Whose Image is This?

The assignment was to present answers to some study questions for Matthew Chapter 22 (RSVCE – 2nd Edition) in the Ignatius Study Bible. The Study Guides can be downloaded free here. Since this wasn’t a written paper, this text is more the general idea of my presentation, which went over my 20 allotted minutes. The questions are in bold below.


If politics are allowed play into my online discourse – social media or blogging – often it can cause distress for friends on left and right: traditional Christians who try to live out the faith (as Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants) can seem too far to the right for some secular liberals and yet – at the same time – too far to the left for secular conservatives. 

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world – as the Christian is called to be in this world but not of it. This does not mean Jesus kingdom is not here, active and now: only  that it’s a different pattern than the worldly ideas of rule.

Jesus walks us through several of these sorts of oppositions in Matthew’s 22nd Chapter. 

He takes on Jew and Gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, and sacred vrs secular. None of these are “the right way” to view the Tax Question. Let’s take a look at that passage (Matthew 22:15-22)

The Study Bible asks

What is the malice in the collaboration between Pharisees and Herodians in asking Jesus the question about paying taxes?

To get the answer (What was the malice?) we need to answer these questions first: who were the Pharisees? who were the Herodians?

The Pharisees were the “rabbinic” party of Judaism. It might surprise you to hear me say that on our modern “liberal/conservative” spectrum they were the liberals. The reason I say this is because they believed that man could – with God’s help – interpret the scriptures. That is to say that one did not need to take the scriptures literally, at face value. One could read into them for meaning, looking beneath the literal meaning of the words for greater clarity. 

The Oven of Akhnai

The Sages taught: On that day, when they discussed this matter, Rabbi Eliezer answered all possible answers in the world to support his opinion, but the Rabbis did not accept his explanations from him.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall. Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute? The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?

Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.

It’s that last part that is important. The “liberalism” is that humans can “triumph” over God and tell God what the law should be. The Pharisees were among those who practiced this process of interpretation. There are several places in the New Testament where Jesus is debating with various Jewish leaders and says their interpretation is not the correct one and then – as God – he offers the truth. 

However, in our later chapter here (34-40) Jesus, being asked about the greatest commandment takes sides with one Pharisee over another! For there were two great schools of thought in interpretation, each named for a prominent rabbi, the “house of shammai” and the “house of hillel”. Rabbi Shammai (50BC-30AD) said the greatest commandment was to Love God (etc) and the second commandment was to keep the Sabbath. Rabbi Hillel (110 BC-10AD) said the same about the first commandment, but the second was to love your neighbor. Jesus – that is God – side with Hillel here. 

(Think about those who questioned Jesus repeatedly about Keeping the Sabbath! Perhaps they are from the school of Shammai?)

On the other hand, Jesus sided with Shammai on the question of divorce: Hillel said it could be for anything, even burning the dinner. Shammai said only for infidelity.

Anyway, the Pharisees were the party of “interpretation”. Remember that. It’s not that interpretation is wrong – it’s part of our tradition! But one still must have the right interpretation. 

The Pharisees are (generally) in opposition to the Sadducees, not only on theological matters, but also in terms of politics: the Sadducees have the temple priesthood and are the upper class. While the Pharisees are educated, solidly established in society, they are (generally) closer to the people, they are the Rabbis in the local synagogues, the teachers that are “on the street” as it were.

The Pharisees were looking for the Messiah to come and liberate the people of Israel. As we have discussed here in Class they were expecting political liberation from the Son of David: another king, another leader (perhaps like the Maccabees?) that might move them into their own political sphere. 

But who were the Herodians? Here I tripped up a lot in my research. To be honest I thought I knew who they were (the party supporting the line of the Herods) but that was not exactly right. I mean, it was, but yet…

So first off they were pro-Herod. Yes. Herod the Great and his children were the client kings under the Romans. They were Jew-ish… but they were not Judeans. They were from Idumea.  

 You may remember from the OT class that Judas Maccabee led a campaign against the Idumeans (and others) in 163 BC.  Josephus reports the Idumaeans were forcibly circumcised. (A.J. 13.257–258)

So.. they are Jew-ish, but they are not, perhaps, quite as fullheartedy faithful as more-willing converts.

Some of the sources I looked up indicated that some Herodians wanted the King to establish a theocracy in Israel. The Wiki cites Tertullian (Adversis Omnes Haereses [1,1)) saying that some even thought Herod was the Messiah!

Since Herod is the Roman Client King, they support the Romans (at least indirectly) and so they are what we would call Hellenists, although we’re not talking about Greeks now. They are “secularists” who want to get along with the secular power to protect their self-interest.

So here’s some folks claiming the Messiah has already come – from outside of Israel. They have reason to not like Jesus. 

And they are aligning with the Pharisees – who clearly don’t think Herod is the Messiah! And the Pharisees have no reason to align with the Romans… or their supporters. But “politics makes strange bedfellows” yes? Or even religious politics. 

So the question… Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Is set up so that Jesus can offend the one party by saying no – whilst pleasing the other. Or, reversing the parties – by saying yes. The pro-Rome party wants you to say yes… but the pro-People party wants you to say no. This would be rather like the SSPX signing up with “Catholics for Choice” to oppose the Pope…

That’s the real malice: their alliance shows they hate Jesus more than they adhere to their own theo-political points. Hypocrites (v 18) is the exact right word here.

Jesus answer, as our NT textbook lets us know, can mean either:

  • One should pay nothing to Cesar because everything belongs to God
  • one should pay the emperor because he is God’s representative
  • one can pay Caesar but recognize that his authority is relative and that loyalty to God takes precedence.

The Dominican Sister who wrote our text thinks it’s the last one, but I think it’s more like a combination of the first two: 

In the Greek Jesus looks at the coin and asks “whose icon is this?” He uses the Greek word eikon which is used in the LXX in Genesis 1:26 to describe man made in God’s image. So… whose icon is on the coin? Yes, it’s Caesar, but whose icon is Caesar? Gods. 

Render to God… how?

I was disturbed by the “application question” the Study Bible asked here. Or, rather, I was disturbed by what seem to be the assumptions behind the question:

How honest are you in paying taxes to the local, state, and federal governments? ( a good question, but then….) What excuses do you make to yourself to avoid paying taxes? 

The Study Bible seems to think everyone is going to have excuses to make? Why make that assumption?

After working in the tech industry for most of the last 25 years, I’m over exposed to “libertarian” ideas. But our current situation, viz a vis covid, leaves us with a more-pertinent ongoing meditation on how our individual actions can effect the common good. This was the gist of the article Dcn Fred sent us just before Christmas. 

Taxes fit into this category: there are some who would object to taxes because of immoral uses crafted by government, but Jesus doesn’t seem to question the morality of the Caesar’s gov’t at all. 

There’s a prayer offered at every Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox tradition, for “our rulers and our God-protected army.” This phrase is also used in daily personal prayers.

Even under Stalin. There’s some mystery there, somehow, we get the Gov’t God wants us to have for the working out of our salvation.

Whose icon is this? This is something about everything belongs to God… and so we render everything to God. Yet somehow, through the mystery of Mediation, even this pagan emperor oppressing us is participating in God’s exercise of Authority.  We pay taxes to Caesar, but to God – and so our roads are built, the army maintains the peace… and we can continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come.

How generous are you in contributing to the financial support of the Church?

I don’t believe in claiming my donations to the Church on my  taxes. That feels like bragging. But I believe that the scriptures teach us to start at 10% and give until you’re not doing things you’d otherwise want to do. 

But it’s not all going to the Church. The Church Fathers suggest that it’s better to give to the poor directly… John Chrysostom suggests setting up a room in your  house to let the poor sleep in. He calls it a “Christ Room” since that’s who is really sleeping there. He says, “You have a place set apart for your wagon, but none for Christ who is wandering by? Abraham received strangers in his own home (Gn 18); his wife took the place of a servant, the guests the place of masters. They did not know that they were receiving Christ, that they were receiving angels.”

THIS sort of charity is what Jesus is talking about in the Parable 

What is the “wedding garment” that the guest has failed to wear? We’re all in the feast, right? I mean that’s the point of the first section: we are at the banquet because God sent his agents (evangelists) out to grace everyone. 

St Theophylact of Ochrid says, “The entry into the wedding takes place without distinction of persons, for by grace alone we have all been called, good and bad alike; but…

Now that we’re in… what do we do with the grace of God? How do we change our lives and the lives of those around us?

The Saint continues…  “the life thereafter of those who enter shall not be without examination, for indeed the king makes an exceedingly careful examination of those found to be sullied after entering into the faith. Let us tremble, then, when we understand that if one does not lead a pure life, faith alone benefits him not at all. For not only is he cast out of the wedding feast, but he is sent away into the fire. Who is he that is wearing filthy garments? It is he who is not clothed with compassion, goodness, and brotherly love. “

Finally, this points us to the kind of Love Jesus is talking about at the end of Chapter 22.

What does it mean to you to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind? What do you do to demonstrate that love?

What does it mean to love your neighbor as you do yourself? How do you love yourself? How does that apply to the way you love your neighbor?

I mentioned that, among the Pharisees, this twofold reply indicates Jesus siding with Rabbi Hillel, that loving one’s neighbor is the second greatest commandment as opposing Rabbi Shammai. 

There is a story about a gentile who was exploring religion and he went to Shammai and said, “I am interested in the God of Israel. If you can explain the Torah to me while standing on one foot, I will consider this…” and Shammai beat him with his cane and chased him away.  Then the man went to Hillel and asked the same question. The elder stood up and, holding his foot in his hand, said, “What you would not have done to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary, now go study.”

In this reply, he not only showed the heart of God’s law – love of neighbor – but he also reproved the other Rabbi – who, even as annoying as this question was should not have beat the man coming to him for wisdom.

So Jesus and Hillel, together, saying love of neighbor is the heart of the Law of God. And loving God taken as – somehow – the outcome of this love of neighbor. There’s some element of mystery here that we cannot understand in this life. But in some way, my loving service to my neighbor is loving service to God. And, likewise, my loving service to my neighbor is God’s serving them. 

The charitable man is both God’s action in service and – at that same moment – serving God.

I’m least likely to succeed at this. And daily this fact comes to me. Some of you know that over the summer I took a new job, leaving the word of tech after so long and becoming the Director of Community Services at St Dominics. The old-school title of “the guy who does the charity stuff” is “Almoner” from the word “alms”. I’m the Parochial Almoner, thus. 

Even with other people’s money, I cannot love fully. I spend my days wondering if I’m being lied to and who might be trying to pull one over on me. It’s only in our food ministry – and in the ministry at Most Holy Redeemer where I volunteer – that I can fully give myself over. It is such a blessing to feed people – even the people who may already have food! But to be open in hospitality, to know that somehow in feeding the poor at the door, I’m feeding God who feeds me… who enables me to feed the poor! This great exchange of God for God, this feeding of those who need food, the care of the smallest sparrow that God has – through me! Through me! His most unworthy servant – through me nonetheless – this is God’s grace in my life. 

So in loving you I am loving God and loving myself – it all becomes one process, one action, one outpouring of God’s love. (For, certainly, it is God who is loving here, not me.) To the conservative, giving away all this money makes us too liberal. C.S. Lewis once gave a pound coin to a beggar and his companion remarked, “You know he’s just going to buy a beer with that.” And Lewis replied, “Funny, so was I.”  We love without expecting a return. That’s how God loves us.

And yet – and yet – it’s not only the poor that need love, or, more to the point, not only the fiscally and physically poor who need loving. There are other types of poverty and we must show charity to them as well. This is where we are too conservative to our liberal friends. It is not love to let someone do whatever they want if what they want it to damn themselves. How do you love in a way that leads people to God – and away from their sins?

Here is another place where I am not yet mature enough in my faith, but our Holy Father calls us to accompany folks to God. 

What if God were one of us?

OEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us O Lord, our God.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


As was mentioned earlier, the word gentium, Latin for “nations”, is the source of our word “gentiles”. It is the translation of the Hebrew word for nations, גּוֹיִ֔ם, goyim. So, this antiphon sings of God as the Savior of the Gentiles, the desire of the Gentiles… and then says (we are all one) come and save us! The verse sings of Emmanuel, “God With Us” – with both Jew and Gentile. How is God with us? Let’s start with the Catechism.

“All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven”, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter.

Jesus’ words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry were already salvific, for they anticipated the power of his Paschal mystery.

We like to focus on Christmas as if it’s different from Easter as if the Death of Jesus on the Cross is it’s own thing. We look at the “blood sacrifice” as the real deal and everything else is prelude or aftermath. But the Catechism makes it clear that everything Jesus did was our salvation in process. Jesus is God before his birth no less than on the Cross or at the Ascension.

In the eastern Churches, they sing on 25 March – the Annunciation – “Today is the beginning of our salvation.”

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin,
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Our salvation is accomplished by the entire movement from the Incarnation (at Mary’s “Yes”) to the Cross and Resurrection, to the Ascension and the Sitting at the Glorious Right Hand of the Father. Yet, it’s not just the great events! The process of salvation moves from zygote and foetus, through the birth canal of the blessed mother; from the first gasp of a baby’s crying and dirty diapers, to teenage acne and a changing voice; from burping and flatulence to cleansing one’s self and a runny nose, from every other part of life.

See: there is nothing – except sin – that you can do now that God has not done. Since God has done it himself, every option becomes a sacrament of our salvation.

When humans were the children of Adam and Eve, the first day of death was the day of brith. No matter what we did – sin or virtue, faithful or faithless – it led directly to the grave. And yes, while God is always merciful, death was the end as far as we knew. From the time we failed in the garden to the day of Judgement all we knew was that every womb opened on a tomb, every cradle tipped into a grave, and nothing could stop that.

Now, God has done this with us: and the grave opens to Life. It is possible to open every part of our life – except sin- to the mediated action of God living with us, as one of us.

This Christmas, as we look into yet another year of Covid, as we peer into a future we do not know, we have two choices: fear or God with us.

We are commanded to “take up our cross and follow Jesus”. What can that mean? None of us are facing capital punishment, none of us are facing death at the hands of civil or religious authorities. But we know our crosses and, as mundane as can be, they are our. When you wake up in the morning do you pray like Jesus about work? “Father, let this cup pass from me…” or school bullies, “Father, let this cup pass from me…” Do you pray about someone smelly on the bus, “Father let this cup pass from me.” Do you find yourself dreading yet another Zoom meeting or going home to an empty apartment? “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not my will, but they will be done.”

All of life – except sin – is our salvation playing out if we will but let it be as God gives it to us. Gond is with us in this! God, at Christmas, gives us our lives to live as one of us. Our imaginations, our loves, our fears, our times, our meals, and our griefs, our daily commutes, our morning coffees are all part of God’s dance with us. The death of our brothers, the murder of our friends, the war, the covid, the collapse of everything that we hold dear… all of it is God’s dance. It begins at Christmas, or better it includes Christmas.

God is one of us. This is the virtue of faith. This is the seventh virtue, the one at our heart. God is one of us, but more than that God is our very beingness: the fire of love that is the Holy Trinity is the fire of our being and we are no longer cut off from who we are and who we are intended to be. This is the very meaning of Christmas. God is one of us. Today Easter begins for everyone.

Life no longer leads to the grave. If you will but let it, it will lead to heaven. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas.

Merry everything!

God with us! Christ is born: glorify him!

Sheer Grace


From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999)

Truth has arisen from the earth, and justice looked down from heaven

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of a virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not proceeded from us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ, were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become the son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

(From Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for 24 December.)

Looking Up

ORex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come, and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


THE word gentium, Latin for “nations”, is the source of our word “gentiles”. It is the translation of the Hebrew word for nations, גּוֹיִ֔ם, goyim. A singular nation “goy” is Hebrew (and Yiddish) slang for a singular non-Jew, a goy. So, legitimately, this Antiphon can be called “King of the Gentiles” and I think it’s actually more correct to do so, even if it’s politically incorrect. “Goyim” is not always a polite word in some ways (often used as a derogatory) but it is also the Biblical Word for those of us not part of the Jewish Faith. There’s Israel… and then there’s the goyim- everyone else. This antiphon says that the coming Messiah, the King of the Jews, is also King of the Gentiles, מלך הגויים, Melech haGoyim. The Promised One of Israel is, some how, the unification of the one major division in the Hebrew World: us and them. In Messiah, there is no longer an us and a them there is only us.

if the whole point of the Old Testament Law is to set up a peculiar people, distinguished from everyone by their practices and culture, their religion and traditions, then this verse is a huge paradigm shift. Either it means “the whole world will become Jewish” or else it means “Judaism was important for a time but now it’s not”. In the case of the first option, clearly that has not happened because of Jesus. Sadly the second option is usually taken up by Christians of all flavors. It is also condemned by the Church. The place of the Jewish People in God’s plan is always active (CCC ¶839). There must be something else going on.

Another way to read this history is that God created a people in order to reveal himself to them, that he could then use them to reveal himself to the world, long blind to his presence. Thus the Covenant was intended to form the people, but the imporant part of it was the people. Once the people were formed – and once the world was ready – then the Messiah, revealing all of God’s presence in fullness, could be born to the world in order to heal all divisions, including the one that made his birth as possible.

Returning to the problem of evil, though, we love to make “us” and “them” at nearly every turn. God plays a long game. The end goal is salvation – a restoration of the communion between God and all men (always allowing that some men will reject this). The goal has never been to ban bacon, or to get everyone circumcised, or even to get everyone to avoid meat on Fridays. God works though things that seem bad (to Israel) and things that seem bad (to us) but the end goal is not a new Temple, or even a new Church. The end goal is man’s communion with God. God’s willing to use anything to bring this about – even destruction. “….God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (from  God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP.) God’s restoration of our communion with him is the only good that actually is.

The King of the Goyim and Israel is the cornerstone uniting both into one, not just Jews and Gentiles, but also God and Man.

This is why, as I mentioned last time, this is our Faith (the ground of our reality). It is also the source of our Hope. No matter how sucky things get, no matter how much we want to call things evil here, our Hope says God’s will be done. And that will is always for the one Good that there is in our sin-ridden world: salvation. Because we are clay we are not able to do anything on our own. We freely submit to the Cross Christ gives us today, here, and now in order that we may be resurrected in his glory. Because he is the King of All, he has the power to do this.

This is our Hope: that something that can never be taken away.

The Dawn of All

OOriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Day-Spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness: Come, and enlighten them that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


From the Cardinal virtues, moving around the compass, we pass now to the theological virtues. These actually complete the compass for there are seven directions – not just four – in the ancient Cosmology. Sevens were an important part of the understanding of the ancient world: seven visible planets (Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), seven days, etc. So, in addition to West, North, East, and South, there is also down, up, and center. We will begin at the bottom and work our way in.

Oriens refers to the dawn – to the light that fills up the east, to the “orient” and to the “orientation”. It’s the very beginning of all things for us. Yes, it’s Jesus. And he is everywhere, but, more importantly, he’s the ground we stand on, the first step, the Word spoken that forms our lives. So, Jesus the dawn, the beginning, is for us the “faith by which we stand” (2 Cor 1:24).

Two things about this verse. Thing one: the Antiphon is paraphrased in the Old English poetry collection known as Crist – in section one, the Advent Lyrics. The lines are:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

You will note that in Old English, our world is called Middangeard or “Middle Earth” which implies “that which is between Over-heaven and the Under-world”. You will hear the echo of JRR Tolkien there – and also in the translation of Oriens as Earendel – which is also the name of one of the “good guys” in Tolkien’s created universe.

Thing two is more important for our work here – the consideration of the virtue of faith as the ground of all being. This antiphon is sung every year at vespers on 21 December, that is, on the night of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day of the year and, from that day until 21 June, the light begins to lengthen each day. So that night (from the 21st into the 22nd) is the longest night, but with Oriens – with dawn – the next day is about 4 mins longer and each day thereafter until midsummer is from 4 to 6 mins longer. So the Church marks the longest night with a prayer for the Radiant Dawn! It is our faith that, even in darkness, God will come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. It is our faith that darkness never wins, in fact the darkness is not a thing: darkness is only the absence of light and Christ is the light of the world.

What is Faith? Let us turn to Father (as he then was) Joseph Ratzinger. The whole passage is important, but I’ve underlined the best part.

We now begin to discern a first vague outline of the attitude signified by the word credo. It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing, and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not view the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world. If this is so, then the little word credo contains a basic option vis-à-vis reality as such; it signifies, not the observation of this or that fact, but a fundamental mode of behavior toward being, toward existence, toward one’s own sector of reality, and toward reality as a whole. It signifies the deliberate view that what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal; that, on the contrary, what cannot be seen in fact represents true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality. And it signifies the view that this element that makes reality as a whole possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

Introduction to Christianity, 2nd Ed, Fr Joseph Ratzinger (German, 1968), trans. J.R. Foster, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2004.

Later he says belief is “accepting what plainly cannot be seen as the truly real and fundamental.” In other words, this trusting in God (Faith) defines literally everything about us. It is not “a part” of who we are it is the important part of reality, the center of us. As Rich Mullins sang, “I did not make it, it is making me.” In our cosmological map, it is the ground, the direction of down.

So here, then, on the 5th antiphon, is the beginning of the answer I sought to the problem of evil with these essays, as well as back in the early 1980s when there was so much evil in my life. Somehow, even when it feels as if everything sucks, our faith insists that God is working his purpose out. God is playing a long game, though, both in general and specifically. God loves everyone equally (Caritas) but God desires each of us personally, fully, especially. God’s long game includes calling all people to himself, but especially, calling you, personally into his loving embrace. At no point does that preclude bad things happening: he never promised you a rose garden. What faith demands is that the bad things are also working to the end God intended. St Paul speaks to this in Romans

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?[f] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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 8:28-39 (RSVCE)

God is working a plan out – just as he did for Jesus in the Garden. Our submission to God’s will (For thy sake we are being killed all the day long) will lead us to the same glory as Jesus (we are more than conquerors through him who loved us).

As long as we keep walking through Middle Earth in the virtue of faith, Earendel, the “brightness of the Light everlasting” will show us the way and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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.”

The Power of the Keys

OClavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O key of David, and Sceptre of the House of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


The reader is perhaPS expecting an essay on the Virtue of Temperance and we will, in fact, get to that, but first a discussion of Cardinal.

Cardinal refers to the four directions on a compass: West, North, East, and South. With these four directions, you can go anywhere except up or down. According to Christian understanding, these four virtues are available to all, Christian or not. They are, if you will, “natural” although they require an effort to acquire: man cannot come to perfection at all without God’s grace since we are all subject to Original Sin, but even non-Christians have access to these virtues and can move towards their perfections. If you imagine them on the compass around you, you can navigate all over the natural world. They are there and available even for those who openly reject God. Yet if you deny the very beingness at the core of all being, eventually even the cardinal points of navigation fall away. Rip out the center and the boundaries will fall. If you deny the existence of truth, per se, then any point of reference becomes pointless. If there is no Truth, then even “my truth” becomes silly, meaningless. This whole thread on Twitter is about how people literally do not understand that Truth must have a reason beyond “feeling good about it:”

Although it’s possible to approach perfection in the Cardinal Virtues, they are only fully knowable to someone entering into a relationship with the actual truth behind these qualities (that is, God’s Logos, Jesus). The mere sentiment of wanting to “be good” or even of wanting to “feel good” won’t pull you through. And, when times change, the meanings can change: ask those for whom “my fellow humans” only includes certain races or, for whom certain races were OK one day – but not the next. Wonder how our nation lost her way on 8 Dec 1941. So, although these are the common ground of all mankind, they are not enough.

To the awareness that the Cardinal virtues are not enough, let’s add one further realization: it’s possible to move through life in the world without ever needing or using one of these virtues. While they are required for Christian formation at all, they can be entirely ignored in the World and one can still move through the World’s system and be – by the World’s standards – very successful. If one is willing to “do one’s own thing” then it’s possible to move through the World entirely on one’s own terms. One does so, then, without any virtue at all. Those who are without virtue can often get very far ahead in the World. In this way, they appear to be successful even though they are without any but the most basic formation of humanness. To be and to be in communion are the same thing, as Fr Alexander Schmemann says. In rejecting their virtues these folks are not even in communion with each other. Their only communion is in their vice – the opposite of virtue – they fail to become even adolescents, let alone adults. This is the source of many problems we see in the world today: those without any sense of maturity or adulthood, without any communion, without any human beingness, manage to make quite a lot of money. But there’s no there there.

They are the ones sitting in darkness in this antiphon – they are a sign for all of us. For even the one who is working on the acquisition of the virtues is still in darkness to the degree that he has not yet acquired all seven of them. Yet it is the one who rejects even the possibility of truth, the possibility of virtue, that is most in darkness.

For him the power of the keys is most needed; together with temperance.

I’m just going to lay out the full paragraph from the Wiki here…

“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.”[30] The Old Testament emphasizes temperance as a core virtue, as evidenced in the Book of Proverbs. The New Testament does so as well, with forgiveness being central to theology and self-control being one of the Fruits of the Spirit.[4] With regard to Christian theology, the word temperance is used by the King James Version in Galatians 5:23 for the Greek word ἐγκρατεία (enkrateia), which means self-control or discipline (Strong’s Concordance, 1466). Thomas Aquinas promoted Plato’s original virtues in addition to several others.

Within the Christian church Temperance is a virtue akin to self-control. It is applied to all areas of life. It can especially be viewed in practice among sects like the AmishOld Order Mennonites, and Conservative Mennonites. In the Christian religion, temperance is a virtue that moderates attraction and desire for pleasure and “provides balance in the use of created goods”. St. Thomas calls it a “disposition of the mind which binds the passions”.[4] Temperance is believed to combat the sin of gluttony.

Wiki article on Temperance (Virtue), retrieved on 10 Dec 21

So here’s a surprise for you: Temperance, in her most basic meaning, is a very common virtue in our world. There is hope. As wild and crazy as this world is as messed up and prideful, as sexual and sinful as it gets, anyone with the self-control to go to the gym every day or to say on a diet, can – through grace – figure out the need for the other virtues. Anyone with the presence of mind to work the 12 steps, or to sacrifice for a political cause, or to give up some pleasure for the sake of “the marriage” or “the kids” or even “my job” has the very root beginnings of this virtue. So there is hope. And from the very root of “Temperence” the rest can arise if the Key of David will only unlock the doors, open the floodgates of grace as the man does curls at SF Fitness or at the Y, or as the kid willingly sits down to playing scales with an eye towards Julliard. The Girl who figure skates her way to the Olympics knows the virtue of Temperance even if she doesn’t know anything about truth-telling or humility.

The compass is well begun with only one direction – but it will balance wonderfully with all four!

This principle is well known in the Orthodox East where ascetic practices are very common among the laity. Fasting at Lent and during Advent involves avoiding meat, fish, dairy, eggs, wine, and oil. The point is not that those items are sinful or even overindulgent. Rather, through constant denial of the body’s desires for these things, it is hoped that the Christian can learn to deny other urges in the body for things that are sinful. Through temperance other virtues can be discovered.

As Fr Schmemann said in his final homily– “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.” Let us modify that a little bit: “Everyone capable of temperance (even at the gym) has taken the first steps on the path of the virtues and so can be saved.” That’s not to say they will do so, but well begun is half done. It’s up to the keeper of the keys to open doors – and close others. We doors close we tend to throw tantrums. Did you ever accuse someone of “ruining Christmas”? Did you ever ruin Christmas for someone else? The door to some memory was thus closed – and that memory was more important than the present reality. Closing the door can be very painful indeed. It is very hard to give up other things for the sake of one thing that has become important. But it’s possible.

These posts begin with the discussion of why is there evil but there is evil for the same reason but there is virtue and vice: human beings are free to make choices. It’s hard to hear this for most of us enjoy freedom in the first person without ever wanting there to be freedom in the second or third person. I want to be free, you should be nice, but they must be stopped. Freedom is an ontological reality of human being. It is not possible to force you to acquire the virtues oh, it is not possible to force you to grow up. It is not possible to force others to focus on themselves it is only possible to do so in the first person. Furthermore, only in the first person can we control reactions to others. Your vices become stepping stones for my virtues if I am willing to let them be such.

But this is not the only reason. God is playing a much longer game. Until we must discuss the next three virtues.

We’ve now discussed four Cardinal Virtues, the Four Points of our compass that navigates us through the World. The next three virtues, the next 3 antiphons require Grace not only to acquire or perfect but even to begin. The first four virtues are natural the next three are theological. They will help us to explain the problem of evil and the problem of human Freedom as well.

The 2nd Chapter of Acts


THIS PRAYER IS NOT the most faithful of prayers, but for most of the last what? 20 years? This prayer has offered one prayer, over and over: send revival to San Francisco. Let there be revival from the ferry tower to the Sutro Tower to the Sutro Baths and the Zoo. Let your Spirit pour down and not just on any “us” here, but on everyone here. Let fire pour down from the heavens and light up the altars, burn up the hearts, flow from tongues, flood the streets, liquidate the fear, tear open the subways of sin and obsession, of darkness and death.

Let love light up the night of our lives. Not fake, nice, love-is-love love but real, threatening, painful, destroying-and-rebuilding love that makes us over into your image, that cannot be silenced, that will not turn back, that welcomes everyone and leaves no one untouched or unchanged. Let love revive us, turning and bowing to each other in the eternal kenosis of your divine superfluity. Let love be heard and seen, not felt, but touched. Let love be here now, because you are love, agape, eros, storge, philia, all of it more fire that we can handle. Revive us.

Let us find you in the places we never wanted to look: let us find you in the places we ignored, the people we turned away from, the folks we hate and love to hate. Let us find you in every “Them” there is. Let us find you so that you can revive us.

Let us serve you in our neighbors that reject us, in our foes that trample us, in our enemies that topple our statues and smear blood on our streets. Let us find serve you in unmitigated joy. Singing as we die, laughing as we are cut down for truth. For in the blood of martyrs you will revive us finally.

Heal us. Make us over into little yous of such piercing brightness that people will not be able to look at us without catching fire themselves. Heal our faults, our divisions, our divisiveness, our pride. Heal our tone-deaf singing that makes even our good times sound fake and strained, heal our passionless services that make even global warming cease. Heal our chilled love that cannot breathe. Revive us.

From Bay Stree to Bay Point. From the Marina to South City. From St Peter and St Paul’s, to St Paul of the Shipwreck, to St Thomas More, to St Gabriel’s. Pour your Spirit, send your fire, rush your wind, flow your living water. Change, make new, raise up, knock down, push us out to the margins, revive us!

Restore us. Revive us.
Move us to you. Revive us.

Look, if anything good can come from Nazareth, then you can do something here, too. If there are ten righteous people here, you can save this city with so much power that Satan minions will tremble all over the world. If we can but humble ourselves and call on your name.

Revive us.

And we shall dance.

OK, Let’s Try Plan B


The assignment was to write a “reflection paper” on two chapters of God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP.

As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.”
The Didache, retrieved on 12/2/21.

Barthélemy’s chapter 8, Preservation or Re-creation?, speaks of the conflict between the pessimism of the priest’s point of view and the optimism of the prophet. But when the author laid out the argument for God wanting to destroy the Temple (pp. 184-191) my mind went to the above prayer from the Didache. It is the earliest recorded Eucharistic liturgy of the Church. Most scholars believe it to have been composed by 90 AD, but some date it to the 2nd Century. At 90 AD, it could have been prayed by some of the Apostles themselves! The common Eucharistic loaf (leavened bread) is composed of grains that were once scattered in the fields “over the hills” but now they are united and the community asks that the Church be united together in the same way. Yet this prayer is said over the broken bread, ready to be dispersed to the congregants and, in those days, taken by deacons to distant folks and the sick, etc. The bread is brought together in one, consecrated in the Eucharist but then scattered again out into the world, seeding the kingdom everywhere.

The author speaks of the time for “this people, or rather the remains of this people to give birth to the “remnant”, the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people.” God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (p.192)

I have a sort of “Plan B Bias”. When I read the scriptures I see God warning Israel (or Noah, or Adam & Eve), and then, when they fail to heed the warning, God punishes folks. Then there is a Plan B. However God always knew what would be the outcomes of human freedom and so, as I learned in RCIA and must constantly remind myself, there is no Plan B. God is always working out his purpose, always from the point of view of someone aware of all things in all times and places. God warns Israel not in the hope of possibly turning them away but in full knowledge of where they are going! As Barthélemy says so pointedly, God wants to destroy the temple! (p.190)  This so he can scatter his people like grain on so many hillsides! To make this work, though, they have to become his people first. 

This chapter walks us through that process: the need for an “impossible intimacy” (p. 171) and the steps he takes to bring the people to himself. Most importantly is the creation of an “Us” (p. 180ff) by means of ritual and telling the stories over and over to the children. The author highlights the way a father is told to tell his children “We were slaves under Pharoah…” and Barthélemy says, “Note that ‘we’ includes the father of a twentieth-century generation as well as past or future generations. This ‘we’ and ‘us’ is common to all generations of Jews who remember that ‘we were Pharoah’s slaves’. The ‘we’ refers to this same people who are actually alive now.” (ibid) The website My Jewish Learning confirms this, speaking of an almost sacramental reenactment in at Passover: “ The Ritba (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Ishbili, 1260-1330) stresses that every single individual must see and look at himself as though he had been a slave in Egypt and as though he went forth to freedom.’ Whereas the Hagaddah (the Passover table liturgy – DHR) frames in the plural its earlier comment that God redeemed both our ancestors and us, the obligation to see ourselves as former slaves is articulated in the singular. On Pesach, the Ritba suggests, it is not enough to speak of our communal liberation from slavery; rather, we must each experience this redemption also as a personal journey.”  Retrieved on 12/2/21.

This creation of a specific people, structurally enforced by being “condemned to liberty” as we read in Chapter 4, sets up a fully-resilient identity of faith so that the people of “Israel, dispersed among various empires, could never offer sacrifice to the powers in which those empires believed.” (p. 70) This is the strong seed, the strong remnant that was dispersed among the nations to grow. There is no Plan B, the God who did this knew, all along, how Israel would get – how all people get. The Temple Structure, the whole covenant was structured to bring the people together, to attach them to God in intimate connection. Israel was to be a “covenant of the people and light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6, Jerusalem Bible). My Plan A/Plan B bias would say that God tried to get the 12 Tribes to line up behind the covenant but they failed to be a “holy nation” so Plan B happened, but Barthélemy’s writing makes me open up to a flight of historical contemplation: that the first step was the creation of a People. Actually, the final goal is the salvation of all who seek it (knowing that some won’t even bother). God is seeking everyone. So the People of Israel are dispersed, first to Babylon – where they learn to get on without the Temple. Then, fully armed with Rabbis, these “slaves of God alone” (p. 85) are dispersed around the known world to discover “righteous Gentiles” and “God Fearing” proselytes. These communities become “the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people,” they are the first people that Paul and the other Apostles evangelize. When they get to a new community, God-fearing Gentiles and Jews who speak Hebrew in prayer become the linguistic bridge to the locals, ready to share the Good News and whisper translations to those who come to listen to the Apostles preach. Evangelism ensues. The only plan there ever was is working.

The inward focus needed to become a people is first though. There are parallels in the Church as well. Bishop Barron says hunkering down is good, “But we should also be deft enough in reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” (Word on Fire, “The Benedict Option and the Identity/Relevance Dilema”, Retrieved on 12/3/21.) It is in “hunkering down” (Barron’s term) that we find the strength, grace, and identity needed to go out. This is a question of formation both for the community and for individuals. This is why we’re in school before being ordained: so that, being formed, we can go out “to the margins” as Pope Francis says to draw others into the Kingdom.

For my personal formation, the Plan A/Plan B thinking I mentioned arises from a certain Protestant apocalyptic dispensationalism which was popular when I was growing up in the South: the Jews failed to accept Christ and so the mission to the Gentiles was born. Commenting on Matthew 11:28, the Scofield Reference Bible (very popular in the world of my childhood) says “the rejected King now turns from the rejecting nation… It is a pivotal point in the ministry of Jesus.” Retrieved on 12/2/21.  And while I knew this isn’t Catholic teaching, it was such a strong part of my upbringing that I am constantly surprised by new ways it has remained hidden. Barthélemy’s writing offers a unique antidote, allowing me to contemplate the Bible as one story, one plan of salvation without any sense of replacement theology or various dispensations. Israel is God’s people scattered across the hills and gathered into one loaf in the Messiah, broken and shared and dispersed again in the Church. 

As the Church is composed of Gentiles grafted into Israel, those “who form the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) I found myself wondering if there was a parallel between how God treated Israel at this time and what is happening to the Church today. I thought of Father Ratzinger’s (as he then was) oft-quoted comments about the “Church of Tomorrow”

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision… The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution…
– “When Father Joseph Ratzinger Predicted the Future of the Church, from Aleteia, retrieved on 12/2/21.

But the earlier part of the comments is not so often quoted:

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.“  (Ibid. Emphasis added.)

Those highlighted lines parallel the various types we can imagine among the people of Israel dispersed among the Gentiles. There were some who just accommodated themselves to the new world, forgetting all their father taught (if they were ever taught). There are some, though, who became too legalistic and judged others, forgetting grace entirely. And finally, there is the rightful reaction to the legalism of the second group that, unfortunately, goes on to throw out the baby with the bathwater, becoming“spiritual but not religious” versions of the group that forgot the faith entirely. 

As Father Ratzinger predicted, we can see all of these people around the Church today. We can also say that we were slaves of Pharoah in Egypt – but Egypt is here and now, our sins and the World System around us and some of our co-religionists blend into the world, or become too legalistic, or opt for a Catholic flavor of spiritual but not religious. We should want to be gathered again to God so we strive to become “those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith.” We can hunker down, but we need to be ready, as Bishop Barron said, “reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” The only ingathering that really matters is the final gathering into the kingdom and we want to bring as many as we can!  Ending where we began, our Plan A must be to humbly pray the final prayer of the Didache liturgy: “Be mindful of thy Church, O Lord; deliver it from all evil, perfect it in thy love, sanctify it, and gather it from the four winds into the kingdom which thou hast prepared for it.” 

Totally Radical Dude

ORadix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


There is a tendency to read the entire Gospel as Spiritual Content and to overlook the, if you will, political implications of the plain sense of Scripture. This tendency is so common that when we hear political readings of text we instantly think it can’t be so. As I mentioned in my first post, the response is often, “Don’t be so (insert political bias): Jesus came to save souls.” This is true regardless of any political bias you may have: if you lean left or right, your “political reading” of the scripture may be discounted by your opponents as “worldly” and unrelated to the “true, spiritual meaning”. Curiously the tendency is often reversed as well: there are those who say God is only political and there is no spiritual implication involved. This Jesus was a (insert political bias) and the theology is unimportant, added later, made up.

Today’s verse can be read in response to both of these false dichotomies of theology and politics.

The motto of this blog displayed on the banner is “Deo Optimo Maximo Et Christo Liberatori”. It is usually translated as “To the Most Excellent God and to Christ the Liberator”. It is an ancient motto, found in Rome and other places from the earliest times, but I first heard of it look up historic photos of the Episcopal parish I attended in college, St Luke in the Fields, Greenwich Village. Although the text was missing in the structure where I worshipped it was, before a fire that burned it all down, originally emblazoned around the altar.

The first part of that line, Deo Optimo Maximo, was once a title of the Roman God, Jupiter. It was seen as a fitting title of the One True God, the source of all being. In the early church, though, it was not God the Father but Jesus to whom the saints gave the qualities and titles of the pagan deities. And so, while we might want to read the motto as something about God the Father and then something about God the Son, that would be wrong. This motto says “To the (great God and Messiah) the Liberator”. Jesus is both the Great God (or “Maximum God”) and the Christ. He is the Liberator. Jesus is, as Rosie the Robot used to say on The Jetsons, “The Most Ut.”

Liberate us, or as the Antiphon says, deliver us – yes, from our sins, certainly – but what about the other sort of liberation? Why would kings stand silent before a religious teacher? Why did the Romans want to kill Jesus? You can, if you want, make it all about religion – and then fall back on blaming the Jews. Or, you can see what the Jews saw – and what they made the Romans see: Jesus was a theological threat to Jewry, yes, but he was a political threat to Pilate and the Romans. I don’t care if you’re an anarchist, a Marxist, or a Republican: Jesus clearly offered a political choice to the oppressed peoples of his backwater Roman colony.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says the world will hate them because they are not of this world using the Greek phrase ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου οὐκ ἐστέ ek tou kosmou ouk este (John 15:19). A few pages later, Jesus uses the same phrase, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, to describe his Kingdom (John 18:36). When Jesus says his disciples are “not of this world” we know it means we do not live according to this worldly system, we are counter-cultural. We still live in the world. There is neither Jew nor Greek – but we are still our ethnicities. They are no longer important. Our identity is not “American Catholics” but Catholics. We are in the world but not of it – so is the Kingdom. Yet so many times when we hear Jesus say the same words about his Kingdom we imagine him to mean “Well, my kingdom is in heaven, not here on earth…” and then we go on to say he has no political plans. We say this especially if we have our own plans… Our antiphon today seems to indicate quite the opposite.

As we have seen, these Advent Antiphons attribute their qualities to Jesus himself: Adonai, Wisdom, etc. These verses are not singing to God the Father at all. So it is Jesus whom the Gentiles seek, before whom kings are silent, and who is our banner (ensign) to wave. Jesus will come and deliver us. He is the liberator. Notice there is not much talk of spiritual content in this antiphon – it can be seen as nearly all political if we want.

Before readers get upset I want to be clear about something: Jesus is not taking sides here. There is no right humans and wrong humans here. There are right and wrong systems, however. When we are brought into the kingdom of God we are taken out of the world. Yet we are still in the world and must make political choices here. Some worldly systems may mirror certain aspects of the Kingdom, but none of them are the Kingdom. Democracy is nice and all but capitalism sucks. Socialism can destroy private property but it seems to promote better economic justice. Mob rule (democracy) can lead to some really horrid oppressions but monarchy isn’t always the right solution and dictatorships fail – even goodly minded ones. No human system, based in this world, is the right solution. And the only way the Kingdom will be the final solution of Heaven: it’s when everyone is a member of the Kingdom and that’s not happening in this world at all.

Christians have choices to make. This antiphon mirrors the virtue of Justice. Christians have to find ways to walk through the world embodying the Justice of the Kingdom in our actions and our relationships. We constantly, however, confuse God’s justice with simply this-worldly ideas of Justice. Refusing to apply Christian teaching and morality, many people act as if anyone who claims to be oppressed in our society deserves Christian liberation. It is unjust to oppress anyone however telling someone they cannot sin is not oppression. In God’s law all humans have the freedom to commit sin but they do not have the right to commit sin. It is not unjust to pass laws against sin. It is unjust to rob anyone, however, in the Kingdom, refusing to share one’s surplus is robbing the poor – and one never needs as much as one claims. The Fathers say if you have more than one pair of shoes and you never wear the others you’re robbing the poor of that pair of shoes. If you have clothes that you do not wear you are robbing the poor of those clothes. The only reason God gives you wealth is so that you can give it to others thereby being God-like. It is not unjust to find ways to redistribute wealth. This gets us to the root – the radix – of our problems: we are constantly trying to do something of this world when we should do everything not of this world. Even using the tools of this world, we must be not of this world at all in the use of them.

Holy wisdom teaches us prudence, the Holy Spirit gives us fortitude, and now we can begin to learn to live in Justice thanks to the Incarnation of God. Yet it is not a worldly Justice based on “rights” imagined by the state but it is an otherworldly Justice based in the kingdom of God.


OAdonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES when the Four-Letter Name of God is written, it is not pronounced. The reader will say “Adonai” or, outside of the scriptures, he will say “Ha Shem” meaning, “the Name”. In time even “Ha Shem” became so sacred that if it is being used outside of a sacred context (such as as a concert in a secular hall) the word is obscured by a contraction pronounced as “Kado’shem” from”Kadosh Shem” meaning “Holy Name” (but in Hebrew it would be “Ha Shem Ha Kadosh” so this is an interesting construction, itself). In most English translations this tradition is continued. When the Four-Letter Name is used, the English will, most often, say “the LORD” rather than “the Lord”. My own favorite translation, the Jerusalem Bible, comes right out and says “Yahweh” but the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, urged Catholics to avoid that out of respect for the Jewish tradition so the current edition of the JB says “The Lord” instead. I prefer my old-school one from the 1960s. Other Bible translations such as The Complete Jewish Bible make it clear when Adonai is being used to replace The Name. The Name is also used in regular prayers – although it’s obscured by “Adonai” just as noted above. This prayer will be prayed tonight (Sunday 28 November) before lighting one candle for Hanukkah, for example:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu lehadlik neir shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are you LORD, our God king of the universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy mitzvahs and hast commended us to light the lamps of Hanukkah.

That “adonai” there is hiding the Holy Name.

This tradition is known to the composers of Church Liturgy: calling Jesus here Adonai is naming him by the Sacred Name. This is underscored by the parallel, “qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti” and “in Sina legem dedisti”. It was not some random “Lord” who appeared in the Burning Bush to Moses or who gave the Law on Sinai. Moses was addressing the Burning Bush when he asked, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you’. But if they ask me what his name is what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you’.” And God said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons od Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; buy this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.” (Exodus 3:13-15, Jerusalem Bible) A footnote comments, “The formula ‘I Am who I Am’ becomes, in the third person, Yahweh, ‘He is'”. In the Greek Septuagint this is rendered as ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on, meaning I am the one who is. And so, on icons of Jesus, he bears the greek letters, ὁ ὤν (ho on) meaning “the one who is.”

In the previous post, citing Josef Pieper I noted that prudence was referring to “the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”. Pieper goes on to say this ordered structure is “Being precedes Truth, Truth precedes the Good.” And so, here, Jesus is being cited at the root: the beingness of all creation. We know from the Gospel of John that all things were created through Jesus and by Jesus. Without Jesus was not anything made that has been made. All beingness is rooted in Jesus. Anything that participates in Being has this fire at its center. This fire is a participation in the eternal Trinity (albeit in a mortal, partial way). Pieper says, “Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.” The Thomists would tell us the Trinity lives in our own heart – even though we may not know how to enter there.

And so, as yesterday’s invocation brought us to prudence, Adonai, the fire of being that is the Logos, Jesus, brings us to Fortitude: which is to say the courage that arises from our own heart but not from ourself. It is the courage that comes from reliance on God. As indicated above, tonight is the first night of the Festival of Hanukkah. After lighting the candle for tonight (and so, each night), Sephardic Jews may, according to their custom, recite Psalm 30:

I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up,
    and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help,
    and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By thy favor, O Lord,
    thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
thou didst hide thy face,
    I was dismayed.

To thee, O Lord, I cried;
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise thee?
    Will it tell of thy faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be thou my helper!”

11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    thou hast loosed my sackcloth
    and girded me with gladness,
12 that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

This Psalm celebrates God as our deliverer. We can be courageous, not because we are each strong enough or good enough or, Gosh Darnit, because people like us, but rather because God stands with us. In my beingness, God stands with me. This is part of my inherent dignity as a Human, created in God’s image and likeness.

When I wonder at how things are falling apart (as I did in my first post) and then realize the dignity God has given me, I can find the courage, the fortitude to stand – but only in him. This is how we are called forward by Adonai. This is how he comes with an outstretched arm to deliver us.