All posts by tdaxp

Impressions of “The Trial of Jesus Christ: And the History Behind It,” by David Shaneyfelt

“The Trial of Jesus Christ” is technically a podcast, but really is an audiobook. It is as long as many popular history books, about six hours. It covers similar topics with equal seriousness as popular history books, such as Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist or Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Shaneyfelt is closer in quality to Ratzinger than Pitre, as where he acknowledges a limit to his knowledge (what Mary’s response to the angel implied about her marriage in Ratzinger’s book; what the inexplicable judgment of Caiaphas means in Shaneyfelt’s) stay with the reader as long as what is known. “Trial” is free to download, and I recommend doing so.

“Trial” begins around the Last Super, and continues through the triple execution of Christ with two violent criminals. The narrative is essentially chronologically, taking the reader through the arrest, Trial before the Sanhedrin, Trial Before Pilate, hearing before Herod, and then death. These are described vividly, with a focus on procedure. So for instance, the author notes multiple times that the early Christians never accused the Sanhedrin of procedural unfairness, implying that whatever methods were taken were within the letter of their authority, if nonetheless unjust.

Trial before the Sanhedrin

“Sanhedrin” is a Greek word for the local leadership or Senate of a community. In Jewish tradition the Sanhedrin is a successor to the elders of Israel, that advised Moses (when he would listen).

At the time of Christ the Sanhedrin was headed by a High Priest, a political office regularly controlled by Annas and family in the first century. While the office of High Priest was singular it was no longer the custom to serve for life. The Archbishopric of Canterbury, and the Bishopric of Rome, likewise have only one Bishop at a time, though multiple living Bishops have headed the city. Thus, there were at least two “High Priests” present during the trial of Jesus: Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas.

(Annas had been high priest when Jesus asked questions of the religious scholars at age 12. )

Yet while we know a lot, it’s possible to jump to the wrong conclusions. Many authors (including Pitre) take the Talmud, written by Pharisees (and later, Rabbinical Jews), and apply its traditions and rules onto the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin and the Temple Priests. But the Pharisees and Sadducees were rival traditions with Judaism. The system of Oral Law that factored so heavily into the Christiani-Nahmanides disputation in Barcelona would have been unintelligible to Sadducees. Pharisees and Sadducees differed in basic religious questions:

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.
Acts 23:6-8

To attempt by other authors to use Pharisaic rules to judge a Sadducee trial would like like judging am American courtroom according to British law. Or, because of its religious connotations, like evaluating a Catholic canon lawsuit by Jewish custom! Fortunately, Shaneyfelt does not do so, and reminds the reader of where we simply do not know what the Sadducee customs were at several points.

Here’s an example. The Sanhedrin is regularly calling up witnesses in pairs, and dismissing them.

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'”
Matthew 26:59-61

This probably because of the clear meaning of Jewish Law, where two witnesses can establish a judicial fact:

One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
Deuteronomy 19:15

But then we have this oddity: immediately after this the Law states that false witnesses should be given the penalty that would have been given to the guilty party. Yet there’s no record of the witnesses found to be false by the Sanhedrin being crucified or brought to Pilate!

And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
Deuteronomy 19:18-19

There’s also the section on Adjuration and Blasphemy. Caiaphas places Jesus under oath, and asks him if he asserts a title:

But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

This appears to be Adjuration, the power of a political leader to compel testimony. This does not occur in the Torah, but is witnessed elsewhere in the Jewish scriptures:

So the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
1 Kings 22:16

Yet neither “Christ” nor “Son of God” were titles exclusively reserved for God. Likewise, in Christ’s response:

Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?”

They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”
Matthew 26:64-66

We encounter a non sequitur. Christ is clearly saying something meaningful, but it’s unclear what. Yet for both Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin the implications are clear. We are missing something. But we are left with the lack of any criticism over the procedural fairness from early Christian writers. So whatever we are missing must have been clear to them, too.

Perhaps, I wonder, was the “High Priest” mentioned is actually Christ, and presuming to put Caiaphas under oath was the blasphemy?

Trial before Pilate

Following the Jewish trial, the Sanhedrin presented Jesus to the Romans. The reason, and obstacle, are both clear. Jesus was convicted of blasphemy, which has a penalty of death under Jewish law. But under Roman law, only Roman courts could use capital punishment. Roman law was supreme to Jewish law. And, frustratingly for the Sanhedrin, blasphemy was not a capital crime under Roman law.

Compared to Sadducee process, we have a a more detailed understanding of the Roman legal system. We have centuries of written reports of how it functioned and change over the ages. In the case of Christ’s trial before Pilate, the outline is clear: while a non-Roman had remarkably few rights in Roman court in an occupied province, one of a governor’s primary public-facing duties was to adjudicate disputes, and a perception as a competent and wise judge was useful politics.

There are later written accounts of trials similar to Christ’s, but with different outcomes. One, of a man proclaiming himself a prophet, accused by the Jews, scourged — and then released, on account of insanity is intriguing because of the implied motives (did people remember a mess after a different outcome to a nearly identical process)?

As with the Sadducee trial, there’s mystery. Pilate appears to find Jesus not guilty and end the trial.

Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “””Behold the Man!”

Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”
John 19:5-6

Or… perhaps not. Is the remark wholly sarcastic, as Pilate also sarcastically remands Jesus back to the Sanhedrin. Is the execution itself irregular, or was Pilate bullied by the mob? Or perhaps there was a new charge and a new trial — that of claiming to be Caesar, or abrogating a title (“Son of God”) belonging to Caesar:

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorian, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.
John 19:7-9

In any case, Pilate tried to avoid responsibility for the whole affair by hoping Herod Antipas would take jurisdiction:

But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
Luke 23:5-7

Hearing before Herod

The only section that seemed light was the section on Herod Antipas.

From the Gospel he has some kind of complex relationship with Pilate:

That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.
Luke 23:12

Shaneyfelt praises Herod’s skill as a survivor. This may be true (I am not a historian), but my impression is that Herod survived because of a lack of ability. Herod the Great had killed or attempted to kill a number of competent successors or pretenders, including the last Hasmoneans, Aristobulus III and Hyrcanus II, and even Christ himself, so being able and surviving Herod the Great seem almost contradictory. In the narrative itself, Herod Antipas seems more interested in Christ as an actual magician than either as a rebel or as a spiritual leader:

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.
Luke 23:8-11

(To my mind, the Gospel writer is having fun with poor Herod here, as his puppet dynasty was hardly backed by his own “men of war”)

In addition, the Gospels present us a picture of a weak Antipas, afraid of his own court and being manipulated by females:

But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.
Matthew 14:6-10

What’s true? I don’t know. But I would have liked to know why Shaneyfelt makes the conclusions he does about Antipas.

Final Thoughts

The book ends with a section on the two robbers, lestai, ??????, criminals who take by force.

Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Matthew 27:38-40

Robber, the same word in Greek, is the description of the attacker of the Samaritan

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves [???????], who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves [???????]?”
Luke 10:30-36

And it is a den of robbers — again the same word — that is the current state of the deformed Temple:

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves [??????].'”
Matthew 21:12-13

That “Jesus” — unadorned with titles or descriptions — is only used by a robber in our oldest Greek Bibles — is striking

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42

At the end of our journey to the trials of the classical near east, and the early life of Jesus, we are quietly left with this. Jesus, remember me. Shaneyfelt does not make it explicit, but as I finished the podcast I realized the Fatima prayer (which is also inexplicably echoed in the Qur’an!), helps us recognize that we are in the same state as that robber, that attacker of travelers, that desecrator of the Temple:

O my Jesus,
forgive us our sins,
save us from the fire of hell,
lead all souls to heaven,
especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.

Jesus, remember us, when you come into your Kingdom.

I listened to “The Trial of Jesus Christ” in its podcast edition.

Qur’an 20: Ta Ha

The twentieth chapter of the Qur’an, “Ta Ha,” describes the birth, corruption, and potential transfiguration of holy orders. Aaron was established priest to help Moses. He helped Moses preach to Pharaoh, and in the Qur’anic narrative deserves credit for the conversion of Pharaoh’s magicians. But he built the golden calf, led the people astray, and mimicked instead of imitated Moses. Yet God was merciful, Aaron was re-united with Moses, and he was able to truly follow Moses after this correction.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.
Genesis 4:7

A Reading, from the Book of Exodus

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.

Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Exodus 32:1-6

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

He made a path for His anger;
He did not spare their soul from death,
But gave their life over to the plague,

And destroyed all the firstborn in Egypt,
The first of their strength in the tents of Ham.

But He made His own people go forth like sheep,
And guided them in the wilderness like a flock;

And He led them on safely, so that they did not fear;
But the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And He brought them to His holy border,
This mountain which His right hand had acquired.
Psalms 78:50-54

A Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:11-19

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

“This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us.
Acts 7:38

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel according to John:

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.
John 15:11-17

Communion Antiphon

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it.
Exodus 12:43

A Qur’anic Homily

The Lost and the Found

We read of those great events in the wilderness, the Epiphany in the desert. That day of Moses, foreshadowing the Day of the Lord:

So when he came to it, he was called, “Oh Moses!

I am indeed your Lord! So take off your sandals. You are indeed in the sacred valley of Tuwa.

I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed.

I am indeed God — there is no god except Me. So worship me, and maintain the prayer for My remembrance. Indeed, the Hour is bound to have.

I will have it hidden, so that every soul may be rewarded for its endeavor. So do not let yourself be distracted from it by those who do not believe in it and who follow their desires, or you will perish.
Qur’an 20:11-16

Let’s look at what that promised Hour is. It’s the restoration of things, when the way they should have been, are made again. Consider the transfiguration of Moses’s staff:

Moses, what is that in your right hand?’

He said, ‘It is my staff. I lean on it and with it I beat down leaves for my sheep, and I have other uses for it.

He said, ‘Moses, throw it down.’

So he threw it down, and lo! It was a snake, moving swiftly.

He said, ‘Take hold of it and do not fear. We will restore it to its former state.
Qur’an 20:17-21

Now let’s briefly look at another thing, lost but to be found. One man, Moses himself. Lost to his mother, and found again after his sister Mary became his helper.

When your sister walked up, saying “Shall I show you someone who will take care of him?” Then We restored you to your mother, so that she might not be grieve and comforted. Then you slew a soul, whereupon We delivered you from anguish, and We tried you with various ordeals. Then you stayed for several years among the people of Midian. Then you turned up as ordained, O Moses!
Qur’an 20:40

Man, lost during the fall, but regained through the Redemption:

Certainly We had enjoined Adam earlier, but he forgot, and We did not find any resoluteness in him…

Then his Lord chose him and turned to him clemently, and guided him.
Qur’an 20:115,122

Between the apparent triviality of Moses’s staff, the clear importance of a man’s own life and our existential (to us, at least) importance as humans, comes another class of creation: the priest. Like the staff it was created at first for Moses (according to the Qur’anic author), to assist him in his work:

Appoint for me a minister from my family, Aaron, my brother. Strengthen my back through him and make him my associate in my task, so that we may glorify You greatly, and remember You much. You indeed are watching us.

He said, “Moses, your request has been granted!”
Qur’an 20:29-36

Moses, and that kind of other-Moses the priest, are here to provide instruction, correction, and encouragement. Even Pharaoh should be spoken to softly.

Go ahead, you and your brother, with My signs, and do not flag in My remembrance. Both of you go to Pharaoh, for he has indeed rebelled. Speak to him in a soft manner; maybe he will take admonition or fear.

They said, “Our Lord! We are indeed afraid that he will forestall us or will exceed all bounds.”

He said, “Do not be afraid, for I will be with the two of you, hearing and seeing.
Qur’an 20:42-46

God will never abandoned us, never abandon anyone. As Christ said during Maundy Thursday, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you”:

And I chose you for Myself.
Qur’an 20:41

The Magicians

Even those who, from our perspective, were always lost may be found. Consider the Pharaoh’s magicians, who were never Hebrews, and never loyal to the God of Moses:

They said, “These two are indeed magicians who indeed to expel you from your land with their magic and to abolish your excellent tradition.
Qur’an 20:63

God is the ultimate sovereign, and God can save even them. Even persecutors from whom you have never experienced kindness may be saved by the Lord:

Thereat the magicians fell down prostrating. They said, “We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses!”

[Pharaoh] said, “Did you believe him before I should permit you? He is indeed your chief who has taught you magic! Surely, I will cut off your hands and feet from opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and you will know which of us can inflict a severer and more lasting punishment.”

They said, “We will never prefer you to the clear proofs which have come to us and to Him who originated us. Decide whatever you want to decide. You can only decide about the life of this world. We have indeed believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our offenses and the magic you compelled us to perform. God is better and more lasting.”
Qur’an 20:70-73

Of course, the opposite fate may befall them. Others, who were never gracious, will be destroyed:

We revealed to Moses, “Set out with my servants at night and strike out for them a dry path through the sea. Do not be afraid of being overtaken, and have no fear.

Then Pharaoh pursued them with his troops, whereat they were engulfed by what engulfed them of the sea. Pharaoh led his people astray and did not guide them.
Qur’an 20:77-79

The difference is clear: there is always the option to turn towards the Lord. In all places and in all times the Lord has the right to forgive who he wishes, and the contrite heart is always his desire:

I indeed forgive those who repent, become faithful, act righteously, and thereafter follow guidance.
Qur’an 20:83

Now, let’s turn from these two situations: the once virtuous who were lost, and the simply lost, to another: when the lost are your religious leaders.

When the Priests Turn From God

When Moses went up the mountain he left his brother Aaron as a shepherd over the flock of Israel, as a watchman over the people.

It did not go well.

He said, “We indeed tried your people in your absence, and the Watchman has lead them astray.
Qur’an 20:85

The Qur’anic author sees Aaron’s specific mistake as something between idolatry and iconography. Aaron creates a Golden Calf, and appears to equate it with his own God, Moses’s God, the God of salvation. This is in keeping with the old religion’s view of God as bull-like:

Then he produced for them a calf — a body with a low — and they said. This is your God and the god of Moses, so he forgot! Did they not see that it did not answer them, nor could it bring them any benefit or harm?
Qur’an 20:89

Aaron had turned away from God, insisting the people follow his (instead of the Lord’s) command — until Moses comes again, said the people:

Aaron had certainly told them earlier, “O my people! You are only being tested by it. Indeed, your Lord is the All-beneficent. So follow me and obey my command!’ They had said, ‘We will keep on attending to it until Moses returns to us.”

He said, “O Aaron! What kept you, when you saw them going astray, from following me? Did you disobey my command?”
Qur’an 20:90-93

The parallel to the Catholic Church is clear. Aaron’s conception of intermediaries made it easy for him to become a law to himself. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of a similar phenomenon, the secularization of the bishops, and their move to be powers of their own. This processed criticized as early as the Qur’an was not corrected until the middle 20th century:

While the medieval text prescribed a so-called indicative sacramental formula and saw the ordination as resulting from the indicative of the conferral of power, ordination is accomplished according to the 1947 text in a supplicatory form, in the manner of a petition, of a prayer. Thus it is apparent even in the external form that the true conferrer of powers is the Holy Spirit, to whom the sacramental prayer is addressed, not the human consecrator.

The medieval rite is formed on the pattern of investiture in a secular office. Its key word is potestas. The rite that Pius XII decrees represents a return to the form used in the early Church. It is pneumatologically oriented in terms of both gesture (since the imposition of hands signifies the conferral of the Holy Spirit) and word: the Preface is a petition for the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the key word is now ministerium or munus: service and gift; hence the words of priestly ordination speak also of the duty of good example and moral discipline.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, p. 241

The Priest mimicked Moses out of love. But the Qur’anic author distinguishes this mimicry from true imitation. Consider the dust came from Moses’s walk on his way. The Priest also throws up dust in mimicry, but by his hands and not his feet:

He said, “I saw what they did not see. I took a handful from the messenger’s trail and threw it. That is how my soul prompted me.”
Qur’an 20:96

From this Aaron is restored. Neither the Torah, nor the Psalms, nor the Gospels, nor the Qur’an itself (according to the Qur’anic author) are there to cause misery, but are hope and help from God.

We did not send down the Lectionary to you that you should be miserable, but only as an admonition to him who fears. A sending down from Him who created the earth and the lofty heavens — the All-beneficent, settled on the Throne.
Qur’an 20:2-4

Aaron was transfigured from a sinner he becomes a sacred priest and a preacher of righteousness.

He said, “Begone! It shall be yours throughout life to say, “Do not touch me!” There is indeed a tryst for you which you will not fail to keep! Now look at your god to whom you kept on attending. We will burn it down and then scanner it into the sea.

“Your God indeed is God; there is no God except Him. He embraces all things in knowledge.”
Qur’an 20:97-98

And thus, the Qur’anic author at last finally turns to his audience: religious and priests of the Catholic Church.

The Audience

The Qur’anic community was Arian Christians who were cut off from the Sacraments. But the novel theology of his denial of the Church and attack on corrupt bishops— combined with his reassuring love of Mary, devotion to the Passion and admiration of Peter — made him attractive for Catholic priests and religious too. The Qur’anic author seems to be speaking to Catholic priests and monks, whose alienation has a different source than the Qur’anic authors (presumably wavering Catholics upset by perceived unfair and unjust treatment, as opposed to Arian die-hards. But to this new audience the Qur’an (“Lectionary”) is presented as addressed to a particular people, and in a way that requires close reading to understand. The response to reading a part of it should not be to actually change one’s practices, but to give the rest a fair hearing as well:

Thus We have sent it down as an Arabic Lectionary and We have paraphrased the warnings in it variously, so that they may be Godwary, or it may prompt them to remembrance. So, exalted is God, the True Sovereign. Do not hasted with the Lectionary before its revelation is completed for you, and say, “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.”
Qur’an 20:113-114

The bishops, those antagonists of the Qur’anic author, are much more powerful than either the author or his audience. But in the most prophetic part of the Lectionary, he looks upon the bishops in their cathedrals and remembers others who have been torn down:

Does it now dawn on them how many generations We have destroyed before them, and in whose dwellings they walk? There are indeed signs in this for those who have a good sense. Were it not for a prior decree of your Lord and a stated time… would have been immediate!
Qur’an 20:128-129

The solution is to be patient, as Moses was patient with Pharaoh. In the end the Pharaoh’s armies were smashed, and the same thing would happen to those armies loyal to the bishops. But just as Aaron was able to enlist the magicians to his side, the early Christian sympathizers to the Qur’anic author may gain allies as well.

Say, “Everyone is waiting.” So wait! Soon you will know who are the people of the right path, and who is guided.
Qur’an 20:135

So for now, be patient, and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The Sacraments may not be physically available, but God still turns his ears to prayer.

So be patient with what they say, and celebrate the praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before the sunset, and glorify Him in watches of the night and at the day’s ends, so that you may be pleased.
Qur’an 20:130

But what of the ‘family’ of these — other priests and religious who are still in the Church? And what of the beloved dead, whose names would be forgotten if monasteries close? Will they be forgotten?

They are not forgotten, because God remembers them:

[Pharaoh] said, “Who is your Lord, Moses?”

He said, “Our Lord is He who gave everything its creation and then guided it.”

He said, “What about the former generations?”

He said, “Their knowledge is with my Lord, in a Book. My Lord neither makes any error nor forgets.”
Qur’an 20:49-52

And the beloved living should be encouraged in prayer. Pray. And trust in God. For God will decide what happens next.

And bid your family to prayer and be steadfast in maintaining it. We do not ask any provision of you: it is We who provide for you, and the ultimate outcome belongs to Godwariness.
Qur’an 20:132

Conclusion

The twentieth chapter of the Qur’an, “Ta Ha,” follows directly from the nineteenth, “Mary.” “Mary” contrasted the grace and simplicity of Mary with the behavior of the apostles and their successors, and asks the question: why rely on sacraments from the successors to the apostles when one can imitate the devotions of our holy mother? “Ta Ha” takes a similar aim but to a specific argument: Catholic religious. In “Ta Ha” the unique features of the Qur’an are minimized, the bishops are sympathetically if critically compared to Aaron, and the true nature of the imitation of Christ is explored.

In a dialogue intended to be between an angel and Moses, but applicable to all the faithful, the Qur’anic author writes:

Certainly We have down you a favor another time, when We revealed to your mother whatever was to be revealed: “Put him in the casket and cast into the river. Then the river will cast it on the bank, and he shall be picked up by an enemy of Mine, and an enemy of his.” And I made you endearing, and that you might be reared under My eyes.
Qur’an 20:37-39

Indeed. It is by entering a casket in a river — dying to ourselves — that we may be re-united with our holy mother. To this pious exhortation the Qur’anic author of course adds his heretical views — in his post-ecclesial community, a priest to die to himself means abandoning the bishops, abandoning the sacraments, and accepting a role as a preacher and a helper to the One whose return he awaits.

Qur’an 19: Mary

The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an, “Mary,” contrasts Mary with the Bishops. The unparalleled access to Christ provided by Mary is contrasted to the Bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles. The Qur’anic author urges the God-wary to turn away from the successors to the Apostles, and look to Mary’s example of making Christ manifest.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

“Sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!”
Exodus 15:21-22

A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar…

When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
Ezekiel 47:1,7-10

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
Psalms 82:5-8

A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Acts 1:12-14

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
Luke 1:52

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from The Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Communion Antiphon

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelations 22:17

A Qur’anic Homily

Moses, Aaron, and Mary

Consider that holy family, the children of Amram. Wee see the way that Jews over the centuries honored Moses and Aaron. But perhaps Miriam — Hebrew for “Mary” — was the greatest sign for us:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Micah 6:2-4

Paul spoke of many gifts of the spirit, including prophecy and priesthood. But Mary is greater than any of these gifts. Follow Mary!

Jesus and Mary

God could have granted Jesus an earthly foster father named Moses or Aaron. God didn’t. Think if this was a sign to what is Real — to what it means to really know what is Real:

That is Jesus, son of Mary, a Word of the Real concerning whom they are in doubt.
Qur’an 19:34

Mary is the prototypical submitter-to-God. Mary sister-of-Moses sung of God’s glory when horse and rider were thrown into the sea. And Mary mother-of-Jesus said “Yes!” and did not demand any honor or praise, beyond what was given to her by God. The Qur’anic author elides even Mary’s response — “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” — to emphasize Mary’s lack of pretension or demands on God:

She said, ‘How shall I have a child seeing that no human being has ever touched me, nor have I been unchaste?”

He said, ‘So shall it be. Your Lord says, “It is simple for Me, and so that We may make him a sign for mankind and mercy from us, and it is a matter already decided.”
Qur’an 19:20-21

Mary points to Christ the real in a way beyond how Moses and Aaron could, because she is more perfect than them. The Qur’anic author makes this point by having townspeople (who are accusing Mary of fornication) call her “kinswoman of the Aaronites.” Her namesake Miriam was kinswoman of Aaron. But As Christ’s priesthood is more perfect than Aaron’s, treating Mary as second to Aaron is just absurd.

Then, carrying him, she brought him to her people. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly come up with an odd thing! O kinswoman of the Aaronites! Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste.’
Qur’an 19:27-28

Here’s another way to think of Mary’s priesthood. Consider that which makes Christ’s presence real — the Sacrament. While the Eucharist is the source & summit of the Catholic faith, Christ’s presence was even more complete and more manifest when Mary gave birth. Likewise, the true presence requires words from a priest’s mouth:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

But when Mary made Christ manifest, he spoke for himself. The Qur’anic author emphasizes the closeness of Mary to Christ, by noting that a purpose of the Incarnation was itself kindness to Mary:

Then she pointed to him.

They said, “How can we speak to One who is yet a baby in the cradle?

He Said, “I am indeed a servant of God.

He has
given me the Book and
made me a Prophet.

He has
made me Blessed,
wherever I may be,

and He has enjoined me to the

The Prayer, and
The Alms-Giving (as long as I live), and To be good to my Mother.

And He has not made me self-willed and wretched.

Peace to me the day
I was born,
the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.
Qur’an 19:29-33

The Apostles and Mary

Now consider two groups: the bishops — the successors to the Apostles — and Mary. Which is a surer hope. The ones with worldly power and riches?

When Our clear signs are recited to them, the faithless say to the faithful, ‘Which of the two groups is superior in station and better with respect to company?’ How many a generation We have destroyed before them who were superior in furnishings and appearance!
Qur’an 19:73-74

The Bishops — especially in the middle east, and for three centuries before the Qur’anic author — insisted they were to be treated as “earthly gods.” Is this how we would expect Mary to demand to be treated? Does it give us a clue who is the surer hope?

The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God trod you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honored by you.

For concerning him, arid such as he, it is that God pronounces,

“I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all children of the Most High.”

And,

“Ye shall not speak evil of the gods.”

For let the bishop preside over you as one honored with the authority of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is to govern all the people. But let the deacon minister to him, as Christ does to His Father; and let him serve him blamelessly in all things, as Christ does nothing of Himself, but does always those things that please His Father. Let also the deaconess be honored by you in the place of the Holy Ghost, and not do or say anything without the deacon; as neither does the Comforter say or do anything of Himself, but gives glory to Christ by waiting for His pleasure.
The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, c. 325, II.IV.XXVI

The Qur’anic author has a number of criticisms of the Catholic Church. He seems to have been a heretic — at the time of the writing, his “Arian” beliefs that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages (instead of begotten before all ages) was in its last breaths, and Arian sacraments mediated by the successors of the apostles were nearly impossible to obtain. But were the remaining successors — who called themselves gods — the appropriate thing for the community take?

They have taken gods besides God so that they may be a might to them. No Indeed! Soon they will disown their worship, and they will be their opponents. Have you not regarded that We unleash the devils upon the faithless to urge them vigorously?
Qur’an 19:81-83

But Mary’s goal was not might among men, but quietly allowing her body to do the work of God. Thus did God send the Holy Spirit to Mary, and thus was the perfect child, Jesus, born:

And mention in the book Mary, when she withdrew from her family to an easterly place. Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a perfect human. Qur’an 19:17

Mary is a perfect imitation to and a perfect sign to Jesus, suffering in her birth pains as Christ would suffer in her passion, but while Christ was guided directly by God, it is Christ who even in the womb announces the gospel to His mother (in words that echo the Prophet Ezekiel, who notes that springs will flow from the Temple, in keeping with the traditional view that sees Mary as the perfect Temple).

Thus she conceived him, then withdrew with him to a distance place. The birth pangs brought her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “I wish I had died before this and become a forgotten thing, beyond recall.”

Thereupon he called her from below: “Do not grieve! Your Lord has made a spring to flow at your feet. Shake the trunk of a palm tree, freshly picked dates will drop upon you. Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, “I have indeed vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today.”
Qur’an 19:22-26

The Qur’an’s view of Mary is very close Taylor Marshall‘s, who emphasizes Mary’s special and greater relationship, not just with Christ but with the Holy Spirit as well:

While the Holy Apostles were generally ignorant of the Holy Ghost, the Immaculate Mary knew Him intimately. Mary had already experienced the descent of the Holy Ghost at her Immaculate Conception since at that moment she was not merely preserved from all sin, but also filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. She was perfectly possessed by the Holy Ghost from the first moment of her existence. This is why Saint Francis of Assisi and other great saints have called Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The analogy of matrimony is the strongest and best way to signify a union of two persons in their mission.
The Spirit and the Bride,” by Taylor Marshall

It was obvious in the day of the Qur’anic author, and in our own day, that legitimate apostolic succession is not a guarantee of a shared communion. Today Catholic and Orthodox bishops recognize each others succession, but deny communion to each other. Even dire heresies — like the Arian divide, the Nestorian divide, and so on — had bishops on each side. Following the successors of the twelve men who made up the Apostles have not given us a united community.

[Jesus said,’ “God is indeed my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is a straight path.

But the factions differed among themselves. So woe to the faithless at the scene of a tremendous day. How will they will hear and how well they will see on the day when they come to Us! But today the wrongdoers are in plain error.
Qur’an 19:37-38

Even worth, it has often not given us a gracious community. [Many bishops in the late classical world gave the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice a lifetime. But does anyone believe that Christ would not forgive a repentant sinner the second time? Or that His mother would spurn such a contrite heart?

But they were succeeded by an evil posterity who neglected the prayer and followed appetites. So they will soon encounter perversity, barring those who

repent, believe, and act righteously.

Such will enter paradise and they will not be wronged in the least.
Qur’an 19:59-60

What good is the Sign of Peace from a bishop who will not cooperate with Christ to forgive sins? To be with Mary, to follow the signs to Jesus, means knowing a Sign of Peace that is without vanity, without pretension, but full of grace.

Therein they will not hear vain talk, but only “Peace!” Therein they will have their provision morning and evening. This is the paradise that We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are Godwary.
Qur’an 19:62-63

In Conclusion

Arian heretics considered themselves catholic, and professed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They believed that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages, while the rest of the church taught that Christ was begotten before all ages. The successful obliteration of he Arian heresy among Bishops made it impossible for remaining Arian communities to receive the sacraments from an Arian bishop. At the same time, many Catholic bishops in the near east considered themselves “gods” and refused granting the Sacrament of Confession more than once or twice per lifetime — views both well documented and now considered bizarre. The Qur’anic author, caring for an Arian community in this context, urged the faithful to abandon the idea of the “church” and apostolic succession. He urged those who feared God to turn from the bishops and instead seek Mary as a sure way to God.

Impressions of “The Memoirs of St Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark,” by Michael Pakaluk

My brother and sister-in-law gave me this translation of the Gospel According to Mark for Christmas. The work is great, and made me think about Mark’s gospel in a new way. In these impressions I’ll share some background of Mark’s gospel, my impressions from the first translation I read, and my impressions now. I’ll also comment on the quality of the translation as well as translator’s note.

As I said almost four years ago, “The Gospel of Mark is so fast it leaves you dizzy.” What I now see is, The Gospel of Mark shows you the reality behind the reality.

Mark’s Gospel

According to tradition (which on its face is so boring that it’s hardly worth commenting), Mark was Peter’s personal secretary, in the way that Baruch was the secretary to Jeremiah, or as Titus was the secretary of Paul.

However much the Apostle Paul possessed knowledge of the holy Scriptures, and had a gift of speaking and abilities in various languages… he still was incapable of expressing himself, in eloquent Greek words, in such a way as to match the majesty of the divine meanings of things. Therefore, he employed the services of Titus as his interpreter, just as St. Peter employed the services of Mark, whose Gospel was composed by Peter narrating and Mark transcribing.
Excerpted by Pakaluk from St Jerome, “To Hebdia,” Question 11

As the first Pope and Christ’s Prime Minister it stands to reason that Peter was a good speaker, and (as a fisherman) it makes sense that Peter’s written works would be mediated by someone he trusted.

Mark’s Gospel is considered to be stories told by Peter, but arranged by Mark. It is shorter than either, and feels written in a rush. In the New Testament, Mark’s gospel sits between the very Jewish Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, which focuses on women and gentiles. When read in order, Mark serves to underline the basic themes introduced by Matthew, giving depth to Luke’s re-contextualization of them. Or, one could view the entire Hebrew Bible and Matthew as part of one color palette — Mark representing Matthew’s material in black and white — and Luke presenting it again, with a different color palette.

What’s Now Obvious

Pakaluk’s notes begin with an observation that the tenses (past, present, and future) in the Gospel of Matthew are all over the place. A scene will begin in the past tense, shift to present tense, and shift to another tense in Greek. Most translations view these as errors — perhaps Mark was not that good at Greek, or perhaps he was trying to preserve Peter’s stories word-per-word — and smooth them out.

Pakaluk’s “gimmick” is to preserve the confusion of tenses. They make the story come alive. Like a mobster’s confession in The Irishman — “then i tell him,” “he says,” “you guys knows what he had done” — and so on — the narrator becomes a character. Mark is not a presented as a chronology of events — they are presented as a fisherman’s testimony to these events.

But this roughness is used by Mark to emphasize the allegorical and archetypal events of the Gospels. Christ is confirmed in terms by the Holy Spirit and the Father, emerging from the chaos:

Well, as for John, he was clothed in camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist. And for food he ate locusts and wild honey. And he cried out, “Right behind me comes someone greater than I! I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen the tie on his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

So it was in this setting that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was emerging from the water, he saw heaven opened up and the Spirit coming down upon him as a dove. And there was a voice from heaven, “You are my son, my beloved one. I delight in you.”
Mark 1:6-11

And immediately Christ returns into the Chaos:

So right away, the Spirit carries him out into the desert. And he was in the desert for forty days, where he was put to the test by Satan. He faced dangerous animals. And the angels ministered to him.
Mark 1:12-13

In another of these cycles near the beginning of the text, another symbol of chaos and death — the Sea — is emphasized three times:

He began to teach again besides the sea. Such a large crowd gathered around him he had to get into a boat and take his seat there in the sea. The entire crowd was right up to the sea.
Mark 4:1

In the next verse the Narrator reminds the reader of the importance of understanding the real meaning of the story — of listening carefully — and reading between the lines:

He used to teach them many things by drawing comparisons. When he taught, he would say the following to them: “Listen carefully. Look. The sower went out to sow.”
Mark 4:2-3

The parable ends with a hermenutic key of the entire book:

So he says to them, “So you do not grasp this comparison — and how will you grasp every comparison?”
Mark 4:2-3, 13

And after the parable, after the Sea, the Sea, the Sea — what’s on the other side of the sea? Tombs. “Burial caves.” Hills. Death. The devouring mother.

So they arrived on the other side of the sea, in the district of the Gerasenes. As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclear spirit came out of the tombs and confronted him.

This man had made his home among the burial caves. There was no longer any possibility of anyone trying him up, even with chains — he had been repeatedly tied up with chains and shackles, and the chains were pulled apart by him, and the shackles crushed. No one had strength to overpower him. Constantly through the night and during the day he would be among the burial caves and hills, shouting out loud and cutting himself with rocks.

So when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran to him, and kneeled down in front of him. Shouting in a loud voice, he says, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High? God!! Swear by God that you will not torment me!” (The reason is that Jesus was saying, “Come out, unclear spirit, from the man.”) Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” So he says, “Legion is my name, because we are many.” He begs and begs him not to send them out of that district.
Mark 5:1-10

Christ establishes this pattern — entrance of death, salvation of man — and his disciples are slow to pick it up. Seen analogically, the miracles of the loaves introduces an almost identical theme — wilderness — and the need re-order it. This story begins with a statement that there is a teaching, once again emerging from the watery chaos:

He saw the vast crowd as he got out of the boat. He felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, he started teaching them many things.
Mark 6:34

You are in the crowd. But He feels compassion for you. He is teaching you.

Even in this desolate place. You will not need to buy yourself food.

Come together, like a dinner party. There is more than enough.

When it was already very late, the disciples went up to him and were saying, “This place is desolate.” “It is getting very late.” “Send them away That way they can go to the surrounding farms and towns and buy themselves something to eat.” He replied to them, “You give them something to eat yourselves.” They say to him, “We are supposed to go out and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give it to them to eat?” He says to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go find that out.” They make a determination and say, “Five. And two fish as well.” So he told them to have everyone sit down and form as it were dinner parties, side by side, on the green grass. As they sat down in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty, looking like flower beds set side to side. So taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to serve to them. He also divided the two fish among all the disciples. Everyone ate and was full.
Mark 6:35-42

Christ expects his disciples — including the reader — to take a lesson, as the scene ends as Christ entrances begin — to be with Him in the sea. While he ascends to the sky:

Immediately after, he made his disciples get into the boat and go across to Bethsaida while he dismissed the crowd. After he sent the crowd away, he went off to a mountain to pray. When the evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake. He was alone on the dry land.
Mark 6:45-47

The roughness of the speech emphasizes the allegorical reality.

And the pattern this creates while reading Mark — that the events have meaning, make it easier to notice variations on a theme

Calling together the crowd, along with his disciples, he told them, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself. Let him take up his cross. Let him follow me.”
Mark 8:34

I say to you, get up, take your pallet, and return home!”
Mark 2:11

What to one man is denying himself, is to another doing the opposite of his life: standing instead of sitting. What to one man is a cross to another is a pallett: the instrument of humiliation. What to one man is a journey away to another is a journey home: facing danger.

Pakaluk’s rough-and-ready translation of Mark makes the archetypal themes more vivid. Mark is not just a reset of Matthew, not just black-and-white, but “HDR” – the allegorical reality behind the physical reality bright shining as the Sun.

But sadly, this is not explored. The archetypes present in Mark alert us to an allegorical sense of these scriptures. It is not Pakaluk but Jordan Peterson who best describes this type of language:

It is primordial separation of light from darkness — engendered by Logos, the Word, equivalent to the process of consciousness — that initiates human experience and historical activity, which is reality itself, for all intents and purposes. This initial division provides the prototypical structure, and the fundamental precondition, for the elaboration and description of more differentiated attracting and repulsing pairs of opposites…
Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pg. 228-229

and presents its conclusion:

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is the Logos — the word of God — that creates order from chaos — and it is in the image of the Logos that man [“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26)] is created.
Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pg. 87

An Aside: Peter Across the Texts

The beauty of this translation of Mark’s gospel, and the way it reinforced the Traditional understanding (that these are Peter’s thoughts, and Peter’s monologue, expressed through Mark’s pen) helps me see two inter-related themes across his works: the growing nature of faith, and the role of proclamation in faith.

Mark’s gospel expresses this truth didactically:

[Jesus] questioned the father, “How many times years has he been like this?”

]The boy’s father] said, “Since he was a child. Many times it even throws him into fire or into water, to destroy him. But if if you can do anything… have mercy on us and help us!”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’?! Everything is possible for a man who believes.”

Without missing a beat, the father of that little boy cried and out said, “I believe! Help my unbelief!
Mark 9:21-24

The same reality is expressed in narrative form, showing Peter himself believes through proclamation, but has unbelief through his actions:

So while Peter is below the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the chief priests comes up. Seeing Peter warming himself, she looked right at him and then says,”You too were with Jesus of Nazareth.” But he denied it and says, “I neither know nor even understand what you are asking. So he left to go outside the courtyard, to the anteroom. Then a cock crowed. So the servant girl, watching him, started saying again to the men standing there, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again. So, after a little while, again the men standing there said to Peter, “You are definitely one of them. You are a Galilean, You speak like a Galilean. He began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” Right then and there a cock crowed for a second time. Peter remembered the statement Jesus had spoken to him, “Before a cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down crying.
Mark 14:66-71

The same theme of dynamic faith is made explicit in Peter’s second letter to the Catholic Church:

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

And the same theme is preserved in the eleventh Qur’anic chapter, which itself is a commentary on 2 Peter:

It was revealed to Noah: ‘None of your people will believe except those who already have faith; so do not sorrow for what they used to do.
Qur’an 11:36

Faith means allegiance, and it can be greater or lesser, but if we judge by the lack of any of it, we may miss God’s patience with us as we desire to have all of it.

Translation and Notes

Given all this praise, it’s inexplicable that Pakaluk does not translate the actual words Mark writes. Throughout the work he translates, and then in a footnote states the actual translation is something else…

So Jesus said to them: “Come, follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of men.”
Mark 1:17

but then as a translator’s note, Pakaluk writes:

The point is reinforced by Lour Lord’s language “I will turn you into” is literally “I will make it so that you become.” Their becoming Fishers of Men will be the result of some kind of effective action on Our Lord’s part.

I have no idea when I can trust the words on the page to be what they mean. An interlinear Greek-English Bible implies the word-for-word translation is:

And said to them, Jesus: “Come after Me and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

But why did Pakaluk add “turn” and remove “make.” No explanation is given.

Robert Alter’s translations of the Hebrew Bible, and Gabriel Said Reynold’s translations of the Qur’an add much to the text. One gets a sense of the significance of the words used, the linguistic subtext to the phrase, and cross-references to other works (including the Bible) with similar themes or phrases. Pakaluk provides some of this, but most of the footnotes are didactic Catholic theology. I appreciate this as a Catholic, but the reader definitely receives what Pakaluk believes to be the correct ideas to believe, and not a fully appreciation for the Word of God in human language.

Here’s a specific example. Note how Pakaluk opens a fascinating door (why do some people have nicknames), and closes it immediately after getting a pre-determined answer (Peter was important, ignore the others). First, the setting:

So he goes up a mountain, and he summons the men he himself had decided upon. They left and came to him. He created Twelve (whom he also named “apostles”), who would be with him; and he would send them out to preach; and they would have authority to expel evil spirits. He appointed the Twelve men: Peter (the name he gave Simon), and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (he gave them the names Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder), and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon from Cana, and Judas Iscariot (the man who actually betrayed him)
Mark 3:13-19

And in the notes…

Peter
Peter is mentioned first, implying priority. By mentioning the conferral of the name Peter, or “Rock,” in connection with the appointment of men to the Twelve offices, Mark suggests that the role of Peter, too, is an office. In the case of the Twelve, the offices are established first and then men are appointed to them. In the case of Peter, however, the man is first chosen and given preeminence, and then the name is conferred on him. The name “Peter” indicates the offices itself is identified with Simon Peter. If it can be passed down, it must be as the office of this man, Peter…

and

Sons of Thunder
This seems a nickname with no juridical significance: Why isn’t Peter, then, also a mere nickname? For two reasons:

Listing the apostles, Mark uses the conferred name Peter and mentions incidentally tat this is the man originally referred to in his narrative as Simon. That is, the conferred name has supplanted the original name. His name as an apostle is Peter, not Simon. Nicknames don’t have that kind of priority.

We do not know with certainty why Jesus called James and John “Sons of Thunder” or why only those two apostles had a special name. So we do not know that it was only a nickname. Yet certainly it has no juridical import, because the names of these apostles remained James and John, not Sons of Thunder, whereas the name of the first apostle becomes Peter.

To me this makes no sense.

  1. Why is the name Peter obviously an office, but “Sons of Thunder” “obviously” not
  2. In what other cases in context of the first century Near East is an Office established this way?
  3. How does “Peter” being an office accord with Christ establishing Peter as Prime Minister?

We don’t know, and the translator doesn’t tell us. Instead we are told what to think.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for having received “The Memoirs of St Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark,” by Michael Pakaluk. The preservation of the original tenses is a great gift, and makes Mark’s gospel vivid. It has a distinct narrator and has a clear presence. It’s true that the “message of Mark is that Jesus is for everyone,” but Mark also uses constrast in narrative styles (archetypal settings, approachable dialog) to describe who Jesus is and what He does in ways beyond words. I do not think the translator fully rises to the challenge presented by Mark, but the scope of the work Pakaluk comments on transcends the human.

I read The Memoirs of St Peter is the hard-bound edition.

Every book I read in 2019

I have a recent New Years tradition: listing every book I read in the past year, and selecting the best. Last New Years my two favorites were Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning. The year before that was an overwhelming feast — with Confessions, Console Wars, Dragons of Tiananmen, Ezekiel, Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran, Three Body Problem, Unseen Realm, and Weight of Glory, to name a few.

This year is dominated by my reading of the Qur’an, a book written by an Arian Christian during the end of that communion, and now considered sacred by Muslims. Understanding it has required me to better learn and internalize early Christian writings. But for sheer enjoyment, I can’t beat two histories — The History of the Future (about the founding of Oculus) and Area 51 (about the CIA, Air Force, and Department of Energy programs in that part of Nevada… and other places).

The Qur’an

1: The Opening
2: The Heifer
3: The Family of Amram
4: The Women
5: The Table
6: The Cattle
7: The Elevations
8: The Spoils
9: Repentance
10: Jonah
11: Hud
12: Joseph
13: Thunder
14: Abraham
15: The Rock
16: The Bees
17: The Night Journey

18: The Cave

The Apocrypha


The Book of Jubilees

Christian Writings

Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell, by Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity, by Kevin Mongrain
Introduction to Patristics: Learning from the Church Fathers, by David Meconi
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Brant Pitre
Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright
When the Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers, by Marcellino D’Ambrosio

Business Strategy


The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution that Swept Virtual Reality, by Blake Harris

Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change, by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Politics and Political and Government History


Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit, by Craig Oliver

Speculative and Science Fiction

Alpha and Omega, by Harry Turtledove
The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, by Larry Correia and performed by Adam Baldwin

Tom Stranger in… A Murder of Manatees, by Larry Correia and performed by Adam Baldwin

Qur’an 18: The Cave

The eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an emphasizes God’s greatness, and His use of all of His creation to reach your soul. Not only the Torah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, but popular stories (including this Lectionary!) proclaim his goodness. The Lord has given you the Rock, the Fish, the Life of the World — just stay focused on him, use these signs for what they are, and proclaim this good news to others.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 23:19

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent:

“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
Genesis 3:13-14

A Song, from the Psalms:

The mountains skipped like rams,
The little hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you fled?
O Jordan, that you turned back?
O mountains, that you skipped like rams?
O little hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of waters.
Psalms 114:4-8

A reading from the Letter of St. James

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the LORD wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
John 6:51

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Luke

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:13-21

Communion Antiphon

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
John 11:38

A Qur’anic Homily

God controls time. This is vital for understanding the spiritual sense of scripture. The cave that Abraham acquired for Sarah is the one that Christ freed Lazarus from. The gulf of time means nothing to the Lord, nor do man’s plans for the future

Do not say about anything, ‘I will indeed do it tomorrow!’ without, ‘God willing.’ And when you forget, remember your Lord and say, ‘Maybe my Lord will guide me to more akin to rectitude than this’
Qur’an 18:23-24

Consider Christ’s parable of the foolish man, prompted by someone asking for more inheritance from his brother. The interlocutor demanded more land, more of a Garden of Eden, without even realizing the Living Water was right besides him, Water sent from God through the Wind:, the Word from the Lord through the Spirit:

Draw for them the parable of the Life of this World: like the Water We send down from the sky. Then the earth’s vegetation mingles with it. Then it becomes chaff, scattered by the Wind. And God has power over all things.
Qur’an 18:45

Draw for them the parable of two men for each of whom We had made two gardens of vines and We had surrounded them with date palms and placed crops between them. Both gardens yielded their produce without stinting anything of it. And We had a stream gush through them.
Qur’an 18:32-33

A wise ‘poor’ man realizes his blessings, and the ‘rich’ man harms himself most through his greed. The worship of Mammon besides God had left the foolish rich man condemned and helpless:

Why did you not say when you entered your garden, ‘As God has willed! There is no power except by God!’ If you see that I have lesser wealth than you and children, maybe my Lord will give me better than your gardens and He will unleash it upon bolts from the sky, so that it becomes a bare plain. Or its water will sink down, so that you will never be able to obtain it.’

And ruin closed in on his produce and as it lay fallen on its trellises he begin to wring his hands for what he had spent on it. He was saying ‘I wish I had not ascribed any partner to my Lord.’ He had no party to help him besides God, nor could he help himself. Qur’an 18:39-41

In the proper perspective — God’s perspective — the mountains themselves move. They are built up and torn down. Every false god — Money, Fame, Pride — will fall leaving only the soul, and God:

The day We shall set the mountains moving and you will see the earth in full view, We will muster them and We will not leave out anyone of them. They will be presented before your Lord in ranks: “Certainly you have come to Us just as We created you the first time. But you maintained that We will not appoint a tryst for you.’
Qur’an 18:47-48

This is not to say that Money, Fame, and Pride weren’t created by God. Surely, they were as much as Satan, Iblis, the Devil. But these things are not helpers, and the evil they cause is from the wrong orders. If Iblis had been at Eve’s feet from the beginning we would not experience the wrong ordering of our sinful world. As it is, that serpent will be at the feet of another pair of man and woman — Jesus and Mary — who will crush its head:

When We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam,’ they prostrated, but not Iblis. He was one of the jinn, so he transgressed against his Lord’s command. Will you take him and his offspring for masters in My stead, through they are your enemies? How evil a substitute for the wrongdoers!
Qur’an 18:50

Other Stories

The stories from the bible, in their spiritual meaning, are parables. Whether or not they physically happened, or whatever their full historical context, we are supposed to understand a deeper meaning through them

We have certainly interspersed this Lectionary with every kind of parable for the people. But man is the most disputation of creatures. Nothing has kept these people from believing and pleading to their Lord for forgiveness when guidance came to them, except that the precedence of the ancients come to pass for them, or that punishment come to them, face to face.
Qur’an 18:54-55

To this end, in the eighteenth chapter the Qur’anic author includes several popular stories, such as

In the same way, last Sunday my priest worked Home Alone into the homily. The spiritual sense of scripture can be made easier to understand using these works. Because all good things point to God. For instance, take the story of the search for the Fountain of Youth, with its Fish…

So when they reached the confluence between them, they forgot their fish, which found its way into the sea, sneaking away. SO when they had passed on, he said to his lad, ‘Bring us our meal. We have certainly encountered much fatigue on this journey.’

He said, ‘Did you see?! When we took shelter at the Rock, indeed I forgot about the fish — and none but Satan made me forget to mention it! — and it made its way into the sea in an amazing manner!

He said, ‘This is what we were after!’ So they returned, retracing their footsteps.’
Qur’an 18:61-64

The world was made God, and the world points to God.

The Rock provides shelter. The Fish provides a meal. And the things that point to them — the Shelter of the Rock — are good, and right. But the Shelter is not a Master. Indeed, Satan will trick you into forgetting about the object of your love — God – the Real – and distract you into false gods, into idols, things less real than the Real.

Or consider the Sleepers of Ephesus, a story of how God protected persecuted Christians by allowing them to sleep (with a pet dog!) in the safety of a Cave:

When the youths took refuge in the Cave, they said ‘Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and help us on the rectitude in our affair.’

So We put them to sleep in the Cave for several years…

You will suppose them to be awake, though they are asleep. We turn them to the right and to the left, and at the threshold their dog stretching its forelegs. If you come upon them, you will surely them to flee from them and will be filled with a terror of them…
Qur’an 18:10-11,18

The Cave can be a place of safety, protected by the Rock. Or it can be a grave. The difference is if you worship the Rock, or the Cave – if you worship God, or a creature.

Keep God first, kneel when you should kneel, be in the proper order

There, all authority belongs to God, the Real. He is best in rewarding and best in requiting.
Qur’an 18:44

Conclusion

God is patient. Be patient with God. And one day, you will see Him face to face, like a friend. Pray, do what you should in remembrance of Him, praise Him with other believes. Just love Him, and not the glittering that surrounds Him

Content yourself with the company of those who supplicate their Lord morning and evening, desiring His Face, and do not loose sight of them, desiring the glitter of the life of this world. And do not obey him whose heart We have made oblivious to Our remembrance and who follows his own desires, and whose conduct is profligacy.
Qur’an 18:28

Every good book, every good story, every good thing sings of the Lord. There is no end to the instruction that you have available to you. The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, popular stories, and this Lectionary all point to Him:

Say, “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the words of my Lord are finished, though We replenish it with another like it.”
Qur’an 18:109

Now go, and evangelize in your own words, be that good thing that points to God:

Say, “I am just a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is the One God. So whoever expects to encounter his Lord, let him act righteously and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Qur’an 18:110

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Is it acceptable for a Catholic to hope that all men will one day enter heaven?

Bishop Robert Barron not only wrote the forward for Dare We Hope, he also wrote an excellent blog post summarizing the book’s answer: yes.

Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility. “Hell” or “Gehenna” are spatial metaphors for the lonely and sad condition of having definitively refused the offer of the divine life. But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.

Think of God’s life as a party to which everyone is invited, and think of Hell as the sullen corner into which someone who resolutely refuses to join the fun has sadly slunk. What this image helps us to understand is that language which suggests that God “sends” people to Hell is misleading. As C.S. Lewis put it so memorably: the door that closes one into Hell (if there is anyone there) is locked from the inside not from the outside. The existence of Hell as a real possibility is a corollary of two more fundamental convictions, namely, that God is love and that human beings are free. The divine love, freely rejected, results in suffering. And yet, we may, indeed we should, hope that God’s grace will, in the end, wear down the even the most recalcitrant sinner.

But the counter-argument seem pretty clear, and was put forward by Christ Himself:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:21-30

The counter-counter-argues is that Christ speaks of punishment, which includes purgatory, and the danger of Hell, which could still exist even if no one actually goes there.

But is that a hope, and not just wishful thinking?

On social media Bishop Barron has posted a video in favor of the hope that all men may be saved:

While Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, has an opposing view

So – dare we hope that all men be saved?

The Definition of Hope

While Balthasar takes a number of digs at St Thomas Aquinas, he uses both Thomas’s definition of hope

For, as we have already stated (I-II:40:1), when we were treating of the passion of hope, the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.
Summa Theologica, II.ii.17

And Thomas’s view that hope is a virtue:

Wherefore, in so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans. It is therefore evident that hope is a virtue, since it causes a human act to be good and to attain its due rule.

The Scriptures

Balthasar does not claim that all men will go to heaven. Indeed, he urges the spiritually safest position is to consider oneself even more in danger of judgment than Judas, of whom Jesus said. You do not know what weaknesses were in his heart, but you should know your own betrayals of Christ very well:

The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”

He said to him, “You have said it.”
Matthew 26:24-25

Yet Paul writes of the Father’s desire for “all,” and wonders how easily the Father would let His purpose be frustrated by our inclination, all other things being equal, to fail in the faith:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:19-23

Continuing this theme, it what may have been the darkest period of his ministry, Paul writes:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:7-12

On the “dispensation of the fullness of time,” Balthasar wonders — or hopes — if perhaps God does not let “all other things be equal.” For instance, might He order things such that even a soul inclined to sin would be saved from temptation and brought to repentance and purification.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

The hope that Balthasar seems in the Bible is not a “sure hope” — it is not knowledge — that we are all saved. But that God is willing to lead our free will, using tricks and punishments, to give Christ his due:

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:1-3

The Doctors of the Church

Many Saints have had visions of Hell, and great teachers have lectured about who is in there. Balthasar hopes that these visions, by showing us that saints in this world would be willing to atone for the sins of even the damned, show us that Christ would do also. There surely is a Hell, so from the reactions of saints do we see an image of God’s view?

How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, not a single one of those, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.
St Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues

And while the Lord teaches that wide is the gate that leads to destruction, perhaps actually entering destruction is harder than that:

“A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I’ve mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

“What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn’t see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair.
St Theresa of Avila, Collected Works

There’s something going on with all these opposite statements, these theological dialectics. We’re in a confusing space. Balthasar’s reaction to this confusion is hope that all men be saved:

Spare in Thy mercy, and take not vengeance in Thy justice. For although it be hard to understand how Thy mercy is not parted from Thy justice; yet is it necessary to believe that it is not at enmity with Thy justice, that it floweth from Thy goodness, that it is not without justice, nay in truth accordeth with Thy justice. For if Thou art merciful only because Thou art supremely good, and art supremely good only because Thou art supremely just: therefore art Thou in truth merciful because Thou art supremely just. Help me, O just and merciful God, for I seek Thy light. Help me, that I may understand what I say!
Anselm of Canterbury. Prologion, IX

On the Pope and Hannibal Lecter

My greatest doubts to Balthasar’s “hope” comes from free will. What if an individual, consciously, rationally, and in full possession of his spirits, chooses damnation?

Balthasar cites future Pope Benedict XVI to this point:

“Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In himself he is sheer salvation… Perdition is not imposed by him but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, pp 205-206

In the back of my mind is the most Satanic characters I’ve encountered in fiction — Hannibal Lector. I don’t mean the movie version, the guy who eats people, which is bad enough! But in the novel, we hear his eternal narration, and his calm, rational statement preferring damnation in Hell, rather than share Heaven with a God who allowed his little sister’s death. Even if we accept that God is very patient in purgatory, and finds some way to call everyone back who falls into it, what of the Lecters of this world?

Balthasar wonders if every “no” is predicated on a “yes” to God. To go back to my example of Hannibal Lecter, his “no” to salvation” comes from his “yes” to his sister. Might we hope that God uses this right, if out of order, love for his image?

Maybe. Maybe that’s enough for “hope.”

The Catechism

Balthasar’s ambiguous views are reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published a few years after Dare We Hope. The relevant portion of the Catechism reads both in ways that imply that most are in Hell:

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
CCC 1033

And that it’s a free choice, from now until the end, to get in, with God having a clearly desired outcome:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”
CCC 1037

Thus we should all be very aware of our own sinfulness, and view Hell as a personal possibility. As Balthasar writes:

Even if someone could know himself as being in the “certainty” inherent in Christian hope, he still does not know whether he will not transgress against love and thereby also forfeit the certainty of hope. It is therefore indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost.

And the Catechism confirms:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.” CCC 1035-1036

We do not know the how this all ends. We only know how we should pray:

The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
CCC 1058

Conclusion

Hans Urs Von Balthasar is an important figure of the resourcement — going back to the sources — within Catholicism. I’m glad I read an introduction to his work before beginning Dare We Hope. Instead of focusing on the Summa Theologica as the definitive summary of theology, Balthasar uses church Doctors and Fathers, along with a dramatic sense of the text. Balthasar views some contradictory statements as “mysteries” to fall into, rather than problems already solved, and in some ways is more typical of the Orthodox Church than the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917). But Balthasar’s theologically is fundamentally Catholic, with a focus on the importance of purgatory and clear alignment with recent Popes.

So, dare we “hope” that all men be saved? Balthasar’s answer is yes: yes, we may hope, but to do this we must cooperate with God in the one soul we have the most control over: our own.

Impressions of “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper,” by Brant Pitre

How can Christ order his followers to eat his flesh? Would that make them cannibals?

Would it be possible outside a natural human lifetime? No wonder the most disastrous moment in Jesus’ ministry — in the sense of being rejected by the people because of a teaching — is after Christ’s commandment to partake in the Lord’s Supper:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
John 6:51-53

Jewish Roots is a typological book that identifies four shadows of the Last Supper. Three of these are in the Old Testament: Manna, the Passover Lamb, and the Bread of the Presence. For the first three Pitre presents both biblical evidence, but also references from the Jewish Talmud. This was frustrating because the Talmud was written after the New Testament, and in many case references personalities and events of the New Testaments. But later the reason for this became clear. Using the Talmud, Pitre argues the Last Supper was also a Passover Seder.

The first three — the manna, the Passover lamb, and the show bread — all are referenced in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Epistles.

The Books of Moses

Manna, the supernatural bread from heaven, came down to teach men that normal bread was not enough for them:

“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3

Show bread is introduced as the climax of the description of the Table within the sanctuary. The Hebrew is often translated as “Bread of the Presence,” though literally means Bread of the Face:

“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the show bread on the table before Me always.
Exodus 25:23-30

While the Passover lamb is introduced is introduced as a sacrifice to be consumed as it is slaughtered:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Exodus 12:5-8

Pitre emphasizes that Christ is a Passover lamb. This is important because Christ is not a sin offering. Christianity has been struggling with Christ’s incompatibility with the basic gender requirements of sin offers:

And if we brings a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.”
Leviticus 4:32

Yet the focus on a male lamb does fit the requirements for a peace offering.

‘If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.
Leviticus 3:6-8

Which are evocative of Christ and the ongoing celebration of mass in other ways:

‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offers his sacrifice; but on the next day the remainder of it also may be eaten; the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day must be burned with fire.
Leviticus 7:15:17

Pitre argues Christ’s use of these Mosaic themes in his ministry were a purposeful attempt to teach that he was the New Moses.

The Prophets

Following the Torah, much of the rest of the Old Testament is composed of the prophets, beginning with Joshua and ending with the Minor prophets. These signs, already introduced by Moses, are referenced during the waiting for the Gospel:

You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth,
And gave them water for their thirst.

Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness;
They lacked nothing;
Their clothes did not wear out
And their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah 9:20

And into the conflict between Saul and the son of Jessee is the show bread:

And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”

Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”

So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the show bread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.
1 Samuel 21:4-6

And the role of the peace offering, to be given by the prince:

“Now when the prince makes a voluntary burnt offering or voluntary peace offering to the Lord, the gate that faces toward the east shall then be opened for him; and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings as he did on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out the gate shall be shut.

“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning.
Ezekiel 46:12-13

Pitre argues the Lord’s Supper — and Christ’s taking on of the roles of Passover Lamb, Show Bread, and Manna, propagate backwards into time. Thus, when Davis eats the show bread, or the prince sacrifices Lamb, in some mysterious way Christ is present in those actions.

Gospels

The signs are also explicitly used by Christ himself, identifying the Manna with “my Flesh”:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
John 6:53-59

Christ also references the show bread, and how David ate it when he was hungry. This discourse in Matthew ties together with John’s description of the Son’s flesh. If you are hungry for eternal life, be like David, and eat the bread:

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the show bread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Matthew 12:3-4

For his part, Mark ambiguously uses the phrase “when they killed the Passover Lamb” to refer both to a foodstuff which is conspicuously missing from the written descriptions of dinner, as well as to Christ:

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
Mark 14:12-15

Christ incorporates the Books of Moses and the Prophets into his life by reference. Just as the Qur’an assumes the reader has read the Bible, Christ is assuming knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to identify himself as Lamb, as Show Bread, and as Manna.

The Letters

The letter writers who explained the Gospel after Christ’s life also picked up the same themes. Manna is given to believers who overcome:

Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘
Revelation 2:17

While the anonymous author of Hebrews emphasizes the show bread as the final part of the sanctuary:

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the show bread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Hebrews 9:1-5

The same author explicitly compares Christ to the offerings:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Hebrew 13:10-16

Christ is presented not just as the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, but as the beginning of what happens next. Christ-as-manna is present, after Christ-as-show-bread. Some kind of dimensional folding is happening here. Pitre argues another method of folding is responsible for a fourth sign: the Last Supper as a Passover Seder, when He was sacrificed.

The Passover Seder

Like the Dominican Monk Paul Christiani, Pitre seeks to support Christian belief with the Jewish Talmud. Documented, after Christ, in the sometimes anti-Christian Talmud, the liturgy of the Seder is a method of the celebration of the Jewish religion in the absence of a validly operating Temple. Christ had stated that He was greater than the Temple. In a passage that immediately follows Christ reminding of David’s eating the Bread of the Presence:

Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet ‘I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 12:5-8

The liturgy of the Passover Sedar includes numerous steps, and Pitre argues that several of these are explicitly described in the Gospels. Within the Seder itself are four ritual cups:

  1. The Cup of Sanctification
  2. The Cup of Deliverance
  3. The Cup of Redemption
  4. The Cup of Restoration

At table, Christ drinks from two cups, identified by Pitre as the second and third cups of the liturgy, the Cup of Deliverance and the Cup of Redemption:

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
Luke 22:17-22

The Seder should not end until a fourth cup is drunk. And it is here that the Last Supper, when the Lord instituted Holy Communion, merges into the Passion — as Christ intentionally does not drink wine during the Passion itself

And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
Matthew 27:33-34

but only upon its completion

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
John 19:28-30

Conclusion

Pitre presents four types for the Last Supper, three of which precede it in the Bible: the Bread of the Face, the Manna, and the Passover Lamb. A fourth type, the Passover Seder, is only attested after the Last Supper had happened. Nonetheless, the Seder may have been contemporary with Christ, and presents a sort of grammar for otherwise arbitrary statements made during that holy weekend.

While discussing the first three types, Pitre presents not only Biblical evidence but evidence from the Talmud. By itself this is weak, because the Talmud was written after the Bible. But because the Seder argument depends entirely on the Talmud, its earlier introduction makes that section (and the identity of the “fourth cup” with the wine that Christ drank on the cross) less jarring.

Also at the end Pitre introduces the catechism of the Catholic church, and passages which further supports his arguments. For instance:

In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1334

these are sensible, and support his arguments, at least for the first three types.

I enjoyed reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In particular, Pitre’s introduction of the Seder view of the Last Supper, and the way it extends the Last Supper thru the passion and the crucifixion, help me understand how Christ could have instituted Holy Communion at the Last Supper.

I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 17: The Night Journey

The seventeenth chapter of the Qur’an, the “Night Journey,” emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit as a guide, even for Christ. One of the most “Arian” chapters of the Qur’an, “Night Journey” presents a remarkably different explanation for the Trinity than common in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Protestantism. The different persons of the Trinity exist to show that none by God — the first person of the Trinity serves as guide.

As the Qur’an appears to be a set of homilies, this chapter begins with a series of readings it appears to be based on. I am not sure what of the specific rules for creating Syriac liturgies in the 6th or 7th centuries, so I am using a contemporary Catholic pattern: three readings (one from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels), a Psalm, and then short one-sentence ‘antiphons.’ To me, “Night Journey” makes the sense sense if read while keeping these readings in mind.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the Lord will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth.
1 Kings 18:12

A reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy:

When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20

A Song, from the Book of Psalms:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice

before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
Psalms 96:11-13

A reading, from the St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 14:6

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Matthew 26:36-41

Communion Antiphon:

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Luke 4:1

A Qur’anic Homily

The Arians, who denied that Jesus was the same substance as God, nonetheless believed Jesus was God. According to the Ulfian Creed:

I believe in only one God the Father,
the unbegotten and invisible,

and in his only-begotten Son,
our Lord and God,
the designer and maker of all creation,
having none other like him

Therefore, there is one God of all,
who is also God of our God;
and in one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power

Arians believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the oneness of God, and also that all three persons in the Trinity were God.

They question you concerning the Spirit. Say, ‘The Spirit is the Word of my Lord, and you have not been given of the knowledge except a few.’
Qur’an 17:85

It is in this context that the Qur’an’s blessings upon the Holy Spirit, for carrying Christ make the most sense:

Immaculate is He who carried His servant on a journey by night from the Sacred House of Prayer to the Farther House of Prayer whose environs We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He is the All-hearing, the all-Seeing. Qur’an 17:1

Outside the Qur’an, there is unanimous agreement that the “Farther House of Prayer” is the top of Mount Zion, God’s Holy Mountain. To me it makes the most sense the “Holy House of Prayer” is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ shed blood in prayer and gave the most heart-rending of all prayers to his Father and God. But just as the Holy Spirit led the Son into the wilderness, so it led Him to Caiaphas, to Pilate, and the proclamation that He is the Truth.

This was necessary, according to the Qur’anic author, because no one can guide themselves. Even Christ was guided by the Spirit, and Christ himself was offered as a guide to the people of Israel. But Israel rejected him, and became due to the Word:

Whoever is guided is guided only for his own soul, and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment. No bearer shall bear another’s burden.

We do not punish until We have sent an apostle. And when We desire to destroy a town We command its affluent ones. But they commit transgression in it, and so the Word becomes due against it, and We destroy it utterly.
Qur’an 17:15-16

This difference between being guided by God and being guided by oneself can be thought of as Books — the Word of the Lord and the word of the self. Lord, protect me from being guided by my own book separate from yours:

We have strapped every person’s register to his neck, and We shall bring it out for him on the Day of Resurrection as a book that he will find wide open. ‘Read your book! Today your soul suffices as your own reckoner!’
Qur’an 17:13-14

Instead, guide me with your Word, the Gospel, which you sent down with the Truth:

With the Truth did We sent it down, and with the Truth did it descend, and We did not send you except as a bearer of Good News and a warner. We have sent the Lectionary in parts so that you may recite it for the people a little at a time, and We have sent it down piecemeal.
Qur’an 17:105-106

The disciples could not stay away with Christ. He invited them to prayer in that holy house of prayer — the garden — and it was too hard for them. But He still asks us to pray with him, and through the liturgy of the hours we are still able to.

Maintain the prayer from the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the dawn recital. The dawn recital is indeed attended.

And keep vigil for a part of the night, as a supererogatory for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you to a praiseworthy station.
And say, ‘My Lord! Admit me with a worthy entrance, and bring me out with a worthy departure, and render me a favorable authority from Yourself!’
Qur’an 17:78-80

Christ exhibited perfect humility, asking the Lord to forgive those who persecuted him, and teaching his disciples to do likewise:

Lower the wing of humility to them mercifully, and say, ‘My Lord! Have Mercy on them, just as they reared me when I was small!’ Your Lord knows best what is in your hearts. Should you be righteous, He is indeed most forgiving toward penitents.
Qur’an 17:24

This is not to say — in the Qur’anic author’s view — that intercession is possible. But prayers for others show the humble and contrite heart desired by the Lord. It is for the reason that the Qur’an stresses the blessings Christ received during the Passion — “so that We might show Him some of Our Signs” — as opposed to the Catholic view of Christ’s merit’s directly saving others:

The friends of the King of the Universe were not won in the Qur’anic author’s view by the Passion, though the Christ showed compassion on them in the passion:

And Say, ‘All praise belongs to God, who has neither any offspring, nor has He any partner in sovereignty, nor has He made any friend out of weakness,’ and magnify Him with a magnification.
Qur’an 17:111

Given God’s greatness, the appropriate response of man is humility. God is without limits:

Indeed, your Lord expands and tightens the provision for whomever He wishes. He is indeed a well-informed observer of His servants.
Qur’an 17:30

And Christ’s mission was not only to the humans, but even the trees. One was cursed, another became the Cross:

When We said to you, ‘Your Lord indeed encompasses those people,’ We did not appoint the vision that We showed you except as a tribulation for the people and the tree cursed in the Lectionary. We warn them, but it only increases them in their outrageous rebellion.’
Qur’an 17:60

Every thing responds to God according to its capacity and God’s will. From the smallest microbe to the greatest angel, God is the origin and purpose of creation:

The seven heavens glorify Him and the earth, and whoever is in them. There is not a thing but celebrates His praise, but you do not understand their glorification. He is indeed all-forbearing, all-forgiving.
Qur’an 17:44

Yet there’s a dialectic at work too: all glorify God, but God created all in different degrees of greatness. Not all prophets are as great as David, not all books as great as the Psalms:

Your Lord knows best whoever is in the heavens and the earth. Certainly We gave some prophets an advantage over the others, and We gave David the Psalms.
Qur’an 17:55

It is hard for men to keep this in mind: the overwhelming greatness of God, the total diversity of creation. But God can. God understands the way that Christ can minister to both the trees and the creatures, but not but an angel: for (according to the Qur’anic author) it would be one like an angel who would minister to angles, and one like a man (or a tree) who would minister to men and trees:

They say, ‘We will not believe you until you make a spring gush forth for us from the ground. Or until you have a garden of date palms and vines and you make streams gush through it. Or until you cause the sky to fall in fragments upon us, just as you have averred. Or until you bring God and the angels in front of us. Or until you have a house of gold, or you ascend into the sky. And we will not believe your ascension until you bring down for us a book that we may read.’

Say, ‘Immaculate is my Lord! Am I anything but a human apostle?! ‘Nothing has kept these people from believing when guidance came to them, but their saying, ‘Has God sent down a human as an apostle!’ Say, ‘Had there been angels in the earth, walking around and residing, We would have sent down to them an angel from the heaven as an apostle.’
Qur’an 17:90-95

The use of dialectics (only one God but a Trinity, only one Book for many scriptures, only one creation but multiple levels of creation) can be rejected or accepted by men. But in this it is no different than the world itself. There’s a Truth that created it and that came into it. Man’s irritation at the subtlety of God’s creation is not the fault of God, but may be the doom of man. For the Lord casts a veil over the heart of those who reject His wisdom:

When you recite the Lectionary, We draw a hidden curtain between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter, and We cast veils on their hearts, lest they should understand it, and a deafness into their ears. When you mention your Lord alone in the Lectionary, they turn their backs in aversion.
Qur’an 17:45-46

God is the beginning and the end, the maker and destroyer of all. Literalist atheists mock basic promises like the next world by asking how physics would work, how souls would enter dead bodies, now a world without death can also have feasts (and digestion). The promise of God is more wonderful than the scoffers can imagine.

They say, ‘What, when we have become bones and dust, shall we really be raised in a new creation?’ Say, ‘You should become stones or iron — or a creature more fantastic to your minds!’ They will say, ‘Who will bring us back?Say, ‘He who originated you the first time.’ They will nod their heads at you and say, ‘When will that be?’ Say, ‘Maybe it is near! The day He calls you, you will respond to Him, praising Him, and you will think you remained only for a little while.’

Did your Lord prefer you for sons, and adopt females from among the angels? You indeed make a monstrous statement!
Qur’an 17:40

I think the natural Catholic reaction to the Qur’an’s rejection of intercessors is one of sadness — is there really no opportunity to help each other? But the Qur’an emphasizes the hopefulness of this. Like Calvinists who despair of the wickedness of man’s heart, the Qur’an emphasizes that it is through God that we can have a hope. Men, according to the Qur’anic author, would turn their back to each other:

Say, ‘Even if you possessed the treasuries of my Lord’s mercy, you would withhold them for the fear of being spent, and man is very niggardly.’
Qur’an 17:100

And fall for each other’s tricks:

They were about to beguile you from what God has revealed to you so that you may fabricate against Us something other than that, whereat they would have befriended you. Had We not fortified you, certainly you might have included toward them a bit.
Qur’an 17:73-74

But it is from God that we have more compassion than we can imagine, and more hope than we deserve

Conclusion

The seventh chapter of the Qur’an is thematically concerned with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus from the Garden to Mt Zion.  In the Qur’anic theology, Jesus is a member of the Trinity, along with the Holy Spirit and God (the Father).  The Qur’anic author was writing near the extinction of the Arian creed, and his separation from other believers seems to pain him.

Tell My servants to speak in a manner which is the best. Indeed, Satan incites ill feeling between them, and Satan is indeed man’s open enemy.
Qur’an 17:49-53

But the Qur’an denies that Christ’s role was intercessory.  The Qur’an casts the Passion as exemplary and doxological, rather than sacrificial.   The Word and the Holy Spirit, who along with God are called “the all-Hearing and all-Seeing,” are either creations or God or emanations of God, not persons of God.  Ultimately Unitarian and Modernist, the Qur’an preaches a faith which is not the Catholic faith.

Qur’an 16: The Bees

God creates things, in time. God is the God of promise, while Satan is the devil of the eternal meaningless now. Wait, it will not be long, but as quick as the twinkling of a star, or an eye. The present is made real in the past and the future, as the Spirit brings the Word of the Lord.

Of all the chapters in the Qur’an so far this is the closest to poetry, the closest to Scripture.

The hint half guessed, the gift half
understood, is Incarnation.
Here is the impossible union.
Of spheres of existence is actual
here the past and future
Are conquered, reconciled
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The end of a thing is better than its beginning;
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools.

Do not say,
“Why were the former days better than these?”
For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

A song, from The Psalms:

He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
Psalms 104:10-15

A reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
Proverbs 14:29

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew

“You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

But I tell you
not to resist an evil person.
But whoever slaps you on your right cheek,
turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic,
let him have your cloak also.
And whoever compels you to go one mile,
go with him two.
Matthew 5:38-41

A Qur’anic Homily

Patience is from God.

Near the start of the fifteen chapter is an idyllic scene, a farmer with his cattle:

He created the cattle,
in which there is warmth for you and uses,
and some of them you eat.

There is in them a beauty for you
when you bring them home for rest
and when you drive them forth to pasture.

And they carry your burdens to towns
which you could not reach
except by straining yourselves.

Your Lord is indeed most kind and merciful.
Qur’an 16:5-7

This patience, this time is spent on God’s creation of the feminine: the water, the pasture, the fruits:

It is He who sends down water from the sky; from it you get your drink and with it are the plants wherein you pasture your herds. With it He makes the crops grow for you ad lives, date palms, vines, and fruits of all kinds. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:10-11

And the masculine: the mountains, the hills, and stars:

He cast firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with you, and streams and ways so that you may be guided — and the landmarks — and by the stars they are guided.
Qur’an 16:15-16

The multitude of the blessings, given by God through time, leads to an irony. There are so many blessings that patience — infinite patience would be needed even to enumerate them:

If you enumerate Gods blessings, you will not be able to count them. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful, and God knows whatever you hide and whatever you disclose.
Qur’an 16:18-19

Whereas the lack of patience leads to ghastly horrors. Men kill baby girls because they wanted baby boys, now, sooner. Thank God for the Mary’s family, that Mary’s namesake was not treated by her father like Moses was by the Pharaoh!

And they attribute daughters to God — immaculate is He — while they have what they desire! When one of them is brought the news of a female, his face becomes darkened and he chokes with suppressed agony. He hides from the people out of distress at the news he has been brought: shall he retain it in humiliation, or bury it in the ground! Behold, evil is the judgment that they make.
Qur’an 16:57-59

This is the underlying unity in Moses’s “eye for an eye” and Christ’s “turn the other cheek.” One can get the justice one is owed. But through patience is Godliness, exceeding mere justice with justice and mercy

If you retaliate, retaliate with the like of what you have been made to suffer, but if you are patient, that is surely for the steadfast.

So be patient and you cannot be patient except with God. And do not grieve for them, nor be upset by their guide. Indeed, God is with those who are Godwary and those who are virtuous.
Qur’an 16:126-128

And yet, this patience from human perspective does not mean that God tarries. The age of a nation’s dominance is but a day to God:

By God, We have certainly sent to nations before you. But Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them. So he is their master today and there is a painful punishment for them.

We did not send down the Book to you except that you may clarify for them what they differ about, and to guidance and mercy for those who have faith.
Qur’an 16:63-64

And the Hour — the hour of judgment — will occur as rapidly as the twinkling of an eye:

To God belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. The matter of the Hour is just like the twinkling of an eye, or shorter. Indeed, God has power over all things.
Qur’an 16:77

Have faith in God, have patience in God. He formed you, slowly and fast, like any parents know:

God has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers while you did not know anything. He invested you with hearing, sight, and the hearts, so that you may give thanks.
Qur’an 16:78

Impatience is the root of disbelief. We do not see with our own eyes the dead walk, and so we assume it cannot happen. But the Hour approaches, and God resurrects whom He will:

They swear by God with solemn oaths that God will not resurrect those who die. Yes indeed it is a promise binding upon Him, but most people do not know.
Qur’an 16:38

Polytheism can be thought of as a lack of patience. No one says that Mammon the God of Wealth can raise the dead, or has a garden at the end of time, but the benefits of worshiping money appear right now. (Note also, for what its worth, God referring to God, a Lord referring to a Lord):

God has said,

“Do not worship two gods. Indeed, He is the One God, so be in awe of Me.”

To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, and to Him belongs the enduring religion. Will you, then, be wary of other than God?
Qur’an 16:51-52

But people think the lack of immediate punishment means they can keep secrets from God, and the lack of obvious miracles mean the absence of God. Both are arrogant attitudes that separates the soul from God:

Undoubtedly, God knows whatever they hide and whatever they disclose. Indeed, He does not like the arrogant. When they are asked, “What is is that your Lord has sent down?,’ they say, ‘Myths of the ancients.”
Qur’an 16:23-24

The love of impatience, the root of polytheism, can be Satanic. Satan’s goal is to steal the past and the future from the soul, leaving it in a perpetual, endless Now. The false gods — money, pride, wealth, and so on — will fall away, even from the sinner. Their will will not be done. God will be worshiped. Or the self. None other.

When the polytheists sight their partners, they will say “Our Lord!” These are our partners whom we used to invoke besides You.: But they will retort to them: “You are indeed liars!” They will submit to God on that day, and what they used to fabricate will forsake them.”
Qur’an 16:86-87

This is what makes the promise and hope of Abraham so striking. Abraham lived a complete life, aware of the past in the Chalcedees, and the promise of the future. God is a God of Promise, the God of patience, and Abraham patiently lived in that promise:

Indeed, Abraham was a nation, obedient to God, a hanif, and he was not a polytheist. Grateful for his blessings, he chose him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he will indeed be among the righteous. Therefore, We reveled to you,

“Follow the creed of Abraham, a hanif, who was not a polytheist.”
Qur’an 16:120-123

As a chapter, The Bees is one of the most natural. The lessons are part of the natural religion that should be available to all, even without supernatural revelation, as long as one can see and think.

God sends down water from the sky with which He revives the earth after its death.

There is indeed
a sign in that for people who listen.
There is indeed
a lesson for you in the cattle:

We give you to drink pure milk,
pleasant to those who drink,
from what is in their bellies,
from between waste and blood.
And from fruits of date palms and vines
you draw wine and goodly provision.

There are indeed
signs in that for people who exercises their reason.
Qur’an 16:65-67

And not just cattle, God sends the bees and cares for them. Be patient with the Lord:

Have they not regarded the birds disposed in the air of the sky: no one sustains them except for God. There are indeed signs in that for people who have faith.
Qur’an 16:79

And not just birds. Consider all the good works — the architecture, the honey, the society — even God grants bees as they work in time. Consider how much more you can accomplish, surely God loves you as much as a bee:

And your Lord inspired the bee: “Make your home in the mountains and on trees and the trellises that they erect. Then eat from every fruit and follow meekly the way of your Lord.” There issues from its belly a juice of diverse hues, in which there is a cure for the people. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:68-69

The Author

The Bees is fascinating because maybe no chapter since The Heifer is as confusing as to authorship. The writer uses Trinitarian formulas to describe the Gospel:

He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His Word to whomever He wishes of His servants: “Warn that there is no god except Me; so be wary of Me.”
Qur’an 16:2

And yet the post-Christian influence is there — both because the author suggests questions be directed to the “people of the reminder”:

We did not send before you except as men to whom We revealed. Ask the People of the Reminder if you do not know with clear proofs and scriptures. We have sent down the Reminder to you so that you may clarify for these people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect.
Qur’an 16:43-44

And more on the nose, the author rejects the view that a previous non-Arab speaker is the true source of his teaching:

We certainly now that they say, “It is only a human that instructs him.” The language of him to whom they refer is non-Arabic, while this is a clear Arabic language.”
Qur’an 16:103

And to whom the Lectionary (qur’an) is, at least in some form, already present:

When you recite the Lectionary, seek the protection of God against the outcast Satan. Indeed, he does not have any authority of those who have faith and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is only over those who befriend him ad those who make a partner.
Qur’an 16:98-100

Is this one author or two? A Trinitarian who looks at Christians as similar to Jews, and is associated with a non-Arabic teacher? I don’t know. And what to claim of the ongoing, Trinitarian revelation that is inspiring the author:

When We change a sign for another in its place — and God knows best what He sends down — they say, “You are only a fabricator.” Indeed, most of them do not know. Say, the Holy Spirit has brought it down duly from your Lord to fortify those who have faith and as a guidance and good news for those who submit.
Qur’an 16:101-102

I don’t know. In my mind there is a picture of a decaying post-Arian community struggling with the lost of the sacraments. An Arab deacon, a genius, giving homilies after training for a Syriac monk, but neither able to celebrate the sacraments.

Maybe that is all an illusion.

Conclusion

The sixteenth chapter of the Qur’an, The Bees, is a meditation on patience. As with other chapters it makes the most sense when taken as a homily that integrates multiple passages of the Old and New Testaments. The author refers to the Qur’an as an already existing book, and also refers to another teacher who may be his direct inspiration.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
It hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone;
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages