Friday, July 31, 2015

The Institution and Purpose of Marriage

First in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood

 Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard

One of the most remarkable phenomena of the social life of the 20th century is the movement among womankind for a readjustment of the relations between man and woman. The movement affects all spheres of life. It makes the most noise in the sphere of politics. But as the affairs of the State have their root in the affairs of the family, it is to the family that we must look for the cause of the disturbance.

There would seem to be something wrong with many of the current ideas concerning the relationship between husband and wife. The fact indeed is that in many quarters the Catholic ideal of the great Sacrament of matrimony has become obscured. The protective love of the husband toward the wife has been changed into a tyrannical overlordship. The loving acquiescence in that protection on the part of the wife has been construed into a servile obedience. The outrage on both nature and grace has rendered the mutual Life irksome beyond endurance, and consequently ideas have become prevalent which tell both against the sanctity of the marriage state, and against the indissolubility of its bond. Let us see then what the Church has to say about this wondrous mystery.

The very institution of marriage has its reason in the weakness and insufficiency of man. God, although supremely happy in the company of His own blessed Trinity, had willed to exercise His love outside Himself. He had willed to produce a created world in which there should be one class of creatures bearing His own likeness.

After separating the night from the day, and the land from the water, after making the fishes of the sea, the fowl of the air, and the cattle of the earth, He made man to rule over the earth. He made man a reasonable being, capable of giving a reasonable service. But even with all the delights of that paradise of pleasure, with all his unimpaired intelligence and power of ordaining things for God's glory, man by himself was not enough for God's purpose. There were parts in God's great design which man by himself could not accomplish. He was wanting in both physical, mental, and moral complements. So God said: " It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." So God cast Adam into a deep sleep, took a rib from his side from which He built a woman. And when God brought the woman to the man, then did Adam say:
This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.
Having been thus made for each other and united to each other, they then received the message of God as to the end for which all these things had been arranged.
Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.
The formation of Adam and Eve and their union in the matrimonial bond had, however, a very much wider significance than the mere multiplication of human beings and the replenishment of the earth. God, when He created them, had also in His mind His own Incarnation and His Church. The institution of matrimony was to be a kind of prophecy of His Incarnation and a figure of His Church. As Adam was made weak so that Eve might be given to him to be his strength, so the Son of God became weak, emptying Himself of Himself so that He might take upon Himself the form of a servant and, clothed in flesh, might accomplish the strong victory over sin and death. As Eve was taken from the side of Adam as he slept, and became the mother of all living, so was the Church taken from the side of Christ as He slept upon the Cross, and became for Him His chosen spouse, the Mother of all those to whom He had come to give life.

The state of marriage, therefore, as reflected in the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Church is seen to have the high function not only of procreating human beings to replenish the earth, but also of training them in the higher life of grace and thus preparing them for the still higher life of glory. Christ came into the world solely to save sinners. The end of the Church is merely the salvation of souls. If, therefore, matrimony is a figure of the Incarnation and the Church, then its chief end is the population of heaven with immortal souls.

Seeing, then, that the chief end of matrimony is so high and noble, the means ordained for the accomplishment of that end must be proportionately high and noble. And so we find that nature has provided such means. These may be summed up in the two properties of marriage: its unity and its indissolubility.

And if we would probe further into the mystery and find the common source of these properties of marriage, we discern it in that all-attractive beauty of the state of conjugal love. The mere procreation of children could not possibly be the end of matrimony; for this could be done without the bond, without the unity, without the perpetuity, without the love. Manifestly, then, the chief reason for the institution of matrimony was the welfare of the offspring, not merely the existence of the offspring, but its growth and development, the promotion of all its interests. Therefore it was that God so made man and woman that they should love each other, that they should foster that love and concentrate it on each other by excluding all other love of the same kind, that they should make it so strong and lasting that only death should be able to bring about a breach of the union.

All this points to the fact that the marriage bond is a law of nature. It is a mutual agreement by which a man and a woman give themselves to each other until death, and this chiefly for the sake of the highest interest of the children which shall be born to them.

Its natural perfection, however, in course of time became corrupted. Impurity then, even as now, led to hardness of heart. Consequently Moses allowed divorce. The Pharisees, knowing this, brought it as an objection to Our Lord's teaching. Our Lord, however, was able to quote an earlier and more fundamental law.
Have ye not read that He who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And He said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.
Moses had taken into consideration the hardness of their hearts and for the sake of preventing greater evils had permitted them to put away their wives. "But," Our Lord reminded them, "from the beginning it was not so."

In this, as in many other matters, God had a greater design in view. He desired to provide a remedy for all this irregular life by raising the natural state of marriage to a supernatural plane. Forbidding divorce and insisting on the essential unity and indissolubility of the marriage tie, Christ raised it to the dignity of a Sacrament. Thus it became a more perfect figure of the Incarnation and the Church. Through the union of the Godhead and the Manhood, Christ in His human nature was filled with all grace and knowledge compatible with His created nature. Through the union of Christ with the Church, the Church is sanctified as His one perfect and spotless bride. So likewise, through the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of matrimony, there is conferred on them all the graces needful to enable them to carry out the arduous duties of that state. St. Paul says:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. [...] So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. This is a great Sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church.
When St. Paul speaks of marriage being a great Sacrament he does not use the word in the strict sense in which we use it now. He means merely that it is a great sign of something sacred, a mystical symbol of the union between Christ and His Church. Nevertheless, on account of the similarity of the marriage bond to the bond between Christ and His Church, we are able to gather that marriage is a Sacrament in the strictest sense of the word.

The union between Christ and His Church consists of sanctifying grace. It consists further of a continual flow of all those graces which are needful for attaining the Church's end, namely, the salvation of all the souls for whom the Church was instituted. If, therefore, the marriage bond is like the bond between Christ and His Church, it must be the means by which graces sanctifying the marriage state are conferred. A Sacrament of the new law is a sacred sign instituted by Christ to signify and to confer grace. If, therefore, the marriage bond signifies and confers the graces needful for the marriage state, and if instituted by Christ, then it is one of the seven Sacraments of the new law. So it was then that Christ placed His divine seal on the natural contract and with His own lips proclaimed it henceforth to be a bond forged in heaven.
What, therefore, God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
From the fact that Christ raised the natural contract into a Sacrament, it follows that the parties to the contract are the ministers of the Sacrament. It is the man and woman who hand themselves over to each other making a mutual contract to live together till death. It is the man and woman, therefore, who confer on each other the Sacrament enabling them to fulfill the higher duties which are involved in the Christian married state. The priest is not the minister of the Sacrament, but only the witness of it. Our late Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, emphasized this when he insisted that the contract and the Sacrament were not two separate things. In his encyclical Arcanum divinae sapientiae, he writes:
The distinction, or rather separation, cannot be approved of, since it is clear that in Christian matrimony the contract is not separable from the Sacrament, and consequently that a true and lawful contract cannot exist without being by that very fact a Sacrament. For Christ Our Lord endowed matrimony with the sacramental dignity; but matrimony is the contract itself, provided that the contract is rightly made. [...] Therefore, it is plain that every true marriage among Christians is in itself and by itself a Sacrament; and that nothing is further from the truth than that the Sacrament is a sort of added ornament or quality Introduced from without, which may be detached from the contract at the discretion of man.
If, therefore, the Sacrament is the mutual contract, it is the woman, who, as God's minister, confers on the man those soul beauties which make him a figure of Christ, the bridegroom of the Church; and so likewise is it the man who, as God's minister, confers on the woman those soul beauties which make her a figure of the Church, the bride of Christ. Husband and wife are thus seen to be the complement: of each other in their supernatural, as well as in their natural relationships.

It is well to keep this supernatural aspect of the case prominently before our minds when we consider the duties and obligations of the state. The end for which marriage was instituted was a most difficult end to attain. Indeed, it were an impossible task without the special divine helps provided. Remembering these helps, however, the married couple may face their difficulties with a good heart. The sacramental effect of matrimony does not spend itself out within a week or two of the nuptial ceremony. The grace conferred on the wedding morning remains with them when they leave the church, remains with them in their home life, fortifies them in their discouragements, and steels their wills to the emergencies of every difficult situation.

The Church then, having made this clear to them, sets aside all false modesty and tells them in grave and plain language what their duties are. The first duty is the bringing of children into the world and the educating of them in the service of God; the second duty is mutual love and service in the companionship of domestic life. In the nuptial Mass the priest solemnly prays over them that they may be fruitful in their offspring and that they may see their children's children unto the third and fourth generation. And finally in his exhortation he warns them to be faithful to each other, and to remain chaste at special times of prayer, during the fasts and solemn seasons of the Church.

Now all this involves much trouble and anxiety both on the part of the husband and of the wife. With the former lies the paramount obligation of working for the sustenance of the household; with the latter lie all the cares of child-bearing; with both lies that anxiety for the temporal and spiritual well-being of each other and of the children. St. Paul says:
But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. But if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned; nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh.
Those who enter this state, therefore, should do so with their eyes wide open to the fact that it is a life fraught with difficulty and that both man and woman are supposed to be willing to bear grave inconveniences. When a man complains of his loss of liberty or the increased burden on his pocket, or when a woman complains of the troubles of children, there has evidently been some radical misunderstanding as to the end of the institution of marriage and of its burdens. What is needed on those occasions is the consideration that marriage is a Sacrament - a Sacrament which is a channel of divine strength to bear the burden, of divine light to see the way out of the difficulties, of divine refreshment for the constant renewal of conjugal life and love.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Church of the Late First Century: The Immediate Successors to the Apostles

Reading N°26 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

The Martyrdom of St. Simeon of Jerusalem

We have already said that the Christian community of Jerusalem had mostly taken refuge in the city of Pella. They soon founded a new center of equal importance somewhat farther north, in the city of Kochaba.[1] But in both places the refugees lived under precarious conditions. Most of them had no resources other than their labor. Eusebius relates how, a few years later, our Lord's relatives, summoned before their persecutors, who were somewhat disquieted by the report of their noble birth, "showed their hands, adducing as testimony of their labor the hardness of their bodies, and the tough skin which had been embossed on their hands from their incessant work."[2] The same historian, basing his statement on an ancient text of Hegesippus, tells us that the successor of James the Less in the episcopate was also a relative of the Savior. It was Simeon, the son of Cleophas, cousin-german of our Lord.[3] He was martyred under Trajan about the year 110.[4] At the time of which we are now speaking, he bore his adversity with a heroism worthy of his glorious predecessor. In him seemed to live again that Apostle James who had so forcefully anathematized wealth and had said:
Hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?[5]
But these praiseworthy Christians, it seems, did not recruit adepts. They were devout and austere, and whole-heartedly attached to Christ; but as they had not yet broken sufficiently with Israel's past, they remained almost altogether outside the great movement that would regenerate the world by freeing it from the Law.

In spite of appearances, the situation at Rome was hardly any better. In many respects, the first two Flavian emperors (Vespasian and Titus) deserved the praise later voiced by St. Augustine, when he called them "the most benignant emperors."[6] The good will that they accorded the Jews extended to the Christians.[7] But neither of these emperors abolished that principle of public law which, looking upon Christianity as opposed to the Roman civilization, served as a ground for the Neronian persecution. "Everyone of Nero's institutes was abolished," says Tertullian, "except his edict of persecution."[8]

Flavian Emperors Vespasian (AD 9-79), Titus (39-81) and Domitian (51-96)

The third emperor of the Flavian family was Domitian. The beginning of his rule gave the Christians equally great hopes, but also aroused terrible suspicions. While men of letters, highly honored by the new emperor,[9] showered their praises upon him,[10] common rumor accused him of the death of his brother Titus,[11] and some discerning persons questioned whether his virtues were not more apparent than real. The last two years of Domitian's reign fulfilled the most sinister anticipations.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd from the Catacomb of Priscilla
Meanwhile, the Christian Church profited by the broad tolerance which the Emperor granted it. The faith entered the ranks of the highest Roman society and was openly practiced. Evidence of this may be seen in the appearances of the cemeteries of the Flavians' time. All of them are even with the ground; their entrances are never disguised; they open upon the fields, along the highways, and sometimes display monumental façades. Some of these burial-places, excavated with magnificent and almost royal care, are adorned with every refinement of art.[12] Among the cemeteries of this period we may note, on the Via Salaria, the catacomb of Priscilla, belonging to the noble line of the Pudens; on the Ostian road, the cemetery of Lucina, who is probably none other than the famous patrician Pomponia Graecina; and near the Porta Ardeatina, the great burial domain of the Flavians, belonging to the grand-daughter of Vespasian, Flavia Domitilla.[13]

Pope St. Linus (AD 67-80)
The three popes who, during this period, presided over the destinies of the Church of Rome belonged to the lowest ranks of the people. The first, LINUS, was, it is supposed, a former slave. At least, this is what certain historians think may be inferred from his very name.[14] This first successor of St. Peter seems, in any event, to have belonged to a very humble class. We know almost nothing of his pontificate. St. Epiphanius supplies us with a list of the first eleven popes according to a very ancient document; he says that Linus governed the Church for twelve years.[15] The tradition recorded in the Liber Pontificalis adds that he maintained the regulations established by St. Peter,[16] that he died a martyr, and was buried on the Vatican hill.[17]

Pope St. Cletus (AD 80-92)
Of the life of his successor, CLETUS or ANACLETUS even less is known.[18] It would seem that his name, too, must be that of a slave or freedman. Probably he belonged to that group of poor people that formed the first nucleus of the Church of Rome. Perhaps this humble disciple of the Apostles changed his name from Anacletus ("the blameless") to Cletus ("the called" of the Lord). Like his two predecessors, he was martyred.[19] Eusebius says his pontificate lasted twelve years.[20] Perhaps this figure should be reduced two or three years.

Cletus' successor in the See of Peter was CLEMENT I. After the names of the Apostles there is none more venerable and illustrious in Christian antiquity. Less than a hundred years after the death of Clement of Rome, as he is called, his figure is adorned with a wonderful halo. The Christians appeal to his authority, and heretics seek shelter under his respected name. A whole pseudo-Clementine literature arose. In spite of this fame - perhaps because of it - his life and writings are surrounded with shadow. Legend became mingled with his history to such an extent as almost completely to obscure it. He is said to have been of senatorial rank, related to the Flavian dynasty. Some historians even identify him with the Consul Titius Flavius Clemens, Domitian's cousin, whom the Emperor had executed on a charge of "atheism," i. e., Christianity. But then how are we to explain the silence of the Fathers regarding the raising of a member of the imperial family to be the head of the Roman Church? It is more reasonable to suppose that Pope Clement was a simple freedman, or the son of a freedman, of the household of the Consul Clement.[21] Tillemont, and other scholars after him, thought that the contents and form of Clement's letter to the Corinthians indicate that he was of Jewish origin.[22] What is certain, however, is that no more genuine witness to the Apostolic tradition can be found. St. Irenaeus says:
This man [Clement], as he had seen the blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the Apostles still echoing in his ears and their traditions before his eyes.[23]
Pope St. Clement I (AD 92-99)

Following Origen and Eusebius, many have attributed to him the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews under the inspiration of St. Paul, or at least the translation of this epistle from the original Aramaic text.[24] The only authentic writing of St. Clement of Rome is the lengthy and beautiful Epistle to the Corinthians. From the text itself it appears that this letter was written at the end of a great persecution, probably the one that broke out against the Christians of Rome in 95.

The fears shown by some far-sighted men at the outset of Domitian's reign regarding his natural inclinations were in fact accentuated and generalized. On the pretext of adorning the city of Rome and of increasing the happiness of his subjects, the Emperor spent great sums of money foolishly. By immense constructions, by endless festivities which Martial and Statius glorified in their poems, the imperial treasury was exhausted; the intoxication of power, a sort of madness, occupied a more and more predominant place in the ruler's soul. Domitian was one of those unscrupulous men whom necessity makes rapacious and fear cruel.[25] Rome trembled at seeing the return of the worst days of Nero. Public opinion was not mistaken. As under Nero, the Christian Church was the first to suffer from the outburst of tyranny. The development of Christianity, retarded in Judea, was likewise halted in Rome.


[1] St. Epiphanius, Haereses, xxx, 2.
[2] Eusebius, III, xx.
[3] Ibidem, III, xi and xxxii.
[4] Ibidem, IV, v.
[5] James 2:5.
[6] City of God, v, 21.
[7] Some writers, on the basis of a text of St. Hilary (Contra Arianos, 3) and an inscription preserved in the crypt of the Church of St. Martin at Rome, have placed Vespasian among the persecutors. But in St. Hilary's text, Vespasian is named probably by mistake in place of his son Domitian (Allard, Hist. des pers., I, 85); and the inscription in St. Martin's Church is certainly false, as Marucchi shows (Elements d'archéologie chrétienne, I, 20).
[8] "Permansit, erosis omnibus, institutum neronianum" (Tertullian, Ad nationes, I, 7.) Tertullian refers to Nero's charge against the Christians independently of the accusation of setting fire to Rome - namely, that they were enemies of mankind, i. e., of the Roman civilization.
[9] Tacitus and Pliny were decorated by him with the pretorship. (Tacitus, Annals, XI, II; Pliny, Epistles, III, II; VII, 16.)
[10] Quintilian calls him "the most righteous of censors" (Institutes of Oratory, bk. 4, pref.). Martial praises him because under him "chastity was commanded to enter our homes." (Epigrams, VI, 2-4, 7.)
[11] Dio Cassius, Roman History, LXVI, 26.
[12] Cf. De Rossi, Inscriptiones christianae Urbis Romae, p. 2. The history of the catacombs is divided into four periods. During the first period (the first two centuries), the catacombs were family burial places, protected by the law, and recognized to be loca sacra, loca religiosa. The owners of these tombs, or rather private cemeteries, sometimes of vast extent, including gardens and houses, with dining-rooms for funeral feasts, could receive in them the bodies of their clients. Wealthy Christians admitted the bodies of poor Christians into their buryinggrounds, and there, instead of funeral banquets, liturgical meetings took place. During the third century, the Church, profiting by the Roman law regarding associations, founded common cemeteries. This was the second period. During the third period (from Constantine to Alaric, 313 to 340), no more cemeteries were established except at the surface of the ground; yet the catacombs continued to be a place of pilgrimage, and many Christians insisted upon being laid to rest near the venerated remains of their predecessors. This was the period of the great inscriptions, many of them due to Pope Damasus. Lastly, beginning in 410, the catacombs ceased to be places of burial, and no inscriptions were placed on the tombs; yet they continued to be visited for several centuries. This was the fourth period of their history. (Cf. Marucchi, op. cit., I, 113-117.)
[13] Marucchi, op. cit., I, 23.
[14] Fouard, St. John, p. 49. Duchesne (Liber pontificalis, I, 121) observes that "this name is extremely rare in Christian epigraphy."
[15] Epiphanius, Haereses, xxvii, 6.
[16] The Liber Pontificalis seems to say that he began to govern the Church during the lifetime of St. Peter, and many writers are of opinion that St. Peter, being occupied in the labors of the apostolate, left the administration of the Roman Church to Linus and Cletus. (Rufinus, Preface to the Recognitions of St. Clement.) But this opinion is now generally rejected.
[17] Duchesne, Lib. pont., I, 121. De Rossi does not venture to declare that the sarcophagus discovered underground in the seventeenth century, near the confession of St. Peter, is the authentic tomb of St. Linus. (Duchesne, loc. cit.) St. Peter's successor is probably the person mentioned by St. Paul, 2 Tim. 4:21.
[18] Duchesne (op. cit., I, lxix) gives reasons which incline one to regard Cletus and Anacletus as the same person. (Cf. De Smedt, Dissertationes selectae, VII, art. 2.)
[19] Duchesne, loc. cit.
[20] Eusebius, III, xv.
[21] Lightfoot establishes a great likelihood for this hypothesis. (The Apostolic Fathers, I, 60-63.)
[22] Tillemont, Mémoires sur les six pretniers siècles, II, 149-166, 545-568; De Rossi, Bullettino di archeol. crist., 1863, pp. 27 ff.; 1865, p. 20; Lightfoot, op. cit., I, 16-61; Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, I, 162.
[23] Irenaeus, Haereses, III, iii, 3. Duchesne (op. cit., I, 161) says that Clement was old enough to have seen the Apostles and to have conversed with them, as St. Irenaeus asserts. Origen identifies him with the person of the same name who labored with St. Paul in the evangelization of Philippi. (Origen, In Joannem, I, 29.)
[24] Eusebius, VI, xxiii.
[25] "Inopia rapax, metu saevus." (Suetonius, Domitian, 3.)


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Monday, July 27, 2015


Twenty-Second in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

No word is so common and familiar among Christians as prayer. Religion itself is nothing more than a vast, mighty, universal, never ceasing prayer. Our churches are monuments of prayer and houses of prayer. Our worship, our devotions, our ceremonies are expressions of prayer. Our sacred music is a prayer. The incense, rising in white clouds before the altar, is symbolic of prayer. And the one accent that is dinned into our ears from altar and pulpit is prayer.

Prayer is the life of the Christian as work is the life of the man; without one and the other we would starve spiritually and physically. If we live well, it is because we pray; if we lead sinful lives, it is because we neglect to pray. Where prayer is, there is virtue; where prayer is unknown, there is sin. The atmosphere of piety, sanctity, and honesty is the atmosphere of prayer.

It is strange that the nature and necessity of prayer are so often misunderstood. Yet the definition in our Catechism is clear and precise. There are four kinds of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, petition for pardon, and for our needs, spiritual and bodily.

One need be neither a Catholic nor a Christian to see how becoming it is in us to offer to God our homage of adoration and thanksgiving; it is necessary only to believe in a God who made us and who is infinitely perfect. Why, even the heathens made gods to adore, and erected temples to thank them, so deep was their sense of the devotion they owed the Deity. They put the early Christians to death because the latter refused to adore their gods. Everywhere you go under the sun, you will find the creature offering to the Creator a homage of worship.

He, therefore, who makes so little of God as to forget to adore and thank Him becomes inferior to the very pagans who, sunk in the darkness of corruption and superstition as they were, did not, however, forget their first and natural duty to the Maker. Neglect of this obligation in a man betrays an absence, a loss of religious instinct, and an irreligious man is a pure animal, though he be a refined one. His refinement and superiority come from his intelligence, and these qualities, far from attenuating his guilt, only serve to aggravate it.

The brute eats and drinks; when he is full and tired he throws himself down to rest. When refreshed, he gets up, shakes himself and goes off again in quest of food and amusement. In what does a man without prayer differ from such a being?

But prayer, strictly speaking, means a demand, a petition, an asking. We ask for our needs and our principal needs are pardon and succor. This is prayer as it is generally understood. It is necessary to salvation. Without it no man can be saved. Our assurance of heaven should be in exact proportion to our asking. "Ask and you shall receive." Ask nothing, and you obtain nothing; and that which you do not obtain is just what you must have to save your soul.

The doctrine of the Church is that when God created man, He raised him from a natural to a supernatural state, and assigned to him a supernatural end. Supernatural means what is above the natural, beyond our natural powers of obtaining. Our destiny, therefore, cannot be fulfilled without the help of a superior power. We are utterly incapable by ourselves of realizing the end to which we are called. The condition absolutely required is the grace of God and through that alone can we expect to come to our appointed end.

Here is a stone. That this stone should have feeling is not natural, but supernatural. God, to give sensation to this stone, must break through the natural order of things, because to feel is beyond the native powers of a stone. It is not natural for an animal to reason; in fact, it is impossible. God must work a miracle to make it understand. Well, the stone is just as capable of feeling, and the animal of reasoning, as is man capable of saving his soul by himself.

To persevere in the state of grace and the friendship of God, to recover it when lost by sin, are supernatural works. Only by the grace of God can this be effected. Will God do this without being asked? Say rather: Will God save us in spite of ourselves, or unknown to ourselves? He who does not ask gives no token of a desire to obtain.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Diligis me?

In case you or someone close to you needs a reminder of how high the bar is set for attaining sainthood in this life, gentle reader, (or, conversely, a reminder of how far we have sunk in regards to the same) I share below a list, taken from the yellow and brittle pages of a German-language devotional manual originally published in 1849, entitled:

Qualities and Habits
of a
Lover of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

It lists 31 such qualities and habits, divided into three categories but in no particular order. A note attached to the list reads:
Here is a rod by which you can measure, o Christian soul, the distance between you and the perfect love of Jesus.

Towards God

  1. A great purity of heart, and hatred, not merely for great, but also for small sins.
  2. A great confidence and childlike trust in Jesus, the Savior of Mankind.
  3. A steady diligence to do that which pleases Jesus and to avoid that which is abhorrent to the Spirit of God and the voice of conscience.
  4. An always consistent and steady disposition in both pleasant and unpleasant fortuities and circumstances.
  5. An insuperable patience in great pains and trials.
  6. A steady contentment, and complete acquiescence of oneself to the will of God.
  7. An interior desire to suffer for the sake of Jesus, and to be forgotten by others and scorned for the love of Jesus.
  8. An utter contempt for all the vain delights and honors of this world.
  9. A great love of solitude.
  10. A great esteem for purity of body, and an aversion to everything which is contrary to it.
  11. An ardent zeal for promoting the honor and love of Jesus, and the experience of grief when Jesus is offended and disregarded.
  12. A continual mindfulness of Jesus, an eagerness to speak of and to hear about Him, to converse with Him in prayer and to always desire Him.
  13. An insatiable hunger to enjoy Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Towards Oneself

  1. To think little of oneself, and to take pleasure in being scorned by others for the love of Jesus.
  2. To hate one's own flesh, and to deny it all gratification and beguilement.
  3. To refuse oneself everything tending to sensuousness; to bridle the five senses and prevent them from being occupied with unnecessary things; to neither watch, listen to nor speak about anything other than that which serves to either edify oneself, to serve God, or to fulfill the obligations of one's occupation.
  4. To always curb one's appetite in eating and drinking, and to be satisfied with little food of modest quality.
  5. To mortify one's flesh through fasting, watching and working.
  6. To endure heat and cold and other seasonal discomforts so that one's service to God and the fulfillment of one's duties are not thereby disrupted.
  7. To suppress the perverted inclinations of nature and to root out one's inborn and acquired vices.
  8. To leave none of one's own mistakes unpunished.

Towards Others

  1. To bear the mistakes and vices of one's neighbor.
  2. To display a compassionate heart to every man, and to assist him with advice and action when he requires help.
  3. To never resent the well-being of one's neighbor, but rather to take pleasure therein, and to grieve at his misfortune, preventing the same whenever possible.
  4. To inflict not even the slightest harm upon one's neighbor, even if much could be gained thereby.
  5. To never exalt oneself above one's neighbor, but rather to eagerly place oneself beneath him.
  6. To ignore one's own advantage when required in order to help one's neighbor, and to give willingly in order to help a neighbor in need.
  7. To never become angered by or seek revenge for insult, injury or persecution, but rather to have sincere compassion with one's enemies, to speak well of them, to pray for them, and to show them kindness and helpfulness.
  8. To never assume the worst in one's neighbor, or to become distrustful, but rather to assume good faith in the doings of another as far as is possible, and to pardon him generously, both to oneself and to others.
  9. To grieve when one's neighbor offends God, but to rejoice when he serves God.
  10. To believe the good in, to hope the best for, and to patiently endure the evil of one's neighbor.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saint John at Ephesus

Reading N°25 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

St. John the Evangelist
Domenichino (1581-1641)
The mysterious personage whose testimony is so stressed by Papias and whom he calls John the Ancient has always stirred the ingenuity of historians and exegetes. Our own opinion is that this person is the Apostle himself. Papias' text appears clear. True, Eusebius makes John out to be a different person; but his interpretation of the text, which he quotes, is apparently inspired by a desire to take from the Apostle John the authorship of the Apocalypse. The Bishop of Caesarea rejected the doctrine of this book and ascribed it to a writer of less authority. The following is the famous text of Papias, as recorded by Eusebius:
I shall not hesitate to append to the interpretations all that I ever learnt well from the presbyters and remember well, for of their truth I am confident. For, unlike most, I did not rejoice in them who say much, but in them who teach the truth, nor in them who recount the commandments of others, but in them who repeated those given to the faith by the Lord and derived from truth itself; but if ever anyone came who had followed the presbyters, I inquired into the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples, had said, and what Aristion and the presbyter John, the Lord's disciples, were saying.[1]
The Presbyter John, the Lord's disciple, is mentioned twice: once among those who had spoken (in the past), and once among those who were still speaking (in the present); this is because he is the sole survivor of the Apostles, because he alone of them still speaks. Moreover, the intention of showing that there is question of one and the same person is evident from the identity of the titles attached to the two names. It is always "the Presbyter John," John "the disciple of the Lord." Eusebius, whose antipathy for John's Apocalypse is well known, and who had it from Dionysius of Corinth that the Apocalypse was the work of a certain John, distinct from the Apostle John, eagerly seizes upon Papias' double mention of John and uses that fact as an argument for his view. He says:
This calls for attention: for it is probable that the second John is the one who saw the revelation which passes under the name of John.[2]
In his desire to strengthen the opinion which he wanted to have accepted, Eusebius appeals to two reasons which are not very cogent, namely: that the second John is called "Presbyter" - but so is the first - and that Ephesus has two monuments to John, which Eusebius lets us suppose are burial monuments - but the very term which Eusebius had to use, μνήματα, indicates "memorial" monuments. It is not surprising that two monuments of this kind should have been erected in honor of the same person.

Thus far, we have scarcely met the name of the Apostle John.[3] Up to the last years of the century of the Apostles, tradition as well as Scripture is almost silent about the labors of the second son of Zebedee. This "son of thunder" had not yet taken those sublime flights presaged by the impetuosity of his character and the ardor of his love. The "disciple that Jesus loved," whose head rested on the Savior's breast at the Last Supper, out of obedience to a divine mission from his Master[4] must have led a life of silence and prayer and recollection in the modest home where he received the Blessed Virgin. More than once our Lord restrained the imprudent vehemence of that ardor; and it was used in laying the foundations of an interior life that would some day reveal its great depth. In close association with the Blessed Mother, the soul of this virgin Apostle was enriched with unction and charity, while losing nothing of its force. The thunder of his voice would be heard, but at the hour and in the manner marked out by God.

After the Blessed Virgin's death, at which he was present,[5] after the death of the other Apostles, who were martyred for their faith, John was the only one left of the intimate group which had received the Savior's confidences. The eyes of the entire Church then turned to the beloved Apostle. Everyone felt a presentiment of some mysterious destiny in his regard. Once our Lord, speaking of John, had said:
So I will have him remain till I come, what is it to thee?[6]
And a rumor spread that this disciple would not die.[7] But Jesus had said also:
You shall indeed drink of the chalice that I drink of; and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized, you shall be baptized.[8]
At a date which cannot be determined with absolute exactness, between the death of Saints Peter and Paul and the destruction of Jerusalem, the Apostle John fixed his residence at Ephesus.[9] With some likelihood, we can date his arrival about the year 68. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, speaks of a whole crowd of ancients gathered about John.[10] The departure of this colony is naturally explained by the dispersion that took place two years before the destruction of the Holy City.

Ephesus was in constant relation with Jerusalem. Many Jews lived in Ephesus and openly practiced their religion, thanks to the privileges which Hircanus had obtained for them from Dolabella.[11] These Jews came to Jerusalem in large numbers to perform their devotions in the Temple. Probably many of them were witnesses to the Pentecostal miracles, and it is not unlikely that a Christian community was formed in Ephesus at an early date. Its membership seems to have been composed mostly of disciples of John the Baptist. St. Paul, upon returning from Galatia, found at Ephesus certain insufficiently trained Christians who contented themselves with the precursor's baptism.[12] In spite of violent opposition, the preaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles succeeded there wonderfully, so that he said:
A great door and evident is opened unto me; and many adversaries.[13]
The First Epistle to Timothy informs us that Paul, prevented from continuing his apostolate at Ephesus, entrusted to this disciple, who was a native of the country, the direction of the Church which he had established there.[14]

It was a providential choice that John and his companions made in fixing upon the city of Ephesus for their residence. Being on the coast of Ionia, almost opposite the island of Samos, Ephesus occupied one of the choicest sites as a place of transit between the East and the West. Commercial activity, great though it was, did not absorb the people's minds. From time immemorial that city had been a great center of religious activity. Its temple, venerated throughout the world, kept alive, more than did any other place, the religious craving which was then disturbing so many pagan souls.

And so we presently see John and the group of his disciples becoming the center of an important movement, with the Churches of Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea soon placing themselves under his direction.


[1] Eusebius, H. E., III, xxxix, 4.
[2] Ibidem, 5.
[3] There is no further mention of him after the day when St. Paul came to Jerusalem to set forth his gospel before "James and Cephas and John," who were then regarded as "pillars" of the Church. (Gal. 2:1, 2, 9.)
[4] John 19:27.
[5] Probably at Jerusalem. "An arbitrary interpretation of an obscure text of the Council of Ephesus is the sole foundation on which is based the opinion which locates the last residence and the tomb of the Blessed Virgin at Ephesus. [...] The tradition which records that Jerusalem was the last home of the Holy Virgin rests, on the contrary, upon explicit testimony, which, it is true, only dates back to the fifth century." (Fouard, St. John and the Close of the Apostolic Age, p. 72.)
[6] John 21:22.
[7] John 21:23.
[8] Mark 10:39.
[9] The testimony of tradition is unanimous on this point. Harnack (Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, I, 320-381) and Jean Reville (Le quatrième évangile, pp. 9-18) have vainly tried to shake the authentic and reliable testimony of St. Irenaeus on this point. (Haereses, II, xxii, 5.)
[10] Eusebius, III, xxix.
[11] Josephus, Antiquities, XIV, x, 11-13.
[12] Acts 19:1-5.
[13] Cf. 1 Cor. 16:9.
[14] Cf. 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:18; 4:12.


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Monday, July 20, 2015

Love of Neighbor

Twenty-First in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

The precept, written in our hearts, as well as in the law, to love God, commands us, at the same time, to love the neighbor. When you go to confession, you are told to be sorry for your sins and to make a firm purpose of amendment. These appear to be two different injunctions; yet, in fact and reality, they are one and the same thing, for it is impossible to abhor and detest sin, having at the same moment the intention of committing it. One therefore includes the other; one is not sincere and true without the other; therefore one cannot be without the other. So it is with love of God and of the neighbor; these two parts of one precept are coupled together because they complete each other, and they amount practically to the same thing.

The neighbor we are to love is not alone those for whom we naturally have affection, such as parents, friends, benefactors, etc., whom it is easy to love. But our neighbor is all mankind, those far and those near, those who have blessed us and those who have wronged us, the enemy as well as the friend; all who have within them, as we have, the image and likeness of God. No human being can we put outside the pale of neighborly love.

As for the love we bear others, it is of course one in substance, but it may be different in degree and various in quality. It may be more or less tender, intense, emphatic. Some we love more, others, less; yet for all that, we love them. It is impossible for us to have towards any other being the same feelings we entertain for a parent. The love a good Christian bears towards a stranger is not the love he bears towards a good friend. The love therefore that charity demands admits a variety of shades without losing its character of love.

When it comes to loving certain ones of our neighbors, the idea is not the most welcome. What? Must I love, really love, that low rascal, that cantankerous fellow, that repugnant, repulsive being? Or this other who has wronged me so maliciously? Or that proud, overbearing creature who looks down on me and despises me?

We have said that love has its degrees, its ebb and flow tide, and still remains love. The low water mark is this: that we refuse not to pray for such neighbors, that we speak not ill of them, that we refuse not to salute them, or to do them a good turn, or to return a favor. A breach in one of these common civilities, due to every man from his fellow-man, may constitute a degree of hatred directly opposed to the charity strictly required of us.

It is not, however, necessary to go on doing these things all during life and at all moments of life. These duties are exterior, and are required as often as a contrary bearing would betoken a lack of charity in the heart. Just as we are not called upon to embrace and hug an uninviting person as a neighbor, neither are we obliged to continue our civilities when we find that they are offensive and calculated to cause trouble. But naturally there must be charity in the heart.

We should not confound uncharity with a sort of natural repugnance and antipathy, instinctive to some natures, betraying a weakness of character, if you will, but hardly what one could call a clearly defined fault. There are people who can forgive more easily than forget and who succeed only after a long while in overcoming strong feelings. In consequence of this state of mind, and in order to maintain peace and concord, they prefer the absence to the presence of the objects of their antipathy. Of course, to nourish this feeling is sinful to a degree; but while striving against it, to remove prudently all occasions of opening afresh the wound, if we act honestly, this does not seem to have any uncharitable malice.

Now all this is not charity unless the idea of God enter therein. There is no charity outside the idea of God. Philanthropy, humanity is one thing; charity is another. The one is sentiment, the other is love - two very different things. The one supposes natural motives, the other, supernatural. Philanthropy looks at the exterior form and discovers a likeness to self. Charity looks at the soul and therein discovers an image of God, by which we are not only common children of Adam, but also children of God and sharers of a common celestial inheritance. Neither a cup of water nor a fortune given in any other name than that of God is charity.

There are certain positive works of charity, such as almsgiving and brotherly correction, etc., that may be obligatory upon us to a degree of serious responsibility. We must use prudence and intelligence in discerning these obligations, but once they clearly stand forth they are as binding on us as obligations of justice. We are our brothers' keepers, especially of those whom misfortune oppresses and whose lot is cast under a less lucky star.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Victims with Christ

Nineteenth and Final Conference on the Most Sacred Heart

 Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer

There is an apostleship of suffering as well as an apostleship of word and prayer. A priest is officially commissioned to exercise this triple apostleship. Participating in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, he must himself be like Christ, not only a priest, a sacrificer, but also a victim. As watchman, ambassador, shepherd, teacher, sower and reaper, he must not only labor and pray for souls, he must also be willing to suffer for them. Many are found faithfully spending their strength in quest of the strayed sheep of their flocks, but alas! not all are willing to suffer, not all have the spirit of unreserved self-oblation. Our blessed Saviour therefore seeks elsewhere to supply this want.

He seeks victims, especially among souls still radiant with their baptismal innocence, or who having lost that pearl of rare price have recovered it in the deep waters of penance and tears. He finds them sometimes on the highways of the world, but more frequently in the enclosed gardens of religious communities. And finding souls thus generous to enter into His life of sacrifice, He pours out upon them an abundance of griefs and sorrows.

He communicates to them the spirit of prayer, the love of humiliations, of sufferings and deprivations. He roots out of their hearts pride and its succulent branches, the love of approval and esteem, jealousy, self-sufficiency, ambition, and human respect, and plants instead a profound humility and a veneration for authority.

Some of them our blessed Saviour ordains to suffer for infidels, others for heretics and schismatics, others again for sinners in general, or for souls in purgatory, for the conversion of a certain country, for this or that parish, family or individual. Finally, our Lord ordains some to suffer for the sanctification of priests and the multiplication of earnest workmen in His vineyard, which vocation - next to that of the ministry - is the noblest that can be entrusted to souls. Such special victims we know to have been Saints Catherine of Sienna, Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, Aloysius Gonzaga, Rose of Lima, Blessed Margaret Mary, and many others who, innocent themselves, suffered for the guilty.

But when our Lord revealed Himself to Blessed Margaret Mary and bade her promote the Devotion to His Sacred Heart, He certainly did not design to make of all those who should practice this devotion special victims, such as I have described. Out on the broad fields of the world and in the narrower sphere of religion He meant to inflame ordinary Christian souls with divine love, and to appeal to them to make some reparation for the insults, the negligences and coldness that He suffers from men in the Sacrament of His love; and though He complained that what grieved Him most was the treatment He received from some hearts consecrated to Him, yet He imposed no great sacrifices, suggested no heroic expiation, asked no victims of immolation. He taught Blessed Margaret Mary only three special ways of honoring and pleasing Him. These were, first, the Holy Hour, secondly, frequent reception of Holy Communion, particularly on Fridays, and lastly, the institution of a Feast in honor of His Sacred Heart. He further enjoined that on this feast a public act of reparation was to be made to atone for the insults heaped upon Him while exposed on the altar during the Octave of Corpus Christi.

Those were the only new special practices He taught her, practices that could without great difficulty be devoutly observed by the faithful at large, as by souls specially consecrated to God. I say, they were the only new practices He suggested, for there was one other familiar way of serving Him that He never tired of impressing upon the disciple and apostle of His Sacred Heart, and that was absolute fidelity to the duties of her state of life, unconditional, unexceptional obedience to rules and precepts, careful sanctification of every daily action. Whenever His wishes and commands conflicted with those of the Mother Superior, Margaret Mary was always to obey the latter; she was to prefer the fulfillment of the slightest duty ordained by Rule, to the sacred joy of communing with Him in the Blessed Sacrament; strongly did He reprimand and punish the least infraction of discipline, even though it were committed under the false idea of sanctifying herself or giving pleasure to her divine Spouse. In this way He prepared her to instruct others and gradually to become herself a special victim of His love for souls.

Do we not desire to make reparation, at least for our own sins? Do we not also long to make ourselves pleasing to the Sacred Heart by discharging every debt that stands against us? And is there any one amongst us so cold, so devoid of apostolic spirit as not to wish to aid in saving the souls of his brethren? Ah, then, let us labor, first of all, to become faithful Christians, faithful observers of all the obligations of our state of life. Faithful observance of every duty implies a moral martyrdom. Many saints lived ordinary lives and never attempted extraordinary things: their aim was to do ordinary things extraordinarily well. In this wise we shall cancel many a debt, secure assistance for others and console the Heart of our Eucharistic Lord.

But is not our love generous enough to undertake a little more? Once again, who is so rich, so powerful, and withal, so good and beautiful as He? He is the fairest of the children of men, whiter than the lily, gentler than the lamb, the poorest of the poor, the lowliest of the lowly, the humblest of the humble, the Beloved who will not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking flax, so patient, forbearing, running after the wayward sheep, pressing the prodigal to His Heart, yet at the same time the King of ages, the Wonderful, the Holy One, the Light of light, the Judge of the living and the dead, the Emmanuel, yea, the mighty God! He is Love itself: how can we then resist His love?

What does He ask of us? First, He pleads that we will give Him entrance into our hearts in Holy Communion, that we will receive Him often.
My delight is to be with the children of men.
And shall we not give Him that delight? What can be easier? Oh! how is it possible for Christians to stay away from Him for an entire year? Is He not the Bread of our souls? Where is faith, love, self-interest? Receive Him, then, often; if not oftener than at present, at least with more fervent love and more generous preparation.

What else does He ask? That we stay with Him occasionally. Can you forget the Garden of Gethsemane? Remember the complaint made to Peter.
Simon, sleepest thou? Couldst thou not watch one hour?
In the Tabernacle also our Lord is alone. Few believe in Him. He is amongst His own as of yore, and His own receive Him not. Throngs pass to and fro before His churches, giving no thought to the sacred Presence there. Men are busy with their vain occupations, they speak of projects and success and failure as if they are to live forever, yet never think of the gentle Saviour who is in their midst. He sustains them, He gives them light of understanding and warmth of heart, He fills their days with sunshine and their nights with whole some rest, He is their God, their future Judge, their eternal bliss: but He is abandoned, as He was in the night of suffering, He is left alone with naught to keep Him company save the dim light of the modest sanctuary lamp.
Couldst thou not watch one hour?
Is there aught else our Lord asks of those devoted to His Heart? Yes, He asks their help in the work of saving souls. Many a human being is this moment on his death-bed. On the cot of a hospital ward, in a den of sin, on the prairies of the west, in the woods of Africa, out on the rough waves of an ocean-storm, perhaps unknown, alone, unconscious, a sinner is slowly breathing out his life. A few moments more, and all will be over for a never-ending eternity. Oh, how many of the dying are dead in sin! How many there are whose souls are laden with ten thousand deeds of darkness! How many cold and reckless, how many struggling in despair! Shall our Lord's blood bear no ransom? Shall His Heart have loved in vain? Shall He be deprived of the glory that He so justly claims? Oh, pray with Him, suffer with Him! Have you the courage of love? Then offer yourself a victim to Him. Let the lamp of your life be burnt out for Him. Let sorrow darken your pathway and thorns be strewn over its sod. Let anguish of spirit be yours, since so often it was His. One day the good Master will meet you with a welcome and rest your weary head upon His bosom, and there let you be inebriated with the joy of His own living Heart.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Composition of the Synoptic Gospels

Reading N°24 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

When St. Paul spoke of the Church as "the pillar and ground of the truth"[1] possessing the deposit of faith, the Christians had long known where to find that of which he spoke. They had first sought it and found it in the preaching of the "witnesses of Christ," of those who had received instruction from His immediate hearers. The venerable Papias, "the hearer of John, who was a companion of Polycarp and one of the ancients," mentioned by St. Irenaeus,[2] declared that his whole care had ever been to inquire "into the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, had said." And we are struck by Papias' expression of the rule of faith in that early day. He says:
For I did not suppose that information from books would help me so much as the word of a living and surviving voice.[3]
Now, Papias tells us that he learned from his master, "John the Ancient," that Peter's preaching was put in writing by one of his disciples, Mark. The precious fragment containing this information is so important that it deserves to be quoted in full.
And the Presbyter [John] used to say this, 'Mark became Peter's interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed Him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord's oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention: to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.[4]
As we read these lines, we seem to be witnessing the process by which St. Mark's Gospel was written. Papias says further that:
Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.[5]
From the prologue of the Third Gospel, we know that the author, Luke, a disciple of St. Paul, undertook to write the history of Jesus in chronological order, which the aged witness of those times states was absent from St. Mark's. Here, then, we have the whole story of the composition of the three Synoptic Gospels. As to the date of their composition, that seems fixed thereby. The appearance of the three Gospels preceded the appearance of the Acts of the Apostles, and the latter, written by St. Luke, was published about 62 or 64; therefore this date seems the latest that can be assigned for the composition of the three Synoptics.[6]

Shortly afterwards, we see another collection being formed, that of the Catholic Epistles, i.e., letters addressed to the whole Church. Into this collection was admitted a greater or lesser number of Epistles, according to local differences. Finally, seven came to be agreed upon by all. These seven letters are the three Epistles of St. John, the two of St. Peter, that of St. Jude, and that of St. James. By the addition of St. John's Gospel and his Apocalypse, of which we shall speak shortly, the canon, that is, the official list of the books of the New Testament, became fixed; the Christian Bible was thus complete.[7]

Later on, the Church was to proclaim the authenticity of these collections. On all sides, Christians were eager to fix upon the accounts of the ancients, to gather their teachings. St. Luke, at the beginning of his Gospel, refers to an abundant literary growth. This subsequently increased still more. The apocryphal gospels - the name given to those histories of Jesus which the Church rejected from her canon - at times had the childish character of popular legends, or the perverse tendency of heresy. A mere comparison of their fanciful and fabricated narratives with the serious and religious soberness of the canonical Gospels is enough to show the genuineness of the latter. It is true that each of the authors adopted by the Church has his own style and a definite aim. St. Matthew's style is simple, uniform, and unstudied; and it is evident that his aim is to show his compatriots, the Christians of Palestine, the fulfilment of the prophecies in Christ. St. Mark is animated, picturesque, and always has in mind the Roman world; by the narration of our Lord's many miracles, he wishes to impress upon that world the almighty power of God. St. Luke's narrative reveals a literary culture superior to that of his predecessors, and his purpose to spread the catholic ideas of his teacher, St. Paul.

But the three writings resemble one another in their lifelike and precise character. The image that rises in the mind of one who reads these gospels is that of all Galilee and Judea before the destruction of Jerusalem. Skeptical Sadducees, hypocritical Pharisees, the timid disciples of Jesus, all these pass along one after the other on the shore of that Lake Tiberias so colorful with its population of fishermen, on those roads that are burned by the hot sun, through the ripening harvests, and in that great city of Jerusalem where scribes carry on their discussions in the Temple porticoes. The portrait of Jesus traced by these unlettered writers is so utterly inimitable that the cry wrung from the unbelieving philosopher will ever issue from the lips of whoever reads these gospels with a sincere and upright heart. Their words speak to the heart, and if they were the work of invention, their contrivers would be more astounding than is the hero.[8]


[1] cf. 1 Tim. 3:15.
[2] Eusebius, III, xxxix, 1.
[3] Ibidiem, no. 4.
[4] Ibidem, no. 15.
[5] Ibidem, no. 16.
[6] See Batiffol, Orpheus et l'Evangile, p. 132. Harnack (Die Apostelgeschichte, p. 22) holds the same view as we have just set forth. Some Catholic authors, basing their conclusions on a text of St. Irenaeus (Haereses, bk. 3, chap. 1), prefer placing the writing of St. Mark's and St. Luke's Gospels after the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul. But that passage is a mutilated text and has not the meaning supposed, as Cornely proves in his Introductio ad Novum Testamentum, III, 76-78.
[7] On the formation of the canon of the New Testament, see Batiffol, Orpheus et l'Evangile, pp. 55-80.
[8] Cf. Rousseau, Emile, in Œuvres (Didot ed.), II, 597. As to the order in which the three Gospels were written, Lebreton thus sums up the latest critical conclusions, which simply return to the traditional positions: "The primitive catechesis is embodied in the Aramaic Gospel of St. Matthew and, in Greek, in St. Peter's preaching. This latter was followed by St. Mark, while St. Matthew's collection is preserved in St. Luke's Gospel, and more exactly in the Greek Gospel of St. Matthew. These two other gospels thus utilize St. Mark's narrative and a few secondary sources." (Lebreton, "Les Evangiles synoptiques," in the Recherches des sciences religieuses, 1910, p. 505; cf. Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, Part II.)


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Monday, July 13, 2015

Love of God

Twentieth in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Once upon a time there lived people who pretended that nothing had existence outside the mind, that objects were merely fictions of the brain; thus, when they gave a name to those objects, it was like sticking a label in the air where they seemed to be. The world is not without folks who have similar ideas concerning charity, to whom it is a name without substance. Scarcely a Christian but will pretend that he has the virtue of charity, and of course one must take his word for it, and leave his actions and conduct out of all consideration. With him, to love God is to say you do, whether you really do or not. This is charity of the "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal" assortment.

To be honest about it, charity or love of God is nothing more or less, practically, than freedom from, and avoidance of, mortal sin. The state of grace is the first, fundamental, and essential condition to the existence of charity. Charity and mortal sin are two things irreducibly opposed, uncompromisingly antagonistic, eternally inimical. There is no true charity where there is sin; there is no sin where there is true charity. That is why charity is called the fulfillment of the law.

On the other hand, it sometimes happens that humble folks of the world, striving against temptation and sin to serve the Master, imagine they can hardly succeed. True, they rarely offend and to no great extent of malice, but they envy the lot of others more advantageously situated, they think, nearer by talent and state to perfection, basking in the sunshine of God's love. Talent, position, much exterior activity, much supposed goodness, are, in their eyes, titles to the kingdom, and infallible signs of charity. And then they foolishly deplore their own state as far removed from that perfection, because forsooth their minds are uncultured, their faith simple, and their time taken up with the drudgery of life.

They forget that not this gift or that work or anything else is necessary. One thing alone is necessary, and that is practical love of God. Nothing counts without it. And the sage over his books, the wonder-worker at his task, the apostle in his wanderings and labors, the very martyr on the rack is no more sure of having charity than the most humble man, woman or child in the lowest walks of life who loves God too much to offend Him. It is not necessary to have the tongues of men and angels, or faith that will move mountains, or the fortitude of martyrs; charity expressed in our lives and deeds rates higher than these.

A thing is good in the eyes of its maker if it accomplishes that for which it was made. A watch that does not tell time, a knife that does not cut, and a soul that does not love God are three utterly useless things. And why? Because they are no good for what they were made. The watch exists solely to tell the hour, the blade to cut and the soul to love and serve its Maker. Failing in this, there is no more reason for their being. Their utility ceasing, they themselves cease to exist to a certain extent, for a thing is really no longer what it was when it fails to execute that for which it came into being.

Charity, in a word, amounts to this: that we love God, but to the extent of not offending Him. Anything that falls short of such affection is something other than charity, no matter how many tags and labels it may wear. If I beheld a brute strike down an aged parent, I would not for a moment think that affection was behind that blow; and I could not conceive how there could be a spark of filial love in that son's heart until he had atoned for his crime. But love is not one thing when directed towards God, and another where man is concerned.

The great hypocrisy of life consists in this: that people make an outward showing of loving God, because they know full well that it is their first duty; yet, for all that, they do not a whit mend their ways, and to sin costs them nothing. They varnish it over with an appearance of honesty and decency, and fair-minded men take them for what they appear to be, and should be, and they pass for such. These watches are pretty to look upon, beautiful, magnificent, but they are stopped, the interior is out of order, the main-spring is broken, the hands that run across the face lie. These blades are bright and handsome, but they are dull, blunt, full of nicks, good enough for coarse and vulgar work, but useless for the fine, delicate work for which they were made.

The master mechanic and artist of our souls, who wants trustworthy timepieces and keen blades, will not be deceived by these gaudy trinkets, and will reject them. Others may esteem you for this or that quality, admire this or that qualification you possess, be taken with their superficial gloss and accidental usefulness. The quality required by Him who made you is that your soul be filled with charity, and proven by absence of sin.