Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Five Reasons the Ascension Was Necessary

Following up on the series of posts Brant and I have done on how the work of Christ saves us, I thought it appropriate to close it out today by looking at what Thomas Aquinas says about the Ascension (cf. ST IIIa, q. 57, art. 1 and art. 6).

The ascension saves us in two ways, first of all as it pertains to us and secondly as it pertains to Christ.

Through His Ascension our souls are lifted up to Him, because his ascension fosters faith, hope and love.

1. It helps foster faith in Him, since, if we could see him on earth there would be little faith involved since faith is belief in things unseen (cf. Heb 11:1 , cf. John 20:29). His visible presence could even be an obstacle to supernatural faith!

2. It also inspires hope―the hope of our own future admission into heaven. Jesus didn’t become man, die, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven for his benefit, but for ours! Thomas quotes the Gospel of John where Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

3. It also impels us to grow in charity―that is, it directs our love towards heavenly things and away from earthly things. Thomas cites three key texts. First, St. Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Thomas also cites Jesus’ words: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21). And, finally, he explains that the Ascension effects charity in our hearts since Jesus goes to the Father to send us the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to love (cf. John 16:7).

4. It helps us grow in our reverence for Christ, since his ascension reveals his glory, as he goes to sit at the right hand of God. With such a revelation of his glory, we come to the fullest possible understanding of who He is as the Son of Man to whom all glory and dominion belong.

But the ascension has another dimension too.

5. Thomas explains that in the Ascension Jesus enters into heaven with our humanity! He glorifies human nature! Again, he didn’t do this for himself, but for us. Here Thomas cites Micah 2:13, "He shall go up that shall open the way before them." Thomas says, Christ is the Head―and where the Head goes, the Body (the Mystical Body) follows. This is how Jesus himself explains the Ascension: “that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). Thus Jesus leads those souls he went to in his descent into Hell on Holy Saturday into heaven. Aquinas cites Psalm 67:19 and Ephesians 4, where Paul explains, “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ 9 (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Eph 4:8-10).

Thomas sums it up in this way: “Christ's Passion is the cause of our ascending to heaven, properly speaking, by removing the hindrance which is sin, and also by way of merit: whereas Christ's Ascension is the direct cause of our ascension, as by beginning it in Him who is our Head, with whom the members must be united.”

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Benedict's US Visit: What You Haven't Heard (Part 1 of 3)

John Paul II announced a “new spring time” was coming for the Catholic Church. In fact, he first announced its coming in America. Let me be the first to tell you… Pope Benedict just brought it.

Before you read on, I want to say something.

There's been much written about Pope Benedict's visit to the US. You'll find commentary in the media, in the Catholic blogosphere, in Catholic-friendly arenas, in anti-Catholic forums—like I said, a lot has been said.

But there's a lot about this visit that you're not hearing. A lot of that has to do with the fact that most of the commentators don't know how to contextualize what just happened. Here I want to do that.

Just what happened with this visit. Well, the short answer is: way more than most people realize. Let me explain... and, as I said before, let me do so by helping to provide the framework for understanding why this visit was so big.

****
First, realize where the Pope is coming from: Europe.

What used to be “Christendom” is now, well, (*err*)… something else. Churches are practically empty. There is a growing animosity to faith. In fact, certain political parties have made “secularizing” (read: moving religion out of the public discussion) major planks in political platforms.

Take the constitution of the EU, for example. The appearance of the word “God” in the document became the focal point of a major debate. Pope Benedict, of course, has passionately urged the EU to include “God”. So far, he’s lost. “God” is out.

And so Pope Benedict leaves Europe and comes to America. And what happened?

First, upon touchdown he was greeted by the President of the United States, who met him on the tarmac. This is the first time President Bush has ever gone to greet a foreign dignitary at the airport. Normally, they go to him. This time, the President went to the airport, essentially, to give the Pope a ride.

As if that wasn’t enough, the next day’s events were unprecedented. The Pope was greeted in Washington, D.C. in what many are saying was the most lavish welcome ceremony given to a foreign leader in the history of the White House. After being given the twenty-one gun salute―the highest ceremonial salute possible (e.g., it is used to honor dead presidents)―the President welcomed the Pope with these words:

Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer. Each day millions of our citizens approach our Maker on bended knee, seeking His grace and giving thanks for the many blessings He bestows upon us. Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week. . .

Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. . .

Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message. In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that "God is love." And embracing this love is the surest way to save men from "falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism."

In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved" -- (applause) -- and your message that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."

In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this "dictatorship of relativism," and embrace a culture of justice and truth. . .

Did the President really just allude to Benedict’s long-fought war for truth in the face of relativism?! Do yourself a favor and sometime go and read it in its entirety.

The Pope then delivered his address. In it he addressed the role of freedom, praising America for its commitment to liberty. In a particular way, Pope Benedict appreciates the religious liberty America stands for.

The context for the Pope’s praise clearly has to be found in the recognition that he has to deal with the fact that Christians throughout the world struggle under Islamic and communist regimes where their faith is persecuted. In fact, just recently Catholic bishop was kidnapped and executed in Iraq.

One could not help but hear the debate over the EU in the background of this plea:

From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature's God.
However, the Pope went on to warn that freedom is not merely license, but “a summons to personal responsibility.” He went on to say,
The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.
Again, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

****

When the Pope finished, the fireworks didn’t end. The President leaned over and the microphone―still on―captured his words: “Awesome speech your holiness. I think we’re supposed to sit down for one more moment.”

I was not prepared for what was coming next.

The army chorus saluted the pope with a song all Americans know. It’s a song that evokes the deepest patriotic sensibilities. But I will never hear them the same way again. The army chorus welcomed the Pope, singing these words: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. . .”

In fact, the sentiment was echoed by President Bush. When asked what he thought of the Pope, Bush stated, “I looked in his eyes and I saw God.”

The song went on to describe the coming of a Lord very different from the “I’m-okay-you’re-okay-God” of political correctness:
“He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.”
The military seemed to be saying, “Welcome Holy Father. We know who you are and we know what you’ve come to do. Trample out the vintage, loose the terrible swift sword. Truth is marching on.”

Whatever the musicians were thinking, it was clear what the Pope was doing. Eyes-closed, you could read him singing (or was it praying?) along: "Glory, glory, Hallelujah!"

All this happened at the White House!

Yes, America has its warts and wrinkles. We've got a lot to answer for here. But while the light of faith is being snuffed out in Europe, there's still a spark in America.
But that’s not the end of it. Here’s the most amazing part―and no one else seems to be pointing it out.

That song was inspired by Revelation 14, which reads:
"Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. . . 17 So he who sat upon the cloud swung his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. 18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has power over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle on the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God; 20 and the wine press was trodden outside the city. . ."
When I realized that, I got chills. Let me explain.

Every morning the Pope prays the Liturgy of the Hours―the prayer book prayed by virtually all priests, religious and many lay people. Before he went to the White House that day, the Pope prayed from the Office of Readings, pre-selected for that day.

The first reading was from Revelation 14--the exact passage that inspired the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

What moved the army chorus to play a song inspired by that reading? Were they reading the Liturgy of the Hours too that day? I doubt it. The readings were set in stone long ago when the liturgical calendar was determined. But I think this visit was also planned a while ago as well―and I’m not talking about the work of the organizers in the Vatican.

(Part II forthcoming shortly.)

+++UPDATE+++
To listen to the performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic played at the ceremony mentioned above, check out: www.christourhope.net (I'll have more to say about this site very soon!)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What's Your Favorite Book on Jesus?


As some of you may know, I'm currently working on a new book on Jesus (forthcoming from Eerdmans). The working title is:

Jesus and the Last Supper:
Ancient Judaism and the Origin of the Eucharist

It's been almost three years in the making now, and I keep finding new material that is more exciting than I can say... Let's just say I don't post everything on the blog.

Anyway, as I'm writing, I am re-reading some of the classic books on Jesus that have been written in the last century or so, and was wondering who you thought I should model my writing after. One of the tips Dale Allison once gave me is to read great writers while writing your final drafts, so I've been following his advice.

I have my favorite books on Jesus, but was wondering if you wanted to chime in: What's your favorite book on Jesus?
I'm thinking here of several criteria:

1. Excellent writing (Clarity, style, etc.)
2. Exciting content.
3. Fresh Insights (explanatory power).
4. Historical Plausibility.
5. Footnotes vs. Endnotes.

Here are my top five (in no particular order):
1. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
3. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus
4. Hilarin Felder, Christ and the Critics
5. Dale Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, Millennarian Prophet
(I realize this isn't a complete work on Jesus, but Allison is so brilliant, I love anything he writes, even when I disagree)

In your answers, be sure to let me know what you like most about your favorite Jesus book, so I can steal it and add it to my work!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Napoleon's Proof for the Divinity of Jesus


I have recently been re-reading Hilarin Felder, who I am beginning to think of as "the Catholic Albert Schweitzer," both for the eloquence of his writing and the force of his arguments. In volume 2 of his book, Felder gives an amazing quote from Napoleon Bonaparte regarding the divinity of Jesus. I've never read anything like this before.

Felder states:
"Napoleon regarded this as precisely the most striking proof of the divinity of Jesus--namely, his power over men's hearts. The once wellnigh all-powerful Corsican, in the solitude of his last days, called up before his imagination all the heroic figures and master minds of the world, and measured them by his own gigantic greatness. But all of them combined, and he himself as well, vanished like empty shadows before the person of Jesus Christ:

Napoleon:
"What a conqueror!--a conqueror who controls humanity at will, and wins to himself not only one nation, but the whole human race. What a marvel! He attaches to himself the human soul with all its energies. And how? By a miracle which surpasses all others. He claims the love of men--that is to say, the most difficult thing in the world to obtain; that which the wisest of men cannot froce from his truest friend, that which no father can compel from his children, no wife from her husband, no brother from his brother--the heart. He claims it ; he requires it absolutely and undividedly, and he obtains it instantly.

Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, Louis XIV strove in vain to secure this. They conquered the world, yet they had not a single friend, or at all events, they have none any more. Christ speaks, however, and from that moment all generations belong to him; and they are joined to him much more closely than by any ties of blood and by a much more intimate, sacred and powerful communion. He kindles the flame of love which causes one's self-love to die, and triumphs over every other love. Why should we not recognize in this miracle of love the eternal Word which created the world? The other founders of religions had not the least conception of this mystic love which forms the essence of Christianity.

I have filled multitudes with such passionate devotion that they went to death for me. But God forbid that I should compare the enthusiasm of my soldiers with Christian love. They are as unlike as their causes. In my case, my presence was always necessary, the electric effect of my glance, my voice, my words, to kindle fire in their hearts. And I certainly posses personally the secret of that magic power of taking by storm the sentiments of men; but I was not able to communicate that power to anyone. None of my generals ever learned it from me or found it out. Moreover, I myself do not possess the secret of perpetuating my name and a love for me in their hearts for ever, and to work miracles in them without material means.

Now that I languish here at St Helena, chained upon this rock, who fights, who conquers empires for me? Who still even thinks of me? Who interests himself for me in Europe? Who has remained true to me? That is the fate of all great men. It was the fate of Alexander and Caesar, as it is my own. We are forgotten, and the names of the mightiest conquerors and most illustrious emperors are soon only the subject of a schoolboy's taks. Our exploits come under the rod of a pedantic schoolmaster, who praises or condemns us as he likes.

What an abyss exists between my profound misery and the eternal reign of Christ, who is preached, loved, and worshipped, and live on throughout the entire world. Is this to die? Is it not rather to live eternally? The death of Christ! It is the death of a God."

(Quoted in Hilarin Felder, Christ and the Critics, vol. 2, pp. 216-17)

I never read that quote from Napoleon in my government-high-school textbooks! Being chained to a rock after having conquered the world evidently gives a man time to think.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

St. Justin Martyr and the Return of the Exiles



Lately, I've been reading the book of Joshua and Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho for my Christology class. Although the latter is not a text most people think of when they think "christology," I would argue that it is, the first major work of Christology in the history of the Church.

Anyway, given our interest in Jewish restoration eschatology here at the blog, I found the following quote fascinating. In the midst of debating with Trypho, Justin's Jewish interlocutor, he says:

"Why do you Trypho never inquire why the name Hosea, the son of Nun, which his father gave him, was changed to Jesus [=Joshua in Hebrew]? Especially since not only was his name changed, but also, after becoming Moses successor, he alone, of all his contemporaries who fled Egypt, led the rest of the people into the Holy Land. And just as he, not Moses, conducted the people into the Holy Land and distributed it by lot among those who entered, so also will Jesus the Christ gather together the dispersed people and distribute the good land to each, though not in the same manner." (Dialogue with Trypho, 113.3)

Here we see Justin very clearly articulate his understanding of Jesus' messiahship in terms of typological restoration eschatology, with the new Exodus and the ingathering of the exiles at the center. However, he clearly does not understand this in terms of an earthly ingathering to the land of Israel and Jerusalem in the old creation. He continues:

"For, Joshua gave them an inheritance for a time only, since he was not Christ our God, nor the Son of God; but Jesus, after the holy resurrection, will give us an inheritance for eternity... After his coming the Father will, through him, renew heaven and earth." (Dialogue with Trypho 113.4)

Justin clearly appears to envision the eschatological ingathering as taking place in the new creation. I find this a striking text, given some of the conclusions I reached in my earlier writing. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

JP Catholic Students Make Video For Upcoming Papal Visit!!!

This is not, strictly speaking, a biblical-theological post, but I'm so proud of our students that I had to run it here...

The Bishop of San Diego came to John Paul the Great Catholic University ("JP Catholic" for short) with a request. As you probably know, Pope Benedict XVI is coming to America this month. During one of the events a few dioceses from around the country will be displaying a video on a mega-screen that will be viewed by thousands of pilgrims for a papal event. The Bishop asked our students to put together a short piece for the diocese of San Diego.

It was a real honor... and our students--only in their second year--did not disappoint, delivering an extremely professional looking video. The work is even more impressive given that they were only given one week to get it done! As Tim Evans, one of our students, put it on his blog, "How awesome is it, by the way, that one of my first film projects, and the first I help with that is shown on a big screen, is made especially for the Holy Father?!"

Take a look:


If you or someone you know is looking to explore a college degree in media and looking to do so from a Catholic perspective, check out our school's website: http://www.jpcatholic.com/ --it's an incredible place!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

ANOTHER ANCIENT GOSPEL DISCOVERED!!!

The academic world was turned on its head today with the announcement of the discovery of ancient Gospel relating the life of Christ.

PHILADELPHIA (AP)--The discovery of another ancient account of the life of Christ was made known today by two scholars working in connection with Pittsburgh Seminary.

"There is no doubt about it," Dr. Holtzman declared at a press conference Tuesday morning,"this the most important discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is actually more significant than the Nag Hammadi collection!"

The scholars went on to say that the document clearly dates to the first century. Moreover, it is associated with the name of one of Jesus' original disciples. It is believed that this document will be viewed as a necessary supplement to the Synoptic Gospels in historical Jesus research, as it confirms much of the portrait of Jesus found therein, though with some differences.
Here is the full story.