Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is Realism? Ben XVI's Perspective

What is realism? Some would say it was an artistic movement of the nineteenth century, a good example of which is the painting at right.

For others, "realism" is almost synonymous with "pessimism" or "cynicism." So a realist is the person who says the glass is half empty.

One of my favorite lines from the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini is the following:

"The Word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the Word of God the foundation of all things" (§10).

As we continue to celebrate the Octave of Christmas, reflecting on the Word made Flesh, may we all become Realists!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunny San Diego

Tomorrow's weather report--some random sampling:

New York: 27°F | 21°F
Pittsburgh: 27°F | 21°F (with snow)
Boston: 30°F | 14°F (with snow)
Chicago: 24°F | 15°F
Washington, D.C.: 37°F | 26°F
Vermont 19°F | 4°F (with snow)
New Jersey: 30°F | 20°F (with snow)
Denver: 48°F | 27°F
New Orleans: 42°F | 32°F
San Diego: 64°F | 50°F (sunny with some clouds)

And, yes, I like a "white Christmas"--so long as it involves artificial snow.

I suspect the people stranded in airports trying to get home from their Christmas vacations but unable to do so because of weather may be feeling the same way. : )

Sunday, December 26, 2010

St. Stephen's Christ-like Holiness

Happy Feast of St. Stephen! Since Stephen is one of my favorite saints I couldn't let the day go by without posting something in his honor. In fact, we named our second son after him: Matthew Stephen. This is from my earlier series of posts (Part 1Part 2, Part 3) on the book of Acts:
. . . 

One of the most striking similarities between the narrative of Luke and the story of Acts is found in the account of what happens to one of the seven deacons appointed by the apostles, St. Stephen. Jesus had been arrested, made to stand trial, and was questioned by the high priest. He was accused by false witnesses who claimed that he had said he would destroy the temple. In then end, Jesus was of course executed. All of this also occurs to Stephen who is arrested, made to stand before the council, accused by false witnesses of claiming Jesus would destroy the temple, questioned by the high priest, and executed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank You, Lord, for a Bishop Like This

Check out this video of Bishop Olmstead, responding to criticism for declaring officially what everyone had known for some time: the local Catholic hospital was not really Catholic:

Good Advice on Surviving Christmas

Florine Church shares a link to a good article on surviving the rigors of Christmas. Check it out and enjoy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Catholic Saint on the Importance of Scripture

The Pope's recent apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, (through which I am reading, albeit slowly), reminds me of how frequently the popes, the fathers, the doctors, and the saints have urged us Catholics to read and reflect on Scripture--and how sluggish our response has been!

I know the stereotype is that Catholics aren't interested in Scripture. In many places and at many times the stereotype holds true. I would add that many Protestants are also not interested in Scripture, but the point at present is not to argue apologetics. My point at present is that, if Catholics are not interested in Scripture, it is not from a lack of exhortation from the most authoritative representatives of the faith.

St. Josemaria Escriva, a recently canonized saint, is a good example of the reverence for Scripture that lies at the heart of the faith:

“When you open the Holy Gospel," St. Josemaria wrote, “think that what is written there—the words and deeds of Christ—is something that you should not only know, but live. Everything, every point that is told there, has been gathered, detail-by-detail, for you to make it come alive in the individual circumstances of your life.

“God has called us Catholics to follow him closely. In that holy Writing you will find the Life of Jesus, but you should also find your own life there.

“You too, like the Apostle, will learn to ask, full of love, ‘Lord, what would you have me do?’ And in your soul you will hear the conclusive answer, ‘The Will of God!’

“Take up the Gospel every day, then, and read it and live it as a definite rule. This is what the saints have done” (The Forge, §754).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tertullian on Baptism and the Ordination of Aaron

33 years ago today I was baptized. In honor of that here's a great quote from Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) on baptism, in which he links the Christian sacrament to the rites of Aaron and the priests in the Old Testament:
After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction [i.e., "oil"],—(a practice derived) from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, men were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called “Christ,” from the “chrism,” which is “the unction"; which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was “anointed” with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: “For truly they were gathered together in this city against Thy Holy Son whom Thou hast anointed.” Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins (On Baptism, vii).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ruth and Advent

The Book of Ruth is rarely mentioned during Advent, but it makes for good Advent meditation.

There are obvious connections between Ruth and the Christmas story. Both Bo'az and Ruth are mentioned in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1. Outside of Matthew and Luke, only in Ruth do we have a story about a pious young Jewish couple having their firstborn son in Bethlehem.

When we read Ruth in light of all the Scriptures, we see in Bo’az a clear type, or image, of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly our “Bo’az,” which means in Hebrew “in him is strength.” Jesus is our go’el, our Redeemer, which is what Ruth calls Bo’az in 3:9 (blandly rendered “next of kin” in the RSV). Jesus is the one who feeds us with bread and wine until we are satisfied (as Bo’az does for Ruth in 2:14) and even have an abundance to share with others (again see Ruth 2:14, and compare The Feeding of the 5000, John 6:11-13, 35). Jesus is the one who espouses himself to us (John 3:29; Eph 5:25-32), though we are poor and hungry (Matt 5:3,6), and not even of the race of Israel (Eph 2:11-13, 19-22). In Ruth 2:12, Bo’az invokes the LORD to bless Ruth since she has come under the LORD’s “wings” (Heb kanaphim); in Ruth 3:9, Ruth literally says to Bo’az, “Spread the wing (kanaph) of your garment over me.” The LORD’s “wing” becomes Bo’az’s “wing.” Bo’az becomes to Ruth the concrete manifestation of the LORD’s mercy, strength, protection, and love. This is also what Jesus is to us, the Church, in the New Covenant.

Marriage is not a human invention and cannot be redefined by human beings. Marriage is an natural icon designed by God to represent his covenant with his people. For that reason, marriage is a prominent theme throughout the Bible and salvation history, from the first marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:21-24) to the Wedding of the Lamb (Rev 21-22). Pope Benedict XVI remarks, “Biblical revelation, in fact, is above all the expression of a story of love, the story of the covenant of God with man; therefore the story of the love and union between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage was able to be assumed by God as a symbol of the history of salvation” (Address, 6 June 2005). Ruth is one of the best examples in Scripture in which a story of courtship and marriage typifies God’s plan of salvation.

The Messianic reading of the book of Ruth is not uniquely Christian. In conversations with Brant last night, he pointed out that the rabbinic tradition was strongly given to a Messianic interpretation of Ruth. In particular, Ruth 2:14, which has such Eucharistic overtones for Christian ears, was understood by the rabbis as a reference to the Messianic banquet!

I hope to teach on Ruth and on the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem in about five months! I’m helping lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Everyone is invited! Here’s the specifics if you want to come: . You'll have to scroll down a little to find my pilgrimage.

Aquinas on the Word of Creation and Redemption

“Whoever makes anything by understanding does his work by mentally conceiving the form of the thing to be done. For example, the house constructed of matter is built by the builder by means of the plan (‘rationale’) for this house, as he conceives it in his mind. God produces things in being not through a necessity of his nature, but intelligently and voluntarily. Therefore, God made all things by His Word, which is the rationale of things made by Him. This is why St. John says, All things were made by him [Jn 1:3]. In agreement with this, Moses describes the origin of the world by using such a manner of speech for the single works: God said ‘let there be light,’ and light was made . . . God said: Let there be a firmament made [Gen 1:1–3], and so of the rest. All of which the Psalmist includes, saying, He spoke and they were made [Ps. 148:5]. Thus, therefore, one must understand that God spoke and they were made because He articulated his Word, by which he produced things in being as through their perfect rationale.”[1]

Safire's Satirical Grammatical Rules

This week, as I finish grading papers, I am reminded once again of William Safire’s helpful satirical survey of grammatical rules.[1] I have incorporated these into a file all students have access to, “Guidelines for Writing Papers at JP Catholic.” I love this.

Note carefully that each of the following breaks the rule it describes. 
  1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  2. Don't use no double negatives.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Sacred Page Makes A Different Top Blogger List

Yes, thanks to Jeremy Thompson, every month the list of the top fifty biblioblogs comes out and, invariably, makes the cut.

Now we're being mentioned on another list: the top 50 blogs written by professors of Theology, Biblical studies and other related fields, i.e., Religious Studies. The list has been compiled by Rachel Stevenson over at Master of Theology, a site intended to help people learn about grad programs. Check it out.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mary's Visit to Elizabeth, Ark Imagery & the Fathers

Patristic sources often link Mary, the mother of Jesus, to ark of the covenant imagery. Where did this tradition originate? At first glance, it might be suspected that such language is merely the result of reckless allegorization. After all, the New Testament never links Mary with the ark . . . right?

Here I want to make the case that the imagery of Mary as ark can be found in Luke’s Gospel. In particular, I want to look at a story relevant to the Christmas season: Luke's account of the Visitation, i.e., Mary's visit to Elizabeth. The story is rich in Old Testament echoes. As we shall see, it seems the fathers were much more careful readers of the New Testament than is often realized. This should raise a few eyebrows. Please let me know what you think in the com-box.

Mary as the Ark of the Covenant in Patristic Sources

First, let me establish the assertion I made above, namely, that patristic writers linked Mary with the ark. A few citations will do. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive survey.

Hippolytus (c. a.d. 170–c. a.d. 236):  “At that time, the Savior coming from the Virgin, the Ark, brought forth His own body into the world from that Ark, which was gilded with pure gold within by the Word, and without by the Holy Ghost; so that the truth was shown forth, and the Ark was manifested....And the Savior came into the world bearing the incorruptible Ark, that is to say His own body” [Dan .vi].

Daniel 7 Parallels in Revelation 4-5

Mike Bird just posted on the parallels between Revelation 4-5, which highlight Jesus' divinity in the Apocalypse. Following up on that we might also note several parallels between these two chapters and Daniel 7:

1.    introductory vision phraseology (Dan. 7:9 [cf. Dan. 7:2, 6-7]; Rev. 4:1)
2.    a throne(s) set in heaven (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2, 9)
3.    God is sitting on a throne (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2)
4.    God’s appearance on the throne is described (Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:3)
5.    there is fire before the throne (Dan. 7:9-10; Rev. 4:5)
6.    servants surround the throne (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 4:4; 6-10; 5:8, 11, 14)
7.    sea imagery is found in both chapters (Dan. 7:2-3; Rev. 4:6). 
8.    book(s) are before the throne (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:1ff)
9.    the book(s) opened (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:2-5, 9)
10. a divine / messianic figure approaches God’s throne to receive authority to reign forever over a kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 5:5-7, 9, 12-13)
11. the kingdom’s scope is described as encompassing “all peoples, nations, and tongues” (Dan. 7:14; Rev. 5:9)
12. the seer undergoes emotional distress on account of the vision (Dan 7:15; Rev. 5:4)
13. the seer receives heavenly counsel concerning the vision from one of the heavenly servants (Dan. 7:16; Rev. 5:5)
14. The saints are given divine authority to reign over a kingdom (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Rev. 5:10)
15. there is a concluding mention of God’s eternal reign (Dan. 7:27; Rev. 5:13-14).[1]

[1] Adapted from G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 314-15.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sola Scriptura: Is it taught in Scripture?

It's an interesting question to ask whether the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura is actually taught in Scripture.

When I have posed this question to people, the verse that is most frequently cited is 2 Timothy 3:16:

2Tim. 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

However, if one examines the verse carefully, it falls short of saying that Scripture is the only source for the content of the faith, etc. The best defense is probably to take the the Greek word for "profitable" (ophelimos) as "sufficient," reading the verse this way: "All scripture is ... sufficient for teaching, etc." However, that is a bit of a linguistic stretch.

So what do you think? What is the best Scriptural proof of Sola Scriptura?

P.S. Michael, how did the Leviticus talks go?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Life on the Rock Interview

Here's the Life on the Rock episode. I don't come on until about 8 minutes into the show:

Jesus' Answer to the Disciples of John & the Dead Sea Scrolls (Sunday's Reading)

Picture: A Photo of 4Q521

This Sunday's Gospel is taken from Matthew 11:2-6. In fact, this passage has an interesting parallel in the Dead Sea Scrolls that sheds some fascinating light on Jesus' words. Let me explain.

First, let's look at the Gospel text:
"Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them."
In sum, the disciples of John ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. Jesus responds by appealing to his miracles.

Moreover, most scholars recognize that Jesus' answer draws from two passages in Isaiah:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Join Me This Sunday: Understanding Leviticus

This Sunday I will be leading a special study on the Book of Leviticus. That's not a joke. Yes, Leviticus! You may think this book is irrelevant to Christians. . . if so, you're wrong!

Come learn about:
  • . . . all the gory details of the sacrificial laws--and why they are significant!  
  • . . . Israel's the purity laws, e.g., what was "holy," "common," "clean" and "unclean,".  How did Jewish and Christian writers interpret these laws? Why don't these laws apply in the New Covenant?
  • . . . the major Jewish feasts, such as the Day of Atonement. How are these feasts fulfilled in Christ according to the New Testament?
  • . . . how priests ate holy meals that were related to atonement and how the New Testament seems to link these meals to the Eucharist.
  • . . . and much, much more!
Leviticus may seem like an unimportant book for Christians. I hope to disabuse people of that mentality.

We will also be treated to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Syriac (Aramaic) according to the Melkite Catholic rite @ 11:30am. This is an ancient form of the Mass.

Among other things, after the Eucharist, I will talk about the connection between the divine liturgy and Old Testament rites. Hint: in the Divine Liturgy you will find priests wearing vestments, altars, incense, candles, bread, wine. . . are you seeing any possible connections here?

Where: Sacred Heart Chapel, Covina (381 W. Center St., Covina, CA 91723)
When: Begins at 9am. Divine Liturgy at 11:30am. Sessions resume after lunch @ 1:30pm. We will finish at 3pm.
For more information call: 1-800-526-2151.

The History of the Doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception

Mark Shea is a fantastic Catholic author who has put out a number of popular-level books on the Catholic faith. Mark himself is a convert to Catholicism. And it wasn't an easy road for him to Rome. Suffice it to say, he essentially researched himself into the Catholic Church.

Today he discusses the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic doctrine that once seemed an impossible obstacle to communion with Rome. December 8th, of course, the Catholic Church celebrates this teaching about Mary. So I thought it appropriate to relay his post on the topic, which is an excerpt from his three volume work, Mary, Mother of the Son.
Even if you disagree with the doctrine, I'm sure you'll find his historical overview helpful.
What About the Eastern Orthodox Churches? 
. . . Some people have the notion the Eastern Orthodox Churches reject the Immaculate Conception because a few early Eastern Fathers (Origen, Basil, and John Chrysostom) expressed a couple of doubts about Mary's sinlessness. Origen thought that, during Christ's Passion, the sword that pierced Mary's soul was disbelief. Basil had the same notion. And John Chrysostom thought her guilty of ambition and pushiness in Matthew 12:46 (an incident we have already examined).

Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse of Biblical Scholarship (without spending money!)

Not everyone has institutional funds to cover expenses for conferences like the Society of Biblical Literature. If you are in that situation (e.g. a poor grad student or independent scholar), a great way to keep current on developments in biblical studies is simply to read the abstracts of the papers given every year at the SBL. If you find a paper that really intrigues you, search down the email of the scholar who presented it, and ask them for an electronic copy. Often they are willing to provide one. It’s easy to be intimidated by well-known scholars, especially during one’s student years, but most Bible scholars lead rather modest lives and feel flattered if anyone expresses interest in their work. In any event, if you click on the title of this post, it will take you to the site from which you may view this year’s abstracts. It's useful to "select all" and copy the page into a Word doc. Since it’s electronic format, it’s searchable! That's a big improvement over the print editions which used to be distributed on site.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Hanukkah Song Becomes Internet Sensation

Some students at Yeshiva University have come up with a music video for Hanukkah that is now going viral. In only a couple of days the video has racked up over 2 million views.

The feast of Hanukkah, of course, celebrates the Jewish victory over the Greeks and is recounted in the books of Maccabees. I love this story. In fact, I just taught on the books of Maccabees today! It should go without saying that these amazing books are only found in Catholic Bibles.

So this might be a little confusing for some of you ought there. ; )

Monday, December 06, 2010

Was Joseph Really Suspicious of Mary? A Look at the Gospel Reading for Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 1. Here we read about the annunciation to Joseph. 
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18–21).
Here's the question I want to deal with here: why does Matthew tell us that Joseph wanted to "send [Mary] away quietly"? 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Christian Group Claims Jesus is Coming May 21, 2011!

Joel points out that one Christian group has put up billboards announcing that they have figured it all out--Jesus is coming May of next year. Really?

Here's the problem with such claims:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. . .  42  Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt 24:35-36, 42-44).

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ignatius of Antioch on the Eucharist

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . .
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]). 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

What is Modernism?

Some may have seen this classic sequence before, but as long as we're in a jovial mood on the blog, I thought I'd post it. Although it's done by and for Anglicans, Catholics and other sorts of Protestants will recognize the Modernist approach to religion satirized here:

Academia Here I Come

H/T Jim West