Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

The one true church of the Apocalypse, or the harlot of Revelation? You decide.

The Beginning of the Gospel

More from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-X:

The beginning of the Gospel is in the words of the Angel to the shepherds: I announce to you, literally, I evangelise you, I give to you the good news which will be the subject of a great joy, and that is the birth of the Saviour of the world.  What happier news is there than to have a Saviour? After leaving the desert, which is found at the start of the book, in the first preaching he did in the synagogue, he said: The spirit of the Lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, To preach deliverance to the captives and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of reward. (Luke 4:18-19 DRB, also Isaiah 61:1-2) What equal joy can be given to men of good will and what greater subject of joy? But is not God’s glorification the greatest subject while at the same time to be able to want people to well understand God exalted by such a marvel? Here is what is in the Gospel: it is in learning the happy news of the deliverance of man, who rejoices to see the highest glory of God. Let us go up to the high places, to the most sublime parts of ourselves; let us go up above ourselves and look for God in himself, for us to rejoice of his great glory with the Angels.

The Song of the Angels

The latest instalment from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-IX:

Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. Peace is published throughout the earth: peace of man with God for the remission of sins, peace of men among themselves, the peace of man with himself by the harmonisation of all his desires to want what God wants. This is the peace that the Angels sing and which they announce to the entire universe.

This peace is the subject of the glory of God. Let us not rejoice in this peace because it makes us feel good in our hearts, but because it glorifies God in the high throne of his glory: let us ascend up to the high places, to the highest place of the throne of God to glorify him in himself and not love what he has done in us to bond ourselves to him.

Let us sing in this spirit with all the Church: Glory to God in the highest.  Each time when we start singing this angelic song, let us enter into the music of the Angels by the symphony and the agreement of all our desires. Let us remember the birth of Our Saviour who gave birth to this song. Let us say from our heart all the words which the Church added to interpret the song of the Angels: we praise you, we adore you, and above all, we give you thanks for your great glory. We love your benefits because they glorify you and the good things which you do for us, because your goodness is honoured.

 On earth peace to men of good will. The word of the original which is translated by “good will”, means the good will of God for us, and tells us that peace is given to men cherished of God.

The original says, word by word: Glory to God in the high places, peace on the earth, good will from the side of God into men.  It is such which is always read in the Eastern Churches. Those of the West come back and sing peace to men of good will, that is to say in the first place to those to whom God wills well, and in the second place to those who themselves have good will, thus the first effect of the good will which God has for us is to inspire us to to have good will towards him.

Good will is that which conforms to the will of God, as that is good by essence and by itself, that which is conformed to it is good by extension. Let us control our will by that of God, and we will be men of good will, to see that this be not by senselessness, or indolence, or negligence or to avoid work, but by faith, that we throw all on God.  Soft and lazy souls would rather do this in speaking all at once; may God do what he wants, and they are only concerned about fleeing pain and worry. But to be truly conformed to the will of God, it is necessary to know to make a sacrifice of the dearest thing, and with a torn heart, say to him: all is yours, do what you want; like the holy man Job, who lost in a day all of his goods and children, the news coming to him blow by blow.  He throws himself to the ground and says: the Lord gave all that I have, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.  He who worships in this way is the true man of good will; and elevated above the senses and his own desires, he glorifies God in the high places. It is in this way that he has peace, and he tries to calm the trouble in his heart, not just to avoid being sad, but because this trouble blocks the perfection of the sacrifice which he wants to make to God. Otherwise he only seeks a false rest, and see that this is good will.

Good will, it is the sincere love of God and, as St. Paul says, it is love from a pure heart, a right conscience and a faith that does not fail. Faith is weak in those where it is not underlain by good works; and good works are those where one seeks to please God and not one’s own mood,  inclination, or wish.  Then, when you search God with a pure intention, the works are full, otherwise you receive this reproach from Jesus Christ: For I find not thy works full before my God. (Revelation 3:2 DRB)

The Signs to Know Jesus

Again with Bossuet in Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VIII:

Let us look again at the words of the Angel: You will find a child in swaddling clothes, on a manger; you will know by this sign that it is the Lord. Go in the Court of the Kings; you will recognise the newborn Prince, by his coverings gilded with gold and a superb crib, which would make a throne. But to know the Christ which is born to you, this Lord so high that David his father, King that he was, called him Lord, only the sign of a manger where he lays is given, and the poor clothes where his feeble infancy is wrapped.  That is to say that he is given a nature like yours; weaknesses like yours; a poverty below yours. Who among you was born in a stable? Who of you, poor as you are, gave to your children a manger for a cradle? Jesus is the only who was left to this extremity, and it is by this sign that he wants to be known.

If he wanted to use his power, what gold would crown his head? What purple would drape his shoulders? What jewels would enrich his garments? But, Tertullian follows, he had judged all of this false brightness, all of this borrowed glory, unworthy of himself and those who are his; thus in refusing them, he devalued them; in devaluing them, he proscribed them; in proscribing them, he lined them up with the glories of the demon of this world!

Our fathers, the first Christians, spoke in this way; but unhappy us, we only breathe ambition and softness.

The Angels Announce Jesus to the Shepherds

Continuing on in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VII:

The shepherds, imitators of the holy Patriarchs and the most innocent and simple flock in the world, guarding and keeping the night watches over their flock. Holy angels, accustomed to converse with the shepherds of old, with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, announced to those in the country that the great Pastor was come; that the earth would now see a shepherd King, who is the son of David.  The angel of the Lord: let us not ask his name as Manué; he will maybe answer: why do you ask my admirable name? It is not necessary to hear that it is the same angel who appeared to Zachariah and the Holy Virgin. Whoever he was, without presuming where the Gospel does not say a word, suddenly the Angel of the Lord presented himself to them; a heavenly light surrounded them and they were seized with a great fear. All which is divine at first stuns human nature, sinful and banished from Heaven. But the Angel reassured them by saying: do not fear: I announce you a great joy: in the city of David, remember this place which long ago was marked for you by the prophet, today the Saviour of the world is born, the Christ, the Lord. And here is the sign which I give you to recognise him: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. At this unique sign of a child lying in a manger, you will recognise him who is the Christ, the Lord, small child which is born for you, son which is given for us; who in the same time, is named the Admirable, the strong God, the Father of eternity, the Prince of peace. Also, at the same instant a great flock of the heavenly army joined the Angel, which praised God and said: Glory to God and peace on the earth.

Let us note here a new Lord to whom we belong: a Lord who receives anew this supreme and divine name with that of Christ. It is the God who is anointed of God, to whom David sang: Your God, o God, has anointed you: you are eternally God. But you are newly the Christ, God and man at the same time, and the name of Lord is ascribed to you, to express that you are God, the same title as your Father; from now on following the example of the Angel, you will be called the Lord in all sovereignty and elevation. Command your new people. You do not speak yet; but you command by your example.  And what? The esteem of the least and the love of poverty; the disdain for the image making of the world, the simplicity: do I dare say it? A holy unsophistication in these new worshippers which the Angel sends you which make all of your heart, agreeable to Joseph, to Mary and the same adornment as them, so that they are equally clothed with the outfit of poverty.

 

The Stable and the Manger

Continuing in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-VI:

God prepared the world a great and new spectacle when he made a poor King to be born and he made him a palace and a suitable cradle. He came unto his own: and his own received him not. They found no place for him, when he came. The crowd and the rich of the earth had filled the inns: for Jesus there was only an abandoned and deserted stable and a manger for him to sleep: worthy retreat for him who when he grew older said: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air, who are the most vagabond families of the earth, have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. He was not complaining: he was used to being left this way, and literally from his birth he had no place to lay his head.

He himself wanted it that way. Let us leave the places inhabited by men: let us leave the inns where disorder and schemes reign: look for me among the animals a retreat more simple and innocent. One has found a place worthy of being left. Leave, divine child, all is ready to publicise your poverty. He comes like a beam of light, like a ray of sunlight: he mother is stunned to see him appear all at once: this birth is exempt from cries of pain and violence. Miraculously conceived, he is born more miraculously, and the Saints found it more surprising to be born than to be conceived of a virgin.

Enter into possession of the throne of your poverty. The angels will come and adore you. When God introduces you to the world, the command comes from the high throne of his Majesty: And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the angels of God adore him. (Hebrews 1:6 DRB) Who can doubt that his mother, and his adopted father did not adore him at the same time? Jesus was prefigured by Joseph, himself adored by his father and mother; but the adoration which Jesus received was at a new level, as he was blessed and adored as God above all, to the end of the age.

Do not think of approaching this throne of poverty with love of riches and great things. Do not be mistaken, deceived or put up a front, at least in spirit, you who come to the manger of the Saviour. Who does not have the courage to leave all to follow poor the King of the poor? Let us leave all, at least in spirit, and in place of surrounding ourselves with a lavish lifestyle, let us blush to be such where Jesus Christ is naked and left.

All the while he was not naked: his Mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes with her chaste hands. It was necessary to cover the new Adam, who took the character of sin, which the air would devour and which modesty would clothe, out of necessity. Cover, Mary, this tender body: bring him to the virgin breast. Do you understand your giving birth? Do you have too much modesty to see yourself as a mother? What child dares to approach these divine hands! Worship him in feeding him, while the angels bring him other worshippers.

Joseph and the Trip to Bethlehem

More from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-V:

After the dream of Joseph and the word of the angel, this holy man was changed. He became a father, he became a husband by the heart. Others adopted children: Jesus adopted a father. The tender care which he gave Mary and the divine child was the effect of his marriage. He began this happy ministry by the trip to Bethlehem and we will see him soon.

What do you do, Princes of the world, to set the universe in motion, by proclaiming an enrolment of all your empire’s subjects? You want to know the power, the tribute, the future soldiers and you begin, to say so, by enrolling them. It is that or something like it which you think you are doing; but God has other plans which you carry out without regard for your human desires. His Son ought to be born in Bethlehem, humble homeland of David: he predicted it by his Prophet five hundred years before, and see that all the universe is moved to carry out this prophecy.

When they arrived at Bethlehem, ostensibly to obey the Prince who ordered them to register themselves in the public roll, in effect to obey the order of God whose secret program led them to carry out his purpose, Mary’s time to give birth came: and Jesus son of David was born in his town, where David had been given birth. His origin was attested by the public registry: the Roman Empire gave witness to the royal descent of Jesus Christ and Caesar, who did not know it, carried out the order of God.

Let us go also to write of Bethlehem: Bethlehem, the house of bread; let us go there to taste the heavenly bread, the bread of Angels which became the nourishment of man. Let us regard all Churches as being the true Bethlehem and the true house of the bread of life. It is this bread which God gives to the poor in the birth of Jesus, if they love poverty with him; if they know true riches: the poor will eat and be satisfied, if they imitate the poverty of their Saviour and come adore him in the manger.

His Name Will Be Emmanuel: Bossuet on “God With Us”

From his Elevations on the Mysteries, XV-IV:

His name will be Emmanuel: God with us. These are the mystical names which the Prophets give in spirit, to explain certain effects of divine power, which are necessary for those who use them. If we understand the force of that name Emmanuel, we find that of the Saviour. For what is it to be a saviour, if it is not to take away sins, as the angel had explained? But the sins being removed, and having no more separation between God and us, what else is left, unless being united with God and that God is with us perfectly? We are thus perfectly and eternally saved, and we recognise in Jesus who saves us, a true Emmanuel. He is Saviour, because in him, God is with us; it’s a God who unites our nature; reconciled with God, we are lifted up by his grace, until we are no more than a same spirit with him.

It is he which works who is at the same time God and who we are: God and man all together. God is in Jesus Christ reconciling himself to the world, not imputing to them their sins, and wiping them away in the Saints.  Thus God is with them,  because they no longer have their sins.

But this would be nothing if, at the same time, God was not with them to prevent their committing  new ones. God is with you, in the style of the Scriptures, that is to say that God protects you, helps you, and then with a help so powerful that your enemies cannot prevail against you. They fight, says the Prophet, and they do not prevail, because I am with you. (Jer. 1,19) Be with us, O Emmanuel, so that if, after the forgiveness of our sins, we fight his pernicious enticements, his personality, his temptations, and we stay victorious.

Is this all the grace of our Emmanuel? Doubtless no; in him there is a good much higher which also the last of all; it is that he will be with us in eternity, where God will be all in all, with us for us to purify our sins, with us to sin no more, with us for us, to the life where we cannot commit more.  See here, says St. Augustine, three degrees by which we pass to come to the salvation which the name of Jesus promises us and the perfect grace of the divine union by our Emmanuel: happy, when not only we do not sin any more under the yoke of him to whom we succumb, but when we no longer have to come against him whom we have had to fight, and who put our deliverance at risk.

O Jesus! O Emmanuel! O Saviour! O God with us! O conqueror of sin! O bond of the divine union! I wait with faith for that happy day where you will receive for me the name of Jesus; where you will be my Emmanuel, always with me, among all the temptations and dangers; go before me with your grace, unite me with you, and may all that is within me be submitted to your will.

The Marriage Pledge: A Gratifying Step on Civil vs. Ecclesiastical Marriage

It’s been a bit since Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz “crossed the Rubicon” and set forth The Marriage Pledge, which calls ministers to stop officiating civil marriages.  Reactions have been mixed.  The fact that I can say that shows that the steady legalisation of same-sex civil marriage has forced Christians–who have been working to “preserve marriage”, i.e. civil marriage as the union of one man and woman–to face reality on this issue.  From my perspective, it’s at least a decade later than it should have been.

It’s been a long, lonely trudge through the wilderness on wanting a formal break between civil and ecclesiastical marriage, and there are a few things I’d like to say about it.

In spite of some who have received the Marriage Pledge well, there’s still not general unanimity on the subject. Much of that is sheer inertia; we’ve always done it this way, why should we change now? I think that option has run out for many things in this country and in the West in general. It’s time we stopped playing checkers with our opposition and start playing chess, and Radner and Seitz’s Marriage Pledge is a chess move.

In many parts of the world, churches don’t have a choice. Following the tradition established by the French Revolution, the state does not allow ministers to solemnise marriages, so you end up having to “get married twice.” Somehow Christian churches have managed to thrive in this environment; given the crêpe some hang on ceding the officiation of state marriages, one wonders how. I think this kind of provincialism needs to stop. If they can do it, we can too.

Part of the problem is that Protestant churches, having cleverly desacramentalised marriage, lean too heavily on the state to cover the void of their own creation. Some even invoke “natural law”, an invocation that I, whose intellectual formation was as a Roman Catholic, find amazing.  In going through the gyrations they do on this subject, they overlook a few important facts.

The first is that, no matter how you slice it, marriage antedates the state. Even if we attempt to link marriage in church with “natural law” marriage, there is no good reason we should equate civil marriage with natural law marriage. The reason we do so is that the overpowering modern state has conditioned us to think in this way. If we’re planning on being real salt and light, we’d better lose this idea quickly.

Beyond that, in the marriage fracas, Evangelicalism in particular has revealed a serious weakness that results from their loosey-goosey “authority” structure. Because of this they are too dependent on the state for all kinds of things, and marriage is one of them. It’s no accident that one of the calls against the pledge came from a Southern Baptist, although their ability to create a tightly knit, conformity-obsessed system with the decentralised, congregational system they have makes one wonder why they couldn’t come up with a workable solution for marriage without the state. (That is even more true for the RCC and LDS churches; why they even need civil marriage is beyond me.)

Yes, there are the chickens in church hierarchies (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) who have urged/instructed their ministers not to sign the Marriage Pledge.  When their ministers get hauled into court for refusing to officiate same-sex marriage on the basis that they are agents of the state, they might have second thoughts. Then again, as Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori has proven, some people never learn.

The Marriage Pledge is a step in the right direction. It is not the beginning of the end for our ministers acting on behalf of the government but perhaps, as Winston Churchill put it about El Alamein, the end of the beginning. Who knows what could happen?

With that under our belt, if we could now get the Baptists and other Evangelicals to cut out the Clintonian “what is is” rubbish and see the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that would be glory. But, as Col. Hogan used to say, one miracle at a time.

The Most Important Goal in Life

Today is the Feast of Christ the King.  The script that calls out the liturgical year on this site simply refers to this as the Sunday before Advent, and that’s what it was for centuries.  The idea of this feast–at the end of the liturgical year–comes from the “new theology”, one that generally gets a reaction of horror from traditionalists.  The concept is simple: since we have Christmas (for Christ’s birth) and Good Friday/Easter (for his death and resurrection) we should have one for his coming return.

The idea that history has a purpose and an end is not uncontroversial but it’s one that bugs many of us: why are we here? where did we come from? where are we going?  We can’t do much about the first two, so it makes sense that we should concentrate on the last, and in doing so some answers to the first will become clear.

Many goals have been proposed over the centuries.  Some say that we have no goal, that when we die that’s it.  Others say that, through a series of cycles, we end up being reabsorbed into the Godhead, however that it defined.  Both of these have an air of pointlessness about them.  Why speak of a goal when the grave is the end? And why be here in the first place when we’ll be sucked up in another?

The French preacher Bossuet tells us that “man’s chief aim in life is to be happy”.  That sounds like something everyone can like.  But how to be happy forever?  Every form of happiness we see in this life is transient.  People wonder whether there will be pets or golf or football or even work in heaven.  But these come and go.  With football, it’s easy: you have sixty minutes to play and that’s it.  The others have less predictable starts and stops but they’re there.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that both the goal and the source of happiness in life is the following:

Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. To make this clear, two points must be observed.

  1. First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek:
  2. Secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object. (Summa Theologiae, 1-2, a.3, q.8)

Aquinas is always a little technical (which is why, I guess, I like him) so it helps to break things down. We all know people who go through life looking for the “maximum thrill”.  But when all the passing thrills are gone we are left with God, who is eternal.  Seeing him as he is (which is what the vision of the Divine Essence is all about) is the maximum thrill par excellence, not only for the sheer impact of the experience (2) but also because it lasts forever (1).

Getting back to the happiness, Aquinas notes the following:

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than “that He is”; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists, as stated above (1,7; 2, 8).

We need to do more than believe that God is, although that’s a start.  We need to connect with him and know him as he is.  That’s starts in this life and reaches its goal–not an end in time–in the next.  And then we can find the happiness we’ve been looking for all along.

To start that journey, click here

The Evangelical Comeuppance in the Middle East

I’ve not had the time lately to post in as timely fashion as I would like, mostly because of the semester-by-semester crapshoot which is my PhD pursuit.  But there’s a long-term issue that deserves some comment, and that concerns a long-overdue attitude adjustment that Evangelicals need to make because of events in the Middle East.

And I’m not talking about Israel either.  There’s a drumbeat amongst Evangelicals who can’t bear to see the latest bandwagon roll down the street without them to change Evangelical support towards Israel.  Leaving aside the theological changes, they need to consider two things: do they want another Holocaust, and would the land (and its inhabitants) be better off under the rule of the likes of Hamas? (They also need to consider that, these days, Israel has better friends in Cairo and Riyadh than Washington and Brussels).

Eluding them in the search for answers is the simple fact that, in the Middle East, people play for keeps.  We see that plainly with the other news-gathering force in the region: ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever.  ISIS has made itself a stench in people’s nostrils for their wanton destruction of ancient artefacts, but in destroying the remains they carry on the tradition of warfare that has been the region’s hallmark for millennia.  As John McKenzie observed in his Dictionary Of The Bible:

The ancient war was a candid war of conquest or looting.  Both of these ends were sanctified by the religious character of war, which was fought on behalf of the gods of the people and under the leadership and protection of the gods. The cruelty and barbarism of ancient war were equally candid; ancient war is shocking only because it involved the primitive means of personal effort, and could not achieve the vast mechanical horrors of modern warfare. Prisoners of war had no rights whatsoever; the entire population could be enslaved, unless the defeated enemy were regarded as a menace to the victor; if it were, the male population could be exterminated or mutilated.  Destruction of conquered towns was a normal act of the victor.

Today ISIS has social media, fast vehicles, religious motivation and personal weaponry (but not so much air power) and they’ve brought back the personal, brutal tradition of warfare with a vengeance.  It’s almost as if the spirits of the Assyrians, the core of whose empire they’ve conquered, have come back and entered into these people.

Most mentions of the Assyrians these days, however, centre in two places: the artefacts ISIS is destroying and the Christian communities they’re butchering.  Before the Kurds were supplied well enough to stop this advance, the world’s attention was riveted on Christian (and Yazidi) communities being tortured and massacred by ISIS.  Floating to the top in Evangelical circles was this question: where are the Christians to help? Fortunately Evangelical organisations rose to the occasion and have done what they’re supposed to, and things are better.  But the blind spot that Evangelicals have revealed towards Christianity in the Middle East doesn’t need to be passed over in silence.

In my work My Lord and My God, when introducing the church fathers I made the following observation:

Most evangelicals look at church history in a very specific way; there were first New Testament times, then there was the Reformation, and now there’s us. This results in a gap of about a millennium and a half between significant events; surely something happened in that length of time!

Part of the “something” was Middle Eastern Christianity, in its array of Orthodox (Chalcedoninan and non-Chalcedonian), Nestorian, Monophysite and other manifestations.  All of these eventually came under a rotation of one Islāmic state after another.

The switch of populations from Christianity to Islam varied from place to place.  In North Africa, it was complete, which explains why Evangelical (largely Pentecostal) Christianity pretty much dominates the Christian population in Algeria.  At the other extreme is Lebanon, with its sizeable Maronite population, legendary on both sides of the Atlantic.  Then there are those populations which were driven out or destroyed by massacre such as the Armenians, although the driving force behind that was the incorporation of Western ideas of nationalism into an Islāmic framework, which drives much more of Islamicism these days than either the Islamicists or their Western analysts care to admit.

Evangelicals marched into the Middle East with the same attitude towards whatever Christianity was there with the same attitude they did in Latin America: these people are lost as a goose unless we do something about it and they join our church.  And experience teaches that underestimating the ability of very old churches to engage in lacklustre inculcation of the faith is a dangerous proposition.

Events in the Middle East, however, showed that, for all the deficiencies of these churches, their ability to drill scriptures such as Mt 10:32-33 into their parishioners worked: by and large Middle Eastern Christians were ready to die for their faith.  The contrast with the lachrymose approach we see to the subject of martyrdom in the U.S., to say nothing of the knock-kneed approach we’re seeing with regard to the challenges against the Christian sexual ethic, is striking.

Christianity is first about transformation:

Therefore, if any one is in union with Christ, he is a new being! His old life has passed away; a new life has begun! But all this is the work of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the Ministry of Reconciliation– To proclaim that God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning men’s offences against them, and that he had entrusted us with the Message of this reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 TCNT)

In looking at other people, we tend to look at the process by which their lives were transformed by Jesus Christ and not the transformation itself.  (And that goes for ourselves, too).  If we do this, we are no better than those who say that, without Church __________, heaven is difficult if not impossible to attain.  And that’s inconsistent with what Evangelical Christianity is all about.  We need to see real Christians in places we haven’t before and act accordingly, and if our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters have made this point stick with their own blood, that blood is a seed in more ways than one.