Friday, April 18, 2014

The Five-Fold Argument for the Resurrection

I've got a piece today on Strange Notions (based upon this 2010 post) looking at five specific pieces of evidence that suggest that the Resurrection happened. Here's a snippet:
On this Good Friday, the day Christians traditionally commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, let's examine the evidence surrounding his death and resurrection. I'd like to look at five specific examples.

1. The Sweat Turning to Blood

In the Agony in the Garden, Luke mentions (Luke 22:44) that Jesus' sweat fell "like drops of blood." That's a medical condition called hematohidrosis, which the Indian Journal on Dermatology described as "very rare." It occurs under extreme stress in a handful of people. Now, St. Luke was a doctor (as St. Paul mentions in Colossians 4:14), which is probably why he's the only Gospel writer to draw attention to this fact: this is unlike what a first-century doctor would have seen in his day-to-day practice (and, as I mentioned, it's still very rare).
So it's significant that this first-century source is describing a medical condition that was largely unknown, but which we now know to be stress-related. That is, the source is describing information that he would have been unlikely to make up, because even if Luke were somehow aware of hematohidrosis, why would he include that detail? To try and convince other first-century dermatologists? It's a detail which seems supernatural and incredible, not a detail which seems natural and credible... yet we now know it corresponds to modern medicine. This suggests that Luke's testimony is accurate: that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, who really did sweat blood in anticipation of His Crucifixion.

2. Blood and Water Flowing from the Side of Christ

Peter Paul Reubens,
Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves (1620)
John 19 contains another gory detail in its gruesome account of the aftermath of Jesus' death (John 19:31-37):
"Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: 'Not one of his bones will be broken,' and, as another scripture says, 'They will look on the one they have pierced.'"
This is packed with evidence. First, the author is familiar with Jewish religious practices. He says in verse 31, "Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath." That's a Passover reference, obviously, and it explains why Jesus' followers celebrated Passover a day before the Pharisees (they were of a Jewish school which always observed Passover a day early when it fell on the Sabbath).
Second, the author is aware that the bodies must be taken down (for reasons of ritual purity under the Levitical code.)
Third, the author is all too familiar with crucifixion. He's aware, for example, that the Romans broke the legs of their victims on the cross—the reason being that without the support of your legs, you can't pull your body up to breathe, and you slowly die of asphyxiation. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, lack of oxygen is what frequently killed the victims of crucifixion, not having nails driven through their wrists.
Fourth, the author hints at several lines of Biblical fulfillment. The Passover Lamb's bones weren't broken (Exodus 12:46Num. 9:12) nor were the bones of the Messiah to be broken (Psalm 34:20). And there is a strangely God-like prophecy in Zech. 12:10, that the Chosen One will "pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication," while they "will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son."
Given that the Christians believe that Christ is the only-begotten of the Father (John 3:16), this detail manages to fulfill all sorts of really intricate prophesies. If you think that this is easy, try it sometime: try and write a short fictional account of someone (anyone) living in the present who fulfills the Biblical prophesies, and make it believable.
Finally, and this one blew my mind, the blood and water comport with medical evidence. After Jesus died, his body stopped metabolizing the water, so an upward piercing from a spear could have easily torn the lining of the stomach, causing the blood and water to pour out. John explicitly mentions this detail, but it's not one a fictional writer is likely to have thought of (unless he'd cut open dead bodies, which Jews were forbidden to do).
So far, then, we have reliable evidence that there was a Jesus who knew (and seemingly dreaded) going to the cross, but went anyways, and was killed. Both Luke and John mention pretty specific medical details unlikely to be concocted. All of this suggests that Jesus really lived and really died on the cross. There are dozens more verses that support this point, besides the ones above, as well as extra-Biblical sources acknowledging that there was a Jesus who died on the cross.
Read on.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Holy Thursday Challenge

Nicolas Poussin, The Institution of the Eucharist (1640)
Tonight marks the beginning of Triduum, the most sacred season of the year. It's the three day period lasting from Holy Thursday evening until Easter. It's here, on Holy Thursday, that Christ institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Here's how St. Paul describes it in tonight's Second Reading (1 Cor. 11:23-26),
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Paul rarely gives any biographical details about the life of Christ, since he assumes the Christians he's writing to are intimately familiar with Christ's life. So it's all the more remarkable that he chooses to detail this event in the life of Christ so closely, particularly when you realize how close it follows the precise wording found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20).

Even more incredibly, Paul describes the institution of the Eucharist as something that he “received from the Lord.” That's the same way that he described his ministry (Acts 20:24), and he seems to be saying that he didn't just hear about the Eucharist from the Twelve, but by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

I've written about the Eucharist many time before, but I want to issue something of a Holy Thursday challenge to my Protestant readers: what if Catholics are right about the Eucharist? The Catholic view is that the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And this is what the early Christians believed as well. The Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly, admits this in Early Christian Doctrines, saying that amongst early Christians, “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.

The Eucharist was always understood to be more than a symbol; it was always understood to be more than Christ's spiritual presence in some generic way; it was always understood to be more even than Christ's physical presence alongside the bread and wine. There's a continual, two thousand year tradition that says that the bread and wine actually cease to exist (despite what our eyes may tell us), and become the Body and Blood of Christ. And I'm asking: what if that tradition is right?

Because it seems to me that this teaching, if true, is of incalculable importance. Think of how precious the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy of Holies was to the Jews of old, how reverently pious believers treated every word of prophesy, every contact with the Divine. Think even, of how reverently good Protestants treat God's holy word in Scripture. Think of how we might quietly envy the Apostles for getting to talk with Jesus, might envy Mary of Bethany for getting to sit at His feet. If you could experience an encounter with Jesus Christ beyond all that, beyond what even His closest companions enjoyed, what wouldn't you do?

Adriaen Isenbrandt, Mass of St Gregory (16th c.)
The level of intimacy in the Eucharist is paralleled only by what the Virgin Mary experienced when the God of the Universe deigned to dwell inside of her, to share her body. You can actually receive Jesus Christ - Flesh, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - into your body, and into your soul.

And it seems to me that if this is what's on offer, you should do everything in your power to receive Him. Think of how we react to the Disciples who couldn't bother to make it to the Crucifixion. We're embarrassed for them, and some part of us might imagine that we would have done better, singing songs like "Were You There?". Well, here's your chance.

There's another alternative, of course: that we Catholics are totally wrong. This would mean that for two thousand years, everyone from the students of the Apostles to Pope Francis has been worshipping mere bread and wine. If that's the case, we Catholics aren't really Christians. But then, neither are Augustine, Jerome, Ignatius, or any of the other Church Fathers; neither, in fact, are any of the believers whose testimony we rely upon to know the canon of Scripture. But if that's the case, I think you'll quickly see that all of Christianity falls apart.

So that's it in a nutshell. If Catholics are Christians - if we're not idolaters - then we actually possess the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and can commune with Him at every Mass. Protestants can encounter Christ in many ways - through the Scriptures, through the proclamation of the Gospel, through encounters with the poor and "least of these," through prayer - but this is something that no Protestant denomination can offer. So again:

Jesus is physically present here. Where are you?

Some Holy Thursday Posts for Your Edification

Here are a few other blog posts that I've written related to Lent / Holy Thursday that you might enjoy:
  • This 2009 post on Holy Thursday was one of the first Shameless Popery posts that I ever wrote.

  • Here's a Sacramental look at Holy Thursday, and its connections to the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Baptism, and Reconciliation.

  • Pope Pius XI has a beautiful explanation of how Christ's chief sufferings in His Passion are our sins, and His chief solace are our good works, both of which He perfectly foresaw. This means that we, here, today, can actually comfort Christ in the Garden. I talk about it in Part II of this post.

  • John MacArthur claims that Lent and Easter are derived from paganism. It's not true.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Biblical "Easter Egg" in the Passion of Jesus Christ

A subtle or hidden feature, particularly in a movie or game, is often referred to as an “Easter egg,” because it's something that you have to hunt for. The Bible is full of things like this - subtle references are easy to overlook, even upon repeated readings. So, for example, take this line from Mark 15:21:
And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyre′ne, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
While all three of the Synoptics mention Simon of Cyrene, Mark is the only one who mentions his sons (cf. Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26). Why does this matter? Because Mark's audience, the Christians of Rome, knew Rufus personally.

I. Mark is Writing in Rome
First of all, Mark is writing this Gospel in Rome. How do we know? A few ways. First, St. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:13:
Emmanuel Tzanes, St. Mark the Evangelist (1657)
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.
“Babylon” was an early Christian reference for “Rome,” so Sts. Peter and Mark are sending their greetings from Rome. Second, this is also the testimony of the Church Fathers, who testify that Mark is Peter's disciple and interpreter in Rome. St. Irenaeus, writing c. 180 A.D., says:
Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.
Eusebius says the same thing, as does St. Jerome:
Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record. Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon "She who is in Babylon elect together with you salutes you and so does Mark my son." So, taking the gospel which he himself composed, he went to Egypt and first preaching Christ at Alexandria he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continence of living that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example.
This makes Mark's Gospel all the more powerful: he's declaring that Jesus, not Caesar, is the true Son of God.... from the heart of the Roman Empire.

II. Simon's Family Lived in Rome

That first point is pretty well know, but this next one is not (at least, as far as I know): Rufus, the son of Simon of Cyrene, was a Christian living in Rome. So was Simon's wife. We know this from a seemingly throwaway line in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 16:13),
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
(We commemorate St. Rufus on November 21st, by the way). This explains why Mark would choose to mention that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Rufus and Alexander: those wouldn't have been random names to his original readers, but actual people that they knew. This detail is significant for several reasons. First, it's another indication of the historicity of the Gospel: anyone doubting the veracity of Mark's account could go ask Rufus and Alexander. Second, it shows the harmony of the New Testament accounts: by comparing multiple sources (Mark and Paul), a more coherent picture emerges.

Finally, it points to something momentous and beautiful: that Simon of Cyrene's encounter with the Cross brought about his conversion, and the conversion of his whole family.

III. Salvation in Unplanned Crosses

Simon didn't ask to carry Christ's Cross. Rather, it was forced upon him by Roman soldiers: he was compelled, in St. Mark's words. And yet this compulsion - this unplanned and unwanted encounter with the Cross that brought about his salvation. St. Josemaria Escriva paints the scene:
h/t Maiar Jay-ar Altius for designing this image.
Jesus is exhausted. His footsteps become more and more unsteady, and the soldiers are in a hurry to be finished. So, when they are going out of the city through the Judgement Gate, they take hold of a man who was coming in from a farm, a man called Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, and they force him to carry the Cross of Jesus (cf. Mark 15:21).

In the whole context of the Passion, this help does not add up to very much. But for Jesus, a smile, a word, a gesture, a little bit of love is enough for him to pour out his grace bountifully on the soul of his friend. Years later, Simon 's sons, Christians by then, will be known and held in high esteem among their brothers in the faith. And it all started with this unexpected meeting with the Cross.

I went to those who were not looking for me; I was found by those that sought me not (Isaiah 65:1).

At times the Cross appears without our looking for it: it is Christ who is seeking us out. And if by chance, before this unexpected Cross which, perhaps, is therefore more difficult to understand, your heart were to show repugnance... don 't give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them, say to it slowly, as one speaking in confidence: 'Heart: heart on the Cross! Heart on the Cross!'
What encouraging words! There are times in this life that we choose our crosses: when we voluntarily undertake some penance for a loved one, or perform a difficult task for a noble end. It's easy to see the merit in these voluntary crosses, I think. But we shouldn't miss the opportunities for grace in the unwanted crosses, if we allow them to convert us.

For example, I'm reminded of Matthew 19:12, in which Christ says that “there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Some of us are celibate by choice, as part of our response to God's vocational call. Catholics tend to recognize the beauty in this voluntary cross. But others, like those with same-sex attractions, may find themselves compelled into celibacy. Here, I think, we can miss the beauty of this involuntary cross. Of course, this is but one example: your own life is probably full of several of these unchosen crosses. It is easy for the Simons of the world to fall into the trap of bitterness, and perhaps even Simon of Cyrene fell prey to this at first. But in embracing the Cross, he came to salvation.

There's a tremendous irony at work here: Simon imagines that he is carrying Christ's Cross for Him. In fact, it is Christ who is helping Simon carry his Cross. Simon, after all, is a sinner, like all of us: it is he, not Christ, who deserved punishment. So when we do struggle under the weight of our crosses, voluntary or involuntary, let us remember that isn't something we do for Him, but something He does for us. And finally, let us never forget that it is in the Cross that we encounter Christ.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stephen Colbert and the Death of Protestant America

Stephen Colbert, 2007
(Photo: David Shankbone)
Certain events, small in themselves, can serve as cultural bellwethers, pointing to the direction that the culture is going as a whole. Two years ago, we saw one of these in the replacement of the Supreme Court's last Protestant, Justice David Souter (an Episcopalian), with Justice Sonia Sotomayor (a Catholic). Since that time, the Supreme Court has been made up of six Catholics and three Jews, with no Protestants. At the time, I asked whether this signalled the twilight of Protestant America.

Support for that theory was not slow in coming. Over the course of 2012,Mitt Romney, a Mormon, won the GOP primary, beating out Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both Catholics. Romney then chose Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as his vice president. He then lost to Obama, a Protestant with a Catholic vice president. Perhaps most remarkable about all of this was that it was almost unremarked-upon.

Today, I think that we're seeing another of these bellwethers. Late-night host David Letterman recently announced his retirement: his ratings have not been faring well in the face of two new rivals, Jimmy Kimmel and now Jimmy Fallon. Today, CBS announced his replacement: Stephen Colbert. Deacon Greg Kandra was quick to point out one reason that this was significant, with the headline: “The Catholic takeover of late night TV is complete.” Letterman was the Protestant hold-out in late night. Once Colbert replaces him, networks will be hosted by Catholics.

What we're seeing is not necessarily a resurgence of Catholicism, at least in any meaningful sense. Not all of the people we're talking about here are model (or even practicing) Catholics, by any stretch. Rather, we're witnessing the collapse of Protestantism. That's born out by the data, as this 2012 Pew report shows:


In late 2012, Pew reported for the first time that a minority of Americans polled (48%) still considered themselves Protestants. Catholicism is gaining relative to Protestantism simply because we're treading water, while they're drowning. This is particularly true of liberal and “mainline” Protestantism, which is simply collapsing (I've heard Evangelicals derisively refer to the mainliners as “sideline” Protestants, and that's increasingly the reality).

Meanwhile, it's irreligion, not Catholicism, that's on the rise. As the Pew report (and subsequent NY Times coverage) point out, most of these religious unaffiliated people still believe in God. It's not so much God that people have given up on, but religion. Part of this is a trend towards social alienation: one ironic result of technology is that we're lonelier than we used to be, more alienated from our friends and neighbors. The natural social cohesion that holds a congregation together is increasingly lacking. But whatever the cause(s), this is a reality that I think all of us, regardless of religious affiliation, have to take seriously. As I said back in 2012:
In a talk he gave this summer, Cardinal George said that he was much less worried about Protestant America, and much more worried about post-Protestant America. I think we're going to have to start thinking much more seriously about just what this entails, because America's post-Protestantism is descending upon us rapidly. 
These trends aren't showing any signs of changing, but the future's not set in stone. For those of us who take religion seriously, and view it as a tremendous good for souls and societies, these statistics are an important diagnostic tool. We've seen the bad news. How shall we respond, we who know the Good News?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Help Fund a Nun!

My friend Mary Beth Baker is entering the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecila, better known as the Nashville Dominicans. It's a good example of God's sense of humor, since she's been running a blog about life as a single Catholic girl in D.C. for some time now. She's actually the second of my friends to enter the order, but there's a hold-up: she's got about $25,000 in student loans to pay off.

I asked her if she would write an introduction so that I could share her story with you readers, to see if any of you felt called to help her. She's got an inspiring, and she's a good friend of the blog: in fact, she's been my editor for the book that I'm working on (work that she's been doing for free, by the way). So without further ado, here's a link to help, here's a story on ABC News written about her, and here's the introduction that she wrote at my request:
Mary Beth Baker
My name is Mary Beth Baker, and I have just been accepted as a postulant with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee, to enter this August. It's been a challenging, terrifying, beautiful year of discernment, and I am eager to answer the call and enter the convent this summer--to step out of the boat without fear and see what Christ has in store.

Pursuing a religious vocation as a 28-year-old professional has definitely taken me by surprise. After a pretty serious bout of discernment in late high school and early college, I put the whole thing behind me and thought I would get married and raise a family. I come from a great Catholic family myself, the oldest child of seven in a large military family. For the past four years I've even kept a blog about living the single life well as preparation for marriage, called "Life in the Gap," focused on the daily ins and outs of being single and trying to live the present moment well. I have to chuckle at the way God surprises us -- his plans far outdo anything I could have come up with for myself.

But it took me a long time to figure that out. I've enjoyed a rewarding career as an editor and writer, and for several years I was happy to focus on my work and let my vocation work itself out in its own time. I remember when I first decided to major in philosophy at Christendom College, one relative quipped, "So you won't have a job, but you'll know why." I was bent on proving him wrong. And I've had a wonderful career, working my way through the ranks at a conservative book publisher, rubbing elbows with well-known authors and making sure no embarrassing typos or comma splices detracted from their notoriety. I left that job for a newspaper's opinion page, where I fielded op-ed submissions, developed story ideas, tracked down writers to discuss news-of-the-day, and even helped launch a new feature for the page focused on young professionals. I left newspaper for the "dark side" of PR about a year ago, and now work with several C-level professionals to hone their writing, fine-tune their message, and share their expertise with the public, on everything from policy to social commentary. It's been an exciting and rewarding field, but about two years ago I became aware of a growing restlessness. I needed something more in my life, but I wasn't sure what that something was.

It was around this time last year that I asked God to "turn my life on its head." I realized I had gotten comfortable with singlehood, comfortable with my own selfishness, comfortable in a life lived not for others, but for myself. Whatever my vocation was, I knew I needed to ask God to show me in a concrete way and give me the courage to chase it. I needed to be shaken out of my complacency. My discernment journey began in that moment, helped by a number of factors in my work that forced me to realize a career, while it can be rewarding, can never fulfill a person. We're made to love and to be loved, and work can only satisfy so much.

Once I started discerning in earnest, there was never any question about which order I should look into first. I've been in love with the Dominicans for a long, long time, with their deep intellectual tradition, their rich monasticism, and especially their devotion to the Blessed Mother. Throughout my life I've been inspired and helped along by Dominican saints, from St. Rose of Lima (my first book report project in 1st grade), to St. Martin de Porres (my Confirmation saint), to St. Thomas Aquinas (the main focus of my studies at Christendom). From my very first visit there, the convent of St. Cecelia in Nashville felt like home. I love the sisters' ever-apparent joy, the liturgy they sing together three times daily, the beautiful blend of silence, teaching apostolate, and community life. More than anything, I love the order's complete focus on Christ. The moment you walk into their house, the first thing they say is, "Let's go to the chapel." He is their source and center, and it overflows into everything else they do.

I long to seek Him with that undivided heart. In order to do that, though, I have to pay off my remaining student loan debt. Despite six years of working and paying them down, I still have a ways to go. So I am asking that you prayerfully consider donating whatever you can to help me pay off my remaining balance and enter the postulancy in August. I've launched a website to facilitate the process, as well as a Facebook page.

As we approach the canonization of Blessed John Paul II, I'm daily reminded of his constant refrain throughout his papacy: "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ." Fear grows in us when we think we have control over our own journey. It's only when we let go, open the doors, and let him work in us unhindered that he can make something really beautiful out of our lives. I pray that all of us will be open to his call, and I thank you in advance for anything you can do to help me answer it. Even if you can't give yourself, please share my story with your own networks and let them know about my fundraising page. More than anything, I ask for your prayers. You can count on mine.
There you have it. I hope that you can help her out in some way: financially, and especially spiritually. She's about to embark on a major life change and I'm sure she can use all the prayers she can get. And if you're not familiar with the Nashville Dominicans, check them out: they're an amazing order of women doing tremendous good within the Church.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rwanda and Forgiveness, Twenty Years On

The skull, Rosary, and belongings of a genocide victim,
Genocide Memorial Center, Kigali, Rwanda.
Twenty years ago today, the unthinkable occurred: a post-Holocaust genocide. On April 7th, 1994, in the east African nation of Rwanda, militant Hutus began a 100-day of terror, slaughtering countless Tutsis, along with Twa (Rwandan pygmies) and moderate Hutus. All told, an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 Rwandans were murdered, including upwards of 70% of the Tutsis living in Rwanda at the time. Here are three must-reads for anyone seeking to understand why this happened, and how to respond to it.

I. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families

I highly recommend Philip Gourevitch's 1998 book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. Written just a few years after the genocide, it includes interviews with many of the people who lived through it. The first half of the book focuses on individual stories about the genocide. Several of these accounts were brought to screen in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. The second half of the book asks important questions about the appropriate role of humanitarian intervention in international affairs.

Gourevitch is particularly critical of those who could have stopped the genocide, but didn't. In particular, he points a finger at the United Nations (which sent armed troops who watched the genocide occur, while doing nothing), the United States (which did nothing), and France (which is alleged to have favored the French-speaking Hutus, at least in the beginning). He also exposes the wide range of reactions among Catholic clergy: from heroic priests who denounced the massacre and/or helped to hide Tutsis, to those who did nothing, to those (like the infamous Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka) who are accused of assisting the genocidaires. His writing style is crystal clear, and packs a punch. For example, take this passage, from p. 148 of the hardcover edition, in which Gourevitch realizes why he never sees dogs in Rwanda:
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady at Kabgayi,
one of the genocide sites.
I made inquiries, and I learned that right through the genocide dogs had been plentiful in Rwanda. The words people used to describe the dog population back then were “many” and “normal.” But as the RPF [the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the largely-Tutsi militia that successfully defeated the Hutu genocidaires] had advanced through the country, moving down from the northeast, they had shot all the dogs.

What did the RPF have against dogs? Everyone I asked gave the same answer: the dogs were eating the dead. “It's on film,” someone told me, and I have since seen more Rwandan dogs on video monitors than I ever saw in Rwanda - crouched in the distinctive red dirt of the country, over the distinctive body piles of that time, in the distinctive feeding position of their kind.

I was told about an Englishwoman from a medical relief organization who got very upset when she saw RPF men shooting the dogs that were feeding off a hallful of corpses at the great cathedral center and bishropic of Kabgayi, which had served as a death camp in central Rwanda. “You can't shoot dogs,” the Englishwoman told the soldiers. She was wrong. Even the blue-helmeted soldiers of UNAMIR [United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda] were shooting dogs on sight in the late summer of 1994. After months, during which Rwandans had been left to wonder whether the UN troops knew how to shoot, because they never used their excellent weapons to stop the extermination of civilians, it turned out that the peacekeepers were very good shots.

The book also makes brief mention of the fact that the Virgin Mary warned of the coming genocide in a series of well-documented apparitions at Kibeho in the 1980s. From page 79:
A hill called Kibeho, which stands near the center of Rwanda, became famous in the 1980s as a place where the Virgin Mary had the habit of appearing and addressing local visionaries. In Rwanda - the most Christianized country in Africa, where at least sixty-five percent of the population were Catholics and fifteen percent were Protestants - the Kibeho visionaries quickly attracted a strong following. [....] These young women had much to report from their colloquies with the Virgin, but among the Marian messages that made the strongest popular impression was the repeated assertion that Rwanda would, before long, be bathed in blood. “There were message announcing woe for Rwanda,” Monsignor Augustin Misago, who was a member of the Church commission on Kibeho, told me. “Visions of the crying Virgin, visions of people killing with machetes, of hills covered with corpses.”
Later, during the genocide, Hutu genocidaires would release false apparitions seeking to condone their horrific actions.

The book is not without its shortcoming. Gourevitch, at times, seems naively optimistic about the goodness of the RPF, and the prospects of humanitarian intervention. I would like to see how he would write the book if he were writing it today, in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Nevertheless, We Wish to Tell You is a good book, and an important one.

II. Left to Tell

On my own “need to read” list is Immaculée Ilibagiza's Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, the autobiography of a Tutsi woman, and her struggle to forgive the friends and neighbors who tried to kill her, as well as her struggles with God. My archbishop, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, has referenced the book in a few of his homilies, and it sounds powerful. Ilibagiza spent 91 days along with several other women, hiding in the tiny bathroom of a local pastor to avoid hundreds of Hutus seeking to kill them.  Ilibagiza wrote a follow-up to this book as well, entitled Led By Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide

In addition, she has written Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa. In the latter of these, she fills in details that Gourevitch omits: namely, that Jesus and Mary, in the apparitions at Kibeho, had entreated the Rwandans to open their hearts to God, and not to resort to genocide... thirteen years before the genocide occurred.

III. Portraits of Reconciliation

Finally, also on the subject of forgiveness, the New York Times has a beautiful photo series by Pieter Hugo and Susan Dominus documenting the reconciliation process, particularly highlighting some of the success stories facilitated by AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent):

On the left is François Sinzikiramuka, a perpetrator of the genocide. On the right is Christophe Karorero, a survivor. The series shows how these men, and numerous other peoples, achieved reconciliation (and even, in some cases, friendship) after the genocide. Along with the photos, the series includes statements from both perpetrators and survivors about the process of seeking (or offering) forgiveness, and the effects that forgiveness have had on their lives. It's quite moving.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Four Surprising Facts About John Calvin and the "Apocrypha"

One of the major issues dividing Catholics and Protestants is the Bible. Catholic Bibles have seven Books that Protestants reject: Protestants call these Books “the Apocrypha,” while Catholics call them “the Deuterocanon.” This dispute matters, because it's hard to agree on what Scripture says if we can't even agree on what Scripture is, on which Books are Scripture.

Here are four facts that may surprise you about the Protestant Reformer John Calvin's view of the Deuterocanon, and might cause you to reconsider your views:

I. Calvin Implicitly Concedes that the Deuterocanon Supports Catholic Teachings.

Peter Paul Rubens,
The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus (1635)
After the Council of Trent, Calvin wrote what he a response to the Council that he called the “Antidote.” The Fourth Session of the Council of Trent discussed the canon, and listed all of the Books of the Catholic Bible, including the Deuterocanon. Calvin, in his response, said:
Add to this, that they provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of the Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints; out of Tobit satisfactions, exorcisms, and what not. From Ecclesiasticus they will borrow not a little. For from whence could they better draw their dregs?
This is supposed to be an argument against the Deuterocanon, suggesting that the Catholics are acting in bad faith in declaring these Books canonical.* But stop and think about three facts.

First, this means that if Catholics are right about the Deuterocanon, then we're also right about Purgatory, praying to (not worshipping) the Saints, exorcisms, and so on. That's pretty huge.

Second, this means that these doctrines date back to before the birth of Christ. While there are always disputes as to the exact dating of specific Books, nobody questions that these disputed Books pre-date Christianity. So Calvin has already shown that Purgatory, veneration of the Saints, etc., are beliefs that are more than two thousand years old.

Third, this concession is extremely significant when you consider that none of the Church Fathers considered the Deuterocanon heretical. Not all of the Fathers considered the Books canonical, but none of them considered them heretical.

Bear these points in mind as we continue.

II. Calvin Admits that Some Church Fathers Held the Same View as Trent

Another significant admission that Calvin makes is that his favorite Church Father, St. Augustine, held the exact same view that he's criticizing the Council of Trent for teaching:
I am not, however, unaware that the same view on which the Fathers of Trent now insist was held in the Council of Carthage. The same, too, was followed by Augustine in his Treatise on Christian Doctrine; but as he testifies that all of his age did not take the same view, let us assume that the point was then undecided. But if it were to be decided by arguments drawn from the case itself, many things beside the phraseology would show that those Books which the Fathers of Trent raise so high must sink to a lower place. Not to mention other things, whoever it was that wrote the history of the Maccabees expresses a wish, at the end, that he may have written well and congruously; but if not:, he asks pardon. How very alien this acknowledgment from the majesty of the Holy Spirit!
In other words, Calvin acknowledges that both St. Augustine and the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. took the same position on the Deuterocanon that the Council of Trent did.

Calvin proceeds to use the end of 2 Maccabees as a proof-text against the Book's inspiration (and perhaps, against the inspiration of the Deuterocanon). It's a weak argument. The line he's referring to is from 2 Maccabees 15:37b-38: “So I too will here end my story. If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.

Calvin claims that this humility is alien to the majesty of the Holy Spirit. Even on face, that's a bad argument, but it's especially so for anyone who has read 2 Peter 3:15-16, in which Peter says that some parts of Paul's Epistles are “hard to understand.” The Holy Spirit inspired both Peter and Paul, and it wasn't alien to His majesty to acknowledge that some parts of Paul's writings are confusing. The author of 2 Maccabees doesn't even go that far.

III. Calvin Recognizes that the Deuterocanonical Books Belong in the Church.

Master of Parral, St. Jerome in the Scriptorium (1490)
Here, we move to a point that I imagine many Protestants will find surprising: despite everything we've just seen (and everything that's happened in Protestantism over the last five hundred years), Calvin didn't reject the Deuterocanonical Books entirely:
I am not one of those, however, who would entirely disapprove the reading of those books; but in giving them in authority which they never before possessed, what end was sought but just to have the use of spurious paint in coloring their errors?
So already, Calvin is taking a position that's more Catholic than the position of most Protestants today. He explains his position a bit later in the Antidote:
Of their admitting all the Books promiscuously into the Canon, I say nothing more than it is done against the consent of the primitive Church. It is well known what Jerome states as the common opinion of earlier times. And Ruffinus, speaking of the matter as not at all controverted, declares with Jerome that Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Judith, and the history of the Maccabees, were called by the Fathers not canonical but ecclesiastical books, which might indeed be read to the people, but were not entitled to establish doctrine.
As a matter of historical fact, Jerome and Rufinus weren't speaking for the “common opinion of earlier times.” You won't find a single Church Father advocating the Protestant canon before those two men in the fourth century.

But it gets more interesting, because there's a significant omission: Calvin says that he joins Jerome and Rufinus in rejecting the canonical status of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Wisdom, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. That's six of the seven Books in dispute. The other one is Baruch, which both Jerome and Rufinus accepted.

But it gets better, because as we're about to see, Calvin actually quoted Baruch as Scripture:

IV. Calvin Actually Quotes the Deuterocanon as Scripture

Baruch, Servite Church, Vienna (18th c.)
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:19-24, Calvin seeks to explain St. Paul's use of the word “demons” in 1 Cor. 10:20. Here's what he says:
Some, however, understand the term demons here as meaning the imaginary deities of the Gentiles, agreeably to their common way of speaking of them; for when they speak of demons they meant inferior deities, as, for example, heroes, and thus the term was taken in a good sense. Plato, in a variety of instances, employs the term to denote genii, or angels. That meaning, however, would be quite foreign to Paul’s design, for his object is to show that it is no light offense to have to do with actions that have any appearance of putting honor upon idols. Hence it suited his purpose, not to extenuate, but rather to magnify the impiety that is involved in it. How absurd, then, it would have been to select an honorable term to denote the most heinous wickedness! 
It is certain from the Prophet Baruch, (4:7,) that “those things that are sacrificed to idols are sacrificed to devils” (Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 96:5.) In that passage in the writings of the Prophet, the Greek translation, which was at that time in common use, has δαιμόνια — demons, and this is its common use in Scripture. How much more likely is it then, that Paul borrowed what he says from the Prophet, to express the enormity of the evil, than that, speaking after the manner of the heathen, he extenuated what he was desirous to hold up to utter execration!
So Calvin (a) acknowledges that Baruch was a prophet, (b) cites Baruch as Scripture, and (c) suggests that 1 Corinthians 10:19-24 borrows from Baruch 4. All in all, it's pretty ringing endorsement for Baruch's canonicity, and shows that Calvin seems to have treated at least this one Deuterocanonical Book as sufficient for establishing doctrine.


So there we have it. John Calvin:
  1. Admitted the Deuterocanon teaches Purgatory, veneration of the Saints, exorcisms, and other doctrines denied by Protestants;

  2. Admitted that the Deuterocanon was considered canonical by many of the Fathers, including Augustine and the Council of Florence;

  3. Admitted that the Deuterocanon should be read in the Church; and

  4. Quoted part of the Deuterocanon as Scripture.
Given this, does anyone reading this still think that Protestants got this one right?

*Contrary to Calvin's claim that these Books were added after the Reformation, the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Churches had previously declared these Books as canonical back at the Council of Florence (1438-1449). And as he admits, the Council of Carthage had declared them canonical by in the fourth century, and we have plenty of evidence of their use in the early Church. More on that here, here, and here.