Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Matthew’s Divorce “Exception Clause”

smallsign In today’s world we experience daily the tragedy of divorce and its effects on the family and our culture. With a few rare exceptions among various small Christian communities, the Catholic Church is the only church which refuses to accept divorce under any circumstances. The Catechism reminds us;

The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.174 He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.175

Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death."176 (CCC 2382)

Particularly in some Protestant groups, the apparent “exception clause” given by Jesus in Matthew 19:9 is cited as justification for divorce and the freedom to remarry; “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery’” (RSV-CE). The Catholic NAB Bible translates this, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (NAB). What is Jesus saying here? Is he intending to allow an ‘exception’ allowing divorce?

First we need to examine the context of these verses. In this gospel narrative the Pharisees approach Jesus with a question to “test” him. “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’” (RSV-CE Mt 19:3; cf. Mk 10:2)

There were two main Pharisaic schools at the time of Jesus and they differed in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law on divorce as found in Deut 24:1-4:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if she then finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and become another man’s wife . . . then the former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife . . .”

Rabbinic interpretations apparently turned on the ambiguous phrase in Deut 24:1 translated “some indecency.” The Hillel school interpreted “indecency” so loosely that a man could put his wife away for virtually any reason, even for burning his dinner. The school of Shammai interpreted the verse much more strictly--limiting the legitimate reasons for divorce to sexual impurity on the part of the wife.

Responding to this dilemma Jesus answered; ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one”? So they are no longer two, but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’” (Mt 19:4-6; cf. Mk 10:6-9)

Jesus does not agree with either ‘school’ of interpretation but directs the discussion back to the fundamental nature of the human person created in the ‘image of God’ “in the beginning.” God’s original intensions in creating man and woman in the image and likeness of God—as a human family are ‘normative’ for our understanding of marriage. From this foundation Jesus draws the decisive conclusion, “what God has joined let no man put asunder.” Pope John Paul II states, “In the light of these words of Christ, Genesis 2:24 sets forth the principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content of the Word of God, expressed in the most ancient revelation.”

Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Church understands marriage as indissoluble. The Church interprets Christ’s words as upholding “the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble” and as abrogating the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law” (CCC 2382). Such accommodations would include those suggested by the Pharisees which parallel modern views of many Christian communities.

What then do we make of the apparent exception clause? “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery’” (Mt 19:9).

The Greek word translated as “unchastity” in the RSV is porneia. There are three possible meanings of porneia.

1. “fornication (or perhaps better sexual impropriety of any kind hence “unchastity”)

2. incest

3. adultery

The NAB Bible translates Matthew 19:9, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” In translating “(unless the marriage is unlawful)” the text of the NAB is interpreting the word porneia along the lines incest. Gentile marriages in the first century Palestine did not necessarily follow the strict Jewish laws regarding the prohibition of marriage to a relative which would be considered invalid or unlawful under Jewish law.

It is also possible that what was in mind is the discovery of unfaithfulness or ‘unchastity’ during the protracted betrothal or engagement. We must remember that the first century customs for marriage were quite different than our own. The English words ‘engaged’ and ‘betrothed’ do not convey the same meaning today as they would have in the New Testament. Joseph was ‘betrothed’ to Mary, and when he mistakenly suspected unfaithfulness on her part when she was discovered to be with child, “he decided to divorce her quietly” (Matt 1:19). Divorce was necessary to break off the betrothal. The couple was already considered married after the betrothal but typically waited a year before completing the marriage by consummating their relationship.

In both of these cases we are dealing with an unlawful or incomplete marriages which are not exceptions to the divorce rule but circumstances under which the marriage may in fact not have taken place lawfully or completely. A judgment by the Church that a marriage has not occurred is called an annulment.

To me its seems most likely that Jesus had in mind the idea of unchastity referring to the pre-marital engagement period during which in Jewish custom the couple are actually married but have not yet consummated the marriage. Under these circumstances and before consummation occurred if one of the couple was found to have committed “unchastity” then divorce is possible since no real marriage had taken place. A valid marriage requires both an exchange of consent and consummation with a human act that is open to life.

Although the Greek porneia has also been translated as “adultery” (or “fornication” which is sometimes interpreted as adultery), it is important to realize that there is a distinct Greek word for “adultery,” moicheia, used twice in that same verse. Note the verse with the Greek words shown; “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another, commits moicheia; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits moicheia’” (Mt 19:9). If we translate porneia as ‘adultery’ Jesus would appear to be saying something odd, “whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another, commits adultery.” Why would adultery break the bounds of an indissoluble marriage such that you can freely remarry without committing adultery?

It should also be pointed out that Christian tradition records Jesus as unequivocally opposed to divorce. Neither Luke nor Mark records any exception;

“Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12).

The liberal attitude towards divorce and remarriage we see today is a very modern conception in Christian tradition. Against this view, the Church has consistently urged us to recognize marriage as indissoluble and that a marriage between a baptized man and woman which has been ratified and consummated “cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).

Wednesday the Fourth Week of Advent,

SGM

Matthew’s Divorce “Exception Clause”

smallsign In today’s world we experience daily the tragedy of divorce and its effects on the family and our culture. With a few rare exceptions among various small Christian communities, the Catholic Church is the only church which refuses to accept divorce under any circumstances. The Catechism reminds us;

The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.174 He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.175

Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death."176 (CCC 2382)

Particularly in some Protestant groups, the apparent “exception clause” given by Jesus in Matthew 19:9 is cited as justification for divorce and the freedom to remarry; “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery’” (RSV-CE). The Catholic NAB Bible translates this, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (NAB). What is Jesus saying here? Is he intending to allow an ‘exception’ allowing divorce?

First we need to examine the context of these verses. In this gospel narrative the Pharisees approach Jesus with a question to “test” him. “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’” (RSV-CE Mt 19:3; cf. Mk 10:2)

There were two main Pharisaic schools at the time of Jesus and they differed in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law on divorce as found in Deut 24:1-4:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if she then finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and become another man’s wife . . . then the former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife . . .”

Rabbinic interpretations apparently turned on the ambiguous phrase in Deut 24:1 translated “some indecency.” The Hillel school interpreted “indecency” so loosely that a man could put his wife away for virtually any reason, even for burning his dinner. The school of Shammai interpreted the verse much more strictly--limiting the legitimate reasons for divorce to sexual impurity on the part of the wife.

Responding to this dilemma Jesus answered; ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one”? So they are no longer two, but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’” (Mt 19:4-6; cf. Mk 10:6-9)

Jesus does not agree with either ‘school’ of interpretation but directs the discussion back to the fundamental nature of the human person created in the ‘image of God’ “in the beginning.” God’s original intension in creating man and woman in the image and likeness of God are ‘normative’ for our understanding of marriage. From this foundation Jesus draws the decisive conclusion, “what God has joined let no man put asunder.” Pope John Paul II states, “In the light of these words of Christ, Genesis 2:24 sets forth the principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content of the Word of God, expressed in the most ancient revelation.”

Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Church understands marriage as indissoluble. The Church interprets Christ’s words as upholding “the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble” and as abrogating the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law” (CCC 2382). Such accommodations would include those suggested by the Pharisees which parallel modern views of many Christian communities.

What then do we make of the apparent exception clause? “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery’” (Mt 19:9).

The Greek word translated as “unchastity” in the RSV is porneia. There are three possible meanings of porneia.

1. “fornication (or perhaps better sexual impropriety of any kind hence “unchastity”)

2. incest

3. adultery

The NAB Bible translates Matthew 19:9, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” In translating “(unless the marriage is unlawful)” the text of the NAB is interpreting the word porneia along the lines incest. Gentile marriages in the first century Palestine did not necessarily follow the strict Jewish laws regarding the prohibition of marriage to a relative which would be considered invalid or unlawful under Jewish law.

It is also possible that what was in mind is the discovery of unfaithfulness or ‘unchastity’ during the protracted betrothal or engagement. We must remember that the first century customs for marriage were quite different than our own. The English words ‘engaged’ and ‘betrothed’ do not convey the same meaning today as they would have in the New Testament. Joseph was ‘betrothed’ to Mary, and when he mistakenly suspected unfaithfulness on her part when she was discovered to be with child, “he decided to divorce her quietly” (Matt 1:19). Divorce was necessary to break off the betrothal. The couple was already considered married after the betrothal but typically waited a year before completing the marriage by consummating their relationship.

In both of these cases we are dealing with an unlawful or incomplete marriages which are not exceptions to the divorce rule but circumstances under which the marriage may in fact not have taken place lawfully or completely. A judgment by the Church that a marriage has not occurred is called an annulment.

To me its seems most likely that Jesus had in mind the idea of unchastity referring to the pre-marital engagement period during which in Jewish custom the couple are actually married but have not yet consummated the marriage. Under these circumstances and before consummation occurred if one of the couple was found to have committed “unchastity” then divorce is possible since no real marriage had taken place. A valid marriage requires both an exchange of consent and consummation with a human act that is open to life.

Although the Greek porneia has also been translated as “adultery” (or “fornication” which is sometimes interpreted as adultery), it is important to realize that there is a distinct Greek word for “adultery,” moicheia, used twice in that same verse. Note the verse with the Greek words shown; “And I say to you: ‘whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another, commits moicheia; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits moicheia’” (Mt 19:9). If we translate porneia as ‘adultery’ Jesus would appear to be saying something odd, “whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another, commits adultery.” Why would adultery break the bounds of an indissoluble marriage such that you can freely remarry without committing adultery?

It should also be pointed out that Christian tradition records Jesus as unequivocally opposed to divorce. Neither Luke nor Mark records any exception;

“Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12).

The liberal attitude towards divorce and remarriage we see today is a very modern conception in Christian tradition. Against this view, the Church has consistently urged us to recognize marriage as indissoluble and that a marriage between a baptized man and woman which has been ratified and consummated “cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Early Church Leadership in The Didache

women Writing before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger noted that “the light of Jesus is reflected in the saints and shines out again from them” (The Yes of Jesus Christ). He notes, “God’s speaking to us reaches us through men and women who have listened to God and come into contact with God” (The Yes of Jesus Christ). As we continue to reflect on the message of the Didache we seek to find the face of Christ reflected there.

In chapter eleven of the Didache we are introduced to itinerate or travelling ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ who are to be shown hospitality and respected but who are not to ask for money for themselves or to ‘out stay’ their welcome. We read, “Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel” (Didache 11:3). The pattern St. Paul established for his own ministry was to earn his own wages. The travelling apostles described here are the equivalent of missionaries and church planters rather than the original circle of the Twelve plus Paul.

Hospitality was to be shown to all travelers provided they were willing to work. “Everyone ‘who comes in the name of the Lord’ is to be welcomed” (Didache 12:1). The visitor, “if he wishes to settle among you and is a craftsman, let him work for his living” (Didache 12:3). Provision should even be made for those who need further assistance, we are told, “But if he is not a craftsman, decide according to your own judgment how he shall live among you as a Christian, yet without being idle” (Didache 12:4). This matches the advice of St. Paul, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The kindness shown to these itinerate peoples recognizes their inherent dignity as persons and is mirrored in the modern the advice given in the Compendium of Social Doctrine, which notes that,

“Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life” (CSDC 298).

The Didache moves on to discuss the phenomena of prophets who were active in leadership of the Church. Prophets who have been tested and approved and who wish to settle in the community are to be treated with special dignity. They are to receiving the “first fruits” of the wine, oil, money and clothing. We are told, “Take, therefore, all the firstfruits of the produce of the wine press and threshing floor, and of the cattle and sheep, and give these firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests” (Didache 13:3). There role as ‘priests’ even relates to the Eucharist. In the long section relating prayers for the Eucharist we are told, “But permit the prophets to give thanks however they wish” (Didache 12:7).

The Church structure found in the Didache is still very primitive and in the process of developing into its mature form. “Therefore appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are humble and not avaricious and true and approved, for they too carry out for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. You must not, therefore, despise them, for they are your honored men, along with the prophets and teachers” (Didache 15:1-2). It is likely that at this early stage the titles ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ were not distinguished (cf. Titus 1:5-9). Initially an Apostle, or his delegated coworkers in the apostolic circle (Timothy, Silas, Titus, Barnabas), were the leaders of Churches. Later a transition occurs with a single bishop in each community replacing the Apostles, and being assisted by presbyters. The strong involvement of prophets may have been an unusual element.

The phenomenon of Christian prophecy was still quite common in the early second century. St. Ignatius the Bishop of Antioch recounts his own prophecy in his letter to the Philadelphians, “I called out when I was with you, I was speaking with a loud voice, God’s voice: “Pay attention to the bishop and to the presbytery and deacons. . . . the Spirit itself was preaching, saying these words: “Do nothing without the bishop. . . . .” (Ign. Philadelphians 7:1-2). Ignatius encourages Polycarp to pray for the same gift, “but ask, in order that the unseen things may be revealed to you, that you may be lacking in nothing and abound in every spiritual gift” (Polycarp 2:2). Polycrates, the Bishop of Ephesus, describes the three prophetic daughters of the Apostle Philip “who lived in the Holy Spirit” at Ephesus and he describes Bishop Melito of Sardis (d. 190 A.D.) as “the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit” (Hist. Eccl. 5.24). The writer of the Shepherd of Hermas describes the experience prophecy (Herm Man. 11.9) as does Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (39.1; 82.1; 88.1). The phenomena of prophecy also created difficulties for the early Church. The heretic Montanus and his prophets Maximilla and Pricilla claimed to receive a “new prophecy” which predicted the imminent end the world. The Montanists formed their own churches and eventually thought of their “new prophecy” as having greater value that Sacred Scripture. The Church rejected the Montanists as false prophets. At the same time the Church continued to recognize the role of genuine Christian prophecy. Although the Church gained more caution, St. Irenaeus of Lyon (190 A.D.) continued to describe prophetic phenomena in his churches at the close of the second century.

As we reflect on the gift of prophecy in the early Church, may we fan into flames the gift of the Spirit we have received through our Baptism, in order that we to might better reflect the face of Jesus, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love.

Tuesday the Fourth Week of Advent,

SGM

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache)

Jesus Baptized by John the Baptist
in the River Jordan Once again we are drawn to see the face of Christ reflected in the writings of the early Christians. The ancient document titled in English, The Teaching of the (Twelve) Apostles is regarded by modern scholars as a late first/early second century ‘church manual’ which was used to prepare catechumens for baptism and to pass on the primitive traditions about church order. The modern consensus is that the title was added later, so the work is typically referred to as The Didache which is Greek for ‘Teaching.’ In the first Christian centuries this work was highly esteemed. The document may have been regarded as Scripture by Clement of Alexandria in the second century and Origen in the third century. By the fourth century the Didache was excluded from the canon of Scripture, though it is still recommended for reading by St Athanasius and Didymus the Blind. Sections of the Didache were incorporated in later “Church Orders.”

Modern studies have suggested that this work is a composite document which was edited between 70 -110 A.D. It is likely that two short sections of the Didache were used by the early Church to train catechumens who were being prepared for baptism. There is a section on good and evil behavior entitled ‘the Two Ways’ (1:1-6:2) and a section containing ancient liturgical traditions found in 6:3-10:6. This material is roughly contemporary with St. Mark’s Gospel. Scholars believe that the ‘Two Ways’ section may have existed as an earlier independent document in the Jewish world. The editor then added certain sayings of Jesus, most likely from Matthew’s Gospel. Other material concerning the behavior of traveling missionary apostles, and prophets and of the leaders of the community were then added near the close of the first century.

The original Jewish ‘Two Ways’ tradition focused on the teachings of the ten commandments, “There are two ways, one of life, the other of death, and between the two ways there is a great difference.” (Didache 1:1). The Christian version of this tradition found in the Didache replaces the authority of the law with that of the sayings of Jesus. One interesting note in this section of the document occurs after quoting the fifth and sixth commandments, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery.” The Didache includes an example after this prohibition, “you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.” Both the Old Testament and Jewish custom recognized the grave offence of this act, but this is the first explicit instance of a Christian prohibition against this intrinsically evil act (Cf. Evangelium Vitae 62).

The later section of the Didache (Chapters 7-15) deals with variety of topics. The Didache gives instruction on how to perform Baptism, on the Eucharist, and even how to deal with traveling apostles and prophets. The section on Baptism advises;

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

The words; “after you have reviewed all these things” (Didache 7:1) refer to the catechesis in the ‘Two Ways’ document. The baptismal advice of the Didache parallels the requirements found in the rabbinic traditions recorded in the Mishnah in the early second century. The Mishnah, (Mikwaot 1:1-8) distinguishes six grades of water with two criteria: "living" water is ranked above "drawn" water, and cold above hot. The Didache expresses preferences similar to rabbinic traditions but is more flexible.

baptism33 Proselyte baptism also played a role in role in Gentile conversions to Judaism. Later Talmudic traditions view the newly baptized proselyte “like a child newly born” (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamoth 48b) with a completely new legal identity and understood that “God forgives the proselyte all his sins” through the conversion rite (Talmud Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3). There is even evidence of a first century rabbinic dispute between Eliezer ben Hyrkan (ca. A.D. 90) and Jehoshua ben Chananja over whether circumcision or immersion made a man a Jew. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, already at the time of Jesus, John the Baptist was administering baptism “as a concrete enactment of conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever” (Jesus of Nazareth). Later Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit creating a new sacramental dimension to this rite. In the Didache, Baptism takes place in the name of the Trinity and implies incorporation into the Eucharistic community which has been “gathered together and became one” (Didache 9:4) in the Eucharist. The newly baptized are invited to join in the Eucharist celebration. The privilege of receiving the Eucharist is denied to those who are not yet baptized;

“But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’” (Didache 9:5).

Once again we can see the organic development of our Church traditions. Aspects of our modern Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) are already highlighted here in the first century.

Monday the Fourth Week of Advent,

SGM

 

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

St. Clement of Rome

san-clemente As we continue our theme of seeking the face of Christ in the face of the early Church we must examine the letter of St. Clement to the Romans. Clement of Rome is an acclaimed figure in antiquity. Christians and heretics alike tried to claim him as their own. He is venerated in the prayers of Roman Canon, which names the first three popes (after Peter) as ‘Linus, Cletus, and Clement.’ Yet the actual text of the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians begins with no mention of the author. Early church tradition has always ascribed the letter to Pope St. Clement I of Rome. St. Irenaeus claims that Clement had personally known the Apostles Peter and Paul and that “the preaching of the Apostles still echoed in his ears” (Adv. Haer. III, 3.3). Tertullian wrote that Clement of Rome was consecrated by Apostle Peter himself (De praescr. haeret. 32).

Clearly Clement of Rome was a well known and famous person but in spite of this little is known about his life. The name Clement was fairly common. While there are a number of intriguing possibilities, most scholars think that St. Clement was an otherwise unknown slave or freedman from a wealthy Roman family who took the name of Clemens. Traditionally scholars have dated the letter near the end of the reign of Domitian (95 or 96 A.D.)

Clement’s letter show parallels to a type of political letter in which the orator appeals for unity against factions which have arisen in a region outside of Rome. It would be rash to speculate, that this demonstrates the early church incorporated a Roman imperial model of leadership. By mid-second century, the pattern of a single bishop in each town claiming full apostolic authority and assisted by a council of presbyters emerged without dispute. St. Clement notes,

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.” (1 Clement 44)

The fact that Clement uses a particular governing style does not mean he wishes to adopt the full Roman mindset. One must also deal with the irony of scholars who on the one hand wish for a weak and disorganized church structure in Rome during this period, but on the other hand claim Clement is marketing an imperial model power in his letter almost as though he were a patriarch!

The letter Clement writes to the Corinthians exhorts them to heal the schism or faction that a certain group of younger leaders have created by deposing some bishops who were appointed by the Apostles (1 Clement 42:1-5; 44:1-6).

Some scholars have highlighted the central theme of the letter as ‘order’ which may represent a parallel to the philosophy of Stoicism common during this period. Another group of scholars have emphasized the theme of ‘restoring peace’ following a Jewish-Christian theology which highlights obedience to the will of God as expressed by the Old Testament prophets. It is certainly possible to embrace both of these at once. Clement may well be interested in both ‘order’ and ‘peace’. Echoing St. Paul in Philippians 2:6-11 and 2 Corinthians 8:9, Clement highlights the supreme dignity of Christ under the title the “Scepter of God’s majesty” (1 Clement 16:2). Christ is the sign of ‘order’ and a model of humility. Clement writes,

“The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come” (1 Clement 42:1-3).

We can see the pattern of authority founded by God. God recognized the lordship of Christ, who in turn shared his authority with the apostles. The apostles then passed on their unique authority to the bishops who are empowered by the Spirit to preach the Gospel and shepherd the Church. This divine order is established by God for the good of the Church. The Church exists in communion with Christ as the means through which Christ is made present in the world.

Fourth Sunday of Advent,

SGM

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Monarchical Episcopate

jpii When we use the term ‘Monarchical Episcopate,’ it refers to the idea that a single bishop was appointed as the leader of a geographic area, usually a city. Bishops are the successors of the apostles, appointed by them to lead (CCC 77). In the New Testament, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5). We must recall that in the letter to Titus the terms ‘elder/presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ are used without a distinction between the two terms (cf. Titus 1:5-9). There is strong evidence that by the end of the second century a clear distinction between ‘bishops’ and ‘presbyters’ was made. One sees the pattern of a single bishop leading a community. Prior to this time there may well have existed communities which collegial leadership existed without a ‘residential bishop.’ This makes sense where originally an apostle was giving leadership to the community (either directly or through his delegate), and then after the passing of the apostle a transition to a new leadership model would emerge. It is likely that some communities initially had a more collegial type of leadership while others quickly had a single leader. By mid-second century, the pattern of a single bishop in each town claiming full apostolic ministry and assisted by a council of presbyters emerged. St. Clement of Rome (c. 96 A.D.) notes,

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.” (1 Clement 44)

The fact that Clement says “we are of the opinion” in the above passage and does not explicitly name himself the ‘Bishop of Rome’ in his letter has led some modern interpreters to say that Clement’s letter must be viewed as evidence that the church in Rome had only collegial leadership in this time period. Many Protestant interpreters feel compelled to argue that there was no single bishop administering the Roman church. Some even speculate further the leaders of the Roman church were scattered among house churches and were no more than parish priests without a central leader. This seems like a rather heavy burden of speculation to place on the single word ‘we’. While it is certainly possible there was a time of transition between the direct leadership of the apostles and a single bishop ruling the church of Rome, as Otto Karrer has pointed out it is very reasonable to believe the bishop-presbyters worked together and that “one of them was probably responsible for unity amongst his colleges and within the congregation as a whole.” The one responsible for this leadership was soon called the ‘bishop.’ Other examples from the same era show exactly this picture. St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107 A.D.) who is himself a bishop, in his Letter to the Ephesians describes the bishops “who have been appointed throughout the world” (3:2). He writes;

“Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung” (Ephesians 4:1).

While the terms ‘bishop’ and ‘elder/ presbyter’ were not clearly distinguished in the New Testament, the communities St. Ignatius writes to across Asia have three clearly distinguished offices: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. One can see this again in St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Trallians, He writes;

Similarly let everyone respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, as also the bishop who is a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and as the band of the apostles. Nothing can be called a church without these. (Trallians 3:1)

Even more boldly St. Ignatius writes to the Smyrnaeans;

“You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ (followed) the Father, and (follow) the presbytery as the apostles; respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything apart from the bishop that has to do with the church. Let that be regarded as a valid Eucharist which is held under the bishop or to whomever he entrusts it” (Smyrnaeans 8:1).

While some scholars see St. Ignatius’ early second century comments as an endorsement and promotion of what would eventually be the norm in the mid-second century, there is little evidence of resistance. One suspects the scholarly attempt to emphasize earlier diversity in church order is motivated not by historical integrity but by the desire to dissent from modern church order.

Saturday the Third Week of Advent,

SGM

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers (Part II)

Athanasius Initially the movement was considered Jewish but the Church rapidly became predominantly Gentile, though of course many Christian traditions have Jewish origins. The early Christians used the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their Sacred Scriptures. The early Christians pointed to the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To these Scriptures they gradually add the memoirs of the apostles, the Gospels, and the later writings of the New Testament. In antiquity some of the documents found in the Apostolic Fathers were considered to be part of Sacred Scripture by early church theologians and historians. The canon established by the Church at the time of Athanasius in AD 367, excluded these writings from full canonical status. The rejection of these documents as part of Sacred Scripture does not mean the documents were lacking in orthodoxy, but only in the judgment of the Church they are not inspired Scripture. At the time these documents were written the Church had no legal status in the Roman Empire and was subject to frequent persecutions. These persecutions lead to the martyrdom of some of the early Fathers.

The Apostles also established common patterns for worship and behavior in the churches they founded (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33). Most important among these beliefs and practices were the rites surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Paul notes; “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). In saying that he “received” and “delivered” this tradition, the Apostle Paul is using the technical language of tradition. St. Paul does not give us the full Eucharistic prayers but recounts the essential story of the institution narrative. The Didache repeats some other early prayers from this Eucharistic tradition,

And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, "We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever." And concerning the broken Bread: "We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. (Didache 9)

It is likely that these prayers are modeled on the Jewish prayers of “sanctification” or (qiddush) that were given before a meal. Normally the form begins “Blessed are you, Lord our God.” The Greek equivalent of this blessing is “We give you thanks” (eucharistein). It is from this word that we get the name ‘Eucharist.’ Studying the early Fathers helps us to discern the lines of continuity and the organic development between the New Testament and the later Church.

Thursday, Third Week of Advent,

SGM

 

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers (Part I)

 

The Baptism of Christ In the previous post I introduced that theme of seeking the face of Christ as it is reflected in the face of the Church. We see this resemblance most clearly in the faces of the fathers of the Church. The term “Apostolic Fathers” refers to a collection of texts of the earliest Christian writers to succeed the apostles. Although many of the works found in the Apostolic Fathers were revered in antiquity, some of them fell out of use and were actually lost until modern times. The full text of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or in its Greek title, the Didache, was only rediscovered in 1883. In fact the excitement surrounding the discovery of the Didache in 1883 was much like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in our era. Geographically the writings of the Apostolic Fathers come from a region sweeping around the Mediterranean Sea. The letter of Clement to the Corinthians and the Shepherd of Hermas are from Rome, Polycarp was from Smyrna in modern-day Turkey, the Didache and Barnabas have a variety of suggested locations from Antioch to Jerusalem, to Alexandria. The dating of the Apostolic Fathers varies considerably. Some of the materials date form the first century and are contemporary with the New Testament. The Didache is a composite document which may incorporate an earlier Jewish catechetical tract. Most of these works are dated in the early second century.

The writers of the Apostolic Fathers were not speculative theologians but most often Bishops. Clement was the bishop of Rome, Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch, Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, the Didache is a manual of church discipline which attempts to pass on the traditions of the apostles through the bishops as they are remembered by one community. In each case the concern was with concrete pastoral problems in these new communities founded by the apostles. Questions relating to worship, liturgy, the Eucharist, catechesis of new converts, and the authority of bishops were raised in much the same manner as the New Testament. It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus had a community of followers and that he intended to pass down the leadership of this community to the Twelve Apostles. Jesus intended to found the Church (CCC 857). Peter and the other Apostles engaged in missionary activity and are soon joined by the Apostle Paul. The Church expanded rapidly into the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean establishing communities in most major cities. As the Catechism reminds us; “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority” (DV 7). Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time” (DV 8) (CCC 77).

Wednesday, Third Week of Advent,

SGM

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Like Father, Like Son (Part II)

st-vincent-of-lerinsIn order to qualify as an “orthodox writer from Christian antiquity” it is generally necessary to fulfill four conditions that are summarized for us by St. Vincent of Lérins (The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins III.8, 77).

A “Father” of the Church, the must demonstrate:

(1) orthodoxy of doctrine,

(2) holiness of life

(3) ecclesiastical approval

(4) antiquity.

Orthodoxy relates to a judgment by the Church of how well the writings of a particular person harmonize with the deposit of faith and its exposition in various Church councils. The orthodoxy of the writer needed to be matched by holiness of life.

Ultimately these criteria flow out of the ‘mark’ of apostolicity held by the Church. The Church is apostolic in three ways (CCC 857). The Church has apostolicity of origin. The origin of the Church is found in Christ rather than early heretics such as Marcion, Valentius, or Montanus. The Church has apostolicity of doctrine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit the Church is the guardian of the deposit of faith. Finally the Church has apostolicity of succession. The authority of Christ granted to the Apostles is passed down to bishops who minister in succession to them. The ‘Church Fathers’ are held up as teachers and models of this apostolic tradition.

In this series of posts, I wish to introduce us to the earliest of the Fathers of the Church. In modern times the earliest collection of the Church Fathers, during up to the second century, are called the Apostolic Fathers. This term is used to describe the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament. These writers are described as still hearing the very echo of the Apostles in their ears. The Apostolic Fathers generally include the writings of bishops and early popes such as St. Clement of Rome; St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, as well as other church documents such as the Didache; letter of Diognetus, the Letter of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. In this series on the Apostolic Fathers we will begin with an introduction to the history and background of this time period and then we will briefly examine each of these writings.

On the Feast of St. John of the Cross,

SGM

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Like Father, Like Son (Part 1)

niceneicon As the father of a modestly large family of five children, I have the opportunity to learn many lessons about parenting and family life. I become more aware of who I am, as I see myself reflected in the lives of my children.

Over the past three years, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has been giving an extended series of Wednesday audience talks on the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church or the light of the face of Christ that is reflected in the face of the Church. We see this reflection on the face of the earliest apostles and then on the faces of the fathers of the Church. As each of us deepens in our desire to see the face of Jesus we are reminded that we do so as part of a great family. In a world where family life is often given a low priority, the Holy Father is inviting each of us to grow in our relationship with our spiritual family.

Today when we speak about the ‘Church Fathers’ we are referring to the writings of a series of early Christian teachers which the Church has deliberately held up as profitable for study and reflection. Many of these writers were bishops who ministered in direct succession to the first Apostles. Their teachings give us a glimpse of the face of Jesus as reflected in Sacred Tradition. These writers took the deposit of faith that they received from Christ through the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6) and began the slow process of reflecting on its meaning in the life of the Church.

The title, ‘father’ probably stems from Jewish usage. The Gospel accounts speak of the “traditions of the elders” (Matthew 15:2) and “the elders of the people” (Matthew 21:23). The Jewish title ‘elders’ (prebuteroi) was taken over by the early Church to describe their own leaders along with the term ‘episcopoi’ or bishops (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-20; Titus 1:5-9). Initially the terms ‘presbyter/elder’ and ‘bishop’ are used somewhat interchangeably. Early in the second century the terminology became more stabilized with a single ‘bishop’ being assisted by ‘presbyters’ and ‘deacons’. The Greek ‘presbuteros’ was translated into Latin as ‘presbyter’ and into Old English as ‘preost’ or ‘priest.’ In Jewish tradition the wise older person is also connected with the term ‘father.’ For example Luke refers to ‘Father Abraham’ (Luke 16:24) and the Apostle Paul to the ‘patriarchs’ or ‘fathers’ (Romans 9:5; Cf. Romans 4:12). These men are seen as models and teachers of the tradition of the elders. This leads St. Paul to affirm; “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1Corinthian 4:15-17). From this verse we can see how an apostle and later the ‘bishop’ could be regarded as the teacher and model of tradition and thus be called a ‘father.’

The study of the lives, the writings and the doctrine of orthodox writers of Christian antiquity is called ‘Patrology’ (from the Latin patres). Specifically the term refers to the Greek writers of the East up to St. John Damascene, (c. A.D. 750), and the Latin writers of the West up to St. Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604). These apparently differing dates may seem confusing but they relate to specific decisions in the East and West about when ecclesiastical approval for new fathers ended.

On the Feast of St. Lucy,

SGM

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Is the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception only a Modern Teaching?

Pius IX We just celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854.  Very few Catholics, unfortunately, know about the definition or the history behind it.  I recently noticed that some opponents of the Catholic faith have insisted that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is exclusively post medieval in origins. These claims ignore the evidence about the thriving discussions and disputes over the doctrine before 1500. One of the little known facts about the definition is that a similar one was attempted once before at a major Church council.  The definition was not honored by the Church, however, because the council itself had strayed into schism.  The Council of Basel (remember it is not an official council of the Catholic Church!) which started in 1429 by order of Pope Martin V, settled on the following as a definition:

This doctrine, asserting that the glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God, through the special preventing and operating grace of the divine Being, was never actually subjected to original sin, but was always exempt from original and actual sin, holy, and immaculate, we define and declare as pious, and consonant to Ecclesiastical worship, to the Catholic Faith, to right reason, and to Sacred Scripture; by all Catholics to be approved, and held, and embraced ; (and also) that it is not lawful for any one to preach or to teach anything to the contrary. J. D. Bryant, The Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of God: a Dogma of the Catholic Church (Boston: Donohue, 1855) 184-186.

Although the Council of Basel was not legitimate – the council fathers there went so far as to elect an anti-pope – the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was increasingly seen as legitimate and perfectly in keeping with the other doctrines of the faith. In 1457, a provincial council held in Aviginon, presided over by two papal legates, both cardinals, adopted the decree of Basel with the following understanding:

We enjoin that the decree on the Conception of the most Blessed Virgin. Mary, which was made in the Council of Basle, be inviolably observed; and we strictly forbid any person whatever, under pain of excommunication, from presuming to preach or dispute publicly to the contrary; and if any so do, it is our will that he incur the aforesaid sentence by the very fact. And in the first Synod to be celebrated in each several diocese, we ordain that the aforesaid decree be promulgated, and that it be enjoined on the curates of the churches, to make it known to the people. William Bernard Ullathorne, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: an Exposition (Baltimore: Murphy, 1855) 181.

Four decades later the doctrine was so commonly accepted the finest theology school in the world – the University of Paris – that the faculty members and students there enjoined to take this oath:

We, being all assembled together the third time, after much grave and mature deliberation, have bound and pledged ourselves by a special oath to defend and maintain that most pious doctrine which declares the blessed Mother of God to have been preserved from original sin by a special privilege of God; which doctrine we have long believed and do still believe true; decreeing that henceforth no one can be enrolled in this sacred college unless he profess, by the same oath, that to the best of his ability he will be a strenuous supporter and defender of this religious doctrine. But if, which Heaven forbid! any one of us, going over to the enemies of the Virgin, shall in any manner dare to favor the contrary assertion, which we deem false, impious, and erroneous, despising not only our authority, but that of the Synod and the Church, which is, undoubtedly, the highest, him we decree to be stript of our honors and driven from our society as a heathen and a publican. Luigi Lambruschini A polemical treatise on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin (New York: Sadlier, 1855) 57-58.

All of this, and much more, happened BEFORE 1500.

Dr. Tim Brennan (Guest blog)

A Little Known Great Pope - Pope Damasus I (Feast Day, December 11th)

Damus Rarely have popes had pontificates as momentous as that of Pope Damasus I who was pope from 366 -384.  St. Ambrose said Damasus was "elected by the judgment of God," but his pontificate began in strife and violence. Although he was elected by a clear majority at the age of 62, some Romans attempted to supplant him with an anti-pope, a deacon named Ursinus.  They went so far as to resort to violence to place Ursinus on the Chair of Peter.  In the fierce fighting that followed, 137 people were said by the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus to have been killed in just one battle inside a church.  Damasus' pontificate became so renowned, however, that the Council of Chalcedon (451) called it the "ornament and glory of Rome," and the historian Theodoret (393 – 457) wrote that Damasus lived a holy life, was zealous in catechesis and never neglected to defend apostolic doctrine. 

Ursinus was banished by the Roman Emperor Valentian to Gaul - from where he had just returned from a previous banishment only in 367.  Damasus moved quickly to heal the schism created by Ursinus and his followers.  Valentian also used the magistrates and power of Roman law against the schismatics. Damasus, however, treated them with kindness - especially after they failed a trial by ordeal which they themselves had demanded to prove the righteousness of their cause.  Damasus' kindness did not waiver even after the schismatics falsely accused him of adultery - a charge of which he was acquitted by a jury of 44 bishops.  More libels followed, but they amounted to nothing.  Damasus' response was to make a vow to God, through the intercession of the great Roman martyrs, for the reconciliation of the schismatics.  Many of those schismatics did return to full unity with the Bishop of Rome and showed their thanks by adorning the tombs of the invoked martyrs.

Damasus acted decisively against heretics and schismatics such as the Arians and Luciferians.  He convened the First Council of Constantinople against the Arians, for instance.  He made great use of legates and ambassadors to ensure the protection of Christians from heresies and schism.  Damasus is said to have ordained 31 priests, 12 deacons, and consecrated 60 bishops.  He is said to have built two churches and rebuilt or refurbished the parish he and his father had both served in as pastors.  To this day that church is known as St. Lawrence in Damaso.  He is often credited with regulating the psalmody and ordering the psalms of David to be chanted throughout the west, with the Gloria l'atri ending each psalm.  His greatest accomplishment, however, was convincing St. Jerome to come to Rome and take up the enormous task of producing a new Latin translation of the Bible - which would become known as the Vulgate. 
Pope Damasus died on December 11, 384 wracked by a fever.  His tomb was discovered, along with those of his mother and sister, in the early 18th century in the catacombs near the Ardeatine Way.

Ursinus survived Pope Damasus.  He again tried to become pope - until he was flatly rejected by the papal conclave which unanimously elected St. Siricius.  It is a pity that so great a pope as Damasus is today little more remembered than the anti-pope who caused him so much trouble!

Dr. Tim Brennan

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Senate Rejects DADT Repeal

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In breaking news the Senate Rejected the Defense Bill, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal in 57-40 Vote

Today in a press briefing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spoke out again on the issue:

"The president strongly believes that one of two things are going to happen: Either Congress is going to decide this legislatively, or the courts are going to decide this. And, uh, the policy is going to come to an end. Congress has to ask themselves how they want to end this -- what role they want to play in ensuring that it's done in an orderly way."

I would like to point Catholics to an interesting article by Archbishop Timothy Broglio (Archbishop for the Military Services USA) published in the Washington Post Online edition. After extensively quoting the Catechism he notes;

There is no doubt that morality and the corresponding good moral decisions have an effect on unit cohesion and the overall morale of the troops and effectiveness of the mission. This Archdiocese exists to serve those who serve and it assists them by advocating moral behavior. The military must find ways to promote that behavior and develop strong prohibitions against any immoral activity that would jeopardize morale, good morals, unit cohesion and every other factor that weakens the mission. So also must a firm effort be made to avoid any injustices that may inadvertently develop because individuals or groups are put in living situations that are an affront to good common sense.

SGM

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

In the year 1854 Pope Pius XI proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  He noted;

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.Immaculate

This doctrine seeks to explain how Jesus could be born without original sin. Jesus was free from original sin because Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception.  Although this is a distinctively Catholic solution to the problem of how Jesus could be born without original sin, and yet also be of the family of Adam and Eve.  Protestant theology also needs to provide an answer to this puzzle.  How was Jesus conceived without original sin?

One might ask, is the doctrine of the immaculate conception scriptural?  Obviously the exact words “Immaculate conception” are not found in Scripture but the same could easily be said for the word ‘Trinity.’  The doctrine is seen in Scripture but theology and Tradition have provided us with the technical vocabulary.

Annunciaton The scriptural background to this doctrine is found in the words of the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28.  The Catholic edition of the RSV translates the greeting of the Angel Gabriel as;

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!

The Angel Gabriel’s greeting begins, with the Greek word chaire or “rejoice.” In Latin this would be  “Ave” which we traditionally translated “Hail.”  This greeting is filled with Old Testament connotations.  In many Old Testament passages Zion is invited to rejoice in the coming messianic joy of the Kingdom (Joel 2:21-23; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9). There is a clear connection here between Zephaniah 3:14-15 and Luke 1:28.  The Jerusalem Bible preserves the poetry of Zephaniah;

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion;

Israel shout aloud!

Rejoice, exult with all your heart,

daughter of Jerusalem!

Yahweh has repealed your sentence;

he has driven your enemies away.

Yahweh, the king of Israel, is in your midst;

you shall have no more evil to fear.

One is particularly struck by the words “the Lord, the king of Israel is in your midst” in connection with the incarnation.  The Angel Gabriel continues, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28, RSVCE). 

The Greek word behind RSVCE translation “full of grace” is kecharitōmenē.  This is a highly inflected form of the Greek charitoō.  This word is quite rare in the Bible. Fr. Ignace de la Potterie notes that the verb used here is from a special class of causative verbs. 

In a religious context causative verbs would express the transforming of the person acted upon--the effect that grace has on someone.  The verb kecharitōmenē in Luke 1:28 is a perfect passive participle.  Being acted upon is also the normal sense of the passive voice and antecedent action is the basic meaning of the perfect tense.

An awkward but extremely accurate translation would be, "Rejoice in the transforming grace you have received, for the Lord is with you!” A much more succinct translation would be “Hail, [Mary] full of grace”.  It is possible in translating the participle to emphasis either the verbal aspect as indicated in the above translation or to turn the action into a title “the-one-having-been-transformed-by-the-grace-you-have-received.” This explains the NAB translation which renders the verse, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  Yet following the NAB it is difficult to communicate the full impact of the Greek verb in the title “favored one.”  Mary is the “favored one” because God has chosen to transform her with his grace to prepare her for the incarnation.

The Church has supplied the the exact moment that Mary received this transforming grace as ‘the moment of conception’, and Luke 1:28 clearly points to this.  The perfect tense of the verb above indicates that at some point prior to Mary receiving  the angel’s greeting she had already been transformed by grace in preparation for the incarnation.  The formal definition of the dogma simply clarifies the details of the nature and timing of this grace;

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

Luke 1:28 is clearly a strong scriptural support for this doctrine.  Holy Mary, Our hope Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

On the Vigil of the Feast to the Immaculate Conception

SGM

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A New Translation of the Roman Missal

church Deacon Ralph Wehner, Diocesan Director of the Office of Worship, recently gave a presentation at St. Therese Catholic Church (North) on implementing the changes in the liturgy of the Mass and the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.  His talk was video-taped and can be seen online by Clicking here.

 

 

You can compare the present text of the Mass to the changed text on the USCCB website by Clicking here.

Another website with the official text may be seen by Clicking here.

A recommended book for parishes by Deacon Wehner is With One Voice: Translation and Implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. It contains essays by a number of bishops and by our own Fr. Paul Turner. It may be ordered from the Bishop Helmsing Institute at a discounted price by phoning (816) 756-1850 ext. 250 or by emailing Weber@diocesekcsj.org.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Role of Catholic Parents in Sex Education

adam In our increasingly cynical world may people assume that sex education is a necessary evil required to protect our children. Such people would argue that we need to protect our children with information about human sexuality. Here begins the slippery slope. Do we need to teach them about what some have falsely called “safe sex?” Do we merely offer them a moral compass and an admonition to abstain until marriage? How much information is appropriate? How much detail about the mechanics? Who should teach this information? The Church has not left us adrift with these important questions. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, has given us a document entitled, Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines For Sex Education (1983) and the Pontifical Council For The Family, has given us a document entitled, The Truth And Meaning Of Human Sexuality: Guidelines For Education Within The Family (1995).

I can only offer a few summary thoughts here. It is strongly recommended that all parents read these documents. Quoting Pope John Paul II, the first document, Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983) strongly emphasizes the fact that it is the parent who is responsible to give clear and delicate sex education to their children. Education in human sexuality should be personal and viewed as an enrichment of the whole person rather than something dealing solely with the body and with selfish pleasure (Guidance 16). Again quoting John Paul II they note, “Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents” (Familiaris consortio 37). The right and duty of parents to be the primary educators of their children in this area is strongly affirmed.

While many commercial sex education programs assume the best approach is an institutional whole class activity with a group of teens, the norm should be that the parents privately and delicately take care of this formation themselves in the home. If the school is involved it merely helps the parents to accomplish this duty and does not take over this responsibility. Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983) offers a whole section on the responsibility and role of the family in this area.  The Congregation clearly acknowledges that the family and not the Catholic school or youth group is “best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life” (Guidance 48) and then only secondarily the “collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation.”  If fact this document explicitly says that catechesis in the family is the “privileged form” and only “if parents do not feel able to perform this duty” that “they may have recourse to others who enjoy their confidence.” (Guidance 59 emphasis added).  The norm should be that the school helps the parents to accomplish this duty and not that school or youth group takes over this responsibility. The Church’s responsibility is to train the parents to accomplish this task. 

Highlighting the primary role of the family, the Congregation notes, “the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of ‘sexuality as value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God’.” (Guidance 69). The role of the school is to add a catechetical dimension rather than to discuss the delicate matters of human sexuality. The content of this instruction would seem to relate to John Paul II’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body.

In the most recent document by the Pontifical Council for the Family, entitled The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines For Education Within The Family, the Vatican outlines four principles regarding information about sexuality. The first principle is that;

Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their children's physical and spiritual growth. No one can take this capacity for discernment away from conscientious parents. (Truth and Meaning 65).

The meaning of this principle is clear. Young people are not all ready to hear the same information at the same time. Parents are in “best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information.” Secondly the instructional model should be “individualized formation.” Any kind of whole class instruction that touches on the delicate maters of human sexuality, rather than merely catechesis on the dignity of the human person violates this principle at the outset. If this instruction happens without the parent’s knowledge the violation is even graver. It should also me mentioned that an unskilled or poorly trained educator can easily be led off course in this matter by group questions, which the catechist falsely feels they must satisfy with an answer, in a group setting. The fact that young people have legitimate questions does not mean random “on demand” whole class instruction is the best way to answers these questions.

The second principle notes that, “The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Parents should stress that Christians are called to live the gift of sexuality according to the plan of God who is Love. . .” (Truth and Meaning 68). The instruction is not merely about the mechanics of human intimacy, but a moral context stressing the dignity of the human person and the purpose of sexuality in God’s plan. Clearly this principle has in mind again the context of the dignity of the human as seen in John Paul II’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body. Unfortunately the Theology of the Body has been commercialized by some groups and the mere fact that a resource has this name in its title does not guarantee that sufficient attention has been paid to this principle.

More difficult to understand is the third principle outlined by the pontifical council:

Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must be provided in the broadest context of education for love. It is not sufficient, therefore, to provide information about sex together with objective moral principles. Constant help is also required for the growth of children's spiritual life, so that the biological development and impulses they begin to experience will always be accompanied by a growing love of God, the Creator and Redeemer, and an ever greater awareness of the dignity of each human person and his or her body. (Truth and Meaning 70).

These truths are not a separate isolated area of study but part of a comprehensive training in the spiritual life. It is not enough to merely provide information about sex and objective moral principles. This needs to be integrated with formation on prayer and the interior life, with spiritual direction aimed at conversion and intimacy with God. The Pontifical Council suggest the following means; “discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Young people especially should foster devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God” (Truth and Meaning 71).

Finally the pontifical council advises;

Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time. [. . .] In order to evaluate properly what they should say to each child, it is very important that parents first of all seek light from the Lord in prayer and that they discuss this together so that their words will be neither too explicit nor too vague (Truth and Meaning 75).

While we might accept that there are times for the cooperation of Catholic school and parish youth groups in the formation of young people in human sexuality, the primary responsibility rests with parents to prayerfully educate the children God has entrusted to their care. The pontifical council makes four further suggestions to parents in this area. First they suggest that parents form associations to network with other parents to discuss this issue (Truth and Meaning 114). Secondly parents should “keep themselves precisely informed on the content and methodology with which such supplementary education is imparted” (Truth and Meaning 115). Thirdly the pontifical council notes;

We are aware of the difficulty and often the impossibility for parents to participate fully in all supplementary instruction provided outside the home. Nevertheless, they have the right to be informed about the structure and content of the program. In all cases, their right to be present during classes cannot be denied. (Truth and Meaning 116).

Finally the pontifical council notes,

It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles. However, such a decision of the parents must not become grounds for discrimination against their children. On the other hand, parents who remove their children from such instruction have the duty to give them an adequate formation, appropriate to each child or young person's stage of development (Truth and Meaning 117).

With these principles in mind let us entrust the care of our children to the Holy Family and especially to the care of our Blessed Mother.

On the First Sunday of Advent,

SGM