Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

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The Most Abandoned Soul by Anthony Esolen

July 11, 2014
Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ, the original of which is located in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino on the Italian Riviera.

Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ, the original of which is located in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino on the Italian Riviera.

The following was recently selected the 2014 Awards Best Essay Prayer and Spirituality First Place by the Catholic Press Association. Anthony Esolen is professor of English at Providence College, a senior editor of Touchstone Magazine, and a regular contributor to Magnificat. He is the translator and editor of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House) and author of The Beauty of the Word: A running Commentary on the Roman Missal (Magnificat). Reblogged from Magnificat.

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Which among you, asks Jesus, having one lost sheep from a hundred, will not leave the ninety- nine and seek for the one in the wilderness?

That saying has always struck me as strange, as convicting us of hardheartedness. For the fact is, many of us would leave that hundredth sheep to die. I confess that I would. It’s only a sheep, after all. Better tend to the ninety-nine, and take some much-needed rest.

These things will happen. The man has divorced his wife for another woman, and now, having abandoned her in turn, is drinking his life away in a bar. Well, we may pray for him from a distance, if we remember. But the rest of his family is all right, the ninety-nine of them, and we can take comfort in that. One sheep is only one, and is much like another anyhow.

The Souls of Purgatory
That is not Jesus’ way. Even if there had been but one sinner to redeem, he would have shed his blood for that one, and suffered the agony to the end. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of each world of sin: of each lost sheep in the wilderness. We calculate advantages to ourselves; calculating sheep are we. But there is no calibration in the love that Jesus gives. It is full measure, shaken together and spilling over. It is life, and that in abundance.

Sometimes, when the grace of God pierces our self-satisfied hearts, we feel an impulse of that all-forsaking love. The impulse may be slight enough, but it is precious. One night, during a dark time in my life, I was driving home past a large maximum security prison, ringed with fences and barbed wire. And the thought came to me that there was someone there whom no one outside cared for, whom no one visited, whom the other prisoners shunned and the guards did not like.

Whoever he was, I prayed for him then, because the loneliness weighed upon me like a mountain. But the self-satisfaction returns: “Look here, I’ve managed to round up at least eighty or so, these stupid and shaggy creatures,” never considering my own stupidity, my fleece tangled with filth and dank with the scent of the wolves from whose jaws I was snatched, and whose presence I hardly suspected. Then it might behoove us to remember the souls who have been saved, who are aware of the pain and loss that might have swallowed them up for ever, and who are assisted by our prayers: the souls in purgatory.

Prayer for the Holy Souls
Here, then, is a beautiful prayer for those members of the Church Suffering:

O Lord God almighty, I pray thee by the Precious Blood which thy divine Son Jesus shed in the garden, deliver the souls in purgatory, and especially that soul among them all which is most destitute of spiritual aid; and vouchsafe to bring it to thy glory, there to praise and bless thee for ever. Amen.

The most abandoned soul in purgatory: most forgotten by the living, most alone, most poor in merits, farthest from the sight of God.

The prayer reminds us of that terrible hour in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed and sweat drops of blood, while his three chosen friends, Peter, James, and John—even the beloved John — abandoned their Lord and fell asleep. Jesus in his humanity knew no comfort from those friends. He was one with the Father, and the Father’s will was that he should bear upon his shoulders, stretched in agony upon the bitter cross, all the accumulated sins of mankind.

An angel was with him, messenger of God; and we may well think of the angel on that first Passover centuries before, who slew the first born of Egypt to set the children of Israel free. This time the victim will be Jesus, Only Begotten Son of the Father: God himself, suffering to unleash the sacraments of love and eternal life.

One With the Most Abandoned
When we think of the aloneness of Jesus, it is impossible to say of a fellow sinner, “Well, he has driven everyone away, and now suffers what he deserves.” We are not permitted to speak in that fashion. It may be that in the sinner’s destitution he is drawing close to the heart of Jesus, whose hand even now may be resting upon that lost sheep’s shoulder. Likewise, that least of souls in purgatory enjoys an incomparable gift which we do not yet enjoy. He, despite his suffering, and also in and through his suffering, is already among the saved, and God’s grace protects him from committing a single sin, while we can hardly endure a day without indulging our pride, or falling back into sloth and cowardice. Sheep indeed.

But to pray for the souls in purgatory is like playing a prelude which begins in darkness and moves always toward light and joy. Consider now this companion to the previous prayer:

O Lord God almighty, I pray thee by the Precious Blood  which thy divine Son Jesus shed in his cruel scourging, deliver the souls in purgatory, and that soul especially among them all which is nearest to its entrance into thy glory: that so it may forthwith begin to praise and bless thee forever. Amen.

It is a wonderful thing to know that the most abandoned among us, through the blood of Christ, will stand at the doorway to paradise, no less than the greatest of saints will have done before.

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The Meaning Of The New Covenant 1 – Hans Urs von Balthasar

March 10, 2014
The brilliant theologian and philosopher Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about God's involvement with man and man's involvement with God in the Old and the New Testaments. He shows how that interaction of the divine with the human reveals the meaning of true freedom that man is always hungering for but often strives after in wrong and dangerous ways. He shows that God's free revelation of himself in Christ is an invitation to enter into the realm of absolute and divine freedom, in which alone human freedom can be fully realized.  The true Christian manifests the kind of freedom that is constantly being sought after by the non-Christian. In modern times, the freedom of man is a theme that preoccupies everyone. Atheistic philosophies are wholly taken up with this preoccupation. The Enlightenment was concerned with the freeing of reason from the "fetters of faith': Marx wrote about freeing man economically, and Freud wrote of freeing man from the bondage of a past as yet unmastered. As opposed to those whose search for freedom urges them onward into a barren void, the Christian stands as the messenger of freedom accomplished and a freedom attainable by all. A true freedom of the sons and daughters of God, something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

The brilliant theologian and philosopher Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about God’s involvement with man and man’s involvement with God in the Old and the New Testaments. He shows how that interaction of the divine with the human reveals the meaning of true freedom that man is always hungering for but often strives after in wrong and dangerous ways. He shows that God’s free revelation of himself in Christ is an invitation to enter into the realm of absolute and divine freedom, in which alone human freedom can be fully realized. The true Christian manifests the kind of freedom that is constantly being sought after by the non-Christian. In modern times, the freedom of man is a theme that preoccupies everyone. Atheistic philosophies are wholly taken up with this preoccupation. The Enlightenment was concerned with the freeing of reason from the “fetters of faith’: Marx wrote about freeing man economically, and Freud wrote of freeing man from the bondage of a past as yet unmastered. As opposed to those whose search for freedom urges them onward into a barren void, the Christian stands as the messenger of freedom accomplished and a freedom attainable by all. A true freedom of the sons and daughters of God, something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, is widely considered one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote over 60 works of theology, spirituality and philosophy, including his great trilogy: the 7 volume work The Glory of the Lord, the five volume work Theo-Drama, and the three volume work Theo-Logic. His most famous individual works include Prayer, Heart of the World, Mysterium Paschale and Cosmic Liturgy. “Just as Love Alone Is Credible captures the essence of the seven-volume The Glory of the Lord, so does Engagement with God explain his five-volume Theo-Drama. But in Engagement with God von Balthasar does more: by setting his account of the drama of Christian discipleship against the anti-Christian ideologies of the 1960s von Balthasar brings his theology to bear on the highest cost of discipleship — martyrdom — by seeing the martyr as the mirror of God’s own involvement in the human race through his own martyred Son. One can hardly read a more sober, and yet exhilarating, account of what it means to live committed to God’s own commitment to the world.

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Jesus as God’s Involvement
The Old Covenant afforded us a superlatively clear picture of the God who chooses freely and of man, chosen that he might be free. It showed us their meeting and engaging with one another in a relationship of grace and obedience, of love given and love returned; and that this return of love determines the whole man in his religious, ethical, devotional, and secular existence. If we look now at the New Testament and say that the divine involvement reaches its consummation in the man, Jesus of Nazareth, does not then the whole scheme we have just outlined threaten to concertina?

For in Jesus of Nazareth, God’s word to us becomes simultaneously man’s response to him, the God who chooses becomes mingled with man who is the object of this choice, and it is reasonable to fear that the ordered relationship of distance and proximity between God and man might become confused, that God might finally become totally absorbed in manhood and that man might then be able to consider himself endowed with the dignity of Godhood. It is a foolhardy risk that God takes in allowing his Word to “be made man” in Jesus, and it is because God is prepared to risk even the cross and the state of God-abandonment that Paul can speak of “the foolishness of God”.

The fact that Jesus is the ultimate expression of the divine involvement is evident in a doctrine, central to primitive and, indeed, pre-Pauline Christianity and summed up in the phrase pro nobis — “on our behalf”. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” [sharing our lost condition] (Romans 8:32).

And the Son is not content to submit passively or unwillingly, for he takes on the Father’s attitude of self-giving. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [and] … he was buried” (1Corinthians 15:3-4); “the Son of God … loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Son’s devotion expressed the Father’s condescension, which proves his overflowing love for the world (see John 3:16). One can next see this gesture simply as a radical expression of God’s action in choosing that we saw in the Old Testament.

Then this choosing was basically the means by which Israel was liberated from the “slavery of Egypt”, and through which she became for the first time a real people. A people, however, possesses at least an element of freedom and autonomy; and by declaring Israel to be his own peculiar possession, God thus in advance liberates her from all other rulers, whether they be the kings of this world or angelic powers (see Deuteronomy 32:8).

And in proportion as Israel denied the fact that she was God’s own possession, so she forfeited this at the expense of her unique kind of freedom and became subject to some foreign power, suffering even the exile to Babylon and later in her history, subjection to Hellenistic princes and Roman emperors. God’s final involvement in Jesus, however, results in effecting in man that final freedom which is described by both Paul (see Galatians 5:2) and John (see John 8:32).

This is freedom not only from political oppression, but from every kind of cosmic power: from fate, from the compelling lure of sin, from a state of estrangement from God, from the instinctive urge toward self-defense, aggression, and murder, from dissipation among all that is vain and futile, and finally from death itself. The effective working of all these forces is thereby crippled, rendered impotent, and destroyed (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

This, however, is only possible because these forces are conquered not from outside or from above, but from within by the process of God’s “self-emptying” in the person of his Son, by his becoming obedient “even unto death”, and (as the sign of Jonah prefigures) by his descending into the depths of the abyss, in order that man may not be left with any anti-divine experience that God himself has not undergone, which he might count as peculiarly his own and use as a means of “getting back” at his Maker.

It is necessary that all cosmic forces should be completely disarmed by God himself, in order that he may bring man, now liberated, back home to the open spaces of the divine freedom. Had Jesus in fact been merely a man, he would never have been able to have been himself the very embodiment of God’s mighty act of liberation.

The fact that those freed by the divine action still live in the world does not mean that they belong to the world, as though possessed by the world and incorporated into its structure. They are indeed in themselves finite individuals, but are no longer in slavery for — through the process of dying and rising with Christ — they have broken through into the infinity and freedom of God himself. “

But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). In these words Paul describes the essential freedom of the Christian, in the middle of his continuing solidarity with humanity that has fallen prey to death. For as Christ of his free love yielded himself willingly to be bound under obedience to fate, death, and dereliction, thereby breaking their compelling hold, so the Christian preserves a deep and inward freedom while continuing to live among these earthly powers and ordinances (see Matthew 1.7:26; Galatians 4:5; 2 Peter 2:16).

This mighty and quite unexpected act of God, who involved himself for the sake of mankind to the extent of his Word being made man and Jesus dying and being raised from the dead, signifies man’s vocation to become what in truth he really is. He is called thereby to realize his own freedom, for man (in the final analysis) is simply what he chooses to be. For as Israel was “no people” before being called and liberated from Egypt (she was “no people” 1 Peter 2:10, and as though she was a thing that did not exist — see Romans 4:17) and only constituted a living entity in the eyes of God after being called by him — so too the Christian, in his personal as in his social life, is not truly himself until he is within God’s involvement in Jesus, by which he is rescued from his state of alienation where his “understanding lay darkened”, and, being delivered from the “power of darkness”, is brought into the clear light of self-knowledge that reveals to him his true identity, shows him his true vocation, and enlightens him as to the real meaning of his existence.

God’s involvement of himself “on our behalf”, therefore, does not consist of his making some external pronouncement of forgiveness (to use a forensic image) of which we are either unaware or only subsequently find applied to us (for so many would understand the process of justification). God’s action impinges on us at a much deeper level, at the very heart of our being. For the grace of God is fundamentally a call; it is being enlisted in God’s service; it is being commissioned with a special task; and through all this there is bestowed upon us a unique personal dignity in the eyes of God. We have yet to explain how this is so.

Suffice to say here that our being chosen by God means (in a negative sense) being rescued from the clutches of the powers of this world and (in a positive sense) being appointed to a service, unique as it is personal, and being endowed with a spark of God’s own uniqueness. Thereby, God enlists us as the agents of his activity in the world, takes us for his own, and gives us “a new name … which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelations 2:17). For in proportion as God makes us free in ourselves, so we are correspondingly free and at his disposal for his activity in the world. St. Paul sees the Christian’s freedom and his service in God’s free work as two sides of the same coin (see Romans 6:15-23). And it is in the living out of this paradox of freedom and service that man comes to be most truly himself.

The Chosen
Under the Old Covenant Israel was the elect of God, chosen, however, not as a mere anonymous collection of people but given personal quality through its great representatives, in whose persons God looked upon the people as a whole, and whose duty it was to represent the people to God. Under the New Covenant, the individual/community tension is alleviated in two ways.

To begin with, the many representatives of the people of old were all forerunners of the one, final, and effective representative of men to God. For Jesus Himself is the elect of God; it is he who was promised, it is he who is Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ. Alone and unique, he is both Son of God and Son of Man; on both counts, his dignity and the task he is commissioned to fulfill are of universal significance, concerned with not just one people, but with all mankind. All men indeed live under the dominion of the powers of this world and are subject to death; but Jesus suffers in his own person our common bondage and fallenness and therefore represents all men to God.

Henceforward each individual is looked upon by his heavenly Father in the light of the redeeming work of the Son. And it is precisely on account of this that the whole of humanity, seen by God in the Son, constitutes a unit. In Christ men find a common destiny; in him they constitute a new and universal Israel whose common bond is the Son’s destiny that is decisive for every man.

We have, however, by no means exhausted this theme. In the Son’s work, we see the Father’s involvement of himself in love (see John 3:16; Romans 8:32) and the Son never ceases to remind us that he and his Father share in a common task, which itself is the revelation par excellence that the Godhead in fact is a community of Persons. It remains a unity no less when the distinction is made between the Father (who sends) and the Son (who is sent), a unity so absolute, however, that this unity in itself constitutes a third focus in the Godhead, namely, the Spirit, who comes at the very moment that the Son departs (see John 16:7), who is the Spirit of the Father (see Romans 8:11) as he is the Spirit of the Son (see Romans 8:9), whom the Father sends in the name of the Son (see John 14:26), and whom the Son sends from the Father (see John 15:26).

It is in this sense that the involvement of this unique, free, and personal God is at the same time the involvement of the community of Persons that constitutes the divine society, and if we look at the structures of their involvement, we shall see that, in the realm of the Absolute, the principles of individuality and community are at work together simultaneously, so that the Person makes demands and imposes conditions on the community, and the community does likewise in respect of the Persons. For only in this sense can God in fact be “Love”, without reference to any object of his love in this world.

In the Godhead, therefore, individuality and community have a common origin, for here there exists so intimate a community that the Persons coinhere perfectly in one another; they constitute in fact a communion of the purest kind and are only distinct in order that the one may live for the sake of the other. Thus here the principle of individuality — the inviolable prerequisite for any full communion — totally excludes any idea of what we in a world of finite beings would call “private”.

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What It Means To Believe In Christ – Fr. Romano Guardini

January 31, 2014
And Jesus Wept....Christianity is nothing one can "have"; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God's help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

And Jesus Wept….Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

Another reading selection from The Lord. One of the greatest riffs I have ever read.

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Among the instructions that Jesus gives the Twelve before sending them out into the world are the following:

“Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace…. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake, will find it”
(Matthew 10:34 – 39).

Jesus’ message is one of good will. He proclaims the Father’s love and the advent of his kingdom. He calls people to the peace and harmony of life lived in the divine will, yet their first reaction is not union, but division. The more profoundly Christian a man becomes, the deeper the cleft between him and those who refuse to follow Christ — its exact measure proportionate to the depth of that refusal.

The split runs right through the most intimate relationship, for genuine conversion is not a thing of natural disposition or historical development, but the most personal decision an individual can make. The one makes it, the other does not; hence, the possibility of schism between father and son, friend and friend, one member of a household and another.

When it comes to a choice between domestic peace and Jesus, one must value Jesus higher, even higher than the most dearly beloved: father and mother, son and daughter, friend or love. This means cutting into the very core of life, and temptation presses us to preserve human ties and abandon Christ. But Jesus warns us: If you hold “life” fast, sacrificing me for it, you lose your own true life. If you let it go for my sake, you will find yourself in the heart of immeasurable reality.

Naturally this is difficult; it is the cross. And here we brush the heaviest mystery of Christianity, the inseparableness from Calvary. Ever since Christ walked the way of the cross, it stands firmly planted on every Christian’s road, for every follower of Christ has his own personal cross. Nature revolts against it, wishing to “preserve” herself. She tries to go around it, but Jesus has said unequivocally, and his words are fundamental to Christianity: He who hangs on, body and soul, to “life” will lose it; he who surrenders his will to his cross will find it — once and forever in the immortal self that shares in the life of Christ.

On the last journey to Jerusalem, shortly before the Transfiguration, Jesus’ words about the cross are repeated. Then, sharply focused, the new thought:

“For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matthew 16:26)

This time the point plunges deeper. The dividing line does not run between one person and another, but between the believer, or one desirous of belief, and everything else! Between me and the world. Between me and myself. The lesson of the cross is the great lesson of self-surrender and self-conquest. Our meditations are approaching the passion of the Lord, so it is time that we turn to Christianity’s profoundest, but also most difficult mystery.

Why did Jesus come? To add a new, higher value to those already existent? To reveal a new truth over and above existing truth, or a nobler nobility, or a new and more just order of society? No, he came to bring home the terrible fact that everything, great and small, noble and mean, the whole with all its parts — from the corporal to the spiritual, from the sexual to the highest creative urge of genius — is intrinsically corrupt.

This does not deny the existence of individual worth. What is good remains good, and high aspirations will always remain high. Nevertheless, human existence in toto has fallen away from God. Christ did not come to renew this part or that, or to disclose greater human possibilities, but to open man’s eyes to what the world and human life as an entity really is; to give him a point of departure from which he can begin all over with his scale of values and with himself. Jesus does not uncover hidden creative powers in man; he refers him to God, center and source of all power.

It is as if humanity were one of those enormous ocean liners that is a world in itself: apparatuses for the most varied purposes; collecting place for all kinds of passengers and crew with responsibilities and accomplishments, passions, tensions, struggles. Suddenly someone appears on board and says: What each of you is doing is important, and you are right to try to perfect your efforts. I can help you, but not by changing this or that on your ship. It is your course that is wrong; you are steering straight for destruction…

Christ does not step into the row of great philosophers with a better philosophy, or of the moralists with a better morality, or of the religious geniuses to conduct man deeper into the mysteries of life. He came to tell us that our whole existence, with all its philosophy and ethics and religion, its economics, art and nature, is leading us away from God and into the shoals. He wants to help us swing the rudder back into the divine direction, and to give us the necessary strength to hold that course.

Any other appreciation of Christ is worthless. If this is not valid, then every man for himself; let him choose whatever guide seems trustworthy, and possibly Goethe or Plato or Buddha is a better leader than what remains of a Jesus Christ whose central purpose and significance have been plucked from him.

Jesus actually is the rescue pilot who puts us back on the right course. It is with this in mind that we must interpret the words about winning the world at the loss of the essential, about losing life, personality, soul, in order to possess them anew and truly. They refer to faith and the imitation of Christ.

Faith means to see and to risk accepting Christ not only as the greatest teacher of truth that ever lived, but as Truth itself (John 16:6). Sacred reality begins with Jesus of Nazareth. If it were possible to annihilate him, the truth he taught would not commit’ to exist in spite of the loss of its noblest apostle, but itself would cease to exist. For he is the Logos, the source of Living Truth. He demands not only that we consent intellectually to the correctness of his proclamation — that would be only a beginning — but that we feel with all our natural instinct for right and wrong, with heart and soul and every cell of our being, its claims upon us.

We must not forget: the whole ship is headed for disaster. It does not help to change from one side of it to the other or to replace this or that instrument. It is the course that must be altered. We must learn to take completely new bearings.

What does it mean, to be? Philosophy goes into the problem deeply, without changing being at all. Religion tells me that I have been created, that I am continuously receiving myself from divine hands, that I am free yet living from God’s strength.

Try to feel your way into this truth, and your whole attitude toward life will change. You will see yourself in an entirely new perspective. What once seemed self-understood becomes questionable. Where once you were indifferent, you become reverent; where self-confident, you learn to know “fear and trembling.” But where formerly you felt abandoned, you will now feel secure, living as a child of the Creator-Father, and the knowledge that this is precisely what you are will alter the very taproot of your being… .

What does it mean to die? Physiology says the blood vessels harden or the organs cease to function. Philosophy speaks of the pathos of finite life condemned to aspire vainly to infinity. Faith defines death as the fruit of sin, and man as peccator (Romans 6:23).

Death’s arm is as long as sin’s. One day for you too its consequences and death’s disintegration will have to be drawn. It will become evident how peccant you are, and consequently moribund. Then all the protective screens so elaborately arranged between you and this fact will fall, and you will have to stand and face your judgment.

But faith also adds, God is love, even though he allows sin to fulfill itself in death, and your Judge is the same as your Savior. If you were to reflect on this, over and over again until its truth was deep in your blood, wouldn’t it make a fundamental difference in your attitude toward life, giving you a confidence the world does not have to give? Wouldn’t it add a new earnestness and meaning to everything you do?

What precisely is this chain of acts and events that runs from our first hour to our last? The one says natural necessity; the other historical consequence; a third, something else. Faith says: It is Providence. The God who made you, saved you, and will one day place you in his light, also directs your life. What happens between birth and death is message, challenge, test, succor–all from his hands. It is not meant to be learned theoretically, but personally experienced and assimilated. Where this is so, aren’t all things necessarily transfigured? What is the resultant attitude but faith?

Religion then! But there are so many, one might object; Christ is just another religious founder.

No; all other religions come from earth. True, God is present in the earth he created, and it is always God whom the various religions honor, but not in the supremacy of his absolute freedom. Earthly religions revere God’s activity, the reflections of his power (more or less fragmentary, distorted) as they encounter it in a world that has turned away from him. They are inspired by the breath of the divine, but they exist apart from him; they are saturated with worldly influences, are formed, interpreted, colored by the historical situation of the moment.

Such a religion does not save. It is itself a piece of “world,” and he who wins the world loses his soul. Christ brings no “religion,” but the message of the living God, who stands in opposition and contradiction to all things, “world religions” included. Faith understands this, for to believe does not mean to participate in one or the other religion, but: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Men are to accept Christ’s tidings as the norm of their personal lives.

My attitudes toward things to be done may be various. One follows the principle of maximum profit with minimum effort. This is the clever or economical approach. I can also consider a specific task in the light of duty, the fulfillment of which places my life on a spiritual and moral level. Christ teaches neither greater cleverness nor a higher sense of duty; he says: Try to understand everything that comes into your life from the viewpoint of the Father’s will.

If I do, what happens? Then I continue to act in accordance with cleverness and utility, but under the eyes of God. I will also do things that seem foolish to the world, but are clever in eternity. I will continue to try to act ethically, to distinguish clearly between right and wrong and to live in increasing harmony with an increasingly dependable conscience.

All this, however, I will do in the living presence of Christ, which will teach me to see things I never would have noticed alone. I will change my concepts and trouble my conscience — but for its good, stripping it of levity’s self-confidence, of moral pride, and of the intellectual stiffness that results from too much principle-riding. With increasing delicacy of conscience will come a new firmness of purpose and a new energy (simultaneously protective and creative) for the interests of good.

Similarly, my attitude toward my neighbor may be ordered from various points of view: I can consider others’ competition, and attempt to protect my interests from them. I can respect the personality of each. I can see them as co-sharers of destiny, responsible with me for much that is to come, and so on and so forth. Each of these attitudes has its place, but everything is changed once I understand what Christ is saying: You and those near you — through me you have become brothers and sisters, offspring of the same Father. His kingdom is to be realized in your relationship to each other.

We have already spoken of the transformation that takes place when fellow citizens become brothers in Christ, when from the “you and me” of the world springs the Christian “we.” Much could be said of the Christian’s attitude toward destiny and all that it implies in the way of injustice, shock and tragedy: things with which no amount of worldly wisdom, fatalism or philosophy can cope — and preserve its integrity.

This is possible only when some fixed point exists outside the world, and such a point cannot be created by man, but must be accepted from above (as we accept the tidings of divine Providence and his all-directing love). St. Paul words it in his epistle to the Romans (Chapter 8): “Now we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….” This means an ever more complete exchange of natural security, self-confidence and self-righteousness, for confidence in God and his righteousness as it is voiced by Christ and the succession of his apostles.

Until a man makes this transposition he will have no peace. He will realize how the years of his life unroll, and ask himself vainly what remains. He will make moral efforts to improve, only to become either hopelessly perplexed or priggish. He will work, only to discover that nothing he can do stills his heart. He will study, only to progress little beyond vague probabilities — unless his intellectual watchfulness slackens, and he begins to accept possibility for truth or wishes for reality.

He will fight, found, form this and that only to discover that millions have done the same before him and millions will continue to do so after he is gone, without shaping the constantly running sand for more than an instant. He will explore religion, only to founder in the questionableness of all he finds. The world is an entity. Everything in it conditions everything else. Everything is transitory. No single thing helps, because the world as a whole has fallen from grace. One quest alone has an absolute sense: that of the Archimedes point and lever which can lift the world back to God, and these are what Christ came to give.

One more point is important: our Christianity itself must constantly grow. The great revolution of faith is not a lump of reality fallen ready-made from heaven into our laps. It is a constant act of my individual heart and strength. I stand with all I am at the center of my faith, which means that I bring to it also those strands of my being which instinctively pull away from God. It is not as though I, the believer, stand on one side, the fallen world on the other. Actually faith must be realized within the reality of my being, with its full share of worldliness.

Woe to me if I say “I believe” and feel safe in that belief. For then I am already in danger of losing it (see 1 Corinthians 10: 12). Woe to me if I say: “I am a Christian” — possibly with a side-glance at others who in my opinion are not, or at an age that is not, or at a cultural tendency flowing in the opposite direction. Then my so-called Christianity threatens to become nothing but a religious form of self-affirmation.

I “am” not a Christian; I am on the way of becoming one — if God will give me the strength. Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

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Nicodemus, the Serpent And The Cross – Fulton J. Sheen

January 8, 2014
Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

Not having received a welcome in the temple which was His Father’s house, Jesus did not force the issue. That earthly temple would fade away and He, the true Temple wherein God dwells, would rise again in glory. For the moment, He limited Himself to proving that He was the Messiahs by teaching and miracles. During these few days, He worked many more miracles than are recorded; and the Gospel states that many, seeing the miracles He wrought, believed in Him. One of the members of the Sanhedrin admitted not only that the miracles were authentic but also that God had to be with Him Who worked these signs.

A Pharisee, and one of the rulers of the Jews,
Came to see Jesus by night.
John 3:1

By all worldly standards Nicodemus was a wise man; he was well versed in the Scriptures, a religious man, inasmuch as he belonged to one of the sects, the Pharisees, that insisted on the minutiae of external rites. But Nicodemus was not, at least in the beginning, a fearless man, for he chose to talk with Our Blessed Lord at a time when the mantle of darkness hid him from the eyes of men.

Nicodemus is the “night character” of the Gospel, for whenever we meet him, it is in darkness. This first visit is definitely described as being at night. Later on at night, as a member of the Sanhedrin, it was he who spoke in defense of Our Lord, saying that no man should be judged before having a hearing. On Good Friday in the darkness after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea came:

And with him was Nicodemus
The same who made his first visit to Jesus by night;
He brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes
Of about a hundred pounds’ weigbt.
John 19:39

Despite the fact that there were social impediments to discourage his showing any interest in Our Divine Lord, he nevertheless did Come to see Him when He was in Jerusalem for the Passover. He came to do reverence to Christ, and he learned quickly that this kind of reverence was not enough. Nicodemus said to Him:

Master, we know that Thou hast come from God
To teach us; no one, unless God were with him,
Could do the miracles which Thou doest.
John 3:2

But though Nicodemus had seen the miracles he was not yet ready to confess the Divinity of Him Who worked them. He was still holding back a little, for he veiled his personality under the official “we.” This is a trick intellectuals sometimes use to escape personal responsibility; it is meant to imply that if a change is needed it must be for society at large, rather than for their own hearts. Later on, during this night conversation, Our Lord chided Nicodemus as a “teacher” for still being ignorant of many prophecies. In this, Our Lord was showing Himself to be a Teacher too.

But before the dawn had broken on their long discussion, Our Lord proclaimed that though He was a Teacher, He was not merely that; He was first and foremost a Redeemer. He affirmed that not human truth in the mind, but a rebirth of the soul, purchased through His death, was essential for being one with Him. Nicodemus began by calling Him a teacher; by the end of their meeting Our Lord had proclaimed Himself a Savior.

The Cross reflected itself back over every incident in His life; it never shone so brilliantly on one who knew the Old Testament as it did this night. This Pharisee had thought Him to be only a Master or a Rabbi, but he discovered in the end that there was healing in what had always been thought up to then to be a curse; namely, a Crucifixion.

Our Blessed Lord, in answer, bade him to leave the order of worldliness.

Believe me when I tell thee this;
A man cannot see the Kingdom of God
Without being born anew.
John 3:3

The idea that stood out in the beginning of the discussion between Nicodemus and Our Lord was that spiritual life was different from physical or intellectual life. The difference between spiritual life and physical life, Jesus was telling him, was greater than that between a crystal and a living cell. Spiritual life is not a push from below; it is a gift from above. A man does not really become less selfish and more liberal-minded until he becomes a follower of Christ. There must be a new birth generated from above.

Every person in the world has a first birth from the flesh. But Jesus said that a second birth from above is necessary for the spiritual life. So necessary is it, that a man “cannot” enter the Kingdom of God without it; He did not say “will not,” for the impossibility is real. As one cannot lead a physical life unless born to it, so neither can one lead a Divine life unless born of God. The first birth makes us children of our parents; the second makes us children of God. The emphasis is not on self-development, but on regeneration; not on improving our present state, but on completely changing our status.

Overcome by the loftiness of the idea suggested to him, Nicodemus asked for greater clarity. He could understand a man’s being what he is, but he could not understand a man’s becoming what he is not. Nicodemus understood about redecorating the old man, but not about creating an entirely new man. Hence the question:

Why, how is it possible that a man
Should be born when he is already old?
Can he enter a second time, into his mother’s womb, And so come to birth?
John 3:4

Nicodemus did not deny the doctrine of the new birth. He was a literalist; he doubted the exactness of the term “born.” Our Blessed Lord answered the difficulty:

Believe me, no man can enter into the Kingdom of God
Unless birth comes to him from water
And from the Holy Spirit.
What is born by natural birth
Is a thing of nature,
What is born by spiritual birth
Is a thing of Spirit.
Do not be surprised, then,
at My telling thee You must be born anew.
John 3:5-7

The illustration of Nicodemus was inadequate. It only applied to the realm of flesh. Nicodemus could not enter into his mother’s womb a second time to be born. But what is impossible for the flesh is possible for the spirit. Nicodemus had expected instruction and teaching, but instead, he was being offered regeneration and rebirth. The Kingdom of God was presented as a new creation.

When a man issues from the womb of his mother he is only a creature of God, as a table is the creation, in a lesser degree, of the carpenter. No man in the natural order can call God “Father”; to do this man would have to become something he is not. He must by a Divine gift share in the nature of God, as he presently shares in the nature of his parents.

Man makes that which is unlike him; but he begets that which is like him. An artist paints a picture, but it is unlike the artist in nature; a mother begets a child and the child is like her in nature. Our Lord here suggests that over and above the order of making or creation, is the order of begetting, regeneration, and rebirth by which God becomes our Father.

Evidently, Nicodemus was startled out of his purely intellectual approach to religion, for Our Blessed Lord said to him, “Do not be surprised.” Nicodemus wondered how this effect of regeneration could be produced. Our Lord explained that the reason why Nicodemus did not understand this second birth was that he was ignorant of the work of the Holy Spirit. A few moments later, He suggested that just as His death would reconcile mankind to the Father, so would mankind be regenerated by the agency of His Holy Spirit. The new birth Our Lord hinted at would escape the senses and is known only by its effects on the soul.

Our Blessed Lord used an illustration of this mystery, “You cannot understand the blowing of the wind, but you obey its laws and thus harness its force; so also with the Spirit. Obey the law of the wind, and it will fill your sails and carry you onward. Obey the law of the Spirit and you will know the new birth. Do not postpone relationship with this law simply because you cannot fathom its mystery intellectually.”

The wind breathes where it will
And thou canst hear the sound of it,
But knowest nothing of the way it came
Or the way it goes;
So it is, when a man is born
By the breath of the Spirit.
John 3:8

The Spirit of God is free and always acts freely. His movements cannot be anticipated by any human calculations. One cannot tell when grace is coming or how it will work on the soul; whether it will come as a result of a disgust with sin, or of a yearning for a higher goodness. The voice of the Spirit is within the soul; the peace which It brings, the light which It sheds, and the strength which It gives, are unmistakably there. The regeneration of man is not directly discernible to the human eye.

Though Nicodemus was a sophisticated scholar, he was, nevertheless, perplexed by the sublimity of the doctrine that he was hearing from the One Whom he called Master. His interest as a Pharisee had been not in personal holiness, but in the glory of an earthly kingdom. He now asked the question:

How can such things come to be?
John 3:9

Nicodemus saw that the Divine life in man is not just a question of being; it also involves the problem of becoming, through a power that is not in man but only in God Himself.

Our Lord explained that His teaching was something that no mere human could ever have thought out. There was, therefore some excuse for the ignorance of the Pharisee. After all, no man had ever gone up to heaven to learn the heavenly secrets and had then returned to earth to make them known. The only one who could know them was He Who had descended from heaven, He Who as God had become man, and was now speaking Nicodemus. Our Lord for the first time referred to Himself as the Son of Man. At the same time, He was implying that He was something more than that; He was also the only-begotten Divine Son of the Heavenly Father. He was, in fact, affirming His Divine and human natures.

No man has ever gone up into heaven;
But there is One Who has come down from heaven,
The Son
of Man, Who dwells in heaven.
John 3:13

This was not the only time that Our Lord spoke of His reascension into heaven or of the fact that He had come down from heaven. To one of His Apostles He said:

Believe Me when I tell you this;
You will see heaven opening,
And the angels of God going up and coming down
Upon the Son of Man.
John 1:51

It is the will of Him Who sent Me,
Not My own will, that I have come
Down from heaven to do.
John 6:38

He Who comes from above
Is above all men’s reach;
The man who belongs to earth
Talks the language of earth,
But one who comes from heaven
Must be beyond the reach of all.
John 3:31

Is not this Jesus, they said,
The son of Joseph,
Whose father and mother
Are well known to us?
What does He mean by saying:
I have come down from heaven?
John 6:42

What will you make of it,
If you see the Son of Man
Ascending to the place where
He was before?
John 6:63

Our Lord never spoke of His Heavenly, or Risen Glory without bringing in the ignominy of the Cross. Sometimes He spoke of the glory first as He was doing now with Nicodemus, but the Crucifixion had to be its condition. Our Lord lived both a heavenly life and an earthly life; a heavenly life as the Son of God, an earthly life as the Son of Man.

While continuing to be one with His Father in Heaven, He gave Himself up for men on earth. To Nicodemus, He affirmed that the condition on which man’s salvation depended would be His own Passion and death. He made this clear by referring to the most famous foreshadowing of the Cross in the Old Testament.

And this Son of Man must be lifted up,
As the serpent was lifted up by Moses
In the wilderness; so that those who
Believe in Him may not perish,
But have eternal life.
John 3:14-15

The Book of Numbers relates that when the people murmured rebelliously against God, they were punished with a plague of fiery serpents, so that many lost their lives. When they repented, Moses was told by God to make a brazen serpent and set it up for a sign, and all those bitten by the serpents who looked upon that sign would be healed.

Our Blessed Lord was now declaring that He was to be lifted up, as the serpent had been lifted up. As the brass serpent had the appearance of a serpent and yet lacked its venom, so too, when He would be lifted up upon the bars of the Cross, He would have the appearance of a sinner and yet be without sin. As all who looked upon the brass serpent had been healed of the bite of the serpent, so all who looked upon Him with love and faith would be healed of the bite of the serpent of evil.

It was not enough that the Son of God should come down from the heavens and appear as the Son of Man, for then He: would have been only a great teacher and a great example, but not a Redeemer. It was more important for Him to fulfill the purpose of the coming, to redeem man from sin while in the likeness of human flesh. Teachers change men by their lives; Our Blessed Lord would change men by His death.

The poison of hate, sensuality, and envy which is in the hearts of men could not be healed simply by wise exhortations and social reforms. The wages of sin is death, and therefore it was to be by death that sin would be atoned for. As in the ancient sacrifices the fire symbolically burned up the imputed sin along with the victim, so on the Cross the world’s sin would be put away in Christ’s sufferings, for He would be upright as a priest and prostrate as a victim.

The two greatest banners that were ever unfurled were the uplifted serpent and the uplifted Savior. And yet there was an infinite difference between them. The theater of one was the desert, and the audience was a few thousand Israelites; the theater of the other was the universe and the audience, the whole of mankind. From the one came a bodily healing, soon to be undone again by death; from the other flowed soul-healing, unto life everlasting. And yet one was the prefigurement of the other.

But though He came to die, He insisted that it would be voluntary, and not because He would be too weak to defend Himself from His enemies. The only cause for His death would be love; as He told Nicodemus:

God so loved the world,
That He gave up His only-begotten Son
So that those who believe in Him
May not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

On this night, when an old man came to see the Divine Master Who had startled the world with His miracles, Our Lord told the story of His life. It was a life that began not in Bethlehem, but existed from all eternity in the Godhead. He Who is the Son of God became the Son of Man because the Father sent Him on a mission of redeeming man through love.

If there is anything that every good teacher wants, it is a long life in which to make his teaching known, and to gain wisdom and experience. Death is always a tragedy to a great teacher. When Socrates was given the hemlock juice, his message was cut off once and for all. Death was a stumbling block to Buddha and his teaching of the eightfold way. The last breath of Lao-tze rang down the curtain on his doctrine concerning the Tao or “doing nothing,” as against aggressive self-determination.

Socrates had taught that sin was due to ignorance and that, therefore, knowledge would make a good and perfect world. The Eastern teachers were concerned about man being caught up in some great wheel of fate. Hence the recommendation of Buddha that men be taught to crush their desires and thus find peace. When Buddha died at eighty, he pointed not to himself but to the law he had given. Confucius’ death stopped his moralizings about how to perfect a State by means of kindly reciprocal relations between prince and subject, father and son, brothers, husband and wife, friend and friend.

Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said that it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what said, but by His Crucifixion.

When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
You will recognize that it is Myself you look for.
John 8:28

He did not say that it would even be His teaching that they would understand; it would rather be His Personality that they would grasp. Only then would they know, after they had put Him to death, that He spoke the Truth. His death, then, instead of being the last of a series of failures, would be a glorious success, the climax of His mission on earth.

Hence, the great difference in the statues and pictures of Buddha and Christ. Buddha is always seated, eyes closed, hands folded across a fat body. Christ is never seated; He is always lifted up and enthroned. His Person and His death are the heart and soul of His lesson. The Cross, and all it implies, is once again central in His life.

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Jesus Christ: The Incarnate Word, God And Man 3 – Fr. John Behr

November 21, 2013
One of Pietro Lorenzetti's most ambitious and largest works was the fresco cycle of the Passion of Christ in the left transept of the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi. Contained within the Lower Church are seventeen very well preserved frescoes which represent one of the crowning achievements of Pietro Lorenzetti's early career. In them he built upon the influences of “Giotto's monumentality, the impulse of Giovanni Pisano, thirteenth century Expressionism...and the teachings of Duccio.” The conditions for the execution of the frescoes would have been difficult as very little natural light would be available and the lower church would be near darkness. The exact time line of the frescoes is in question; some scholars believed the cycle was painted in sections over several years as the style had some similarities to Lorenzetti's Carmelite Altarpiece. The reasons are varied, from painting only in the dry season to the bloody skirmishes in the area at the time. The more recent technical and stylistic evidence presented by Maginnis poses strong arguments that Lorenzetti's Passion Cycle was completed in one campaign between the years 1316 or 1317 and 1319. Believed to be one of his earliest works -- begun as early as 1310 -- is the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis shown above and John the Baptist, not in the Lower Church but in the chapel of Saint John the Baptist. According to Maginnis the “finest and most complete realization of the ambition to conjoin real and painted space was left to Pietro Lorenzetti, working in the left transept. There, his well-known fictive altar-piece is, in reality, much more.”

One of Pietro Lorenzetti’s most ambitious and largest works was the fresco cycle of the Passion of Christ in the left transept of the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi. Contained within the Lower Church are seventeen very well preserved frescoes which represent one of the crowning achievements of Pietro Lorenzetti’s early career. In them he built upon the influences of “Giotto’s monumentality, the impulse of Giovanni Pisano, thirteenth century Expressionism…and the teachings of Duccio.” The conditions for the execution of the frescoes would have been difficult as very little natural light would be available and the lower church would be near darkness. The exact time line of the frescoes is in question; some scholars believed the cycle was painted in sections over several years as the style had some similarities to Lorenzetti’s Carmelite Altarpiece. The reasons are varied, from painting only in the dry season to the bloody skirmishes in the area at the time. The more recent technical and stylistic evidence presented by Maginnis poses strong arguments that Lorenzetti’s Passion Cycle was completed in one campaign between the years 1316 or 1317 and 1319. Believed to be one of his earliest works — begun as early as 1310 — is the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis shown above and John the Baptist, not in the Lower Church but in the chapel of Saint John the Baptist. According to Maginnis the “finest and most complete realization of the ambition to conjoin real and painted space was left to Pietro Lorenzetti, working in the left transept. There, his well-known fictive altar-piece is, in reality, much more.”

That it is on the basis of the Passion that the disciples recognized him as Lord and Christ is clear throughout the New Testament; it is this crucified Jesus that the house of Israel is to acknowledge as Lord and Christ, the designated Son of God. The question which was to plague Christianity thereafter, whether, if he was “made” such by God, he was Lord and Christ before, is misleading in its application of temporal categories to the eternal Jesus Christ. It is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ that the Gospel proclaims as the eternal Son of God, interpreting Scripture through the prism of the word of the Cross.

The Lordship of Christ is made in a very distinctive manner in John, by an allusive play upon the etymology of the name YHWH offered in Exodus 3:14, “I AM who I AM,” in the “I am” sayings of Jesus. The most striking occasion is when Christ asserts, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58). The affirmation here is clearly not temporal, or as John Chrysostom points out, Christ should have said, “I was.” ["Why did he not say, `Before Abraham came into being, I was,' instead of `I AM'? As the Father uses this expression, `I AM,' so also does he; for it signifies continuous existence, irrespective of all time." John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 55 (on John 8:58-9).]

Similarly, when Jesus approaches his frightened disciples on the water, he reassures them by saying “I am, do not be afraid” (John 6:20); the RSV translates his statement as “It is I,” though there is certainly an allusion to the divine name here. [For other non-absolute uses of "I am" see John 6:35, 51; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5.] This statement of Christ appears in the chiastic center of the Gospel, the new Exodus, when Christ declares “I AM” and leads the new Israel to the other shore of the sea. [Cf. P. F. Ellis, "Inclusion, Chiasm, and the Division of the Fourth Gospel," St Vladimer’s Theological Quarterly, 43.3-4 (1999), 269-338; and his The Genius of  John: A Composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984).] Again, John contains the most developed affirmations of t. divinity of Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is in John that Jesus Christ is called for the first time by title “Word,” the term which, in abstract theological reflection often comes to replace the name Jesus, and it is also here that the explanation of Christ’s work of revelation and redemption in terms of a model of descent and ascent is sketched most clearly.

In John, Christ’s activity of revelation and redemption is represented as a dramatic descent and ascent, although the moments of descent and ascent are never described, but are always presumed as a means of heightening the superiority of Christ over all others. [Cf. W. A. Meeks, "The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism," JBL 91 (1972) 44-72.] Or more accurately, it is not that these moments are never described, but that they are not separated: the moment of humiliation is the moment of exaltation, and both occur on the Cross. It is when Jesus speaks of his coming glorification that we also hear that this will be a return to his eternal existence with the Father (John 17).

The very identity of Jesus Christ has become so united with the kerygma about Christ, the Word of God which Paul preach (Colossians 1:25-6), that Jesus Christ, according to John, is himself the Word of God incarnate. In the term “Word” there are at least two interconnected ideas, that of revelation and that of the revealer, as these should not be separated too hastily.

Christ is the Word of God, who, as such, exists before the world, with God, and is, to use later imagery, spoken out into the world; he is God’s own expression in the world. The function of revealer is so closely bound up with the person of Jesus, that he is, in fact, the embodiment of the revelation: he is the Word made flesh. Not only are his words revelatory, but he is revelatory in himself, coming into the world from above, a divine self-revelation. The identification of the crucified one as the Word of God is continued in the book of Revelation, attributed to John, where it is the rider who comes on the white horse, “clad in a robe dipped in blood,” who called by the name “the Word of God” (Revelations 19:11-13).

This understanding of Christ as the “Word of God” is deepened by John with the affirmation that Jesus is himself God (John 20:28); and by emphasizing his uniqueness as the “only-begotten” Son of God. In the New Testament, the title “only-begotten” does not strictly speaking, carry the connotation of “begetting,” but refers rather to the uniqueness of the one so described, who is “one-of-a-kind.” [John never ascribes a beginning/begetting to the Word and Son, Jesus Christ: the Word was with God (John 1:1), and Jesus simply is, he is "I AM." The only certain use of this for Jesus is John 18:37, where it is paralleled by the phrase, "for this I have come into the World," that is, it is not a clear or purposeful reference to his birth, but applies rather to his mission. It is not certain that 1 John 5:18 applies to Jesus; R. E. Brown (The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible [New York: Doubleday, 19821, 619-22), and R. Schnackenburg (The Johannine Epistles: Introduction and Commentary, trans. R. and I. Fuller [New York: Cross road, 1992], 252-4), argue convincingly that “the one begotten by God” (a description John never uses for Jesus elsewhere) is the Christian, who is protected by God, giving grammatical structure similar to John 17:2.]

It was translated in the Old Latin as unicus, and only later, in the context of the Arian controversy, did Jerome change it to unigenitus, which thereafter became the standard translation. [Cf. D. Moody, "God's Only Son," JBL 72.4 (1953), 213-19] The background for this term is clearly the description of Isaac as yahid; this was translated in the LXX by “beloved” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16), though Isaac is described as the monogenes of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17.

Thus the term does not refer to the act of begetting, for Abraham had another son, Ishmael (cf. Genesis 21:12-13), but refers instead to a special quality that makes a son unique to (or as the LXX puts it, “beloved” by) his father.

The titles Son, Word and God, when applied to Jesus Christ, do not have the same meaning, but they are applied to one and the same subject, who is, in this way, understood to be pre-existent, beyond time and the world, who is God in God, the mediator of God in creation and the revealer of God in the world by His appearance in the flesh — the Word of God Incarnate.

The sources for this distinctive Johannine theology have been soughs in all sorts of places, often furthest afield from the most obvious, that of Scripture and earlier New Testament writings. The theme of the Word of God is of course a recurrent one in Scripture: it functions to reveal God, as well as to manifest his power and his wisdom. Parallels to John can also be found in the wisdom literature of Scripture: the Wisdom of God exists from the beginning, dwelling with God (e.g., Proverbs 8:22-5 Wisdom also comes to men (Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 24:7-22; Proverbs 8:31 and “tabernacles” with them (Sirach 24:8); Wisdom, “the book of the commandments of God,” is also said to have “appeared on earth and dwelt with men” (Baruch 3:37-4:1). Other writings from the New Testament also draw upon the imagery found in the Wisdom literature, such “image,” “effulgence,” and “wisdom” itself, for their interpretation Christ (cf. Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3; Wisdom 7:26).

It is possible that the term “Word” came to predominate in Christological reflection a reaction to the increasing use of “wisdom” in Gnostic speculation, or an apologetic approach to Greek culture. More likely, though, is the already traditional use of the phrase “word of God” to refer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he himself is: the identity between reveal and revelation. [A similar suggestion was made by E. Hoskyns, that the choice of the term "Word" in the Prologue was determined by the fact that by that time "the Word" had become synonymous with the Gospel itself, so that in using the term "the Word" the Prologue already contains a reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus; the Gospel, as the apostolic word, has become identified with the content of the Gospel, Jesus Christ (E. C. Hoskyi The Fourth Gospel, 2nd rev. edition., ed. F. N. Davey [London: Faber and Faber, 194; 159-63). A similar point is made by B. Lindars (The Gospel of John, New Century Bit Commentary [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972], 83).]

If the adoption of the term was indeed an apologetic outreach to the Greeks, this is simultaneously undermined by John. Just as significant as the introduction of the term “Word” for Christ, is the combination of this description with that of the Word “becoming flesh,” diametric opposites for any Greek philosopher. While the term “Word” appears to apply almost exclusively to Christ as divine, it is nevertheless held inseparably together with a term which stands at the opposite extreme from divinity, that of flesh. The Word becomes flesh; the Word of God is flesh, this man, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

John heightens the contrast beyond that of any other writing of the New Testament. The Word may well be eternally divine in His eternal abode with God, but he is no less equally really flesh. With these antithetical descriptions held in such a stark unity, it is not surprising that there were continued attempts to loosen the unity of flesh and Word, or to deny the flesh element, through some kind of docetism.

It is this which makes the Johannine legacy at once the most stimulating for future reflection, and also the most dangerous. F. C. Conybeare, at the beginning of this century, observed that, “If Athanasius had not had the Fourth Gospel to draw texts from, Arius would never have been confuted.” To which Pollard later added, “If Arius had not had the Fourth Gospel to draw texts from, he would not have needed confuting.”[T. E. Pollard, Johannine Christology and the Early Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 3; citing Conybeare's review of A. Loisy, Le quatrieme Evangile, in the HibbertJournal, 7 (1903), 620.]

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Jesus Christ: The Incarnate Word, God And Man 2 – Fr. John Behr

November 20, 2013
Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1280 – 1348) was an Italian painter, active between approximately 1306 and 1345. Together with his younger brother, the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti, he helped introduce naturalism into Sienese art. In their artistry and experiments with three-dimensional and spatial arrangements, the two brothers foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance. The Entombment Fresco above (1325) is located in the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi, Italy.

Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1280 – 1348) was an Italian painter, active between approximately 1306 and 1345. Together with his younger brother, the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti, he helped introduce naturalism into Sienese art. In their artistry and experiments with three-dimensional and spatial arrangements, the two brothers foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance. The Entombment Fresco above (1325) is located in the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi, Italy.

Compared with the writings of Paul the Synoptics only apply the term Lord to Christ on a few occasions. There are, moreover, still a few instances in the Synoptics where the title Lord is applied to God the Father (e.g., Mark 5:19). Although the title is used frequently, especially by Luke in the narrative sections of his Gospel, there are only two sayings of Jesus which indicate that he was called Lord by his disciples: Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven…,” and Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”

However, Jesus is not described as attaching any particular significance to the term, so it probably to be understood simply as a term of respect, similar Teacher or Master. The most important use is Jesus’ quotation Psalm 109:1 (LXX), one of the key scriptural texts for the New Testament:

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, `The Lord said to my Lord sit at my right hand, until I put thy enemies under thy feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?”
(Mark 12:35-7; cf. Matthew 22:41-6; Luke 20:41-4)

The title “Son of David” is not an adequate description of the Christ, for he is also David’s Lord; not only is he a descendant of David, but is greater than him, indeed, he is his Lord. “Lord” here would seem imply a greater authority than simply Teacher or Master. The narrative of the Synoptics seems to suggest that although the disciples had initially addressed Christ with the title “Lord,” in a polite or respectful manner, it became clear that there was more involved in the title than just respect.

More interesting is the description in Acts (whether historical or not) of how this reflection continued in the light of the Passion. It is noteworthy that the application of the term “Lord” to Jesus does not occur in the speeches of Acts 3, 4, 5 or 6. It is used, however, in Peter’s speech in Acts though not initially with the full sense of the Divine Name. Peter begins by citing Joel 3:1-5, which ends with the verse already considered, “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

The point of the quotation here is to justify their speaking in tongues by referring to the gift of the Spirit, rather than verse 21 itself, calling Jesus “Lord.” However, at the end of the speech Peter returns to the description of Jesus as Lord, again by citing Psalm 109:1 (LXX):

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
(Acts 2:32-6)

Here the term “Lord” signifies more than simple, or even royal, respect. It indicates the exaltation of Jesus to a supreme Lordship, yet in so doing makes Jesus the object of the action of God. The passage also refers to Jesus being appointed as the Christ through the crucifixion, just as Paul speaks of Jesus being “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). In Peter’s speech, Jesus is a man witnessed to by God (Acts 2:22); when crucified, he was not abandoned to Hades, but raised up in exaltation as Christ and Lord, in the Spirit.

Yet it must be held inseparably together with the affirmation that it is the Father of Jesus who alone is the one true God; on this basis, it is possible to affirm that Jesus is as divine as his Father is, and as such can be addressed as himself God. However, what is more characteristic of the New Testament, and what is more important, is what precedes “God” in Thomas’ confession, the title “Lord.” It is this title which, when used in its fullest sense, facilitates the application of the title “God,” also in its fullest sense, to Jesus Christ.

The title “Lord” is an extremely flexible term, capable sustaining various meanings: a possessive sense (the lord of a house); polite expression of respect, but not subservience (“sir”); it could 1 applied in a royal manner to princes and kings; and, in a religious sense, it was used throughout the Near East, as the term with which to address the gods.[For a full examination of the different uses, see the entries by Quell and Foerster in G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1966), vol. 3, 1039-1095.]

Some scholars, such as Bousset, [W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos: A History of Belief in Christ from the Beginnings of Christian to Irenaeus, trans. J. E. Steely from the 2nd German edition (1921) (New York and Nashville Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1970).] have argued that Jesus Christ was first called Lord at Antioch, under the influence of Hellenistic culture or oriental mystery religions; and that the title was not used by Jesus himself, nor by the primitive Palestinian church. They point to the fact that the first recorded instance of someone praying to Christ, and calling him Lord in so doing, was the Gentile Stephen at his martyrdom:

And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
(Acts 7:59-60)

This presents itself as the first recorded occurrence of someone praying to Christ, and, quite naturally, at the same time calling upon Christ as Lord, which, therefore, in this instance, must imply the full scope of God, rather than simply a polite expression for a teacher of leader. The importance of this otherwise isolated passage is hard to overstate, but it would be seriously misleading to use it as historical evidence of a Gentile convert bringing his own religious practices into Christianity.

The term “Lord” was certainly prevalent all around the Mediterranean, but the crucial significance it has for the writings of the New Testament, and its connection with the One God of Israel, can only be understood properly in terms of its use in Scripture. [The following paragraph is indebted to the "history of implicit linguistic logic" given by E. Hill in the introduction to his translation of Augustine's The Trinity (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991), 31-2.]

The term “God” has long been used as a proper name, although originally it was a common or generic noun. For it to be used as a proper name requires monotheism, the conviction that there is only one being to whom this generic term can apply. While such exclusive monotheism seems to have been a fairly late development, Israel had long been committed (in principle at least) to the faithful service of only one god, the God of Israel. And from early on, they had distinguished this God of Israel from all alien gods by the proper name YHWH, the name which their God himself revealed to Moses, and which the story of the burning bush etymologized to the verb “to be”: “I am who I am” or simply “I AM” (Ex 3:14). The Israelite catchphrase thus became, YHWH is our God (cf. 1 Kings 18:39), where “YHWH” is the proper name, and “God,” the predicate.

The same applies in the classic statement of monotheism, the shema of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear O Israel, YHWH (is) our God, YHWH (is) one/alone.” This, as indicated, can be rendered in various fashions, but perhaps the only way in which, strictly speaking, it should not be translated is the way in which it is done in i Iic LXX, and following it, the Vulgate, and, more recently, the AV, RV, RSV, NRSV etc., “The Lord our God is one Lord.”

Given that YHWH is a proper name, such a translation makes no sense. [Hill suggests that it would be as if one were to say, "Elizabeth our queen is one Elizabeth." Ibid.] What makes sense of the translation, (however, is the fact that the proper name YI-PWH was replaced in speech, as being too sacred to pronounce, but not in writing, by the common noun “lord.” [This oral tradition was later indicated by means of the vowel signs introduced by the Masoretes; the combination of the vowel signs for 'addndy and the consonants of YHWH produce the word "Jehovah," a misreading which dates from the sixteenth century. For the oral and written dimension of the Hebrew text, see J. Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text, 123-30.]

This substitution probably became customary around the time of the exile, and seems to be well established by the end of the third century B.C. It reflects a general tendency of this period to stress increasingly the transcendence of God and to introduce real or poetic intermediaries. In this way the double name for God used frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, YHWH Elohim, is read as adonai Elohim, and thus translated in the LXX as “the Lord God.”

Yet there is an important distinction between the terms: YHWH is still a proper name, while adonai Elohim are descriptive nouns. However, when exclusive monotheism finally becomes established, so it is held that there is only one God, the term “God” comes to function as a proper name, while “Lord,” the spoken substitution for the proper name, can be used as a descriptive noun applicable in an incomparable fashion to the one being who alone is God.

So, besides being used in a possessive, polite, courtly or religious sense, as described earlier, the term “Lord” can now be used in an absolute manner, as applying exclusively to God alone. When Jesus Christ is described as “Lord” in the New Testament, it is thus possible for this term to carry the full weight of the Divine Name.

The number of times that Paul calls the crucified and risen Jesus “Lord” needs no documenting. Nor is there any question that in using the term Lord, Paul intended the full significance of the Divine Name, YHWH. This is shown, for instance, by application of Joel 3:5 to Christ in Romans 10:13, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” — Christ is the Lord who will save those who turn to him. The most important instance of appealing to the Divine Name is of course in Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philemon 2:5-11)

The name above every name, the Divine Name, is bestowed upon the crucified, risen and exalted one, emphasizing, again, the centrality of the Passion. However, it is also necessary to remember that even if Paul consistently applies the title “Lord” to Jesus Christ, transferring to Christ ideas and quotations which originally belong to YHWH alone, this is not a direct identification of YHWH and Jesus Christ: Jesus is all that YHWH himself is, that is, fully divine, yet without actually being YHWH himself, for YHWH is his Father: “We have one God the Father.., and one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The double barreled name of God in the Scriptures (“the Lord God”) is separated: the Lord, as a proper name, is reserved for the Son, while God, as a proper name, usually stands for the Father; while as common nouns, rather than names, both are applied to the Father and Son.

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Jesus Christ: The Incarnate Word, God And Man 1 – Fr. John Behr

November 19, 2013
Dieric Bouts, The Entombment. Bouts’s earlier works, dated on stylistic evidence before 1457, are strongly in the style of his contemporary Rogier van der Weyden in their expression of intense emotion through symbolic gestures. Passionate subjects such as The Entombment, Pietà, and scenes of the Crucifixion, the Deposition from the Cross, and the Resurrection depicted in an impressive triptych in the Royal Chapel in Granada, Spain, were appropriate vehicles for this expression. Bouts’s lack of realism in anatomy, however, and his stiff and angular compositions may well reflect the sober religious intensity of the northern Netherlands as much as any deficiency in skill or feeling. The overall design of Bouts’s early works shows the influence of the elegant and intellectual van Eyck.

Dieric Bouts, The Entombment. Bouts’s earlier works, dated on stylistic evidence before 1457, are strongly in the style of his contemporary Rogier van der Weyden in their expression of intense emotion through symbolic gestures. Passionate subjects such as The Entombment, Pietà, and scenes of the Crucifixion, the Deposition from the Cross, and the Resurrection depicted in an impressive triptych in the Royal Chapel in Granada, Spain, were appropriate vehicles for this expression. Bouts’s lack of realism in anatomy, however, and his stiff and angular compositions may well reflect the sober religious intensity of the northern Netherlands as much as any deficiency in skill or feeling. The overall design of Bouts’s early works shows the influence of the elegant and intellectual van Eyck.

Attention needs to be directed more specifically to how it is that the New Testament texts speak of Jesus Christ, as the Incarnate Word, God and man. This is already a limitation on the overall picture of Christ presented here, yet it is not an arbitrary one, but based on the same canon by which the New Testament is itself recognized as canonical. Other aspects of the description of Christ, briefly and incompletely mentioned above, address more the interpretation of what it is that God has wrought in Christ, but that is a subject for a different work.

Of particular importance, in view of subsequent theological reflection, are the terms which express the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, especially “man,” “God,” “Lord,” “Word.”

The term “man,” as the most straightforward, is the best place to begin. That Jesus Christ is a man was not really an issue for the New Testament writers, for they knew him as a man. From Pilate’s exclamation, “Behold the man!” (John19:5), to the Pharisees complaint that Jesus, “being a man,” made himself God (John10:33), to the affirmation that the one mediator between God and men is “the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy2:5), it was not that Jesus is a man that was problematic.

Rather, the New Testament writers had to explain or justify their proclamation that he is also God. They were not yet faced with full-blown docetic thought, though there does appear to be a reaction to what might have been an incipient doceticism in some of the later New Testament texts, in particular the First Epistle of John.

We have already seen how the Gospel of John most fully integrates the kerygma to the narrative depiction to produce the highest form of Christology in the New Testament, where Jesus is the exalted Lord from the beginning, the Word made flesh. The purpose of this, within the Gospel of John, is actually antidocetic, emphasizing that the revelation of God in Christ takes place in and through his flesh, which, as described in the Gospel of John, needs no transfiguration for us to see the glory of God.

However, the profound tension created in this way, also makes it easier to misinterpret. Judging from the First Epistle of John, it seems that some had come to emphasize the divinity of Jesus to such an extent that they overlooked that which would have been unquestionable for earlier Christians, that is, the human, fleshly, being of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [This of course assumes that First John was written later than the Gospel. For an attempt to reconstruct the history of the community in which these texts were written, see R. E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press, 1979).]

Hence the insistence that the mark of the Spirit of God is the affirmation that Jesus has come in the flesh, the premise which is denied by the antichrist (1 John 4:2; sim. 2 John 7). This was the given from the beginning, even if the author of the Fourth Gospel had carried his Christological reflections to a greater depth than any other writer. The contrasting emphasis, yet profound unity, between the Gospel and the First Epistle, is clear from the opening verses of each: while the Gospel refers to a beginning before creation in which the Word is with God, in First John the beginning refers to the human presence and activity of the Lord:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
(1 John 1:1-3)

And this is also the position of the Gospel, however some may have been interpreting it. For various reasons the Christology of the Gospel, of John has become so identified with the description of the Word in the Prologue, that it almost comes as a surprise that, when the intent the Gospel is explicitly stated, no reference is made to the Word:

…these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
(John 20:31)

That is, it is Jesus himself who is the given from the beginning, and the issue for the Gospel, as for the rest of the New Testament, is to convince us that the same one is the Son of God, Lord and Savior.

The divinity of Jesus is expressed in the New Testament primarily by ascribing to him all the activities and properties that, in Scripture belong to God alone, such as creating (John 1:3), bestowing life (John 6:35; Acts 3:15), forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-7), raising the dead (Luke 7:14-15), and being the recipient of prayers (Acts 7:59). However there are also a few places where the divinity of Jesus is indicated moi directly, by using the terms “God” and “Lord.” In the New Testament, the title “God,” with an article is almost without exception reserved for the one God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ. [Cf. K. Rahner, Theos in the New Testament, in idem, God, Christ, Mary and Grace Theological Investigations, vol. 1, trans. C. Ernst (Baltimore: Helicon, 1965), 79-148, and R. E. Brown, Does the New Testament Call Jesus God, in idem, Jesus, God and Man (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967), 1-38.]

Without an article, Scripture applies the term in a much broader sense: according to Psalm 81:6 (LXX): “I said you are god. sons of the Most High,” a verse to which Jesus refers to assert that a those to whom the word of God came are “gods” (John 10:35); there are, as Paul states, many gods (1 Corinthians 8:5). [The distinction between the articular and anarthrous theos was already made by Philo On Dreams, I.229, commenting on Exodus 6:3: "Accordingly the Holy Word in the present instance has indicated him who is truly God by means of the articles saying “I am the God” while it omits the article when mentioning him who is improperly so called.”]

From the earliest of the New Testament writings, the title “God,” with an article, is applied almost exclusively to the Father, and often used to differentiate between God himself and Jesus Christ, who is designated Lord. So, for instance, in a formula typical of Paul, he refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans15:6). An important text, emphasizing the uniqueness of these respective designations is 1 Corinthians 8:6:

For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and unto whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

This affirmation that there is one God, the Father, the monotheistic heart of Christianity, and one Lord Jesus Christ, who does all the things that God himself does, so demonstrating that he is as divine as the Father, is the basic pattern for all subsequent creedal affirmations: I believe in one God the Father … and in one Lord Jesus Christ.

There are, however, several statements in Paul and the other letters, which might be read as describing Jesus as God though in each case it is not a deliberate, unambiguous affirmation, but depends upon texts which are problematic in various ways, either in their grammar and translation or in establishing the correct text itself. Ultimately, locating such passages is not the key to understanding the New Testament’s affirmation of the divinity of Christ, but it is, nevertheless, important to establish, as accurately as possible, whether it ever used the articular theos for Jesus Christ. [For further discussion on the following passages, in addition to Rahner, "Theos in the New Testament," and Brown, Does the New Testament Call Jesus God, see B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: UBS, 1971).]

The most important passage, outside the Johannine literature, is Romans 9:5:

… of whom [the Israelites] is Christ according to the flesh the one being the God over all be blessed forever, Amen.

Such is the clause in its unpunctuated form; and the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are without any systematic punctuation.

If a comma is placed after the word “flesh” (as the United Bible Society, 4th ed. and Nestle-Aland, 27th ed.), then the articular theos is referred back to Christ; if it is to be a period (as the RSV, giving the alternative in a note), then a distinction is introduced between the Christ and the God who is over all. The sentence, however, would have been written without punctuation, and so it is the grammar of the passage which must decide. Here there are several considerations. If the verse were to end with a separate doxology, the word “blessed” would typically come first: “Blessed be the God of all…”

Moreover, doxologies in Paul tend to refer to someone who has been mentioned earlier, in this case Christ; as “the God” is not mentioned until the end of the verse, it would be awkward to read it as referring to someone other than Christ. Moreover, if the doxology is not addressed to Christ, the participle, “being,” is redundant. Finally, the words “according to the flesh” seem to require a parallel; usually in Paul the contrast would be “according to the Spirit,” though there are places where flesh is contrasted with theos (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:29). Overall, then, it seems probable that in Romans 9:5, Paul called Christ God , though it is the only such passage. [This is also the near-unanimous reading of the Fathers, cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 520.]

Outside the Pauline and the Johannine material, there are only three instances where it is probable that Jesus Christ is called “God.” First, in Hebrews 1:8, though in this instance it is a citation of Psalm 44:7 (LXX), “But of the Son he says, `Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” That Christ is “God” is not touched on again in the letter, though it is suggested that Christ is worshipped (Hebrews 1:6; 13:21); and in this context the ascription to Christ of a verse from the Psalms, a: an aspect of worship, seems most natural.

The point of the passage is to demonstrate Christ’s superiority over the angels, and his divinity is thus mentioned in passing, by the use of a verse from the Psalms. The two other passages in question, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, speak of “our [Titus: great] God and Savior Jesus Christ”

The question here is whether there is an understood article before the word Savior, so that it refers to God and to the Savior. That there is only one article, and one possessive pronoun, does indicate strongly that “the God and Savior” is to be applied to Jesus Christ. Second Peter is generally reckoned to be later, perhaps early second century, by which time this use is no longer exceptional. In Titus, another later writing, both God and Christ have been described as “Savior” independently (cf. Titus 1:3-4), which perhaps accounts for the transference of the title “God” to Christ.” [There are three other passages (2 Thess 1:12; Col 2:2; Jas 1:1) where it might be possible to read the text as ascribing the title "God" to Christ, though the RSV seems correct in its translation, and two passages where a variant reading suggests that Jesus Christ is called God (Gal 2:20; 1 Tim 3:16).]

There are no applications of the term “God” to Jesus Christ in the Synoptics, while the Gospel according to John, on the other hand, both categorically affirms and explicitly denies the applicability of this term, so presenting, again, a heightened, profound, antithetical tension. The most striking use of the term “God” occurs in Christ’s own statement, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Despite associating the knowledge of Jesus Christ with the knowledge of God in the identification of eternal life, and how could it be otherwise when John repeatedly affirms that there is no way to the Father but through the Son, nevertheless only the Father truly merits the title “God.”  The description of this only true God as “Father” is frequent in John. Jesus repeatedly speaks of God as being his “Father,” and although in a dispute with Jesus the Jews claimed “we have one Father, God” (John 8:41).

Jesus himself only once described God as being “your Father,” when he warns Mary Magdalene not to touch him: “… go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). Again the title “God” applies to the Father in a manner which makes it appropriate for Jesus to refer to him as such, distinct from himself. It is also possible that a further distinction is here being made between the way that God is a Father to Jesus and a Father to Christians, a point which is emphasized by John’s use of the title “only-begotten” when speaking of Jesus as the Son.

Yet, on the other hand, John also attributes the title “God” both at the beginning and end of the Gospel to the one who is with God. In the opening verses of the Prologue, the Word is said to be God. Though the article is missing from this clause, it should probably be assumed, giving theos its full weight: the word theos is placed at the beginning of the clause for emphasis where, as a predicate noun preceding the verb, it would not be expected to have an article.

At the end of the Prologue, there is a problem of variant readings. According to a number of early manuscripts (such as the early third century p75), the corrected version of the Codex Sinaiticus and the majority of early Fathers, v. 18 is, “The only-begotten God”, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” The other witnesses have “The only-begotten Son,” or either “God” or “Son” without the article, or simply “only begotten.” If John 1:. should be read as implying an articular theos, then it could be argued that v.18 should also be read as “The only-begotten God,” as a more satisfactory inclusion.

An inclusion is further created by the fact that only the end of the Gospel is Jesus again called “God,” when Thomas answers Christ, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This is the most categorical and explicit affirmation of Jesus Christ as God, in the fullest (articular) sense, in the pages of the New Testament.

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The Scriptural Christ – Fr. John Behr

November 18, 2013
Apropos of nothing, the Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He then told the man, “Go wash yourself in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed and came back seeing.

Apropos of nothing, the Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He then told the man, “Go wash yourself in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed and came back seeing.

Fr. John Behr is Dean and Professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary where he teaches courses in patristics, dogmatics, and scriptural exegesis. He is also a distinguished lecturer at Fordham University. More from the good father here.

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The Christ who appears on the pages of the writings recognized as canonical Scripture, the Scriptural Christ, is always the crucified and risen one. By this I do not mean to undermine the historical specificity of the Passion (“once for all,” Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27), but to emphasize who it is that these texts describe. That they were all written after the Passion is obvious; that the proclamation, the kerygrna, that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord, so clear in the letters of Paul, is also at the basis of the depiction of Jesus in the canonical Gospels is equally evident.

And this orientation is vital. The Christian confession is not simply about who a figure of the past was, what he did and said, but rather who He is; the Christian faith confesses the living Lord: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Similarly, whatever oral reports concerning the sayings and deeds of Jesus there might have been, stemming from those who had contact with him prior to his Passion, those have been recontextualized, in the canonical Gospels, in the light of the Passion and the proclamation of him as Lord and Christ.

Moreover, as we have seen, their presentation of Christ has been interpreted through the medium of Scripture, again, in the light of the Cross. The four canonical Gospels are not attempts to preserve accurate historical records, but are witnesses to and Scriptural interpretations, based upon the kerygma, of this person Jesus Christ. [This point is also clearly maintained by the canons of Orthodox Iconography, which, for instance, includes Paul with the other apostles in the icon of Pentecost. That the Passion is at the basis for the depiction of Jesus in the Gospels is also echoed in, for instance, the icon for the nativity, where the infant Christ is wrapped in bandages, lying in a manger (to be partaken of), and placed in a cave (as a corpse), following the suggestions of the infancy narratives themselves. Cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1993), and, more briefly, An Adult Christ at Christmas (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1988). The same point could by made from hymnography (compare, for instance, the material for the pre-feast of the Nativity to that for Holy Week).]

There may well be authentic, historical material pertaining to Jesus in some of the non-canonical material such as the Gospel of Thomas or The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, but in these cases the Cross is almost totally eclipsed and the engagement with scripture non-existent. [A separate study would be needed to examine how, in some of the apocryphal material, the expansion of details seems to be based on the scriptural presentation of Christ but extended to other figures in the narrative, for instance Mary in the Protoevangelium of James and the various liturgical traditions surrounding her.]

In reverse, those attempts to reduce the diversity of the canonical witnesses to Christ to a unified “life of Christ,” such the Diatessaron of Tatian and On the Harmony of the Gospels by Augustine, might produce a coherent and harmonious account, but in so doing they have removed Christ from the canonical Scriptures to a world created, and restricted, by their own imagination.

It would, however, be wrong to separate the canonical material into two independent sources or traditions with two distinct subjects, the oral reports, on the one hand, concerning the “historical Jesus,” and, on the other, the kerygma, proclaiming the Christ of faith. The letters of Paul, the earliest writings of the New Testament, are certainly almost exclusively concerned with the proclamation of Christ and the formation of the Christian communities; almost, that is, because Paul clearly knows certain key features about Christ, [Paul knows that Jesus was a man (Galatians 4:4), descended from David (Romans 1:3); that he taught (1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 9:14) and interpreted his last meal in terms of his coming Passion (1 Corinthians 11:23-5); that was tried before Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13), abused (Romans 15:3), crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23 etc.), buried and rose again (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 15:4-8).] and claims to preach the same Gospel as do the Palestinian witnesses to the risen Christ (Galatians 2; Corinthians 15:3-11).

On the other hand, the narrative depictions of Christ in the Gospels are no less concerned to maintain the centrality of the Passion. Indeed, in them the very identity of Christ is intimately connected with the Cross. At the very center of the synoptic Gospels, both a literary sense and as that to which they are themselves answers, is Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?” When Peter replies, “You re the Christ” (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20), [In Matthew 16:16, Peter gives a fuller answer, "The Christ, the Son of the Living God," to have Jesus point out that this was known only through a revelation of the Father, not by human intercourse.] Christ immediately begins to explain to his disciples how he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, to be killed and rise again on the third day.

When Peter then tries to put himself between Christ and his Cross, he receives the sharpest rebuke imaginable — “Get behind me, Satan!” Moreover, despite this instruction and the benefit of accompanying Jesus during his ministry, Peter still denied Christ, and is glaringly absent, along with the other apostles and disciples, from the crucifixion scene. It is the resurrected Christ who again instructs his disciples how, according to the prophets, it was necessary for the Christ “to suffer these things and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26). The structure of these narratives downplays the things said and done by Jesus prior to his Passion, as any kind of historical base for Christian faith.

Rather, on the basis of faith in the living, crucified and risen, Jesus Christ, the Gospels present the words and deeds of Christ as addressed now to the believers, just as the miracles reported in the Pauline proclamation are those worked now amongst the Christian communities in which Christ is portrayed as crucified (Galatians 3:1-5).

It is in the Gospel according to John that the narrative depiction of Jesus is most thoroughly united to the proclamation of the risen Christ as Lord. Unlike the Synoptics, where the narrative is always told from the standpoint of the Resurrection, but where Jesus has yet to be glorified, John depicts Jesus as the exalted Lord from the beginning: He is the one from above, he is always in control, he suffers no anxiety in the garden, and needs no transfiguration for us to see his glory.

Yet this is far from being an incipient docetism [In Christian terminology, docetism (from the Greek δοκεῖν/δόκησις dokein (to seem) /dókēsis (apparition, phantom), according to Norbert Brox, is defined narrowly as "the doctrine according to which the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and thus above all the human form of Jesus, was altogether mere semblance without any true reality."  Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his physical body was a phantasm. The word docetai (illusionists) referring to early groups who denied Jesus' humanity, first occurred in a letter by Bishop Serapion of Antioch (197-203), who discovered the doctrine in the Gospel of Peter, during a pastoral visit to a Christian community using it in Rhosus, and later condemned it as a forgery]

In some ways, Jesus is depicted here as being even more human: only in John does Jesus cry, for his friend Lazarus John 11:35), indeed, only in this Gospel is Jesus said to have friends whom he loves (John 11:5, 11) and some more than others (John 13:23, etc), and asks for the same in return (John 21:15-17). [A point made by L. Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus]

More to the point, John’s depiction of Jesus ultimately has an anti-docetic thrust, emphasizing that the revelation of God in Christ takes place in the flesh and on earth, when interpreted correctly. John stresses the total identity between the humiliated Jesus and the exalted Christ. In fact, for John, the moment of humiliation on the Cross is the moment of exaltation and glorification (John 3:13-14; 12:27-36), and in this the work of God is completed or perfected (John 19:30), just as for Paul the word of the Cross is the definitive revelation of the power, wisdom and glory of God (1 Corinthians 1-2).

The answer to Jesus’ question, given in the Synoptics, “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16, etc.) immediately relates Jesus to the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets: Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the chosen representative of God. Likewise the name “Jesus” itself is already an interpretation of who he is (cf. Matthew 1:21): the victory or salvation of God, the one who will lead the people of God to salvation, just as the other Joshua led his people through the Jordan to the promised land.

In the Gospels, Jesus works all the messianic signs: He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, feeds the people in the wilderness, calms the waters, forgives sins, and raises the dead. Moreover, he does these things in his own name, so provoking the question “what manner of man is this” that can do such things (cf. Matthew 8:27)? The Gospels attribute to Jesus what in the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets, belongs to God alone. He is certainly divine, yet he is not the one God of Israel.

When Peter further confesses “You are the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), this designation “Son of God,” in the light of Jesus’ divine actions, must be taken in a stronger sense than the manner in which it is applied to Adam (Luke 3:38); Adam was a representative of God on earth, created in the image of God, but only Christ, the last Adam (1 Corinthians15:45), the man from heaven (1 Corinthians15:47), is the image of the invisible God (Colossians1:15), so making Adam a “type of the One to come” (Romans 5:14).

However, just how Jesus is the Anointed One of God is not revealed simply through the wondrous deeds he wrought, not even by placing these deeds within the context of the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. In fact, Christ warns against trusting messiahs and prophets who work wonders (Matthew 24:23-5), and also suggests that signs such as one arising from the dead are not sufficient grounds for belief if Moses and the prophets are not heard (Luke 16:3 1).

Rather, once Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, what distinguishes his Messiahship, as he himself explains, is that he must be crucified (Matthew 16:21) to enter his glory, as the prophets have already announced (cf. Luke 24:26). Christ was clearly not the nationalistic or political messiah hoped for by some (cf. Luke 24:19-21; Acts 1:6); he died the most shameful death imaginable, not only death, but death on a Cross (Philemon 2:8), becoming a curse for our sake (Galatians 3:13, cf. Deuteronomy21:23). But through this, the idea of Messiahship was brought together with the image of the Suffering Servant, subverting expectations and revealing the strength and wisdom of God in the weakness and folly of the Cross (1 Corinthians1-2).

The Gospels describe Jesus Christ with practically every scriptura image possible. Jesus is the Teacher and the Prophet, bringing God’s Word, which he himself is, as well as being the Wisdom of God, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians2:3). He is the Savior, bringing us the knowledge of God, in which alone is eternal vial life (John 17:3). He is the Life of those who live in the Light which he is, seeing all things and knowing how to walk according to the ways of God; he is the Author of life (Acts 3:15) as well as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians1:15), the impress of his Father’s hypostasis [vocab: with regards to the hypostatic union, where the term is used to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity.] (Hebrews 1:3), and in him the fullness of the divinity dwells bodily (Colossians2:9); in him we see God, and it is in him that the glory of God is revealed (John 1:14), shining in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6), the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians2:8).

Another aspect of the scriptural Christ is described by applying to him the imagery surrounding the temple and worship. Jesus is the High Priest who makes expiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:17 etc.), yet does so as the one who is offered, the Lamb of God (Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 1:29; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelations passim). He is our Pascha, sacrificed for our sake (1 Corinthians5:7). He gives his life as a ransom for main (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6), reconciling all things to God, making peace by the blood of his Cross (Colossians1:20), bringing hostility to an end by the Cross (Ephesians 2:16).

All this is achieved by the “one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5) who has mediated for us a new covenant (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24) Christians who are crucified with Christ (cf. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) buried with him in baptism (Romans 6:4), are now the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16), those in whom God dwells (1 John 4:12).

In another cluster of images, Christ is depicted as the Good Shepherd (1 Peter 2:25, 5:4), who leads his sheep through the door, again Christ himself, to salvation (John 10:7-15). He is the one whom God exalted as Leader or Prince (Acts 5:31), the Ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelations 1:5), the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Revelations 17:14, 19:16).

As the Power of God working salvation, he accomplishes the victory of God: by voluntarily undergoing death he destroys the power of death, manifesting life as the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18); becoming a curse (Galatians3:13), he empties the curse of its power and brings instead the peace and blessing of God; becoming sin, yet not knowing sin, he opens to us the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That all the terms and imagery used to describe Christ and his activity are derived from Scripture, emphasizes the point that Christ is from God (John 8:42), from above not below (John 8:23), that he has come down from heaven to do God’s will (John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38-9), that in him God is at work, and in him alone we see God (John 1:18, 14:9; Matthew 11:27, etc.), just as he alone has revealed to us the meaning of the Scriptures, which again is Christ himself (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). He is the one seen by Isaiah (John 12:41), about whom Moses wrote (John 5:46), and who is before Abraham was (John 8:58); with God in the beginning (John 1:1) he is eternal: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The overall effect of applying all these descriptions, from alpha to omega (Revelations 1:8), to Jesus Christ, is to arrive at a figure quite distinct from the possibilities within any one of the elements which have contributed to the overall description. There is, as we have seen, a transformation of meaning that takes place in the light of the Passion and the subsequent proclamation of him as Lord and Christ. Whatever Jesus might actually have said about himself, and whatever his followers might have thought of him, any oral reports that preserved such information were sifted and re-presented through the medium of Scripture, interpreted on the basis of the kerygma.

Similarly, application of all the different scriptural titles to Jesus, on this basis invests these titles with new meaning, reinterpreting them: not only is Jesus the Messiah, but he is so as the Suffering Servant; not only is he the son of David, but he is David’s Lord (Matthew 22:45); as son of David he could not be a priest, so he is proclaimed as the High Priest par excellence. Not only is he a son of God, as was Adam, and himself God, in the sense of Psalm verse which proclaims “I said you are gods, sons of the Most High” (Psalm 81:6 LXX), a verse used by Jesus to legitimate calling “gods” all those to whom the word of God came (John 10:34-5), but he is the Son of God, and as divine as God is himself.

Through this process of selection and reinterpretation, there is a general tendency towards a particular interpretation of Christ, who he is and what he has done. It would be misleading to suggest that this is evident from the pages of the New Testament itself, just as it would be erroneous to suppose that the collection known as the “New Testament” was always a given; but it is clear from the theological discussions, and especially the canon of truth, which precede the appearance of the New Testament as a book.

Nor is this to suggest that any particular element of the New Testament mosaic of Christ is submerged or lost; each remains vitally important for understanding Christ and what God has wrought in him. But it does help to understand why, although no particular explanation of the salvific work of Christ has ever been “canonized” in a creed or definition as being the only or exclusively acceptable model, there has been a claim, which became increasingly dominant and exclusive, that there is one right way of understanding who and what Jesus Christ is: the Son of the Father, the Word of God incarnate, both God and man.

This is not simply a Greek philosophical approach to the revelation of God in Christ, but is rather a continuation of what is happening within each of the New Testament texts, the continuing reflection, on the basis of Scripture and the kerygma, about who Christ is, a reflection which has already reached canonical shape, in the canon of truth, by the time that the New Testament is recognized as such.

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The True Treasure

August 12, 2013
Every act of obedience is an approach -- an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

Every act of obedience is an approach — an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  (I hate to thump my own drum here but if you were to type “Son of Man” into the search box on PayingAttentiontotheSky, you would be rewarded with this selection of posts. They are quite extraordinary. )

Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.

Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Luke 12: 32-48

Prepared for the Master
Year passes after year silently; Christ’s coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as he comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray hint to give you the heart to seek him in sincerity. Pray him to make you in earnest. You have one work only: to bear your cross after him.

Resolve in his strength to do so. Resolve to be no longer beguiled by “shadows of religion,” by words, or by disputings, or by notions, or by high professions, or by excuses, or by the world’s promises or threats.

Pray him to give you what Scripture calls “an honest and good heart,” or “a perfect heart,” and, without waiting, begin at once to obey him with the best heart you have. Any obedience is better than none — any profession which is disjoined from obedience is a mere pretense and deceit. Any religion which does not bring you nearer to God is of the world. You have to seek his face; obedience is the only way of seeking him. All your duties are obediences.

If you are to believe the truths he has revealed, to regulate yourselves by his precepts, to be frequent in his ordinances, to adhere to his Church and people, why is it, except because he has bid you? And to do what he bids is to obey him, and to obey him is to approach him. Every act of obedience is an approach — an approach to him who is not far off though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him front us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.

If we have forgotten him, he will not know us; but “blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching…. He shall gird himself, and make them sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.”

May this be the portion of every one of us! It is hard to attain it; but it is woeful to fail. Life is short; death is certain and the world to come is everlasting.
Blessed John Henry Newman

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A Galilean Holy Man — By Sarah Ruden

August 7, 2013
William-Adolphe Bouguereau November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter and traditionalist. In his realistic genre paintings he used mythological themes, making modern interpretations of classical subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body. During his life he enjoyed significant popularity in France and the United States, was given numerous official honors, and received top prices for his work. As the quintessential salon painter of his generation, he was reviled by the Impressionist avant-garde. By the early twentieth century, Bouguereau and his art fell out of favor with the public, due in part to changing tastes. In the 1980s, a revival of interest in figure painting led to a rediscovery of Bouguereau and his work. Throughout the course of his life, Bouguereau executed 822 known finished paintings, although the whereabouts of many are still unknown.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter and traditionalist. In his realistic genre paintings he used mythological themes, making modern interpretations of classical subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body. During his life he enjoyed significant popularity in France and the United States, was given numerous official honors, and received top prices for his work. As the quintessential salon painter of his generation, he was reviled by the Impressionist avant-garde. By the early twentieth century, Bouguereau and his art fell out of favor with the public, due in part to changing tastes. In the 1980s, a revival of interest in figure painting led to a rediscovery of Bouguereau and his work. Throughout the course of his life, Bouguereau executed 822 known finished paintings, although the whereabouts of many are still unknown. From Wikipedia.

The claim here is that there was no neat progression from Jesus’ sayings, life and legend to Christian theology. Review of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth By Reza Aslan  and  and Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea By Geza Vermes by two controversial writers. The reviewer, Sarah. Ruden, is the author of Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time.The review is from a recent WSJ.

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A certain notoriety surrounds Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, but only because a Fox interviewer recently questioned whether, as a Muslim and scholar of Islam, Mr. Aslan was qualified to write about “the founder of Christianity.” His basic approach to his subject, however — his decision to treat a major religious figure historically, with a life-and-times analysis — is considered hardly worthy of comment.

Such wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century, only Darwin’s On the Origin of Species caused more scholarly controversy than the two volumes of David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (1835 and 1836). Among those swept up by this new historical view of Scripture was George Eliot, who translated The Life of Jesus into English.

In her novel Middlemarch, that crown of the Victorian enlightenment, she shows her heroine finally seeing her husband’s pious pedantry for what it is when the young radical she will eventually marry asserts that only German research matters these days. He means, of course, the examination of Jesus as a human being within the context of his times — a man who can be evaluated freely and rationally: Should he be a guide to life and, if so, what kind of guide?

But that was then. In the 21st century, the examination of Jesus as a historical figure has been domesticated far and wide in Christendom, even in seminaries and divinity schools. The full development of fields such as linguistics and archaeology — and their application to ancient texts — may, in a supreme irony, provide material for Bible study. (Hardly, sez I, if all you come away from the Gospels is that Jesus was a “Galilean Holy Man”) within churches more than offer temptation to leave the fold.

In “Christian Beginnings,” Geza Vermes, whose death in May, at age 88, ended perhaps the most celebrated career in Middle Eastern studies of the past half-century (among other distinctions, he published the first English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls), lays out and enhances some of the most important arguments that he helped to make familiar. He asks us to see Jesus as a Jew, a man whose outlook and belief were grounded in Judaism and who did not in any way imagine himself to be reinventing his religion or founding a new one.

In many ways, according to Vermes, the Galilean holy man resembled, among others, the prophets of ancient Israel — men like Elijah and Isaiah. Their uniting quality was “charisma,” or manifestations of the power of God, mainly through preaching, healing and other ministries. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke — probably all written between A.D. 50 and 80 — give a credible picture of such a mission and are divided and equivocal regarding Jesus’ identity as the messiah. They are even less forthcoming about him as “the son of God” — a Jewish honorific but, when meant literally, blasphemy to traditional Jews of any period.

The Book of John — most likely written around the end of the first century — was a major break. Christ as the Logos or Word in John 1 — a being existing along with God from the beginning of time as the essential force of creation — is a concept traceable back to Plato. It is easy to see a Greek philosophical influence on the “Johannine” corpus, which includes the Epistles of John and Revelation, as well as the Gospel text. One source may be Philo of Alexandria, whose philosophy epitomizes the Hellenized Judaism of the first century. But is hard to imagine such thinking as part of the peasant, artisan and Temple milieu of an historical Jesus (hard to imagine if your historical Jesus is only, once again, is just a “Galilean Holy Man.”).

There was, however, no neat progression in time from Jesus’ sayings, life and legend to Christian theology. True, the theology was inexorably refined into the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325), which decreed that Christ was “consubstantial with the Father,” part of unitary godhead and not even subordinate to it. But the startling strangeness in Christian formulations about the unseen — the sharp break with anything that came before and the necessary launch in a completely new direction — was evident long, long before.

The earliest extant writer to address the Jesus movement was Paul of Tarsus, who knew some of the disciples, observed (and helped persecute) the sect in its very early form in Jerusalem, and some time after his conversion became the sect’s main missionary to the gentiles. But Paul shows almost no interest in the life or sayings of Jesus (?). Instead, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were the touchstones for his theology, which is still almost universal among Christians: God’s sacrifice of his son to save sinful humankind from death. Paul’s example strongly suggests that, whatever Jesus’ background, personality and day-to-day mission, it was the crucifixion and resurrection that riveted his closest associates and nearest contemporaries. To argue that Christianity is artificial, a distortion of what Jesus was and what he did — as Vermes did in a lifetime of well-regarded scholarship and as others do less carefully — shortchanges history.

Reza Aslan, in “Zealot,” assembles evidence that, like a number of Jewish dissenters under Greek and Roman rule, Jesus was a hot-headed champion of the poor and oppressed against the Jewish hierarchy, whom he saw as puppets of the Romans. He was also, Mr. Aslan argues, a defender of religious purity who did not eschew violence against even Jewish institutions. He was thus in spirit like the revolutionary Zealots of a generation later. Mr. Aslan cites Gospel accounts hard to explain otherwise, such as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his attack on merchants and money-changers at the Temple. He stresses how anomalous a prophet of peace would have been in such violent times.

It is certainly plausible that various Christian authors themselves tried to censor Jesus’ politics. It was in the interests of Christians both before and especially after the Jewish rebellion against Rome — which led, in A.D. 70, to the destruction of the Temple and unprecedented slaughter — to dissociate themselves from Jewish resistance of any kind and to protest that they were docile servants of the Roman Empire.

But Mr. Aslan’s claims, as well as those of Vermes, evade the key historical problems. The complete story of Jesus, as his closest followers knew it, made no sense and needed extraordinary explication — hence the quick and extensive development of theology, from Paul all the way to the Nicene Creed. Crucifixion was a vile death, on its own soundly repudiating Jesus’ reputation as a charismatic holy man, since divine providence was central to Jewish thought. For a would-be rabble-rouser, on the other hand, crucifixion was a routine, quickly forgotten fate. Yet Jesus was said to have achieved what had not been granted even to the Patriarchs: He had risen from the dead, in the flesh.

Concerning the resurrection, even the earliest scriptural accounts are more like classical historiography or even forensic oratory than like any other Scripture — the story was supposed to represent empirical fact as well as religious truth. And there was no disagreement about the resurrection between Paul’s gentile-friendly party, which triumphed in time, and the community of James, the brother of Jesus, with its doomed insistence on full adherence to Jewish law.

Vermes, Mr. Aslan and many other fashionable historical critics hold the conflicts between these two groups to have been critical for the branching off of Christianity as a deracinated, Greco-Roman religion. But both groups were “Christian,” which literally means that they believed that Jesus was the messiah, their explanation being his defiance of death; nor did intense persecution or even the threat of death change any of the leaders’ minds.

Perhaps the most solid statement that anyone can make about history is that nothing is completely explainable. But the sheer amount of data that scholars like Vermes and Mr. Aslan command — and their ingenuity in deploying it — seems to encourage overreach. I sense an attitude that they themselves justly criticize in the theology-happy Church Fathers: a refusal to let any topic alone until every detail is pulled in one direction under a mighty wave of discourse. This attitude can of course yield violations of common sense.

Vermes employs the Greek lexicon quite selectively to argue that traditional Jews recognized Christians, for a time, as a legitimate sect of their own, like the Pharisees. But that’s demonstrably untrue: Jesus — the cult figure if not the person — was never Jewish to that degree. What happened to him in the end of his life abruptly and necessarily split him off from the Jewish tradition and establishment.

Mr. Aslan goes as far as to claim that the verb in Jesus’ well-attested command to “render unto Caesar” means to reject the whole system of imperial taxation. “Throw it back in Caesar’s face,” would be the meaning. But Paul, in Romans 13, uses the same verb, apodidomi, in its usual sense of “pay what you owe” — all taxes without exception, and in a cooperative spirit. It is linguistically impossible that, through this well-attested Gospel command to “render” taxes (it appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus showed himself as an anti-establishment rebel, let alone one sympathetic to violence.

But the popularization of historical criticism provides its own correctives. The facts are laid out and open to investigation, and seldom are the facts more generously and engagingly laid out than in these books.

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