Monday, April 06, 2015

Is the Resurrection of Jesus Really True?



The Resurrection of Jesus is considered the cornerstone of belief of all mainstream orthodox Christians. St. Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, our faith.” (I Corinthians 15:14). In other words without the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Christianity has no valid message. The resurrection is the ‘good news’; Jesus has been victorious over sin and death. The Church defines resurrection as the rising from the dead and resumption of life and has always proclaimed its belief that three days after his death Jesus rose from the dead.
Let us examine, then, the events surrounding the resurrection, the arguments against it and the counter-arguments.

The four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all give accounts of the death of Jesus by crucifixion, the discovery of his empty tomb and the appearances of a living Jesus after his death. The Catholic Church and other orthodox Christians believe in the historical reliability of this Scriptural account. Although the four accounts relate some different details they are basically the same and do not contradict each other.
While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested and then brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders. Although there were other charges against him, the main charge against Jesus was that of blasphemy. He had claimed to be the Messiah and the Son of God (Luke 22:70,71); a very serious matter in Jewish law. The Jewish leaders brought him before the Roman authorities as they had no authority to execute criminals in the Roman Empire. At first the Romans said it was not their problem. Pilate said he did not find that Jesus had done anything illegal according to Roman Law but in the end, at the insistence of the gathered crowd, he agreed to crucify Jesus, the Roman method of capital punishment at that time.
Reports of the Resurrection
After he was taken down from the cross, Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, and the tomb was sealed by a huge stone at the entrance. The chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to place guards at the tomb because they were afraid his disciples would come to the grave, steal the body and then claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus had implied that he would rise from the dead saying, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ (see John 2:19-22). He was referring to his body and not the literal temple. The disciples, however, did not understand Jesus’ meaning until after his resurrection.

In the morning, several guards hurried to the chief priests to report that during the night there had been an earthquake and an angel had rolled the stone away . The guards were struck with fear. The chief priests decided that they would pay the guards to say that the disciples had come and stolen the body while they were sleeping and promised them they would not be punished for the disappearance of the body. The guards must have been well-paid for they agreed to tell that version of the story even though it made them look very incompetent!
The disciples did not go to the tomb on Saturday which was the Jewish Sabbath and it was forbidden to travel. On the first day of the week (Sunday) some women followers of Jesus went with spices to embalm the body. When they arrived they found that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. An man in white clothing, an angel, asked them why they sough the living among the dead. He told them that Jesus was not there but had risen from the dead. The women hurried back to tell the disciples the news but they thought it was an idle tale - as usual the women were imagining something! But Peter and John wanted t o check the story out and ran to the tomb confirming that Jesus’ body was no longer there.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
After this Jesus appeared to many of his disciples: Mary Magdalene, the twelve Apostles hiding in a locked room in Jerusalem, two believers on the road to Emmaus, two groups of ‘pious’ women and his disciples again on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. St. Paul reports that Jesus also appeared to Cephas and 500 believers, many of whom were still alive at the time St. Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Corinth (see I Corinthians 15:5-7).
The Church has always believed the accounts of the Gospel writers but there are several alternate theories of what could have happened.
The Stolen Body Theory
This, of course, was the first theory that was circulated by the Jewish authorities of the time: the disciples of Jesus came and stole the body. According to the Gospel accounts the guards were bribed to lie and say that this is what happened. But, if the disciples had come to steal the body, why didn’t the guards prevent the disciples from rolling away the stone? After all, that is the task they had been hired to do, they were armed and probably outnumbered any disciples who would have come. The guards claimed that they had fallen asleep but surely guards would have taken turns sleeping in order to prevent a theft. Would they have slept so soundly as to not have heard a group of men rolling away the stone? If they had fallen asleep and failed to prevent the theft of the body, they very likely would have been punished. In the end, the money, and the promise that they would not get into trouble for their incompetence, was enough compensation for them to tell the lie.
If the disciples did indeed steal the body what did they do with it after? Anyone wanting to discredit them would just have to prove that the body of Jesus had been buried elsewhere.
The apostles spent the rest of their lives preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Would they do this for what they knew was a lie? What did they gain from it? Wouldn’t it have been better to keep a low profile and go back to what they had been doing before they met Jesus? Instead many of them died for their faith. Would not at least one of them confessed rather than lose his life for something that was not true?
The Swoon Theory
This theory claims that Jesus did not die but was just unconscious when he was put in the tomb. When he revived, he came out of the tomb and was seen alive by his disciples.
Since Jesus had been whipped before his crucifixion and then spent agonizing hours hanging on a cross meant to kill him, it is unlikely that he survived. Before taking Jesus’ body down from the cross a soldier thrusts a sword into Jesus’ side and blood and water pour out. His body is placed in a tomb where there was little air and no food or water for three days. If Jesus was not dead and merely revived was he able to move the heavy stone at the entrance or did someone else move it? If this theory were true, Jesus would need a lot of care after leaving the tomb. If he did recover would he not eventually be seen and recognized by others? The Gospel accounts say that after his resurrection, Jesus only appeared to those who believed he was the Messiah. And if this theory is true, when did he die? One day there would be a dead Jesus and if someone discovered the body, the game would be up!
The Hallucination Theory
This theory proposes that the followers of Jesus so much wanted to believe that he was not dead and that he had risen, that they had visions of him after his death and burial. In their stressful mental state and knowing that Jesus said ‘he would return’ they were susceptible to having hallucinations. It is true that people have had this type of vision after the death of a family member or close friend, however, it is unusual for many people to have the same vision. As well, normally visions do not last as long as the appearances of Jesus did . And why did the visions end abruptly? Luke reports that Jesus ascended to heaven and after that no one saw him again.
The disciples had not really understood what Jesus had said about being ‘raised up in three days’ and only understood his meaning after they had seen the resurrected Jesus. The two men on the road to Emmaus had to have it explained to them by Jesus, whom they did not recognize at first.
The story of the disciple Thomas is interesting in the light of this theory. John writes that Thomas was not in the locked room when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles. When hearing what had happened during his absence, Thomas says he will not believe unless he sees the wounds with his own eyes. Jesus later appears to Thomas, shows him his wounds and even allows him to touch them. If the psychological vision theory were true it is unlikely that Thomas would have this kind of vision. And if the resurrection were not true for any other reason, it is unlikely that any gospel writer would include this story of a ‘doubting’ disciple who eventually believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The Modernist or Myth Theory
The most recent theory is one which says that Jesus’ body remained in the tomb and decomposed and the resurrection spoken of in Scripture is not a literal but a spiritual or supernatural ‘resurrection’. It is meant to portray Jesus’ spiritual victory over death or his immortality in a spiritual sense. Some would also claim that the resurrection crept into the Gospel accounts from ancient religions. However, the Greeks believed in the resurrection of the soul but not the body. Other religions (Hinduism and Buddhism, for example) believe in re-incarnation - the soul living on in another body but not a bodily resurrection. There was a tradition of resurrection of the body in Judaism amongst the Pharisees whereas the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. St. Paul, a Pharisee, used this disagreement to his advantage when on trial, "For the Sadducees claim that there is neither resurrection, nor angels nor spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all these things." (see Acts 23:8)
The Modernist Theory gives rise to the same problem as those in the other theories. Why didn’t someone produce the body of Jesus? There would have been many who wanted to discredit the claim of the disciples. Why has the so-called myth persisted for 2000 years? Why has it been literally believed world-wide by people of many different cultures, education and backgrounds?
Conclusion
As mentioned, the simplest way to disprove the resurrection would have been to produce the body of Jesus. No one was able to do this, in spite of the fact that many would have wanted to show that the disciples had lied. Those who had bribed the guards would have loved to have found the body of Jesus in order to prove that they were right.
For the remainder of their lives, the apostles put themselves in danger by preaching the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were stoned to death (Stephen), put in jail (Peter, Paul), and crucified (Peter, Paul). Many later believers were also killed by the Romans. In fact, there are still people being killed worldwide for their faith in a Jesus they believe rose from the dead.
Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that they, too, will be raised to everlasting life. "But Jesus said to her (Martha), "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live." John 11:25

Sources
Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1962.
Hahn, Dr. Scott. The Bodily Resurrection of Christ. CD Sycamore, Il: Lighthouse Catholic Media, NFP. 2011
Catholic Encyclopedia- New Advent website. Accessed July 8, 2012.
New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1970.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easter and Passover: What's the Connection?

Easter and Passover
As we approach both Passover and Easter you may wonder if there is a connection and, if so, what it is.



We know that Jesus was a Jew; his mother, Mary, and step-father, Joseph, were Jewish. His Apostles were all Jewish. They all celebrated the
Feast of the Passover every year as Jews have done (and still do) since it was instituted by Moses (Exodus 12). The Passover is celebrated to remember the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
If you have seen movie 'The Ten Commandments', you will remember the plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians in order to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. The final plague was the death of every first-born male. The Hebrews could only escape this last plague by killing an unblemished lamb, sprinkling its blood on the doorways of their houses and then roasting the lamb and eating it together as a family. They were to eat it with unleavened bread (without yeast) as they would not have time to let the bread rise before leaving. Unfortunately, the recent series The Bible, did not show the important meal of the Passover. It does show the sacrifice of the lamb, putting the blood on the lintels of the door but it does not show the people actually eating the Passover meal. We will see why this meal is important to both Jews and Christians.
The last plague was the breaking point for Pharaoh who finally let the Israelites leave Egypt(although he regretted it later and chased after them). This last plague was the death of the firstborn of every household in Egypt except those that had the blood of a sacrificed lamb on its door lintel. Moses told the Hebrews to remember this night and observe the Feast of Passover on the 14th of the month of Nisan as a perpetual ordinance for themselves and their descendants: “This is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he spared our houses.” (Exodus 12:27)
It is Passover that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating, many years later, just before Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. This is what Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper portrays. But does Passover really have anything to do with Easter?
The Passover was much more linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus than just occurring at the same time of year. On the first Passover, the Hebrew people chose one of their own lambs on the 10th of Nisan and killed it on the 14th of Nisan for the family meal. During the time of the prophet, Jeremiah, because the people went to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, a sacrificial flock of lambs raised for this purpose were brought into Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan. People could then purchase a lamb for their family’s celebration of the Passover feast rather than bringing one from their hometown some distance away. The sheep were brought into the city by the Sheep Gate.
It is believed that Jesus entered into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey on the 10th of Nisan. He was greeted by cheering crowds who waved palm branches and cried, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” Luke 19:38. Jesus is believed to have entered by the Golden Gate and came as a King but would be sacrificed like the lamb. This entry is remembered as Palm Sunday celebrated the week before Easter. The Golden Gate was sealed by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman in 1541 possibly to prevent the return of the Messiah.
Jesus celebrated the Passover seder meal with his disciples and we read in Luke 22:14, “Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which shall be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which shall be shed for you.’” (Luke 22:19-20). This was all done before Judas betrayed Jesus and before Jesus was arrested. The Apostles did not yet know that Jesus would be nailed to a cross to die. Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection were part of God’s plan to bring people out of bondage to sin. It had been foretold as far back as in the Garden of Eden after the first sin. (see Genesis 3:15)
Three years before Jesus was crucified, John the Baptist had seen Jesus walking by and pointed him out, saying, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Years later, St. Peter would write to the churches, “...you were ransomed by your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” (I Peter 1:18,19)

Why is it called 'Easter'?
Unfortunately, the English language uses the word “Easter” for the celebration when Christians remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. The word, Easter, is thought to originate from Estre, a Teutonic goddess of light and spring and so it was the feast that commemorated the pagan goddess of spring. In German, it is Ostern. The Church in Anglo-Germanic countries often ‘Christianized’ pagan feast days by using the name of the pagan feast or certain symbols of the celebration (such as the Yule tree at Christmas time) for Christian festivals. The symbol would be given a Christian meaning and so change the significance of the symbol. For example, the Christmas tree, an evergreen, came to symbolize ‘everlasting life’ which Jesus promised to his followers. In a similar manner, the eggs and young animals (chicks and rabbits) of Easter came to symbolize ‘new life in Christ’.
Other languages more correctly reflect the Aramaic form of the Hebrew pesach. So we have Greek, Pascha; Latin, Pascha; Italian Pasqua; Spanish, Pascua; French, Pâques; Scottish, Pask; Dutch, Pasen; Danish, Paaske; Swedish , Pask; Swedish , Pask. In the Lower Rhine provinces of Germany the people call the feast Paisken not Ostern.
By the way, the same ‘problem’ arises with the Anglo and Germanic languages using Sunday and Sonntag (referring to the pagan Sun god) whereas the Latinate languages use cognates of Latin, Deis Dominae ‘the day of the Lord’: Italian, Dominica; French, Dimanche; Spanish, Domingo.
Setting the date for remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus was somewhat complicated and was not settled until years later. The Jewish Passover is set following the lunar calendar whereas Rome (and later the Western Church) followed a solar calendar. The Church could have set ‘Easter’ (the time of celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection) on the same date as the Jews celebrated Passover (the 15th of Nisan) but they desired to celebrate the Resurrection on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as it had originally fallen on that day. Because of the difference in the lunar calendar and the solar calendar the date of Easter would not be the same every year. Eventually the Western Church set Easter Sunday as the first Sunday which occurs after the first full moon following the 21st of March. As a result, the earliest possible date for Easter is 22 March and the latest is April 25th. The Orthodox Church sets the date differently. see http://www.zenit.org/article-32165?l=english

References
The Bible. History Television http://www.history.com/shows/the-bible
The Catholic Encyclopedia / New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm
The Jewish Virtual Library http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=99&letter=P

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Tale of a University, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Anti-Christian Culture

Women who have been sexually assaulted on university campuses are not taken seriously by the university. Dalhousie Dental students post disturbing and sexually explicit comments about female students on Facebook. Rape chants highlight Frosh Week at some Canadian universities.

One would think with headlines like that a university at which students promise to abstain from premarital sex (as well as harassment, gossip, vulgar language, drunkenness, use of illegal drugs, cheating and stealing) would be welcome news. Not only does “‘no’ mean ‘no’” but the question is never even asked! And yet many have given Trinity Western University in Langley, BC a failing grade for that very reason. The ‘community covenant’ that students are asked to sign states that they will voluntarily ‘abstain from sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman’. It’s this part of the covenant ‘between a man and a woman’, that some claim, discriminates against married gay persons who would want to study law there. Obviously it does not discriminate against unmarried gay or lesbian persons because the same rule of abstinence applies to both unmarried heterosexual and homosexual persons.

It should be pointed out that as lawyers, graduates from the proposed law school at TWU would have to uphold the law of Canada which allows for same-sex marriage. TWU acknowledges that Canadian Human Rights Laws and the Charter and Section 15 of the Charter protect against and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that “the courses that will be offered at the TWU School of Law will ensure that students understand the full scope of these protections in the public and private spheres of Canadian life.” (see the website for Trinity Western University).

In the preamble and section 3.1 of the Civil Marriage Act of Canada there is also protection against discrimination of those whose religious beliefs do not allow for their participation to perform marriages which are not in accordance with those same religious beliefs:

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;
WHEREAS it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage;

3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.


The BC Civil Liberties Association, which has often defended gay rights in British Columbia, wrote to the Law Society of BC in support of the TWU
Law School in March, 2013 as follows:

TWU is a private religious university. TWU requires its students, as a
condition of enrolment, to sign a Community Covenant under which
they agree to “voluntarily abstain” from “sexual intimacy that violates
the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” While it is
the implications that this aspect of the Community Covenant have for
LGBTQ students that that have received the most attention in this
current controversy, it is worth noting that that is only one part of a
comprehensive faith-based code of conduct that members of the TWU
community agree to abide by.
Were such conditions imposed on students attending a public faculty of
law they would rightly be seen as unlawful discrimination contrary to s.
8 of the Human Rights Code of BC, as well a breach of students’ rights
to equality under s. 15 of the Charter. But it is crucial to remember that
TWU is not a public university and these conditions are not imposed on
TWU students – they are voluntarily accepted by those students who
choose to attend TWU. .... People who are not members of a particular

religion (and even those who are) may not approve of or be comfortable
with the beliefs of that faith. However, BCCLA’s position – in accordance
with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Trinity Western University - is that
the repugnance of a certain set of beliefs even to a majority of Canadians
cannot be the basis to deny a public good, such as entry to a profession,
to members of that faith.
In this case, the public good is accreditation for the purpose of
admission to the bar by students graduating from TWU’s proposed law
school. The denial of that public good to graduates of TWU’s law
school would infringe the freedom of religion, of association and of
expression of the members of the TWU community. We are unaware of
any sufficient rationale being offered that would justify that infringement.
Permitting graduates of TWU to enter the legal profession does not send the message
from the state to LGBTQ Canadians that they are less worthy of respect than others nor
does it deny them any rights or freedoms to which they would otherwise be entitled.
All it does is respect the freedom of those who wish to govern their own conduct in
accordance with the religious tenets encompassed within the Community Covenant.

(e-mail from the BC Civil Liberties to The Law Society of British Columbia. March 3, 2014. The entire e-mail can be viewed on
http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/page.cfm?cid=3891&t=Bencher- meeting-consideration-of-TWU,-April-11,-2014 under Public Submissions).

The Benchers of BC’s Law Society approved TWU’s Law School in the summer of 2014. However a group of lawyers in British Columbia asked for a membership vote on the matter rather than accepting the ruling of their governing body. In the fall of 2014 a majority of members voted against the approval of accepting graduates of TWU Law School as members of the Society. The Benchers of B.C.’s law society then reversed their previous approval of TWU Law School. Since then in December, 2014, BC Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virka also revoked the consent he had previously given for Trinity Western University to offer a law degree program.
TWU President Bob Kuhn said that he was disappointed with the decisions, “As a private Christian
University, Trinity Western has demonstrated its place in Canada’s academic community, delivering some of Canada’s highest ranked professional programs. We believe in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their beliefs and values.”
It all boils down to this: if you don’t agree with the rules of a school or university then don’t go there. There are other law schools in Canada and in British Columbia. Surely students would be happier studying where they agree with the rules and are with those who share their beliefs. Trinity Western says it is based on Christian principles and the Bible. If this is not your thing, why would you want to study there?

Some groups, yes, even well-known, banks and corporations, that oppose TWU’s Law School, say it is because they support ‘diversity’ in Canada. Apparently to them ‘diversity’ only means the diversity which they approve. Is that true diversity?

Ezra Levant, a journalist with the now defunct Sun News, reported on the vote against TWU's Law School in 2014, Listen to it at www.ezralevant.com/the-real-bigots

To learn more about Trinity Western University in Langley, BC go to their website at www.twu.ca







Thursday, February 26, 2015

Are Coptic 'Christians' Really Christians?



The Italian news agency ANSA reported on February 17, 2015 that Pope Francis offered up a Mass for the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS militants on the weekend. At the end of his address to Scottish Bishops on the Pope gave this comment about the men who were so brutally killed:
“I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.
From an article on Catholic World Report by Catherine Harmon

Christians of all denominations from many countries tweeted their outrage at the actions of ISIS and their support of those fellow Christians who were suffering.
Then comments by a Southern Baptist (or was it many) surfaced. He (or they) said that it is fine to sympathize with and pray for the families of those killed but the men who were killed could not be considered Christian because the Coptic Church believes (along with Roman Catholics) in salvation by works and not by faith in Christ. I don’t know the origin of this claim but this article about it can be read at Pen and Pulpit. (see http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/02/16/coptic-christians-not-christians-southern-baptist-leaders-need-reminded/) .
Just a minute here - you mean to say that someone who dies rather than denounce his faith in Jesus Christ is not a Christian? Someone who dies with ‘Jesus, help me’ on this lips is not a Christian?
Some lone individual has the audacity to say what a Christian is? Just what is his authority? He, of course, would answer, that Scripture is his sole authority. And so probably would those members from any of the 33,000 denominations of Christianity that exist today- all affirming that the Holy Spirit has led them to the truth in Scripture! How then do we know who is right? What does Scripture give as the criteria for salvation? And what does the Bible say about who and who is not a Christian?
There are many references that do say ‘faith’ is what has saved a person. Most of these passages are those in which Jesus (or one of the Apostles) has healed someone. For example, Jesus says to the woman who touched the hem of his garment ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.” (Matthew 9:22) The healing or forgiveness of sins has come about because of the individual’s faith. In most cases, their faith is outwardly expressed by an act (or a work?) such as the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment or the crippled man taking up his bed and walking.
Here are some other similar passages:
"They brought a paralyzed man to him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.’" Matthew 9,2

In this case, Jesus sees not the faith of the paralyzed man himself but of his friends who have brought him. Can the faith of our friends save us?

"Then Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace and be free of this illness.’"
Mark 5,34

Many well-known passages about faith are in the letter from St. Paul to the Romans:

"God makes us righteous by means of faith in Jesus Christ, and this is applied to all who believe, without distinction of persons." Romans 3,22
"By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips you are saved." Romans 10,10
"By faith we have received true righteousness, and we are at peace with God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Romans 5,1

There are even passages which say that it is faith that saves but not our ‘works’:

“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But there are other passages that seem to give other criteria for salvation (belief in Jesus, calling on the name of the Lord, washing of regeneration, enduring to the end, obedience).
And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 (Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost)
“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
Some would say that ‘the washing of regeneration’ refers to baptism.
Acts 16:31 “’What must I do to be saved?’ And they (Paul and Silas) said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Does this mean that they must believe that Jesus is God? Or just that he has been sent by God? Ot that he was the Messiah for whom the Jews waited.
Matt 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake, But he who endures till the end will be saved.”
We must ‘endure till the end’ - it is not automatic.
Hebrews 5:8 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.
And there is a dire warning for those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’, perhaps those who are smug about their salvation but are not doing God’s will
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are passages of Scripture that indicate the role of baptism: it goes along with belief and with repentance.
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned."
Mark 16,16

Peter answered: "Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2,38

“And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by calling upon his Name." Acts 22,16

We see that there is a relationship between faith or belief and obedience or works. It is in the letter of James that we especially read about this relationship. We cannot ‘see’ or ‘know’ the faith of someone - we only know it by the outward things he or she does. Jesus could see into the soul of a person to see if he had faith in God or not but we can’t. And so James, said that faith without works is dead. The ‘works’ or ‘deeds’ a person does are proof of his faith.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James 1: 22
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some will say, “You have faith and I have works’. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith....Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 17ff
Martin Luther did not want to include the letter of James in the Bible because it did not ‘agree’ with his interpretation of Romans and the emphasis on faith.
But it is not only in James that we read about this relationship. We also see the relationship between obedience or works with faith in the Epistles of John.
“He who says, ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his words, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him; he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I John 1:4
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God ... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” I John 5:1


And there are other passages in the New Testament that refer to ‘works’ and ‘good works’ and their role in our salvation.

"Our people must learn to be outstanding in good works and to face urgent needs, instead of remaining idle and useless." Titus 3,14

"Do not neglect good works and common life, for these are sacrifices pleasing to God." Hebrews 13,16

“I know your works, your difficulties and your patient suffering. I know you cannot tolerate evildoers but have tested those who call themselves apostles and have proved them to be liars."
Revelation 2,2

"I know your works: your love, faith, service, patient endurance and your later works, greater than the first." Revelation 2,19

"Wake up and strengthen that which is not already dead. For I have found your works to be imperfect in the sight of my God." Revelation 3,2

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!" Revelation 3,15

"Fine linen, bright and clean, is given her to wear. This linen stands for the good works of the holy ones."
Revelation 19,8


The Italian news agency ANSA reported on February 17, 2015 that Pope Francis offered up a Mass for the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS militants on the weekend. At the end of his address to Scottish Bishops on the Pope gave this comment about the men who were so brutally killed:
“I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.
From an article on Catholic World Report by Catherine Harmon

Christians of all denominations from many countries tweeted their outrage at the actions of ISIS and their support of those fellow Christians who were suffering.
Then comments by a Southern Baptist (or was it many) surfaced. He (or they) said that it is fine to sympathize with and pray for the families of those killed but the men who were killed could not be considered Christian because the Coptic Church believes (along with Roman Catholics) in salvation by works and not by faith in Christ. I don’t know the origin of this claim but this article about it can be read at Pen and Pulpit. (see http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/02/16/coptic-christians-not-christians-southern-baptist-leaders-need-reminded/) .
Just a minute here - you mean to say that someone who dies rather than denounce his faith in Jesus Christ is not a Christian? Someone who dies with ‘Jesus, help me’ on this lips is not a Christian?
Some lone individual has the audacity to say what a Christian is? Just what is his authority? He, of course, would answer, that Scripture is his sole authority. And so probably would those members from any of the 33,000 denominations of Christianity that exist today- all affirming that the Holy Spirit has led them to the truth in Scripture! How then do we know who is right? What does Scripture give as the criteria for salvation? And what does the Bible say about who and who is not a Christian?
There are many references that do say ‘faith’ is what has saved a person. Most of these passages are those in which Jesus (or one of the Apostles) has healed someone. For example, Jesus says to the woman who touched the hem of his garment ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.” (Matthew 9:22) The healing or forgiveness of sins has come about because of the individual’s faith. In most cases, their faith is outwardly expressed by an act (or a work?) such as the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment or the crippled man taking up his bed and walking.
Here are some other similar passages:
"They brought a paralyzed man to him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.’" Matthew 9,2

In this case, Jesus sees not the faith of the paralyzed man himself but of his friends who have brought him. Can the faith of our friends save us?

"Then Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace and be free of this illness.’"
Mark 5,34

Many well-known passages about faith are in the letter from St. Paul to the Romans:

"God makes us righteous by means of faith in Jesus Christ, and this is applied to all who believe, without distinction of persons." Romans 3,22
"By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips you are saved." Romans 10,10
"By faith we have received true righteousness, and we are at peace with God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Romans 5,1

There are even passages which say that it is faith that saves but not our ‘works’:

...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But there are other passages that seem to give other criteria for salvation (belief in Jesus, calling on the name of the Lord, washing of regeneration, enduring to the end, obedience).
"And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 (Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost)
“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
Some would say that ‘the washing of regeneration’ refers to baptism.
Acts 16:31 “’What must I do to be saved?’ And they (Paul and Silas) said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Does this mean that they must believe that Jesus is God? Or just that he has been sent by God? Ot that he was the Messiah for whom the Jews waited.
Matt 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake, But he who endures till the end will be saved.
We must ‘endure till the end’ - it is not automatic.
Hebrews 5:8 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.
And there is a dire warning for those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’, perhaps those who are smug about their salvation but are not doing God’s will
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are passages of Scripture that indicate the role of baptism: it goes along with belief and with repentance.
"The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned."
Mark 16,16

Peter answered: "Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2,38

“And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by calling upon his Name." Acts 22,16

We see that there is a relationship between faith or belief and obedience or works. It is in the letter of James that we especially read about this relationship. We cannot ‘see’ or ‘know’ the faith of someone - we only know it by the outward things he or she does. Jesus could see into the soul of a person to see if he had faith in God or not but we can’t. And so James, said that faith without works is dead. The ‘works’ or ‘deeds’ a person does are proof of his faith.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James 1: 22
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some will say, “You have faith and I have works’. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith....Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 17ff
Martin Luther did not want to include the letter of James in the Bible because it did not ‘agree’ with his interpretation of Romans and the emphasis on faith.
But it is not only in James that we read about this relationship. We also see the relationship between obedience or works with faith in the Epistles of John.
“He who says, ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his words, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him; he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I John 1:4
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God ... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” I John 5:1


And there are other passages in the New Testament that refer to ‘works’ and ‘good works’ and their role in our salvation.

"Our people must learn to be outstanding in good works and to face urgent needs, instead of remaining idle and useless." Titus 3,14

"Do not neglect good works and common life, for these are sacrifices pleasing to God." Hebrews 13,16

“I know your works, your difficulties and your patient suffering. I know you cannot tolerate evildoers but have tested those who call themselves apostles and have proved them to be liars."
Revelation 2,2

"I know your works: your love, faith, service, patient endurance and your later works, greater than the first." Revelation 2,19

"Wake up and strengthen that which is not already dead. For I have found your works to be imperfect in the sight of my God." Revelation 3,2

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!" Revelation 3,15

"Fine linen, bright and clean, is given her to wear. This linen stands for the good works of the holy ones."
Revelation 19,8


Of course, someone could be very good at doing ‘good works’ and not really know God or even belief that Jesus is truly God. Atheists claim that they also do good works but these good works will not save them it they do not believe that Jesus is God. And those who merely do good works but do not know and obey Jesus will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you.”

“Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you evildoers.’" Matthew 7:22

Here Jesus is not condemning all works done in his name but only those that were done by those who had no relationship with him or did not know him.

The writer of the article being discussed claims that the Coptic Church and the Roman Catholic Church do not believe that salvation is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Is it embracing a meritorious, works-based salvation nearly identical to that of the Roman Catholic church? Is it in aggressively denying salvation by a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ? We ask because that’s what Coptic ‘Christians’ believe. This really isn’t new, and we have to wonder why our leaders don’t know what Coptics believe and if they do, what on Earth makes them think they should be categorized as Christians”. (Pulpit and Pen.org see link above).

Perhaps the writer of the article doesn’t know what the Roman Catholic Church believes about salvation. All he would have to do is pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read what it says.

“Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please God and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone attain eternal life ‘but he who endures to the end.’” C of the CC 161

“Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” ( Matthew 16:16) C of the CC 183.

There is a Coptic Orthodox Church and a Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt. The Coptic Catholic Church believes the same as that expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church quoted above. The Coptic Orthodox Church would be similar if not identical.

The 21 men who were killed by ISIS were members of the Coptic Orthodox Church which traces its origin to St, Mark whom they believe went to Egypt to evangelize. We do not know the personal lives of the men. What we do know is that rather than change their faith to Islam they did not deny that Jesus is truly God. Muslims believe that Jesus is only a prophet but is not divine.

In any case, it is not for us to judge for only God knows the condition of their souls. Since they, like the early martyrs, were killed for their faith rather than deny Christ, I think we can safely say that the men were Christians. They died calling out for Jesus to help them and I’m sure he met them at the gate of heaven. Instead of putting our own spin on who is a Christian and who is not perhaps we should pray to God that in the same circumstances we would make the right choice, too.












Thursday, February 12, 2015

What is Ash Wednesay? What is Lent?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to church to have the priest or minister make the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. In the Catholic tradition, ashes used are made from burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and they are mixed with Holy Water and then blessed. The ashes signify the impermanence of life, reminding us that someday we will all die. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
Significance of Ashes
Ashes are also a sign of mourning and repentance. People in Old Testament times would show their grief and mourning by tearing their garments and putting ashes on their heads (e.g. a soldier -2 Sam 1:20, Tamar-2 Samuel 13:19, Mordecai - Esther 4:1). The Anglo-Saxon homilist, Ælfric (c.955–c.1010), writes: “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do a little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”
Significance of Forty Days
The word Lent is from Teutonic and originally meant only ‘the spring season’. In Latin the term used is quadragesima and this is retained the Romance languages: French carême, Italian quaresima, and Spanish cuaresma. Forty is a significant number in Scripture. God sent rain in the flood of Noah for forty days and nights (Genesis 7:4), Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years (Numbers 14:33), Jonah gave the city of Nineveh forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4) and Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-2, Luke 4:1-2). In traditional belief, Jesus is said to have been in the tomb for forty hours (Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning). The six weeks of Lent are calculated as follows: Ash Wednesday to Good Friday =46 days -6 Sundays=40 days. The colour of the vestments during Lent is violet, signifying mourning and penance. In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory to God) is not sung from Ash Wednesday until the Easter Vigil.
Purpose of Lent
Lent is meant to be the time for preparation of Christians. Through increased prayer, penitence, almsgiving (ie all charitable works) and fasting, the Christian deepens his or her relationship with Jesus. A custom is to ‘give up a vice or habit’ during the time of Lent but this should not be ‘just something one is supposed to do for Lent’ without any real desire to change one’s life permanently. In fact, one does not have to ‘give something up’ but could add something such as going to daily mass, reading Scripture daily or praying the Rosary daily. One could read a devotional book during lent. Pope Emeritus Benedict’s books on the life of Jesus would be good ones to read.
In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent. The Greek Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstain from all animal products, including fish, eggs, and milk.
Growing Popularity
Lent was universally practiced until the Reformation when some Protestant denominations did away with the Lent practices. Lutherans and Anglicans (the Church of England) retained Lent. Now other Protestant churches are beginning to observe Lent once again thus uniting Christians in this meaningful event.
Lent is a time of reflection which culminates in the great joy of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil (Saturday night before Easter Sunday).

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Book Review: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr., PhD


Woods, Thomas E. Jr. PhD. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005. 280 pp

“Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, has called anti-Catholicism the one remaining acceptable prejudice in America. His assessment is difficult to dispute. ... My own students, to the extent that they know anything at all about the Church, are typically familiar only with alleged Church “corruption,” of which they heard ceaseless tales of varying credibility from their high school teachers. The story of Catholicism, as far as they know, is one of ignorance, repression, and stagnation.” So Thomas E. Woods, himself an historian, economist, professor and noted author, begins his book on ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization’. (page 1)
In contrast to these biases, Woods proceeds to demonstrate that in the areas of science, economics, education, art, philosophy, law and charity it is the Catholic Church that has been their most important source in the Western world.
Scientific Achievements
In the area of Science, Woods makes the claim that those who worship creation itself cannot investigate it in a scientific way. This idea was put forth by Stanley Jaki, a Catholic priest who has doctorates in physics and theology, in his book, The Saviour of Science (2000). For example, someone who worships a tree cannot look into what elements make up the tree or what causes it to grow. The Jewish Scriptures, on the other hand, show creation to be rational and orderly and a reflection of God’s wisdom, goodness and beauty. God has ordered all things by measure, number and weight (Wisdom 11:21). Creation, not treated as something ‘divine’ itself, can then be investigated. Jaki does not deny that other cultures made contributions to science but says that “sustained scientific inquiry” (Woods, p. 77) and the scientific method emerged from Catholic thought.
Woods dismantles the ‘Galileo case’ as it has been misrepresented to the public demonstrating that science, itself, was not what the Church found problematic. In fact, Jesuits were involved in the study of astronomy at that time and still are. The misrepresentations are widespread: one of my former students in Grade 5 had learned somewhere that Galileo was tortured to death by the Catholic Church. He was surprised to hear from me that Galileo had only been put under house arrest, had all his needs cared for and died a natural death at the age of 77.
Triumphs in Education
Education is another area in which the Catholic Church has made a significant contribution, Woods claims. The great universities of Europe began as Cathedral schools or gatherings of Masters and students under the patrimony of the Church. It was during the Middle Ages that the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford were instituted and the papacy played an important role in their establishment. For example, Pope Innocent IV granted the privilege of awarding degrees to Oxford in 1254.
Charity and Hospitals
Woods also shows how charitable acts, although not unknown in early Greek and Roman cultures, were unique in Christianity. He shows this by quotations from writers such as the Stoic, Seneca and others. Even though the Stoics taught that man should do good to his fellow-man without expecting anything in return, they also taught that they were to remain indifferent to everything and everyone. A problem in some the teaching of some world religions is that illness and other misfortunes are the results of the individual’s sin (in this life or in a previous one) and any help given to the individual interferes with his future re-incarnations. If this is true, people reasoned, it is better not to give charity.
Others religions believe that individuals have no free-will and God is the only cause of everything. This God does not act with ‘reason’ and no matter what happens, it is ‘God’s will’. Even that which we would ordinarily call ‘evil’ is caused by God. With this kind of ‘unreasonable’ God, science and education do not advance but stagnate.
In Alexandria, in the third century, pagans were said to ‘thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from dearest friends’, whereas Christians ‘visited the sick without thought of their own peril ... drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases’ (page 175). He demonstrates how hospitals were established in the major cities by the fourth century. Fabiola, a Christian matron, established the first large, public hospital in Rome and St. Basil the Great established a hospital in Caeserea. Also mentioned are the military Orders, established during the Crusades, such as the Knights of St. John.
International Law
It has become popular in recent years to show Christopher Columbus, and the Spanish who came with him, as those who invaded peaceful places and forced the native people to accept Christianity all the while mistreating them. Although these stories are often exaggerated, Woods points out that reports of the mistreatment of peoples in the New World caused a ‘crisis of conscience’ amongst Spanish theologians and philosophers at that time as well. This, he says, is unusual in history and wonders if Attila the Hun had any moral qualms about his conquests. Or did the human sacrifices of the Aztecs themselves cause any ‘philosophical reflection’ on their part? Woods says that the outcries of such Spaniards as Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos, and Father Francisco de Vitoria were the beginnings of international law. In fact, Father de Vitoria is called the ‘father of international law’ but how many of us have ever heard of him? Another Spaniard, a bishop, Bartolome de Las Casas, suggested that the natives “... be attracted gently, in accordance with Christ’s doctrine” and said that Aristotle’s views on slavery as being natural to some should be rejected because “... we have in our favour Christ’s mandate: love your neighbour as yourself.” (quoted on page 143).
Legal Tradition of the Western World
Regarding law, Woods shows that Rome introduced systemized law in their Empire and the so-called ‘barbarians’ had laws of their own that dealt with ownership, dowries, rights and crime. The laws of these ‘barbarians’ sometimes based guilt and innocence on superstition, such as the ‘floating or sinking test’ to prove guilt of a crime. It was Canon or Church Law that many of our best and fairest laws today have as their basis. For example, the Church stated that marriage could take place only with the consent of both parties. This is significant since people in earlier centuries did not consider that women should have a voice in important matters, even those that affected them greatly. Some pre-Christian cultures approved of arranged marriages between infants and the will of the individuals was not considered, only that of their parents. Many cultures today do not take into consideration the consent of women. In contrast the Church will still annul a marriage if one or both parties of the couple did not give their free consent to the marriage.
Summary
These are just a few examples of how Woods defends his thesis that the Catholic Church built Western civilization. He cites numerous examples in economy, law, agriculture and in science (which is often the thought to be at odds with the Church) where Catholic philosophers, monks, priests and Bishops have made important contributions to modern Western society. For those who think that he has not given enough credibility to other cultures (for example, the inventions of the Chinese and the mathematics of the Arabs), remember, that Woods has used ‘Western Civilization’ in the title.
The book is easy and interesting to read and is not just a gathering of facts. Woods tell the stories of the people who shaped our modern society, many of whom most of us have never heard. He manages to do this with honesty, truth and good writing style. I have to admit it is my favourite non-fiction book and I recommend it as a book for your `must read`list.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity


The history of Bethlehem goes back to the time of Jacob and Rachel. The town is important to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Bethlehem is situated eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills and is 2361 feet above sea level. Today it is a Palestinian territory with both Muslims and Christians seeing themselves as Palestinians.
Bethlehem means ‘house of bread,’ in Hebrew and ‘house of meat,’ in Arabic. ‘House of Bread’ is meaningful to Christians who believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life. For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the Eucharist (the bread shared in Communion) after consecration is the real body of Jesus.
'I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh' John 6:51

Not far away is Rachel’s Tomb, revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Rachel was Jacob’s most beloved wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
“So Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, at Bethlehem.” Gen 35:19

Ruth, the Moabite Woman
We also read of Bethlehem in Scripture in the Book of Ruth, a story that takes place during the time of the Judges. Ruth, a Moabite woman, was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Naomi and her husband had fled Bethlehem in the land of Judah during a famine. After her husband and sons died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem and Ruth went with her, accepting her mother-in-law’s country and God as her own. Ruth married again, this time to an important landowner of Bethlehem, Boaz, and they became the ancestors of King David and eventually, Jesus.
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife ... and she bore a son ... and they named him Obed. This was the father of David’s father, Jesse.” Ruth 4:13 ff
The City of David
Bethlehem was King David’s birthplace and is called ‘The city of David’. David was the second King of Israel in c.1000 BC.
“David was the son of an Ephrathite from Bethlehem of Judah whose name was Jesse.” I Sam 17:12

Years later, the prophet Micah, who lived in the 8th century BC, prophesied that a ruler would be born in the small, and by then, unimportant town of Bethlehem.
“But you Bethlehem, Ephrath, the least of all the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.” Micah 5:2

Birthplace of Jesus
The Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, report that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth in Galilee, in the north. The Romans had called for a census and everyone was to travel to his ancestral city to be registered.
“So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:3
Two Church Fathers attest to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Justin Martyr (c. 100- 165 AD) and Origen (185-c.254).
“Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth Christ and placed Him in a manger and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.” Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. chapter LXXVIII)
“In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.” (Origen Contra Celsum. book I, chapter LI)

The Church of the Holy Nativity
St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, travelled to the Holy Land to find places which had been significant in the life of Jesus. She had the grotto, where people said Jesus had been born, made into a chapel and in AD 333 construction was completed on the basilica. This structure was destroyed by fire in AD529 during the Samaritan Revolt and the present Basilica was built in AD565. The entrance to the Basilica is a very low doorway known as the Door of Humility. Some say that the real purpose of the low door was to prevent enemies riding their horses into the sacred place,
The actual place that is believed to be the site of Jesus' birth is marked by a 14-point silver star set in marble on which are written the words Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus est (Here the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ). The Church is now administered by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscans) and Armenian Apostolic authorities and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world.
Bethlehem Today
Today the town of Bethlehem is under the control of The Palestinian Authority and has been since 1995. The present mayor is a Christian woman, Vera Baboun. Both Christians and Muslims count themselves as Palestinian but the majority are Arab Muslims. Many of the Christian Arabs have left in the past few years depleting the population of Christians. The total population of Bethlehem is 27,000.
Citizens of Bethlehem, including Muslims, depend on tourism and Christian pilgrimages for their livelihood.

Sources
The New Jerusalem Bible New York: Doubleday & company, Inc. 1970.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.
Website of BBC News Church with a Turbulent History. 4 April 2002. Accessed December 14, 2010.
Website of New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia. article on Bethlehem accessed December 15, 2010.
Website of Wikipedia – article on Bethlehem. accessed December 15, 2010.
Terra Sancta, Documentary (2009) by the Franciscan Media Centre aired on Salt and Light Television, December 17, 2013.
Photos by L. Shelstad