Monday, March 30, 2015

The Law of God and its Violation

Fifth in a Series on Catholic Morals

Fr. John H. Stapleton

Moses with the Ten Commandments
Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
Without going into any superfluous details, we shall call the Law of God an act of His will by which He ordains what things we may do or not do, and binds us unto observance under penalty of His divine displeasure.

The law thus defined pertains to reasonable beings alone, and supposes on our part, as we have seen, knowledge and free will. The rest of creation is blindly submissive under the hand of God, and yields a necessary obedience. Man alone can obey or disobey; but in this latter case he renders himself amenable to God's justice who, as his Creator, has an equal right to command him and be obeyed.

The Maker first exercised this right when He put into His creature's soul a sense of right and wrong, which is nothing more than conscience, or as it is called here, natural law. To this law is subject every human being, pagan, Jew and Christian alike. No creature capable of a human act is exempt.

The provisions of this law consider the nature of our being, that is, the law prescribes what the necessities of our being demand, and it prohibits what is destructive thereof. Our nature requires physically that we eat, drink and sleep. Similarly, in a moral sense, it calls for justice, truthfulness, respect of God, of the neighbor, and of self. All its precepts are summed up in this one: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - the Golden Rule. Thence flows a series of deducted precepts calculated to protect the moral and inherent rights of our nature.

But we are more concerned here with what is known as the positive Law of God, given by Him to man by word of mouth or revelation.

We believe that God gave a verbal code to Moses who promulgated it in His name before the Jewish people to the whole world. It was subsequently inscribed on two stone tables, and is known as the Decalogue or Ten Commandments of God. Of these ten, the first three pertain to God Himself, the latter seven to the neighbor; so that the whole might be abridged in these two words, "Love God, and love thy neighbor." This law is in reality only a specified form of the natural law, and its enactment was necessitated by the iniquity of men which had, over time, obscured and partly effaced the letter of the law in their souls.

Again God spoke, but this time in the person of Jesus Christ. The Saviour, after confirming the Decalogue with His authority, gave other laws to men concerning the Church He had founded and the means of applying to themselves the fruits of the Redemption. We give the name of dogma to what He tells us to believe and of morals to what we must do. These precepts of Jesus Christ are contained in the Gospel, and are called the Evangelical Law. It is made known to us by the infallible Church through which God speaks.

Akin to these divine laws is the purely ecclesiastical law or law of the Church. Christ sent forth His Church clothed with His own and His Father's authority. "As the Father sent me, so I send you." She was to endure, perfect herself and fulfill her mission on earth. To enable her to carry out this divine plan, she makes laws, laws purely ecclesiastical, but laws that have the same binding force as the divine laws themselves since they bear the stamp of divine authority. God willed the Church to be; He willed consequently all the necessary means without which she would cease to be. For Catholics, therefore, as far as obligations are concerned, there is no practical difference between God's law and the law of His Church. Jesus Christ is God. The Church is His spouse. To her the Saviour said: "He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me."

A violation of the law is a sin. A sin is a deliberate transgression of the Law of God. A sin may be committed in thought, in desire, in word, or in deed, and by omission as well as by commission.

It is well to bear in mind that a thought, like a deed, is an act, and thus potentially a moral act, and potentially a sin. Human laws may be violated only in deed; but God, who is a searcher of hearts, takes note of the workings of the will whence springs all malice. To desire to break His commandments is to offend Him as effectually as to break them in deed; to relish in one's mind forbidden fruits, to meditate and deliberate on evil purposes, is only a degree removed from actual commission of wrong. Evil is perpetrated in the will, either by a longing to prevaricate or by affection for that which is prohibited. If the evil materializes exteriorly, it does not constitute one in sin anew, but only completes the malice already existing. Men judge their fellows by their works; God judges us by our thoughts, by the inner workings of the soul, and takes notice of our exterior doings only in so far as they are related to the will. Therefore, an offense against Him, to be an offense, need not necessarily be perpetrated in word or in deed; it is sufficient that the will place itself in opposition to the will of God and adhere to what the law forbids.

Sin is not the same as vice. One is an act, the other is a state or inclination to act. One is transitory, the other is permanent. One can exist without the other. A drunkard is not always drunk, nor is a man a drunkard for having once or twice overindulged.

In only one case is vice less evil than sin, and that is when the inclination remains an unwilling inclination and does not pass to acts. A man who reforms after a protracted spree still retains an inclination, a desire for strong drink. He is in no wise criminal so long as he resists that tendency.

But practically, vice is worse than sin, for it supposes frequent willful acts of sin of which it is the natural consequence, and leads to many grievous offenses.

A vice is without sin when one struggles successfully against it after the habit has been retracted. It may never be radically destroyed. There may be unconscious, involuntary lapses under the constant pressure of a strong inclination, yet it remains innocent as long as it is not willfully yielded to and indulged in. But to yield to the ratification of an evil desire or propensity, without restraint, is to doom oneself to the most prolific of evils and to lie under the curse of God.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Object of Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Third Conference on the Most Sacred Heart

Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer

In our last conference, we learned that there are in our age two popular devotions, and we tried to understand the reason of their present existence in the Church. We resolved especially to practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart, it being the more important of the two. Moreover, we determined to study it in order that we might the better practice, cultivate and propagate it, and thus enter into the designs of God. In accordance with this resolution, we shall now endeavor to obtain a clear and full understanding of the object of this devotion.

St. Thomas, the great doctor and patron of theological schools, distinguishes two objects in every devotion; first, that which in a devotion is honored, adored and loved. And secondly, that on account of which said object is honored, adored and loved. The first is called the immediate material object, and the second, the formal, incentive or causative object. Thus, in a devotion to some saint, the saint himself is the material object, it is he that is honored and loved - while his virtues and sanctity are the incentive object, that is, the reason why such devotion is paid him. Now, in the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Heart itself is the material object; it is that which is adored, honored and loved; while that which It symbolizes, namely, the love of Jesus, is the formal incentive object of the devotion, in other words, is the reason why such special homage is paid to It. We shall, then, in this conference first speak of the material object of the devotion and show what it is; in the second place, of the causative object, and explain what the Heart symbolizes.

What is the material object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart? I have just named it; it is literally the Heart of Jesus, the living, human, created, fleshly Heart of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Heart that is beating this moment in the bosom of our Lord in Heaven: that Heart is what we adore, honor and invoke in this devotion. But we ask ourselves: how can we adore that Heart? That Heart as a material organ is human, It was made, It is a creature; how then can we adore It? Is not God alone to be adored? Again, honor, says St. Thomas, is offered to a person: honor cannot, strictly speaking, be received by things, it can be properly received only by persons In like manner, prayer is offered to a person, not to a mere thing; only a person can hear our prayers, not a mere thing. The Heart of Jesus as such is not a person. It is inseparably united to Him, but It is not His adorable Person. How, then, can we honor and adore and pray to It? This difficulty deserves an explanation, for it is just because of this difficulty, I fancy, that some well-meaning and pious Catholics complain of not being able to acquire a devotion to the Sacred Heart.

It is true that, properly speaking, honor is directly given to a person, for only a person is capable of accepting it. Still, we may and do frequently honor a thing on account of a person. Thus when Mary Magdalen approached the table of the Pharisee, and kneeling behind our Lord, washed His feet with her tears, anointed them with precious ointment, and dried them with her beautiful hair, it was to Him, to His person, that she was giving all these marks of contrition and love. In honoring the Heart of Jesus, we, in a similar manner, honor Him, His Person, and every outward mark of respect and love that we render It, we render to Himself, to His ever-adorable Person. The heart, detached from His person and with out any relation to Him, would be but a mere lump of flesh, a bundle of muscles and nerves, and therefore, deserving of no religious respect; but It can never be separated from Him, even in the tomb. It is hypostatically united to Him. It is, then, because the Heart is His Heart that It is entitled to honor.

Moreover, it is true that adoration is due to God alone. We can honor a human person, but we can adore none but a divine person. Still, what I have said of honor can also be said to a certain degree of adoration. I observed that, although honor can be directly given only to a person, it can also be rendered to a thing on account of a person. Similarly, although we can adore only what is divine, we can also adore a created thing united to a divine person. For just as honor, when offered to a thing, is referred to the person, so adoration, when offered to a created thing, is referred to the divine person to whom that created thing is personally united. Now, Jesus is not a human person, nor are there in Him two persons. He has but one personality, and that is divine, for He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, that is, of God. His body and soul are the body and soul of God, His hands and feet are the hands and feet of God, His Heart is the Heart of God. In honoring and worshipping His flesh and blood, we honor and worship the Person, namely, God; in adoring the hands and feet, we adore God; in adoring, loving and venerating the Heart, we adore, venerate and love the Person, namely, God. The divinity of Jesus Christ is the reason we adore His humanity. In praying to It, we are praying to Him, to His Person. You clearly see, I hope, how philosophically exact and reasonable all this is, and how well it harmonizes with Faith.

But we may ask ourselves again: Why honor in a special manner the Heart of Jesus? His sacred head crowned with thorns, His hands and feet pierced with nails, are as divine as the Heart which palpitates in His divine bosom. This is true; since Jesus is a divine person, everything which He has inseparably united to His divine person merits the most absolute adoration! His whole body and His soul are adorable, because they are the body and soul of God. Still, the Heart merits a special devotion, because, if not the organ of human love, it is, nevertheless, the symbol of all love. This, the second point of our instruction, merits a brief explanation.

In all languages, both human and divine, the heart is a symbol of love. Throughout the world when men speak of the heart, they use it as a figure of love. The reason of this seems to be that the heart is, as it were, the centre of feeling. Every emotional feeling makes an impression upon it. The heart leaps with sudden joy, it trembles with fear, it contracts with sadness, it dilates with happiness, it sends the blood thrilling along the veins in moments of satisfied ambition, it almost stops beating in terror. The brain transmits its sensations to the heart, and these sensations are as manifold as are our thoughts, for the soul, as long as united to the body, cannot think without using the brain as an organ. Some old philosophers went even so far as to say that, in the present life, the soul cannot love without using the heart as its organ. Hence, the Heart of Jesus was and is, if not the organ, at least the symbol - nay, more, the receptacle - of His human love, of that love with which He loved us on earth, died for us on the cross, and is loving us still here in the humble tabernacle of the altar. 

Moreover, it was the heart which was first formed by the Holy Ghost from the pure flesh of the Virgin Mary; it was the heart which first lived in the Infant Jesus, and sent forth into His tiny veins that Precious Blood which was afterwards poured out for us on the heights of Calvary; it was the heart that suffered most from the insults, irreverences and outrages of ungrateful men during the thirty-three years of His life; it was the heart that was sorrowful unto death during those long hours of the Passion when Jesus sweated blood from agony, when He was betrayed by Judas, when He was mocked and derided, when He was denied by Peter, when He met His Mother, when He gave John to Mary and Mary to John, when He cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," when He exclaimed in His distress, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" It was His heart that died last, and when It died, the ransom of our Redemption was paid.

The Heart of Jesus, therefore, deserves special veneration as having taken such a large share in the work of our Redemption, and as being the seat and centre of our Lord's human love and feelings. It is a fit symbol also of His eternal and divine love. The Heart of Jesus means, then, the divine and human love of Jesus. A look at the Heart of Jesus recalls His love and all that His love has done, and is doing for us; It brings to mind the blessings we have received from Him in having been created, redeemed, made a member of His mystical body, the Church, in being nourished with His flesh and blood, in being allowed to speak to Him heart to heart in the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist; It gives us a fuller knowledge of His science, for the love of His Heart is a wise and knowing love; It also reveals to us His humility, purity, meekness, compassion, goodness, mercy and patience, for all these moral qualities manifested themselves, thrilled, so to speak, in His human Heart.

To review briefly what we have learned - first, the material object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, namely, that which we honor, adore and love, is the living, fleshly, human Heart of Jesus; second, the causative or formal object of the devotion, namely, the reason why we pay It a special honor, adoration and love, is the love of Jesus, of which the Heart is the seat and symbol. It may be that all this has been a little dry and abstract, perhaps too deep. But I hope it will not prove altogether useless. Our piety should be solid and able to resist our ever-varying moods and fancies, and to effect this, we must build behind it a wall of substantial doctrine, as a strong support when sensible devotion deserts us, and temptation, perhaps, in the form of doubt assails us.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Simon Magus and Philip the Deacon

Reading N°8 in the History of the Catholic Church

Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

St. Stephen's persecutors triumphed. Being now rid of him whom they considered their most formidable opponent, they hoped easily to get the upper hand over the others by terrifying them. The procurator had let the murder of Stephen take place; and when it was over, he raised no protest. They felt, therefore, that they might go ahead. After Stephen's death, "there was raised a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all dispersed through the countries of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles."[1]

But these wretched designs were thwarted. An event took place which, with the regularity of a law, would be repeated in the course of the centuries: the violent dispersion of the Christians occasioned a more rapid diffusion of Christianity. Philip the deacon's evangelization of Samaria, and the conversion of Saul, the future Apostle of the Gentiles, were the first fruits of Stephen's martyrdom.

Map of Ancient Samaria
(click to enlarge)
The province of Samaria, located in the middle of Palestine between Galilee and Judea, was inhabited by a mixed population, made up of the remnants of the ancient kingdom of Israel (destroyed by Salmanasar in 721) and Assyrian colonists who were brought in by the conqueror.[2] These alien colonists in their new abode preserved the form of worship of their former country. Some time afterwards, the Samaritans, alarmed by a plague which they considered to be a vengeance of the god of the country whom the new inhabitants had disregarded, had recourse to one of the former Israelite priests transported to Assyria to teach them the worship of Yahweh. This priest made his residence at Bethel. But each of the ethnic groups, while adopting the worship of Yahweh, continued to worship the gods of its home land. Thus, Samaria had a multitude of cults, and each town had its own religion.[3] The religion of the country was, therefore, a corrupted Judaism mingled with paganism. When the Jews returned from captivity, their refusal to accept the help of the Samaritans in the rebuilding of the Temple accentuated the unfriendly feeling between Samaria and the other two provinces. It is probably to this period that we must refer the worship on Garizim, the rival of Jerusalem. From the Gospel we know that, in the time of Christ, a sharp hostility existed between the Jews and the Samaritans.[4] Yet Jesus spoke of them in terms of gentle mercy,[5] and before His Ascension into Heaven, He expressed His desire that the evangelization of Samaria should be undertaken after that of Jerusalem and Judea, but before that of the countries of the Gentiles.[6]

About the year 33, at the time of St. Stephen's martyrdom, the people of Samaria were greatly stirred by the proselytism of a man who, exploiting the religious unrest of a people ever prompt to welcome new envoys of the divinity, proclaimed himself to be a superhuman being.[7] His name was Simon. He was born in the village of Gitta, near Sichem,[8] and was reputed to be an extraordinary magician. If we accept the testimony of the Clementine Homilies,[9] Simon was brought up in Egypt, where he became familiar with those vague and pretentious theories toward which Alexandrian Judaism was tending and which were later formulated in the different Gnostic sects.

By the strangeness of his imaginings, the prestige of his sorcery, and the boldness of his declarations, this man exercised a kind of fascination over the masses. And the people said: "This man is the power of God, which is called great."[10] St. Jerome relates that Simon used to say to his listeners:
I am the word of God, I am Beauty, I am Consolation, I am the All-powerful, I am the All of God.[11]
Saint Philip
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
When Philip, the second of the seven deacons, left Jerusalem, he went to Sebaste[12] to preach the Gospel. In that district, refractory to the Jerusalem authorities, he was assured of escaping the persecution of the Jewish priests. The deacons, in consequence of their dispersion, were freed from the material cares of the community, which until then had constituted their chief duties, and now devoted themselves to the ministry of preaching. Our missioner soon found himself confronted by Simon the Magician.

We know very little about Philip. It would seem that he was born at Caesarea.[13] His four daughters assisted him in his ministry by instructing the neophytes. They also seem to have had an important part in the charitable works of that early period. Philip had received the gift of miracles in an unusual way. His name seems to indicate a Hellenist origin, which would have facilitated his relations with peoples who were alien to Judea. Philip cured so great a number of possessed persons, paralytics, cripples, and infirm of all sorts, that many Samaritans asked for Christian Baptism. Simon himself asked for and received this initiation into the faith of Christ.

The deacons were authorized to baptize, but not to give the Holy Ghost. This latter power was reserved to the Apostles. They soon learned of the success which God bestowed on Philip's preaching and thought the time had come for conferring on the new Christians the complement of the sacramental graces received by those who were initiated into the faith of Christ. Peter and John went into the midst of the young Christian group of Sebaste and imposed hands upon each member of the new community, conferring the Holy Ghost on them.

There is reason to suppose that the outpouring of spiritual graces which was ordinarily produced at Jerusalem upon the newly confirmed was repeated in Samaria with particular splendor. A holy enthusiasm seized upon those who had just received the grace of the Spirit. Words were powerless to express the holy joy that filled their hearts, the ecstasy that raised their souls toward mystical contemplation. The expression on their faces, the incomplete phrases that died on their lips, and their unfinished gestures, left no doubt as to the efficacy of the sacramental rite.[14] Those who were present could not resist the impression of a presence and a particular action of God in their midst.

St. Peter's Confrontation with Simon Magus
Avanzino Nucci (1552-1629)
Simon was a witness to these moving scenes. The wretch, whose conversion may not have been free from ulterior motives, then experienced in his heart the worst temptation of his life. He yielded to it, boldly came to St. Peter, offered him money, and said: "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I shall lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost." The first of the popes now found himself face to face with the first heresiarch. The Acts of the Apostles records his admirable reply:
Keep thy money to perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.[15]
The magician bowed and pretended to be sorry. Soon, however, we see him going about the world, unrepentant and rebellious, followed by a wretched woman, Helena, whom he called "the Eternal Thought," whom he pretended to "deliver," and whom he made a partner in his works of sorcery. Later on an entire theologico-philosophical system was attributed to him. Probably this is merely a synthesis, made by his disciples, of the ideas he spread, and perhaps intended simply to cover the immorality of his conduct.

According to this system, Simon held that the principle of all things is a spiritual, eternal and invisible fire. From this first principle emanated lower spirits, in a gradation more and more material - the eons. It was their function to create and preserve the world. These spirits keep in captivity the eternal Thought of God, whose work they are. Who will deliver this divine Ennoia? Simon, the Standing One, the Word, the great Power of God; and his whole mission will be to labor for this deliverance.[16] If these be really Simon's ideas, all the fancies of Gnosticism had their germs in the head of this innovator.

This wicked man, who, almost immediately after the Savior's death, thus withstood the Church, was crafty and violent, intelligent and depraved, attacking both discipline and faith. He left a deep and sad memory in the first generations of Christians, who attributed to him a mass of crimes and adventures, wonderful and sinister.[17] His name survives in the language of the Church; she gives the name "simony" to the crime of trafficking ill spiritual things.

The evangelization of Samaria was a great step in the spread of Christianity. The Church had passed the confines of the Jewish world and was soon to receive a pagan into its ranks. The honor of this conversion belongs also to the deacon Philip.

The man who was the subject of this new conquest belonged to that category of foreigners who, though not being circumcised nor binding themselves to the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, felt the profound influence of Jewish monotheism. They were usually called proselytes or "men fearing God." They were free from the superstitions of idolatry and from belief in the abstract divinity of the philosophers, and were accustomed to adore the true, personal, living God in the Temple at Jerusalem. This man was an officer of the queen of Ethiopia. He was returning home from a pilgrimage to the Holy City, driving in his chariot along the road which skirts the Mediterranean coast. Philip, impelled by the Spirit of God, approached him and heard him reading the prophet Isaias. He said to the eunuch: "Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?" To this the eunuch answered: "How can I unless some man show me?" Philip then sat beside him in the chariot and, interpreting the text of Isaias, announced Jesus Christ to him. As they went on their way, they came to a body of water.
The eunuch said: "See, here is water; what doth hinder me from being baptized?" And Philip said: "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest." And he, answering, said: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
Philip then went clown into the water with him and baptized him.[18]

The Baptism of the Eunuch
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

In this scene, so vividly reported in the Acts of the Apostles, we perceive the method followed for the initiation of men of good will into the Church. An inner grace and good example impelled them to pray and to read the Scriptures; but there must be a minister of God to interpret the divine words for them, to instruct them, and, after being assured of their sufficient instruction and of their faith, to baptize them.

Did the newly baptized eunuch bring about any conversions in Ethiopia? We have no evidence on this subject. We only know that Philip preached Jesus, while going from Azotus to Caesarea, in the almost pagan cities of the ancient country of the Philistines. But he seems to have turned only to men of the Jewish race or to strangers who, like the officer of Candace, adored the God of Israel: these latter were known as "proselytes of the gate."


[1] Acts 8:1.
[2] Cf. 4 Kings 17:5; 18:9; 1 Esedras 4:10.
[3] Cf. 4 Kings 17: 21-41; Vigouroux, La Bible et les découvertes modernes, III, 575-586.
[4] John 4:9; 8:48.
[5] John 4; Luke 10.
[6] Acts 1:8.
[7] Acts 8:9.
[8] St. Justin, Apol., I, 26.
[9] Homilies, II, 22.
[10] Acts 8:10.
[11] St. Jerome, In Matth., 24:5.
[12] This was the ancient Samaria, capital of the province of that name. The name Sebaste, or Augusta, was given to it in memory of Augustus, who had bestowed it on Herod.
[13] From the Acts of the Apostles (21: 8 f.) we know that later he dwelt at Caesarea with his four daughters.
[14] Referring to these facts, a Protestant author writes: "Therein we see the sacramental and magical idea that has ever since predominated in the Catholic Church." (Monnier, Notion de l'apostolat, p. 170.) In those events we see rather the notion of sacramental efficacy, ex opere operato, which thus is traceable to the earliest beginnings of Christianity.
[15] Acts 8:20.
[16] This system is developed in The Great Announcement, curious fragments of which are preserved in the Philosophumena, IV, vii; VI, vi ff.; X, viii.
[17] Fanciful details about Simon Magus are to be found in the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions and in the Clementine Homilies. More trustworthy information is contained in Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, IV, xxii; in St. Justin, First Apology, 31 and 56; Dialogue with Trypho, 70; St. Irenaeus, Adv. haereses, I, 22 f.; Tertullian, De anima, 34; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, II; VII, 17; and the Philosophumena, VI, 7-20.
[18] Acts 8:26-40.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We're All Thessalonians Now

Last week, I came across an article over at The Remnant entitled "Global Catastrophe Rising: So now what do we do?" by the always delightful Hilary White. If you're not familiar with her impressive body of work, you should be. She's LifeSite's Rome Correspondent, so chances are good that you've been reading her writing for some time now. Besides that, anyone who has been lambasted as a "radical Catholic reactionary" by Dave Armstrong is worth keeping tabs on, in my opinion. And the fact that she once consigned a copy of Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way to the flames of a Norcian bonfire makes my inner medievalist smile rather impishly.

Those of you who follow me on Google+ might recall that I linked to this article when it first appeared, and I've been meaning to comment on it ever since. I've kept an eye on the comments section, and, except for one or two dismissive remarks calling the article "sensationalism," an "exercise in futility," and even "hysterical," the contributions demonstrate that people are taking the matter quite seriously, and are appreciative of Ms. White's refreshingly open and unapologetic inquiry. I warmly recommend the article to you, gentle reader, as it's a good opportunity to sit down and take stock of your options. (ProTip: Wikkimissa)

Obviously, I don't have the answers to the questions posed in the article. Besides, I don't think having an answer for all of them is either necessary or even possible at this time. We're talking about what the Germans would call a Super-GAU situation [English: Maximum Credible Accident (MCA), which is not nearly as much fun to say out loud], the planning for which is often little more than an exercise in creating the illusion of preparedness. Nonetheless, I would like to contribute something to the discussion. Consider it appropriate reading material for your private deliberations.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, the reading selection is from Sacred Scripture. Before you click away in a fit of TL;DR, please note that what I'm about to present is a little different from what you're likely used to reading. It's from the 1635 edition of the Douay-Rheims Bible - the Catholic English-language Bible of the Counter-Reformation - before Bishop Challoner's 18th century revision. (Have you met my inner medievalist yet? I've told him that, historically speaking, 1635 is far too late to be considered medieval, but he doesn't seem to care. Did I mention he's impish? I allow him to call it very late medieval, and in return he allows me to update the archaic spelling.) I'm presenting it as the letter it is, written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Thessaloniki, and I ask you to keep in mind the challenges we face today while you read it. I think that, once you've finished, you'll be able to understand why this particular epistle is so pertinent to our own situation: We're all Thessalonians now.

Ruins of the Roman Agora at Thessaloniki


The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

We ought to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, as is meet, because your faith increaseth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you aboundeth towards each other, so that we ourselves also glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations which you sustain for an example of the just judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also you suffer. If yet it be just with God to repay tribulation to them that vex you, and to you that are vexed, rest with us in the revelation of our Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power, in flame of fire, giving revenge to them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall suffer eternal pains in destruction from the face of our Lord and from the glory of his power when He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be made marvelous in all them that have believed, because our testimony concerning you was credited in that day. Wherein also we pray always for you, that our God make you worthy of His vocation, and accomplish all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith in power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And we desire you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our congregation into him, that you be not easily moved from your sense, nor be terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle as sent by us, as though the day of our Lord were at hand. Let no man seduce you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who is an adversary and is extolled above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as though he were God. Remember you not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now what letteth you know, that he may be revealed in his time. For now the mystery of iniquity worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom our Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of His advent, him whose coming is according to the operation of Satan, in all power and lying signs and wonders, and in all seducing of iniquity to them that perish, for that they have not received the charity of the truth that they might be saved. Therefore God will send them the operation of error, to believe lying, that all may be judged which have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.

But we ought to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of God, that He hath chosen you first-fruits unto salvation, in sanctification of spirit and faith of the truth into which also He hath called you by our Gospel, unto the purchasing of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether it be by word or by our epistle. And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who hath loved us and hath given eternal consolation and good hope in grace, exhort your hearts and confirm you in every good work and word.

For the rest, brethren, pray for us, that the word of God may have course and be glorified as also with you, and that we may be delivered from importunate and naughty men; for all men have not faith. But our Lord is faithful, who will confirm and keep you from evil. And we have confidence of you in our Lord that the things which we command you both do and will do. And our Lord direct your hearts in the charity of God and the patience of Christ.

And we denounce unto you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking inordinately and not according to the tradition which they have received of us. For yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, for we have not been unquiet among you; neither have we eaten bread of any man gratis, but in labour and in toil, night and day working, lest we should burden any of you. Not as though we had not authority, but that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you for to imitate us. For also when we were with you, this we denounced to you: that if any will not work, neither let him eat. For we have heard of certain among you that walk unquietly, working nothing, but curiously meddling. And to them that be such we denounce and beseech them in our Lord Jesus Christ that, working with silence, they eat their own bread.

But you, brethren, faint not in well-doing. And if any obey not our word, note him by an epistle, and do not take company with him that he may be confounded. And do not esteem him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

And the Lord of peace Himself give you everlasting peace in every place. Our Lord be with you all.

The salutation, with mine own hand: Paul, which is a sign in every epistle, so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On the Great Void

Eugenio Scalfari
A week ago today, Italian journalist and avowed atheist Eugenio Scalfari published an article containing notes from a new interview with Pope Francis. Although the article provoked some reactions in the Italian press, the rest of the world has been somewhat slow to register the publication and what it contains: Giuseppe Nardi reported on Scalfari's article on the 18th, and The Remnant blog picked up the story yesterday.

This uncharacteristic sluggishness in reporting is not very surprising, as Scalfari's already dubious reputation among Catholics was irreparably damaged after the publication of similar notes from an interview last Summer which proved to be based, not on the actual words of the Pope, but on the 90 year-old's memory of the meeting. As Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi explained shortly after their appearance in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: "Individual expressions that were used and the manner in which they have been reported cannot be attributed to the Pope." It seems that this démenti was enough to brand-mark Scalfari as an unreliable source in the minds of the Catholic faithful and avert the brewing scandal.

In a move which surprised those following the story, however, the Vatican decided to publish the Scalfari interviews, both in L'Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Holy See, and on the Vatican's website, giving them the appearance of being a part of Pope Francis' personal magisterium. This impression was confirmed when the Vatican publishing house Libreria Editrice Vaticana published them as part of a collection of "officially recognized" interviews. Scalfari's text - in all its mind-numbing, populist, social justice glory ('Youth unemployment is among the worst evils plaguing the world') - was not redacted before re-publication, indicating that the Vatican saw no need to separate Scalfari's apparently faulty attribution from Pope Francis' actual words. Thus, if Pope Francis doesn't endorse Scalfari's account of the interviews, he has a funny way of showing it.

This brings us to the new interview. As The Remnant reported yesterday, Scalfari relates the following exchange as having taken place between himself and Pope Francis while discussing the fate of souls who die unreconciled with God:
What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear: there is no punishment, but the destruction [annihilation] of that soul. All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are destroyed will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished. And this is the motivation of the Church’s missionary activity: to save the lost. And it is also the reason why Francis is a Jesuit to the end.
In other words, according to Scalfari, the Pope is saying that souls who die in a state of unrepentant mortal sin are simply destroyed, annihilated, snuffed out when they die. And it's the most blatantly heretical thing this writer can recall ever being attributed to Pope Francis outside of sedevacantist circles.

When I first encountered the story last week, I admit that I didn't give it much credence. Call me naive, but I simply could not imagine the Pope saying something so obviously heretical out loud. Surely, I thought, this has to be an expression of the secret desire of the atheist Scalfari, i.e. that he will simply enter the Great Void upon death, and not be called to give an account of his deeds before the throne of Almighty God and sentenced to his just reward for all eternity. Besides, it is simply not possible for a Pope - particularly a man who was a professor of theology at the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel in Argentina - to not know official Church teaching on the perpetual suffering of those souls condemned to hell. It's a de fide dogma, taught explicitly in Sacred Scripture and defined at Lateran IV. As such, it must be held with divine and catholic faith. To deny it is heresy.

But the real reason I have difficulty with the statement is because it runs contrary to Pope Francis' modus operandi: obfuscation. This matter cannot be circumvented by fuzzy logic arguments based upon the erroneous assumptions of a faulty pastoral philosophy. There's no wiggle-room here, no liberty to conscientious objection or open theological discussion. This is not an object of free judgment, for the Magisterium has spoken clearly and consistently on this point: those who die in a state of unrepentant mortal sin suffer eternal torment in hell with the devil and his fallen angels. While he appears rather fond of deploying phrases designed to offend pious ears as a means to shock his listeners, it would be highly uncharacteristic of Pope Francis to say something so plainly without providing himself a way out, an escape hatch, some kind of cover so that he could retreat if called out on the heresy. Doctrinal ambiguity is the air his magisterium breathes; it's not in his nature to flatly contradict defined dogma.

With that being said, I'd like to see this matter pursued. Will Fr. Lombardi issue a statement of clarification? Will Pope Francis claim this interview as part of his personal magisterium? Will anyone - cardinal, bishop or priest - denounce this heresy for what it is, regardless of whether Pope Francis said it or not?

In any event, this episode should make us pause to consider a more important matter: At what point would faithful Catholics decide that a Pope has gone too far? What would it take? Would he have to renounce the mission of the Church? Would he have to malign Our Lady? Would he have to condone sacrilegious reception of the Sacraments? Would he have to deny the Holy Trinity? Would that be enough?

Apparently not, because, in one way or another, Pope Francis has already done all of those things - though with his trademark obfuscation and just enough cover to satisfy those who don't mind performing mental acrobatics to keep his statements within the ever-blurring bounds of orthodoxy. So, what would it take? I like to believe that there must be some line upon the crossing of which the Catholic faithful would rise up and, with one voice, demand the removal of the Bishop of Rome. It's not like it hasn't happened before. I suggest we identify that line very soon, because the people who elected Pope Francis are bullies, and like all bullies, they will not stop until they meet unflinching and unfailing resistance. Otherwise, we might well find that it is we who have been launched into the Great Void.

Laxity and Scruples

Fourth in a Series on Catholic Morals

Fr. John H. Stapleton

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569)

In every question of conscience, there are two opposing factors: liberty, which is agreeable to our nature, which allows us to do as we list; and law, which binds us unto the observance of what is unpleasant. Liberty and law are mutually antagonistic. A concession in favor of one is an infringement upon the claims of the other.

Conscience, in its normal state, gives to liberty and to law what to each is legitimately due, no more, no less.

Truth lies between extremes. At the two opposite poles of conscientious rectitude are laxity and scruples, one judging all things lawful, the other all things forbidden. One inordinately favors liberty, the other the law. And neither has sufficient grounds on which to form a sound judgment.

They are counterfeit consciences, the one dishonest, the other unreasonable. They do unlawful business; and because the verdict they render is founded on nothing more solid than imaginations, they are in nowise standards of morality, and should not be considered as such.

The first is sometimes known as a "rubber" conscience, on account of its capacity for stretching itself to meet the exigencies of a like or a dislike.

Laxity may be the effect of a simple illusion. Men often do wrong unawares. They excuse themselves with the plea: "I did not know any better." But we are not here examining the acts that can be traced back to self-illusion; rather the state of persons who labor under the disability of seeing wrong anywhere, and who walk through the commandments of God and the Church with apparent unconcern. What must we think of such people in face of the fact that they not only could, but should know better! They are supposed to know their catechism. Are there not Catholic books and publications of various sorts? What about the Sunday instructions and sermons? These are the means and opportunities, and they facilitate the fulfillment of what is in us a bounden duty to nourish our souls before they die of spiritual hunger.

A delicate, effeminate life, spiritual sloth, and criminal neglect are responsible for this kind of laxity.

This state of soul is also the inevitable consequence of long years passed in sin and neglect of prayer. Habit blunts the keen edge of perception. Evil is disquieting to a novice; but it does not look so bad after you have done it a while and get used to it. Crimes thus become ordinary sins, and ordinary sins peccadilloes.

Then again, there are people who, like the Pharisees of old, strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They educate themselves up to a strict observance of all things insignificant. They would not forget to say grace before and after meals, but would knife the neighbor's character or soil their minds with all filthiness, without a scruple or a shadow of remorse.

These are they who walk in the broad way that leadeth to destruction. In the first place, their conscience - or the thing that does duty for a conscience - is false and they are responsible for it. Then, this sort of a conscience is not habitually certain, and laxity consists precisely in contemning doubts and passing over lurking, lingering suspicions as not worthy of notice. Lastly, it has not the quality of common prudence since the judgment it pronounces is not supported by plausible reasons. Its character is dishonesty.

A scruple is a little sharp stone formerly used as a measure of weight. Pharmacists always have scruples. There is nothing so torturing as to walk with one or several of these pebbles in the shoe. Spiritual scruples serve the same purpose for the conscience. They torture and torment; they make devotion and prayer impossible, and blind the conscience; they weaken the mind, exhaust the bodily forces, and cause a disease that not infrequently comes to a climax in despair or insanity.

A scrupulous conscience is not to be followed as a standard of right and wrong, because it is unreasonable. In its final analysis, it is not certain, but doubtful and improbable, and is influenced by the most futile reasons. It is lawful, it is even necessary, to refuse assent to the dictates of such a conscience. To persons thus afflicted, the authoritative need of a prudent adviser must serve as a rule until the conscience is cured of its morbid and erratic tendencies.

It is not scruples to walk in the fear of God, and avoid sin and the occasions thereof: that is wisdom; nor to frequent the sacraments and be assiduous in prayer through a deep concern for the welfare of one's soul: that is piety.

It is not scruples to be at a loss to decide whether a thing is wrong or right; that is doubt; nor to suffer keenly after the commission of a grievous sin; that is remorse.

It is not scruples to be greatly anxious and disturbed over past confessions when there is a reasonable cause for it: that is natural.

A scrupulous person is one who, outside these several contingencies, is continually racked with fears, and persists, against all evidence, in seeing sin where there is none, or magnifies it beyond all proportion where it really is.

The first feature - empty and perpetual fears - concerns confessions which are sufficient, according to all the rules of prudence; prayers, which are said with overwrought anxiety, lest a single distraction creep in and mar them; and temptations, which are resisted with inordinate contention of mind, and perplexity lest consent be given.

The other and more desperate feature is pertinacity of judgment. The scrupulous person will ask advice and not believe a word he is told. The more information he gets, the worse he becomes, and he adds to his misery by consulting every adviser in sight. He refuses to be put under obedience and seems to have a morbid affection for his very condition.

There is only one remedy for this evil, and that remedy is absolute and blind obedience to a prudent director. Choose one, consult him as often as you desire, but do not leave him for another. Then submit punctiliously to his direction. His conscience must be yours, for the time being. And if you should err in following him, God will hold him, and not you, responsible.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Two Popular Devotions

Second Conference on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer

In our last conference, we learned the meaning of devotion; we saw that devotion is truth in bloom, and that consequently it depends upon a clear understanding and a vivid realization of religious truth. Before concluding, we said that popular devotions are a special outpouring of divine grace, and are designed to meet some great evil or some special exigency of the times, and that there are in our age two such popular devotions, the devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart; the first a preparative and a safeguard to the second. Now we will try to learn how these two devotions meet the wants of the times and thus answer the designs of God.

What are the wants of the times? Truth and Love! Because the evils of the times are what we call naturalism and concupiscence. Naturalism is the evil affecting the mind of the age, concupiscence is the evil affecting the heart; Christian faith is the remedy for the evil of the mind, Christian love the remedy for the evil of the heart; and just as naturalism engenders and strengthens concupiscence, so faith engenders and strengthens love. Now, devotion to the Immaculate Conception enlightens, animates, and strengthens faith; while devotion to the Sacred Heart inspires and fortifies love, and just as faith prepares the way for love, so the Immaculate Conception prepares the way for the Sacred Heart. Here you have a summary of what I wish to explain at present.

I say the radical evils of our age are naturalism and concupiscence, or if you prefer the word, sensuality. First, naturalism. By naturalism is meant a denial of the supernatural. Men nowadays believe only in the world around them; they believe only in what they can see and hear and feel, and perceive with their five senses, or what they can grasp with their intellect; they refuse to believe in a Divine Providence, in grace, in spiritual agencies, in prayer, or if they do theoretically assent to these truths, they permit them to have no practical influence upon their lives, and are more or less indifferentists in matters of religion. Again, they deny the supernatural end of man; or if they have a belief at all in a future world, they picture it to themselves a natural world like the present, only more perfect in degree. In one word, all that which is above and beyond visible nature, they deny, doubt or practically ignore.

What is the consequence of this naturalism, this evil in the minds of men? They give themselves over to nature, they enjoy this world, they live for it and become wholly sensual. I need scarcely enlarge on this statement. Who does not know that sensuality, or to speak more plainly, impurity, is already the social evil of our day, especially in our country?

The world is flooded with a literature imbued with its venom, and literature mirrors the spirit of the age. We may safely say that of every one hundred in mortal sin, ninety, if not ninety-nine, are in that state because of impurity. But leaving aside this gross kind of sensuality, was there ever during the Christian era such a love of bodily ease, of comfort? Was there ever a stronger, a more universal thirst for riches, for pleasure and honor? Is not a thing most valued only in as much as it can contribute to ease and pleasure, and serve as a means to acquire gold, or as a stepping-stone to a higher position in life? Do you often hear it asked, how, for instance, such and such a discovery or invention will facilitate the saving of souls, or advance the interests of religion? And is it not humiliating to have to confess that even in persons called religious there is frequently so much worldly calculation when there is question of saving souls, or in general of advancing the interests of God? These two then, naturalism and sensualism, are the radical evils of the age; the remedies for these two evils are found in the devotions to the Immaculate Conception and the Sacred Heart, and the first devotion leads to the second, as naturalism leads to sensuality. Let us try to see in what manner all this is done.

We cannot honor the Immaculate Conception without believing in it. What is meant by believing in the Immaculate Conception? We believe that Mary alone of all the children of Adam was conceived without sin; in other words, we believe that all the rest of mankind were born, or at least conceived deprived of that supernatural grace which Adam and Eve had at their creation, and that she alone was conceived with grace, and indeed, from the first moment of her existence, had all that fullness of grace which Adam and Eve possessed before they fell. By professing a belief in this doctrine, what do we affirm? We affirm at once the existence of the supernatural, we affirm that man was originally created for a supernatural end, and endowed with supernatural grace, we affirm man's fall and the necessity of man's redemption, we affirm a Divine Providence, a Redeemer, an Eternity; finally, we affirm that man must live a supernatural life in order to reach his supernatural end. All this, naturalism denies or ignores. Consequently, faith in the Immaculate Conception is diametrically opposed to the intellectual error of our age, and therefore, devotion to the Immaculate Conception is, from its very nature, apt to destroy or weaken this error, or at least to strengthen and shield men's minds against it.

Moreover, mark that we can scarcely think of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin without thinking at the same time of her divine maternity, for the one is the reason of the other; Mary was immaculately conceived because she was to be Mother of God. The Immaculate Conception, therefore, leads us to Jesus; devotion to it begets devotion to Him; in thanking Him for His bounty to her and to us, we cannot but think of His love, His Heart! Now it is precisely devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that is the remedy for sensualism, the second great evil of our day. This is evident almost at first thought.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart is in every sense a devotion of love. The object of the devotion is love, for the heart is the symbol of love, and we pay special honor and adoration to the Heart of Jesus because it recalls and symbolizes His divine and human love. The aim of the devotion is to repair the injuries done to His love and to repay love with love. The effect of the devotion is to enkindle love. The Pope himself in the decree of Blessed Margaret Mary's beatification, declares it in these words:
Jesus Christ wished that the veneration and worship of His Sacred Heart should be established and promoted in His Church, in order that He might the more enkindle the fire of Charity.
Our Lord Himself, in revealing His Sacred Heart to Blessed Margaret Mary, said:
The great desire I have to be perfectly loved by man, has made Me foresee the design of disclosing to them My Heart, and of giving them in these latter times this last effort of My love, by proposing to them an object and a means so calculated to engage them to love Me, and to love Me solidly.
But can divine love be associated with illicit love? Can the love of our Lord be in the heart side by side with the love of the world? Does not the love of God drive out the love of triple concupiscence? Is it not true that, when God takes possession of a heart, all that is not God's becomes worthless to it? Therefore, just as the devotion to the Immaculate Conception is a specific remedy for the first evil of our age, naturalism, so the sister devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a remedy for the second consequent evil, viz., sensualism.

Verily, we have reason to exclaim: digitus Dei est hic, "the finger of God is visible here!" Plainly it is the work of the Almighty God which wills the cultivation of these devotions, especially that of the Sacred Heart. For the heart is most of all affected and diseased; if the heart of man is good, his mind will soon be healthy too. We will endeavor to enter into the designs of God; we will cultivate, practice and promote devotion to His Heart. That we may do so the better, we will study It; we will study Its love that we may learn how to love; we will study Its patience that we may learn how to suffer; we will study Its meekness and humility that we may learn how to find peace for our souls.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Early Church and Civil Government

Reading N°7 in the History of the Catholic Church

Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Though separated from the Jewish and the pagan world by their hierarchy, beliefs and rites, the disciples of Christ had no wish to adopt an attitude of rebellion or sullenness in the society in which they lived. St. Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, writes: "They, are Hebrews; so am I. They are Israelites; so am I."[1] And when the tribune of Rome asked him, "Art thou a Roman?" he proudly answered: "Yea."[2] "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's,"[3] Christ had said; the Apostle adds: "Let every soul be subject to higher powers; for there is no power but from God."[4]

The temporal powers with which the infant Church came in contact were the leaders of the Jewish nation and the Roman emperors. Forty years before the Christian era, the title king of Judea became the prerogative of the family of the Herods, who, thanks to the backing of the Romans, supplanted the Machabees. The scepter was gone forth from Juda; a stranger reigned in the promised land. No doubt the policy of the Herods tended to constitute an independent realm, its unity assured by Judaism; but, to accomplish this purpose, they needed the protection of Rome; hence their equivocal attitude. The summary appointment and removal of high priests, which they subordinated to the varying needs of their political calculations, lowered the standing of the priesthood, and their deference to the Roman authorities favored the introduction of pagan customs into Palestine.[5]

The early Christians took a clear and frank attitude toward the government and the laws; they celebrated the national feasts and holidays,[6] taking part in the Temple worship and the synagogue devotions,[7] and carefully avoiding every legal defilement.[8] They obeyed all the laws, whether fiscal or otherwise, and, save for disputes arising among themselves -which they reserved to the judgment of their community - they carried their cases to the regular civil tribunals. This strict loyalty won the people's esteem and admiration.[9]

Rome's protectorate in Palestine was not clearly defined. It was represented at Jerusalem by a procurator, who reserved to himself the ius gladii,or the judgment of important matters. But he rarely exercised this supreme right, and often, like Pilate, followed the policy of non-intervention, being disinclined to place his power at the service of the local parties and priestly grudges. 

The Christians' attitude toward the imperial laws and authorities was as loyal as it was toward the Jewish authorities. They paid the taxes levied for the Roman metropolis; they obeyed their masters, if they were slaves;[10] if they were Roman citizens, they did not hesitate to exercise their right to appeal their case to the tribunal of Rome.[11]

But the authorities, Jewish as well as Roman, soon manifested their hostility against the Christians. The Romans, according to their custom, showed themselves more cautious on Palestinian territory; but the ill-restrained hatred of the priestly caste, who had put Jesus to death, quickly burst forth against His disciples.

Caiphas and Annas
The Sadducean family of the high priest, which brought about the condemnation of Christ, was still in power. Up to the year 36, the office of high priest really belonged to Caiphas, who left its exercise to his brother-in-law Annas and his relatives Alexander and John.[12] These ambitious and heartless schemers were ill-pleased to see the continued growth of a community invoking the name of one whom they had crucified. The very fact that the disciples of Jesus had won the favor of the populace made the Christians even more suspect in the eyes of the authorities. While it is true that many, at sight of the Christian practice of charity, said: "See how they love one another," others (as the Acts of the Apostles insinuates) were seized with a sort of terror at seeing the miracles which they performed.[13] The disciples of Christ did indeed frequent the synagogues and go up to the Temple; but they also held meetings of their own in private houses, and there created centers of religious activity independent of the sacerdotal authority. Thus especially reasoned the Sadducees, who cherished the most persistent hatred for Christ and who were exasperated by the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh. A number of Herodians and Pharisees were won over by the same bitterness and apprehension. The arrest of the Apostles, the stoning of St. Stephen, the beheading of St. James and the imprisonment of St. Peter were the sequels of this sinister coalition.

The Acts thus relates the arrest of the Apostles: 
The high priest rising up, and all they that were with him (which is the heresy of the Sadducees) were filled with envy. And they laid hands on the Apostles and put them in the common prison. But an angel of the Lord by night opening the doors of the prison, and leading them out, said: "Go, and standing speak in the Temple to the people all the words of this life." Who having heard this, early in the morning entered into the Temple, and taught. And the high priest coming, and they that were with him, called together the council and all the ancients of the children of Israel; and they sent to the prison to have them brought. [...] But one came and told them: "Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the Temple, standing and teaching the people." Then went the officer with the ministers, and brought them without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. [...] And the high priest asked them, saying: "Commanding, we commanded you, that you should not teach in this name; and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine. And you have a mind to bring the blood of this man upon us." But Peter and the Apostles answering, said: '"We ought to obey God rather than men." [...] When they had heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they thought to put them to death. But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. [...] And he said to them: "Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do as touching these men. [...] For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God." And they consented to him. And calling in the Apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus; and they dismissed them. And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. And every day they ceased not in the Temple and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.[14]
These events took place toward the end of the year 32. "The Sanhedrin evidently assumed the right to condemn the accused to be flogged; it seems that they wished to bring a capital charge against the Apostles. Subsequently, St. Stephen was put to death without any protest from the Roman authorities, and Saul was sent on a mission with letters patent from the Sanhedrin. All these facts show that Tiberius, already ill and completely addicted to the shameful passions of a lustful old man and hateful tyrant, had permitted the prevalence at a distance of a more liberal policy with regard to the provinces subject to the Empire. Pilate was still at Jerusalem; but he was preoccupied with the agitation that was beginning to brew in Samaria, a disturbance that he soon after stifled in blood by horrible massacres."[15]

Profiting by this political tranquility, the religious activity of the Christian community took on a new enthusiasm. The twelve Apostles, overburdened by the works of charity which the growing number of the faithful rendered more and more absorbing, "calling together the multitude of the disciples," asked them to designate assistants "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," who would be able to act in their place. The entire assembly accepted this proposal. Seven helpers were chosen, at their head Stephen, "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost."[16] This was the institution of a new order of ministers, the diaconate.

If the passage where the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the institution of the diaconate is compared with other passages of the holy books where it is mentioned, notably the Epistles of St. Paul, it would seem that there is question, not of a transitory ministry established by a purely human will, but of a higher institution possessing a definitive character and prompted by the Holy Ghost. The great importance which the Apostles attached to the choice of the first seven deacons, their evident concern to indicate the conditions to be fulfilled by those chosen, the solemnity with which they surrounded the new institution, the enumeration of the rare qualities which St. Paul required of deacons, and the close association between them and the bishops, is to be explained only by this lofty idea of the diaconate. Even from a purely historical point of view, everything leads us to believe that the Apostles, by imposing hands on the newly chosen, were conferring on them a sacramental grace that would aid them to fulfill their important duties worthily.[17]

Scripture mentions three of these duties: the "serving of tables,"[18] that is, the daily distribution to the poor, especially the widows, of food supplied by the resources of the rich, the administration of Baptism,[19] and preaching.[20]

Scenes from the Life of St. Stephen
Chapel of Nicholas V, Rome
In this last duty, no one acquitted himself more brilliantly and zealously than the deacon Stephen. His ministry was exercised particularly among the Hellenist Jews, to whom the Apostles probably had less ready access. The power of his word[21] and the gift of miracles which accompanied it,[22] brought him great success with the populace, who gathered about him. His enemies began to dispute with him, but "they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit that spoke" through him.[23]
Then they suborned men to say they had heard him speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God. And they stirred up the people and the ancients and the scribes; and running together, they took him and brought him to the council. And they set up false witnesses, who said: "This man ceaseth not to speak words against the holy place and the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the traditions which Moses delivered unto us." And all that sat in the council, looking on him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel. Then the high priest said: "Are these things so?" [...] Stephen said: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it." Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." And they, crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord.[24]
Thus died the first Christian martyr. Like his Master, with his last breath he delivered his soul into the hands of the heavenly Father and prayed for his executioners.

The Stoning of St. Stephen
Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669)


[1] Cf. 2 Cor. 11:22.
[2] Acts 22:25-28.
[3] Matt. 22:21.
[4] Rom. 13:1.
[5] On the political organization of Palestine at this period, see Beurlier, Le Monde juif à l'époque de Jésus-Christ, and Mommsen, History of Rome, IV, I58.
[6] Acts 2:1; 18:18; 20:6; Rom. 14:5.
[7] Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42; 10:9.
[8] Acts 10:14.
[9] Acts 5:13.
[10] Cf. 1 Cor. 7:21.
[11] Acts 22:25-28; 25:11 f.
[12] Acts 4:6.
[13] Acts 2:43.
[14] Acts 5:17-42.
[15] Le Camus, L'Œuvre des apôtres, I, 97.
[16] Acts 6:1-6.
[17] The Council of Trent (Sess. 23, canon 6) declares that the diaconate is of divine institution: Si quis dixerit in Ecclesia catholica non esse hierarchiam divina ordinatione institutam, quae constat in episcopis, presbyteris, et ministris, anathema sit.
[18] Acts 6:2.
[19] Acts 8:38.
[20] Acts 7:2-53.
[21] Acts 6:10.
[22] Acts 6:8.
[23] Acts 6:10.
[24] Acts 6:11-7:59.


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