Scripture


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The parable of the Unjust Steward is a googly which the Church bowls each eighth Sunday after Pentecost at unwary preachers. Many of them are stumped. Naturally one can find some worthy treatments of it in the Catena Aurea and in the Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide; but the profoundest interpretation I know appears in neither place, coming rather from St Gaudentius of Brescia. As it may be that you don’t know who St Gaudentius was, I will tell you: he was a friend of St Ambrose and a defender of St John Chrysostom and he ruled the see of Brescia in Italy for some 25 years.

A friend of his, called Herminius, or Serminius, or possibly Germinius (it must have been a cold day in the scriptorium when the monk copied out the letter) wrote to St Gaudentius to ask what, exactly, this passage from the holy Gospel means. And the saint, after talking at length as one might expect of the dangers of wealth and the virtues of alms-giving, begins to give a mystical interpretation. The rich man, he says, is almighty God – dives in misericordia. The  unjust steward is the devil, who has been allowed by God to have a certain power in the cosmos, as a steward on an estate. The devil is allowed to test the saints, says St Thomas Aquinas, so that he may not be entirely useless.

But the devil, of course, abuses his power. St Gaudentius says that “the devil wasted the substance of his Lord when he sought the ruin of mankind”. He persecuted the human race beyond all measure, bringing upon it all the cruelties and terrors of paganism. And so God resolved to cast the devil out of His Estate and into the abyss, and made this known when He came among us. Whereupon “this most wicked one, reckoning the death of man as his profit, is consumed with anxiety because the Lord is about to take away the power that he has over others.”

He is not strong enough to dig, and is ashamed to beg, and so turns from violence to craft:

Since he will not work what is good, and is ashamed to ask for mercy as a penitent, he thinks within himself how he may still have power over the debtors of his Lord (that is, over those involved in the debt of sin), not alone by open persecution, but also, under the guise of benevolence, by deceiving them with smooth words, so that seduced by his false kindness they may more readily receive him into their houses, to be judged with him forever.

The devil begins to write off men’s debts:

He falsely promises that he can relax the debts of his fellow servants, which are in his Lord’s power, by vainly assuring indulgence to those who sin either in faith or in deed. For he convinces them that their crimes will not be imputed to them, although even those who commit them know them to be grave offences: for they acknowledge the amount of their debt.

He does this both with the wheat and with the oil:

The wheat is faith in Christ, the principle of man’s life. For He is the living bread who came down from heaven. The oil is good works, which the foolish virgins lacked, and hence when the lamp-light of their souls went out, they abode in darkness. . . . Even so does the devil trick the race of men with false promises, that they may not know what debt of faith and works they owe.

And if the oil is brought down from a hundred, the number of perfection, to fifty, and the wheat is brought down only from a hundred to eighty, perhaps this is because “a smaller number are withdrawn by the devil’s cunning from the true faith, than are withdrawn from right deeds, as our Saviour Himself declares, saying: ‘Why do you call me, Lord, Lord; and do not the things which I say?'”

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How many episodes?

Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10 and John 4:46-54 are an enigma. They all seem to refer to the same incident (Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 certainly) and yet they appear to contradict each other. Scripture is inerrant so they do not contradict each other. Consequently, either the contradiction is merely apparent or they do not in fact refer to the same incident. A further mystery is John 4:54 “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” It is widely held (with a good deal of plausibility) that there are seven ‘signs’ (σημεῖα) in the Gospel of John which are miracles of a particular allegorical significance illuminating the true identity of Jesus and the nature of His mission. There are also seven ‘I am’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings which perform a similar function and seem to correspond with the seven miraculous signs. The miracle recounted in John 4:46-54 is expressly refered to not only as a ‘sign’ but as the ‘second sign’ (δεύτερον σημεῖον). The only other sign to be numbered in this way is the transformation of the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana (Jn 2:11).

The odd thing is that the miracle in John 4:46-54 is rather humdrum. The other six signs in John’s Gospel are rich in symbolic elements which reinforce the impression that the ‘signs’ are intended to constitute a special form of revelation central to the understanding of the Gospel. The straightforwardness of the miracle in John 4:46-54 rather shakes this impression at the same time as the enumeration in verse 54 seems to strengthen it.

As we shall see there are significant apparent differences between the episode as recounted in Matthew and Luke. We might suppose that it would simplify matters if we set the account in John 4 aside as referring to another incident altogether. However, I suspect that only by resolving the seeming disparities between Matthew, Luke and John shall we discover the true significance and symbolic meaning of the ‘second sign’. Besides, St Irenaeus of Lyons treats the Johannine and Synoptic accounts as referring to the same episode  (Adversus Haereses 2,22,3) and that is good enough for me.

The Apparent Conflicts

So, let us look first at the differences between the account in John and the Synoptic version. In the Synoptics the protagonist is a Centurion in John it is a royal official (βασιλικὸς). This is not a serious problem. Galilee was not under direct imperial rule so the Synoptic centurion would have been functioning under the auspices of the tetrarch anyway (who no doubt wanted to be thought of as a king and is referred to as such in Mark 6:1).

In John’s account Jesus’s help is requested in Cana whereas in the Synoptics the request is made in Capharnaum (Luke 7:1, Matthew 8:5). The only solution to this would have to be that Jesus’s help is requested in Cana and then when he reaches Capharnaum the centurion asks him to perform the miracle at a distance and Jesus agrees. This actually fits well with Luke 7:3 & 7:6 which describe two different requests one made further away (so, one assumes, in Cana) by the Jewish Elders (on account of the centurion’s goodness to them) and one made nearer (in Capharnaum itself) by friends of the centurion. This would also explain the difference in the condition of the object of the miracle. When Jesus is in Cana the sick man is mortally (Luke 7:2, John 4:47) ‘ill’ (κακῶς or ἠσθένει) whereas in Matthew (by the time Jesus reaches Capharnaum) he is paralysed.

This brings us to the really knotty problem. In John it is clear that the βασιλικὸς is personally present at the interview in Cana. In Matthew the centurion likewise makes his request in person in Capharnaum. In Luke, in contrast, the implication is that on both occasions the centurion is represented by proxies (the Jewish Elders and then his friends).

The reaction of Jesus to the Cana request and the terms of the request are very different to the Lord’s reaction to and the terms of the Capharnaum request. In Cana (so John) Jesus responds to the request with a rebuke “Unless you [plural] see signs and wonders you [plural] will not believe” and the βασιλικὸς is insistent that Jesus come to Capharnaum “Sir, come down before my child dies.” In Capharnaum the centurion insists that Jesus should not come to his house “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” and Jesus praises his faith “with no one in Israel have I found such faith”. The extremity of the contrast here is actually reassuring that we are talking about the same incident because it seems programmatic and symbolic.

Furthermore, who is the object of the miracle? Matthew uses a term (παῖς) that could mean either ‘servant’ or ‘boy’. Luke uses a term (δοῦλος) which can only mean ‘slave’. John, in contrast, is clear that it is the official’s son (υἱὸς).

So we have three mysteries:

  1. Is the sick man a slave or the son of the centurion?
  2. Does the centurion make the two requests in person?
  3. Why does the centurion change his mind about Jesus coming to the house?

The Resolution

  1. This is the key to the mystery and to the ‘sign’ value of the entire episode. The sick man is both the son of the centurion and a slave. The boy has been begotten (outside of Roman law approved wedlock) by the centurion upon a slave woman. Thus legally he is a slave and he is not the centurion’s son. The centurion’s grief and desperation is shameful and unseemly. This is why he sends the elders and then his friends to make the request.
  2. He does indeed make the requests in person. That is, he accompanies both the Jewish elders and his friends but he does so in disguise so that his unseemly desperation should not be made public. The rebuke is addressed not principally to the centurion but to the Jewish Elders who Jesus perceives (beatifically) to be inspired partly by curiosity rather than faith. However, it may also be that the centurion is trying anything in his desperation rather than truly believing at this stage.
  3. By the time Jesus reaches Capharnaum and the delegation of friends comes to meet Him the centurion believes (perhaps because Jesus saw through his disguise in Cana or just from the effect of meeting the Lord) and he is now concerned (as a gentile God-fearer) that he is asking Jesus to enter a ritually defiling gentile dwelling. Confident in his belief that Jesus has the power to save his son he therefore says “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

John has read the Synoptics. He knows what his readers already know about this episode. Like the Synoptics he wishes to spare the centurion’s blushes but he supplies the information missing from their accounts in order to supply the key to the mysterious riddle of the second sign.

The Sign

What then is the meaning of the sign? Jesus is the true son and heir of God but He has taken the form of a slave (John 8:35-6, Philippians 2) in order to to fulfil the command given to Him by His Father (John 10:18) to liberate the human race from slavery and death and make them adopted sons and co-heirs with Him. Not only is He the son and heir of God but He is Himself God. Furthermore, Jesus is, at this point in his ministry concealing these very truths from the Jews and the demons because the Jews are not ready to believe and if the demons understood the mystery of the Incarnation they would not walk into the trap Jesus has prepared for them (1 Corinthians 2:8).

It is thus a supreme irony that the centurion should go in disguise as his own messenger to solicit the salvation of his slave who is really his son. For it is the Son of God Who is True God from True God under the form of a slave from whom the centurion seeks salvation for his son. The first encounter parallels the Old Testament where mankind approaches the Saviour through the Jewish people, too addicted to signs and wonders and led on by temporal rewards and punishments.  The second encounter parallels the New Testament where mankind approaches the Saviour through His friends the Apostles (John 15:15) to hear whom is to hear the Saviour Himself (Luke 10:16, Matthew 10:6). When the law was given man was sick unto death. By the time the Saviour appears the knowledge of his own sin has reduced man to total moral paralysis (see: John 5). This mystery is what the centurion ultimately realises and why the marvel (Matthew 8:10, Luke 7:9) of his faith is the second of the great signs by which Jesus manifested the true nature of His identity and mission to His disciples.

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The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.

 

Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, provost of the Oratorians in Washington, summarizes Ven. Bartholomew Holzhauser on the 7 ages of the church. They are supposed to be prefigured by the 7 churches of Asia Minor at the start of the Apocalpyse. I suppose that if he is right, this blog ought really to be re-named Exsardi. Mrg Wadsworth doesn’t draw out the links with Apoc. 1-3, go the original to find out more.

If you don’t have time for the talk, here is the summary:

The Seven Ages of the Church
According to the writings of the
Venerable Bartholemew Holzhauser
(1613-1658)
Germany

1. Status Seminativus
AD 30-70
*Apostles*
from Christ and the Apostles
until Pope Linus and the Emperor Nero

2. Status Irrigativus
AD 70-330
*Martyrs*
10 Persecutions of the Church

3. Status Illuminativus
AD 330-500
*Doctors*
from Pope Sylvester to Leo III

4. Status Pacificus
AD 500-1500
*Christendom*
from Pope Leo III to Leo X

5. Status Afflictionis et Purgativus
1517-?
*Heresy/Decline*
from Leo X to a strong ruler/strong monarch/holy pope

6. Status Consolationis
?
*Triumph*
from the holy pope until the Antichrist

7. Status Desolationis
?
*Antichrist/End*
from the Antichrist to the End of the World

It is not only the possibility of keeping God’s commandments when in a state of grace which is undermined by this document, but other parts of the revealed word of God also:

Virginity

 Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). . . . Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another (AL 161)

The first part of this passage is contrary to the teaching of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in the days when it was an organ of the magisterium, that St Paul “said nothing at all in his writings that is not in perfect harmony with the ignorance of the time of the Parousia which Christ Himself declared to be part of man’s condition” (Dz. 3629).

The second part is contrary to the 10th definition of the 24th session of the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity than to be joined in marriage, let him be anathema”. The only way that you could save the pope’s words here from the charge of heresy would be if you were to understand ‘it should be enough to point out’, as meaning ‘it is enough for our present purposes to point out’; this may be how it got past the CDF. But what a shocker, to mention a dogma, and then to refuse to assert it.

Capital punishment

 “…The Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia”, but likewise “firmly rejects the death penalty”. (AL 83)

The quotations in this passage come from the final report after the 2015 synod, which itself, absurdly, cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2258. CCC 2258 says that no one may directly destroy an innocent human life. This has nothing to do with capital punishment, which the CCC, in line with the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church, explicitly declares lawful in para. 2267.

Headship of the husband

 Every form of sexual submission must be clearly rejected.  This includes all improper interpretations of the passage in the Letter to the Ephesians where Paul tells women to “be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22).  This passage mirrors the cultural categories of the time, but our concern is not with its cultural matrix but with the revealed message that it conveys. . . .

The biblical text is actually concerned with encouraging everyone to overcome a complacent individualism and to be constantly mindful of others: “Be subject to one another” (Eph 5:21).  In marriage, this reciprocal “submission” takes on a special meaning, and is seen as a freely chosen mutual belonging marked by fidelity, respect and care (AL 156).

Again, this is absurd, though to be fair it is the same as what John Paul II did in Mulieris Dignitatem. As if only the ‘be subject to one another’ counted as the word of God, and ‘wives, be subject to your husbands’ were just words ‘mirroring a cultural matrix’, and of no more relevance now than the kind of ink that the scribe of the Letter to the Ephesians used when he wrote them.

Enough is enough. These errors need to be publicly denounced by bishops before this parallel universe anti-magisterium gets any stronger.

We must enquire why, when he is describing the night of our Lord’s resurrection, the evangelist says, On the Sabbath evening which was growing on towards the dawn of Sunday, when the customary order of time would have the evening darkening into night, rather than growing on toward dawn. Speaking mystically the evangelist was striving to suggest the great dignity this most sacred night acquired from the glory of victory over death, when he mentioned that its inception had already begun to grow on toward the following dawn. Our Lord, the author and ruler of time, He who rose during the final part of the night, surely caused the whole of it to be festal and bright by the light of His resurrection.

From the beginning of the world’s creation until this time, the course of time was so divided that day preceded night, according to the order of its primeval making. On this night, because of the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection, the order of time was changed. He rose from the dead during the night, and on the following day showed the effect of His resurrection to His disciples. Most properly was night joined to the light of the following day, and the order of time so settled that day would follow night. It was once appropriate that night follow day, for by sinning the human race fell away from the light of paradise into the darkness and hardships of this age. It is fitting that day follow night now, when through faith in the resurrection we are led from the darkness of sin and the shadow of death to the light of life by Christ’s gift (St Bede, Homily for the Paschal Vigil).

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The first was of Saint Gabriel;

On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;

And as he went upon one knee

He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

Today would be the feast of the archangel Gabriel, were it not Holy Week. As a matter of fact we perhaps still commemorate him today, though unnamed. For many people think it was he that was sent from heaven to comfort our Lord during the Agony. His name, according to the usual interpretation, means ‘strength of God’. So it would be fitting that he should be sent down to ‘strengthen’ Christ; confortans eum, as the Vulgate puts it. According to the oldest traditions, it was the anniversary, or the eve of the anniversary, of the day on which he had been sent to announce the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin.

St Gabriel has been called ‘the legate of the economy of Christ’. It was he also who was sent to Daniel as he lamented in exile over the state of the holy city, and fasted in sackcloth. “Flying swiftly, he touched me at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan. 9:21). He told the prophet that the Christ would appear when 69 weeks of years were past, and would be slain by His people in the midst of the 70th week. And now those words which must have been read and heard so often were coming true at last, and the true Daniel was kneeling in prayer at the time of a greater evening sacrifice. In what manner did the angel strengthen Him? Some say it was by speaking to Him of the great glory that He would render to the Father by His death, and of the innumerable souls that would enter heaven thereby. Or perhaps also it was by an imaginative vision; if Satan were permitted to show Him the kingdoms of the worlds and the glory of them, much more might Gabriel be charged to set before Him the glory of the only true Kingdom, where Christ, as man, had never yet gone.

“And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” St Bernard says that our Lord wished, as it were, to weep not just with His eyes, but with all His members, so that His whole Body which is the Church might be more efficaciously purged. And others say that the angel represents all contemplative souls, the thought of whom also comforts Christ in His agony. Arise, then, let us go hence, and on into the Garden, where the greatest deeds are done.

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