22 agosto 2014

Rubens, Saint Peter





Ode to the wisdom of God 
In the third part of the letter to the Romans (cc. 9-11) Paul gave his explanation, inspired by the scriptures of the mystery of Israel, concluding that eventually all the chosen people will be saved. At the end of this reflection Paul raises a hymn of praise to God, which is reported in the liturgical text. The song opens with the praise (v. 33), continues with two biblical quotations (vv. 34-35) and ends with a further glorification of God (v. 36). 
The initial praise is expressed by Paul with two exclamations inspired by reflection on the mystery of God in which he has just mentioned (cf.. V 25).: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "(V. 33). With the first of these two exclamations he exalts the greatness of God as creator. The depth of three aspects: its "richness" (Ploutos), which consists of the inexhaustible resources of his power, his "wisdom" (sophia), which is the attribute expressed by God in creation, his 'science' (Gnosis) which is the direct and intimate knowledge that God has of all created things. But it is possible that Paul attributes to God a richness that is all the more profound because it has as its object the wisdom and knowledge. By the second exclamation Paul exalts God as the one who leads human beings to salvation: his "judgments" (krimata, decisions) are unfathomable and his "ways" (Hodoi), that his choices are inaccessible: the man can only see the effects of decisions divine, but its profound choices are outside its scope. 
To motivate the mysterious and transcendent character of God Paul then asks three questions that formula with the very words of Scripture. For the first two he uses literally, according to the translation of the LXX, a passage from the Second Isaiah which says: "He who has seen (Heb .: direct) thought (Heb .: Spirit) of the Lord and who has been his adviser (to instruct)? "(Is 40,13; see. Jer 23,18) (v. 34). This text refers to the decree by which the Persian King Cyrus decreed the return to their land of the Jews exiled in Babylon, this breakthrough was humanly inconceivable, but what man could not even imagine, much less suggest, God has made on his own initiative. It is significant in the Greek translation of the replacement of the "Spirit" of YHWH with his "thought" (noun), which expresses more directly its decision-making. 
For the third question Paul uses instead of a difficult text taken from the book of Job (Job 41.3). Literally in the TM says: "Who made ??me, that I should repay an advance? All that is under heaven belongs to me. "In context, which speaks of the power of Leviathan, this sentence makes no sense. In the LXX, therefore, the text is translated thus: "Do not fear because preparation was made by me? For who I hang in there? ". The CEI, accepting a different reading of the text, translates: "Who ever has attacked and you saved? No one under the whole heaven. "Abandoning the Greek translation commonly used by him, Paul clearly refers to the TM, and expressing it in this way: "Or who has given a gift to, so that has to be repaid?" (Verse. 35). Here, too, expects a negative answer: no one can even remotely think of giving something to God and so claim that God is debtor to him. God is totally above and beyond the reach of any of his creatures. A passage in the Apocalypse of Baruch expresses a thought similar to that of the three questions posed by Paul: "But who, O Lord, my Lord, will include your judgment? Or who will investigate the depth of your way? Or who will calculate the severity of your path? Or who will calculate your incomprehensible intelligence? Or who ever among those born (woman) You will find the beginning or the fulfillment of your wisdom? "(2Bar 14.8 to 9). 
To all three questions is followed by a small profession of faith in the form of a hymn (doxology) in which he says: "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (v. 36a). These words echo a text attributed to Marcus Aurelius, who, turning to Nature exclaims: "All things are from you, in you and for you (panta ek sy, en soi panta, if eis panta)." This formula has a clear meaning pantheistic. But Paul, while using it, is inspired by the biblical theology of creation. First of all, God is presented as the supreme principle from which all things originate (ex autou); he is also the instrumental cause, that is the one through whom (di'autou) all things were made (creation); Finally, he is the goal towards which human beings must orient (eis auton) to find the meaning of their life (salvation). This doxology is approaching the kind of '"praise of Wisdom", which states that by means of Wisdom all things come from God and return to him (cfr. Pr 8.22 to 36, 24.1 to 22 Sir; Sap . 7.22 to 30); NT in this literary genre is sometimes used in a Christological (cf.. 1 Cor 8.6, Jn 1,1-14; Col 1,15-20). Here, however, stands God is sovereign in the field of both creation and salvation. The doxology ends with the formula "To him be glory for ever. Amen "(verse. 36b) with which it is attributed to God alone the praise from all creatures. 

lines of interpretation 
The mystery of Israel gives Paul an opportunity to focus on the mystery of God, as it was felt and lived in Israelite religion. Because of its holiness and transcendence of God, not only can not be seen by his creatures, but neither can be represented with images or called by his name. God is the wholly other, that no one can understand or define. Him, the man can only speak by analogy, that is, by having recourse to a language highly metaphorical and symbolic, immediately denying, however, that the images used might say something objective about God. Hence no one can expect to get something from him or call him at because if you did not get. Despite this, God is the cause which gave rise to the human race and the end to which everyone must strive if you want to give a meaning to their lives and achieve salvation. This way of thinking puts God outside and above any petty exploitation. In front of him man can not bow, recognizing him as their limit, and at the same time the possibility to overcome himself and to project itself towards the infinite. 
This mysterious and hidden God is not, however, completely unattainable, because he created man in his own image and likeness. So it's own and just another human being who can man find the true image of God. This occurs when the individual is no realization that the other represents the absolute limit of their desires and their own self-interest. The recognition of otherness and transcendence of every human being is the basis of the opportunity to establish relationships with all of solidarity and love. It is here that finds its source and its reason of being the precept that obliges to love one's neighbor as oneself, if one does not discover the way into the otherness of the other one will probably be in him an attitude of piety, but not of love. Not for nothing in Israelite religion states the principle, which resulted then in Christianity, that the love of God can not take place except by the love for their fellow humans.



Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

If this Gospel seems very familiar it is because we heard it on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul just a few weeks ago. This doesn’t  make it too easy for the homilists, does it!
For this reason I am going to spend a little more time on the Isaiah reading and the Romans excerpt. First of all, Isaiah.
The name Shebna is probably not too familiar to you, and we don’t know much about him.  Apparently he was a servant who moved up to the position of controller or governor of the King’s household which would be a very prominent position. And Shebna apparently took every advantage that came with it. He was very enamored of things, and was building himself a huge tomb for his death, something that only princes did, and was proud, and more concerned about himself and his luxuries than he was of the people under him. It is also said that he was politically working against Israel to gain profit. For this he was eventually demoted to the position of a secretary.
Isaiah did not like him very much, and the words that God puts into Isaiah’s mouth are strong in their indictment of him. Because of his pride he will be “thrust” from office, “pulled down” and someone else will be put in his place, someone more honorable and respectful of his heritage.
When someone places things ahead of God in the Hebrew Testament, they are often punished for it. The honorable, God-fearing person, however, is highly rewarded.
The person that Isaiah prophesies will take his place, Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. Because of his goodness, he will become the new governor and he will be in charge of all things in the kingdom. That is the meaning of giving someone the key to the house of David. They have complete control of the comings and goings, the finances, who gets to see the King, and so on. He is a man who will be worthy to run the King’s affairs.
For those of you who listen carefully, you may have noticed the similar use of the phrase in the Gospel. Instead of keys to the house of David, we have keys to the kingdom, which is the house of Jesus.
Because Peter has recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of the living God, he is to be rewarded, much the same as Eliakim. Peter is raised to the position of being in charge of the kingdom, and the biding and loosing referred to are similar to Eliakim opening doors that no-one will be allowed to shut, and shutting doors that no one is allowed to open.
Now, although the words of Jesus seem to be addressed to Simon Peter specifically, this was a conversation that included all the Apostles, and Peter was seemingly acting as a spokesperson for all the group. That is why Bishops can be seen to posses the kind of authority they do over spiritual matters.
What is always interesting to me, however, is the constant amazement I have in how the Hebrew and Christian Testaments comment on each other, reflect each other, mirror each other, complete each other.
On a different note, the excerpt today from St. Paul to the Romans is a beautiful tribute to God, poetic in language, hymn-like in structure, and deep in meaning. It is a concluding section to Paul’s study of God’s plan of salvation which would not have been our way of doing things at all.  Paul has been so impressed by the methods and choices God has made in bringing about our salvation that he is thrust into deep awe at the workings of God. The more he understands it, the more he looks at it, the richer he finds it. It is through seeing, understanding and experiencing the works of God that we are led to a place of reverence and awe, a place where we know we can only glory in the Lord. “For from him and through him and in him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” We echo this line at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer each week! We acknowledge that God is our be inning and end and worthy of all praise. When I hold the host and chalice up at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, pay special attention to what we are saying and the implications of it. It is such a beautiful hymn to the power, majesty and generosity of our God, especially when the Eucharistic presence can be seen and touched as we say it.
So, we always get to this point in the homily where I try to let you see how these readings might influence your thought and actions during the following week. Sometimes, however, the readings have no moral implications or easy messages to give. We might ask ourselves whether we are to caught up in worldly things, as was Shebna, or whether we appreciate or take for granted the workings of God, especially the redemptive act which allows us to be kingdom-bound again. For my part, I simply would like you to pay more attention, perhaps, to the words we use each week, like the final words of the Eucharist Prayer, and see if you can find the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge that is there for us.  St. Paul had to work at doing that, and so should we for it provides great reward and enriches our faith.
And this is the hope that I present to you to today as the Good News of our God!

20 agosto 2014


Icons are not works of fine art but are the theology of Christianity put forth in images and colors. They are created to reveal God. St.Theodore the Studite tells us that "in the Sacred Scriptures we have the written word of God, in the Icons we have his word in images."
Icons are said to be "windows into heaven." This is so because it is a two way communication between the one praying and the one depicted in the icon. A communication sometimes without words, but a communication of presence for through the icon, one is made present to the one depicted and vice versa. It is through this link that we ask the one in the icon to intercede for us with our Savior.
In our veneration of the saints we see that they have lived their lives in accord with God's will and so Christ dwells in them. It is in this very indwelling that through the saint we worship Christ himself.
Our society and culture dictate that one must always be doing something. Even in prayer we seem to have the need for words or actions. In the stillness of silent prayer, icons help us to put aside the noise, the business, the pressures and the problems of everyday life and in the quiet listen to God.
For those new to icons the temptation to verbalize prayer whether vocal or interior must be resisted. We must give up our control and experience the silence. Those experienced in prayer with icons testify that God speaks to us through the icon. There are many moments when nothing seems to happen but one must be faithful, spending time each day with the icon, watchful, silent, receptive, open.
Because icons are theological in nature. there is no effort made to be physically accurate in their presentation as you would have in a photograph. Rather the opposite is true, naturalism is absent, perspective is inverse with the vanishing point not in the distant background but focusing in the foreground at the ones looking at the icon, drawing them into it. Icons contain and speak the Gospel truths with images in the light of the Sacred Tradition of the church. They must be distinct from other types of images just as the Gospel is different from all other literary works. No matter how simple and crude or elaborate and grand, icons are mystical works of worship.
An icon may depict the Savior, the Mother of God, angels, saints or a scriptural scene. The Orthodox Church celebrates the great feasts with festal icons such as the birth of the Mother of God, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration, and the like. The icon is venerated in church from the forefeast to the leavetaking of the feast.
Everything in the icon has meaning beginning with the colors. Blue is the color of divinity, red humanity, gold and white the glory and the light of God. The white areas or lines on the flesh and clothing represent the transfigured light of Christ. Prophets always have a scroll in their hand, rolled or open with a text visible, martyrs are clothed in red and bishops are shown in their liturgical vestments. Based on the Old Testament importance given to a person's name, all icons have the name of the person depicted inscribed on them. It is traditional to put the name of Jesus and the Mother of God in Greek while using the vernacular for the others. The border separates the icon from the everyday world. Icons are never put in frames, rather the wooden panels are hung directly on the wall. The icon is considered complete when the name of the person depicted is inscribed and it is blessed on the altar.
Traditional iconography belongs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It has been part of her tradition since the very beginning of Christianity. Throughout the centuries she has developed and maintained iconographic canons, customs and traditions to ensure the accuracy of the images in content, colors, perspectives and even materials. The Orthodox Church has strictly protected the iconographic tradition, first from iconoclasm, then from other distortions, such as artistic idiosyncrasies and private opinions.
Icon painting demands an artistic talent plus the daily living of an intense spiritual life in The Church. An authentic icon painter must be a theologian of the image because iconography is a language, which implies a living faith. Icons are not meant to express an iconographer's originality or self-expression rather they take great care to be faithful to the iconographic canons. Just as written translations of the Gospel must remain true to the original texts, so too must the iconographer remain faithful to the iconographic canons. They use the same methods and depict the same subjects as their predecessors and they do not sign their work. Iconographers are expected to fast and pray from beginning an icon to its completion. They pray for divine guidance and assistance in their work and they pray for those that will kneel before and venerate the icon. They fast for purification mind and heart.
Icons play an important part in the prayer of the Church, public and private. Publicly they bring the divine presence into the sacred place used by the community for Liturgy. During liturgy they are venerated and give a visual, real dimension to the actual presence of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints. They are also carried in processions.
In the homes of the faithful they bring that same divine presence to the private prayer of the individual. In each home there should be a Prayer Comer with Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, "in secret before our Father." In addition to Sacred Scripture and icons, candles, incense and sometimes sacred music help to provide an environment conducive to prayer. This home chapel or room, or any other special place should enable silence and be distraction free.
It is also customary for people to carry their icons with them when they travel to provide the opportunity for prayer while they are away from the chapel in their home. Many other customs involving icons developed over the centuries, one being the custom of giving an icon to the newly married couple as they establish their home together.
As we contemplate the icon we cannot help but be drawn into it and the image looks back at us. All of the light in the icon comes from within the person in the image. There are no exterior light sources, no shadows. Only the transfigured light of Christ. The common features of the secular world are absent in the icon because it is our glimpse, our look through the window into heaven.



(many icons on the site)

Posted on May 15, 2011 

Iconography can be an extremely concise way of communicating the Faith. Therefore, what the Saints hold in their hands in portrait icons help in identifying them and in telling us about their lives.
I hope to show that what is held in the hands of the Saints in Icons is their instrument of Salvation; i.e. the “tools” by which God saved and glorified these people.
First, a Cross, which indicates the Saint is a Holy Martyr. The reason martyrs are shown holding a cross is two-fold: firstly, martyr comes for the Greek for witness, and so these witnesses hold the preeminent symbol of Christianity: the Cross. Secondly, the Cross symbolizes the most perfect sacrifice of life for others, Christ’s own crucifixion. Therefore, any Saints who were murdered for confessing the Faith are shown with crosses, regardless of how they died. The manner of a Saint’s execution is not how they gained Sainthood. Multitudes of people suffer horribly each day, and die in all sorts of gruesome ways and yet are not called Saints or martyrs for it. It is the confession of Faith that counts, and so those who confessed Christ and died for it hold a cross to mark their martyrdom. Saints holding the instruments of their execution are more common in Renaissance-era art of Europe, but this, I suggest, reflects a preoccupation with the earthly life, rather than eternal heavenly reality. Orthodox Icons may sometimes show the martyrdom itself, but portrait Icons are “windows into Heaven”, and so the Saints are not shown burdened by the things which killed them.
A Scroll indicates holy Wisdom, and so is often shown in the hands of the Old Testament prophets, but is also commonly seen in the hands of the Apostles. Both were given wisdom from God – the prophets through visions, the Apostles through meeting and knowing Jesus Christ. Later Saints may also be shown holding scrolls if they were also known for prophecy, percipience,  and imparting divine knowledge to others. One example is Ephrem the Syrian (right), a hymnographer and deacon from the 4th century well-known for his poetic works of theology. Where the scrolls are unfurled, quotes from the Saints’ own writings are shown. At first this may seem as though the Saints are being glorified for their own “works”. However, it is precisely because these Saints’ writing/wisdom/prophecy is believed to come from God, not their own reasoning, that they are glorified. This is clear when we see, for example, the Prophet Isaiah holding a scroll which bears the words: “Hear, O Heavens, and give ear O Earth” (Is. 1:2). These words are “Isaiah’s”, but are also the words of God spoken through his prophet. It’s the same for later Saints who are shown holding scrolls bearing the words they were inspired to write.
In the New Testament we read of the Apostles, especially Paul, appointing overseers (Gr. episkopos) to guide the new Christian communities, keeping them strong within the faith. It is these overseers which over a generation become the bishops we know today. It is fitting therefore, that Sainted Bishops in Icons hold their main tool: the Gospel Book, from which they proclaim the Good News to the faithful during the Liturgy. Many of the Church Fathers were also Bishops, and some of their “writings” which we read today were not writings at all, but sermons preached after the reading of the Gospel, later copied down by the congregation for other churches to benefit from. Their inspired teachings were grounded in the Gospel, and so they hold these books in Icons as the instruments through which God granted them sainthood. And they hold them with great reverence indeed, indicated by the way some Icons show the Bishops covering their bare hand with their vestments or stole. It is this supreme respect for the Gospel which inspired the Bishops to defend the Faith so vehemently at the Ecumenical Councils, another way in which some went on to be recognized as Saints. Naturally, the Evangelists are also depicted in Icons holding a Gospel Book, often open and in the same way as scrolls they bear the words they penned (e.g. this Icon of St John the Evangelist).
Another role of the Bishop is that of a pastor, or shepherd, of Christ’s flock. This is symbolized by the Crosier, which in Orthodoxy doesn’t look the same as the “shepherd’s crook” held by bishops in the West. It is of a simpler design, usually in the shape of the Greek letter Tau, which symbolizes life, resurrection, or the Cross (more on the symbolism of Tau here). Sometimes the crosier will be topped by a cross, just above a double crook. This double crook is sometimes in the shape of serpents’ heads, symbolizing the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. Which design of crosier used in an Icon is largely dependent upon the actual design used in life by the Saint in question (e.g. St John the Wonderworker, left).
The Tau-shaped crosier is also a symbol of authority held by abbots or abbesses of monasteries, and so icons of monastic saints may also show them holding this kind of staff if they were known for shepherding the faithful. On occasion, a Saint who wasn’t a bishop, abbot, or abbess in life will be shown holding a crosier in iconography. This in recognition of their spiritual authority, regardless of any office they achieved during their lives. A perfect example of this is St. Xenia of Petersburg, a homeless wanderer who through her life of renunciation “taught us to disregard the flesh for it passes away” (hymn to St Xenia). Because of her wanderings she is shown in iconography with a walking stick, yet in some icons this is rendered as a Tau-shaped crosier, as in this Russian icon. The walking stick is an image of St Xenia’s earthly life, but it has been given a new meaning to reflect her heavenly role in the life of the Church.
This leads us to Weapons in icons, such as lances, shields and swords. In the first few centuries of the Church, two types of martyr gained particular devotion among Christians: virgin-martyrs and soldier-martyrs. The latter group were typically soldiers in the pagan Roman Empire who converted to Christianity and were murdered because of it. Often their conversion meant they renounced their military lives which makes their appearance in icons garbed in full armour seem strange, almost contradictory. However, if we think about St Xenia’s walking stick “transfigured” into a crosier in icons of her then things become clearer. These martyr-soldiers (and they usually hold crosses too, in remembrance of their sacrifice) have through their confession of faith become “soldiers for Christ”. As our intercessors in Heaven it is comforting, I believe, to know that there are saints warring against the “principalities of darkness” on our behalf. It is therefore natural to show those already courageous soldiers who renounced earthly weapons to even more courageously embrace death now adorned with the armour of God (Eph. 6:11-18).
Ss Peter and Paul are sometimes depicted together in a single Icon (they also share a feast day: June 29) and when they do they are shown together supporting a small Church Building in their hands (left). This reflects the hymnography of the Church, where the two Apostles are praised as “pillars of the Church.” Not only were they pillars of the Church, but church-builders too, establishing Christian communities (churches) around the Mediterranean and Holy Lands. Later, other Saints are remembered for their “church-building” and so are depicted holding small churches or monasteries, often in profile, shown offering the church to Christ (like the second icon of St Edwin on this page).  It is quite common for Sainted kings and queens to be shown holding churches in this way, as they are honoured for their role as protector and benefactor of the Church within their lands. It is through the building up of the church that these monarchs were glorified by God, and so these buildings are the instruments of their own salvation.
And then there is Jesus Christ Himself. It’s probably impious of me to refer to the Infant Christ as a “tool” of Salvation, but given the above there is much sense in seeing Mary holding Christ in the same way a holy heirarch holds a Gospel Book. The reason Christians do not chase after martyrdom is because it is not something that is sought after, but something accepted if God wills it. The martyr, the holy heirarch, the prophet, and the warrior-saint are all chosen by God to fulfill their roles, for the benefit of all. Individual Saints do not choose whether to be a wise hermit, a virgin-martyr, or an evangelist; their choice is simply to accept the role God ordained for them, or to go their own way.
And so when Archangel Gabriel delivered to the virgin Mary news that God had chosen her to be the mother of the world’s Saviour, she had the choice to accept this, or to run away. By humbly saying “be it to me according to your word”, Mary would be forevermore called full of Grace. Therefore, in most icons of her, Mary is shown holding the Infant Christ, through Whom she was glorified as the Birth-Giver (Theotokos) and Mother of God.
For the same reason as the Mother of God holds Christ in her hands, it is also right for icons of Simeon the God-Receiver to show him holding Christ. By the same reasoning it is inappropriate to show Joseph of Nazareth holding Christ. Joseph was the man betrothed to Mary, who protected her and Christ during Herod’s persecutions, and to most people was considered Jesus’ father. But he wasn’t, and is not acclaimed a Saint for being Jesus’ father. He is a saint for being the Betrothed of Mary, for protecting her and not breaking off the betrothal for infidelity. Where portrait Icons of Joseph exist (and they’re not that common) he’s usually shown holding two doves, the poor-man’s sacrifice he offered at Christ’s Presentation at the Temple (Luke 2:22–40).
There are other objects not mentioned here which are held by Saints in their “heavenly portraits”. The reasons for each object are different, but the principal is the same: the Saints hold the tools of their Salvation. The sheer number of different items depicted in Icons show us the diversity of ways in which God calls us. The Cross, the Gospel, holy Wisdom, the Church: all ultimately lead to Christ, of course, yet the richness of items points to the abundance of His Mercy and Grace.

19 agosto 2014

St Bernard of Clairvaux





Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to talk about St Bernard of Clairvaux, called "the last of the Fathers" of the Church because once again in the 12th century he renewed and brought to the fore the important theology of the Fathers. We do not know in any detail about the years of his childhood; however, we know that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, into a large and fairly well-to-do family. As a very young man he devoted himself to the study of the so-called liberal arts especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics at the school of the canons of the Church of Saint-Vorles at Châtillon-sur-Seine; and the decision to enter religious life slowly matured within him. At the age of about 20, he entered Cîteaux, a new monastic foundation that was more flexible in comparison with the ancient and venerable monasteries of the period while at the same time stricter in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was sent by Stephen Harding, the third Abbot of Cîteaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young Abbot he was only 25 years old was able to define his conception of monastic life and set about putting it into practice. In looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard firmly recalled the need for a sober and measured life, at table as in clothing and monastic buildings, and recommended the support and care of the poor. In the meantime the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and its foundations multiplied.
In those same years before 1130 Bernard started a prolific correspondence with many people of both important and modest social status. To the many Epistolae of this period must be added numerous Sermones, as well as Sententiae and Tractatus. Bernard's great friendship with William, Abbot of Saint-Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century, also date to this period. As from 1130, Bernard began to concern himself with many serious matters of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason he was obliged to leave his monastery ever more frequently and he sometimes also travelled outside France. He founded several women's monasteries and was the protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke last Wednesday. In his polemical writings he targeted in particular Abelard, a great thinker who had conceived of a new approach to theology, introducing above all the dialectic and philosophical method in the constructi0n of theological thought. On another front Bernard combated the heresy of the Cathars, who despised matter and the human body and consequently despised the Creator. On the other hand, he felt it was his duty to defend the Jews, and condemned the ever more widespread outbursts of anti-Semitism. With regard to this aspect of his apostolic action, several decades later Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In the same period the holy Abbot wrote his most famous works such as the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs [In Canticum Sermones]. In the last years of his life he died in 1153 Bernard was obliged to curtail his journeys but did not entirely stop travelling. He made the most of this time to review definitively the whole collection of his Letters, Sermons and Treatises. Worthy of mention is a quite unusual book that he completed in this same period, in 1145, when Bernardo Pignatelli, a pupil of his, was elected Pope with the name of Eugene III. On this occasion, Bernard as his spiritual father, dedicated to his spiritual son the text De Consideratione [Five Books on Consideration] which contains teachings on how to be a good Pope. In this book, which is still appropriate reading for the Popes of all times, Bernard did not only suggest how to be a good Pope, but also expressed a profound vision of the Mystery of the Church and of the Mystery of Christ which is ultimately resolved in contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. "The search for this God who is not yet sufficiently sought must be continued", the holy Abbot wrote, "yet it may be easier to search for him and find him in prayer rather than in discussion. So let us end the book here, but not the search" (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808) and in journeying on towards God.
I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard's rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian's intimate and vital participation in God's love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic. Jesus alone Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is "honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)". The title Doctor Mellifluus, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ "flowed like honey". In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. "All food of the soul is dry", he professed, "unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savour for me unless I have read Jesus in it" (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!
In another famous Sermon on the Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption the Holy Abbot described with passionate words Mary's intimate participation in the redeeming sacrifice of her Son. "O Blessed Mother", he exclaimed, "a sword has truly pierced your soul!... So deeply has the violence of pain pierced your soul, that we may rightly call you more than a martyr for in you participation in the passion of the Son by far surpasses in intensity the physical sufferings of martyrdom" (14: PL 183, 437-438). Bernard had no doubts: "per Mariam ad Iesum", through Mary we are led to Jesus. He testifies clearly to Mary's subordination to Jesus, in accordance with the foundation of traditional Mariology. Yet the text of the Sermone also documents the Virgin's privileged place in the economy of salvation, subsequent to the Mother's most particular participation (compassio) in the sacrifice of the Son. It is not for nothing that a century and a half after Bernard's death, Dante Alighieri, in the last canticle of the Divine Comedy, was to put on the lips of the Doctor Mellifluus the sublime prayer to Mary: "Virgin Mother, daughter of your own Son, / humble and exalted more than any creature, / fixed term of the eternal counsel" (Paradise XXXIII, vv. 1 ff.).
These reflections, characteristic of a person in love with Jesus and Mary as was Bernard, are still a salutary stimulus not only to theologians but to all believers. Some claim to have solved the fundamental questions on God, on man and on the world with the power of reason alone. St Bernard, on the other hand, solidly founded on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by an intimate relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming an empty intellectual exercise and losing their credibility. Theology refers us back to the "knowledge of the Saints", to their intuition of the mysteries of the living God and to their wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit, which become a reference point for theological thought. Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily "in prayer than in discussion". In the end, the truest figure of a theologian and of every evangelizer remains the Apostle John who laid his head on the Teacher's breast.
I would like to conclude these reflections on St Bernard with the invocations to Mary that we read in one of his beautiful homilies. "In danger, in distress, in uncertainty", he says, "think of Mary, call upon Mary. She never leaves your lips, she never departs from your heart; and so that you may obtain the help of her prayers, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot falter; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot err. If she sustains you, you will not stumble; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, you will never flag; if she is favourable to you, you will attain your goal..." (Hom. II super Missus est, 17: PL 183, 70-71).


(I do not know the author, in fact, from what little I understand, I am very puzzled, however, is interesting, something is interesting, I post this for this reason!)




He never walked with Jesus of Nazareth, yet he traversed the Roman Empire proclaiming him the divine Christ. He never heard Jesus teach, yet he became Christianity's most influential expositor of doctrine. He spoke little about Jesus's life, yet he attached cosmic significance to his death and Resurrection. The Apostle Paul, some scholars now believe, was more instrumental in the founding of Christianity than anyone else–even Jesus himself.
A tireless missionary and prolific theologian, Paul almost single-handedly transformed a fringe movement of messianic Jews into a vibrant new faith that, within a few generations, would sweep the Greco-Roman world and alter the course of Western history. His preaching of salvation "by grace . . . through faith" in the Risen Lord has inspired spiritual seekers throughout the centuries.
Yet precisely because of his larger-than-life stature in the nascent Christian church, Paul always has been a figure surrounded by controversy. In his own time, he was reviled by religious and political adversaries and arrested, beaten, exiled, and eventually executed for his zealous preaching in the Roman precincts of the Mediterranean rim. In more recent times, some have branded him a misogynist and a homophobe.
A scholarly quest. Today, in a batch of recent books and articles, critics and admirers alike have sought to penetrate what some contend are flawed interpretations and deliberate distortions of Paul's teachings. Just as some have tried for centuries to uncover a "Jesus of history" unadorned by church tradition, many scholars now have taken up a Quest for the Historical Paul. Among the more provocative theories that have emerged from these studies:
As a Christian missionary and theologian, Paul knew little and cared less about the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. More important in Paul's mind was the death and Resurrection of the exalted Christ who appeared to him in a mystical vision.
Paul was intensely apocalyptic and believed that Christ's Second Coming was imminent. Consequently, he did not intend his sometimes stern judgments on doctrinal matters and on issues of gender and sexuality to become church dogma applied, as it has been, for nearly 2,000 years.
Although an apostle to the gentiles, Paul remained thoroughly Jewish in his outlook and saw the Christian movement as a means of expanding and reforming traditional Judaism. He had no thought of starting a new religion.
For all of his energy and influence, Paul wrote only a fraction of the New Testament letters that tradition ascribes to him, and even some of those were subsequently altered by others to reflect later developments in church theology.
As might be expected, these claims are passionately debated. In some quarters, the quest for a new and improved Paul is denounced as an ideological attack on the Bible and Christian tradition. "Paul in the 20th century has been used and abused as much as in the first," says N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar and dean of the Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire, England. Yet there is wide recognition among scholars of every stripe that to discover fresh insights into the life of the Apostle is to draw closer to the roots of Christianity.
Most of what is known of Paul comes from his own writings and from the Acts of the Apostles, a New Testament chronicle of the early church written decades after Paul's death. Though none of the writings are purely biographical, they provide revealing glimpses into his life and career. He was born Saul in the town of Tarsus in what is now southern Turkey, probably in about A.D. 10. Educated in Jerusalem "at the feet of Gamaliel," grandson of the great Jewish sage Hillel, he joined the Pharisees, a party of strict constructionists of the Judaic laws. Writing years later to Christians in Philippi, Paul proudly recounted his ethnic credentials: "Circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless."
Little is known of his physical traits. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke vaguely of a physical affliction–a "thorn in the flesh"–that he described as "a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated." Biblical scholars have speculated it could have been a physical malady such as epilepsy, malaria, or eye disease, while one commentator has suggested that Paul's torment may have been his own vexatious sexuality. In his 1991 book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, N.J., depicted Paul as a repressed and self-loathing homosexual, a view that is not widely shared.
In his early career, according to both the Acts and his own letters, Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christians. Some scholars now believe he was part of a radical and sometimes violent faction of first-century Judaism known as the Shammaite Pharisees. The Shammaites, says Wright in What Saint Paul Really Said (1997), were followers of Shammai Ha-zaken, a Jerusalem sage who advocated a strict interpretation of Jewish law.
The meaning of zeal. While followers of his Pharisaic contemporary, Hillel, pursued a "live and let live" approach to political and religious adversaries, says Wright, the Shammaites believed the Torah "demanded that Israel be free from the Gentile yoke" even if by violent means. Thus, while for modern Christians, zeal is "something you do on your knees, or in evangelism, or in works of charity," says Wright, "for the first-century [Shammaites] 'zeal' was something you did with a knife." It was in that spirit of "holy war" that Saul of Tarsus pursued the Christian heretics–men, women, and children–who when caught were often beaten, imprisoned, and even executed.
But Paul's career as a persecutor of Christians came to a dramatic end on the road to Damascus. As the book of Acts tells it, Saul was on his way to arrest Christians in the Syrian city when:
"a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' He asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' The reply came, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.' "
Temporarily blinded, Saul was led away by his traveling companions. In Damascus, according to the text, he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and regained his sight, was baptized, and immediately began proclaiming Jesus as "the Son of God." He had received his call to be a "witness to all the world" and an apostle to the gentiles. Paul now believed that God had indeed begun to inaugurate a new age for Israel–just as the followers of Jesus whom he had persecuted had so passionately claimed. Through his own direct encounter with the Risen Christ, say University of Massachusetts Prof. Richard Horsley and historian Neil Asher Silberman, Paul became convinced that Jesus's earlier incarnation as a poor Galilean peasant was "merely a prelude to his revelation as Israel's messianic redeemer," spoken of in the Hebrew scriptures.
Seeing God's plan. Yet as dramatic as it was, argue Horsley and Silberman in their 1997 book The Message and the Kingdom, Paul never considered his Damascus Road experience a "sudden [conversion] to a new religion." Instead, they argue, he found it a revelation of "previously unknown details of God's unfolding plan for Israel's salvation at the End of Days." What Paul then began to fervently preach was not a new faith but a refined and fulfilled version of the old.
Over the next two decades in three separate campaigns, Paul and his co-workers would travel the roads of the Roman Empire and the commercial sea lanes of the Aegean and Mediterranean, carrying the gospel to the cities of Asia Minor, Greece, and eventually to Rome. But the content of their message, some scholars argue, differed in important ways from the gospel others were preaching.
The mother church in Jerusalem, led by Jesus's brother James, had kept strong ties to traditional Judaism. Its members worshiped at the temple and carefully observed the Law of Moses. As more and more gentiles joined the fellowship of believers, leaders of the Jerusalem church grew increasingly concerned that the laws of Judaism were being neglected, particularly the law requiring circumcision of male converts. The question threatening to fracture the young church was a crucial one: Did one need to become a Jew first to become a Christian?
Paul had not been among the original disciples of Jesus. Nor had he been converted by them. Consequently, he gave little deference to their views when they differed from what he believed Christ had revealed to him directly. He was summoned to Jerusalem to explain himself to the "pillars" of the Jerusalem church: the Apostles James, Peter, and John. A compromise was reached that temporarily defused the issue: Circumcision would not be required of gentile converts, but following certain other Judaic rules would be expected. Paul's mission to the gentiles would continue. But only with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans in A.D. 70 would the issue finally become moot. Christianity's Jewish wing disappeared in the aftermath, and the thriving gentile church continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire. The split from Judaism was now assured. Christianity would become a separate faith shaped by Paul's vision of salvation through the Risen Savior, not by works under the old Mosaic Law.
British biographer A. N. Wilson, in his 1997 book Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, argues that Paul's Risen Christ had little to do with the historical Jesus. Christ was for Paul "not so much the man [the disciples] remembered (though of course he was that) but a presence of divine love in the hearts of believers." There was no quoting of Jesus's parables or aphorisms in Paul's writings, adds Gregory C. Jenks, rector at St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Drayton, Australia. "The good news," for Paul, says Jenks, "focused on what God did in Jesus on the cross, and on his imminent appearance as Christ, the exalted one."
Some scholars argue that Paul simply may not have known of Jesus's teachings. J. Leslie Houlden, professor emeritus of theology at King's College in London, notes that Paul tells no stories of Jesus other than that of the Last Supper. While there are allusions in Paul's writings to some of Jesus's teachings, he notes, Paul "does not ascribe this to Jesus and, consequently, misses golden opportunities to say, 'As Jesus taught . . .' "
Building on Jesus. Other scholars argue that Paul's letters should not be considered in total isolation, as if they contain all that Paul knew, believed, and preached. Paul no doubt knew more about Jesus, they argue, and he knew his audience knew more as well. Paul, says Wright, was "building on the foundation" Jesus laid. He was "not building another one."
Of all of Paul's teachings, those that stir the most controversy today relate to homosexuality and the role of women in the church. Writing to his co-worker Timothy, Paul declares that a woman may not "teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent" in the church. And in a notorious passage in the letter to the Ephesians, he exhorts women to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands."
His views on homosexuality are equally provocative. Writing to Christians in Rome, he denounced those who he said had forsaken God's ways. Because of their wickedness, Paul wrote:
"God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural. . . . Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
But some scholars argue that Paul's views on those matters have been given much too wide a berth in Christian theology. Paul's high regard for women as coworkers is amply demonstrated in other letters. Scholars theorize that Paul's stern remarks were aimed at preserving order in worship rather than delineating the "place" of women in the natural order. Some even suggest that the most flagrant "anti-women" statements may have been added to the texts by later church scribes.
Paul's views on homosexuality also may have been misconstrued. Daryl D. Schmidt, professor of religion at Texas Christian University, contends that Paul was revulsed by what he saw as "unbridled passion" and "sexual addiction" that often took the form of same-sex contact in the bathhouses of the Greco-Roman world between men who would otherwise be considered straight. "It was not homosexuality as we understand it today as an orientation toward people of the same sex," says Schmidt. Moreover, Paul believed that Christ's return was imminent–as did many Christians of that first generation. In his writings to the churches, argues Wilson, Paul was "not laying the ground rules for the Christian centuries, but getting ready for an imminent End." Although the consequences of his stringent condemnation might have been widespread, "they were not consequences which he could have foreseen himself."
The debate over the life and works of Paul is certain to continue, not least because it goes to the very character of Christianity itself–whether, as Houlden says, it is "a religion devoted to the perpetual imitation of Jesus and the following of his teachings" or a faith "centering on elicited response" to the exalted figure of Christ. Whether or not Paul qualifies as Christianity's true founder, his impact on the shaping of that post-Easter faith makes the search for ever clearer portraits of the man a worthy endeavor.

The perils of Pauline exegesis
When conservative Christians quote the Bible to buttress their arguments against feminism or homosexuality, they usually cite the Epistles of St. Paul. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution last June directing wives to "submit graciously to the servant leadership" of their husbands, taking its language almost directly from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Paul said it, but does that make it dogma?
Not according to a great many Christians, including more than a few Southern Baptists. "I've been beat up by St. Paul for the past 20 years," says the Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, pastor of the Sweet Fellowship Baptist Church in Clyde, N.C. In 1987, Sehested says, she was thrown out of her local Southern Baptist association for the transgression of serving as pastor, and she sees much of the conservatives' antifeminist stance as an outgrowth of Paul's writings. For many moderate Southern Baptists, the "submit graciously" declaration was the final straw: Several congregations have cut all ties with the denomination.

US News & World Report, 4/5/99

18 agosto 2014

come Holy Spirit



(13-18 AUGUST 2014)



Haemi Castle

Sunday, 17 August 2014 

Dear Young Friends,

The glory of the martyrs shines upon you! These words – a part of the theme of the Sixth Asian Youth Day – console and strengthen us all. Young people of Asia: you are the heirs of a great testimony, a precious witness to Christ. He is the light of the world; he is the light of our lives! The martyrs of Korea – and innumerable others throughout Asia – handed over their bodies to their persecutors; to us they have handed on a perennial witness that the light of Christ’s truth dispels all darkness, and the love of Christ is gloriously triumphant. With the certainty of his victory over death, and our participation in it, we can face the challenge of Christian discipleship today, in our own circumstances and time.
The words which we have just reflected upon are a consolation. The other part of this Day’s theme – Asian Youth! Wake up! – speaks to you of a duty, a responsibility. Let us consider for a moment each of these words.
First, the word “Asian”. You have gathered here in Korea from all parts of Asia. Each of you has a unique place and context where you are called to reflect God’s love. The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). As young people not only in Asia, but also as sons and daughters of this great continent, you have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life!
As Asians too, you see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit given you in Baptism and sealed within you at Confirmation, and in union with your pastors, you can appreciate the many positive values of the diverse Asian cultures. You are also able to discern what is incompatible with your Catholic faith, what is contrary to the life of grace bestowed in Baptism, and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt, and lead to death.
Returning to the theme of this Day, let us reflect on a second word: “Youth”. You and your friends are filled with the optimism, energy and good will which are so characteristic of this period of life. Let Christ turn your natural optimism into Christian hope, your energy into moral virtue, your good will into genuine self-sacrificing love! This is the path you are called to take. This is the path to overcoming all that threatens hope, virtue and love in your lives and in your culture. In this way your youth will be a gift to Jesus and to the world.
As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are Church’s present! Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.
In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!”. The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ. It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!” Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion.
Finally, the third part of this Day’s theme – “Wake up!” – This word speaks of a responsibility which the Lord gives you. It is the duty to be vigilant, not to allow the pressures, the temptations and the sins of ourselves or others to dull our sensitivity to the beauty of holiness, to the joy of the Gospel. Today’s responsorial psalm invites us constantly to “be glad and sing for joy”. No one who sleeps can sing, dance or rejoice. I don’t like to see young people who are sleeping. No! Wake up! Go! Go Forward! Dear young people, “God, our God, has blessed us!” (Ps 67:6); from him we have “received mercy” (Rom 11:30). Assured of God’s love, go out to the world so that, “by the mercy shown to you”, they – your friends, co-workers, neighbors, countrymen, everyone on this great continent – “may now receive the mercy of God” (cf. Rom 11:31). It is by his mercy that we are saved.
Dear young people of Asia, it is my hope that, in union with Christ and the Church, you will take up this path, which will surely bring you much joy. Now, as we approach the table of the Eucharist, let us turn to our Mother Mary, who brought Jesus to the world. Yes, Mother Mary, we long to have Jesus; in your maternal affection help us to bring him to others, to serve him faithfully, and to honor him in every time and place, in this country and throughout Asia. Amen.
Asian youth, wake up!