A Christmas question: Did the baby Jesus cry?

MARY (an appropriate name for this particular question) ASKS:

Did the infant Jesus cry?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Good one. A beloved Christmas carol says “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” which would have been a tiny miracle.

But the New Testament, which has the only early accounts of Jesus’ Nativity, tells us nothing about his infancy, or even his youth except for teaching in the Jerusalem Temple at age 12.

If pondered in terms of what Christianity has always thought there’d be every reason to assume the Babe of Bethlehem cried just like all other infants do, for the same physiological and emotional reasons. That’s a solid inference from the faith’s central and mysterious belief that Jesus was God incarnate and at the same time fully a human being (“yet without sin”). The New Testament reports that just like everyone else the adult Jesus could be tired, hungry, sorrowful and perturbed, and that he experienced pain and death.

In other words, truly human, not inhuman.

New Testament writings from the 1st Century began the process of defining Jesus’ two natures, divine and human. For instance: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). And “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

The Nicene Creed of A.D. 381, recited by multitudes each Sunday to this day, states that Jesus was “true God of true God” who “for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Many favorite Christmas carols say the same.

You get the impression that early Christianity had more trouble convincing people that Jesus was fully human than that he was fully divine. This is evident in the “pseudepigrapha” that some liberal scholars emphasize instead of focusing just on the four New Testament Gospels that the early church judged to be authentic and worthy of scriptural status. For one thing, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John originated much earlier than those non-biblical writings.

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Protip: Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin Birth

Did you hear about the anteater that conceived a baby even though she had no male mate around? I mean, she had a mate, but he was removed from her area longer than the six months required to gestate a baby anteater. Theories for how this miracle happened include the very non-miraculous idea that the mommy anteater and daddy anteater mated through a fence and the somewhat more mysterious idea that the pregnancy was paused or that implantation was somehow delayed.

So of course this is a made-for-media story. As you can see in the image to this post (or anywhere it went out online), some went with the “immaculate conception” approach. Which is, you know, weird, since the immaculate conception has nothing to do with conceiving a baby without the presence of the male.

The Atlantic Wire figured out its error and mildly tried to correct it by appending a note that they were only repeating other people’s errors and by putting quotes around ‘Immaculately Conceived’ as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

First, let’s discuss the religious teachings in play since this is a routine problem. From Wikipedia:

The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.[1][2] It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Mary is often called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic and cultural contexts.[3]

The Immaculate Conception should not be confused with the perpetual virginity of Mary or the virgin birth of Jesus; it refers to the conception of Mary by her mother, Saint Anne. Although the belief was widely held since at least Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not formally proclaimed until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is not formal doctrine except in the Roman Catholic Church.[4] The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is observed on December 8 in many Catholic countries as a holy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some as a national public holiday.

Not perfect, but you get the idea. The Immaculate Conception refers to what Roman Catholics teach about Mary being conceived without original sin. The Virgin Birth refers to what most Christians teach about the circumstances of Jesus’ conception. Great. Can we stop having this error, then?

Here’s the note the Atlantic Wire appended to the piece:

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CBS: John the Baptist was at the Crucifixion

In our discussions on the New York Timeswhopper of an error (and weird correction), some readers pointed out that the media outlet was not alone in making a major mistake that day:

CBS, clearly embarrassed to be No. 2 in Christian faith ignorance, ran a segment on CBS Sunday Morning in which Martha Teichner stated confidently that John THE BAPTIST stood at the foot of the cross with Mary. That should get some kind of honorable mention here.

Over at the CBS.com site, viewers were calling out the report left and right:

  • I am an avid fan of CBS Sunday Morning; it is part of our Sunday ritual. I was amazed though this morning that Martha Teichner said that John the Baptist was at the foot of the cross with Mary. That was the disciple John, the brother of James- son of Zebedee.John the Baptist had been beheaded before Jesus was crucified. How did this get by? As a Catholic I object to this error. Love your show; just be careful.
  • You lost a viewer this morning for the poor journalism in this story. The reporter did not know her New Testament well enough to know that John the Baptist was killed and Mary could not have lived with him in Turkey, the person she lived with was the Apostle John. It was nice that you started with a Catholic congregation in NY but why not also talk to a Catholic or Orthodox theologian? I turned it off when you highlighted a fringe element. Is this the way you do journalism for other stories too. A shame, I had really enjoyed watching your show before I went to Mass.
  • Martha Teichner, usually a credible reporter. Big mistake not getting a Christian to edit your story. John the Baptist died early in Jesus ministry – perhaps 3 years before Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Gospel of John, “John the Apostle” refers to himself as the one Jesus loved, not John the Baptist. Poor form!
  • Beautiful photos but you botched a couple of things. The most glaring error was stating that the “beloved disciple” who witnessed the crucifixion along with Mary the mother of Jesus was perhaps John the Baptist. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod long before this. The beloved disciple is thought to be John, who wrote the Gospel of John, three short letters near the end of the New Testament, and the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. Also, Mary is mentioned in Acts 1:14-15 (you said she is mentioned only in the four gospels), where we find her just after the ascension huddling with the disciples in a crowd of about 120 people in the upper room (a group that also included the brothers of Jesus, so the supposed “rift” mentioned by your expert was apparently mended and they had become believers). So she was clearly involved and in touch with the early church. But it was refreshing that a news outlet referenced the resurrection, even tangentially, on Easter Sunday. Most news organizations act as though this key event never occurred. Obviously, something happened, whether or not one believes in the resurrection. I do believe.
  • For Martha Teichner’s sake, I wish someone would have vetted this story before it aired. One error that is easily verifiable was that John the Beloved is NOT John the Baptist. John the Baptist, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s son, was killed (beheaded) during Jesus’ ministry – so he could not have been at the crucifixion. John the Beloved is the same John that authored the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by this oversight, I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the story. I hope others were able to see what was trying to be shared and learn something. Thank you!

The report itself was very interesting and very well done. It was heavily biased toward New York City adherents and scholars and could have used more diversity among the quoted scholars. The John the Baptist error was the big doozie but I think readers might have trouble with a few more things in it as well.

Anyway, CBS has corrected the video and the print version of the story. And there’s a note at the end that says:

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mis-identified the possible “beloved disciple” as John the Baptist.

What does that mean — “the possible ‘beloved disciple’”? I don’t understand why the word “possible” is used.

Do Nativity scenes owe more to artists than historians?

I am blessed to be a member of an absolutely wonderful congregation. It’s a healthy mix of people who work together to keep the mission of our congregation going and thriving. Our regular focus on the Divine Service inspires all of our mission work, including a parish school and community programs.

I had to say that before pointing out this one tiny … issue. See, we have this 100-year-old Nativity scene we set up each year. The older folks in the congregation have let us know that this must always happen. Somehow over the years it got mixed with both another Nativity scene and with a Noah’s Ark scene. It’s ridiculous. In with the oxen and cattle and camels are pairs of zebras and rhinos and elephants. There is some theological beauty in combining these two scenes, but it’s kind of a train wreck.

I thought of that when I read this great story by Tim Townsend in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For all the importance that Nativity scenes have in the lives of Christians in America and throughout the world, it’s interesting how little coverage we get of them in news stories. For many, it might be difficult to write an interesting or newsy story about them.

When the duke of Urbino in Italy needed a gift for the queen of Spain, he turned to his friend, the painter Federico Barocci.

Barocci, a devout Catholic, worked during the Counter-Reformation, and in 1597 he had painted his version of one of the most recognizable images in all Christendom.

And as Christians mark Jesus’ birth today, they will do so with imagery that owes less, perhaps, to historical accuracy than to artists such as Barocci and thousands of others who preceded him for 1,000 years.

The hook is that Barocci’s Nativity is on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. But Townsend uses this as item to write an interesting story exploring the theology and artistry of the scene:

Historians and theologians say it is that sense of family intimacy, coupled with the humbling circumstances of Christ’s birth as told in the Gospel of Luke, that has resonated with Christians for centuries.

Many Christians hang a crucifix or cross — a symbol of the resurrection — in their homes, “but the other pillar of Christianity is the incarnation,” said St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. “When the savior of the world was born, he wasn’t born in a palace, he was not born as a king. He came as a defenseless child.”

And, of course, Luke made Christ’s vulnerability even more stark by placing Mary and Joseph in a stable. When the time came for Mary to deliver the child, she “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn,” wrote the author of Luke’s Gospel.

There is a ton of history packed into the story as well as interpretations of same, making it a rare, meaty story in the midst of a lot of fluffy stories. You should read the whole thing.

The whole thing reminded me of the stir over Pope Benedict’s writing that the Gospels don’t mention any animals at the manger. Townsend mentions it toward the end of the piece, which concludes:

Eventually manger scenes became a feature in many Christian homes throughout the world. Carlson said that when he was growing up, he loved to play with the creche figures in his parents’ house.

“What got me into trouble was that I also had these little toy soldiers,” he said. Did he ever mingle the two? “Never,” he said, smiling.

Carlson has 14 creches decorating the archbishop’s residence on Lindell Boulevard at this time of year. He keeps two of them up year-round. One, a gift from a family in South Dakota made of wood and dating to the 19th century, sits on a mantle directly across from the desk in his home office. He looks at it every day.

“To me,” he said, “it’s just a simple reminder that God loved us so much that he sent his son to be with us.”

Our house currently has three manger scenes: a toy one for the children, a nice ceramic one my mother sent me this year and the one my Dad picked up when he was studying in Israel. It’s such an obvious point but it’s nice to see something so important to me and my family in the news. What’s more, it’s nice to learn more about the history of their development and their significance throughout the ages.

Nativity image via Shutterstock.


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