Saturday, January 30, 2010

Los Angeles Getting a New Archbishop (Part 2)

On Saturday Rocco Palmo announced on his blog that he has learned that the terma, the final three names submitted to Pope Benedict for the job of Shepherd of Los Angeles, includes both Hispanic and Anglo candidates. Palmo writes: "again, the demographics of the archdiocese are an immense consideration here, but so is the skill-set of a candidate given the Holy See's assessment of the place" ("Back Page" live discussion, posted at 10:27).

In the last post, I looked at the Hispanic bishops most frequently named in connection with this story. But what if it's not a Hispanic?

Obviously, if, as Rocco suggests, the pope is also considering Anglo candidates, the list of possible names becomes much longer.

One possible way to narrow it down a bit might be to look to bishops of larger dioceses. Obviously, given the enormous size of the LA diocese, it would seem Cardinal Mahony's successor is likely to be someone with experience running a large see.

We also might look at some of Pope Benedict's other appointments to high profile posts. In fact, church-watchers have noted certain trends in Benedict's episcopal placements:

1. Experience in Priestly Formation

One of the most pressing challenges facing many dioceses in the US (and for that matter those throughout the world) is that of an aging presbytery. Put simply, there is a crisis in vocations to the priesthood. According to the last study which was done, the average age of a Catholic priest in the U.S. is 60 (source). In many places, the situation is dire (see more statistics here).

Pope Benedict's concern for the state of the presbytery in the world has especially come to the limelight this year, which he has proclaimed as the "Year for Priests."

Because of this it should probably be no surprise that church-watchers have noted that Pope Benedict's top episcopal choices typically have an extensive history in priestly formation; many are even former seminary rectors (see, e.g., here and here). For example, Archbishop Timothy Dolan (New York City), the Holy Father's most high profile American appointment to date, was the rector the North American College in Rome. Likewise, Daniel DiNardo, whom the Pope named to the Houston diocese and even made a cardinal--the first cardinal ever from the American southwest!--also worked in a seminary: he served as spiritual director to seminarians at St. Paul Seminary. This is also true of the Holy Father's appointment to the Diocese of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron. Archbishop Vigneron is the former Dean of the prestigious Sacred Heart Seminary. The new bishop of Omaha, Bishop George Lucas (yes, a different George Lucas!), also once served as a seminary rector and professor before becoming bishop. Still also, Dennis Marion Schnurr, recently appointed the coadjutor bishop of Cincinnati, had a reputation for his focus on priestly formation. The list goes on.

The trend, therefore, seems to favor the notion that the new bishop in LA will have had experience in training priests.

2. A Roman Background

If you look at many of the the major recent appointments in the United States you'll also note that the Holy Father often seems to look to men who have had experience working in Rome. I noted that Archbishop Dolan was not only a seminary rector, but that the school which he oversaw was in fact the North American College in Rome. We can also add that both Archbishop DiNardo and Archbishop Vigneron also have a Roman background. Archbishop Dinardo worked as a secretary to the Congregation for Bishops from 1986-1989 in the Roman Curia, while also teaching at the North American College. Similarly, from 1991-1994 Archbishop Vigeron worked at the office of the Vatican's Secretary of State, while also teaching in at the Pontifical University of the Gregorian. Still also, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the freshly minted bishop of Oakland, also served in Rome, working as assistant in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura office. And while Bishop Schnurr never held a post in Rome--though he did study there--he did work closely with the Apostolic Nuncio and led the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). One could say that while he did not work in Rome he at least worked closely with Roman representatives.

Why is experience in Rome helpful? Obviously, those who have worked in Rome--or with Rome as it were--are much better known to the decision-makers in the Vatican. Given that the Pope's other major appointments in the U.S. have fallen to men with a Roman background, we might expect to see a person with a Roman connection appointed to Los Angeles.

3. An Academic Background

Yet another characteristic of many of the bishops the Holy Father has recently appointed to key posts is that they often have an academic background. Pope Benedict, a scholar himself, tends to appoint people who have advanced degrees and/or are former seminary professors.

Again, consider some of the major appointments in the U.S.: Archbishop Dolan earned a Licentiate in Rome and a doctoral degree from Catholic University. He also served as a professor. Archbishop Vigneron also earned an advanced degree in theology and taught at a seminary. The same can also be said about Archbishop DiNardo. Bishop Cordileone and Bishop Schnurr has a doctoral degree in canon law. Bishop George Lucas (yes, a different George Lucas!), also holds an advanced degree (Church History) and taught at a seminary. Et cetera.

Some Speculation

The trends for major U.S. appointments then seem to favor someone with a history working in priestly formation, Roman experience, and an academic background.

In addition, note what Rocco said: ""again, the demographics of the archdiocese are an immense consideration here, but so is the skill-set of a candidate given the Holy See's assessment of the place".

Given all of this, there's one person who might get serious attention.

Before I go on though let me stress this: I am not weighing one bishop's strength and skills against another. Each have unique abilities. Any of the men I have covered here would make excellent shepherds. And there are many, many others I have not even mentioned.

But if we were simply to speculate based on the kinds of picks already made by Pope Benedict, there's one man who especially seems a likely contender. I, of course, could be wrong. Pope Benedict has much more prudence and knowledge about church affairs than I do. I am confident that he will pick the best man for the job.

Nonetheless, just for the fun of it, consider the following. . .

Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix)
Helpful sources:
--Bishop Olmsted's website at the Diocese of Phoenix
--"Bishop Thomas Olmsted," Catholic Sun

Bishop Olmsted, age 63, was born in Kansas and raised on a family farm on the Kansas-Nebraska border. He received his education at a one-room school house. He studied at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln in 1973.

The Catholic Sun reports, "Since 1974, Bishop Thomas James Olmsted has been a member of the Jesus Caritas fraternity of priests, and thus has been deeply influenced by the witness and wisdom of Charles de Foucauld and by the prayers and encouragement of many brother priests."

His personal page at the Diocese of Phoenix neatly lays out his career. It would be very difficult to reproduce his biography in a more readable way, so I'm going to simply reproduce it as it is laid out there.
1973 – 1976: First assignment as a priest: Associate Pastor at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln, Nebraska)
1976 – 1979: Doctoral Studies at the Gregorian University (Rome, Italy)
1979 – 1988: Assistant at the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, and Assistant Spiritual Director at Pontifical North American College (Rome, Italy)
1989 – 1993: Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish (Seward, Nebraska)
1993 – 1997: Dean of Personal Formation at the Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, Ohio)
1997 – 1999: Rector / President of the Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, Ohio)
1999 – 2001: Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas
1999 – 2007: USCCB Committee on Priestly Formation
2000 – 2003: Board of Directors, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
2000 – 2003: USCCB Committee on Consecrated Life
2001 – 2003: Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas
2003 – present: Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona
2005 – 2007: USCCB Administrative Committee
2005 – 2007: Chair of USCCB Committee on Priestly Formation
2005-2008: Member, USCCB National Advisory Council
2008 – 2009: Apostolic Administrator of Diocese of Gallup
2008 – 2011: Member USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs
Bishop Olmsted has an incredibly impressive history. Let me highlight a few things.

First, Bishop Olmsted has experience dealing with immigration issues. As noted above, he has sat on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. Obviously, as I mentioned in part one, any Archbishop of Los Angeles would need to be knowledgeable about such matters.

Second, Bishop Olmsted has a deep commitment to priestly formation: he served as Assistant Spiritual Director at the North American College (a.k.a.: "the NAC"), he was Dean of Personal Formation at the Josephinum and then became the the Rector/President there, he served for many years on the USCCB's committee for Priestly Formation--he even became Chair of that Committee in 2005-2007!

Third, Bishop Olmsted has a Roman history.

Fourth, Bishop Olmsted has a doctoral degree in canon law.

Fifth, Bishop Olmsted has had a great deal of experience as a bishop running a large diocese, serving as the ordinary of both Wichita and Phoenix. In fact, both of these are large dioceses. In fact, according to the latest data, Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States! The list runs as follows: 1. New York, 2. Los Angeles, 3. Chicago, 4. Houston, 5. Phoenix, 6. Philadelphia, 7. San Antonio, 8. Dallas, 9. San Diego, 10. San Jose. It should be noted that Wichita (51), Bishop Olmsted's previous assignment, out ranks other notable cities such as St. Louis (52), Cincinnati (56), New Orleans (59), and Pittsburgh (60).

What is especially striking to me is that Bishop Olmsted was also appointed Apostolic Administrator of Diocese of Gallup for a short time in 2005. In a sense, he ran this diocese and Phoenix at the same time! This bishop is an administrator extraordinaire. Apparently, his skill in this area is known to Rome. After all, when Gallup suddenly found itself without a bishop, the Pope turned to Olmsted--even though he was already running the diocese in the fifth largest city in the U.S. which happened to be in another state!

Another thing we might add about Bishop Olmsted is that he is quite media savvy, something which might be important for the bishop running the diocese in which Hollywood is located. Bishop Olmsted used video media successfully to help promote donations to the Catholic Tuition campaign--an effort which brings a solid Catholic education to children in economically depressed areas. I'll let the Bishop tell you about it all:

That's just the tip of the iceberg! Bishop Olmsted has brought his media ministry right into people's homes via TV spots. That's right, the bishop got his message on the broadcast networks via commercials. Let me explain.

Last year the Catholic world was buzzing with the news about the television commercials that ran in the city of Phoenix, which were produced by the organization Catholics Come Home. Of course, now the effort has exploded and other cities have run similar campaigns. Yet it all started under Bishop Olmsted in Phoenix. The ads were very compelling--take a look (by the way, the YouTube quality doesn't do them justice):

Here's one called "Movie":

Here's my favorite:

And, by the way, when I say the effort exploded, I mean it. Catholics who had left the Church came back in droves. The initiative involved more than just TV commercials, but careful planning at the parish level. As a result of this incredibly well orchestrated and successful program, a shocking 95,000 fallen away Catholics returned to actively practice their faith. That's no typo: 95,000! Here's the full story.

Bishop Olmsted and the Diocese of Phoenix also partnered with Virtue Media to run some pro-life commercials which ran on major television networks. These ads, like the Catholics Come Home spots, were a huge success. Once again, I'll let the bishop explain:

Bishop Olmsted was also present for the launching of Immaculate Heart Catholic Radio (KXAM AM 1310) earlier this year. Incidentally, this fine station (here comes the shameless plug!) carries my own radio show, Reasons for Faith Live--which airs every Friday on the EWTN radio network at 2pm East Coast Time!

Bishop Olmsted is clearly a remarkable shepherd.

Could he be the next shepherd of the flock in Los Angeles?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Los Angeles Getting a New Archbishop (Part 1)

UPDATE: Be sure to read Part 2.

Catholic blogger Thomas Peters over at the American Papist has been posting (here, here, and here) that a coadjutor bishop has been appointed for Los Angeles. Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia has confirmed that something is imminent, reporting that the news will come around the cardinal's 74th birthday, February 27th. The coadjutor would of course become Cardinal Mahony's successor (for more on what Church law says about coadjutor bishops go here).

That an appointment has already been made was denied by the official diocesan spokesman, but either way everyone knows a new bishop is coming sooner or later. The cardinal reaches retirement age (=75) in 2011. In fact, Cardinal Mahony himself has announced on his own blog that this will be "my final full year as the Archbishop of Los Angeles". Thus whether or not an appointment has already been made, everyone knows a new bishop will be taking over in the next year or so. If, as the rumors suggest, a coadjutor bishop is going to be appointed, it would seem that it would happen soon.

Predictably, there is tremendous speculation about who the successor to Cardinal Mahony might be. A number of bloggers have picked up on the story, including Deacon Greg Kandra (Deacon's Bench) and Gene Maddaus at LA Weekly. Rumors are flying left and right.

To those outside the Catholic Church this might seem a little bizarre. But really, this kind of speculation is ancient. In fact, this kind of intrigue is just about as old as Christianity itself. He I wanted to explain the antiquity of apostolic succession and look at some of the names rumored to be on the shortlist of potential successors to Cardinal Mahony. This is the first post in a two-part series.

Clement and His Letter to the Corinthians

One of the earliest Christian writings outside of the New Testament is Clement's letter to the Corinthians. It is commonly dated to the 90s, however, it is my understanding that a recent dissertation argues persuasively that the book could easily be dated much earlier. Either way, all agree the letter was written in the first century.

Who wrote the letter? Again, all scholars seem to agree that it was written by a "Clement". The precise identity of this Clement though is disputed. Interestingly, the name Clement appears in the New Testament. In his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul writes:
"And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."
Scholars today are usually hesitant about identifying the Clement of the letter to the Corinthians with the one mentioned by Paul, but the earliest Christians were not and, frankly, it's hard to think that a connection is not there. Scholars unwilling to see a connection appear overly suspicious of early Christian tradition.

Indeed, the tradition linking the two figures makes sense. Consider this: if, after the death of Peter and Paul, a man named Clement became the head of the Church at Rome it is probable that such a figure had a connection with the holy apostles. That St. Paul specifically identifies one of his coworkers as "Clement" is too coherent with this to be written off as coincidence. In my mind, the connection is especially likely given that the letter is written to one of the Pauline churches.

Apostolic Succession, the Office of Bishop and Strife

I'll never forget sitting in on a graduate seminar in which a professor stated in a lecture that apostolic succession was a later second century development. He acknowledged that it is referred to in Irenaeus, but he seemed entirely ignorant of the fact that it is actually affirmed in Clement's epistle, a document that is clearly first century in origin and quite possibly written by an associate of Paul himself. (Of course, we might also mention Acts 1, where a successor is chosen for the apostle Judas!) Clement states:
"Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (42:4–5, 44:1–3).
Let there be little doubt: apostolic succession and the office of the bishop are tied together as early as Clement's letter--a fact often completely ignored by scholars.

The Danger of Uncharitable Speculation

The fact that there is intense speculation about the identity of the next Archbishop of Los Angeles in Catholic circles in California is not a Catholic oddity. Since the first century Christians have been speculating about, "Who will be the next bishop of x?" In and of itself, it's not impious for Christians to wonder who will be appointed their shepherd in the future--it's natural to think about such things.

I hasten to add though that such speculation can (and has) been carried out in ways that are sometimes harmful and uncharitable. I certainly do not want to be guilty of such a thing. The bottom line is this: any man who gives up the opportunity to have a family of his own but rather seeks to serve as a spiritual father to others has my undying gratitude. I may not understand everything they do, but I recognize that (1) they have knowledge and pastoral concerns I may not be aware of (i.e., consider those who might have accused Paul for keeping kosher while being among the Jews, while breaking those laws as he ministered to the Gentiles) and (2) I am not going to be held accountable for leading the bishops--others have been given that call (e.g., the Pope, their confessors, canonizable saints, etc.).

Who's It Going to Be?

That having been said, I can't help but wonder myself: who's it going to be?

The real answer is that it's anyone's guess. Indeed, such speculation is often wrong. Nonetheless, I thought I'd introduce the names most commonly mentioned. In his recent post on the subject, Rocco Palmo has identified this appointment as Pope Benedict's most important American placement. Because of this people will be scrambling for information about whoever gets the nod.

After the news is out people will immediately go to Wikipedia and the information posted about the appointment at his official Diocesan website. Yet there's a lot of good information, videos, personal stories, etc., that you have to really dig to find. Because I--like everyone else!--will be curious to know more about whoever the pope picks to succeed Cardinal Mahony, I thought I'd do a little poking around on-line and pull all of the most helpful things I find together into one place. If anything else, I saw this is a good opportunity to get to learn about some of the men who have devoted their life to the service of the Church.

It is also my hope that more Catholic readers will discover this blog, which is usually dedicated to biblical theology, academic research and the latest developments in Scripture scholarship. While this blog is widely known among the biblioblogs (=blogs devoted to academic Scripture study), it is less known in the Catholic blogosphere. Hopefully readers, finding this post interesting, will be encouraged to check out some of the other posts here and come back for more.

A Hispanic?

One important public source reporting on the rumors is the Los Angeles Times, which, in a story published back in April of 2009, suggested that insiders believe that the Pope is going to pick a Latino. Now, to be fair, such an "insider" would actually have to be able to get all the way "inside" Pope Benedict's mind to know who will get the appointment. It is, after all, the Holy Father who makes the final decision here. Given that he has gone against the conventional wisdom in making appointments in the past, it would seem difficult for even an important official to have certain knowledge about what he is going to do (unless the appointment has quietly already been made, of course).

Nonetheless, that a Hispanic will be appointed makes a certain amount of sense. The Hispanic Catholic community in the United States is extremely large. Yet, despite their large numbers, they do seem to be a bit underrepresented at the hierarchical level. Surprisingly, there are no Hispanic Cardinals in the U.S.

Since the Archbishop of Los Angeles is typically "given the red hat," appointing a Hispanic to LA would likely mean that the Hispanic community would finally see one of its own rise to the highest level of the Church's ecclesiastical hierachy. Such a pick would be especially well-received by the Hispanic community in Los Angeles, which makes up about 75% of the Catholic faithful there.

If this line of speculation is correct, the number of potential candidates for the post is narrowed down quite a bit. Moreover, the coadjutor-to-be is likely already a bishop somewhere--that is, he is probably someone who already has experience running a diocese. Furthermore, given the immense size of the Los Angelos archdiocese, it would seem likely that if a Hispanic Bishop is chosen he would likely come from a relatively large see.

Indeed, the article that ran in the Los Angeles Times identified three particular possible candidates, who each seem to have the experience needed:
1. Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto (age 54)
2. San Antonio Archbishop José Goméz (age 58)
3. Monterey Bishop Richard John Garcia (age 62)

So here's a little introduction to these three figures.

1. Bishop Jaime Soto (Sacramento)

Helpful sources:
--Bishop Soto's page at the Diocese of Sacramento's website
--Rocco Palmo, "It's Official: It's Jamietime," Whispers in the Loggia (Blog), October 11, 2007 (Accessed: January 27, 2010) [among other things, this informative post reproduces excerpts from an article which ran in the Sacramento Bee which is no longer available on-line on the paper's website].

Technically speaking Bishop Soto was originally a native of the Diocese of Los Angeles, having been born in Inglewood. However, in 1976 he went over to the newly formed Diocese of Orange County as a seminarian. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Soto said that he had wanted to be a priest since the second grade. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Orange in California in 1982. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Orange in 2000. In 2007 he was installed as the coadjutor of the Diocese of Sacramento and became the Bishop in 2008. He attended Columbia University where he received in Master's in Social Work. He became the Director of Immigration and Citizenship Services at Catholic Charities in 1986; he has been deeply involved with immigration issues. At the USCCB he serves as the head of the Board of Directors: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, INC.

In 2005 he was selected to give one of the Catechetical addresses at World Youth Day in Cologne, raising his profile. In 2006 his brother bishops voted to make him the chair of the Committee for Youth and Young Adults at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Notably, Bishop Soto beat out the highly popular bishop of Boston, Most Rev. Sean O'Malley, the other candidate for the post, which raised a few heads.

Yet, simply providing biographical data doesn't really help you get a feel for who Bishop Soto is. For a flavor of some of his style, read the following report from a talk he gave in December of last year at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas, where he spoke to some 25,000 young people:

In his homily to all gathered at the conference, Sacramento, Calif., Bishop Jaime Soto spoke of the countless text messaging, facebooking, and twittering teens perform daily as a way to communicate with friends. As well, Jesus desires a relationship with every person, he said.

“He wants to text the truth of God’s mercy on your soul. Jesus is the Word, the ultimate Facebook of God…. Jesus does not twitter. Rather he humbled himself so that he could meet you, connect with you… He is the IP address of the way, the truth and the life.”

Bishop Soto also spoke of the misuse of the word “freedom” in today’s society, saying that “both truth and relationship are corrupted when the culture disconnects them to serve a distorted sense of freedom.

“Life has become a multiple choice question for which there are no wrong answers and the only criteria for choosing are one’s own impressions, preferences, desires, and fears… (which) become the self created avatars to which one clings while we are all adrift in a sea of mass information that threatens us, confuses us, and challenges us.”

Calling for the restoration of “a climate of freedom and an environment of hope,” Bishop Soto noted that we only need to look at the cross, to understand how much Jesus desires us. “The cross is both the medium and the message that Jesus sends us. When we respond to that call… we begin a dialogue that will connect you to the truth that will set you free.”

There is also a story about Bishop Soto that I should probably add here--though I am hesitant to do so. In 2008 Bishop Soto was invited to speak at the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries conference. As usual, Bishop Soto was loving and compassionate in his talk. Yet, he apparently made waves by affirming official Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are disordered in nature and are sinful. He also urged everyone to vote for Proposition 8 in California, the measure which eventually passed in California by a comfortable margin. As I said, I am hesitant to mention the story. After all, I don't see why it made headlines. The Bishop simply taught what the Church and the Bible teaches.

In fact, Bishop Soto has performed notable compassionate and generous service throughout his life in many areas, touching a countless number of people. Among other things he has served on Orange County HIV Advisory committee, the Orange County Legal Aid Society, the Orange County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Girl Scout Council of Orange County, the Orange County Congregation of Community Organizations, and the Orange County Chapter of the American Red Cross. He was known for celebrating Mass monthly at Orange County's Prison and counseling AIDS patients.

His distinguished service to the community has been recognized over and over again, earningg him a number of awards. For example, in 2001 he was named Cypress College's Man of the Year. The school's website lists some of the honors he has received from other organizations, including, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Estrellas Award; the National Conference for Community and Justice’s Humanitarian Award; the Ohtli Recognition; the Orange County Community Congregation Organization Leadership in Action Award; and the Hispanic Development Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I'd love to see more news stories about the various ways.

I might also add that Bishop Soto has a strong record of supporting the rights of the unborn. In 1991, before he was appointed bishop, he resigned his position on an advisory committee to the Santa Ana Unified School District to publicly disassociate himself from a decision it made to provide contraception and abortion related services at an elementary school clinic. He has been known to lead rosary processions to abortion clinics, and has recently declared a day of reparation for abortion in a letter written to his diocese.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of video available on-line of Bishop Soto speaking in English. Here he is with a rather hostile interviewer. I think he was the victim of an ambush here so keep that in mind. In short, this is not the best place to understand Bishop Soto's views on immigration. For a lengthy podcast interview go here. Nonetheless, because this is really the only video in English I can find of him:

There's also this video available of him speaking to a group in Spanish:

2. Archbishop José Goméz (San Antonio)

Helpful sources:
--Archbishop Goméz's page at the Diocese of San Antonio's website.

Archbishop Goméz was born in Mexico. He is one of five children--the only boy. He earned a degree in business and philosophy in 1975 at the National University in Mexico. He went on to the University of Navarre in Rome and graduated in 1978 with a degree in Theology. That same year he was ordained as a priest in the Prelature of Opus Dei. He eventually earned a doctorate in Theology in Spain at the University of Navarre.

For twelve years (1987-1999) he served as a priest at a parish in San Antonio. During these years Archbishop Goméz emerged as a highly regarded national leader among Hispanic priests in the US. He has served as regional representative, president and executive director of the Association of Hispanic Priests.

After serving as a priest in San Antonio, Archbishop Goméz worked in the Diocese of Denver. He was made an auxiliary bishop of Archbishop Chaput in 2001. There he helped to establish Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego for Family and Pastoral Care, which provides care to immigrants in the community as well as formation for lay leaders. While in Denver he also served as Rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception as well as Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 2004, the then Bishop Goméz was appointed head of the archdiocese of San Antonio. In fact, his ties to the archdiocese long pre-date his earlier ministry there. His mother was apparently raised there and his maternal grandparents were married in the city.

Like Bishop Soto, Archbishop Goméz's work has been widely celebrated and he is recognized as one of the rising stars of the Hispanic hierarchy. In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious "El Buen Pastor" award. In 2005 he appeared on Time Magazine’s list of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States. The article about him stated:
. . . Gomez is a natural conciliator admired for uniting rich and poor and Anglo and Hispanic Catholics behind Denver's Centro Juan Diego, a hybrid Latino religious-instruction and social-services center hailed as a national model.
In 2007 he was also featured on CNN’s list of “Notable Hispanics” in a web special celebrating “Hispanic Heritage Month”.

He has also served on the board of directors of the National Catholic Council of Hispanic Ministry as well as on the steering committee for Encuentro 2000, which commemorated the Jubilee Year of 2000. The event took place in Los Angeles and was sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Goméz has also been very much involved in priestly formation and in building community among priests. He has written a book on the spiritual formation of priests, entitled, Men of Brave Heart: The Virtue of Courage in the Priestly Life (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009). He was instrumental in the founding of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Mexico in 2000, a seminary which trains priests who serve in the United States. He has served on the United States Council of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) committees for priestly formation and priestly affairs. In fact, Archbishop Goméz serves on a number of distinguished committees. His own site lists the following:

• Chair: Ad Hoc Committee on the Spanish Language Bible for the Church in America (USCCB), 2003 ‐
• Chair: Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church (USCCB), 2008 ‐
• Member: Committee on Doctrine (USCCB), 2003‐
• Member: Committee on Catechesis (USCCB), 2005 ‐
• Member: Subcommittee on Hispanics and the Liturgy (USCCB), 2005 ‐
• Board Member: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
• Board Member: Mexican American Cultural Center
• Board Member: ENDOW – Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women
• Board of Trustees: The Catholic University of America
• Board of Trustees: San Fernando Cathedral Historical Centre Foundation
• Director: The John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation
• Episcopal Moderator: National Association of Hispanic Priests
• Episcopal Moderator: National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana
• Spiritual Advisor: Catholic Life Insurance
• Founding Member: Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (C.A.L.L.)

Note that at the top of the list is his role as Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Spanish Language Bible for the Church in America. This is an especially important post. Archbishop Goméz is deeply committed to helping Spanish speaking Catholics read the Bible. In fact, he reads the Spanish reflections on the Sunday Readings produced the St. Paul Center each week. For more, go here. These are excellent.

This sort of thing is not unusual for the good prelate. Last year he also headed up the effort to bring a teaching segment to the local population on AM radio.

The Bishop made national headlines last year when he expressed disappointment over the fact that a Catholic college in his diocese, St. Mary's University invited Hilary Clinton to speak. Bishop Gomez insisted, "“Our Catholic institutions must promote the clear understanding of our deep moral convictions on an issue like abortion, an act that the Church calls ‘an unspeakable crime’ and a non-negotiable issue" (source). In addition, go here to see a TV news report, with excerpts from an interview with the bishop.

I might also mention that I personally met Archbishop Goméz last year at a conference I was invited to speak at in San Antonio (I have never met the other bishops I write about here). I was especially struck by his warmth. I thoroughly enjoyed a homily he gave at the conference as well as his keynote address at the Saturday night dinner. He's a great bishop and his flock loves him.

Here is a link to a video of the Archbishop (which I cannot embed here) speaking about the Sacraments as something more than merely a cultural expression. In addition, take a look at this video in which he speaks about immigration--though once again I must add that the video does not fully explain the Archbishop's views (i.e., he believes that illegal immigrants should face penalties, though he urges that since deporation breaks up families, those who break immigration laws should be punished in some other way).

I also like this short little clip of the beginning of a talk he gave to a Catholic women's conference:

The talk apparently went well--it led this woman to want to do Bible study:

Finally, there is this video he did on the special offering for the Church in Latin America as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America:

Bishop Richard John Garcia (Monterey)

Helpful sources:
--"Bishop Garcia to Succeed Bishop Ryan in Monterey," The Tidings, December 22, 2006

Bishop Garcia was born in San Francisco. His parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States with their parents when they were children. He studied at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, CA, and was ordained a priest in 1973.

In 1981, San Jose, which had previously been part of the archdiocese of San Francisco, became its own diocese. At that time, Bishop Garcia--then, of course, a parish priest--became one of the priests of the newly formed diocese.

He earned a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (a.k.a.: "the Angelicum") in 1984. He went on to teach at St. Patrick Seminary, his alma mater, and at the now defunct St. Joseph's Minor Seminary. In 1992 he was made the director of vocations of the diocese of San Jose.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Sacramento in 1997. Actually, during his time as he wore a number of important hats. This is no pointy-headed academic; here is a pastor and an able administrator. He served as vicar general and moderator of the curia, vicar for clergy, episcopal vicar for the Hispanic community, and vicar for education. In 2007 he was named Bishop of Monterey.

Bishop Garcia has been a member of the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. He was also a member of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues and serves on the board of directors of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. He is also on the California bishops' steering committee for prison ministry.

In 2000 he was among a number of bishops who traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to learn about migration problems facing thousands of Central Americans. The Tidings reported, "The delegation subsequently denounced the inhumane treatment of migrants who were apprehended in a U.S.-supported regional initiative targeting human smugglers."

In Monterey, the bishop has also made it his top priority to work to suppress gang violence. See the video here (I am unable to embed it in this post). See the fuller story here.

In addition, Bishop Garcia has made a point of ensuring that the Extraordinary form of the Mass is available in his diocese

He has also given his support to the prolife movement. The Walk for Life website has a quote from him:
"From very early on in my life, I have had profound respect for life and the quality of life. My grandparents and my parents treasured the value of life within the womb and in the total course of all human life.

They taught us what a gift we have in one another and how precious we should consider all life as created, nurtured and sustained by God. And during my priestly life, I have tried to be very attentive to and engaged in the Pro-Life Movement looking at it as the “Seamless Garment” of life as God has lent it to us."
Unfortunately, videos of Bishop Garcia are scarce on the internet. He appears to keep his hands busy with humble pastoral ministry. However, I found one story that speaks volumes about him. A kid reporter, Gabriella Castaneda, writing for Scholastic News Online apparently decided to devote an entire article to Bishop Garcia. In the story she writes about how the bishop has impacted her life and in glowing terms describes the leadership he provides in the community. She writes,
"The people who work in his office really look up to him.

He is always praying for others; he always keeps his promises; he is a joy to work for," said Kim from the Bishop's office."
The bishop has clearly touched this young reporter's life in a profound way.

A Non-Hispanic?
Of course, while some have suggested that Pope Benedict may likely choose a Hispanic, there's no reason to think that he must. In fact, other names have been mentioned of late as possible successors. Who would those be?

Stay tuned for my next post on this.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aquinas, the Literal Sense of Scripture and Theology

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas--happy feast day! I just had to do a post celebrating one of my favorite saints.

St. Thomas' Significance

Throughout the ages, Thomas' work has consistently been held out as a model for Catholic theology. Consider some of the following quotes from various popes. I've added some italics.

Pope John Innocent VI, Serm. De. St. Thoma (c. 1352): “[Thomas’] teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”

Pope Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy), 17, 19(1879): “Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because ‘he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to inherited the intellect of all’ [cited in Pius XI, Stud. Ducem. #5]… he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a love of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching.

. . . Moreover, the Angelic Doctor… single-handed… victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in aftertimes spring up.

Pope Leo XIII, Depuis le jour (On the Education of Clergy), VI, 100: “The book par excellence whence students can study Scholastic Theology with much profit is the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas… It is our wish, therefore, that professors be sure to explain to all their pupils its method, as well as the principle articles relating to Catholic faith.”

Pope St. Pius X, In praecipius to the Roman Academy, I, 124: “Indeed, those principles of wisdom useful for all time, which the holy Fathers and Doctors passed on to us, have been organized by no one more aptly than by Thomas, and no one has explained them more clearly.

Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem, 11 (1923): “. . . Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church…”

Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (1998), 78: “It should be clear… why the magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of St. Thomas’ thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies… The magisterium’s intention has always been to show how St. Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought.

St. Thomas as a Biblical Theologian and His View of the Literal Sense

While Thomas' importance is seldom disputed, what is often overlooked is the fact that for Thomas, the study of Theology was to be first and foremost a biblical exercise. An excellent overview can be found in Christopher Baglow, "Rediscovering St. Thomas Aquinas as Biblical Theologian," Letter & Spirit 1 (2005): 137-146. You can purchase the volume here (it is full of a number of other excellent articles, including one by my friend and co-blogger, Brant Pitre).

Baglow begins by pointing out that, as many scholars explain, for Thomas there is a "unity between sacred Scripture and sacred doctrine" (137). He goes on to cite Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, "Only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith (sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei)" (141).

Baglow highlights Thomas' treatment of Scripture in article ten of the first question of the Prima Pars of his famous Summa Theologica:
The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one — the literal — from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.
Expounding on this passage, Baglow writes:

"Thomas holds that only the literal sense of Scripture is available to theological argumentation. That is because he maintains that all the truths necessary for salvation--the only proper 'content' of doctrine and theology--are to be found in the literal sense of Scripture.

It is not that he denies the possibility or utility of the spiritual senses. Rather, he insists on an essential, foundational status for the literal sense. To be legitimate, all spiritual interpretation must be based on the literal sense. This rules out any allegorizing that does not first deal with the literal meaning of the text" (142).

Suffice it to say, this is probably not what most people expect Thomas to say. In fact, Thomas is positively shocking to many Christians who have never read him. In particular, I'd recommend his commentaries on biblical books to those interested in Scripture study. They are an absolute gold mine.

On this, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, why not check them out?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

I have had a number of conversations lately about whether or not Jesus spoke some Greek. In the past it was generally assumed that ancient Jews fell into two categories: Aramaic speaking Jews in Palestine and Jews in the Diaspora who spoke Greek. However the more this matter is examined the more it seems likely that some Jews in Palestine knew at least some Greek.

Jesus Speaking Aramaic
There is no doubt that Jesus likely spoke Aramaic and that this language was pretty common among Jews in his day. This is confirmed by passages like the following:

"Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (Mark 5:39).

And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; 34 and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” (Mark 7:33-34)

Of course, in these passages Mark makes it clear that though he is writing in Greek, the original words of Jesus were spoken in Aramaic.

Greek in Ancient Palestinian Judaism
But it also seems that Greek was known to ancient Jews. The influence of Greek culture in the first century is clear from the fact that the high priest in 37 A.D. had a strikingly Greek name--Theophilus. It is striking to me that he did not feel the need to change his name to a Semitic one--there was apparently no problem with this high priest being called Theophilus (Ant. 18.123).

Many sources could be cited here. Stanley Porter writes,

". . . Jesus would probably be best described as productively multilingual in Greek and Aramaic, and possibly Hebrew, though Aramaic would have been his first language and Greek and Hebrew being second or acquired languages. . . He may also have been passively multilingual in Latin, although if he had any knowledge of Latin at all it is likely that it was confined to recognition of a few common words. This depiction reflects the linguistic realities of the Mediterranean world of Roman times, including that of the eastern Mediterranean, and is supported by widespread and significant literary, epigraphic, and other evidence. As a result of the conquests of Alexander III ('the Great'), and the rule of the Hellenistic kings (the Diadochi and their successors), the Greco-Roman world was one in which Greek became the language of trade, commerce and communication among the now joined (if not always united) people groups. In other words, Greek was the lingua franca for the eastern Mediterranean world, displacing Aramaic. . . .

The arguments for the use of Greek in Palestine are based upon the role of Greek as the lingua franca of the Roman empire, the specific Hellenized linguistic and cultural character of lower Galilee surrounded by the cities of the Decapolis, and the linguistic fact that the New Testament has been transmitted in Greek from its earliest documents. There is also a range of incriptional evidence (e.g., Jewish funerary inscriptions), numerous Greek papyri, and significant literary evidence, including Jewish books being written in or translated into Greek in Palestine. From this range of evidence, the logical conclusion can be drawn that in fact a sizeable number of Jews in Palestine used Greek."--Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals (London: T & T Clark, 2000), 134-5, 140-141.

The evidence Porter cites is pretty convincing if you read his whole treatment which includes an impressive bibliographic material in footnotes (omitted here).

The Original Aramaic Substratum
I have no doubt that Jesus typically spoke Aramaic. However, scholars often get hung up trying to discover the "Aramaic substratum" behind the Gospels' accounts of Jesus' words. This seems problematic. It appears possible to me that there may have been no "original Aramaic" in some cases.

Your thoughts?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Provocative New Show on Abortion

On this anniversary of Roe vs. Wade a new web series has hit the internet. Here's the description on the show's website. This looks to be very interesting:

BUMP+ The Experiment is an attempt to determine whether story can succeed where nearly four decades of angry rhetoric and political posturing have failed.

Inspired by President Obama’s call to people on both sides of the abortion debate to open the lines of communication and find workable solutions to the problem of unintended pregnancies, Yellow Line Studio is starting that conversation inside the safety zone of a fictional world based on real life situations.

Is our society willing to give it a try? How authentic are these characters? And how serious are we about an open, honest exploration of this controversial topic?

You tell us. Please.

The BUMP pilot premieres January 22, 2010. We can’t predict how it will end because we’re waiting for your input to finish the upcoming episodes.

That’s right – their choice is up to you.

Full disclosure: we’re thinking outside the ballot box here. (Real life isn’t that simple; and, besides, haven’t we all had enough of politics clouding this complicated issue?) We’ll be crafting the episodes to reflect the ongoing discussion on our website boards, so sign in and start talking. We can’t have a conversation by ourselves. Please be kind, though; and remember that we’ve already heard every argument on both sides. In this forum, we’re looking for authentic stories, honest communication, and – hopefully – a continuing dialog. We may even incorporate your experiences into future episodes; but no matter what, you have our promise that your feedback will
determine the final decisions for our characters.

Watch the episodes. Share your story. Join the conversation. Their choice is (really) up to you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oldest Hebrew Inscription Found

Okay, this story has made the rounds on the biblioblog circuit, but I had to mention it here. Here's the report on MSNBC:

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing — an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign.

The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)

Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.

As I mentioned, others have already commented on this story. Bob Cargill has a good roundup.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Authenticity of Jesus' Use of Ps 110 Before Caiaphas

In all three Synoptics Jesus explicitly links imagery from Daniel’s vision of the one like a son of man with language derived from Psalm 110:1. In all three places this occurs at the climactic moment of his so-called “trial” where he explicitly reveals his messianic identity:

“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ 62 And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61–62; cf. Matt 26:63–64 and Luke 22:69).
Many scholars see this passage as a creation of the early church due to the fact that Psalm 110 was the principle text associated with the church’s emerging Christology.[1] Yet, despite the psalm’s popularity in early Christianity, such a conclusion is unwarranted. Let’s look at the evidence.

First, since both the Davidic psalms and Daniel 7 were interpreted eschatologically in ancient Judaism, there is no reason to suppose Jesus, understanding himself as the messiah, could not have seen these texts as referring to himself.

Second and more devastating to the view which sees the conflation as a product of the early church’s theology is the fact that that one rabbinic source specifically links the two passages:

“And in one place in the Writings it is written, ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’ [Ps 110:1],’ and it is also written: ‘Behold, one came with the clouds of heaven, as a son of man’ [Dan 7:13] (Midr. Ps. 2.9 [on 2:7]; cf. 18.29 [on 18:36]).[2]
If non-Christian Jewish rabbis could tie the two passages together there is no reason to insist Jesus could not have.

Moreover, scholars have also pointed out that the depiction of the “son of man” sitting next to God on a “throne of glory” in the Similitudes (1 En. 45:3; 55:4; 62:5) also seems indebted to a combination of imagery from Daniel 7 and Psalm 110.[3]

Suffice it to say, there is no reason to believe Jesus could not have spoken thus. Indeed, texts which we have seen are likely authentic demonstrate that Jesus similarly combined other passages (cf. e.g., Matt 11:5//Luke 7:22; Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46).[4]

[1] More than any other passage, this psalm is used by writers of New Testament books to explain Jesus’ identity and role (cf. e.g., Acts 2:34–35; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12). In particular the language here finds a close similarities with those attributed to the earliest Christian martyr, Stephen, in Acts 7:56: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” However, an interpretation which sees the statement made by Jesus as a re-working of Stephen’s speech, it should be pointed out that Stephen’s language lacks the Semitic flavor of Jesus’ words (i.e., the reverential circumlocution for God, “the Power” / τῆς δυνάμεως). This would seem to make it more difficult to see Stephen’s saying as more ancient than Mark 14:62 and par.
[2] Cited from Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 419.
[3] That 1 Enoch links Psalm 110 to the eschatological figure is recognized by many. See, e.g., Theisohn, Der auserwählte Richter, 98; Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 260–61; Hengel, Studien zur Christologie, 334–35; Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 206. In addition, Schaper (Eschatology in the Greek Psalter, 101–7) has made a compelling case that the LXX exhibits an eschatological reading of the MT, a view recently endorsed by Lee (From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 207). See also James L. Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 94–98; 119–27. Luz (Matthäus, 3:89) also raises another possibility that merits consideration: “Da Ps 110 für das Urchristentum, insbesondere für die Interpretation der Erhöhung Jesu und sein ‘Sitzen zur Rechten Gottes’ seit sehr früher Zeit außerordentlich wichtig war und als einziger christologischer Text aus der Bibel bis in die altkirchlichen Credo-Formulierungen nachwirkte, ist es denkbar―aber nicht beweisbar―, daß alte messianische Auslegungen im jüdischen Überlieferungsprozeß unterdrückt wurden, weil Ps 110 im Christentum eine so große Rolle spielte.” See also Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 206, who also favors this option: “. . . after the return from the exile, when there was a new temple under the religious and political leadership of the Aaronide priests―without the ark of the covenant and without any king in Jerusalem―the original meaning of Ps 110 (i.e., the king ruling with the honour and authority given by God) would have been lost with time. In later times the Jews would have been left with only two possibilities: a figurative application of the psalm either to a historical person such as Abraham and Hezekiah, or to an eschatological-messianic figure. The evidence from Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament period suggests that the latter possibility was the most likely. If this is correct, the argument that anti-Christian polemic led to non-messianic interpretations in rabbinic sources, especially those in the Tannaitic period, gains force.”
[4] Other charges also leveled against the historicity of this episode have also been dealt with by others, most effectively by Bock, Blasphemy and exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus, 209–33. For example, some have made the claim that the passage cannot be historical because the charge of blasphemy depends upon Christological implications of Jesus claim which were produced by the early Church, e.g., “the Messiah” is linked with “Son of God” language. See, e.g., Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 54. However, as Betz has demonstrated, the language here also closely mirrors 2 Samuel 7 and 4Q174. See Otto Betz, “Die Frage nach dem messianischen Bewusstsein Jesu,” NovT 6 (1963) 20–48; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:531.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Two Sons

So big news in the Barber household: our 18 month old son, Michael Jr., looked at our Bible and, in a clear voice, identified it: "Bible". That's certainly worthy of a post!

Though I don't have a video of the moment, in honor of this rather auspicious occasion, I'm here including the most amazing post my wife put up on our two wonderful boys over at our family blog , which she has graciously allowed me to repost here (thanks, honey!). Check it out:

When you have a brother there's someone there to love....

To see neat stuff...

To give a kiss...

Or maybe a lil' shove.

When you have a brother, the kisses will abound

Laughter will be plentiful

With a brother around.

Brothers are a help to you, when cleaning out your ears

or flossing,



and keeping away the tears.

Brothers share their toys and treasures,

they do this quite a lot.

They'll even share their pacifiers...

...on second thought, maybe not.

Brothers like to be a team, and tease their dear ol' mama,

But there's always love, and always joy,

and maybe a touch of drama.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Luke 1-2: 490 Days and Daniel 9

René Laurentin, in his insightful book, The Truth of Christmas: Beyond the Myths (Petersham, Mass.: St. Bede’s Publications, 1986) [translated from Les Evangiles de L’Enfance du Christ Vérité de Noël au-delà des mythes (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1982)] makes some interesting observations about the timetable in Luke 1-2. The book is often overlooked so I thought I'd do a post on some of his interesting analysis.

Daniel 9 and the 490 Days

One of the most fascinating Old Testament prophecies is found in Daniel 9:
Dan 9:24: Seventy weeks are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint [“anointed”= Heb: mashiyach=“Messiah”; Grk: christos= “Christ”] a most holy.
The prophecy is famously ambiguous. It should be noted that some English translations have Daniel speaking of seventy weeks of years--though the Hebrew does not require that. Either way, what is clear is that the prophecy envisions a period of seventy weeks--which is precisely 490 days--until the vision and prophet are sealed and a most holy--either a person, i.e., the messiah, or, less likely, a place, i.e., the temple, are "anointed".

Laurentin believes this prophecy is in the backdrop of Luke 1-2.

In the Sixth Month

Laurentin points out that Luke seems to set up a timetable of 490 days--seventy weeks--in Luke 1-2.

Follow closely. First, Gabriel comes to Mary sixth months after having announced the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth. The timing is mentioned not once but twice.
Luke 1:26-27: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin. . .
Luke 1:36: And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
What is the significance of this? According to Luke we have the following:
1. Gabriel announces John’s Birth to Zechariah
2. 6 months later Gabriel comes to Mary (Luke 1:26)

Six months from the annunciation to Zechariah would bring us to roughly 180 days (6 x 30 = 180).

Now consider that Mary is pregnant for nine months, another 270 days (9 x 30 = 270). So now in Luke's narrative chronology we have 180 + 270 days, which brings us to 450 days.

The 490 Days of Luke 1-2

Finally, note that Luke makes a big deal of pointing out that after Jesus' birth Mary went up to the temple to complete the rites of purification.
Luke 2:22-24: And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Why do they offer a sacrifice? Because it was mandated by the Torah. According to Leviticus, a woman is unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a male child (cf. Lev. 12:2), who must be circumcised on the 8th day, and for another 33 days the woman must continue purification (cf. Lev 12:4). At the end of this period the woman is to offer a sacrifice. This is obviously what is envisioned in Luke 2.

So let's total up the numbers here:
1. Gabriel announces John’s Birth to Zechariah
2. 6 months later Gabriel comes to Mary (Luke 1:26) (6 x 30 = 180)
3. Annunciation to Mary until Jesus' birth = 270 days (9 x 30); 180 + 270 = 450 days
4. Mary is unclean for 7 days (cf. Lev 12:2)―457 day
5. Mary must purify herself for another 33 days (cf. Lev 12:3)

If Mary goes to the temple on the 33rd day we have something quite interesting: 33 + 457 = 490 days. This corresponds beautifully with Daniel 9. In fact, that Daniel 9's timetable is in view is especially reinforced by what immediately happens after the Holy Family comes to offer the sacrifice for purification.
Luke 2:25-32: 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; 30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation 31 which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
That the narrative climaxes with the prophet Simeon's words that God's word to him has finally been fulfilled fits perfectly well with Daniel 9, where the culmination of seventy weeks (490 days) is linked with the promise to "seal both vision and prophet" (Dan 9:24). Of course, the prophecy in Daniel 9 could also be read as describing the anointing of a messianic figure, which could be linked with the arrival of the Christ. It is also linked with atonement from sin and everlasting righteousness. Both of these things could easily be linked with Simeon's words.

Finally, one more thing. Scholars generally note that the timetable in Daniel 9 is related to Jubilee traditions. Notably, Jubilee traditions figure prominently in Luke's Gospel--Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that Isaiah's eschatological Jubilee has arrived (cf. Luke 4). It seems likely then that such Jubilee traditions would also be found elsewhere.

All of these connections could be dismissed as coincidental--but that view I think would be special pleading. It seems to me that Laurentin is correct--Daniel 9 stands in the backdrop of Luke 1-2.

UPDATE: In the comment box (for the post below--oops!) Fr. Pablo Gadenz points out one important thing I forgot to include--Gabriel is the one who announces the seventy weeks in Daniel 9--the same angel who makes appearances to Zechariah and Mary! (How did I forget to include that?!)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On the Essential Unity of the Old and New Testaments

Merry Christmas to everyone out there.
Over the Christmas break, I've been reading a biography of the twentieth-century theologian, Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), by Rudolf Voderholzer, entitled, Meet Heri de Lubac: His Life and Work (Ignatius Press, 2008). 
One of the most interesting parts of the book is when it recounts de Lubac's composition of his multi-volume masterpiece, Medieval Exegesis (3 vols. Eerdmans, 1998, 2000, 2008). In preparation for this work, de Lubac worked through all 217 volumes of Migne's Latin Church Fathers and all 162 volumes of the Greek Fathers, copying down all of the relevant passages on the doctrine of Scripture on slips of paper! What I found fascinating about this recollection was not just the thoroughness of his research (who does this anymore besides Dale Allison?), but, in the course of such reading, his overarching discovery:
"Along the way I became more and more strongly aware of the essential nature of the extraordinary connection, always threatened but always maintained or reestablished within the Church, between the two Testaments; I saw it more and more clearly dominating the whole history and the whole doctrine of the Church, from the first century to our own time... I was happy working to do justice in that way to one of the central elements of the Catholic tradition, so grossly unappreciated in modern times and nevertheless still the bearer of promises for renewal." (Henri de Lubac, At the Service of the Church, 83-84, cited in Meet Henri de Lubac, 79)
This is a remarkable claim. After reading through the vast majority of the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, de Lubac found that the issue of "the essential unity" of the Old and New Testaments "dominates" both the "history" and "doctrine" of the Church, from the beginning down to our times. Think about it, and it rings true: 
What was the first council of Jerusalem about? The unity of the Old and New testaments, and whether not requiring circumcision for salvation was an abandonment of the old covenant. How about Irenaeus' clash with Gnosticism? The unity of the Old and New Testaments, and whether the Creator God of the old was the same as the Redeemer of the New.
Indeed, even today, what about the quest for the historical Jesus, especially in its most recent form, which is so focused on Jesus the Jew? At the heart of it, isn't this really about answering the question of continuity between Jesus (who lived according to the Old Testament) and the Church (representing the New)? 
For what it's worth, for years I have suggested to my students (with no actual research or evidence to back it up) that most of the heresies that have plagued the Church over the centuries often seem in some way be tied to a failure to pay adequate attention to the Old Testament. It's vindicating to find someone of de Lubac's erudition (personally, I've only had the time to read 161 volumes of Migne's Greek fathers;) confirming the basic idea that the unity of the Old and New Testaments is "always being threatened" by various voices but "always being maintained or reestablished within the Church." In our century, such an affirmation was given an unprecedented visibility at the Second Vatican Council in Dei Verbum 14-15 and even moreso in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which devotes three long paragraphs to "the unity of the Old and New Testaments" (CCC 128-130). 
In closing, I also think, but cannot prove, that one of the reason's N. T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress 1996) was such a popular book was that he integrated the Old Testament prophets into his reconstruction of Jesus' life and aims more thoroughly than any other scholar writing at the time. I can honestly say that for my own part, while writing my dissertation, it was Wright above all who pushed me to actually go back and not just read Second Temple sources, but the Old Testament itself, especially the prophets, in my own attempt to understand the first-century prophet from Nazareth.