Category Archives: Theology

Temptation

-by Jimmy Akin, “A Daily Defense

Born with Temptations

Challenge: Why would a good God allow people to be born with temptations to sin?

Defense: This is a subcase of the problem of evil. It is mysterious, but we can discern the outlines of the solution.

Elsewhere we have covered other aspects of the problem of evil (see Days 7, 38, and 151). Here we look at the specific question of why God allows people to be born with temptations to sin.

One way of putting the answer is: God created mankind in a state of original justice or holiness. However, when our first parents turned away from God and committed original sin, they lost this holiness and human nature was corrupted in a way that made us prone to sin (CCC 375, 379, 405).

Although the causes were on the spiritual rather than the purely physical level, the situation is similar to that of a person with a healthy genetic code who, by recklessly exposing himself to radioactive material, damages his genes in a way that causes his offspring to be born with birth defects. In other words: We are born with temptations because we inherit the damage done to human nature by sin.

Although this answers the question on one level, it leaves the question of why God would allow this to happen. Here there is an element of mystery, because God could have prevented us from inheriting temptations. However, we can say the following:

(1) God takes our inborn weaknesses into account in assessing how culpable we are. Our culpability for sin is diminished when we are under strong internal pressures. “The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders” (CCC 1860).

(2) God will not allow us to be separated from Him except by a truly free choice of the kind involved in mortal sin (CCC 1037).

(3) God gives us His grace to deal with temptations (1 Cor. 10:13).

(4) God subjects Himself to our weakness. In the person of Jesus, He subjected Himself to conditions like those we experience. “For we do not have a high priest [i.e., Jesus] Who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15, NABRE).

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Bad spiritual habits

Ideas have consequences. They do. They are NOT harmless. Ask the victims of the Nazis or the Communists. Be careful what you wish for? Be careful what you think! Bad thinking leads directly to bad habits which lead to bad outcomes.

“Habits—repeated practices—that make us focus on ourselves rather than God, or stoke undue curiosity about the occult, leave us more susceptible to temptation and other demonic attacks.

Emotionalism

Angels and human beings have immortal souls. Two faculties or powers of the immortal soul are reason and free will. Using our reason, we can think about things such as the morality of a proposed action. Using our free will, we can choose whether to do it. Faculties that we share with animals are senses and emotions. Our emotions are more varied and complex than those of animals, though there is no denying that a dog can be happy, sad, or angry.

We can call reason and free will higher faculties; emotions and senses lower faculties. It is a serious mistake, though one that is common in our culture, to allow the lower faculties to govern our actions. This leads us to believe that a proposed action must be good if it is pleasurable to our senses or if it makes us feel happy. I have heard individuals justify immoral acts by saying, “God wants me to be happy.” This is true, but there are acts that will give us momentary pleasure but not long-term happiness. God wants us to live in eternal happiness, and to use reason rather than emotion and sensual pleasure to guide us there.

The same is true of spirituality. It is a serious mistake to think that emotions provoked during a spiritual experience indicate its depth and value. That is why, as we have seen, the Church instructs us that healing services must avoid hysteria, theatricality, and sensationalism. I have been present at such services where, despite this directive, people are encouraged to cry, make incoherent sounds, and even fall to the ground. A better spiritual experience is one that brings a sense of peace and calm, both during and afterward.

Spiritual Pride

The demons were good when God created them, but they fell from grace because of the sin of pride: “You said in your heart . . . ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (Isa. 14:13–14). This illustrates the importance of being spiritually humble; we resist demons by avoiding the very vice that brought them down.

Spiritual Sloth

Sloth can refer to laziness in work and other daily obli- gations; spiritual sloth specifically refers to neglect of our obligations to God. Jesus warned us of the dangers of delaying repentance and neglecting to break our patterns of sin (Matt. 5:23–26; Luke 12:42–48). The Bible often refers to this as having a hardened heart (Eph. 4:18). Another way of saying this is: do not wait until tomorrow to make the good moral choices you can make today. Exorcists say that hardening of the heart, or wallowing in habits of sin, can open us to demonic attacks.

In addition to the usual spiritual means of avoiding spiritual sloth, there is a counseling technique that can be helpful in times of temptation. Before committing the sin, we can mentally put ourselves in the future and think about how we will feel about this moment. Will I be glad I acted this way, or will I regret it? What will the consequences be for others? What will the consequences be for me next week, next month, or next year? And what will the effect be on my immortal soul?

For example, if a man who struggles with drunkenness is considering having a drink, he should not dwell on the plea- sure of the drink. Rather, he should mentally put himself in the future and look at what is likely to happen as a result of this one drink. If he can delay the decision to drink—if he can think about the likelihood of getting drunk, the effects on his family and other relationships/obligations, and the damage to his soul—he may be able to excite his emotions in such a way that the drink is not so desirable. These emotions counteract the pleasurable emotions that demons try to provoke in connection with our particular weaknesses. Furthermore, by developing this thought process into a habit, by God’s grace we can break habits of sin that can be a door to demonic influence.

Casual Occult Practices

In artwork, the devil is often portrayed as a red creature with hooves, a pointed tail, bat wings, and a cruel smirk on his face. It would be beneficial if he actually appeared that way; it would be much easier to identify him and resist his temptations! Unfortunately, his operations are more insidious. This is also true of the occult practices that have become common in our culture. There are Catholics who would never consciously set out to worship false gods, but are lured by seemingly harmless spiritual gurus and practices that contradict the Faith. These are subtle means by which the demons try to gain a foothold and lead people away from God.

Playing with a Ouija board violates the first commandment, since it is an attempt to communicate with spirits in a way that excludes God. We can talk to angels, saints, and the souls in purgatory through their union with God, not through a board game. The only spirits that might respond to a Ouija board are demons and (possibly) human souls in hell, with neither of whom we should communicate.

Having said that, certainly many people have played with a Ouija board as children (I confess I am one of them). Many people my age have told me they did the same, and all have said they are not aware of any spiritual problems as a result. Does this mean that no harm comes from playing with a Ouija board? Definitely not, for two reasons. First, more than half of those in my generation who grew up Catholic are no longer practicing the faith. I am not blaming the Ouija board for that, but neither can we rule out the possibility that it had a negative spiritual influence on some people. Second is a comparison: when I was growing up most people were not wearing seat belts, and I didn’t personally know anyone who was seriously injured or killed as a result of this neglect. Nevertheless, that does not mean it was a good idea or a safe practice.

As with the Ouija board, people who have consulted palm readers, psychics, tarot cards, and horoscopes tell me it was just for fun, and deny suffering ill effects. Certainly they did not become possessed by the devil. But these activities, too, violate the first commandment, and they have the potential of opening doors to the demonic.

As we have seen, although psychics and palm readers have no inherent ability to see the future or other hidden events, demons may use these individuals and fool their customers. Demons can put ideas in their heads, such as information about peoples’ personal lives. When they report this informa- tion, they and their customers wrongly believe the knowledge came from psychic ability, palm reading or other activity. The devil would often prefer to hide his presence, and let us sin through pride (claiming extraordinary powers) and invoking false gods (such as tarot cards or the stars and planets).

Demons can also use people’s grief over dead loved ones to influence them, falsely leading them to believe—through objects being moved, or lights turning off and on—that a medium has made them present in the room. But souls do not return from the dead to leave such vague and mundane signs. And demons can use such false episodes to shake people’s faith in God’s saving power.”

Praying for safety & protection of all,
Matthew

Imputation?

catholic_gentleman
sam_guzman_wife
-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Growing up a protestant, I was taught quite young the theological idea of imputation. That is, that Christ died in our place to bear the death sentence that we deserved, and in doing so, transferred His righteousness to us. It was a grand exchange. He takes ours sins and we get credited righteousness. But most importantly, Jesus suffered and died so that we do not have to suffer and die. We escape the cross because Jesus went there in our place.

The Catholic idea of salvation is quite different. Imputation is largely foreign to Catholic theology. Instead, Catholic theology operates on the idea of participation. That is, Christ came to earth and died on the cross, not so that we could avoid death and suffering, but so that He could transform the inevitability of death and suffering from the inside out. By communion with Him, by participation in His cross, we could receive eternal life.

After all, what is the fate of each and every human being? Death. It is the great equalizer. No matter how rich, famous, beautiful, or healthy we are, we will all die sooner or later. Death is the consequence of sin, for sin is a movement away from God Who is Life itself. Sin is therefore by definition non-Life. It is death by its nature. And because our first parents chose sin, death is the fate of every human being.

Our enemy was gleeful at our demise. He meant for our death to be eternal, and for our physical death to be the gateway into eternal doom. But Christ came and changed all that. He embraced death and death could not hold Him. He transformed it from the inside out, changing it from the gateway to eternal death to that of eternal life. In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, “He trampled down death by death.”

Put another way, Christ did not suffer and die so that we do not have to—he suffered and died so that our suffering and death could be transubstantiated into a means of life. He embraced the cross not to keep us from it, but so that our crosses could be changed from instruments of death into healing remedies that bring life.

As baptized Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We are incorporated into Him and we live in communion with Him. This communion means that we share in His life—not by making some act of intellectual assent, but by living His life after Him. And living His life after Him requires carrying the cross after Him and sharing in His death. The cross is the price of eternal life.

This is the meaning of Jesus when He said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” -Lk 14:27 Could there be any clearer sign that He did not come to keep us from the cross? No, rather He came to transform our crosses into the means of life.

Having been instructed by Christ himself, St. Paul understood this well. “I die daily.” “I have been crucified with Christ.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The cross was always in his heart and on his lips, for it was to him, as it is for us all, the means of eternal life.

Suffering is inevitable. To varying degrees, we will all suffer. And with a similar certainty, we will all die. It could be said that a cross lies at the heart of human existence. But the cross need not be a fate to be feared. Our Lord trampled down death by death. In the greatest paradox of all, He changed death into a means of life. What was once our doom is now our salvation.

“You must accept your cross,” said the holy St. John Vianney“If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.” This Lent, let us not fear or flee the cross, but carry it with love and with hope, as the means not of death but of eternal life.”

Love,
Matthew

Only 3 Goods


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“How can I simplify my life? It’s not lacking in good things, it’s too full of them. How can I find space, and time, and simplicity?

The answer is: By realizing that the only things you need are good things, and that there are not as many good things as you think, because there are only three kinds of goods: Goodness is rightly divided into (1) the virtuous, (2) the useful, and (3) the pleasant. . . .

‘Goodness is not divided into these three as something univocal to be predicated equally of them all, but as something analogical to be predicated of them according to priority and posteriority. Hence it is predicated chiefly of the virtuous, then of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful’ (I,5,6).

What is “virtuous” is good in itself. The reason to be virtuous, to do right and not wrong, is simply because it’s right and not wrong. What is “pleasant” is simply what makes you happy. And what is “useful” is whatever is a means to either what is virtuous or what is pleasant.

These are three different kinds of goods. They are good analogically, good in different ways, different senses. They are not the same in rank. They are in a hierarchy. (1) The virtuous good is the “goodest” because it is good absolutely, in itself. (2) The pleasant is next because it is also an end in itself (we seek pleasure for no other reason than pleasure), but it is not absolute but relative (“different strokes for different folks”). Also, not all pleasures are virtuous, though all virtues are pleasant. And the deepest pleasure is an effect of virtue, not vice versa. (3) Finally, the useful is good only as a means to either virtue or pleasure.

Hedonists are fools who seek only pleasure. But these people are never really deeply happy, deeply pleased. Pleasure comes only as a by-product. Pleasure-addicts are like hypochondriacs. They destroy the very thing they seek by idolizing it.

Pragmatists and utilitarians are fools who seek only utility. But as Chesterton says, “man’s most pragmatic need is to be more than a pragmatist”, to have some end to justify all these means, some absolute that all these things are relative to, something all these useful things are useful for.

Most of us are semi-hedonists and semi-utilitarians because we fill up our lives and our thoughts with useful goods first of all, then pleasant goods, then virtue last of all, as a kind of last-minute check. We invert the hierarchy. Especially in modern America, where we idolize our feelings (pleasures) and treat everything else (even unborn babies) as utilitarian, disposable consumer goods.

How can we find more room and time in our lives and our thoughts for the higher goods? By simplifying and minimizing the lower goods, and above all by eliminating everything else that is not really good at all. St. Thomas’ classification gives us a road map for a wonderful simplification of our lives. Everyone needs that today. Everyone complains that their lives are too complex, that there is not enough time, not enough leisure—even though (or perhaps because) we have all these technological time-saving devices, our hundreds of mechanical slaves. We are slaves to our slaves. St. Thomas’ simple common sense can free us from this slavery.

For there are only three kinds of good. So if a thing is not virtuous, useful, or pleasant, it’s not really good. So fugghetaboutit! Simplify your life by throwing out all the things you have that you don’t need, all that’s not virtuous, useful, or pleasant. Don’t do anything for any other reason, e.g., because “everybody’s doing it” or “everybody has one” or just because it’s “expected”, or because you feel a spontaneous desire for it once you see a commercial for it. Do you really need to buy that expensive sneaker or super cell phone, or to read that book that’s on the best-seller list, or go to that dull meeting? Is it your moral duty? Does it give you happiness, or even pleasure? If the answer to all three questions is no, then dump it! A house without a garbage can becomes cluttered and smelly. The same is true of a life.”(1)

Love & truth,
Matthew

(1)Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 698-730). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Jn 18:38 & the Dictatorship of Relativism

“I have known many men who wished to deceive, but none who wished to be deceived.”St. Augustine, Confessions


Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“Fake news” has become big news in recent months. How could the proliferation of deliberately fabricated articles be a good thing?

It’s in the outcry against fake news, coming from both liberal and conservative corners. The clamoring is good the way a person’s recognizing the symptoms of a serious illness is good. Those symptoms alert him that things are not the way they ought to be. Similarly, the concern over fake news affirms that what gets reported as factual should indeed, uh, you know, conform to reality.

This assertion shouldn’t require a robust defense. And yet…

Ours is a world where various ideologies seek to distort—and the dictatorship of relativism strives to corrupt—the truth and its integrity. Contrary to St. Augustine’s observation above, some of our contemporaries do indeed “seem to want to be lied to.” And therefore, any defense of the existence of some objective truth—the truth that we all have the natural capacity, desire, and right to know—is a great thing. Remember, “post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016. But even in this post-truth era, when veritas seems to have been taken off the menu, we do not stop hungering for it. “[T]he absence of truth,” Robert Cardinal Sarah asserts, “is man’s real poverty.” We would starve without it.

Another reason why fake news has proven so unsettling is because it draws attention to a simple but seldom-considered reality: we rely heavily on the testimony and authority of others to arrive at the truth.

We certainly prefer to find truth by means of personal verification: Let me see it with my own eyes. Or better yet, I’ll run some experiments. Then I’ll have certitude.

Nevertheless, there are limits to how much can be found out by personal verification. I cannot, for example, verify the precise month, day, and year I was born. I was there, of course, but I have to accept the testimony of others that it happened when and where it happened. I can’t be certain, strictly speaking. All I can do is rely on the strength of others’ testimony. I have to trust.

We accept many more truths on the basis of witnesses and testimony than we do on personal verification. “Nothing would remain stable in human society,” St. Augustine observes, “if we determined to believe only what can be held with absolute certainty.” Indeed, it would be impossible to live a functional human life without accepting anything on the basis of another’s word.

Another word for this assent to others’ testimony is faith.

We all live by faith.

Faith is often misconstrued as believing in something in the face of evidence to the contrary, or in something for which evidence cannot be provided. But essentially faith involves giving assent based on some intellectual process. When we defer to another with expertise or believe a person’s testimony, do we do so unthinkingly? On the contrary, we do so critically. Reason helps us weigh, evaluate, interpret, and explain what we believe and why. Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they work together all the time. By them we are properly conformed to reality. By them we form our convictions.

As Christians, our conviction is that the fullness of truth is a Person: Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is a gift (CCC §153), but at the same time God has supplied various signs and aids to faith: Scriptural testimony, Tradition, the Church’s apostolic foundations, her survival and spreading, the holiness of the saints, the witness of the martyrs, the intelligibility of doctrine, miracles, answered prayers, beautiful liturgy, the sacraments. All of these testify, in different ways, to the truth of the Faith. God has spoken the truth to us, and therefore we can have faith in supernatural realities.

The early Church saw her fair share of fake news. The chief priests, for example, put their own spin on the truth of the Resurrection. St. Matthew exposed this false narrative (the chief priests “can’t even lie plausibly!”, remarked St. John Chrysostom), subsuming it into his proclamation of the good news.

Increased sensitivity to falsehood is a good thing. If truth-seeking leads to Truth-seeking, as far as today’s fake news is concerned, it will have actually been great news indeed.”

Love & His Truth, He is Truth,
Matthew

“One necessary thing”, Lk 10:42 & Aquinas

Why do we sin?

“Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek Life in the place of death.” –St Augustine, Confessions


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“All created perfections are in God. Hence He is spoken of as universally perfect (“all-perfect”), because He lacks not any excellence which may be found in creatures.

This may be seen from two considerations.

First, because whatever perfection exists in an effect must also be found in the effective cause . . . Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfection of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way . . .

Second, from what has already been proved, God is existence (being) itself. Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being . . . Since therefore God is subsisting being itself, nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him. Now all created perfections are included in the perfection of being, for things are perfect only insofar as they have being after some fashion. It follows therefore that the perfection of no being is wanting to God (ST,I,4,2).

Whatever is desirable, in whatsoever beatitude (happiness, joy), whether true (beatitude) or (even) false (i.e., merely apparent beatitude), pre-exists wholly and in a more eminent degree in the divine beatitude.

As to contemplative happiness, God possesses a continual and most certain contemplation of Himself and of all things else.

And as to that which is active, He has the governance of the whole universe. As to earthly happiness, which consists in delight, riches, power, dignity, and fame, according to Boethius (The Consolation of Philosophy III,10), He possesses joy in Himself and all things else for His delight: Instead of riches, He has that complete self-sufficiency which is promised by riches; In place of power, He has omnipotence; For dignities, the government of all things; And in place of fame, He possesses the admiration of all creatures (I,26,4, “Whether All Beatitude is Included in the Beatitude of God?”).(1)

“All sin, therefore, comes from a lack of faith—faith in this very fact, that God contains all perfections, not just some. God is not an option for “religious people”, whomever they are. God is the only game in town(2).”

“Here, in St. Thomas, is a powerful aid to obeying the first and greatest commandment. (“I AM the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before Me” -Ex 20:2-3. And, “You shall love the Lord, thy God, with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind.” -Mt 22:37) It is the realization that every finite perfection we love and seek in the creation is to be found in an infinitely perfect form in God. What are we seeking in human love, in nature, in creativity, in thought? It’s desirable only because it’s a little like God. All that we love in creatures is a reflection of the Creator. There, and there alone, in Him, can we find everything we are seeking in them. The reflections of His perfections in the mirror of creation should send us away from the mirror, not into it. And when we run into the mirror, seeking our happiness there, the mirror breaks and our happiness shatters. For every truth is a reflection of His truth, every good is a reflection of His good, every beauty is a reflection of His beauty. The reflections are real, but they are only real reflections. They point back to the Reality they reflect. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. He must contain in Himself the whole perfection of being.

And therefore He is what we need, He is all of what we need, and He is the only One we need. For if we need something else besides God, something in addition to God, then God is not God.

There is a mystery about our desires: they have no limit! We are never totally and absolutely satisfied. Why? Because they are about God.

“The form (nature) of the Desired is in the desire.” St. Thomas means by that saying that there is no such thing as desire simply, desire with no specific object, desire for nothing, or for everything in general, for an abstraction. There is only desire for food, drink, sleep, truth, goodness, beauty, sex, love, friendship, etc. The form of the object of each desire is in the desire itself, and gives it its nature: desire for sex is sexual desire, desire for knowledge is curiosity, desire for friendship is loneliness.

And thus since the form of its object is in the desire itself, and since what we most deeply desire is God, the infinite source of all finite perfections, therefore the infinite nature of God is “in” this infinite desire for God, like a negative photograph, or like a silhouette. When your mother dies, your grief is a mother-shaped grief; when you lack God it is a God-shaped lack, a God-shaped (and God-sized) vacuum. The desire for God has no limit because its object (God) has no limit.

St. Thomas here simply explains, in philosophical language, St. Augustine’s beloved and famous saying that summarizes the whole meaning of life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [that is why] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions I,1).

How this frees us from worry! Jesus tells foolish, fussing Martha the startling good news that “There is only one thing needful!” (Lk 10:38-42). It’s Him. Mary knew that, and Martha didn’t, even though both loved Him. No thought more liberating, more simplifying, more unifying than that thought has ever entered into a human mind. Your life can be one. You can be one. You do not need to be torn apart, harried and hassled, bothered and bewildered. You can become one great person by having one great love.

For you are what you love. Your love is your destiny. Augustine says your love is your gravity (amor meus, pondus meum).

In speaking to Martha, Christ speaks to all of us. He sees us in her, and he wants to liberate us out of her confusions, her illusions, and her worries, and into Mary’s “one thing needful”. He is the One we need to seek, and find, and meet, and love, and serve in all things. Because everything we seek, every good, every happiness, every joy, every perfection, is There.”(3)

Love,
Matthew

(1) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 605-622). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(2) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 627-629). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(3) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 634-663). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross

People suffer horrific things in this life. And, as Jim Morris sang, “Nobody gets out of here alive.” I have long held, if you can explain the contradiction of the Cross, not easy, but then you do understand Christianity; counter-intuitive. It takes the worst, and represents the worst-also, this life can offer…and DESTROYS it, forever. Praise Him. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Praise Him. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Horrific and horrifying, yes. Absolutely required? Without question or hesitation. Praise Him. Praise Him.


The Triumph of the Cross, ~1380, Agnolo Gaddi (1350–1396), fresco, Santa Croce, Florence (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

“For many Christians, making the sign of the cross can be as mechanical as brushing one’s teeth or clearing one’s throat. On the one hand, it’s beautiful that such a simple sign can contain such profound meaning. It’s very simplicity, however, makes it easy for us to perform without giving its meaning a second thought. A good meditation on this phenomenon can be found in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter.

“But whenever we make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over anything that we want to protect with the cross, then we must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. At the time of the early Church, the cross was already a well known symbol imbued with meaning. The cross was the symbol of death and humiliation, intended to strike fear into the hearts of would-be malefactors. Every body hanging on a cross carried with it an implicit message for the passerby, “Do not cross the state, or this will be you.” The cross, however, lost its former power when it was used to kill Jesus Christ. His followers were not deterred by the threat of the cross, nor would they deny their Lord as they were being led to die his same death. One can only imagine that this must have been quite frustrating for Roman officials. But the cross no longer meant to the Christians what it still meant to the Romans. The cross had become a symbol of life because it had been defeated and shown to be powerless, similar to how the sign of surrender would later become the handing over of one’s sword.

The impotence of the cross, however, could only be revealed after it had been given free rein to do its worst, and its worst had been found wanting. Christ felt the full weight of suffering and humiliation. But the suffering, instead of breaking his mettle, became an occasion for heroic courage, and the humiliation, instead of causing him shame, became an occasion for him to despise shame itself (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It was only by dying that Christ could rise, and in losing all human glory he was exalted above every mere creature (cf. Philippians 2:8-9). It was only after Christ had emptied the cross of all the power it had once enjoyed that he could fill it with a new and greater power. “We must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The sign of the cross has the power to strengthen us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157), and it is good for us to avail ourselves of it often, but it strengthens us precisely to meet the trials of life head on, rather than to keep them at bay. We are called to share in the life and glory of Christ, but only through sharing in His cross. There are still many Christians who suffer death for their faith in Christ, but we who are not so sorely tried can also show our Christian mettle by carrying our daily crosses, strengthened by the knowledge that the cross is the sign that points to the empty tomb.”

Love & glorious, inexpressibly joyful TRIUMPH in Him,
Matthew

Last Four Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven & Hell

“The holy fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”- Prv 9:10


-by Peter Kreeft

“The Church’s teaching about life after death is summarized in the Four Last Things — death, judgment, heaven, and hell. However, even humanity outside the Church instinctively knows something about these four things.

Life’s one certainty is death. Everyone knows this, though not everyone knows what comes next. Nearly all religions, cultures and individuals in history have believed in some form of life after death. Man’s innate sense of justice tells him that there must be an ultimate reckoning, that in the final analysis no one can cheat the moral law and get away with it or suffer undeserved injustices throughout life and not be justly compensated. Since this ultimate justice does not seem to be accomplished in this life, there must be “the rest of the story.”

This instinctive conviction that there must be a higher, more-than-human justice is nearly universal. Thus the second of the Four Last Things, judgment, is also widely known. As Scripture says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). The final judgment is an encounter with Christ.

Most men also know that justice distinguishes the good from the evil and, therefore, that after death there must be separate destinies for us — rewards for good and punishments for evil. Thus mankind also usually believes in some form of heaven and hell.

There are only two eternal destinies: heaven or hell, union or disunion with God. Each one of us will be either with God or without Him forever. If hell is not real, the Church and the Bible are also liars. Our basis for believing in the reality of hell is exactly the same authority as our basis for believing in the reality of heaven: Christ, His Church, and her scriptures.

If hell is not real, then Jesus Christ is either a fool or a liar for He warned us repeatedly and with utmost seriousness about it. There is no reincarnation, no “second chance” after time is over. There is no annihilation, no end of the soul’s existence. There is no change of species from human being to angel or to anything else.

The particular judgment occurs immediately after each individual’s death. The general judgment takes place at the end of all time and history.

So the scenario of final events is: (a) first, death; (b) then, immediately, the particular judgment; (c) then, either hell, or purgatory as preparation for heaven, or heaven; (d) and, at the end of time, the general judgment; (e) and the “new heavens and new earth” for those who are saved.”

-from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, by Jonathan Edwards, (1703-1758)

“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, Whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.”

Love, and holy fear & trembling,-Phil 2:12,
Matthew

The Church hurts, justice, & the Holy Spirit


-by Mark Shea, former Baptist and now Catholic apologist

“The good news about the Catholic Church,” said a friend of mine “is that it’s like a big family.”

“The bad news about the Catholic Church,” he continued, “is that it’s like a big family.”

A basic fact of life is that the same Body of Christ that is the sacrament of salvation, the fountain of so many graces, the home of so many amazing and wonderful people, so much healing, so much beauty, and the glorious treasury of saints to whom we owe so much…that same Church is the scene of incredibly devastating hurts dealt out by traitors, perverts, scoundrels, monsters, selfish jerks, liars, grasping careerists, Pharisees, libertines, and fools.

Just about everyone has a story to tell: the scheming chancery functionary bent on inflicting economic harm on some struggling Catholic self-employed businessman; the priest who was an insulting, despair-inducing buffoon in the confessional; the sexually abusive cleric and the bishop who protected him; the Church Lady with her petty hurtful gossip; the jackass who poses as the uber-pious Catholic while he cheats on his wife; the nun who shamed and scarred the little girl in third grade; the crazy mom who destroyed her kids lives while yakking about God, dragging them from one quack visionary to the next and then running off with the priest; the liturgist who decided the mandate was not “Feed my sheep” but “Try experiments on my rats”; the Catholic schoolteacher who destroyed your shot at college because she was a vindictive psycho who hated males.

It is, in fact, a story as old as the New Testament. Jesus’ story is, after all, a story of betrayal. It’s easy to forget that Judas was, at one time, a friend of Jesus’. And so one of the great psalms of the Passion records the messianic sufferer lamenting, “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).

Nor did the other apostles always present a sterling example of loyal friendship. They fought amongst themselves about who was the greatest, even as Jesus was celebrating the Last Supper and warning of his betrayal (Luke 22:24). James and John elbowed each other for a coveted spot at Jesus’ left and right hands, and even sent their mom to run interference for them as they jockeyed for position (Matthew 20:20-24). Peter, who had massive failings of his own when it came to denying Jesus and chickening out in a pinch, was also frustrated by Simon Magus, a baptized Christian who saw Jesus as a potential source of super powers and who tried to buy Peter off (Acts 8:9-14).

Similarly, Paul has to write on a number of occasions to express his exasperation, not with persecuting pagans outside the Church, but with his own fellow Christians within it. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” he tells the Galatians, adding later (of those Judaizing Christians who were tempting the Galatians to abandon the gospel and return to salvation by circumcision): “I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12). (It’s been a while since a bishop blurted out in frustration that he wished members of his flock would castrate themselves.)

In various letters, Paul complains about Christians getting drunk at their agape meals, embarrassing the poor, having relations with their stepmother, rejecting the resurrection, getting puffed up with pride, refusing to work since Jesus was coming soon, and rejecting himself as an apostle since was not one of the original Twelve. Indeed, for all the abuse and beatings Paul got at the hands of both Jews and pagans, the greatest pain and frustration he felt was at the sheer ingratitude and hostility he received from fellow Christians, a fact easily verified from 2 Corinthians 10-13, in which the apostle “vents” (as they say these days) about the exasperation he feels at having to establish his bona fides as a “real” apostle to the spouting popinjays at the Church in Corinth who were simultaneously undermining all his hard work—work done at the cost of beatings, shipwreck, stoning and abuse—while leading the thankless Corinthians away from apostolic tradition. Paul practically pioneered the discovery of many a Catholic saint since that no good deed goes unpunished.

And all this sets the stage for a rich and colorful pageant of Catholic history in which Catholics drive each other crazy, hurt each other, lie to each other, cheat each other, make war on each other, rape each other, and kill each other. And by this, I mean Catholics from every walk of life. You can find everybody from Pope to dog catcher in the rogue’s gallery: clerical, lay, male, female, young, old, black, white, unlettered ruffian, cultured scholar, foreign, and domestic. No wonder Paul has to exhort us to bear with one another (Colossians 3:13) and Jesus tells us to forgive one another. It’s easy to forget that these instructions are not some platform for general social reform in which saintly Christians march out and show a barbarous world of buffoons the True Path.

Rather, the instructions to bear with and forgive one another are given to Christians first, because we need to hear them first. The New Testament documents are meant to be read in Christian assemblies of worship and are calculated to help Christians get along with each other. They were not written for classes on Civilizational Uplift to be taught by Holy Christians to a rabble of unwashed pagan thugs. Nor were they written for Christians to study in a class on “how to endure persecution from non-Christians” (though a few remarks here and there do, indeed, instruct Christians on how to cope with persecution from non-Christians).

On the contrary, the command to forgive—a command so crucial that it is the only part of the Our Father on which Jesus comments (warning “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15))—frankly presupposes that the Church is the rabble of sinners who hurt each other before it is the communion of saints that reaches heaven.

Because of all this it’s worth looking at some of the biblical principles by which the Church orders its life for when its member don’t act like saints. In a world of pain infliction like ours, it’s easy to leap to a variety of conclusions that can hurt rather than help our faith and our obedience to Jesus Christ. We can assume that the person who hurt us meant to hurt us. We can assume that the hurt is proof the person is not really a Christian and is bound for Hell. We can assume the sinner is acting with the power and the authority of the Church (a particularly easy assumption when the sinner is a cleric). We can assume the hurt is proof that we “had it coming”. We can assume the hurt is proof the entire Catholic faith is a fraud. We can assume the hurt is proof Jesus Christ is a fraud. We can assume the hurt is proof the existence of God is a fraud.

Because of our tendency to draw unwarranted conclusions from the pain Catholics cause each other as they bonk into each other in the hurly burly of life, it’s wise to think about such matters and plan ahead for the moment when (not if) somebody in the Church hurts you.

The Mark Twain Principle

The first and most sensible thing that Catholics can do is not borrow trouble by presuming the worst right off the bat. Mark Twain said we should never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity. His humorous point, of course, is that while there certainly are deliberately hurtful acts, an awful lot of what we do to one another is caused by ignorance and can even have a good-hearted intention behind the misfire if we can get past our pain to see it. The child who tries his best to be nice to the neighbor lady and ends up saying, “Gee, for a fat lady you sure don’t sweat much!” may deeply hurt with his words, but he does, after all, mean well. So our tradition counsels us to always assume the best first. With each pain we encounter, we have to develop the habit of asking “Was this grave? Did the person who did it have freedom? Did they understand what they were doing?” This spells the difference between excusing and forgiving. A lot of evil done us doesn’t even rise to the level of a sin. So we excuse the person who steps on our toes, or the verbal klutz who means to compliment us but winds up saying “You’re a lot smarter than I thought you were.”

Cultivate a 70 X 7 Habit

Of course, not all evils are excusable. Sometimes people commit actual sins against us. They fail to render the love or justice we were properly owed. They cut in line. They steal our stuff. They cheat us. They cheat on us. They abuse us. Whether by action or by failure to act, they knowingly and willingly hurt us. What then?

The command of Jesus is famous—and scary: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also Who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25) Peter, standing at the head of a long line of Christians who couldn’t even begin to imagine what Jesus really meant by that, summoned his magnanimity to its height and suggested that instead of the rabbinic custom of forgiving people three times, perhaps we should go all out and forgive them seven times. Jesus countered, “Not seven, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). How many times must we forgive? Infinity. As many times as we are sinned against. And that forgiveness is to be extended “if you have anything against any one”. No qualifications on whether or not they reciprocate or say they are sorry or show contrition.

The reason for this, of course, is for our good. Unforgiveness is, as has been famously observed, like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. To refuse to forgive is not to maintain power over our victimizer. It is to hand all power over to them and leave them in control of us for the rest of our lives and (if we let it destroy our souls with bitterness) possibly for the rest of eternity. In forgiveness, we hand the person who has sinned against us back to God, release them from our judgment and entrust them to the mercy of God. In doing so, we are set free from their power and can stand in the place of Christ the Beloved Son who likewise forgave and enjoyed—even on the cross—the love of God.

Don’t Blame Yourself

The Christian tradition has a healthy habit of self-criticism enshrined in the Confiteor. We are sinners, it is true. At the same time, there can be a certain pathology in which we can blame ourselves for sins committed against us. The child blames himself because his uncle beat him. The abused woman says it’s her fault that her husband gave her a black eye. The victim of priest abuse believes (and in some cases was shamefully told by ecclesial authority) that the abuse was their fault because they “asked for it”. The Church’s actual moral tradition, however, stands against this: the sinner is responsible for his sin, not somebody else. The victim of abuse needs to lay hold of Christ, the innocent sufferer, who did not say, “Maybe I had it coming”. He knew he was innocent. But neither did he allow the injustice done him to conquer him with bitterness. He showed the way between self-blame and hatred of his victimizers: the way of love rooted in the knowledge that he was the beloved Son of God. You are likewise a beloved child of God and the sin committed against you is not a sign that you had it coming or that God is angry at you. It is a sign only of the fact that we live in a fallen world. United with Christ crucified, your suffering can even help in the redemption of the evil done you, and can be a way that God will defeat Satan’s attack on you with a good that conquers and overwhelmingly triumphs.

Forgiveness Does not Mean Inaction

One great fear that can seize people is the mistaken notion that the command to forgive is a command to be passive—as though forgiveness means sitting on your hands while somebody gets away with fleecing you blind or beating you up because to oppose them would be “judgmental”. In fact, however, the New Testament knew as well as we do that sometimes sins require action:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Clearly, what Jesus has in view here is the twofold reality that sins and conflicts are going to arise within the Church and that his disciples need to find a way to deal with them effectively. For much of our day-to-day life, these problems are the equivalent of pin pricks and paper cuts in the body of Christ. Somebody sins. You show them their fault with mercy and charity. They repent. All’s forgiven. You don’t call your pastor because your husband left the toilet seat up. The bishop is not on speed dial to adjudicate how the monies from the parish bake sale will be distributed. Subsidiarity means that the people closest to the problem will, nine times out of ten, be competent to deal with the problem.

However, sometimes a bit more is required. So you call in a second opinion when your son is blowing off his schoolwork, making you and your spouse the united front who forbid the hike or the video games till the sin is remedied. Other times, the two or three witnesses may point out that there is blame to go around on all sides. On occasion, it may be necessary to bring a conflict to a pastor, such as with marriage issues, parenting issues, or some sort of struggle with how the school, or the finance committee are doing. A huge amount of our daily life never goes further than these levels of conflict and arbitration because most of us do not live epic lives of conflict that rocks the Church.

That said, of course, there are moments when some sin is so grave that ecclesial and even civil authority must be called in. A good rule of thumb is that ecclesial authority is necessary for ecclesial issues and civil authority should be contacted for issues in which the common good is threatened. So if your parish or Catholic educational institution is, for instance, fomenting rank heresy or open contempt for the faith, it may be time to contact the bishop. The trick, of course, is that very often the people most eager to make such calls are the people least qualified to do so. Every diocese has its wannabe Inquisitors who contact the chancery on a weekly or daily basis to complain that their parish sings hymns they don’t like, or the priest does not elevate the Host as high as the Inquisitor thinks proper, or women are not wearing veils as they should or what have you. Bishops have a lot on their minds, so a good rule of thumb is to ask whether the thing I think of such burning importance seems to be of burning importance to other good and holy folk I know in the diocese. If they do not think it worth going to the mat for, say, having to sing the umpteenth chorus of “Anthem” at the family Mass, probably this is not the battle that needs to be fought right now. On the other hand, if there are really serious theological and liturgical abuses, the bishop needs to know.

With matters of civil law such as theft, sexual abuse and such like, the proper place to go is to the cops. As Paul says,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1-4)

So, for instance, to draw from the very stark and disastrous example of the priest abuse scandal, if a layperson has evidence that a priest has been harming a child, this is not a matter for internal discipline in the diocese. This is a criminal matter and the police should be contacted. It is not “unforgiving” to do so. It is an act of justice to the victim, an act of charity and protection for potential victims, and a work of mercy to the Body of Christ.

One temptation that faces us when a member of the Church sins against us is to conclude that the sinner is “not really a Christian” or that the whole thing—Church, Jesus, God—is a sham. As to the question of whether somebody who sins is “really a Christian”, C.S. Lewis gives us a good perspective via his demonic correspondent Uncle Screwtape, who advises his nephew, the junior tempter Wormwood, on how to help sow the seeds of bitterness and pride in his human “patient” when he discovers his fellow Christians are all quite capable of sin:

All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’ You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy(God) to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug,’ commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

Remember Why the Church is Called “Holy”

It will be noticed that throughout this article I have not confined the discussion to what the press typically means by “the Church”: namely, the hierarchy and the ordained office. That’s because, of course, the Church is all the baptized. When we speak of “the Church” hurting us and think only of the clergy we are taking a radically impoverished view of the Church. And this is of a piece with a general tendency to think of “the Church” merely as a sort of institutional structure. It’s not. The Church is the Body of Christ. But what makes it the Body of Christ is not the Pope, bishops or priests. It’s not the saints. It’s not radical empowered laity full of progressive fervor bringing an antiquated institution into The Future. It’s not properly observed liturgical rubrics. What makes the Church the Body of Christ is the Holy Spirit, Who is the soul of the Church. We say the Church is holy not because we are stone blind Kool-Aid drinkers who imagine Catholics never sin despite two thousand years of evidence to the contrary, but because, through thick and thin, the Holy Spirit continues to make it possible to forgive, heal, and be reconciled despite the worst wounds—the wounds we receive in the house of our friends (Zechariah 13:6).”

Lord, strengthen me against my own hypocrisy, which is daily.
Love,
Matthew

Historical Jesus

case4jesus-brant-pitre

Brant-Pitre-Author-Photo-266x400

-Brant Pitre is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the author of the bestselling book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (2011) and Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Every Told (2014). Dr. Pitre is an extremely enthusiastic and highly sought after speaker who lectures regularly across the United States. He has produced dozens of Bible studies on both CD and DVD, in which he explores the biblical roots of the Catholic faith. He has also appeared on a number of Catholic radio and television shows, such as Catholic Answers Live and programs on EWTN. He currently lives in Louisiana with his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children.

Are the Gospels historically accurate, and can they be trusted?

Many modern scholars believe that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus, that they were not authored by disciples of Jesus, and that they were written too late in the first century to be based on reliable eyewitness testimony.

In The Case for Jesus (on sale Feb. 2), Dr. Brant Pitre, bestselling author of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, taps into the wells of Christian scripture, history and tradition to ask and answer a number of questions about the origins and validity of the Gospels and one big question: Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God?

“Confusion about who Jesus claimed to be is everywhere and it’s spreading,” writes Dr. Pitre. “In fact, the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God may be more widespread today than ever before in history.”

In The Case for Jesus, Dr. Pitre offers compelling reasons for concluding that the four Gospels are first-century biographies of Jesus, written within the lifetime of the apostles, and based directly on eyewitness testimony.

The findings outlined in this book, which includes an afterword by Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire, a global media ministry, have the potential to pull the rug out from under a century of skepticism toward the apostolic authorship and historical truth of the traditional Gospels.

“This book will prove to be a most effective weapon in the arsenal of Christian evangelists in their struggle against the debunking and skeptical attitudes toward the Gospels that are so prevalent, not only in academe, but also on the street, among young people who, sadly, are leaving the Churches in droves,” writes Bishop Barron.

In The Case for Jesus, Dr. Pitre asks and answers a number of questions, including:

-Who wrote the four Gospels? Were they really anonymous?
-What do we make of the so-called “Lost Gospels”?
-Are the Gospels fact or fiction? Folklore or biography?
-Did Jesus really claim to be God?
-Did Jesus fulfill the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah?
-Why was Jesus crucified?
-What is the evidence for the Resurrection?

Advance Praise for The Case for Jesus:

“Thanks to Dr. Pitre’s magnificent book, you will now be equipped to make the case for Jesus and the veracity of the Gospel to even the most ardent skeptics.” —Jennifer Fulwiler, author of Something Other than God

“The Case for Jesus topples the naive skepticism that too often dominates the study of the Gospels…” —Mary Healy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

“A robust and rock-solid case for Jesus. The sensationalistic claims of super-sceptics are exposed as a sham as Pitre provides a meticulous presentation of the evidence about the reliability of the Gospels, who Jesus thought he was, and what he means today.”—Michael F. Bird, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

——————————

In the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the region Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene… Luke 3:1

Some people claim that Jesus Christ never existed. Allegedly the life of Jesus and the Gospel are merely myths fabricated by the Church. This claim rests mainly upon their belief that there is no historical record of Jesus.

This lack of secular reports should not be too surprising for modern Christians. First, only a small fraction of the written records survived those twenty centuries. Secondly, there were few, if any, journalists in Palestine during the time of Jesus. Thirdly, the Romans saw the Jewish people as merely one of many ethnic groups that needed to be tolerated. The Romans held the Jewish people in low regard. Finally the Jewish leaders were also eager to forget about Jesus. Secular writers only took notice after Christianity became popular and began to disturb their lifestyle.

Even though early secular reports on Jesus may have been rare, there are still a few surviving references to Him. Not too surprisingly, the earliest non-Christian reports were made by the Jews. Flavius Josephus, who lived until 98 A.D., was a romanized Jewish historian. He wrote books on Jewish history for the Roman people. In his book, Jewish Antiquities, he made references to Jesus. In one reference he wrote:

About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, who did good deeds and whose virtues were recognized. And many Jews and people of other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. However, those who became his disciples preached his doctrine. They related that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Perhaps he was the Messiah in connection with whom the prophets foretold wonders. [Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XVIII 3.2]

Even though several different forms of this particular text have survived through the twenty centuries, they all agree with the above cited version. This version is considered to be the closest to the original – the least suspected of Christian text-tampering. Elsewhere in this book, Josephus also reported the execution of St. John the Baptist [XVIII 5.2] and St. James the Just [XX 9.1], even referring to James as “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” It should be noted that the past tense in the clause, “Jesus who was called Christ,” argues against Christian text-tampering since a Christian would prefer to write instead, “Jesus who is called Christ.”

Another Jewish source, the Talmud, makes several historical references to Jesus. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the Talmud is “the collection of ancient Rabbinic writings consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara, constituting the basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism.” Although not explicitly referred to by name, later rabbis identify the person as Jesus. These references to Jesus are neither sympathetic to Him or His Church. Also these writings were preserved through the centuries by Jews, so Christians cannot be accused of tampering with the text.

The Talmud makes note of Jesus’ miracles. No attempt is made to deny them, but it ascribes them to magical arts from Egypt. Also His crucifixion is dated as “on the eve of the Feast of the Passover” in agreement with the Gospel (Luke 22:1ff; John 19:31ff). Similar again to the Gospel (Matt. 27:51), the Talmud records the earthquake and the tearing in two of the Temple curtain during the time of Jesus’ death. Josephus in his book, The Jewish War, also confirmed these events.

By the beginning of the 2nd century, Romans were writing about Christians and Jesus. Pliny the Younger, proconsul in Asia Minor, in 111 A.D. wrote to Emperor Trajan in a letter:

…it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery, or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded. After this was done, their custom was to depart, and meet again to take food… [Pliny, Epistle 97]

Special attention should be made to the phrase, “to Christ as a god,” an early secular witness to the belief in Christ’s divinity (John 20:28; Phil. 2:6). Also it is interesting to compare this passage with Acts 20:7-11, a biblical account of an early Christian Sunday celebration.

Next the Roman historian, Tacitus, who is respected by modern scholars for historical accuracy, wrote in 115 A.D. about Christ and His Church:

The author of the denomination was Christ[us] who had been executed in Tiberius time by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. The pestilent superstition, checked for a while, burst out again, not only throughout Judea…but throughout the city of Rome also… [Tacitus, Annals, XV 44]

Even with disdain for the Christian faith, Tacitus still treated the execution of Christ as historical fact, drawing connections to Roman events and leaders. (cf. Luke 3:1ff)

Other secular witnesses to the historical Jesus include Suetonius in his biography of Claudius, Phlegan recording the eclipse of the sun during Jesus’ death and even Celsus, a pagan philosopher. It must be kept in mind that most of these sources were not only secular but anti-Christian. These secular authors, including the Jewish writers, had no desire or intention to promote Christianity. They had no motivation to distort their reports in favor of Christianity. Pliny actually punished Christians for their faith. If Jesus were a myth or His execution a hoax, Tacitus would have reported it as such. He certainly would not have connected Jesus’ execution to Roman leaders. These writers presented Jesus as a real historical person. Denying the reliability of these sources in connection to Jesus would cast serious suspicion on the rest of ancient history.

Now these ancient secular writings do not prove that Jesus is the Son of God or even the Christ, but that is not the goal of this tract. These reports show that a virtuous person named Jesus did live in the early first century A.D. and authored a religious movement (which still exists today). This Person was at least called Christ – the Messiah. Christians in the first century also appeared to consider Him God. Finally these writings support other facts found in the Bible surrounding His life. The claim that Jesus never existed and His life is a myth compromises the reliability of ancient history.”

Love,
Matthew