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.

JMJ

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. 

OK, Let’s Try Plan B

JMJ

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.” 

The Blogpost of the Paper of the Book of the Prophet Haggai

JMJ

By way of introduction the paper below was presented to the class with a few added jokes – including the bad pun in the above header image. At about the half-way point in writing the paper, I had a realization about the content and had to do a rewrite. I presented this to the class honestly, noting my misreading in the context of the presentation. These observations are added after the content of the paper below.

Background

Haggai’s prophecy begins with a date – a very traceable date. To this writer, a calendar nerd, that’s a very pleasant thing: In the second year of King Darius (reigned from Sept 522 BC), on the first day of the sixth month. The footnotes in the Jersualem Bible (hereinafter JB) indicate that we are discussing August of 520 BC. In that year 1st Elul in the Hebrew calendar, so, by conversion 27 August on the Gregorian Calendar projected backward). (Haggai 1:1). The last prophecy is on 24 Kislev (17 December) of the same year  (Haggai 2:20) so the exact timeline is very clear.

Haggai is the 1st prophet to arise after the exile (notes, Great Adventure Bible p. 1242; JB p. 1257) and he also gets to actually see the result of his preaching (like Jonah in Nineveh). Haggai is traditionally regarded as a member of the Sanhedrin in Babylon. “In reference to the Men of the Great Assembly who directed the Jewish community in the Land of Israel in the early years of the Second Temple, the Talmud notes that “among them were several prophets” (Megillah 17b), an implicit reference to Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.” ( retrieved on 5 Nov 2021) In addition to his status as a prophet he has three rabbinic decisions or “matters of the law (or halakhah)” linked with him (see here retrieved on 5 Nov 2021). 

Historical Situation

After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the people have returned to Jerusalem, Babylon had fallen to the Persians. Cyrus, the King, being “roused” by Yahweh lets the people go home. (Ezra Chapter 1:1 JB).  The prophet was born in exile in Babylon came to Jerusalem  Things seem to have started out ok – they have built their “paneled houses” (Haggai 1:4) and planted gardens, but something is wrong.  The people suffer harassment from the Samaritans who feigned support, but – joining in league with the Returnees – they became saboteurs on various projects and agents provocateur creating social havoc, turning the people against the plans of the leaders (Ezra 4:1-5). Finally they “reported” the project to various political rulers in order to get the whole thing stopped (Ezra 4:6-23). “Thus the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem was brought to a standstill; it remained interrupted until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:24)

The people are uneasy “Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. The abundance you expected proved to be little. When you brought the harvest in, my breath spoiled it… The sky has withheld the rain and the earth withheld its yield. I have called down drought on land and hills, on wheat, on new wine, on oil and on all the produce of the ground, on man and beast and all their labors.” (1:5b-6, 9, 10-11 JB) See also 2:16-17

Problems Addressed

The people are building their own houses but not the Temple. They are concerned with their own safety instead of trusting in God. “While my House lies in ruins you are busy with your own, each one of you.” (1:8b) The people are not doing this out of a sense of personal gain, but rather for fear: they want to get their lives in order lest something else should happen. There is also a sense of discouragement because of the actions of the Samaritans: social chaos and ineffective leadership lead to low morale which, in turn, gives rise to acedia. 

Audience

The people of Jerusalem, returning exiles, as well as “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1) and “Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo began to prophesy to the Jews of Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was with them.” (Ezra 5:1).

His message is two-fold. The primary one, noted in all resources I checked, is “build my temple!” but I think there’s something else going on here. As noted the issue is the low morale created by the neighbors, the leadership, and a lack of an overarching sense that God sent them home (as he promised). The oracles of Haggai are filled with proof that God is here: I am with you (1:13, 2:4) my spirit remains among you, do not be afraid (2:5) I will give peace (2:9) I intend to bless you (2:19).

The prophet has to say “go do XYZ… because God is with you and he will help you do it!” HE spends a lot more time saying “God is with you” than “go do XYZ”, even though XYZ (rebuilding the temple) is the important action that is needed. It’s not possible to do so without faith though, so – “Have faith, God is with you…” The prophet says this not only to the people but also their leaders: “But take courage now, Zerubbabel-it is Yahweh who speaks. Courage, High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak! Courage, all you people of the country!-it is Yahweh who speaks. To work! I am with you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks-and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid! (Haggai 1:4-5).

Efficacy

Both greatly effective and not. And yet… “Now Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people, paid attention to the voice of Yahweh their God and to the words of the prophet Haggai, Yahweh having sent him to them. And the people were filled with fear before Yahweh… And Yahweh roused the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and set to work on the Temple of Yahweh Sabaoth their God.” (Haggai 1:12,14). Haggai is one of the few Prophets who lived to see his dream fulfilled. (You Can Understand the Bible, P. Kreeft p 158). 

God begins to bless the people from the beginning of the rebuildling: Reflect carefully from today onward (from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the sanctuary of Yahweh was laid, think carefully) if grain is still short in the barn, and if vine and fig tree, pomegranate and olive, still bear no fruit. From today onward I intend to bless you.” (2:18-19)

At the same time, though, the predictions of the prophet regarding the King, himself, seem to be a bit off. ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kings of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots and their charioteers; horses and their riders will be brought down; they shall fall, each to the sword of his fellow. When the day comes-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks- I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks­ and make you like a signet ring. For I have chosen you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks.” (2:22-23) There is no restoration of the Kingdom here and no sign of all nations being overthrown. This prophecy, along with the promises 2:9 seem not yet to happen. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old. In fact, the few elders who were alive in the before-times, remember the glory of the former Temple (built by Solomon) and weep. (Ezra 3:12) And yet…

Reading these prophecies as Messianic, and leading us to the New Kingdom of God, the whole thing makes sense in Jesus:  the new glory of the temple (“the temple of his body” John 2:21) far surpasses the glory of the old temple. And even the physical structure being built here is suddenly filled with God’s very presence as Christ enters it and teaches there. 

What does it mean that Zerubbabel will be a “signet ring”? This is a title for the Kings of Judah, indicating the closeness of the King to God and his plans. However in Jeremiah 22:24 we read of the last king, “even if Coniah son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, I would still wrench him off. I will deliver you to the hands of those determined to kill you…” The connection was broken. 

This man, the grandson of King Jeconiah of Judah, forms a connection between the pre-exilic kings and the line of “common folks” that runs through the people until we reach Joseph and Mary in the New Testament. If “signet ring” means “sign of the kingship” then this link between the common tradespeople of Galillee and the last Kings of Judah is that signet. The final prophecies of Haggai, though not fulfilled in the prophet’s lifetime, are fulfilled in Jesus. 

Additional resource used: The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Old Testament, Dianne Bergant, Robert J. Karris, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1992. The general introduction to post-exile prophets (pp 571-577), and the article on Haggai (pp 592-599), both by Mary Margaret Pazdan, O.P.


Observations

Reading the prophet’s text alone (and following many commentaries online and off) it seems the issue is that the returnees from Babylon got to Jerusalem and built their own houses – but ignored God’s house. God got angry and cursed them with bad crops (etc) and sent them a prophet to tell them to build the Temple first. Then everything got going in the right order. However in reading the context provided in Ezra, Chapters 1-6, I realized that the issue was not that the Jerusalemites were being selfish, but rather they were acting without faith: the neighbors were being schmucks and so the Hebrews were retreating into their homes. God sent them a prophet to say, “Get out there and claim this land – it’s yours, I gave it to you.” Once they started acting in faith, at that moment their fortunes changed. The main thrust of the prophet’s teaching is not “you lazy, selfish, impious people…” but rather “God is with you! Be not afraid!”

It seems that this teaching is applicable to all of us.

Psalm 7×7

JMJ

Sicut Patres Nostri
of Huw, A Lament sitting on the dock of the Bay

AS OUR FATHERS before us
So we sit by the waters
As by Babylon of old
by the waters of the Bay
Do you remember us, Lord?

The Saints have told us
Of your faithfulness, your love
Your power
You came with them to defeat their enemies
You swept before them in victory
That the Gospel might triumph
But we reap a different harvest
As we are despised not for your love
But for our victory
Their statues are toppled
Their names slashed
And your Name then slandered
Do you remember us, Lord?
We retrench and advance
but you do not go with us
And we fail
Do you remember us, Lord?

Our Fathers told us
Of days recently passed
Millions gathered in the park
Rosaries waving, families praying
Cameras filming
Yet now we cannot get permits
To pray without masks
To walk without harassment
To save children
Do you remember us, Lord?

We know naught happens but you allow it
Naught comes to pass but your will
Our semantics quibble over
Permissive or possitive
But it comes from you
Make us to know our sins
Give us contrition
That we may repent
Send us here our purgatory
That we may be purified

Our Fathers have told us that it was by your might
Trusting too much in princes hoping in strength
Did we fail in your name
Failing to offend those who offend you
Because of their power?
Have we forgotten our way?
Our new weakness your ancient Gospel
Our new death the way to renewed resurrection
Do you remember us, Lord?

Our Lord spoke to us saying we would not be loved
We would be rejected and hated for his Truth
Which is only ever Love
The world rejects us because of our sins.
Our pride in our power.
Have we forgotten you, Lord?

Your weakness is our strength
Trusting the might that was ours formerly
We lost our way in Babylon
And here, we mourn by the waters
The Bay laps our feet as we pray

We have sinned against heaven and before you
As our Fathers repented so do we
And as bread is lifted and cup is raised
Again. The work of human hands.
Show us the light of your love
That we may know the way
That we may walk with you
That we may know the way to walk
That the world may see you
As we see you
That the world may know you
As we know you
As you know us

We will praise you
Not for our power but for our weakness
Which is like yours
Weak even to death
Not for our passage of laws
But for our love winning hearts
When you then sweep before us in victory
Your Gospel will triumph
Even to resurrection
And we reap your harvest
From a world craving your love
That men may see our good works
And praise you
And we will know you then as you are
Again as you are always
Amen. Amen.

St Louis & Adelphopoiesis

JMJ

By way of Introduction: this paper was for Church History with Dr Kevin Clarke. The assignment was to imagine I was teaching RCIA at a parish named for a “controversial” saint. A member of the class raises an objection to that saint, how do I respond? Further, the same person feels that (pick a common objection from Church history) is very important and wants me to address it. Some possible examples were the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc. As I did not understand the reasons people disliked King St Louis that was my pick for the Saint. I had decided to go with dispelling a common myth about “the Burning Times” (which didn’t happen) when, as I was writing the paper, the CDF dropped a document. The Responsum triggered a memory of reading bad history – John Boswell’s Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe – and I pictured my RCIA challenger citing Boswell’s quotations of actual church liturgies and asking why we couldn’t do these rites now. The assignment limited me to 2,000 words with a 200 margin either way. I made it at 2195, but my first draft of the St Louis section was 3,000 words long. There is so much more to say about St Louis and the Talmud! But the accusation of Islamophobia seemed more realistic a question at this time as much as the question about same sex unions seemed more realistic in San Francisco today than the one about the Burning Times. This is how papers are born, I guess.


SPEAKING ABOUT THE BIG statue of St Louis riding a horse on Art Hill in St Louis, MO, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in that city  says “If we’re not honest about our history we will never be able to dismantle the systems of oppression that we are living under.” (Haaretz 28 June 2020) Dislike for St Louis the king is focused in St Louis the city, there are echoes of the protest in other places. The objections to him are that he was antisemitic and anti-Isalm. We will have time tonight to look at the issues around Islam. 

The crusades are the entirety of the argument for the “Islamophobia” of our Patron Saint. Louis was fighting Muslims. It is very easy to see this as a badge of what we understand to be racism today. It carries quite clear marks of it: fighting Muslims because they are Muslims. This idea of branding as evil all Muslims because they are Muslims is one we should oppose. But it’s not one that we can use against Louis. 

Our patron saint is renowned for his piety, his charity, and his bravery. He is also known for his skills as a governor and a diplomat. He is devoted to his wife. An article in Christianity Today says he called his wife a “girl of pretty face, but of prettier faith” which I really like, but I can’t find a source for that anywhere else for that quote. The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent says he always followed his mother’s advice  I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin. And they cite him as saying The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor. He took his family with him on the crusade. The Church teaches Louis’ holiness in that she has named him a Saint. 

Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals…. a man of sound common sense, possessing indefatigable energy, graciously kind and of playful humour, and constantly guarding against the temptation to be imperious. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Our secular age teaches us “religion” and “everything else” are different categories. This was not so for King Louis IX: there are times when we want to say he was “acting religious” when, in fact, he would not see it that way. Founding hospitals and feeding the poor are works of charity, certainly, but they are also acts of government. They are “secular”. But not in France at this time. For another example, while he was on Crusade, he allied with some Muslims – helping out some Muslim kingdoms if they would help him. He also reached out to the Golden Horde, pagan Mongols who were part of the invasion/migration from the east seen as enemies by all the peoples in Europe and the Middle East. These could be seen as political choices. But they are also religious.

In the 21st Century, we see Louis as a “Christian King” of “the Nation of France” while imagining 13th Century France to be the same as today: a cultural and economic center, diverse and largely “like us”. That is, we think of 13th Century France as a secular state ruled by – almost by accident – a Catholic King, just as we may elect a Catholic President or a Masonic one. However, France was not a modern, secular state ruled by a leader who was accidentally (if very piously) religious. Pick up a copy of Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX, by Andrew Willard Jones (Emmaus Academic, 2017). There’s an entirely different worldview here: one where the whole understanding of things is religious.  

Muslim states today and in Louis’ time work in the same way: systems where “sacred” and “secular” are woven as tightly together as they were for Louis’ France. Yet we often imagine them as mirrors of our modern, secular way of life where there just happens to be a Muslim veneer as we have a Christian one. We visualize the Muslims of the Middle Ages in their peaceable kingdoms attacked by Christians from the west. The image is one of trying to win converts by the sword. 

Yet Louis was not out to convert Muslims. Neither was the war about eradicating their religion, nor one of territorial expansion. St Louis’ crusade was one of liberation

In Syria, Muslims had conquered some Christian towns and were enslaving the people there. Louis decided (on advice from allies) to conquer some Egyptian towns and hold them for ransom: to make a trade. This is very much a modern war tactic, still: Israel traded Palestinian prisoners for one soldier in  2011. It’s secular politics, sure, but this also sounds like the charism of the Trinitarians who were always Louis’ spiritual advisors: To the Glory of the Most Holy Trinity and to Ransom Christian Captives. We might wonder at the means the King chose for his ends, but see the weaving of political and religious here: how hard it is to dissect them. He is fighting “systems of oppression that we are living under” using the best means of his day – diplomatic alliances (even with “bad people”) and ransom.

Jones offers a very brief account of a conflict between Louis and some bishops asking him to enforce some declarations of excommunication. The king said he would look into the issue and enforce it if the action was just. The bishops replied that to let him investigate that way would be to “give the king cognizance of what pertained to [the Bishops]” – letting him snoop in on religious matters. But Louis replied that for him to act without first determining the justice of the matter would be to “give [the bishops] cognizance over what pertained to” the king. The idea of “church and state” is not valid when we look at Louis’ France. Louis is not imposing Catholic ideals on a secular order, but rather embodying the ancient idea of Sacred Kingship as a Catholic. The State is seen as sacral, as part of God’s plan for working out our salvation. Louis acts as a Catholic king, sacramentalizing his actions. 

Viewing Louis through our modern eyes we miss something of what CS Lewis called (in his The Discarded Image, 1962) the Medieval Synthesis “the whole organisation of their theology, science, and history into a single, complex, harmonious mental Model of the Universe.”  Lewis thinks of this Model as sharing equal standing with Aquinas’ Summa and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The three form a Map for a reality we can no longer see or even imagine in our world. We can see, though, these three pillars of this reality – the Summa, the Comedy, and the Model of reality – as manifestations of our Catholic Faith. 

Catholic means whole. Our faith seeks an integral whole. One of the ancient Eucharistic Prayers, going back to the 2nd Century (maybe the 1st) refers to the bread as coming from grain “scattered on the hillsides” and gathered into one loaf (Didache). We like things in separate boxes not touching each other: the work box, the God box, the leisure box. Life can’t be divided that way. My life is not 8 hours of customer service for a website and then a couple of hours for God. I’d break: and so will all of us. So will our world if we divide it only further. Catholicism seeks to bring it all together into one loaf to offer it to God in thanksgiving (Eucharist).  Let us ask for the intercession of our Saint Louis to help us see the world we are seeking to offer to God, not cut up into parts, but offered as one whole in Christ.

——

Rabbi Talve said, “If we’re not honest about our history we will never be able to dismantle the systems of oppression that we are living under.” It’s important to realize that we are part of the “oppression” she indicates: the idea that Christianity is the fullness of God’s Truth and that we – as Christians – are not only morally obligated to act as such, but that we believe in our hearts that doing so will make everything better for everyone – including those who reject our ideas or Truth. Allowing the world to drift away from Christ’s Kingdom through our inaction or because we’re afraid of what people will say allows things to fall apart.

The question we received was about John Boswell’s 1994 book, “Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” wherein he posits the idea of a liturgical tradition of blessing same-sex couples. These rites exist: they are called “Adelphopoiesis” or “brother-making”. Common in the whole church until the 14th Century,  continuing in the East until the 20th, the rite is a blessing whereby two people of the same sex adopt each other as siblings, usually two brothers but sometimes two sisters. Boswell argues that the rite of Adelphopoiesis was a cultural continuation of the sexually intimate (mostly male) couples of ancient Greece and Rome. He implies that the Church simply adopted this cultural practice and that modern opposition to such couples is a relatively recent development in theology. The book includes English translations of the rites.

This week the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document called a Responsum (Response) answering a Dubia (doubt or question). This document was called, Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, and it was answering the question, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The Responsum never says “Adelphopoiesis” it reads as if whoever posed the original question was holding the book and asking, “Can we do these rites?” Tl:dr Negative. Then the fewmets hit the windmill.

The use of Adelphopoiesis rites in the past to bless what we would call “gay relationships” assumes that our ancestors had these relationships to bless.  Boswell makes a leap many moderns do assuming (with a wink) that these were obviously sexual unions, even though this goes against the teachings of the Church. Boswell reads our modern assumptions into the past: a person’s identity is based on their desires. This is a type of what CS Lewis called “Chronological Snobbery” in Surprised by Joy: we know better than our ancestors about things like sex and know more about our ancestors than they did – especially in areas like sex. We know that when those people did these things they really were doing what we do even if they didn’t have the words for it. Critics of Boswell point out the use of these rites as political tools, ways to cement family alliances, and also ways to officially recognize reconciliations between opposing factions. Theological critics point out the historic teachings of the church on sexuality.

The modern idea of “sexual desire = identity” trips us up. If one’s desire defines oneself then should not the Church allow for the self to be celebrated? The theological response to that question is not our topic tonight but it is important to see that it is a new question

While there were women and men engaging in such actions, some arguing them to be good or neutral, the idea that these actions constituted a different type of person is very new – only about 100 years old. David F. Greenberg’s 700-page tome, The Construction of Homosexuality (University of Chicago, 1988) argues that  “homosexual” is a category that we have now as a result of the rise of market economies. Greenberg suggests the idea of “gay” is very modern. The only thing more recent than “gay” is “straight” which was formed in reaction to gay as a label. In 2014, First Things magazine published an article called “Against Heterosexuality” that rehashes much of this: worth a read.

Try reading ancient writers commenting on the morality of sex without reading  our ideas of identity into them. Paul did not condemn “alternative identities” nor did Jesus ever talk about “gay relationships” because those things did not exist as social categories. We cannot imagine their silence to indicate their approval any more than we should imagine their silence on television to be a sign of approval of Game of Thrones. Jesus and Paul discussed sexual sin.

This idea of “sin” is one that causes great concern in today’s society. It seems to be one of the “systems of oppression”: simply a way in which the church tries to control people. In fact, many Catholics seem to believe this as well. 

The Church sees her teachings on the human person as liberation. Being “honest about our history” includes being honest about the history of human sin. We remember that the Church’s teaching is freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants but rather the ability to do the good. As Catholics, the culture of do whatever you will is the system of oppression from which we seek liberation. 

The Virtual Field Trip

JMJ

HOMEWORK for Church History class with Dr Kevin Clarke. The assignment was to select some art from the Web Gallery of Art, to learn how to use that tool, and to write a brief comment, including why this art, something learned about the artist, and how to use it in a parish ministry. I tended to feel like I was writing for the BBC’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” I noted to Dr Clarke that I’ve not had to do this sort of work since failing “Art in the Dark” at NYU in 1983. I hope this is better…

This was the first time I’ve seen the wings closed (as far as I know). Ornate altars like this were often closed in Lent and Advent. The presence of the Annunciation icons on the outside of the closed wings struck me because the Annunciate is always in Lent. Advent, too, is a good time to see these images. 

I would use this in a discussion of liturgical art: why we veil statues in Lent/Holy Week.

This factoid has endeared him to my heart: he signed some art ALS ICH KAN (As I (Eyck) can), a pun on his name, which he typically painted in Greek characters. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_van_Eyck  retrieved on 7 March 2020).

In the Biblical text, Judith is alone with the general passed out. In this image, she is not alone so I had to look that up. 

Turns out that showing Judith with her maid was an iconographic tradition intended to distinguish her from Salome. Wikipedia says, “In European art, Judith is very often accompanied by her maid at her shoulder, which helps to distinguish her from Salome, who also carries her victim’s head on a silver charger (plate). However, a Northern tradition developed whereby Judith had both a maid and a charger, famously taken by Erwin Panofsky as an example of the knowledge needed in the study of iconography.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_beheading_Holofernes retrieved on 7 Mar 2021.)

This would be useful in a discussion of the “other books” which don’t get so much playtime – even in the liturgy. Also, this would go well in a discussion of the place of women in our tradition.

In researching Caravaggio I found discussions of his presumed “sexuality” to be very interesting. Calling the artist “gay” or “queer” seems to reveal more about the attitudes of the writer as there was no such category of human being in Caravaggio’s culture or the Church’s understanding. I can imagine a very adult class on this topic: eroticism in art, or in the Church’s art. The artist’s use of chiaroscuro can be contrasted with the ample light used for the same effect in the work of the next artist, Fra Angelico.

This image caught my eye because of the ways it does not follow the iconographic tradition. Normally Jesus is depicted holding the Virgin’s soul while surrounded by angels as if he is standing outside of time. However here he is clearly standing next to the Apostles, in the world, as it were. I’m not certain of the artist’s intent, but the idea of Jesus coming to his mother’s death in this world is very moving.

Bl. John has a feast on the OP calendar which has three alternative readings for the Office of Readings on 18 February. The third one, “especially for prayer with a group of artists,” says the Blessed’s art depicts …[t]he ideal world, radiant with the aura of peace, holiness, harmony, and joy. Its reality lies in the future when ultimate justice will triumph over a new earth and new heavens. Yet this gentle and blessed world can even now come to life in the recesses of human souls, and it is to them he offers it, inviting them to enter in. It is this invitation which seems to us to be the message of Fra Angelico entrusts to his art, confident that it will thus be effectively spread... If its content and aim are such as Fra Angelico gave his painting, then art rises to the dignity almost of a minister of God, reflecting a greater number of perfections. We should like to point out to artists, who are ever dear to us, this sublime possibility of art. 

(The Venerable Pope Pius XII, opening an exhibition of art by Fra Angelico at the Vatican on 20 April 1955. Quoted in, Liturgy of the Hours – Propers for the Order of Preachers Revised Edition, 2019, Dominican Liturgy Productions, Oakland, CA.)

I would use this painting in a class on the evolution of the iconographic tradition a discussion point: he is only one generation after Giotto and the latter’s work is more like traditional icons. 

These two works come together because my piety leans heavily on the Incarnation as revolution: the God who feeds us all is fed by the virgin whom he made, God the Word who cannot speak, God the creator of all who has dirty diaper; the God of life who dies, the king who is willingly wounded by his subjects. This humble submission of God to the need for his creation’s salvation is very moving to me.

I was intrigued at the idea of tempera painting being moved from wood to canvas. That led me down a rabbit warren of artistic trivia! 

I’ve never been clear if Dürer was a Catholic or a Protestant – his works seem popular with both groups. So reading up on this was another trip down a series of tubes. The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent says this theory is rejected (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05209c.htm retrieved on 7 March 2021.) Sed Contra, the Lutherans claim his as their own, for ex: I think it can be safely said that Dürer, at the end of his earthly life, was steadfastly in the Lutheran camp. – Deaconess Carolyn S. Brinkley (https://lutheranreformation.org/history/four-holy-men-albrecht-durers-confession-faith/)

Certainly, for much of his life, he was Catholic, though. It is a profoundly Catholic sensibility that he brings to Protestant Bibles using his engravings. It would be interesting to use his work along with Leonardo’s in a discussion of how Catholicism might reach out – artistically – to evangelize Protestants. 

Paper

JMJ

For our class in Fundamental Theology we were to do a short paper on one of seven theses regarding theology and evangelism. Our primary text was Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. I relied heavily on our secondary text, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria. I went a little long and as always I need an editor for my typos, but I got a decent grade so here’s my paper.

Thesis #6 Reading the signs of the times and in dialogue with the world, Catholic Theology upholds the unity of all truth, maintains the relationship between faith and reason, and rejects both fideism and rationalism.

A THEOLOGIAN IS ONE who prays.”  This is a loose paraphrase of Evagrius Ponticus’ line from ¶61 of his 153 Chapters on Prayer, “If you are a theologian, you pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” (Retrieved on 17 Dec 2020) I often heard this when I was in the Orthodox Church. Using ideas such as this Orthodox – especially converts – often build a rejection of the “scientific thought” of “The Latins”. This rejection seems to deny both God’s gift of human reason and intellect, on the one hand, and the very idea that prayer can affect the intellect at all. It seems to set humans up for failure: we are given very powerful tools in our intellect and reason yet they are considered suspect. We should not use these tools to relate to God. Sed Contra, St Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic tradition of Theology as a science arising from God’s self-revelation as providing first principles which fully engage our human reason to explore, more deeply, our relationship with God. In parallel with this, a thinking man – by secular lights – has no reason for prayer, no need for this relationship. 

Thesis 6 on the signs of the times, the unity of all truth, and the relationship of faith and reason resonated with me not only because of my convert experience in the Orthodox Church, where “faith” was seemingly idealized into a sort of prophylaxis against thinking too much but also because of my professional experience in the tech industry where everything is reducible to data points. If there is no data there is nothing to talk about. This fixation on the data and hyper-spiritualism of the faith seem to be the signs of the times – a fideism from “the religious” and a rationalism from the “secular”. 

Since much of modern tech is a web-based experience, there is no interaction between the people who make and run the technology and the people who use it. All development is based on research data. We spend our days at work looking for the “levers” to pull that will “drive clicks” towards a certain goal. I cannot make a suggestion at work for improvement unless there is an obvious metric to which I can point. Numbers are everything. Charts must move “up and to the right”. Data (without any judgment implied) must be provided for everything or it’s – literally – not real. Anecdotes about actual real-person interactions are only anecdotes. They need numbers to back them up. This is an extreme form of rationalism: the claim that only in our reason can we grasp reality. We cannot know anything here by relationship, by communion with other persons.  On the other extreme this is the idea of fideism, that as far as truth goes, we must rely on faith alone. We cannot know by communion with God, but must only trust or believe. Further, the intellect or reason cannot be brought to bear here or, if it is used at all, it is only to comment on the truths revealed and accepted by faith. Both of these extremes place an insufferable divide between God and man: the God who cannot reach us without data, the man who cannot think of God but only blindly trust. In this division we act from these two polls: sexual morality (physical communion of persons) is discussed in isolated ways of “what I want” or “what I feel” or in terms of what is legal or not instead of what is moral. Issues of medicine and the common good are discussed as individual choices and personal autonomy. Truth is parsed out into isolated pockets of “my truth” and “your truth”. 

Catholicism offers a God who is Logos – meaning – engaged fully in the order of the cosmos, and with the mind of man. Man can apply his mind to the understanding (as far as he is able) of that meaning.  Yet that God is also a person, existing in communion within the Trinity, and desiring communion with man, not only as “man” meaning all humans but on a personal, one-to-one, and intimate level. “If Christian belief in God is first of all an option in favor of the primacy of the logos, faith in the pre-existing, world supporting reality of the creative meaning, it is at the same time, as belief in the personal nature of that meaning, the belief that the original thought, whose being-thought is represented by the world, is not an anonymous, neutral consciousness us but rather freedom, creative love, a person.” (Razinger, p 158 ) But our human understanding tends to read from the top down: God is so great and yet he wants intimacy. But the personal reality of the infinite reverses this. “The highest is not the most universal, but, precisely, the particular, and the Christian faith is thus above all also the option for man as the irreducible, infinity-oriented being.” (ibid.) Tech’s Data and Eastern Orthodoxy’s spiritual focus highlight important aspects of our faith: truth can be understood – and communicated to others – through rational thought, but the truth is revealed to us in the self-disclosure of God to us. It requires prayer – a relationship with God (Catechism ¶2565)to engage fully. This is the unity of truth spoken of in our thesis: All truth has a common source in the God who says, “I am the Truth”. This relationship is, first of all, personal. 

Catholic theology offers the meaning of all things as revealed in God and unfolding in his communion with the human intellect, the personal as intimately a part of the infinite. This is prayer, as Evagrius taught: a communion, a deeply loving engagement of God with the human soul. For the Theologian in conversations drawing people to God, “my truth” cannot be other than The Truth – or else it is a lie. It arises from the prayer of the theologian, his relationship to God, and this must be explained to others as a relationship of the Divine Logos with their human logos. And it reveals a discussion of the logoi of the created order. God is disclosing Himself to us and, at the same moment, disclosing the cosmos and ourselves – the actual truth about who we are – to each of us, as particular individuals. God is showing me who I am in communion with himself. Issues of sex and medicine, as mentioned earlier, become issues of the individual’s communion with God as revealed Truth and with other persons as icons of that truth.

The world is, as Ratzinger wrote,  “in the last analysis, not mathematics but love” (p. 160). Our intellect cannot engage as a “data scientist” but must end in a relationship.  But that relationship is one of knowing and being known. It can be communicated with others in order to invite them in.