Category Archives: New Testament

Bible: books that J U S T missed it….


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“It took more than a thousand years for the books of the Bible to be written. Afterward, it took several centuries for the Church to determine which of the books written were Scripture and which weren’t.

God didn’t simply give the Church a revelation saying, “The following books and only the following books are Scripture.” Instead, the Holy Spirit guided the Church as it conducted a process of discernment. This means we don’t find early, universal agreement on the books of Scripture. We find churchmen having different opinions.

There was always a broad consensus about the core books of the Bible. All orthodox Christians recognized works such as the five books of Moses in the Old Testament or the four Gospels in the New Testament. There also was broad agreement about the prophets and the letters of Paul.  (Ed.  the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is largely distinct.  The Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation were highly controversial.  They were not accepted into the canon until the 4th century AD.)

But there was debate about other books. Certain churchmen questioned or opposed books that were eventually included. Some had reservations about seven books of the Old Testament—1-2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, and Wisdom. Others had reservations about seven books of the New Testament—Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

All these were eventually included in the Bible, but there were books that some early churchmen did regard as Scripture but that didn’t find a place in the canon. We’re going to take a look at these books that “almost” made it into the Bible. We have to put quotation marks around “almost” because the Holy Spirit was in charge of the process, and God always knew which books He had inspired and which He hadn’t. But, on the human level, there was uncertainty about the status of certain books for some time.

The criterion of discernment

The criterion the early Church used to determine the status of a book was whether it had been handed down from the apostles as authoritative.

Of course, if a book was written by an apostle, it was authoritative. But apostolic authorship wasn’t required. The apostles also regarded the books of the Old Testament as authoritative, so they counted as Scripture. Even certain books of the New Testament that had been written by associates of apostles—such as Mark and Luke—were held to be authoritative and so found a place in Scripture.

The fact the apostles didn’t have to write a book led to differences in opinion in the early Church. Just how far removed from the apostles did a book have to be before it wouldn’t count as Scripture? If it was an orthodox book written in the Apostolic Age, did that imply apostolic consent to it? If it was thought to be written by someone who knew the apostles—though not a traveling companion such as Mark or Luke—was that enough?

The heretical books that were written after the first century could be recognized as fakes because of the false doctrine they contained. However, the early orthodox books were another matter.

The fact some were considered Scripture by orthodox Christians illustrates the important role that the Church played, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in determining what belongs in the Bible. (For more information, see my book The Bible Is a Catholic Book.) What were these books?

The Didache

What it is: A Church manual giving basic instruction on morality, the sacraments, prayer, church officers, and prophecy.

When it was written: The Didache likely appeared in more than one edition, but the earliest clearly was penned when there were traveling apostles and prophets, because the document includes instructions on how to tell true ones from false ones. This edition thus belongs to the apostolic age.

Who thought it was Scripture: Although this work was popular in the early Church, the evidence for people thinking it was Scripture is thinner than for some other works we’ll consider. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) quoted it and may have considered it Scripture (Stromateis 1:20:100:4). In the 300s, Pseudo-Cyprian refers to it as “Scripture” (De Centesima 14). And in the late 300s, the Syriac Book of Steps, or Liber Graduum, refers to it using the scriptural citation “it is written” (7:20).

Why they thought it was Scripture: The first edition of this work dates to the Apostolic Age, and the Didache (Greek, “teaching”) often circulated under the titles “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or “The Teaching of the Apostles.”

Why it isn’t in the Bible: Too many in the early Church doubted its apostolic authorship. The titles under which it circulated indicate it is a good summary of the teaching of the apostles, not that it was written by them.

What it said: The Didache touches on many matters connected with Christian morality and Church discipline. It contains a noteworthy passage discussing the ways (plural) in which baptism was performed in the first century.

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: After you have reviewed all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (7:1-3).

1 Clement

What it is: A letter written by Pope St. Clement I to the church of Corinth.

When it was written: Many scholars think it was written in the A.D. 90s, but a careful examination of the text suggests it was written in the first half of A.D. 70, after the disastrous “year of four emperors” in 69 but before the destruction of the temple in August of 70.

Who thought it was Scripture: Apparently, quite a few people. Eusebius notes that this letter was “publicly read for common benefit, in most of the churches” (Church History 3:16), and because of its early origin “it is probable that this was also numbered with the other writings of the apostles” (3:38). In the early 400s, it was included in the Codex Alexandrinus, an important copy of the Bible.

Why they thought it was Scripture: Clement was a man who lived in the apostolic age and who apparently knew and was approved by the apostles Peter and Paul. He was often thought to be the Clement that Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3 (Church History 3:15), and early traditions indicate that he was ordained at least to the priesthood by St. Peter. Some even held that he was Peter’s immediate successor as pope. St. Jerome notes that “the greater part of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle” (Lives of Illustrious Men 15:1).

The letter has great literary merit and is often compared in style to the book of Hebrews. In fact, in the early 200s, Origen knew a tradition that held Clement was the author of Hebrews (Church History 6:25:14), which would be another reason for thinking the letter might be Scripture.

Why it isn’t in the Bible: Despite its considerable merits, its long use in the churches, and Clement’s connection to the apostles, not enough churchmen came to regard it as Scripture. Thus, in the list of approved, disputed, and rejected books that Eusebius made in the early 300s, he didn’t mention “1 Clement.”

What it said: Clement wrote because the Corinthians had appealed to the Church of Rome to settle a dispute in their community. A faction had kicked out the duly ordained leaders of the church, and Clement argued they needed to be reinstated. This apparently happened, because Clement’s letter was kept and read in Corinth for many years.

The book contains a number of points of interest, including the earliest surviving reference to the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul:

There was Peter, who, because of unrighteous jealousy, endured not one or two but many trials, and thus having given his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. Because of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the way to the prize for patient endurance. After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West. Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance (5:4-7).

The Letter of Barnabas

What it is: An early document offering a spiritual interpretation of Jewish law and customs and how they are fulfilled in Christ and the Church.

When it was written: Shortly after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (ch. 16), perhaps around A.D. 75.

Who thought it was Scripture: Around 200, Clement of Alexandria considered it Scripture (Church History 6:14). In the 300s, it also was included in the important Bible known as Codex Sinaiticus.

Why they thought it was Scrip­­ture: Barnabas was a companion of the apostles (Acts 4:36), including Paul, and Luke even describes Barnabas as an apostle (Acts 14:14).

Also, around A.D. 200, Tertullian recorded a tradition that the book of Hebrews was written by Barnabas (On Modesty 20), which would provide additional reason to think the “Letter of Barnabas” might be Scripture.

Why it isn’t in the Bible: Barnabas was an apostle of a lesser rank. Also, the letter does not claim to be written by him (his name is found only in the title), which may have led to doubts about its authorship. Eusebius lists this letter among the books “rejected” by most orthodox Christians in his day as Scripture (Church History 3:25). St. Jerome apparently thought it was written by Barnabas but nevertheless was not Scripture (Lives of Illustrious Men 6). Scholars today generally don’t think it was written by the biblical Barnabas.

What it said: There are many fascinating things in this letter, but I’m personally glad that it’s not in Scripture. When allegorizing various Old Testament commandments, the author makes several scientifically inaccurate statements that I would not like to have to explain as an apologist. Consider:

“You shall not eat the hare.” Why? Do not become, [Moses] means, one who corrupts boys, or even resemble such people, because the hare grows another opening every year, and thus has as many orifices as it is years old.
Again, “Neither shall you eat the hyena.” Do not become, he means, an adulterer or a seducer, or even resemble such people. Why? Because this animal changes its nature from year to year and becomes male one time and female another.
* * *
But he also hated the weasel, and with good reason. Do not become, he means, like those men who, we hear, with immoral intent do things with the mouth that are forbidden, nor associate with those immoral women who do things with the mouth that are forbidden. For this animal conceives through its mouth (10:6-8).

The Shepherd of Hermas

What it is: A collection of visions by a simple and sincere man named Hermas who was a former slave living in Rome.

When it was written: Although sometimes wrongly dated to the mid-second century, Hermas lived during the time of Pope St. Clement I (“The Shepherd,” Vision 2:4[8:3]). He began receiving the visions perhaps around A.D. 80.

Who thought it was Scripture: Around A.D. 175, St. Irenaeus of Lyons described it as “Scripture” (Against Heresies 4:20:2). About the same time, Clement of Alexandria repeatedly used the work and said it was written “by divine inspiration” (Stromateis 1:29:181:1). In the early 200s, Origen also referred to it as Scripture, though he said it was “not acknowledged by all to be divine” (Commentary on Matthew 14:21). In the 300s, it was included in Codex Sinaiticus.

Why they thought it was Scripture: It’s a work of prophecy that dates to the first century. Also, many at the time believed that Hermas was the man whom Paul greets in Romans 16:14.

Why it isn’t in the Bible: Almost every author in the early Church who mentioned “The Shepherd” had a high opinion of it and regarded it as valuable for private reading, even those who didn’t regard it as Scripture. Ultimately, the latter came to be the majority, and Eusebius lists it among the books “rejected” by most orthodox Christians in his day as Scripture (Church History 3:25).

What it said: “The Shepherd” is astonishingly long for a book of this period. Its visions deal with virtue, forgiveness, and the need to repent. A central theme of the book is that repentance and forgiveness are possible for Christians who have sinned. A major figure in the visions is an angel who appears to Hermas dressed like a shepherd and thus gives the book its title. He is identified as “the angel of repentance” (Vision 5[25:7]).

After I had prayed in my house and sat down on my bed, there came a man glorious in appearance, dressed like a shepherd, with a white skin wrapped around him and with a bag on his shoulders and a staff in his hand. He greeted me, and I greeted him in return. He immediately sat down beside me and said to me, “I was sent by the most holy angel to live with you the rest of the days of your life” (Vision 5[25:1-2]).

The Apocalypse of Peter

What it is: A series of revelations allegedly given by Christ to St. Peter.

When it was written: Likely between A.D. 132-135, during the rebellion under the Jewish leader Simon bar-Kokhba, who is likely the false Christ discussed in 2:7-9 of the “Apocalypse.”

Who thought it was Scripture: Around 200, Clement of Alexandria referred to the “Apocalypse of Peter ”as Scripture (Eclogae Propheticae 41) and attributes it to Peter (48-49). The Muratorian Fragment, an early work dated between the late second and the fourth century, accepts the Apocalypses of John (i.e., the book of Revelation) and Peter as Scripture, but it acknowledges that “some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church.” Other early churchmen also supported it.

Why they thought it was Scripture: It is an early work claiming to preserve the words of St. Peter.

Why it isn’t in the Bible: Many recognized that it wasn’t actually by Peter—that the tradition supporting its apostolic authorship wasn’t strong enough. Thus, in the early 300s, Eusebius included it among the books “rejected” by most orthodox Christians of his time as Scripture (Church History 3:25).

What it said: The book contains prophecies about Israel as well as descriptions of hell and heaven. Its descriptions of the punishments of the damned are particularly vivid, but the book also contains a description of the blessings of the righteous. It concludes with an account of the ascension of Christ:

A large, very white cloud came above us and picked up our Lord and Moses and Elijah. I shook and was terrified. We watched as this heaven opened up and men with physical bodies came to welcome our Lord and Moses and Elijah. They went into the second heaven. The saying of Scripture was fulfilled, “This generation looks for him; it looks for the face of the God of Jacob.”

There was great awe and amazement in heaven. The angels flocked together to fulfill the saying of Scripture, “Open the gates, ye princes.” Then this heaven, the one which had been opened, was closed.

We prayed, and as we descended from the mountain, we praised God who has written the names of the righteous in the book of life in heaven (17:2-7).

Sidebar

How the Bible Came Together

Many in the Protestant community find it hard to imagine the Church existing for centuries without a closed, fixed list of the books of the Bible. This is because of the Protestant principle of sola scriptura—the idea that Christian doctrine should be determined “by Scripture alone.” If you use sola scriptura, then there is an urgent need to know the precise boundaries of the canon.

If you’re uncertain about the status of a book, you don’t know whether it’s authoritative for doctrine or not. You could err in either extreme: ignore statements God meant to be authoritative or treat something as authoritative when it isn’t.

But the early Church didn’t employ sola scriptura. Instead, Christians used the same principles for formulating doctrine that had been used since the Apostolic Age: Yes, Scripture was authoritative, but so was the Tradition that Christ and the apostles had passed down—and one could rely on the Church’s divinely guided Magisterium to settle cases of dispute. Therefore, pre-Reformation Christians felt no urgency to know the exact status of lesser books.

Early in the 300s, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote his famous Church History in which he described the state of views in his own day (Church History 3:25:1-6 with 3:3:5-6). He divided the books into several categories: those that orthodox Christians accepted, disputed, or rejected.

By later that century, the borders of the canon were firmer. In 382, Pope Damasus I held a council at Rome that taught essentially the same canon that Catholics have today. Pope Innocent I affirmed this list in A.D. 405, and it was endorsed by various local councils including Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 and 419. The traditional canon continued to be affirmed down through history, such as at the Council of Florence in 1442.

When the Protestant Reformers began a major controversy about the authority of certain books, the need to define the canon became more urgent, and in 1546 the Council of Trent infallibly defined which books the Church holds as sacred and canonical..”

Love, and His will,
Matthew

Purgatory & 2 Cor 5:8

Every Catholic has heard the challenge:

“How can you believe that? Don’t you know the Bible says…”

It’s a challenge we have to meet. If we can’t reconcile apparent contradictions between Scripture and Catholic teaching, how can our own faith survive? And if we can’t help our Protestant brothers and sisters overcome their preconceptions about “unbiblical” Catholic doctrines and practices, how will they ever come to embrace the fullness of the Faith?

In these excerpts from Meeting the Protestant Challenge, Karlo Broussard gives an example of how to counteract the Protestant claims about Purgatory and the rapture

“At Home with the Lord”
2 Corinthians 5:8 and Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (CCC 1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.

Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes,

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home?

Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not His absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

“Caught Up with the Lord in the Air”
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and the Rapture

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that faithful Christians will experience the final trial when the Bible teaches that Christians will be raptured before such a time?

The Catechism says that that the Church “must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers,” and such a persecution will “unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” And this religious deception will be “that of the Antichrist” (675).

But some Protestants believe that the Bible teaches otherwise: that Christians will not experience the persecution of the Antichrist but will be snatched up by the Lord prior to it. This is a doctrine known as the pre-tribulation Rapture.

The passage they often appeal to is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which reads,

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Protestants argue that Paul can’t be talking about the Second Coming here, because Jesus only comes part-way down and then goes back up. Moreover, because no judgment of the nations is mentioned, like we see in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20, it must be referring to the “rapture.”

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. The challenge misreads the text as a partial coming-from and return back to heaven.

Verse 15 reads that the Lord will “descend from heaven with a cry of command.” But nowhere does Paul actually say that Jesus returns to heaven. If Jesus’ descent is definitive, it’s not a partial coming like the pre-tribulation rapture requires it to be.

But what are we to make of Paul’s description that the saints who are alive will be “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air”? A possible interpretation is that Paul is describing how Christians will meet the Lord in the air to escort him, in a way that is analogous to the ancient custom of citizens ushering in important visitors.

It was common for citizens to meet an illustrious person (such as dignitary or victorious military leader) and his entourage outside the walls of their city and accompany him back in. This was a way for people to honor the visitor and take part in the celebration of the visitor’s coming.

We see an example of this in Acts 28:14-15, where the brethren at Rome went out of the city to meet Paul as he approached: “And so we came to Rome. And the brethren there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us.” This ancient custom also explains why the crowds go out to meet Jesus on Palm Sunday and usher him into Jerusalem (see Matt. 21:1-17).

So, for Paul, those who are alive at the Second Coming will do for our blessed Lord what the ancients did for their dignitaries: they will be caught up in the air to meet the approaching king Jesus and escort him as he “descend[s] from heaven with a cry of command” (1 Thess. 4:16).

2. The details of the passage reveal that Paul is talking about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.

Notice that it’s not just the living who are caught up with the Lord, but also the dead in Christ: “And the dead in Christ will rise first” (v.16). That Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead tells us that he’s referring to the end of time.

We know this for several reasons. First, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 that the end happens in tandem with the resurrection of the dead:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (1 Cor. 15:22-24).

If Paul viewed the resurrection of the dead as occurring in tandem with the end of time, and if he speaks of the resurrection of the dead in tandem with Christ’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, it follows that Christ’s coming in those verses is His coming at the end of time and not the beginning of a pre-tribulation rapture.

A second reason why we know Paul is talking about the end of time is because when he speaks about the “coming of the Lord” in 2 Thessalonians, he says that the Antichrist and his reign of evil must precede it:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by His appearing and His coming (2 Thess. 2:1-8).

It’s clear that Paul is connecting the “coming of our Lord” here in 2 Thessalonians and the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, because he speaks of “our assembling to meet Him.”

So, if the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 must be preceded by the Antichrist and his reign of evil, those verses can’t be referring to a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, they must refer to our Lord’s coming at the end of time, when he vanquishes all evil and condemns those “who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12).

A final clue for this being the final day of judgment is the fact that the Lord will descend with “the sound of the trumpet of God” (v.16). Paul speaks of the same trumpet when he describes the resurrection of the dead at the end of time:

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Since in Paul’s mind, the trumpet is associated with the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and he speaks of it when describing the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, we can conclude that the “coming of the Lord” that Paul writes of in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is the final coming at the end of time.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: How can a text be used to support an idea when the text never mentions that idea?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The rapture is often portrayed as a “secret coming” of Jesus. But in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Paul describes Christ’s coming with “the sound of the trumpet of God.” There is nothing secret about descending with the sound of a trumpet!

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” -Phil 2:12


-by Karlo Broussard

“Discussions between Catholics and Protestants about the topic of salvation sometimes involve a reference to Philippians 2:12, a passage often quoted by Catholics in support of their view that good works play a role in achieving our final salvation and that it’s possible for a Christian to lose his salvation. Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

“What else could Paul mean?” the Catholic asks.

Well, Protestant apologist Ron Rhodes has an answer. Rather than speaking of an individual’s salvation in the eternal sense, Rhodes asserts Paul is speaking of a corporate salvation that’s temporal and experiential. He writes,

This church as a unit was in need of “salvation” (that is, salvation in the temporal, experiential sense, not in the eternal sense). It is critical to recognize that salvation in this context is referring to the community of believers in Philippi and not to individual believers. Salvation is spoken of in a corporate sense in this verse. The Philippians were called by the apostle Paul to “keep on working out” (continuously) the “deliverance of the church into a state of Christian maturity” (emphasis in original).

Since Paul intends salvation to be taken in a temporal sense (a “deliverance of the church into a state of Christian maturity”), Rhodes believes, he can’t possibly mean salvation for believers in an eternal sense.

How can we respond?

The first thing to point out is that Rhodes is going against the grain in the New Testament by reading salvation in a temporal sense. Throughout the New Testament, including Paul’s writings, the Greek word translated here as “salvation,” sōtēria, is normally used in reference to eternal salvation. So, a natural reading of Philippians 2:12 would be to read it as such.

For Rhodes to interpret sōtēria in a temporal sense—an unusual interpretation, to say the least—he needs to shoulder the burden of proof. But he does not succeed in this attempt.

Rhodes argues that the exhortation to “work out your salvation” is a response to what he describes as “the particular situation of the church in Phillipi.” Rhodes describes the church’s situation as being

plagued by 1) rivalries and personal ambitions (Phil. 2:3,4; 4:2), 2) the teaching of Judaizers (who said that circumcision was necessary for salvation—3:1-3), 3) perfectionism (attain sinless perfection in this life—3:12-14), and 4) influence of “antinomian libertines” (people who took excessive liberty in how they lived their lives, ignoring or going against God’s law—3:18, 19).

The problem here is that each item listed above doesn’t prove what Rhodes wants it to prove.

Take rivalries and personal ambitions, for example. Here’s what Philippians 2:3-4 says: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

That Paul exhorts the Philippians to refrain from sinful behavior doesn’t mean they’re actually guilty of it. It’s simply a part of Paul’s general moral exhortation that begins in Philippians 1:27—“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Any type of moral exhortation is going to involve an exhortation to avoid sin, regardless if a person is guilty of that sin or not.

Philippians 4:2 reads, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” This is as close as Rhodes gets to identifying problems in the Philippian church. But notice it’s only directed to two people. It’s not the whole church “as a unit,” to use the words of Rhodes.

Next, Rhodes appeals to the teaching of the Judaizers, whom Paul identifies as those “who mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2). But he warns the Philippians in verse 2, “Look out . . . for those who mutilate the flesh,” implying they’re not numbered among the Judaizers. Then, in verse 3, he writes, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put not confidence in the flesh” (emphasis added). The Philippians are numbered with Paul among those of the true circumcision, not the Judaizers.

Rhodes then turns to Philippians 3:12-14, in which Paul acknowledges that he has not yet attained the resurrection of the dead and that he is not yet perfect, although he still presses on to make the resurrection of the dead and perfection his own, looking forward “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That Rhodes sees perfectionism as an active problem in the Philippian community from Paul’s acknowledgement that he’s not perfect yet is a stretch, to say the least.

The purpose of Paul’s statements is to remind the Philippians that they too haven’t yet attained the resurrection of the dead or perfection, and that they too should be pressing forward to make it their own. This is an exhortation to be holy and a sober reminder that they could fail to acheive salvation, not an identification of church problems that they need to be saved from.

The last passage Rhodes cites is Philippians 3:18-19, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Rhodes thinks this refers to Christians in the Philippian community, but the next verse shows this is not so. Paul writes, “But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.20; emphasis added). Christians in the Philippian community are not the ones identified as the “enemies of the cross of Christ,” they are clearly distinguished from them.

So, the evidence that Rhodes appeals to fails to support his temporal view of salvation for the Philippian church. But is there any positive evidence that Paul intended to speak of salvation in Philippians 2:12 in the eternal sense?

In both the preceding and subsequent context of Philippians 2:12 Paul speaks of eternal salvation.

Consider, for example, the preceding context in Philippians 1:27-28, where Paul contrasts the “salvation” that the Philippians receive from God and the “destruction” of their enemies:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen [Greek, endeixis—demonstration, proof, or sign] to them of their destruction, but of your salvation [Greek, sōtērias], and that from God.

The destruction that Paul speaks of can’t refer to a temporal destruction that the Philippians might bring upon their enemies, since Paul is exhorting the Philippians to have no fear and remain faithful when their enemies persecute them. Therefore, the destruction of their enemies must refer to an eternal destruction—their damnation.

Also, Paul speaks of the Philippians’ salvation as coming “from God.” That would seem to indicate Paul is speaking of eternal salvation here.

Now, if Paul contrasts the Philippians’ salvation with their enemies’ destruction, and that destruction refers to eternal damnation, then it follows that Paul intends salvation to be understood in the eternal sense. And it’s that salvation that Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:12 when he says, “work out your salvation.”

We can also look to Philippians 2:14-16, where Paul identifies what “working out your own salvation” involves: “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 . . . holding fast the word of life.”

Paul then gives the reason why he exhorts the Philippians to do such things in verse 16: “So that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” The implication is that if on the day of Christ, the Philippians are found to be blameworthy, not innocent, and with blemish, then he would have run in vain. In other words, his preaching would have been for nothing.

Paul is not exhorting the Philippians to be “blameless and innocent” and “without blemish” merely in the sight of men. Rather, he’s calling them to a state of holiness that is a condition to receive their salvation at the Final Judgment. If that’s not a reference to eternal salvation for believers, then nothing is.

So, not only does Rhodes’s evidence fail to support his temporal view of salvation in Philippians 2:12, we have contextual evidence that Paul did not intend salvation to be taken in a temporal sense. Paul was speaking of our final salvation to be received at the Final Judgment. And since Paul says we need to put effort into bringing about that salvation, and that we should do so with fear and trembling, Catholics are justified in appealing to this passage for support of their belief that good works do play a role in our final salvation and that it’s possible to lose it in the end.”

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Esurientes implevit bonis – Hunger for souls


-“St John eating the book(scroll)”, 1498, Albrecht Dürer, 398 x 289 mm, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruheone of fifteen woodcuts done on pear wood blocks depicting scenes of the Apocalypse.  British Museum, London, UK.  Please click on the image for greater detail.  

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”

Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by Him Who lives forever and ever, Who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to his servants the prophets.”

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel Who is standing on the sea and on the land.”

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
-Revelation 10:1-9


-by Br Pachomius Walker, OP

“We who are children of the Father, we hunger for the glory of God and souls to share in that glory. This imagery is captured strikingly by both Saint Catherine of Siena and Our Lord.

First, St. Catherine has a few striking phrases in her Dialogue. While the Father is speaking to St. Catherine, He tells her: “When she [the soul] has attained the third stage of tears, she prepares the table of the most Holy Cross in her heart and spirit. When it is set, she finds there the food of the gentle loving Word—the sign of my honor and your salvation for which my only-begotten Son’s body was opened up to give you Himself as food. The soul then begins to feed on My honor and the salvation of souls….” Or again, “Find your delight with [Christ] on the cross by feeding on souls for the glory and praise of My name.” And even further, “Hungry as they were for My honor and the salvation of souls, [the Saints] fed on these at the table of the most Holy Cross.”

Reading these excerpts, it sounds almost as if God is recommending that Christians eat souls. This sounds quite strange. Is St. Catherine recommending that, perhaps, priests, while in the confessional, start eating souls from imaginary bowls?

In order to illuminate this idea, it is helpful to reference Christ’s hunger for souls and God’s glory. There are at least two instances in the Gospels in which we can see this idea of eating souls and feasting on God’s glory.

In the temptation in the desert, Satan attempts to seduce Christ into making bread out of stones. Christ’s response? “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). We can see here that Our Lord, while fasting and hungry, claims that we are nourished by God’s word. This nourishment is hearty enough to sustain us, even while in the desert fasting.

The second instance in which we see Christ “eating souls and the glory of God” is in the Gospel of Saint John. While the translation is slightly dated, the Douay-Rheims is evocative in this instance. Christ has just won the soul of a Samaritan woman, who has gone to tell the townspeople about her interaction with Christ. Meanwhile, sitting beside the well, Christ’s apostles come to him offering food. His response shows us just how nourishing winning souls for the Kingdom can be: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work” (John 4:34). The use of the word “meat” in this passage communicates the heartiness of the nourishment.

Returning to St. Catherine, the hunger for souls and the glory of God does not mean that we are consuming other people in spiritual cannibalism. Rather, similar to Saint Paul, our love for God manifests itself in a compulsion to spread His name and to feast on His glory that can be thought of as a spiritual hunger (cf. 1 Cor 9:16). We are driven to seek the glory of God and the salvation of souls in the way a starving man seeks food—the desire consumes us.”

“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine.”
— Revelation 6:5–6 NASB

The third Horseman rides a black horse and is popularly understood to be Famine as the Horseman carries a pair of balances or weighing scales (Greek ζυγὸν, zygon), indicating the way that bread would have been weighed during a famine. In the passage, it is read that the indicated price of grain is about ten times normal (thus the famine interpretation popularity), with an entire day’s wages (a denarius) buying enough wheat for only one person (one choenix, about 1.1 litres), or enough of the less nutritious barley for three, so that workers would struggle to feed their families.

Love, and hungry for my own salvation and that of others. Pray for me.
Matthew

‘Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 5:10)


-Br Bede Mullins, OP, English Province

“Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left household or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and the sake of the Gospel, who will not receive back a hundredfold now in this present age – households and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” So, according to St Mark, Jesus answered the plea of Peter, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” The answer is striking because in the mix of this-worldly promises – just where we might feel uneasy that our Lord is preaching a kind of prosperity gospel – we are assured that there will be persecutions to boot: a thoroughly this-worldly promise.

The persecutions, however, are not just an add-on, another item in the list: it is not households and brothers and sisters… and persecutions, but all these things with persecutions. The common theme uniting the items of the list is family, the most immediate and intimate community of which we find ourselves a part. Even fields, the land a family-owned, formed an essential part of the family unit in the worldview of ancient Israel: land could never really leave the possession of the family that owned it, although it might be sold away for a time – and in that case, it should ideally be given over to another family member. The natural family, this tightknit, even sacred unit of society, is what the followers of Jesus must be prepared to leave behind – not to become individuals, solitary wanderers, but part of a greater family.

That new family is the Church, the family of the Lord’s disciples, who do the will of his Father and so become as brothers, sisters and mothers to him. And one of the surest bonds of that family in this world is precisely persecution – very often persecution at the hands of those who have been left behind. We sometimes hear it said, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, for future generations. It might as well be said that it is the cement of the Church in every present generation. In part, this is a sociological phenomenon: groups form their identity by distinction from other groups, and the experience of persecution even in mild forms can contribute to that self-differentiation from outsiders. More powerfully, the martyrs bear an eschatological witness: they testify that this age does not have the last say, and that there is indeed an age to come and in it the promise of eternal life. The martyr cries out with the Psalmist, “In righteousness I shall behold Your face; I shall take my fill when I awake of the vision of You.-Ps 17:15” By reminding us all of that common desire, the martyrs draw the Church into that unity of heart and soul which is a keynote of Acts – a unity of heart and soul which in those earliest times found external expression in the sharing of possessions and livelihood, making of the Church a single great household.

The martyrs are blessed not just because they go to behold the vision of God, but because they, like Christ, lay down their lives for their friends. Like all the beatitudes, this one speaks to us of a transformation that, by drawing us each closer to Christ, draws us closer into communion with one another also. ‘Blessed are they’: the promise is something we share, and we must learn to see the sharing as part of the gift. ‘

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Wrath


-“Wrath” by Polish artist Marta Dahlig, 12/20/06

The Deadly Sins are listed by St. Thomas (I-II: 84:4) as:

  1. Pride
  2. Greed
  3. Gluttony
  4. Lust
  5. Sloth
  6. Envy
  7. Wrath

(Saint Bonaventure (Brevil., III, ix) lists the same. The number seven was given by Saint Gregory the Great (Lib. mor. in Job.) XXXI, xvii), and held for most of the Middle Age theologists. Previous authors listed 8 Deadly Sins: Saint Cyprian (mort., iv); Cassian (instit caenob., v, coll. 5, de octo principalibus vitiis); Columbanus (“Instr. de octo vitiis princip.”in”library. Max. vet. Patr. “(, XII, 23);” Alcuin (virtut et vitiis, xxvii and ff.))

“See the souls over whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.” — Virgil

The river Styx is a toxic marsh that eternally drowned those who are overcome with rage while they are alive. Those who expressed anger (The wrathful) attacked each other on the swamp’s surface while those who repressed anger (The sullen) eternally drowned beneath the marsh.

We have seen a lot of wrath lately.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for He remembers their sins in detail.

-Sir 27:30-28:1

This song is from the Carmina Burana and the first stanzas in Latin are translated as follows:

Estuans interius
ira vehementi
in amaritudine
loquor mee menti:
factus de materia,
cinis elementi
similis sum folio,
de quo ludunt venti.

Burning inside
with violent anger,
bitterly
I speak to my heart:
created from matter,
of the ashes of the elements,
I am like a leaf
played with by the winds.

Dante described wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. St. John Chrysostom said this regarding anger: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices (Homily 11). St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason” (Summa Theologica II, IIae 158.8).

St. Thomas, following Pope St Gregory the Great, also lists the “daughters” of anger (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 158, A. 7) as quarreling, swelling of the mind, contumely (contempt or derision), clamor, indignation and blasphemy. For indeed, sometimes anger is directed at one who we deem unworthy, and this is called “indignation.” Sometimes wrathful anger manifests a pride where our anger is rooted in obstinate opinions and superiority. And anger surely gives birth to quarreling, derisiveness, and clamor. Anger directed at God often produces blasphemy.

Of the Virtues that are medicine for anger – Clearly meekness is the chief virtue to moderate anger. Meekness is the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough anger. Cleary the virtues associated with Charity such as love and peace along with proper fraternal correction assist in both curbing anger and directing it to useful ends. Prudence too will help direct and moderate anger especially through the foresight, circumspection, caution, counsel and discrimination proper to it. Finally humility helps alleviate the swollen mind of anger.

The sin of anger is ultimately a hateful and hurtful thing. It tends to destruction and must be mastered by meekness and patience. Perhaps it is best to remember a scriptural admonition:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not; it leads only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.(Psalm 37:8-9)

Wrath, or hatred if you will, is an acid within the soul that eats away at the heart until there is almost nothing left – St. John Cassian himself refers to it as a “deadly poison.”1 It turns the Christian soul into a volcanic being, literally waiting to erupt and spill over its hate on to whatever it deems as its target and/or its oppressor. Wrath blocks the light of Christ from filling the soul – when one’s soul is filled to the brim with whipping torrents of blackened anger, clear judgment and humility of heart are not to be found, and if they are, they are buried beneath layers of ash and fire. In this, we see the truly suffocating effects of wrath.

“No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness.”2 (St. John Cassian).  It is a sin that places the soul within reach of the flames of Hell, “in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22) If left unchecked, wrath eventually produces the most evil fruits: desire for another’s harm or downfall, all-consuming hatred, violence, and many others. “If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you and you will be put to shame…”3 (St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic)

So, how do we combat this sin and its effects? How are we able to calm a rage within us that seems to have consumed us? The cause of wrath needs to be uncovered beneath the piles of magma that surround the heart – in other words, get to the root of one’s rage. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”, has an incredible effect of calming the soul, taming it like a wild beast, and penetrating the heart to replace the fiery heat of rage with a gentle warmth. This prayer can often reveal what has been causing our anger.

“When anger tries to burn up my tabernacle, I will look to the goodness of God, Whom anger never touched… And when hatred tries to darken me, I will look to the mercy and the martyrdom of the Son of God…”4 (St. Hildegard of Bingen) When we find ourselves consumed by the sin of wrath, a sure antidote is found in gazing upon the crucified Savior, Who lifted not a finger against His persecutors, never once cried out against them, never once fought back. “Picture to yourself all the torments and indignities of His Passion, and amazed at His constancy, blush at your own weakness.”5 (Dom Lorenzo Scupoli)

Here, we see the virtue of humility come to our aid in the combat against wrath, for wrath is intimately linked with pride via self-justification of one’s seemingly “righteous” anger, an aspect of wrath which seems to me to speak to the inability to see clearly through one’s rage, as outlined above. As Evagrius notes, wrath “darkens the soul,”6 and this darkening causes the Christian to be lost in their own stormclouds within. Humility shines a light through these clouds, and allows us to see clearly once again.

With humility comes mercy and compassion towards others, a sure way of putting out the fires of wrath, for “the limpidity of mercy is known for patience in bearing injury, and the perfection of humility, when it rejoices in gratuitous slander”7 (St. Isaac the Syrian), and injury (either perceived or real), is the great spark that sets the sin of wrath into motion. “If you are truly merciful, when you are wrongfully and cruelly deprived of what is yours, you will not be angry within or without…”8 (St. Isaac the Syrian)


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“When I’ve struggled with “anger” in the past, I’ve often thought, at the moment, that I was being reasonable. Nonetheless, more often than not, I’ve looked back on those moments of anger only to realize that this was only half-the-truth. Reason may have been operating, but there was likely a dimension within myself that wouldn’t entertain an alternative viewpoint. For this reason, St. Thomas Aquinas suggests, as the spiritual master he is, that to counterbalance the vice of Wrath (anger, when it isn’t righteous) we apply meekness.

What I often observe, however, which is where this gets tricky, is too quickly we jump to the assumption that our anger is righteous. In that moment, our fallen nature is no longer at play, we have become as immaculate as the Virgin Mary and her Son, at least in a passive manner, gazing outwardly with rage and discontent. If we have to justify our anger as “righteous” we may actually be too occupied with our own moral disposition than what we are meant to be focused on in a spirit of love for the good.

I’d like to suggest that a regular arrival at the passion “anger” can lead us down a path that is to cause us to become untrustworthy most especially to ourselves, and simply being open to this possibility is of itself a sign that perhaps our anger isn’t disordered. Or even admitting where it is imperfect, concretely. As the “Imitation for Christ” insists: the passionate man is untrustworthy.

Here one may condemn the errors of emotivism, but in practice, they cannot distinguish between their own interior battle with integrity and truth.

What are signs that our way of thinking, our inclination to be angry in a disproportionate (unreasonable manner) has taken over? One is “murmuring.” It is the habit of complaining, whereby we never delight in any improvement, but always “to on to the next thing.” In Catholic circles, this is often tagged as an ‘actively disengaged’ Christian. They are not part of the building up of the Kingdom, nor even the tearing down of structures, they simply only find fault and then consume rage like popcorn. Rather than looking towards the dysfunction with a sense of one’s own potential to have fallen into the same errors, they look at it as though lofty and self-sufficient. And it’s in this anger that often, years later, looking back through the lens of grace, one comes to the terms with their own hypocrisy. That is definitely an ongoing experience in my life – but maybe I’m alone in that.

Meekness in the face of disordered anger is really only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that gives us “competence” or “self-control.” Both of these things mean to have a strong mind, whereby the flare-up of passion does not trump a discernment process, nor a process that is quick to factor in our own fallen-ness. The mind bends to possibilities that run contrary to the accusations that derive from our passions, and meekness is a habitual act within the soul to assess anger.

Meekness does not denounce anger, but it keeps it hinged to reason, whereby it excludes it when as a passion it is unreasonable, or it moderates it and channels it to something proactive, creative, and redeeming, when it is rooted in the right spirit of things. Without meekness man is lost to his passions, he lacks the Holy Spirit in his mind, and his own discernment cannot be trusted. In this sense we must admit that the sin of wrath is both an addiction and a sign of a weak, broken, mind that thinks itself strong, righteous, and intelligent.

I remember a number of years ago promoting the integration of meekness into our spiritual lives only to receive very livid Christians demanding that meekness was a vice. They were certain about this, and could not dare to quiet themselves before Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. For this reason, Scripture can be the cold water poured upon our passions.”

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

1 – Institutes, “On the Eight Vices”
2 – ibid.
3 – A Century of Spiritual Texts, 30
4 – Scivias, IV:7
5 – The Spiritual Combat, 52
6 – Praktikos, 23
7 – On Ascetical Life, VI:8
8 – ibid., VI:9

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 6:9)


-by Br Albert Elias Robertson, OP, English Province

“It has always struck me as slightly strange that this promise of divine adoption is offered to the peacemakers. Not in the sense that it should not be offered to them, but rather that, surely, it should be offered as the reward of all the beatitudes. After all, all of the beatitudes school us in the life of grace, and the life of grace is  expressed in our divine adoption.

The question of whether the rewards of the beatitudes are suitably assigned, and whether they refer to this life or the next, vexed the Fathers. Some held, with St Ambrose, that all the rewards of the beatitudes refer to the life to come; while Augustine says that they all refer to this present life. Chrysostom takes a middle way – some are for the future, some are for this life. Aquinas tries to settle the question by, as usual, making a distinction. Some happiness is preparing us for future beatitude in heaven, but some happiness, imperfect but still real, can be attained in this life. ‘For it is one thing,’ he says, ‘to hope that the tree will bear fruit, when the leaves begin to appear, and another when we see the first signs of the fruit.’ St Thomas assigns the beatitude of the peacemakers to 1 a contemplative happiness, which prepares us for the life to come; by making peace we show ourselves to be true followers of God, Who is the God of unity and peace.  2

But how exactly do we achieve this? Part of the way to achieve some sense of the promise offered by this beatitude is to see to whom the offer is made: peacemakers. In the scriptures, this does not have the sense it might have today of blue-helmeted UN military personnel, nor even, in the first instance, those who try to make peace within
and between homes, families, and communities. To jump to this level is already to get ahead of ourselves.

In the Scriptures, peace is richer and fuller. The meaning of the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, connotes a completeness, a wholeness. In the Psalms, peace is the reward of justice, and the crown of the rewards of the just man. Peace has its source in God – it is even a divine name as we hear in Judges when Gideon builds an altar to the Lord, and calls the place ‘the Lord is peace.’3

This revelation of Peace as a name for God finds its fullest expression in the name given to the coming Messiah by the prophet Isaiah: the Prince of Peace; and this 4 promise of peace is manifested by the angels that first Christmas night: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’ But the true 5 revelation of divine peace is found, ironically, in the cross, where Christ, the Prince of Peace, shows us that the peace He offers, is profoundly different to that of the world. For St Paul, this peace of the cross is, at its heart, a reconciliation of all things in Christ, ‘whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.’ It is in this 6 reconciliation that we find the ultimate expression of the wholeness and completeness that peace means.

But if this peace is something brought about by a divine action, how can we be peacemakers? The peace of the cross flows into our lives through the sacraments. We can see that quite clearly if we think of the words we hear at the end of sacramental confession, ‘The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.’ True peace, which 7 flows from the cross, brings peace to our souls through the sacraments. To understand this, it is worth remembering that the sacraments are the actions of Christ Himself, and 8 their power is rooted in His Passion. So when we go to confession and hear the priest 9 say, go in peace, these are the words of our Divine Healer in the Gospels. The 10 sacraments bring about that wholeness and completeness which is rooted in the reconciliation of the cross. To live an integrated life, to live a peaceful life, we must live a sacramental life. To build peace, to be a peacemaker, means, first of all, bringing peace to our own souls. Only then can this become a peace which we share with others, and bring to perfection within our own society.

To be a peacemaker is, by its very definition to be already a son or daughter of God, because true peace requires that graced communion with God which the sacraments give us. In that sense, this sacramental life are the leaves of a tree which promise good fruit in the future. The fruit of this beatitude promise will only be made manifest when all things are reconciled in Christ at the end of time. Until then, we must live in communion with God Who gives light to our darkness, and Who, through the sacraments, guides us into the way of peace.11″

Love,
Matthew

  1. ST I-II, 69, 2, resp.
  2. ST I-II, 69, 4, resp.
  3. Judges, 6:23-24.
  4. Isaiah, 9:6-7.
  5. Luke, 2:14.
  6. Colossians, 1:20.
  7. Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents
  8. ST III, 64, 3, resp.
  9. ST III, 62, 5, resp.
  10. Luke, 7:50; 8:48.
  11. Luke, 1:79.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” Mt 5:8


-by Br Daniel Benedict Rowlands, O.P., English Province

“No one shall see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Thus did the Lord speak to Moses. It is indeed true that only the angels and saints enjoy an unimpeded vision of the Holy Trinity: “for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). So, if this beatitude describes heaven, what does it teach us pilgrims? We can make progress by recognising that eternal life does not abruptly begin at death. In that magnificent formula of St Thomas, “faith is the beginning of eternal life”.

The all-too-familiar capacity of the human soul for self-centredness is matched by its astonishing capacity for self-forgetfulness. The soul in love with God yearns to lose its own life in order to be filled with the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:19). Losing our life for Christ’s sake liberates us to partake of the divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4); the beatific vision isn’t an arbitrary reward for the feat of self denial. Purity of heart describes the state of a soul rendered capacious enough at the depths of its being to be wholly filled with the divine life. St Paul surely speaks out of this condition when he declares: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

Purity is so often mentioned in the context of sexual morality, yet for the ancients, the heart was the seat of the rational faculties rather than the physical senses. It is precisely this intellectual dimension of purity that we have uncovered. St Peter implicitly gives voice to it when he relates that God has cleansed the hearts of the gentiles by faith (cf. Acts 15:8). Faith is formally in the intellect: it is the assent of the intellect to the divine truth, at the command of a will cooperating with grace.

A living faith is of course a “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Through love, we cling to God with our wills, desiring union with Him, as he draws us to himself. We depend on love for this experiential contact, for the infinity of God’s being remains beyond the ken of every creature, even the divinized intellects of the blessed. That said, the intellect in its human mode certainly does help purify our faith. Through the light of reason, nourished by Sacred Scripture, Church teaching, and sound spiritual counsel, we learn to identify all those things in our lives which are not God. In so
doing, our love is purified, reserved ever more exclusively for the Creator instead of creaturely idols.

Human reasoning, however, is itself one of those things able to distract us by becoming our principal focus, or worse turning our attention to ourselves in the act of knowing. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Cleansing by faith can therefore only be perfected by God Himself: “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour” (Ps. 126:1). It is by the Holy Spirit, and especially the gift of understanding that the heart is lifted up to exalt in the depths of the blessed Trinity, and not in itself. It is through persistent prayer that we must boldly ask for this gift. “Lord, increase our faith” (Lk 17:5). In an instant, more may be disclosed than we can tell (cf. Ps. 39:6), for there is at work in us a power able to accomplish abundantly more than we can imagine (cf. Eph. 3:20). Yet, our preparation to receive such a gift is to patiently wait in darkness, walking by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

“A pure heart create for me, O God” (Ps. 50:12). Almighty and eternal God, Thou who created man on the sixth day, send forth Thy creating Spirit and realize the sixth beatitude in us; recreate in us pure hearts, so that the light of Thy countenance may penetrate us, and, as our likeness to Thee is restored by the vision of Thy refulgent glory, that same light may stream out from us for the illumination of the world.”

Love,
Matthew

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ (Mt 5:7)


-by Br Bede Mullins, OP, English Province

“‘What a cheek you have, to want to ask for something you are chary about giving!’ That’s what St Caesarius of Arles had to say to those of us who like to think of mercy as one of the cuddlier concepts of Christian faith: we like to tell ourselves about the relief that comes with forgiveness, the understanding of weaknesses, the realization that we are loved and accepted by God even with all our faults. When people talk about mercy, they usually think of these things – and they aren’t far wrong, because St Paul tells us that Christ died
for us while we were sinners still.

But there’s the rub – Christ had to die for us, an agonizing, literally excruciating and bloody death; the Holy One had to become accursed for our sakes. Graham Greene speaks memorably of the ‘appalling strangeness of the mercy of God’. Mercy comes at a price: mercy on our sins comes at the price Christ rendered for our sake on the cross. For the original readers or hearers of Matthew’s Gospel, the price-element of mercy (and its practical implications) would perhaps have been more obvious, since the word for ‘merciful’, eleemon, recognizably shares a root with the word for ‘almsgiving’, eleemosyne. If people did indeed make that connection when listening to the beatitudes, they would be thinking with the mind of St Paul, when he exhorted the Corinthians to give to his collection for the Church in Jerusalem by appeal to the graciousness of the Lord Jesus: ‘though He was rich, He made Himself poor for your sake, so that you might be enriched by His poverty’ (2 Cor. 8.9).

Mercy, then, is not just something we receive; it makes a demand on us, from two directions. Looking first to the future, we are told time and again that we cannot expect to receive in time to come what we are not willing to give now. There is something initially illogical about mercy; it revolts the instinct for justice.  Justice desires order, including orderly retaliation, but mercy involves the disruption of order: letting go an injustice done to oneself, or giving assistance (financial or otherwise) where it isn’t strictly due. And that disruption of order is always a cause of more or less suffering for the one who shows mercy. But if we don’t take the step to be merciful – to lose face in a feud, to make the effort of an unexpected kindness – the same vicious cycle of strict justice or unrepaired injustice will carry us away in its sweep, and we shall end up not knowing how to receive mercy. Think in this connection of the character of Javert, in Les Miserables: his heart is so steeled by the unswerving desire to see justice done that, in the face of genuine mercy, he can only destroy himself – such a world as admits mercy does not to him make sense.

But the second demand is laid upon us from something past: the already-accomplished mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Christ died for you leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps’, St Peter tells us (1 Pet. 2.21): that is the example of His becoming poor that we might be made rich. He has already broken the iron rule of strict justice, by reaching down from heaven to earth and overcoming all the hard and fast separations of the natural and moral order: for in Him not only heaven meets earth, but the immortal puts on mortality, almighty God becomes a man; in Him the ruler of all becomes a servant; Israel’s privileges were vouchsafed by the keeping of a strict covenant, whereas in Christ blessings are made to abound freely among all the nations. This is the Man in Whom history is transformed, the center-point that gathers into a new orbit sin-scattered humanity. Because of Him, mercy really is possible; still more, if we are to belong to Him, mercy is imperative.

Past and future meet in the present; their demand is upon us now. You will forgive me the platitude, because in this case it might illuminate something about these demands. So far the picture suggests that Christ has shown mercy to us, we show mercy to other people, and at the end Christ will bestow on us the final mercy of everlasting life. The Gospel, however, suggests that our mercy is never directed away from Christ.  Becoming poor, He identifies Himself with those to whom we can show mercy – and is that not perhaps the strangest of his mercies? ‘Whatever you did in mercy to the least of my brethren – you did it to me’ (Matt. 25.40).”

Love, be merciful to me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.
Matthew

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Mt 5:6)


-by Br Albert Elias Robertson, OP, English Province

“…Perhaps the first question that we might have from hearing these words from our divine teacher is whether, in a world such as ours, we dare to hope for a truly just society? For Aquinas, justice is twofold; perfect and imperfect. We cannot, Aquinas tells us, have perfect 1 justice in this world, for the structures of injustice are rooted in human sin, and as St John reminds us, ‘…if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’

So are we doomed to simply thirst and hunger after freedom in a barren wilderness of an unjust world? The hard answer to this is, yes. True justice will, ultimately, elude us in this life, just as true peace and true freedom will too, for as the Apostle tells us, ‘our commonwealth is in heaven.’3 It might be tempting at this point to despair. After all, if we cannot build a just society why bother to try? If the poor will always be with us, why bother to try and clothe and feed them?

Part of the key here, surely, is the thirst and the hunger. It is not enough to simply do the works of justice, to perform acts of mercy and charity, unless you thirst and hunger for justice. We have to work with desire [Ed.  need irrepressible]. Just as overcoming lust requires our purification through grace, and the conversion our mind, heart, and sight, so too our deeper conversion helps us to see as Christ Himself sees, and in doing so, our thirst and hunger for justice grows.

If we cannot build a truly just society because of human sinfulness, we can, by God’s grace, build an imperfectly just society. This will require a certain bravery on our part, an openness, and also, sometimes, action. Martin Luther King often spoke out against the reluctance of Christians to act against injustice; ‘I have seen religious leaders stand amid the social injustices that pervade our society, mouthing pious platitudes and sanctimonious trivialities. All too often the religious community has been the taillight instead of the headlight.’

These pious platitudes and sanctimonious trivialities are what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace, a Christian life which is reduced to slogans and soundbites, and where grace ultimately does not take root in us. How then can we avoid pious platitudes and sanctimonious triviality? Only by listening to our Lord’s voice, for He not only reveals to us what the world is really like, but shows us also how to respond to these realities. We must speak boldly of God’s justice, and measure the reality of the world around us by His justice, and not by any human standard, for the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.4

Love,
Matthew

1 Commentary on Matthew, §427.
2 1 John, 1:8.
3 Philippians, 3:20.
4 Psalm 119:9.