The phase “Non serviam” has been associated with Satan and his response to God when being cast from heaven in a war. Is this in the Bible? If not, where did this come from? -Deacon Paul VanHoudt, Erie, CO
The declaration “non serviam” (I will not serve) is associated with Satan by legend; it is not in the Bible. But it is the fundamental stance of all demons who, on account of pride, will not obey, will not be ‘told what to do.’ It is also the chief temptation that Satan made to Adam and Eve, namely, that they should not let God tell them what to do and that they should be like gods (cf Gen 3:1-4).
As for the war in heaven that you mention, there is a tradition that a war occurred in heaven when Lucifer (Satan) rebelled at God’s plans for the Incarnation. This war was fought long before the biblical era, but its exact timeframe is not clear. It is said that a third of the Angels joined Lucifer in this rebellion. St. Michael and the good angels fought back, and Lucifer and his allies were cast out of heaven and fell to earth. They became “demons.” This is the traditional backstory most often repeated.
In the Book of Revelation, a war in heaven is mentioned which includes some, but not all these details. Further it seems the war in Revelation 12 has transhistorical qualities, encompassing not the past only, but also the First Century and the future. The passage describes “A Woman clothed with the Sun” who gives birth to a Son, destinated to rule the nations with an iron rod (Rev 12:1-2,5). Clearly this Son is Jesus and, historically, the Woman is Mary, though some argue she is also an allegory for Israel, from whom the Messiah came forth. Whatever the case, a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns (Satan) seeks to devour the child when it is born. But the Son escapes and is caught up to heaven (Rev 12:3-4). Is this a reference to the Ascension of Christ? Is all this a prophecy seen by the angels well beforehand or, is it describing the historical event of the Incarnation that had just recently taken place in the First Century? In either case, at this point in the text from Revelation it says,
Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon… But the dragon was not strong enough, …and the great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Rev 12:7-9)
So, is the war described in Revelation, the war that took place in heaven long before the Book of Genesis and that explains the presence of Satan in the garden? It would seem so, but since Revelation 12 places everything in a murky timeframe there are debates about this. In a way it doesn’t matter since the great battle is epochal, constantly at work until the last judgment. Christ has won the war, his victory is “already but not yet.” That is to say, the outcome of the war has already been determined, but not everyone across all history has taken sides yet.
Clearly the upshot of all this is that we should choose the winning team! At times, in this warzone of the fallen world, it may seem that evil triumphs and the Kingdom of God is on the ropes. Yet appearances can be very deceiving. Remember, Good Friday is just as much a part of the victory as the Resurrection. But the final outcome is that Satan and all those who prefer the prideful non serviam of Hell and Satan will be cast down into the fiery pool, never again to deceive the nations or ensnare God’s people. The echo of the final victory hymn is heard in Revelation 12:10ff: For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell therein.
So, whatever you think is going on, this is what is really going on. We are at war, a terrible war indeed. But the victory is already ours through faith, courage and the Blood of the Lamb. Stay faithful unto death!
At Sunday Masses the past two weeks we have heard parables about seeds and sowers. In Sunday’s Gospelwe pondered the mystery that God permits weeds to grow and counsels patience in too radically seeking to prevent or remove them. This demonstrates his respect for our freedom and his power to draw good even from evil and suffering.
The week prior, we heard of seed falling on various surfaces and yielding varying results. Here too is the interaction of God’s providence and power with our freedom to prepare our soul as rich soil or not. But recently, someone asked me the following related question: “Since the sower is the Son of Man, Jesus Himself, why would He, who knows everything ahead of time, sow seed He knew would not bear fruit?”
First, let’s review the text:
A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matt 13:1-9).
So why would God waste any seed on rocky ground, thin soil, or the path?
Perhaps we can only propose some possible “answers.” I use quotes around the word because we are in fact touching on some mysteries and can only speculate. Here are some possibilities:
I. God is extravagant.It is not just seed He scatters liberally; it is everything. There are billions of stars in billions of galaxies, most of them seemingly devoid of life as we understand it. Between these billions of galaxies are huge amounts of what appears to be empty space. On this planet, where just one species of bird would do, there are thousands. Likewise, there are vast numbers of different sorts of insects, mammals, fish, and trees. “Extravagant” barely covers it! The word “extravagant” means “going or wandering beyond.” God has gone vastly beyond anything we can imagine, but He is love and love is extravagant. The image of Him sowing seed in an almost careless way is thus consistent with the usual way of God.
Thus God’s extravagant love is illustrated by His sowing the seed of His word everywhere. Love does not say, “What is the least I can do?” It says, “What more can I do?” Love does not say, “I will give only if I get something back.” If a man loves a woman, he does not look for the cheapest gift to give her on her birthday. Rather, he looks for an extravagant gift. God is love and He is extravagant.
II. God loves and offers the seed of His Word even to those who will reject Him.Remember, as Jesus goes on to explain, the soil that fails to receive the Word is a symbol of those who allow riches, worldly preoccupation, persecution, and the demands of the Word to draw them away from God. Even knowing this, God still loves them. He still wills their existence. Scripture says elsewhere, But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:44-45).
Yes, God loves even those who will ultimately reject Him. Despite knowing this ahead of time, He will not say, “You cannot have my word; I refuse to provide you sufficient grace.” No, He scatters that seed even though He knows it will not bear the fruit He wishes. Further, He continues to send the sun and rain even on those who will reject Him.
This parable shows forth God’s unfailing love. He sows seed even knowing it will not bear the fruit He wants. He wills the existence of all, even those who He knows will reject Him.
III. God is just. Were the Lord to take back the seed that fell in unfruitful places, one could argue that He withdrew His grace and that people were lost as a result. In other words, one could claim that God manipulated the process by withdrawing every possible grace. But God, in justice, calls everyone and offers everyone sufficient grace for them to come to faith and salvation.
IV. God respects our freedom. The various places the seed falls is indicative of human freedom more so than illustrative of God’s intent. God freely offers the grace of His word, but we must freely receive it into the soil of our life. Some of us insist on having stony hearts or immersing ourselves in the cares of the world. God will offer the seed, respecting our freedom to be receptive or refusing. Were He to condition His offer and blessings on us offering the right kind of soil, one could reasonably argue that he was pressuring us or manipulating our freedom.
V. God wants us to persevere, to sow faithfully rather than merely harvesting. Sometimes we can become discouraged when it seems that our work has borne little fruit. The temptation is to give up. There’s an old saying, “God calls us to be faithful, not successful.” In other words, it is up to us to be the means through which the Lord sows the seed of His Word. By God’s grace, the Word is in our hands, but the harvest is not.
This parable teaches us that not all the seed we sow will bear fruit. In fact, much of it will not.
The simple mandate is that we preach the Word. Go unto all the nations and make disciples. St. Paul would later say to Timothy, Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2). In other words, sometimes the gospel is accepted; sometimes it is rejected. Preach it anyway. Sometimes the gospel is popular, sometimes not. Preach it anyway. Sometimes the gospel is in season; sometimes it is out of season. Preach it anyway. Sow the seed; don’t give up.
Discharge your duty! St. Paul goes on to remark, sadly, For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Tim 4:3-5). Once again the message is the same: preach anyway; sow the seed of the Word; persevere; do not give up; do not be discouraged. Discharge your duty and be willing to endure hardship; just preach! Some of the seed will yield a rich harvest, some will not; preach anyway.
So, permit these “answers.” God sows seed He knows will bear no fruit because He is extravagant, because He loves and wills the existence even of those He knows will reject Him, because of His justice, because He respects our freedom, and because He wants to teach us to persevere regardless of the outcome.
The feast day of January 1st is a very complex tapestry, both culturally and liturgically. Perhaps we can use the second reading by St. Paul to the Galatians as a way to weave through some of the many details. We can look at it in three parts.
I. The chronology of our celebration– The text from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, When the fullness of time had come …
Most people are going about today saying, “Happy New Year!” And rightfully so, for it is the beginning of a new year; but most people think of New Year’s Day in almost wholly secular terms. Sadly, it is best known as an occasion for loud parties and excessive drinking.
It is a mistake to view New Year’s Day simply as a secular holiday. In speaking of “the fullness of time,” St. Paul reminds us that all time and all ages belong to God.
It is not simply 2023; it is 2023 Anno Domini (A.D.). Even the most unbelieving of people in the Western world denote their place in time in relation to Jesus Christ. It is 2023 years since the birth of Christ. Every time we write the date on a check or at the top of a letter, every time we see it at the top of the newspaper or on our computer screen, that number, 2023, points back to Christ. He is the Lord of history. Jesus sets the date; He is the clock by which we measure. All time belongs to Him.
Jesus says in the book of Revelation, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, The beginning and the end. He who is, and who was, and who is to come (Rev 22:13).
If it is true that 2023 references the birth of Christ, then why is Christmas Day not also New Year’s Day? The fact that it is not actually makes a lot of sense if we understand liturgical and spiritual sensibilities.
In the Church and stretching back into ancient Jewish times, it was customary to celebrate the high feasts of faith over the period of a week. In Christian tradition this came to be known as the “octave.” Although we think of a week as comprising seven days, consider that we celebrated Christmas this past Sunday and now this week we celebrate New Year’s Day on Sunday; Sunday to Sunday, inclusive, is eight days.
Tuesday, January 1, 2023 is the eighth day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, the octave is considered as one long “day” that lasts for eight days. Therefore, Tuesday, January 1, 2023 completes Christmas day; it is fulfilled. Or, as St. Paul says, the “fullness of time” in terms of Christmas day has come. At the end of this eight-day Christmas day, our calendar flips from 2022 to 2023 A.D.
The rest of the secular world has largely moved on already, barely thinking of Christmas anymore. As I walk in my neighborhood, I see Christmas trees already set out at the curb waiting to be picked up by the recycling trucks. Yes, for many in our hurried world, Christmas is over. We in the Church, however, continue to celebrate the great Christmas feast and cycle. Having completed the octave, we move on to Epiphany week.
This New Year’s Day we contemplate the “fullness of time.” The passage of another year reminds us of the magnificent truth that to God all time—past, present, and future—is equally present. He holds all things together in Himself. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. Whenever He acts, He acts in our time, out of the fullness of time. This is a very deep mystery and we should ponder in silence the mystery that for God, all things are. He is not waiting for things to happen. For Him, everything is accomplished.
II. The content of our celebration– St. Paul goes on to say, God sent forth his son born of a woman. This statement again reminds that we are still in the Christmas cycle.
While it is New Year’s Day, there is also a complex tapestry of religious meanings to this day as well. It is still Christmas day, the eighth day of the one long day that we call Christmas.
Historically, this is also the day of Christ’s circumcision. For a long period in Church history, today was the feast of “The Circumcision of the Lord.” As I have written previously, I regret the loss of this feast, at least in terms of its title.
Today is the day when Joseph and Mary brought Christ to be circumcised. In this, Jesus as man and as God reverences the covenant He has made with His people. It is a beautiful truth that God seeks relationship with His people. In this covenantal act of the circumcision is the moving truth that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers (Heb 2:11).
There is the first shedding of Jesus’ blood. It is also a sign of His love for us.
This feast day also celebrates the Most Holy Name of Jesus, for not only was a Jewish boy circumcised on the eighth day, but he was also given his name; all heard that name for the first time on that day.
The name Jesus means “God saves.” Indeed, this Most Holy Name of Jesus, when used in reverence, has saving power. We are baptized in His Holy Name along with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and all of our prayers conclude with His Holy Name. Scripture says this of His great and holy name:
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2: 9-11).
Yet another meaning of today’s feast day is shown in its current, formal title: “The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.” This replaced the title of “The Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord” in 1970. However, it is the most ancient title for this feast day. Again, you may read more on this topic in a previous blog post.
We note in the second reading that St. Paul says that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father; He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Jesus is God, and because Mary gave birth to Him, she is the Mother of God because Jesus is not two different persons.
Mary did not just give birth to part of Jesus, she gave birth to Jesus. Thus, the title “Mother of God” speaks to us as much about Jesus as it does about Mary. She has that title because of the Church’s insistence that Jesus cannot be divided up into two different people. We cannot say that Mary gave birth to one Jesus but not to “the other one.” Although He has two natures, human and divine, there is only one Jesus.
Thus, on this feast of Christmas, on this eighth day of Christmas, we are reminded and solemnly taught that Jesus is both human and divine. In taking a human nature to Himself from His mother Mary, He remains one person. God has sent forth his son, born of woman.
III. The consolation of our celebration– St. Paul goes on to say, Born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts crying out Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and, if a son, also an heir through God. Note three things about this passage:
Our Adoption– We have already noted that on the eighth day Jesus is circumcised and enters into the Covenant, into the Law. In the Incarnation, He joins the human family; in the Covenant, He joins our family of faith. He will fulfill the old Covenant and inaugurate the new one. By this New Covenant, by baptism into Him, we become members of His Body and are thereby adopted as sons.
We become sons in the Son. When God the Father looks at His Son, loving Him, He is also looking at us and loving us, for we are in Christ Jesus, members of His Body through baptism. God is now our Father, not in an allegorical sense, but in a very real sense. We are in Jesus and therefore God really is our Father.
Our Acclamation– St. Paul says that the proof of our sonship is the movement of the Holy Spirit in us that cries out Abba! In Aramaic and Hebrew, Abba is the family term for father. It is not baby talk, like “Dada.” However, just as most adults call their father “Dad” or some other endearment rather than the more formal “Father,” so Abba is used in a similar way. It would be quite a daring thing for us to call God “Dad” unless we were permitted to do so and instructed to do so by Christ.
St. Paul speaks of this word, Abba, as proof that we are sons. In so doing, he emphasizes that it is not merely the saying of the word that he refers to. Even a parrot can be taught to say the word. Rather, St. Paul is referring to what the word represents: an inner movement of the Holy Spirit wherein we experience a deep affection for God the Father. By our adoption, our baptism into Christ, by our reception of the Holy Spirit, we love the Father! We develop a deep affection for Him and dread offending Him. By this gift of the Spirit, God is our Father, whom we deeply love!
Our Advancement– Notice that St. Paul then speaks of how we have moved from being slaves to being sons, heirs. In Jesus, we are not just any son; we are the only Son of the Father. As Jesus has a kingdom from His Father, so do we as we too inherit it with Him. As sons in the Son, we are heirs with Jesus to the Kingdom! Jesus speaks of His disciples as reigning with Him one day: And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Lk 22:29). In Jesus, all Heaven will be ours and we will reign with Him forever. This is not our doing, not our glory; it is Christ’s doing and His glory in which we share.
Thus we have a very rich tapestry on this New Year’s Day, this feast of the Octave of Christmas, this Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, this Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, this Feast of Mary, Mother of God. We are given this feast wherein the glory of Christ is held before us and we who are members of His Body are told of the gifts that we receive by His holy incarnation and His passion, death, and resurrection.
It’s not a bad way to start the new year: being reminded of God’s incredible love for us and of His rich blessings and promises.
We are in times of strident political protest that includes a lot of harsh language, personal attacks, name calling, and even debased and profane terms. There are tweets, and angry monologues, harsh commentary on news networks, and interruptive press conferences and news interviews that sound more like a brawl than a debate. To put it all more pleasantly, these are times of “colorful” discourse.
What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.
The word “civility”dates back to the mid-16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate (at least historically) was governed by a tendency to be nuanced, careful, cautious, formal, and trained in rhetoric. Its rules often included referring to one’s opponents with honorary titles (Doctor, Professor, etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence as the word entered common usage, it has come to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle, and measured.
As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variancesin what is civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data on what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st-century America. The Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus, for example, really mixes it up with His opponents—even calling them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the Scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end, a balance of the scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.
Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charityas well as a modern and American notion of civility:
Anyone who says to his brother, “Raqa” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell(Matt 5:22).
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen(Eph 4:29).
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged(Col 3:21).
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry(James 1:19).
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt(Col 4:6).
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up(1 Thess 5:11).
But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips(Col 3:8).
Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips(Eccl 10:12).
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools(Eccles 9:17).
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification(Rom 14:19).
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother(Gal 6:1).
Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow(2 Cor 2:7).
All these texts counsel a measured, charitable, and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.
But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Bible. And a lot of it comes from an unlikely source: Jesus. Paul too, who wrote many of the counsels above, often engages in strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus, then by Paul and other Apostles:
Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”(Matthew 12:34)
And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. … And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”(Matt 23 varia)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:42-47).
Jesus said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Mark 7:6).
And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you?(Mark 9:19)
Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)
Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not acceptpraise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts”(Jn 5:41-42).
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables(John 2:15).
Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”(John 6:70)
Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth … As for those circumcisers, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!(Galatians 3, 5)
Paul against the false apostles:And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor 11:11-14).
Paul on the Cretans:Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith(Titus 1:12-13).
Peter against dissenters:Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings…these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. … They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. … They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! … Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud”(2 Peter 2, varia).
Jude against dissenters:These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; … These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage(Jude 1:varia).
Now most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse.Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21st-century mind!
I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way toward illustrating the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil.The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper-Midwest and parts of the Deep South, conversation is more gentle and reserved.
At the time of Jesus, angry discourse was apparently more “normal,”for as we see, Jesus Himself engages in a lot of it, even calling people names like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “liars,” and “wicked.” Yet the same Scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that He never sinned. Hence at that time, the utterance of such terms was not considered sinful.
Careful, now—be careful here. This does not mean it is simply OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then; we live now; and in our culture such dialogue is seldom acceptable and often backfires. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard-to-define things is “I know it when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly we tend to prefer gentler discourse in this day and age.
On the other hand, we also tend to be a little thin-skinnedand hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are too easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful, or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and so quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further, and charges of hate and intolerance are launched back and forth when there is merely sincere disagreement.
Balance– The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First, that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. An old saying comes to mind: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”
Here is a video that depicts the zeal of Jesus and a bit of his anger.
Several of the Resurrection accounts stress that Jesus showed the disciples His wounds. On one level we can understand that He was trying to make clear to them that the same Christ who was crucified stood before them; He was not a ghost or an apparition or simply someone who looked like Jesus.
When Christ rose, He took up His same, true body, but it now manifested a perfected glory. When we rise on the last day, the same will be true of our bodies. Why, then, were Christ’s wounds visible in His glorified body? Are not wounds and scars inconsistent with a glorified body?
St. Thomas Aquinas provides five reasons that Christ’s wounds are fitting in His glorified body. His reflections, from the Summa Theologiae III, Q. 54, Art. 4, are beautiful and poignant. St. Thomas’ words are presented below inbold, black italics, while my remarks appear inplain red text.
It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”
Christ’s wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness. Through His wounds the Lord can say, “Here is what the world did to me, yet I live. Here is the cost of your redemption and the lavishness of my love.”
Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
This is what theologians refer to as “continuity.” The wounds demonstrate that the body that died on the cross is the same one the disciples see standing before them. Jesus has not taken up or fashioned a new body or a similar one; He is truly risen. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “to stand again.” The word “resurrection” means the same thing: re (again) + surrexit (he stands). None of this would be true if a different body were before them, no matter how similar. Thus, Christ’s wounds confirm the truth of the resurrection.
Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
Beautiful! The picture here is of the Son, Jesus, showing His wounds to His Father and saying, “See how I have loved them, Father. Have mercy on them.”
The Book of Hebrews says, Consequently, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:25-27).
Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
To those who doubt the Lord’s love or His understanding of our trials, Christ’s wounds speak tenderly and clearly of His love and of the price He was willing to pay for us. His wounds are more eloquent testimony than any words could be. Is God merciful? Does God understand or care at all about our condition? Look to the wounds of Christ; dwell in them; take shelter in them.
Lastly, “that in the Judgment Day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “… So will [Christ] show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.’”
Such powerful and moving word, in this case from St Augustine. There is also a refutation of the idea that God is simply harsh on Judgment Day. In effect, He will say, “I endured suffering from you out of love for you. When I was on the cross, the soldier pierced my side. My heart was literally opened for you and still you would not enter. What more could I have done than to allow your own sins to be your redemption? Still you refused.”
In spite of receiving lifelong graces and unmerited favors and blessings, in spite of God’s call echoing in their depths, many still refuse God’s offer. It is a tragedy that some hearts are so hardened. Christ’s wounds testify to the justice of God’s only (and final) recourse: allowing them to live apart from Him. Accepting the choice of their free will, God’s last act is simply to recognize their refusal and say, “you would not enter.”
In this time after Epiphany and before Lent we continue to ponder the fundamental question: Who is Jesus Christ? There are many, many different titles of Christ in both the New and Old Testaments. If one studies them carefully, they can provide a “mini-catechesis” of the Lord Jesus.
Presented below are more than 150 different titles of Christ. For each title, I have included a link to the Scripture from which it was drawn. The list was compiled from various sources, but most come from The Catholic Source Book, which was compiled and edited by Fr. Peter Klein. In addition, some years ago my readers helped me to expand the list to its current state.
I have placed the list in PDF formathere, in case you’d like to save it for future reference.
There may be other titles of Christ that are not on the list. You can use the comments section to add any titles you notice are missing. If you know the scriptural reference, it would be helpful if you could include it, but if not I will try to locate it.
When considering an addition please consider whether it is truly a title or just a description. For example, “kind” is an adjective, and certainly describes Jesus, but it is not a title per se. Nouns show usually show better promise as titles of Christ, but even nouns do not always amount to a title. For example, “walker” is a noun, and surely Christ did a lot of walking, but again it is not a title per se.
In preparation for the coming of Christmas, we have been discussing some of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings. In this last installment we’ll be looking at his commentary on the time and place of Jesus’ birth.
We live in a culture that tends toward a kind of temporal pride. We think that we have come of age, that we are smarter and wiser than our forebears. Scientific, technical, and medical knowledge are more highly developed to be sure, but there is more to life than what falls into those realms.
The religious version of temporal pride is expressed in this utterance: “If Jesus lived in our times, He would …” The sentence is then completed with any view we favor or consider to be “enlightened” and “modern.” Jesus did not choose to live in our time, however, and there may well be good reasons for that. As God, He could have chosen any age—and He did not choose ours.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century, pondered the reasons for the time and place of Jesus’ birth in his Summa Theologica. In it he addressed some of the questions and objections raised during his era.
The time of the Lord’s birth – St. Thomas discussed this in his Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 35, Article 8. He used as his starting point St. Paul’s attestation to the fittingness of the time of Christ’s birth: When the fullness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4). Here, the “fullness of time” is understood to mean “at the designated or determined time.” St. Thomas wrote,
Whereas [other men] are born subject to the restrictions of time, Christ, as Lord and Maker of all time, chose a time in which to be born, just as He chose a mother and a birthplace. And since “what is of God is well ordered” and becomingly arranged, it follows that Christ was born at a most fitting time.
St. Thomas responded as follows to objections raised in his day regarding the time of Christ’s birth:
Some objected that because Christ came to grant liberty to His people, it was not fitting that He came at a time when the Jewish people were subjected to Roman occupation and the Herodian dynasty (Herod was not a true Jew). St. Thomas answered that because Christ came in order to bring us back from a state of bondage to a state of liberty, it was fitting that He be born into bondage with us and then lead us out. We can grasp this logic in a wider sense when we consider that He assumed our mortal nature in order to give us an immortal nature; He died in order to restore us to life. St. Thomas, referencing Bede, wrote that Christ submitted Himself to bondage for the sake of our liberty. He also added that Christ wished to be born during the reign of a foreigner so that the prophecy of Jacob might be fulfilled (Genesis 49:10): The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent. The bondage was not to be ended before Christ’s coming, but after it and through it.
Others objected that the time of year, near the winter solstice, was not fitting for Christ’s birth. They argued that it was not fitting for the Light of the World to be born during the darkest time of the year. Thomas replied that Christ wished to be born at a time when the light of day begins to increase in length so as to show that He came to draw man back to the light, according to Luke 1:79: To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The place of Christ’s birth – St. Thomas discussed this in the Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 35, Article 7.
Christ willed to be born in Bethlehem for two reasons. First, because “He was made … of the seed of David according to the flesh,” as it is written (Romans 1:3); … Therefore, He willed to be born at Bethlehem, where David was born, in order that by the very birthplace the promise made to David might be shown to be fulfilled. The Evangelist points this out by saying: “Because He was of the house and of the family of David.” Secondly, because, as Gregory says (Hom. viii in Evang.): “Bethlehem is interpreted ‘the house of bread.’ It is Christ Himself who said, ‘I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.’”
St. Thomas responded to some objections to Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’ birth.
Some argued that Christ should have been born in Jerusalem because it is written (Isaiah 2:3) that “The law shall come forth from Sion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” and that because Christ is the very Word of God, made flesh, He should have come into the world at Jerusalem. St. Thomas answered that Christ, as the Son of David, fittingly echoed David’s priestly/kingly role. King David was born in Bethlehem and finished his ministry as priest/king in Jerusalem, so it was fitting that Christ as King be born in Bethlehem and, as true High Priest, die in Jerusalem.
Others argued that Bethlehem was too poor and unseemly a place for the Christ to be born. Thomas responded, [The Lord] put to silence the vain boasting of men who take pride in being born in great cities, where also they desire especially to receive honor. Christ, on the contrary, willed to be born in a mean city, and to suffer reproach in a great city. Thomas added,[And] that we might acknowledge the work of God in the transformation of the whole earth, He chose a poor mother and a birthplace poorer still. He cited Scripture: “But the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Still others argued that because Scripture (Matthew 2:23; Isaiah 11:1) said “He shall be called a Nazarene,” Christ should have been born in Nazareth. Thomas easily dispatched this objection by observing that one is not always born where one is raised. He also added (referencing Bede), He wished to be born at Bethlehem away from home…in order that He who found no room at the inn might prepare many mansions for us in His Father’s house.
With St. Thomas to guide and teach us, we have pondered over the past few days some aspects of the incarnation and birth of our Lord. May you who have read and I who have presented be enriched by the teachings of the Lord through the great St. Thomas Aquinas.
Below is a link to an organ prelude on the hymn “Bethlehem of Noblest Cities,” also known as “Earth Hath Many a Noble City.” It is accompanied by beautiful art related to Bethlehem. Here are the words to the hymn:
Earth hath many a noble city; Bethlehem, thou dost all excel: out of thee the Lord from heaven came to rule his Israel.
Fairer than the sun at morning was the star that told his birth, to the world its God announcing seen in fleshly form on earth.
Eastern sages at his cradle make oblations rich and rare; see them give, in deep devotion, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Sacred gifts of mystic meaning: incense doth their God disclose, gold the King of kings proclaimeth, myrrh his sepulcher foreshows.
Jesus, whom the Gentiles worshiped at thy glad epiphany, unto thee, with God the Father and the Spirit, glory be.
Monday of last week (18th Week of the year) there was a powerful passage from the Book of Jeremiah. It is practical, profound, and sweeping in its implications, and it comes to us from the Lord through the mouth of Jeremiah the Prophet:
By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)
Rather than looking at the historical meaning (i.e., that God was going to use Assyria to humble Israel), let’s consider what it means for us today.
What is the wooden yoke if it is not the cross? Indeed, the Lord says as much: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).
The Lord has a paradoxical answer for us who labor and are heavily burdened. He tells us to take the yoke and burden that He has for us. The yoke is a symbol for the cross, and like most yokes, it connects us with another—the Lord! To be sure, God does have a yoke for us. We do need purification and discipline. However, the yoke He has for us is “easy.” The Greek word used is χρηστός (chrestos), which also has the connotation of being well-fitting, serviceable, or adapted to its purpose. The Lord’s yoke for us is productive unto the end He has in mind: our healing and salvation.
Do not turn the yoke (cross) into something abstract or think of it only in terms of major things such as cancer. The cross also has real, practical, daily dimensions such as exercising self-control and moderation. The cross (yoke) includes resisting sin, forgiving, and living chastely and courageously despite difficulties or persecution. These crosses are common to all true Christians. There are also some specific crosses that each of us carries, ones that the Lord permits for our humility and purification. Perhaps it is a physical illness or infirmity; maybe it is a spiritual emotional struggle; perhaps it is the loss of a loved one, job, or home.
These things are the wooden yoke, the cross of the Lord, and He carries it with us for we are yoked with Him (praise God). Because these burdens are from Him, they are well-suited to us; they are just what we need to avoid even worse things, including Hell itself.
What if we break and cast aside the wooden yoke, as many do today by ridiculing the Christian moral vision and the wisdom of the cross given to us by Jesus?
By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)
How is this? Consider the toll that indulging in the moment can take:
In rejecting the wooden yoke of moderation, chastity, and the limits of God’s moral law, we forge the iron yoke of addiction, obesity, financial trouble, sexually transmitted diseases, broken families, and all the heartache that follows. Pornography, lust, alcohol, and drugs enslave with an iron yoke.
In refusing the grace to forgive, we fuel violence and conflict. Many wars in the world today are fought over grievances that stretch back hundreds or even thousands of years.
Our greed fuels an insatiable desire for more, and we begin to live beyond our means or to live in such a way that bring us more stress than happiness.
Even the simple neglect of our daily duties causes work to pile up and seem overwhelming.
Our culture has become ever more severe as we abandon the wooden yoke of common moral standards and simple human decency. What we end up with is a culture that is more unforgiving and severe than ever. General moral standards give way to selective moral outrage resulting in: cancel culture, growing lists of grievances, and an easily offended victim-culture, a bewildering list of words are now forbidden and an outright criminalizing of views contrary to the sexual revolution. It is an iron yoke.
All of these iron yokes, and more come upon us because we break the wooden yoke of the cross. To be sure, fulfilling our daily duties, living moderately, chastely, and soberly are all crosses because they involve some degree of self-denial, at least in the moment. However, the wooden yoke is a lot easier than the iron yoke that results if we cast aside the more manageable, and well-fitting yoke of the cross.
Pay attention, fellow Christian, Satan is a liar. He offers to lift the gentle yoke of the Lord. He expresses “outrage” that the Lord should require any suffering or discipline from us. He “takes our side” and utters a complaint on our behalf, but he is a liar and a fraud. Once we let him lift the wooden yoke he locks us in an iron yoke. Do not forsake the wooden yoke of the cross, for if you do, an iron yoke is sure to follow.
It is a simple pearl of wisdom, yet it is so often ignored: By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)