Friday, December 06, 2013

Origins of Christmas and Traditions

As we approach December 25th people are seen scurrying around shopping for gifts, decorating trees and baking yummy cookies and cakes. But surprisingly, there are still many who do not know the origins of Christmas and of the traditions and customs associated with it.
Over two million people world-wide celebrate Christmas. Different traditions have become part of the celebration, some are unique to specific countries. The origin of Christmas itself, however, the 'Mass of Christ' is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and is shared by all who are Christians. This sounds simple but Christians believe that Jesus is God ie The Incarnation or God taking on flesh (carne - flesh in Latin). So why did God become man and why is there a birth to celebrate?

The Promised Messiah
In many of the writings of the prophets in the Jewish Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) a Messiah is promised. 'Messiah' is from Hebrew (although Anglicized) for Anointed One and the Greek equivalent is 'Christus'. These prophets said that the promised Messiah would be of the line of King David Isaiah 11:1-5, (Jesse was David's father); would be born in Bethlehem, David's home city (I Samuel 16:1, Micah 5:1); and that the mother of this Promised One would be a virgin (Isaiah 7:14 ). In Isaiah the word used in Hebrew means young woman implying virginity. The Gospel writer, Matthew, records Joseph's dream encouraging him to take Mary as his wife and quotes the Isaiah passage from the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible (the Septuagint) using the more technical term for virgin. Mary and Joseph were only engaged and not yet married and so Mary was a virgin. Joseph thinking that Mary, who was now pregnant, had been unfaithful to him, was not going to marry her (following Jewish Law) but God spoke to Joseph in a dream reminding him of the prophecy in Isaiah. Joseph knew then that this child had been chosen somehow by God. Did he realize, as well, that he was the Promised Messiah? We don't know how much the young couple understood all of the implications at that time.
Jesus and Mary then travelled to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestors, for a census called by the Roman Emperor. Jesus was born in a cave used as a stable because all the inns were full.
The first Christians were Jews who believed that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. The name Jesus, in Hebrew, Jeshua, means 'Yhwh helps' or 'God helps'. When Jesus grew up he gained the reputation of a Rabbi (or Teacher) and healer. Once, in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from the prophet, Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. As he rolled up the scroll, he said, 'Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing'". Before the crowd in the synagogue, Jesus, himself, had claimed to be the Promised One or the Messiah.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Saviour and that he died for the sins of all humanity.

Star and Angels
The story of Christ's birth (told by the Gospel writer, Matthew) say that the Wisemen (or Magi) were led to the place of Jesus' birth by following a star. These were men from somewhere in Asia and had studied and kept track of stars. It is usually thought that there were three Wisemen. This is because there are three gifts mentioned: frankincense, myrrh and gold. These gifts foretell Jesus as priest (frankincense), his death (myrrh) and his Kingship (gold). Of course, there may have been many Wisemen who came. This is the beginning of the exchange of gifts at Christmas.
The gospel writers tell us that angels announced the birth of the Messiah to shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. Both Wisemen and angels are used on Christmas cards and decorations at Christmas time.

Date of Jesus Birth
Of course, most Christians now know that December 25th is probably not the date that Jesus was born. It is unlikely that the census was held in winter and shepherds and their sheep may not have been out in the fields on 'a cold winter's night'. However, it seems that December 25th was celebrated in Rome as the Birth of Christ as early as 354 AD. (AD is Anno Dominum or The Year of Our Lord and not 'after death' as is sometimes thought). The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the solar feast, Natalis Invicti, in the cult of Sun worship, is the probable source of December 25th as the birthday of Jesus. The Church often took over the feasts that were celebrated by the people before their conversion to Christianity. Thus the celebration also underwent a conversion of sorts; people still celebrated on the same day, but the reason for the celebration had changed. Cyprian wrote, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born...Christ should be born". But both Tertullian and Augustine condemned this comparison with Sol Invictus asserting that the Sun should not be identified with Christ. Some believe that using the pagan feast day was syncretistic while others think it was not a bad idea. Perhaps the latter turned out to be  right because today, most people in the world have heard of Christmas but not many have ever heard of Natalis Invicti.
Another explanation comes from a quotation from St. Augustine, who writes in On the Trinity (c.399-419), “For he (Jesus) is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day he also suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him not since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th”. December 25th is nine months after March 25.

Gift Exchange
The origin of giving gifts to friends and family at Christmas is most likely the gifts the Wisemen or Magi gave to Jesus (see story in Matthew 2). Though in the modern telling of the story, these Wisemen came to the stable shortly after the birth of Jesus, the visit was probably much later. The Gospel writer records that King Herod had all baby boys up to age 2 years killed in order to dispose of a possible threat to his throne. Having been warned in a dream, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and travelled to Egypt and so Jesus escaped what is known as 'The Slaughter of the Innocents'. Scripture is silent on the timing and, in fact, only Matthew records the visit of the Magi.

Santa Claus
Santa Claus is from the Dutch, Sinterklaas, or in English, Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a bishop in Myra, Lycia (now Turkey) who died December 6, 345 or 352. St. Nicholas' relics are now in the Church of San Nicola in Bari, Italy after being stolen (or rescued, depending on who tells it) by Italian sailors and taken there. Although very little is known about Nicholas, there are legends that during his lifetime he gave gifts to poor children and performed many miracles. He is the patron saint of mariners, bakers, travelers and children. In parts of Northern Europe (Holland and Germany, for example) art has portrayed him as giving gifts secretly to children on his feast day (December 6). In North America he has become the red-suited Santa Claus (known to Christians and non-Christians alike) who gives gifts to children on Christmas Eve. We owe many of the ideas we have of Santa Claus today to Clement Clarke Moore who in 1823 wrote the poem 'The Night Before Christmas'. It was from this poem that the red-suited jolly man, who comes in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, originated and gained popularity in the West.

The Christmas Tree
Druids and other pre-Christian peoples in Europe used greenery, including mistletoe, to decorate their houses on festive occasions. In c.575 AD, Archbishop Martin of Braga forbade Christians to use yule logs, greenery or trees in their celebrations so as not to be identified with unbelievers.  However, the Christmas tree was still used at Strasbourg in the 17th century and came to the rest of France and England in the 19th century.  Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German husband, was said to have introduced the decorated Christmas tree to England. Christian advocates of the Christmas tree claim that the evergreen tree symbolizes eternal life and the resurrection and point out that Jesus died on a tree for our salvation.  However, the decorated tree is popular in many countries that do not have a Christian heritage. For example, in Thailand, a predominately Buddhist country, the decorated tree has been adopted as a decoration in stores for the New Year celebration.

The Nativity Scene
St. Francis of Assisi in the 10th century is credited for using and popularizing the creche or nativity scene with the characters of the Biblical story around the manger. These are seen in churches but also in public parks and shopping malls.

Other Traditions
There are of course other traditions associated with Christmas: carol singing, the turkey dinner (in North America), the colours of red and green for decoration are just a few.  Certain countries have their own additions: Mexico has the pinata (a paper mache container filled with candy and gifts), the Philippines has Simbang Gabi (the Mass of the Rooster) and there are many more traditions that include special food, music and activities, in countries like Norway, Germany, Italy and Spain.

New Advent/ Catholic Encylopedia website accessed June 30 and July 1, 2011.
New American Bible. St. Joseph Edition. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1992
Seal, Jeremy. Nicholas. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2005.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jerzy Popieluszko: A 20th Century Martyr

What were you doing in 1984? Were you using your new Apple personal computer which had just been put on sale in the US? Or were you watching The Space Shuttle Discovery take off on its maiden voyage? Perhaps you watched the winter Olympics in Sarajevo or the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

While we were doing these rather mundane tasks, Polish workers were standing up to the Communist government in their country in what was called ‘the Solidarity Movement’. Some were imprisoned and others were killed for doing so. We occasionally heard news about Lech Walesa, and even about the visit of the new Polish Pope, John Paul II, to his country. But have you ever heard of Father Jerzy Popieluszko? Probably not. Most of the world did not hear all the events that took place in Poland at that time.

First let’s go back in history a bit further in order to better understand the events of 1984 -1989 in Eastern Europe.

World War II And After
In September 1939 Hitler’s Germany and Russia both invaded Poland and divided Poland between them. Germany later broke the agreement and invaded the Soviet territory causing Russia to join the Allies against Hitler.
During this terrible war three million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust and three million Polish non-Jews died in battle, in concentration camps and by execution.
But Poland’s suffering did not end when World War II ended. Poland, and other countries, were handed over to the Soviet Union by the Allied leaders who met at Yalta (1945). During the next 44 years of Russian occupation the Catholic Church in Poland was persecuted by propaganda campaigns and constant spying by secret police. Poles, even those who were not particularly religious before, looked to the Church as the center of their struggle for justice. Because of the strength of the Polish Church, the Soviets had to allow a certain amount of freedom to it which they did not in the other European countries they occupied. When Karol Wojtyla, the young Bishop of Krakow, was elected Pope in 1978, Poles celebrated with joy as they realized God had not forgotten them. But Communist leaders were very worried about the outcome. They feared that the Polish Church could become a huge problem.

Popieluszko’s Early Life
On Sept 14, 1947 a farmer and his wife in the small village of Okopy, welcomed their fifth child whom they named Alfons. A few years earlier, his mother had prayed that one of her sons would become a priest.
From the time he was seven the boy served as an altar boy in his parish church and, although he was not a brilliant student, he worked hard at his studies. His hero was Maximillian Kolbe, the priest who had sacrificed his life for another prisoner while in the Auschwitz concentration camp. At seventeen Jerzy Popieluscko (who by this time had changed his first name) applied to a seminary in Warsaw. Popieluszko was ordained in 1972 and served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Warsaw. Because he had a number of health problems; hyperthyroidism, anaemia and Addison’s Disease, he was frequently hospitalized but he still managed to fulfil his duties as a parish priest.

The Solidarity Movement
In 1980 he was asked to say Mass for striking steelworkers in Warsaw and he became the first priest to enter the front gates at the steel plant. Father Jerzy later told of this experience, “I was quaking. How would the workers receive me? Would there be a place appropriate for saying Mass? ... And then as I approached the gate, I was astonished. The crowds were smiling and crying and clapping. At first I thought there was somebody important behind me. But they were clapping for me - the first priest in the history of this plant to enter through the main gate. But it seemed to me that this applause was for the Church, which has been knocking at the gates of industrial plants over the past thirty years.” (from Companion booklet produced by Focus Producers and Ignatius Press and distributed with the DVD, Popieluszko).
As the chaplain of the Solidarity movement he not only said Masses but heard confessions, arranged for a regular pilgrimage for workers, travelled to Gdansk, led the public praying of the Rosary and organized relief effort and financial assistance for families of imprisoned workers. More than that, he became their friend.

Persecution and Martyrdom
The Polish government began to take notice of this young priest and had spies follow him everywhere. His sermons were taped and photos were taken during the Masses. Father Jerzy named his little dog, Snitch, in mockery of the secret police who constantly watched his apartment. False stories about Fr. Jerzy, which suggested scandal, were printed in newspapers and his apartment was bombed. In 1983 anti-government pamphlets and other material were planted in his apartment and ‘found’ during a search. He was promptly arrested and put into prison but Church officials were able to get him freed.
After an attempt to kill him in a car accident failed, Father Jerzy was kidnapped on October 13, 1984. Ten days later his badly beaten body was found in the Vistula River. A vigil of prayers for him had been kept by the people for those ten days and Masses had been said for him every hour. The grief of the people was kept under control by the public praying of the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. The gatherings remained peaceful.

The Funeral
Father Jerzy’s funeral was the largest gathering of people in Poland since the Papal Masses during John Paul II’s visits. The leader of the Solidarity Movement, Lech Walesa, was permitted to speak in public to the 400,000 mourners. He said, “Solidarity is alive because you have given your life for it.”

The Struggle Ends
The non-violent struggle for freedom continued until 1989. Through the efforts of Pope John Paul II and other leaders in the free world, Communism in Eastern Europe finally ended. Poland was the first country to gain freedom.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on June 6, 2010. His grave is near the parish church, St. Stanislaw Kostka, in Warsaw where he served as a priest.


Ignatius Press and Focus Producers DVD Popieluszko: Freedom is Within Us. Directed by Rafal Wieczynski and starring Adam Woronowicz as Jerzy Popieluszcko. and Collector’s Companion Booklet. 2013
Museum website
Personal Travel notes.
Photos by L. Shelstad ©2013.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Who is Maximilian Kolbe?

In 1941 a prisoner at Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, took the place of one man condemned to death. In July, 1941 a prisoner from one of the barracks at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi prison camp, had disappeared. To discourage further escape attempts, the deputy camp commander picked ten men to die by starvation. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Jewish man, was one of the men chosen. On knowing his fate he cried out in agony, "My wife! My children! I will never see them again." Nearby, Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward, "I am a Catholic Priest from Poland. I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children."
The Nazi camp commander could have refused or could have taken both to Block 13 for starvation but for some reason he agreed and Kolbe was thrown into the cell with the nine others whereas Gajowniczek remained in the barracks. Perhaps the commander considered Gajowniczek as more use alive as he was younger than Kolbe and would be able to work longer. Ironically, the missing prisoner, that had started the incident, was found dead in one of the latrines.
After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only four of the men in Block 13 remained; one of them was Kolbe. Since the cell was needed for others, the guards gave each of the men an injection of carbolic acid.

Who Was Maximilian Kolbe?
Born Raymond Kolbe in 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland (then part of Russia) his parents were poor weavers. Kolbe had four brothers. In 1907, Kolbe and his elder brother illegally crossed the border into Austria-Hungary to join the Order of Conventual Franciscans. He took the name "Maximilian" at his first vows in 1911 and in 1912, he was sent to Rome where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics and physics. He earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University and was ordained in 1918.

Before Auschwitz
During his time in Rome, Kolbe witnessed demonstrations against the Pope and decided to establish the Militia of the Immaculata (Army of Mary) to pray and work towards conversion of enemies of the Catholic Church. The organization published pamphlets, a monthly magazine (circulation of over one million) and a daily newspaper.
Kolbe also went to Japan where he founded a monastery near Nagasaki. He had been advised to build the monastery on one side of the mountain but instead built it on the opposite side. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the monastery was not destroyed but would have been if it had been built on the other side.
He returned to Poland because of tuberculosis and there Kolbe provided shelter to a number of refugees, including 2,000 Jews. For this reason and because of the anti-Nazi literature he published, he was arrested on February 17, 1941 by the Gestapo.

Imprisonment at Auschwitz
Kolbe was transferred to Auschwitz on May 25, 1941. In the prison camp he heard confessions and acted as a spiritual guide to all those who came to him. He offered to die for Gajowniczek in July of that year. After the war, Franciszek Gajowniczek returned home to find his wife alive but his two sons dead. He died in 1995 at the age of 95.

Maximilian Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonized on October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The Jewish man he saved from death, Franciszek Gajowniczek was among those in the audience.

Hallam, Elizabeth, (Editor) Saints. New York: Simon and Schuster 1994.
Marytown, National Shrine of Saint Maximilian Kolbe website, Accessed August 23, 2010
Jewish Virtual Library Website. Accessed August 15, 2010.
Auschwitz - Denmark website. Accessed August 15, 2010.
photo Seibo no Kishi、Extra Issue of Jan. 1983

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why all the Fuss Over the Pope? Is the Pope Infallible?

The Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is infallible. Many people wonder why this is so and where this teaching originates. Doesn't it give too much power to one person? How can an ordinary 'human being' be infallible? Does it mean that the Catholic Church believes that the pope is not an ordinary human being?

What Does Infallibility Mean?
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the meaning of the words 'infallible' and 'infallibility' are often misunderstood. Infallibility does not mean 'without sin'. That is impeccability. The Pope is not impeccable as all human beings have inherited original sin (the Virgin Mary is a special case which deserves an article of its own). The Pope goes to confession just like any other Catholic.
Infallibility does not mean 'all knowing'; that is omniscience. The Pope does not know what the weather will be like tomorrow (unless he listens to the weather report which may be wrong) nor does he know who will win the World Cup, although he may cheer for his favourite team.

What is Infallibility and When Does It Apply?
Infallibility is defined in the dictionary as 'the inability to err'. Does this mean that the Pope is never wrong? Of course, the Pope can be wrong about some things but not when certain conditions are applied. So when does infallibility apply?
• Infallibility applies only in matters of faith and morals
• Infallibility applies only when the Pope is speaking 'ex cathedra', that is, from the 'chair of Peter', in other words, as the Bishop of the Church over all Bishops.
• The Pope cannot change established doctrine. For example, the Pope cannot change the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
• The Pope cannot deny a truth revealed in Scripture. For example, the Pope cannot say that Jesus did not die on the cross.
Why is the Pope Infallible?
As Jesus and His disciples were at Caesarea Philipi Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus replied, "Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So now I say unto you: You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19  In giving Peter (which means 'rock') the keys to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus was recalling the office of the Prime Minister which had existed in Israel during the time of King David and his words echo those of Isaiah 22:22.
Jesus promised "But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into complete truth." (John 16:13) It stands to reason that if Jesus established his Church on earth, he would also provide a way to keep that Church true to his teachings.
The Pope is only 'infallible' because Jesus promised to keep the Church true to him by sending the Holy Spirit. Although it is true that the Holy Spirit can guide Christians individually, we see in the world today many different interpretations of Scripture and many different denominations have arisen because of these interpretations. They all claim to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They cannot all be true. For example, some denominations say that baptism is for adults who have ‘accepted Jesus as their Saviour’ only, others say that baptism is for babies as well as adults and is a sign of their entrance into the family of God. Which is true? And how do we know which is true? Both groups would claim that their doctrine is found in Scripture.

When Has Infallibility Been Claimed?
It may be surprising to many that ex cathedra statements by the Popes have been very rare. In the past one hundred and thirty –four years there have been only three infallible proclamations made (not counting canonization of saints):
1854 – Doctrine of Infallibility by Pius IX
1870 – Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX
1950 – Doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin by Pius XII
These dogmas were universally held by the Church centuries before and can be found in the writing of the Church Fathers. In these most recent times and because there was a questioning of the doctrine they were ‘defined’ by these proclamations and not 'invented' by them. For example, on the infallibility of the Pope, Cyprian of Carthage (256 AD) wrote: "Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?" (quoted in Keating, page 217)
Some point out that there have been bad popes - those who were openly sinful. It is true that there have been 'bad' Popes who often were appointed by kings or wealthy and powerful people. However, the Holy Spirit kept these Popes from writing error in the same way he has kept 'good' Popes from writing error. No bad pope ever changed doctrine - although, except for the restraint of the Holy Spirit, they could have. Perhaps they were too busy sinning to have time to write any papal bulls or encylclicals!
To summarize, infallibility means that the Holy Spirit prevents the Pope from officially teaching error in his official capacity as the Bishop of Rome ie Pope. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday. 1995
The Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday and Company. 1968
Houghton –Mifflin Canadian Dictionary Markham, Toronto, ON: Houghton-Mifflin Canada Ltd. 1982
Keating, Karl. Catholicism and Fundamentalism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1988

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Does the Catholic Church Use Latin?

The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Israel - Latin inscription 'The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us'.

The Catholic Church has been accused of using Latin in order to keep the gospel from the common people. In fact, just the opposite is true.
To trace the use of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church we must first discover the languages which were spoken at the beginning of Church History.
The Greek Empire
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) established the Greek empire throughout the area of the Mediterranean and as far as Egypt and the borders of India. Greek culture and language became dominant in these areas.
By 146 BC the Roman Republic had conquered most of mainland Greece and for many this signified the end of the Hellenistic (Greek) period. Others claim that the date of the demise of the Greek Empire is 30 BC when Egypt was conquered by Rome. However, the influence of Greece in culture, art and language continued long into the Roman period.
The Roman Empire
During the time of Jesus and early Christianity, the Roman Empire extended throughout the Mediterranean; as far north as Britain and as far south as Northern Africa. The language of the Romans was Latin although most of the educated people spoke Greek as well. In the 3rd century BC there had been a movement by the cultured classes to introduce Greek elements into Latin and it was in this Latin that the orators, poets and historians wrote. It is now known as Classical Latin and two well-known examples are the works of Caesar and Cicero. The masses, however, continued to speak the ‘old’ Latin known as sermo vulgaris or Vulgar Latin. ‘Vulgar’ did not have the meaning it does today, rather, it meant, ‘common’.
The Language of Jesus and the Apostles
Aramaic was the language spoken in Israel during the second temple period (539 BC-70AD). It is not only the language of the Talmud but parts of the books of Daniel and Ezra are written in Aramaic as well. Jesus and the Apostles spoke Aramaic but the Scriptures they studied (what Christians call the Old Testament) was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint). Priests in the temple and rabbis in the synagogue spoke Hebrew and most Jews had some understanding of it. In the final two centuries 'Before Christ', there were many Jews in Egypt, most of whom did not speak Hebrew. Some men (the legend is 70, hence Septuagint) undertook a Greek Translation of the Pentateuch, and later the remaining Hebrew Scriptures in the 3rd century BC.
Greek continued to be the language of education, trade and culture throughout the Roman Empire. Two of the Apostles (Andrew and Philip) had Greek names so they probably spoke Greek as well as Aramaic. Philip was approached by some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover feast. These were not necessarily men from Greece but rather Gentile, Greek-speaking converts to Judaism (see John 12:20). This passage is an indication that Philip spoke Greek.
We do not know if any of the Gospels were written in Aramaic but it is usually assumed that they were first written in Greek. Some believe that Matthew wrote his Gospel in either Hebrew or Aramaic and it was later translated into Greek. Luke and Acts (written by St. Luke) were, of course, written in Greek as were the letters of St. Paul. In other words, the New Testament letters were written in Greek because that is what most people spoke and read. No one bought these 'books' and 'letters'. The letters of St. Paul were written to a church (e.g. Romans, Corinthians) and passed around to other churches to read as well. They were not sold but shared among Christian communities.
The Early Church
At first (until about 235 AD) the liturgy and the writings of the Church were in Greek. The Gospel was spread mostly by the spoken word (preaching) and ‘ecclesiastical’ or church Latin was developing. The language that the Church used would have to be understood and appeal, not only to the literary classes, but to the all people. St. Augustine said, “I often employ words that are not Latin and I do so that you may understand me. Better that I should incur the blame of the grammarians than not to be understood by the people.” (from Psal. cxxxviii,90)
When Latin became the more familiar speech for the majority of the faithful, it eventually replaced the use of Greek in the liturgy. Today the only remaining Greek used in the liturgy of the Western (Roman) Church is the Kyrie: Kyrie Elesion, Christe eleison, kyrie elesion (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy).
St. Jerome’s Vulgate
St. Jerome (340-420) was convinced of the need of a new translation directly from Hebrew to Latin, the language most Christians spoke. He was very knowledgeable in both Hebrew and the places and customs of Palestine. From A.D. 390-405 he completed the protocanonical books of the Old Testament from Hebrew and the deuterocanonical books of Tobias and Judith from Aramaic. He then went on to complete the New Testament revising from the Old Latin. St. Jerome’s version is called ‘the Vulgate’ as it was written in Vulgar Latin, that is, the Latin used by the common people, as opposed to Classical Latin.
The Middle Ages
Although Greek was used in the Eastern Church, Latin continued to be used in the Western Church for the liturgy throughout the Middle Ages. At this time Latin was the language of education, law and literature. An Englishman could go to Bologna to study law, without learning another language, because he would already know Latin. In the same way, an Italian going to Mass in London or Cologne would hear the liturgy; the readings and the hymns in the Latin that was familiar to him. The common people, who did not speak Latin, may be thought to have been at a disadvantage. However, the Mass has a standard form and the same words were used in the prayers and the responses of the people. Presumably they would have learned what these meant. However, the ability to read the vernacular languages was uncommon in the early Middle Ages. Thomas More wrote of the situation in England, “...farre more than fowre partes of the whole divided into tenne could never reade englische yet...” (More, Thomas. Apology. 1523). That is, more than 40% of the people could not read English in the year 1523!

After 1500
In the Middle Ages, monks copied the Scriptures by hand. This meant that Bibles were rare and would be expensive to buy. This is the reason they were chained to the lectern in churches. Rather than to keep the people from reading the Bible it was to ensure that no one stole (or borrowed) it. Like telephone books in telephone booths they were 'chained' so that everyone would have use of it.
Johan Gutenberg (?1400-?1468), a German Catholic, was the inventor of the moveable type printing press which made the printing of books much easier and faster. The first book printed on it was the 'forty-two line Bible'. By 1480 printing presses had been established in the major cities of Europe. By 1500, ninety four Vulgate Bibles and thirty vernacular Bibles had been printed.
Although there had been portions of the Bible in English since the 10th century, the first complete Bible in English was translated by John Wyclif in c. 1381. The Catholic Church did not approve his translation and it is not used by any Christian group today. The first English version of the Bible approved by the Roman Catholic Church was the Douay-Rheims Bible (New Testament in 1582 and Old Testament in 1609). Some feel that the English Bible was produced later than in other countries because of the Church’s fear of Lollardy. The Lollards stood for some of Wyclif’s ideas but their protests against the Roman Church became linked with political unrest in the 15th century. Another possible cause of the lag of a Church- approved Bible translation in English was that the Norman conquest of England in 1066 had greatly modified English and brought about changes to the vocabulary. Since there were Bibles in French this was used by the nobility in England and the need for an English Bible did not seem to be urgent. Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door at Wittenberg in 1517 and this eventually led to the Reformation. Because of the printing press, the Reformers’ ideas, translations and commentaries spread more rapidly than they could have a century earlier.

Official language of the Church
Latin remained the language of the liturgy (although some readings and the homily were in the vernacular) until the Council of Vatican II (1962 -1965). The Council established changes to encourage greater lay participation in the liturgy and in the 1960’s, permissions were granted to celebrate most of the Mass in the vernacular languages.
Latin is considered by some to be a ‘dead language’. However, Latin is the basis of the vocabularies of medicine, law and the sciences. The Romance (from Roman) Languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian) all trace their origins to Latin. In English we have many borrowed words from these languages and directly from Latin.
Today although you will hear the vernacular languages in the Mass, Latin is the still the official language of the Church. Masses from St. Peter's in Rome will be essentially in Latin with the readings of Scripture done in various languages (e.g. Spanish, Italian, English, Mandarin, Hindi). The homily (or sermon) is in Italian. Since the Church is universal (worldwide) the use of Latin officially does not favour the language of any particular country or people; Latin is a neutral language. Latin can still be used in the celebration of the Mass in any country and there is often one parish in a diocese that offers the Tridentine or traditional Latin Mass.
It may surprise some to know that all documents from the Vatican are first written in Latin and then translated into other languages.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Catholic Church and Science

. Most people know that Gregor Mendel, who undertook research in the field of heredity, was an Augustinian Friar. Mendel, who was born in Austria in 1822, is sometimes called, ‘The Father of Modern Genetics’. It is not widely known, however, that the scientist who proposed ‘the Big Bang Theory’ was a Catholic priest. Father Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), a Belgian, was not only a priest but also a physicist and mathematician. He presented his theory of the origins of the universe in 1933 to a gathering of scientists in California. Einstein was present and was reported to declare, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”

  Scientific Method and Religion
 The common understanding is that science and religion, especially, science and the Catholic Church, are enemies and that there is no common meeting point between them. Before looking in to the cause of this let us look at why Christianity is a good environment for the development of the scientific method. Stanley Jaki, a scientific historian, and a Catholic priest, points out that from Old Testament (Jewish Bible) times to the Middle Ages, God and His creation were believed to be orderly and rational. The seasons and other regular natural phenomena, show the goodness and beauty and order of God. The writer of the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom 11:21) declares. “You have disposed all things by measure, number and weight.” On the other hand, animism, the belief that the divine is in created things, resulted in the worship, and often fear, of trees, mountains, the sun etc. In some cases, people would sacrifice their children to appease volcanoes or offer gifts to the gods of mountains or rivers. This idea of the divine in creation itself made it impossible to investigate created things. Even though some cultures, for example, the Greeks, made some strides in scientific thought, ultimately they fell short.  Jaki argues, “... that it was up to the Scholastics of the Middle Ages to carry out the depersonalization of nature, so that, for instance, the explanation for falling stones was not said to be in their innate love for the center of the earth.” (quoted in Woods, Thomas E, 2005).  In other words, the belief that the universe itself is god and should be worshipped, is an impediment to scientific inquiry, for people dare not ‘investigate’ and ‘experiment on’ their gods. Why then does the Catholic Church have a bad reputation when it comes to science? The main reason is, of course: Galileo. It is commonly thought that the Catholic Church unjustly persecuted Galileo for his theory that the sun, and not the earth, was the centre of the universe. But is this the true tale?
  Copernicus and Heliocentrism
 In the 16th century, the accepted view, not only of the church, but of all scientists, was that of Aristotle, that is, the earth was the centre of the universe (geocentric view).  Aristotle had claimed to refute the ancient idea that the earth traveled in an orbit around the sun (heliocentric view). Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) was a Polish astronomer, probably not a priest as often claimed, but a Canon and a third order or Secular Dominican. In 1543, he published On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs, in which he supported heliocentricity. Copernicus had asked Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran clergyman, to write a preface to the book, because he knew that it would be attacked by Protestants (which it was) for its opposition to Scripture. Osiander presented heliocentrism as only a theory that accounted for movement of the planets more simply than that of geocentrism. The Catholic Church gave no censure at this time to Copernicus and the book was well-received by Jesuit astronomers of the time.
 Later the Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), made some important observations with his telescope: he saw mountains on the moon, discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter and discovered the phases of the planet,Venus. Initially his work was celebrated by Roman churchmen and when Galileo went to Rome in 1611, he was greeted with great enthusiasm. He enjoyed a long audience with Pope Paul V and the Jesuits of the Roman College. Those who were present included Father Grienberger, who had invented a telescope which rotated on an axis parallel to the Earth’s, and Father Clavius, one of the great mathematicians of the day who had helped to develop the Gregorian calendar. The Church had no objection to the use of the Copernican System as a theory whose truth was not yet established. Galileo, however, believed his model to be literally true even though he lacked adequate evidence to support his theory at the time. One problem with his theory was that the movement of tides was a proof of the earth’s motion, something which now modern scientists reject. Galileo refused to present his hypothesis as only a theory and insisted writing about it as proven truth. In other words, he refused to compromise but also to follow the scientific method which gives evidence for something but does not 'prove' it.
On the surface, the heliocentric hypothesis did contradict certain Scripture passages but these were not insurmountable problems. The Jesuit Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine stated, “If there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe...and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth around the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.” (Broderick, James, 1928 quoted in Woods, Thomas E., p. 72).
 In earlier times, St. Thomas Aquinas had wisely said, “First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them.” (quoted in Woods, Thomas E., p.73)
 In 1632, Galileo published Dialogue of the Great World System. In fact, it was written at the urging of the Pope, who now was Urban VIII. However, in the dialogue, Galileo ignored the instruction to treat the heliocentric theory as an hypothesis rather than established truth. In 1633, Galileo was charged with heresy but went on to publish, Discourses Concerning Two New Sciences in 1635. In the book, Galileo placed an argument of the Pope’s in the mouth of a fictional character called, Simplicio, surely an unwise move on his part. He also alienated the Jesuits by verbally attacking one of their astronomers.
 Contrary to popular opinion, Galileo was not tortured nor did he endure harsh imprisonment. He was confined to his home (house-arrest), where he was provided a servant and every other necessary convenience. Although he was denied the sacraments (excommunication), he remained a Catholic for the rest of his life. His illegitimate daughter, Marie Celeste, a nun, who lived in a convent nearby, wrote letters to him and received answers from him regularly. She died of dysentery in 1634 at the age of 33. A book has been written around the letters which were found in her belongings after her death (Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel). Galileo died a natural death after a fever and heart palpitations in 1642 at age 77.
 In retrospect, we know that Galileo’s theory was right but scientists talk about 'evidence' not 'proof' for their theories. Theories are just theories and newly discovered evidence often changes the conclusions that have been previously made.
  The Church and Science Today
Today the Church continues its involvement in scientific pursuits through the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Its roots are in the Academy of the Lynxes which was founded in Rome in 1603. In 1847, Pope Pius IX re-established the Academy and in 1936 Pope Pius XI gave it its present name. It is international, multi-racial in composition and non-sectarian in membership. It is made up of six major disciplines: Fundamental Sciences, Science and Technology of Global Problems, Science for the Problems of the Developing World, Scientific Policy, Bioethics and Epistemology. The present President (2012) is a Swiss Protestant, Nobel-Laureate in physiology, Werner Arber. Pope Benedict XVI, (now Pope Emeritus) said at an assembly of the Academy that science is neither a panacea for all of man’s problems nor should it be feared. The task of science, “ ... was and remains a patient yet passionate search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being.” (Zenit ZE10102809, 2010-10-28)
  Suggested Reading
  Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday Publishing. 1995
 Hannam, James. Genesis of Science. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Press. 2011
 Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway. 1988.
 Schönborn, Christoph Cardinal. Chance or Purpose? San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2007.
 Wiker, Benjamin. The Catholic Church and Science: Answering the Questions, Exposing the Myths. TAN books. 2011
 Woods, Thomas E. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington,DC:Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005.
 Catholic Answers website accessed February 5, 2011.
 The New American Bible. New York:Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1991.
Sobel, Dava. Galileo's Daughter. New York: Walker and Company. 1999.
Woods, Thomas E. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington,DC:Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005.
Vatican Website accessed February 5, 2013
 Zenit News article ZE101102809 28 October, 2010.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Did Jesus Claim To Be God?

Who was Jesus? One popular idea of Jesus is that he was only a good teacher or a rabbi. Some believe he was a prophet, like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Still others claim that he is the Son of God or God himself. The Gospel writers, St. Paul and the writers of the other letters of the New Testament seem to agree. The Nicene Creed (written at the Council of Nicaea in AD325) declares: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. Light of light, true God from true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made”. So it seems that the early church believed that Jesus was indeed, true God from true God and not just a good teacher or a prophet. Some critics say that Jesus himself did not claim to be God but that his followers invented this idea after his death. Let us look at the evidence.
  Reliability of the Manuscripts
In investigating whether or not Jesus claimed to be God, we have no choice but to accept the four gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as faithful records of what Jesus himself said and did. There is no definitive proof that the records are either true or not true but in any search of historical persons we have to accept the record that has been left behind unless there is good reason for not doing so. For example, if we wanted to find out what Julius Caesar was like we would have to examine the writings left behind about him by those who knew him. We don’t know how accurate they are either, but we have no choice except to use the records available to us. As far as the New Testament, the documents are amazingly trustworthy. In most ancient manuscripts, for example, the classical texts, there may be only one existing manuscript available. If there are more there is a great advantage in knowing what was originally written because they can be compared. In the case of the New Testament books there are nearly five thousand manuscripts in Greek, as well as quotations from the manuscripts by later authors. Furthermore, although many of the classical texts date as late as the Middle Ages, there are manuscripts of the New Testament Scriptures that date as far back as the end of the 2nd century. Helmut Koester, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, said, “Thus it seems that NT textual criticism possesses a base which is far more advantageous than that for the textual criticism of classical authors.” Furthermore, to think that anyone tampered with five thousand manuscripts spread over the entire Roman Empire (as some have suggested) requires quite a stretch of the imagination! By looking at the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we see accounts and viewpoints which differ slightly but do not conflict with one another.

Jewish Scripture
Jesus was born into a Jewish family and Jewish culture. Although, at that time, the Romans ruled most of the known world and there were still Greek influences, for the most part Jesus’ audience was made up of his fellow Jews. These Jews were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament. Although we, in the modern age, may not always see the relationship between Jesus’ words and what was written in the Jewish Scriptures, the connection would have been clear to his audience. We will examine several instances when it was clear to his audience that Jesus claimed to be God.
I Am
When Moses met God in the burning bush (thought to be circa 1300 BC) he asked God, “If they [ the Hebrews in Egypt] ask me what your name is, what shall I tell them?” God answered, “I Am has sent me to you.” Moses is to say to the people, “YWH, the God of your fathers, has appeared to me, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” (from Exodus 3:13-16) Over a thousand years later, Jesus, when arguing with some Jewish leaders about Abraham, says, “I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham was, I Am.” The response of the Jewish leaders to this remarkable statement was incredulity that someone standing before them would say they existed before Abraham. They picked up stones to throw at him for death by stoning was the punishment for blasphemy. This was clearly blasphemy for Jesus had claimed to be God and there is no other reason for this extreme reaction on their part.

The Good Shepherd
Shepherds are often mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures especially by the Prophets. Sheep were raised for their meat and their wool in Middle Eastern countries and still are. David was a shepherd before he became a King of Israel and so he obviously knew much about being a shepherd. He declares in one of his Psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” The Scriptures often compared the leaders at the time to either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ shepherds and the people were said to be like sheep (Jeremiah 12:10). The prophet Isaiah writes about God’s tender care of His people: “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.” God even declares that He, Himself will be their shepherd. The prophet Ezekiel writes: “For the Lord YWH says this: I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I shall bring them out from the countries where they are; I shall gather them together from foreign countries, and bring them to their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I shall pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in every inhabited place in the land. I shall feed them in good pasturage; the high mountains of Israel will be their grazing ground. There they will rest in good grazing land, and will browse in rich pastures on the mountains of Israel. I myself will pasture my sheep, I will show them where to rest, it is the LORD Yahweh who speaks. I shall look for the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I will watch over the fat and the healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.” Ezekiel 34:11-17
Approximately seven hundred and fifty years later, the Apostle John reports that Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.” Jesus’ discourse about the shepherd and the sheep again caused an uproar and disagreement among the Jewish listeners: “Many said, ‘He is possessed, he is raving, why bother to listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of a man possessed by the devil; could a devil open the eyes of the blind?”’ Could it be that those who heard Jesus that day remembered that YWH had also said He would be their shepherd? Was Jesus claiming to be God? If he was not God yet claimed to be God, Jesus was both a blasphemer and a liar. As C.S. Lewis wrote. “Would a good man say he was God if he were not?”

The Charge Against Jesus
It is obvious that those who heard Jesus speak understood him to be claiming to be God. In fact, this charge of blasphemy was why the Jewish leaders plotted to have him killed and eventually brought him before the Roman authorities. In John 10:30-37 , “The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father, for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy; you are only man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered: ‘Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods?’ So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because he says, ‘I am the Son of God.’ If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am not doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.” Later, when the Jews brought Jesus before the Roman authorities they said, “We have a Law and according to that Law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Although there are many other times that Jesus claimed to be God these are just a few examples. These should be sufficient to see that to claim that Jesus was ‘true God from true God’ was not an addition to Christianity but something which Jesus himself claimed. And indeed, although the crucifixion and resurrection were God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin, from a human standpoint, Jesus’ claim to be God was the reason he was put to death.

Cavins, Jeff, Sarah Christmyer, and Dr. Tim Gray. The Bible Timeline. Ascension Press. 2008

Koestler, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity. Vol 2. New York: Walter de Gruyter. 1980.

 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. London: Fontana Books (Collins) 1965

The Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday and Company. 1967.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Change in the Church?

When reporting about the election of the Pope, it seems journalists have their pet words. Listen and count how many times you hear 'change','scandal', 'crossroads', 'crisis', 'conflict', 'abuse' and 'corruption'. I suspect you may find quite a few of these words used over and over.
When the media call for 'change' in the Church they usually mean that the Church should change their ideas about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women. But even the Pope, no matter how much 'power' the media think he has, cannot change what Scripture teaches and they cannot change what previous Popes have taught as dogma. How can the claim that the pope's teaching is infallible be true if the next pope can undo his teaching? By the way, infallibility of the Pope's teaching is only in the area of doctrine and morals (not in practice, as the abstinence from meat on Fridays, for example). Infallibility also applies only when the Pope is speaking ex cathedra or 'from the Chair of Peter'. In recent years there have only been three infallible proclamations by Popes (other than canonizations): Doctrine of Infallibility, Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. These three doctrines were believed in the early Church but were defined in recent years (19th and 20th centuries).
Watch the video from Salt and Light Television (a Catholic Channel in Canada) to see why doctrine cannot be changed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Conclaves, Cardinals and Papal Elections

Click on the link and read my article 'All You Ever Wanted to Know About Conclaves, Cardinals Papal Elections' on Suite 101 site. I explain conclaves and Cardinals with some trivia about Papal elections in the past.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Not just in India....

Unfortunately rape is not just a problem in India. Women are afraid to report the crime in many countries, often because it is women who are blamed. Let's make this clear - rape is not a joke; it is not a minor crime. It is women's greatest fear. It is something that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Raping someone does not prove that a man is macho. It proves he is a beast. If an 'under age' person rapes someone, he should be tried as an adult. Adult crimes should get adult punishments. Let's stop the horror of rape! Do not let the death of this young woman in India go unpunished. And do not let her death be forgotten.