Church History Under the Scrutiny of the Bible

Eugene Flameygh, C.I.C.M.

Focus Foreword

In 1961, I was taken away from the social apostolate, and told to teach something I did not know: Church history.  At about the same time, a wise man said: the Church must remain under the scrutiny of the New Testament.  I forgot who said it, but it became my guideline, and there was no end to the discoveries I made.  A Bible centred approach helped also in teaching.  It made links with other disciplines.  It saved Church history from remaining a mere European report about popes, bishops, feudal kings and dukes.  It helped to put pastoral motivation in our study.

To be sure, one has to go deeply into the scientific details of historical studies.  Bihlmeyer and TŸchle, Hughes, Marrou, Baus and DaniŽlou are important.  The teacher cannot know too much, and depth of knowledge is the sounding board of all teaching.  But one should not get lost in a myriad  details, and the Bible helps to reduce them to what is needed for the pastorate.  The method led to the discovery of a number of books, mostly small, of high vulgarization.  Some are found in my bibliography.  They too are useful toward motivation.  This was brought  home to me when a student thanked me for giving more than information.

And there is more in the scrutiny of the Bible, and especially the Gospels.  I found help about a problem that had worried me as long as I can remember.  So much in Christianity, and especially Roman Catholicism, is not at all that different from other religions, at least in the way in which it is lived by most people.  I mean: temples, shrines and pilgrimages, cult, ritual and incantation, candles, beads, prayer mills and sacred gongs.  One finds them everywhere.  They reveal a deep-seated need in the human being, and are to be respected.

But surely, when God became one of us, God's Christ must have brought us something different, something special, something that is our very own as Christians.  I began to notice that Christ, while not condemning those things, was not much impressed either, and rather followed a line that is already noticeable among the prophets of the Old Testament: that disposition and lifestyle are far more important than sacrifices, cultic acts and places.  I began to notice the immense cargo -- Guitton calls them 'historical accretions' -- added by the cultures to Christ's approach in the parables, the Good News and the Great Commandment.  Consider the vast difference between that brother-meal of thirteen losers, which we call the Last Supper, and the pomp and circumstance of a pontifical High Mass.  Consider Christ's words, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).  Inculturation, as dangerous as it is unavoidable, added so many other 'signs', sometimes in spite of the wise action taken by the authorities.

One example.  Celestine I, bishop of Rome, wrote a letter to the bishop of Provence in 428, condemning the  new practice of priests wearing a special dress.  This is the first evidence we have relating to ecclesiastical dress.  Up till then, as Celestine wished, the clergy were distinguished from the faithful 'doctrina, non veste’; conversatione, non habita; mente puritate, non cultu'  In a simplified translation: only by their learning, their lifestyle, their orthodoxy, and not by their clothes (Marrou, 426).  In fact, the Mass vestments developed from the daily wear of the middle-class Romans.  The historian cannot help perceiving how enthusiastically this was disobeyed throughout history.  See all those cassocks, cinctures, skull caps, collars, miters, shoebuckles, socks black, purple, red and white, to name only a few in the long list of sartorial Church history.  What a caricature is made of Jesus' Good News when so much attention is given to such things.  Poor Saint Celestine!  He should have known that it is much easier to dress like a disciple -- whatever that is --than to be a disciple.  And we talked only about clothes.  I still remember the time we spent in our Tridentine seminaries on the number of candles, the steps left and right, the drops of wine and water, the alloy of vessels, the chemistry of bread and wine, the minutes spent at Mass, the ounces of bread on a fasting day, the mosquito we swallowed and can we still go to Communion, and so on.  Our Tridentine seminaries certainly rival Jesus' scribes and Pharisees.  Perhaps there are too many barnacles on the hulk of Peter's bark.

They have taken away my Lord!

To return to the trinkets, customs, stances and gestures which pass for 'religion' in all cultures, I also noticed that some of my learned colleagues got increasingly lost among the folk-religiosities to which they are exposed.  Joss sticks became more important than Christ, to put it brutally.  But what have we done during our western centuries?  I thought of Greek philosophy so often passing for theology, of Roman law considered a way of perfection, of Byzantine protocol, of the German feudal pyramid and miracle world, of the patronized Spanish citadel of faith conquered from the 'infidel'.  Those who are busy with the worthwhile and necessary task of inculturation, should not overlook the point that one of their great problems is how to get liberated from such European inculturation.  Inculturation should never have the last word in matters of the Good News.  Do we bring anything special, beyond cultural matters?  I think we do, and we should be more vocal about it.  It has little to do with rites, holy books, blessing bonzes, cultic gestures and even theologies.  It is as simple to state as it is difficult to live:  WE  HAVE  CHRIST!  He is the Good News (Lk 2: 10-11).  The Good News is not a book, a philosophy, a catechism or an encyclical.  The Good News is a person, who wants us all, as persons, to be good news to each other.  "If we Christians are not Good News to the world, there is no Good News today."  That is all-important.  This is the point for which the God-human being died.  This is the point from which all good inculturation must take its departure.  As it is, much in recent western theology and non-western inculturation makes one think of Magdalen's plaint:  "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (Jn 20: 13).

Jesus is the sign of God's love for the world (Jn 3: 16).  He gave us God's idea about history in the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28).  And the new commandment in Jn 13:34-35 and 15:12, 17.  He lived it, and told us about it, often in parables.  After which he set his face to Jerusalem (Lk, 9:51) and died and rose to make his point.  The rest of Church history, I came to believe, is historical wrapping, needed and useful, but also reusable and replaceable.  Get deep into the history of sacraments, ministry and hierarchy, and you will see what I mean.  What a welter of development!  When will we stop reading back into the first century the monoepiscopate or even the papacy (Schumacher, 275)?  Peter would be absolutely lost on St. Peter's Square.  Capon (V, 101) says it to perfection:

The Church could, with perfect propriety, be what it once was: a bunch of landless nobodies who met in caves.  Its ministers (whom I take to be essential ribbons on the hat) could be fishermen, tax collectors and tentmakers, and still be the signs of the mystery they were intended to be.  Nobody was under any theological necessity to build them nifty buildings.  Human nature being what it is, however, it was  quickly noted that there was no theological objection to it.  A priest in sneakers saying Mass in a basement is not more of a sign of the mystery than a priest in a gold chasuble.

Once we understand that Capon considers the Church the visible hat on the invisible God, and priests and bishops ribbons on the hat, we see that such developments are normal in history.  But that is also the reason why we have to go back to the Gospels all the time, to see what is essential and what is development.  As we shall see, development is important, to be respected.  But it is development.  It started, changed, got modified, and will and must do so in the future.  Right now we see powerful rear-guard actions trying to make the western Church normative  for the global Church.  But I am sure that it would be a shock to all of us to come back after thousand years.  In all such matters it must be clear that one can be a Christian without temples and cult.  It has to be that way, at times, in persecutions, or in isolated places without Christian organization.  In our long history, we have been Church without a rite of penance (the first 150 years), and without the time-consuming business around Church weddings(this one until the 16th century).  But one cannot be a Christian without love for one's neighbor or even one's enemy.  One cannot be a Christian without concern for the losers of history.  Above all, one cannot be a Christian without becoming one of the losers.  Perhaps it is thought that one can be a good Catholic, or Methodist or Anglican without those features.  One Methodist,   C.M. Smith, wrote a book about  how to become a bishop without being religious.  A return to sources in the Bible and history may change our mind.  These pages are all about that.  It is about the Good News.  It is not about "res sacrae", holy things, but about the effective and practical love among people.  And people are persons.  Jesus'  respect for persons is impressive.  The human person always comes in the first place, ahead of establishments and regulations.  Think about his approach to the question of the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8;  Mk. 2:23-28;  Lk. 6:1-5).  Or his respect for women, even so-called bad women, like the Samaritan with her five husbands (Jn 4) and the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11).  Most striking is his pity with the ochlos, the faceless people, masses without shepherd (or today too many shepherds!), non-persons in their setting.  What gives us the right to believe that he would deal in any other wise today with our establishments?

Res Sacrae

It is indeed not an easy Gospel.  Jesus took position against money and vested interests, against prestige, against people-exclusive solidarity, against earthly power, in favor of a lot of attitudes which we still don't cherish: poverty together, humility, an all inclusive society looking for its strays, and service (Nolan, 43-90).  One would rather have  religious things: churches with ritual, the hustle and bustle of pilgrimages, the rattling of rosaries.  Such activities can indeed be used to preach the Good News.  But I have been in too many of them to have illusions.  The ministers of the Good News are perennially tempted to prove that trust  in Jesus heals the sick, spares the endangered, finds the lost keys, wins soccer games, and, above all, fattens the wallet.  Yet none of these earth-bound things are the Good News.  Jesus is not a transaction, not a repair job on the world as it is now.  Jesus' life, death and resurrection do not make the least practical difference in the way the world now runs.  History was, and will remain a mess.  My study is about a Christ who is an invitation to the world as it is, with all our vaunted cultures, to die a death out of which it rises only in him.  Even our greater social achievements have time and again to be left behind.  In his analysis of the six ages of the Church, Dawson points out that any great achievement is at the same time a danger point, because the Church tends to over-identify with this historical achievement.  Such achievements were for instance the Christian Roman empire, the Carolingian empire, and the feudal papal empire of the 13th century.  But, quoting Dawson (II, 58)  :

Each of these ages has only a limited duration; each ends in a crisis, a divine judgment, in which a whole social world is destroyed.  And insofar as these social worlds have been Christian ones, their downfall creates a problem for the Christian, who sees so much that appeared to be part of the consecrated God-given order swept away together with the evils and abuses of a corrupt society.

The relativity of culture.  All historians have to deal with it.  They must warn against the recurring mistake of seeing the signs of God in mere temporal achievements, even and especially, the greatest.  "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed" (Lk. 17:20).  Do we dare to notice that Jesus had little patience with those who were looking for signs (Mt. 12:34-40 ;   Mk. 8: 11-12 ;  Lk. 11:29-32 )?  He himself is the sign, in life, death and resurrection.  The only honest way to advertise the Gospel is to admit that it speaks of two orders at once, the old world of power, and the new world of service, and that this new world matters supremely (Capon III, 180).  We must be serious about Jesus' shout -- that's how I hear it -- "It shall not be so among you!"  (Mt. 20:26 ;   Mk. 10:43 ;   Lk. 22:26 ).

Vestments and Ministries

Did you jump to conclusions?  Let me be clear.  I am with St. Celestine in the matter of  distinctive dress for priests, because I do not trust authorities who want to put people in uniforms.  I shall return to this later.  But I am not against liturgical vestments.  They are part of being human, and not only in religious worship.  And let's remember in our male-dominated Church that men in history have been a least as fashion-conscious as women, and in some times and places even more so.  Church history alone can bear this out.  But we can also refer to Persia, China and the Europe of Louis XIV.   Most people like to gawp at parades.

More importantly, I'm not against ministries.  Priests and bishops are logical historical accretions, and many among them are servants in the best sense of Gregory the Great's new title for the papacy, 'servants of the servants of God'.  Many are among the little ones, accepting that they too are lost, and can trust only  in the Lamb, the Shepherd, the Forgiver.  But I am definitely opposed to the Pharisees of all times, past and present, who stand proudly in the temple, in their equivalents of phylacteries and fringes (Mt. 23: 5), boasting of their piddling observances (Lk. 18: 9-14);  "Lord, I thank thee that I am not like other men..."  I always say the Mass in Latin, turning my back on the congregation;  I never give communion on the hand... or on the tongue;  I never call you 'Father'..."   You see, we have them on either side.  I think it will go hard on those who cannot accept that "the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath"  (Mk. 2: 27).  I believe that something similar must be said and done about other holy and valid things: the Church, the Bible, the hierarchy, the Sacraments.  People come first.  And that is also true in the social activist apostolate.  There too I have seen too many people sacrificed to somebody's pipe dream.

Finally, I have little patience with those who want to do away with bishops and other ministries.  It has been tried, and it is an exercise in futility.  We have to re-invent them almost immediately, given the numbers and the mentality of human beings.   Charles Merril Smith says it well with his usual irony (156):

John Knox, as a good student of Calvin's, was heartily opposed to any system of church government which had bishops, because bishops have the power to oversee parishes, and recommend to the congregations who shall be their pastor, and control finances.   So when he established the Church of Scotland, he abolished the hateful and dictatorial office of bishop.  Under his plan of reform, the Church of Scotland had 'superintendents', who had  the power to oversee parishes, and recommend to their congregations who shall be their pastor, and control finances.  It was apparent to all that this was a victory of democratic church government over autocratic episcopal church government.

In other words, Knox had merely translated the term 'episkopos' into its English counterpart, 'superintendent'.  Where an 'episkopos' or a 'superintendent' is truly the servant of God and people, he is part of Jesus' realm.  The word doesn't matter.

Here is an important point in my study.  The new sound in the 16th century was not Protestantism and its many offshoots.  They all quickly grew into establishments, not all that different from the Catholic establishment they disliked so much.  The new sound was made by those who wanted to return to the Good News, those who wanted to escape from 'mechanical Christianity' for a truly evangelical life.  As it is again today.  Perhaps we must take up their standard work, the Imitation of Christ,by Thomas à Kempis.  The Good News remains news because so few in the establishments really live it.

A word about my choice in readings.  Long, learned, scientific books have their place in the scheme of things.  But they are of little use in the pastoral work.  How many can read Schillebeeckx?  Even the encyclicals are practically unreadable.  The books that helped and inspired me are mostly small, and they present the message with a smile, sometimes rueful and ironic.  Among those shorter works are two Church histories, the older one by Neill and Schmandt, which I think retains its value,  and the newer one by Bokenkotter, "at present the most suitable textbook for colleges and seminaries in the Philippines or other English-speaking countries in the third world"  (Schumacher, 277).  I am convinced that two rules obtain in pastoral work.  What cannot be said in a few pages, or in a few minutes when we talk of homilies, is probably not worth saying.  And what cannot be said with a smile, is probably not very helpful.  I imagine that Jesus smiled when he told his parables.

I have used the RSV throughout, except when otherwise indicated.  It is good to have the Bible next to you when you read the reflections that follow on what I call great ideas about the Church.

I.  Matthew 18:  Jesus' Church as a Gathering of "Little Ones"

The key to Matthew's Gospel is found in its conclusion, 28. 16-20 (Hendrickx I ).   The eleven are told to teach all nations all that Jesus has commanded.  Most of these commands are arranged in five discourses.  This study is about the fourth discourse, chapter 18 ( henceforth Mt. 18 ), the discourse about the Church.  Jesus' Church is a gathering of  little ones, the losers of history (1 - 14 ).  It is also an assembly of forgiveness (15-35).  Is Mt. 18  directed to the whole community or only to the leaders?   There is no hierarchy in Matthew's Church (Viviano), but there are leaders, the prophets, wise men and teachers of Mt. 23: 34.   Note the persistent presence of the little ones among the listeners (Mt. 18: 6 ;10 ; 14), and the use of Matthew's favorite terminology about a heavenly Father, the angels, and the little ones.  In the larger community the standing is related to the final goal of life in the kingdom.  The sayings are arranged to fit a  community with close relations between the members, a real assembly.  Those who think about the Church as 50,000 people in a so-called parish, will not get the point.  Mt. 18 presupposes a re-thinking of congregation and ministry.

The Twelve are gone.  The author voices his uneasiness about some of the attitudes among those who stepped in their sandals.  There is already scandal given to the little ones, and arrogance (Mt.:18.:5-10).   This si further described in Mt. 23:  heavy burdens laid on people's shoulders, strutting around in showy clothes, love for the places of honor and salutations with big titles.   Mt. 23 is about the Pharisees, the enemies of the Church in Matthew's time.   But  is there no warning to the Church today?   I think there is and I wonder when we will take it seriously.   Pharisees and scribes abound in  church history.   They anchor their importance to showiness, put heavy burdens on people, and define discipleship in function of man-made regulations rather than on justice and mercy (Mt. 23:23).   In European history, the Church of Mt. 18  got literally swallowed up by princes, prelates and palaces.   Said Walther von der Vogelweide about his Church in the 13th century:  "On Man a heavy burden will be laid." (Mt. 23: 4).


The larger context

Jesus was a special kind of messianic claimant.  He told remarkable stories, made little of the human regulations around the holy Sabbath, and wanted secrecy about his messiahship.   But for the rest he did what people expect from such a claimant.  He gave edifying ethical sermons (Mt. 5-7), called for a new way of life, and made himself interesting to the masses with miracles and healing.  The tone changes half-way in Matthew's Gospel, at the time of Peter's confession (Mt.16) and the transfiguration (Mt. 17).   Suddenly the upbeat style of his early ministry is replaced by a preoccupation with death and resurrection, a "setting of his face toward Jerusalem" (Lk 9.51) where true prophets die at the gate of the city.   The disciples are completely puzzled.   But let's not be hard on them.   Most of us would have had the same reaction.   Do we not want a triumphalistic Church?  Some power succeeded in making believe that Jesus founded a canonical Church based upon important officials, ordained and non-ordained.   And suddenly we meet a Jesus whose Church is founded on little ones, and who has come to believe that his messiahship consists in becoming one of history's losers.  He deliberately joined the vast majority, the losers.   To the career official, now as well as then, such an attitude can be expressed by only one word: weird!  Jesus' preoccupation with death and resurrection emerges again in the parables of grace (Capcon II), about twenty parables where death stands central.   In the Good Samaritan, the central figure is the man who fell among thieves.   Other such parables are the lost sheep, the mustard and wheat seeds, the great banquet, the Prodigal Son, Lazarus and Dives, and the Pharisee and the Publican.   The losers get the stellar role.   The important strutters are out.   Death is central.   The weighty term  exousia (authority) is never used about Matthew's Church.   All is diakonia (service) of life's losers.   Jesus receives exousia only at the end of the Gospel, in our key passage, after he has dared, not without agonizing, to be the Man without power, who came to serve, not to be served, an outcast by his own understanding of the Father's will.  It had started when he rejected the devil's offer of power (Mt. 4:8-10 ) and ends with the death of a non-person on a cross.   That is the way in which he became King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   It is God's way, the loser's way.   It was too much for the disciples.   It is too much for us, used as we are to a world of protocol and promotion, in which the Church that came from Jesus is no exception.

Logical Accretions?

Protocol and promotion are certainly historical accretions.   Are they also logical?   I consider Church structures, sacraments, papacy and heirarchy logical accretions.   They are visible signs of an invisible God.   But not everything about them, as they developed in history, is logical, when we put them under the scrutiny of the New Testament, and related parts of the Old Testament.   Here we must study the role of inculturation.

Inculturation is not a matter of taking or leaving.   The difference between people of earlier ages and us is not, that they did not inculturize and we do.   We are born inculturizers.   We do not "see" objectively, we "perceive" from a complex  background of culture, situations, education and personalities.   We instantly interpret.   The difference is that they inculturized as a matter of course, and we do it today intentionally, knowing, I hope, that it is as dangerous as unavoidable.   Dwyer (49-60 and 81) gives us an exciting study about inculturation already at work in the New Testament.

Jesus: God and Human

Jesus is truly God-with-us.   He is truly and fully human.   How this came about is a mystery that must be proclaimed rather than explained.  As soon as we try to explain, we either tend to stress his divinity at the expense of his humanity, or -- as happened often in recent times -- his humanity at the expense of his divinity.

The first preserved Christian documents are the letters of Paul, with his theology of the cross, and -- as a related point  --  God's gratuitous acceptance of the sinner, and faith as our acceptance of this free grace.   Most of this will gradually disappear during the Greek patristic period.   Still later, the Byzantine Jesus is the triumphant Ruler of all, the Pantocrator.   Even among the simple people, his icons are imagined to be God looking on the earth from an open window in heaven.   In the hellenization of the faith, the line was not always drawn in the right places.   But that is a point we must make with all inculturation.   In this case the real humanity of Jesus was endangered.   Dwyer speaks about a 'hidden agenda of Jewish Christianity' in the Gospels.   But we can also detect  an emerging Greek agenda.

The trouble is not with Mark, with his deep understanding of the death of Jesus and its role in salvation.   His Jesus made known a God who had been unknown, a God who takes place in the brokenness of the world, and thus destroys the barrier which we have erected by sin.   Jesus is Lord precisely as a weak human being, neither omnipotent nor omniscient, as these terms are usually understood.   Mark's Gospel has been called a passion narrative with a long introduction.   The cross is central, after the progressive loss of all he had, relatives, disciples, freedom and finally life.   Mark shows him prostrate on the ground in agony (Mk. 14:35).   The story of Jesus the loser goes into some minor details, like the young man who ran away naked during the arrest (Mk. 14:51-52).   McBride says it well:  "In the beginning, they left all to follow him; at the end they left all to get away from him."  The cross is the presence of God in the historical moment that the world fails.   This truth is confirmed by the resurrection.   Mark's cross is not an event of the past; the resurrection makes the cross and its message the permanent rule of Christian discipleship.   Mark shares this with Paul, although there is no evidence that he ever read Paul.   But Mark anchors firmly in history Paul's idea of God's unconditional acceptance of the sinner, which becomes real in life through faith alone.

Most  of this is also present in Matthew: the cross, and the gratuitous acceptance of the sinner.  We shall return to these ideas later  on.   Here we must only add that Matthew "corrects'  Mark in some subtle ways.   He tones down the suffering humanity of Christ and heightens the miraculous element.

Luke goes further along these lines.   A lot further.   He says much about Paul in the Acts, but the main themes of Paul's theology are absent.   He has no theology of the cross.   He retouches Mark and "divinizes" Jesus, softening or even omitting those parts which show that Jesus was totally human, and sometimes powerless.   He never discerns any inner meaning of the cross, which is a brief setback, soon set straight by the resurrection.   More important to him is that in Jerusalem the Apostles win their first converts by the thousands.   Luke's Gospel tells many of the same stories as Mark, but he transforms them into "history", the recounting of events which already belong to a receding past.   Thus Luke has made time for the Church as a religious institution.   The faith began indeed in Galilee, but it moves quickly to the centers of religious and secular power.   The Gospel is a trip to Jerusalem, and Acts a journey to Rome.   About half-way through Acts, in chapter 15, Luke abandons the other Apostles and concentrates on Paul, on his way to the capital.   Paul's arrival in Rome is so important that at this moment the book suddenly ends.   Luke has prepared for this moment even in his Gospel.   His account of the Passion again and again shows his interest in absolving the Romans.   Luke prepared Christianity for its acceptance of any by Rome.   He would be very much at home in the Church that was slowly coming, an organized, hierarchical Church.

John's theology about Jesus and the Church is another large step beyond Mark's theology, this time in the direction of Byzantium.   Jesus is an exalted, divine figure, whose speech is enigmatic, poetic and mystical.   His conversations with people start in concrete situations (Jn 3, 4, 6, 13-17) but soon move above and beyond time.   John's Jesus strides as sovereign Lord through all the troubles of life, and goes to his death, untouched as it were, at the center of his being, by all that the world tries to do to him.   He is immune to the world and to its threats, because he came from beyond the world, and is returning there in his own good time.   The agony in the garden is completely missing.   In Mk. 14:35  and Mt. 26:39, Jesus is prostrate on the ground.  In Jn 18:6, those who arrest him fall on the ground.

John's portrait of Jesus is certainly very far from the actual history of the man from Nazareth, but it influenced Christian piety and the development of dogma more than the other Gospels.   It also could, and was, severely misunderstood, as a God who 'paid the earth a small social call'.   Bernstein and Schwartz  lambaste this wrong way of preaching and believing in their controversial Mass, in one of the tropes of the Credo:

Et homo factus est/and was made man...
You God, chose to become a man
to pay the earth a small social call.
I tell you, sir, you never were a man at all.
Why? You had the choice when to live, when to die.
And then a plaster god like you
has the gall to tell me what to do
to become a man....
But when I go, will I become a god again.
(All the time, the chorus keeps muttering in the background: probably yes;  probably no!)
Give me a choice!
I never had a choice!
Or I would have been a simple tree,
a barnacle in a silent sea;
anything but what I must be
a man; a man; a man!
You knew what you had to do;
you knew why you had to die:
you chose to die and then revive again.
you chose, you rose, alive again.
But I don't know why I should live
if only to die.
(text 36-38)


Whether they knew it or not, Bernstein and Schwartz attack a caricature.   But this is the point:  the caricature does exist in the minds of preachers and their people throughout history.  It looks as if John's portrait threatens the authentic humanity of Jesus, says Dwyer.   The trouble started when John's symbolic signs of a greater reality were mistaken for 'history' in a very different sense.   John was 'historicized' by Church people in a way not unlike that in which Mark's Gospel was historicized by Luke.   This was done in good faith, because as the Gospel moved into the Greek world, there were few around who understood the literary forms in which Jewish Christians had articulated their faith.

Some verdicts of history

Jesus, the human loser, gradually disappeared from history, be it in different ways in East and West.   There was an excess divinization in the East, as we have seen.   This problem was less serious in the West, which would become the Roman Catholic Church, which kept confessing the humanity of Christ in prayer and theology.   Here is one example from the common of the Blessed Virgin:

May the humanity of Christ
give us courage in our weakness
and free us from our sins.

The problem in the West is rather the development of Christ as a human power figure, an excess of humanization, if you wish.   Around the middle of the ninth century, there is the excess Germanization of the Christ figure in the Heliand Epic,which presents the Savior as a Saxon Duke to whom the saxons had sworn feudal loyalty (Franzen and Dolan, 145).   This authoritarian power figure tends to rub off more and more on the structures and authorities of the Church (Ibid., 109-114).   The results are often best described in stories and legends.   We consider some examples of the world's reaction concerning the widening gap separating Jesus the loser from the triumphant and devotional Church taking his place.

Dostoyevsky tells the story of the Grand Inquisitor:

Christ returns to earth in Seville, then capital of Spain, when  that nation was the world's superpower.   He is greeted enthusiastically by the people, performs several miracles,  and expounds his teaching.   Thus he runs afoul of the Grand Inquisitor, cardinal of the city, and is jailed.   At night, the Inquisitor, as an inverted Nicodemus, points out to him the fundamental error and inadequacy of his teaching.   People do not wish the freedom offered by him.  They seek rather the peace of mind vouchsafed by an authoritarian Church (Ziolkowski, 18-19).

Upton Sinclair'a tale They call me Carpenter (1922)

presents Jesus returning to earth in a city resembling Holly- wood.   His figure becomes alive and steps down from the  stained glass window of a church.   He enters the affairs of the city and soon consorts with the equivalents of publicans and sinners, including Mary Magna, the converted film diva.  Accused of being a Bolshevik prophet by the leaders and guardians of the city, he runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion.   He is betrayed by a secret agent posing as one of his disciples, arrested and scheduled to be tried in Judge Ponty's court.   Suddenly, it's too much for the harassed Jesus.   He escapes, rushes back to the church, and climbs up into the sanctuary of his glass window.   That's where people want him anyway (Ziolkowski, 21).

The literary world produced many similar attacks on the Jesus-image as it appears among the devout in our churches, but also among the authorities.   Ziolkowski ranges a multitude of such works under some challenging titles: the de-christianizing of Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Christomaniacs, the mythic Jesus, comrade Jesus, and so on.   That the Jesus of these works is sometimes equally debatable is not here the point.   We should learn from the others.   God sometimes speaks to us through the others.   The entertainment world, for instance, has been surprisingly interested in Jesus during the last thirty years.   Pasolini's multi-awarded film The Gospel according to St. Matthew (1964) is a highly faithful and realistic rendering of the texts that exploit all the social criticisms implicit in the Gospel.   The sensational rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) has to do with a certain mythologizing of Jesus, for which, sings Judas, his people will destroy him.   Ziolkowski (225ff) classifies this approach under the title of "fifth Gospels", where Jesus is no longer the main hero of the story, in fact, often not a hero at all.   In this kind of works, the figures of Judas, Mary Magdalen or Barabbas may loom larger than Jesus.   Less compelling is the musical  Godspell(1971), presenting a red-nosed Jesus in a Superman sweatshirt, leading a troupe of circus clowns.

Yet it is also true that most people in the Churches are completely unaware of the irony and the humor implicit in the Gospels.   To most of our faithful, Jesus looks like a child, or a man of sorrows, or with the stare of the cursillo-Christ.   They are surprised at a smiling or laughing Christ.   They wonder when they are told that Jesus was also a festive person.   We find him in parties like Cana, or eating with the poor, the rich, the self-righteous and sinners.   His stories abound with banquets and feasts.   It is not all the fault of our solemn preachers.   Part of the trouble may be with the Gospels, which seem to share with the Old Testament a cultural prejudice against laughter.   This also seems to emerge at times in the Rule of Benedict (RB 4.53-54) which quotes with approval Sir 21:23; "Only a fool raises his voice in laughter" (RB 7.59).

Godspell was influenced by the notion of Christianity as comedy advanced by Harvey Cox in his theological essay on festivity and fantasy.   The Feast of  Fools(1969).   We have already referred to Bernstein and Schwartz' scathing attack on bad preaching in The Mass (1976).   All these works, the Marxist film, the British rock opera, the American music show, and Bernstein's Jewish-based approach, invite us to a serious revision of our ways with the Gospels and Jesus.

Dostoyevsky used the legend of the Grand Inquisitor in a rabidly anti-Catholic way in The Brothers Karamazov (1880).   He blinded himself to the fact that even during the worst periods there were millions who did not allow themselves to be led astray and practised strongly Christian lives.   But there remains a question.   Paul Simon (63-66), treating the temptations of Jesus (Mk. and Lk. 4) says about this legend of the Grand Inquisitor, "It seeks to demonstrate the nature of the deep  offense given by the western Church, especially in the Middle Ages, to those circles antagonistic to the Church.   The question is asked:  has not this Church become the incarnation of power in place of being the instrument of the Gospel of poverty?   Has it not been conquered by the third temptation (in Mt.) : the achievement of worldly power?'   Popes like Innocent III and Julius II would have been at a loss for an answer.

That other western approaches, e.g. Marxism, have done even worse is small consolation.   And it is not only in the Middle Ages that the methods we use are Satanic rather than evangelical.   "Too often the Church seems to agree with the thesis of the legend, that the tempter understood human nature better than Jesus did, and in fact warned him that the masses must be fed with bread and circuses, compelled to conviction, and led by authority.   They cannot bear the responsibility of moral freedom."

True greatness in the reign (Mt. 8:1-5 )

The disciples  want to know who is the greatest in the  kingdom.  To this day, we have protocols, adopted from the Roman and Frankish empires, to answer this question.   Cardinals march ahead of Patriarch, or some such thing.   Jesus had a different answer.   He called a child, "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom."   Becoming like a child is not only the condition for greatness, but a condition of admission.   Jesus' action has nothing to do with any so-called innocence.   You do not have to be deeply involved in education to discover that children are not that innocent.   We are born as greedy little monsters.   Learning how to live with others is a painful process.   Jesus' child is a symbol because a child is utterly dependent.   They must live with the fullest trust in the grown-up world around them.   And thus we must stand before God.

As Jesus ben Sirach says (3: 17-22 ) :

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business....
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly...
For great though the power of the Lord is,
he accepts the homage of the humble.
Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you,
or try to discover what is beyond your powers.
Concentrate on what has been assigned to you;
you have no need to worry over mysteries.
And Psalm 131:
Yahweh, my heart has no lofty ambitions                    Si 23:4
my eyes do not look too high.                                       Mt.6:8
I am not concerned with great affairs                           Ps. 139:6
or marvels beyond my scope.                                       Si. 3.:21
Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet      Is. 30:15
like a child in its mother's arms,                                    Mt. 18.3
as content as a child that has been weaned.              Is. 66:12
Israel, rely on Yahweh,                                                   Ho 11:4
now and for always.

For once I have chosen the version of the Jerusalem Bible, which brings our quotes in relation to Mt. 18:3f.

At a still deeper level of interpretation )Capon II, 17 - 18), the child in Jesus' time was not a person in the full legal sense, but property, investment.  In many other cultures as well, childhood was seen as a less than human condition that was to be beaten out of children as soon as possible.   Children were simply not allowed to be children.   They had to become productive.   We think of the horrible conditions of child labor in the European Middle Ages, in the English mines as recently as the 19th century, and still present in a number of third world countries today.   When Jesus sets up a child as an example, he is not setting up a winsome specimen of all that is charming and touching, but one of  life's losers.   He is telling his disciples that if they follow him in his mysterious messiahship, they will also have to become something for which no one has any respect or use.   Right at the start of Mt. 18 we are far from eminences, monsignori and sir knights.   That is European history, anyway, and not one of the logical accretions of the Gospel.   His disciples are to be extreme in the pursuit of littleness, to the point of getting rid of their limbs if they get in the way.   Indeed, "the foolishness of God is wiser than people, and the weakness of God is stronger than people"  (I Cor 1: 25).

Beginning with verse 6 the language of Jesus shifts from children to the unimportant brothers and sisters, the  littleones who believe in him.   They are the ones who should not be scandalized, i.e. caused to stumble, for skandalon is Greek for stumbling block.


Here we get into something we may not like.   The earliest Church was unrelievedly sectarian, much like the sects we know.   Only the members are saved.   Others deserve little or no recognition.   This is normal where a small group has to survive in the midst of many others.   Islam too started that way six centuries after Christianity.   So did the Iglesia ni Cristo in the Philippines in 1914..   Everything goes to members only, and first of all to little ones, fishermen, slaves, camel drivers, houseboys and muchachas, all those who are kept away from importance by the reigning group.   Magdalen Goffin (29) says :

Just as, to be effective, reformers must wear blinkers, so the infancy of any movement of thought obtains part of its drive  from an intolerance and exclusiveness its later self regards as fanatical.   There is no sign of any ecumenical spirit in the  Acts and the Epistles; if there had been it is doubtful if the young Church would have made any progress.

In the Gospels the cup of cool water that will be rewarded (Mt. 10:42) and the help given to the least of the brothers (Mt. 25) are examples of such attitudes.

History plays a maturing role.  It is gradually realized that Jesus calls for goodness to all.   All nations are gathered before him in Mt 25: 32.   The joyful message must go to all (Mt 28: 19).   We turn once more to stories and models.   Christopher carried a child, any child, across the river, and discovered that he had carried the creator.   Martin gave his half-mantle to a beggar, any beggar, and it was Christ who received it.   In the orthodox East, Dmitri helped an unknown person, and so kept his 'appointment with God'.   Across cultural boundaries, Tagore (24) presents a beggar, who gave the least little grain of corn to the begging king:

But how great was my surprise when at the day's end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap!  I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee all.

We think of Elizabeth of Hungary and her crowd of beggars, Aloysius Gonzaga who died caring for the victims of bubonic plague, Damian and his lepers, Mother Teresa and Calcutta's dying.   And perhaps more important, the thousands in history whose lives were spent helping the down-and-out, but never found a Church to canonize their deeds or a press-agent to sound their trumpet.   Here is the real Church.

Jesus sticks close to the corporal works of mercy in Mt. 25.   They are the basis.   The wisdom of the Church has added spiritual works, all the deeds, words of counsel, teaching, consolation, confirmation, forgiveness and acceptance, given when and where they can do most good.   In the largest expression, the little ones are those who need our help where we can give it.

Leaders who cause the little ones to stumble (Mt. 18: 6-9 )

Jesus is angry.  He could get angry, for instance when someone spoke against the integrity of his mission, like Peter in Mt. 16: 22-23,  for which he is called "Satan".   For this is what Satan tried to do in Mt. 4.   Jesus calls Peter also a  'stumbling block'.   Jesus is the man of integrity, the prophet who refused to compromise.   He is also angry when the little ones are caused to stumble.   We do not worry enough about the scandal given by leaders.   We are too unseeing about priestly scandals.   Capon (IV, 66) has a shocking litany of priestly sins.   The acts of a spoiled priest are: resentment, prejudice, envy, hate, lust, greed, sloth and pride.   Here some non-ordained readers may nod sagely: serves them right, those cassocked wretches.   But just a moment!   They are not off the priestly hook either.   Capon writes precisely about a priesthood we all share because of our common baptism.   We, in the Church, are a holy priesthood (I Pet. 2: 5,9).   This pericope is sometimes used against the ordained priesthood.   That is wrong.   But more often in our Church, it is made little of, or even ignored.   Both sides are dishonest.   Our common priesthood is in the oblation of all things, uplifting creation into a better shape, uplifting our fellow human beings into a better world.   All of us may fail in this priesthood.   "Sin is not accidental or irrelevant:  it is the oblation of the right things in the wrong way."   Such wrong oblations in history are: friars presiding over torture sessions during the Inquisition, the holocaust in the Third Reich, the total irresponsibility of native leaders in Somalia and Rwanda, the violence of terrorists in our world.   "It is the best in people that wrecks the world" : love for the Church, the Bible, progress, freedom, country.McKenzie (II, 63-64 ) gives the example of 'grinning idiots with guns standing over dead bodies in Beirut or Israel".   Or the ruins of Dresden and Hiroshima.   Or the ovens of Belsen.   "If we want to have an encounter with a live and active devil, we have only to look in the mirror.   There is the enemy of God!"   And of people.

Who are the leaders?  Who are the little ones?

When  we speak of leaders we think too often only about big leaders, popes and bishops, presidents and generals.   But we all have our little corner of leadership.   People with some influence in the barangay, the slum, a parish, class or family, the barkada, are leaders.   It is there that they may cause the little ones to stumble.   This stumbling is the harm done to their faith concerning the real Jesus.   And it makes Jesus really angry.   A little millstone would be sufficient to drown people.   But Jesus wants it to be a big one.   And let's for a moment return to real children, because I think that here is one of the worst Satanisms of the human race.   Children are born color blind.   Black and brown and yellow and white can play together without any more trouble than the usual fits of children.   But the adult world teaches them hatred and suspicion, in the name of education, race, nation, God, Yahweh or Allah, the Church, the family, our side of the tracks, Montagues and Capulets, West-side story.   Young children are sometimes literally taught to kill by ridiculous goons in fatigue uniforms and face masks.   Only too many monuments in our world are dedicated to hate-mongerers and killers.  We must also talk about the glamorizing of crime, revenge and violence by our media.   Wilfred Owen, one of the victims of the first World War (The war to end all wars!) wrote this poem which is now the Agnus Dei of Britten's War Requiem.  The scene is a shell-shattered crucifix on a cross-road in Flanders:

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
but his disciples hide apart,
and now the soldiers bear with him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
and in their faces there is pride
that they were flesh-marked by the Beast
by whom the gentle Christ's denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
and bawl allegiance to the state
but they who love the greater love
lay down their life; they do not hate.


Jihads and Crusades, Bernard of Clairvaux preaching the killing of Muslims, Innocent III enriching killing sprees with indulgences, Maoists organizing cultural revolutions, the terrorist's cowardly croak that there are no innocents, the list is interminable.   It is the spiral of oppression, violence and repression spoken of by bishop Helder Camara.

On a more modest, but also more universal scale, many little ones learn to hate those Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Blacks, Whites, Infidels, Heretics -- the list can go one --  by our satanic use of those terms as dirty labels.   Jesus' cry "Woe to the world for stumbling blocks" (Mt. 18:7) is borne out in our world every day.   And so will be Jesus' warning, " and woe to the man by whom the stumbling block comes."

There must be nothing too precious, not even the dearest things like hands and feet and eyes, to come in the way of Christian leadership.   This passage (Mt. 18: 1-9) must of course not be taken absolutely literal.   The whole Church membership would have only one hand, one foot, one eye, or worse.   These verses repeat part of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5: 29-30 ) with a special stress on our responsibility to each other.   All these sayings are directed to the whole group of disciples, including the little ones who have care over still smaller ones.

The lost sheep (Mt. 18: 12-14)

No one is so little that he/she does not deserve the respectful attention of the leaders, ordained and non-ordained.   This is a warning against the arrogance of leaders.

Jesus launches into a parable.   Parables are all-important if we are to understand Jesus.   He used them all the time.   Even a desultory counting easily comes to forty, spoken and acted.   Indeed, "he would not speak to people without using a parable" (Mk.4: 33-34 ).   They  often poke gentle fun at people's religious expectations and prejudices.   Bad people are rewarded (the publican, the prodigal son, the unjust steward).   Good people are scolded (the Pharisees, the elder brother, the diligent workers).   In general, everybody's idea of who ought to be first or last, is doused with cold water (the wedding feast, the judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the narrow door, and here in Mt. 18, the lost sheep (Capon I,10).

A word about rabbis.   They never forgot that parables are comparisons (the meaning of the Greek parabolé) and are therefore open to more than one explanation.   One western hang-up is that we usually swear by one explanation, the one of a revered professor, the latest book we read, the partyline of our Church.   Viviano, as a good rabbi, gives an alternative interpretation which appeals to the historian.   He compares Luke's form of the parable (Lk. 15: 3-7) to Matthew's version.  In luke, the sheep is truly lost, apolèsas, and the parable answers the question how Jesus could associate with sinners.   In Matthew, the parable is part of Jesus' sermon on the vital aspects of his Church: and the sheep had gone astray, planèthè.  Sheep are sheepish, gregarious.   But here is an adventurous one.   The call is for the right concern in the community, and especially among its leaders.   Pastorally, it is sometimes worth risking the situation of  tame members (the 99 timid herd-sheep who do not wander) for one great-souled person, who once won, could win and hold others (Viviano 42: 114).   One thinks of Savonarola, Bruno, Galileo, Hus, Luther.   Dissenters are often original and powerful, the leader types.   They are needed.   This is the point that went wrong in the admirable musical republic of the Guarani Indians, one of the greatest success stories of Church history.   There was only one thing lacking:  all personal initiative was radically discouraged.   No native leadership could develop.   When the Jesuits were suppressed (1768) the Paraguay Reductions collapsed instantly.   In a related aside, I do not trust leaders who want to put people in uniform.   There is too often a hidden agenda of confusing unity with uniformity.   It is the same hidden agenda intended by  demagogues and their slogans.   We think of Orwell's sheep (II, 31, 49 ) who were timid indeed, but kept bleating "Four legs good, two legs bad" for hours, never growing tired of it.

It is well possible that more damage has been done to the Church by our defense against heresy than by heresy itself.   We do not have enough of the rabbi-mentality.   Those who have a knee-jerk reaction about this should make a close study of the Inquisition, the excommunication procedures, and the burning of dissenting people, in a word, the further intimidation of the 99 already timid sheep.   Today, history be blessed, we have no longer the power to burn them; we merely take away their jobs.   It is the best in people that wrecks history, from the motivation of often ridiculous certainties,   Philip Hughes, the catholic historian, complained c. 1940 of those, who, while offering young minds knowledge in secular subjects commensurate with their maturity, would leave them in the matter of revealed truths with the intellectual formation of children.   It still happens that Catholics in school and parish are encouraged to believe in 'facts' which most certainly have not been revealed (Goffin, 47-48).

The humanist world is doing no better.   During the ages of faith, when God was stressed at the expense of the human person, we had Jihads, Crusades, the burning of dissenters, and the belief that the Blessed Virgin was interested in the killing of Muslims and Protestants.   In our modern age, with humanity stressed at the expense of God, we had two world wars, concentration and extermination camps, dissenters disappearing in psychopathic wards, Jewish settlers machine-gunning praying Muslims, and Palestinians proving that they are no better by using car-bombs against innocents.

Jesus was right all the way: one cannot separate the love of God from the love of people (Mt. 22:34-40).   Jesus is not the Prince of Peace, and Allah is not the merciful, if we use their name against people.

We are now far enough in our study to appreciate the first great idea about the Church in Mt. 18 :  the little, the least, the lost, the last and the dead around Jesus.   Such a Church must utterly differ from Sony Corporation, the Lion's Club or the Communist Party, which perhaps rightly remove those who do not subscribe to all of the group's tenets and policies.   That the Church is no more than this is one of the undiscovered heresies of the timid sheep herded by our brand of scribes.   Sheep with honestly dissenting opinions should be expelled, and the scribes will see to it  that their ideas are not even discussed.   We are, once again, far from the Gospel.   Caiaphas rides again.   The Grand Inquisitor is in charge.

This is no call to let ignorant 'pilosopos' have their way.   I remember a much acclaimed Catholic debater in the sixties who went around in some parts of the country confounding Seventh Day Adventists with his proof from the Old Testament that the Jews were already keeping their sabbath on Sundays.   But we do need a catechumenate for the 21st century which goes straight at the Good

News, rather than patching up the holes in a very leaky institutional boat.   Re-evangelization means going back to the "euangelion".

Liberation Theology and the little ones

Jesus consorted with people who had no rights in his society.  He lived indiscontinuity-- a point not often enough made -- with his culture about outcasts, publicans, sinners, children, Samaritans and women.  A similar line is taken by Liberation Theology.  Gustavo Gutierrez (57) writes:

In Latin America, the challenge (to the Church does not  come first and foremost from the non-believer (as in the West).  It comes from the  non-person... whom the prevailing social order fails to recognize as a person: the poor the exploited, the ones systematically and legally despoiled of their humanness, the ones who scarcely know that they are persons at all.

It's an old story.  The Dominican bishop BartolomŽ de las Casas spoke in the 16th century about the injustices committed within countries 'that call themselves Christian' (Ibid., 122).

Guiterrez (226ff) studied critically the Protestant theologians (Tillich, Bultmann, especially Barth and  Bonhoeffer) who were aware of the need of a theology from beneath, from the viewpoint of the useless, the suspect, the abused, the powerless, the oppressed, the despised, in a word, those who suffer.  Yet their Churches kept falling back  into conservative restoration, preaching a bourgeois Gospel.  It is not only in the Catholic Church that conservative circles keep appealing to so-called Christian notions in order to justify a social order that serves only their interests and maintains only their privileges (Ibid, 68).

Is it possible to defeat Annas and Caiaphas?   In a study about the preparatory document (PD) for the meeting of Puebla (1978) Gutierrez speaks about a 'retreat from commitment' when it is compared to the clear language of Medellin (1968).   Its main counsel to the poor is resignation.  Popular religiosity occupies the place in the PD that the poor had in Medellin.   Religion is again seen as a tranquilizer (Ibid., 111-124) and God as "the great eternal cat lecturing the mice on the beauties of being eaten, and the mice lining up in the streets to fill the hall" (Capon V. 85).   But in Jesus, God joined the mice.

The meeting itself worked out better than he expected (Ibid., 125-168).   Puebla asserted its continuity with Medellin with a straight-forwardness that we do not find in the manipulative PD.   But a disturbing line had been drawn: the attempt to renew the Church's uneasy compromise with folk-religiosity.   Our people may be poor, exploited and oppressed, but at least they are religious.   That's what I mean by Caiaphas.   Will we ever realize how far removed this is from Luke 4. 16-21,  and Jesus' self-disclosure along the lines of Isaiah 61. 1-2:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because  he has anointed me to preach good news
to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the
captives,  and recovering of sight to the blind.
to set at liberty those who are oppressed...
and Jesus closed the book (and said),  "Today this
Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."


In 1965  the documents of Vatican II beckoned like a beautiful blue mountain on the horizon.  Today (1994) it has become a mere rock-quarry for conservative statements in official circles.   We still announce good news to the poor, of course, and liberty to the oppressed.   We announce.   At the same time, the decision-makers, ordained and non-ordained, see to it that very little can be done by those who really want to do away with poverty and oppression.   And Paul VI, who really tried to make Vatican II work, is continually sniped at by the rich bourgeois defending their privileges.

Yet this is not all the fault of the establishment.   I must equally fault many so-called progressivists, who either worked without prudence, or who left in great numbers, using renewal as a pretext for running away.   Of course, many among them should never have been ordained or allowed to take vows.   The obsolete Tridentine system that made this possible is now being rebuilt in the official Church, and praised to the heavens as a hope for the future.   Those who really work for the poor are further marginalized.   Well, if they did it to the master, they will do it to the servant.   "A disciple is not above his teacher" (Mt. 10:24).   In the meantime, some of our seminarians were and are quite activist.   It does not last long beyond their first exposure to parish and promotion.   Most of my activist seminarians either left the priesthood --  which is no solution to any problem but their own --  or have made their peace with the bourgeois devotional Church.   Quite a few are now monsignori.

A Liberation Theology for the West?

There is still another way to look at the stray sheep:  the case of the reluctant unbelievers,  who feel the need for faith, but cannot believe because of their experiences with church members, theology and practices.   Some instances: Albert Camus in France, George Orwell in England, and Eric Hoffer in the United States.   And all gifted people everywhere who, once won, could win and hold many others.   Camus' novels are screams for faith.   Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter is about people who have lost their faith without losing the need for faith (I, 260).   If Hoffer had lived in Francis' time, he would have been an enthusiastic follower.   He spent his whole (unbelieving?) life among the season workers and stevedores of California.   There is a Flemish study by Jos Vranckx about such people, De Zinzoekers,  the Searchers for Meaning.   Eugen Drewermann, a German priest, writes extensively about faith as a liberation from legal and canonical chains.   Jesus and Paul did the same.   So Drewermann is in trouble with the authorities.   Alan Watts studied the sects  as signs that the Church lacks catholicity.   The sects are ways in which lay people reach for the ministries that are denied them in the Church.   The German theologian Michael Fluss breaks a lance for a western theology of liberation.   Where in Latin America the Exodus story is read in a context of injustice and oppression, the cry of the people in Europe -- and increasingly in the States -- is about  spiritual and evangelical poverty and alienation.   I have not read their works, only about their works.   Perhaps they are at times hasty and imprudent, and they certainly hit the establishments where it hurts.   But this can be said about many of Jesus' parables.   And the Pharisees, who knew well that he was speaking about them, left and made plans to kill him (Mt. 12: 14 et el).   And Caiaphas said that it was expedient that one man should die for the people (Jn. 18: 14).   If theology is a re-reading of the Gospel (rather than a mere justification of European church history) it must be done in view of the entire Gospel message.

Many reluctant unbelievers are looking for someone like the Christ of Mt 18, who was a liberation from Jewish stereotypes for the earliest Church.   He had inspired the Church to try something entirely new (Dawson II, 48).   Is there no message for us?   This new thing which Jesus brought goes far beyond a mere social message.   Clodovis Boff and Segundo Galilea made the point in Latin America that the sects had taught them that they had neglected the spiritual aspect  an a too narrow expression of the social problem.   Some dabbling in Marxism among some of them had not helped either.

We have been there before!

Why must we always team up with the wrong allies, scaring away the timid majority?  Or allow them to ride along on our coattails?   Marxism is especially expert in hijacking other people's revolutions.   Russia in 1917 and more recently Cuba are examples.   The Christian humanists of the High Middle Ages (12th to 16th centuries) made a similar mistake when they tied up with the Jewish Cabbala and the pagan Greek Hermetic groups, both of which dabbled in the occult.

The Church had reached a pinnacle of earthly power during the 13th century.   The Pope was also the uncrowned emperor of the west, and behaved like a prince among princes.   Ironically, Thomas More would caution an overly papalist young Henry VIII about that.   People were caught in an all-enclosing compulsory, manipulative society.   Cracks appear in this society in the 14th century.    There were some heresiarchs, but the more serious cracks were among those who wanted to stay Catholic, but could no longer stomach what they experienced as the Church.   It was a real crisis.   Krisis means judgment in Greek.   The official Church had no answer.   Her creativity seemed to have come to an end with some generations of papalist canon lawyers, who had effectively changed the Church from the body of Christ into the body of the Pope.   The Church could only repeat, endlessly, the same old medieval power-lines which are still repeated today among some groups.   They were already threadbare then.   Humanism's return to classical antiquity was one way of escape from this total society.   Another way, more diffused, was the longing for a less temporal, more evangelical Church, with a biblical spirituality and theology, and more personal contact with Christ through the Gospel (Post, 33, 35, 36, etc.).   Johnson (267-330) calls this the Third Force, which wanted a reform of moral life on the basis of Scripture and tradition, and not on a basis of more systematic theology, neither Catholic nor Protestant.   It is in this sense that people first understood Luther's theses, and so he,  "formerly an unknown professor of a small and new university, became famous overnight.   He had touched a particularly sensitive nerve, the desire for a more fervent piety" (Post, 31).

But the Catholic establishment was still very powerful, and Protestantism was made into a similar establishment by the princes who took over the Pope's role.   As usual in history, the movement in life lost out to the establishment.   A main tragedy of this valiant effort at a movement in life was their recourse to  premises  other than the Bible and tradition.   Cabalistic and Hermetic occultism could not but scare away the establishments and their people.   Johnson seems to think that the Cabal and Hermes would be accepted easily.   They were not.   They became one of the reasons why the establishments were able to bear down on the movement.   The old Erasmus lived to see his dream collapse.   It was driven underground, there to become intensely secular in the Enlightenment (18th century).   Will we witness similar developments with Liberation Theology  and  Basic Christian Communities?   One thing is sure:  it is always a mistake to look for sympathy from the wrong allies.

It's a long way...

When we consider the line from Amos via Jesus and Langland to Pablo Neruda, we see that the road to freedom and justice is long and arduous.   Twenty seven centuries separate Amos and Neruda, but their prophetic protests are the same.

Amos, the first publishing prophet and the voice of social justice, prophesied at the Beth-el shrine c. 750 B.C.,  a time of prosperity and peace for Israel and Judaea.   But as only too often, only a few families and their dependents benefitted.   The majority of the people were caught in an oppressive social pyramid.   The poor were victimized by the rich, who masked their predations with rich temple shows.   Impoverished Israelites fell deeper and deeper into debt to wealthy landowners and merchants, and finally had to sell their land and even themselves.   Amos protests, skillfully combining the vocabulary of oppression with that of cult, e.g. in Amos 5:21-24.   There should be an intrinsic relationship between cult and conduct.   But worship was made the substitute for social responsibility.   Amos condemns those who scrupulously observe holy days while preparing for injustice:

They (the rich) say,  when will the new moon be over... and the sabbath (that we can go back to our business?) and make the ephah ( a dry measure of cereal) small, and the shekel ( a unit of  weight) great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?

                                                                     Amos 8: 5-6 (cf. 2:6-7)

Israel's worship displeases Yahweh because it is offered as a substitute for the covenant, which allowed no class distinctions.   All are brothers and sisters.   And cheating about measures and the quality of goods seems to be as old as history, and not only among the rich.   Far too many people in the various cults and Churches escape from the tough task of trying to be good and just to each other, into the easy stances of worship.   Is that the reason why worship is so popular with churches and religions?  It is so easy after all.

Twenty centuries later...

William Langland, a dirt-poor cleric in minor orders, wrote Piers Plowman's Protest after thirteen centuries of Christianity.   And he was still caught in an oppressive social pyramid, together with masses of serfs, among whom we must count a vast clerical proletariat.   Some excerpts:

The poor may plead and pray in the doorway;
none receives them rightfully and relieves their suffering.
If there were no more mercy among the poor than among
the rich,
mendicants might go meatless to slumber.
Clerics and nobles converse about God readily,
but mean men they are in their hearts.
Nor are they plentiful to the poor as plain Charity wishes,
but glut themselves with their goods in gaiety,
and break no bread with the beggar as the book teaches...


Even the Franciscans, the idealists who had saved the Church one century earlier, had fallen on evil days.  The poem writes about Charity, personified as God's Champion:

In  a friar's frock he was found once,
but that was far back in saint Francis' lifetime;
in that sect since he has been too seldom witnessed....
Finally, Langland tell the princes and prelates of his period:
Our Prince Jesus and his Apostles chose poverty together,
and the longer they lived the less wealth they mastered.
If priesthood were perfect, all people would be converted!


Piers Plowman is an impassioned plea for social and religious reforms.   It has some times been called the messenger of the Protestant Reformation.   But the emphasis is always on unity.   The poem reveals the depth of the religion of the people in the 14th century.   We are reminded of the Puebla PD and its escapist line:  the people may be oppressed, but they are also religious.   Langland still writes as a faithful Catholic, but he despairs of the state of the Church, and it is not to the papacy or the orders, but to the king and the commons that he looks for help (Dawson I, 17, 36).   Luther and Henry VIII were looking around the corner.   In their wake, the endless multiplication of  sects, hallelujahing religiosity into the ground.   And then comes secularization, with the saints, the sacraments and the Church as so many dead issues.   It was because of the religiosity of the people concerning saints, relics and sacraments, that the needed reforms were postponed by prelates and princes, and that Christ was not brought back where he had been dislodged by superstition, so often synonymous with folk-religiosity.   It was seen too late that without Christ, saints and sacraments become superstitious folk-customs, well on their way to deserved oblivion.   The Church of the High Middle Ages never got rid of the Trojan horse within its walls.   This has been well described by Barbara Tuchman (59-154).

The importance of lost-ness

Little-ness and lost-ness (words coined by Capon) are an effective part of Jesus' approach in Mt 18 and parallels.   Luke 15 ( the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son)  points out that tax collectors and sinners, losers all, come to Jesus.   Pharisees and scribes, winners all, grumble.   Lostness is important. n  Even if the ninety-nine sheep get  also lost, they will only be where a bizarre Good Shepherd will find them.   "It is not the will of the Father that any of these little ones should perish" (Mt 18.14).

This puts a different light on repentance.   Jesus calls for it..  But what does he mean?  Lost sheep and coins are incapable of any repentance as we usually explain it.   The lost son's repentance is a textbook example of pragmatic  self-centeredness.  It is not even attrition.   The entire cause of recovery is the shepherd, the woman, the father, all symbols of God.   The lost ones do nothing except hang around in lostness.   God moves before we do anything but being lost  (Rom 5.8).   God alone gives life, freely and unconditionally.   There is in all those parables of grace not a single note of earning or merit or God as a bookkeeper.   There is only God's saving determination about those who accept that they are lost.  There is joy about it.   They began to make merry (Lk 15: 24).   By the goodness of God we are a party of gatecrashers.   Those who think they are good and just all by themselves, or because of their merits, go home unjustified (Lk 18: 9-14).

Confession is more than the admission that we were wrong.   It is the admission that are dead in our sins, that we have no power to save ourselves.   It is the recognition that our whole life is out of our hands, entirely the gift of a gracious God.   The sacrament of penance is a  joyful celebration of God's total goodness.   Zaccheus throwing a party for the forgiver (Lk 19: 1-10).   God raises us to life in absolution, forgets our sins, puts us on the shoulders rejoicing, and brings us home.   And what's more: confession is subsequent to forgiveness.   Love follows forgiveness, as with the woman who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair (Lk 7: 47).   Jesus says:

The great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven (Good News for Modern Man). Her many sins must have been forgiven, or she would not have shown such great love (Jerusalem Bible, which adds in footnote:  Not, as is usually translated [King James, and surprisingly, the RSV] 'her many sins are forgiven because she has shown such great love.   The context demands the reverse).

The retention of infant baptism by the Catholic Church shows most of all that God does everything.   Babies can do nothing to earn, accept or believe in forgiveness.   We are forgiven solely because there is a Forgiver.   There ought to be none of that ungracious talk by which we make the house of forgiveness into a penitentiary (Capon II, 38-39 and 140-141).

II.  Jesus' Church as an Assembly of Unlimited Forgiveness

Jesus' Church as a Community of Forgiveness

The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious.  From the beginning of our history, there is no one who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired by efforts.  Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements -- or whether they amount to little more than superstition -- we are all at some deep level committed to them.  We are convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, which will somehow render the Ruler of the universe kindhearted, softhearted, softheaded, or both.

As the letter to the Hebrew pointed out, such behavior is rubbish.  The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away our sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do.  Religion, therefore -- despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to be done about our relationship with God -- remains unqualified bad news.  It traps us in a game we cannot win.

But this precisely is the Good News of our Lord and Savior.  The Gospel is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game, and has taken away all the disasters religion is trying to remedy.  Without any recourse to religion at all, God sets them right in gratuitous forgiveness.

How sad, then, when the Church acts as if it is in the religion business rather than in the Gospel-proclaiming business.  What a disservice, not only to itself, but to a world perpetually sinking into the quagmire of religiosity, when it harps on creed, cult and conduct as the touchstones to salvation.  What a perversion of the truth that sets us free (Jn. 8: 32) when it takes the news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5: 8) and turns it into a proclamation of God as just one more insufferable bookkeeper.

Capon II, 28-29/ abridged

Fraternal correction and trial procedures (Mt 18. 15-20)

Jesus  now shifts from the 'little ones' to 'brothers'.   In the matter of forgiveness we are all brothers and sisters.   If your brother sins ('against you' does not belong to the critical text) behave in such a way that you can say,  "I have gained my brother."   This is a technical rabbinic term for missionary conversion.   In such matters, 'reason with your neighbor' (Lev. 19.17).   Here Matthew gets quite technical indeed.   If a one-to-one confrontation does not help, bring in the two or three witnesses of Dt 19.15.   He ultimately seems to counsel the expulsion of the unrepentant quite discordant with the general tone of the Gospel' (McKenzie I).

The Church is the local assembly.   Its acts are always the acts of the whole community, not of its officers.   The apostolic Church was still a true assembly.   If the sinner refuses to listen to this assembly, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.   This has been used almost universally as a justification of the practice of excommunication.   "Here the Church worked up its two-thousand-year-love-affair with excommunication, says Capon (II, 41).   Well, not quite!  Paul was ahead of Matthew, and was completely at a loss about notorious sinners.   He "handed them over to Satan" (I Cor 5. 1-13).   This became a standard term for excommunication (Tit 3.10; I Tim 1.20; Bausch, 163).   In time, this was also used against anyone who disagreed, a different matter altogether.

Here we have some pointed questions.   What about the whole context?   Verse 18.17 is wedged in between the parables of the stray sheep and of the unforgiving servant, both of which advocate persistent forgiveness.   Does Jesus suddenly mean the opposite?   Must we behave like the unforgiving servant after all?   To clinch the argument, was it not precisely with sinners and tax collectors that Jesus was hanging around?   Do sinners get only three chances?   What about the seventy times seven?

I do not know the answer.   Is this one more example of the sectarian early Church?   Is Jesus speaking ironically, as Capon suggests?   Whatever the answer, I agree with his final question: does the passage not at least deserve an attempt to give it a more lenient reading?   Could it not be that Jesus here merely declares that unrepent sinners have already put themselves outside the community, strays, therefore to be sought with great care and application?

Another reading of I Cor 5. 1-13,  as modified by II Cor 2. 7-8 and Gal 6.1  may show us that Paul's theology is also a theology of concern.   Benedict, so important for the understanding of history, is clearer.   When he quotes I Cor 5.1-13 in the rule (RB) he refuses to include the 'handed over to Satan' stricture.   One is excommunicated "so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord" (RB 25.4).   Loving concern for the sinner is the foremost duty of Christians according to tradition and the RB (Prol 36-38).   Fry (422-426) puts the matter of benedictine excommunication under the thematic index of Care and Concern.

When speaking of our duty to rescue stray sheep we must consider the need for a renewed vision on ministry and Church structure.   We cannot expect a couple of priests in a parish of ten thousands to look up all the lost sheep and still do the time-consuming tasks of cultic bureaucrats.

The Real Presence of Jesus in his assembly (Mt 18. 18-20)

The terms binding and loosing are traditionally considered synonymous to condemn and acquit; the Church can forgive or refuse to forgive (McKenzie, I).   This power, first given to Peter (Mt 16.19) was also given to the community as a whole (Mt 18. 18;  Jn 20.23).   This traditional interpretation has changed the rite of reconciliation from a joyful concelebration of God's infinite mercy to a juridical process with the official absolution as its only aim.   This happened after the 13th century, and the Council of Trent, which was woefully ignorant about the history of penance, made it appear as the only tradition.

But read this verse 18 in context with 19 and 20!   Where two or three are together (sungmenoi!  It's already Jesus' synagogue) in the name of Jesus, there he is in their midst.   We have concentrated so much on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, that we may overlook that Jesus speaks here too of a Real Presence as he also does in Mt 25.40.   Where two or three, in their capacity as witnessing Church, agree to forgive, the Father will ratify their decision, precisely because Jesus is there, the friend of publicans and sinners, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, the beloved Son in whom the Father sees his whole creation completed (Rom 8. 18-30) and made new (Capon II, 35).   We should make an end to the Catholic quirk of always translating mathtai (disciples) as apostles, misunderstood as the hierarchical Twelve.   This is alien to Matthew's Gospel, and not very honest.   The community of disciples is very important in Mt 18.

The official Church has much too easily excommunicated in the past.   This is now better, but Catholics scribes, lawyers and Pharisees still condemn too glibly and receive much official sympathy.   Andreas Ebert, OFM, sees this as one of the reasons why our brand of Christianity lost so much credibility.   Too many Church people use the name of God irresponsibly, and too easily assume that they know God's mind, while in reality they only reveal their prejudices about privileged groups.   (Vranckx, 258).   Rigorist groups organize within the Church, condemning others from their holier-than-thou intolerance.   Isaiah's warning (55. 7-9) comes to mind concerning God's 'abundant pardon':  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways."

Peter got the power in Mt 16.19.   The community gets a similar power in Mt. 18.18.   After 1517 Catholics have seen only 16.19 and Protestants single out 18.18.   We are both dishonest.   Protestants must make their own course adjustments.  Peter received a marked role in the New Testament, and the argument that this was given to him alone is threadbare.  Catholics must revert to earlier traditions than our Lyonese and Tridentine 'confession'.   James (5.16) says,  "Confess your sins to one another."   A forgiving community is implicit in the Gospels.  The Eucharist was for ages the 'normal'  sacrament of forgiveness for most sins.   Albert the Great still holds the opinion in the 13th century that holy lay-people can forgive, and in emergency everyone can (Bausch, 172-173, 200) (Cooke, 467-476).  We must reconsider healthy Catholic tradition about a great many things.   Much that is now called tradition by our 'traditionalists' is really novelty when compared to real tradition.   Sellner has this (8-9):

...the word that early Celtic Christians used to describe their own tradition of spiritual mentors was anamchara, Gaelic for 'friend of the soul'.   An anamchara is someone with whom we can share our greatest joys and deepest fears, confess our worst sins and most persistent faults, clarify our highest hopes and unarticulated dreams.... Although this form of ministry was eventually identified in the Roman Catholic Church with the ordained priest in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the earliest days of Celtic Christianity such relationships were open to lay people and ordained, women and men alike.

Thomas of Aquinas, who already accepted only the priest as minister, calls those earlier forms "quasi sacraments".   The anamchara way could be revived.   It goes admirably together with the Reconciliation Room approach in the Sacramentary of Paul VI (1972-76).   We can make this a concelebration of priest and penitent.   This approach requires a more careful preparation and takes longer.  It precludes hasty encounters, reductionism and rote confessions, and goes back to the old discernment and praise motifs.

God's idea:  seventy times seven (Mt 18. 21-35)

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the Church is seen as an assembly of unlimited forgiveness.   Peculiar to Matthew, this parable teaches the need to imitate divine mercy.   See again how utterly  different God's assembly must be from human assemblies.   Bismarck said about the Sermon on the Mount,  "You can't run a government on that!"   Likewise some readers may have thought,  "You can't run a church, a parish, a mandated organization on Mt 18".   Which is probably true and goes to show how far we still are from the mind of Jesus.

Why does Matthew bring in Peter at this moment?   Jesus had just given an important power to the community.   Peter had received more, the power of the keys.   Without going any deeper in this, let us consider this enough reason to call attention to Peter, even if he, as often happens, doesn't sound his best.   He echoes the bloodthirsty boast of Lamech (Gen 4.24) which is reversed in Jesus' answer, one of several times that Jesus reverses something from the Old Testament, as other prophets had also done.   Jesus' God is very different from the God of the Pentateuch.   And God is God in Jesus' way.   Forgiveness must be unlimited, like God's.   Jesus' teaching ends here on a statement sounding like a roll on the kettledrums at the end of a rousing piece of music,  "So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you,  if you do not forgive your brother (and sister) from your heart."   Jesus thus returns to a favorite idea,  "and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt 6.12).   Do we realize what we are asking in the Lord's prayer if we do not forgive, if our Church is not a Church of forgiveness?

The unforgiving servant is a leader.   Only an important person could accumulate such a debt, something like the national debt of the United States falling upon a single citizen, says McKenzie.   The RSV is more moderate.   The denarius being a day's wages, the debt amounted to more than fifteen years' wages.   Let's simply say that it was enormous.  And so is God's gratuitous mercy.   The one limit to God's forgiveness  is when we do not treat our brothers and sisters likewise.

But does Jesus himself not speak of unforgivable sins?  (Mt 12. 31-32 ).   Here is a two-step structure: sin against the Son of Man is forgivable; sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.   The latter has been understood in various ways:  presuming to attain salvation without faith and love, despair of salvation, obstinacy in sin and error, final impenitence, apostasy.   The likeliest exegetical view, says Viviano (42:79) is 'persistence in consummate and obdurate opposition to the influence of the Spirit".   Does this include resistance to the spirit of forgiveness?   the refusal to be renewed in Jesus?   The obstinate sticking to old Church views in spite of Vatican II.?

Fix your mind on something not yourself!

Guillemette says in one of his short stories that Heaven is an eternal  Thank You.   David Steindl-Rast calls thankfulness   'the heart of prayer'.   Thankfulness is based on the ability to take distance from the self and think of others.   So is Mt 18.   This thinking of others is done in many ways, some large, but most of them rather small and inexpensive.   Attentions, we call them.

But what is Hell?   A recent French philosopher, Jean Paul Sarte (No Exit) said,  "Hell is the others".   Clive Staples Lewis, the great lay theologian of the Anglican Church, has a different idea.   Hell is being cooped up in yourself.   Hell is mean and small.   Hell is being shriveled up into yourself with yourself as a small tin-God.   I quote from his book-length parable,  The Great Divorce,  which is not about marriage and its dissolution, but about the unbridgeable chasm between Heaven and Hell (Lk 16. 26).

The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly nothing (75).   All Hell is smaller than a pebble.   Look at yon butterfly.   If it swallowed all Hell, it would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste (122-123).   One of the good spirits says to a stub- born candidate for Hell,  "Could you, only for a moment, fix  your mind on something not yourself?" (62).   The mother who is not interested in her children, but only in what they  mean for her.   The theologian who is not interested in God, but only in what he says about God (81).   There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, 'Thy will be done', and those to whom God says in the end,  'Thy will be done'.   All that are in Hell, choose it.

If these are the ways of Heaven and Hell, we may begin to see how they could start on earth, and understand why, by lack of forgiveness and attention to others, so many spots on earth are Hell.   Capon also dwells on the smallness of Hell (is this an Anglican idea?)  in a passage (III, 171) which I tersely state for you to wrestle with:

(When Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all to himself: Jn 3. 14-15;  8. 28;  12.32-34).   This remains the ultimate gravitational force in the universe.   Nothing, not even evil, is ever exempted from it.   Hell has no choice but to be within the power of the final party, even though it refuses to act as if it is at the party.   It lies not so much outside the festivities as it is sequestered within them. It is hidden, if you will, in the spear wound in Christ's side to keep it from being a wet blanket on the heavenly proceedings;  but it is not, for all that, any less a part of Jesus' catholic shepherding of his flock.

Hell is for the spoilsports, the kill-joys, the party poopers who do not want to participate in the heavenly bash, and who have to be isolated from the fun makers by Christ's power.   And all who are there, choose it.   Daring?  What would you expect from an exegete who makes the fatted calf (Lk 15) a Christ figure (II, 141):

Consider!  What does the fatted calf do?   It stands around in its stall with one purpose in life:  to drop dead at  moments notice in order that people can have a party.   If that doesn't sound like a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, I don't know what does.   The fatted calf proclaims that the party is what the father's house is all about.   An eternal bash is what the universe is all about.   Creation is not ultimately about religion, or spirituality, or morality, or any other solemn subject;  it's about God having a good time and just itching to share it.

We are in the Gospel-proclaiming business rather than in the religion business.  Simplify!  Come down from your 'chair de vŽritŽ', your platform of intellectual truths, and speak to people:  Christ has overcome the world.   Heaven is not a state we reach by our efforts and merits, with God as a bookkeeper.   It is already given to all who accept grace.   It has little to do with group belongings, creedal formulas, cult or ritual conduct, helpful as they may be.   It has everything to do with being with Jesus in the company of the little, the last and the lost  brothers and sisters, and see ourselves as dead in our sins but  in the care of a merciful forgiver.

I have heard it said that this is all a mistake.   That's what the Pharisees and the scribes said already.   If it is a mistake, make the most of it.   We are in good company.   It was also Jesus' mistake.

God our Father,
Your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow him
reject what is contrary to the gospel;
We ask this through Christ,
Lord and brother.
(15th  Sunday Ordinary Time)

II.  John 2: Jesus' Church as A Community of Disciples

Introduction:  the larger context

John's prologue is called 'an excellent introduction to his Gospel, and a key to its interpretation' (Vargas). Some verses about the Word are seen as the main thrust:

3 All things were  made through him
and without him was not anything made that was made.
4 In him was life and the life was the light of men and women.
10 He was in the world,
and the world was made through him,
yet the world knew him not.
11 He  came to his own home,
and his people received him not.

The word is firmly established as front and center of all that is, but many of his people did not (and do not) accept him.   In the next verses of this first chapter, the Baptist establishes Jesus as this Word.   Someone so great that he, John, is unworthy to accept Jesus as his disciple.   John's disciples went barefoot.   He undid the thongs of their sandals when he accepted them.   But he is not worthy to do this to Jesus.   This Jesus goes now outright at a major part of his task, calling people to discipleship.   Five are called, of whom one goes unnamed.   The others are Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael.   This is the beginning of the community of salvation.   Andrew brings his brother Simon to the fold, and Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus, like later on he will bring some Greeks (Jn 12.20f).  Bringing people to Jesus is one great part of discipleship.   Such themes keep returning in the Gospel,  "Come and see!" (Jn 1. 39;  1.46;  4.29).

In his second chapter John describes two 'signs' about this very central Jesus:  the Cana episode and the cleansing of the temple.   They must be seen in context, as both mean the end of the old covenant in Moses, and the beginning of the new covenant and the new temple in Jesus.   Two other participants in the history of salvation are introduced:  the community of salvation, which will grow into the Church, and Mary as the model of this Church.   The line of emphasis is: Jesus, Church, Mary.   It is about this that I want to redress a balance in this brief study.

Cana:   John 2. 1-12

In the striking parallel between Abraham and Mary, both receive a special call, which endangers them within their own culture.   If they accept the call, a new people will emerge from their obedience.   Both receive an impossible son, and are then asked to sacrifice him to God.   Abraham's faith established him as the father of all the faithful among the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims.   By the same token, Mary is biblically established as the mother of all the faithful.

This was not easy on either of them.   But where we readily see Abraham's problems, we tend to shy away from those of Mary.   Almost from the start of his public ministry, Jesus was rejected by his townspeople.   "Where did the man get all this?" (Mk 6. 1-6).   Jesus' ministry strained relations with his relatives, perhaps at the beginning even with his  mother (Nolan, 63.  But see the whole chapter on group solidarity).   His family set out to get him, because people were saying,  'He's gone mad!'! (Mk 3.21 and Jn 7. 5).   Within the same context (Mk 3.31-35) we see Jesus downplaying the importance of blood relations.   His mother and brothers had arrived, asking for him.   Are they there to 'get him', as  family solidarity in their culture required?   Mary was among them.   Perhaps she did not understand at the time, just as she did not when at the age of 12 he had stayed behind in the temple (lk 2.50).   Jesus says:  "Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers? --  and looking over the people sitting around him -- here are my mother and brothers!   Whoever do what God wants them to do, are my brother, my sister and my mother".   Here Augustine asks the daring question from his listeners and readers:    "Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ?.... Shall  I not dare to call you his mother?"   All synoptics stress this event (Mt 12. 46-50;  Mk 3.31-35;  8.19-21).   Luke has an instance of his own when a woman in the crowd raises her voice,  "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!"   One can hardly get more physical.   But Jesus said,  "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it."  (Lk 11. 27-28).

This must be stressed.   It has bearing on the Cana story.   The disciples are invited with Jesus and arrive as a messianic community.   Mary is present too as a person of importance, his mother.   This mother-situation is mentioned four times.   But she came by herself.   She is not yet in the group of disciples.   In the dialogue between Jesus and Mary, and in the light of his 'sign', Mary woke up to a new sense of reality and entered into the messianic community.   At the end of the scene, she leaves together with them.   The 'brothers' may also have seen the light.   They are still together after the ascension, devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women, and Mary, the mother Jesus (Acts 1.14).

Thurian, from whom these notes are borrowed, described the meaning of Cana:

The good wine of Cana, replacing the ritual water of the  purifying of the Jews, which is better than the first wine given at the feast, is a sign of the word of Christ, which sanctifies, purifies and consecrates those who hear a new teaching of the is the sign of messianic  restoration.

This, and not any teaching about matrimony, is the meaning of Cana.

There is a stand-offish tone in the story.   His mother goes unnamed.   Jesus call her "woman".   Woman was a term of respectful address (Jn 4.21) but this is quite surprising when said to one's mother.   Does Jesus create a certain distance between him and his mother?   Such an interpretation seems to be confirmed in  the episode in Jn 19, as we shall see.   On the other side, Jesus does give a sign of his ultimate self-disclosure, and Mary's faith is shown in both her request and in her advice to the servant, "Do whatever he tells you."

Parallelism is the life-blood of Semitic art, especially in poems and story-telling.   Such parallels are intentional.   And such a parallel exists between the Cana story, and Jn 19. 25-27,  Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross.   Jn 2 and 19 is a story in two panels, meant to be read together.   Mary goes again unnamed.   There are again four references to Jesus' mother.   Jesus calls her 'woman'   And now his hour had come (Jn 17.1).   The messianic sign of salvation is lifted high.   One thing remains to be done, the thing prefigured in Cana.   Jesus releases his mother, as it were, to the community of salvation:  "Woman, behold your son....(son) behold your mother".   And from that hour the disciple took her in his own home.

Is the scene a theological construct?   The synoptics have not seen it.   They report on many women who looked from a distance, but Jesus' mother is not even mentioned (Mt 27. 55-56;   Mk 15. 40-41;   Lk 23. 49).

Thurian (117-175, his chapter 9) comments that Mary ends her first vocation, as mother of Jesus, and moves into a second and more important vocation, becoming a member of the community of redemption.   I'd rather say that Mary ends a first part of her vocation to move into a second part, which is our part as well.   Concerning all the passages which downplay mere physical relationship,  Augustine says:

Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will,  and so it was for her a great thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood....  Mary heard God's word and kept it, and so she is blessed.   She kept God's  truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb.

Mary could indeed say about herself,  "Henceforth all generations will call me blessed...." (Lk 1. 48),  and so we will be called if we keep God's Christ in our minds.   Mary entered into the community in such a fine way that she is gradually seen as the symbol and the model of this community.   This is the incipient Mariology of John and Luke.   Augustine once  again warns us not to over-stress the wrong side.   What matters most and in Christ is the community of salvation:

The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the  Church is greater than she.   Mary is a part of the Church  a holy, an eminent -- the most eminent -- member, but still only a member of the entire body.   The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members.

There is nothing greater than this community of disciples doing God's will, says Jesus in text after text, which make an impressive whole with the statements about the kingdom (for instance in Mt 13).   Likewise, doing God's will means getting free from one's self.   The strongest instinctive compulsion in us, which shows itself already in very young humans, is to assert oneself.   Hengel (18) says about Jesus,  "For him true freedom is freedom from the compulsion to assert oneself at all costs."   "My food is to do the will of him who sent me..." (Jn 4.34).   "I can do nothing on my own authority" (Jn 5.30).   "I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me"  (Jn 6.38).   Gethsemany is a final wrestle with God in these matters,   "Not my will, but thine be done"  (Lk 22.42).   And Mary is a model of the Church because her whole life is marked by this Christ-like acceptance:   "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1.38).

To repeat our line of emphasis in John 2.1-12, we have first of all Christ as the new covenant of God's love.   Then the Church as the community of salvation which comes from him.   Finally Mary, its most eminent member, who is  not an exception in the matter of salvation,  but an outstanding realization.   Christ is the Lord; in him, and because of him, we have the Church.   In and because of the Church, we have Mary.

Mary in the formative age of history

This incipient Mariology started many developments in history.   We consider some of them.

1.   Mary's titles in her litany were first Israel's titles.   As God's people,  Israel was Ark of the covenant, Gate of Heaven, Tower of Davis, Refuge of sinners ..... These titles were first reapplied to the renewed Israel, the Church.   When it was seen how completely this Church was signified in Mary's obedience to God and to life, they were reflected back to her.   The historical line is therefore not from Israel to Mary, but from Israel via the Church back to Mary.

2.   The Immaculate Bride of the Spirit.   Hosea called Israel a harlot, and spoke about a loyal bride, the true Israel, betrothed to God with integrity and justice (2. 19-24).   The Church saw herself as this bride.   A similar line developed as for the first item.   Realizing that she too does not always live up to the expectations (Eph 5.21-33 is a very high ideal!)  the Church sees herself as she ought to be, in the mirror of Mary,  "adorning Mary with her own jewels" (Schillebeeckx).

3.   The Woman in the book of Revelation. clothed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev. 12.1).   She is essentially an image of Israel as the mother of the messianic savior (cf. Micah 4.9-10).   Next she is seen as representing the true Israel, first in the Old Testament and then in the New.   Most ancient commentators identified her with the Church, although the author of Revelation did not distinguish between Israel and the Church.   The shift  to Mary came in the Middle Ages and became traditional among Catholics.   But the emphasis on the persecutions of the woman is really appropriate only if she represents the Church (Collins; D'Aragon).

4.   The rosary was at first a dominical prayer.   The many who could not read replaced the 150 psalms with 150 Our Fathers.   This started, perhaps in Ireland, around 800, and became  the poor person's office.   The oldest beads known are from the year 1040.   They were called 'paternosters'.   There was a Paternoster Row in London where beads were made.   Paternoster is still the word for rosary among the common Flemish people.   Guilds of paternoster makers existed in many medieval cities.   There were initially no Hail Mary's as this prayer did not exist as we know it until the 16th century.   But the angelic greeting (Lk 1.28) combined with Elizabeth's greeting (Lk 1.42) was used together with the Our Father from the 12th century on (Martin).   Little by little the rosary became a Marian prayer.   It also ran into some popular and unbiblical distortions, like the rosaries of 196 mysteries and as many beads.   This brings us to a sad part of our story.

The influence of the folk-religiosity

In the high Middle Ages the devotion to Mary suffered with the general decline of the devotion to the saints.  It is common mistake of historiography to gauge the temper of an age according to the best books and the greatest art.  That this says little about 99 percent of the people, is a recent awareness.  How did the common mass-person pray?  What did they belive?  Huizinga (The Netherlands), Heer (Austria) and Braudel (France) did spade work concerning a history from beneath, and in their wake, Enrique Dussel in Latin America.  Huizinga (174ff) describes how the saints were venerated 'without a though being given to the limit fixed by the Church.'  In the popular imagination, the saints were as God, or as gods.  There was also the belief that the saints, who could cure disease, also caused the.  Huizinga quotes Robert Gaugin, who was not hostile to the veneration of the saints, but writes about the beggars of France,

One falls to the ground expectorating malodorous spittle and attributes his condition to Saint John.  Others are covered with ulcers through the fault of Saint Fiacrius, the hermit.  You, O Damian, prevent them from making water, Saint Anthony burns their joints, Saint Pius makes them lame.

Making fun of such 'devotions,' Erasmus writes, "What horrible maladies they send if they are not properly honored!"  They became the most feared and hated of beings.

Devotion to Mary suffered also from the over-reaction of Church people to Protestant unbiblical attacks against Mary.  The biblical archetype of the 'fully redeemed one', the model of the Church, was replaced by pragmatic emotionalism, often geared to a morbid miracle world, at times going into the  superstitious.  That this is still going on in many parts of the Church must be said loud and clear.  We do not serve God, and we do not honor Mary with hoaxes concerning statues that dance, bleed, weep, ooze medicinal oil (somebody spoke about the 'liquid assets' of Catholic folk-religiosity), get pregnant, change hosts into hamburger, and the like.

The evangelical line of the emphasis got reversed.  mary and the saints took the place of the Church, and sometimes of Christ and God.  It was no longer believed that Christ is our advocate with the Father, and that he is the expiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2: 1-2).  In visions and appearances, God and Jesus had become terrible, about to annihilate the world, if not for Mary and the saints.  Axel Munthe notes with humor the answer when he asked the people of Capri about their ferocious devotion to Saint Anthony.  It goes something like this: "Saint Anthony gives us good harvests.  He makes the chickens lay and gives milk to the goats.  But what has Christ ever done for us?"  This is the guise in which the old pagan myths return.

The Reformation attacked the cult of Mary and the saints, and nowhere in the whole contested area did it meet with less resistance.  The saints fell without a blow being struck in their defense.  Exaggerations and morbid devotions had sucked them dry of content.  In the strongest historical sense, familiarity had bred contempt.

Catholic Reform

When Catholic reform had to re-establish the cult of Mary and the saints, its first task was to prune it, and establish severer discipline.  This was hard work, often not very successful among the masses.  The credulous confusion of faith and emotionalism was often noticeable even among theologians and preachers.  The critique against this reversal of evangelical emphasis comes sometimes from unexpected sources.  One of them is ThŽrse of Lisieux..  She kept harping on it one month before her death (Sept. 30, 1897).  Her main objection against the Mariology of her age is the one-sided stress on Mary's prerogatives (Clarke, 159- 162):

What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that was very ordinary.  It wasn't everything that they have told us or imagined.  The Child Jesus did not form some birds out of clay, breathe on them, and give them life.  Jesus didn't perform useless miracles like that, even to please his mother.  Everything in their life was done just as in our own.  They had troubles and disappointments.  Joseph got complaints about his work.  Often they went unpaid.

How I would have loved to be a priest to preach about the blessed Virgin.  One sermon would be sufficient to say everything I think about the subject.  I'd first make people understand how little is known by us about her life.  We should not say unlikely things!  For example that as a child of three she went to the temple to offer herself to God, burning with love and fervor.  Perhaps she went there very simply to obey her parents.

For a sermon on the Blessed Virgin to please me and do me any good, I must see her real life.  I'm sure it was very simple.  They show her to us as unapproachable.  They should present her as imitable, bringing out her virtues, how she lived by faith like ourselves, giving proof from the Gospels (ThŽrse correctly gives the two instances of Lk. 1: 19 and 2: 50 -51).  She didn't understand everything!)

We know very well that the blessed Virgin is Queen of Heaven and earth, but she is more mother than queen.  And we should not say on account of her prerogatives that she surpasses all the saints in glory, just as the sun at its rising makes the stars disappear.  My God, how strange that would be!  A mother who makes her children's glory vanish! I believe just the contrary.  She'll increase the glory of the elect very much.

It's good to speak of her prerogatives, but we should not stop at this.  If we are obliged all the time to say, 'Ah! How wonderful!', we would grow tired.  Someone might reach the point of feeling a certain estrangement from a creature so superior.  They might say, "If things are such, it's better to go and shine as well as someone is able in some little corner'.

Which is exactly what happened to many.  Now for the rejoinder by Magdalene Goffin, an articulate lady indeed:

Responsible Roman Catholic today (1964) are well aware of the dangers and decadence of some of the devotional language used about our Lady.  While there is no need to defend the positive side of a cult which has done so much to illuminate God's self-disclosure to us, its exaggerations have tended to obscure the very truth which alone gave it meaning.  The lop-sidedness of popular Catholicism in this respect is superstitious because in practice it makes a creature play a bigger part in the thought and worship of an individual than God, who recedes, a remote, shadowy figure, into the background.  This figure is terrible as well as remote, so that blasphemy is added to superstition.  This is due  to the  quirk of an entirely false development by means of which a distinction came to be made between the mercy of our Lady (or the saints) and the justice of God.  This mistake...implies that our Lady or the saints are somehow soft-hearted, that is, more full of love, than God.  The blessed Virgin can get round her Son.  A saint particularly close to God can drop a soothing word into this dreadful and terrible ear.  Saint Bernard could say, "Let him who fears the Son take refuge in Mary'.  It is extremely unfortunate that these totally unworthy notions are given wide currency in modern times by the popularization of certain kinds of apparitions... Whereas other people in the world besides Roman Catholics have visions, the Catholic Church is the only large group which makes use of them for devotional purposes...What starts as a reasonable opinion may end in nonsensical certainty...
(Goffin, 26, 41-42; edited)

The Cleansing: John 2: 13- 25

The main meaning of Cana is that Jesus is the new covenant with a loving God.  In this second sign the main meaning is that Jesus is the new temple: "He spoke of the temple of his body'.  The other Gospels place the cleansing at the end of Jesus' public ministry.  John places it right at the start.  He wishes to make Jesus lay out his cards right at the beginning.  The ultimate purpose of his ministry is the vanishing of the temple, the end of the Jewish dispensation and its worship (Lhoir).  Another difference with the synoptics is that John brings together two items which are given separately in the others: the temple's cleansing and destruction.  This strengthens the above meaning.

What do the exegetes say about this sudden violence of Jesus?

1.  Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has an amusing explanation: even a Messiah can have a bad day!  He connects Jesus' fit with the time of the year which is hard on everyone's nerves (the exegete lives in Jerusalem) when a hot, gritty wind from the desert is blowing.  This naturalistic interpretation ignores the context and a persistent symbolism in John's Gospel and the Bible.

2.  A most common explanation is that Jesus did not object to the temple or to the presence of merchants,  but to some sharp practices among them.  He indeed declares, "You are making the temple a den of thieves" (Mt. 21: 12; Mk. 11: 17, Lk. 19: 46).  And in John he says, "You shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."  This is to be taken seriously.  Those who follow this interpretation must also dare to see a point about all that money which still tinkles around the altar.  How often do we deserve Orwell's gibe, "If you took I Cor. 13 and in every verse wrote 'money' instead of 'charity', the chapter has ten times as much meaning as before" (Orwell, 175).  Try it.

But there is one serious problem with this view.  Cattle sellers and money changers had the fullest right and even an obligation to be there.  The Law made the offering of animal sacrifices the one great form of expiation for the sins of the people.  So the Book of Leviticus prescribes ad nauseam, says Rabbi Visotzky (25).  And the second commandment says, "You shall not make yourself a carved image" (Ex. 20: 4; Dt. 5: 8).  Foreign coins had carved images of emperors and kings.  They had to be exchanged for Jewish money which respected the commandment.  And occasional cheating does not wholly explain Jesus' determined action.  There must be a cheaper explanation.

3.  Where in the synoptics Jesus' wrath appears to be directed against the  dishonesty of the merchants, in john the ultimate emphasis is on the institutions themselves.  Jesus declares the abolition of the Jewish system.  His whip declares the worship and the religion of the temple outdated.  Hid God cannot be contained in a building.  A very different way of worship begins with Jesus.

This represents a vibrant theological trend in Israel and in the Church of the beginning.  To return to Dawson (II, 48): "The first age of the Church is unique inasmuch as it was not following an existing tradition of faith and order, as all the rest have done, but creating something absolutely new".  Stephen articulated this view when he said to the Jewish leaders (quite imprudently!), "...the most High does not live in a house that human hands have built" (Acts 7: 48).  Brown is convinced that this idea is at the basis of the dispute between the Hebrews and the Hellenists in Acts 6.  The issue about relief was only a causus belli, a test case.  Paul says to the Athenians, "God does not make a home in shrines made by human hands," and connects this to the belief that God made everything (Acts 17: 24), as the Bible often does, e.g. in I Kings 8: 27; Is. 66: 1-2; Ps. 148; Jer. 23: 24 and to other texts, which show that this is no isolated case.  Yet this sturdy line of thinking is mostly ignored by our sermonizers.  We have lost contact with our beginning much more than we think.

Jesus is also in line with another but related idea that the new worship is based on personal integrity, and not on any given place.  Ezekiel and Jeremiah had already broken with the tradition that God is inseparable from the temple.  Ezekiel's case is significant, for he was a priest and loved the vanished sanctuary.  Of course they had gatherings and kept some ritual in exile.  Who could do without them?  But they now derive their value from the dispositions of the participants.  We are reminded of Amos' outburst against the Bethel temple.:

I hate and despise your feast (says God)
and take no delight in your solemn assemblies...
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters
and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (5: 21-24)


Justice and righteousness (integrity in the Jerusalem Bible), that is what God is looking for.  Injustice and sin are not covered by pompous cultic acts.

Something entirely new!

That is: not structured on temples and temple priests.  Unbelievable!  Yet that is where we started.  No individual Christian is ever called a temple priest(hiereus/sacerdos) during the period in which the New Testament was composed.  Only Jesus, in Hebrews, and the local community, in I Peter and Revelation, are called hieratic.  Hiereus is reserved to pagan and Jewish priests.  There is some evidence that no Christian wanted to be called a priest (Bausch, 248-250).

This "new" approach is also a partial explanation why the Christians built no temples at the beginning.  They came together as Jesus communities in their homes.  This household-of-God-Church did not survive beyond the first century.  In the later writings of the New Testament we see gradual accommodation to the surrounding Graeco-Roman culture with its temples and shrines.   " inculturation this trend shows that when Christian values are concerned, culture should not be the last word".  The faint prompting of the Spirit in the earliest Church were vanishing (Hendrickx II, 130).

Yet we can still say that they built no' temples'.  After the first century there were many places of Christian worship.  many were destroyed during the Diocletian persecution.  But they were no temples.  An undoubted example of a pre-Constantinian church has been excavated in Dura-Europos, a garrison town on the Euphrates, built around 232.  This is clearly still a private house, adapted for use in worship.  "A private house was rebuilt for this purpose" (Bausch, 287-373).

It is sometimes thought that the reason why no temples were built  was the persecution, on the mistaken assumption that is lasted from A.D. 64 to 324, for an uninterrupted 260 years.  Except for the last one under Diocletian (303-324) the persecutions were brief and sporadic, with long periods of peace in between.  A better explanation is that the Christian believe that God could be found everywhere, and that Christ was really present with his people even in very small gathering (Mt. 18: 20).  Adoration of the Real Presence in the Eucharist starts only in the 10th century, perhaps in Clunny.  While worthy of praise and practice, this seems to have led many to the mistaken notion that God can be found only in the Eucharist.

Jesus is the founder of the worship in spirit that Amos and Ezekiel had preached and which he announced to the woman at Jacob's well (Jn. 4: 21-24).  He is the foundation of the new priesthood and temple described in Hebrew 8 and 9.  For he "has passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands..."  "and has entered not in a sanctuary made with hands, a (mere) copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb. 9: 11, 24).  Incidentally, that, and not throwing temper tantrums, is the role of Jesus in heaven.

Our Church is the house of the people of God

Early Christianity was truly a liberation.  The God-fearers, Romans and Greeks who worshipped Yahweh, but could not bring themselves to submit to the crippling limitations of the Mosaic Law, found in Christianity the same God, even better revealed, and without those crippling observances.  It made them very happy (Acts 13: 43 and 48).  Likewise, the early households of God were also household of freedom, in which women and men alike were inspired to live in a discipleship of equals (Hendrickx, 129-130).  They should be models in our effort to build Basic Christian Communities, not to be slavishly copied, but to enable the Church to be renewed in a togetherness of households of God, instead of the hopeless European feudal territorial parishes we have now.  This would include a whole new vision on ministry and on being Church.  May I wonder why "Christian' was replaced by 'ecclesial'?  If this means a chance to let a renewed Church grow from the basis of God, people and service, good and well.  But if it is only again another patriarchal 'mandated' parish organization, it will lead nowhere.

In the beginning of the third century, with bishop Cyprian and others, them temple priest came back with vengeance.  This return of the hiereus was not based on New Testament date -- there are none -- but on the levitical priesthood and on the socio-political structures of the Graeco-Roman world.  Next, the Constatinian Church taught us to build triumphal temples.  All these changes the meaning of ministry.  This leads us to some cautionary remarks in the light of our evangelical beginnings.  For Cyprian and his ilk were often guilty of eisegesis, reading back later developments and awareness into the text (Osborne, 27-28), 320, 572).  In other words, culture, not the Gospel, was allowed to decide.  This is perhaps unavoidable.  We are born inculturizers.  But we must be conscious of the problems this can cause to a proper understanding of the Gospel.

'Temple' could in some instances stand for 'church building'.  A certain temple-religion consists in confining God within a place, a time, some people.  God assigned a residence, with walls that keep God at a safe distance from our daily lives.  This temple-God is isolated from the world of business, education, politics and entertainment.  God and God's priests must stay in the sacristy.  Orwell (20) writes about his Anglican pastor, "But that a clergyman has any duties outside the four walls of the church, was a thing that had never seriously occurred to him."  The 'lower classes' hated him.  But he was 'largely unaware of their existence'.

We can even make a pocket-edition of God, a dwarf in shrines and Baby Jesus devotion.  At one time the Church in Europe had to act against some pictures which showed the Eucharist as a little boy crouching in the tabernacle.  With God so small, we can have the illusion that God is somehow under our control.  As this related to mere cultural religiosity, it is often confused with inculturation.  In reality it is the return of a pagan religiosity.  Jesus with the whip certainly protest against that.  It is too much like the worship of shrunken God, Goffin (21) striking definition of superstitions.  Unworth ideas of God result in unworthy forms of worship (Ibid., 22).  Here is the world of the wizard (Ibid., 34).  I much prefer the idea that the church is the house of God's people, while the house of God is his body, the people.  True worship is everywhere, not confined to a place, an activity, one aspect of our lives (Jn 4: 19-24).  Jesus, like God, is with his people everywhere, at all times, even in exile.  He came to encompass all humanity.  Not only the Jesus in history, but also the risen Lord made himself a companion of the road.  Cum and panis, a breadfellow, a mess-mate, as in the Emmaus story (Lk. 24: 13f).  He shared fish with people to prove his glorious humanity (Lk. 24: 42; Jn. 21: 9).  What counts for him is that he and we are called to become his body.  He spoke of the temple of his body (Jn. 2: 21).  It means his humanity, all of us together with the Emmanuel at all places and times.  This body could mean the ecclesial body in Paul's sense, or his glorified humanity, which seems to be closer to John's theology.  But we can never entirely rule out overtones of the Pauline theology (Fuller).  And as God is God in Jesus' way, we find here one of the truly great devotions: to live in God's presence.

Benedict's approach

The heart of this matter beats in Benedict's Rule (RB).  We do not speak of Benedictine spirituality, says Abbes McLachlan (Corrigan, 215).  It is often said, and truly, that Benedictinism has no hard and fast system of spirituality.  Its success, when we may say that it built Europe, rests on its use of the great spiritual source of all times: the New Testament, the Church fathers, and the older monastic rules.  It is a masterpiece of compilation and abbreviation.  It aims straight at being God's community of salvation.  This is why it never grows old or out of fashion and can run alongside more recent schools of spirituality, mingling with them according to the taste and needs of times and people.  When the time of these spiritualities is past, it is still itself, and remains the short-cut to Christ's body it was from the beginning.

It strikes me that the RB is a way without devotions but for the two that really matter, summarized in the Great Commandment (Mt. 22: 36-40; Mk. 12: 28-34; Jesus' special stress in Jn. 13: 34-35).  The RB goes straight at this.  These are no devotional detours, which are mistaken by so many as short-cuts, and are so often blind alleys.  Many devotional people simply never get to the Great Commandment.  The RB does nothing else in its double thrust at a life in God's presence, and the care of our neighbour.

Even the Eucharistic devotion is subdued. Says Fry (410): "To the modern reader the scarcity of references to the Eucharist in the RB may seen scandalous."  The term itself is never used.  One authority, de VogŸŽ, who studied the matter deeply, is quoted by Fry (412): "At most it is possible that a conventual Mass in St Benedict's monastery was celebrated on Sundays and feast days.  but perhaps Mass was celebrated less often, even without fixed regularity."  Other rules tell us that the ancient monks did not have the Eucharist every day, even when many were already ordained.  At most they have joined communion with other people.  In the Rule of the Mater, from which Benedict borrowed, the abbot, even non-ordained, was responsible for distributing communion, often outside the Mass.  The Eucharist itself was celebrated only on Sundays in the parish church, seldom in the convent.

Of course, our devotional approaches did not yet exist: daily Mass, for instance, or the adoration of the blessed Sacrament.  There were not yet any Marian devotions or Sacred Heart devotions, or the shattering devotions to the saints, so often mixed with superstition and credulousness.  And that precisely the point: the RB is a way to God and to each other without any of these.  I like to compare the RB to a loaf of bread or bowl of rice.  Such staple foods are bulky, nourishing and bland, and go together with other food called viands.  Bread goes with butter, jam, sardines, cheese.  Rice goes with chicken, beef, pork, fish and vegetables.  Viands are good, to some extent necessary.  But what of a diet existing exclusively of sardines.  When there is no rice in the Philippines, people speak of famine, no matter how much other food there is.  True spirituality is more than one or another devotion.  It is no spirituality at all without the Great Commandment.  This is Church-history way of looking at Amos.

That is what converted barbarian Europe: Ora et Labora, Pray and Work.  The newly settled tribespeople were attracted by the lives of men and women, who worked to make a living, as they did, plus prayer.  When many other practices were added to this, things went wrong.  Fry writes (123, 128): a great Carolingian abbey (9th century) was a vast establishment, supported by large tracts of land, worked by serfs.  The life of the monks became highly ritualized.  Many additional psalms and prayers were added to the Benedictine opus Dei, the prayer of the hours.  Churches, altars and private Masses were multiplied.  There were daily processions for the veneration of altars and relics.  This is what Huizinga calls 'the evil of superfluity'.  Aside from these, the monastery became an organ of the feudal state, and the state assured control by reserving the right to appoint the abbot, sometimes an abbot who was no monk at all, like Alcuin.  This is the investiture crisis.  Church appointments fell into the hands of lay people.  The camel's nose was already under the tent flap, says Fry, referring -- without explanation -- to an Arab fable in which a Bedouin let the camel inside his tent during a sand storm, and got crowded out into the process.  Simplicity was gone.  Devotions took the place of the Rule.  Ceremonies and worship took the place of justice and integrity, when the abbey became lordly in the feudal pyramid.  Amos all over!  Nothing fails like success.

Let us return to the stark outline of the RB.  The main idea is to live in God's presence.  The Benedictine seeks God and God's will more than one's own perfection.  God is never an abstraction outside our lives, but is involved in every effort.  The prologue says: this message of mine is for you if you are ready to give up your own will.  On the question, 'Who will dwell in your tent, O Lord?'  the answer is: "Those who do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it is the Lord's power, not their own, that brings about good in them."  Psalm 113 is quoted: 'Not to us, not to us  give the glory but to your name alone'.  And form the letters to the Corinthians: "By God's grace I am what I am," and 'who boasts should boast in the Lord.'  God's gaze is upon us wherever we may be (4: 49).  Chapter 7, which deals not only with humility but with the whole interior life, also puts this remembrance of God in the first place: "The first step of humility is that people keep the fear of God always before their eyes" (Ps. 35; Is. 6).  "Let them recall that they are always seen by God in  heaven, that their actions everywhere are in God's sight."  In the Chapter (19) on the manner in which the prayer of the hours should be performed, "we believe that the divine presence is everywhere."  The same belief runs through the RB in the frequent injunctions to see God in our companions, the strangers, the weak, the sick, everyone.  It was Benedict's own practice as described by Gregory the Great: "Under God's all-seeing gaze, he dwelt alone with himself."

It is sad when this is forgotten.  Practically speaking, when perfection itself becomes the aim, or some important work in which we are involved.  For if we take them away from God's all-seeing gaze and go after them for themselves, we will either not persevere, ot become like sarabaites (A Coptic term), "the most detestable kinds of monastics -- says Benedicts -- who stay loyal to the world by their actions" (4.6).


In the aware ness of the Church, God is everything, and so is God's Christ.  In the Bible, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the gate to the sheepfold, and a sheep himself, the Lamb of God.  In our liturgy, he is the priest, the altar and the Lamb of sacrifice (Easter Preface V).  It is to him that every knee should bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of the Father (Phil 2: 10-11).  And he is always with us to close of the age, the new covenant of God's love, the new temple (Mt. 28: 20).  The Church is his people, and Mary is its model of faith, the model of the greatness of discipleship.


Sources and Background Readings

Armstrong, Karen.  A History of God. The 4000 year quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,  Knopf: New York 1993.

Augustine of Hippo.   Sermo 25.  7-8-PL 46, 937-938.  See Breviary, Vol. IV, p. 1572.

Barré, Michael L. "Amos,"  in New Jerome Biblical Commentary, No. 13.

Baus, Karl.  From the Apostolic Community to Constantine. Vol. I of Handbook of Church History, eds. Jedin and Dolan.  Herder & Herder/Burns & Oates, 1965.

Bausch, William J.  A New Look at the Sacraments.  Revised ed.;Mystic, Conn.:Twenty-Third Publications,. 1984.

BedoyŽre, Michael de la, ed.  Objection to Roman Catholicism [by a Roman Catholic].  Harmondsworth:  Penguin, 1964.

Bernstein, Leonard and Schwartz, Stephen.  Mass (1971).  Compact Disc CBS M2K 44593.

Bokenkotter, Thomas.  A Concise History of the Catholic Church.  Revised ed.; Garden City:   Doubleday Image ,1979.

Britten, Benjamin.  War Requien (Opus 66, 1962).  Compact Disc Decca 414 382.  Anti-war poems by Wilfred Owen.

Brown, Raymond.  Priest and Bishop .  New York:  Paulist Press.

Capon, Robert Farrar.    I.  The Parables of the Kingdom, 1985.

_____________________II. The Parables of Grace, 1988. 

_____________________III. The Parables of Judgment, 1989.  Grand Rapids, Mich.:  William Eerdman.

_____________________IV. An Offering of Uncles: The Priesthood of Adam and the Shape of the World.  New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967.

_____________________V.  The Third Peacock.  Garden City:Doubleday Image, 1972.

Clarke, John, O.C.D.  St ThŽrse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversation.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publication, 1977.

Collins, Adela Yarbro.  "Commentary on Revelation",  New Jerome Biblical Commentary 1988  No. 63.

Cooke, Bernard.  Ministry to Word and Sacraments. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

Corrigan, Felicitas, O.S.B.  Benedictine Tapestry.  London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1991.

Cox, Harvey.  The Feast of Fools. Harvard University Press, 1969.

D'Argon, Jean-Louis, S.J.  "Commentary on Apocalypse",  Jerome Biblical Commentary 1968  No. 64.

Dawson, Christopher. I. The Diciding of Christendom.  New York: Doubleday, 1967.

____________________II. "The Six Ages of the Church",  The Historic Reality of Christian Culture.  New York: Harper  and Bros., 1960.

Dostoyevsky, Feodor.  The Brothers Karamazov. 1980.

Dwyer, John C.  Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity.  New York: Paulist Press, 1985.

Franzen, August and Dolan, John P.  A Concise History of the Church.  Herder & Herder/Burns & Oates, 1969.

Fry, Timothy, O.S.B., et al.  The Rule of St. Benedict.  Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981.

Goffin, Magdalen.  "Some Reflections on Superstition and Credulity",  Objections to Roman Catholicism.  See Bedoyre.

Guillemete, S.J., Nil.  Rising Sun. God Tales.  Makati:  : St Paul's, 1993.

Guitton, Jean.  Feminine Fulfillment.  Chicago, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo.  The Power of the Poor in History.  Quezon City:  Claretian Publications, 1985.

Hendrickx, Herman, C.I.C.M.  I. A Key to the Gospel of Matthew .  Quezon City: Maryhill/Claretian Publ., 1992.

___________________________II. The Househol of God.  Quezon City: Maryhill/Claretian Pub., 1992.

Hengel, Martin.  Christ and Power.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

Huizinga, Johann.  The Waning of the Middle Ages.  Garden City:  Doubleday Anchor, 1924, 1956.

Johnson, Paul.  A History of  Christianity.  New York: Atheneum, 1976.

Jones, Alexander, et al. "Introduction to the Prophet Ezekiel", The Jerusalem Bible  London: Darton, Longmans & Todd, 1966.

King, Philip J.,  "Amos,"  Jerome Bible Commentary, No. 14.

Lewis, Clive Staples.  The Great Divorce.  New York: The MacMillan Comp., 1966.

Marivoet, Camilo and Henrickx, Herman, Eds.  Pastoral S ervices,  286 a  and b.

Marrou, Henry I.   The First Six Hundred Years,.  Vol. I of the Christian Centuries.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964.

Martin, George.  "How We Got the Rosary",  Catholic Digest 1992 October, 33/3, 65f.

McKenzie, John L.  I.  "Commentary on Matthew", Jerome Biblical Commentary, No. 43.

_________________II. The Old Testament without Illusion.  Garden City:  Doubleday Image, 1980.

Munthe, Axel.  The Story of San Michele, 1929.

Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome, O.P., Talk in Maryhill School of Theology, 1984.

Neill, Thomas P. and Schmandt, Raymond H.  History of the Catholic Church.  Milwaukee: The Bruce Publ. Co., 1957.

Nolan,O.P., Albert.  Jesus before Christianity.  Quezon City: Claretian Publications., 1983

Orwell, George (Eric Blair).  I.  A Clergyman's Daughter.  Harmondsworth:  Penguin 1967.

_________________________II. Animal Farm.  Harmondsworth:  Penguin, 1968.

 Osborne, OFM, Kenan B.   Ministry: Lay Ministry in the Catholic Church.  New York: Paulist Press, 1993.

Perkin, Pheme.  "Commentary oh John",  New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1988.

Post, Regnerus.  "The Church on the Eve of the Reformation", Concilium  Vol. VII/3, 1976.

Ross, James Bruce and McLaughlin, eds.  The Portable Medieval Reader.  New York: Viking Press, 1956.

Schillebeeckx, O.P., Edward.  Mary, Mother of the Redemption.  Sheed and Ward, 1964.

Schumacher, S.J., John N.  "Book Review on three one volume English Church histories"  Landas I/2.

Sellner, Edwards C.  Wisdom of the Celtic Saints. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1993.

Simon, Paul.  The Human Element in the Church of Christ.  Cork: Mercier Press, 1953.

Smith, Charles Merill.  The Pearly Gates Syndicate, or How to Sell Real State in Heaven.Garden City, New York:  Doubleday, 1971.

Steindl-Rast, OSB, David.  Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.  New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Tagore,  Rabindranath.  "Gitanjali", Collected Poems and Plays.  London: McMillan, 1967.

Thurian, Max.  Mary, Mother of God, Figure of the Church.   London: Faith Press, 1963.

Tuchman, Barbara.  The March of Folly -- from Troy to Vietnam.  London: Abacus Paperback, 1985.

Vargas, Niceta M.  A Key to the Gospel of John  Manila: Maryhill/Claretian Publ.ications, 1994.

Vawter, Bruce.  "Commentary on john", The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968).

Visotzky, Burton L.  Reading the Book.  Garden City:  Doubleday Anchor, 1991.

Viviano, O.P., Benedict T. "Commentary on Matthew", The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1988.

Vogüé, de. "Problems of the Monastic Conventual Mass", Downside Review 1969,

p. 328.

Vranckx, Jos.  De Zinzoekers (The Searchers for Meaning).  Leuven: Davidsfonds, 1993.

Ziolkowski, Theodore.  Fictional Transfiguration of Jesus.  New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1972.