Tag Archives: catholic church

What happened in the 1960s?

By Augustinus

The West fell in the 1960s. This is both good and bad. To the extent that the Church is the West and the West is the Church the fall of the 1960s has meant that the church has been in crisis since then. Westerners, as a consequence, have been lost spiritually since then. On the other hand the Church never was only Europe and the West. Europe and the West kept the Church alive during the first 1500 years of the faith and then helped to spread the faith throughout the world. In the beginning the faith was strong in the near east-even outside of the Roman Empire. But Islam virtually, but not entirely, wiped out the eastern Church. After the schism between the orthodox and Roman rites Christianity flowered in the West and then spread globally with the rise of the West. that rise was due mainly to science and technology. The West developed science and technology and the rest of the world did not. In any case, between 1500 and 1800 westerners spread the faith to the new world and parts of Asia and Africa. thus, the church was no longer identified only with Europe. Islam was in decline, the Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism were stagnant like the cultures they inhabited and everywhere Europe and Christianity were in the ascendant. But then the 20th century dawned and with it the great European-centered World wars that lasted for some 50 years and tore Europe apart. The great bloodletting, and the resultant annihilation in the space of a minute of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the domination now of Russia and the eastern European countries by totalitarian and atheistic communism and finally the horrors of the holocaust led the best Europeans to stop and think about what went wrong!

Part of that great reflection on what went wrong was Vatican II which was convened after the period of the World wars. The children of the parents who fought in the world wars defined themselves in opposition to everything that they believed created the world wars. You cannot go through a conflagration that violently slaughtered some 50 million people without some period of penance and conversion. The 1960s was a period of violent repudiation of what went before and that was its healthy element. But it threw the baby out with the bathwater. it failed to do its homework on what exactly went wrong.

The 1960s was an attempt to identify what went wrong but it was a failed attempt. Vatican II did not attempt to identify what went wrong but it divined the need of the faithful to attempt to open up to a world in need and pain and disorientation. That was the positive element in Vatican II. It was a pastoral council seeking to engage the world now prostrated by the world wars.

But who was trying to understand what went wrong? Some religious philosophers and theologians tried. The Jewish philosophers tended toward the view that God had absented himself from humanity. The protestant theologians did the same. Orthodox theologians fell silent under the heel of the Soviets and Roman Catholic theologians through up a wild range of theories–none of them at all convincing as most of them settled on the evil is a mystery meme.

Secular philosophers and scholars also tried to figure out what went wrong and each of them identified one piece of the elephant…imperial competition for markets; growth of science and technology, population and demographic trends, ethnic tensions and so forth.

The fact that the world wars began and centered in Europe suggests that the rise of science and technology had something to do with it. My own feeling is that science and technology has made huge population increases possible. the world went from several hundred million in 1800 to 6 billion just two centuries later. These huge rises in population numbers place wild demands on fallible, scared, opportunistic political actors and governments who then make stupid decisions and pull the world into irrational wars.

Science is the great disruptor and the Church still refuses to come to terms with it.

 

Modernity as the effort to destroy the Catholic Church

By Augustinus

What best characterizes the modern age? I would say that modernity is the age in which major military attempts are made to destroy the Roman Catholic Church.

Modernity is NOT characterized by “secularization” as most intellectuals seem to think. Just look at the rest of the world. Religion is growing everywhere. Hinduism is resurgent in India. Islam is growing in both numbers and militancy throughout the world. Eastern Orthodoxy is growing in both the Baltics and in Putin’s Russia. Judaism is alive and well and experiencing a rebirth in Israel. Charismatic forms of protestant Christianity are on the rise in both South America and Africa. Buddhism is experiencing massive growth in both its home countries and in the West.

The only religion that is on the defensive is Roman Catholic Christianity. That is because the one true church, the catholic church has been under concerted attack by the rest of the world religions ever since the dawn of the modern age. It began with the Protestant reformation.

When catholicism flowered during the Italian and Northern European renaissance, some people reacted with fear and envy rather than admiration, gratitude and reverence.  This fear and resentment against the Church-sponsored intellectual awakening and artistic flowering fueled a strong backlash against the church beginning with Luther in the North in what is now Germany–a territory where the Arian heresy lasted up to the middle ages. The Protestant “reformation” actually consisted of active military suppression and state terror against catholic communities in the newly minted protestant countries and military attacks against the Hapsburg Catholic territories.

The protestant wars against Catholicism issued in a stalemate but the protestant intellectuals had not given up.  Across western Europe protestant intellectuals began to paint the church as backward and superstitious and argued that Europe needed an enlightenment. The age of the enlightenment, however, involved extreme forms of persecution against Catholics across Europe (see especially Ireland and southern Germany) and the new country of America despite all its high flown rhetoric of religious freedom and toleration. The enlightenment also gave birth to the the French revolution with its rabid “anti-clericalism” which was really an outright assault on everything Catholic in France, Germany and Britain. The massacres of priests and nuns in these countries during the revolutionary period only slowed down but did not cease during the Napoleonic era. After Napoleon was defeated largely by Russian, Hapsburg and Catholic Polish forces, the anti-catholic legacy of the French revolution was taken up by the emerging communist movement until the uprisings of 1848 which once again involved bloody attacks against catholic communities throughout Europe. There was a brief period of respite during the latter half of the 19th century until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 where we again note another series of attacks against the church including of course the orthodox church in Russia. World War I put an end to the catholic Hapsburg monarchy of  Europe and  then came the Nazis. All of these “movements” were virulently anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic. But none were able to destroy the Church. After the Nazis were defeated in World War II Vatican II occurred just 15 years later.

We are now faced a with a new array of forces out to destroy the church. The secular elites of the West, the heirs of the protestant intellectuals of past centuries, are now joined by a resurgent Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, charismatic protestantism and Hinduism. All are actively hostile to Roman catholicism. Only the eastern orthodox are not actively hostile though there are centuries of animosity there too.

This is the current situation facing the church today. Let he who has eyes to see, see.

A clarifying moment

By Augustinus

The Paris attacks of November 2015 constitute a clarifying moment for the West. When trained soldiers of an Islamic death cult systematically and point blank kill hundreds of defence-less civilians for the express purpose of outraging the West it is clear that we are dealing with a fanaticism that can justify any crime.

The core of the West is the Roman Catholic Church. The Church lies at the root of Western culture. Western culture is dying because the Church, itself, is in crisis–thus the need for this blog. The Church has undergone many previous crises and it will get through the present crisis. but we need to be clear that part of the crisis concerns Islam.

For much of the history of the Church it has had to fend off attacks, physical attacks, from Islam. The Church has to get clear about the nature of Islam. Vatican II (Nostra Aetate 3) had this to say about Islam:

“The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth (Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.), who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

“Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

We can applaud the effort to live in peace with others who have attacked us in the past BUT we have to be clear about the nature of Islam. Just like any other heresy it has rays of truth in it and it has its saintly, upright people BUT it is fundamentally a Christian heresy. Our main duty to Muslims is to refute the heresy and convert them to the true faith.

Developing a Johannine church as a response to the crisis: On the community of the beloved disciple

By Augustinus

The root of every crisis that has afflicted the church down through the centuries has been disputes over the nature of Jesus. Was he truly divine and was his crucifixion an expiatory sacrifice and the source of our salvation? These are the questions that separate the wheat from chaff and will always do so…

High christology refers to the idea that Jesus was the logos incarnate and died an expiatory sacrificial death on the cross and then was resurrected from that death in glory. Resistance to this fantastic story and to the idea that Jesus was an incarnation of God in the flesh began right at the start of the church and persists to this day. Islam defines itself in opposition to this idea as does Judaism. Within the Christian church itself there are many voices that urge a movement away from this high Christology as it is considered anti-scientific and immoderate. The idea that the divine can be killed as a sacrificial victim on the cross is particularly repugnant to Islam, Judaism and the modernizers within the church.

It will therefore be instructive to investigate the ancient sources of this high Christology to see if lessons can be drawn as to how best to combat modern deniers of this high Christology.

One of the sources of ‘high Christology’ in the Christian tradition has been the fourth gospel. Behind this gospel lay one of the most intriguing of early Christian communities: the Johannine community, otherwise known as the ‘community of the beloved disciple’. The author of the fourth gospel identified himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ and the community that formed around this disciple has ever since been called the community of the beloved disciple.

One of the most respected reconstructions of the history and theology of the community of the beloved disciple; the community that produced the fourth gospel and the epistles attributed to John, has been Raymond E. Brown. I will discuss some of the ideas in his 1979 landmark book on the community of the beloved disciple. Brown emphasized the theme of the development of a high Christology and that is the theme I will develop here as well.

Brown begins his treatment with a discussion of method and notes that he used to hold with tradition that the author of the fourth gospel was the Apostle John but after reading the work of his colleague J. Louis Martyn, Brown could no longer hold to the traditional view. Brown reasonably argues that we have to accept results of the latest science or produce good, rational reasons not to accept what the latest science can tell us about the gospels. Scholarly biblical criticism has now produced something of a consensus around the view that the Apostle was not the author of the fourth gospel. Biblical criticism focuses on the ‘life situation’ of the community associated with the texts of interest as well as the internal logic and sense of the texts themselves. The texts tell us what issues were facing the community that produced the texts. For Brown one of the most prominent issues facing the early Johannine church was the ‘Christological’ question of just who Jesus was.

Was Jesus just a wisdom teacher? Was he merely an enlightened human being and not a god? Was he God and not human at all? Was he a reincarnation of a prophet like Elijah or Moses? Or was he God himself? But if God how could that be as Jesus himself prayed to his ‘Father’. In addition John the Baptist baptized Jesus. If Jesus was God why did he need baptism? How could Jesus be the Messiah as that was a Royal title and Jesus was crucified.

According to Brown these were some of the theological issues that concerned the early Johannine community. Don’t they sound remarkably modern! The fourth gospel was written to the ‘Community of the beloved disciple’ but this community included several factions including 1) former disciples of John the Baptist, 2) a group who held to a very high Christology (Jesus as LOGOS–these members had probably been expelled from the synagogue for holding these beliefs) and 3) a group who exhibited an anti-Temple bias possibly associated with the Essenes. There was probably also 4) a group of gentile converts as there is much material in the gospel that explains Jewish customs and references.

Brown posits four phases in creation of the written texts associated with the beloved disciple. These are: 1. The period before the gospel was written (between death of Jesus and after the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70). The writing of the core material of the gospel occurred prior to the expulsion of Johannine Christians from the synagogues (John 9:22; 16:2); 2. The period when the first version of the gospel itself was written (around 90 AD) after the Jewish persecution; 3) when the epistles were written when intra-community schisms began to be develop again around Christological issues and; 4. The period after the last Johanine epistle was written and the final version of the gospel was edited (100-110 AD).

Brown’s basic thesis seems to be that the community began with a group of Jewish Christians, disciples of Jesus and John the Baptist, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry who held to a low Christology. Jesus was considered to be the potential messiah and a prophet along the lines of John the Baptist. He might even be considered a son of God along the lines of the Davidic royal person. Jesus was definitely God-sent but he was not divine himself. Into this group of Jewish disciples of Jesus espousing a low Christology came another group of followers of Jesus who held to a high Christology. These too were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry as the writer of the gospel himself emphasizes…particularly at the end of the gospel (John 21:24).

It is not clear why this second group developed a high Christology. At first these members (who also exhibited the anti-Temple bias) of the Johannine community seemed to espouse a low Christology like the original members of the group did: they treated Jesus as another Moses or wisdom figure who like Moses had seen God face to face and had been with God on the mountain and brought God’s word down to earth. But then Brown argues that they facilitated development within the Johannine community of a high Christology with Jesus as a logos figure pre-existing with God. This development appears to have been led by the beloved disciple himself who had seen Jesus face to face, spent time with him, witnessed the crucifixion (unlike the other apostles), witnessed the empty tomb and received special treatment from Jesus throughout Jesus ministry and was now sheltering Jesus’ mother Mary.

But then this theological development created a reaction and friction with mainline Jews who thought that these Christians were breaking with monotheism. These Jews had the Johannine Christians either sanctioned or outright expelled from the Temple and subjected to persecution. So the gospel was directed against ‘the Jews’ and these ‘children of darkness’ and in support of the ‘children of light’ who saw Jesus as logos. These theological developments coincided with the destruction of the Temple and the demise of the Temple priesthood and the rise of the new Pharisee party that emerged from the council of Jamnia. The early anti-temple bias no longer mattered as the new threat was from the rise of rabbinic Judaism and its hostility to Christianity. There was apparently a late first century ‘benediction’ or curse against the Christians promulgated in the synagogues and Brown claims that this was a critical factor in creating an animus between the Johannine community and the ‘Jews’. This animus of course appears throughout the fourth gospel. The high Christology had to be emphasized against crypto-Christians who wanted to remain in the synagogues and against former followers of John the Baptist so the high Christological theme was emphasized throughout the gospel.

I am particularly interested in the early faction of Jewish Christians who Brown argues were characterized by an anti-Temple bias because they, under the leadership of the beloved disciple developed the high Christology and were later the ones who had been expelled from the synagogue. Perhaps the early anti-temple bias was due to associations with the Essene community whose scriptures were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. An alternative source for the anti-Temple bias may have been recent conversions from Samaria. The story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well points to a special relationship between the Johannine community and the Samaritans who did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

In any case it was these anti-temple members who Brown asserts developed the high Christology that characterizes the first gospel. Why or how did these individuals catalyze the development of the sublime Christology we find the fourth gospel? They must have been influenced by Greek culture given the utilization of the logos concept. But Greek culture alone could not account for the development of the sublime Christology we find in the fourth gospel.

A third body of material found in John that might shed some light on the development of the high Christology is the pervasive dualism of the gospel. We find the themes of light versus the darkness; world vs. elect; flesh vs spirit, truth vs the lie and so forth. Jesus is the light of the world. He existed before Abraham (8:12-59). The light shineth in the darkness with the world cast in the role of darkness. These dualistic themes of good vs evil are echoed in some of the dead sea scrolls derived from the Essene community at Qumran (the temple scroll, the war scroll and the Damascus scroll for example). These Qumram community members were very pious Jews who felt that the Temple had been corrupted and thus they separated themselves from mainstream Judaism of the period. They were led at first by a ‘teacher of righteousness’ in the century before Jesus. They kept the memory of this teacher alive. They grew increasingly alienated from Temple worship but did not jettison the notion of animal sacrifice that was so central to temple worship. They also developed apocalyptical themes in response presumably to the impending cataclysmic clash with Rome. They like the gospel of John too spoke in terms of children of the light versus children of the darkness or evil. The expression “sons of light” is a key term in the War Scroll, one of the Essenes’ self-designations. The same term appears in John 12:38. Baptism, or ritual immersion, plays a key role in the Community Rule of the Essenes and in the New Testament. It is therefore possible that some members of what was left of the Qumram community became followers of Jesus when Jesus appeared.

Ultimately the dualistic theme of light versus darkness with light equivalent to goodness may derive from Zoroastrianism. The Jews, like everyone else in the ancient near east would have been exposed to the Persian religion during the period of the return from Exile when Cyrus rebuilt the Temple (the second temple period). By the time of the Maccabees, however, the Temple and the high priesthood had been compromised in the eyes of the leader of the Essenes, The Teacher of Righteousness (which interestingly was a religious title in Zoroastrianism) and thus they separated themselves from the temple worship. This anti-temple bias can be detected in John as can the dualistic theme so beloved of the Essenes.

Ultimately however we have to find the real source of the high Christology in John in the beloved disciple himself, supported by ex-members of the Essenes. It was the beloved disciple who witnessed Jesus’ life first hand, face to face as well as his crucifixion. He knew Jesus better than anyone else. He was Jesus’ preferred confidante. Even though Peter was the preferred leader of the disciples, the beloved disciple apparently received Jesus’s special revelation and he remained true to this revelation to the end.

In Brown’s fourth phase of development of the Johannine community, after the death of the long lived beloved disciple, he maintains that Christological themes continued to divide the people. In 1 John the presbyter is concerned to heal divisions within the Johannine community. A group had separated from the main body of the community (Brown calls these secessionists) on the basis of the nature of Jesus’ nature and earthly mission. They seemed to have downplayed the cross or Jesus’ death as expiation for sin (1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10 and 5: 6). In 2 John the author sends a letter to a distant daughter community in order to prevent schism along the same lines (i.e. due to differences over the meaning of the Passion). There also appears to be a danger of dissident teachers as the author attempts to bolster his readers against false teachers (II John 10-11). In 3 John the issue is one of church authority rather than Christological error. Diotrephes refuses hospitality of the main community and is a false teacher that needs to be guarded against.

Nevertheless the prestige and legacy of the beloved disciple was strong enough to keep a Johannine sensibility alive in the church through the turbulent birth of Christianity as an empire – wide religion. The Johannine church is still alive today but dormant and under sustained attack from all sides. Just as the earliest Christian communities had to fight to keep alive the beloved disciple’s special revelation so to must we today do the same in order to overcome the current crisis in the church today as in the final analysis it is a very old crisis.
References

Brown, R. E. (1979). The community of the beloved disciple. The life loves and hates of a individual church in New testament times. New York Paulist Press.

 

Brown, R. (1997). An introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday.

 

Brown, R., Fitzmeyer, J., and Murphy, R (Eds). (1990). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

 

Coogan, Michael, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

 

Acknowledgement: This piece is excerpted and modified from a longer work by Augustinus submitted to St Joseph’s College in 2012