Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Friday, April 19, 2013

More Evidence for the Divinity and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

The question of the Resurrection of Christ has been on skeptic minds for at least 200 years…It is part and parcel of what is known to scholars since the 18th century as “The Quest for the historical Jesus.” The traditional Christian understanding of the life of Jesus Christ has been challenged or rethought by thinkers such as Ernst Renan in the 19th century, Albert Schweitzer at the beginning of the 20th century, Adolf von Harnack and Rudolf Bultmann in the 20th century, and later the “Jesus Seminar” which continues to publish its Arian-heretic views in a liberal world (Only see writings of John Dominic Crossan). However, these challenges have not remained without adequate response by historians, anthropologists, and other scholars of ancient cultures. Christian scholars have responded with the foremost studies carried out by members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and others such as Garrigou-Lagrange, Rudolf Schnackenburg, Joseph Fitzmyer, Raymond Brown, Gerald O’Collins, Joseph Ratzinger and John Meier whose study of Jesus has been incorporated in the renowned New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Today, virtually all scholars agree that Jesus existed as a Galilean Jew who was born between 7 and 2 BC and was executed around 30-33 AD. These findings are not merely based on the New Testament, but more so based on non-Christian sources examined scientifically as independent of each other. The earliest known writings include those of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian (lived from 37- ca 101 AD) who was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD. In his Testimonium Flavianum he wrote about the execution of Jesus Christ on orders of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Referring to Nero’s torture of Christians as scapegoats of his crimes, the historian and Roman senator Tacitus, wrote in his Annals ca 116 AD about Christus (Annals, 15, 44). Mara bar Sarapion, a Pagan Stoic philosopher from Syria wrote around 73 AD about the crucifixion of Jesus “king of the Jews” since he considered Jesus one of three wise men who were unfairly executed: Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus of Nazareth (Cf. Jesus outside the New Testament, An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence by Robert E. van Voorst, 2000). Another Roman historian, Gaius Suetonius, (born c. 69 AD, died c. 122 AD) commenting on Claudius persecution of Christians and Jews in Rome wrote: From Rome he (Claudius) expelled the perpetually tumultuating Jews prompted by Chrestus." (Cf. J. Boman, Inpulsore Cherestro? Suetonius Divus Claudius 25.4 in Sources and Manuscripts, 2012, P. 356). As evident, “Chrestus” is a reference to Christ. We could go on an cite works from Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirist, who mocked Christians in the early second century, but we will mention Pliny the Younger, a provincial governor who wrote to emperor Trajan c. 112 AD about Christians who “were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a God”( Pliny, Letters, pp. 10.96). In Pliny the Younger, we find a confession of a Pagan governor around the early second century that Christians adored Christ as a "God" with hymns. 

Modern historical scholarship shows that by the year 50 AD there were already hymns and confessions of faith in the Church praising Christ as the risen Son of God and quoted in the early Pauline Letters which talk about Jesus being “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1, 15-20) and in the very nature of God “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Ph 2:6-7). (Cf. Craig Blomberg interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ, 1998). As early as 53 AD, the authenticated first Pauline Letter to Corinthians mentions that “[Christ] appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive”(1 Cor. 15, 6). It may be possible for one, two, or three persons to imagine Christ appeared to each of them at the same time, but it is psychologically impossible for 500 people to imagine Christ (a mere subjective experience of Christ). The idea that Christ did not really die but only swooned does not make sense since a weak man after so much exhaustion and loss of blood on the cross could not possibly escape or have someone else take his place. The idea (advanced recently by Pullman) that Jesus had a twin who appeared to the Apostles or, with them, fabricated the Resurrection to create a plausible story is not supported by historical research nor by logical deduction in view of their suffering and death for their new faith (Cf. Gerald O'Collins, S.J., Believing in the Resurrection: The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus, 2012). In his 700+ pages book "The Resurrection of the Son of God" (2003), N.T. Wright retrieves much material from Pagan myths, 2nd Temple and 1st century Judaism showing the absence of any real resurrection in either Pagan or Jewish Traditions prior to the claim of the early Christians this demonstrating the impossibility that Christians borrowed it from Pagan or Jewish Traditions. 

On the divinity of Christ, and in addition to the above, current exegesis has also established that Jesus called God his Father “Abba” in a unique way unknown in Jewish tradition. While Jewish tradition avoided calling God by his personal name, Jesus refers to God by that intimate relationship thus changing the terms of relating to God in a significant way (Cf. J. Jeremias, Abba, 1966; J. Meier, Jesus, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990). 

Archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land confirmed that tombs made in Palestine’s first century AD matched the same structure with a huge rock as that reported in the Gospels about the tomb where the corpse of Jesus was buried. How was it possible for anyone of the apostles to mover the huge rock in front of the tomb? Mary Magdalene certainly was not able nor any of the wary disciples. By only evaluating this archaeological finding, it becomes logically untenable that Christ’s wary disciples stole his body from the tomb. 
Another finding from anthropological studies of ancient cultures supports the Gospel’s story that Mary Magdalene and other women found the tomb of Jesus empty and reported it to the Apostles. When the Gospels were written in the 1st century AD, women’s opinion in society did not matter. Yet as embarrassing as their testimony is at the time, it is recorded in the Gospel as true and Mary Magdalene was therefore called “Apostle to the Apostles” by some of the early Church Fathers. 

The documented testimonies of some early martyrs show their belief in the divinity of Christ and his Resurrection – Polycarp (AD 69-155), a disciple of John, was bishop of Smyrna. In an attested document - his epistle to the Church at Philippi - he speaks of “those who have forsaken the vain and believed in him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead”. The early Church Fathers, well before the time of Constantine in the early 300s, are quoted decisively in support of the divinity of Christ and his Resurrection: Ignatius of Antioch (1st century-107 AD), Clement of Alexandria (105-211 AD), Irenaeus of Lyons (c.140- c. 200 AD), Justin Martyr (c.100-165), Origen (185-252 AD). 

Let us now examine the reality of the Resurrection of Christ in view of the above research. If Christians have always believed in the Resurrection of Christ, there must be a reason. We cannot believe that the Apostles who were hiding after the crucifixion of their master lest they also face his fate or get stoned by the crowds could have the courage suddenly to proclaim their faith in the risen Christ in Jerusalem without fear. Some powerful event changed their perspectives that they were able to go and preach in the Temple. If it is true that the very early Christians worshiped Christ as the risen Son of God as early as 1 to 2 decades after the death of the Master (i.e. less than 2 generations required for a myth to develop) then they either were a bunch of crazy fishermen or they were deceived, but for them to collectively stand firm against the authorities means they experienced some power unknown before to them. Why would they lie if they faced death for their witness? What is significant is that they did not fear being thrown to the wild animals or crucified i.e. death itself. Without a single sword they traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, Asia Minor, and eastbound to India where Thomas preached the Resurrection of Christ and was martyred. They addressed the average people like you and me mostly peasants and workers. For nearly 300 years they were “underground” due to persecution yet the Christian Church expanded all over the known world.

In Rome alone, I saw in 2006 thousands of bones in the catacombs 30 feet under the earth because the early Christians had to gather and say the Mass and bury their martyrs in the hidden places due to persecution. The early Christians in the Roman empire had to accept to worship the emperor in severe persecutions such as the ones under Nero, Diocletian. Yet, Christians believed in the Resurrection because they were instructed by their bishops in succeeding the Apostles that Christ is God who came in the flesh died for men and rose to eternal life. 

Could all those scholars, scientists, and those who witness to the truth have been deceived, liars or crazy? If not, then the only plausible answer is that Jesus our God has

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Purgatory and the Importance of the Successor of Peter in the Church

Last year I accessed and read a book titled "Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation" published by Oxford University and authored by Jerry L. Walls, a Protestant theologian.  After reading the book,  I wrote a review on which you can see here:

In my review, I said "This is a magnificent exposition to the historical development of the doctrine of Purgatory treated by a contemporary theologian from the Reformation tradition. I am sure that this pioneer work is encouraging to the minds of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologians to assess what I see as a definite convergence on this important doctrine. Doctor Walls has shown that justification by grace does not excluded the process of sanctification of the person. In an ecumenical approach Walls does not exclude from the possibility of salvation those who have not accepted Christ (in another word, according to Vatican II, those who following the dictates of their conscience did not receive the Gospel of Christ). This is a much welcome proposition keeping in mind the great Christian tradition that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ. This book is another step in the theological ecumenical work under development for over 50 years. I hope that Christian Churches and Communions will assess it favourably and move forward to restore their full visible unity."

A couple of days ago, M. Frost, a former Catholic and for 35 years to-date an Orthodox Christian commented on my comment about the well-written book. Although most reviewers of the book, mainly from the Protestant tradition, found the book quite remarkable, M. Frost chose to denounce the doctrine of Purgatory as an innovation by the Roman Catholic Church defined, according to him, after the Great Schism following the first 1,000 years of Christianity. In his opinion, if the Church needed to define any traditional dogma she would have defined it in the first 1,000 years. This is absurd as it says that the Church can never develop  beyond the first 1,000 years and denies to her the continued inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You can read all his arguments in the same link as above. But to me, he misunderstands a basic concept in Catholic doctrine, i.e. the development of doctrine, promulgated in Vatican II. In my reply, I attempted to emphasize the common heritage yet explain to him my understanding "Orthodox Christians share with Catholics 99% of the dogmatic definitions even though the Orthodox did not probably develop them beyond the mystical sense. Veneration of saints is not worship which is reserved to God. As far as I understand it, the definition of Purgatory in the Catholic Church entails a state and not a particular place. Anyone who passes away in the grace of God will see God eventually. I personally interpret Purgatory as the state of the person who dies in the grace of God, yet needs God's mercy and abundant love because he did not perfectly live the love of God in his earthly life, so he misses God and wants to be with God. But since he is not perfectly pure, he is in the state of being purified until perfectly able to be in the state of union with God in heaven. The Church did not stop growing in understanding the truth with the first 1,000 years but continues to develop and learn too in new ways."  And more so I emphasized "In all of your responses, you are exaggerating the differences between Catholics and Orthodox. Purgatory has never been a real issue of disagreement as shown in the documents of the Council of Florence signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Some Reformation theologies, which the Orthodox Church of Constantinople rejected, exaggerated the indulgence issues as a reaction to the Roman Catholic clergy's abuse of their power in order to build churches. But anyway, Martin Luther reportedly never wished to separate himself from the Catholic Church. He thought of reforming the Church but the way he did it was controversial since he allied himself with princes who opposed any temporal loyalty to the Holy See of Rome. There are, in fact, much larger challenges to all Churches than debating such little differences. The most important challenges today can be summarized in materialist atheism, totalitarianism, secularism, extreme capitalism, and fundamentalism that rejects any moderate freedom of expression to other faiths. When dealing with the question of God, we must start with man. I must recommend a few Catholic theologians for reading if you wish to understand Catholic Tradition: Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, and Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). To simplify matters, you will understand Catholic doctrine if you study the idea of the development of doctrine enshrined in Vatican II. Contrary to liberal interpretations, the Church does not revise the doctrines of faith, but only perceives them more deeply as she grows and moves forward in time until the end." 

On the issue of Christian unity, I said to him and must tell you, that the Ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox...etc.) and the Greek Orthodox Churches (Orthodox Patriarchates and major metropolitan bishops of Constantinople, Antioch, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Greece...etc.) arrived at a full agreement on all doctrines since 1989. However, for some reason, both families of Orthodoxy have not yet ratified the agreements into real communion. Although we hope that they do come into full communion, it seems they need a sign of unity at the center that serves to maintain the unity of the global Church and act as an arbitration judge in matters of differences in expounding the doctrines of faith and morals among sister Churches. This is precisely the role of the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome as has been the case since the 2nd century, and hence the Petrine Primacy is necessary.

In today's world of violence on the one hand and post-modern confusion, Christians need more than ever the visible sign or center of their unity, namely the role of the  role of the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome. If you cannot help in theological dialogue, at least in prayer for Christian unity.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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