Persecution of the Church from Within: Heresy

This is part II of a three part series of sermons by Fr. Cornelius Joseph O’Connell on the ever-persecuted Church. Today, the good priest turns his attention to persecution inflicted by members of the Church. That is, until they break away and leave the barque of St. Peter. Remember that line by the character “Chef” in the movie Apocalypse Now? “Never get off the boat!”

But it’s tempting to grab control of the tiller in the midst of the storm. By not steering, see, you give up your autonomy, and with faith only in yourself, you delude yourself that you could do this better on your own. You can pilot the ship better, you say to yourself. Of course, what you wind up doing is pulling what St. Peter did when he saw Christ walking on the water. Instead of staying in the boat and waiting for the Master, you walk out towards Him, only to succumb and to founder. Better to be tied to the mast like Odysseus, than listen to that song of the Siren.

How do you know if you’re are staying “in the boat?” Well, what does the Church say? She really doesn’t keep her opinions secret, you know. She’s pretty bold about sharing them with the world, which is why she is persecuted in the first place.

In this section, Fr. O’Connell spells out some of the major historical heresies that have plagued the Church in the past. New ones arise constantly, as they have from the beginning. That is why St. John the Apostle mentions the Antichrist repeatedly in his letters. So let’s take a look at what Fr. O’Connell say about the persecutors within the Body of Christ.

The Catholic Church, the Ever Persecuted and Suffering Spouse of Christ

“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”—Matthew, 16:18.

Part II: Heresy

But the really heart-rending affliction to the Church has not been persecution but heresy. The utmost her persecutors can ever do with all their ingenuity of torment, is, to kill the body; while heresy pierces into her soul and life. It is her own children who invented this species of adversity; and hence she may say of herself in the words of her bruised ancf, wounded Redeemer, “These wounds I have received; in the house of my friends.”

Of course she has triumphed over her enemies of every sort. But, in this case, it was to her as the triumph of David over Absalom, when that parent wept and cried out in his grief: “Oh Absalom! my son, Absalom! would to God that I might die for thee.”

What heresy is we may perhaps best understand from an example taken out of the Holy Scriptures. We there read of the crowds that followed our Savior everywhere, and who were all in admiration of His
doctrine, because, as they said, He was teaching them as one having power and not as the Scribes and Pharisees.

This admiration and docility continued until He came to tell them that “He was the living bread that came down from heaven.” Here they began to murmur and to question: “Is not this,” said they, “Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then, saith He, ‘I come down from heaven?'” A little further on, in the same discourse, He told them that He would give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This statement also they subjected to their own judgment, and settled it by declaring it was a “hard saying,” and one not to be listened to. The Scripture here adds that many of them went “back and walked no more with Jesus.” They had already fully accepted and praised His sermon on the mount, and His other doctrines up to this, but here they balked; here they questioned His power to do what He said, for they asked, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” And so retaining what they had already admired of His truth, they left Jesus and the remainder of His doctrine to those who cared still to follow Him and to believe Him.

That the Divine Teacher saw them depart with sorrow is manifest from what follows. “Then Jesus said to the twelve, will you also go away?” And Simon Peter answered Him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” In that trying moment He found His only consolation in the fidelity of His chosen twelve, and in their firm, open confession that His words, whatever they might be, are the “Words of eternal life,” and accordingly that whoever turns away from them puts his feet in the way of death. These words of life were then coming, not through any appointed channel as they come to us, but were issuing directly from their divine source, out of the very mouth of the Son of God. For them to be gainsaid under such circumstances, tells at once the essential arrogance of heresy, and forecasts all the miseries it was doomed to bring upon the Church.

Every heresy that has rent the Church has done no more than copy this heresy, originating in the company of His own followers. In her are now deposited all His words of eternal life. To her has been given dominion of all nations, to teach them all things whatsoever he commanded. “As the Father sent me, so I also send you.” Now, as Christ was sent into the world to teach among other things; that He was the living bread from heaven, so His Church has received from Him and put in the body of her teaching, the doctrines of the divinity of Christ; of His Incarnation; of original sin; of the necessity of grace; of His real presence in the Blessed Eucharist, and the truth of the supreme authority of the Church in the matters of faith and morals. All these truths she received and was sent to teach, and she taught them from the first, and teaches them still.

Nevertheless, as she passed through the nations on her mission, there arose among her followers, men who thought one or other of these doctrines “a hard saying,” and who, accordingly, turned away and walked no more with her. Thus, Arius went out from her, vaunting aloud that he had discovered an error in the Church’s doctrine, namely, that Christ was not the Son of God, but only a creature made by God.

The deplorable part is, that there were numbers to believe that Arius was right and the Church altogether wrong. Such multitudes, indeed, were perverted, that whole provinces in the domain of the Church were, for years and years, made black and barren with this outrageous and pestilent heresy. And all this time the Church was doomed to look on and see it everywhere, giving new death to thousands on thousands who had received life in the resurrection of Christ, the Son of God.

Nestorius

Then followed Nestorius, who erased from the creed the doctrine of the Incarnation; Jesus Christ was not God, but a man united to God by a more special and more intimate union than any other; and consequently the Virgin Mary could not be called the Mother of God.

Pelagius was the next to mutilate the Church’s creed, and he cut out the doctrines of original sin,
and of the necessity of grace, thereby aiming a blow at the entire sacramental system, for if there is no need of grace to aid our good actions, what use to have channels to convey grace to our souls. The same independent dealing was familiar to heresiarchs of lesser note in the early Church, each one rejecting or retaining such words of “Eternal Life” as he might determine for himself.

The last great heresy of all, the consequences of which are rife everywhere in our own day, was one of terrific power, because it has had in aid of its spread and development all the appliances of modern invention and modern activity. We may say, indeed, that it has opened a way for all possible heresies. It dethroned the Redeemer of the world from, we might say almost every altar in England, in Switzerland, in Germany, and from many in France. Sacrifice and sacrament were swept away alike. The authority of the Church to teach at all as a living and divine voice, was treated as an arrogant assumption, and the more effectually to supplant the true religion in the minds of men; each one was now sent to a printed volume, there to find out a religion as best he could. That volume is the work of God, it is true, but only such a work, we may say, as the body of Adam was before a living soul was breathed into it.

It belongs to the Holy Spirit alone, the author of the Scriptures, to give vitality and full meaning to His own work. The breath of man is too short, and too fitful to do more than inflate fragmentary portions of so complete and intricate a production, and these will only be such parts of the sacred book as most please each one’s peculiar fancy.

The Jews, for instance, admired the sermon on the mount, yet turned away in disdain from our Savior’s teaching, respecting His sacred body and blood. So, in our day, there are persons who accept the moral lessons of the Bible, but who will have nothing to do with its transcendent mysteries, which are, in fact, the very kernel of the whole. Now, can it be seriously supposed that, to such multiplied scraps and fragments of belief God is going to attach the virtue, the promise and the reward which He solemnly settled upon the whole body of His doctrine? If so, we may be sure that there is one word of His that will go back to Him empty, for when sending His Apostles to teach all things whatsoever He gave them to teach, He added: “He that believeth not shall be condemned.”

It is not within the reach of any created intellect to measure the disaster brought by heresy upon those once redeemed, nor to tell the anguish and sorrow it has caused the heart of the Redeemer. The track of a plague is not to be compared to the destructive course of heresy; nor is war, with all its horrors; nor is famine. For these evils terrible as they are, do not necessarily rob their victims of a faith and hope in a life where earth’s evils are all to cease.

Lucifer falling

To find a true parallel we must look above and beyond this world. We must think on the damage and irreparable evil caused by Lucifer when he refused to accept the ordainment of God. His angel intellect, in its pride, thought it saw an improvement that might be made in the dispensations of infinite wisdom. He got other spirits to share this arrogant assumption, and they, too, set their individual judgment against the eternal decree of their Maker. This was their sin, or if you prefer it, their heresy, and the consequence of it was, that in less time than words can utter it, light unspeakable was changed into darkness, and heaven was robbed in an instant of one-third of its happy dwellers; never again to enter there. Do you imagine that God saw with indifference, myriads of His gifted beings, thus opening of their own accord, an abyss under their feet?

Or, when in His mercy, He has made a heaven on earth, His holy Church; and peopled it with souls made, by the light of faith brighter than angels; can you think that in view of heaven’s catastrophe, it will be all the same to Him, if these wilfully fling away that gift of faith, and go out into darkness and unbelief? And all this because some heresiarch as ambitious as Satan, and his equal in pride, has had the impious daring to set his judgment in opposition to the eternal Spirit of God guiding His Church. “Fear not those who can kill the body,” says Eternal Truth, “but fear him rather who can cast both body and soul into hell.” This is the reason why all the evils of destruction earth can ever know, are not to be compared to the single evil of heresy.

This subject will always be a mournful one, for the reason that its treatment must adhere to the uncompromising rule of God’s truth. Seeing, moreover, that this sin is visited on the children, far beyond even the third and fourth generation, it is peculiarly sad to think of the numbers who come to be involved in it without any fault of theirs. Of these, many are serving their God according to the light and knowledge they possess; and since on His coming to this world He has promised He would “not break the bruised reed,” we may have the assurance that towards the truly sincere and upright of heart, He will always deal in mercy. One or another of them comes back now and again to the faith their fathers abandoned, and like to persons shipwrecked on a tempestuous sea, they would wonder how or why to them only a speedy rescue has come, out of so many who are left to struggle on unaided in the waves of unbelief.

Why, let me ask, are these not oftener helped by our prayers, which is their only help in a crisis like this? Why is not the fervent exhortation of the Apostle ever sounding in our ears saying to Timothy, “I desire first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Oh, if there were mortal lives in danger, instead of immortal souls, many a sympathetic heart would respond to their peril; many a strong arm would be reached out to their relief. If our common humanity calls forth such feelings, and such efforts, why not also our higher kinship with them in Christ? Who will have all men come to the knowledge of His truth, and who accounts it “good and accountable in His sight,” when anyone helps them to this knowledge?

Remember that, although the Church abhors in her inmost soul the sin of heresy; as she must abhor it by her divine mission; she has never renounced the heretic. Volunteer defenders may have sometimes acted without orders, as Peter did when he drew his sword on the servant of the High Priest; but the Church has always rebuked their passionate zeal, and after the example of our divine Savior would willingly heal any wound it caused. Having been sent to all, the Church has for all the heart of Jesus Himself, who wills not the death of the sinner.

Hence, she looks for their return to her, as the father of the prodigal stood with open arms and hoped that some day he would see his wayward son come back, that he might make him again his child ten times more than before.

You, too, must take your stand with her, and together with her pray God that all may one day “Come to the knowledge of the words of eternal life,” which deposited in His Church, have alone attached to them the promise of that blessed life.

Tomorrow, Part III: Scandal

The Church, The Bride of Christ

“The Kid” Goes to Madrid!

This past Saturday, I shared a little e-mail I received from someone who was converted and called to a vocation while attending World Youth Day back in 2005. Nobody read that post, which means it must have been a pretty important one. No one ever reads posts like those.

Today, I see that Marc Barnes, known as “the Kid” around these parts, is heading to Madrid for World Youth Day, and he will be posting about his experiences. So far, he’s got Day One up, and a video too (that’s just a photograph of it up there). Go take a look over on his blog.

I’m thankful to his parents, and those of his friends, for sending him to WYD, but even more thankful that he and his buddies want to go at all. I look forward to watching their experience unfold over on Marc’s blog over the next several days.

I read somewhere recently that the Catholic Church has always stymied “the World” with the young and the weak. Hmmm, where did I read that? Oh yeah, St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For see your vocation, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his sight. 

But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption: That, as it is written: He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord.

Which couldn’t be a better introduction for the video below than if it was written just yesterday. Have a look to give the rest of us a further taste of World Youth Day, and a little history lesson on WYD as well. Twenty-six years, and counting!

Food for Thought (Music for Mondays)

In the wee early hours today, a post built around thoughts of a “ghetto Church” was launched. Those thoughts of Karl Rahner, SJ, prompted me to build this little selection of tracks. I call it “food for thought.” Your mileage may vary.

Johnny Cash, No Earthly Good. Um, I’m not sure what the video spliced to this is all about, but this is the cleanest sounding version of this thought provoking tune from the “Man in Black.” This reminds me of a saying of the Desert Fathers,

The old men used to say: ‘if you see a young monk climbing up to heaven by his own will, grasp him by the feet and throw him down, for this is to his profit.

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Steely Dan, Home at Last. And so I am. I hope that you will join me, of your own free will. Hopefully a new generation will give rise to form more bands like this.

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David Gilmour, Wish You Were Here. David is/was the lead guitarist for Pink Floyd. A great rendition of this song. Something about the cello adds just the right touch of, I don’t know, “somberness” to the piece. And beauty.

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Seal, Get It Together. Left, right, center; up, down, sideways; East, West, North, South,

We got to keep this world together, got to keep it moving straight
Love like we need forever, so that people can relate
If you’re rolling to your left, don’t forget I’m on the right
Trust and forgive each other
A little love and we just might

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We aren’t called to stay inside a circle. We’re called to do much more than that. 

See you here next week.

For “Ghetto Catholicism?” Not Hardly.

Karl_Rahner_by_Letizia_Mancino_Cremer

Karl Rahner, by Letizia Manico Cremer. Source.

 

The thoughts I share with you now were originally published in 1961, and in English in 1963. Yet today, to this humble reader at least, they seem prophetic. Taken from the first chapter of the first volume of the title you see below, Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, explains why in the Post Christian world of today, opting for the ghettoization of the Church is a non-starter.

Instead, he argues we should embrace the fact that we are a disapora people, because frankly, we have always been called to be so. For as the cross was Our Lord’s “sign of contradiction,” so too is the Church called to be the same, as it was in the beginning, briefly ceased to be in the Middle Ages, and is now again resuming this holy, and necessary, calling. “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

As I’ve mentioned before, we are called to be salt, light, and yeast. We are not called to be the new pharisees of the Catholic Ghetto. Fr. Karl helps me to see why below. My comments are in bold italics.

from Mission and Grace: A Theological Interpretation of the Position of Christians in the Modern World

My thesis is thus: Insofar as our outlook is really based on today, and looking towards tomorrow, the present situation of Christians can be characterized as that of a diaspora, and this signifies in terms of the history of salvation, a “must”, from which we may draw conclusions about our behavior as Christians…

How about a quickie refresher on the definition of diaspora? Go with 2) a & b here.

What, after all, does a person do if he sees the diaspora situation coming and thinks of it as something which simply and absolutely must not be? He makes himself a closed circle, an artificial situation inside which looks as if the inward and outward diaspora isn’t one; he makes a ghetto. This, I think, is the theological starting point for an approach to the ghetto idea.

The old Jewish ghetto was the natural expression of an idea, such that Orthodox Judaism was ultimately bound to produce it within itself; the idea, namely, of being the one and only Chosen People, wholly autonomous, as of right, in every respect, including secular matters, and of all other nations as not only not belonging in practice to this earthly, social community of the elect and saved, but as not in any sense called to it, not an object towards which there is a missionary duty.

But we are called to be missionary people. To be ambassadors for Christ, as a well known, inspired writer exhorts us to be. Fr. Karl makes it clear here,

But a Christian cannot regard his Church as autonomous in secular, cultural, and social matters; his Church is not a theocracy in worldly affairs; nor can he look upon non-Christians as not called; nor can he with inopportune and inordinate means aim to get rid of the “must” with which the history of salvation presents him, namely, that there are now non-Christians in amongst the Christians or real Christians in amongst the non-Christians. His life has to be open to the non-Christians.

Hmmm. There’s that word “theocracy” again. Not a good idea. Fr. Karl explains why,

If he encapsulates himself in a ghetto, whether in order to defend himself, or to leave the world to judgement of wrath as the fate which it deserves, or with the feeling that it has nothing of any value or importance to offer him anyway, he is falling back into the Old Testament. But this is our temptation, this ghetto idea. For a certain type of deeply convinced, rather tense, militant Catholic at a fairly low (petty-bourgeois) cultural level, the idea of entrenching oneself in a ghetto is rather alluring; it is even religiously alluring: it looks like seeking only the Kingdom of God.

Nice trick, that. Jon Stewart, of the very secular Comedy Channel news spoof “the Daily Show,” recently shared some words (language alert!) about how strident tactics wind up backfiring. Roll clip.

Now back to Fr. Karl, with my editing and emphasis.

Here we are, all together, and we can behave as though there were nothing in the world but Christians. The ghetto policy consists in thinking of the Church not only as the autonomous community of salvation (which she is) but as an autonomous society in every field. So a Christian has to consider [a Catholic poet being] greater than Goethe, and have no opinion of any magazine except [Catholic magazines]; any statesman who makes his Easter duties is a great statesman, any other is automatically a bit suspect; Christian-Democratic parties are always right, Socialists always wrong, and what a pity there isn’t a Catholic party.

The insistence, for the sake of the ghetto, on integrating everything into an ecclesiastical framework naturally means that the clergy have to be in control of everything. This results in anti-clerical feeling, which is not always an effect of malice and hatred for God. The interior structure of the ghetto conforms, inevitably, to the style of that period which it is, in make-believe, preserving; its human types are those sociological, intellectual, and cultural types which belong to the period and feel comfortable in the ghetto; in our case, the petty-bourgeois, in contrast to the worker of today, or the man of tomorrows atomic age.

It is no wonder, then, if people outside identify Christianity with the ghetto, and have no desire to get inside it; it is the sheer grace of God if anyone ever manages to recognize the Church as the house of God, all cluttered up as she is with pseudo-Gothic décor, and other kinds of reactionary petty-bourgeois stuff.

You can say that again! How, then, do we get beyond this “ghetto” mindset while not falling into the error of relativism?

We may be preserved from this danger, which has become a reality only too often during the last few centuries, by a clear-sighted and courageous recognition of the fact that the diaspora situation of [the Church] is a “must” in the history of salvation, with which it is right to come to terms in many aspects of our practical conduct.

You know, Christ never promised us a rose garden. Those “two greatest commandments” need to be not just pondered, but applied. All the while keeping these thoughts in mind,

Mankind is at its best when it is most free. This will be clear if we grasp the principle of liberty. We must recall that the basic principle is freedom of choice, which saying many have on their lips but few in their minds. —Dante Alighieri

The Catholic Church must be a clear beacon of hope, and a contrarian “choice” for the world today. I believe she is, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered to become Catholic.


Update: Music for Mondays selections inspired by this post.

Update II: I couldn’t have said this better myself.

Around the World in 3 Minutes: Move, Learn, Eat

One of my favorite lines from scripture concerns “the earth and its fullness.” As a Catholic Christian, you should know that this broad, nay, “catholic” expression describing the world and its wonders is to be lived and experienced with joy by us all.

The reality of the present day, the same reality faced by mankind since civilization began, is that try as we might, we cannot afford to drop everything and go experience the world as we were meant to. But Qoheleth counsels that living only for tomorrow is no way to live. Our Lord states that,

I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.

So for the next three minutes, have a look at these three videos commissioned by STA Travel Australia. As you watch them, remember the two greatest commandments, which the entirety of the whole shebang rests upon.

3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage… all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ….into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films…..

= a trip of a lifetime.

move, eat, learn

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Share these with your friends!

Because World Youth Day is a Fertile Field for Vocations

A fortnight ago, I wrote a post about the coolest blog to add YIMCatholic to their blog roll. The blog is written by TingTing Tse, whose photograph you see here. Her blog is written in Chinese, though search me if it is in Cantonese or Mandarin. After I posted about her blog, which appeared to be coming out of Emmaus in the Holy Land, she wrote me a note.

Dear Frank,

Thanks for your kind words and friendship in Christ.  And thanks for your kindness of mentioning me in your blog- you gave me the same warm feelings and smiles!

In fact,  I just left Israel a few weeks ago. I’m a Postulant in the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes. Our community’s mission in the Holy Land is to take care of the site of Emmaus-Nicopolis. Therefore I had the chance, and indeed the honour, of living in the Holy Land for one year.

Right now I’m staying in France, to complete my Religious Formation. This journey is my “exile,” as I am really, really, really in love with the Holy Land! The recent posts in my blog are all bubbling over with the Love of Jerusalem!

Thanks for the great work of writing your blog. Indeed, it is a very important tool to spread God’s Words! I pray for your ministry, and I feel blessed to “meet” you in this “small big internet world!”

And I am especially grateful to you for introducing me to Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang. I did not know of him yet! For sure I will spend the time to get to know this new friend. I’m quite sure he’s already praying for me!

I come from Hong Kong and lived there all my life (well, we belonged to Britain until 1997 —that explains my English.) The persecuted Church in mainland China geographically is very near to us but we Christians from Hong Kong actually know very little about Catholics in mainland China, and we bear too little of the Cross with our Brothers and Sisters there.

My Mother got baptised in her teens (many schools in Hong Kong are founded by missionaries: Salesians, Canossians, for example). She married my Dad, who was a Buddist. Mixed-marriages are very typical for Hong Kong Christians, even to this day). She brought me to be baptised when I was 3. This was because, after 3 years of age, I would have needed to attend Catechism Class before baptism. She didn’t want to “miss the chance”, a typically “realistic” calculation of Hong Kong people (smile). But indeed I give thanks to God every day for this. If not, I don’t know where I would fall religiously now.

My conversion was in 2005 at World Youth Day. During the overnight vigil, Pope Benedict XVI raised the Blessed Sacrament, and 1 million of us were kneeling down. It was the first time in my life that I realised what it means by the phrase “we are one body.” 

My parish in Hong Kong is taken care of by some missionaries from Argentina, the IVE Priests and Sisters. They are full of fire and loyal love for the Catholic Church. Therefore I received very good formation with other youths in the years after.

In 2006, somehow, I felt “called” to join a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. That was my second, and real,  conversion to prayer and it changed many bad habits in my life. Also, I began to seek my Vocation. Well little by little, very slowly, I began following God’s call step by step. I was constantly falling and forgiven and renewing and moving on, while struggling along this path.

And then I joined the Community of the Beatitudes, and I was sent to Israel for the first year of experiencing their spirituality. Now, I have arrived in France to complete my formation, and if God is willing, I want to be a consecrated Sister.

I have written long enough for now, just an ordinary love story in our Father’s infinite Mercy.

I’d love to write and share an article for your blog. On August 8th, I’m departing for World Youth Day, and then I will go to Rome for a week long pilgrimage (it will be the first time in my life going to Rome, and I’m so excited!). I’ll need to write for you around 1 month after, ok?

I’ll keep you, your family and readers in my prayers during my coming pilgrimage.

Love in Christ,

TingTing


I look forward to your guest post TingTing! We’ll keep the prayers flowing for you through your travels and witnessing for Christ and the Church. And prayers for all of the youths who will be traveling to Madrid for this years celebration of World Youth Day as well. Truly, it is a font for vocations.

Thanks be to God.

Because of the Protestant Reformers Beliefs On Mary

Another Marian post as we are ten days from the Feast of the Assumption. This one was first published back in December of last year.


Back when I first joined YIMCatholic, I was going to write posts about my conversion. I hammered out seven posts in pretty rapid succession and then, I stopped writing them until recently.

Many of my posts now are simply my observations of the world which are colored through the lens of a convert to Catholicism. It would be difficult for them not to be. Other posts I’ve written are of the “look what I just found!” variety, and the “I want to share this with you” type. Call them the discovery posts if you will. [Read more…]

What Figures Are On This Celtic Cross?

A reader writes,

Hi there my name is Mindy and I am trying to figure out the meaning of a particular Celtic Catholic cross that was my father-in-laws throughout his whole life. When he passed away it was handed down to my husband.

I now want my mom to do a portrait of this cross and my husbands father. But I cannot tell what the symbols are on the tips of the cross. I know there is an eagle on the north point and an angel on the south point, but on the west and east parts I cannot tell what they are. My husbands faith is a huge part of not only his life but his whole family’s lives and I feel I need to make sure we depict this cross as it is.

I know this is an odd request but if you can help me discover what these are I would be very thankful.

Sincerely, Mindy

Mindy? You came to the right place! The figures on that particular Celtic Cross are the likenesses of the four cherubim in St. John’s vision from the book of Revelation. Traditionally, they stand for the four authors of the Gospels. The Evangelists are depicted as follows: Matthew (a man), Mark (a lion), Luke (an ox), and John(an eagle).

Here is what John’s vision (Rev 4: 5-7) describes,

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back.

The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

And now, here is a great account from a fantastic book (available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, of course!) entitled Sacred and Legendary Art by Anna Jameson. This is the kind of Church history that I love to share with folks. Prepare to be amazed.

III. THE FOUR EVANGELISTS

“Matthew wrote for the Hebrews ; Mark, for the Italians; Luke, for the Greeks ; for all, the great herald John.” — Gregory Nazianzen.

Since on the Four Evangelists, as the witnesses and interpreters of a revealed religion, the whole Christian Church may be said to rest as upon four majestic pillars, we cannot be surprised that representations of them should abound, and that their effigies should have been introduced into Christian places of worship from very early times. Generally, we find them represented together, grouped, or in a series ; sometimes in their collective character, as the Four Witnesses; sometimes in their individual character, each as an inspired teacher, or beneficent patron.

As no authentic resemblances of these sacred personages have ever been known or even supposed to exist, such representations have always been either symbolical or ideal. In the symbol, the aim was to embody, under some emblematical image, the spiritual mission; in the ideal portrait, the artist, left to his own conception, borrowed from Scripture some leading trait (when Scripture afforded any authority for such), and adding, with what success his skill could attain, all that his imagination could conceive, as expressive of dignity and persuasive eloquence, — the look “commercing with the skies,” the commanding form, the reverend face, the ample draperies, — he put the book or the pen into his hand, and thus the writer and the teacher of the truth was placed before us.

The earliest type under which the Four Evangelists are figured is an emblem of the simplest kind: four scrolls placed in the four angles of a Greek cross, or four books (the Gospels), representing allegorically those who wrote or promulgated them. The second type chosen was more poetical — the four rivers which had their source in Paradise: representations of this kind, in which the Savior, figured as a lamb holding the cross, or in His human form, with a lamb near Him, stands on an eminence, from which gush four rivers or fountains, are to be met with in the catacombs, on ancient sarcophagi preserved among the Christian relics in the Vatican, and in several old churches constructed between the second and the fifth century.

At what period the four mysterious creatures in the vision of Ezekiel (ch. i. 5) were first adopted as significant symbols of the Four Evangelists does not seem clear. The Jewish doctors interpreted them as figuring the four Archangels, — Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel ; and afterwards applied them as emblems of the Four Great Prophets, — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. By the early Oriental Christians, who typified the whole of the Old Testament, the transfer of the emblem to the Four Evangelists seems obvious and easy; we find it alluded to as early as the second century.

The four “Beasts” of corresponding form in the Revelation (chap. iv. 7), which stood round the throne of the Lamb, were likewise thus interpreted; but it was not till the fifth century that we find these symbols assuming a visible form, and introduced into works of Art. In the seventh century they had become almost universal as distinctive attributes.

St. Matthew (Man)

The general application of the Four Creatures to the Four Evangelists is of much earlier date than the separate and individual application of each symbol, which has varied at different times; that propounded by St. Jerome, in his commentary on Ezekiel, has since his time prevailed universally. Thus, then, 1. To St. Matthew was given the Cherub, or human semblance, because he begins his Gospel with the human generation of Christ; or, according to others, because in his Gospel the human nature of the Savior is more insisted on than the divine. In the most ancient mosaics, the type is human, not angelic, for the head is that of a man with a beard.

St. Mark (Lion)

2. St. Mark has the Lion, because he has set forth the royal dignity of Christ; or, according to others, because he begins with the mission of the Baptist, — “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”—which is figured by the lion; or, according to a third interpretation, the lion was allotted to St. Mark because there was, in the middle ages, a popular belief that the young of the lion was born dead, and after three days was awakened to vitality by the breath of its sire; some authors, however, represent the lion as vivifying his young not by his breath, but by his roar. In either case the application is the same; the revival of the young lion was considered as symbolical of the resurrection, and Mark was commonly called the “Historian of the Resurrection.”

St. Luke (Ox)

Another commentator observes that Mark begins his Gospel with “roaring ” — ” the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” and ends it fearfully with a curse — “He that believeth not shall be damned;” and that, therefore, his appropriate attribute is the most terrible of beasts, the lion.

3. Luke has the Ox, because he has dwelt on the priesthood of Christ, the ox being the emblem of sacrifice. 4. John has the Eagle, which is the symbol of the highest inspiration, because he soared upwards to the contemplation of the divine nature of the Savior.

St. John (Eagle)

But the order in which, in theological Art, these symbols are placed, is not the same as the order of the Gospels according to the canon. Rupertus considers the Four Beasts as typical of the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension; an idea previously dwelt upon by Durandus, who adds that the man and the lion are placed on the right, because the incarnation and the resurrection are the joy of the whole earth; whilst the ox is on the left, because Christ’s sacrifice was a trouble to the apostles; and the eagle is above the ox, as suggestive of our Lord’s upward flight into heaven.

According to others, the proper order in the ascending scale is thus: at the lowest point on the left, the ox; to the right, the lion; above the ox, the eagle; and above all, the angel. So in Raphael’s Vision of Ezekiel [Pitti, Florence], the angel gazes into the face of the Holy One, the others form His throne.

I have dwelt on these fanciful interpretations and disquisitions, because the symbols of the Evangelists meet us at every turn; in the mosaics of the old Italian churches, in the decorative sculpture of our old cathedrals, in the Gothic stained glass, in the ancient pictures and miniatures, on the carved and chased covers of old books; everywhere, in short, where enters the idea of their divine mission — and where is it not? The profound thought, as well as the vivid imagination, exercised in some of these early works of Art, is beginning to be appreciated; and we should lose the half of what is poetical and significant and venerable in these apparently arbitrary and fanciful symbols, if we merely seized the general intention, and not the relative and appropriate meaning of each.

Peaked your interest? There is more in depth discussion of the symbolic representation of the Four Evangelists in the book. Go see! 

Photo Credit: Hawk Eyes (All sizes of these photographs are available for download under a Creative Commons license)

Remember that Confession Video by “the Kid?”

Great news…Marc Barnes, aka “the Kid,”from BadCatholic was awarded a $1000 scholarship from the i-Confess contest.  The contest was put on by the Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with both the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Rockville Centre. Great job Marc! Here are the Top Ten results,

Top 10 Contest Winners:

1. Get Clean, Submitted by Melinda Collins
2. Be Reconciled to God, Submitted by Caleb and Molly Herboth
3. Backpack of Sins, Submitted by Virginia Jacobsen and Douglas Kraeger
4. Break Free, Submitted by Randy Adair
5. Bless Me Father, Submitted by Joseph and Nicholas Torres
6. Go be Forgiven, Submitted by Marc Barnes
7. Humble before God, Submitted by Lucas and Phoebe McNamara
8. Let Your Angel Guide You, Submitted by Katie DeRienzo and Marina Recio
9. God is waiting for you, Submitted by Joseph Finneran
10. A Sacrament of Healing, Submitted by Bryan Salecker

Here is Marc’s video,

Thanks everyone for your help with the views and “likes!” Melinda Collins was awarded a $25,000 scholarship for first place. How neat is that? Go see the rest!

Check Out This Balloon Ride (Because Catholics Can Dig Science)

My wife knows my interests. She sent me this little clip this morning and I just had to share it with you. Suppose you were given the opportunity to help test the atmosphere for radiation drifting our way from the melted down nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan. Suppose you mounted some cameras on that balloon. What would you see?

This is what Colin Rich came up with. Check out the video as he builds and launches the Pacific Star 3. Talk about “wow!”

Pacific Star 3 from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Wasn’t that just the neatest thing you’ve seen all year? Read more about the mission, and see the still photographs obtained on it, here.  Aslo, have a look at the Pacific Star  website. And remember the 5th Dimension? Head back down memory lane.