Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tuam, Dead Babies, and Modern Morality

So the Tuam scandal became a thing on a friend's Facebook wall a little while ago. I went digging, and found a good reassesment of the story from the Washington Post and an excoriation of what made the story an international cause celebre by the atheist Brendan O'Neill. Fine and good.

And then there was this story from the Guardian.

And I'm kind of stunned.

What sort of tonedeafness leads someone to put out a story headlined: "The horror of Tuam's missing babies is not diminished by misreported details: Tuam's mothers and the unhappily pregnant today are not unconnected. It is time for Ireland to liberalise its abortion laws"?

Really? "I'm so outraged by how awfully the Catholic Church treated unwed mothers and killed their children through neglect that I'm going to call for us to legalize killing the children in the womb. There. Problem solved."

She's not mad about the missing children of Tuam. She's mad that they couldn't all have been made to disappear.

I can understand the outrage at the way unwed mothers were apparently treated in Ireland decades ago, and understand that our failures to be as holy as we should cause all sorts of hell to break loose. Yes. Fine.

But someone's really going to turn this into an argument for loosening restrictions on killing kids in the womb? Really?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Screwtape is Not Amused

This is what it looks like when the tempters allow the patients to get away. Excerpts:
... I had a hard time getting to the Holy Hour and Benediction. All day the day before I experienced the most dreadful spiritual crisis I have been through since I converted to the Catholic Church. My mind was deluged with negative thoughts, to the point that I began to wonder if I even was Catholic or had a right to enter any Church.

Then, at mass that evening, I prayed and prayed and it let up.

Later that night, I got hit with a sudden and rather violent gastrointestinal thing.

It was at that point that I finally recognized old scratch.

The next day, I thought about skipping the whole Benediction. I felt so terrible, and now I was tormented with thoughts that I might meet a particular person there who had hurt me in the past and who I dread ever seeing again.

I prayed, and knew that I needed to go.

I told a friend of mine that all this made me feel as if the devil thought that if Rebecca Hamilton showed up at this Benediction he would be cast back into hell. I told her that if other people were getting a dose of what I was getting, I feared that the church might be empty.

But, despite all this, I went.

And what I experienced was the Presence and Love of Christ...
For those who have no idea what I'm referring to, behold a bit of awesome.

International Theological Commission

Their documents are all online! And most in English (haven't checked all of them).

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Point of Catholicism

What's the point of the Catholic Church?
"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church." It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection."--Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why Christians Can Eat Shellfish

So in all the many, many religious liberty debates swirling around, a certain set of arguments emerge time and again, namely:
  • Christians claim that their religious texts, particularly the Bible, ban certain acts and behaviors.
  • Christians don't live up to all the laws in their Bible, including the prohibitions on eating certain foods, wearing clothing of a certain composition, or touching a dead pig's skin.
  • Christians are arbitrarily cherry-picking doctrines from their religious texts and being inconsistent. This is obviously all an exercise in banning things you don't like and pointing to certain passages to justify your bigotry.
A prime example of this sort of reasoning appeared on The West Wing.
There's a huge gaping problem with the line of argumentation, though: the people using it haven't taken the time to read their Bibles. See, it's not as simple as "The Bible is our holy book and we must do what it says." Why? Because the Bible isn't simply a book. It's the collected works, the omnibus edition of inspired writings, with human authors and a divine author. So you don't just do what the Bible says, because the Bible says a lot of things, just as I don't just walk into a library, grab a book off a shelf, and attempt to use it as a guide to driving through downtown Manhattan. I can go into a library and probably find the appropriate map if I go to the right section and read that map according to the rules of its writing, but a poetry text or an encyclopedia will probably be highly unhelpful. Similarly, I would not ask someone to look to the deeds of the Babylonians or the Egyptians as recounted in the Scriptures as paragons of the sort of religious behavior demanded by the God of the Bible. Just because it's in the Bible doesn't make it normative. Also, there's a key concept guiding our interpretation of the Scriptures called the divine pedagogy, or the divine condescension. Simply, God accomodates his revelation to our weakness. We are like children--we have to go through the grades in school in order. You cannot ask a kindergartener to undertake college level work, not normally. There are especially gifted people, just as some people are saints from childhood (the luckies!). But for the great mass of humanity, training is required before great feats of intellect or of sanctity. So the laws God gives at certain points are accommodated to the weakness of the people, such as Moses' teaching on divorce (Matthew 19:18). Do portions of the Old Testament shock you? God was accomodating the weakness of the people. Keep in mind that certain aspects of modern society would shock the ancients, as well. God is merciful. We are sinful and concupiscent. He tells us the truth, he holds us to the highest standards, and he is infinitely merciful. Why does the law change? Because the covenants change; because the people change. There are elements which are permanent, however, and it's important to discern which are part of what C. S. Lewis called the "tao" or the natural law, and which are part of the disciplinary norms for a given people or age. Similarly, not all the books of the Bible are to be read in the same fashion by a Christian reader. The whole is part of our heritage, yes, but not everything within it is binding upon us. That's not just me or extra-biblical Catholic tradition talking--that's the Scriptures themselves. Read Acts 15 and its account of the Council of Jerusalem. There, a Church council, guided by the Holy Spirit, taught with authority that the Christians were not bound to obey all the tenets of the Mosaic law:
‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'"
So out of all the tenets and prohibitions of the Mosaic Law, including the bans on shellfish, the clothing of threads from several plants, etc, what remains? Do not eat meat sacrificed to idols, do not eat the blood of animals or the meat of strangled animals, and keep the laws regarding marriage. Is this the whole law binding upon Christians? No, for there's more taught by Jesus:
  • Love God and neighbor (Mark 12:30-31 and crossreferences)
  • Love one another as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34-35)
  • Keep the Ten Commandments (Mark 10:17-31)
We also have the sermon on the Mount and a rich repository of other moral teaching from both Jesus and the early Church throughout the rest of the New Testament, but the above covers what remains from the Old Testament's law. There's a great deal of wise counsel in the Wisdom literature, of course, and much more to learn from the rest of the Scriptures. But next time someone tries to complain about controversial Christian teachings when "they just pick and choose what they're going to enforce!" take some time to explain the different genres of Scripture, the way in which later texts interpret earlier texts, the notion of divine condescension, and the Scriptural teaching on which portions of the Jewish Law apply to Christians. For more on all this, see:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Something Rotten in the State of the Holmes Family

Possible Sherlock spoiler.

Mrs. Holmes, somehow, is the Napoleon of crime.

Mother Holmes, the woman who is a mathematical genius and has written a book (according to fansites) called Dynamics of Combustion--these are two key elements of Moriarty's character in the original stories.
Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it?—Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear
It's been the subject of comment in a number of places, and yet consistently no one seems to conclude that this might indicate something about Mrs. Holmes' character. Also, Jim Moriarty keeps threatening to "burn the heart out of you," indicating that he at least believes he also understands something of the dynamics of combustion. Perhaps he intends to complete what he believes Mrs. Holmes failed to finish? Mother Holmes, who made no appearance in Sherlock's mind palace as he lay dying. The only member of his family to show up there was Mycroft, who served as a stand-in for the parents. Mother Holmes, who has a lot to answer for--"You should tell her that. She doesn't understand much." Mother Holmes, whom Mycroft attempted to stand in for. Also, the putting down of Redbeard is compared by Sherlock to being murdered, essentially, and it's still one of his pressure points after all these years. Mycroft became a machiavellian manipulator who runs England, and Sherlock became a damaged, drug addicted, high functioning sociopath. John said they (his parents) seem so normal. Sherlock said that's his burden to bear, or words to that effect. And her husband is the sane one. Something's really, really wrong in the family Holmes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Trinity Sunday!

What is the doctrine of the Trinity and why does it matter?  Dr. Robert Stackpole answers.  Excerpts:
"When I am reading the Diary of St. Faustina, I find great comfort and consolation in all that Sr. Faustina writes about the compassionate Heart of Jesus and His merciful love for us. But when she starts talking about the Holy Trinity, my mind goes kind of 'blank,' and I really do not know what she is talking about."
If that has been your experience too, then know that you are not alone. In fact, many millions of Catholics have never really been brought "up to speed" on what the Church teaches about the Holy Trinity, and why it is so important — indeed, why, in many ways, it is the central doctrine of our faith. When St. Faustina writes about the Trinity, she assumes knowledge of Trinitarian doctrine that few of us possess, and this can make those passages in her Diary seem somewhat foreign and opaque to us. But fear not: With the help of the Holy Spirit, over the next few weeks, we shall ponder the mystery of the Trinity together, and thereby draw a little closer to St. Faustina in mind and heart.

...One time, after receiving Holy Communion, she [St. Faustina) began to understand that the entire Holy Trinity came to dwell within her soul:
Once after Holy Communion, I heard these words: You are our dwelling place. At that moment I felt in my soul the presence of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I felt that I was the Temple of God. I felt that I was a child of the Father. I cannot explain all this, but the Spirit understands this well (451).
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "That is all very beautiful, but I still don't get it! What does the Trinity really mean? How can God be One in being and essence, but Three Persons at the same time? And what difference does it really make if we believe all this or not?"

Well, Sr. Faustina wanted to know more, too! Listen to what she wrote near the very start of her Diary:
On one occasion I was reflecting on the Holy Trinity, on the essence of God. I absolutely wanted to know and fathom who God is. ... In an instant my spirit was caught up into what seemed to be the next world. I saw an inaccessible light, and in this light what appeared like three sources of light that I could not understand. And out of this light came words in the form of lightning which encircled heaven and earth. Not understanding anything, I was very sad. Suddenly, from this sea of inaccessible light came our dearly beloved Savior, unutterably beautiful with His shining Wounds. And from this light there came a voice which said, Who God is in His Essence, no one will fathom, neither the mind of angels nor of man. Jesus said to me, Get to know God by contemplating His attributes. A moment later, He traced the sign of the cross with His hand and vanished (30).
So, right from the start, Jesus was telling her that no one can ever completely fathom the mystery of the Trinitarian Being of God, but that if we contemplate God's attributes, we can at least begin to understand it. And as we have seen, that is precisely what Sr. Faustina did: The more she contemplated the compassionate love in the Heart of Jesus, and the more she appreciated the "glowing center of love" in God and the "burning center of God's love," especially manifested in the Holy Eucharist, the more she began to appreciate what it means to say that God is Three Persons in One Being or Essence...
For more, see here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dr. Faust and the Harvard Black Mass

Yes, the name of the president of Harvard is Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust. Savor that for as long as you like.

Don't know why that's a funny coincidence? Because Dr. Faust was the president of Harvard during the affair of the Harvard Black Mass.

Thank heavens, the event was moved off campus, postponed indefinitely by the sponsoring organization, though Satanic Temple members claim to have still held some part of it in an off-campus restaurant. But the whole affair is instructive in a number of ways.

The response of the Archdiocese of Boston.

One of the oddities of the whole affair is the purported distinctions being made by the so-called Satanists between themselves and people who actually believe in the Devil. Excerpts (links in the original):
...The Satanic Temple is a kind of stepchild of LaVeyan Satanism, which also is not Satanic. LaVeyan Satanism–the “Church of Satan”–was founded by a ridiculous fraud named Howard Levey, who assumed the name of Anton LaVey and made himself up to look like a cartoon Mephistopheles in one of the least-convincing attempts to appear menacing since Kermit the Frog stuck a pair of vampire fangs in his mouth...

LaVey was a sham psychic/occultist and musician who hit San Francisco with his act at just the right time in the 60s and became a celebrity because he seemed transgressive. He saw Lucifer as a force of freedom and liberation (and thanks for that, John Milton), but mostly as a way to make money and annoy the squares.

He cobbled together an asinine philosophy from scraps of Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, and a book called Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. It’s all the usual will to power, do as thy wilt, fascistic, watered-downed Crowleyite hokum designed to empty pockets and get women naked. (Say what you will about Aleister Crowley, but the man was no idiot and he took things seriously. He would have eaten these frauds for breakfast.)

In other words, American neo-Satanism is all just a big act from people who want attention...

The problem, however, is that their deep ignorance and hatred has left them stumbling around in a very serious, very dark place.

And even though the Satanic Temple is a fraud, Satanism is quite real. It’s just that real Satanists don’t advertise the fact...

See, they may not believe in Satan, but Satan believes in them, and he knows Useful Idiots when he sees them...
This is a beautiful summary of the whole, screwy situation. Excerpts:
Ok so let’s get this straight then:

The Harvard Cultural Studies group is hosting an event on campus that includes a Satanic Black Mass from a group that claims not to actually believe in Satan never performed a Black Mass and when called on to explain the university’s position  equated a Black Mass to a Shinto tea ceremony and Buddhist meditation.

FYI if you google “diversity & “tolerance” at harvard this is the gum that comes up from the Harvard School of Public Health
we are committed to tolerance, sensitivity, understanding, and mutual respect everywhere within our community, and we hereby affirm our promise to provide a welcoming place for one and all. 
Meanwhile we are further told that the Satanic Temple does not only doesn’t actually believe in Satan, really isn’t going to use a consecrated host after confirming that they were and it’s all just a misunderstanding that wasn’t meant to offend anybody even though the claim a it’s no big deal either way.

Maybe it’s just me but these people don’t seem trustworthy. In fact I seem to recall a expert on Satan noting some credibility issues concerning those who follow Satan in the past:
You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
As Harvard has a divinity school I trust they can figure out the source of this quote....
The Satanic Temple (apparently a group based out of New York) is also behind the attempt to get a statue of the devil in an Oklahoma courthouse. Tom McDonald has an important run down of the consequences of their actions:
Catholics have been reminded of something important: our precious Sacrament is the target of wicked people, and even though this incident was stopped, others continue. Now more people are aware of that fact, and are offering acts of reparation for this wounding. That would not have happened if this incident had not forced the issue into public consciousness.

We also needed to be reminded that these people–both fake Satanists and real–are also children of God. They’ve invited demons into their souls, almost certainly without realizing what that means. Jesus did not curse the possessed: he exorcised them. We, too, should pray for these tools of the enemy, that they may be freed from their bondage to evil and welcome into the light of Christ, where they shall always have a loving home.

More than one Satanist has found his way to Holy Mother Church, and if we are to be Christians, we must not lose sight that it’s our job to lead them back, while also fighting the evil they wish to bring into the world

And while we do this, we must remember that the battleground of Satan is within us as well. As Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart. I’d rather not lose a single soul to Hell. Not one. Not even the soul of my worst enemy..

One of the key aspects of the whole event is the attitude which the Harvard group sponsoring the event was taking toward the opposition. Excerpts:
“While it is unfortunate that many people took personal offense at rituals for which they have little or no understanding of their context, what we find most disturbing have been the demands that the rituals and beliefs of marginalized members of society be silenced,” the club wrote in the emailed statement. “It is gravely upsetting to us that some people feel vindicated on the basis that they have disingenuously mischaracterized our invited guests as being part of a hate group.”
And this, as well. Excerpts:
...Members of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, who posted fliers and notices on campus and online about the Satanic worshipping happening on May 12, said the event is educational and meant to add historical context to a lecture on the subject that will precede it. “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the group said in a statement. “This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”...
The language is echoed, to a certain extent, by the Satanic Temple spokespeople, as well.
...Given the group’s insistence that they are engaging in an intellectual and educational exercise meant, as Greaves put it, “as an expression of personal independence from overwhelming cultural influences”, I asked if obtaining a Consecrated Host through stealth — and using it for an “intellectual” exercise that would constitute grave abuse to believing Catholics — would pose an ethical dilemma for them which could affect their credibility. Greaves wondered whether anyone connected with the group “would waste time going to all that trouble. The odds are almost zero...”

Speaking anonymously, a spokesman added, “please understand, there is in fact, respect for the beliefs of others, and our intention was not to be in anyone’s face. We did not mean to mislead...”

They appear to me to be more interested in advocating against belief of any sort, and pricking the culture, than in actually pursuing supernatural interests. That they are more, as it were, “seculo-politico-atheo-satanists” rather than supernaturalists.

Having spoken with several people within the organization, I am not entirely sure they fully understand what they’ve gotten themselves into, with this “re-enactment”. When I asked Greaves what he would do if, in the midst of their exercise, something from the etheric plane made itself known, he laughed and said, “well, then I’d have to reassess.”

Greaves says his Satanism is “a metaphorical construct” meant to unshackle the world from belief in supernatural good or evil because belief has “led to horrible things” and “the idea of Satanists as deviants has never done the world any good...”
And here. Excerpts:
...As Mesner tells Vice writer Shane Bugbee, "While the original thinking was that the Satanic Temple needed to hold to some belief in a supernatural entity known as 'Satan,' none of us truly believed that. I helped develop us into something we all do truly believe in and wholeheartedly embrace: an atheistic philosophical framework that views 'Satan' as a metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our works.

"We've moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to the cultural dialogue."

Apparently, for the Temple, "contributing positively to the cultural dialogue" consists of taking the "source and summit" of the Catholic faith, the Eucharist, and using it in some sort of quasi-historical/theatrical evening of entertainment...
Dawn Eden did some digging and perhaps found what exactly motivates some of the members of this organization. Excerpts:
...All things considered, when I read that Greaves says he intends the “Black Mass”  to be “an expression of personal independence from overwhelming cultural influences,” I have to ask, from what kind of cultural influences does he seek independence? From where I can see, by engaging in a hateful mockery of the Catholic faith, he seeks to declare independence from the teaching that human beings should be protected from all forms of harmful exploitation. He seeks to declare independence from the one institution in the world that has, for two thousand years, defended the dignity of the human person against those who would use and abuse others for their own ends. Finally, in his vituperative attacks against victims (which, from his Internet trail, are clearly personal and go far beyond “debunking” psychological theories), he declares himself independent from the Church which teaches not only that intrinsic evils exist, but that one of those intrinsic evils is rape...
The language of the Harvard sponsors and, to a certain extent, the Satanic Temple folks, is entirely in conformity with the pedagogy of the oppressed. The logic can be simplified thusly:
  • The status quo is imperfect/evil/actively oppressive (pick which one applies)
  • Those with power/money/etc. (whom we shall call the "oppressors") benefit from the status quo, for they are at the top of the heap in the midst of it. 
  • Those without power/money/etc. (whom we shall call the "oppressed") do not benefit from the status quo.
  • Since the status quo is imperfect, it is the source/maintains the existence of evils.
  • In order to fix those evils, the status quo must be overturned/dismantled/deconstructed.
  • The status quo will be ended when those without power/money/etc. struggle to acquire said power/money/etc. from those who currently possess it. 
  • Any evils done in the course of the struggle are the products of the status quo, and the fault of those who benefited from/maintained the status quo. 
  • Thus, the oppressors are to blame for everything wrong/evil, and the oppressed are always and forever the victims/innocent/free from guilt for anything done in the name of the revolution.
It's a tempting way to think, and to be. There truly are the situations and people where intolerable oppression generates violent reactions. But to work to "raise the consciousness" of every group into the mindset of the oppressed, setting everyone into jealously guarding every bit of power, money, influence, privilege, what have you against the demands or depradations of anyone else always and at all times--that's a recipe for hell on earth.

In many ways, this is the basic structure of Marxism--the oppressed/proletariat must rise against the oppressors/bourgeois to achieve the revolution which shall usher in the end of the status quo and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which shall eventually resolve itself into the classless society without haves or have nots.

I call it the politics of envy. Why? It leads to an endless cycle of violence. The dictators after the revolution shall be the new haves, and the former bourgeois, the new have nots. The only real way out of the cycle is forgiveness, charity, and supernatural grace.

But Marxism has no room for God, or grace, or forgiveness--at least, ideologically. And so you get the strange hells of the gulag archipelago and the culture of the life, the lands where deception reigns and all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

And then there's what happens when you take this Marxist framework and attempt to stretch it over a Christian worldview. What happens? Well, think it through: those with power who maintain the status quo are evil. Those without power who challenge the status quo are good.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the source of all that is, the Lord, the One who gives all free will and metes out justice and mercy. The Devil is the rebel, the revolutionary, seeking to wage war on heaven, overthrow the Power that be, and redistribute power.

Who, then, becomes good, and who evil, according to the politics of envy?

How do I know I'm not just being paranoid? Simply, Saul Alinsky.
“Lest we forget at least an over the shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins - or which is which), the very first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom - Lucifer.” ― Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
This is a concatenation of the dictatorship of relativism (also called the culture of the lie, populated by the people of the lie) and the politics of envy. The Anchoress sums it up well. Excerpts:
Breitbart News: What is your overall impression of the entire affair?

Scalia: I think it's demonstrative of how comfortable we as a society have become with lying to ourselves and being lied to. Harvard Extension can convince itself – and others – that all it's doing is hosting an intellectual exercise; the Temple folks can convince themselves, and some, that they're not really tempting a supernatural, or etheric plane; but we know that there are "things seen and unseen" constantly at work.

It is so much easier to believe these over-rationalized-into-fantasy lies than to do the hard work of saying "no" to someone, or of respecting others, even if it involves some self-denial. It's a human condition, common to us all, but it seems to me to be in ascendance. The easier way always is.

And in thinking about and responding to the Harvard Black Mass, the Anchoress's son pinpoints the weakness at the heart of the politics of envy. Excerpts:
“But, it’s a Gift,” Buster said, “So they only cheat and hurt themselves.”

I was a little confused. “What do you mean, which is the Gift, the Holy Eucharist, or sexuality?”

“Both,” he said. “They’re both gifts, but I’m talking about the Gift of the Body of Christ. Christ gave himself to us, feely, of his own free will. A Gift freely given. If someone takes the Gift and spits on it or whatever — they’re only destroying what was given to them, they are destroying what is “theirs.” They don’t in any way destroy the Giver of the Gift, or lessen the Giver, or the Gift. So they have no power over it, they can’t dominate it. All they can do is destroy themselves within themselves.”

“Yes,” I agreed. If I freely give you a car, and you decide to smash it up, you’ve lost out, not me. If I give you my life, and you are unappreciative, it doesn’t lessen what I have done, but reveals the void within you.”

“That’s why even during the Passion, those who wanted Jesus dead could not have victory over him,” Buster mused, picking up on today’s Gospel reading. “So, no matter how they mistreated Him or misjudged Him, or tortured Him…He had consented to it. And so they lost, and He won.” The Power was always His.”

“Right,” I said, wondering what I was thinking about when I was 16 years old.

“And so, these people at the black masses — they have an illusion of power, but the power is always Christ’s, because He is the Gift.”


“It doesn’t make me feel any better to think of anyone desecrating a Host,” he mused. “But if they don’t realize that the power they think they have is only an illusion, then really…’they know not what they do.’”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Christ is risen!
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb, and found the stone moved away from the tomb door. So she came running to Simon Peter, and that other disciple, whom Jesus loved; They have carried the Lord away from the tomb, she said to them, and we cannot tell where they have taken him.

Upon this, Peter and the other disciple both set out, and made their way to the tomb; they began running side by side, but the other disciple outran Peter, and reached the tomb first. He looked in and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Simon Peter, coming up after him, went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there, and also the veil which had been put over Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but still wrapped round and round in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw this, and learned to believe. They had not yet mastered what was written of him, that he was to rise from the dead.

The disciples went back home; but Mary stood without before the tomb, weeping. And she bent down, still weeping, and looked into the tomb; and saw two angels clothed in white sitting there, one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They said to her, Woman, why art thou weeping? Because they have carried away my Lord, she said, and I cannot tell where they have taken him.

Saying this, she turned round, and saw Jesus standing there, without knowing that it was Jesus. Woman, Jesus said to her, why art thou weeping? For whom art thou searching? She supposed that it must be the gardener, and said to him, If it is thou, Sir, that hast carried him off, tell me where thou hast put him, and I will take him away. Jesus said to her, Mary.

And she turned and said to him, Rabboni (which is the Hebrew for Master). Then Jesus said, Do not cling to me thus; I have not yet gone up to my Father’s side. Return to my brethren, and tell them this; I am going up to him who is my Father and your Father, who is my God and your God.

So Mary Magdalen brought news to the disciples, of how she had seen the Lord, and he had spoken thus to her. And now it was evening on the same day, the first day of the week; for fear of the Jews, the disciples had locked the doors of the room in which they had assembled; and Jesus came, and stood there in their midst; Peace be upon you, he said. And with that, he shewed them his hands and his side. Thus the disciples saw the Lord, and were glad. Once more Jesus said to them, Peace be upon you; I came upon an errand from my Father, and now I am sending you out in my turn. With that, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit; when you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound.

There was one of the twelve, Thomas, who is also called Didymus, who was not with them when Jesus came. And when the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord, he said to them, Until I have seen the mark of the nails on his hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, you will never make me believe.

So, eight days afterwards, once more the disciples were within, and Thomas was with them; and the doors were locked. Jesus came and stood there in their midst; Peace be upon you, he said. Then he said to Thomas, Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe. Thomas answered, Thou art my Lord and my God. And Jesus said to him, Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.

There are many other miracles Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, which are not written down in this book; so much has been written down, that you may learn to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so believing find life through his name.--John 20

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.--G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles—because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends—you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation.--C. S. Lewis, "The Grand Miracle" in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1970), pp. 80–81

Friday, April 18, 2014

"It Is Finished"

Blessed Good Friday!
What credence for such news as ours? Whom reaches it, this new revelation of the Lord’s strength? He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as a brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts. Nay, here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was he who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was he who bore them. A leper, so we thought of him, a man God had smitten and brought low; and all the while it was for our sins he was wounded, it was guilt of ours crushed him down; on him the punishment fell that brought us peace, by his bruises we were healed. Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path; and God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all.

A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him.  Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more! Be sure it is for my people’s guilt I have smitten him. Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! Ay, the Lord’s will it was, overwhelmed he should be with trouble. His life laid down for guilt’s atoning, he shall yet be rewarded; father of a long posterity, instrument of the divine purpose; for all his heart’s anguish, rewarded in full. The Just One, my servant; many shall he claim for his own, win their acquittal, on his shoulders bearing their guilt. So many lives ransomed, foes so violent baulked of their spoil! Such is his due, that gave himself up to death, and would be counted among the wrong-doers; bore those many sins, and made intercession for the guilty.--Isaiah 53
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Loudly I call, but my prayer cannot reach thee. Thou dost not answer, my God, when I cry out to thee day and night, thou dost not heed. Thou art there none the less, dwelling in the holy place; Israel’s ancient boast. It was in thee that our fathers trusted, and thou didst reward their trust by delivering them; they cried to thee, and rescue came; no need to be ashamed of such trust as theirs. But I, poor worm, have no manhood left; I am a by-word to all, the laughing-stock of the rabble. All those who catch sight of me fall to mocking; mouthing out insults, while they toss their heads in scorn, He committed himself to the Lord, why does not the Lord come to his rescue, and set his favourite free?

What hand but thine drew me out from my mother’s womb? Who else was my refuge when I hung at the breast? From the hour of my birth, thou art my guardian; since I left my mother’s womb, thou art my God! Do not leave me now, when trouble is close at hand; stand near, when I have none to help me. My enemies ring me round, packed close as a herd of oxen, strong as bulls from Basan; so might a lion threaten me with its jaws, roaring for its prey. I am spent as spilt water, all my bones out of joint, my heart turned to molten wax within me; parched is my throat, like clay in the baking, and my tongue sticks fast in my mouth; thou hast laid me in the dust, to die. Prowling about me like a pack of dogs, their wicked conspiracy hedges me in; they have torn holes in my hands and feet; I can count my bones one by one; and they stand there watching me, gazing at me in triumph. They divide my spoils among them, cast lots for my garments. Then, Lord, do not stand at a distance; if thou wouldst aid me, come speedily to my side. Only life is left me; save that from the sword, from the power of these dogs; rescue me from the very mouth of the lion, the very horns of the wild oxen that have brought me thus low.

Then I will proclaim thy renown to my brethren; where thy people gather, I will join in singing thy praise, Praise the Lord, all you that are his worshippers; honour to him from the sons of Jacob, reverence to him from Israel’s race! He has not scorned or slighted the appeal of the friendless, nor turned his face away from me; my cry for help did not go unheeded. Take what I owe thee, my song of praise before a great assembly. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the sight of his worshippers; the poor shall eat now, and have their fill, those who look for the Lord will cry out in praise of him, Refreshed be your hearts eternally! The furthest dwellers on earth will bethink themselves of the Lord, and come back to him; all the races of the heathen will worship before him; to the Lord royalty belongs, the whole world’s homage is his due. Him shall they worship, him only, that are laid to rest in the earth, even from their dust they shall adore. I, too, shall live on in his presence, and beget children to serve him; these to a later age shall speak of the Lord’s name; these to a race that must yet be born shall tell the story of his faithfulness, Hear what the Lord did.--Psalm 21:2-32, emphasis added.
After this, the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the palace, and gathered the whole of their company about him. First they stripped him, and arrayed him in a scarlet cloak; then they put on his head a crown which they had woven out of thorns, and a rod in his right hand, and mocked him by kneeling down before him, and saying, Hail, king of the Jews. And they spat upon him, and took the rod from him and beat him over the head with it. At last they had done with mockery; stripping him of the scarlet cloak, they put his own garments on him, and led him away to be crucified. As for his cross, they forced a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, whom they met on their way out, to carry it; and so they reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place named after a skull. Here they offered him a draught of wine, mixed with gall, which he tasted, but would not drink, and then crucified him, dividing his garments among them by casting lots. The prophecy must be fulfilled, They divide my spoils among them, cast lots for my garments.

There, then, they sat, keeping guard over him. Over his head they set a written proclamation of his offence, This is Jesus, the king of the Jews; and with him they crucified two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. The passers-by blasphemed against him, tossing their heads; Come now, they said, thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue thyself; come down from that cross, if thou art the Son of God. The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him in the same way. He saved others, they said, he cannot save himself. If he is the king of Israel, he has but to come down from the cross, here and now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let God, if he favours him, succour him now; he told us, I am the Son of God. Even the thieves who were crucified with him uttered the same taunts.

From the sixth hour onwards there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour; and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lamma sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Hearing this, some of those who stood by said, He is calling upon Elias: and thereupon one of them ran to fetch a sponge, which he filled with vinegar and fixed upon a rod, and offered to let him drink; the rest said, Wait, let us see whether Elias is to come and save him. Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And all at once, the veil of the temple was torn this way and that from the top to the bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks parted asunder; and the graves were opened, and many bodies arose out of them, bodies of holy men gone to their rest: who, after his rising again, left their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many. So that the centurion and those who kept guard over Jesus with him, when they perceived the earthquake and all that befell, were overcome with fear; No doubt, they said, but this was the Son of God.--Matthew 27:27-54, emphasis added.
Then the soldiers led him away into the court of the palace, and gathered there the whole of their company. They arrayed him in a scarlet cloak, and put round his head a crown which they had woven out of thorns, and fell to greeting him with, Hail, king of the Jews. And they beat him over the head with a rod, and spat upon him, and bowed their knees in worship of him. At last they had done with mockery; stripping him of the scarlet cloak, they put his own garments on him, and led him away to be crucified. As for his cross, they forced a passer-by who was coming in from the country to carry it, one Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. And so they took him to a place called Golgotha, which means, The place of a skull. Here they offered him a draught of wine mixed with myrrh, which he would not take; and then crucified him, dividing his garments among them by casting lots, to decide which should fall to each.

It was the third hour when they crucified him. A proclamation of his offence was written up over him, The king of the Jews; and with him they crucified two thieves, one on the right and the other on his left, so fulfilling the words of scripture, And he was counted among the wrong-doers. The passers-by blasphemed against him, shaking their heads; Come now, they said, thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, come down from that cross, and rescue thyself. In the same way, the chief priests and scribes said mockingly to one another, He saved others, he cannot save himself. Let Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross, here and now, so that we can see it and believe in him. And the men who were crucified with him uttered taunts against him.

When the sixth hour came, there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour; and at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Hearing this, some of those who stood by said, Why, he is calling upon Elias. And thereupon one of them ran off to fill a sponge with vinegar, and fixed it on a rod, and offered to let him drink; Wait, he said, Let us see whether Elias is to come and save him. Then Jesus gave a loud cry, and yielded up his spirit. And the veil of the temple was torn this way and that, from the top to the bottom. The centurion who stood in front of him, perceiving that he so yielded up his spirit with a cry, said, No doubt but this was the Son of God.--Mark 15:16-39, emphasis added.
To thee, O Lord, I look for refuge, never let me be ashamed of my trust; in thy faithful care, deliver me. Grant me audience, and make haste to rescue me; my hill-fastness, my stronghold of defence, to save me from peril. Thou dost strengthen and defend me; thou, for thy own honour, dost guide and escort me; by thee protected, I shall escape from the snare that lies hidden in my path. Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou, God ever faithful, wilt claim me for thyself. Let fools provoke thee by the worship of false gods; for me, no refuge but the Lord. I will triumph and exult in thy mercy; it was thou didst pity my weakness, and save me when I was hard bestead; before the enemy’s toils could close around me, the open plain lay at my feet.

And now, Lord, have compassion on my distress; vexation has dimmed my eyes, frets me away, soul and body. My life is all grief, my years are but sighs; for very misery, my strength ebbs away, my frame is wasted. Openly my foes deride me; even to my neighbours I am a thing of utter scorn; my friends are adread, and the passer-by shuns my contact; I am lost to memory, like a dead man, discarded like a broken pitcher. On every side their busy whispering comes to my ears; peril all around, so powerful the conspiracy that threatens my life. And still, Lord, my trust in thee is not shaken; still I cry, Thou art my God, my fate is in thy hand; save me from the enemy’s power, save me from my pursuers! Smile on thy servant once more, and deliver me in thy mercy; Lord, do not let me plead in vain. Disappoint the wicked of their hopes, hurl them down thwarted into the abyss; let silence fall on those treacherous lips, that spoke maliciously of the innocent in the days of their pride and scorn!

What treasures of loving-kindness, Lord, dost thou store up for the men who fear thee, rewarding their confidence for all the world to see! Thy presence is a sanctuary, to hide them away from the world’s malice; thy tabernacle a refuge from its noisy debate. Blessed be the Lord; so wondrous is his mercy, so strong the wall of his protection. I thought, bewildered, that thy watchful care had lost sight of me; but I cried out to thee, and thou thereupon didst listen to my plea. Love the Lord well, you who worship him; the Lord keeps faith with his servants, and repays the actions of the proud above measure. Take heart, keep high your courage, all you that wait patiently for the Lord.--Psalm 30:2-25; emphasis added.
As they led him off, they caught hold of a man called Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and loaded him with the cross, so that he should carry it after Jesus. Jesus was followed by a great multitude of the people, and also of women, who beat their breasts and mourned over him; but he turned to them, and said, It is not for me that you should weep, daughters of Jerusalem; you should weep for yourselves and your children. Behold, a time is coming when men will say, It is well for the barren, for the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never suckled them. It is then that they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us. If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, what will become of the tree that is already dried up? Two others, who were criminals, were led off with him to be put to death. And when they reached the place which is named after a skull, they crucified him there; and also the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus meanwhile was saying, Father, forgive them; they do not know what it is they are doing. And they divided his garments among themselves by lot.

The people stood by, watching; and the rulers joined them in pouring scorn on him; He saved others, they said; if he is the Christ, God’s chosen, let him save himself. The soldiers, too, mocked him, when they came and offered him vinegar, by saying, If thou art the king of the Jews, save thyself. (A proclamation had been written up over him in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, This is the king of the Jews.) And one of the two thieves who hung there fell to blaspheming against him; Save thyself, he said, and us too, if thou art the Christ. But the other rebuked him; What, he said, hast thou no fear of God, when thou art undergoing the same sentence? And we justly enough; we receive no more than the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss. Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

It was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in the midst: and Jesus said, crying with a loud voice, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and yielded up his spirit as he said it. And the centurion, when he saw what befell, gave glory to God; This, he said, was indeed a just man--Luke 23:26-47, emphasis added.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Problems with "Cosmos"

A run down of reactions here, with the concluding comment:
Ironically, if the writers of “Cosmos” had handled the Bruno segment a little differently, by also profiling others like Copernicus, Galileo and the above-mentioned Digges with the honesty and complexity their stories demand, they would have found allies instead of antagonism in the Catholic community who simply want their history told fairly, the good along with the bad. That shouldn’t be too much to ask from those who say they’re committed to verifiable truth.
Another response here. A sampling:
We’re barely seconds into this farrago and we have our first lie. “Everyone” knew the earth was the center of the universe? Wow, who’s going to tell Copernicus? Kepler? Stigliola? Diggs? Maestlin? Rothmann? Brahe? All of them believed in models of the cosmos that were not considered orthodox, and lived at the time of Bruno. All of them escaped the fire, and indeed weren’t even pursued by the Inquisition. Right here we have the major lie at the heart of modern anti-religious scientific propaganda: the war between faith and science. We’re supposed to just assume this ignorant backwards world of the past hates smart people. Tyson himself says it matter-of-factly: “How was [Bruno] spending New Year’s Eve [in 1599]? In prison, of course.” Of course! Because that’s what the Church does to smart people! Bad church! Bad!
Links and a lot more in the original.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pope Francis, Papal History, and Real Faith

One response to those Catholics who find Francis a hard Pope to accept. Excerpts:
The Church isn’t meant to be analyzed at this kind granular level, at this kind of speed...

Hell, we had a pope dig up the rotting corpse of another pope, subject him to trial, find him guilty, strip him of his vestments, cut off the fingers he used for blessings, and cast the remains into the Tiber … and we’re still here.

And we always will be.

Although I usually refuse any label other than just plain “Catholic,” I am a political conservative and a dedicated Ratzingerian. The transition to Francis was jarring. His language can be imprecise and his pontificate feels like a bit of a high-wire act at times. I like my liturgy formal, my theology clear, and my popes in mozzettas.

That said, I can’t help but admire his approach. His analogy of the Church as a “field hospital” for souls is precisely right. He’s an appealing face for the Church. There are times to collect ourselves and focus on fundamentals, theology, and liturgical forms, and times to get down in the mud with sinners.

I’m not at all comfortable in the mud with sinners, taking risks, but that is my problem and my failing, not his.

Many of these Catholics are reacting exactly like the liberal Catholics they like to deride, trusting in the Magisterium of Me rather than in the Magisterium of the Church. They are doing to Francis what they never would have tolerated anyone to do to Benedict.

I’m not exactly sure what they think will happen because Francis reaches out to sinners or eschews some of the trappings of the office. The worst that can happen, has already happened.

In a history that begins with the murder of the Son of God and includes the execution of all of our founding leaders, Arianism and dozens of lesser heresies, schisms, the sacking of Rome, the shattering of Christendom in the Reformation, dueling popes, the Cadaver Synod, Alexander VI, the loss of the papal states, the abuse crisis, and any number of other terrible moments, the idea that we’re sailing into some new nightmare of the Church because Francis mutters “Who am I to judge?” about priests who have same-sex attraction is laughable...
Read the rest--he's got some great points about faith and the Apocalypse.

And of course we face the reality that almost every time a Papal comment is reported, it is usually misreported, distorted, turned inside out and upside down, losing a large chunk of itself in the process, and emerging on the front pages of newspapers and the headlines of cable news as a barely recognizable shadow of itself. It happened for John Paul II. It happened for Pope Benedict. It happens for Pope Francis. Recognize this, and always make sure to hunt down what the Pope said in its raw form.

Monday, April 14, 2014

40 Days in the Desert

It's the boot camp of Christianity--though J must confess that this Lent has been one of my weakest in my life. Prayers appreciated as we head into Holy Week. Anyway--an important reminder of something perennially true. Excerpts:
...Some years ago, I was approached by a rather angry woman who, having heard my sermon on the seriousness of certain sins (which were in the readings of the day), expressed great indignation that I would preach on such topics. She said, “I come to church to be consoled and have my spirits lifted, not to hear old-fashioned warnings about judgment and sins.” She felt quite a “righteous indignation,” and was most certain that I had transgressed a fundamental norm, namely, that religion exists to console, and that any challenge to one’s moral stance, (except perhaps caring for the poor), is intolerant and way out of line.

Indeed, many today have this kind of attitude: that it is their birthright not to be troubled or vexed in any way by something people might say, especially a preacher who claims to represent God! The “God they worship” would never trouble them. They will have Jesus for their consoler and best friend, but not their Lord, and certainly not their judge. And never mind the literally thousands of verses from Scripture in which Jesus himself speaks sternly and warns of sin, death, judgment, and Hell. They will have none of it, and are certain that “the Jesus they know,” would never raise his voice at them or challenge them even for a moment. Never mind that the real Jesus says to take up our cross and follow him.

With spiritual battle having been removed from many people’s spiritual landscape, the idea that the Lord would summon us to battle, or ask us to choose sides, seems strangely foreign, intolerant, and uncompassionate.

Even more dangerous, these modern conceptions not only distort Jesus, but they downplay the presence and influence of Satan. This is a very, very bad idea. Even if we cease fighting against Satan, he will never ceases his sometimes very subtle attacks on us.

Jesus called consistently for prayerful, sober vigilance against the powers of evil and sin. Like it or not, we are in a battle. Either we will soberly and vigilantly undertake the battle, or we will be conquered and led off like sheep to the slaughter...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Happy Palm Sunday

A meditation. Excerpts:
This is Christianity: We must die to live; we must sacrifice to receive; we must surrender the natural in order to receive the natural made supernatural by grace.

So let us welcome our King, the Son of David, with hosannas. Let us lay our palms beneath the feet of His mount, and never forget that the palm is an ancient symbol of martyrdom. He comes, yes, this crucified and risen King in His glory, and mercies stream from His hands and side. He is radiant, yes, a light to the nations — but remember that this light searches all, sees all, calls us to repent of all sin, to struggle with every vice, to lay everything down in order to receive Him, for when we receive Him, we receive all that is good along with Him.

Do not be afraid, for Christ is with us. The science of the Cross is the wisdom of God, and a path of life and light for us all, if only we have the love and humility to walk it...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

That Whole "Jesus' Wife" Thing

Aside from the point that anything that refers to the Bride of the Bridegroom might actually, you know, be referring to traditional Christian theology about Christ and His Church. this is a pretty good overview of the whole affair. Excerpts:
I tend to believe, along with many others, that the evidence of modern forgery is pretty strong, but if it makes the other side happy, I’ll concede that it was written in the 8th or 9th century, in which case, we have a giant nothingburger with a heaping side order of hype and some extra anti-Christian dipping sauce...

Short version: This is potentially an 8th or 9th century text that tells us nothing about early Christian history. The probability of modern forgery has not been conclusively eliminated by testing, and textual issues that suggest forgery have not been convincingly rebutted.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Passion of the Christ" is Awesome

Mark Shea explains why it's so often so completely misunderstood. Excerpts:
...The film itself generated enormous controversy, of course, hitting all kinds of cultural and aesthetic buttons. Some of this was due to the sheer violence of the film, some of it was due to the (I think unfair) charge of anti-semitism against it. And a lot of it was due to the fact that many people simply had no background for seeing the very clear theology inherent in it. In many ways, it was Mel Gibson's meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. It was marinated in imagery that, to a Catholic, was as clear and beautiful as (to a non-Catholic) it was opaque and mysterious.

For instance, I remember reading one critic remarking the Gibson had apparently randomly inserted peaceful moments from earlier in the life of Christ into the narrative, simply to give the viewer a reprieve from the violence. But in fact, every frame of that film is there for a theological and artistic reason. So, for instance, as Jesus arrives at Golgotha, we suddenly cut to the Last Supper and Jesus unwrapping the cloth holding the bread he will consecrate as the first Eucharist. The scene then cuts back to Jesus being stripped of his clothes. He is nailed to the cross--and as he is lifted up on it the scene cuts back to Jesus at the Last Supper elevating the bread, giving thanks, and saying "This is my body". In short, Gibson is using a cinematic vocabulary, here and throughout the film, to say what Catholics say in every Mass. For the same reason, he shows Mary--Jesus' greatest disciple--kiss the bloody feet of Jesus and come away with the Precious Blood on her lips: it's the filmic way of saying "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant..."


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