Choose a Saint for 2011

Jennifer Fulwiler came up with a great way to ring in the new year: she set up a website that will randomly choose a saint for you.  She explains:
I got the idea from the “saint for the year” devotion, where people have a patron saint for the new year chosen for them at random (usually by a priest or religious, who prays over each choice). I’ve had saints chosen for me this way before, and it’s always been a great experience. E.g. In 2007 St. Maximilian Kolbe was picked as my patron for the year. I wasn’t familiar with him before that, but his life ended up inspiring me tremendously all throughout the year, and I still ask him for prayers for all sorts of matters. He’s become one of my favorite saints.
This strikes me as a great way to grow spiritually.  Just as spending a year, or even a few weeks, as an exchange student helps you to learn the perspective and culture of people you don't know well, this does something similar with the Saints in Heaven.  They lived and died in Grace, and their personal sacrifices and struggles were a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  You could certainly do worse than to learn from their examples.

Anyways, if you're serious about doing it, go to the site she set up here, pray for the Spirit's guidance, and click away.  If you're not wanting a full year's commitment, feel free to play around with the site, anyways.

I got St. Isaac Jogues, by the way.  I knew next to nothing about him, and admit I was immediately a little jealous that one of the other people I knew who did it got St. Raymond of Peñafort (a canon lawyer).  But, as it turns out, he's an awesome saint.

Whatever your plans for 2011, I hope the year is fruitful is blessed.  Auld lang syne, and all that.

P.S.  On a related New Year's note, tomorrow marks the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.  It's normally a holy day of obligation, but not when it falls on a Saturday or Monday in the US.  It's still worth going to Mass, since it's a holy day. It's a good way to start the year off right.  And, since it's the eighth day of Christmas, this celebrates Jesus' officially becoming a Jew under the Old Covenant.  Luke 2:22-40 took place on this, the Eighth Day, and the passage is well worth another read.

Taking Jesus at His Word in the Eucharist

Honeycom raises four points s/he thinks disproves the Eucharist.  None do.  They are, in turn:
(1) Why would the Lord of the Universe turn Himself into a piece of bread so His followers believe they are consuming His body, blood, soul and divinity? 
Why would He become a Baby, and a poor Galilean at that, and claim to be both a King and God Himself? Surely, our faith would be easier had He come in glory at the First Advent.  As St. Ambrose pointed out in On the Mysteries, if you can accept the Virgin Birth on faith, you should be able to accept the Eucharist on faith as well, since we know from His very Birth that His Body was not ordinary:
Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.
54. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: "This is My Body." Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.
If your question is why He doesn't appear as Flesh and Blood in the Eucharist, it's for the same reason He chose humble form during His earthly ministry: so that we come to Him in faith, and not out of anything less.
(2) Jesus did not change the substance as at Cana, and He did not say "touto gignetai" meaning this is turned into or has become, but "touto esti" meaning this represents or stands for. 
A. Cana was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.  The forerunner is never as great as what it signals. Compare the infinite difference between the first Passover lamb and Christ the Passover Lamb, or the first and last Adam.  Hebrews 10:1 establishes this principle that the shadow is never as full as the thing it foreshadows.  And the author of Hebrews just showed that Moses used real blood in Hebrews 9:19-20 to atone for sins:
 "When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”
And as Hebrews 9:22 tells us, this was done because, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." You'd have it so that Moses said "This is the blood of the covenant," and it was real, (temporarily) atoning blood.  But Jesus says "This is the Blood of My Covenant," and He's just swigging symbolic wine. Hebrews 9:23 disagrees with you, which says Jesus' version is "more perfect" than Moses (since the real Blood of the Covenant Jesus offers in the Eucharist is perfect atonement, rather than temporary), as does the entire model of prophetic foreshadowing in Scripture.

B. That's not what "touto esti" means.  It literally means "this is."  True, it can be used in an allegorical fashion (just as in English; as in the old rhyme, "this is the church, this is the steeple...").  But it's not true that Jesus' words signal a symbol, any more than "this is" signals a symbol in English. Christ said "This is My Body" (touto esti), not "This has Become My Body" (touto gignetai), but neither of those phrases are "This symbolizes My Body."

Martin Luther himself acknowledged this, mocking those who took the other view in Against the Heavenly Prophets, saying, "I would laugh at the monkey business if it did not concern matters of such great importance." The reason for his mockery:
For in Greek the sentence reads "Touto esti to soma mou." Originally and still today these Greek words mean in translation, "this is my body."  In Latin the words "Hoc est corpus meum," are a complete and correct rendering of the Greek, without missing the point by one whit, as all those would have to affirm, who know Greek.
He gives numerous points proving this, and provides examples from Scripture, from the Greek language, and from the German language.  If you want to read it in full, read from page 239 to about 257 or so of this book.

If you don't want to take Luther's word for it, you could always look at the Bible.  The word "esti" is used nearly 800 times, and never once is translated as "symbolizes" in the KJV.  It's translated "is" 744 times, "are" 54 times, "was" 29 times, "be" 25 times, "have" 11 times, etc., but never "symbolizes" or anything of the like.  For example, we also see "touto esti" in Matthew 19:26, when Christ says, "with men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible" and in John 6:29, when He says, "This is the work of God," and a little later, in v. 39 and 40, "this is the Father's Will" and "this is the Will of Him who sent Me." In Acts 2:16, the phrase is used for the verse, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." And on and on it goes: each time we see it, it actually means "this is," not "this represents."

In fact, understanding it to mean "symbolizes" or "represents" perverts Scripture horribly.  So, for example, in Matthew 3:3, we hear of John the Baptist, "This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah..."  Should we understand that to mean that John the Baptist is the one spoken of by Isaiah, or that John the Baptist symbolizes someone else spoken of by Isaiah?  The rest of the passage makes it clear: the prophesy is about John himself.  Understanding it to mean "symbolizes" perverts the prophesy completely. Or Matthew 27:37, where on the Cross was written, "This is Jesus Christ, King of the Jews."  Should we understand that to mean that the Man on the Cross is Jesus, or symbolizes Jesus?
(3) In Matt.26:29 He said ,"I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine...until my Father's kingdom." 
A. I've addressed this recently, in fact.  It's a reference to the Jewish wedding custom: the Groom goes ahead of His Bride to prepare a place for Her, and then they share Communion Wine (this, as I noted then, prefigures the Eucharistic Banquet of Heaven).  Revelation 19:9 shows this fulfilled with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Heaven, when the Bride (the Church) finally comes home to Her Groom, Jesus Christ.  The Feast is incredibly Eucharistic, and the Eucharist has always been understood to be a foretaste of this Banquet, although we receive Him now "under the veil of a Sacrament."

B. I don't see how it helps your point, at all.  In fact, it shows that this can't be wine, since Jesus drank wine after that, before His entry into the Kingdom (John 19:19-20).  The Vine is Christ (John 15:5), and the Fruit of the Vine is the Eucharist (Matthew 26:27-28). So your interpretation would mean Jesus' prophesy was false.
(4) Let's take Jesus at His word. He offered one perfect sacrifice for all time that does not need to be "re-presented" thousands of times every day on Catholic altars around the world.
A. Nowhere in the Word do we read that Jesus' once-for-all Sacrifice mean He's not re-presented.  Instead, we read that Christ presents Himself constantly - even in Heaven Itself - in this Sacrificial state, as Revelation 5:6 shows.

B. In the Lord's prayer, we ask "Give us this day our Daily Bread" (Luke 11:3), and the word used for "Daily" is epiousios, and it's a neologism -- that is, it's a word that Jesus makes up to describe what He's talking about.  If He meant the physical food we eat every day, he'd have said ephēmeros, just like James 2:15 does, when he's speaking about physical food.  But Christ is making a Eucharistic reference, since He's the Bread (John 6:51).  He's asking us to pray for daily Spiritual Bread - this is what the manna foreshadowed (John 6:58), and this interpretation is more in keeping with the rest of the prayer. After all, it's all about our spiritual needs, so this is a natural fit.

C. Related to that last point, we daily ask Christ for forgiveness, as we forgive those who trespass against us. This forgiveness is through the application of Christ's merits (Luke 11:4).  So if His merits mean once-for-all forgiveness for all sins past, present, and future, this prayer is futile, since we're already forgiven, and dishonest, since we're asking God to forgive us as we forgive others.  Now, Christ commands this prayer, and from it, we can know that He's right and you're wrong.

E. Acts 2:42 speaks of the "breaking of the Bread" as a constant celebration, and as I've shown elsewhere, that construction only refers to the Eucharist.

So Scripture speaks about the Eucharist as the eternal, and repeated, celebration of a one-time event.

F. More directly to your point, the application of Christ's merits to sins is ongoing, which is why 1 John 1:17 says that "the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (note "purifies," present tense), "if we walk in the light."  Not, "He's already purified us from all sin once-for-all, so no need to worry about walking in the Light or not."  That perfect purification is ongoing.

G. As the last point showed, if we reject Christ, which we can do at any time, we reject His merits.  Hebrews 10:26-29 says this incredibly explicitly:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
So even after the initial application of Christ's Sacrifice, and the merits thereby bestowed, we're free to continue to remain in Him, or reject His Blood.  If we reject Christ, the fact that we once accepted His Sacrifice is of no moment, since for us, there will be "no Sacrifice for sins left" if we turn away from the One who can save us.  Note this well: Christ's once-for-all Sacrifice isn't necessarily accepted once-for-all.  Hebrews specifically says that there will be an awful and severe punishment for those who trample the Blood of the Covenant which had sanctified them.  In other words, some are saved, and even sanctified, but then turn away by mortal sin. So we know from Hebrews 10 that we can (1) have Christ's merits applied to our lives, then (2) reject those merits and no longer be protected by His Sacrifice.  That leaves two options: either we're forever damned at this point, or we can have Christ's merits applied two times, or three, or seven times seventy-seven (Luke 17:4).

H. Finally, Malachi 1:11-12 specifically prophesies that under the New Covenant, there will be Sacrifice offered to God from the rising to the setting of the sun.  This is the Sacrifice of "the Lord's Table," which some will despise.  That sounds incredibly close to your complaint that the Eucharist is offered "thousands of times every day on Catholic altars around the world."

Update: I added 2 A, because I'd overlooked the point about Cana.

Pope Benedict on the "Dark" Passages of the Bible

How should Christians understand the so-called "dark" passages of the Bible?  Even the Old Testament protagonists have some pretty shady and even disgusting doings.  To take one obvious example, there's Lot drunkenly impregnating his own daughters in Gen. 19:30-36, after earlier offering them to the would-be rapists of Sodom, as an attempt to distract them from raping visitors (who turned out to be angels).  Like many other passages, these sins are simply reported on, without comment.  Scripture doesn't praise or damn the behavior - it just reports it.  Should Christians take this silence as approval of this obviously-immoral behavior?

Benedict's got a very good answer from September's Verbum Domini, which is all about the role of Scripture within Catholicism.  In a part specifically addressing these so-called "dark" passages, he writes:
In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”. [Propositio 29] I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

Battle of the Marinis and the Future of the Liturgy

Washington Post's coverage on the difference between Archbishop Piero Marini, the liturgist under Pope John Paul II from 1987 onwards, and his young replacement, Monsignor Guido Marini (no relation), the liturgist under Pope Benedict XVI since 2007, is worth the read.  In short, "Marini the Elder" favored trying to add a lot of local flair to the papal Mass held in each country at huge expense to the Mass's Catholic character, while 'Marini the Younger' wants the Mass to be about Christ, not a celebration of culture.  In all, the younger Marini comes through as graceful and hopeful, happy to be helping out as he is.  Still, it wouldn't be the Post if this weren't included:
At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council.
That's some mighty careful wording, there.  The speaker (not necessarily the Post reporter, but probably whoever he talked to) is trying to invoke Vatican II to justify things the Council never asked for - or would have approved of.  Of course Vatican II never said anything about taking the Crucifix off of the altar: the entire idea that we need to, since it might block a view of the Eucharist (or even the "bread and wine") is silly.

Instead, its liberal Catholics employing an absurd double-standard.  It was fine for them to tear apart elements of the Holy Mass throughout the 1960s and 1970s, in direct violation of explicit Church teachings on the matter, yet if the Vatican attempts to undo any of their ugly changes, it's somehow a quasi-violation of Vatican II, just because it was "associated with" the Second Vatican Council by those trying to shove it down the throats of the Catholic laity.  So liturgical novelties to the Mass can occur in violation of Church teachings and Church Councils (particularly Trent), but reverting to the traditional form of the liturgy violates the "spirit" of a Church Council -- even though it's more in keeping with what the Second Vatican Council actually said.

Still, I'm pleased to see the Post trying to understand what's going on and why, and listening to someone besides the usual liberal suspects in the process.  The article's not perfect, but it's a commendable effort.

Did Mary Have Other Children?

I have probably addressed this somewhere before on this blog, but I was asked about this question recently: didn't Mary have other children?  That seems to throw a kink into the whole perpetual Virginity thing, doesn't it? After all, the people Jesus grew up with doubted His claim to be the Messiah on the grounds that He was just a hometown Boy made good:
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
 (Mark 6:3; see also Matthew 13:55-56).
That sure sounds like Mary had other kids. Turns out, though, She didn't.  We know this in two ways: first, because of the difference between what a first-century Jew and a modern English reader calls a "brother," and second, because we know the parents of two of the men listed as Jesus' "brothers."

I. Brothers from Another Mother

The people called His "brothers" and "sisters" in Matthew 13 and Mark 6 are probably Jesus' cousins. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic didn't have a lot of words for relatives, and the words that they did have often meant more than one thing (for example, the word that can mean "nephew" also meant "son's son").  As a result, distant ancestors are generally called "fathers" and "mothers," like "Father Abraham," and descendants, even distant ones, are described as a person's sons and daughters. If you were any other kind of relative (sibling, half-sibling, cousin, in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, etc.), they were usually called your "brother" or "sister."

There's an explicit example of this in the Bible.  From Genesis 11:27, Gen. 12:5, and Gen. 14:12, we know that Lot is Abraham's nephew - the son of Abraham's brother, Terah.  Yet Genesis 14:14 and Gen. 14:16 refer to Lot as Abraham's "brother."  In English, this would be wrong - they're not brothers, they're uncle/nephew.  In Hebrew and Aramaic, it's right. They're relatives who aren't direct ancestors/descendants.
  It's in this Biblical sense that Jesus and James, Joses, and the rest were "brothers."

II. The Family Tree of James and Joses

Let's look at two of the "brothers" - James and Joses - to show what I mean.  Matthew 27 relates the Crucifixion account. One of the interesting details is from v. 56-57, relating some of the women who were there:
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
So Matthew mentions three women: (1) Mary Magdalene, (2) the mother of Zebedee's children, and (3) Mary the Mother of James and Joses.  That Mary is not the Virgin Mary.  If she were, Matthew would have said, "Mary, the mother of Jesus," instead of "James and Joses." But just to eliminate any doubts, look at the parallel accounts.  Here's Mark 15:40,
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;

Mark uses the same description: that this Mary is the mother of Joses and James (Mark specifies it's James the Younger, instead of James the son of Zebedee).  He also tells us that Salome is the name of the woman described as Zebedee's wife.  This Salome is mother of James and John (Matthew 4:21). Finally, we get to John 19:25-26, which distinguishes between that Mary and the Virgin Mary:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
John's list varies slightly from Matthew and Mark's, and for good reason. From John 19:26-27, we know that the Virgin Mary was at the foot of the Cross, within earshot.  The other women were apparently further away, as Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and Luke 23:49 all specify.  Since the three Synoptic Gospels are describing the women watching "from a distance" or "from afar," their lists don't include the Virgin Mary.

But John's given us a number of clues.  First, this other Mary -- the one described as the mother of James the Younger and Joses -- isn't the Virgin Mary.  Second, she's the wife of someone else, Cleophas.  And third, she's described as Jesus' "Mother's sister."

This final clue is bigger than it appears, for a few reasons.  Obviously, it shows once more that we're not dealing with siblings: Mary doesn't literally have a sister named Mary - this isn't a George Foreman situation.  Instead, Mary, Cleophas' wife, was almost certainly Mary's sister-in-law.  Tradition holds that Cleophas is St. Joseph's brother, and both sons married women named Mary, but Scripture never explains the exact relationship between these two Marys. Suffice to say, they're somehow related by blood or marriage.

Finally, this key unlocks the whole question of why James and Joses are called Jesus' "brothers."  Their mothers are described as "sisters," so it's sensible that the sons are desribed as "brothers." We're probably looking at something like this:

III. The Two Final Clues

There are two final clues that these men aren't Jesus' brothers.  Some translations give Joses' name as Joseph.  If that's right, it's more evidence against this being Mary's son.  Just as it's supremely unlikely that the Virgin Mary would have a sister named Mary, it's unlikely that St. Joseph would have a son named Joseph. Although that sort of thing is done these days, I can't find a single case in the Bible were someone was given the exact same name as their father.

Finally, look at what Jesus does on the Cross:
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  (John 19:26-27).
By this time, the Virgin Mary is apparently a widow. Typically, in Jewish culture, She'd be placed in the care of Her Son or sons. Jesus acts here as if Mary has no other sons, and places Her in the care of a non-relative, the Apostle John. But those who claim that Mary had numerous children (James, Joses, Juda, Simon, and multiple daughters) have to claim that Jesus skipped over them to entrust Her to a non-relative. That's no small insult, particularly since one of His "brothers" is James the Younger, another one of the Twelve Apostles.  From Galatians 1:19, we know that St. James the Younger was an Apostle, and was alive and well in Jerusalem well after the Death and Resurrection of Christ.  It's unthinkable that he would have actually been Jesus' brother, and yet overlooked for the task of caring for his own mother.

Is Abortion Self-Defense? A Defense of Bishop Olmsted

If the heading above sounds like a silly question, it's because it is.  But it's one being raised by TurretinFan in his Christmas day assault on Bishop Olmsted's good name.  I became involved in the debate somewhat against my will.  TF linked to this post, saying (in part):
I was also struck by the fact that the bishop's stated identity was not Christ alone, but "Christ and the Church." What he considers to be faithfulness to Christ is faithfulness to the rules of his church. However, in following the rules of his church, he's not following God's law. I'm not simply talking about his failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case, but about the fact that he offers worship (hyper-dulia) to Mary, engages in idolatry (in the latria of what is truly bread), and seeks to be right with God (evidently) through faithfulness rather than by faith.
There's a lot of spurious accusations rolled into that.  A few responses off-hand:
  1. TF seems to suggest that we should identify with Christ alone, not Christ and His Church.  This is an attempt to tear asunder what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6) since the Church is the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, and is completely One with Him (Ephesians 5:25-32; Genesis 2:24).  Scripture never pits faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the Church as against one another, but instead, depicts all those faithful to God as children of Mother Church (Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Cyprian writes, "He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother." We can argue about what having the Church as Mother looks like, but there can be no question that the Church is indispensable to salvation. Even Calvin taught as much in Book IV, Chapter 1 of Institutes.  So just as we can't have the Father and not the Son (1 John 2:23), we can't have Christ and not His Body and His Bride, the Church.

  2. TF recognizes, in using the Greek terms, that what's offered to Mary is the highest form of honor (hyper-dulia), not worship (latria), yet he still calls it worship in English.  Suffice to say that the honor given to Mary isn't anything like worshiping the Eucharist, which we do, but is much more like honoring Father Abraham, which Scripture clearly does, or depicting Mary as a mortal Woman made Queen of Heaven by the Grace of God (Rev. 11:19-12:5).

  3. In attacking as idolatry those of us who worship the Eucharist, TF is being consistent.  But he's also saying - in effect - that no one from the time of Ignatius of Antioch (the first century student of the Apostle John) to about the eleventh century was Christian. The reason's simple: while there's debate amongst Christians about what the Bible means in its strongly Eucharistic passages, there's no serious debate that the early Christians believed the Eucharist was not "truly bread," but the True Bread from Heaven, Christ (John 6:32).  I don't see a way to reject the Eucharist as idolatry without saying that the gates of Hell overcame the Church almost immediately after the death of Christ.  And if you concede that point, there's not a particularly strong reason to believe that a mentally-tortured Catholic monk like Luther was able to single-handedly resurrect Christ's Church (without explicitly called told to by Christ).  So there's not really any reason to think Christianity exists today.  If we could all be wrong for a thousand years, why not two thousand?  More fundamentally, it throws into serious question the promises of Christ in John 14, John 16, Matthew 16:17-19, and Matthew 28:20 to safeguard and lead the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding Her in all truth until the end of time.

  4. TF distinguishes between "faith" and "faithfulness," but apparently not in the way that Scripture does.  Faithfulness is living by faith, and to believe, but not act on that belief is worthless (James 2; 1 Cor. 13:2).  But that doesn't mean that actions alone are worth anything. The distinction is easily made. Christ sends the blind man in John 9:7 to wash out his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. The man is saved by faith in "blindly" going where he's sent by Christ.  Had he simply believed Christ could do it, but refused to get off his duff to get to Siloam, he'd have stayed blind.  James 2:20 calls that sort of faith worthless.  Conversely, had he gone every morning to the Pool of Siloam because he liked the pool, or because he was superstitious and thought the pool was magical, or any other reason apart from Christ, he would have stayed blind as well.  That's the legalism of the Pharisees: rote actions without faith.  The waters themselves weren't what healed him, but his active faith. I explored this in greater depth using Luke 17 here, so I won't belabor the point, except to say that the reason Bishop Olmsted does the things he does is out of love of, and obedience to, God.  He says so himself, and there's no reason to think he's lying.
Finally, TF makes the bizarre claim that abortion was, in this instance, self-defense.  First, he characterizes what happened as Bishop Olmsted's "decision to remove the 'Catholic' designation from St. Joseph's hospital because it took the life of a child in defense of the life of the child's mother."  Then there was that reference above to Olmsted's alleged "failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case," suggesting a grave misunderstanding of what self-defense is.  When a commenter notes the obvious (that a helpless fetus isn't an assailant, so pleading self-defense doesn't make any sense), TF responds:
The baby was killing the mother. I don't suppose the baby intended to kill the mother. I'm not sure how you got "unjust aggressor." Nor do I think that the baby needs to be "guilty" in order for the baby to [kill] his mother. If the defense of the mother justifies the use of lethal force, then there is no doing of evil involved.
The implications of this are extensive and dangerous, and totally incompatible with Christianity.

Murder is Never Self-Defense

St. Thomas Aquinas answers this really clearly in the Summa, that it's lawful to kill in self-defense against an assailant (so long as the action is done to stop the person from killing you, and not because you want them dead), but it's never lawful to intentionally kill an innocent person.  (Article 6 and 7 here). The same is the rule under secular law: the legal defense of "justification" or self-defense is permissible only if it's against a person using (or about to use) deadly force against you. New York's laws are pretty typical here.

These rules are totally consistent with Scripture.  Exodus 20:13 is a total bar to murder, the intentional taking of innocent life, yet Exodus 22:2 permitted the killing of a thief in the night without guilt.  It's not repealing or even modifying the Ten Commandments: it's just explaining that killing a thief in the night isn't murder.  Even here, you could not kill a thief who broke in during the day (Ex. 22:3), since you presumably had other options (you could see well enough to strike a non-fatal blow, or call for immediate help, or just get out of the house).  So we see both of Aquinas' factors: first, it has to be a wrong-doer, and second, the principle of double-effect applies.

There are a lot of reasons why it's important that self-defense doesn't permit murder.  Just consider the implications:
  1. A madman threatens to kill you if you don't kill a group of schoolchildren. Can you kill them as "self-defense," since not killing them would result in your death?
  2. You're dying of kidney failure, and only one other person in your area is a perfect match. Can you kill  him to take their kidney?  Again, if you don't kill them, you'll die.
  3. You're on a lifeboat, and there's not enough food for all of you to live.  Can you some or all of the others to ensure your own survival?
  4. A wolf is chasing you and your much-slower child.  Can you kill your kid and lay his body out as bait to ensure that at least you survive?  Is that "self-defense"?
In all of the above, the obvious answer, whether you're religious or not (but especially if you're a Christian) is no.  But if you were to accept TurretinFan's argument that you can kill anyone who gets in the way of your ability to stay alive at all costs, it'd be hard to avoid acknowledging the above as legitimate "self-defense."  At this point, of course, we're no longer talking about what Christians mean by self-defense at all, but something warped and disturbing instead.  You'll find no reflection of this moral philosophy anywhere in Sacred Writ or any other orthodox Christian writings.

I know that there are some of you trying to distinguish the cases I mentioned above from killing a baby in "self-defense."  Perhaps you're thinking, "But won't the baby die anyways?"  But that question is literally irrelevant for the issue of self-defense. You don't consider whether the assailant would die otherwise, nor do you count the number of victims. If a gang of twenty people were trying to kill you, the doctrine of self-defense would theoretically permit you to kill all twenty.  But if a dying old woman is in your way as you flee a burning house, you can't purposely kill her to ensure that you get to freedom.


Given a number of factors, I don't think TF is very well-informed on the subject of either Olmsted or the moral theology of self-defense.  On the question of self-defense, that's obvious enough: he's articulating a half-formed moral  theology with obviously-evil implications.  But on the question of Bishop Olmsted, it's more subtle.  First, there's the way he describes Bp. Olmsted as nervous and seemingly defensive.  I'll let the reader/viewer decide, but I think what TF sees as defensiveness and nervousness are just Olmsted's normal mannerisms, as you can see from other videos in which he speaks publicly, like this one.

Much more importantly, he gets wrong why St. Joseph's is losing its accreditation as a Catholic hospital.  The reason that St. Joseph's is being stripped of its title as a Catholic hospital is not only because it does something that the Catholic Church abhors as a mortal sin which incurs automatic excommunication (intentionally killing an unborn baby), but because it also refused Olmsted's subsequent attempts at gaining transparency, to ensure that they weren't violating Church teaching in other areas (it's not a crazy idea that a "Catholic" hospital acting as an abortion clinic might also be doing things like performing sterilizations and giving out contraception, particularly since the "Catholic" healthcare group owning it also has significant interests in secular hospitals which do those things).  When St. Joseph's Hospital refused to either follow Catholic teachings or submit to the Catholic hierarchy, it was stripped of its title Catholic. This wasn't a case where the hospital found itself in a morally gray area, made the wrong decision, and was immediately and mercilessly thrown out.  This is the culmination of years of open rebellion, where a hospital refusing to be Catholic was finally told, in effect, "You win. You're not Catholic."  It's no more offensive than my telling Turretin Fan: you're not a Catholic.  He knows.  And by their conduct, it's clear St. Joseph's knows, too.

Emmanuel, God With Us

In honor of Christmas, I wanted to share something I read recently that I've been really enriched by.  It relates to a comment Bill asked the other day,
This week we hear in the readings the old testament prophesy about the one to come being called Emmanuel. Then we hear the angel tell Joseph to name the child Jesus. I know they are supposed to mean the same, but how?
My original response was that "My understanding is that the early Church didn't view Emmanuel as a personal name, but as one of the Divine titles. So the Emmanuel ("God with us") prophesy isn't telling us the name of the Virgin's Baby, but who that Baby really is. Jesus, in contrast, is His Personal Name."  I still think that answer is fundamentally correct.  In fact, it's reaffirmed by the first reading from Midnight Mass, which is taken from  Isaiah 9.  Here's Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  Obviously, those are titles, not Jesus' actual name, and Isaiah 7:14 follows this same pattern.

But it turns out that there's more than I realized.  Emmanuel is unique, in that it is prophetic, in a way, of the name of Christ. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, in Volume 1 of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word (a particularly fitting book to quote from, since I started reading it after getting it for my dad for Christmas), spoke about the radical significance behind Matthew's translation in Matthew 1:24 of Emmanuel from Hebrew, the language the Jews considered sacred, to Greek, the language of the Gentiles and the world.  He sees in this translation a parallel between the Old and New Covenant, and how God is viewed under each.  From there, he says:
On the subject of Jesus as "translator" of God, Fray Luis de Leon, the Spanish Dominican who was also a great writer, has left us an unforgettable formulation in his treatise on The Names of Christ. He says that the sacred Name of God in the Old Testament, יהוה, the unpronounceable tetragrammaton , is found again in the Hebrew name of Jesus, ישוע, with the addition of the radicals from the verb "to save" and the vowels necessary to pronounce the divine Name. In this way, while the Name of God is so holy, mysterious, and pure that it cannot be pronounced by a human mouth, the addition of Christ's divine will to save mankind "translates," that is, transfers, the sanctity of God to our level as creatures and at last makes it possible for us, too, to pronounce God's true Name, which cannot be any other than Jesus, and thus be saved,  All else that we subsequently come to know about God rests on this primary revelation: He is the One who saves us in Jesus.
It's an amazing insight.  Now, go back to the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14.  The name Emmanuel means "God with us," and the name Jesus explains how and why God is with us.  That is, He's with us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He's with us to save.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas!

Today's the last day of Advent.  Tomorrow is Christmas. There's so much to be thankful for, but nothing moreso than the fact that God the Son became Man so that we might be saved, and might come to share in the Divine nature.

Here's Bishop Olmsted explaining Who is the center of his life. Let this be a model for us in these last few hours of Advent, through Christmas, and through the rest of our lives.

The Vatican Settles the Condom Debate

The Congregation for Doctrine and Faith, Pope Benedict's old stomping grounds as Cardinal, has issued a statement clarifying the obvious: the pope's comments, contrary to the media reports, never suggested a change in the Church's position, nor is there going to be one.  From the English press release:
Following the publication of the interview-book Light of the World by Benedict XVI, a number of erroneous interpretations have emerged which have caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words – a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated. The intention of the Holy Father is clear: to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.

Some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. This hypothesis has been welcomed by some as a positive change and lamented by others as a cause of concern – as if his statements represented a break with the doctrine concerning contraception and with the Church’s stance in the fight against AIDS. In reality, the words of the Pope – which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behaviour, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119) – do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church.

As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, when he wrote that "also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means." The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. Light of the World, p. 147) – humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation.

On the pages in question, the Holy Father refers to the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behaviour which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2355). The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: "Flee from fornication" (1 Cor 6:18). The practice of prostitution should be shunned, and it is the duty of the agencies of the Church, of civil society and of the State to do all they can to liberate those involved from this practice.

In this regard, it must be noted that the situation created by the spread of AIDS in many areas of the world has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment – because they are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behaviour which has repercussions on public health. In this situation, the Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute "the real or moral solution" to the problem of AIDS and also that "the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality" in that it refuses to address the mistaken human behaviour which is the root cause of the spread of the virus. In this context, however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom "with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the "lesser evil". This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, n. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.

In conclusion, in the battle against AIDS, the Catholic faithful and the agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. In this regard it is also important to condemn any behaviour which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behaviour is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: "This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being" (Light of the World, p. 119).
It's nice to have the controversy laid to rest.  But I can't help but wish that the media, which so perverted and distrorted the pope's initial comments, take some responsibility for their poisonous role in all this, and apologize -- or at least run a front-page retraction.  To get a feeling for how bad the coverage was, here's a sample. It's an AP news story from November 23rd (it appeared in nearly identical form in the D.C. paper, and many others), and it's entitled "Vatican: Condom use less evil than spreading HIV," the very interpretation that the Vatican has denounced. Here are the first eleven paragraphs:
In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said Tuesday that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.
The position was an acknowledgment that the church's long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting lives at risk.
"This is a game-changer," declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.
The new stance was staked out as the Vatican explained Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condoms and HIV in a book that came out Tuesday based on his interview with a German journalist.
The Vatican still holds that condom use is immoral and that church doctrine forbidding artificial birth control remains unchanged. Still, the reassessment on condom use to help prevent disease carries profound significance, particularly in Africa where AIDS is rampant.
"By acknowledging that condoms help prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the pope has completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms," said Martin, a liberal-leaning author of several books about spirituality and Catholic teaching.
The development came on a day when U.N. AIDS officials announced that the number of new HIV cases has fallen significantly — thanks to condom use — and a U.S. medical journal published a study showing that a daily pill could help prevent spread of the virus among gay men.
"This is a great day in the fight against AIDS ... a major milestone," said Mitchell Warren, head of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.
Theologians have debated for years whether it could be morally acceptable for HIV-infected people to use condoms to avoid infecting their partners. The Vatican years ago was reportedly preparing a document on the subject, but it never came out.
The groundbreaking shift, coming as it does from the deeply conservative pontiff, would appear likely to restrain any public criticism from Catholic conservatives, who insisted Tuesday that the pope was merely reaffirming the church's moral teaching.
Conservatives have feared that a comment like this would give support to Catholics who want to challenge the church's ban on artificial contraception in an environment where they feel they are under siege from a secular, anti-Catholic culture.
In those eleven paragraphs, all of two sources are quoted: a Jesuit that even the AP writer acknowledges as liberal (which is almost certainly a euphemism for "in open disagreement with the Vatican on condoms and most everything else"), and a non-Catholic AIDS activist.  The Catholic view is never presented from someone who reasonably represents that view.  Instead, we're just told what the Vatican's comments mean, long before the author even tells us what the comments were.  In fact, nothing that the pope - or Vatican - said included a "seismic shift" that condoms were now to be considered "the lesser of two evils."  Martin's words to the contrary, this is anything but a game-changer.

Do you think we'll see a retraction from AP?  Or even eleven paragraphs (total) outlining what the pope's position actually is?  I'm doubtful.  Sadly, it's unlikely that non-Catholics (who were made painfully aware of Pope Benedict's alleged shift) will ever hear that this was all a media creation with no foundation in fact. It just adds to the ignorance and misconceptions that most non-Catholics have about the Catholic faith.  This will reaffirm the canard that the pope can just change Catholic doctrine whenever he likes, and Catholics are bound to follow.

What's unfortunate is that in the midst of this silliness, there really is a rather important debate that needs to be had, about what role - if any - condoms may play for non-contraceptive purposes in preventing the spread of AIDS.   For what it's worth, Luke Gormally, of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, an Opus Dei priest-professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, have been having a rather heated debate on just that subject.  Unlike the priests who are media favorites, these two men are, as far as I know, serious about orthodoxy, and strive to be totally Catholic.

The Eucharist and the Jewish Wedding Wine

I just got back to Kansas City for Christmas yesterday.  While here, I mentioned to my dad the subject of yesterday's post, that although most Bibles say that Mary was "engaged," "pledged," or "betrothed" to Joseph, She was in fact married to him, but that Jewish weddings consisted of two discrete steps, with about a year in between the legal marriage and the formal moving-in.  My dad then reminded me of something I'd forgotten.  The first of the two steps, what we inaccurately refer to as the "betrothal," is a ceremony which involves wine symbolizing communion:
The Jewish wedding ceremony comprises two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). When the bride and groom have reached the huppah [marriage canopy], the erusin ceremony begins. It is a simple ceremony, marked by two blessings recited by the presiding rabbi, who holds a cup of wine. The first blessing, over wine, is one said at almost all joyous occasions. The second blessing is unique to this occasion and reads as follows:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Master of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding forbidden unions, and Who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by huppah and kiddushin. Praised are You, Lord, Who sanctifies His people Israel with huppah and kiddushin."

After the completion of the second blessing, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who drinks of it; the cup is then presented to the bride, who drinks from the same cup, symbolizing their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on.
So the wine created a communion, and even a marriage, between the two parties.  Now, that's pretty clear foreshadowing of the Eucharist. And sure enough, at the Last Supper, Christ says in Matthew 26:29,  "I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."  This line stands out, since it doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the flow of the Last Supper and Passion, which closely track the Jewish Passover.  But when you tie in the Cup of Blessing from the Jewish wedding, it makes perfect sense.

Now, as I said yesterday, after the kiddushin, the Groom then goes and prepares a house for His Bride, just as Joseph was doing in Matthew 1 when he discovered his Virgin Bride was pregnant.  Likewise, Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29), and we're told that the Church, the New Jerusalem is His Bride (Ephesians 5:23; Revelation 21:9-10).  And what does Christ tell us He's going to do for His Bride?  Well, in John 14:2-3, He says, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." The saved are "betrothed" to Christ, as 2 Corinthians 11:2 says.   In this way, the Eucharist isn't just partaking in the Last Supper with Christ, but promising ourselves to Him in marriage, and He's promised that the Eucharistic Wine is just a foretaste of the Communion of the Kingdom of Heaven in its full glory, where we will go from the kiddushin to the nisu'in, and enjoy the splendor of Christ forever.

Was Mary an Unwed Mother?

I learned about the absolute best evidence for Mary's perpetual Virginity this past weekend.  I went to Fr. De Celles' Mass at St. Raymond's, and he announced that the notion that Mary was "an unwed Mother" is one of the biggest fallacies out there.  He then pointed to the Gospel from the day, and proved his point without a shadow of a doubt.

I. Why it's not true that Mary and Joseph were just "Engaged"

Here's how we get confused.  Matthew 1:18 says:
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
We read that word "betrothed," and we think, "Ah, the two were engaged, but not yet married." And that's if we're lucky enough to have something like the Catholic NAB, or the Protestant KJV (which says "espoused"). Most of the less-formal Protestant translations go ahead and just say "Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph" (NIV) or even "Mary was engaged to Joseph" (ISV).

That's a bad translation.  And how do we know?  Well, a couple of ways.  First, the Western concept of a pre-marriage engagement is totally foreign to first-century Judaism. Second, the next verse tells us that they're already married. Here's Matthew 1:19, and while this is the NAB, the other versions are very similar:
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
So Joseph is (1) already Her husband, and (2) to end the relationship, he'd have to divorce Her, and (3) taking this route wouldn't expose Her to shame.  So what's really going on?

II. The Two-Step Marriage Process of the Old Testament

Well, it turns out that in Judaism, there are two stages to marriage:
According to Torah law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called kiddushin, loosely translated as "betrothal," and the second step is known as nisu'in, the finalization of the nuptials. Both kiddushin and nisu'in are accomplished successively beneath the chupah: the kiddushin is effected when the groom gives the bride the wedding band, and the nisu'in through "chupah" -- the husband uniting with the wife under one roof for the sake of marriage.
The kiddushin is defined as:
The first stage of the Torah-mandated wedding process. Kiddushin is accomplished beneath the chupah (wedding canopy) when the groom giving the bride the ring. Kiddushin actually renders the bride and groom full- fledged husband and wife except that the couple may not live together as husband and wife until the second stage, the nisu'in, is completed.
Now, historically, there was a year between the kiddushin and nisu'in, in order for the new husband to have time to prepare a place for his bride to live. During this year, as the above site said, the woman was wife to her husband in every sense of the term but one: she was not to live with him yet, and remained a part of her father's household.  The year let them get to know each other (remember, there is no engagement or dating), and served as a transition period.  The time period of a year was a formality: for divorced women or widows, who didn't have a father to rely upon during the kiddushin, the period was only 30 days, and outside of pockets of Israel, most Jews today celebrate the two steps in a single ceremony. So that's what's going on. Mary and Joseph were already married, but had not celebrated the last step, the nisu'in.

III. How this Proves Mary's Perpetual Virginity

The reason this proves Mary's perpetual Virginity is simple: marital sex is allowed during the kiddushin.  In fact, according to the Jewish Mishnah, sex was one of the three ways to begin the kiddushin (the way Isaac opted for in Genesis 24:67). This explains what's going on in Matthew 1:18.  If an unmarried man slept with an unmarried woman, the kiddushin was considered to have begun, and he was then to give a ring or some other token signifying that they were now married (the "bride-price" referenced in Exodus 22:16).  But if he had consensual sex with a married woman (including one who was between the kiddushin and nisu'in), they were both to be put to death (Deut. 22:23-24).

So Joseph knows that if people think that he's the biological father of Jesus, Mary's okay.  There's no sin, since they're already married.  But if some other man slept with Her, then She'll be killed.  That's why he both has to divorce Her to end the relationship, and why he needed to do it quietly, if it was going to happen.  He didn't want to see Mary die.  I think we already sort of get that part, but think about it: this only makes sense if Mary and Joseph weren't in any danger for sleeping with each other.  And they weren't.

Now look at Matthew 1 (Joseph's view of the Nativity) and Luke 1 (Mary's view), and something weird emerges.  It's already the kiddushin, and they haven't had sex. Luke 1:27 explicitly says that Mary is a "virgin betrothed" - that is, She's Joseph's Virgin Wife.  And when the Angel Gabriel tells Her She's going to have a kid, Her reaction is bafflement, because She's a Virgin (Luke 1:34).  Now, think about this.  She's married, She's free to have sex, and yet She's telling the Angel She's not sure how She could possibly get pregnant.  Assuming Mary understood the birds and bees, something is going on here.  She not only hasn't had sex, but She doesn't seem to be planning on it, either.

And Matthew includes an even stranger detail.  During the course of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph and Mary celebrated the nisu'in (Matthew 1:24), yet they still didn't have sex (Mt. 1:25).  Now, here we run into a language issue. Matthew says that they did not have sex "until the birth of Her Child," and in English (but not Greek), that implies that they did afterwards. A more accurate understanding is just to say that they didn't have sex during Her pregnancy, and Matthew doesn't comment on anything after that. We'll address that in a second.  Now, we should ask ourselves: why weren't they having sex?  Gabriel didn't tell Mary that She couldn't, and it was certainly the norm.  The clear reason is that prior to Gabriel saying anything, Mary had already taken a pledge of Virginity.  That's why they weren't having sex during the kiddushin, that's why Mary wasn't sure how She could conceive, and that's why they didn't have sex even after the nisu'in when they were living together as man and wife.

III. Why Does Matthew 1:25 Limit Itself to "Until the Birth of Christ," Then?

If this is true, which the early Church affirms it is, then why does Matthew only tell us about it up until the end of Mary's pregnancy with Christ?  Simple.  Matthew is trying to explain how Jesus fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah 7:14.  He says as much in Matthew 1:22-23.  Well, Isaiah 7:14 says a Virgin will conceive and bear a child.  Had they had sex halfway during the pregnancy, the prophesy would be wrong.  Matthew doesn't need to talk about Mary's vow of perpetual Virginity, or explain that She never had sex with Joseph. To prove Isaiah 7:14, he just needs to show they didn't have sex up through the time of Jesus' birth.  And that's exactly what he attests to, without saying anything one or another afterwards.

It's interesting to note that the Angel Gabriel never has to tell Mary not to have sex during the pregnancy.  Nor do we see Mary and Joseph trying to make the Isaiah prophesy come true.  No.  The Angel assumes that they won't be having sex, and the prophesy predicts that they won't.  The obvious answer here is that Mary was already pledged to be a Virgin.  If She weren't, She would have had sex by this point.

IV. Why Was Mary a Perpetual Virgin?

All of this raises an obvious question: Why?  Why would Mary pledge Herself to be a Virgin for life?  There are four reasons.

First, this is considered one of the highest forms of sacrifice for the Kingdom of God possible. When Jesus says in Matthew 19:12 that (in the NIV's paraphrase), "there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," He's describing a situation already occurring.  He proceeds to promote this as the ideal ("The one who can accept this should accept it."), but it's obviously a practice which preceded His mentioning it.

Second, Mary is the New Eve, as I've described recently.  Jesus describes Her as "Woman," which was the first Eve's name until the Fall (compare Genesis 2:23 and Gen. 3:20).  And Eve was a virgin in the Garden (the fall occurs in Genesis 3, and she's a virgin until Genesis 4:1).  Eve's virginity was an outward symbol of her internal sinlessness in the Garden.  And so it was with Mary.  Mary remained "Woman," at the Cross, when She became a Mother spiritually to the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26-27), and onwards to the end of time, even as She acquires more and more spiritual children (Rev. 12:17).  By becoming the Mother of all the Living in Christ, She perfectly fulfills what Eve's name means (Gen. 3:20), but does so spiritually, not sexually.

Third, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant.  The Old Covenant Ark contained the Ten Commandments, the manna, and the staff of Aaron the priest (Hebrews 9:4), all of which prefigured Christ, who is the New Law, the Eucharist, and our eternal High Priest.  In 2 Samuel 6:6-7, Uzzah touches the Ark to stop it from falling off the back of an ox-cart (which it shouldn't have been on in the first place), and God kills him for touching the Ark.  It was that pure.  And the Ark was just a store-house. Mary shared the same Flesh and Blood of Christ, and He lived in Her womb. Frankly, even if Joseph weren't planning on living celibately with Mary before (which the evidence suggests he was), I think any man who remembered what happened to Uzzah would be terrified of trying anything on Jesus' Mom.

Finally, Mary is the Temple Gate.  Ezekiel describes at some length the Temple he sees in a vision, beginning with Ezekiel 40:2-4.  It's clearly not a physical building, and there's a lot to suggest it's Christological: for example, John explicitly telling us Christ spoke of Himself as the Temple in John 2:21.  Well, in Ezekiel 44:1-2, we hear,
Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The LORD said to me, "This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it."
The Early Church Fathers saw this as Mary: She's the Gate surrounding the Temple, Christ. And Since the LORD Himself lived in Her, and passed through Her, Her Body was consecrated to Him forever.

Look at those last three: Mary as the Virgin Mother of the Living, Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, and Mary as the Temple-Gate.  Now look at Revelation 11:19-12:17, where Mary appears with the Ark and the Temple, and the imagery is just obvious.

Did Christ Predict the End Times Within His Generation?

Sam Pack Gregory asks:
My request is for an examination of the "this generation will not pass away" line in Matthew's "little apocalypse" (Mt. 24:34). Obviously, the most obvious interpretation of this line is false and enemies of the Church often use it to bully believers. My question is: What is the Catholic interpretation?
I've always thought that he must not mean "generation" to mean "the people alive today" but rather something like "the Church". The evidence for this comes right from the text because the next verse ("Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away") flows much more easily if it is a rephrasing of the previous point about His movement than if he just suddenly changed the topic to something that would never pass away.
I think this was the point made in Bede's commentary on the subject. But I've heard that the authenticity of that commentary is doubtful.
Still, this has always troubled me. And I wonder if you have a response.
I've always found this confusing as well, so I'm glad he asked. It made me read up on it a bit more, and I find it at least somewhat clearer now.  By the way, in working through this question, I relied pretty extensively on the massive footnotes in the Navarre Bible.  They've really culled a lot of the best commentary from the last two thousand years, allowing even a casual reader to view Scripture through the eyes of some of the great Saints.

The atheist view, which he mentions, is obviously wrong: no one able to describe the Destruction of Jerusalem  in such detail (either through Divine foreknowledge, as Christians believe, or con artists writing after the Destruction, as atheists believe) would be unable of knowing whether or not the world ended immediately after.  So that can't be what He's saying here. It just doesn't make any sense.

Actually, what makes Matthew 24, as well as the parallel accounts in Mark 13 and Luke 21, so confusing is the Disciples' three-part question.  The Disciples were in awe of the Temple, when Christ informs them (this is Mt. 24:2) that "there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down."  Then, in the next verse, the Disciples ask, "Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?"  So the Disciples, not Christ, are assuming that the destruction of the Temple will occur at the same time as the Second Coming, and "the end of the age."  And Christ is the One who rejects this equation, although He simultaneously uses the destruction of the Temple as a prefigurement of the consummation of the world, comparing and contrasting the two events in ways that make for confusing reading.  He weaves His answers about the two events together, so it takes careful reading.

(1) Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem: 70 A.D.

For example, Christ outlines specific signs of the coming destruction of Jerusalem for them to watch for.  In Mark 13:14, He says “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;” with parallel instructions in Matthew 24:15-16. Luke 21:20-22 explains what the warning sign will be for this event: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written.

And this happened, exactly as predicted, some forty years later.  The desolating sacrilege is predicted in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11.  It was fulfilled in one since prior to the time of Christ: the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes put idols on the Holy Altar in the Temple (see 1 Mac. 1:54). But Christ knows that this was just a foretaste of the humiliation of the Temple, to be fulfilled more fully in 70 A.D., when Nero (whose name in Hebrew numbers 666) ordered the Roman Army headed by his son Titus to crush the Jews.  They destroyed the Temple completely, save the Wailing Wall, and then later (under Emperor Hadrian) built a statute of the Roman god Jupiter on the ruins.

When the Roman army assembled and began to encircle Jerusalem, the early Christians remembered Jesus' words.  As the Early Church Father (and early Church historian) Eusebius of Caesarea explains: "But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella."  So Christ gives the Christians a clear signal for when to get ready and go: the signs that a war is about to begin, by the encircling of the army.  Instead of doing the logical thing (fortifying themselves in Jerusalem, as something like three million of their countrymen did), the Christians fled to a tiny, unprotected town.  So because of Christ's prophesy, not a single Christian is believed to have died during the destruction of Jerusalem.

(2) The End of the World

In contrast to this, Christ outlines a series of events which will occur well before the end (Mt. 24:4-14):
And Jesus answered them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray.
For many will come in my name, saying, `I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.
And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
So while a war or a rumor of war is the sign that the desolating sacrifice is going to take place, and the Christians should flee Jerusalem, that's not the signal that the End is now.  In other words, the Disciples were wrong to think that when the Temple went, so too would the world.  Christianity wasn't set up to be reliant upon the Temple, since they have the great High Priest Jesus Christ, and can celebrate the Holy of Holies anytime and anyplace now, through the Eucharist.  Jesus then lists a series of horribles that the Church Militant must face: wars, famines, earthquakes, tribulation, martyrdom, apostasy, betrayal, hatred, heresy and schism, wickedness, and lukewarmness. These aren't signs of the end, but simply the beginning.  All three Synoptics include this warning (Mt. 24:6-8; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9).  The reason is simple.  When we see terrible world events, it's easy to get apocalyptic, and think "It's really the end this time" -- human history is full of these sorts of nay-sayers, in all sorts of religious contexts.  But God doesn't work like that.  1 Kings 19:11-13,
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
We expect to see God in the massive wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but He comes in the "gentle whisper," instead.  Jesus is saying the same thing: don't just assume that because things are catastrophic, that the world is about to end.  So He's again separating the End from the Destruction of Jerusalem.  One is foretold by war, but the more important one isn't.

And note that after all these calamities, the step before the end is the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, an event which wasn't remotely accomplished by 70 A.D., and still remains incomplete.  Even here, the gap between preaching to the ends of the earth, and the end of the earth, is separated by a "then," as are all the events.  That could mean moments, or millenia, later.  The things Christ prophesied came true almost immediately - the early Church was battered and bruised, faced evil from both outside and inside Her walls, and lived in a world torn apart by hatred and violence.  This has been true in every century of the Church's existence... and that's Christ's point.  It's easy to view the present as the most important time, and to overemphasize the importance of your place in history (World War I was believed at the time to be "the war to end all wars," for example).

The parables and images He uses to describe this all support this. First, He uses the example of the fig tree (Mt 24:32-35), the last of the trees to blossom.  During spring, when everything else has come into bloom, the fig tree still hasn't - it doesn't get around to blossoming until "summer is near" (Mt 24:32).  So we see all the other signs He spoke of, just as you can go through spring with all of the other trees in bloom... but when will that fig tree ever blossom?  Note that the fig tree sign isn't what we're waiting for, per se -- we're waiting for summer -- but the fig tree sign is the very last sign, and it's delayed long after everything else "blooms."

And, of course, Christ is explicit at the end that we won't know the day or the hour (Mt 24:36).  The reason is so we'll stay vigilant.  If we really knew that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011, we'd plan our lives around it.  Sin now, repent in April.  But God in His Wisdom has hidden the day and hour our lives will be taken from us.  We know we need to be ready at any time to give an account. The Navarre Bible includes this quote: "He wished to hide this from us so that we might remain on our guard and be aware that this might happen to us during our life.  He said very clearly that He would come again, but without stating at what moment.  Thus, through all generations and at all times His Coming is ardently awaited" (St. Ephrem, Commentarii in Diatessaron, 18, 15-17).  They also include this one: "Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we must always be prepared" (St. Athanasisus). These two similar thoughts seem exactly in keeping with Christ's own words in v. 44, where He suggests that precisely because we don't know the day and hour, we need to be vigilant.

(3) The Most Confusing Passage

Finally, let's get to the question proper.  The hardest passage to understand is probably Matthew 24:19-36,
[19] And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! [20] Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath.
[21] For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
[22] And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
[23] Then if any one says to you, `Lo, here is the Christ!' or `There he is!' do not believe it.
[24] For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
[25] Lo, I have told you beforehand.
[26] So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
[27] For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.
[28] Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

[29]"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken;
[30] then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;
[31] and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 
[32] "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

[33] So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
[34] Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 
[35] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Matthew's recorded this accurately - we see something very similar in Mark 13:17-32 and Luke 21:23-33.  In context, Jesus has apparently transitioned from talking about the tribulation of the destruction of Jerusalem to another tribulation entirely, the Great Tribulation, or "the tribulation of those days."

So what does He mean by "this generation"?  There are two possibilities, I think.  One is that it's the generation from the sign of the fig tree (see v. 32).  Just as within a generation (about forty years in Judaism) from the time of Christ's prophesy, the first tribulation occurred, He seems to be saying that within a generation of the very last sign, the end will come about.  That very last sign is apparently "the sign of the Son of man in heaven," which will be followed (we don't know how long after, but apparently soon) by the Second Coming and the Last Judgment. Because so much of the End is intentionally shrouded in mystery, it's hard to say if this is an accurate understanding of the passage.

But there's another understanding as well.  Generations often were used as placeholders for dispensations, rather than just counting off a literal geneology.  So, in Matthew 1:17, we read: "So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations."  So He may simply be saying that "this generation," Christ and His Church, will be around until the very end.  That would certainly make sense of the next verse.  It's popular amongst Evangelical Protestants to inquire as to when "the Church age" will end.  Jesus says it won't.  This generation won't pass away, because the Church is the Bride of Christ, the full-grown Israel, and because Christ promises as much (Mt. 16:18), and "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Mt. 24:35). This second interpretation strikes me as the correct way of understanding it. It's a reaffirmation of what was prophesied in Daniel 2:44 - an eternal Kingdom, whose members never pass away.

From Assassin to Presbyterian Pastor

The New York Times has a fascinating profile of Kim Shin-jo, the North Korean would-be assassin of South Korea's president:
As the North Korean raiding party scattered and retreated northward, hunted for more than a week, all but two of the attackers committed suicide or were killed. One was a commando who got back safely to the North and later became a general. The other was Kim Shin-jo.
After a year of interrogation and a pardon from the government, Mr. Kim was reborn, first as a South Korean citizen and then as a Presbyterian minister. He met his wife a year after his release — she’s the one who turned him to Christianity — and they now have two grown children. Mr. Kim said his church outside Seoul had 70,000 members, making it the largest Presbyterian congregation in the world. He serves as one of 80 pastors there.
It is, on many levels, a story of mercy and redemption on so many levels.  Definitely worth the read.

Is God's Omnipotence Self-Refuting?

The University of Cambridge has a series called Investigating Atheism, which calmly and fairly lays out the most popular arguments for atheism.  One of the arguments had a twist I'd never heard before, so I thought I'd go ahead and respond to it:
Another traditional argument claims that there is a logical incoherence involved in certain concepts of God. This can either rely on an internal contradiction in a single attribute, or else in a contradiction in the combination of divine attributes. The first is best known in the question 'can God create a rock so heavy that He can't lift it', and the second includes problems with whether an omniscient God can make free decisions.
(1) As to the argument, "Can God create a rock so heavy that He can't lift it?" I think Philippians 2:5-11 says "yes":
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I find this answer very intellectually satisfying. God the Son created the universe (John 1:3), yet in the Incarnation, emptied Himself in a radical way that we don't understand, taking on a mortal Human Nature - a body capable of suffering and dying.  The God Who wants for nothing of His own nature felt hunger, pain, weariness, and the like - He became "like us in all things but sin."  So in His Divine nature, He created the universe, including things His Human nature couldn't lift.

(2) As to whether and how an omniscient God can make free decisions, yes.  But His free decisions aren't made within time.  There are many cases where God, without violating His own Goodness, could do one of multiple options.  He chooses a single one.  St. Thomas Aquinas answered this question beautifully in the Summa, using Matthew 26:53 to show that God could have done what He did not.

This boggles the mind (for the same reason that predestination boggles the mind, since it seems to eliminate free will).  But St. Augustine answered this in the 4th century - a God who created time and exists outside of it is bigger than these silly arguments.  Note that God's description of Himself is pure Being: "I AM WHO AM."  While we proclaim the glory of God the Trinity "as it was in the beginning, is now, and always shall be" in the Glory Be, from God's perspective, it's the eternal present.  That's why Christ uses such a strange tense in John 8:58.  Moses grasps this point well, as Psalm 90:2 reflects -- but then, he's the one God revealed it to (Exodus 3:14).

(3) A related argument:
Patrick Grim has argued that God's omnipotence and omniscience are both internally contradictory, as well as facing problems when combined with each other and further attributes. His primary argument relies on the view that certain tasks are 'essential indexicals', where the ability to complete such a task cannot be separated from self-reference.[3] These follow from obvious and popular cases such as the rock mentioned above, and include statements like 'A snowflake falls through no effort of an omnipotent being'. This case is chosen as something that a non-omnipotent being can bring about, but not an omnipotent one.
The question of whether God can cause a snowflake to fall without the effort of an omnipotent Being is really asking, "Can God cause something without God causing it?"  The question is meaningless and self-contradictory.  More than that, it's been answered centuries before Patrick Grim was born.  Again, from St. Thomas Aquinas:
Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: "No word shall be impossible with God." For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.
Catholics readily affirm that omnipotence is bounded by logical coherence, calling Christ the Divine Logos. So we'll gladly affirm that God can't do x without doing x.  But that's not because of any limits on God's power, but because that's a meaningless statement.  Even if you hypothesized the creation of alternate worlds, one in which God does x, and one in which He doesn't, He's still doing x in one of the worlds. So atheists haven't disproved God.  They've just run headlong into the Law of Identity and the principle of contradiction.

So it isn't that God is somehow less than omnipotent, but simply that the question is logically impossible. Now, Grim attempts to get around this with the self-refuting argument that man can cause snowflakes to fall without Divine assistance, so there's something we can do that God can't.  There are two responses.  First, he's fundamentally wrong.  Given the nature of God's omnipotence, all things have, as secondary causation at the very least, God's Permission.  If God does not actively Will it, He passively Permits it, which still makes the doing of the action contingent upon the Divine Being.  Atheists know this - it's why they blame the sins of man on God.  We have free will because God permits us to have free will.  So even when we sin, we could not do so without an omnipotent Being, God, permitting us to have the freedom to do so.  The very nature of God's omnipotence requires that nothing can occur which He could not stop from occurring.  So for Grim to assume, a priori, that a man (we'll call him Carl) can do anything without God's assistance, is to start out assuming that God is not omnipotent, in order to prove that God is not omnipotent.  If God is omnipotent, then the idea that Carl can make a snowflake fall without God's assistance is logically impossible, and Grim's argument fails.  So this is a disproof of God's omnipotence only if God isn't omnipotent... which is to say, it's a lousy disproof.

Secondly, what Grim is proposing isn't even a parallel argument.  He's uses something he thinks is logically possible (Carl doing something, and God not doing it) to try and show we've got a power God doesn't... but the power he's contrasting it with is the power to do the logically impossible. Can A do x without A doing x? No.  Can A do x without B doing x?  Perhaps (although in this case, no, as I explained in the first answer).


Those are three of the arguments which seem, on face, to be strong against God's omnipotence. None of them are, on examination.  I welcome comments, rejoinders, and other vexing theological questions.

Total Pageviews

1 Peter 4:8. Powered by Blogger.