Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Today is the Feast of the Angelic Doctor, the "Dumb Ox", in the Ordinary Form. In the usus antiquior, we do not celebrate the feast until March 7th, which is more proper since that is the day of his death and entrance into Heaven.

However, today is still an important day because it commemorates the translation of his remains to Toulouse, which is the home of the Order of Preachers, and so we should not allow the day to go unobserved.

St. Thomas should hold a special place in our hearts as Catholics, not only for his immense intellect, but  also for his profound holiness and witness to the Faith. Lest we forget, the great Eucharistic hymns, the Tantum Ergo, the Adoro Te Devote, the Pange Lingua , and the Sacris Solemniis, were composed by St. Thomas, and perhaps in their own way rival the depth of truth contained within his Summa Theologiae.

Of all things, however, Pope Leo XIII said,
this is the greatest glory of Thomas, altogether his own and shared with no other Catholic Doctor, that the Fathers of Trent, in order to proceed in an orderly fashion during the conclave, desired to have opened upon the altar together with the Scriptures and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas whence they could draw counsel, reasons and answers.
Finally, St. Thomas is unique in that of all of the Saints, he is the only one of whom in the liturgy we ask that we might "understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished".

And so, today, perhaps let us ask for his intercession in our lives that our devotion to Our Lord, especially in his Eucharistic presence, might increase, and also that our knowledge of the Faith might be enlightened so as to gain the true path to holiness.


O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas
outstanding in his zeal for holiness
and his study of sacred doctrine,
grant us, we pray,
that we may understand what he taught
and imitate what he accomplished.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Profile of a Theological Liberal

One areas where traditional minded Catholics and other Catholics get caught up is in the question of what it means to be a "liberal." During the conclave of 2013, some Weigelian "evangelical" Catholics were rejoicing at the mention of conservative Cardinal Timothy Dolan as a papabile; traditionalists, on the other hand, were worried that such a liberal prelate as Dolan was being seriously considered. Cardinal Schönborn is extolled as an example of a solidly orthodox prelate by some, whilst others find frightful compromises with liberalism in the Cardinal's behavior. Hans urs Von Balthasar is praised by John Paul II and Benedict XVI as an exemplar of Catholic scholarship; others, such as myself, see him as one of the foremost liberals of the modern Church. Similar discussions have occurred regarding Fr. Barron.

Clearly, different people have different definitions of what it means to be a "liberal" Catholic.

This confusion, I think, is due to the fact that Catholics have appropriated secular-political definitions of what it means to be "liberal" or "conservative", essentially equating indicators of political liberalism with theological liberalism. In the political realm, for example, a liberal is likely to be in favor of same sex marriage, abortion, and at least an indifferentist on religious matters, if not an outright agnostic or atheist. These are what are adopted as the indicators of liberalism. Thus, when it comes to a Catholic prelate or theologian, it is the presence or lack of these indicators that determine whether that individual is "liberal" or not. Understood this way, Cardinal Timothy Dolan cannot be liberal because he is fiercely Pro-Life; Cardinal Schönborn is not liberal because he writes beautiful things about the need for society to turn to God; Cardinal Bergoglio could not be a liberal because he had defended traditional marriage in strong language during his time in Argentina. It is not my purpose to suggest that the aforementioned prelates are liberals, only point out that the indicators for who is and is not a 'liberal' are usually social-moral questions lifted from the political spectrum.

But is this what it means to be 'liberal' in the traditional, Catholic sense? When Bl. Pius IX or Leo XIII or St. Pius X wrote scathingly against "liberalism", what were they condemning? Were they condemning homosexual marriage, or abortion, or agnosticism?

Those moral issues certainly are part of liberalism, but anyone who has really studied the thought of the pre-Conciliar popes on this question knows that these moral issues are fundamentally not what the popes of the 19th century were worried about. Fr. Salvany, in his classic work Liberalism is a Sin, devotes an entire book to demolishing the errors of liberalism and never mentioned abortion or homosexuality. This is because for Salvany, as well as Bl. Pius IX and the other pre-Conciliar popes, liberalism is primarily a troubling theological trend within Catholicism, not a position on hot-button moral issues. It has to do with holding certain theological opinions, most of which are not relatable to any corresponding positions on the political spectrum, because they are problems internal to Catholic theological thought. This is why Fr. Salvany can write a whole book against liberalism and not mention these moral indicators; he simply does not see them as the essence of liberalism.

Once we understand this, we will begin to see why there is a divergence here; why where one sees a conservative prelate, another sees a liberal or modernist. If you are still thinking inside the liberal-conservative political paradigm, you may be surprised to see what the Church's definition of a liberal-progressive actually is. It is certainly not the same thing as a political liberal in the American sense. If not, then what is the profile of a theological liberal, according to the Church's tradition? It is hard to nail down every point, but here a few indicators of liberalism we have culled from some of the more famous documents of the pre-Conciliar Church:

A liberal believes that every man is free to embrace and publicly profess whatever religion he deems true, and that good hope may be entertained for the salvation of these people outside the Church. (Syllabus, 15-17)
A liberal believes that it is no longer expedient for Catholicism to be the formal religion of the State; liberals thus profess an American style separation of Church and State and deny that religious liberty will lead to indifferentism (ibid., 77-78).
A liberal dismisses the injunction of Pope Agatho, affirmed by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos, that neither the content of the faith nor its expression ought to be changed. (Mirari Vos, 7)
A liberal believes that so long as members of non-Christian religions follow certain moral standards, salvation can be obtained. (ibid., 13). A liberal asserts the "liberty of conscience" (ibid., 14).
A liberal believes in an absolute right to freedom of speech, especially the freedom to publish and spread falsehoods in print and online. Note, even if the content of this speech is disagreed with, the liberal still asserts that there is a right for it to be promulgated. This belief in unfettered freedom of publishing is a tenet of liberalism (ibid., 15).
Liberals assert that the Church cannot pass judgment on the content and methodology of human science. (Lamentabile Sane, 5).
A liberal believes that the Gospel of John was not composed by the beloved Apostle, but by a "Johannine community" (ibid., 18).
A liberal believes that Christianity must be adapted to fit the needs of different times and places (ibid., 59).
A liberal believes that the Church's traditional understanding of creation of the world be reevaluated in light of modern scientific knowledge (ibid., 64). 
A liberal believes the fundamentally center of all religion is the religious experience, the heeding of the religious sense of man (Pascendi, 6, 10).
A liberal cannot distinguish between the natural and the supernatural; he is ever naturalizing what is supernatural, whilst simultaneously affirming a supernatural or soteriological importance to things that are merely natural (ibid., 7; see also Humani generis, 26). Mere natural virtue is treated as meritorious as supernatural virtue, and the whole uniqueness of supernatural faith is implicitly denied since natural faith is considered equally salvific (i.e., the "faith" of the non-Christian being treated as meritorious).
Liberals believe that dogma should evolve with the changing sensibilities of man (ibid., 13).
Liberals believe that non-Christians, such as Muslims and pagans, can have authentic, and valuable religious experiences that must be affirmed (ibid., 14).
A liberal believes that the Sacred Scriptures are primarily understood as the record of the "experience" of God's pilgrim people on their journey of faith. Sacred history is a narrative of various experiential encounters with God - a chronicle of experiences (ibid., 21-22).
A liberal believes it is wrong for the Church to meddle in any political affairs; for the Church to trace out and prescribe for the citizen any line of action, on any pretext whatsoever, is to be guilty of an abuse of authority (ibid., 24).
The liberal believes that everything in the Church ought to be updated - to change and evolve with the times. Liturgy, discipline, Church structure all ought to be modified to fit the spiritual needs of an ever changing society (ibid., 26).
A liberal believes that the Bible may contain historical or scientific errors, butsince the subject of these books is not science or history, but only religion and morals, it is not a 'real' error, since the fundamental nature of the Bible is to teach about faith, not history (ibid., 36).
A liberal prefers modern philosophical systems to Scholastic philosophy (ibid., 38).
A liberal believes that the entire structure of the Church ought to be reformed in order to reflect the more democratic sensibilities of the modern world (ibid.) - how about replacing the papal coronation with an inaugural Mass?
A liberal believes that authority in the Church is much too concentrated should be decentralized (ibid.).
Liberals believe that, while the Church Fathers are worthy of veneration, their absence of critical textual erudition and knowledge of ancient history make their interpretations of Scripture suspect (ibid., 42).
A liberal believes that Catholics ought to ignore the differences that divide us from Protestants, Muslims, and other people of faith, and focusing on what unites us, join forces to combat secularism and atheism (Humani generis, 11).
A liberal believes that the needs of the times justify altering terminology long established in the Church and freeing our theology from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers (ibid., 14).
A liberal denies that the Church of Jesus Christ and the Holy Roman Catholic Church are one and the same, but prefers to waffle and equivocate on this point (ibid., 27).
Liberals believe that it is a foregone conclusion, already scientifically proven, that the human body was the result of evolution (ibid., 36).
A liberal denies that it falls to the teaching authority of the Church to decide whether evolution can be held as a viable position for a Catholic (ibid.).
Liberals deny the existence of a literal Adam and Eve (ibid., 37).
Liberals believe that instead of two first parents, we had multiple first parents (ibid.).
A liberal denies that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are historical in nature (ibid., 38).
A liberal priest, bishop or theologian falsely believes that he can still maintain a clear conscience without insisting that his pupils and those under his authority religiously accept the teaching authority of the Church, including the condemnation of all of the above propositions (ibid., 42).

As you can see, one need not profess same-sex marriage, abortion, favoring national health insurance or any of the current hot-button indicators of political liberalism have anything to do with theological liberalism. Forget whether a prelate is Pro-Life or not; does he believe separation of Church and State is ideal? If so, then he is a liberal.

Is he clamoring for decentralization of the Church, more power for the national bishops' conferences, or an internationalization of the Roman Curia? Liberal.

Does he speak about Genesis in terms of "the Bible doesn't teach scientific truth because it is not primarily a scientific book"? Liberal.

Does he believe in absolute freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Liberal.

Is he praising the religious experiences of non-Christian cultures, affirming that they have some sort of value in God's eyes and suggesting that all people are somehow communing with God through their own religious traditions? Liberal.

Does he state that the Church needs to figure out how to spread its message with new vocabulary to suit the temperament of modern man? Liberal.

Does he believe in a loose alliance of all moral, religious people against secularism? Liberal.

Does he confuse natural with supernatural virtue, praising the natural virtues of pagans of anyone else as if these are supernaturally pleasing to God? Liberal.

Does he deny, on national television, that there were a historic Adam and Eve and then look like a fool when asked to explain original sin (which Pius XII specifically said would be problematic when the historical Adam and Eve are denied)? If so, then he is a liberal.

Once you understand what the profile of a theological liberal looks like, you begin to realize there are many more around than you first thought.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Those Magical Sacraments

Going back to our initial Catholic theological formation, we recall the distinction between the grace attained through the sacraments ex opere operato and the grace available ex opere operantis. The former refers to the reality of the sacraments as means of grace objectively (i.e., not dependent upon the faith or consent of the person receiving them); the latter, ex opere operantis, refers to the grace received through the sacrament that is relative to the disposition of the receiver. This distinction explains why, for example, even though in each Holy Communion enough grace is objectively present to sanctify the entire universe, the actual amount of grace received by each individual will vary based on their disposition, preparedness, etc. For the saints, a single Holy Communion is immeasurably profitable; for the hardened sinner, a hundred Holy Communions per year may not profit him at all if his heart remains obstinate.

The ex opere operato aspect distinguishes the Catholic view from the teachings of the Protestants, while the ex opere operantis distinction means that the sacraments do not work in a "magical" or automatic fashion. There is thus a perfect balance, a meeting of grace and will. 

Unfortunately, in the modern Catholic Church, this harmonious balance of Tradition is thrown off. While Catholic apologists continue to (rightfully) teach that the sacraments are not "magical" means of grace as the Protestants often accuse, it is a fact that the modern Church has discarded the teaching of the ex opere operantis character of sacramental grace, that is, the grace that is relative to the disposition of the receiver. In the modern Church, the sacraments are magical.

How has the post-Conciliar Church abandoned ex opere operantis and promoted a "magical" approach to the sacraments? Let us examine what it means to be properly disposed to receive a sacrament.

Proper disposition means approaching the sacrament with pious sentiment. Our intention should be motivated by love of God, we should have a keen understanding of what we are about to receive, should have prepared for reception by prayer, and should proceed with an attitude of humility and thanksgiving. Of course, if Holy Communion, one needs to be in a state of grace and have observed the Eucharistic fast.

So how do we cultivate these dispositions? This is the pietistical reason behind sacred art, sacred music, and sacred architecture. By hearing Gregorian Chant, one's own prayer is lifted and mingles with the prayer of the angels, who always sing before the throne of God. In looking at sacred art, the mind is called to the mysteries of the faith, which the Church celebrates. Sacred architecture calls to mind the Incarnation, that God has entered time and space and that what is being celebrated in the liturgy is utterly unique. All of these things come together to cultivate a pious disposition in the hearts of the faithful that aid them in preparing their heart for the sacraments.


If we strip out all our sacred art or replace it with ugly modern art... 
If we replace our sacred music with banal modern "pop" music... 
If we pitch sacred architecture for ugly, utilitarian models... 
If we do not allow moments of silence during the Mass for private prayer, filling every available moment with hymns, responses, and gestures... 
If we do not sufficiently preach on the need for confession and penance... 

Then are we not removing from the Catholic liturgical experience anything that would help create the dispositions necessary to obtain the ex opere operantis graces? We tell the faithful that the sacraments are not magical, but then we remove from them external aid to devotion that would assist them in cultivating the disposition necessary to reap the graces ex opere operantis. We expect that the simple reception of Holy Communion alone, without any other external aid to devotion, is sufficient to secure the necessary grace. 

My friends, I'm sorry, but this is treating the sacraments like magic charms, since the faithful are expected to approach them and merit from them in isolation of any other relative factors.

In the Novus Ordo as experienced in most parishes, a parishioner has to be a saint or a mystic to truly reap the graces available in the Eucharist because they must have the requisite spiritual strength to manifest all these dispositions out of their own spiritual life with out any external aids. Not that holiness is dependent upon external aids; St. Anthony of Egypt was eminently holy and had nothing external to aid him but the desert sands. But he was a saint, and that's the point. The Church's pedagogy for centuries has understood that common people who are not saints need external aids to devotion to help focus on the Sacred Mysteries. And even the saints have reaped tremendous benefits from sacred art. How would the Church's history have changed if there was no crucifix for St. Francis to gaze upon at San Damiano?

It is foolish and unjust to tell the Catholic that the sacraments are not magical while simultaneously disassociating their celebration from any aesthetical-pietistical context, thus viewing them as things that just kind of work of their own accord. Let us return to the harmony and balance of doctrine and practice that characterized Catholic Tradition and cultivated real holiness.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Welcoming Two New Contributors

As we begin this new year, I want to formally welcome two new contributors to this blog and website.

Our first new contributor is Maximus. Maximus has been guest blogging around at many different sites - you may have read a guest post of his now and then on Rorate Caeli (where, like Aslan on earth, he is known by another name) or Corpus Christi Watershed, and many of his posts have been syndicated on New Advent or bigpulpit.com. He is happy to have found a more permanent home here at Unam Sanctam Catholicam. He will contributing to this blog as well as the website.

Maximus' interests include St. Thomas and  the work of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange. From a liturgical perspective, Maximus brings an experience as an MC for the usus antiquior, and so is very knowledgeable about liturgical studies and liturgical theology.

Maximus resides in Austria with his wife and two kids. He is finishing up his pontifical masters degree in theology, before continuing with the licentiate. He enjoys hunting and brewing beer in his free time.

Our second contributor may be new to you but is very familiar to me. Noah Moerbeek is the founder and webmaster of the great site Alleluia Audio Books and an administrator of the Facebook page "1,000,000 Strong for the Traditional Latin Mass" (like the page here). Noah's work is part of his apostolate with the Christi Pauperum Militum Ordo (Poor Knights of Christ), of which he is a member and an admirable representative. Noah has already been part of the USC team for two years, working on the back end. It was Noah who did the leg work getting the USC site up and running and got a lot of the glitches ironed out. A lot of the articles I publish here have their origins in phone conversations I have with Noah. His wife has also contributed articles on the site (here and here). Noah will be posting on the blog occasionally as part of a closer collaboration between USC and Alleluia Audio Books. Noah and his wife currently reside in California where they recently welcomed their fourth child.

We are happy to have Noah and Maximus on board as we move into the seventh year of this weblog.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Bethlehem Prophecy of Micah

The Feast of the Epiphany is meant to commemorate two things, one particular, one general. In particular, this Feast is about the coming of the Magi to adore the Christ child in Bethlehem. But in general, the Feast reminds us of the manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles - that God had come for all people, not just the children of Israel. This universal mission of the Messiah had been prophesied centuries earlier (see here), and in the adoration of the Magi, we see the first fulfillment of this prophesy as Gentiles from afar acknowledge our Lord Jesus as the King of Kings.

Of course, the Magi, being pagans and presumably not having access to the sacred writings, were guided to Bethlehem by the miraculous appearance of a star. But as today's readings remind us, King Herod also sought out the Christ child in Bethlehem, but he was guided to the City of David by the Sacred Scriptures themselves.

The famous Bethlehem prophecy comes to us from the fifth chapter of the prophet Micah (c. 737-696 BC), one of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. The prophecy begins in chapter 5:1 with an address to Jerusalem, which at the time was threatened by the Assyrians. He tells the Israelites to take heart, because though they are hemmed in by their adversaries, God is preparing a ruler who will trample down all the kings of the earth. The famous Bethlehem prophecy follows immediately in verses 2-4:

1. Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel.
2. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The Lord says here that a ruler will come forth from Bethlehem, but that between that time and the time of the prophet, God will "give them up"; i.e., Israel and Jerusalem will be scattered and oppressed until she who is in travail has "brought forth"; i.e., till the ruler spoken of above is born. This prophecy is one reason why the Jews associated the coming of the Christ with the restoration of the Kingdom; even the Apostles interpreted this in light of a physical restoration, as evidenced by their urgent questioning of the Resurrected Christ in Acts 1:6 ("Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?").

But this is not the sort of restoration God had in mind. After telling Israel that they will be delivered from the Assyrian threat, the Lord goes on to say that at the time the ruler comes forth, rather than a restoration of the physical kingdom, the Israelites and their message will spread to the ends of the earth:

7 Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers upon the grass, which tarry not for men nor wait for the sons of men.
8 And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

These two verse are extraordinarily important. As part of the Bethlehem prophecy, they reveal that part of the coming of the Messiah is the saturating of the nations with the people of the Lord. The remnant of Jacob "shall be in the midst of many peoples", and "among the nations, in the midst of many peoples." The peoples of the earth will receive the word of the Lord through the remnant of Jacob.

This is very closely united with the meaning of Epiphany, God's manifestation to the nations. In fact, this "leavening" of the nations with the remnant of Jacob is precisely how God is manifest to the nations. First, we must understand that this "remnant" refers to the Church, who is faithful Israel, "children of the promise." This is very clear from the New Testament (see Rom. 11:5, Gal. 4:26, 28). Therefore, when Micah speaks of a "remnant" that abides among the nations and in the midst of the peoples, this refers to the Church going out into the world to bring all nations into the one sheepfold, as commanded by Christ in Matt. 28:19.

But this "going out" into the midst only occurs after the coming of the Messiah, which is why so many Messianic prophecies relating to Epiphany concern the Gentiles coming to the knowledge of the true God. Note the references to the Gentiles coming to the knowledge of God in the following passages:

"In the latter days, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be exalted high above all other mountains and shall be raised above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it, and many peoples shall come and say, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths, for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:2-3)

"I will have pity on Not Pitied, and I will say to Not My People, "You are my people', and he shall say, "Thou art my God" (Hos. 2:23).

"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles...the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isa. 9:1-2).

"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day and shall be My people" (Zech. 2:10-11).

"The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas" (Hab. 2:14).

"For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 1:11).

This is all inaugurated with Bethlehem, and is indeed part and parcel of the same prophecy. The mentioning of the Gentiles coming to God in the same passage with the birth of the Messiah reminds us that the inclusion of the Gentiles is not just something superfluous to the mission of Christ, but is a fundamental part of the Gospel that was inaugurated with the establishment of the Church, which St. Paul echoes in Ephesians 3, the reading for today's Feast: "It has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph. 3:5-6).

Very profound. But the Bethlehem prophecy does not stop there; it speaks of the Lord's birth, of the knowledge of God spreading to the Gentiles via the remnant of Jacob dwelling "in their midst" - and then, in conclusion, it prophesies the simultaneous triumph of God and His Ruler as well as the judgment on Jerusalem :

9 Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off.
10 And in that day, says the LORD, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots;
11 and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds;
12 and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers;
13 and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands;
14 and I will root out your Ashe'rim from among you and destroy your cities.
15 And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance upon the nations that did not obey.

These verses, with the exception of v. 15, are referring to Jerusalem and Judea. Thus, the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem is a portent of joy, but also of judgment. His coming means the final judgment of Jerusalem is at hand. This is why Simeon, when blessing Joseph and Mary in his famous Nunc dimittis prayer in Luke 2, mentions the birth of the Christ as an "appointment" for the "fall and rising" of many in Israel. Notice how Simeon's prayer connects all three themes: the birth of the Saviour, the revelation tot he Gentiles, and the judgment of Israel:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (2:29-35).

So the coming of the Messiah is at once a sign of rejoicing and of doom. For the remnant of Jacob chosen by grace, the Church, "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16), rejoicing, for this is the sign that the nations will come to the knowledge of God, just as prophesied in the writings of the holy prophets; but for those nations who would not obey, whether Jew or Gentile, a message of doom, for the coming of the Messiah means that "all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch" (Mal. 4:1), and as warned by John the Baptist: "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire" (Matt. 3:10).

Like many other prophecies about our Lord, the Bethlehem prophecy is one of hope for the righteous and doom for the wicked. And it's all right there in Micah 5.