Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cyprian Of Carthage's Rehabilitation Of Tertullian's Rigorist View Of Purgatory

“In Tertullian’s Montanist essay On the Soul a step is taken which leads to the concept of Purgatory in its proper sense, though even here we are not dealing with an idea which is straightforwardly identical with the teaching of the mediaeval councils. Tertullian’s starting point is Jesus’ parabolic advice to reconcile oneself with one’s opponent on the way to court, since otherwise:

…you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

Interpreting this text in terms of human destiny in the world to come was made easier by the fact that phylake, the word for ‘prison,’ was also one of the current terms for Hades. For Tertullian, who had become a rigorist, the text meant that the time between death and resurrection is a time of imprisonment in which the soul has the opportunity to pay the ‘last penny’ and so to become free for the resurrection. A new theological rationale is being offered for Hades, and this rationale ‘makes the interim state into a necessary purgatory for everyone.’ Cyprian of Carthage, dying in 258, removed Tertullian’s thesis from its rigorist context and gave it a new look on the basis of the tasks of a pastor in a period of persecution. In this way, Cyprian succeeded in eliminating the pagan element. He managed to work out the authentically Christian form of an insight which, though derived from the Church’s Jewish roots, had earlier seemed equivalent to the Greco-Roman conceptions. Cyprian’s contribution set the Western Church on its way. He asserted a definitive salvation for those who have died in faith, and notably for the martyrs. He was similarly clear about the definitiveness of Hell. His actual pastoral problem concerned the well-intentioned but weak, average Christians who did not find the strength to accept martyrdom in times of persecution. They had carried out the demands of the State religion, and thus had publicly denied Christ. Nonetheless, they wished to remain Christians and asked for reconciliation with the Church. The saying found in Matthew 5:26 offered Cyprian an occasion for thinking through a possible continuation of penance in the afterlife. Against the protesting voices of the rigorists, this enabled him to readmit the weak to communion with the Church. Certainly they cannot, in their present condition, enter into definitive communion with Christ. Their denial, their half-heartedness, stands in the way. But they are capable of purification. The penitential way of purification exists not only in this world but in the world to come. With this interpretation, that there is purification in the future life, the root concept of the Western doctrine of Purgatory is already formulated clearly enough.”

-Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life.


“Every Catholic knows, dearly beloved, that today’s solemnity should be counted among the principal feasts. No one questions the respect due to the day the Spirit made holy by the miraculous gift of Himself. This is the tenth day from the day when the Lord ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. It is the fiftieth day from His resurrection. Pentecost holds great mysteries in itself, mysteries new and old. By them it is clear that grace was foretold through the old law, and the old law was fulfilled through grace. When the Hebrew people were freed from the Egyptians, the law was given on Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day after the sacrifice of the lambs. So, after the suffering of Christ—the true Lamb of God, who was slain—and on the fiftieth day from His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and the crowd of believers. The true Christian can easily see how the beginnings of the Old Testament prepared for the beginnings of the Gospel, and that the second covenant was founded by the same Spirit who had set up the first.

The apostles’ story testifies: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (Acts 2:1-4).

Oh, how swift are the words of wisdom! How quickly the lesson is learned when God is the teacher! No interpretation is needed for understanding, no practice for using, no time for studying. The Spirit of Truth blows where He wills (cf. Jn 3:8), and the languages of each nation become common property in the mouth of the Church. So, from that day, the Gospel preaching has resounded like a trumpet. From that day, the showers of gracious gifts, the rivers of blessings, have watered every desert and all the dry land. To ‘renew the face of the earth’ (Ps 104:30), the Spirit of God ‘was moving over the face of the waters’ (Gen 1:2); and to drive away the old darkness, flashes of new light shone forth. By the blaze of those busy tongues, the Lord’s bright Word kindled speech into fire—fire to arouse the understanding and to consume sin. Fire has the power to enlighten and the power to burn.

God’s Word has authority, and it is ablaze with these and countless other proofs. Let us, all together, wake up to celebrate Pentecost. Let’s rejoice in honor of the Holy Spirit, through whom the whole Catholic Church is made holy, and every rational soul comes alive. He is the Inspirer of Faith, the Teacher of Knowledge, the Fountain of Love, the Seal of Chastity, and the Source of all Power. Let the spirits of the faithful rejoice. Let one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—be praised throughout the world, by the confession of all languages. And may that sign of His presence, the likeness of fire, burn perpetually in His work and gift. The Spirit of Truth makes the house of His glory shine with the brightness of His light, and He wants nothing in His temple to be dark or lukewarm.”

-St. Leo the Great

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A True Theology Of The Body

Recently, there has been criticism of Christopher West’s interpretation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I would have to agree with the criticism and I am surprised that it has taken so long to come about (I say this with the full affirmation that, as one commentator has noted, West is incredibly loyal to Holy Mother Church and intends to serve her and would even give his life for her. Yet, devotion to the Church does not excuse an erroneous presentation of the faith). I have long thought that West reduces the Theology of the Body down to sex. It is so much more though! The Theology of the Body is not merely about Marriage or sex in Marriage. It is rooted in a Trinitarian and Christological view of the human person who is endowed with inherent dignity by God as one of his creatures. It affects how man and woman relate with each other and how they think of themselves. This means that the Theology of the Body is just as valid for single people as it is for married. For my part, I would recommend two things:

1) Read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body from the source. It isn’t that difficult to understand. See what the source says and not what someone interprets it to be. (Here one might argue that West’s is meant to be a popular presentation so it is more accessible. Yet, John Paul’s presentation is also meant to be popular! That’s why it was presented at his audiences and not in a theological treatment meant for academics alone.)

2) Read the passage below from St. John Chrysostom (You will get much more out of it then anything you will get from West). He is talking about Marriage as a mystery (based on St. Paul’s writings) referring to Christ and His Church. Yet, what he says doesn’t merely apply to married couples, but to all people made in the image of Christ. Always remember, the Fathers know best!

“What, then? Is marriage a theater? No! It is a mystery and a symbol of something mighty. Even if you don’t show it honor, then honor what it symbolizes. “This mystery,” says St. Paul, “is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). It is a symbol of the Church and of Christ. The two come together, and they make one. When two come together, they do not make a lifeless image, or the image of anything on earth, but of God Himself. Two come to marriage, about to be made one body. See again a mystery of love! If the two do not become one—if they remain two—they do not make many. But when they unite, then they make many.

What do we learn from this? That the power of union is mighty. The wisdom of God, in the beginning, divided the one in two; but He wanted to show that it remained one even after division. So He made it impossible for either alone to be enough for procreation. For neither can be one until united with the other. Each is only half. Each alone can produce no children.

Do you see the mystery of marriage? He made one from one; and after He made these two into one, He made one, so that now, also, children are produced from one. For husband and wife are not two, but one. This may be confirmed from many sources; for instance, from the words “male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). If he is the head and she the body, how are they two? From the very fashioning of the body, one may see that they are one, for she was made from his side, and they are two halves.

And how do they become one flesh? As if she were pure gold receiving pure gold, so the woman receives the man’s seed. She nourishes it and cherishes it and adds her own share, the two fused by pleasure. And so she gives it back as a child!

The child is a sort of bridge, so that the three become one flesh, the child connecting, on either side, each to the other. Two cities, though divided by a river, become one if a bridge connects them. How much more, then, if the very bridge is formed of the substance of each.

Why are you blushing? Leave that to the heretics and pagans, with their impure and immodest customs. For this reason I want marriage to be thoroughly purified, to bring it back again to its proper nobility. You should not be ashamed of these things; if you are ashamed, then you condemn God who made marriage.

So I shall tell you how marriage is a mystery of t he Church. The Church was made from Christ’s side, and He united with her in a spiritual union. For one man said: “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor. 11:2). And he goes on to say that “we are members of His body” (Eph 5:30).

Think about all these things, then, and let’s not cast shame upon so great a mystery. Marriage is a symbol of the presence of Christ. Tell me: If you saw an image of the king, would you dishonor it? By no means.”