Sunday, July 29, 2007

"The Footsteps of the Messiah": Psalm 89, Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2

About a month ago Brant wrote an amazing post on the phrase “the footsteps of the Messiah” in Psalm 89. I want to follow up on what he said here by pointing out a few things. This post is the result of long conversations Brant and I have shared.

Note: for some reason my Hebrew font did not copy and paste correctly over from Word to blogger. I just do not have enough time to go in and fix it all.

In his post “‘The Footsteps of the Messiah’ and the Messianic Tribulation” Brant explained that the Rabbis read Psalm 89 as a description of the eschatological suffering which the Messiah himself would undergo. In particular, he looked at an image found at the end of the psalm which was picked up on by the rabbis and seen as a description of the Messiah’s eschatological sufferings: “they mock the footsteps of thy anointed” (Ps 89:51).

This is an important insight for the following reasons. First, this would seem to indicate a presence of expectations of a suffering Davidic Messiah in Jewish thought. Since it is hardly likely that this tradition was invented by Jewish writers after the Christian period, it seems more than likely that such hopes were present in Jesus’ day.

However, to say such a thing runs counter to the conclusions of some biblical critics who have made the case that there was no pre-Christian tradition for a suffering Messianic figure. That particular understanding of the Messiah’s role emerged only after Jesus’ death. According to some of these scholars the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus’ death as fulfillment of Scripture is a bit of a stretch since the Scriptures did not really present such an expectation.

When encountering such a view one might immediately think of the suffering servant prophecy of Isaiah. Is not that a clear instance of such a messianic understanding? According to many biblical scholars the answer to that question is “no”. Isaiah 53, it is said, describes not an individual per se but the “servant” figure in this part of Isaiah actually represents the nation of Israel.

Upon close inspection it does indeed appear that the “servant” language in the second part of Isaiah is often referring to the people of Israel (cf. Isa 41:8-9). Yet, there are clear instances where the term “servant” is used to describe an individual (e.g., cf. Isa 22:20; 36:35; Isa 63:11). Clearly there are numerous references to a coming individual messianic figure in the first part of Isaiah. The historical-critical conclusion that Isaiah 1-39 was written by a different author cannot be used to argue that ancient Israelites would have read those chapters apart from later chapters. Clearly the book of Sirach shows as that ancient Israel did not make such distinctions (cf. Sir 48:22-25).

Moreover, it seems clear that the sufferings of servant are associated with the eschatological regathering of Israel. The servant therefore is clearly an eschatological figure. The suffering of this figure is thus linked with the restoration.

Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9
That Isaiah 53 was understood in this way is likely confirmed by a close reading of Daniel. Many scholars recognize the way Daniel draws from Isaiah―in particular Isaiah 53.[1] What is often overlooked is the similarity between Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53. As in Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 describes a coming “messianic” figure (an “anointed one”), who is killed (Dan 9:26; cf. Isa 53:8-10) and whose death is associated with the atonement of “transgressions” (Heb.: פֶּשַׁע; cf. both Dan 9:24; Isa 53:5) and “iniquities” (Heb.: עָוֹן; cf. both Dan 9:24; Isa 53:5). In both contexts this suffering is linked with an eschatological “return” (Heb.: שׁוּב; cf. Dan 9:25; Isa 52:8) to Jerusalem / Zion and the restoration of God’s people. With this understanding of Isaiah 53 we can now return the passage which Brant focused on in his original post: Psalm 89.

Psalm 89 and Isaiah 53
Scholars have long noted the relationship of Isaiah―especially the latter part of the book―with the Psalter.[2] However, what is seldom noted is the interesting relationship between Psalm 89 and Isaiah 53. Both passages speak of the “servant” of the Lord (Ps 89:39 [40]; Isa 52:13; 53:11; Heb.: עבֶד). In both passages this “servant” is described as being pierced or wounded [the word is the same in Hebrew: חָלַל; Ps 89:39b (40b); Isa 54:14].

The two passages also share many other literary points of contact. Both Psalm 89 and Isaiah 54 describe Israel’s experience of exile in terms מְחִתָּה ― terror, destruction, ruin (Ps 89:40 [41]; Isa 54:14). Likewise in both contexts the strength of the Lord is described in terms of the strength or holiness of his arm (Ps 89:13-14; Isa 52:9). In addition, both contexts speak of lost “youth” (cf. Ps 89:45 [46]; Isa 54:4). One might also point out that the preceding psalm, Psalm 88, like Isaiah 53, speaks of one who is cut off:

Ps 88:6: I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, 5 like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave [Heb. קבֶר] like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off [Heb.: גָּזַר] from thy hand

Isa 53:8-9: By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off [Heb.: גָּזַר] out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?... And they made his grave [Heb. קבֶר] with the wicked…

Although it is clear the psalms were arranged at a later date than their composition, one can hardly fail to note the similarities between these two passages. Indeed, scholars already view these psalms in terms of a unit.[3]

Peter’s use of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 89
From what we have seen I think it at least appears plausible that Psalm 89 was understood in connection with the traditions present in Isaiah 53. Confirmation however is found in 1 Peter. There the various threads we have followed here intertwine.

1 Peter 2:22-25 clearly describes Christ’s suffering in connection with Isaiah 53:
“He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
What is fascinating is that this allusion to Isaiah 53 is immediately preceded by what clearly seems to be an allusion to the image of the footsteps of the messiah in Psalm 89:51.
1 Pet 2:21: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Here Peter relates the sufferings of the Messiah Jesus to the very same passage the ancient rabbis read in connection with the eschatological sufferings of the Messiah. Indeed, much could be said about 1 Peter and the eschatological sufferings―recently an entire monograph was written developing this theme in the epistle.[4] Moreover, the image of the footsteps of the Messiah from Psalm 89:51 is seamlessly conflated with allusions to Isaiah 53.

Even more, Peter links the sufferings of Christians with Jesus’ sufferings―they must walk in his steps. In other words, whether or not Isaiah 53 describes an individual or the people of God would have been a moot point for Peter―for him it describes both, since Christians have a participation in the eschatological suffering of Christ. He thus goes on to say, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin… rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:1, 13).

When Brant wrote his dissertation he had yet to discover many of these connections. However, I think 1 Peter’s use of these passages serves as a powerful confirmation of the argument he has put forth.

Indeed, Brant and I have been discussing many further implications and dimensions of these insights… expect to read more in the future―we’ve barely scratched the surface!
[1] For a discussion and bibliographical references see Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of Exile: Restoration Eschatology And the Origin of the Atonement (2006), 61.
[2] In particular, we might mention that Robert Cole has noted connections between Psalm 89 and Isaiah 55: “Both vv. 4 [of Psalm 89] (Davidic covenant) and 2-3 [of Psalm 89] (faithfulness and fidelity) are brought together in the one verse of Isa. 55:3 by parallel vocabulary... (v. 55:3cd).” Robert Cole, The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalms 73-89) (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 209 n. 17. In addition, see Norbert Lohfink, Der Gott Israels und die Völker – Untersuchungen zum Jesajabuch und zu den Psalmen (Stuttgarter Bibel Studien 154; Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1994).
[3] See for example Cole, The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalms 73-89), 177-230. For a fuller discussion of Psalm 89 and the Jewish interpretive tradition which understood it in connection with Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9, and Psalm 88, see the excellent discussion in David Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (JSOTSupS 252; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 253-8.
[4] Mark Dubis, Messianic Woes in First Peter: Suffering and Eschatology in 1 Peter 4:12–19 (Studies in Biblical Literature 33; New York: Lang, 2002).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On Sunday's Readings

Again, Scott Hahn has posted reflections on the Sunday readings at the Saint Paul Center's site--you can read them here.

I just want to point out one minor thing about the first reading, in which God promises not to destroy the city of Sodom if "ten" people are found there who are righteous.

That passage always sort of bothered me. Would then God destroy the city if there were nine righteous? Doesn't God care about inflicting wrath on the innocent?

Well, read further in the story. When the three angels arrive at Sodom a mob scene ensues. The citizens demand that Lot turn them over so they can have their way with them. Indeed, one line stands out: "But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house" (Gen 19:4).

It would seem that the question is a moot point, as the narrative seems to indicate the complete depravity of the city.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Back from Ohio

I'm sorry that this blog was inactive this week. I've been away at the Institute of Applied Biblical Studies Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. This has got to be my favorite conference of the year, because it's the one time each year when most of the associates for the Saint Paul Center get together in one place. (This year, however, Brant was unable to make it--he's teaching a summer course at a Notre Dame).

The conference boasts about 400 participants--some of the most well-read lay Catholics you're likely to meet anywhere. It was a pleasure them--especially those training to present the Saint Paul Center's parish bible study program.

The week was crammed with some many exciting conversations--it would be impossible to mention all the highlights. I think I got about 3 hours of sleep each night. I'm too exhausted to recount it all here. I had a number of great, mind-blowing conversations with old friends, I hardly-ever get to spend time with--Scott Hahn, Chris Cuddy, Ted Sri, Curtis Mitch, and David Currie. I didn't get much time with Jeff Cavins or John Bergsma (=my biggest regret!), but it was great spending the little time I had with them.

I also met three people I've been eager to meet for a long time now. The first is Jeff Morrow, who recently received his Ph.D. from Dayton, writing his dissertation on the Biblical methodology of Scott Hahn. He did not disappoint. His grasp of dogmatic theology, philosophy and hermeneutics is incredible. I look forward to having many, many more conversations with him in the future.

In addition, I had the great pleasure of meeting academic wunderkind blogger, Josh McManaway, whose stock in the blogosphere has been rising for a while now. We had a number of great conversations. What impresses about Josh is not only his knowledge of biblical studies, but also his appreciation for the philosophical and hermeneutical issues. Ask him, for example, about the relationship of things like democracy and theology and you'll see what I mean.

Finally, I met Danny Garland, who runs the blog Irish-Catholic and Dangerous. Danny, a convert, is a M. A. student at Franciscan and he lives and breathes theology. I've read so much of his blog and heard about him through mutual friends, I felt like I already knew him. He also did not disappoint. Do check out his site. (For some reason I forgot to add him to my blog roll--that's fixed now.)

This weekend I am at the National Catholic Family Conference in Anaheim. An estimated 4,000 people will be there this year. I'm presenting three times there, speaking on the role of families in the Genesis narrative, the relationship of the Kingdom and the Church and how Pope Benedict's book represents a beacon of scholarship amongst the latest "sensationalist" theories about Jesus.

Monday or Tuesday I will be unveiling a post I've been working on for over a month. It is a response to Brant's exciting post on the "Footsteps of the Messiah".

Friday, July 20, 2007

JP Catholic University: An Amazing Vision

At John Paul the Great Catholic University we are continuing to have great success.

We are pleased to announce that thanks to new donations we are available to offer even more scholarships for next year.

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Zeitgeist Movie: Is Christianity a Recycled Version of other Pagan Myths?


This site is usually devoted to serious academic issues. But I've been hearing a lot lately about the claims made in a recent movie called Zeitgeist (2007) and I feel like I've got to deal with some of the issues here.

You can watch pieces of it on, part one starts here. The movie "demonstrates" how Christianity is merely a recycled version of pagan myths about ancient deities such as the Egyptian god Horus. (It goes on to argue in the subsequent part of the film that the events of September 11th, unfolded as part of a massive government conspiracy.) This is not a political blog, so, of course, I'm only going to deal with the section on religion here.

I've been getting emails about this--here's one example:

...My friend asked me to look at this video, he stopped practicing Christianity because of it.

It claims that Jesus never existed but rather He was made up for political reasons; to control the population.

It relates the life of Jesus with other "gods", and that the Bible is more astrological than anything else.

What do you think of all the claims in it?

Below is my response. But for more reading on this topic I want to encourage anyone dealing with this stuff to check out this site which is full of great articles on the topic.

By the way, if it sounds like I'm a little upset, I am! I can't believe how disingenuous people can be. And I'm deeply saddened that people are falling for it.

I don't know where to start: this video is a complete lie.

First off, the video is full of misinformation about Horus. He was baptized? Oh really! I would love to see a source for that!

Most of the supposed parallels are completely untrue!

Actually, Muslim apologists have been trying to do this for centuries--to say that Christianity is really just another form of paganism. But that's a lie.

Most of the information in this video seems to come from Acharya S's book, The Christ Conspiracy (1999), which is a sensationalist book which has zero academic credibility. If you want to learn about Horus you can read the ancient myths about him--
Egyptian Mythology: Horus
Encyclopedia Mythica: Horus
The Eye Of Horus
Tektonics: Horus, Isis, Osiris

Let's go over just some of the data:

1. Horus was not born of a Virgin--that's a lie.
2. Horus was not baptized. That's a complete fabrication. "Anup the Baptizer"?--show me where you find that! That's a lie.
3. Horus never walked on water. He performed miracles, but raising the dead and walking on water were not among them. Nor did he cast out demons.
4. Horus had disciples--but you can't show me a single reference to his having twelve. That's a lie.
5. Horus never taught in the temple at age 12. That's a lie. Read the accounts above--it's not there.
6. Where was ever said that was Horus crucified? That's a lie! He died in a later version of the story and was brought back to life--but Jesus' "resurrection" was more than a mere coming back to life. His body was transformed and changed. Anyways, it was only later added to the Horus legend.

That's just off the top of my head. That should give you some indication though about the reliability of this film. In short, its claims are lies that are told to sell books. But no scholar in the world would accept this stuff--only the ignorant. Anybody can get a book published or a video made and say whatever they want. That doesn't make it true.

Moreover, to think that Jesus didn't exist is absolutely, positively unfounded, unhistorical, and unrealistic.

Those who opposed Chrstianity from the very beginning never asserted that Jesus didn't exist--in fact, they made all kinds of slanderous claims against Jesus. But they never asserted he was a myth.

In fact, there's more evidence Jesus existed than virtually any one else in antiquity.

... and there isn't a single respectable scholar today--Christian or secular--who would make such a claim. Only those who haven't studied the issue seriously could say such a thing.

Hope that helps...


I just want to add a few things here to address some of the comments made below.

One person--who safely posted anonymously--makes the claim that my own sources refute me. They post the supposed parallels from the article [Tektonics: Horus, Isis, Osiris], which first lists the "claims"... then refutes them. The "anonymous" poster didn't finish the article! This of course highlights the kind of ignorance of and/or misrespresentation of sources we're dealing with here.

Secondly, another person explained that the sources for the movie have been posted on-line. Follow the link and--what a shocker!--the primary source for the movie's claims about Jesus and Christianity is said to be Acharya S's book, The Christ Conspiracy (1999). Again, this book is NOT an academic work and has ZERO credibility. According to this very site, one of S's sources is said to be John Allegro--a man whose work has frequently been condemned by scholars.

For example, when John Allegro attempted to publish a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, fourteen Oxford scholars wrote to the publisher and demanded it be pulled--it was an absolutely inaccurate translation! The book was pulled and the publisher even apologized! A critique was written by John Strugnell, which meticulously revealed in a line-by-line treatment the errors and which was longer than Allegro's book itself! [See "Notes en marge du volume V des 'Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordon'" in Revue de Qumran 7 (1963): 163-76. For more on the debacle see, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead See Scrolls (San Francisco: HaperCollins, 2002), 381-403.]

The fact is, no scholar takes Allegro's work seriously. You will only see his name mentioned in academic journals such as the Journal for the Historical Jesus (not a particularly conservative journal!) in articles listing the most outrageous examples of poor scholarship.

Of course, you won't find scholars quoting from S's book either.

Again, read the ancient sources themselves and see what they say about Horus--he was not baptized, crucified, etc. It may sell movies and it may appeal to those who already want to dismiss Christianity, but the Jesus-Horus comparison has really no academic value whatsoever.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scott Hahn on this Sunday's Readings

The Saint Paul Center is awesome.

Each week Scott Hahn posts some comments on the up-coming Sunday readings on the Saint Paul Center's website. I frequently remind myself that I need to really to reference that here more often. This week's is so good, I had to post on it before it slipped my mind.

This week the Church will have us read first from Genesis 18's account of the mysterious "three men" who came and ate with Abraham. The Gospel will then be drawn from Luke's account of Jesus at the house of Mary and Martha:
Luke 10:38-42: Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.She had a sister named Marywho sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,"Lord, do you not carethat my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply,"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better partand it will not be taken from her."

Why is Luke 10 given to us with Genesis 18? Here's Dr. Hahn's excellent pastoral commentary...

God wants to dwell with each of us personally, intimately - as the mysterious guests once visited Abraham's tent, as Jesus once entered the home of Mary and Martha.

By his hospitality in today's First Reading, Abraham shows us how we are to welcome the Lord into our lives. His selfless service of his divine guests (see Heb 13:1) stands in contrast to the portrait of Martha drawn in today's Gospel.

Where Abraham is concerned only for the well-being of his guests, Martha speaks only of herself - "Do you not care that my sister has left me by myself... Tell her to help me."

Jesus' gentle rebuke reminds us that we risk missing the divine in the mundane, that we can fall into the trap of believing that God somehow needs to be served by human hands (see Acts 17:25).

Our Lord comes to us, not to be served but to serve (see Mt 20:28). He gave His life that we might know the one thing we need, the "better part" which is life in the fellowship of God.

Jesus is the true Son promised today by Abraham's visitors (see Mt 1:1). In Him, God has made an everlasting covenant for all time, made us blessed descendants of Abraham (see Gen 17:19,21; Rom 4:16-17, 19-21).

The Church now offers us this covenant, bringing to completion the word of God, the promise of His plan of salvation, what Paul calls "the mystery hidden for ages."

As once He came to Abraham, Mary and Martha, Christ now comes to each of us
in Word and Sacrament.

As we sing in today's Psalm: He will make His dwelling with those who keep
His Word and practice justice (see also Jn 14:23).

If we do these things we will not be anxious or disturbed, will not have our Lord taken from us. We will wait on the Lord, who told Abraham and tells each of us: "I will surely return to you."


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Evan Can Wait...

My friend and colleague at JP Catholic, Martin Harold, has a new contributor to his great blog, Fides and Film... his wife, Sara.

Sara is a great writer and her first post does not disappoint. She takes a look at the new film Evan Almighty and explains how it illustrates Hollywood's inability to understand the Christian market. It's a very funny read.

Take it away, Sara...

Thanks Carson!

My friend and colleague from the St. Paul Center, Carson Weber, has written a very kind post on my popular-level verse-by-verse commentary on the Apocalypse, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2006).

In addition to writing a great blog, Carson runs the extraordinary Catholic catechetical site, Catholic Board. He is currently podcasting the class he's teaching with Scott Hahn's new text book, Understanding the Scriptures. Over 20,000 people have downloaded this podcast.

Thanks, Carson!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Crossan on the Pope's Motu Proprio

Ex-priest, Dominic Crossan has weighed in on the Pope's allowance of the pre-Vatican II Mass:

If a religion changes, it may go wrong; if it does not, it must go

The most serious delusion of [religious] leaders is to think that they alone are in sole charge of a community’s past, present, or future. It is ultimately the
community—which is simply the incarnate and living tradition—that will determine
what stays and what goes, what changes and what develops. And, for community,
tradition, or hierarchy, it is ultimately impossible to hold back the inevitable
future by returning to the abandoned past.

In terms of Roman Catholicism, our ancestors in faith began with Aramaic, changed to Greek, then tried Latin, and finally, moved into the various vernaculars. If we wish to revert to our linguistic origins, why just to Latin, why not to Aramaic with Jesus or Greek with the New Testament?

Finally, I suggest this meditation for Pope Benedict—courteously, of course, as one author of a Jesus-book to another. When the People of God were on trek towards their Promised Land, they needed both a Leader and some Scouts. The Scouts went ahead and were the first to enter the Promised Land—although they did end up there on some surprising rooftops. The Scouts returned and reported what was up ahead. They had seen the future and the People followed them into it. But the Leader never made it into the Promised Land. He only glimpsed it from the peak of Pisgah and was buried in the midst of Moab.

Read his post in its entirety. Tip of the hat to Mark Goodacre.
I want to say three things about this.
First, Crossan's response which warns against religious leaders imposing forms of practice on believers is bewildering to me. The Pope has not ordered anyone to celebrate the older form of the Mass. In fact, the Pope is simply saying that those people who wish to celebrate that form of the Mass should be allowed to do so. Sounds like a "brokerless" solution!
This is the exact opposite of the kind of leadership Crossan cautions against! Up until now there has been a top-down suppression of the older Mass in certain areas. The Pope is doing precisely what Crossan would seem to indicate religious leaders should do--allow the people more flexibility in choosing how to express their faith.
Second, Dr. Crossan, I've got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that you'll be pleased to hear that the younger generation of Catholics is following their parents' generation's example of rebellion against worn out ways. The bad news is that it is the very ideas of your generation that they are rebelling against!
Crossan's stress on the importance of change seems to neglect a very important point. Take a poll and you'll find that it is younger Catholics like myself--not fifty-somethings--who feel drawn to more ancient expressions of faith. Indeed, there is a "change in the air." But it is not the kind of movement toward experimentation the hippie generation proposed. The children of the sixties' generation are indeed looking for a change--they think many of the experiments of their parents failed and they want a change away from that approach.
It is this generation of Catholics who are more inclined to agree with the kind of sentiment expressed by G. K. Chesterton: "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of this age."
People like Crossan might not want to admit it but those who use those "new" phrases, either ecclesiological ones like "We-Are-Church," or academic ones such as "the Secret Gospel of Mark" are quickly beginning to look less like advocates of fresh ideas and more like dinosaurs.
Finally, in response to Dominic Crossan's meditation on Moses' failure to see what the scouts who were sent ahead had discovered in the promised land, I would like to propose another. Returning to the time of the Israelites in the desert, I'd like to highlight another story. In Exodus 32 the people decided to worship the Lord in a way that was opposed to the pattern revealed to them through God's chosen representative, Moses. It was a radical attempt by the people to re-define worship in a way more culturally acceptable in their age. Up until that time all the Israelites were to be priests (Exod 19:6). After that, none of them were priests... the Israelites became ex-priests.
That is, with the exception of the Levites, who followed God's representative, Moses, and led Israel in the worship God prescribed through him.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Diogenes on the Coverage of the New Bishop of Baltimore

Diogenes has a very funny post up on the news coverage of the Pope's recent appointment of the new Bishop of Baltimore. We don't normally cover such things here but this was so well-done I just had to link over to it.

Our hearty congratulations to the Baltimore Sun for its big scoop. Thanks to the Sun's diligent reporting, we now know that the incoming Archbishop of Baltimore agrees with the teachings of the Catholic Church!

Actually, come to think of it, we only know that Archbishop O'Brien supports Catholic teaching on homosexuality. If you search the secular media a bit, no doubt you can also find his views on abortion. But you won't find any reference, in the dozens of newspaper articles, to the newly appointed archbishop's stand on the the Donatist controversy, the filioque clause, or the liturgical practices of the NeoCatechumenate. Those issues don't pop up on the radar screens in the newsroom.

The mention of the Donatist controversy, which lasted from A.D. 311 to A.D. 411, cracked me up.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pope Writing New Book and New Encyclical

The Pope is busy. Over the past few days we saw the release of the long-awaited Motu Proprio on the Mass of Bl. John XXIII and a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which supplies official interpretation to Lumen Gentium. In addition, the Pope announced to reporters on Monday that he will be spending his summer vacation writing volume two of Jesus of Nazareth and working on a new encyclical.

Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he plans to use his nearly three-week-long vacation in the Italian mountains to write a new book and said he was also preparing a new encyclical.

Benedict spoke briefly to reporters as he arrived at a church-owned villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in the mountains near Italy's border with Austria. He said he hopes to work on the second volume of the book "Jesus of Nazareth." The first volume was published earlier this year.

"It's in God's hands," he said. "I hope to write some pages here."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Turning Towards the Lord and the Worship of Ancient Israel

Photo: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger celebrating the Mass of Bl. John XXIII
The Catholic world is a-buzz with talk about the recently released document, Summorum Pontificum, in which Pope Benedict allows for greater use of the the pre-Vatican II Mass (referred to by Benedict as "the Mass of Bl. John XXIII"). I won't rehash all the issues here... Thomas Peters over at American Papist has done a fine job assembling various links concerning the document here.
The most obvious difference between the Mass of John XXIII and the Novus Ordo is the direction the priest faces during the liturgy. In the older liturgy the priest faced away from the people, however, since Vatican II, the priest has turned towards the people. Now this might seem like a trivial issue, but actually there are a lot of theological issues involved in all of this. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger discussed this in great detail in his tremendously important book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).
Among other things Pope Benedict explains why in the ancient Christian worship the priest celebrated the liturgy with his back towards the people. He shows that the early Christians oriented their prayer towards the east. Why? Because the liturgy had an eschatological dimension. For a full treatment on that you might want to see David Aune, The Cultic Setting of Realized Eschatology in Early Christianity [NovTSup 28(1972)]. In the ancient liturgy the people turned and faced to welcome the coming of the Lord. Jesus explains, "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt 24:27). The rising sun was thus an apt symbol of the coming of Christ.
What I've recently discovered is that Margaret Barker argues that, according to Jewish tradition, this ancient posture was also a part of the ancient worship of the first temple built by Solomon. In her article, "The Temple Roots of the Liturgy," Barker writes,
The Mishnah records that during Tabernacles, a procession would turn back at the eastern gate and face towards the temple saying: ‘Our fathers when they were in this place turned with their backs towards the temple of the Lord and their faces towards the east and they worshipped the sun towards the east; but as for us, our eyes are turned toward the Lord’ (m.Sukkah 5.4). This clearly refers to Ezekiel’s account of men in the temple facing east, holding branches before their faces and worshipping the sun (Ezek. 8.16-8), presumably in a celebration akin to Tabernacles. The Therapeuts (Philo Cont.Life 27) and the Essenes (Josephus War 2.128) also worshipped towards the rising sun... Worshipping towards the east must have been a practice which distinguished the adherents of first temple customs from those favoured by the compilers of the Mishnah.
Barker goes on to argue that the early Christians thus saw their worship in terms of the liturgy of the restored eschatological Temple of the son of David, Solomon.

Given all that, the Pope's letter therefore is not merely reinstating the practice of Christians prior to the 1960's--its reinstating a practice that has roots deep in ancient Christianity and quite possibly ancient Judaism as well.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Roman Tabloid Reports on the Early Christians

Most Christians know that there are all-kinds of false stereo-types about Christianity in the world today. Catholics in a special way are used to misrepresentations about history (e.g., the Catholic Church and the "Inquisition"), dogma (e.g., Marian dogmas), and various forms of spirituality (e.g., Opus Dei).

But really the kind of lies spread told about the Church in such works as Dan Brown's Davinci Code have always been spread by enemies of Christianity.

I wanted to make this clear to my JP Catholic students this year and so I pulled out the writings of Minucius Felix, who wrote about what Christians "really" did in the second to third century A.D.

If you have a hard time figuring out where people come up with some of the things said about Catholicism today imagine how the early Christians must have felt when these kind of rumors were being spread in their day.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 9, [2nd or 3rd century]: And now, as wickedness multiplies more quickly, corrupt ways of life are spreading day by day throughout the world, and those most abominable sanctuaries of impious assemblies are growing. This conspiracy must be absolutely eradicated and accursed. They recognize each other by secret marks and signs, and they love one another almost before they become acquainted. Everywhere they mingle together in a kind of religion of lust, indiscriminately calling each other brothers and sisters, with the result that ordinary debauchery, by means of a sacred name, is converted into incest. Thus their vain and demented superstition (vana et demens superstitio) glories in its crimes.

If there were not an underlying basis of truth, shrewd Rumor would not spread about them such a great variety of charges that can hardly be mentioned in polite company. I hear that persuaded by some absurd idea, they consecrate and worship the head of an ass, the lowest of animals. A religion worthy of the sort of practices that gave it birth! Some say that they worship the genitals of their own leader and priest, revering the sexual parts of their own parent. I do not know whether it is false, but certainly a suspicion is attached to secret rites performed at night. Whoever calls the objects of their rituals a man punished with death for his crime and the deadly wood of the cross assigns proper altars to such corrupt and wicked people, with the result that they worship what they deserve.

Now the story about the initiation of novices is as disgusting as it is well known. An infant covered with flour, in order to deceive the unwary, is placed before the one who is to be initiated into their rites. The novice, encouraged by the surface of flour to strike without harm, kills the infant with unseen and hidden wounds. The infant's blood - oh horrible! - they lap up thirstily; its limbs they parcel out eagerly. By this victim they ally themselves with one another; by their complicity in this crime they pledge themselves to mutual silence. These rites are fouler than any sacrifice.

And what happens at their banquets is well known; it is spoken of everywhere. The speech of our friend from Cirta testifies to it. On an appointed day they gather for a feast with all their children, sisters and mothers, people from both sexes and of every age. There after much feasting, when the banquet has inflamed them and they are burning with the drunken heat of incestuous lust, they provoke a dog tied to a lamp to leap forward by tossing a scrap of food beyond the length of the rope to which it is tied. The light, which would have been a witness, is thus turned over and extinguished, and in the shameless darkness, connections of unspeakable desire take place with the uncertainty of chance. All are equally defiled, if not by the deed, nevertheless by their complicity in it, since the will of everyone desires whatever acts might happen to be committed by individuals.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's a girl!!!

Last Friday Brant and Liz Pitre welcomed their fourth child, Mary Beth, into the world.

Congratulations, Brant, Liz and the Pitre family!!!

Of course, this means that Brant probably won't be doing much posting or emailing in the coming weeks... but I'm sure he'll stop by and read comments.

Please keep them all in your prayers as I'm sure they've got their hands full!