Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I think this was a tolerably well-thought out response by the Holy Father. It is not as strong as I would have liked, of course (there are no calls for the Muslims to convert and accept the Gospel), but neither is there any dribble about us praying together or any nonsense like that. Let's look at a few of the strong points of the letter.
First, Benedict refernces Deus Caritas Est in the context of love of neighbor. This is a very subtle point, but very important. In Islamic theology, Allah cannot love us the way God the Father loves in our Faith. Allah relates to his people as a master to slaves, but not as a father to children. Thus, the concept of God being substantially love is foreign to Islam. Allah may be merciful, powerful, all-knowing, etc. But he is not love and he certainly is not father. By referring to Deus Caritas Est, Benedict reminds them of the vast difference in the Catholic conception of God and the Islamic belief.
The next part is what I particularly like. If you recall, the Muslim letter said that we ought to base our common ground and our dialogue on two religious doctrine that they believe we share in common: belief in one God and love of neighbor. Both of these, although common to many religions, are nevertheless religious doctrines. Now, look at how Benedict responds:
Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.
Notice what he did? The Muslims asked to base dialogue on the religious grounds that we worship the one God and love our neighbor. Benedict turns around and says that we can base our dialogue on "respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance," all of them natural, worldly things. I like the line "objective knowledge of the religion of the other," which draws a good distinction that we can have dialogue with each other without having to accept each other's faith; objective knowledge of each other's religion suffices. I am not sure what "shared religious experience" means, but I don't think he means it the way JPII did at Assisi. But what Benedict categorically did not say is, "Okay, let's base our dialogue on love of God and love of neighbor, just like you said." No; he understands that their god is profoundly different from ours and that the way Muslims "love" their neighbors (like by taxing them for being Christians?) is not the type of love Jesus mentioned. Therefore, he accepted the call to dialogue, but gave different, more worldly ground son which to base it.
This letter has many weaknesses, too. I wish he would not have invited them to a meeting. If they accept, I hope he actually preaches the Gospel to them. That would be nice. But probably it will turn into some clap-trap about mutual understanding, fruitful dialogue and reciprocal respect. I think people imagine that just learning about each other will help us get along. Well let me tell you, it is precisely because I know exactly what Islam is that I despise it so much. So, just learning about each other's religion is not going to do anything at all. Let's pray to Our Lady of Victory, St. John Capistrano and Pope St. Pius V that this"meeting" does not turn into another Assisi.
Is it inevitable that we will all commit sin? We have to be very careful here. It is certainly not inevitable that we will all commit mortal sin; many of the saints, like St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Dominic, had their confessors testify that they never committed a mortal sin. But what about for the rest of us? It is pretty certain that we will all be guilty of at least venial sin during our life; the Apostle John says as much ("If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us," 1 John 1:8). I think you could make a pretty good generalization this way: while it is inevitable that we will all commit some sin (at least venial) during our lives, it is not inevitable that we will commit any certain sin. Because I am fallen, I am sure to slip up somewhere; but I don't think you could say that it is inevitable that I will commit slander, or theft, or gossip, etc. I may live my life without committing any of those. But I think it is certain that the best of us will slip up somewhere (Proverbs 24:16 says that even the righteous man falls seven times a day), but it cannot be said with certainty that I will fall into any specific sin.
That being said about venial sin, it is definitely not inevitable that anybody has to commit mortal sin, which is what we are concerned with here. But this is exactly what many proponents of vice would have us to believe. Look at the implications of the following statements:
"It's no use teaching abstinence. Kids will be kids, and they're going to have sex anyway. Do you want them to be totally unprepared when they do start having sex? The best thing we can do is educate them about safe sex and give them access to condoms and contraceptives."
"It doesn't make sense to outlaw prostitution. People are going to do these this anyway and you can't stop it. Just legalize it, since it's already going on."
"If abortions were illegal, women would be forced to have recourse to back alley abortionists and unsafe medical conditions that could greatly endanger them. Therefore, abortions should stay legal."
In each case, the sinful activity is presented as inevitable: teens have to have sex, there's no way around it. People are going to use hookers no matter what, so it's pointless to try to curb it. And most offensive, the implication in number three, women simply must have to murder their babies; if you stop them legally, they'll find some other way to do it. Do you see how in each case the sin is presented as an inevitability? The proponents of these positions then say that all we can do is cushion the sin so that the impact of it is not so great (i.e., giving out condoms). This is not unlike the political view of many leftists during the Cold War who said we can't possibly beat Communism, so the best we can hope to do is think of ways to peacefully coexist with them. That argument was rubbish in that situation, and it is certainly rubbish when applied to the question of grave moral evils.
God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, "Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." Nobody denies that there are strong temptations to sin; that much is common to all human nature. Sin does lurk behind many corners, and it does desire to ensnare us. But God tells us, "you must master it." This is what St. Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." Even on the natural level, God has given man a reason and a will sufficiently powerful enough to overcome the often disordered desires in us that lead us to commit sin. With the grace of Christ, it is not only possible to overcome sin but not possible to attain great heights of sanctity.
Nobody has to have premarital sex or have abortions. People choose to willingly and then try to lessen their culpability by saying that their evil act was unavoidable. Who would have thought our culture could ever have gotten to a place where people commit mortal sin flagrantly and claim that it is inevitable? But let them go their own way to their own place. For us, we will remember God's warning to Cain, that it is we who must master sin. If we don't, we run the risk of becoming like Cain, both as individuals and as a society.
"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still". Revelation 22:11
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
This is a link to the website of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis. This parish has an "Eco-Spirituality Committe" that is dedicated to helping people realize that "Our human journey is intricately connected with the earth and all its creatures; our way to healing and wholeness (= salvation) plays out through our inter-relationship with the living systems of the earth." I don't know what "wholeness = salvation" means, but check out their website here.
Archbishop Burke Puts Parish Under Interdict
Click here and here to read about the ongoing struggle between Archbishop Raymond Burke and the parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis. Here is the parish's side of the story.
Is Nothing Sacred? Detroit Priest Mentions Red Wings During Consecration
They say that true life is stranger than fiction. Isn't it true! I thought I had seen every type of liturgical abuse imaginable, but then I came across this picture of Fr. Pat Casey of St. Dominic's in Detroit:
No, this has not been PhotoShopped; he actually has the Detroit Red Wings logo on his vestments. This is even sadder because it is in my own backyard (and because I like the Red Wings). Click here for the whole sad story. He even "intoned" the score of the hockey game during the Mass. Grrr...
How can people see things like this and then go on to assert that we need to continue to break away from Tradition? Tradition is the only anchor that keeps us from going off into heresy (case #1), disobedience (case #2) or just plain absurdity (case #3). Only in America!
You know, I don’t see putting doctors and women in jail. I don’t believe that’s ever been part of our history, even when states were able to put in place effective pro-life legislation. I haven’t seen provisions of that nature ever being proposed. But I do believe that the next step that should be taken is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to no longer have the Supreme Court impose its one-size-fits-all philosophy on the entire nation. There will be steps beyond that, of course, but the next step is to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The fact of the matter is, this is what happens anywhere the Muslims obtain a sizeable populace. They start by trickling in, saying that they are a religion of peace and that they do not agree with the ways of their jihadist cousins (remember, in Islam it is acceptable to lie to further the cause of the religion). Then, once they obtain a solid minority they start the agitation, as they are doing now in France. Then, once they grow from a slim minority into at least a 35-45% minority, they bring on the open war and jihad will be upon that unfortunate nation that took them in. We need to get this through our head: these Muslims will eventually end up rioting no matter what. The only time the Muslims in France will stop agitating is when Arabic is the official language of France, when Notre Dame has become a Muslim mosque (or Christian museum), when the firstborn daughter of the Church and the scions of Charlemagne groan under the weight of sharia law, and when the women of the humble village of the Maid of Lorraine are forced to cover themselves or face the lash. Then they will stop agitating, but not before.
Hey Prime Minister Sarkosky, if you want to stop the problem, round em' up and deport em. Easy as that. Don't complicate the matter with a bunch of questions about the "compassion" of such an act: just do it. Do you want to know what is not compassionate? Letting Islam take root in another country. That is what ought not be tolerated. Is it narrow minded? Yes, but so were the great Catholic men of old who proclaimed with unwavering confidence in the righteousness of their cause, "Paynims are wrong; Christians are right!" (Song of Roland, LXXIX/1015)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day. And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated.
Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time. Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time. Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical' misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.
Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful.
Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm. Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.
Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way. I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Click here to read the whole article (it is 16 pages long with 13 pages of footnotes).
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The papal tiara is technically called the Triregnum and has symbolized the office of the papacy since ancient times (though its form has changed over the years). The first mention of any sort of distinctive papal headgear comes from the time of Constantine and it is believed to have been modeled on a headdress worn by Byzantine nobility. By the time of Pope Sergius III (c. 904), the popes are portrayed wearing a helmet-like cap with a single crown. Why the name tiara was eventually chosen is obscured; perhaps to distinguish it from the episcopal mitre, though the name tiara is first mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis of the 11th century referencing the pontificate of Paschal II (1099-1118).
When the second tier was added is disputed. It is certain that it was added by the pontificate of Boniface VIII (from whom I take my alias) who poped from 1294-1303, but it is unknown whether it was Boniface or his great successor Innocent III (1198-1216) who added the second tier, for their exists an image of Innocent III wearing a double-tiered tiara. The second tier seems to symbolize the widely held belief in the late Middle Ages that the popes wielded both swords of authority, temporal and spiritual. Indeed, no other reasonable explanation has ever been put forth. Both Innocent III and Boniface VIII were remembered for pressing these claims, so it is conceiveable that either pope added the second tier, but it was certainly there by 1303, when Boniface's successor, the short-lived Benedict XI (1303-1304) was depicted wearing it.
The third tier was added quickly after, and an inventory of papal treasures from 1316 mentions a three-tiered tiara. The third tier was certainly added by the mid-14th century (some say by Benedict XII in 1342) and the lappets (two strips of cloth hanging off of the back) were added soon after. There after the triple-tiara became the sign of papal authority for centuries. There have been many different papal tiaras, some varying in weight and design. Twenty-two tiaras remain in existence today, the largest being the one donated to Pope Pius VII in 1804 by Emperor Napoleon I, which weighed just over 18 pounds (this tiara, coincidentally, was never worn, because the crafty French emperor seems to have intentionally had it built too small for Pius Vii's head). Most of the papal tiaras were destroyed in 1798 when they were captured and melted down by the French under Berthier. The twenty-two that survived either postdate 1798 or somehow managed to survive the disaster. By far the oddest papal tiara was the tiara of Paul VI, the last pope to don the Triregnum, whose tiara had a bizarre, bullet-like shape. It was Paul VI who chose to put an end to this venerable custom that had always signified the authority of the popes.
At the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI descended the steps of the papal throne in St. Peter's Basilica and (this part will really make you mad) laid the tiara on the altar in a gesture of humility meant as a renunciation of all of the papacy's earthly power. Pope Paul's tiara was presented to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. by the Apostolic Delegate to the United States on February 6, 1968 as a gesture of Pope Paul VI's affection for the Catholic Church in the United States. It is on permanent display in Memorial Hall along with the stole that Pope John XXIII wore at the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
The renouncing of the tiara has understandably angered many traditional Catholics (myself included). No subsequent pope has taken up the tiara. Pope John Paul I (1978) was the first pope to be installed without being coronated (Paul VI had been coronated) and John Paul II decided to follow in his predecessor's footsteps. In his inauguration homily, John Paul II said, "This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes." I take issue with him here; I think the tiara, especially in the changes made to it by Innocent III, Boniface VIII and Benedict XII, was clearly and explicitly meant to be a direct assertion of the temporal power of the popes. Anybody who has studied the history of the popes and the temporal power in the Middle Ages (and I wrote my 94 page senior thesis on it) knows that this was the fundamental issue of the 13th-14th centuries. To say that the triple tiara does not represent the temporal power of the popes is just false. Sorry JPII, but it is simply not true.
Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo still allowed for a coronation, but neither John Paul I nor John Paul II took advantage of it. In 1996, John Paul II issued Universi Dominici Gregis, which removed all mention of a coronation and instead called it an "inauguration" (sounds like more democratization: remove references to monarchy and replace them with more democratic terms). However, JPII still retained the tiara in his coat of arms. This has even been done away with by Benedict XVI, whose coat features only an episcopal mitre. The only time anybody close to a pope wears the tiara now is when it is trotted out on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul and placed on the head of the bronze St. Peter statue in St. Peter's Basilica.
I obviously think Benedict ought to take up the papal tiara again. I think no single act could be so easy for him to accomplish, yet so meaningful and symbolic. Think of how the world would react were the successor of Peter to take up his crown once again. How they would writhe and twist with discomfort at the thought of a papal crown! But, we are so uncomfortable nowadays with anything suggesting regnal power. We ought not be uncomfortable; the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom, a monarchy. The modern papacy has a fundamental misunderstanding of its own place in the Church. It thinks that love alone, without discipline, is enough to rule: this was the essential problem with John Paul II. It is like these parents who say, "I'm not going to discipline my kids; I'm just going to love them and let them choose for themselves what they want to do. I'll be more of a friend than a parent." We know how those kids will end up!
Holy Father, on behalf of loyal Catholics everywhere, in the name of Sts Peter and Paul, Gregory the Great, Pius V, Pius X and all the great popes and saints who have gone before you, and in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord Who said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I shall build My Church," take up the rightful sign of your office! Assume the Triregnum so that the Church can governm teach and sanctify in power and in the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I have been spending a fair bit of time with this text due to a paper that I am currently working on, so it has been much on my mind. Allow me to share one excerpt from it; although I do hope that you will read the whole lecture. It is not very long. It seems to me that it would serve us all well to be as informed as possible about the liturgical theology of our present Pontiff.
This section is entitled "Sacrifice Called into Question" [My emphases]; [my comments]
If we go back to Vatican II, we find the following description of this relationship: "In the liturgy, through which, especially in the divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist, 'the work of our Redemption is carried on', the faithful are most fully led to express and show to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church."
All that has become foreign to modern thinking and, only thirty years after the Council, has been brought into question even among catholic liturgists. Who still talks today about "the divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist"? [Traditionalists do!] Discussions about the idea of sacrifice have again become astonishingly lively, as much on the catholic side as on the protestant. People realise that an idea which has always preoccupied, under various forms, not only the history of the Church, but the entire history of humanity, must be the expession of something basic which concerns us as well. But, at the same time, the old Enlightenment positions still live on everywhere: accusations of magic and paganism, contrasts drawn between worship and the service of the Word, between rite and ethos, the idea of a Christianity which disengages itself from worship and enters into the profane world, catholic theologians who have no desire to see themselves accused of anti-modernity. Even if people want, in one way or another, to rediscover the concept of sacrifice, embarrassment and criticism are the end result. Thus, Stefan Orth, in the vast panorama of a bibliography of recent works devoted to the theme of sacrifice, believed he could make the following statement as a summary of his research: "In fact, many Catholics [!] themselves today ratify the verdict and the conclusions of Martin Luther [!], who says that to speak of sacrifice is "the greatest and most appalling horror" and a "damnable impiety": this is why we want to refrain from all that smacks of sacrifice, including the whole canon, and retain only that which is pure and holy." Then Orth adds: "This maxim was also followed in the Catholic Church after Vatican II, or at least tended to be, and led people to think of divine worship chiefly in terms of the feast of the Passover related in the accounts of the Last Supper." Appealing to a work on sacrifice, edited by two modern catholic liturgists, he then said, in slightly more moderate terms, that it clearly seemed that the notion of the sacrifice of the Mass – even more than that of the sacrifice of the Cross – was at best an idea very open to misunderstanding.
I certainly don’t need to say that I am not one of the "numerous Catholics" who consider it the most appalling horror and a damnable impiety to speak of the sacrifice of the Mass [Neither am I!]. It goes without saying that the writer did not mention my book on the spirit of the liturgy, which analyses the idea of sacrifice in detail. His diagnosis remains dismaying. Is it true? [I'm afraid it is.] I do not know these numerous Catholics who consider it a damnable impiety to understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice [I've met a few]. The second, more circumspect, diagnosis according to which the sacrifice of the Mass is open to misunderstandings is, on the other hand, easily shown to be correct. Even if one leaves to one side the first affirmation of the writer as a rhetorical exaggeration, there remains a troubling problem, which we should face up to. A sizable party of catholic liturgists seems to have practically arrived at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent, was substantially right in the sixteenth century debate; one can detect much the same position in the post conciliar discussions on the Priesthood. The great historian of the Council of Trent, Hubert Jedin, pointed this out in 1975, in the preface to the last volume of his history of the Council of Trent: "The attentive reader ... in reading this will not be less dismayed than the author, when he realises that many of the things - in fact almost everything – that disturbed the men of the past is being put forward anew today." It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value. [!!! The fierce opposition to the Traditional Latin Mass (and also to Summorum Pontificum?) is based to a large extent on a rejection of Trent's irreformable and infallibe teaching on the Eucharist and the Mass!!! Did I read that right?]
It would be easy to gather proofs to support this statement of the position. I leave aside the extreme liturgical theology of Harald Schützeichel, who departs completely from catholic dogma and expounds, for example, the bold assertion that it was only in the Middle Ages that the idea of the Real Presence was invented. A modern liturgist such as David N. Power tells us that through the course of history, not only the manner in which a truth is expressed, but also the content of what is expressed, can lose its meaning. He links his theory in concrete terms with the statements of Trent. Theodore Schnitker tells us that an up-to-date liturgy includes both a different expression of the faith and theological changes. Moreover, according to him, there are theologians, at least in the circles of the Roman Church and of her liturgy, who have not yet grasped the full import of the transformations put forward by the liturgical reform in the area of the doctrine of the faith. R. Meßner’s certainly respectable work on the reform of the Mass carried out by Martin Luther, and on the Eucharist in the early Church, which contains many interesting ideas, arrives nonetheless at the conclusion that the early Church was better understood by Luther than by the Council of Trent.
The serious nature of these theories comes from the fact that frequently they pass immediately into practice. The thesis according to which it is the community itself which is the subject of the liturgy, serves as an authorization to manipulate the liturgy according to each individual’s understanding of it. So-called new discoveries and the forms which follow from them, are diffused with an astonishing rapidity and with a degree of conformity which has long ceased to exist where the norms of ecclesiastical authority are concerned. Theories, in the area of the liturgy, are transformed very rapidly today into practice, and practice, in turn, creates or destroys ways of behaving and thinking [Lex orandi lex credendi].
Meanwhile the problem has been aggravated by the fact that the most recent movement of 'enlightened' thought goes much further than Luther: where Luther still took literally the accounts of the Institution and made them, as the norma normans, the basis of his efforts at reform, the hypotheses of historical criticism have, for a long time, been causing a broad erosion of the texts. The accounts of the Last Supper appear as the product of the liturgical construction of the community; an historical Jesus is sought behind the texts who could not have been thinking of the gift of His Body and Blood, nor understood His Cross as a sacrifice of expiation; we should, rather, imagine a farewell meal which included an eschatological perspective. Not only is the authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium downgraded in the eyes of many, but Scripture too; in its place are put changing pseudo-historical hypotheses, which are immediately replaced by any arbitrary idea, and place the liturgy at the mercy of fashion. Where, on the basis of such ideas, the liturgy is manipulated ever more freely, the faithful feel that, in reality, nothing is celebrated, and it is understandable that they desert the liturgy, and with it the Church. [Spot on, Your Eminence, I mean, Your Holiness!]
Click here for a related post on the Last Supper and the liturgy.
Friday, November 16, 2007
One Scriptural argument in favor of the traditional site is where the Bible places the border of Egypt. According to Exodus, when the Israelites left Goshen and passed Succoth, they were "out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8-20). Were Sinai further east in Arabia (as some say), then they Israelites would have had to go much further than just out of Goshen before they were "out of Egypt." Nadav Na'aman, a professor of Bible geography at Tel Aviv University, made an important point in an article on the "Brook of Egypt". He states, "Traditionally, in the eyes of the Egyptians the Nile or the Isthmus fringes were considered to be their northern boundary, the Sinai peninsula being regarded as part of Asia...Thus, when their scribes were concerned with the southern coastal area exclusively, they considered its border to be the southernmost limits of the urban settlements in this region, Sinai having the status of a kind of 'no-man's land'." This seems to be why Moses and the Israelites are able to travel out of Egypt by simply leaving Goshen, but are nevertheless not out of the reach of Pharaoh yet.
A very important consideration is the fact that Exodus 2:15-3:2 seems to place Mt. Sinai in the land of Midian, which all biblical scholars agree is in Arabia. This is the case because Moses' father in law, Jethro, is the High Priest of Midian (Ex. 3:1) and it was while watching his father-in-law's flocks that he had the epiphany of the burning bush at Mt. Horeb (which almost everybody considers to be the same as Mt. Sinai). While it is certain that Jethro was a Midianite, is it certain that Sinai was in Midian?
While it is true that Jethro was a Midianite, is is not the case that Sinai is in Midian. Exodus 3:1 clearly tells us where it was: "Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God." Here we see that Horeb, far from being in Midian, was on the otherside of a vast wilderness, which Scripture refers to as the "west side of the wilderness." West of Midian there is nothing other than the Sinai peninsula, which the Egyptians treated as a no-man's land. This would fit well with Scripture calling it a "wilderness." Perhaps our view of Sinai being in Midian has been colored a bit by the 1959 movie Ten Commandments, which places Jethro's tent at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The image is vivid; in my mind I can still see Charlton Heston gazing up at the movie Mt. Sinai from the tent of Jethro. But in reality, Horeb/Sinai seems to have been a long way west of Midian across a vast wilderness. This supports the traditional site.
An even keener insight into the location of Mt. Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula (and by the way, we ought to keep in mind that the peninsula was named for the mountain, not vice versa) is given by Exodus 18:27 and Numbers 10:30, both of which relate the visit of Jethro to Moses at Mt. Sinai. At the end of his visit, Jethro (whom we know to be from Midian), goes home. Scripture says in Ex. 18: "Then Moses let his father-in-law depart [from Mt. Sinai], and he went his way to his own land." If Mt. Sinai and Midian were in the same place, how could Jethro return "to his own land" if his own land was the same land Sinai was in? Numbers says: "I [Hobab] will not go, but I will depart [from Mt. Sinai] to my own land and to my kinsmen." Again, the land of Jethro (Midian) is completely separate from the land where Mt. Sinai is.
Let's recap: we know Sinai is not in Egypt, but east of it somewhere. We also know that Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came from Midian (Arabia). We know that wherever Mt. Sinai was, it was not in the same land as Midian (Ex. 18:27, Num. 10:30). Finally, we do know from Exodus 3:1 that Mt. Sinai is on the west side of Midian across a great wilderness. Now, we must ask, what "wilderness" is east of Egypt but west of Arabia? The only plausible answer seems to be the peninsula that is now called the Sinai Peninsula and is the site of the traditional Mt. Sinai.
A challenge to the traditional location of Mt. Sinai is Galatians 4:25, when speaking of Hagar, St. Paul says, "Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia." This could be a great problem, until we realize that St. Paul does not use the same geopolitical terminology that we use today. He would have been speaking in Roman geopolitical terms. In Roman times, Arabia was a province that extended from the Nile into what is now lower Syria. The Roman province of Arabia at this time entirely included the Sinai Peninsula, so it is perfectly legitimate for Paul to say that Mt. Sinai is in "Arabia" but mean what we call Sinai. Interestingly enough, the Roman province of Arabia did not include the Saudi Arabian peninsula. Paul could not have had Saudi Arabia in mind when he said Mt. Sinai is in Arabia.
One final note. We see in Exodus 17:8-16 that the Amalekites were dwellers in the land where Israel was sojourning. We also know that the Sinai Peninsula was once part of Amalekite territory, again confirming that Mt. Sinai is in the Sinai Peninsula.
What does all of the evidence suggest? Last time, we saw that if Mt. Sinai is in the Sinai Peninsula, the mountain on which St. Catherine's is built (or one in that immediare range) is the only credible possibility. Scripture seems to place the mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, and Josephus confirms this when he says that "Moses went up to a mountain that lay between Egypt and Arabia, which was called Sinai...." (Against Apion, 2:2 [2:5]). This seem, at least at the outset, to confirm the traditional location.
Next time, we will look at an alternate site that some claim to be Mt. Sinai: Jebel-al-Lawz in southwest Saudi Arabia.