Scripture


Image result for Icon of Woman Caught in Adultery

Do we read the story of the woman caught in adultery aright, I wonder? It is often supposed that the scribes and Pharisees were testing our Lord, in the sense of seeing whether He would follow the path of Law or of gentleness, so that they could accuse Him of neglecting one or the other. Again, it is also generally supposed that the words ‘he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’ are meant as a warning not to condemn others while having sins on one’s own conscience. I don’t deny either of these interpretations, but I wonder if they give the principal meaning of the dialogue.

Surely, the trap that the scribes and Pharisees had in mind was that if Christ told them not to stone the woman then He would, as everyone recognises, be seeming to deny the authority of the old Law, and that if He told them to stone her, then He would be seeming to usurp an authority that the Romans had reserved to themselves, that of capital punishment. I don’t know of any evidence that giving commands to stone adulterers was contrary to the popular picture of the Messiah, and would have therefore caused anyone to stop believing in Christ; even though such a command would have been incongruous with the work He had come to do, as perhaps the Pharisees half-understood. On the other hand, anyone who openly pronounced a sentence of death on another person would surely have been brought to the attention of the Roman authorities promptly.

If this is the test, then it throws light on our Lord’s reply: ‘‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’ One might be inclined to say: ‘Either the scribes and Pharisees had judicial authority or they didn’t; if they did, then they should have carried out the sentence of the Mosaic Law even if they were themselves sinful; and if they didn’t, they were not the proper people to carry it out, however perfect they were.’

But perhaps Christ’s words are meant to address this very question, of whether the scribes did have judicial authority to order an execution or not. As far as appearances went, they did not: the temporal sword, in 1st century Judaea, was clearly in the hands of the Romans, however much the Jews might dislike the fact. There was no realistic prospect of their wresting it from Roman hands, nor was it clear that the Romans were doing anything to them that would make such an effort lawful, even had it not been hopeless. Only one thing, therefore, could have justified someone’s taking the temporal sword to himself: the kind of surpassing excellence that Aristotle speculates about in Book III of the Politics:

When therefore it comes about that there is either a whole family or even some one individual that differs from the other citizens in virtue so greatly that his virtue exceeds that of all the others, then it is just for this family to be the royal family or this individual king, and sovereign over all matters. … It remains therefore, and this seems to be the natural course, for all to obey such a man gladly, so that men of this sort may be kings in the cities for all time.

If any of the scribes or Pharisees had surpassed all other men in this way, then he could have justly set aside the dominion of the Romans, and thrown the first stone. But seeing that none of them did so excel, it was just that they should continue to bear the Roman yoke.

In October 2015, the Remnant Newspaper drew attention to an apparently very rare conjunction of heavenly bodies due to take place during the 100th anniversary of the miracle of the sun.  The author, Patrick Archbold, quoted first the opening verse of Apoc. 12: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.” He continued:

The author of Revelation clearly indicates that this vision is one of a sign in heaven or in the sky. What do we see in the sky of the near future?

On November 20, 2016, an astronomical event begins that will last nine and a half months, culminating in startling concurrence with the vision of Revelation 12. While I am not an astronomer, all my research indicates that this astronomical event, in all its particulars, is unique in the history of man.

On November 20, 2016, Jupiter (the King planet) enters into the body (womb) of the constellation Virgo (the virgin).   Jupiter, due its retrograde motion, will spend the next 9 ½ months within the womb of Virgo. This length of time corresponds with gestation period of a normal late-term baby.

After 9 ½ months, Jupiter exits out of the womb of Virgo. Upon Jupiter’s exit (birth), on September 23, 2017, we see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun). At the feet of Virgo, we find the moon. And upon her head we find a crown of twelve stars, formed by the usual nine stars of the constellation Leo with the addition of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars.

That is a truly remarkable and, as far as I can determine, unique series of event with a startling degree of concurrence with the vision of Revelation 12.

As a result, there was a certain amount of speculation about whether something significant for the Church or the word would happen on September 23rd 2017. Other people drew attention to the importance of 100 years in connexion with Fatima, and wondered whether something dramatic would happen on, say October 13th, 2017. I have discussed this last point here.

However, to my knowledge, no one has pointed out that something rather important did take place on 23rd September. The ‘Filial Correction’ which accused Pope Francis of upholding and propagating seven heresies was first seen by most people, at least on the eastern side of the Atlantic, on 24th September. However, the Associated Press, who seem to have been the first to publish it, date their article to the 23rd.

(Someone might wonder whether the organisers of the Filial Correction released their document deliberately to coincide with the ‘sign in the heavens’. I have been able to speak  to some of them, and I do not believe that this is the case.)

I am in the middle of reading a commentary on the Apocalypse published in 1955 by Fr Hermann Kramer and called The Book of Destiny. It is better and more erudite than you might suppose from its title. I learned about it when listening to a talk by Hamish Fraser, who refers to it as the most interesting book that he has ever read.

Fr Kramer takes the Apocalypse to be principally a chronological prophecy of the Church’s future from the apostolic age to the Parousia, though with some reprises, rather than, say, a depiction of permanent features of the Church’s situation in this world. He offers some interesting interpretations of the 7 trumpets of Apoc. 8 and 9. On the assumption, reasonable given his general approach, that the description in 7:13-14 of those who have come through the great tribulation represents the Church as she emerged from the Diocletian persecution, he argues that the seven trumpets announce events that follow this period of freedom.

The first trumpet he takes to mark the barbarian invasions. His interpretation here is perhaps too literal: he suggests that  the burning up of a third part of the trees might refer to a serious disruption of agriculture, at that time. Earlier, by contrast, he suggested that ‘tree’ might be taken to refer to the leading men of the time, and this might apply better here also. Although he doesn’t mention it, the burning up of all the green grass would fit well with his view of the barbarian invasions as a punishment for excessive luxury. The Fathers interpret ‘green grass’ as a symbol of concupiscence, in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

But I was more interested in the next two trumpets. Apoc. 9:8 says:

And the second angel blew sounded the trumpet: and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood. And the third part of those creatures died, which had life in the sea, and the third part of the ships was destroyed.

Fr Kramer thinks this is a reference to Islam; and it does seem antecedently plausible that so terrible and permanent an enemy of the Church would be mentioned in the only canonical prophecy of the Church’s life (if that is indeed what we should understand the Apocalypse to be). ‘Fire’ suggests, among other things, the passionate fanaticism of militant Islam, while ‘mountain’ is a good symbol of its bulk, impermeability and deadness. ‘The creatures which had life’ is literally ‘the creatures which had souls’, suggesting the death of the soul caused by the prolonged Mohammedan usurpation. He also suggests that ‘ships’ here might be a symbol for ‘churches’. Might one-third, approximately, of the churches then existing have been desecrated by Islam?

The Apocalypse continues:

And the third angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made better.

This disaster differs from the previous two, since it is said to proceed from ‘heaven’. The author interprets heaven throughout the book to refer to the Church, considered as endowed with heavenly gifts. Apoc. 1:20 itself strongly suggests that ‘stars’ in the Apocalypse will refer to bishops or priests. A ‘great’ star, therefore, says Fr Kramer, will be an eminent bishop or metropolitan. It is said to be burning even after as it descends (unlike the stars that fall in 6:13, 9:1 and 12:9), suggesting that it still gives some light to the faithful after leaving the Church, indicating rather schism than heresy, and the continued presence of erudition.

The star is called ‘Wormwood’. In Jeremiah and Amos, wormwood is mentioned in connection with priests who are disobedient (Jer. 9:13-15), and who teach falsely (Jer. 23:11-40), and with those who pervert the sources of justice (Amos 5:7). These last people are told, instead, to ‘seek him that maketh Arcturus and Orion’ (Amos 5:8), which, if we accept the symbolism of a star as a bishop, implies a command to recognise the diving origin of the hierarchy of the Church: again, a warning against schism.

This great shining star falls upon a third part of the springs of water, presumably the sources of grace. Many die from drinking the bitter waters. As Fr Kramer says:

Wormwood is to be given those people, priests, and bishops who refuse to obey the authority of the Church which possesses this authority by divine commission from Christ. This is schism, ad formal schism is grievous sin. And many shall die from participation of the fountains, the sacraments, polluted by the star fallen into schism. […] The fallen star is guilty of pride, hypocrisy, and rebellion, when he assumes unlawful authority over others and perverts and refuses submission to the true order established by Christ. It begets pride and rebellion in his followers. They follow a slippery path and must stumble and fall after they have partaken of this poisonous potion. Sharing in the hypocrisy and rebellion of their schismatic superior, they knowingly partake of his wormwood and become wormwood themselves.

Surely, as the author implies, this describes no one so well as Photios the Great? His very name suggests a shining light, and he was famed for his learning. He was a great star, too, metropolitan of a see that claimed second rank in the Church, but he broke away from the constellation appointed for him. A great number of dioceses, though still a minority, were struck by his calamitous fall and the sources of grace to this very day have been made bitter for all those who knowingly partake of his schism. What, in fact, is more bitter than schism, directly opposed as it is not to the faith, but to charity and joy and peace?

 

 

He maketh a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people (Jb. 34:30).

I find these words of St Job quite reassuring.

From the last chapter of his Rule:

He that hasteneth on to the perfection of the religious life, hath at hand the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life?

 

Some seven summers ago, I was taking coffee or ice-cream with a worthy Polish lady outside an Italian café, when we discovered that we were both readers of the Remnant. Placid by temperament, she became animated on learning this. ‘I love the Remnant’, she said, ‘it’s so – depressing!’

I feel rather the same about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Reading it is like being shown round some peaceful English cemetery outside a country church, and finding that all the paths meet at one’s own open grave, complete with a head-stone that awaits only the inscription of a date.

Maritain says somewhere that Ecclesiastes is the most perfect existentialist work ever written: haunted, I suppose he meant, by a twin sense of the countless possibilities open to human freedom, and the inevitability that all our actions, humanly speaking, come in the end to nothing.

St Jerome also seems to have been drawn to the book; at least, he chose to comment on it first, before any other work of Holy Writ. At one point, he asks what King Solomon meant by saying, A living dog is better than a dead lion: because the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten; their love also, and their hatred, and their zeal are all perished, neither have they any part in this world. The Jew who taught him Hebrew, Jerome remarks, said that his people understood this to mean that someone still alive and teaching, however ignorant, is better than a perfect teacher now dead; so a village rabbi might be the dog, and Moses or some one of the prophets, the lion.

But our saint is dissatisfied with this:

Let us aim at higher things. With the gospel, let us say that the Canaanite woman who was told, ‘Thy faith has saved thee’ is the dog, and that the people of the circumcision is the dead lion, of whom the prophet Balaam said, ‘Behold the people! It will rise up like a lion cub, and like a rampant lion.’ Thus, it is we from the nations who are the live dog, and the people of the Jews, abandoned by our Lord, who are the dead lion. To Him, this living dog is better than that dead lion. We are alive, and know the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are dead and know nothing. They have neither promise nor reward to look forward to; their memory is finished […]

The love with which they once loved God has perished, and so has the hatred of which they boldly used to say: ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and did I not waste away over thy enemies?’ Their zeal, too, which was shown by Phineas, and which made Mattathias’s knees shake, has perished. It is evident, too, that ‘neither have they any part in this world’; they cannot say, ‘My portion is our Lord’ (PL 23:1137-38).

This is quite exciting. A mid-4th commentary on the gospels, mentioned by St Jerome, and others has been re-discovered and published. It is by Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia, and is the oldest known Latin commentary on the gospels. St Jerome seems a bit ambiguous about him. In his book On Illustrious Men, he says that Fortunatianus pressurized Pope Liberius in exile to sign the Arianizing creed. But elsewhere he refers to the commentary as a pearl, and also says that he made use of it in writing his own. Anyway, you can read it on-line in English here. The translator’s introduction, and the explanation of how it came to be rediscovered, are available here.

I had a look to see what he might have to say about the great matter of the day. This is what I found:

[Matthew 24:45–51] Who is the faithful and sensible slave whom the master has set over his household? This is understood as a bishop or presbyter giving nourishment to the multitude, for they pass on the commandments. Nourishment at the right time: at what time but this one, which is from the Passion of the Saviour? Nourishment is not only teaching, but is also the sharing of the sacrament. Therefore the one who has faithfully overseen this distribution will receive a reward and be set above all good things in the heavenly kingdom.

But he will eat or drink with the drunkards: what is this but to commune with unworthy people? Drunkards are those who are full of unrighteousness. But in the Church, what is eating other than communion? His lord will come on a day which he does not know: plainly on the day of judgment, or on the day on which he makes him retreat from the world. He will divide him, meaning that he separates the soul from the body. But dividing means to take the soul away from the body, as Daniel said in the story of the two presbyters. He places his share with the hypocrites, meaning that on the day of judgment he will be sent into Gehenna with his companions, where there is continual flame and everlasting punishment. In this torment, it says that there is the gnashing of teeth and weeping of eyes.

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