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Mary, Ever Virgin?

"The Madonna in Sorrow" (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Among doctrinal issues dividing Protestants and Catholics is the issue of Mary’s virginity following the birth of Jesus. Catholics maintain that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Most Protestants on the other hand maintain that Mary remained a virgin until after the birth of Jesus, at which point she had children with Joseph. Interestingly enough, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli at various times all professed Mary as “ever-virgin” [1]. Setting aside the Protestant-Catholic tendency to “talk over” one another instead of “talking with” one another, let’s consider the facts to see what we can uncover.

Certainly various biblical passages on the surface appear to support the concept that Mary had children with Joseph following the birth of Jesus. For example, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read: Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:24-25, KJV), “While He [Jesus] was speaking to the people, behold, His mother and His brethren stood outside asking to speak to Him” (Mt. 12:46, RSV-CE), and “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Mt. 13:55, RSV-CE). Thus, on the surface, it certainly seems plausible, according to Sacred Scripture, that Jesus had half-siblings.

However, other passages seem to contradict the claim that Mary and Joseph had children together; instead supporting the notion of Mary as “ever-virgin.” Very telling is the conversation in the Gospel of St. Luke between the Angel Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel tells Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, that, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (Lk. 1:31, ESV). Critical to our understanding is Mary’s response, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34, ESV). This conversation only makes sense if Mary intended to remain a virgin following her marriage to Joseph. Otherwise, would not she have simply assumed, at least at first, that Gabriel meant Mary and Joseph would conceive the child about whom Gabriel spoke?

Further, in the Gospel of St. John, as Jesus is dying on the Cross, we read, “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved [John] standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn. 19:26-27, ESV). If Mary had other children, why would Jesus entrust her to John instead of to one of His half-brothers? As the situation plays out, it indicates that Mary is widowed and that she does not have other children of her own to whom she can be entrusted.

With respect to Matthew 13:55, in Matthew 27:56, we learn that two of Jesus’ “brothers,” James and Joseph, are actually sons of a different Mary. Thus, we find direct scriptural evidence that not only are at least two of the “brothers” mentioned in Matthew 13:55 not brothers at all, but also that the term “brother” was used in a larger sense by the Evangelists than in our limited sense of the term to mean “siblings.” We shall return to this point shortly. We should note here, as Chacon and Burnham point out, “The ‘brothers’ of Jesus are never called ‘sons of Mary.’ Jesus is often called the son of Mary, but never a son of Mary as if He had siblings.”[2]

However, first let’s consider the meaning of “till” and “firstborn” in Matthew 1:25. “Till,” meaning “until,” does not necessarily mean at a certain point one condition of being is exchanged for another condition of being. Consider for example 1 Corinthians 15:25: “For He [Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” This certainly does not mean that after Christ puts all His enemies under His feet, He will no longer reign, for we know Christ reigns forever: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33, ESV). Thus, we cannot say with certainty in reference to Matthew 1:25 that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus, but only that he did not do so before the birth of Jesus.

“Firstborn” is another critical term for proper understanding. It is a legalistic term conveying status and does not mean “first one of others.”[3] We see examples of this legalistic use of “firstborn” in Psalm 89:28 and Exodus 34:20. Even if a woman had only one child, that child still ranked in legal terms as “firstborn.” The term “firstborn” in itself tells us nothing in regards a woman having more than one child. As St. Jerome notes, “Every only child is a firstborn child; but not every firstborn is an only child. A firstborn child is not only one after whom other children are also born, but also one before whom no other child is born.”[4] In fact, St. Paul gives us a fuller meaning of the term as applied to Christ when he calls Jesus “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15, ESV).

So, if the “brothers” of Jesus are not actually His half-brothers, who are they? Many Catholics will argue the “brothers of Jesus” were merely cousins. As Matthew 27:56 indicates, this could certainly be the case. It is true that Aramaic had no distinct term for “cousin,” so that “brother” was often used in a larger sense.[5] In fact, Jerome in his tract, On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary against Helvidius,  written about AD 383, argues precisely that the “brothers” were actually cousins.[6] Similarly, many of the early Church Fathers, including Origen, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Pope St. Siricius I, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine, held strongly to the assertion that Mary was ever-virgin.[7]

Another source presents the earliest tradition explicitly portraying Mary as ever-virgin. The Protoevangelium of James (circa AD 150) “contains the oldest extant account of the miraculous birth, and of the infancy and youth of the Virgin Mary.”[8] This work claims Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, consecrated Mary as a perpetual virgin at the Temple. Later, Mary was betrothed to Joseph, an older widowed man with children, as something akin to a guardian. While non-canonical, the Protoevangelium of James should not simply be dismissed out-of-hand. As demonstrated above, Sacred Scripture cannot be shown to authoritatively indicate Mary and Joseph had other children (in fact, the evidence indicates the contrary). Thus, as a historical document, the Protoevangelium of James offers a plausible explanation for Mary’s ever-virgin state and accounts for the presence of Jesus’ “brothers” – in this explanation, step-brothers.[9]

Finally, even if we set everything else aside, let’s consider Mary as the Mother of God – and all this phrase implies. In this sense, her womb in a very real way became the vessel through which God made present in history the Mystery of the Incarnation. Through her physical body, God worked the Mystery of Christianity: God taking on human flesh and walking among men. Even if we grant that Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand the Mystery of the Incarnation and the identity of Jesus (which seems unlikely), they still nevertheless understood God had wrought something beyond human understanding through the womb of Mary. If we let the full implications of this sink in, does it seem likely that either Mary or Joseph would have sought to defile with mere human relations that which had become something sacred? Given what we know about Mary and Joseph from the testimony of Sacred Scripture, does it really seem likely, to put it bluntly, that Joseph would say, “God is done, now it’s my turn”?

Long before any thought of a Protestant Reformation and long before the Great Schism of 1054, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 declared as dogma the perpetual virginity of Blessed Mary.[10] For nearly one thousand years, no orthodox Christian questioned the truth of Mary as “ever-virgin.”

Even if one rejects the authority of the Second Council of Constantinople, simply considering the weight of the evidence above strongly indicates Mary remained ever-virgin. At the very least, the above arguments demonstrate that it is not unreasonable for a good Christian to hold to the position that Mary remained ever-virgin.

Notes

[1] Luther: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin…Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” Calvin: “There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matthew 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is!” Zwingli: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the Gospel, as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” [All as quoted in: Chacon, Frank and Jim Burnham. Beginning Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary. Farmington, NM: San Juan Catholic Seminars, 2001.]

[2] Chacon and Burnham, 16.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] As quoted in: Scott Hahn and Leon Suprenant, Jr., eds., Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, Second Edition (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2004), 92.

[5] Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church Fathers (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 348.

[6] Jerome, On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary against Helvidius. From: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.), online at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3007.htm.

[7] Akin, 351-353.

[8] Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Volume I: The Beginnings of the Patristic Literature (Antwerp, Netherlands: Spectrum Publishers, 1966), 119.

[9] Ibid., 118-122.

[10] Kenneth Baker, Fundamentals of Catholicism, Volume II (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1983), 354.

2012 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

St Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the third in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the first paper, “The Nature of the Soul and the End of Man,” here and the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here.]

“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him.”[1] Despite our wounded nature, God provides clear moral “signposts” to help guide us towards the good and our ultimate goal: the beatific vision. Primary among these “signposts” are the three moral determinates by which we can judge the good or evil of a human act. Closely related are the concepts of the law and conscience. Let us briefly consider how these come together to serve as our guides.

Every human act is morally good, evil, or indifferent. In other words, these human acts either move us towards God, away from God, or do neither.  In order to discern in which direction a particular act moves us, we must have some process of evaluation for human acts. This process of evaluation is the three moral determinates. They are: object, circumstances, and intent.

The moral object is the first determinate for the good or evil of a particular act. As Fr. Brian Mullady writes, “The constant tradition of the Catholic Church affirms that the object of the act is the first basis for determining the good or evil of an action, that is determined by reason, and this determination can occur regardless of the consequences or the greatest good for the greatest number.”[2] An act can be objectively good, evil, or indifferent depending on its relation to reason.

Knowledge of conditions is also required to make a complete moral judgment. Circumstances are truly exterior to the object of an act, so they do not form the moral species in themselves. Instead circumstances can add a character of good or evil depending if they act with or against reason. While not all circumstances add further conditions, it is possible for circumstances to render evil an action good in object. Likewise, an act indifferent in object can be rendered good or evil by circumstances. However, an act evil in object can never be rendered good by circumstances – in fact, we don’t even need to know all the circumstances if an act is evil in object (for example, attempts by some to “justify” abortion based on various circumstances).[3]

Next, we must consider intention or the individual reason a person performed an act. An act done from free will must have good motivation for the act to be wholly good. However, good intent cannot make up for an evil exterior act. For example, one cannot steal from another person with the intent of giving the goods stolen to the poor.[4]

Thus, objective judgment on the goodness or evilness of a human act must be based on all three moral determinates. An action is evil if it is not in accordance with reason from all three perspectives. As Fr. Mullady sums up, “Any given action which is contrary to the order of the world as created by God cannot be referred to God as an act of love…All three moral determinates must be in accord with nature for the action to be good.”[5]

While the three moral determinates provide a process of evaluation, we must consider by what standard human actions are evaluated. We find that the standard of evaluation is the law. In fact, the law is the source of the three moral determinates. Thus, an understanding of the nature of law and its types is critical to the study of fundamental morals.[6]

At the root of the crisis in modern moral theology is a detachment of human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Modern morals attempt to deny any real objective human nature and in the process reduce man to nothing more than his freedom. In its rejection of natural law as the basis for ethics, modern morals separates matter and form in human acts which results in a divorce of morals from nature. Yet, there are objective standards of truth to which human reason is servant since man did not create himself. This standard is God’s reason, which is the eternal law from which all other rightly ordered law must flow.[7]

“Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good” or as St. Thomas says, “An ordinance of reason is what one calls law.” We find there are several different, yet interrelated, levels of moral law: eternal law, which is the source in God of all law; natural law, which allows man to discern by reason good and evil; revealed law, which is the Old Law and the New Law or the Law of the Gospel; and finally civil and ecclesiastical laws. All moral law finds its fullness and unity in Jesus Christ.[8]

While natural law provides objective moral standards discernable by human reason, the Old Law and the New Law help move man beyond merely avoiding evil and doing good. The Old Law, summed up in the Ten Commandments, prepares and disposes the chosen people for Christ. The New Law fulfills the Old Law as the perfection of divine law on earth through the work of Christ and is expressed most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. While the Old Law prepared the way, it did not provide salvation in itself. The New Law, on the other hand, completes the work of salvation through the gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit to the People of God. It is the New Law which truly provides love, grace, and freedom.[9]

Finally, the conscience moves concept to action. As Fr. Mullady defines it, “Conscience is a judgment of practical reason in which an individual applies general principles of the moral law to specific actions here and now.” One must have an informed conscience, enlightened by moral judgment.  The proper formation of conscience is a lifelong task in which the Word of God serves to light the path.[10]

The tendency in modern moral theology to place freedom and law in opposition to each other has led to what Pope John Paul II described as “a ‘creative’ understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.” Freedom of conscience is not moral license to adhere to error or a right to error, but instead means that man’s conscience cannot be coerced. A free choice to accept the Catholic faith also necessarily means one must freely accept the judgment of the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals.[11]

Thus, we find that man truly is at once both a servant and free. Through the use of his reason in free will, he comes to know natural law which leads to an understanding of the moral determinates for evaluating human actions. Enlightened in his conscience by the guiding light of the Word of God coupled with the guidance of divine grace, man freely chooses to become a servant to the Eternal Law in order to do good and avoid evil as he seeks his ultimate end of an eternal life in God.


Endnotes

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1949.

[2] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 123.

[3] Mullady, Servant and Free, 125-127.

[4] Mullady, Servant and Free, 128-129.

[5] Mullady, Servant and Free, 130-131.

[6] Mullady, Servant and Free, 147.

[7] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 52-54; Mullady, Servant and Free, 148.

[8] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 90, 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; CCC, 1951-1953.

[9] CCC, 1961-1973.

[10] CCC, 1778, 1783-1785; Mullady, Servant and Free, 176.

[11] CCC, 1782, 1790-1794, 2108; Mullady, Servant and Free, 175-176, 184.

2012 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

The Nativity of Our Lord

Nativity of Our Lord (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Gospel According to St. Luke (2:1-20):

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with Child.

And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her Firstborn Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear.

And the angel said to them: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people. For, this day, is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”

And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: “Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this Word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.”

And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger. And seeing, they understood of the Word that had been spoken to them concerning this Child. And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

St. Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the second in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the first paper, “The Nature of the Soul and the End of Man,” here and the third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“Man stands in the middle of creation, on the horizon of being, between flesh and spirit, between time and eternity.”[i] In order to approach moral theology from a correct perspective, we must begin with a proper understanding of the nature of man. In examining the nature of man, we come to understand the nature of the voluntary in which we find the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man.

Since man arrives at ultimate happiness through acts of the free will, our first task is distinguishing the primary characteristics of those acts by which man arrives at heaven from all other actions of nature. This is important since those actions which do not include the correct order of the intellect, will, and passions are not worthy of praise or blame and thus are not subject to moral responsibility.

In considering this, we find there are four requirements which must be satisfied for an action to be subject to moral responsibility:

1. It must be action, not passion (distinguishes actions from passivity).

2. It must result from a principle intrinsic to the being (distinguishes nature from violence).

3. The principle involves some knowledge of ends and means (distinguishes animals and man from nature).

4. The principle must include knowledge of why the ends and means express human nature (distinguishes man from animals).

Only actions which meet these requirements can be moral actions worthy of praise or blame and are the only means by which man arrives at or fails to arrive at heaven.[ii]

Actions which meet the requirements above are called voluntary. As St. Thomas tells us, “So men’s actions are in the fullest sense voluntary: they deliberate about the goal of which they are aware and about what will lead to it, and are able to pursue it or not.” It is precisely these voluntary actions which make man “lord of his own actions.” Thus, the person is the efficient cause of his own acts and therefore his own perfection in morals. So, while “every act directly willed is imputable to its author,” the intellect and will are not the only factors in determining moral responsibility. We must consider as well the affects of the passions, ignorance, and circumstances.[iii]

The passions enter into moral responsibility because they participate in the will. While the passions in man are born obedient to reason, they are not automatic and are able to resist the direction of the spirit or to not come along. As a result of original sin, man acquired a weakness of passions which causes them to rise before the will is brought to bear. Therefore, we must conclude that an action which results from the passions is less free than one which comes from the will.[iv]

Thus, we must consider the passions in forming a proper order of judging moral freedom. First, an act done merely from passion does not involve the will and therefore has little to do with morals, either for the good or for the bad. Second, acts done from reason guiding the will are those actions with which morals is primarily concerned. Finally, acts done with both the will and consequent passion show a greater freedom in deed, thereby becoming more virtuous or more sinful.[v]

We must also understand that nothing can be willed unless it is first known. The will cannot move towards anything unless it is first presented to the will, and only the intellect can do this. Therefore, ignorance must affect moral responsibility. Here too, the conscience comes into play since knowledge is necessary for action. Some, such as Socrates and Plato, played down the role of the senses (including the passions) in knowledge, claiming that the wise man is always the good man. St. Thomas, however, declared this a critical point.[vi]

St. Thomas presented a clear distinction between nescience, ignorance, and error. Nescience means simply a negation or absence of knowledge. Ignorance, on the other hand, means knowledge which a person should have by nature. Ignorance is either a perverse form of mind (i.e. a habit of false principles or false opinions which impede knowledge of truth) or it is error, meaning the approval of the false as true. It is important to note that “one can be in ignorance without making a judgment about truth, but one cannot be in error without making a false judgment.”[vii]

Simple nescience is not sinful since even angels lack complete knowledge of everything. Antecedent or invincible ignorance, ignorance which precedes an act of will in a way that the will can do nothing about it, causes involuntariness and therefore lacks responsibility. Consequent or vincible ignorance, in which a person wills to be ignorant, makes the act more voluntary.[viii]

If any of the three powers of the soul (intellect, will, and passions) are diminished or absent, the act is not fully voluntary. Thus, just because an act is conscious, it is not necessarily voluntary. As St. Thomas points out, ignorance of circumstances, not principle, is the primary ignorance which affects the voluntary in a way that makes the subject not responsible for an action. Circumstances are external factors which in some way affect the evaluation of an action. As St. Thomas writes, “Human acts are judged voluntary or involuntary according to knowledge or ignorance of circumstances.” Circumstances can affect the morality of an act in three ways. First, they can change the kind of act in its objectivity. Second, they can change the gravity of a deed. Third, they can affect the subject’s involvement in a deed and thus increase or decrease the depth of his choice for good or evil. The first two consider how circumstances affect the actual nature of the deed, which the last one considers how they affect freedom.[ix]

Thus, we come to see the nature of the voluntary in which we encounter the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man. As the Catechism teaches, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own action…with free will and is master over his own acts.” With the gift of grace, the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom so that we can become collaborators in His work in the Church and in the world. Through a right ordering of the powers of our souls: intellect, will, and passions; we obtain our perfection in freedom by directing our actions toward the ultimate good, our God and sovereign Good.[x]


Endnotes

 [i] As quoted in: Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 22.

 [ii] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 55-57.

 [iii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 6, 2, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 28; Mullady, Servant and Free, 63.

 [iv] Mullady, Servant and Free, 65, 67, 69.

[v] Mullady, Servant and Free, 69-70.

[vi] Mullady, Servant and Free, 70-71.

[vii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 71.

[viii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 72-73.

[ix] Aquinas, STh I-II, 7, 2; Mullady, Servant and Free, 74, 77.

[x] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1730, 1742, 1744.

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, yes, Christmas, that time of year with a winter nip in the air (unless you live in parts of Florida where record highs in the 80s are forecast this weekend) and the time of year when the thoughts of old school Protestants (meaning those few Protestants who still find the need to base their beliefs on a militant anti-Catholicism), New Age “pagans,” and militant atheists turn yet again to the supposed “pagan” origins of Catholicism. Along with Easter and Halloween, the Feast of Christmas is yet another of those celebrations we are told “prove” the pagan origins of Catholicism. After all, everyone knows Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are nothing more than “dressed up” paganism. It’s just too bad everyone is wrong…

Instead of merely reposting my piece on the true, non-pagan, origins for the December 25th date of Christmas, I share this link to a wonderful piece by Rev. Dwight Longenecker which does an excellent job of explaining (yet again) once and for all the true background of the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25th.

Allow me to highlight a few points from Rev. Longenecker:

1. The “pagan origin” claimants begin with the capital mistake of assuming that mere resemblance proves causality. Simply because two things resemble each other does not mean one is the cause of the other. Two things can be strikingly similar yet share absolutely no causal relationship what-so-ever. Simply because Christians and pagans observed certain feasts at similar times throughout the year does not mean one automatically caused the other.

2. The Roman feast most often associated with Christmas by the “pagan originists” is Saturnalia, a Roman feast for the god Saturn which was held from December 17 to 23. However, this feast, while occurring on the wrong date (if Christianity “co-opted” this feast, why not make the date of Christmas December 17th to really sock it to those pagans?), also had nothing to do with the imagery of the solstice and the return of the sun. The focus of this feast centered more on the theme of sacrifice-to-appease-the-gods-for-a-good-harvest.

3. The Roman feast associated with the solstice was Dies Natalis Sol Invictus. The only problem here is the inconvenient fact that this feast wasn’t instituted until around AD 278, well after the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and for quite some time remained a rather minor feast with a small cult. Further, we find no evidence that Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25th until AD 360 – decades after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in AD 315. In fact, the promotion of the feast was due to the influence of Julian the Apostate who attempted to turn back the tide of Christianity sweeping the Empire. Huh, so that means Sol Invictus was used by the Roman authorities in an attempt to “win back” Christians to paganism, not the other way around.

4. The “pagan origins” nonsense completely ignores the fact that thousands (some sources say millions) of Christians lost their property and in many cases their lives over their complete refusal to, as Rev. Longenecker puts it, “offer so much as one grain of incense to the pagan gods.” Yet, the “pagan originists” would have us believe the very people who were giving their lives over refusal to participate in anything even resembling paganism suddenly decided to “co-opt” pagan festivals.

5. If we actually take time to read the historical record provided us in the writings of the early Church Fathers, we find a clear answer as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. As early as AD 386, we find a sermon by St. John Chrysostom linking the date of Christmas to the date of the Annunciation (the day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus). The wording of his sermon suggests this linking was already a long-accepted tradition within the Church. We need to remember early Christians were primarily Jewish converts and thus the roots of Christianity are in Judaism, not Romanism. The Jews believed the world began on March 25th. They also believed great men died on the same date as the date of their conception. Therefore, we find the early Christians believed the date of Jesus’ conception was March 25th. Let’s count nine months and see what we find: December 25th.

So, just as I pointed out last time, the date of Christmas has nothing to do with Romans or paganism, but everything to do with early Jewish belief and the dating of Jesus’ conception by early Christians.

Merry Christmas!

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For most of its history, no one in the United States connected Halloween to “paganism” or “wicca.” Only within the past few decades has it gone from a harmless “kid’s holiday” to an urban legend taking root among both New Agers and fundamentalist Christians about Halloween’s supposed “pagan” past.  Thanks to continued repetition of this urban legend by venues such as the History Channel and various New Age and “paranormal” publications, as well as fundamentalist Christian anti-Halloween “crusades,” most people today accept it as fact, never bothering to investigate it further.  Today’s urban legend claims Halloween directly dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic Druid festival which the (evil) Catholic Church co-opted in order to “suppress” pagans.  As with most urban legends, this one contains a dash of truth in order to hold together a bunch of complete nonsense.

The customs we now accept as associated with Halloween are actually of much more recent origin than New Age urban legend suggests and are a mix of traditions and practices from throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland.  As with most things which began across the Atlantic and reached American shores, these various customs and traditions were blended, “Americanized” and repackaged into what we now call Halloween.  What we do know for certain is that the modern Halloween celebration has no direct religious connection with the ancient Druids of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

It’s true the Druids celebrated a minor festival at the end of October, as they did at the end of every month, but they had long since ceased to exist as an organized people when Halloween developed.  At the beginning of what eventually became the New Age movement, Druidism saw a “revival” in the 1700s and 1800s, but just like the current New Age movement, this involved people with no real connection to ancient Druids – except in their minds – and no real connection to actual ancient Druid practices.  Just like today’s New Age “pagans” and “wiccans,” a bunch of people pretended to be “Druids” with little actual historical knowledge (other than what they invented for themselves) of actual ancient pagan groups and practices.

Let’s examine the ancient Druids a bit closer.  First, unlike the image today’s self-styled “pagans” like to project, the Druids were not peace-loving “greenies” who liked to get naked and commune with nature.  Instead, they were a rather violent and blood thirsty Celtic people who inhabited pre-Roman Britain and Ireland.  The ancient Druids had much more in common with brutal peoples like the Aztecs than Kumbaya-singing hippies.  Our earliest records of the Druids come from the Romans.  It’s significant to note that even the Romans found these people excessively brutal.  We also find that it was the Romans who suppressed Druidism.  Tiberius (Roman emperor from AD 14 to 37) first outlawed the practice of Druidism.  Under Claudius (emperor from AD 41 to 54), the Druids were completely wiped out in Roman Britain.

The Roman record brings out two extremely important points regarding Druidism.  First, very clearly, the suppression of the Druids had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, which had not spread much outside Judea at this point in history.  So claims that the Church co-opted a Druid festival to create Halloween and force the conversion of Druids are flat-out false.  Second, a hallmark of the Roman Empire was allowing conquered territories a large amount of relative autonomy as long as they continued to acknowledge Rome and pay tribute – this included allowing people to maintain local religious customs (we see this very clearly in Judea).  The fact the Romans felt compelled to stamp out Druidism shows the Druids were anything but peace-loving nature freaks.

So how does the Catholic Church get drawn into all this?  In the fourth century, the Church instituted a feast day to honor all Christian martyrs of the faith.  This feast day was originally celebrated on May 13.  In 615, Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” and commemorated it with the dedication of a basilica in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs.  By 741, the feast had grown to include remembering not only all martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well.  As a result, the name was changed to the “Feast of All Saints” in 840.  In 844, long after the passing of the Druids and long after Christianity had become the predominate western religion, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st.

October 31st itself held no special significance in the Church calendar until 1484 (again, long, long past the time of the Druids) when Pope Sixtus IV declared the “Feast of All Saints” a holy day of obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass – in addition to Sundays) and gave it a vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast (the octave of All Saints was removed from the Church calendar in 1955).  For Catholics, the vigil is celebrated on the evening before the feast – hence Christmas Eve.  Saints were known as “hallowed” in old English.  Therefore, the vigil for the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” – Halloween.  The fact that “Halloween” is derived from old English and the Druids happened to inhabit ancient Britain is as close as we come to a direct connection between the Catholic Church, Druids and today’s Halloween.

Even though it’s true that traditions such as dressing in costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and Jack-o-lanterns were originally inspired by ancient religious practices to ward off evil spirits, by the time these practices made their way to America, they had long since lost their religious meaning. Instead, they’d become much more along the lines of cultural traditions. Most telling is the fact that there is no mention of Halloween being a “pagan,” “wiccan,” or “evil” celebration in the past historical record. Only in recent decades has this notion taken hold. Once we consider the true facts, it leads me to ask just who exactly is it that has actually co-opted Halloween for their own purposes?

While an argument can be made regarding Halloween’s gross over-commercialization, an argument that can now be made about several holidays, this fact is a reflection of our out-of-control consumer society and not a reflection on the traditional observance of Halloween itself. Similarly, the fact that Halloween observances have taken on increasingly gory and over-sexed aspects are because we as a society have allowed it. In a secular relativistic society which teaches that every opinion (as long as it has nothing to do with traditional family values) is of equal merit, should we really be surprised at this? However, this should not prevent us from reclaiming the largely innocent and clean fun aspects of the traditional American customs associated with Halloween.

So, for good Catholics, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying All Hallow’s Eve. You don’t need to limit yourself to “Fall Celebrations” (which are actually much more pagan in nature than the traditional American observance of Halloween) or “All Saints Parties.” It’s okay for you to recapture the traditional American observance of Halloween. You can carve your Jack-o-lantern, throw on your costume, and go Trick-or-Treating all without fear that you’re participating in an “evil,” “pagan,” or “wiccan” celebration. Happy Halloween!

For more information, here is an article from Fr. Robert Barron’s The Word on Fire Blog answering many questions about Halloween and Catholicism: http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/October-2012/Culture–Time-for-Catholics-to-Embrace-Halloween.aspx. For even more information on the real history of Halloween, you may read this article by Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P.: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/10/Surprise-Halloweens-Not-A-Pagan-Festivalafter-All.aspx?p=1. As a further update, here’s a recent article from Catholic Answers with the same information as found in this article: http://www.catholic.com/blog/jon-sorensen/halloween-or-samhain. Here’s an article in which Dr. Taylor Marshall shares his “Top 10 Christian Halloween Ideas:” http://taylormarshall.com/2013/10/top-10-christian-halloween-ideas.html.

Feast of Christ the King

Christ the King (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal 1962:

The royalty of Christ rests upon a twofold basis. He is our King by right of birth and by right of conquest. The first refers us to the personality of the Son of God, whereby, in His divine nature as God and by virtue of the hypostatic union, He is the sovereign Lord and Master. The second places before us the God-Man coming down on earth to rescue fallen man from the slavery of Satan, and by the labors and sufferings of His life, and passion, and death, to win a glorious victory for us over sin and hell.

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, Who in Thy beloved Son, the King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things, mercifully grant that all the families of nations now kept apart by the wound of sin, may be brought under the sweet yoke of His rule: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

Epistle (Col. 1:12-20)

Christ is the King of the Church, and the Peacemaker through His Blood.

Brethren: Giving thanks to God the Father, Who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His Blood, the remission of sins; Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the Church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy: Because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell; And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel (Jn. 18:33-37)

Christ proclaims His kingly dignity and power.

At that time: Pilate said to Jesus: “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered: “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or have others told it thee of Me?” Pilate answered: “Am I a Jew? Thy own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered Thee up to me: what hast Thou done?” Jesus answered: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.” Pilate therefore said to Him: “Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered: “Thou sayest that I am a King. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice.”

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