Archive for the ‘Understanding Paul’ Category


Learning Catholic Time – Derek Jeter

November 10, 2011

Francisco Ribalta, (baptized June 2, 1565, Lérida, Spain—died Jan. 12, 1628, Valencia), Spanish painter who was one of the first artists to be influenced by the new realism initiated by Caravaggio in Italy. Ribalta’s use of light and shadow to give solidity to his forms made him the first native Spanish tenebroso (a painter who emphasizes darkness rather than light), and he was a major influence on later Spanish painters.

One of the things that totally blew by me in my conversion was the nature of time to a Catholic believer. The risen Christ forces a believer to confront a different notion of what time is and how we navigate through it. Paul was the first to expound upon time and faith and used many curious expressions that focused on the former. One such phrase, “in the fullness of time,” seemed to refer to God’s sending of the Son at the most propitious moment (Galatians 4:4) in human history. Some have suggested the apostle had the Roman empire in mind with its roads and common language (Greek) which helped to facilitate the spread of the gospel and the work of Paul in moving about to contribute to that dissemination.

But it is far more likely that the apostle had something more biblical and Jewish in mind when he used the phrase “the fullness of time.” For Paul was convinced that God has a plan for his creation and for human history, a plan that had been, was and was going to be part of Israel’s history and shaped by a sequence best described in the language of the prophets and apocalyptic seers that populate the Old Testament. Benedict XVI comes neatly to the point here:

The subject of the Resurrection unfolds a new perspective, that of the expectation of the Lord’s return. It thus brings us to ponder on the relationship among the present time, the time of the Church and of the Kingdom of Christ, and the future (eschaton) that lies in store for us, when Christ will consign the Kingdom to his Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24). Every Christian discussion of the last things, called eschatology, always starts with the event of the Resurrection; in this event the last things have already begun, and, in a certain sense, are already present.
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul

Fr. Jean Corbon, in his seminal The Wellspring of Worship refers to a “river of life” that he sees forming the flow of energies that was inaugurated by the Resurrection. A river that literally overflows time and spills into the lives of the people of God as liturgy:

On this day of birth the river of life becomes LITURGY as it spreads out from the tomb and reaches us in the incorruptible body of Christ. Its wellspring is no longer the Father alone but also the body of his Son, since this is henceforth wholly permeated by his glory. If it be true that the drama of history is the interplay of God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it, then the drama reaches its climax, and its eternal beginning, on this day, because these two energies are now joined together forever. The consent of the Son to his eternal birth from the Father completely permeates the body of his humanity.

As a result of this anointing with superabundant life Jesus rises and becomes “Christ” to the fullest possible extent. It is this covenant between his two energies, the divine and the human, that makes the risen Christ the inexhaustible wellspring of the liturgy. In the past, the river of life had been in a state of kenosis in his body, being hidden and limited there by his mortal flesh; like the first Adam, Jesus was a “living soul”. But when he rises from the tomb he has become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:4).

Henceforth, in his integral humanity — nature, will, energy Jesus is alive. He is united to the Father and radiates the glory of God from his own body; being united to the wellspring he gives life (see John 5:20-21 and 26-27). The river of life can now flow forth from the throne of God and from the throne of the Lamb. The liturgy has been born; the Resurrection of Jesus is its first manifestation.

Let us not imagine this event as being a thing of the past! True enough, it occurred at one point in our history; it was an event and not a symbol. But it also occurred “once and for all”. [See Romans 6:10 and the Letter to the Hebrews passim; the phrase is used only with reference to the death and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.] The events in which we are involved happen once, but never once and for all; they pass and, passing, belong to the past. The Resurrection of Jesus is not in the past, for if it were Jesus would not have conquered our death. Above and beyond its historical circumstances, which are indeed of the past, the death of Jesus was by its nature the death of death.

But the event wherein death was put to death cannot belong to the past, for then death would not have been conquered. To the extent that it passes, time is prisoner of death; once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes. The hour on which the desire of Jesus was focused “has come, and we are in it” forever; the event that is the Cross and Resurrection does not pass away.

More than that, it is the only true event in all of history. All other events are dead and will always be dead; this one alone remains. “Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again” (Romans 6:9). He was not brought back to life in the manner of Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus or the son of the widow of Nain. These individuals began a mortal life once again and finally died for good.

In the case of Christ and him alone rising meant passing through death and passing, with the whole of his humanity, beyond death. He pierced the wall of death and therefore the wall of mortal time. This corning of the Word of life into our flesh and into the very abyss of our death alone deserves to be called an “event”, because due to it all the walls of death have collapsed, and life has sprung up in their place. The hour in which the Word with a loud cry handed over his Breath of love so that men might live is no longer in the past; it is, it abides, it lives on through history and sustains it.

This unprecedented power that the river of life exercises in the humanity of the risen Christ — that is the liturgy! In it all the promises of the Father find their fulfillment (Acts 13: 32). Since that moment the communion of the Blessed Trinity has ceaselessly been spreading throughout our world and flooding our time with its fullness. Henceforth the economy of salvation takes the form of liturgy.

When seen in this perspective, the question of the relation between celebration and life becomes secondary. The important thing is the relation of both to the paschal event that wells up at the heart of every event. In the living Christ who “is not here” but is risen and who fills all things and holds the keys of death, the heart of God and the heart of man are as it were the two heartbeats of the heart of history. There the wellspring flows.
Fr. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship

This was the radical new covenant that the biblical prophets envisioned after the years of idolatry and injustice, violence and oppression they had witnessed. They imagined a future time of true worship that would include all nations, a new era of justice for Israel and for all, an age of peace and security, wherein “the lion lies down with the lamb:”

 “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
 (Isaiah 11:1-9).

When this sort of vision failed to materialize, the later prophets and their heirs, the apocalyptic visionaries, imagined a radical disjunction between the present age and the age to come, an abrupt transition from the one to the other prefaced by great upheavals in normal human life and even in the cosmos itself.

The Prayer Of Jeremiah The Prophet:
Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.
Our inheritance is turned over to aliens, our houses to strangers.
We are become like orphans without a father, our mothers are as widows.
We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought.
We are dragged by the neck; no rest is given to the weary.
We have given our hand to Egypt and to the Assyrians to get bread enough.
Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.
Slaves have ruled over us; there was none to redeem us from their hand.
We fetched bread at the peril of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is scorched as an oven because of the violence of hunger.
They ravished women in Zion and virgins in the cities of Judah.
Princes were hung up by their hands; no respect was shown to the elders.
Young men were shamefully used and boys collapsed under the loads of wood.
The old men have gone from the gates, young men from the choirs of singers.
All joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing is turned into mourning.
The crown is fallen from our head; woe to us because we have sinned.
For this our heart has become sick; therefore our eyes have grown dim.
Because of Mount Zion that is destroyed jackals prowl all over it.
But you, O Lord, will remain forever, your throne from generation to generation.
Why do you forget us forever, forsake us for so many long days?
Restore us, Lord, to you and we shall be restored; renew our days as from the beginning.
But you have utterly rejected us, furiously angry against us.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.

Michael Gorman describes the following: “for Paul, the event of Jesus Christ was God’s perfectly timed means of effecting the transition from this age to the age to come, fulfilling the prophetic vision of something new and yet old:

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!”
(2 Corinthians 5:57).

But Paul saw this apocalyptic event occurring in two parts — commonly referred to as the first and second comings of Christ — with an intervening era in which the two ages overlap (1 Corinthians 10:11) and during which period the present age is already beginning to pass away (1 Corinthians cf. Romans 13:11  12). We may describe this framework, which is fundamental to understanding Paul, as follows:

  1. Apocalyptic Intervention 1: In the coming, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus in the fullness of time, God has inaugurated the age-to-come, or new creation, promised by the prophets.
  2. The Current Overlap of the Ages the inaugurated new age currently overlaps with the present age.
  3. Apocalyptic Intervention 2,  In the not-too-distant future, God will act once again, beginning with the return or appearing of Jesus, to end the present age and bring the age-to-come into its glorious fullness.”

Paul said that we live in the intervening time between the first act and the second apocalyptic interventions; the present age, which he saw as “the overlap of the ages:”

“For the grace of God has appeared [Greek epephane], bringing salvation to all, “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation [Greek epithaneian] of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
(Titus 2:11-13)

For Paul this new life of salvation in the present age is life “in Christ.” Gorman tells us that this phrase points to a central and complex dimension of Paul’s experience and theology, an experience shaped by the Risen Christ that we all experience:

Furthermore, the language can be reversed, as Paul also experiences the presence of Christ within — Christ in me/you/us (e.g., Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:10; Colossians 1:27). This is both a personal, though not private, and a corporate experience. It is also described in terms of the indwelling presence of the Spirit (e.g., Romans 8:9, 11)

 To further complicate things, Paul can also speak about life in the Spirit. For Paul, the Spirit is the down-payment on and guarantee of the fullness of the life to come (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14), when the final act in God’s salvation drama takes place.

Life in Christ during this overlap of the ages is to be characterized by constant careful consideration of both the first intervention and the second. That is, those in Christ experience in the liturgy that looks both back to the past events of incarnation, cross, and resurrection, on the one hand, and ahead to the future events of return, resurrection, and renewal, on the other, what has been called the Anamnesis in the Eucharistic prayer.

Gorman sees the kind of existence arising from this interpretation as bifocal — focused on two things, in two directions, so that the present becomes shaped by both the past and the future:

By “bifocal” I mean having two foci in opposite directions (that is, bi-directional), unlike bifocal glasses that permit one to focus on different objects in the same direction. To be in Christ, both personally and corporately, is to have one’s life, one’s story shaped by the two-part drama of God’s apocalyptic intervention. It is to be caught in the middle — a challenging but exciting time to be alive.
Michael J Gorman, Reading Paul

So how do we live in this Catholic Time with this bifocal perspective? Benedict XVI in his book on Paul poses the question in the light of the expectation of Christ’s parousia: “Let us ask ourselves: what are the basic convictions of Christians as regards the last things: death, the end of the world?”

  1. Their first conviction is the certainty that Jesus is Risen and is with the Father and thus is with us forever. And no one is stronger than Christ:

[Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 35-40]

for he is with the Father, he is with us. We are consequently safe, free of fear. This was an essential effect of Christian preaching. Fear of spirits and divinities was widespread in the ancient world. Today too, missionaries alongside many good elements in natural religions encounter fear of the spirits, of evil powers that threaten us. Christ lives, he has overcome death, he has overcome all these powers. We live in this certainty, in this freedom and in this joy. This is the first aspect of our living with regard to the future.

2.  The second is the certainty that Christ is with me. And just as the future world in Christ has already begun, this also provides the certainty of hope. The future is not darkness in which no one can find his way. It is not like this. Without Christ, even today the world’s future is dark, and fear of the future is so common. Christians know that Christ’s light is stronger, and therefore they live with a hope that is not vague, with a hope that gives them certainty and courage to face the future.

3.  Lastly, their third conviction is that the Judge who returns at the same time as Judge and Savior has left us the duty to live in this world in accordance with his way of living. He has entrusted his talents to us. Our third conviction, therefore, is responsibility before Christ for the world, for our brethren and at the same time also for the certainty of his mercy. Both these things are important. Since God can only be merciful, we do not live as if good and evil were the same thing.This would be a deception. In reality, we live with a great responsibility. We have talents, and our responsibility is to work so that this world may be open to Christ, that it be renewed. Yet even as we work responsibly, we realize that God is the true Judge. We are also certain that this Judge is good; we know his Face, the Face of the Risen Christ, of Christ crucified for us. Therefore we can be certain of his goodness and advance with great courage.

Another element in the Pauline teaching on eschatology is the universality of the call to faith which unites Jews and Gentiles, that is, non-Christians, as a sign and an anticipation of the future reality. For this reason we can say that we are already seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but to reveal the riches of grace in the centuries to come (Ephesians 2:6f.), the after becomes a before, in order to show the state of incipient fulfillment in which we live. This makes bearable the sufferings of the present time, which, in any case, cannot be compared to the future glory (cf. Romans 8:18).

We walk by faith, not by sight, and even if we might rather leave the body to live with the Lord, what definitively matters, whether we are dwelling in the body or are far from it, is that we he pleasing to him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7-9).

4.  Finally, a last point that might seem to us somewhat difficult. At the end of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul reiterates and also puts on the lips of the Corinthians a prayer that originated in the first Christian communities in the Palestinian area: Maranà, thà! which means literally, “Our Lord, come!” (16:22). It was the prayer of early Christianity and also of the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which ends with it: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

“Can we pray like this too? It seems to me that for us today, in our lives, in our world, it is difficult to pray sincerely for the world to perish so that the new Jerusalem, the Last Judgment and the Judge, Christ, may come. I think that even if, sincerely, we do not dare to pray like this for a number of reasons yet, in a correct and proper way, we too can say, together with the early Christians: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

We do not of course desire the end of the world. Nevertheless, we do want this unjust world to end. We also want the world to be fundamentally changed, we want the beginning of the civilization of love, the arrival of a world of justice and peace, without violence, without hunger. We want all this, yet how can it happen without Christ’s presence? Without Christ’s presence there will never be a truly just and renewed world. And even if we do so in a different way, we too can and must also say, completely and profoundly, with great urgency and amid the circumstances of our time: “Come, Lord Jesus!

Come in your way, in the ways that you know. Come wherever there is injustice and violence. Come to the refugee camps, in Darfur, in North Kivu, in so many parts of the world. Come wherever drugs prevail. Come among those wealthy people who have forgotten you, who live for themselves alone. Come wherever you are unknown. Come in your way and renew today’s world. And come into our hearts, come and renew our lives, come into our hearts so that we ourselves may become the light of God, your presence.

In this way let us pray with Saint Paul: Maranà, thà! “Come, Lord Jesus!” and let us pray that Christ may truly be present in our world today and renew it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul



The Risen Body Will Be Incorruptible, Glorious, Full Of Dynamism, And Spiritual

June 10, 2011

Fra Angelico, Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb in Cell 8

The Pauline Anthropology Of The Resurrection by Pope John Paul II From his general audience of Wednesday, 3 February 1982

Pope John Paul II explains the Pauline theology of the body with regard to the resurrection of the dead.


FROM THE WORDS OF CHRIST ON THE FUTURE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, reported by all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we have passed to the Pauline anthropology of the resurrection. We are analyzing the First Letter to the Corinthians 15:42-49. In the resurrection the human body, according to the words of the Apostle, is seen “incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual.” The resurrection is not only a manifestation of the life that conquers death — almost a final return to the tree of life, from which man had been separated at the moment of original sin — but is also a revelation of the ultimate destiny of man in all the fullness of his psychosomatic nature and his personal subjectivity.

Paul of Tarsus — who following in the footsteps of the other apostles, had experienced in his meeting with the risen Christ the state of his glorified body — basing himself on this experience, Paul announces in his Letter to the Romans “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23) and in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) the completion of this redemption in the future resurrection.

In The Perspective Of An Eternal Destiny
The literary method Paul applies here perfectly corresponds to his style, which uses antitheses that simultaneously bring together those things which they contrast. In this way they are useful in having us understand Pauline thought about the resurrection. It concerns both its “cosmic” dimension and also the characteristic of the internal structure of the “earthly” and the “heavenly” man.

The Apostle, in fact, in contrasting Adam and Christ (risen) — that is, the first Adam with the second Adam — in a certain way shows two poles between which, in the mystery of creation and redemption, man has been placed in the cosmos. One could say that man has been put in tension between these two poles in the perspective of his eternal destiny regarding, from beginning to end, his human nature itself.

When Paul writes: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47), he has in mind both Adam-man and also Christ as man. Between these two poles — between the first and the second Adam — the process takes place that he expresses in the following words: “As we have borne the image of the man of earth, so we will bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Man Completed
This “man of heaven” — the man of the resurrection whose prototype is the risen Christ — is not so much an antithesis and negation of the “man of earth” (whose prototype is the first Adam), but is above all his completion and confirmation. It is the completion and confirmation of what corresponds to the psychosomatic makeup of humanity, in the sphere of his eternal destiny, that is, in the thought and the plan of him who from the beginning created man in his own image and likeness. The humanity of the first Adam, the “man of earth,” bears in itself a particular potential (which is a capacity and readiness) to receive all that became the second Adam, the man of heaven, namely, Christ, what he became in his resurrection. That humanity which all men, children of the first Adam, share, and which, along with the heritage of sin — being carnal — at the same time is corruptible, and bears in itself the potentiality of incorruptibility.

That humanity which, in all its psychosomatic makeup appears ignoble, and yet bears within itself the interior desire for glory, that is, the tendency and the capacity to become “glorious” in the image of the risen Christ. Finally, the same humanity about which the Apostle — in conformity with the experience of all men — says that it is “weak” and has an “animal body,” bears in itself the aspiration to become full of dynamism and spiritual.

Potential to rise again
We are speaking here of human nature in its integrity, that is, of human nature in its psychosomatic makeup. However, Paul speaks of the body. Nevertheless we can admit, on the basis of the immediate context and the remote one, that for him it is not a question only of the body, but of the entire man in his corporeity, therefore also of his ontological complexity. There is no doubt here that precisely in the whole visible world (cosmos) that one body which is the human body bears in itself the potentiality for resurrection, that is, the aspiration and capacity to become definitively incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual. This happens because, persisting from the beginning in the psychosomatic unity of the personal being, he can receive and reproduce in this earthly image and likeness of God also the heavenly image of the second Adam, Christ.

The Pauline anthropology of the resurrection is cosmic and universal at the same time. Every man bears in himself the image of Adam and every man is also called to bear in himself the image of Christ, the image of the risen one. This image is the reality of the “other world,” the eschatological reality (St. Paul writes, “We will bear”). But in the meantime it is already in a certain way a reality of this world, since it was revealed in this world through the resurrection of Christ. It is a reality ingrafted in the man of this world, a reality that is developing in him toward final completion.

The Vision Of God
All the antitheses that are suggested in Paul’s text help to construct a valid sketch of the anthropology of the resurrection. This sketch is at the same time more detailed than the one which comes from the text of the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-35). But on the other hand it is in a certain sense more unilateral.

The words of Christ which the synoptics report open before us the perspective of the eschatological perfection of the body, fully subject to the divinizing profundity of the vision of God face to face. In that vision it will find its inexhaustible source of perpetual virginity (united to the nuptial meaning of the body), and of the perpetual intersubjectivity of all men, who will become (as males and females) sharers in the resurrection.

The Pauline sketch of the eschatological perfection of the glorified body seems to remain rather in the sphere of the interior structure of the man-person. His interpretation of the future resurrection would seem to link up again with body-spirit dualism which constitutes the source of the interior system of forces in man.

This system of forces will undergo a radical change in the resurrection. Paul’s words, which explicitly suggest this, cannot however be understood or interpreted in the spirit of dualistic anthropology, (“Paul takes absolutely no account of the Greek dichotomy between ‘soul and body’…. The Apostle resorts to a kind of trichotomy in which the totality of man is body, soul and spirit.

All these terms are alive and the division itself has no fixed limit. He insists on the fact that body and soul are capable of being ‘pneumatic,’ spiritual” (B. Rigaux, Dieu l’a ressuscité. Exégèse et Théologie biblique [Gembloux: Duculot, 1973], pp. 406-408).


Reading Selections: On The Occasion Of The Closing Of The Pauline Year — Homily Of His Holiness Benedict XVI

May 9, 2011

As a theologian, Pope Benedict XVI is enormously competent. At home discussing biblical texts and their languages, the fathers of the church, or the writings of contemporary theologians and philosophers, he is a man of culture as well as of learning. He is a member of the Academic Française, the Rhineland-Westphalia Academy of Sciences, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Best known for his work on episcopacy, Eucharist, ministry; tradition, and eschatology, he has published over one hundred books. One cannot read him without being amazed at the breadth of his scholarship. While clearly an intellectual, his pastoral concern has always been to safeguard from harmful speculation the faith of those whom he calls the “simple faithful.” No better example than these comments on the occasion of the closing of the Pauline Year.

At The Basilica of Saint Paul, Outside-the-Walls
Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Mortal Remains Of The Apostle Paul
We have gathered at the tomb of the Apostle whose sarcophagus, preserved beneath the papal altar, was recently the object of a careful scientific analysis. A tiny hole was drilled in the sarcophagus, which in so many centuries had never been opened, in order to insert a special probe which revealed traces of a precious purple-coloured linen fabric, with a design in gold leaf, and a blue fabric with linen threads. Grains of red incense and protein and chalk substances were also found.

In addition, minute fragments of bone were sent for carbon-14 testing by experts unaware of their provenance. The fragments proved to belong to someone who had lived between the first and second centuries. This would seem to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition which claims that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.

All this fills our hearts with profound emotion. In recent months, many people have followed the paths of the Apostle the exterior and especially the interior paths on which he travelled in his lifetime: the road to Damascus towards his encounter with the Risen One; the routes of the Mediterranean world which he crossed with the torch of the Gospel, encountering contradiction and adherence until his martyrdom, through which he belongs forever to the Church of Rome. It was to her that he also addressed his most important Letter.

The Pauline Year is drawing to a close but what will remain a part of Christian existence is the journey with Paul with him and thanks to him getting to know Jesus, and, like the Apostle, being enlightened and transformed by the Gospel. And always, going beyond the circle of believers, he remains the “teacher of the Gentiles”, who seeks to bring the message of the Risen One to them all, because Christ has known and loved each one; he has died and risen for them all. Therefore let us too listen to him at this time when we are solemnly beginning the Feast of the two Apostles who were bound to one another by a close bond.

The Essential Nucleus Of Christian Existence
It is part of the structure of Paul’s Letters always in reference to the particular place and situation that they first of all explain the mystery of Christ, they teach faith. The second part treats their application to our lives: what ensues from this faith? How does it shape our existence, day by day? In the Letter to the Romans, this second part begins in chapter 12, in which the Apostle briefly sums up the essential nucleus of Christian existence in the first two verses. What does St Paul say to us in that passage?

First of all he affirms, as a fundamental thing, that a new way of venerating God began with Christ a new form of worship. It consists in the fact that the living person himself becomes adoration, “sacrifice”, even in his own body. It is no longer things that are offered to God. It is our very existence that must become praise of God.

But how does this happen? In the second verse we are given the answer: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God…” (12: 2). The two decisive words of this verse are “transformed” and “renewal”. We must become new people, transformed into a new mode of existence. The world is always in search of novelty because, rightly, it is always dissatisfied with concrete reality.

The World Cannot Be Renewed Without New People
Paul tells us: the world cannot be renewed without new people. Only if there are new people will there also be a new world, a renewed and better world. In the beginning is the renewal of the human being. This subsequently applies to every individual. Only if we ourselves become new does the world become new. This also means that it is not enough to adapt to the current situation. The Apostle exhorts us to non-conformism.

In our Letter he says: we should not submit to the logic of our time. We shall return to this point, reflecting on the second text on which I wish to meditate with you this evening. The Apostle’s “no” is clear and also convincing for anyone who observes the “logic” of our world. But to become new how can this be done? Are we really capable of it? With his words on becoming new, Paul alludes to his own conversion: to his encounter with the Risen Christ, an encounter of which, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians he says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is in a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (5: 17). This encounter with Christ was so overwhelming for him that he said of it: “I… died…” (Galatians 2: 19; cf. Romans 6). He became new, another, because he no longer lived for himself and by virtue of himself, but for Christ and in him.

In the course of the years, however, he also saw that this process of renewal and transformation continues throughout life. We become new if we let ourselves be grasped and shaped by the new Man, Jesus Christ. He is the new Man par excellence. In him the new human existence became reality and we can truly become new if we deliver ourselves into his hands and let ourselves be molded by him.

Paul makes this process of “recasting” even clearer by saying that we become new if we transform our way of thinking. What has been introduced here with “way of thinking” is the Greek term “nous“. It is a complex word. It may be translated as “spirit”, “sentiments”, “reason”, and precisely, also by “way of thinking”. Thus our reason must become new. This surprises us. We might have expected instead that this would have concerned some attitude: what we should change in our behavior. But no: renewal must go to the very core.

Our way of looking at the world, of understanding reality all our thought must change from its foundations. The reasoning of the former person, the common way of thinking is usually directed to possession, well-being, influence, success, fame and so forth. Yet in this way its scope is too limited. Thus, in the final analysis, one’s “self” remains the centre of the world. We must learn to think more profoundly. St Paul tells us what this means in the second part of the sentence: it is necessary to learn to understand God’s will, so that it may shape our own will.

This is in order that we ourselves may desire what God desires, because we recognize that what God wants is the beautiful and the good. It is therefore a question of a turning point in our fundamental spiritual orientation. God must enter into the horizon of our thought: what he wants and the way in which he conceived of the world and of me. We must learn to share in the thinking and the will of Jesus Christ. It is then that we will be new people in whom a new world emerges.

A Mature Faith
Paul illustrates the same idea of a necessary renewal of our way of being human in two passages of his Letter to the Ephesians; let us therefore reflect on them briefly. In the Letter’s fourth chapter, the Apostle tells us that with Christ we must attain adulthood, a mature faith. We can no longer be “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4: 14). Paul wants Christians to have a “responsible” and “adult faith”. The words “adult faith” in recent decades have formed a widespread slogan. It is often meant in the sense of the attitude of those who no longer listen to the Church and her Pastors but autonomously choose what they want to believe and not to believe hence a do-it-yourself faith. And it is presented as a “courageous” form of self-expression against the Magisterium of the Church.

In fact, however, no courage is needed for this because one may always be certain of public applause. Rather, courage is needed to adhere to the Church’s faith, even if this contradicts the “logic” of the contemporary world. This is the non-conformism of faith which Paul calls an “adult faith”. It is the faith that he desires. On the other hand, he describes chasing the winds and trends of the time as infantile. Thus, being committed to the inviolability of human life from its first instant, thereby radically opposing the principle of violence also precisely in the defense of the most defenseless human creatures is part of an adult faith.

It is part of an adult faith to recognize marriage between a man and a woman for the whole of life as the Creator’s ordering, newly re-established by Christ. Adult faith does not let itself be carried about here and there by any trend. It opposes the winds of fashion. It knows that these winds are not the breath of the Holy Spirit; it knows that the Spirit of God is expressed and manifested in communion with Jesus Christ. However, here too Paul does not stop at saying “no”, but rather leads us to the great “yes”.

He describes the mature, truly adult faith positively with the words: “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Ephesians 4: 15). The new way of thinking, given to us by faith, is first and foremost a turning towards the truth. The power of evil is falsehood. The power of faith, the power of God, is the truth. The truth about the world and about ourselves becomes visible when we look to God. And God makes himself visible to us in the Face of Jesus Christ. In looking at Christ, we recognize something else: truth and love are inseparable. In God both are inseparably one; it is precisely this that is the essence of God. For Christians, therefore, truth and love go together. LOVE IS THE TEST OF TRUTH. We should always measure ourselves anew against this criterion, so that truth may become love and love may make us truthful.

Truth In Love
Another important thought appears in this verse of St Paul. The Apostle tells us that by acting in accordance with truth in love, we help to ensure that all things (ta pánta) the universe may grow, striving for Christ. On the basis of his faith, Paul is not only concerned in our personal rectitude nor with the growth of the Church alone. He is interested in the universe: ta pánta. The ultimate purpose of Christ’s work is the universe – the transformation of the universe, of the whole human world, of all creation.

Those who serve the truth in love together with Christ contribute to the true progress of the world. Yes, here it is quite clear that Paul is acquainted with the idea of progress. Christ his life, his suffering and his rising was the great leap ahead in the progress of humanity, of the world. Now, however, the universe must grow in accordance with him. Where the presence of Christ increases, therein lies the true progress of the world. There, mankind becomes new and thus the world is made new.

Outer And Inner Nature
Paul makes the same thing clear from yet another different perspective. In chapter three of the Letter to the Ephesians he speaks to us of the need to be “strengthened… in the inner man” (Ephesians 3: 16). With this he takes up a subject that earlier, in a troubled situation, he had addressed in the Second Letter to the Corinthians. “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (Ephesians 4: 16).

The inner person must be strengthened this is a very appropriate imperative for our time, in which people all too often remain inwardly empty and must therefore cling to promises and drugs, which then result in a further growth of the sense of emptiness in their hearts. This interior void the weakness of the inner person is one of the great problems of our time. Interiority must be reinforced the perceptiveness of the heart; the capacity to see and to understand the world and the person from within, with one’s heart. We are in need of reason illuminated by the heart in order to learn to act in accordance with truth in love.

The Life Of Prayer
However, this is not realized without an intimate relationship with God, without the life of prayer. We need the encounter with God that is given to us in the sacraments. And we cannot speak to God in prayer unless we let him speak first, unless we listen to him in the words that he has given us. In this regard Paul says to us: “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3: 17ff.).

With these words Paul tells us that love sees beyond simple reason. And he also tells us that only in communion with all the saints, that is, in the great community of all believers and not against or without it can we know the immensity of Christ’s mystery. He circumscribes this immensity with words meant to express the dimensions of the cosmos: breadth, length and height and depth. The mystery of Christ has a cosmic vastness; he did not belong only to a specific group.

The Crucified Christ embraces the entire universe in all its dimensions. He takes the world in his hands and lifts it up towards God. Starting with St Irenaeus of Lyons thus from the second century the Fathers have seen in these words on the breadth, length and height and depth of Christ’s love an allusion to the Cross. In the Cross, Christ’s love embraced the lowest depths the night of death as well as the supreme heights, the loftiness of God himself. And he took into his arms the breadth and the vastness of humanity and of the world in all their distances. He always embraces the universe all of us.

Let us pray the Lord to help us to recognize something of the immensity of his love. Let us pray him that his love and his truth may touch our hearts. Let us ask that Christ dwell in our hearts and make us new men and women who act according to truth in love. Amen!


The Teachings Of The Church, The Teachings Of The Bible

August 3, 2010

It’s amazing how reading one thing answers a question to another or gives an interpretation to a third.  I spend some of my time on religious forums and from time to time run across atheists whom I engage in dialogue. You get used to the things they say and I have spent not a small amount of time on these pages digging up answers to their questions (accusations).

A familiar charge I run across is the Jesus-against-Christianity game, as Bottum refers to it. To whit (he explains): Critical scholars often explain the overlay of Christological affirmations in the gospel by recourse to a theory that, to a great extent, St. Paul theologized Jesus, and, under his influence, there emerged the doctrinally rigid faith of the Church.

R.R. Reno has explained the rationale for theological exegesis by way of this syllogism:

The true Church of Christ teaches the gospel.
The Bible is the sacred and canonical witness to the gospel.
Therefore, the teachings of the Church accord with the teachings of the Bible.

The above would appear to be simple and straight forward, were the teachings of the Church to accord so easily with the teachings of the Bible. But recall the Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the bodily Assumption of Mary to see the problems that occur between doctrine and scripture. “Difficulties stimulate the mind,” as Reno puts it, and the assumption that  Scripture and doctrine teach a single, unified truth is simply one of the challenges of being a thinking Christian. Needless to say, atheists enjoy exploiting some of these difficulties to form a rationale for undermining of faith by establishing the general unreliability of the gospels.

Theological exegesis is a legitimate activity and a perfect example of it can be seen in the early Church Fathers seeking to explain The Easter Faith and Its Meaning in History, the post that precedes this one.

Joseph Bottum, the editor of First Things, was reviewing a particularly nasty book by the man who poses as an anti–C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman. I had never heard of the fellow but it appears he is the author of the Dark Materials Trilogy, a set of children’s books written between 1995 and 2000 with the express purpose of undoing Christianity for the young, and to refute what he called, in Lewis’ Narnia books, “one of the most vile moments in the whole of children’s literature.” Let me take up Bottum’s review here:

Then, in 2004, Pullman ran across the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who observed that Pullman’s children’s books may be a reasonable attack on religious abuses, but they lacked any sense of Jesus. The gentle attention flattered the fantasist, who, in response, has now published his answer: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ — an adult novel that begins, “This is the story of Jesus and his brother Christ, of how they were born, of how they lived and of how one of them died.”

Ah, me. In Pullman’s novelistic version, a naive young woman named Mary delivers two boys. The first of the twins turns out to be Jesus, a wise preacher of moral truths who comes to realize the lack of God from those truths only on his way to crucifixion. The other twin is Christ, a darker, smarter boy who grows up to become the founder of the Church based on his brother and who negotiates power with the Romans and the priests. He is also his brother’s Judas — Christ betraying Jesus to get him out of the way so Christ can go on to establish Christianity.

This is not an uncommon story – the-Jesus-had-a-brother-who-died-on-the-Cross-while-he-escaped has been told before. I think John Updike referred to it somewhere and the Japanese have even cashed in on the retellings . I always wonder where these stories come from, and, for that matter, where the thought “Paul invented Christianity.” or “The only true Christian was Jesus.” Well I found a wonderful little exposition on this in Bottum’s review of the Pullman book:

“[For] this is, after all, pretty tired, old stuff — very tired, and very old. Over the last century and a half, the impulse has often found root in the gardens of critical history, sifting through the gospel stories with the promise of identifying the “real Jesus,” as distinct from the figure so thoroughly embedded in the Church’s account.

In 1892 the Lutheran theologian Martin Kähler gave this project its most influential expression, distinguishing between the “Christ of faith”– the figure found in the Church’s belief in his saving death and resurrection — and the “Jesus of history.” The idea is to come up with a critical principle that allows a scholar to determine when the New Testament authors are reading later theological formulations back into the remembered stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. And the purpose is to allow the modern commentator to filter out the dogmatic content of Scripture.

The problem is that we tend not so much to discover the historical Jesus as to create a blank spot on which to project our spiritual fantasies, as Albert Schweitzer recognized when he surveyed the nineteenth century’s efforts to get back to the “real Jesus” in his famous 1906 book The Quest for the Historical Jesus. The historical Jesus turns out to be whatever the questing historian wants to find: a moral teacher or revolutionary prophet or kind preacher of love (see, for example, Marcus Borg’s picture of Jesus as a 1960s anti-establishment activist).

Critical scholars often explain the overlay of Christological affirmations in the gospel by recourse to a theory that, to a great extent, St. Paul theologized Jesus, and, under his influence, there emerged the doctrinally rigid faith of the Church. F.C. Bauer, for example, speculated in the nineteenth century that Paul was in conflict with the disciples. Nietzsche and others latched onto the idea, boldly declaring that Paul had “invented Christianity” and thereby betrayed the real Jesus.

In fact, in the Jesus-against-Christianity game, it’s usually the inauthentic Paul who gets played off against the authentic Jesus. You can see it from Ernest Renan’s nineteenth-century “The writings of Paul have been a danger and a hidden rock, the causes of the principal defects of Christian theology,” to George Bernard Shaw’s “No sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of superstition than Paul boldly set it on its legs again in the name of Jesus,” to the Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong’s “Paul’s words are not the Words of God. They are the words of Paul — a vast difference.”

There is, of course, an intrinsically anti-dogmatic and anti-ecclesial undercurrent to all these readings of the Bible. D.F. Strauss set aside the miraculous and supernatural dimensions of the New Testament in The Life of Jesus to achieve the effect, and Reimarus, whose On the Intention of Jesus and His Teaching was published posthumously in 1778, expressed a historical skepticism about the reliability of the gospels that was shocking in its day.

The key here is that phrase in its day. The frisson of blasphemy has grown too thin in all this stuff; it’s worn down to nothing. Nothing, except the author’s self-congratulation at his own bravery — a feature with which Philip Pullman’s comments about his novel abound. The slow, patient work of scholars has undone this goofy storyline so many times, and still it comes creeping back every twenty years or so. Pullman’s Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ mostly proves that no idea dies, no matter how soundly defeated.”

So it seems all of this was wrapped up together: My struggles with a Christologically pure Gospel teaching; Fr. Jose Granados’ story of the Easter Faith and Its Meaning in History; and the taunts of atheists telling me that Paul “invented” Christianity. Talk about three birds with one stone…



Benedict XVI on Saint Paul and the Doctrine of Justification

July 28, 2010

I am showing you a reproduction of an oil painting, produced by a Valentin de Boulogne dated roughly around 1600. The painting is entitled “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles.” The apostle is sitting at a desk, with quill in hand which he dips into an inkwell, surrounded by books, manuscripts, and a note book, all of which he consults in composing his letter. The picture was produced approximately 150 years after the publication of the Gutenberg Bible. It is an unmistakable example of a reproduction of the media situation as it presented itself around 1600. Paul is a writer, who compares different texts--one of them being a printed text (presumably the Hebrew Bible)--in order to produce his own text. This is how the typographic imagination, a thoroughly literary, text-centered imagination, conceived of the composition of the Pauline letters: texts grow out of other texts! The only concession to the ancient setting is a scroll in the right corner of the table. It requires a strenuous act of historical imagination to remember that the Paul of the first century did not write but dictate his letters, that all his writings, including the most intricate theological argumentations in Galatians and Romans, were mentally composed, and that large segments of his arguments are structured in keeping with the conventions of Hellenistic-Jewish rhetoric. The painting succeeded in displacing Paul's oral, rhetorical, scribal culture with the exclusively literary, textual, typographical media culture of the 16th century, and it did so around the same time when rhetoric was eliminated from the curriculum at most European universities.

I’ve studied this several times, once in a class at St. Johns, so one would think I could verbalize the distinctions between Protestant and Catholic interpretations or at least explain the basic controversy – but it just doesn’t seem to stick with me. Then I came across this elucidation by Benedict XVI – wonderfully clear, crisply expressed. Saved!

The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith.
On the journey we are making under St Paul’s guidance, let us now reflect on a topic at the centre of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the question of justification. How does man become just in God’s eyes? When Paul met the Risen One on the road to Damascus he was an accomplished man; irreproachable according to the justice deriving from the Law (cf. Philemon3: 6), Paul surpassed many of his contemporaries in the observance of the Mosaic Law and zealously upheld the traditions of his fathers (cf. Galatians 1: 14). The illumination of Damascus radically changed his life; he began to consider all merits acquired in an impeccable religious career as “refuse”, in comparison with the sublimity of knowing Jesus Christ (cf. Philemon 3: 8).

Paul’s Transition From A Justice Founded On The Law To A Justice Based On Faith In Christ
The Letter to the Philippians offers us a moving testimony of Paul’s transition from a justice founded on the Law and acquired by his observance of the required actions, to a justice based on faith in Christ. He had understood that what until then had seemed to him to be a gain, before God was, in fact, a loss; and thus he had decided to stake his whole existence on Jesus Christ (cf. Philemon 3: 7). The treasure hidden in the field and the precious pearl for whose purchase all was to be invested were no longer in function of the Law, but Jesus Christ, his Lord.

The relationship between Paul and the Risen One became so deep as to induce him to maintain that Christ was no longer solely his life but also his very living, to the point that to be able to reach him death became a gain (cf. Philemon 1: 21). This is not to say he despised life, but that he realized that for him at this point there was no other purpose in life and thus he had no other desire than to reach Christ as in an athletics competition to remain with him for ever.

The Risen Christ had become the beginning and the end of his existence, the cause and the goal of his race. It was only his concern for the development in faith of those he had evangelized and his anxiety for all of the Churches he founded (cf. 2 Corinthians 11: 28) that induced him to slow down in his race towards his one Lord, to wait for his disciples so they might run with him towards the goal. Although from a perspective of moral integrity he had nothing to reproach himself in his former observance of the Law, once Christ had reached him he preferred not to make judgments on himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 4: 3-4). Instead he limited himself to resolving to press on, to make his own the One who had made him his own (cf. Philemon 3: 12).

It is precisely because of this personal experience of relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul henceforth places at the centre of his Gospel an irreducible opposition between the two alternative paths to justice: one built on the works of the Law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ. The alternative between justice by means of works of the Law and that by faith in Christ thus became one of the dominant themes that run through his Letters:
“We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law; because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians   2: 15-16).

Luther’s Translation
And to the Christians of Rome he reasserts that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3: 23-24). And he adds “we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3: 28). At this point Luther translated: “justified by faith alone”.

Freed from What Law?
First, we must explain what is this “Law” from which we are freed and what are those “works of the Law” that do not justify. The opinion that was to recur systematically in history already existed in the community at Corinth. This opinion consisted in thinking that it was a question of moral law and that the Christian freedom thus consisted in the liberation from ethics. Thus in Corinth the term: “πάντα μοι έξεστιν” (I can do what I like) was widespread. It is obvious that this interpretation is wrong: Christian freedom is not libertinism; the liberation of which St Paul spoke is not liberation from good works.

So what does the Law from which we are liberated and which does not save mean? For St Paul, as for all his contemporaries, the word “Law” meant the Torah in its totality, that is, the five books of Moses. The Torah, in the Pharisaic interpretation, that which Paul had studied and made his own, was a complex set of conduct codes that ranged from the ethical nucleus to observances of rites and worship and that essentially determined the identity of the just person. In particular, these included circumcision, observances concerning pure food and ritual purity in general, the rules regarding the observance of the Sabbath, etc. codes of conduct that also appear frequently in the debates between Jesus and his contemporaries. All of these observances that express a social, cultural and religious identity had become uniquely important in the time of Hellenistic culture, starting from the third century B.C. This culture which had become the universal culture of that time and was a seemingly rational culture; a polytheistic culture, seemingly tolerant constituted a strong pressure for cultural uniformity and thus threatened the identity of Israel, which was politically constrained to enter into this common identity of the Hellenistic culture. This resulted in the loss of its own identity, hence also the loss of the precious heritage of the faith of the Fathers, of the faith in the one God and in the promises of God.

Against this cultural pressure, which not only threatened the Israelite identity but also the faith in the one God and in his promises, it was necessary to create a wall of distinction, a shield of defense to protect the precious heritage of the faith; this wall consisted precisely in the Judaic observances and prescriptions. Paul, who had learned these observances in their role of defending God’s gift, of the inheritance of faith in one God alone, saw this identity threatened by the freedom of the Christians this is why he persecuted them.

How Paul’s Encounter With The Risen One Changed His Relationship With The Torah
At the moment of his encounter with the Risen One he understood that with Christ’s Resurrection the situation had changed radically. With Christ, the God of Israel, the one true God, became the God of all peoples. The wall as he says in his Letter to the Ephesians between Israel and the Gentiles, was no longer necessary: it is Christ who protects us from polytheism and all of its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity within the diversity of cultures.

The wall is no longer necessary; our common identity within the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is he who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Galatians 5: 14).

When Faith That Creates Charity The Entire Law Is Fulfilled
Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbor the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love. We shall see the same thing in the Gospel next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What he asks is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you give me food to eat when I was hungry, did you clothe me when I was naked? And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfillment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way.

At the end, we can only pray the Lord that he help us to believe; really believe. Believing thus becomes life, unity with Christ, the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbor, we can truly be just in God’s eyes.

From The Doctrine of Justification: The Apostle’s Teaching on Faith and Works

A Summary of Above
In the Catechesis last Wednesday I spoke of how man is justified before God. Following St Paul, we have seen that man is unable to “justify” himself with his own actions, but can only truly become “just” before God because God confers his “justice” upon him, uniting him to Christ his Son. And man obtains this union through faith. In this sense, St Paul tells us: not our deeds, but rather faith renders us “just”. This faith, however, is not a thought, an opinion, an idea. This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord gives to us, and thus becomes life, becomes conformity with him. Or to use different words faith, if it is true, if it is real, becomes love, becomes charity, is expressed in charity. A faith without charity, without this fruit, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith.

Thus, in our last Catechesis, we discovered two levels: that of the insignificance of our actions and of our deeds to achieve salvation, and that of “justification” through faith which produces the fruit of the Spirit. The confusion of these two levels has caused more than a few misunderstandings in Christianity over the course of centuries. In this context it is important that St Paul, in the same Letter to the Galatians radically accentuates, on the one hand, the freely given nature of justification that is not dependent on our works, but which at the same time also emphasizes the relationship between faith and charity, between faith and works: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5: 6).

Consequently, there are on the one hand “works of the flesh”, which are “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry…” (Galatians 5: 19-20): all works that are contrary to the faith; on the other, there is the action of the Holy Spirit who nourishes Christian life, inspiring “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians   5: 22-23). These are the fruits of the Spirit that blossom from faith.

Agape, love, is cited at the beginning of this list of virtues and self-control at the conclusion. In fact, the Spirit who is the Love of the Father and the Son pours out his first gift, agape, into our hearts (cf. Romans5: 5); and to be fully expressed, agape, love, requires self-control. In my first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, I also treated of the love of the Father and the Son which reaches us and profoundly transforms our existence. Believers know that reciprocal love is embodied in the love of God and of Christ, through the Spirit. Let us return to the Letter to the Galatians. Here St Paul says that by bearing one another’s burdens believers are fulfilling the commandment of love (cf. Galatians   6: 2).

We Are Called To Live In The Love Of Christ For Neighbor
Justified through the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in the love of Christ for neighbor, because it is on this criterion that we shall be judged at the end of our lives. In reality Paul only repeats what Jesus himself said and which is proposed to us anew by last Sunday’s Gospel, in the parable of the Last Judgment. In the First Letter to the Corinthians St Paul pours himself out in a famous eulogy of love. It is called the “hymn to love”: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13: 1, 4-5).

Christian love is particularly demanding because it springs from Christ’s total love for us: that love that claims us, welcomes us, embraces us, sustains us, to the point of tormenting us since it forces each one to no longer live for himself, closed into his own selfishness, but for him “who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5: 15). The love of Christ makes us, in him, that new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5: 17), which comes to belong to his Mystical Body that is the Church.

Seen in this perspective, the centrality of justification without works, the primary object of Paul’s preaching, does not clash with faith that works through love; indeed, it demands that our faith itself be expressed in a life in accordance with the Spirit. Often there is seen an unfounded opposition between St Paul’s theology and that of St James, who writes in his Letter: “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”(2: 26).

In reality, while Paul is primarily concerned to show that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James accentuates the consequential relations between faith and works (cf. Jas 2: 24). Therefore, for both Paul and James, faith that is active in love testifies to the freely given gift of justification in Christ. Salvation received in Christ needs to be preserved and witnessed to “with fear and trembling. For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure…. Do all things without grumbling or questioning… holding fast the word of life”, St Paul was to say further, to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Philemon 2: 12-14, 16).

Once Saved Always Saved?
We are often induced to fall into the same misunderstandings that characterized the community of Corinth; those Christians thought that since they had been freely justified in Christ through faith, “they could do as they pleased”. And they believed and it often seems that today’s Christians also think this that it is permissible to create divisions in the Church, the Body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without looking after the neediest of our brothers, to aspire to better charisms without being aware that each is a member of the other, and so forth. The consequences of a faith that is not manifested in love are disastrous, because it reduces itself to the arbitrariness and subjectivism that is most harmful to us and to our brothers.

On the contrary, in following St Paul, we should gain a new awareness of the fact that precisely because we are justified in Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves but have become a temple of the Spirit and hence are called to glorify God in our body with the whole of our existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 6: 19). We would be underselling the inestimable value of justification, purchased at the high price of Christ’s Blood, if we were not to glorify him with our body. In fact, our worship at the same time reasonable and spiritual is exactly this, which is why St Paul exhorts us “to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12: 1). To what would a liturgy be reduced if addressed solely to the Lord without simultaneously becoming service to one’s brothers, a faith that would not express itself in charity? And the Apostle often places his communities in confrontation with the Last Judgment, on the occasion of which: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5: 10; cf. also Romans 2: 16). And this idea of the Last Judgment must illumine us in our daily lives.

The Christian Ethic Is A Consequence Of Our Friendship With Christ
If the ethics that Paul proposes to believers do not deteriorate into forms of moralism and prove themselves timely for us, it is because, each time, they start from the personal and communal relationship with Christ, to be realized concretely in a life according to the Spirit. This is essential: the Christian ethic is not born from a system of commandments but is a consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life; if it is true it incarnates and fulfils itself in love for neighbour. For this reason, any ethical decay is not limited to the individual sphere but it also weakens personal and communal faith from which it derives and on which it has a crucial effect. Therefore let us allow ourselves to be touched by reconciliation, which God has given us in Christ, by God’s “foolish” love for us; nothing and no one can ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8: 39). We live in this certainty. It is this certainty that gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love.


Paul’s Relationship with the Historical Jesus — by Pope Benedict XVI

July 22, 2010

Caravaggio, Conversion of St. Paul 1601

I’m reading Saint Paul by Pope Benedict XVI, the collection of Wednesday audiences that the Holy Father gave, speaking to the topic of Saint Paul during the year devoted to the great Saint. For some reason this particular exposition concerning Paul’s relationship with the historical Jesus were so compellingly and direct, I wish to highlight them here.

Ways of Knowing
In the last Catecheses on St Paul, I spoke of his encounter with the Risen Christ that profoundly changed his life and then of his relationship with the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus – especially his relationship with James, Cephas and John – and of his relationship with the Church in Jerusalem.

The question remains as to what St Paul knew about the earthly Jesus, about his life, his teachings, his Passion. Before entering into this topic, it might be useful to bear in mind that St Paul himself distinguishes between two ways of knowing Jesus, and more generally, two ways of knowing a person. He writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “from now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer” (5: 16).

The First Way
Knowing “from a human point of view,” in the manner of the flesh, means knowing solely in an external way, by means of external criteria: one may have seen a person various times and hence be familiar with his features and various characteristics of his behavior: how he speaks, how he moves, etc. Although one may know someone in this way, nevertheless one does not really know him, one does not know the essence of the person. Only with the heart does one truly know a person.

Indeed, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were externally acquainted with Jesus, they learned his teaching and knew many details about him but they did not know him in his truth. There is a similar distinction in one of Jesus’ sayings. After the Transfiguration he asked the Apostles: “who do men say that the Son of man is?”, and: “who do you say that I am?”. The people know him, but superficially; they know various things about him, but they do not really know him.

The Second Way
On the other hand, the Twelve, thanks to the friendship that calls the heart into question, have at least understood in substance and begun to discover who Jesus is. This different manner of knowing still exists today: there are learned people who know many details about Jesus and simple people who have no knowledge of these details but have known him in his truth: “Heart speaks to heart”. And Paul wants to say that to know Jesus essentially in this way, with the heart, is to know the person essentially in his truth; and then, a little later, to get to know him better.

Three Forms Of Reference To The Pre-Paschal Jesus

  1. Having said this the question still remains: what did St Paul know about Jesus’ practical life, his words, his Passion and his miracles? It seems certain that he did not meet him during his earthly life.
    Through the Apostles and the nascent Church Paul certainly must have come to know the details of Jesus’ earthly life. In his Letters, we may find three forms of reference to the pre-Paschal Jesus. In the first place, there are explicit and direct references. Paul speaks of the Jesus’ Davidic genealogy (cf. Romans 1: 3), he knows of the existence of his “brethren” or kin (1 Corinthians 9: 5; Galatians 1: 19), he knows the sequence of events of the Last Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians11: 23) and he knows other things that Jesus said, for example on the indissolubility of marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians7: 10 with Mark 10: 11-12), on the need for those who proclaim the Gospel to be supported by the community since the laborer deserves his wages (cf. 1 Corinthians9: 14, with Luke 10: 7). Paul knows the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians11: 24-25, with Luke 22: 19-20), and also knows Jesus’ Cross. These are direct references to words and events of Jesus’ life.
  2. In the second place, we can glimpse in a few sentences of the Pauline Letters various allusions to the tradition attested to in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, the words we read in the First Letter to the Thessalonians which say that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5: 2), could not be explained with a reference to the Old Testament prophesies, since the comparison with the nocturnal thief is only found in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, hence it is indeed taken from the Synoptic tradition.
    Thus, when we read: “God chose what is foolish in the world…” (1 Corinthians1: 27-28), one hears the faithful echo of Jesus’ teaching on the simple and the poor (cf. Matthew 5: 3; 11: 25; 19: 30). Then there are the words that Jesus spoke at the messianic jubilee: “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to babes”. Paul knows — from his missionary experience — how true these words are, that is, that the hearts of the simple are open to knowledge of Jesus. Even the reference to Jesus’ obedience “unto death”, which we read in Philippians 2: 8, can only recall the earthly Jesus’ unreserved readiness to do his Father’s will (cf. Mark 3: 35; John 4: 34). Paul is thus acquainted with Jesus’ Passion, his Cross, the way in which he lived the last moments of his life. The Cross of Jesus and the tradition concerning this event of the Cross lies at the heart of the Pauline kerygma.
    Another pillar of Jesus’ life known to St Paul is the “Sermon on the Mount”, from which he cited certain elements almost literally when writing to the Romans: “love one another…. Bless those who persecute you…. Live in harmony with one another… overcome evil with good…”. Therefore in his Letters the Sermon on the Mount is faithfully reflected (cf. Matthew 5-7).
  3. Lastly, it is possible to individuate a third manner in which Jesus’ words are present in St Paul’s Letters: it is when he brings about a form of transposition of the pre-Paschal tradition to the situation after Easter. A typical case is the theme of the Kingdom of God. It was certainly at the heart of the historical Jesus’ preaching (cf. Matthew 3: 2; Mark 1: 15; Luke 4: 43). It is possible to note in Paul a transposition of this subject because, after the Resurrection, it is obvious that Jesus in person, the Risen One, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom therefore arrives where Jesus is arriving. Thus the theme of the Kingdom of God, in which Jesus’ mystery was anticipated, is transformed into Christology. Yet, the same attitudes that Jesus requested for entering the Kingdom of God apply precisely to Paul with regard to justification through faith: both entry into the Kingdom and justification demand an approach of deep humility and openness, free from presumptions, in order to accept God’s grace.
    For example, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (cf. Luke 18: 9-14), imparts a teaching that is found exactly as it is in Paul, when he insists on the proper exclusion of any boasting to God. Even Jesus’ sentences on publicans and prostitutes, who were more willing to accept the Gospel than the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 21: 31; Luke 7: 36-50,) and his decision to share meals with them (cf. Matthew 9: 10-13; Luke 15: 1-2) are fully confirmed in Paul’s teaching on God’s merciful love for sinners (cf. Romans 5: 8-10; and also Ephesians 2: 3-5). Thus the theme of the Kingdom of God is re-proposed in a new form, but always in full fidelity to the tradition of the historical Jesus.

His Use of Titles
Another example of the faithful transformation of the doctrinal nucleus imparted by Jesus is found in the “titles” he uses. Before Easter he described himself as the Son of man; after Easter it becomes obvious that the Son of man is also the Son of God. Therefore Paul’s favorite title to describe Jesus is Kýrios, “Lord” (cf. Phil 2: 9-11), which suggests Jesus’ divinity. The Lord Jesus, with this title, appears in the full light of the Resurrection.

Abbà Father
On the Mount of Olives, at the moment of Jesus’ extreme anguish, (cf. Mark 14: 36), the disciples, before falling asleep, had heard him talking to the Father and calling him “Abbà Father”. This is a very familiar word equivalent to our “daddy”, used only by children in talking to their father. Until that time it had been unthinkable for a Jew to use such a word in order to address God; but Jesus, being a true Son, at that moment of intimacy used this foRomans and said: “Abba, Father”. Surprisingly, in St Paul’s Letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, this word “Abba”, that expresses the exclusivity of Jesus’ sonship, appears on the lips of the baptized (cf. Romans 8: 15; Galatians 4: 6) because they have received the “Spirit of the Son”. They now carry this Spirit within them and can speak like Jesus and with Jesus as true children to their Father; they can say “Abba” because they have become sons in the Son.

Death Of Jesus As Having Been Bought At A Price
And finally, I would like to mention the saving dimension of Jesus’ death that we find in the Gospel saying, according to which: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45; Matthew 20: 28). A faithful reflection of these words of Jesus appears in the Pauline teaching on the death of Jesus as having been bought at a price (cf. 1 Corinthians 6: 20), as redemption (cf. Romans 3: 24), as liberation (cf. Galatians 5: 1), and as reconciliation (cf. Romans 5: 10; 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20). This is the centre of Pauline theology that is founded on these words of Jesus.

The Reality Of The Living Jesus
To conclude, St Paul did not think of Jesus in historical terms, as a person of the past. He certainly knew the great tradition of the life, words, death and Resurrection of Jesus, but does not treat all this as something from the past; he presents it as the reality of the living Jesus.

For Paul, Jesus’ words and actions do not belong to the historical period, to the past. Jesus is alive now, he speaks to us now and lives for us. This is the true way to know Jesus and to understand the tradition about him. We must also learn to know Jesus not from the human point of view, as a person of the past, but as our Lord and Brother, who is with us today and shows us how to live and how to die.


Book Recommendation: “The Living Thoughts of Saint Paul” by Jacques Maritain

April 19, 2010

St. Paul And His Teachings
Overflowing with gifts of the Spirit, the graces of mystical contemplation and prophetic power, he [Paul] is the master of masters of Christian perfection and union with God…The irresistible dynamism which runs though all his teaching draws souls toward that perfection of charity which, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would explain, is not merely counseled, but commanded, and which comes under the first commandment to the New Law, not doubtless as something to be instantly realized (that is quite impossible) but as the end to which we are summoned and at which all Christian life should aim…Saint Paul’s teaching is inseparable from his experience. He was not simply called, as were the other Apostles; he was converted; he was the first great convert chosen to carry afar the name of Christ, and his teaching mission is the extraordinary flowering of that even more extraordinary moment – his interior conversion.

Hollow And Deceptive Philosophy
But the mystery of our state is that our nature and our reason, as we see them in real and concrete existence, cannot by themselves alone attain the fullness and the perfection of that of which they are capable. All the more, if they set out to usurp that which is beyond their reach, they will become for us a snare, an occasion of sin and of death, With regard to eternal life and absolute wisdom, faith alone — and reason which heeds faith — truly knows the road.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2: 6-8

The True Wisdom Of Eternal Life
The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
   “No eye has seen,
      no ear has heard,
   no mind has conceived
   what God has prepared for those who love him”

But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
[1 Corinthians 2:6-13]

Man Is Held To Goodness
The meaning of the law has been transfigured: they no longer command bad men to be good and to grow into something which they are not; rather do they command good men not be bad and not to fail in that which they already are, not to fall back into that state of slavery from whence they have been freed. Justification is received through faith, quite apart from works. But once justified man is more than ever held to do good works…And this is not because the works of man would have power to save man by themselves, but because good works proceed from the charity which has been given to man and which is his life — his new and eternal life — and which is joined to faith when faith is living: “faith working through charity.” And also because the works of charity, serving of life, to the extent that man, acting freely under the inflowing of grace, receives from God’s mercy the dignity of being a cause — secondary and instrumental — the matter of his  own salvation. 

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. .
1 Corinthians 6: 9-12; 15-20

And in like fashion, Paul writes:

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. [Romans 6:2-14]

The Just Man Lives Of Faith And Charity
Even though he feels ever within him the workings of sin (but from thenceforth he is no longer subject thereto; he is stronger than it), the just man lives from a divine life, which is not a life according to the flesh either; and which makes him in truth an adopted son of God.

Life Through the Spirit
 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Future Glory
 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

More Than Conquerors
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [
Romans 8: 1-39

Old Law New Law
The [old] law suffices to punish; it does not suffice to save. Here is a particular case of that dissymmetry which is always found between the good of which we are incapable without God, and the evil of which we are capable, ourselves alone. And the divine inflowing, which in vitalizing us give s us the power to act as good men (not halfheartedly, or limpingly, but lastingly and completely) is the grace of Christ and supposes (supernatural) faith in Him because the goal toward which it makes us tend is entrance into the very joy of God and into his glory. It was by this grace of the Christ to come, and by faith in Him, that lived the just men of the Old Law and those of the times of the Patriarchs….If the New Law requires many less things beyond the prescriptions of the natural law, and many less ceremonial observances than the Old Law, in return it requires that which is the most difficult of all: purity in the hidden movements and internal acts of the soul. But love makes light the yoke of this higher perfection: a yoke too heavy for him who does not love (but he who loves not has already cut himself off from life); and freedom for him who loves.

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”  
Galatians 2:19-21

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5 19-20

Charity is God’s Gift Of Gifts
Charity does not exist here below without faith and hope. But of the three theological virtues, which are given us by grace together with gratuitous justification, it is charity which is the greatest and which deserves life eternal.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 
 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 
 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 
 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 
 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1Corinthians 13 1-13

Brotherly Love
Feeling for justice is unconquerable in us; charity transcends it; it does not destroy it. To forgive in full and complete measure, we must know that God makes it his affair to redress the balance of things, and that the coals of fire which are heaped upon the head of the unjust man make ready the day when the evil works accumulated by him will be upset, and when the grace of conversion will assault his heart. Each should bear his own burden; that is to say, have care for the task set him by God, without making judgments of others. And we should bear one another’s burdens, that is to say, forgive offenses and mutually help each other along the way.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6: 1-5

Supernatural faith is the prerequisite of the supernatural loves of God, of the charity which efficaciously loves God above all things, like a friend who calls us to share his life…Paul clearly holds that faith, which of itself seeks to blossom out into love, can nevertheless through the corruption of sin, exist in a soul without charity: for even while they believe in the truths of faith, Christians can be lost by losing charity. Of those Christians who do not take care of their own, he tells us that by their actions they give the lie to faith, and that they are worse than those without faith. …The faith of which Paul speaks is…always faith joined to charity, the faith which “worketh by love.”

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, a certification of things not seen. [ Hebrews 11: 1]

The whole of Paul’s teaching is suffused and exalted by the virtue of hope
…in his teaching as in Christian life, hope plays a role so profoundly “existential” that it is like some vegetative force which supplies us life, and which we feel no compelling need to make an object of explicit speculation. Yet everywhere it is present. If even enters into the Pauline definition of faith: Faith is the substance of things hoped for.

The Divinity And Paradox of Christ’s Nature
Christ is the very impress of the substance or of the essence of God:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that 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.

The Mystical Body
This one and indivisible body which the faithful form in Christ is the body of Christ Himself, the extension of the Incarnate Word, “Jesus Christ, spilled over and conveyed.” (Bossuet) Hence the Church is a visible body but a body whose constitutive reality is essentially mysterious, since it is the body – made up of the multitude of those who believe – of Christ  invisibly present in them in order to communicate to them His life of grace…The visible unity of the mystical body, made manifest n Baptism, in the profession of faith, and in discipline, is the visible and human instrument in the world of a life divine and hidden which is not of the world – for it is the life of grace, the life given by the blood of Christ – and in the invisible unity thereof the Spirit of God prepares sons for God.

The Old And New Covenant
The Old Covenant was entered into in fear. The New Covenant , in grace; and  the mystical body of Christ already forms and builds , in its earthly pilgrimage nd its crucified life, and in the darkness of faith, the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem “which is to come.”

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The Continued Redemption
It is the work of redemption continued in time, by the preaching of truth, and by the fulfillment, through all ages, of “what is lacking to the sufferings of the Savior” – not indeed as to merits, for He has paid by His blood once for all and for all men, but as to the application of the merits of Christ by means of the communion of saints to the human generations and to those who, sitting in the shadow of death, await their redemption.

 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

The Church and Christ are two in the same flesh, which is human nature. The Church is a spouse, and a spouse who has her very being, her soul and her life from the Bridegroom; and it is by this double reason that she is the body of Christ; “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” As a sign of that union, the sacrament of matrimony enables man and woman in their own union to realize a participation in that union; that is why Christian marriage carries the requirements and refinements of the natural law to a point of perfection which can only find its fulfillment by and in grace….In Paul’s eyes marriage is above all the mystery of an indissoluble union – realized through a love that which divine charity penetrates, and at once spiritual and carnal and fruitful – between two human persons.

Views On Men And Women
Paul’s views [on men and women] [have] a very high metaphysical meaning. They relate to the metaphysical finalities inscribed in nature
, and to the fact that womanhood as such is directed toward man, and hence toward love, wherein it finds its fulfillment, whereas the masculine as such is directed toward the operation of the reason (that is to say, in the supernatural order, toward the Incarnate Word) and hence toward authority over nature, in which it finds its fulfillment.


All Have Sinned: The Mystery of Impiety by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

February 11, 2010

The Anastasis of Christ, symbolizes the promise of resurrection in the Eastern Church. Christ, returning from the underworld, pulls Adam and Eve from their graves to their resurrection.

The following reflection on sin by Fr. Cantalamessa is drawn from the second chapter of his book Life In Christ which is about the spiritual messages contained in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In a series of homiletic meditations, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, explores the main themes of St. Paul’s famous epistle in a manner that draws us closer to a more mature relationship with Jesus Christ. The reading selection that follows will show you what I mean.

Only Divine Revelation Knows What Sin Is
Only divine revelation really knows what sin is and neither human ethics nor philosophy can tell us anything about it. No man can say by himself what sin is, for the simple reason that he himself is in sin. All that he says about sin can, in the end, only be a palliative and an understatement of sin. “To have a weak understanding of sin is part of our being sinners.” Scripture says: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart. . . for he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Psalms 36:2-3). Sin also “speaks” just as God does; it too delivers oracles and its place of teaching is man’s heart. Sin speaks in man’s heart and that is why it is absurd to expect man to speak “against” it. Although I am here writing about sin, I too am a sinner and I should therefore tell you not to rely too much on me and on what I write! Sin is a much more serious thing — infinitely more serious — than I shall ever be able to explain. At the most, man can reach an understanding of sin against himself or against other men, but not sin against God; the violation of human rights, but not the violation of divine rights. In fact, if we take a close look around us we can see that this is what is happening in present-day culture.

Therefore only divine revelation knows what sin is. Jesus explains all this more closely by saying that only the Holy Spirit can “convince the world of sin” (cf. John 16:8). I have mentioned that God must be the one to talk to us of sin. When, in fact, God and not man talks against sin it is not easy to remain impassive; his voice is like thunder that “crushes the cedars of Lebanon” (cf. Psalms 29:5). Our meditation will have fulfilled its aim if it manages even to challenge our unshakable basic self-assurance and make us feel a wholesome fear in front of the terrible danger that not only sin but the very possibility of sinning holds for us. With the help of God we want to reach the point of being prepared to shed our blood in the struggle against sin (“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Hebrews 12:4).

Sin, A Refusal To Acknowledge God
The basic sin and primary object of God’s wrath has been singled out by St. Paul as asebein, that is impiety or ungodliness. And he immediately explains what this impiety exactly consists of, saying that it is the refusal to g1orify and thank God. In other words, the refusal to acknowledge God as God and not rendering him the respect that is his. It consists, we could say, in “ignoring” God, not however in the sense of “not knowing he exists”, but, in the sense of “behaving as if he didn’t exist.” In the Old Testament Moses shouts to the people, “Know that the Lord your God is God!” (cf. Deuteronomy  7:9) and a psalmist takes up the same cry: “Know that the Lord is God! It is he that made us, and we are his” (Psalms 100:3). Sin is basically the denial of this “acknowledgement”; it is the attempt, on the part of the creature to cancel out on his own initiative and almost with arrogance, the infinite difference that exists between himself and God. Thus sin infects the very root of things; it is “a stifling of the truth,” an attempt to keep truth the prisoner of injustice. It is something much more sinister and terrible than can be imagined or expressed. If the world knew what sin really is, it would die of terror.

This refusal took shape in idolatry in which the creature is worshipped rather than the Creator (cf. Romans 1:25). In idolatry man doesn’t “accept” God but rather “makes” a god; it is he who decides about God and not God about him. The roles are reversed; man becomes the potter and God the clay which man moulds to his pleasure (cf. Romans 9:20 ff.).

The Moral Fruits Of A Fundamental Choice Against God
So far St. Paul has shown us the withdrawal that took place in man’s heart, his fundamental choice against God, Now he goes on to show the moral fruits of this withdrawal. All of this gave rise to a general dissolution in behavior, a real and true “torrent of perdition” dragging humanity unconsciously to ruin. At this point St. Paul outlines the appalling picture of the vices of the pagan society: male and female homosexuality, injustice, wickedness, covetousness, envy, deceit, malignity, haughtiness, arrogance, disobedience to parents, faithlessness. . . The list of vices is taken from the pagan moralists, but the whole picture that results from it is that of the “wicked one” so often spoken of in the Bible. The disconcerting thing at first glance is that St. Paul sees all this disorder as a consequence of divine wrath. In fact, he affirms this unequivocally three times: “God gave them up to impurity.  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). God certainly does not “want” these things, but he “permits” them to make man understand where his refusal of God leads. St. Augustine wrote that “these things, although they are punishments, are also sins because the punishment for iniquity is that of being, itself, iniquity. God intervenes to punish evil and from his punishment other sins come.”  Sin is the punishment for sin. In fact Scripture says: “One is punished by the very things by which he sins “(Wisdom 11:16). God is “obliged” to abandon people to themselves so as not to have to uphold their injustice and in the hope that they will retrace their steps.

Refusal Of God In Modern Times
Let us listen to a few of those who expressed refusal of God in modern times, keeping in mind, however, that we are judging the words and not the intentions or moral responsibility of the individuals which are known only to God and which might be very different to what they seem to us. Karl Marx gave this reason for his refusal of the idea of a “creator”: “A person” –  he wrote –  “is an independent being only. insofar as he is his own master, and he is his own master only in so far as he is master of his existence. He who lives through the grace of another sees himself as a dependent being. . . But I would live entirely for the sake of another if he had created me, if he were the source of my life and my life was not my own creation”. “Man’s conscience” — he wrote in his youth — is “the highest divinity”; “the origin of man is man himself.” (K. Marx, Manuscript.of 1844) In this same spirit, J.P. Sartre had one of his characters say: “Today I accuse myself and only I, man, can absolve myself. If God exists man is nothing.. . God doesn’t exist! Happiness, tears of joy! Alleluia! No more heaven. No more hell! Nothing else but the earth.” (J.P. Sartre, The Devil and the Good God X, 4)

Another way of arrogantly eliminating the difference between Creator and creature, between God and the “self,” is to confuse them, which is the form that impiety sometimes takes on today in depth psychology. Paul’s reproach against the “wise men” of his times was not for exploring nature and admiring its beauty, but for not going beyond this. In the same way the word of God does not criticize certain trends in depth psychology for having discovered a new area of the human mind, the unconscious, and for trying to throw light on this, but for having made of this discovery yet another occasion for getting rid of God. Thus, the Word of God renders a service to psychology, purifying it of what threatens it, just as psychology in its turn, can be of use — and has effectively been so in many cases — in purifying our understanding of the Word of God.

The Suppression Of The Distinction Between Good And Evil.
The impiety harbored in some of the recent trends of this science is the suppression of the distinction between good and evil. Following a procedure that closely recalls that of ancient, heretical gnosis, the limits move dangerously: the limit of the divine lowers and the demonic limit rises to the point of meeting and even of, being superimposed. Then, in evil, nothing else is seen except “the other side of reality” and in the devil nothing else but the “shadow of God.” There are some who have even gone so far as to accuse Christianity of having introduced the “ill-omened opposition between good and evil” into the world. The following words of Isaiah could have been written today for just such a situation: “Woe to those who call what is bad, good, and what is good, bad, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).

Psychologists of this trend give no importance to “saving the soul” (which is even considered ridiculous) or even to “analyzing the soul,” but to “helping the soul fulfill itself,” that is, to making it possible for the human soul — which is like saying natural man — to express itself in all ways, repressing nothing. Salvation lies in self-revelation, in man making himself and his psyche known for what they are; salvation lies in self-realization. Salvation — it is thought — is within, immanent in man. It does not come from history but from the archetype manifested in myth and symbol. In a certain sense, it comes from the unconscious. The unconscious, which at the beginning was considered to be the natural place of evil where neurosis and illusions are rooted (including the “illusion” of God) is now seen as the seat of good, as a mine of hidden treasures for man. One day, after reading some works full of the ideas just mentioned, shocked and quite terrified, I was wondering what God’s judgment on all this could possibly be when I happened to read what Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel: “Though the light has come into the world, people have preferred darkness to the light” (John 3:19).

An Extreme Form Of Sin
However, we have not yet reached the heart of the matter. Alongside the intellectual denial of God by people convinced that God does not exist, we have the voluntary denial of those who refuse God, even though they know that God exists. This extreme form of sin, which is hatred of God and blasphemy, is expressed in an open and threatening insult to God, in the loud proclamation of the superiority of evil over good, of darkness over light, of hatred over love, of Satan over God. This is all directly maneuvered by the evil one. Who else, in fact, would be able to harbor the thought that “good is a deviation of evil and, like all deviations, is of secondary importance and destined to disappear one day,” or that “evil, in fact, is nothing but good ill-interpreted”?

The most evident signs of this form of impiety are: the profanation of the Eucharist (the excessive and inhuman hatred towards the consecrated host is a terrible, negative proof of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist); the obscene and sarcastic parody of the stories and words of the Bible; the staging of the figure of Jesus in films and spectacles which are willfully blasphemous and offensive. To send a soul to their infernal lord, these persons are capable of such constancy as only the holiest of missionaries would employ to lead a soul to Christ.

On the other hand, this situation is not as remote as many Christians might think; it is, rather, an open abyss only a stone’s throw away from the indifference and “neutrality” in which they live. One starts with abandoning all religious practice and ends up, one sad day, among the openly declared enemies of God either by adhering to organizations whose aim (mostly kept secret at the beginning) is to make war against God and cause an upheaval in moral values, or through sexual aberrations or use of pornography, or following contacts with magicians, spiritists, esoteric societies, occult practices or other such things. Magic is, in fact, another way and the most blatant, of succumbing to the old temptation of wanting to be “like God.” “The hidden force which guides magic — as is written in one of their manuals — is the thirst for power. The magicians’ aims are defined quite appropriately for the first time by the serpent in the garden of Eden. . . The eternal ambition of the follower of the black arts consists in gaining power over the whole universe and making a god of himself.” The fact that in most cases we are dealing with charlatans and nothing more is of no importance. The irreverent intention behind its practice or with which one turns to it is sufficient to place one in Satan’s power. Satan works through lies and bluffing but the effects are anything but imaginary. In the Bible God says: “There must never be anyone among you. . . who practices divination, who is soothsayer, augur or sorcerer, weaver of spells, consulter of ghosts or mediums, or necromancer. For anyone who does those things is detestable to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy  18:10-12). In the prophet Isaiah we find this severe admonishment: The Lord will strike the country because it is “full of sorcerers from the East and of soothsayers” (cf. Isaiah 2:6).

Claiming To Be Wise, They Became Fools
Man has only the two licit means of nature and grace for gaining power over himself, over sickness, over events and business. “Nature” indicates intelligence, the sciences, medicine, technology and all the resources that man has received from God in creation to dominate the earth in obedience to him. “Grace” indicates faith and prayer through which cures and miracles are sometimes obtained, but always from God, because “power belongs to God” (Psalms 62:12). When a third way is taken, that of the search for occult power, almost hiding from God, without needing his approval or indeed abusing his name and signs, then in one way or another the master and pioneer of this way comes on to the scene. I mean the devil who one day said all the power of the earth had been handed over to him, for him to give to anyone he chose if they would worship him (cf Luke 4:6). In these cases ruin is assured. The fly has been caught in the web of the “big spider” and will not easily manage to get out alive. Exactly what Paul pointed out is happening in our technological and secularized society: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rornans 1:22): they have abandoned faith to embrace every kind of superstition, even the most childish.

The Wages Of Sin
But let us also examine the consequences of impiety, so that not even the slightest shadow of doubt remains in our minds that no one can prevail against God. In the prophet Jeremiah we read these words addressed to God: “All who abandon you will be put to shame” (Jeremiah 17:13). The abandonment of God leads to personal confusion and the feeling of having gone astray. “Lost” and “gone astray” are the words most frequently used in the Bible when sin is spoken of: the lost sheep, the lost son. – . The very word to translate the biblical concept of sin in Greek, hamartia, contains the idea of being lost and having failed. The same term was used when speaking of a river that flows away from its original course and is lost in the marshes, and of an arrow which misses its aim and is lost. Sin is therefore radical failure. A man can fail in many ways: as a husband, as a father or as a businessman. A woman can fail as a wife or as a mother; a priest can fail as a pastor, as a superior or as a spiritual director. But these are all relative failures; there is always the possibility of compensation; one may fail in all these ways and still be a most respectable person, even a saint. But it is not so with sin; through sin one fails as a creature, that is fundamentally, in what one “is” and not in what one “does.” This is the only case where the words of Jesus about Judas apply to a person: “It would have been better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24). Man, in sinning, believes he is offending God, whereas, in fact, he is “offending” and mortifying only himself, to his own shame: “Is it really me they spite”, God says, “is it not in fact themselves, to their own confusion”? (Jeremiah 7:19). By refusing to glorify God, man himself becomes “deprived of the glory of God.” Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love.

The Existential Consequences Of Sin
But let us take a closer look at the existential consequences of sin. St. Paul affirms that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin leads to death; not so much to the “act” of dying –  which lasts only a moment — as to the “state” of death, that is precisely to what has been called “mortal illness,” a state of chronic death. In this state the creature desperately tends to return to being nothing but without succeeding and lives therefore as if in an eternal agony. From this state comes damnation and the pains of hell; the creature is obliged by One stronger than himself to be what he does not consent to be, that is dependent on God, and his eternal torment is that he cannot get rid of either God or of himself. Kierkegaard rightly said that “the formula for all desperation is to desperately refuse to be what one is.” (S. Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death I, A)

Satan embodies this state. In him sin has run its entire course and is shown in its extreme consequences. He is the prototype of those “who do know God (and how he knew him!) but do not give him the glory and thanks that belong to God.” It is not necessary to fall back on the imagination or on theological speculation to learn Satan’s feelings on this point because he himself shouts them into the hearts of those whom God still allows him to tempt today, as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness: “We are not free”, he shouts, “we are not free! Even if you kill yourself, your soul lives on, you cannot kill it, we cannot say no. We are obliged to exist forever. It’s all deceit! It’s not true that God created us free!” Such thoughts make us shudder as it would seem that we are directly listening to the eternal argument between Satan and God. He, in fact, would wish to be left free to return to nothingness. Not because he doesn’t want to exist or to be God’s antagonist, but because he does not want to be what he is, dependent on God. He wants to exist, but not “through the grace of another.” As the Power above him is stronger than he is and obliges him to exist, this is the way to pure desperation

In choosing absolute autonomy from God, the creature is aware of the unhappiness and darkness involved but he is willing to pay this price. As St. Bernard said, “he prefers to he unhappy in his own sovereignty rather than be happy in submission.” The much talked about eternity of hell does not depend on God, who is always ready to forgive, but on the person who refuses to be forgiven and would accuse God of lacking respect for his freedom if God were to do so.

We have, today, the chance to actually verify through our own experience the results of sin by observing what is happening in our present society after the extreme consequences the refusal of God has led to in certain places. Nietzsche, for whom sin was nothing other than an ignoble “Jewish invention” and good and evil just simple “prejudices of God” (once again we are judging words and not intentions) said: “We have killed him; we are God’s assassins!” But then, having perceived or personally experienced the evil results of this, the philosopher added: “What have we done by unlinking this earth of ours from the chain that links it to its sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going? Isn’t ours an eternal descent? Backwards, sideways, forward, from all sides? Aren’t we perhaps wandering as if through an infinite nothingness?” (F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, nr. 125)To kill God is really the most horrific suicide. Death is really the wages of sin and the proof lies in present-day nihilism.

“You Are The Man!”
The Bible narrates this story. King David had committed adultery and to cover it up he had the woman’s husband killed in war. In this way, to make this woman his wife, could even have seemed an act of generosity on the king’s part towards the man who had died fighting for him — a real chain of sins. The Lord then sent the prophet Nathan to him who told him a parable, although the king did not know it was a parable. There were, he said, two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds and the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb and it grew up with him and used to lie in his bosom. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and instead of taking one of his own flock, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him. On hearing this story David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man and he said to Nathan: “The man who has done this deserves to die!” Then Nathan, pointing his finger, said to David: “You are the man!” (cf. 2 Samuel 12:1 ff.).

This is what the Apostle Paul is doing with us. After making us feel a righteous indignation and horror for the impiety of the world, as we pass from the first to the second chapter of his Letter, as if suddenly addressing us, he repeats: “You are the man!” “Therefore you have no excuse, Oh Man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, Oh Man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3). The recurrence, at this point, of the word “inexcusable”, which was used earlier for the pagans, leaves us in no doubt as to St. Paul’s intentions. While you were judging others, he says, you were bringing about your own condemnation. It is time now to turn the horror you feel for sin against yourself.

Safe From God’s Anger Just Because They Can Distinguish Between Good And Evil?
The “person judging” in the second chapter, turns out to be a Jew who, however, is seen here as a kind of stereotype. The “Jew” is a non-Greek, or a non-pagan; he is the pious believer who, with his strong principles and revealed morality, judges the rest of the world and feels safe in doing so. In this sense each one of us is the “Jew.” Origen actually said that in the Church the Apostle’s words were intended for bishops, presbyters and deacons, that is, for the guides and teachers. (Origen, Commentary on the Letter to the Romans II, 2; PG 14 873)Paul himself experienced it when, from being a Pharisee he became a Christian and can therefore confidently indicate to believers the way to abandon Pharisaism. He unmasks the strange and frequent illusions of pious and religious people who consider themselves safe from God’s anger just because they can clearly distinguish between good and evil. They know the law and, when necessary, they know how to apply it to others, whereas, as far as they themselves are concerned, they think that the privilege of being on God’s side or, at least, God’s goodness and patience with which they are very familiar, makes an exception for them.

“Or do you presume”, says the Apostle to us, “upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). What a shock it will be the day when you realize that these words of God are actually directed at you and that you are really the “you” mentioned! It’s like a jurist who is totally absorbed in analyzing a past sentence which is standard. On taking a Closer look he suddenly realizes that the sentence also applies to himself and is still effective. His state of mind undergoes a sudden change and he ceases to be so sure of himself. The Word of God is engaged here in a real and true “tour de force.” It must reverse the situation of the person dealing with it. There’s no escape. It’s necessary to surrender and repeat with David: “I have sinned!” (2 Samuel 12:13), otherwise the heart is hardened again and impenitence reinforced.

A Masked Form Of Idolatry
The specific accusation the Apostle makes against the “pious” is that “they themselves are doing the exact same things” they judge others for. But in what sense? Is it that they materially do the exact same things? This is also sometimes true (cf. Romans 2:21-24); but he is especially talking about the essence which is impiety and idolatry. There is a masked form of idolatry at work in our present world. If it is idolatry “to bow down to the work of our hands” (cf. Isaiah 2:8; Hosea 14:4), if it is idolatry “to put the creature in the place of the Creator,” then I am idolatrous whenever I put the creature — my creature, the work of my hands — in the Creator’s place. My creature could be the home or the church I have built, the family I have formed, the child I have given life to (how many mothers, even Christian mothers, unconsciously make a god out of their children, especially an only child!); it could be the work I do, the school I direct, the book I write. Then there is my “self,” the prince of idols. In fact, idolatry is always based on autolatry, self-worship, self-love, placing oneself first at the center of the world sacrificing everything else to this. The “substance” is always impiety, the non-glorification of God, but always and only one’s self. It is even making use of God for our own success and personal affirmation. The sin St. Paul denounced in the “Jews” throughout the whole Letter was that they sought self-justice and self-glory and they did this even in their observance of God’s law.

Perhaps, deep within myself, I am ready at this point to acknowledge the truth, to admit that so far I have lived “for myself,” that I am also involved in the mystery of impiety. The Holy Spirit has “convinced me of sin.” The ever-new miracle of conversion is beginning for me. What should I do in such a delicate situation? Let us open the Bible and intone the “De profundis”: “Out of the depths I cry to thee, Oh Lord” (Psalms 130). The “De Profundis” wasn’t written for the dead but for the living: the “depths” from which the psalmist cries is not a reference to Purgatory but to sin: “If thou, Oh Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord who could stand”? It is written that Christ “in the Spirit went and preached to the spirits in prison” (cf. 1 Peter 3:19). Commenting on this, one of the Fathers of the Church said: “When you hear that Christ, going down to Hades, freed the souls who were prisoners there, do not think that these things are far removed from what is being done now. Believe me, the heart is a tomb.”(Macanus of Egypt, On the Freedom of Mind 116; PG 34, 936). We are now spiritually in the position of the “spirits in prison” in Hades, awaiting the coming of the Savior. The traditional icon of the Resurrection shows Adam and Eve desperately outstretching their hands to grasp the right hand of Christ who is coming with his cross to snatch them from prison. Let us also raise a cry from the deep prison of our sinful “self” in which we are kept prisoners. The psalm we are saying is full of confident trust and expectation: “In his word I hope. . . My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning . . . He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” We already know that help exists, that there is a remedy for our ills, because “God loves us.” So while we are shaken by God’s Word, let us confidently say to God: “For you do not give me up to sheol, or let your godly one see the pit” (Psalms 16:10).


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