYS!!!,
Matthew

Excommunicating the Queen


-Elizabeth Tudor, please click on the image for greater detail.

Although excommunication has a softer tone now, and is interpreted as medicinal, currently, it was not always so.  It was always hoped the impenitent would return to the faith in true sorrow and penance, but if not, for a monarch, especially at the time of Elizabeth I, it absolved all her subjects from allegiance to her and her laws.  It also excommunicated all those who did obey the monarch’s laws and commands.

Excommunication is a great disgrace to Catholics. An excommunicated person was not to be dealt with, as it was believed that they were unchristian and would go to hell. Even until as recently as 1983, shunning was at least on the books, the tolerati, with whom the faithful were allowed some measure of social or business interaction, and the vitandi, literally, “to be avoided”. the faithful were not to associate with them “except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children, servants, subjects”, and in general unless there was some reasonable excusing cause.


-by Steve Weidenkopf


-Mary Tudor

“The day, long feared by Catholics, had arrived. Beloved Queen Mary’s five-year reign ended with her death while she was hearing Mass on November 17, 1558.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon proved a brave ruler, who deemed it God’s will to see the Catholic Faith openly practiced in the kingdom once more. Although her father, in order to be free of his wife, had taken the initial step of controlling the Church in England, the crown did not embrace heretical doctrine until the rule of her half-brother Edward VI (son of Henry and Jane Seymour).

Edward’s reign marked the expunging of the Faith and the use of force and penalties to impose the Protestant heresy on the Catholic people of England. But Edward was a sickly boy and his reign ended after six years. The men at the royal court responsible for implementing Protestant teaching and worship on the people, chief among them Thomas Cranmer, were brought to justice under Mary’s reign.

The Catholic Church flourished during the time of the beloved queen (the later moniker “bloody” associated with her name, applied by Protestant historians, is a travesty of charity) but fear always lurked behind the scenes. The queen was not married when she assumed the throne at the age of thirty-seven, but that was soon remedied with nuptials to Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, the union produced no heir, which fueled the fear that Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth Tudor (daughter of King Henry and Anne Boleyn) would assume the throne upon Mary’s death.

English Catholics believed the legitimate heir to the English crown was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (r. 1542–1567) because of her Catholic faith and relationship to the Tudor line (she was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister). However, political intrigue, not the least of which was the religious revolution in Scotland unleashed by the Protestant revolutionary, John Knox, prevented Mary Stuart from assuming the English throne.

Raised Protestant, Elizabeth spent much of her forty-five years upon the throne violently suppressing the Catholic Faith in England. One of the longest reigning monarchs in English history, Elizabeth is widely known as “Good Queen Bess”—a strong, independent, intelligent “Virgin Queen” who led her people into an era of unprecedented prosperity and represented the strong Protestantism of her people.

This narrative is, as Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc aptly described, “a monstrous scaffolding of poisonous nonsense.” In reality, Elizabeth was a figurehead monarch controlled behind the scenes by powerful men, who had been enriched by the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries under Henry and had an economic incentive to prevent the permanent restoration of the Catholic Faith in England.

English Catholics during the time of Elizabeth suffered greatly under the first state-sanctioned persecution of the Catholic Church since the Roman Empire. The first salvos in a long legislative campaign to eradicate the Catholic faith in England began in 1559, when Elizabeth was declared the Chief Governor of all Spiritual and Ecclesiastical Affairs in England by the Act of Supremacy, which required all clergy and university professors to take an oath of loyalty to her as head of the Church. Refusal to take the oath resulted in confiscation of property, imprisonment, and the possibility of the death penalty.

Another piece of legislation, the Act of Uniformity, restored Protestant worship in England and required every citizen to attend Church of England services; refusal to do so was punished by heavy fines. This legislation also declared it a crime to believe the pope is the head of the Church in England. Other anti-Catholic legislation passed during Elizabeth’s reign included a law that made conversion to the Catholic Faith a treasonous act punishable by death. When Jesuit missionaries arrived in the embattled nation to minister to the underground Church, laws were passed making it a criminal offense (aiding and abetting rebellion) to harbor or assist a Jesuit priest.

The attack on the Church in Elizabethan England required a response, especially if the Faith was to survive, even underground. William Cardinal Allen soon recognized the need for Englishmen to be trained abroad for the priesthood and then sent back to England, so in 1568 he established a seminary across the Channel in Douai (now part of France) known as the English College. Once ordained, the seminary’s graduates would return home clandestinely to care for the persecuted faithful.

One such priest, Cuthbert Mayne (1544–1577), [Ed. a former Anglican priest who had converted to Catholicism] arrived secretly in England on April 24, 1576. He ministered to the underground Church for just over a year until he was arrested on June 8, 1577 and sentenced to death. He was given the opportunity to save his life by recanting his Catholic faith by swearing on a Bible that Elizabeth was the head of the Church. Fr. Mayne took the Bible made the sign of the cross and said, “The Queen never was, nor is, nor ever shall be the head of the Church!” He was executed in the horrific manner of being hanged, drawn, and quartered and was the first of many martyred priests in Elizabethan England.

The popes had watched with great concern the persecution of the Church and supported efforts to minister to the underground Catholics in England. Eventually, one pope believed it was time for a radical response.


-Pope St Pius V, please click on the image for greater detail.

Upon his election to the papacy, Michele Cardinal Ghislieri took the name Pius V. Racked by the Protestant Revolution throughout Europe, the Church needed a vigorous response. Although the Catholic Reformation had begun under his predecessors, it was Pope St. Pius V (r. 1566–1572) who implemented the great Reform and set the Church on the path of restoration and recovery. A holy Dominican and former head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome, Pius was resolute in providing relief to the embattled Catholics in England. Elizabeth had been on the throne for twelve years and the efforts of previous pontiffs working with secular rulers to alleviate the sufferings of English Catholics had proved lacking. So, Pius V decided it was time to excommunicate the queen and call for her overthrow.

On April 27, 1570, Pius promulgated the bull Regnans in Excelsis, in which the “pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” was excommunicated for embracing the “errors of heretics.” The bull outlined the persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth and declared her deposed. All loyalty due her as monarch was revoked. Pius hoped the bull would spark a revolt in England and lead to Elizabeth’s overthrow.

This was not the first time a pontiff had excommunicated a secular ruler and called for a revolution. As with many previous examples, however, this effort failed to achieve its goal and even backfired. It was exploited by Elizabeth and her advisors, chiefly William Cecil (1520–1598), as “proof” that one could not be both Catholic and a loyal Englishman. During the following thirty-three years of Elizabeth’s reign, the Church saw six more pontificates. She continued her bloody persecution of Catholics in England, but the Faith would persevere as a result of the blood of the martyrs.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Catholic Echo Chamber

I am praying for relief from the Catholic echo chamber. I first heard it at Donald McGuire‘s sentencing hearing. Although in a prison orange jumpsuit and wheelchair, he began speaking the Catholic tape in his head, and all the Catholic nods starting nodding. Chilling. His family was there. The victims were there whom I sat with. No Jesuits. Telling. I recently heard it on a Word on Fire podcast where the priest and the interviewer just kept nodding at each other. Chilling. I hear it from those who have been institutionalized all their lives, the capacity for independent thought outside the echo chamber is gone forever. Smell like the sheep. In order to smell like the sheep, you have to be one.

It is this echo chamber which allowed the continued abuse of children and it’s cover up. I think Catholics are more dismayed, angry, frustrated, now devoid of faith by the way the Church treated the victims more than the crime itself. The echo chamber is alive and well. Clericalism is not dead. All the old structures which lead to tragedy still exist as they did before. Leading us further into tragedy. The one thing the Catholic Church does NOT do is…Listen.

Love & reform,
Matthew

Counterfeit Christ: Resurrection, only “spiritual”?

“Sit and smile.

That was all I could do, even though I wanted to rebut my debate opponent Dan Barker during his closing speech. Dan was once a Protestant pastor, but ever since his “de-conversion” in the 1980’s he has become a kind of preacher for atheism. In 2015 we debated whether or not God existed, and three years later we were on stage at Minnesota State University to debate a more specific question: “Does the Christian God exist?”

I thought the debate went well. I was able to neutralize Dan’s tactic of scattering dozens of difficult Bible verses in an effort to make the God of the Bible look like a moral monster. By the time we got to cross-examination, I was prepared to dive into one argument Dan had not addressed yet: my evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

But instead of addressing the evidence I raised, Dan just went right back to the alleged atrocities of the Old Testament. It was only during his closing statement, which was the last speech of the night, that Dan addressed my arguments.

He claimed that what really happened after Good Friday was that the apostles believed Jesus’ spirit rose from the dead while his body still lay in the tomb. For them, that was enough to turn defeat into victory; yet modern Christians have misunderstood their theology ever since.

But how can that be true if . . . ?
…St. Paul Believed in a Bodily Resurrection

It’s bad form to bring up new arguments or objections in your closing statement because your opponent has no opportunity to respond to them. I was frustrated, but I held my tongue. I didn’t get the chance that night to rebut Dan’s “spiritual resurrection” hypothesis.

But now I do have the chance—so here’s what’s wrong with it.

First, the earliest testimony we have about the Resurrection comes from St. Paul’s letters, which describe Jesus undergoing a bodily resurrection from the dead. Dan tries to get around this fact by claiming that Paul used a Greek word for Jesus’ resurrection that only refers to spiritual resurrection. Specifically, egeiro, ἐγείρω, which just means “rise” or “wake up.” He does not use the word that means “resurrection” (anastasis (ἀνάστασις), anistemi, (ἀνίστημι) Barker also claims:

“It is perfectly consistent with Christian theology to think that the spirit of Jesus, not His body, was awakened from the grave, as Christians today believe that the spirit of Grandpa has gone to heaven while his body rots in the ground. In fact, just a few verses later Paul confirms this: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The physical body is not important to Christian theology.”

Yet in Romans 1:4 Paul, says that Jesus was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection [anastaseos, ἀναστάσεως] from the dead.” Contra Barker, Paul does describe Jesus rising from the dead with a form of the Greek word anastasis, (ἀνάστασις). Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses egeiro (ἐγείρω),  and anastasis, (ἀνάστασις) interchangeably when speaking about the relationship between our future resurrection from the dead and Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes:

“Now if Christ is preached as raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται] from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead? But if there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead, then Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται]. If Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Paul’s argument is simple: if we don’t rise from the dead, then Christ didn’t rise from the dead. But since Christ did rise from the dead we can be confident that we too will rise from the dead.

What about to Barker’s citation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 (“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”) and Paul’s general use of the term “spiritual body”? Well, we have to remember what Paul was up against in Corinth.

Pauline scholar John Ziesler believes that Paul was trying to convince people that the resurrection of the dead is not a mere reanimation of one’s corpse. For Paul, the “spiritual body” in the Resurrection “seems to mean something like ‘outward form,’ or ‘embodiment’ or perhaps better ‘the way in which the person is conveyed and expressed’ . . . a resurrection of the whole person, involving embodiment but not physical embodiment.”

When Paul writes, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he is using a Semitism—a Jewish way of speaking—about the natural state of humanity apart from the grace of God. We can’t inherit the kingdom of God without being moved by God’s spirit.

However, that doesn’t mean that in this kingdom we will only be spirits. Spiritual, in this context, refers to a thing’s orientation as opposed to its substance. It’s like when we say the Bible is a “spiritual book” or when Paul writes, “The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor. 2:15).

The subjects in these statements are not non-physical, ghostly apparitions but books and people ordered toward the will of God. As St. Augustine said, “As the Spirit, when it serves the flesh, is not improperly said to be carnal, so the flesh, when it serves the spirit, will rightly be called spiritual—not because it is changed into spirit, as some suppose who misinterpret the text.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Easter praise of Christ


-Des Jesusbild des Altars der St.-Michaelis-Kirche in Hamburg, Deutschland (The Jesus picture of the altar of the Church of St. Michaelis in Hamburg, Germany). Please click on the image for greater detail.

“We should understand, beloved, that the paschal mystery is at once old and new, transitory and eternal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal. In terms of the Law, it is old; in terms of the Word, it is new. In its figure it is passing, in its grace it is eternal. It is corruptible in the sacrifice of the lamb, incorruptible in the eternal life of the Lord. It is mortal in His burial in the earth, immortal in His resurrection from the dead.

The Law indeed is old, but the Word is new. The type is transitory, but grace is eternal. The lamb was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible. He was slain as a lamb; He rose again as God. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter [cf Isaiah 53:7], yet He was not a sheep. He was silent as a lamb [cf Isaiah 53:7], yet He was not a lamb. The type has passed away; the reality has come. The lamb gives place to God, the sheep gives place to a man, and the man is Christ, Who fills the whole of creation. The sacrifice of the lamb, the celebration of the Passover, and the prescriptions of the Law have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ [cf Matthew 5:17]. Under the old Law, and still more under the new dispensation, everything pointed toward Him.

Both the Law and the Word came forth from Zion and Jerusalem [cf Isaiah 2:3], but now the Law has given place to the Word, the old to the new. The commandment has become grace, the type a reality. The lamb has become a Son, the sheep a man, and man, God.

The Lord, though He was God, became man [cf Philippians 2:6-7]. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but He rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, He said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb Who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.”

-From an Easter Homily by Melito of Sardis, Bishop, (d. 180 AD), found in the Second reading of the Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, during the Octave of Easter.

Love, He is Risen!!! He is TRULY Risen!!!
Matthew