“Different Protestants have different definitions of sola scriptura, but at its core, every definition makes Scripture a Christian’s highest authority. In doing so, it leaves no room for a divinely appointed Magisterium or Church that can authoritatively declare what Christians are obliged or forbidden to believe. This is evident in things like the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, a popular statement among conservative Evangelicals, which says, “We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than scripture or equal to the authority of the Bible.”
But in practice, it is the authority of a person’s interpretation of the Bible that becomes the highest authority. This leads to what Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid called “a blueprint for anarchy.”
You get people like Matthew Vines, who earnestly contends that the Bible is divinely inspired and, when properly interpreted, does not condemn modern same-sex relationships. Or you get people like Brandan Robertson, who reject fundamental tenets of Christianity by saying Jesus committed the sin of racism when speaking to the Syrophoenician woman. And this isn’t just Robertson, either, as there are denominations like Christadelphians who believe that Jesus had a “sin nature.”
At this point, a Protestant could say: no matter how clearly you state things, you’re always going to have unsaved people twisting Scripture and misinterpreting it. When it comes to the claim that Jesus sinned, only a degenerate person trapped in the darkness of sin could fail to apply Hebrews 4:15’s clear teaching to the question: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”
Sola scriptura is defensible, these apologists claim, because incorrect interpretations of Scripture can always be refuted by the correct interpretation true Christians can always locate within the pages of holy writ. But this pushes the problem back and assumes that everyone will nicely go along with a uniform understanding of what Scripture even is.
For example, how could you respond to someone defending Jesus’ sinfulness who says he doesn’t believe that Hebrews is Scripture? After all, the letter is anonymous, and although it has been traditionally attributed to Paul, several Church fathers questioned its canonicity. The early Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea said, “Some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.”
Even if Paul did write it, why believe that Paul’s words were divinely inspired? Pastor Robertson says there’s reason to doubt that, given that Paul was never one of Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Some Christians follow only the words of Jesus (similar to Bill Johnson’s Just Jesus movement). Others, like hyper-dispensationalists, take the opposite extreme and think Christians are bound to accept only some of Acts and the letters Paul wrote while he was in prison.
Without a Magisterium to appeal to, saying these views contradict Scripture assumes what the Protestant apologist is trying to prove—namely, which writings constitute Sacred Scripture. But because the Church has an authoritative teaching office, there is a way to set objective “ground rules” when it comes to understanding the meaning of Scripture.
A Protestant might offer three objections to this critique of sola scriptura. First, if the meaning of Scripture has been entrusted to the Church, then why hasn’t the pope or an ecumenical council infallibly defined every passage of Scripture and put all controversies to rest? For the same reason Protestants don’t have a divinely inspired biblical commentary: God chose not give this kind of revelation to the Church.
The Church hands on the Deposit of Faith, and, although a handful of biblical passages have been infallibly defined (such as John 3:5’s reference to water baptism), the Church allows biblical scholars a fair amount of latitude more generally when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Church’s authority primarily presents itself in biblical interpretation by setting “guardrails” that make certain interpretations off-limits. For example, scholars might find new insights into the cultural interaction that took place between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, but they are prohibited from saying the interaction proves that Jesus is not fully divine or not free from sin.
Second, a Protestant might say the Catholic is kicking the can down the road: if there is “anarchy” when it comes to interpreting what the Bible says, then won’t a similar anarchy occur when people try to figure out what Church documents mean? In response, I would say this is a good reply to someone who says private interpretation can never be a part of the life of a Christian. That’s too narrow of a view, and the Catechism even says Christians must obey the dictates of a properly formed conscience (1790).
However, a more defensible position would be that interpretive clarity is at least far more feasible (or may even only be possible) through a living Magisterium. That’s because a Church that persists through history can teach doctrine through deliberate, repetitive acts that account for misunderstandings that arise in each generation. The static words of Scripture cannot articulate themselves anew for every generation.
Finally, a Protestant might point to the dissenters within the Catholic Church as evidence that having a Magisterium does not eliminate the problem of heresy. What about all the priests and lay people who argue for expanding the definition of marriage and the ordination of women? What good is a magisterium if it doesn’t prevent these voices from rising up in the Church?
Well, even when God directly spoke to his chosen people or his faithful angels, people rebelled. That’s the cost of giving creatures free will. But at least Catholic dissenters usually admit that what they’re peddling directly contradicts what the Church teaches. They may hope Catholic teaching will change in their favor, but they begrudgingly allow that their heresy is not Catholic teaching. A Protestant, on the other hand, who dissents from “traditional Christianity” can always say what he believes is what the highest authority in Protestantism has always taught, which others have simply failed to recognize.
So while dissenters and heretics will always afflict the body of Christ, Christ chose to protect his Church not by confining divine revelation to Scripture alone, but by instituting a Church. Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The same principle animates the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church.”
“In his Confessions, St. Augustine describes how, as his conversion approaches, God had begun to scatter sparks on his life from the lives of others. Only the wind of the Spirit can fan these sparks into flame, but Augustine recounts several examples which helped move him to that critical moment when the Lord changed his heart.
Most dramatically and immediately before his conversion, Augustine heard the story of two friends of his friend Ponticianus. While walking outside the city, they wandered into a monastery where they read the Life of St. Anthony. Moved by his example, the two friends decided to leave everything and begin a life in pursuit of sanctity. Augustine was inspired but also distressed upon hearing this story. Although he was held back from the faith by his sinful attachments to worldly goods, he longed to throw all things aside like the two friends and give himself to Jesus.
Notice how widely this fire has spread before its spark landed in Augustine’s heart! The fire began in the heart of St. Anthony. When he heard the Gospel proclaimed where Jesus counsels the rich young man to leave everything and follow him, he responded by entering the Egyptian desert as one of the founders of monasticism. Upon reading about St. Anthony’s response, the two young men were set ablaze. Now, Ponticianus conducts a spark from the fire of their lives to Augustine. Through this spark, Augustine’s heart will burst into flame as the kindling long prepared by God is ignited through the wind of the Holy Spirit.
And notice too that the original fire was not started with the intention of spreading a blaze. St. Anthony’s decision to leave everything and seek intimacy with God in the desert was not motivated by the thought that he would inspire others. Nor was the decision of the young men to enter the monastery done for that reason: they simply followed the call of God in their own lives.
So what can we learn from all of this?
First, in this life we may never know the ways in which the workings of grace in our lives may become an instrumental source of grace for others. Likewise, we may never know the many people whom God has used to touch our hearts. The people who directly impact our lives of faith are only the burning trees nearest to us. Beyond them is a forest of people who helped to set them aflame.
Furthermore, we can also learn from this the importance of looking to examples in the life of faith. Reading about how God has worked in the lives of others can help to stoke the fires in our own hearts and can also help enkindle the hearts of those with whom we share the faith. As Augustine’s life bears witness, God loves to use the examples of his work in the lives of believers as an instrument to move others.
Finally, we must remember that, although we may never know the many people who helped to conduct the fire of faith to us or the many who may receive it from us, we know that the original source is the furnace of God’s love. Ultimately, only he can communicate the fire of his love even when he uses us as his human instruments. And although we may scatter the sparks of his love far and wide, it is ultimately only the grace of his Holy Spirit which can fan those sparks into glorious flame. We ask Him then to fill our hearts with His own longing to set the world ablaze.”
“The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. Thus, the Catechism teaches that while spouses are living, a new marital union “cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (1650). Those who attempt civil remarriage after divorce, therefore, “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” The Church bases this teaching on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Many Protestants critique this teaching for not taking into consideration what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” Since Jesus inserts the clause “except for unchastity,” it’s argued, a man who divorced his wife and married another wouldn’t be committing adultery if his wife were guilty of infidelity.
Is the Catholic Church contradicting Jesus? It seems the Church is telling divorced people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can. [There are several points to support the Church’s teaching in light of this Gospel passage.]
One is to point out that porneia/πορνεία—the Greek word for unchastity in this verse—isn’t part of the group of words Matthew uses for adultery in his Gospel.
Porneia/πορνεία, translated as “unchastity” or sometimes “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” is different from the Greek word for adultery (moichaō/μοιχάω). In its broadest sense, porneia/πορνεία means unlawful sexual intercourse, so it can include adultery, but Matthew never uses the word that way in his Gospel. Instead, he uses moichaō and related words. For example, in the same verse of the porneia/πορνεία clause, Matthew uses moichaō/μοιχάω twice to refer specifically to adultery: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω]; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω].” In 5:27, Matthew uses moicheuō/μοιχάω to refer to the literal act of adultery, in 5:28 to broaden the concept of adultery to include lust, and in 5:32 in reference to the husband making his wife an “adulteress” by divorcing her.
If Matthew thought Jesus was talking about adultery providing an exception to his teaching on divorce, why didn’t he use the word he always used for adultery? As Bible scholar John P. Meier argues, “If Matthew wishes to name adultery as a reason for divorce, he would be almost forced to employ some form of moicheia/μοιχάω [noun] to express the concept.”
Since Matthew doesn’t use any form of the Greek word that he commonly uses for adultery, it’s reasonable to conclude that Matthew doesn’t think Jesus was referring to spousal infidelity when he spoke of “unchastity.”
A second strategy focuses on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).
At the time of Jesus, there were two rabbinic schools of thought as to what constituted legitimate grounds for divorce. The Hillel school, which followed the Jewish leader Hillel, believed that practically anything could be grounds for divorce. It could be something as simple as burnt food or a prettier woman. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, believed that only sexual immorality was cause for divorce.
Given this background, the disciples’ reaction that it would be better not to marry would be unintelligible if Jesus were allowing for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual immorality. The disciples already were accustomed to divorce and remarriage, as the Hillel and Shammai schools attest. Their strong reaction suggests that they understood Jesus to be giving a new and different teaching.
For our third strategy, we can point to how Jesus’ teaching stands alone amid the thought of the age. His teaching about divorce and remarriage in verse 9 is part of his response to a question posed by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (v. 3). Notice the phrase “for any cause.” It seems the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which school of thought he would side with: Hillel or Shammai.
But Jesus’ response indicates that he sides with neither. He appeals to God’s original design for marriage and says, “What therefore God had joined together, let not man put asunder” (vv. 4-6; see also Gen. 2:24). In other words, it’s not that Moses allowed divorce for any cause, but “from the beginning” (v.8) it was only adultery-justified divorce. Rather, from the beginning there was no divorce: “it [divorce] was not so” (v.8). This proves that he sides with neither the Hillel nor the Shammai view on divorce and remarriage.
This context excludes the interpretation that porneia/πορνεία refers to adultery; in fact, it excludes reference to sexual immorality of any manner within marriage. For if Jesus intended the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to any of these alternative interpretations, he would have been siding with either the Hillel or Shammai school. Instead, he gave a more radical teaching: that marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus didn’t intend the porneia/πορνείαclause to refer to sexual immorality within the context of the marriage bond, whether adultery or some other kind of immoral conduct.
Jesus underscores his radical view by saying no man can marry a divorced woman without committing adultery: “He who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (v.9; see also Matt. 5:32). This implies that no deed for which the woman is divorced, including adultery, renders her free to marry another man.
One last strategy: There are good reasons to think porneia/πορνεία instead refers to forms of sexual immorality that took place before or at the time of the attempted union, rendering it unlawful (invalid).
The Jews understood that certain sexual relationships rendered a union unlawful, meaning null and void—such as relationships of close consanguinity and affinity (Lev. 18:1-20). Only the Jewish community would know about the Levitical law concerning unlawful unions, and thus only the Jewish community would raise the question about whether these unions are an exception to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage. And Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, is the only Gospel that records this exception clause.
As for porneia/πορνεία, the word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament. For only two of these do scholars even suggest it’s used for adultery: the passages that include the debated porneia/πορνεία clause concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). Every other time, porneia/πορνεία refers to some sort of sexual immorality outside the lawful bounds of marriage: fornication (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; Rev. 17:2, 17:4, 19:2), incest (Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1;), general sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13,18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21), and metaphorical impure passions (Rev. 14:8, 18:3).
Since we know from above that porneia/πορνεία can’t refer to adultery in Matthew 19:9, and every time porneia/πορνεία is used in the New Testament, it refers to sexual immorality outside the boundaries of the marital bond, it’s likely that the “porneia/πορνεία exception” in Matthew refers to sexual immorality that took place before and at the time of the attempted union, invalidating it.
We can support this interpretation by considering two things. First, it adequately explains why in these cases a man who “puts away his wife” and marries another doesn’t commit adultery. If he was never in a lawful union to begin with, he would be free to marry. This is the basis for Catholic teaching on annulments: allowing marriage for civilly divorced persons whose first “marriage” was judged not to have been valid.
Matthew’s intention in including the porneia/πορνεία exception is to clarify for his Jewish audience that Jesus was concerned with lawful marriages. His prohibition of divorce didn’t apply to those unions contracted before Christian baptism because they weren’t lawful to begin with. You can’t divorce if you were never married!
The great irony here is that rather than the Catholic Church telling people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can, the view that the challenge implies tells people they can remarry when Jesus says they can’t. It’s not the Catholic Church that’s contradicting Jesus’ teaching. It’s the view that spousal infidelity dissolves a valid marital bond and gives grounds to divorce and remarry.
Unlike the many Christian groups that have caved to the pressures of modern society, the Catholic Church’s doctrines remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, echoing Christ’s words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The seven sacraments: baptism, confession, eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, and…martyrdom. 🙂 I’m in trouble now! Actually, I’m always in trouble, no matter what, cuz I’m a man.
“It may just be a guy thing, but young boys love to tell stories of their scars. It’s always humorous when I’m at the middle school and I just ask, “Hey, where’d you get that scar on your forehead?” and then the kid launches into an excited description of that time he was having a rock fight with his friend, and then he proceeds to show me three other scars and tell me their stories too.
Scars have stories. Even Shakespeare recognized this when he writes in his play Henry V about the warriors that fought with King Henry at the Battle of Crispin’s Day. He writes: “He that lives through this day and comes home safe, will stand when Crispin’s Day is named and will strip his sleeve and show his scars and say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day!’” For these men who fought with the king, their wounds would be their badge of honor, a testament to their courage. And Shakespeare goes on to say that any man who, out of cowardice, stayed home on Crispin’s Day would “hold their manhoods cheap” when in the presence of those brave warriors who bear the scars of the battle.
Jesus, then, to show His courage, His victory, shows His disciples His scars. Have you ever thought how odd that is? I mean, if you’re going to resurrect into a perfect Body, why not get rid of those scars in the hands and feet? Why not look perfect?
Very simple – the scars are a visible reminder of what He endured for them. When they see the scars, they see the price of repentance – but also the Victory of Christ.
As an ancient homily from the second century says, “We had left a garden; Christ returned to a garden to be betrayed and a garden to be buried. See on His face the spittle He received in order to restore to us the life He once breathed into us. See there the marks of the blows He received in order to refashion our warped nature in His image. On His back see the marks of the scourging He endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon our back. See His hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for we once wickedly stretched out our hands to a tree” in the Garden of Eden.
And consider the words of St. Theodore the Studite: “The Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in His hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature.”
His wounds undo our wounds. His scars wipe away our scars. All of us have wounds and scars – we can’t get through life unscathed. Sometimes those scars are caused by other people: maybe we’ve been abused, treated poorly, bullied, hated, rejected. Maybe people we love have died. Maybe we’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, illness, fear. Maybe the scars came because we made bad choices: the guilt of our sin, the addictions we’ve developed, the broken relationships that we just can’t heal. All of us have wounds; all of us have scars. It would be impossible for any human being not to suffer or be wounded.
But wounds can either be healed or kill us. Wounds that are brought to Christ, the Divine Doctor, can be healed. Wounds that we hide, that we don’t treat, will fester and cause misery and unhappiness – and eventually the spiritual death of hatred.
We bring our wounds to Christ through prayer and Confession. Pray about it – “Lord, what are You teaching me through my suffering? How can You use it to make me more like You? What are You calling me to let go of? How can I trust You more?” This is bringing our wounds to Christ. Then, if the wound involves our own sin, we can bring it to the Lord in Confession. Sin is the biggest wound because it wounds our relationship with God – thus, Jesus’ first gift here in today’s Gospel is that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” comes through our faith in Him.
Life is tough, and sometimes we suffer. We suffer because of other people’s choices, we suffer because of our own bad choices and our sins, and sometimes we just suffer because we’re human. But when we get wounded, we can bring those wounds to Christ. He can forgive our sins. He can heal our wounds and make them, like His, signs of victory and triumph.”
“I argued that John’s phrase “the day of preparation of Passover” (John 18:28) doesn’t refer to the day on which Jews prepare for Passover, but the Friday of Passover week. This resolves what some have said is a contradiction between John and the Synoptics concerning whether Jesus died before the Passover meal or after.
But some argue against this solution. Let’s consider some of their counters.
Oneis that Jews would not have held an execution on such an important Jewish feast day as Passover. However, it was not Jews who performed the execution, but Romans. The Jewish authorities had not been able to arrest Jesus until after the Passover meal, and then they brought him to Pilate, who determined when the Crucifixion took place.
He could have kept Jesus in prison awaiting execution, as he was doing with the rebel Barabbas. However, it was expedient for Pilate to conduct public crucifixions in conjunction with Passover, when a large number of Jewish pilgrims would be in Jerusalem and thus able to witness what happened to those who defied the Roman state. Thus, he was likely holding Barabbas for execution at Passover, as well as the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus. He then substituted Jesus for Barabbas at the demand of the Jewish leaders and the crowd.
The Tosefta, a second-century collection of Jewish legal traditions, records that, when they had control of their land, Jewish leaders also practiced executions in conjunction with major feasts:
A rebellious and incorrigible son, a defiant elder, one who leads people astray to worship idols, one who leads a town to apostasy, a false prophet, and perjured witnesses—they do not kill them immediately. But they bring them up to the court in Jerusalem and keep them until the festival, and then they put them to death on the festival, as it is said, ‘And all the people shall hear and fear, and no more do presumptuously (Deut. 17:13),’ (Sanhedrin 11:7 cf. m. Sanh. 11:4-5; b. Sanh. 89a; Sifre on Deut. 17:3 [105a]).
The “festival” refers to any of the three Jewish pilgrimage feasts, when adult males were required to go to Jerusalem. These were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
The above Tosefta passage also provides a possible answer to the objection that the Jews wouldn’t have held a trial on the Passover feast. If the Jews would have executed Jesus on the Passover had the Romans not had control over their land, then surely they would not have seen a problem with holding a trial for him, which is something they could do even under Roman rule.
Similar to the above counter, somehave argued that Friday can’t be the Passover because Mark says Joseph of Arimathea “bought a linen shroud” on that day (Mark 15:46) and Luke tells us the women “prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:56), activities both of which would have be forbidden by the Law’s requirements to do no work on the first day of the Passover festival (Exod. 12:16). There are a few things we can say in response.
First, the verb for “bought” is an aorist participle, and so it does not definitely indicate when the shroud was bought. The phrase can also be translated “having bought fine linen . . . [Joseph] wrapped him in the linen” (Young’s Literal Translation). It is possible that Mark does not intend for us to understand that Joseph bought the linen that day. It may have been fine linen that he had bought previously, perhaps for a different purpose.
And even if we suppose Joseph bought the linen that day, the Mishnah indicates that there were provisions for “buying” needed things on the Sabbath (e.g., jugs of wine, oil, and loaves of bread), whereby one left a cloak in trust and then paid for them later (Shabbat 23:1). If such provisions were made for those who required things on the Sabbath, then similar provisions could be made for buying things on Jewish feast days.
Second, when referring to the rest that must be observed on the first day of the seven-day Passover festival, Leviticus specifies that everyone must refrain from “laborious work” (Lev. 23:7). This is different from the prohibition of work on the Sabbath: “on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work” (Lev. 23:3; emphasis added).
The meaning of “laborious work” is debated, but many scholars have suggested that it is meant to allow certain types of work to be done on the first day of Passover—work that was not allowed on the Sabbath, when all work was prohibited.
As Bible scholar Brant Pitre argues in his book Jesus and the Last Supper, this distinction between “laborious work” and “no work” provides a plausible explanation as to why Joseph of Arimathea and the women viewed their activities as permissible on the Friday of Passover but not on the Sabbath.
Luke specifically tells us that the women prepared spices and ointments late Friday afternoon because “the Sabbath was beginning” and they didn’t want to violate the Sabbath rest (Luke 23:54, cf. 55-56).
Third, even if someone doesn’t accept the above distinction between “laborious work” and “no work,” the Law of Moses required Jesus’ immediate burial:
[I]f a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
The Torah expressly forbade leaving a body hanging overnight, so if the Romans crucified Jesus on Passover, he had to be taken down and hurriedly buried before night.
Furthermore, even though this passage speaks only of a condemned person, the rabbinical interpretation derives from it that “no corpse is to remain unburied overnight” (Sanh. 6.4, 46a, b; Maimonides, “Abel,” 4.8; emphasis added). According to the Tosefta, “To keep the dead overnight was not permitted in the city of Jerusalem” (Tosef., Neg. 6.2).
This is consistent with what Josephus reports concerning Jewish burial: “[T]he Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (The Jewish War 4.317).
Given this Jewish sense of urgency for burial, both in the first century and in later rabbinical tradition, Joseph of Arimathea and the women would have interpreted the circumstances of Jesus’ death as overriding the general rules governing work on the first day of Passover, that is if they were forbidden from all work.
Since we have plausible explanations as how to reconcile the view that Good Friday is Passover and the activities involving Jesus’ execution and burial, these counters don’t succeed in undermining the view that John and the Synoptics are working with the same chronology of Jesus’ passion.
“Every year during Holy Week, Christians focus on those last and most important moments of Jesus’s life: his passion and death.
But for some, these gospel narratives aren’t historically reliable because they apparently contradict each other in certain places. We’re going to consider two alleged contradictions here, both of which involve the timing of Jesus’ trial.
First, some say John contradicts the Synoptics with regard to the day on which Jesus was taken before Pilate. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all affirm that Jesus was brought to Pilate the day after the initial Passover meal on 15 Nisan, the night on which the lamb was eaten and the Haggadah (or Passover liturgy) was recited (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). But in John 18:28 it seems Jesus was brought before Pilate on the day before the initial Passover meal was eaten, for John says the Jews who led Jesus to Pilate didn’t enter the praetorium “so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” One possible way to resolve this apparent discrepancy is to say that the Jewish leaders were so preoccupied with the events of the previous evening that they put off celebrating the initial Passover meal until the following day.
There is a question, however, of whether Jesus’ arrest and the subsequent events would have begun early enough on Thursday evening to interfere with eating the initial Passover meal, which normally began soon after sundown.
But we know the chief priests and scribes were plotting to arrest and kill Jesus (Mark 14:1). It’s not beyond reason that their efforts would have been a catalyst to put off eating the initial Passover meal.
Also, Mark tells us that Judas led “a crowd . . . from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 14:43). This suggests the Jewish leaders may have coordinated this crowd to go and fetch Jesus. The time such coordinating activity would have taken could very well have interfered with eating the initial Passover meal on Thursday after sundown.
The uncertainty of when the group would bring Jesus to the Jewish leaders could be another reason why they put off the Seder meal. It makes sense they wouldn’t want their celebration of the Passover to be interrupted.
And speaking of eating the Passover, the substantial amount of wine that’s required to be consumed at the Seder meal could also have motivated the Jewish leaders to put off the celebration. They would want to be of sound mind to question Jesus once he was brought to them.
There’s another possible way to reconcile John and the Synoptics. The phrase “eat the Passover” (John 18:28) likely refers to other sacrificial meals eaten with unleavened bread during the seven days of the Passover festival.
The Old Testament uses the word “Passover” (Greek, pascha) in a way that extends beyond the initial Seder meal, and applies it to various animal sacrifices offered during the Passover week. For example, Deuteronomy 16:2 speaks of the “Passover [pascha] sacrifice” to the Lord “from the flock or the herd,” which was to be eaten with unleavened bread for seven days during the Passover festival (v.3; see also Num. 28:16-25).
So, it’s possible John refers to those Passover sacrifices offered during the seven-day festival when he speaks of the Jewish leaders needing to “eat the Passover.”
Three lines of thought further support this interpretation.
First, the Last Supper in John’s Gospel is a Passover Meal. New Testament scholar Brant Pitre lists several details that reveal it to be such, all of which are common aspects of a Jewish Passover meal: the reclining posture of Jesus and his disciples (John 13:23-25); the dipping of the morsel (John 13:26-27); the giving to the poor during a festal meal (John 13:29); and the last-minute purchase of something during the feast (John 13:29-30).
As Pitre argues, since John identifies the Last Supper as the Passover meal that takes place on 15 Nisan, his reference to eating the “Passover” in John 18:28 doesn’t appear to be a reference to the initial Passover lamb, but the sacrifices eaten during the seven-day festival.
Second, according to Leviticus 7:19-20, these festal offerings (called “peace offerings”) eaten during the seven-day paschal festival were also subject to ritual purity laws. This would explain why the Jewish leaders were concerned about defilement.
Third, as New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg points out, the Jewish leaders’ concern for defilement in John 18:28 doesn’t jibe with the interpretation that John places the initial “Passover” meal on Friday evening:
The ceremonial uncleanness that the Jewish leaders would have incurred in entering Pilate’s Praetorium would have lasted only until sundown, so that they would not have been defiled in eating an evening meal on Friday.
Blomberg argues that uncleanness would have been an issue if they were thinking of the above-mentioned sacrificial offerings they needed to eat on Friday during the seven-day festival. It could also be due to the fact that they were unable to eat the meal during the preceding night and now needed to eat it before sunset.
The second supposed contradiction has to do with how the Synoptics report the time of day that Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin. According to both Mark (Mark 14:53-65) and Matthew (Matthew 26:57-68), the high priest questions Jesus Thursday night after Jesus is taken in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke, however, places the high priest’s interrogation of Jesus early the next morning (“when day came”—Luke 22:66).
The first thing we can say is that there’s no contradiction in these reports, only a difference.
Consider that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that Jesus was brought before the high priest late Thursday night at Caiaphas’s house (Luke 22:54; Matt. 26:57-58; Mark 14:53-54). All three also agree that, while there, Jesus was physically beaten and mocked. Matthew and Mark report Caiaphas questioning Jesus at that time, asking Jesus if He is the Christ.
Also, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that the high priest, scribes, and elders convened again early Friday morning to consult each other about putting Jesus to death (Mark 15:1; Matt. 27:1; Luke 22:66). The difference is that Matthew and Mark don’t mention an interrogation of Jesus at this morning convocation, whereas Luke does.
For there to be a contradiction, Matthew and/or Mark would have to deny that the high priest interrogated Jesus at the Friday morning convocation. But they don’t do that. They’re silent on the matter. Therefore, there’s no contradiction.
But the question remains: “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” Did Matthew and Mark get it right and Luke got it wrong? Or, vice versa?
The answer is likely that they’re all right because it’s reasonable to hold that the interrogation happened Thursday night and early Friday morning. Since Matthew and Mark left out the Friday morning interrogation, Luke includes it. And since Matthew and Mark included the Thursday night interrogation, Luke left it out.
That Caiaphas would question Jesus immediately when the crowd brought Jesus to Caiaphas’s house late Thursday night is reasonable, especially in light of the their intent to destroy Jesus. Why else would Caiaphas demand Jesus be brought to his house if he didn’t intend to question him in a preliminary manner, before the morning’s more formal gathering?
The claim that Caiaphas would have questioned Jesus again Friday morning is also reasonable because, as Blomberg argues, the Thursday night interrogation and charge of blasphemy weren’t legally binding. The Sanhedrin only had legal authority to sit in judgment for capital cases during the day (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:1). This leads Blomberg to conclude, “it is quite probable that they repeated their questions to make at least some kind of show of legality when daylight first dawned.”
Differences among the gospels might be a stumbling block for some, but they need not be. Differences don’t entail contradictions. And when such differences can be plausibly explained, we have all that much more reason to trust the reliability of the reports.”
“There are some things in them (Epistles of St. Paul) hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” -2 Peter 3:16
“Ever since the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century, the Catholic Church has been accused of ignoring, opposing, hiding, and even destroying the Bible in order to keep it from the people. Allegedly, copies of the Bible were chained to the walls of churches during the Middle Ages so that people could not take them home to read. Supposedly the Church during the Middle Ages also refused to translate the Bible into the various tongues of the common people, the vernacular languages, in order to further hinder personal Bible reading. Furthermore, it is claimed that the Church even went as far as to burn vernacular Bibles.
When examining these charges against the Church, we must consider several points. First, if the Church truly wanted to destroy the Bible, why did her monks work diligently through the centuries making copies of it? Before the printing press (before 1450), copies of the Bible were handwritten with beauty and painstaking accuracy. One reason for Bibles being chained to the walls of churches is because each copy was precious both spiritually and materially. It took a monk about a year to hand copy the entire Bible, so Bibles were scarce. The chain kept it safe from loss or theft, so all the people of the church community (parish) could better benefit from it.
Secondly, concerning the vernacular, we must remember that in the 5th century when St. Jerome translated the Bible from the original languages into Latin, Latin was the language of the people. This Bible is commonly called the Vulgate, the common version. Even after a thousand years, Latin still remained the universal language in Europe.
Translating the Bible into the vernacular languages during the Middle Ages was simply impractical. Most vernacular languages at that time did not have an alphabet, so they could not be put into written form. Also, only a few people could read. The few educated persons, who could read, could also read Latin. This situation did not create a great demand for a vernacular Bible nor promote a popular devotion to personal Bible reading.
Even though impractical, there are examples of the Church promoting the vernacular. One example is the mission of Sts. Cyril and Methodius to the Slavic people in Moravia during the 9th century. They are both famous for introducing the Slavonic liturgy. In their work St. Cyril had to develop an alphabet for the Old Slavonic language. (It became the precursor of the Russian “Cyrillic” alphabet.) In 885 St. Methodius translated the entire Bible into this language. Despite strong political opposition from the Germans, Pope Hadrian II, after careful investigation, confirmed St. Methodius as Archbishop of Moravia and endorsed their Slavonic liturgy. (St. Cyril had already died.) Several later popes continued to uphold their work against attacks; however, Pope Stephen VI recalled the liturgy after being deceived by the German opposition. 
In 7th century Britain, before English was even a language, Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, paraphrased most of the Bible into the common tongue. During the early 8th century, St. Bede the Venerable also translated parts of the Bible into the language of the common British people. On his death bed in 735, he translated the Gospel of St. John. Also in this period, Bishop Eadhelm, Guthlac, and Bishop Egbert worked on Saxon Bibles. During the 9th and 10th centuries, King Alfred the Great and Archbishop Aelfric worked on Anglo-Saxon (Old English) translations. After the Norman conquest of 1066, a need for an Anglo-Norman Bible arose, so the Church produced several translations, e.g. Salus Animae (1250). In 1408 the provincial council of Oxford made it clear that vernacular translations could receive approval from the Church. In 1582 the famous Douay-Rheims New Testament translation was completed, while the Old Testament was finished in 1609. Ironically the Douay-Rheims New Testament influenced the King James Bible. [2,3]
After the 14th century when English finally became the popular language of England, vernacular Bibles were used as vehicles for heretical propaganda. John Wycliffe, a dissentient priest, translated the Bible into English. Unfortunately, his secretary, John Purvey, included a heretical prologue, as noted by St. Thomas More. Later William Tyndale translated the Bible into English complete with prologue and footnotes condemning Church doctrines and teachings.  St. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. Even King Henry VIII in 1531 condemned the Tyndale Bible as a corruption of Scripture. In the words of King Henry’s advisors: “the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people, and not be suffered to go abroad among his subjects.”  As food for thought, if the Wycliffe or Tyndale Bibles were so good, why do Protestants today not use them as they do the King James Bible?
One action that Catholic Christians pursued to stop this propaganda was to burn these books. Does this action make the Church anti-Bible? No. If it did, then the Protestants of this period were also anti-Bible. John Calvin, the main Protestant Reformer, in 1522, had as many copies as could be found of the Servetus Bible burned since Calvin did not approve of it. Later, Calvin had Michael Servetus himself burned at the stake for being a Unitarian.  In those days it was common practice on both sides to burn unapproved books. Finally, it is one matter to destroy the real thing and another to destroy a counterfeit.
The Church did not oppose faithful vernacular translations but heretical additions and distortions to the Bible. The Church prohibited these corrupt Bibles in order to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. This action was necessary if the Church is to preserve the truth of Christ’s Gospel. As St. Peter in his Epistle (in the Bible) warns us, the ignorant and unstable can distort the Scriptures to their own destruction [2 Peter 3:16; see front panel].
Should good Christian parents allow their children to read a Bible with anti-Christian propaganda or profanity in the footnotes? I certainly would not. Finally, if the Catholic Church truly wanted to destroy the Bible, she had ample opportunity to do so for 1500 years.”
 Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom (Christendom College Press, 1987) pp. 359,371,385.
 The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall, 1968) Vol. II, pp. 586-588.
 Henry G. Graham, Where We Got The Bible (TAN Books, 1977) p. 99.
 Ibid., pp. 128,130.
 Ibid., p. 129.
The Catholic Church doesn’t have a problem with the Bible. The Church has a problem with inaccurate translations of the Bible. Who is to determine what is inaccurate or not? Who is to determine the meaning of Scripture? The Church. Mt 16:19, 18:18
“In his 1929 book Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc examined the forces attacking the Catholic Church and its role in society. He put them into two chief categories: “survivals,” those “old forms of attack” that continue to be used by the Church’s enemies but are, in the main, on their way out; and “new arrivals,” the newer forms of attack that focus primarily on the Church’s moral teachings rather than its theological doctrines.
Among the “survivals” was a holdover from Protestantism Belloc termed the “biblical attack.” Its key element, he wrote, is “Bibliolatry”—elevating the Bible to the level of an idol. It is Bibliolatry that is the root of the myth that the Church locked and chained Bibles in medieval churches to prevent the laity from reading them. The implication of this myth is that if medieval people had been able to read the Bible for themselves, they would have recognized that the Catholic Church’s teachings are false and would have sought to free themselves from the yoke of Rome.
The notion that the Church restricts access to Scripture to control its interpretation comes from the Saxon monk-turned-revolutionary Martin Luther. Luther published three famous treatises in 1520 in response to the bull of Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521), Exsurge Domine, that condemned many of Luther’s teachings.
In An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther exhorted Emperor Charles V and the German nobility to reject papal authority and establish a national German Church in opposition to Rome. He argued that Rome had built three “walls” around itself to maintain its hold on Catholics. He identified these walls as the following false teachings:
1) that the spiritual power is greater than temporal power;
2) that only the pope can authentically interpret Scripture; and
3) that only the pope can call an ecumenical council.
He warned the German nobility that they must be aware “that in this matter we are not dealing with men but with the princes of hell.”
To Luther, the belief that the pope is the only interpreter of Scripture (which is not in fact Church teaching but rather Luther’s erroneous understanding of it) was “an outrageous fable” and is not rooted in the only authoritative source of divine revelation that Luther recognized, Scripture itself. Instead, he put forth the idea that all Christians should be able to interpret Scripture for themselves, a doctrine that would lead to a multitude of rival Protestant denominations.
It is widely believed that, to facilitate the lay reading of Scripture, Luther was first to translate the Bible into German. He was not. The first Bible in the German vernacular was produced in the eighth century at the monastery of Monse. By the fifteenth century, there were 36,000 German manuscript bibles in circulation, and a complete printed Bible in the German vernacular appeared in 1529, five years before Luther’s translation was published. In short, the Church made Scripture accessible to laymen long before Luther and the Reformation did.
There is, in fact, a sense in which the Bible is the product of the Catholic Church, as it was the bishops of the Church who decided which books circulating in the fourth century would be considered canonical. Indeed, the Church took great pains throughout its history to guard, defend, and preserve Scripture. Pope St. Damasus I (r. 366–383) first took up the task of publishing a vernacular version of Scripture, and he employed his brilliant yet irascible secretary St. Jerome (342–420) to accomplish the task. Jerome learned Greek and Hebrew to properly translate the word of God into vernacular Latin.
His translation, which became known as the Vulgate, was not well received in North Africa, where a riot erupted over his version of the book of Jonah. The widespread acceptance of the Vulgate in the Church took time. Perhaps part of the resistance can be attributed to the long memory of the Church. Jerome’s new translation came less than a hundred years after Diocletian initiated the Great Persecution. One of his edicts mandated the surrender of all copies of the sacred writings, an event so destructive that its memory remained with the Church long after the persecution ended. The Church maintained great respect and love for the sacred word, as evidenced by the efforts of monks to preserve it.
The sixth century was witness to the activity of a uniquely saintly man who renounced his worldly life to become a hermit. His reputation for holiness attracted many followers, and soon thereafter Benedict of Nursia founded a monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s vision for his monks was rooted in the idea that monasticism was a “school of divine service” in which the monk committed himself to a life of obedience focused on a routine of work, prayer, study, and self-denial. Benedict’s monks preserved and maintained Western civilization through their painstaking work of copying ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, as well as devoting time to copying and illustrating Scripture.
Working in the scriptoriums of Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages was not easy. It took nearly a year to copy a Bible manuscript. The process was laborious and wearisome; as one monk recorded, “He who does not know how to write imagines it to be no labor; but though three fingers only hold the pen, the whole body goes weary.” Any copying work the monk did not finish during the day had to be completed at night, even in the cold winter months.
Bibles were not only copied but richly and beautifully illuminated with elaborate images. Bible illumination began in the fifth century with Irish monks who painstakingly prepared the skins of calves, sheep, or goats into vellum that was used for the manuscripts. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, copied and illuminated in the eighth century, was the work of one scribe who used 130 calfskins and took five years to complete the work. The amount of labor that went into each copy of the Bible led to preventing their theft either by locking them in containers or chaining them to desks. In other words, these were security measures, not efforts to keep Scripture from the faithful.
Indeed, protecting and expensive Bible by securing it allowed greater, not lesser, access to it. Moreover, the Bible was usually placed in a public area of a church so those who could read could peruse its pages. The first mention of this protective policy occurs in the mid-eleventh century in the catalog of St. Peter’s Monastery in Weissenburg, Alsace, where it was recorded that four Psalters were chained in the church. Moreover, the practice was not exclusive to the Catholic Church: Protestants also utilized the well-known security measure, as evidenced by the chaining of the Great Bible (also known as the Chained Bible) published by command of King Henry VIII of England in 1539.
The Real Story
The Protestant principle of sola scriptura led to the myth that the Catholic Church kept the word of God from the faithful to maintain its authority; the chaining of bibles in medieval churches was seen as evidence of this. It also led to the false claim that Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was the first such vernacular edition; in fact, there had been many vernacular editions preceding Luther’s, including St. Jerome’s Vulgate.
It was the Church that, far from suppressing the Bible, determined the canon of its books and then preserved and authoritatively interpreted the written word of God throughout its history. Catholic monks painstakingly preserved the sacred writings and beautifully illustrated them throughout the medieval period. These priceless manuscripts were chained or locked up in churches not to prevent their use but to protect against theft, thus allowing greater access to them, which was standard practice in both Catholic and Protestant churches until the printing press enabled mass production of bibles.”
“Why does Christ, our great King and Judge, call those on his right “you who are blessed by my Father” but those on his left “accursed”—not “accursed by my Father”?…
…The fact is that if we really understand sin and virtue, we will see that every material aspect of a sin is not something bad or evil; all the aspects of the things we want to do or say or think about or use are just good, created qualities. When we misuse those good things slightly or seriously, we sin. The misuse is not due to their nature, but to our own self-will. Beautiful bodies, sums of wealth, effective words, possessions, associations, skills, and talents are all good in themselves. It is our willed misuse of them that constitutes sin.
This is necessarily true because everything is created by God, and God did not create anything evil. Even our will is so good that we cannot choose evil unless we pretend to ourselves that it is really good. Evil is not a thing; it is rather something missing, a lack of good, a disorder.
This has everything to do with how Christ our Lord and Creator judges and rewards our actions. He rewards those who are about to enter heaven for using the good things that God has given them so as to fulfill his commandments; that is, to do his will. Their actions showed that they prayed sincerely, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and now they are finally going there! They were positively blessed by the Father because they are going to that happiness that was prepared for all human goodness by the creator of human goodness.
They sinned, yes, but their love, especially their works of mercy (yes, that’s what Our Lord says!) made them blessed by the Father, since these very works and their reward were prepared for them by Him. God is the Creator of all things, but most of all of loving persons and their actions. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” the apostle tells us.
In the case of those who are sent away to the fires of hell, yes, they are accursed, but not “by my Father.” St. Thomas, explicitly following Origen on this point, tells us that the blessed are blessed by God, but those who are cursed have their own curse that does not come from Him. Their curse cannot ultimately be the work of God. He can bless after a curse, but He does not curse definitively because His curse is ultimately not on any of His creatures, but only on sin.
Thomas, following St. Gregory, says that God takes no delight or complacency in the condemnation of the wicked; rather He loves His goodness and therefore cannot love, cannot reward, the evil in which they persist. Hell, Gregory tells us, is not for any good nature, angelic or human, but is prepared simply for sin. Heaven, on the other hand, is God and all he has created come to the fullest perfection. Compared to this, hell is a shadow as close to nothing as nothing can be.
“And of his fullness, we have all received,”(Jn 1:16) St. John tells us. This can give us some insight into the mercy of God. He really does not hate the sinner (that means you and me!), but only the sin. Hell is the condemnation of a sinful will, and only accidentally the eternal condemnation of those who will not rid themselves of it. Christ our King knows that everything you have, and especially the will that you can use to love or offend Him, is good and comes from Him. He loves your will even more than you do. Just as the baby’s mother loves his potential health and happiness more than he does, even though she knows he can resist her love.
So let’s not be stubborn, loving our own will against our own true good, but repent and begin to love as our King enthroned in judgment has taught us, and then some great day we will hear Him say, “Come, blessed of my Father…””
“beatific” etymology: Latin beatificus, beatific, blissful, imparting great happiness or blessedness; from beatus, happy.
In my own experience, both past and present, I love history, but it comes “alive” for me when I have the privilege to visit the physical place where it happened, makes it more undeniable, leaps off the page. I am meeting a lot of people “virtually” now, even before the pandemic. I am saying “nice to meet you, virtually” a lot more these days than actual greetings. Exchanges are reduced to quick, focused, on topic, email to the point. I look forward, however it might happen, to saying hello in person, someday. Some people I am grateful to never have had the displeasure to meet in person. Mea culpa. 🙁
“The beatific vision is when God, though transcendent, opens Himself up to man and gives man the capacity to contemplate God in His heavenly glory (CCC 1028). Contemplation is the prayer of silently focusing on God and heeding His Word; in other words, contemplation is the prayer of uniting with God (CCC 2715). The beatific vision, then, is ultimate union with God; indeed, it comes from sharing in God’s holy nature via sanctifying grace (CCC 163). Because God is beatitude and holiness itself, the beatific vision entails ultimate beatitude and holiness (CCC 1405). The beatific vision is a grace and a privilege intended for every man and angel, since God created men and angels to enjoy the beatific vision; the beatific vision is the ultimate purpose of each person’s and angel’s life (CCC 1722).
Thomas Aquinas defined the beatific vision as the human being’s “final end” in which one attains to a perfect happiness. Thomas reasons that one is perfectly happy only when all one’s desires are perfectly satisfied, to the degree that happiness could not increase and could not be lost. “Man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek.”STh I–II, q., 3, a. 8. But this kind of perfect happiness cannot be found in any physical pleasure, any amount of worldly power, any degree of temporal fame or honor, or indeed in any finite reality. It can only be found in something that is infinite and perfect – and this is God. STh I–II, q. 2, a. 8. And since God is not a material thing but is pure spirit, we are united to God by knowing and loving Him. Consequently, the most perfect union with God is the most perfect human happiness and the goal of the whole of the human life. But we cannot attain to this happiness by our own natural powers; it is a gift that must be given us by God, Who strengthens us by the “light of glory” so that we can see Him as He is, without any intermediary. (Thomas quotes Psalm 36:9 on this point: “In your light we shall see light.”)STh I, q. 12, a. 4. Further, since every created image or likeness of God (including even the most perfect “ideas” or “images” of God we might generate in our minds) is necessarily finite, it would thus be infinitely less than God Himself.STh I, q. 12, a. 2. The only perfect and infinite good, therefore, is God Himself, which is why Aquinas argues that our perfect happiness and final end can only be the direct union with God Himself and not with any created image of Him. This union comes about by a kind of “seeing” perfectly the divine essence Itself, a gift given to our intellects when God joins them directly to Himself without any intermediary. And since in seeing this perfect vision of What (and Who) God is, we grasp also His perfect goodness, this act of “seeing” is at the same time a perfect act of loving God as the highest and infinite goodness. (Summa Theologiae, I–II, qq. 2–5)
According to Aquinas, the Beatific Vision surpasses both faith and reason. Rational knowledge does not fully satisfy humankind’s innate desire to know God, since reason is primarily concerned with sensible objects and thus can only infer its conclusions about God indirectly. -Summa Theologiae
The Theological virtue of faith, too, is incomplete, since Aquinas thinks that it always implies some imperfection in the understanding. The believer does not wish to remain merely on the level of faith but to grasp directly the object of faith, who is God himself. -Summa Contra Gentiles
Thus only the fullness of the Beatific Vision satisfies this fundamental desire of the human soul to know God. Quoting St Paul, Aquinas notes “We see now in a glass darkly, but then face to face” (i Cor. 13:12). The Beatific Vision is the final reward for those saints elect by God to partake in and “enjoy the same happiness wherewith God is happy, seeing Him in the way which He sees Himself” in the next life. -Summa Contra Gentiles”
-by Fr. Kenneth Doyle, CNS – Catholic News Service. Fr. Doyle is a priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. He is the former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service and director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The “beatific vision” means the eternal and direct visual perception of God. It means seeing God face to face.
We have some sense, even in the natural order, of the importance of direct perception: Those who endured years of meetings by telephone conference call can appreciate what an advance “videoconferencing” has been, allowing people to see one another, and thereby making their presence much more real.
In the divine scheme of things, Christians have always believed that this direct vision of God is the goal that awaits us all. St. Paul said: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).
St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned that one is perfectly happy only when all of one’s desires are perfectly satisfied, and this cannot occur until we are fully united with God.
That complete union can happen not through human imagining nor even in the most deeply contemplative prayer, but only by the direct presence of God in heaven.
It is a human instinct, and a good one, to try to imagine what heaven will feel like.
When I was a child, I may have thought that heaven would be like playing baseball all day, with occasional breaks to drink soda and read comic books – but deep down I knew even then that it would be much, much better than that.
We are cautioned that all of our efforts at imagining must fall short. (St. Paul says in I Corinthians 2:9 that “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, (is) what God has prepared for those who love Him.”)
But it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Last year, a young woman, who would die two days later from cancer, told me what she was expecting in heaven.
“I think it will be like the way my mother loves me,” she said, “times a thousand.””
-Father Garrigou-Lagrange, Ch 8: “The True Nature of Christian Perfection,” The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume I
“St. Thomas admits also that in heaven our beatitude will consist essentially in the beatific vision, in the intellectual and immediate vision of the divine essence, for it is above all by this immediate vision that we shall take possession of God for eternity. We shall plunge the gaze of our intellect into the depths of His inner life seen directly. God will thus give Himself immediately to us, and we shall give ourselves to Him. We shall possess Him and He will possess us, because we shall know Him as He knows Himself and as He knows us. Beatific love will be in us a consequence of this immediate vision of the divine essence; it will even be a necessary consequence, for the beatific love of God will no longer be free, but superfree, above liberty. Our will will be invincibly ravished by the attraction of God seen face to face. We shall see His infinite goodness and beauty so clearly that we shall be unable not to love Him; we shall even be unable to find any pretext of momentarily interrupting this act of superfree love, which will no longer be measured by time, but by participated eternity, by the single instant of the immobile duration of God, the instant that never passes. In heaven the love of God and the joy of possessing Him will necessarily follow the beatific vision, which will thus be the essence of our beatitude.(31) All this is true. It is difficult to affirm more strongly than St. Thomas does the superiority of the intellect over the will in principle and in the perfect life of heaven.”
“The Catechism defines heaven as the “ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme definitive happiness” (CCC 1024).
The textbook answer is the knowledge that we will have of the divine essence, which theologians call the beatific vision. St. John writes about it in 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
In his 1336 Apostolic Constitution Benedictus Deus, Pope Benedict XII defined this vision as:
“[Seeing] the divine essence by intuitive vision, and even face to face, with no mediating creature, serving in the capacity of an object seen, but divine essence immediately revealing itself plainly, clearly, and openly, to them.”
By intuitive Benedict XII means this vision is a knowledge that is higher than all abstraction, discursive reasoning, and analogy. By immediate he means that we will know God’s essence without any mental image or created idea that merely represents the divine essence.
Just as the form of a dog is immediately united to my intellect when I know a dog, so too the divine essence will be immediately united to my intellect when I know God’s essence in the beatific vision. Rather than knowing a similitude of the divine essence, I will know the divine essence itself.
This immediate knowledge of God’s essence is what constitutes man’s perfect happiness—hence the name beatific (Latin for happy). The reason is because the intellect attains its complete perfection. And it does so in two ways.
First, it comes to know the essence of its ultimate end, that which it was created to know. Second, it arrives at the terminus of all intellectual inquiry. Because God is that than which nothing greater can be known, knowledge of his essence leaves the intellect with no further desire to acquire knowledge for its perfection.
Consider how when we seek to understand something we either look to the thing itself for answers to our questions or to something outside it. Take a tree, for example. We may ask, “What makes its leaves green?” The answer is chlorophyll. We may then ask, “Why do the leaves have chlorophyll?, and answer because the tree’s genes tell the tree to make chlorophyll. But why do its genes tell it to make chlorophyll? The answer is because the leaves need to make energy for the tree, and they use chlorophyll to do that.
Notice that to answer these questions we didn’t have to appeal to anything outside the tree.
But what if we ask, “How do the leaves make energy?” Unlike the other questions, we must appeal to something outside the tree to answer this one: Leaves make energy using light from the sun. They do this using chlorophyll in the process called photosynthesis.
Even the tree’s very existence must be explained by something outside itself. We know the tree doesn’t exist by nature—if it did, there would never be a time when the tree didn’t exist! So we must appeal to something else.
What all this means is that any reality that depends upon something else for its intelligibility leaves our intellect unsatisfied. The only thing that can fully satisfy its quest for truth is something that doesn’t rely on anything outside itself in order to be known. Knowing the essence of such a reality would leave the intellect desiring nothing else, thus perfecting it and constituting complete human happiness.
And this reality is God.
It’s important to note that the beatific vision—the intuitive and immediate knowledge of God’s essence—is not comprehensive. Our knowledge can’t exhaust the divine essence. Only God can fully know himself, as he does in the persons of the Trinity. It requires infinite intellective power to know infinite being.
So how do the saints know God perfectly but not fully? Consider how two people may know the same truth, but know it more or less profoundly.
For example, someone may know that God exists based on reasonable belief. He looks out into the world and sees a great complexity and order that extends all the way back to the beginning of the universe. And since complexity and order are ordinarily explained by intelligence, this person concludes that a super intelligence, like God, is responsible for making the universe. This is a reasonable belief.
Another person, however, might know the same truth—that God exists—but know it by way of metaphysical demonstration. He says, “I know God exists because it’s a matter of metaphysical necessity that he exists. For without him, nothing would exist.
In these two examples, we see that the same object can be known in accord with the mode of the knower. Both God and the saints know the divine essence, but in essentially different ways: according to the mode of the knower.
God’s intellective power is infinite, so he knows the divine essence in an infinite way. The blessed, however, know the divine essence in a way that is consistent with a finite intellect: they know it in a limited way. Although they have a real knowledge of God’s essence, their knowledge doesn’t exhaust it.
The knowledge that we can have of God on this side of the veil is real knowledge and can be a source of intellectual delight. But it pales in comparison to the delight that we will have when the intellect finally rests in seeing God face to face in the beatific vision and our rational natures are ultimately fulfilled.”
“Some questions need a second glance. Even when the answer seems obvious.
For instance, Saint Thomas fields this question: “Whether the essence of God can be seen with the bodily eye?” (ST I q. 12, a. 3).
If this was ever posed “live” in a thirteenth-century Dominican priory, one can imagine the other brothers’ own bodily eyes blinking in embarrassed frustration. Haven’t we been over this? The master already clarified that God is not a body (q. 3, a.1). We know God to be immaterial, infinite, pure act, pure spirit. “God is spirit,” our Lord says, “and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Why waste Father’s time like this?
The student scrambles to justify himself, remembering a quote from Saint Augustine. He had written that we will rise again with glorified eyes, which will be able to see “even incorporeal things” (q. 12, a. 3, obj. 2).
The brothers sit quietly, probably hoping for a one-word resolution: “No.”
To be sure, Aquinas gives a straightforward response: “It is impossible for God to be seen by the sense of sight, or by any other sense. . . . [E]very such kind of power is the act of a corporeal organ. . . . God is incorporeal, as was shown above” (q. 12, a. 3, corp.). Material sense powers have no proportion to immaterial objects. Therefore, even in heaven, God’s essence will not be seen with the corporeal eye.
The brothers know, of course, that we do see God spiritually, now by grace and then by glory, through the perfection of our intellect and will (q. 43 a. 5). This beatifying vision elevates these powers in wisdom and love, conforming us to the Triune God we know and love: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The perfection of this spiritual union, not some biological operation, will be our Heaven.
But St. Thomas is a wise teacher. He takes up his student’s citation and expands it: “It is very credible,” suggested Augustine, “that we shall so see the mundane bodies of the new heaven and the new earth, as to see most clearly God everywhere present, governing all corporeal things . . . as when we see men among whom we live, living and exercising the functions of human life, we do not believe they live, but see it.” After the resurrection, rather than gradually reasoning to the divine from the creature, we will recognize God’s presence as an immediate and indirect object of sight. The eye will still see material realities (“mundane bodies”), but the intellect will instantly perceive the divine presence sustaining all we see (q. 12, a. 3, ad 2).
Even now, our inability to see God with our bodily eyes doesn’t prevent us from seeing His works: “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork” (Ps 19:1). We can reason to and about God by recognizing that the universe demands a First Cause: “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). After the resurrection, the saints will perceive God in the visible order effortlessly, “from the perspicuity of the intellect, and from the refulgence of the divine glory” (q. 12, a. 3, ad 2). We hope to join them in this, above all since we know that they look upon the Incarnate Lord, risen in his own humanity: the invisible God, yet visible in the flesh.
Some questions deserve a second glance. So does the whole universe, shot through as it is with light from the Creator. As Christians, we hope after death to give it that perfect, definitive, and spiritual “double-take” it deserves—aided by our own corporeal (resurrected) eyes.”
We are not angels, not merely pure spirit. We will not be pure spirit when resurrected. We will be spirit and resurrected, incorruptible, impassible flesh, as was intended from the beginning, but only more infinitely grand now to our elevation towards God Himself by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Love, and the beatific vision,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco