Called back to God on December 31, 2022, Pope Benedict XVI built a singular theological work, confronting the intellectual issues of his time with a pastoral concern that thwarts any academic reduction. The Bavarian theologian who, as his spiritual testament made public on the day of his death testifies, worked until the end of his life for the emergence of “the reasonableness of faith,” has laid the groundwork, notably with his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth and his introduction to Christianity, The Faith and the Future, of a Christocentric theology, leaning on the great theological tradition and oriented towards the mystery of the cross, where divine revelation is completed and finalized.
The concern for pedagogy combined with the demand for coherence characterizes Joseph Ratzinger’s intellectual and spiritual approach in the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth and offers the luxury of being able to reveal from the outset, without the risk of misunderstanding, the insight that animates the theologian throughout this article. This intuition, born of meditation on the Gospels and reading the Fathers of the Church, is expressed several times by Ratzinger and can be summarized as follows: Jesus Christ, before bringing a message, a kingdom or a long-awaited pax, brought God. “He brought the God whose face was slowly and progressively revealed from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets to sapiential literature—the God who had shown his face only in Israel and who had been honored in the world of the Gentiles under obscure avatars—it is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God, whom he brought to the peoples of the earth” (I, 63-64).
This thesis, as such, is explicitly repeated in the following volume of Jesus of Nazareth, this time with a significant emphasis on the universal dimension of Christ’s mission. “Even though Jesus consciously limits his work to Israel, he is still moved by the universalist tendency to open up Israel so that all can recognize in the God of this people the one God common to all the world” (II, 31). The answer to the decisive question “What does Christ bring?” naturally raises two other questions: to whom and how does Jesus bring God? This is the pole around which Ratzinger’s Christology is articulated, even though the expression, which he regrets in The Faith is so often opposed to “soteriology” or divided within it between “Christology from above” and “Christology from below” (155-156), only half suits him concerning his own work (cf. II, 10).
This Christology is thus elaborated in three stages. In the dialectic of the “new and definitive” on which Ratzinger, a reader of the Fathers, rightly insists in each mystery of Jesus that he contemplates, lies the key to the delicate articulation between Israel and the pagans. Both “light to enlighten the nations” and “the glory of [his] people Israel” (Lk 2:32), Christ is endowed with a mission whose very essence belongs to universality (III, 120). So much so that in the series of events in which God seems to disappear more and more—”land – Israel – Nazareth – Cross – Church” (176)—Jesus Christ presents himself as both the new Adam in whom “humanity begins anew” (III, 21) and the new Moses, the one who “brings to conclusion what began with Moses at the burning bush” (II, 113). The cross, for Ratzinger, is as much revelation as redemption. Now, what does this meeting of the vertical and the horizontal reveal, if not the identity of God and of man, in the person of the Son, a veiled response to the mysterious name given by God to Moses (Ex 3:14)? The cross, the only place where the divine “I am” can be known and understood (I, 377), consequently becomes the place where Christ reigns, His “throne,” “from which He draws the world to Himself” (II, 242). Christ’s being-open, with arms outstretched on the cross, goes hand-in-hand with Israel’s openness to the Gentiles: Ratzinger’s pro-existential Christology justifies Christian universalism.
“The Jew first, and the Gentile”
The great mission that Ratzinger sets himself at the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth, to represent the “Jesus of the Gospels” as a “historically sensible and coherent figure” (I, 17), amounts to rendering a reason for a “crucified Messiah” whom the Jews call “scandal” and the pagans “foolishness” (1Co 1, 23). Certainly, the passage from “do not go to the Gentiles” (Mt 10:5) to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Christ’s teaching has found, from the earliest times of Christianity, a coherent interpretation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in St. Paul and in the Church Fathers, based on “Israel according to the spirit,” “the time of the Gentiles,” etc. For all that, the fact that Henri de Lubac, in the previous century, saw fit to remind theologians, on the basis of scriptural and theological arguments, of the unity of the Ecclesia ex circumcision—the Church born of Israel—and of the Ecclesia ex gentibus—the Church of the Gentiles, (II, 255)—indicates how much the articulation between the Jewish and the “Greek element” (254) in the Christian mystery, although it is the foundation of all ecclesiology, still gives rise to a certain embarrassment. No doubt the “concern for universality” of the Bible, brought up to date by the author of Catholicism, left its mark on the young Ratzinger. In an era still shaken by the discoveries of historical-critical exegesis, Henri de Lubac reaffirmed a fundamental exegetical principle proper to the Fathers: to learn to read historical realities spiritually and spiritual realities historically.
Strengthened by this spiritual hermeneutic and aware of the importance of the factum historicum as well as its limits, Ratzinger could respond to and overcome the apparent aporias of a historical-critical interpretation which, according to him, “has now given all that is essential to give” (II, 8). For someone familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, this effort at theological synthesis is reminiscent of the method of the Summa Theologiae, whose Tertia pars, by his own admission, influenced Ratzinger’s work (II, 10). In Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are numerous and the theses, even those that the theologian refutes, are deployed to the end. For each mystery of the life of Christ, Ratzinger proceeds, as it were, by questions broken down into various articles within which, to the objections formulated—most often—by historical-critical exegesis, the theologian opposes a sed contra from an authority—Scripture or a Father—before proposing his own answer and solutions, arguing from theological, historical or scientific sources.
This issue of method tells us more about Ratzinger’s primary intention. Behind the demonstrative rigor, we can guess a will to make intelligible a mystery which, for many, appears scandalous or senseless. Intelligence of Scripture for the Jews, intelligence of faith for the pagans. Now the two, far from being opposed, communicate according to a precise hierarchy. The fact, in St. Augustine in particular, that the latter understands the former and exceeds it is justified, originally, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both Jonah—”Καθὼς Ἰωνᾶς” (Lk 11:30)—and “much more than Jonah”—”πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ” (Lk 11:32). Set in motion again by the Son of God, salvation history is also overtaken by Him. Here lies what Ratzinger considers “the central point of [his] reflection.” On the one hand, Christ is indeed a “new Adam” (I, 161), a “new Jacob” (I, 65), a new Samuel (III, 180), a new David (II, 17-18); “new Moses” above all, since the prophet spoke with God himself and received from him his mysterious name (I, 292-293). On the other hand, and at the same time, He is the “true Jacob” (I, 195), “true Solomon” (I, 106) and “true Moses” (I, 101): the Manna, the Divine Name and the Law, the three gifts given by God to Moses, have become one person: Jesus Christ. What God promises in the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant: “by means of the new events… the Words acquire their full meaning; and, conversely, the events possess a permanent meaning, because they are born of the Word; they are Word fulfilled” (III, 39). From His ministry in Galilee to the ascent of Golgotha, Christ not only fulfills the Scriptures and keeps promises—by perfectly fulfilling the mission of the suffering Servant of God announced by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53), He goes beyond it and, by giving Himself up not only for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24) but also for the multitude, He gives it a “universalization that indicates a new breadth and depth” (II, 161).
This return to the first universality, the “new Adam” recapitulating the humanity wounded since the first Adam, was already announced in the existence of the particular people, chosen by God: Israel. According to the Augustinian tripartition, the regime of grace (sub gratia) which begins with Christ, although fulfilling the promises made by God under the regime of the Law (sub legem), gives humanity a new beginning and a universality unheard of since the time before the Law (ante legem). Now, with regard to the promises made to the Jewish people, Ratzinger recalls that in the Old Testament “Israel does not exist only for its own sake” but “to become the light of the nations” (I, 138): “its election being the way chosen by God to come to all” (I, 42). There is no lack of scriptural references to prove this, the most famous of which is found in the Song of the Servant in the book of Isaiah, where the figure of a man, familiar with the Lord and abused by his people, appears. “And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.” (Is 49:6). By carefully analyzing these passages (I, 360, II, 235-237, III, 120), following many exegetes, Ratzinger affirms that by fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah, Christ fulfills the promise of universality made to Israel. As the new Moses, He is the master of “a renewed Israel, which neither excludes nor abolishes the old, but goes beyond it by opening it to the universal” (I, 87). In Jesus Christ, the particular has become universal (I, 103). ” For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh:” (Eph 2:14), writes Saint Paul. So much so that the first affirmation of Ratzinger’s Christology, that Christ brought God, finds its meaning and its definitive scope in the theme of the universality of Jesus, “the very center of his mission” (I, 42). Jesus Christ “brought the God of Israel to all peoples, so that now all peoples pray to him and recognize his word in the Scriptures of Israel, the word of the living God. He has given the gift of universality, which is a great promise, an outstanding promise for Israel and for the world” (I, 139).
The “Burning Bush of the Cross”
Halfway through Ratzinger’s reflection, a question emerges. While it is easy to understand how the hermeneutical rule that Ratzinger borrows from the Church Fathers—the dialectic of “true and definitive” applied to the Old Testament figures that announce Christ—makes Scripture a harmonious whole, one is entitled to wonder what fate Christianity, in Ratzinger, has in store for the Gentile. “The Jew (Ἰουδαίῳ) first, and the Greek (Ἕλληνι)” (Rom 1:16): the formula, recurrent in St. Paul, recalls the order of priorities. However, the Greek is already concerned by the universal history of Israel, and in particular by God’s revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush (Ex 3). At Mount Horeb, the pagans who until then had been worshipping a God without knowing him, the “unknown God” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ) whose inscription St. Paul discovers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:23), are summoned. They are also summoned to Sinai, where another theophany takes place that leads to the gift of the Laws, and, a fortiori, to the “new Sinai”, “definitive Sinai” (I, 87), which Ratzinger identifies with the mountain where the discourse of the Beatitudes takes place (Mt 4, 12-25) and, with even more reason, with Mount Golgotha (I, 167).
Historically, the sum of Ex 3:14 occurs in a context where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chooses a people and orchestrates their liberation from a pagan nation that held them in bondage. The particularity of the mode of revelation of the Divine Name does not, however, contradict the universal scope of its content. Anxious to interpret historical realities spiritually—and vice versa—Ratzinger proves this in various ways. First of all, through Scripture, he interprets the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the return to the Promised Land as a restart of the history of Israel, from its Mosaic origin (III, 159) to the Maccabean revolts. In His incarnation, the Word who was with God in the beginning comes into the world in Galilee, that is, “in a corner of the earth already considered half pagan” (I, 85) and receives Roman citizenship under the reign of Augustus, an emperor considered to be the son of God, if not God himself, and who has, without knowing it, contributed to the fulfillment of the promise by establishing political universality and peace in his Empire (III, 93-95).
From His native Galilee, the Messiah goes to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Lk 13:34), the place where salvation is to come at the end of an ascent to which Saint Luke, in his Gospel, has given a geographical as well as a spiritual connotation. He who found more faith in the pagans, who opened his door to Him, than in most of the children of Israel (Mt 8:10) who did not receive Him, made Jerusalem the center of a revelation that began with the adoration of the pagan magi in Bethlehem and is fully accomplished in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection to all nations. Thus, at the other end of the New Testament, Ratzinger is right to interpret St. Paul’s vision of a Macedonian calling the apostle of the Gentiles to his aid (Acts 16:6-10) as a justification for what has been called, more often than not to criticize, the Hellenization of Christianity. “It is not by chance that the Christian message, in its development, first penetrated the Greek world and became involved in the problem of intelligibility and truth” (35).
Where some, fearing the dissolution of Christian specificity in Greek culture and philosophy, advocate a “retreat into the purely religious” (82), Ratzinger firmly supports the “inalienable right of the Greek element in Christianity” (35). The ontological interpretation that the Fathers of the Church, and the medieval theologians after them, gave to the “I am” by which God calls himself in Ex 3:14, is the basis, a few centuries after the Greek kick-off, for what Ratzinger dares to call the “identification” of the “philosophical concept of God” with the biblical God (66), with several not inconsiderable transformations (84-85). Pascal is at liberty, in a formula which has made history – often for the wrong reasons – to oppose the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to that of the philosophers and scholars, without the choice of “primitive Christianity… for the God of the philosophers against the God of the philosophers”. ) for the God of the philosophers against the gods of the religions” (80), the “primacy of the logos” (91) inherent in the Christian faith would have been flouted and there would probably not be, to this day, philosophers and scholars to oppose to the Law and the prophets. In Ratzinger, we find what justifies the “metaphysics of the Exodus” that Stephen Gilson vigorously defended: the Christian God is the new and true Supreme Being of which Plato and Aristotle speak, once the “gap” that separates him from the biblical God has been reduced (66), once the “first immobile motor” has been transformed by contact with the God of faith (87-89). “In this sense, there is in faith the experience that the God of the philosophers is quite different from what they had imagined, without ceasing to be what they had found” (85).
If, at Mount Horeb, God reveals that He is the Being who subsists in Himself and gives all things their being, the revelation of the Divine Name does not entirely lift the veil on His essence. The sum qui sum, Ratzinger asks, is it not rather “a refusal than a declaration of identity?” (72) Opposing the gods that pass away with the God who is may resolve Moses’ immediate concern: the Divine Name allows the people to invoke God in their struggle and to guard against worshipping pagan idols. However, the immediate presence of God, “which constitutes the very heart of Moses’ mission as well as its intimate reason” (I, 292), is quickly “overshadowed.” The Lord’s answer to Moses’ prayer, “Let me behold your glory” (Ex 33:18), sets the limits of prophetic knowledge of God. The Old Covenant, in the end, “presents only the outline of the happiness to come, not the exact image of the realities” (Heb 10:1). The Old Testament prefigures and prepares (Rom 5:14) the one who will fully accomplish what began with Moses, but of which Moses is only a shadow (Col 2:17). In Israel, God accustoms people to His presence until the moment when, taking up the answer given to Moses on Sinai—”no one can see my face” (Ex 33:23)—he offers people, on His own initiative, to see and know Him in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:18).
To say that “the last prophet, the new Moses, was given what the first Moses could not obtain” (1:25) is not only to emphasize the absolutely unique intimacy and covenant that is born with Christ, the Word of God, but also to consider His coming as the completion of the revelation made to Moses. If Ratzinger is concerned with noting, throughout the Gospels, and especially in Saint Matthew who insists particularly on the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Jesus, the way in which Christ is inscribed in the line of the great mediators of revelation, he does not fail to orient each correspondence towards the Christological summit which is the Cross. Ratzinger’s theology is clearly Christocentric, and his Christology is itself centered on the Cross. Theologia a Cruce, one could say, theology based on or leaning against the Cross, avoiding, with Father de Lubac, the equivocal expression, especially since Luther, of Theologia crucis. For Ratzinger, faithful to the patristic reading of Henri de Lubac, “it is the Cross that dissipates the cloud with which Truth was covered until then”. This is true from the first announcements of the Passion to the “priestly prayer” of Christ reported by Saint John (Jn 17), which Ratzinger comments on in several places and in which he sees a “New Testament replica of the account of the Burning Bush” (76). “I have made known to them your name” (Jn 17:26), says the Son addressing the Father: “The name, which has remained incomplete since Sinai, so to speak, is pronounced to the end” (III, 51). Moreover, “the name is no longer just a word, but designates a person: Jesus himself” (77). Christ appears as the Burning Bush itself, from which the name of God is communicated to men.
In this respect, there is indeed a “metaphysics of the cross” in Ratzinger, which extends and completes the “metaphysics of the Exodus.” In other words, the mystery of the Cross cannot be reduced to the mystery of redemption. In the history of salvation, redemption always follows revelation: God saves by showing Himself, by revealing what He is. This is evidenced by Ratzinger’s distinction between the two types of confession of faith in the Gospel: ontologically oriented confession, based on nouns on the one hand—you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, etc.—and verbally oriented confession based on the other—you are the Son of the living God.
On the other hand, there is a verbal confession oriented towards salvation history—the proclamation of the paschal mystery of the Cross and resurrection, etc.—and a verbal confession of faith in the Gospel. In the light of this fundamental difference, he states that “the statement in strict terms of the history of salvation remains devoid of its ontological depth if it is not clearly stated that he who suffered, the Son of the living God, is like God” (I, 326). In this way, the universality of the mission of Christ is respected, who, on the cross, is not the “king of the Jews,” a typically “non-Hebrew” expression used by Pilate (III, 145), but the “king of Israel,” according to a new kingship, the “kingship of truth” (II, 223), and at the head of an Israel that has become universal. “Universality… is put into the light of the Cross: from the Cross, the one God becomes recognizable by the nations; in the Son they will know the Father and, in this way, the one God who revealed himself in the burning bush” (II, 33). God manifests himself to the Greeks on the Cross: “between the pagan world and the blessed Trinity, there is only one passage, which is the Cross of Christ” (204), Ratzinger writes, quoting Daniélou.
Christology and Ontology
It is clear that for Ratzinger “the Cross is revelation” (206). But what does it reveal? Not “some hitherto unknown propositions” (207). It reveals who God is and how man is. The Cross combines the Ecce homo (Jn 19:5) of Pilate and the “Behold the Lord God” (Is 40:10) of the prophet. Golgotha, the “true summit,” is the condition sine qua non for knowing God, for understanding the “I Am” (I, 377). ” When you shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know, that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak” (Jn 8:28), writes the evangelist. Does this mean that the ontological statement of the Burning Bush would finally receive, with Christ, the object left dangling after the verbal form, ἐγώ εἰμι in St. John? Faithful to St. Augustine, Ratzinger rather sees Christ as the one in whom the Divine Name is pronounced perfectly. Better: the one in whom the Divine Name is realized, becomes actual. Just as in the Psalms, according to St. Augustine, “it is always Christ who speaks, alternately as Head or as Body” (II, 172), so on the Cross Christ becomes the subject of the divine “I am.” The mystery of the Passion of Christ is thus “an event in which someone is what He does, and does what He is” (197).
Here lies the singularity of Ratzerian Christology, marked by Johannine ontology and fertilized by the Aristotelianism of the medieval theologians. The being of Christ, Ratzinger reminds us in The Faith, is identical to his act. Borrowing from the notion of actualitas divina and the idea, of Thomistic origin but which he traces back to Saint Augustine, of “the Existence which is pure Act” (110), the theologian insists on the identity, in Jesus Christ, “of the work and the being, of the action and the person, the total absorption of the person in his work, the coincidence of the doing with the person himself” (151). The fusion, in the phrase “Jesus Christ,” of the name with the title testifies well to this identification of the function and the person (133). Therefore, one cannot separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” as historical-critical exegesis has done on a massive scale, any more than it is possible to oppose a theology of the incarnation to a theology of the Cross. Ratzinger reconciles the two, since Christ’s being is actuality and, reciprocally, His action, is His being, reached to the depths of His being (155).
The same is true of “phenomenology and existential analyses,” to which Ratzinger grants a certain usefulness, while judging them insufficient: “They do not go deep enough, because they do not touch the domain of true being” (154). In the formula dear to Christian phenomenology—God is such as He reveals Himself—the verb “to be” takes precedence: identity is not valid as a simple equivalence—God would be such as He reveals Himself, a simple act of donation, the mode becoming substance—but as a properly metaphysical statement pronounced from the divine esse. The first affirmation of theology, that of Ex 3:14, would rather be: God is “as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). But, having renounced “discovering being in itself” in order to limit itself to the “positive,” to what appears, phenomenology, in the same way as physics or historicism, remains on the threshold of mystery. Ratzinger regrets that in our day “ontology is becoming more and more impossible” and that “philosophy is largely reduced to phenomenology, to the simple question of what appears” (127). But being and appearing, in Christ, are one and the same.
This “pure actuality” of Christ is first verified in the ad intra works of the Trinity. Ratzinger recalls that Father and Son are concepts of relationship. Thus “the first person does not engender the Son in the sense that the act of generation would be added to the constituted person; on the contrary, it is the act of generation, the act of giving itself, of spreading itself” (117). The “solitary reign of the category substance” is broken: “one discovers the “relation” as an original form of the being, of the same rank as the substance.” Consequently, the Johannine formula already quoted according to which the Son can do nothing of Himself, informing us about the Christic doing, also informs us about His properly relational being. “The Son, as Son and insofar as He is Son, does not exist at all on His own and is therefore totally one with the Father” (118). So that the being of Jesus appears to us, in the light of St. John, as a “totally open being,” “coming from” and “ordained to.” In Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger takes up this theme of “being-for” (Sein-für), borrowed in particular from Heinz Schürmann (II, 203). The pro-existence of Jesus means that “His being is in a being for” (II, 158). “In the passion and in death, the life of the Son of Man becomes fully ‘being for,’ He becomes the liberator and savior for “the multitude,” not only for the scattered children of Israel, but more generally for the scattered children of God… for humanity” (I, 360). The universality of the salvation brought by Christ thus finds its origin in this being-for and the implications ad extra of this intra-trinitarian identity of the Son. As a “true fundamental law of Christian existence” (172), the “principle of the for” thus justifies Israel’s reconciliation with the Gentiles (Eph 2:13-16): having given His life for all, Christ becomes the principle of eternal salvation “for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:9).
Jesus Christ brought God to mankind: here we return, after a detour through the history of salvation, to the Christological source of this obvious but fundamental affirmation that Ratzinger has seen fit to recall. As “God who saves,” Jesus is God for men, God among men, “Emmanuel.” The immanence of God, given to Israel “in the dimension of the word and of liturgical fulfillment,” has become ontological: “In Jesus, God has become man. God has entered into our very being” (II, 114). According to Ratzinger, more than vicarious satisfaction, humanity receives its salvation from the identity, maintained in Jesus Christ, of the two natures; and with it, the identity between its being and its doing. On the Cross, the identity of God is perfectly realized in Christ, and thus visible to all: He is truly the one who gives Himself. Redemption is played out first in this perfect fulfillment of the “I am.” The identity of God, which is the subject of so many questions in the Old Testament as in Greek philosophy, is revealed on the Cross and is revealed precisely as an identity. God, in Christ, is truly what He is. On Calvary, “love and truth meet” (Ps 84:11), a theme that Benedict XVI will regularly expound during his pontificate.
Therefore, the divine being is open to the world and offers a previously unknown way to ensure the return of creation to God. Jesus Christ is this way, this “path” (Jn 14:6). The union achieved in Jesus of Nazareth “must extend to the whole of Adam and transform him into the Body of Christ” (182). The path taken by the Lord, in which Jews and Gentiles walk together, presents itself to humanity as an ascent to the Cross combined with a progressive renunciation of self.
Romano Guardini, whose influence on Ratzinger’s theology is well known, writes in this sense in The Lord that Christ’s life consists, after having lowered divinity towards humanity, in “[lifting] his humanity above itself into the divine ocean”. In Guardini’s work, we can already see the literary and theological coincidence between the ascent to Jerusalem, where the King of Glory gradually understands that He will have to pass through the figure of the Suffering Servant, and the constitution of an economy of salvation, faithful to the promise that God’s salvation will reach all nations. The wider opening of salvation and hope has a condition: the deeper humiliation of Christ. What Christ gains in annihilation, humanity gains in elevation; and vice versa, since “the ascent to God happens when we accompany Him in this abasement” (I, 117). “Only with Christ, the man who is “one with the Father,” the man through whom man’s being has entered into the eternity of God, does man’s future appear definitively open” (254). This is the true lordship and authentic kingship that God exercises through Christ: The Master of the universe, fulfilling the ancient proskynesis, lowers himself to the extreme limit of self-emptying, becomes a servant. The “sons in the Son” will be recognized by the fact that they remain eternally in the house where their master (Jn 8:35), because they have asked for it (Jn 1:38), has brought them: the dwelling place of being which is that of love (Jn 15:9). Great mystery of a faith where one reigns in service (I, 360), since the dominus or κύριος, in order to be never again separated from His creation, united Himself to it, engulfed Himself in the “heart of the world” to such a depth that any fall in the future would be a fall in Him.
Augustin Talbourdel: cogito a Deo ergo sum. This article appears courtesy of PHILITT.
Today, ecclesiology, or reflection on the Church, is faced with new questions, even a crisis. Such a situation is not strictly new in two thousand years of history. Each time, it is up to Christians to discover or rediscover aspects of the Revelation transmitted by the apostles, according to the problems that arise. Thus, certain points that were commonly accepted, but which were due more to historical developments than to the apostolic tradition, are sometimes called into question.
The question of the “three bodies of Christ” is one such question, in the sense that one may ask whether or not it is necessary to add the human body of Christ, which has entered into glory since his resurrection, the Eucharist which makes us partakers of his body and blood, and the Church “body of Christ,” according to what was originally a metaphor of the apostle Paul. Irenaeus of Lyons was familiar with this Pauline comparison between a body made up of members and the Church [The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, nr. 1]., but he does not take this image as a reality, which would lead to making the Church a third body; or, as we would say in Western theology, a sort of continued or renewed incarnation of Jesus, or “Christus prolongatus” [Michel Deneken speaks about “the ecclesiology of the continuing Christ, a recurrent temptation of Catholic theology of the past centuries” (“Ecclésiologie et dogmatique. L’Église sujet et objet de la théologie, ” in Revue Théologique de Louvain, 38-2, 2007, p.206), and also Mark Saucy]. For Irenaeus, the expression “body of Christ” refers exclusively to the body conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary, suffering the Passion [The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, nr. 71], and entering into glory.
An objection may be raised that the Holy Spirit can inspire developments of Revelation; and if these developments are not “orthodox,” it is because they are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. But how can we know? Wouldn’t it be simpler to avoid too many new concepts or notions and to try to conform to Revelation, of which we may not know as much as we think we do, and thus which must be rediscovered in each generation? It is clear that the culmination of the “developments” of the Church as, so to speak, the “third body” of Christ is the 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis of Pius XII, and that it raises some big questions which, for the most part, the Second Vatican Council did not really answer.
These questions would have to be looked at in much greater depth than what is possible in this article, which is rather the outline of a larger study.
1.Glorious Body and the Eucharist: A Unity to be Perceived?
The most extraordinary thing that the New Testament says about the human body is undoubtedly what happened to Jesus’ body after he “rose from the dead”—hence the word “resurrected,” taken from Latin.
A Resurrected Body
According to Mt 28:6, angels say to the women who came to the tomb: “He is not here, for he has been raised as he had said.” But where is he then? They specify: “Behold, he precedes you in Galilee; there you will see it.”
That same evening, he showed himself to the apostles (who were ten at the time). Their reaction is described as follows: “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). Then the apparition invited them to touch it: “See that it is I myself,” said Jesus, who had been transformed by the Resurrection; and he ate a piece of grilled fish in front of them (Lk 24:43).
The many testimonies relating to these manifestations of Jesus over forty days deserve to be all looked at, but let us instead ask the question that interests us. What happened to his body? How can a material body become present in a place and then disappear just as suddenly?
Less than a year earlier, a certain clarity had been given in advance to three of the apostles, Peter, James, and John his brother, at the top of a mountain (Tabor no doubt), when the body of Jesus “changed” before the eyes of these apostles (Mt 17:2; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:29—Aramaic, ḥlp), and that Moses and Elijah appeared at His side. Luke adds the idea of glory: Moses and Elijah, “They appeared in glory” (Lk 9:31), and the three disciples saw the “glory” of Jesus (Lk 9:32)—this disciple and evangelist thus makes an interpretation of the primitive witness of the Apostles, interpretation made in the light of the Resurrection, when the apostles, “startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). We may also recall the account of the birth of Jesus where the angels sang the “glory” of God (Lk 2:14). This property of “glory” that manifested itself at that time helps us to perceive a little of the reality of what must have happened at the tomb where the body of Jesus crucified rested. [See in particular these two articles of mine, here and here].
As a quick summary, we can say that the “rising from the dead” is not only a physical phenomenon, affecting the body of Jesus passing through the cloths (shroud and strips) so to speak and leaving them collapsed as a result of a kind of sublimation, but a passage into glory. What John believes is not simply a logical interpretation of what he sees (he was present at the burial; he sees that nothing has been moved) but the fact that the body of Jesus has obviously (in his eyes) entered into glory. So do not look for His body nearby. Jesus had made it clear: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). In fact, the few apostles present end up leaving, certainly taking away the Shroud, without fully understanding what had happened (Lk 24:12 insists on Peter’s astonishment), while the holy women remain wondering where the body is.
Being Touched and Touching
From what perspective should we look at the Eucharist body and blood of Christ in relation to Him glorified? First of all, it is a double means, divinely invented, to come and touch our personhood, down to our materiality—it is the body-side; and to direct personal life—it is the blood-side: in this way something of the glory of Christ is already communicated and prepares the communion in the glory. What Western Christians call “Mass” (a meaningless term), Syrian-Aramaic Christians call “Qurbana,” i.e., touching [God] or being touched [by Him]. The name carries its own definition. They also speak of the “mysteries”—the Greeks too; while the Greek word “Eucharist” simply means “thanksgiving.”
Let us note that union with Christ in the liturgy is not only a reality of body but also of life in the sense of a becoming expressed by wine, which tends to be forgotten in the West, while this double aspect, so to speak, is brilliantly anthropological (and, of course, biblical).
The term “transubstantiation” captures well this mystery of the body and the blood which, separated, testify to the death of Christ, and as well as His resurrection. We can say that what is changed in them is their “substance.” What we perceive and see, that is to say, the “accidents,” remains as it is, unless the Lord wills to give a sign occasionally to a specific person or to several; in these cases, we speak of signs, or “Eucharistic miracles.” What is changed, “in itself,” is not the object of a perception of our senses. The Council of Trent consecrated the use of the term “transubstantiation,” borrowed from Thomas Aquinas for whom it was simply obvious.
If this definition is relevant, it does not emphasize the purpose of the Eucharist. Of course, the bond with the faithful who receive it follows from this: they are touched to their substance, they are sanctified by the humanity and divinity of Christ present in the “holy species,” and this in a way that is not only moral or intentional (I want to associate myself with the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus). The Eucharist really operates in the faithful (as long as they do not oppose it), similarly to the reality of Christ’s presence in it.
The Crucial Perspective of Finality
However, what sanctity of the faithful do we thus have in view? Personal, communal, eschatological? This question readily appertains to the first centuries of the Western tradition which, unlike those of the East especially non-Greek, has difficulty thinking about the global meaning of history (or collective eschatology). In this Western tradition, in fact, the purpose is placed almost exclusively in relation to the personal afterlife: communion sanctifies me so that, after my death, I may participate in the communion of the saints of Heaven. And are others, and the world, involved? If this is the only perspective, we inevitably come to individualism and even to a certain sacramental consumerism: each one thus achieves his own salvation, thanks to the ecclesial institution and to the clerics who devote themselves to it.
Historically, individualism began to develop in the elites of the Middle Ages and eventually produced Renaissance humanism, of which Machiavelli’s thought was a part. For if men are individuals without ties, they need rules and leaders to ensure social cohesion. This was the conviction of many princes; namely some of those whose small kingdoms formed the Holy Roman Germanic Empire; using Luther, they carved out independent kingdoms for themselves at the expense of the Germanic whole. This conviction was not without totalitarian ulterior motives [according to William Cavanaugh, there were less “wars of religion” than wars of modern states, wanting to impose a unifying conformity around a single language, a single economic market and a single religious idea, under the control of the Prince]—the idea that the Prince had the right to direct the consciences of his subjects was not the prerogative of the English King Henry VIII. Gradually, the Christian people were also won over by individualism, and even by the skepticism of the elites, from the 18th century onwards.
The idea that the Church is like a body was less and less socially experienced in the West. Since the community dimension was fading, the institutional reaction was to replace it with legal ties (essentially obedience), with the ecclesial institution becoming a kind of administrative body. In reality, this shift had begun long before the Renaissance, as we shall see, and quite smoothly and without provoking any real debates.
If we return to the fundamental problem, we see that it is a question of giving a common perspective to Christians and avoiding fragmentation. Is speaking of the “ecclesial body” the only way to do this? If it worked for centuries in the West, it was not without many hazards, and it finally failed. Perhaps there was an error in perspective.
What unites people is not so much an affirmation of unity, even if accompanied by promises from Heaven, as a common perspective on the future. That will always be the case. Now, precisely, Christians have a formidable common perspective: to prepare for the Glorious Coming of Christ, which is not the end of everything as Augustinism imagined, but which is at the same time “the fulfillment of the present time” (sunteleia tou aïonos) and the beginning of another era—aïon —and this in anticipation of ultimate glorification.
[The expression “sunteleïa tou aïonos” often comes up, especially in Matthew: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be so will it be at the fulfillment of the present age (Greek: en tei sunteleïai tou aïonos). The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:40-43).
Similarly in Mt 13:49, we find en tei sunteleïai tou aïonos, corresponding to Aramaic b’šuwlameh d’´alma`hana`, “at the fulfillment of the present time,” as well as in verse 39 without the preposition.
Also in Mt 28:20: “And I am with you always, to the end of the present time” (eos tes sunteleïas tou aïonos).
In Mt 24:3 meaning is confirmed by context: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the present time (sunteleïas tou aïonos)?”
Only an intentional misinterpretation can translate sunteleïa tou aïonos as “the end of the world,” implying that there will be nothing afterwards (see next note). For there is no question of final destruction but of the end of the present time, followed by regeneration (palin-genesia, Mt 19:28).
In Heb 9:26 we still find this expression but with aïon in the plural, thus with a different meaning: “…he has appeared once for all at the fulfillment of the [past] ages (epi sunteleïai ton aïonon) to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself… he will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save (Aramaic: “for the vivification of”) those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:26b;28b). No one would imagine translating the term here as, the end of the world.
In 1Co 10:11 there is also aïon in the plural, in the sense of past time: “These things happened to them [experienced by our fathers] to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (ta tele ton aïonon)”].
Western Greco-Latin thought has great difficulty in entering into this revealed vision that involves thinking about the global meaning of history, as we have already noticed. [This difficulty in thinking about the global meaning of history is linked to the Augustinianism of the Middle Ages. It is a certain thought of St Augustine that is hardened and moralistic. Morality does not look at history but at the laws and rules to be applied. Resulting from the secularization of a sense of history not lost to everyone, Western messianisms became very moralizing (not only Calvin in Geneva)]. However, there is nothing like this to indicate the community dimension of the “Mass,” normally celebrated ad orientem, that is to say turned towards the place where the sun appears on Easter Day: the faithful are united in a common expectation.
This rising sun is the risen Christ, whose glorious coming is awaited. The Eucharist must be seen less from a static point of view than from an “eschatological” point of view; that is to say, from the point of view of what is still to come for the earth and even for the whole of creation.
Hence the importance of knowing what is to come. For decades, for a good part of the Latin Catholic intelligentsia, what was to come owed nothing to Christ, who served as a pretext—the prospect was the construction of an ideal world, a socialist world, of which the current dream of global governance is the heir. These dreams obscured and counterfeited the true hope of the Kingdom of Christ linked to His Coming in glory, the meaning of which is still difficult to rediscover, according to the phases which are given, in particular, in 1Co 15:22-27:
“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order:
Christ the first fruits (or first fruits—Aramaic)—[Step 1];
afterwards (ep-eita—Greek/bāṯarken—Aramaic, behind) at his coming those who belong to Christ—[Step 2]; [Some translations in French, including that of the liturgy, replace here (1Co 15,24) the adverb “ensuite” (afterwards) by “alors” i.e., by “at the same time as,” truncating the meaning of the passage: in this way step 2 becomes the final step—which removes any meaning from verse 25. And to suppress the time of preparation that is the time of the “kingdom of the righteous” on earth (Irenaeus of Lyon), under the gaze and presence of Christ, is to make incomprehensible the purpose of glory of all creation. A parallel deformation, which can hardly be a fortuitous error equally, reads in other parts of the New Testament (see parenthetical note above)].
Afterwards (eita / wəhāydēn, next, later) comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father—[Step 3],
after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power [the forces of Evil, whose submission is the object of Step 2 precisely].
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death [Step 3, since there is no longer a generation or death in glory]. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet [reminder of Step 2]” (1 Cor 15:22-27).
In these three steps, what is most problematic for the Latin mind is the ultimate purpose of glory that is reserved for all creation—the world we see thus has an end (in both senses of the word), and this end is not a “Big Crunch” (a crushing of the material), but rather the opposite. This is the key. Rather than believing in what is ideologically proposed to us as “science” and which, as we have seen around the Covid crisis, is too often at the service of private interests and totalitarian projects, it is preferable to believe in the perspectives given by Revelation for the future, and which are rooted in the Resurrection.
The body of Jesus, as well as that of every person, is like a synopsis-summary of the whole of creation; it is the masterpiece of creation that appeared last. Therefore, since the body of Jesus has entered into glory, creation itself is called to enter into it (Rom 8). Clearly, there is a divine project of glory for creation, which cannot happen without preparation, and in particular without the inclusion of humanity, which the Church can gather—that is, necessarily according to the three stages indicated by Paul himself (see above). To put it another way, the present world is not at all ready to enter into this glory, where there is no room for sin or corruption—that is why a time analogous to the time of purification of the souls of those who have already died is necessary for humanity on earth, explains Irenaeus of Lyon. All this is presented and developed in the book on the subject available since 2016 , The Glorious Coming of Christ.
It is therefore absolutely essential to connect the Eucharist to this ultimate and cosmic end of glory, and thus it is intrinsically linked to the glorious body of Christ. If the faithful receive the body and blood of Christ, they in fact are received in the glory of Christ by a union of corporeal life. Much has been sought of this mystery in terms of the how, but little in terms of the why—whereas the question of the why is always more important and decisive. In light of this, it becomes clear that there are not two “bodies of Christ,” one glorious and the other Eucharistic (in doing so, the Holy Blood is always somewhat forgotten), but only one, the first. And the actualization of the sacrifice offered for sins appears all the better—this glorious body having passed through death, and uniting with Christ, the faithful offer themselves to the Father, living in their earthly life also something of the Passion and Resurrection. If there are not two “bodies of Christ,” there are even less three.
Let us start from what Paul, the apostle of the nations, wrote in a few passages that may have led to the conception of such a “third body” derived from a metaphor.
2. The Metaphor of Paul: Another “Body of Christ?”
It was the apostle Paul who compared the Church to a body—no other passage in the New Testament uses this metaphor, which is a kind of comparative picture. What did it mean?
The Five Pauline Passages
In his letter to the Romans, which dates from the year 58, Paul wants to emphasize the interdependence and mutual aid that must exist between all those who follow Christ. To do this, he takes up the image of the body applied at that time to the Roman Empire, very organized and where everyone is presumed to have his place and thus contribute to the proper functioning of the whole. It is important to note that here he does not speak of the body “of Christ” but “in Christ”:
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5).
Paul’s fundamental idea is that of organic solidarity. Earlier in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul had added the idea that Christians are members of the “body of Christ”:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12-13), and verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
The image is used in two different ways, but the idea is to compare the Church to a large, living, well-organized whole, reminding us that Christ is present in this larger whole.
Four years after the Letter to the Romans, in writing to the Ephesians, Paul takes up this theme of Christ’s presence several times, and it is here that the idea of presenting His relationship to the Church as that of the head to the different parts of the body appears (in the ancient languages “head” and “ruler” are one term):
“He [God the Father] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23).
Later, Paul tries to clarify the comparison: [In relation to the Jews, according to the logic of the image, Paul further indicates that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6)].
“From whom (Christ) the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).
It is clear that this is a way of speaking, because physical growth is rather due to the organs of the digestive tract, provided they have enough food to assimilate. To take this set of images at face value and materialize them would be aberrant. But this is what was done later in the West: the Church thought of itself as being really the body of Christ.
This is how the Letter to the Colossians, written shortly after Ephesians, is interpreted in this passage:
“He (Christ) is the head of the body, [that is] the Church… I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:18; 24).
But does it take a head-to-member relationship to say that our own humanity is united with that of Christ (“it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” Paul writes in Gal 2:20)? Or, to say that we suffer for the whole Church? The mention of a “head” in relation to the body is absent from 1 Corinthians and Romans. This, in itself, poses some problems, as we shall see later. In the meantime, let us confine ourselves to what Paul means.
Other Images to Express the Mystery of the Church
In fact, Paul puts forward two ideas that are contradictory in one and the same image:
as the leader, Christ is above the Church, as the emperor is the head of the Roman Empire. Resurrected, He leads it and first founded it, especially during the forty days after Easter, when he appeared to his apostles and discussed with them what each will have to do—according to several texts and Oriental traditions;
at the same time, he is “all in all” (Eph), and we are “in Christ” (Rm)— but the emperor is not within the society, nor are his members really united to him.
Such a presence of Christ in each member of the society-body is only possible, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, of which Paul speaks abundantly [“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm 8:15-17). “Because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess 1:5). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple[a] of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 2For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). “He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:4). Etc.]
Precisely by minimizing and then forgetting the work of the Spirit, the Western tradition cut off the image of the Church-body from the rest of Paul’s thought. In fact, it came to reify this image, even if it meant calling it “mystical” in order to make it less material (in the 12th century, “mystical” was still a simple adjective that qualified the ecclesial body in relation to the Eucharistic body). To put it another way, by virtue of making Jesus both the head and the presence (He does everything, He is in everything), there is no more room for the Holy Spirit than marginally.
Moreover, Paul does not only use the image of the body to represent the Church, he gives two other images.
The first is the traditional one of the bridegroom and the bride, largely established in the Old Testament (Eph 5:32). Even if it was not a great success in Western theology, it did remain alive for a long time in spirituality, as witnessed by this magnificent 12th century mosaic in Rome itself, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere—Mary is clearly the figure of the Church as the bride of Christ, a bride who shares the throne of Christ. But Christ is in the center of the apse; He embraces His bride with His right hand (Song 2:6), and on her book is read: VENI ELECTA MEA ET PONAM IN TE THRONUM MEUM, “Come, my chosen one, and I shall put you on my throne.”
The duality of the Groom and Bride is put forward, a duality that the reified image of the “body of Christ” tended to erase.
Born in Egypt (183-254), Origen was the first to write a Commentary on the Song of Songs. In it, he expressly quotes the passages of Paul that we have looked at [Origin, The Songs of songs, Commentary and Homilies, II. 7, p.144-145], and he often speaks of the Church as an organic body in solidarity – as he does in his other books. But he never reifies this image, which tends to identify Christ with His Church; nor does he give it a juridical meaning—in the Song there are indeed two distinct characters and a game of exchange between them, whose spiritual meaning is to be discovered. Origen also presents the relationship between Christ and the Church as that of the soul to the body (Against Celsius, 6: 48). As for the relationship to the world, Origen was the first to call the Church “the city of God” (Ibid., 4:22), an idea that would be popularized by Augustine a century and a half after Origen.
The other image Paul uses is that of a construction-edifice: “…you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it” (1 Cor 3:9-10).
This image is necessary for him in relation to the conviction that the Christian is the new Temple, that of the Spirit: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17).
And he writes in yet another letter: “[You are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Eph 2:20-22).
This image is that of a Temple or palace, not a pyramid; the apostles are the foundations; and of these foundations, and Jesus is the keystone (or cornerstone). It can also be said that this Temple is made up of a multitude of small temples inhabited by the Spirit, and Paul admits to having played a small role in this. Here we have a very realistic picture that highlights the human work (which is faith) carried out on the basis of what the apostles left.
In the Gospels themselves, we find yet another image, probably the richest of all, and given by Jesus himself—that of the vine (or the trunk of the vine) and the branches. The vine has roots that draw their water from the Hebrew-Aramaic tradition, the eighteen centuries of pre-Christian preparation, and its leaves receive sunlight, which transform the sap into nourishment—the sun then representing the Holy Spirit.
If we go beyond the New Testament, there is yet another analogy that theology might have retained for the Church. In the Epistle to Diognetus (circa the year 200), we read that the Church is like the soul of the body that is the world: “What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. The soul is spread in members of the body like Christians in the many cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, and yet it does not belong to the body, as Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.”
Such an image is powerful. It refers to the parable of the Kingdom of God buried like leaven in the dough (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:21), an image that was used and even widely abused after Vatican II to say that the Church and her institutions should disappear into the world.
And yet, of all these images, the only one that has been privileged in the West is that of the Church as the “body of Christ.” Of course, this image is contradictory with the previous one: if Christians form a body (that of Christ), they can hardly be at the same time a soul (that of the world). So be it. But what is specific about the image of the body? Without doubt, the idea of complementarity and solidarity between the members, in their diversity. If we want to highlight the union of the humanity of Christians with that of Christ (living with Him, thinking with Him, acting with Him, etc.), the biblical image of the husband and wife is more telling. And overall, it is the image of the vine and the branches that seems to capture all these aspects best. The question then arises: why did we choose the image of the Church as a body?
3. Reifying the “Church-body” Image: Why?
If we want to emphasize that Christians—or Christian communities—need each other in the face of the temptations or oppositions of the world, then the image of a body seems the most eloquent; such an image carries a pastoral concern, which is a concern that Paul often expresses in his letters. The need expressed by the image is vital, as much for each member as for the whole; it is fully understood in the context of persecutions, and Paul certainly knows something about that! “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).
Is it with such a pastoral concern that, later on, the Church will be said to be a body? This is evident in Origen, who, as a child, witnessed the execution of his father because he was a Christian. It is much less obvious later on.
Let us add that Paul”s very concrete pastoral concern was also about the organization of the “body”: “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another… And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor 12:25; 28).
What he describes here of the functioning of the communities he knows has inspired much less the way in which the Churches have been structured than the very image of the Church-body.
Guaranteeing Ecclesial Unity
Greco-Latin thought, as we have seen above, struggles to design history: it is a prisoner of a cosmological tradition where everything is immutable, and in which fate (moira, fatum) always has the last word, even among the gods. Famous heroes and characters leave their mark on their time, but in the end, everything is still as it was before. This vision is in direct opposition to that of Revelation, given in Hebrew and Aramaic. This difficulty predates Jesus, but it persisted in the Greco-Roman Christian world and rendered futile the justification of Christian unity in a historical-eschatological perspective—that of working together to prepare the Second Coming. Yet, anthropologically, it is well known that what best unites people is to collaborate in common interests. In contrast, this perspective works in the Semitic world, marked by the revealed certainty that creation has a beginning, a meaningful history, and an end-goal.
It therefore was necessary to identify something else to found the unity of Greco-Latin Christians.
In fact, there is not much choice. One could say that faith makes for unity; but it would have to be identical, since from the start, the diversity of cultural differences created difficulties. At the beginning of the 12th century, Hugues of Saint-Victor raised the question again and indicated that baptism received with faith achieves the unity of the people of God (De sacramentis christianae fidei, lib. II, pars 2). But it is obviously the Eucharist that came to be seen as the place and cause of the unity of Christians, since it brings them together every Sunday.
Better still, communion with the body—and, we might forget, with the blood of Christ—is the means of unifying the faithful in what they are celebrating—we know the famous formula of Saint Augustine (354-430): “Receive what you are—the body of Christ.” But he meant it very symbolically [Augustine, Sermon 272 (PL 38, 1246-1248) and Sermon 227 (PL 38, 1099-1101): “Since you are the body of Christ and its members, it is your own mystery that rests on the Lord’s table, it is your own mystery that you receive… Be what you see, and receive what you are… This (Eucharistic) sacrifice is the symbol of who we are”]—in the same way, when he defines the ecclesia of which Christ is the head as being one man, the total Christ: unus homo, unus vir, una persona, Christus integer or totus; of this ecclesia, the angels are part, without it being said clearly that they are members of his ‘body.’ What the bishop of Hippo wants to say above all, says Yves Congar, is that “Christ prays in us, suffers in us, is holy in us” [Congar Yves, L’Église, de saint Augustin à l’époque moderne, Paris (Les Editions du Cerf, 1970), p. 4]. Without this spiritual consideration, there is only one more step to take to reify the image and almost identify the Church with Christ. This is obviously very effective in justifying Christian unity, but isn’t it dangerous?
For Augustine, the Holy Spirit is part of the mystery of the Church; he is the “soul” of the Church; [For example, in his Sermon 267, On the Feast of Pentecost, 1.4, n° 4 (PL 38. 1231D): “What our spirit, that is to say, our soul, represents for our members, is the same thing that the Holy Spirit represents for the members of Christ, for the Body of Christ which is the Church”]—a new image is thus superimposed on that of the “Church, the body of Christ” and introduces a kind of mediation in it, avoiding an identification of the Church with Christ. But this superposition, in turn, ends up posing a problem.
“In the body-soul representation,” writes Michel Deneken, “the Holy Spirit is no longer considered for what he reveals himself to be, namely a free and gratuitous gift, over which no one has any control, and which must be constantly asked of the Father. Ecclesiology has long been exposed to the danger of identifying the Holy Spirit with the most intimate heart of the Church, leading to a kind of ecclesiological monophysitism which almost totally dissolves in the divinity Its constitutive part of humanity. As a final consequence, such a reification of the Holy Spirit can lead to a divinization of structures and to a confusion between the human will of the members of the hierarchy and the will of God. While St. Augustine, when he affirms that the Holy Spirit acts in the Church as the soul acts in the body, is still conscious of having recourse to an analogy that is a metaphor, Bellarmine (1542-1621) and the bulk of the theology of the post-Tridentine Church, understands this affirmation as a formal principle that necessarily leads him to affirm that the Spirit is the soul of the Church” [Michel Deneken, “Ecclésiologie et dogmatique. L’Église sujet et objet de la théologie,” in Revue théologique de Louvain, 38 (2007), p. 210-211].
Of course, the liturgy came to be influenced by the evolution of ecclesiology. We will give only two brief examples, since this is not our subject. Very symbolic in Augustine, but gradually reified, the identification between the Eucharistic body of Christ and the Christians-bodies-of-Christ had a very concrete consequence—the communion of the faithful was restricted to the Eucharistic body of Christ by the Council of Constance in 1415. Why would they need communion with the Eucharistic blood since they already receive what they are supposed to be? The latter is reserved for the celebrating priest, who has reason to wonder what the meaning of all this is.
Another liturgical consequence may be seen in the Roman desire to standardize the rites. If the glorious body, the Eucharistic body and the Church are three in one, the rite must reflect this unity. One thinks of the nineteenth or twentieth century when the Roman Latin liturgy was imposed everywhere and exclusively; the reform of 1969 being imposed with the same concern for uniformity; while in the twenty-first century some aspects of this uniformity tend to be imposed even in the (Catholic) Churches of the Eastern rite. In reality, such a desire for uniformity has distant roots, as witnessed by Alexander II, pope from 1061 to 1073, who forbade the Greek rite in southern Italy, as well as the Hispano-Visigothic rite in Spain—and he wanted the Latin language to be used in the liturgy to the exclusion of all others in the West [Example cited by Yves Congar (1970), p.27. In fact, Latin then was not the only liturgical language—to take an example, until the French Revolution, in Provence, Mass was usually celebrated in Provençal (the author had in his hands an old Provençal missal of that time)].
If a provisional conclusion can readily be drawn, it appears that trying to articulate the “three bodies of Christ” from a composite and static point of view leads to difficulties, to say the least. Many theologians have seen the need not to remain with a “static conception but, on the contrary, to develop a dynamic vision of the Church. The convergent evolution of theologians from different backgrounds points in the same direction” [Deneken (2007), p. 220]. But is the problem to introduce more of the Holy Spirit in order to energize what is static? Isn’t the real dynamic rather the consideration of purpose?
Whether in Christ or in the Spirit, the idea or desire to “divinize” the Church seems to exceed what is necessary to justify the unity of the Church. Such an idea must have another reason for being.
Exalting the Bishop of Rome and His Power
Indeed, the reified image “Church-Body of Christ” has a flaw, and this flaw played an important role in the increasingly juridical evolution of Latin ecclesiology.
When we say that the Roman Empire was like a “body,” we imagine the emperor as its “head”: he was part of the empire and, from Rome, he directed the empire. But the risen Christ is neither in Rome nor in Jerusalem, but in Heaven; He is not part of the whole that He directs; how then does He function as “head?” In this same static vision, how can He be said to be the head of a body that He Himself is, unless one considers that the Church on earth is, if one may say so, a body without a head?
This last consideration is interesting, if we want to exalt the papacy. The Church is not headless because there is the pope who takes the place of Christ (the title Vicarius Christi has come to take on this strong meaning). This bears thinking about.
Augustine, frankly, did not think about it. In his struggle against Donatism, he simply affirmed the need to be in communion with the See of Peter, or better still, in communion with Christians in the “whole world” (“orbis terrarum”—Contra epistolam Parmeniani, III. 4, 24). He recognized the mission of the Roman see to confirm the faith, but he did not appeal to its authority; he did not separate it from the other episcopal sees (“apostolica sedes et romana cum ceteris”—Contra lulianum I. 4,13) whose disciplinary and canonical independence he recognized.
However, there is a problem with the bishop of Hippo, who is steeped in Greco-Latin thought—the static aspect of his ecclesiology. At the beginning of his episcopate, he was still very much influenced by the sense of history taught by Irenaeus of Lyons, and one can see a remnant of this in the distinction he makes in The City of God (20.9) between the regnum militiae, the reign of militancy, and the reign quod erit post finem saeculi, “which will exist after the end of this century,” if we translate it literally. But the formula is ambiguous; it could mean that the kingdom after this “century” is Heaven. But Augustine indulged more and more in such allegorical interpretations. Thus, the time of the “thousand years” of the Apocalypse which “elapses between the first and the second advent” would already be now. In other words, Augustine shifts the “thousand years” from after to before the Glorious Second Coming. From then on, “the Church is now both the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven” on earth, and the “judges sitting on thrones” mentioned in Rev 5:10 are the Bishops. As for the “first resurrection” (1Co 15), it is an allegory of conversion (The City of God, 20,7.9). The Anti-Christ or “man of ungodliness” (2Th 2:3b) also becomes a simple timeless allegory of men dedicated to evil. In this way, the entire meaning of the story lost its consistency.
But then, where to stand? What to cling to? To the seat of Peter.
This is where exegesis would have helped Western thought, in relation to John 21:15-25. This passage, which is crucial as regards the role entrusted by Jesus to Peter, is very bland in Greek; what we retain is that three times Jesus tells Peter to “feed” his flock. In Aramaic, the emphasis is on the complement of the direct object; and then a much richer meaning appears [Where the Aramaic has three words, the Greek has only two (lambs, arnia and sheep-ewe, probata); and we can no longer understand the meaning of the passage]:
“When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs!’ (ܐܡܪܝ’emray in Aramaic). Again, he said to him for the second time: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep!’ (ܥܪܒܝ‘erbay in Aramaic). He said to him for the third time: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was saddened that he said to him for the third time, ‘Do you love me?’, and replied, ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let my bearing ewes graze!’ (ܢܩܘܬܝnəqawāṯ in Aramaic).”
The lambs are an image of the little ones in the faith, the catechumens and the newly baptized. Jesus asks Peter to watch over them; that is understandable. But not only over them: over the sheep that are the adult Christians and that, as we don’t live in an ideal world, still need to be supported. And that’s not all. Jesus also asks us to look after the healthy ewes, i.e., those who bring new Christians into the world, the missionaries, the housewives who welcome and train, the deacons, the bishops and the priests. In other words, Jesus said to Peter: “Those who train others, even if they are old enough to take care of themselves, you must still be concerned about them, too.”
In connection with Mt 16:18 (“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”), this passage from John defines the Petrine ministry—the focus of unity and stability that Jesus calls Peter to be implies concern for all the faithful who belong to Christ (“my lambs/etc.” he tells Peter, not “yours”). Peter will have to intervene when things go wrong, no more, no less.
Putting these words into practice is certainly not easy, especially if, focused only on “feeding,” their meaning is diverted and understood as power.
Leo I the Great, pope from 440 to 461, recognized that the entire episcopate is characterized by the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18); but he suggested that it began with Peter. Thus, the other apostles would have a somewhat derivative episcopate. From then on, the Church had to be organized as a society-body, according to a juridical conception whose visible head is the successor of Peter (since Christ the head is invisible). The life of the body-Church thus depends on the popes—this became the “basis of all Roman ecclesiology” [Congar (1970), p. 9].
With Gregory VII, pope from 1073 to 1085, the question of papal primacy took a political turn, even if this pope conceived it in a spiritual way. In fact, in the Holy Roman Empire, the emperor appointed the bishops in charge of principalities, who thus had an important administrative and civil responsibility in addition to their spiritual mission, even if in practice, civil power was exercised by a council—this is how the principality of Liege functioned for almost a thousand years. The emperor also reserved for himself the “investiture” of other bishops and his influence was preponderant in the choice of the pope. Anxious to defend the independence of the Church, for which so many martyrs had given their lives in the past, Gregory defended the opposite position—only the bishops could designate the pope; they must be appointed by the pope, and the emperor himself must be subject to the pope, since the latter was of divine right, whereas kings were not. In the absence of a common ground, the confrontation with the emperor Henry IV was inevitable and turned, roughly, to the advantage of the pope. Ipso facto, the pontifical function took a legal turn, even if nobody noticed it at the time, troubled by many other problems.
Juridicalism, Sacramentalism, Clericalism
Doctrinally, the supreme power in the Church is held by the assembly of bishops gathered in council and by the pope. This traditional ecclesiology, mystery-linked and sacramental, remains, but another ecclesiology is gradually emerging, juridical and clerical, in which the pope plays the role of head of a body which would be Christianity itself. He takes the place of Christ (i.e., is His place-holder)—this is the meaning of the title Vicarius Christi that Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) reserved for himself, whereas it had previously been borne by bishops and emperors. Note that Pope Francis has abolished this papal title.
In the Church, with the contribution of Roman law, all power was henceforth defined as coming from the pope, but all Christians continued to think that the council was superior to the pope. This contradiction came to a head during the Great Schism. What has been called “conciliarism” tended to take in hand the life of the Church by councils, where, in addition to the bishops, sat princes and especially academics, which was not new. But certain excesses contributed, by reaction, to reinforce still papal monarchic absolutism.
The infallibility of the pope is not a question that arose at that time; it is resolutely modern. In medieval times, the pope’s “inerrancy” was spoken of, in connection with the assembly of bishops, by the fact that the universal Church could not err in matters of faith. But in the sixteenth century, it began to be said that the pope himself could not err.
One can thus speak of an evolution tending to reinforce the powers of the pope at the expense of those of the assemblies of bishops (where not necessarily only bishops sit), and also at the expense of each of the bishops—the juridicalism that took hold was at the same time more and more centralizing. Christian devotion itself evolved in such a way that the person of the pope became an object of it. It is true that the anticlerical state policies of the 19th century pushed Christians to appeal to the pope who escaped these pressures thanks to the Papal States, notably in the matter of the appointment of bishops; but the policies of de-Christianization of the youth and of secularist indoctrination could only be slowed down. The question arises as to the extent to which ecclesiastical juridicalism does not contribute to stifling Christian vitality; while the virtue that is praised above all is a very juridical obedience, and Christian life is reduced to the sacramentalism of which priests are the ministers. The ecclesial institution becomes a sort of pyramid of powers, which modern means of communication allowed to reinforce in the 20th century. We are quite far from obedience in love, as Origen describes it, between the Bride and the Groom. [Obedience is rooted in Christ’s obedience to his Father (Phil 2:8), so that Christians bear the likeness of the Word of God (Origen, Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques, Tome I, Sources Chrétiennes 375 [Paris: Cerf, 1991, Livre II, 6, 11-13, p. 389-393]). “The adornment and jewel on the neck of the Church is the obedience of Christ,” writes Origen (Ibid, Livre II, 7,14; Tome I, p. 401). “This obedience,” comments Françoise Breynaert, “separates the bride from vanities and idols, and detaches her from her own will—the bride is, then, a virgin of all that is not God, impoverished of her own self, fully available, docile, she is then truly married; her will participates in the divine will to form only one, divine will” (De l’Église primitive à l’humanité restaurée, Lire le Cantique des cantiques avec Origène (Preface, M. Canevet), Paris: Cerf, 2017].
For its part, the Code of Canon Law states that the pope “possesses by virtue of his office the ordinary, supreme, plenary, immediate and universal power, which he can always exercise freely” (CIC no. 331); and that “By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only possesses power over the whole Church, but also obtains over all the particular Churches and their groupings the primacy of ordinary power” (CIC no. 333). In all of this, the 1983 Code differs from that of 1917 only in omitting the pope’s immediate power over each of the faithful, which does not change much because the most important thing here is—the bishops have become subordinates of the pope. [“§1 The Roman Pontiff, successor of St. Peter in his primacy, has not only the primacy of honor, but the power of supreme and complete jurisdiction over the Universal Church, both in matters which concern faith and morals, and in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world. §2 This power is truly episcopal, ordinary and immediate, exercising itself both over all the churches and each one of them and over all the pastors and each one of the faithful; this power is independent of all human authority” (CIC 1917, No. 218)].
Of course, the CIC of 1983 did not contradict the conciliar constitution Lumen Gentium, which formally recalled the traditional doctrine concerning the order of bishops, who “also constitute, in union with the Roman Pontiff, their head, and never outside of this head, the subject of a supreme and plenary power over the whole Church,” relativizing it radically with this apposition: “power, however, which can only be exercised with the consent of the Roman Pontiff” (3.22). In short, if the Church is a body, it is clear that the pope is its only head.
This is well explained in the 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis, of Pius XII; its full title is “Encyclical Letter on the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ and on our Union in it with Christ”. With this text, the concept of the “body of Christ” reaches its apogee—unless it was in the writings of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which we will look at later.
The adjective “mystical” has long been used to distinguish the glorious body of Christ from his other body, the Church, according to the reified reading of the Pauline passages cited above. There is nothing new in this Encyclical of Pius XII from this point of view. Its raison d’être is found elsewhere, following Leo XIII, in the desire to oppose a conception of the Church which, on the one hand, would be “only composed of social and juridical elements and principles,” or which, on the other hand, would be “only spiritual (pneumaticum), in which the many Christian communities, although divided from one another by faith, would nevertheless be united by an invisible bond.”
The balance (or synthesis?) to be found between these two deviations is obedience to the pope, guarantor of Christian unity. In particular, the bishops must obey him: “In their government they are not fully independent, but they are subject to the legitimate authority of the Pontiff of Rome, and if they enjoy the ordinary power of jurisdiction, this power is immediately communicated to them by the Sovereign Pontiff.”
The justification given is as follows: “Christ … without ceasing to govern the Church mysteriously by himself, nevertheless directs it visibly through him who holds his place on earth [the pope], for since his glorious Ascension into heaven, it no longer rests on Him alone, but also on Peter as on a foundation visible to all. That Christ and his Vicar together form but one Head.”
In short, the body without a visible head has found one, and this head is even the channel par excellence of the holiness coming from Christ: “[Christ] divinely enriches with supernatural gifts of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom his Pastors and Doctors, first and foremost his Vicar on earth.”
And the Holy Spirit in all This?
With regard to the Holy Spirit, Mystici Corporis said, for the sake of form, a few expeditious words: “Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Letter, Divinum illud, expresses this presence and operation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ with these concise and nervous words: ‘Let it suffice to affirm that, if Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is its soul’.”
But how does one go about listening to a soul? Is it enough just to speak about it?
In the second half of the twentieth century, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there was a certain reemphasis of the Holy Spirit, which gave some leeway to the juridicalism weighing on the Latin Church. In this, the latter came closer to the Eastern Churches, especially the Orthodox, whose tradition “speaks readily of the double pneumatological and Christological dimension of the Church understood from the mystery of the Incarnation and Pentecost,” notes Michel Deneken [Deneken (2007), p. 217], who relays the orthodox reproaches made to the Latin Church, that “Christocentric sacramentalism would prevail over pneumatological prophetism, hierarchy over the freedom of faith, the Petrine dimension over the Pauline, which produces clericalism and the hypertrophy of the ministry of Peter” [Deneken (2007), p. 230].
However, a greater openness to the Holy Spirit has prevented neither the implosion of the Latin Church as to the number of its members, nor the persistence of a Roman monarchism that has taken a less juridical but more authoritarian turn, depriving the bishops even of their right to establish new communities in their diocese. The solution suggested by Deneken is to “develop a dynamic vision of the Church.” But he does not say what such a vision should aim for. Can there be a constructive dynamic at work if there is not first of all a rediscovery of the revealed meaning of history?
4. Further Developments of “Church, the Body of Christ”
Shortly before Pius XII, the concept of the “Church, Body of Christ” was already very fashionable and had undergone various developments. Not the least of these were those proposed by Teilhard de Chardin in the context of his Christic evolutionism. With him, the Pauline image of the Church-body, mixed with faith in the Eucharistic body (which is not an image), also encompassed the world. A disciple and good commentator of Teilhard, Jean-Marc Moschetta, recalled in 2016 what the objective was: “Teilhard thus proposes a modernized Christian reading of the universe that integrates the intimate scientific knowledge of matter with the Pauline vision of the Body of the Universal Christ: a cosmic body in the process of sublimation, under the transforming action of the energies of love” [Jean-Marc Moschetta, Le sens cosmique de l’Eucharistie, Teilhard, Colloque Teilhard of December 3, 2016. See also].
We thus slip from the “Church, body of Christ” to the “world, body of Christ”: “There is only one Mass in the world, in all times: the true host, the total Host, is the Universe that, always a little more intimately, Christ penetrates and vivifies… the whole of Nature undergoes, slowly and irresistibly, the great Consecration. Only one thing has been done, basically, since always and forever in Creation: the Body of Christ” (Teilhard, Le Milieu Divin, 1957).
And if we still have not yet understood, Moschetta quotes Moltmann (The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions), who explains in other words: “It is from the experience of the Eucharist of the Church that his [Teilhard’s] vision of the “Eucharization” of the cosmos, that is, the change of the cosmos in the Body of Christ, is born. In the end, his Christology of evolution is nothing less than the vision of the cosmic Eucharist by which God is mundane-ized and the world divinized.”
It should be noted that Mystici Corporis does not respond in any way to Teilhard’s cosmic-evolutionist elucubrations, as if these had not already had a great influence on the ecclesial intelligentsia before the war. It is true that, in 1943, Pius XII did not lack other worries. In any case, it is Vatican II that inherits the Teilhardian ideological confusion, which clearly inspired some of the Council’s leaders, such as Cardinal Suenens. How did the Council try to cope with this?
In no less than nine Council documents, the expression “Body of Christ” is used almost 50 times, with or without the adjective “mystical,” not counting all the times when the term “body” is used alone to refer to the Church. On rare occasions, the expressions “Body of Christ” or “Body of the Lord” designate the Eucharist; and this among passages where “Body of Christ” designates the Church—it is the context that allows us to know what we are discussing. Let us look at this in more detail.
First, how do these documents speak of the Church-body of Christ? Most often, they refer to the Church on earth, rarely to the Church in heavenly glory; and even more rarely to both—sometimes the context does not allow us to decide. It should also be noted that the glorious body of Christ appears very little, as does the expression “Body of Christ,” to speak of the Eucharist (and the expressions “Eucharistic body” or “sacramental body” do not appear at all). Such discretion certainly contributes to avoiding the question of knowing how many bodies Christ has. It is nevertheless salutary to ask questions, especially when, for years, a certain theology has tended to separate the historical Jesus from the Christ-Logos with multiple bodies—Teilhard had done so; and he was not the only one. [The idea of separating the historical Jesus from a mythical and universal Christ-Logos is also at the heart of the “theology of religions” that Cardinal Ratzinger denounced in Dominus Iesus in 2000. Since then, the idea of a Christ present in all “religions” has been replaced by that of the Spirit with the same attributions].
By proposing a sort of definition—”Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, the Head and his members” (mystico Iesu Christi Corpore, Capite nempe eiusque membris)—the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, sought to shed light on the “mystical body” as something that straddles heaven and earth. Another probable desire for clarification—to speak of the Eucharist (twice), this same document replaces “Christ” with “Lord” in the expression “body of Christ” and uses it only to speak of the Church and with the adjective “mystical.”
These efforts at clarification do not prevent us from saying, for example, that “the body of Christ nourishes the body of Christ” in a way that is no longer merely allegorical, in the manner of Saint Augustine. Preaching and liturgical hymns have developed this theme to the point of inviting Christian assemblies to feed themselves; that is, to create self-centered and self-made celebrations. Let’s not deceive ourselves—such celebrations have existed in great numbers after the Council, and there is no end in sight! In order to avoid these, or at least not to allow them to be justified by confusions of words and images, it would have been enough to put the Eucharistic mystery back into relation with the glorious body of Christ (and with the celestial liturgy, as the Orientals say), as we have seen above. Such was not the case.
And this is not the only difficulty. What is the meaning of the statement in Presbyterorum Ordinis (On the Ministry and Life of Priests, December 1965)—Christ builds the body of Christ (literally)? [The two passages: “The ministry [of Christ]… constantly builds up the Church here below, so that it may be the People of God, the Body of Christ” (cuius ministerium, quo Ecclesia in Populum Dei, Corpus Christi et Templum Spiritus Sancti, hic in terris, indesinenter aedificatur); and: “Christ Himself builds, sanctifies and governs His Body” (Christus Ipse Corpus suum exstruit, sanctificat et regit)]. Let us pass over the challenge to the logical mind: building one’s own body is a completely mythical language. Doesn’t this language, so far from the rich simplicity of the New Testament, open ideological doors that should remain closed? What then would be a self-construction of Christ, or more exactly of the Church according to the old Latin theology of “Christ continued” (cf. note 2) and of ecclesio-centrism? Is it any wonder then that baptism is considered only as the entry into a club-Church, where the great movement of the future is built, under the guidance of enlightened bishops and the pope? How can this ecclesio-centrism be overcome, other than by the need to prepare for the Coming of Him who has been glorified in body and soul? This perspective has not been pursued, either.
5. Breaking the Deadlock (and the Misunderstanding)
Even if no human institution ever does do so, it is appropriate for the ecclesial institution, insofar as it is divine in its foundations, to be able to make the distinction. There are not “three” bodies of Christ. There is only one. And one of the main consequences of the self-exaltation of the Church as the body of Christ must also be remedied; namely, the weakening of the authority of the bishops—as successors of the apostles, each of them is accountable only to God, as is said of the commander of a ship on the high seas. That is to say, not to the State, nor to a Party, nor even to the pope—only to the Church as a whole, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Tens of thousands of Christians were martyred because they defended this freedom of the bishops from political or financial powers, a freedom that guarantees the freedom of the Church and the faith of all Christians. It was not so that it could be confiscated by the pope. Besides, no one would put all their eggs in one basket, at the risk of losing everything at once. The autonomy of each bishop guarantees the survival of the Church, even if it means also that they help each other on a regional level (as in the old archdioceses). The Church will not die because one of the branches of the vine withers. Jesus himself explains it: “He [the Father] removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit” (Jn 15:2). This is how He himself constituted His Church, not as a pyramid of powers but as a communion in which Peter constitutes the pole of unity, through which he will have to intervene, if things do not go well (cf. Jn 21:15-25 above).
And to put an end to the abusive interpretations of the images used by the apostle Paul, let us imagine for a moment that he was living today. What image from the world would he have used to describe the Church? He would certainly have been interested in the global phenomenon of information technology and the computer model. All the parts of the computer are necessary for it to function (1 Cor 12), some are less noble (and less expensive) than others; but all the parts work together so that the growth of information is harmonious (Eph 4:16); and the computer’s processor is Christ (Col 1:18).
This being the case, it is not certain that we would have escaped Roman ecclesio-centrism. A few years after Paul, we would probably have seen an encyclical entitled, Mystici Computeri which would explain: since the processor in Heaven is not very functional in practice, we must connect to the replacement processor on earth, which is in Rome, so that it can coordinate and control the whole thing—with the Holy Spirit simply providing the basic software. Note that these images have an advantage over Paul’s—they include the idea of updates (e.g., Councils), which the body image does not. Obviously, there can be bugs in the updates. In short, if we must be wary of images, this mistrust is not enough to get out of the deadlock. The crucial question can no longer be set aside—how can the Church define herself other than in the perspective of the Glorious Second Coming? Like the Spouse who awaits the Bridegroom?
Such a perspective is certainly not without consequences, especially for the way the Bride sees the world, and for the coming judgment of that world whose Prince is not Christ. These are disturbing consequences. But it is precisely the gaze towards glory, where Christ as “first-fruits” awaits the humanity that chooses Him, and even ultimately awaits the whole of creation (1 Cor 15:23-24; Rom 8), that makes it possible to stand in the midst of the contradictions of this world.
Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.
Featured: “The Transfiguration of Christ,” by Giovanni Bellini; painted ca. 1487.
Spontaneously, all converts say, “I met Jesus.” What do they mean?
What is mysterious is not only the fact that it is Jesus, but the fact of the encounter itself. The main nowadays common meaning of the verbs “to encounter” or “to meet” are not so old. Previously, converts could only say, “I have found Jesus, or “I have known Jesus.” In the first case, one is tempted to ask them “where;” and in the second “how.” Some word was missing to carry an important unspoken meaning; and this lack seriously handicapped ancient theology, Latin or Greek.
The old meaning of “to meet” ‒from Germanic origin‒ was “to come into the same place with.” Later on, a possible physical contact was added to the meaning, or in the figurative sense of an agreement. For its part, the word “encounter” was built on the French adverb “contre” (Latin “contra”, in front of, against) with the thought of a confrontation. These words are however inadequate to describe the experience of the converts.
A Word to Say What?
Indeed, there is a difference between being with someone in the same room and actually meeting him. When you simply see a person, even if you notice him, nothing happens. But if you stop and talk to that person, something happens—an exchange. From then on, something is changed in me and also in the other person. Of course, things can go wrong and end up in a fight. Or, on the contrary, everything goes so well that in older French, we spoke of “se marier contre un(e) tel(le)” [marrying against such a one]. The word “encounter” gained this perspective of a very particular experience, while it is more the verb “to meet” that suggests it.
What is changed in me and in the other person? It is indefinable precisely; it depends on many things (circumstances, the past). If, therefore, the word “encounter” is too vague to constitute a true concept, it at least means that something has influenced my “personhood” at the same time as that of the other person—the term “person” being a word invented (not in the recent times but as early as the 3rd or 4th century) in order to highlight our becoming [at the beginning of the 6th century, Boethius tried to define what a “person” is; he gave six or seven definitions (it is not simple). He did not create the word, he contributed in popularizing it]—we are individuals endowed with reason and above all with relationships, and therefore perfectible. It is Christians who invented this word. It is also appropriate to speak of the relationships in the very Life of the One God who revealed Himself in three “Persons” who are perfect (they do not need perfection).
In fact, it was also (Western) Christians who extended the meaning of the words “encounter” and “to meet” as we can use them today: an “encounter” of Jesus changes something in our lives and in us—and more than a little. In Aramaic, such a word already existed, so to speak—qurbanah, i.e., to go as far as to touch or be touched; this word was retained to designate what in the West was called “Mass.” The word “mass” does not mean anything; let us imagine that the word “encounter” existed as early as the 2nd century: it would certainly have been used to say that on Sundays, Christians go “to the Encounter.” The term would be defined by itself: to touch/be touched by God. It would have been wonderful.
Each “encounter” with Jesus is a unique but also relative experience. Rather than trying to highlight features that would be common to the testimonies of converts or even to those of other people, it seems more appropriate to look at how all these encounters announce a plenary encounter. For the encounters of Our Lord here below are never absolute—they are clearly foretastes of something that can only take place outside the framework of this present world.
Preparing for a Plenary Encounter
We must therefore speak of a plenary Meeting of Jesus, of which those of our earthly life are, so to speak, preparations. This Encounter that awaits us can have two plenary “forms”:
the first is that which, in the “depths of death” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 635) , awaits the soul of every deceased person facing the soul of Christ “descended into hell” (Sheol– שאול, not Gehenna, the Hell of the doomed, according to Hebrew terminology), an encounter linked to Salvation, for we can only go to the Father through Him whose name means “He saves” or “Salvation” (in Hebrew) [ Introduced by the recalling that Jesus himself descended into the “mystery of death” and that through him “the gospel was also proclaimed to the dead” (1 Pet 4:6), no. 634 constitutes, together with no. 635, the heart of the understanding of the section of the CCC devoted to the Descent into Hell: “‘The gospel was preached even to the dead.’ The descent into hell (שאול) brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption” (no. 634)];
the second is the one that historically awaits those who will be on earth at the moment when Christ appears as the “Son of Man,” according to the words of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13 and countless proclamations in the Gospels; and it will be an encounter of Judgment for some, but of salvation-vivification for those who will have waited for it and will have suffered from the Anti-Christ (Heb 9:28).
These are two different things, which are neither superimposed nor combined: personal destiny beyond death and the judgment of humanity are not the same thing, even if we can underline analogies between one and the other, as we shall see, and the experience of the encounter with Christ in the course of our life on earth already has a little to do with both. Of course, it would be necessary to (re)give a whole teaching here on both of these two plenary “forms” of the Encounter with Jesus; we can only refer here to the all too rare serious studies which speak of them.
For some, one difficulty is the nature of the Encounter with Christ, whatever its “form” or its time: an encounter of Light or in the Light (it does not really matter); that would be too simple. The Encounter of the Light is linked to salvation: the light of Christ illuminates the shadows—the turpitudes of the past life—so that one can no longer lie or pretend. One can only ask for forgiveness, which allows one to start moving towards the Light. In the best of cases. For if one refuses to ask for forgiveness, the Meeting turns sour: one will flee from the light (Jn 3:21).
“What you have hidden from the wise and the learned, you have revealed to the little ones,” Jesus tells the Father (Matthew 11:25). Everything is simple for those who want to understand clearly.
[As early as the 17th century, Puritan preachers misunderstood this passage from St. Paul 1Thess 4:15-17: “We who will be left alive in [the length of] the Coming (Aramean: bə-meṯīṯēh) of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who will be still alive and left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
They have imagined in it the announcement of a “rapture of the [true] Christians”, whereas what St. Paul describes there, in a somewhat rudimentary way, is what is to happen at the end of the time of the Parousia, “when he will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father” (1Co15:24), i.e. Jesus comes down to hand over the participants of his Kingdom to his Father.
The Anglo-Irish Rev. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) spread this doctrine of the “Rapture”, which became popular in the United States, to the point of giving rise to a novel (Left Behind) and to a movie; in the rest of the world, this doctrine made people smile].
Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.
Featured: “Apparition du Christ aux pélerins d’Emmaüs (Appearance of Christ to the Disciples in Emmaus—Supper at Emmaus),” by Laurent de La Hyre; painted in 1656.
Likely for the first time in the history of humanity, a civilization officially has no God; its authorized authorities act in all things as if God did not exist. This civilization is ours, the West, once Christian and now profoundly de-Christianized in record time. Of course, everyone can believe, practice a religion, but faith is now a private matter that is not supposed to encroach on the public sphere.
The alternative is very simple—either God exists or He does not; there is no third position. Officially, as a state institution, we have therefore made a choice: He does not exist. Although our regimes claim to be “neutral” (“secular”) and think they have achieved this neutrality by protecting freedom of religion and worship—within the limits of public order—they are, in fact, atheists. In our historically unprecedented situation, perhaps this is the lesser evil and ultimately the only viable balance that still maintains a certain civil peace.
Rejection of God without Consequences?
That non-believers, who have apparently become the majority, are satisfied with this state of affairs or even defend it, seems normal and natural. On the other hand, it is more surprising on the part of believers—is it not extraordinary that they never question the rejection of God within our overdeveloped societies and its possible consequences? Historically, is there no link between the erasure of God from the city and from consciences, on the one hand, and the slow decline of an apostate Europe, on the other? Is it a mere coincidence that, in this context, criminal materialistic ideologies arise in the West, at the origin of two atrocious world conflicts, a real European collective suicide? Is there also no link between this erasure of God and the exacerbation of a Promethean hubris which claims the autonomy of man, of his all-powerful will unbound by any limit, moral in particular?
In our postmodernity, we benefit from unprecedented living and health conditions, and yet malaise has never been so widespread; many of our contemporaries claim to be less happy than previous generations. Is this crisis not the consequence of the inner emptiness that drives us, of the absence of meaning given to our lives? Certainly, even if the subject is taboo, the main dimension of the crisis we are experiencing is spiritual and has to do with the ignorance of God.
The weakening of Christianity leads to a growing misunderstanding of the Christian universe. The vision of the family and children, the concept of natural moral law have become inaudible to many, often more out of inculture than hostility. During a recent debate between Fabrice Hadjadj and Antoine Bueno on birth control, the latter dared to make this revealing admission: “I understand almost nothing of my opponent’s answer. We don’t speak the same language.” These words are terrible in that they show how the fractures are worsening to the point where we no longer understand each other, so that any minimum common basis for living in society in peace and respect for the other is gradually disappearing.
The Triumph of Manichaeism
And this worrying factor is amplified by the extension of the obligatory thinking that reduces the complexity of the world to a Manichean vision. The subjects on which debate becomes impossible, for which an “official truth” exists, are constantly expanding: abortion, gender, Covid, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict—thus feeding conspiracy fantasies. On these issues, opponents of the dominant doxa are not treated as legitimate challengers, which should be self-evident in a democracy, but as enemies to be eliminated: one does not discuss with such people, one discredits them, one criminalizes them, one excludes them from the perimeter of respectability so that, in the eyes of the media, they no longer exist.
I don’t see how to resolve the fractures mentioned above, symptoms of the “decivilization” and “barbarization” of our societies, without succeeding in re-Christianizing a part of the French. I am intimately convinced that it is the radiance of all the holy souls who sincerely seek God, the prayers that go up to Him untiringly, that prevent the world from completely unraveling—hence the crucial importance of contemplative religious orders.
In the Bible, indifference to God is common; and even when God became incarnate in His Son, how many listened to Him and believed in Him? In the Old Testament, the chosen people often denied God; we are analogously in a comparable situation. I am not saying that our misfortunes are a divine punishment, I am saying that the rupture with the supernatural order has also broken the harmony of the natural order, which thus goes adrift: the flouted natural laws are enough to make us lose our footing according to the normal course of things. And in the Bible, each time, the only remedy was to return to the God of the Covenant. Perhaps we Christians should take the Bible a little more seriously.
Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.
Featured: “Funeral of the Anarchist Galli,” by Carlo Carrà; painted in 1911.
This writer has been researching the life and thinking of William Wilberforce, who was the chief advocate for the elimination of slavery in the British empire, which in fact was abolished by Great Britain in 1833. This research revealed that Wilberforce also advocated for a change in morals and manners in Great Britain and its worldwide empire. He was concerned that Biblical values were eroding, and that a much higher standard of personal as well as public conduct was needed among English-speaking Christians. He thus was a preacher and polemicist to the country/empire as a whole, and not only to a particular congregation from a particular pulpit. Wilberforce, in addition to fighting to end slavery based on the Biblical premise that all men and women were created in God’s own image, sought to encourage “piety and virtue, [and the prevention of] vice, profaneness and immorality.” This aspect of his work or mission became known as the Society for the Suppression of Vice (SSV).
This SSV, founded in 1802, grew rapidly and had over 1200 members by 1812. It was authorized by King George III who, the reader undoubtedly recalls, was the monarch whose control we rejected during our War for Independence from 1776 to 1783. Thus, the move for moral purity had legal authorization by a king whom we considered to be so immoral.
The list of SSV’s offending behaviors was quite long. It included profanation of the Lord’s Day (Sunday), profane swearing, publication of blasphemous, licentious and obscene books, selling by false weights and measures, keeping of disorderly public houses, brothels, and gaming houses, illegal lotteries, cruelty to animals.
Well, dear reader, are you at all shocked that the one man who was the key player in bringing slavery and the slave trade to an end in the British Empire was, at the same time, on this moral crusade? Are you suddenly aware that the obverse side of the moral coin that was being held by Mr. Wilberforce contains all these moral injunctions? That high-minded and Biblically grounded individual saw then that slavery, although particularly un-Biblical, was only one side of the moral crisis besetting British society. If he was concerned about the general moral estate of Great Britain at that time, how much more should our Senators, Representatives, Judges, elected officials of all stripes—Governors, state legislators, mayors, city council members, etc.—feel dismayed and disgusted not only by our country’s moral downslide, which, by early 19th century standards, is our moral collapse.
In New York City, while prostitution is still illegal on the books, the ladies are no longer looked upon as perpetrators to be tried. The women are not put in jail, and instead therapy is offered. The judgment that this behavior is degrading and fosters a decline in public morals is removed from the equation. Prostitution is perceived simply as a type of maladjustment.
Also, the ACLU has successfully fought against obscenity laws for decades to the point where outright porno magazines are publicly for sale in stores and have been so for decades.
When I was growing up, gambling was restricted to Nevada. Now it is a staple in many states. Lotteries of all kinds are also advertised, and tickets are for sale in every bodega and newspaper store. With these gambling outlets, the idea of something for nothing pervades society. It accentuates the covetousness of society condemned without equivocation in the Ten Commandments. Gambling in the stock market is considered a wholesome and admirable “business activity.”
What about swearing? God’s name is regularly used in vain for decades. When this writer worked in an office with industrial engineers, the F-word was standard fare. One pastor I had years ago said that whenever he felt frustrated as a young man, he would start cursing. When he entered Bible college, he still had the same habit. But since he noted that the other students did not indulge in that profane pursuit, he resolved and prayed to be able to overcome that sin. He kept on cursing until one day, feeling very frustrated by some setback, he found that he grabbed the back of a chair (as he typically would) but that no curse words came out. The vain, immoral reactions to life’s frustrations were overcome. Although there were some occasional outbursts after that one successful moment, the corrupt speech was clearly defeated. Finally, it disappeared entirely.
Licentious and obscene books and films are standard fare. Nudity, conjugal relations, passionate kissing scenes, couples undressing themselves or each other, as well as an explosion of pornographic videos in theaters and especially on the Internet has turned our country into a sex-obsessed village. Conservative publications obsess about the sexualization of children in the early grades in our schools, but have allowed the pornographic obsessions of the Internet to run amuck. Pornography is driving a wedge even between the adult male and female populations. Settings to prevent this on cell phones or computers are strict (against), moderate, or off, but those settings are easily accessed and changeable. The concept of “prurience” that was once the basis for declaring reading or visual matter obscene is now out the window. Instead, any laws attempting to restrain this unfettered obscenity and vulgarity are considered an infringement on free speech.
This writer was invited to a lecture by someone representing the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). He spoke forcefully about the suppression of free speech that obscenity censorship represented, and how pleased he was that his organization had been at the forefront of crushing the accursed, rigid, Victorian morality behind all censorship.
During the Q&A following his talk, one person in the audience said that censorship was challenged because some literature like the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence had some obscene passages; but it was nonetheless considered to have redeeming literary merit, which offset the need for censorship. But the questioner then asked, “What about patently obscene material which has no redeeming literary merit? Shouldn’t that material be banned?” The speaker just brushed off the questioner by saying, “I don’t think so.” He gave no reasons in support of his primitive position.
We know that obscene literature degrades the minds of the users. Lust in the heart and mind—not only homosexual lust as some moralists would say—is according to the Bible to be discouraged as it offends the Living God who desires us to live on the spiritual level. All lust outside of wedlock is ungodly. Wilberforce understood that the morals of the Bible are eternal and uplifting. We need to revamp our laws and enforce our laws that are already on the books. We conservatives complain about the sexualization of children in the present world of trannie-ology; but we must acknowledge that in all areas of morals, including the sexual, we have been too lax for decades in allowing immorality to hold sway. Just as we are surely glad to be rid of the travesty of slavery, we must stand wholeheartedly against the trashy tolerance that has developed over the past few decades.
Jeffrey Ludwig presently teaches philosophy at a public university. He has also taught at Harvard, Penn State, and Juniata College, and during a stint as a high school teacher was listed four times in Who’s Who Among America’s High School Teachers. His latest book, Christian Perspectives, Vol.1 is now available.
Featured: “William Wilberforce,” by John Rising; painted ca. 1790.
We are highly honored to present this conversation with Olivier Bonnassies, who is the co-author (with Michel-Yves Bolloré) of the recent and truly magisterial work, Dieu, la science, les preuves (God, Science, the Proofs). The work is a 600-page tour-de-force proof of God, drawing upon rational arguments and scientific evidence. The book throws down the gauntlet to atheism, leaving it little room to maneuver.
Olivier Bonnassies is a graduate of Polytechnique (X86), HEC (HEC start up institute) and the Institut Catholique de Paris. As an entrepreneur, he has created several companies. A non-believer until the age of 20, he is the author of some twenty books and videos and of several shows, scripts, articles, newsletters and websites on subjects often related to the rationality of faith.This interview comes through the kind generosity of our friends at La Nef.
La Nef (LN): How did you come to embark on the writing of such an imposing work on the current knowledge of the origins of the Universe and its consequences? And what skills do you have for such a work?
Olivier Bonnassies (OB): When I was 20, I was not a believer. I had studied science and was at the École Polytechnique. Then I set up my first company, which was starting to do well. But soon enough, I asked myself what it was all for. I asked myself the big questions: what is the meaning of life? What is its purpose? Where do we come from? Where are we going? I thought there were no answers to these questions, but I came across a book by Jean Daujat, a brilliant normalien, entitled, Y a-t-il une vérité (Is there any truth?) I was very surprised to find that he gave serious and very rational reasons to believe in God. I expected to find some flaw quickly. But, no. So, I decided to work seriously on the subject by doing four years of theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris to deepen my understanding. I became a Catholic, even though my family was very reluctant for me to do so. And in the years that followed, I continued along this path, trying to set up projects that made sense. That’s how I met Michel Yves, who helped with two intense projects: the construction of the Mary of Nazareth International Center in 2003, which has been one of the very first places of attraction in northern Israel for the past ten years, and the creation of the Aleteia news website in 2010, which has become the first Catholic website in the world.
In 2013, I gave a presentation on these topics to a senior high school philosophy class where my daughters were, which I recorded: it resulted in the video, ” Démonstration de l’existence de Dieu et raisons de croire chrétiennes” (Demonstrating the Existence of God and Christian Reasons to Believe)” which has 1.5 million views on YouTube. Michel Yves saw it and sent me an e-mail to tell me that it was very good, but that we could do much better, and that he had also been working on the subject for thirty years. So, we brainstormed about a collaboration, and then got to work in 2018. We dug into the subject again and again, with the help of about twenty good specialists. I hope that the surprise I had at 20 will be the surprise of the book’s readers—because there is indeed a body of converging, rational, and independent evidence that God exists.
LN: Formally, science explains the “how,” not the “why,” a role that belongs to philosophy. As such, science cannot “prove” the existence of God. Isn’t there a risk of confusion of genres and a methodological problem in using science to “prove” God?
OB: This is a question that often comes up, and it is important to take the time to answer it properly, even if there is the question of vocabulary and definition behind it.
For some people, the word “science” has been understood progressively in a more and more restrictive way, up to Popper’s criteria, which claim to exclude from it everything that is not falsifiable. But for the general public and in classical logic, science is first of all what scientists practice in a field of knowledge, and it is above all logos (rationality) applied to this field of knowledge, as the etymology of the name of most of the sciences clearly shows (in “-logy”). [Biology is rationality (logos) applied to the living; as well as cosmology, archaeology, geology, psychology, paleontology, ecology, oceanology, oncology, cardiology, dermatology, neurology, pharmacology, climatology, criminology, futurology, graphology, demonology, epistemology, ethnology, eschatology, theology, ontology, ophthalmology, etc. The basis of science is the logos. And this is also true of logic!]
Today, there is also something new: it is the fact that many modern scientists feel the need to talk about God at the end of their scientific practices, especially when they explore the beginnings of the Universe and its fine tuning. This is how we were able to gather in our book dozens and dozens of quotes from Nobel Prize winners and great contemporary scientists who naturally come to talk about God in direct connection with their scientific research and discoveries. This is why it is difficult to say categorically on the basis of purely theoretical arguments that God is not within the scope of science and that it does not encounter Him.
Here is the summary, in two points, of the argument about the beginning:
There was certainly an absolute beginning to time, space and matter, which are linked as Einstein showed. This is established by rationality (page 61 and page 91 and pages 515-517 of the book), thermodynamics (pages 55-72) and cosmology (pages 100, 165, 206, 210, 214, with in particular the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem), the Big Bang not necessarily being this absolute beginning even if it constitutes a very good illustration of it;
The cause at the origin of this radical emergence is thus by definition non-temporal, non-spatial and non-material (page 91-92) and it had the power to generate everything and to regulate everything infinitely, precisely so that the atoms, the stars and man could exist.
With this very simple reasoning, we arrive quite exactly at the definition of what all philosophies and all classical religions call God. But at what point did we leave science? If you say that it is at point 2, isn’t it the characteristic of science to look for an explanation to emerging phenomena? Isn’t the principle of causality really part of science, the foundation of science?
From moment point on, the concrete problem for scientists, who want to remain atheists, is that they have to contest one of these two points, but it is not easy:
Some like Andrei Linde will try to deny the first one by imagining an “eternal inflation of bubble Universes.” But this is very speculative, unverifiable, and quite flawed, especially because it is increasingly clear, thanks to mathematics and physics, that infinity does not exist in the real world (see note on page 206).
Others like Stephen Hawking and Laurence Krauss will try to explain the cause or absence of cause by reasoning that is also very flawed, as is jokingly recounted in the book (page 168).
But beyond the fact that the atheist position is very hard to defend, it should be noted that the protagonists of these debates on the existence of God are neither philosophers nor sorcerers, but that they are all scientists who think they are looking for solutions within science.
It is therefore not right to make too tight a separation between science and philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Leibniz and so many others did not set up such barriers between science, philosophy, metaphysics or theology. The separation of genres has only existed since the 17th century; but most of the early Greek philosophers were scientists. They all worked from this fundamental Logos; and their opponents were not the scientists, but the poets, who were interested in the Pathos. And it is on this Logos that all the sciences were established, including philosophy, which for a long time was called the “queen of sciences.”
[Science is rationality (Logos) applied to a field. Physics is rationality applied to the material world. Biology is rationality applied to the living world. The same goes for the other sciences: cosmology, archaeology, geology, psychology, paleontology, ecology, oceanology, oncology, cardiology, dermatology, neurology, pharmacology, climatology, criminology, futurology, graphology, demonology, epistemology, ethnology, eschatology, theology, ontology, ophthalmology, etc. Ditto with ideology, oenology, astrology, parapsychology, mythology, ufology… and logic (from Logos).]
Secondly, we must understand that science itself is full of philosophical principles. For example, if we remove the idea that the world is logical, rational and understandable, or the principle of causality, which is also a philosophical principle, or the principle of stability of laws, which is also a philosophical principle, we cannot do science anymore. Science stops.
Thirdly, it is necessary to see that, in their practice of science, the great scientists cheerfully mix theories, figures, equations and interpretations which belong, in all rigor of the term, to the domain of philosophy. But wouldn’t it be absurd to separate this from science? When Newton talks about “force,” when Maxwell talks about “field,” or when Bohr or Einstein discuss interpretations of quantum mechanics, they are in a way doing philosophy within science—but they are doing it in a very legitimate way, of course.
Fourthly, it is more and more clear that modern science, in all fields, opens up to a beyond of science, of which it cannot say anything—except that it exists. Everything that is tangible, calculable, observable, leads, within its own rational analysis, to the existence of something that is intangible, unobservable—but nevertheless necessary. This is explained on page 92, note 56: “If one analyzes footprints on sand, one can, within physical science, affirm that there is a cause for these footprints that do not come from the natural interactions of physical forces.
In the same way, when Alain Aspect’s experiment concludes that there is an entanglement between two particles that are 14 meters away from each other and that dialogue instantaneously, we demonstrate within physical science that there is something outside our space-time. It is still the case when Gödel, inside logic and the mathematical logics, concludes that there are necessarily non-demonstrable truths, which refer to an exterior of mathematics. The same type of “apophatic” reasoning also applies to the Big Bang, within cosmological science itself.”
Finally, it is very important to acknowledge the fact that today, science has invaded the field of metaphysics and that it is no longer possible to do serious philosophy without taking into account what science has brought about time, space, matter, vacuum, mass, atoms, reality, the beginning and the end of the universe, etc. For example, the word “atom” comes from the pre-Socratic atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, and then from the Latins like Epicurus; and it has been taken up by many philosophers after them.
But when, in 1905, Jean Perrin discovered the atom experimentally in Paris, and then its profound reality was revealed, we saw that the atom did not resemble at all that of the Greeks and of all the philosophers, who imagined it to be unbreakable, compact, etc. The atom of the real world has none of the properties that the ancients had attributed to it. A little later, science showed that time is relative to gravity and speed. This is now a proven reality, but no philosopher of the past had ever imagined this either. Can we therefore continue to do philosophy without science or outside of science? No!
In a letter from 1936, Einstein explains that there are many situations in which physicists today are led to enter into philosophy and do the work of a philosopher, because philosophers themselves cannot do it: “It has often been said, not without reason, that natural scientists are poor philosophers. If this were so, would it not be better for the physicist to leave philosophizing to the philosopher? This may be true in times when physicists believe they have a solid and unquestioned system of fundamental concepts and laws, but it is not so in times when the whole foundation of physics is being questioned, as it is today. In such an age, when experience forces him to look for new and unshakable foundations, the physicist cannot simply leave to philosophy the critical examination of the foundations of his science, because he is the best placed to know and feel where the problem lies.”
So, scientists naturally do philosophy within science. This is a fact; and it is wrong to say that science cannot prove anything. Concerning the beginning of the Universe and its setting in particular, science leads to three very clear conclusions:
There was a Big Bang. It is certain. It is possible to describe precisely what happened from 1 second (CERN has made it possible to go that far). To describe positively what happened before is not possible at present. It may even remain forever impossible and outside our experience before 10-43 seconds: there are only very speculative hypotheses on these subjects, on which there is no consensus.
On the other hand, it is possible, on the basis of rationality, thermodynamics and cosmology (according to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem—the Big Bang not necessarily being the absolute beginning), to affirm that there was an absolute beginning to time, space and matter; and therefore that the cause at the origin of this emergence is transcendent, non-material, non-spatial, non-temporal, endowed with the power to create and adjust everything. Now, this third conclusion is very important, because it is very close to what all philosophies and classical religions have always called “God.”
Science can therefore contribute to giving proofs of the existence of God.
These are real proofs, but they are “apophatic;” that is to say that we are talking about realities whose existence can only be deduced indirectly and which we can only qualify in a negative way, without having any direct positive knowledge of the nature of the causes in question. In spite of this, we can affirm with certainty the existence of these causes.
And we must also agree on the word “proof” which has a clear definition. A proof is, in a trial, “what serves to establish that something is true” (Google/Robert), a “material element” (Larousse) that allows to accredit a thesis and to invalidate its opposite; or “a fact or a reasoning that can solidly establish the truth” (Wikipedia). Thus, real-world evidence is never “irrefutable” or “absolute.” They are elements that accumulate in favor of a thesis with more or less strength. One can demonstrate that someone is guilty or innocent with such evidence; but it is not a matter of mathematical demonstration, nor of logical evidence, nor of certainties of the “checkmate-in-three-moves” type. On the other hand, when strong, convergent, rational evidence from independent fields accumulates, we arrive at a certainty “beyond all reasonable doubt,” as we say in the legal world.
This is exactly what we arrive at in our rational inquiry, which deals with a dozen independent fields, some of which are scientific, others not.
In short, the a priori theoretical distinctions do not hold; and, to see this, we must look at the real world. There are many a priori, prejudices, preconceived ideas. We have to be careful with these too-theoretical positions which are not right and which are upset by reality, such as: “Science is the “How?” and religion the “Why?” No, science and religion or philosophy are not “two separate magisterial,” as Stephen Jay Gould theorized with his “NOMA” (Non-Overlapping Magisterium). This is not true, as are many other preconceptions such as “science cannot say anything about God;” “it is impossible to prove God;” “if God could be proved, there would be no room for faith;” “if God could be proved, it would be the death of religions;” etc. All these preconceptions are not true. All these preconceived ideas are false.
The only people who believe them are materialists and fideists, for opposite reasons. Materialists think that religion has nothing to say about the real world, and fideists doubt natural reason and its reliability. But all this does not hold. Why not? Simply because if religion claims to speak about the real world and claims to be embodied in history, then there are many places where it interacts with science. If the Gospel says that there is “in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, a pool called Bethzatha in Hebrew, which has five colonnades” (Jn 5:2) and that archaeology confirms this, this is not concordism, it is simply the fact that the Gospel is based on historical realities. And if the Hebrew people say that they believe by revelation that the universe began, that it was created out of nothing, that there are no demigods or sub-humans, and that no god dwells in springs, forests or pieces of wood, this is important because these are indispensable truths for men to have a true relationship with God. But of course, for this relationship to God to be true, it is important that all of this be consistent with reality.
LN: Some of our fellow citizens do not believe in God, not so much out of deep conviction as because they live in a materialistic context that does not encourage it. Do you think that recourse to science can convince these people? What audience, precisely, is your book aimed at?
OB: This book is not only for the curious: it is for everyone, because the question of the existence of God is one that everyone asks themselves one day or another. Nowadays, there are really good reasons to reopen the file rationally, to discover all its elements, to think about it. This book is an invitation to reflection and debate.
LN: You bring us to recognize the existence of God by showing that the Universe, having a beginning (the Big Bang), was created. In what way does a created Universe oblige us to postulate the existence of God?
OB: To say that everything has a cause is perfectly false—there is necessarily at least one necessary being who gives cause to everything that exists. It is easy to realize this by considering the whole of all the beings that exist. This whole cannot have a cause outside itself. Now, to be the cause of oneself is not possible. It is therefore that there is necessarily at least one necessary being. This is true at every moment, to give existence to everything that exists (vertical causality) but it is also true in time (horizontal causality). This is how all atheistic materialist doctrines, from Parmenides, Heraclitus, Democritus or Lucretius (author of the famous formula “ex nihilo nihil”) to Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin, Mao and Hitler, through Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, David Hume, Jean-Paul Sartre and all the atheistic philosophers of the 19th century—or Baruch Spinoza, Auguste Comte, Ernst Mach, Svante Arrhenius, Ernst Haeckel, Marcelin Berthelot, Bertrand Russell, Francis Crick and all the atheist scientists of the pre-1960s—all of them always imagined that matter was somehow eternal in the past and that the Universe had never begun. But this position, which has never been rational, is less than ever tenable after modern scientific discoveries (thermodynamics, cosmology and the Big Bang illustration). Only God remains if we want to remain reasonable.
Note 54 on page 91 of the book shows why an infinite time in the past is impossible. Because if we count 0, 1, 2, 3… without ever stopping, we go towards infinity, but it will always remain a potential infinity that we will never reach. Thus, in mirror image, for the same reason that we cannot reach infinity in the future starting from today; we cannot start from infinity in the past to reach our time either: an infinite time in the past is therefore impossible (see the third point entitled “The Creator of time” in chapter 22). Today, science confirms this point that scientists did not accept one hundred years ago. Science has shown that space, time and matter had an absolute beginning. Through Relativity, Einstein showed that space, time and matter are inseparably linked and that one cannot exist without the other two. Thermodynamics has shown that entropy increases and leads, after a certain time, to the thermal death of the Universe, which cannot be infinite in the past. Cosmology, with the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, which is based on the work of Penrose and Hawking on singularities, shows that there is necessarily an absolute beginning to the Universe. But the Big Bang, now confirmed, is not the proof of the beginning. It is only a good illustration of this absolute beginning.
LN: If science demonstrates the fact of the creation of the Universe, what does it teach us about how this creation took place, including, for example, the controversial question of evolution?
OB: This question is controversial, as you say. That is why we did not deal with it in our survey, which needed to select the discriminating questions, i.e., those on which one can easily make a decision. On evolution, there are two visions: the vision of Darwin and his (numerous) followers, according to which natural selection explains everything; and the vision of those who think that this principle is valid but that it does not explain everything. Those who are interested can read Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, who presents seventy examples of convergence of complex organs, such as the human eye, and who concludes in a very convincing way that the laws of the Universe program the coming of man since the Big Bang.
LN: The second part of the book chooses to seek concordance between the Bible and science, insisting on coherence when there is any, and explaining, when there seems to be a contradiction; that it is necessary to depart from the literal meaning. Is there not a risk of concordism here, and would it not have been preferable to center this part on the astonishing fact that the Jewish people were the only people of antiquity to affirm a faith in a unique God transcending a physical universe created by Him?
OB: If we assume that creation and revelation have the same origin, then “concordism” is more likely to bring us closer to the truth than an overly “discordist” approach. But two things must be kept in mind which may seem to be in opposition. First, it is true that the purpose of the Bible is not primarily to give us a scientifically accurate account or a historical account in the modern sense of the term (which would not be of much interest), but to allow for a strong and truthful relationship with God. But secondly, Revelation speaks of the real world; it passes through truly historical events; and it is embodied in history. There are thus naturally many interactions between faith and reason which must concur on these points.
Why then this choice to speak about the Bible?
It is very strange to see that the Bible states truths that the Hebrew people knew but that all the other peoples—much more learned—were unaware of about God, men, nature and the Universe. It is also curious to see that the Jewish people are the only people of antiquity still present on Earth; or that a young man of 30, Jesus, who wrote nothing and died on a cross, became the one who had the most influence on the history of humanity, as Himself and the prophecies proclaimed. In this book, rationality is interrogated.
LN: The chapter on Fatima seems a little out of sync with the rest of the book. Why did you choose to devote a chapter to a Marian apparition?
OB: The miracle of Fatima (in 1917, in Portugal) is also, as we show in the book, a real, rational question about the existence of God. How is it that children announce, three months in advance, a miracle that everyone will be able to observe, at a very precise time? This well-documented event raises the question of whether it can be explained within a framework of materialist thought; that is, without a supernatural hypothesis.
LN: Doesn’t the great diversity of ethical systems throughout the world contradict the affirmation of the existence of a transcendent moral law common to humanity? Do not the consequences of original sin, which distort our moral judgment, prevent unanimity on this subject?
OB: Yes, but beyond this diversity, if there is no absolute outside the material Universe to found good and evil, then nothing can be sacred, absolute, good or intangible. In the case of a world without God, we are ultimately just an agglomeration of atoms, and crushing a child or a mosquito is ultimately equivalent: it is a simple reorganization of matter. Consistent atheists must believe this; but it is not easy.
LN: The answer to the objections of the materialists is particularly hurried on two of them, especially on the problem of evil. Why, in a book of nearly 600 pages, did it not go into this objection, which is the one usually put forward against the existence of God? Is it not because there is no totally satisfactory answer, since it remains a mystery?
OB: The objection “if there is a good and all-powerful God, evil is impossible” does not hold, either logically or in terms of probability. For the presupposition “if God is love, He must create a world without evil” is false. Serious atheists readily acknowledge this. To quote a few: “We may concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, demonstrate that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with each other” (John L. Mackie, atheist, 1982, The Miracle of Theism, Oxford University Press, p. 154). “Some philosophers have held that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of a theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim” (William L. Rowe, atheist, The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism, 1979, p. 135). “It is now recognized on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt (William P. Alston, “The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition,” Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 5, 1991, pp. 29-67).
Indeed, if God is love and if He seeks love, this presupposes free will. In reality, outside of Revelation, we are not in a position to judge whether God has or does not have good reasons for temporarily allowing suffering to exist in the world. Logical or intellectual arguments fall away, but the emotional issue remains very powerful. However, this is not the subject of our book, which does not talk about who God is, but only deals with one question: is there a creator God? And from only one angle: rationality.
LN: You devote a chapter to recalling the philosophical proofs of God’s existence (which have not changed since St. Thomas Aquinas), beginning by saying that they “have never interested anyone.” Why then devote space to them, and why are they of no interest to anyone if they are really convincing?
OB: Personally, the evidence I prefer is that of contingency. It seemed obvious to me that everything that exists must at every moment receive its existence from a cause; and that at every moment there is a first, necessary cause that maintains everything in existence. But after my conversion, I experienced that this proof did not convince many people. These philosophical proofs are very valid, but they don’t “make much of an impression;” i.e., they are not enough to convince. This is an observation. On the other hand, in addition to other elements, and in convergence with them, they are in my opinion very useful and contribute to establishing a rational and independent body of evidence.
LN: People often accuse believers of credulity; but you conclude, on the contrary, that it is materialism that is an irrational belief. Could you explain why?
OB: A coherent and rational materialist must believe that the Universe has always existed contrary to all evidence; that it is infinitely well-regulated by chance; that there is no good and evil; that the Bible, the destiny of the Hebrews, Jesus and the predictions of the children of Fatima, as well as the thousands of miracles and apparitions, the thousands of saints and the testimonies of personal encounters with God are also explained by illusions or by immense strokes of luck. This is really a lot to ask, and it is more than irrational. Everything converges. We must take the time to try to evaluate the probabilities. All this is actually impossible. It takes a lot of credulity to remain a materialist.
Featured image: “Creation of the Animals,” by Tintoretto; painted ca. 1551-1552.
We are very excited to introduce an important undertaking in the area of Patristics and Church history. This initiative is the undertaking of Dr. Phillip Cuccia, who is a retired army officer and who served in armored and cavalry units before changing his job specialty to teaching Military History at West Point. He changed his job specialty once again to work in the Army attaché corps, serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.
Welcome to the Eusebius Society, whose mission is to promote the study of Patristics through learning and sharing about the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and other early Church Fathers, in order to gain a better understanding of the world of the early Christians and the Sacred Scriptures. My interest in writing about Eusebius and early Church history developed out of the intersection of my general interest in writing history and my interest in the mutual effect that culture has on religion and religion has on culture. I hope that these writings may spark some interest in the topic of the early Church Fathers, encouraging the reader to pursue further independent reading and study of the early Christian Church.
Eusebius is considered the first church historian. He was born about A.D. 260 and was probably a native of Caesarea, the limestone city built by Herod the Great on the coast of Palestine. Early in life, he became the disciple and close acquaintance of Pamphilus, a teacher who greatly influenced him. Pamphilus established at Caesarea a large and well-stocked library of theological books, which contributed greatly to Eusebius’ education. Eusebius had already published many books when he paused his own publications to help his tutor with composing the work, Defense of Origen.
In A.D. 309 Pamphilus and Eusebius were imprisoned as confessors of Christ. However, they continued to labor with their writings until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faith—a martyrdom which greatly affected Eusebius. When released from prison, Eusebius went to Tyre, where he honored his mentor’s memory by assuming the name Eusebius Pamphili “Eusebius, son of Pamphilus,” and contributed the sixth and final book to the Defense of Origen. Completing his tribute to his mentor, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus, which, like his part of the Defense of Origen, is lost.
In A. D. 311 Eusebius left Caesarea for Egypt where he was once again imprisoned, but only briefly, and the next year he returned to Palestine. It is unknown when he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood but it is known that in A. D. 314 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Although twice imprisoned, he toiled his whole life edifying his fellow Christians. His publication output was phenomenal: he is credited with no less than 46 works, some of them in 10, 15, 20 and even 25 volumes. He was not content to write books and forget about them, as he revised and enlarged them, putting forth newer and better editions.
As an introduction to the Eusebius Society, I thought it would be interesting to look at the genealogy of Jesus. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives an account of the genealogy of Jesus – the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and hence the first story in the New Testament. But St. Luke’s Gospel gives a totally different genealogy of Jesus. Why does Matthew give Joseph’s father as Jacob and trace a different genealogy from Luke’s gospel, which states that Joseph was the son of Eli?
Can they both be right?
Today people who dismiss the Scriptures because of this apparent discrepancy, are no different than people in ancient times who used it to dismiss Christian beliefs. Several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. The Manichaeans used this discrepancy to promote their heresy. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Augustine, Africanus, and Eusebius responded to the heretical writings concerning questions about these two divergent genealogies.
This quick video concerning these discrepancies aptly uses Eusebius’ writings as one of the possible explanations:
Eusebius explains in Book 1, Chapter VII of his Church History:
“Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another. Since as a consequence every believer, in ignorance of the truth, has been zealous to invent some explanation which shall harmonize the two passages, permit us to subjoin the account of the matter which has come down to us, and which is given by Africanus, who was mentioned by us just above, in the epistle to Aristides, where he discusses the harmony of the gospel genealogies. After refuting the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he gave the account which he had received from tradition in these words:
For whereas the names of the generations were reckoned in Israel either according to nature or according to law – according to nature by the succession of legitimate offspring, and according to law whenever another raised up a child to the name of a brother dying childless; for because a clear hope of resurrection was not yet given they had a representation of the future promise by a kind of mortal resurrection, in order that the name of the one deceased might be perpetuated—
Whereas then some of those who are inserted in this genealogical table succeeded by natural descent, the son to the father, while others, though born of one father, were ascribed by name to another, mention was made of both of those who were progenitors in fact and of those who were so only in name.
Thus neither of the gospels is in error, for one reckons by nature, the other by law. For the line of descent from Solomon and that from Nathan were so involved, the one with the other, by the raising up of children to the childless and by second marriages, that the same persons are justly considered to belong at one time to one, at another time to another; that is, at one time to the reputed fathers, at another to the actual fathers. So that both these accounts are strictly true and come down to Joseph with considerable intricacy indeed, yet quite accurately.
But in order that what I have said may be made clear I shall explain the interchange of the generations. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third from the end is found to be Matthan, who begot Jacob the father of Joseph. But if, with Luke, we reckon them from Nathan the son of David, in like manner the third from the end is Melchi, whose son Eli was the father of Joseph. For Joseph was the son of Eli, the son of Melchi. [Eusebius quotes Africanus verbatim. In Africanus’ original Epistle to Aristides, it does in fact state “For Joseph was the son of Heli, the son of Melchi.” But Luke 3: 23-24 states “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of …” Africanus, and hence Eusebius, leaves out two generations skipping over Matthat and Levi.]
Joseph therefore being the object proposed to us, it must be shown how it is that each is recorded to be his father, both Jacob, who derived his descent from Solomon, and Eli, who derived his from Nathan; first how it is that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers, and then how it is that their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, although of different families, are declared to be grandfathers of Joseph.
Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begot children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begot Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begot a son Eli.
Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begot by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ (Matthew 1:6) But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
Hence the genealogy traced through him will not be rendered void, which the evangelist Matthew in his enumeration gives thus: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ But Luke, on the other hand, says: ‘Who was the son, as was supposed’ (for this he also adds), ‘of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi’; for he could not more clearly express the generation according to law. And the expression ‘he begot’ he has omitted in his genealogical table up to the end, tracing the genealogy back to Adam the son of God. This interpretation is neither incapable of proof nor is it an idle conjecture.” [Eusebius, Book I. Church History]
Thus, Eusebius gives an explanation to this apparent discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus. There are many apparent biblical discrepancies that people bring up today. By looking at some of the earliest Christian writings, one can discover logical explanations to various apparent inconsistencies.
Featured image: “The Root of Jesse,” attributed to Jan Mostaert, ca. 1500.
It is a great honor to present this conversation with Brother Renaud Silly, OP, historian and theologian, who speaks about the Dictionnaire Jésus (the Jesus Dictionary), the major work recently published by the École Biblique de Jérusalem and Éditions Bouquins. This Dictionary which makes available the current state of knowledge about Jesus, drawing upon all necessary scientific, theological, and philosophical areas of expertise.
The Dictionary is an impressive work (comprising some 1300 pages), but one that is also highly accessible, for it does not neglect the needs of the lay reader who is well rewarded by the depth and erudition. Father Silly oversaw the work, as the director of the entire project, and he speaks with Christophe Geffroy, the publisher of La Nef magazine, through whose courtesy this article is here translated.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): How did the idea of the Jesus Dictionary come about? What was your goal, and what was your working methodology?
Father Renaud Silly (RS): The person who had the idea was the director of Bouquins, Mr. Jean-Luc Barré [the publisher]. We had previously published Bossuet in his collection, and this inspired him to call upon us to produce the Dictionary. He gave us carte blanche, without imposing any particular angle or contributors.
As for the École Biblique, the immense wealth of its recent research was just waiting to be made accessible to the general educated public. In the middle of the last decade, the success of certain books, ill-informed we believe, made us feel the need for a work that spans the entire spectrum—those who have been given the capacity to work directly on the sources (the “scholars”) have a moral duty to guarantee the dissemination of their work to those who do not possess it. Otherwise, we fall into the opposite trap of popularization and autarkic specialization. You likely will recognize in this way of thinking about the relationship to knowledge an echo of the ancient Dominican motto “contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere” (“contemplate and teach others”).
CG: This Dictionary was conceived in “a scientific spirit,” we read on the back cover. What does this mean?
RS: “Scientific” means many things, from the experimental method of the hard sciences to the discussion of all contradictory propositions in the human sciences, already practiced by Saints Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great. To be readable, the Dictionary could not afford either. On the other hand, it deserves the term in the sense that it is directly linked to a scientific project of the École Biblique de Jérusalem: La Bible en ses Traditions (The Bible in its Traditions), under the direction of Brother Olivier-Thomas Venard, OP.
Sacred Scripture exists in three dimensions: it has a past—the conditions of its composition, a present—the text with all its refinements, and a future—its impact on culture, morality, etc. To understand it, it is therefore necessary to combine knowledge of the environments that produced it, literary methods of analysis, and to be attentive to its reception, in particular that for which it is an authority. The Bible in its Traditions is a method of global understanding of Scripture, without exclusivity or reductionism. It is a way of letting revelation breathe in a space that is appropriate to it. Who can contest the scientific nature of such an approach?
CG: Is it compatible to be in this “scientific spirit” and therefore open to new discoveries and at the same time faithful to the faith and to the teaching of the Church whatever happens? How does the scientist who is also a man of faith react when a discovery seems to go against the teaching of the faith?
RS: In faith, certainty is God who is at once the source, the cause and the object of the knowledge that faith possesses of him. The uncertainty lies in the assent we give to him—in other words, in not wanting to believe in God, even though He is the end of our understanding (cf. Thomas Aquinas, ii-iiae q.2 a.1 resp.). If faith saves, it is because it is a voluntary act. The vices that can thwart the operation of the will are, however, manifold: laziness, negligence, superstition, pride, to name but a few.
In short, sympathy for science, hard work, the breadth of knowledge cannot substitute for the adhesion by which the soul submits to the truth of God who reveals himself freely to it. This is the formal reason for faith as a theological virtue. In short, the scholar, like all other Christians, has no other alternative for remaining on the right path than to cultivate virtue.
But we must hasten to add how liberating the supernatural act of faith is for the scholar, for it relieves him of the need to search by force for a proof of faith that the texts, even and especially the sacred ones, will never offer him. The Lutheran theory of sola scriptura obliges one to solicit the texts, to make them say what they do not say. Since fiction cannot hold for long, sola scriptura has caused dogma to fall one after the other. And in return, it is the Bible itself that has become a source of uncertainty and doubt. As Father Lagrange wrote, “It is from [the Reformation] that the study of the Bible dates, not the study of the Bible, but rather the doubt about the Bible.”
CG: You have not sought to take a new, but a renewed, look at Jesus. What do you mean by this?
RS: In 1980, a tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem was interpreted as that of Jesus. In 2002, an ossuary was presented as that of James, the “brother of the Lord,” which would have confirmed the authenticity of the 1980 tomb. In 2006, a Gnostic gospel “of Judas” appeared, according to which Jesus himself asked the traitor to hand him over. In 2012, in the Gospel of the Wife of Jesus, the master presents Mary Magdalene as his wife. All of these “discoveries” turned out to be forgeries or misinterpretations of authentic texts. The ephemeral excitement that surrounded these publications shows our imaginary and infantile relationship to reality, which makes us give in to the craving for novelty (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4).
But there is no scoop to be made about Jesus. In faith we know all we need to know about him. As far as authentic knowledge is concerned, made up of meditation, of going deeper, of the patient dwelling of the truth deposited in us—this on the other hand is always in need of renewal. The Word came to “dwell with his own” (Jn 1:5); He is therefore there, in the midst, but it is we who are absent: “you were within me, but I was outside myself, and it was in this outside that I sought you” (St. Augustine, Confessions, x, xxvii, 38).
There is always a need to renew one’s knowledge in order to free oneself from hasty patterns of thought, from the conviction—certainly false—that one has done all the work of the Gospel and has nothing to expect from it. This must be done in the school of the great texts, but also of the humble reality unearthed by archaeology and the related sciences.
A few years ago, stone jars were discovered at Cana (cf. Jn 2:6)! They are probably not those of the miracle, but it shows that this village was populated by very observant Jews, the very milieu of Jesus. Study is an asceticism, surely the greatest asceticism there is! Has the Latin Church nurtured greater ascetics than St. Jerome or St. Thomas, those hard workers? But for those who devote themselves to this effort, the Word is always new (cf. Rev 21:5).
CG: In making this Dictionary, which points were the most difficult to synthesize? And what are the most difficult topics to resolve from the point of view of faith?
RS: The Resurrection of Jesus, to which we wanted to give a place in proportion to its importance. The very fact of the Resurrection is not recounted anywhere [outside the Gospels]—because there were no outside witnesses; and the evangelists did not embroider wonderful stories when they did not know! So, we have to fall back on credible witnesses of the Risen One, since we did not see him rise. But this only shifts the problem: they are women, whose testimony has little legal value! One recalls the misogyny of a Renan who described the testimony of Mary Magdalene on Easter morning as follows: “Divine power of love! Sacred moments when the passion of a hallucinated woman offered the world a resurrected God!”
Let us add to this that the Resurrection is, by definition, impossible to describe since it tells of the passage (the “passover”) of Jesus to a new Creation which we cannot experience; that the mode of the Resurrection of Jesus does not correspond to that foreseen by the prophets of Israel—teaching rather a general and simultaneous resurrection. Yet the resurrection constitutes the intimate heart of the proclamation of Christian faith and hope (cf. 1 Cor 15:14). It is impossible to ignore it without betraying the Gospel.
We are left amazed by the simplicity of the means with which the sacred authors overcome this immense difficulty. The resurrection narratives are the least retouched of all the Gospels. They are delivered to us almost in their raw state. They ask us to let ourselves be measured by the event and the word that tells it. To accept it is to grow in faith, and thus to rise a little with Christ. The resurrection narratives form the synthesis and the summit of the Gospel’s power of conviction. They invite us to reread all the teachings of Jesus as seeds that make life sprout where there was nothing.
CG: It is common to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. What do you think of this approach? And is faith still credible in the light of current scientific knowledge?
RS: The expression you quote belongs to the genre of “thinking” (sorry to abuse this beautiful word) by slogan. It is based on the conviction that the “faith” accumulated representations of Jesus, which would have satisfied certain requirements of the religious spirit, as the Church grew outside its original environment.
The Jesus of faith therefore becomes the sum of the answers demanded by the new Christians according to their cultural situation. The divinity of Christ would be the most visible of these borrowed identities, developed in contact with Hellenistic populations familiar with divinized heroes. Hence the need to peel away, by means of criticism, the “Jesus of history” from the various accretions that mask him. Alain de Benoist’s book illustrates this method and shows its limit via the absurd. In tearing off the tunic of Nessus which would be the Jesus of faith, one realizes that the layers are so well integrated with the object studied that the object loses its skin, flesh and bones. In the end, there is nothing left. One wonders how this so-called “Jesus of history,” so insignificant, could have left such a trace.
But this distinction is wrong. The Jesus of faith is nothing other than the trace left by the Jesus of history, the sum of his impact, as it were. Jesus initiates recourse to the testimony of the prophets to speak of him (Mk 12:35-37); he sends out on mission (Mk 6:6-13); he takes care to establish an authentic transmission of his words and actions (Mk 8:18-21); he projects his disciples into a time when they will have to keep his memory in order to understand (Jn 13:7); he institutes the signs that will give body and shape to this memory, especially the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19). Between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, there is no unbridgeable gap.
CG: The Bible is undoubtedly the most examined work in the world, dissected from every possible angle, especially since the development of the historical-critical methods. Does the Bible emerge strengthened from these examinations and analyses; or, on the contrary, weakened in its credibility?
RS: Science can be a very violent thing. Laboratory experiments, which give rise to many ethical problems, bear witness to this. There is a certain science which, legislating on phenomena, imposes on them extrinsic grids of analysis which destroy them. One thinks of the Duke of Chevreuse inflicting a thousand tortures on dogs or cats to try to prove that their cries were caused by the shaking of small springs, in accordance with the Cartesian theory of animal-machines.
The undivided domination of the hard sciences in the Western noosphere has resulted in the increased use of intrusive criteria on the Bible. Christians who believe in supernatural revelation do not defend it by subjecting it to these same criteria. Biblical fundamentalism, so regularly condemned by the pontiffs, must appear to us for what it is: a complicity with the dissolution of the Bible by historical methods. Moreover, it is futile: by leaving the choice of weapons and terrain to the adversary, we expose ourselves to certain defeat. But to write an ancient history of Israel by following the biblical account is to provoke the derisio infidelium.
The Bible is strengthened if one analyzes it according to its own criteria, those of ancient literary genres; and if one makes the effort to understand its language, which is often disconcerting. It is thus a precious source for the historian. But the Bible is much more than that—a matrix of culture, religion, morality, philosophy and dogma. On this contemplative domain, that of the spirit, aggressive science has little hold.
CG: The literature on the Bible is so vast now that it is impossible for the educated man of today to know it all. How can you find your way around, and how can the researcher, such as you, take into account all that is published seriously on the Bible?
RS: Give preference to authors who do not simply compile the results of others’ research, but have direct access to the sources and are able to discuss them. The others do not know what they are talking about. Exclude anything that practices methodical deconstruction—its conclusions have no solidity; they fluctuate according to fashion.
CG: Many people think that the Bible is nothing but a series of myths far removed from real history and that it often relates stories that they consider far-fetched and impossible—the fall in the Garden of Eden, the flood, or the crossing of the Red Sea, for example. How should the Bible be read? Are there several levels of reading? And how can one distinguish between what belongs to history, to theological teaching or indeed to myth?
RS: Neither the flood, nor the stories of the fall, or the tower of Babel can be proven “scientifically.” Those who claim otherwise are lying or mistaken. Their historicity has nothing to do with the historiographical models claimed by the evangelists, or the deuteronomistic historian (Deuteronomy), or the priestly models (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah). All of these follow very rigorous paradigms—though different from modern ones. Did the Bible in Gen 1-11 collect myths? If one understands this term as a divine revelation about the origin, inaccessible de jure to human observation, then why not. But this must be seriously corrected—because they are very different from the myths vilified by the philosophers.
CG: Our European countries of ancient Christianity, with rare exceptions, such as Poland, have evacuated the question of God, so that the number of truly convinced Christians has become a tiny minority—our contemporaries are much more ignorant of Jesus than hostile. How can we make them rediscover this Jesus who saved the world?
RS: Like Christ, I don’t believe in strategies, tactics or structures of Christianity. Nor do I believe in sociology to prophesy to us whether Christians will be many or few. All that is thinking according to the world.
But I believe that the power of conviction of the Gospel remains intact, if it is preached for what it is—the teaching of the Master who makes faith germinate in souls eager for truth, who tears his disciples away from a world for which he himself has not prayed (cf. Jn 17:9), to which no promise of eternity is attached (cf. Mk 13:31).
The disciple of Christ is the one who receives in his heart this prayer of Bossuet: “O Jesus, I come to you to make this Passover in your company. I want to pass with you from the world to your Father, whom you wanted to be mine. ‘The world is passing away’ (1 Jn 2:17) says your apostle. ‘The face of this world is passing away’ (1 Cor 7:31). But I do not want to pass with the world, I want to pass to your Father. This is the journey I have to make. I want to make it with you…. O my savior, receive your traveler. I am ready. I do not care about anything. I want to pass with you from this world to your Father” (Meditations on the Gospel, “The Last Supper”, Part I, Day 2).
Featured image: “Salvator Mundi,” by Leonardo da Vinci, painted ca. 1500.
To comment on Revelation is first to search the Old Testament for insights. However, can we gain further insights, in the sense that Saint John was inspired in particular by texts such as those found in the caves of the Dead Sea? This idea has been advanced by certain exegetes, who sometimes go so far as to make Saint John (even Jesus himself) a disciple of the “Essenes,” presumed to have inhabited the site of Qumran (roughly above one of the caves that had the manuscripts, namely, Cave 4).
It should be noted that this idea occurs in a larger discourse, frequently held at university departments of religious studies: That the Trinitarian faith, clearly expressed in the New Testament, is a derivative and late form of Christianity, which would not initially speak of the presence of God in Jesus (a presence which fulfills the biblical promise of God coming to visit his people). Since the New Testament never speaks of the Essenes, this very absence is taken as proof of the late writing of the Gospels, which would not have been composed by witnesses (apostles and disciples), and in Aramaic (in oral style), but written late and in Greek. Moreover, the reason for the alleged late drafting is that it would have been done in Greek, and it was done in Greek since it is presumed late. One can wonder if this “evidence,” in the form of a vicious circle, is not part of a larger and a priori negation.
A recent example of “negationism” is the lavish book (subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture), Après Jésus: l’invention du christianisme (After Jesus. The invention of Christianity), in which we find denied the existence of Christians, East of the Roman Empire before the third century. A contradictory variant of this negation consists in postulating that the Christians of Mesopotamia, predominantly Jewish, certainly existed, but believed “in astrology, in magic and in the divinity of the natural elements,” as per Luigi Cirillo.
However, other exegetes have shown that even the Greek texts cannot be very late, or at least some of them, because they fall into seven unreducible families of manuscripts. For example Philippe Rolland who, at the end of his life, published with Lucien Houdry a summary of the evidence: On the basis of a primitive “gospel of Jerusalem,” they placed the official and final writing of the synoptics in Greek at the beginning of the 60s AD. Papias points to the first gospel: “Matthew organized (συνετάξατο) the words of the Lord in the language of the Hebrews (= Aramaic), and each one made the translation of it as he could (ἡρμήνευσεν δ ‘αὐτὰ ὡς ἦν δυνατὸς ταστος) ”(Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16).
The great recent rediscovery has been that these “families” are rooted in oral compositions in Aramaic, the manuscripts of which form only one family: It is these compositions, originally written down as a reminder, collected for the most part in our “gospels,” which originally (except for John) were used as lectionaries – and which were quickly translated into Latin and Greek. These new perspectives, answering questions which have haunted the world of exegesis for centuries (in particular: what are the gospels?), answer what the Eastern Churches have always affirmed: The New Testament gives an account, in a way contemporary, and first in Aramaic, of the faith of the apostles and disciples, for which they gave their lives.
What then are we to make, in relation to the Revelation of Saint John, of texts known since the discoveries at the Dead Sea, or other comparable texts already previously known, and which reflect a “faith” other than that of the apostles?
Questions To Be Addressed
Any possible comparison first raises the problem of the authors of these texts. For more than fifty years, they have been attributed to a sect called “Essenes” who supposedly inhabited the site of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. Today, most serious researchers have been led to relegate this idea of the “Essene monks” and their monastery of Qumran to the rank of an absurd belief – not without reservations, because it must be admitted that the academic world had fabricated a myth.
Once the origins of this accumulation of errors have been clarified, it will then be appropriate to look at the question of the dating of the later documents of the Dead Sea, among which we find passages of “apocalyptic” or eschatological style which can be compared to those of the Revelation of Saint John. But in what capacity can they be compared to it? If they are prior to the year 70 and therefore to Revelation, one might think that Saint John was inspired by them. But if they are contemporary – Saint John lived for almost 90 years – or later, the question requires a radically new look.
Some Reminders Relating To The Myth Of The “Essene Monks Of Qumran”
André Paul (1933-2019) had been one of the main popularizers of the Essene thesis. In 2000, he was still teaching that Jesus went to be trained with these Essenes. But he completely changed his mind in 2007. And in 2008 he published Qumrân et les Esséniens (Qumran and the Essenes) with the eloquent subtitle, L’éclatement d’un dogme (The Shattering of a Dogma). And again, he was not familiar with the work of Professors Robert and Pauline Donceel-Voute, who studied the remains collected on the ground of the Qumran site, remains which had been entrusted to the care of the Catholic University of Louvain. Their conclusions are very clear – in these places, there had never been anything other than a rich commerce in balms and perfumes (related to the balsam trees of the surroundings ). This put a definitive end to the idea of a mythical monastic community there, with a scriptorium in the style of Western medieval abbeys.
Note that this myth, originally unrelated to a specific place, had a distant origin. It begins with a pagan interpolator of the only Greek text by Flavius Josephus that we have (a copy of the 9th century), a fairly anti-Semitic author, close to Roman power, who was inspired by the Philosophoumena, attributed to Hippolytus. The myth emerged in the modern era, notably with Voltaire and was much discussed in the 18th century; and then it resurfaced a second time after 1947, following the discoveries of the so-called “Dead Sea” scrolls, before collapsing in the 21st century. This story, still very little known, was summarized in the first volume of myLe Messie et son prophète(The Messiah and His Prophet).
One of the problems with this myth is that it functioned like a tree hiding the forest, the forest being the multitude of Jewish community associations, especially in the Diaspora, whose goal was the preservation of worship and its own freedom. The writings attributed to the legendary “Essenes” must therefore be redistributed to their various true authors, in particular to Jewish or even Greek Christian communities, or even to groups of ex-Judeo-Christians who had deviated from the preaching of the apostles.
The Dating Of The Latest Dead Sea Texts
Confusion surrounds the dating of these manuscripts; they are usually said to have been buried before the year 70 (end of the First “Jewish War”), which tends to present them all as pre-Christian. However, this terminus ad quem is arbitrary: such a deadline has no other reason than to harmonize the age of the manuscripts with the myth of the “Essenes of Qumran,” whose existence one cannot decently posit after the year 70 AD. Now, it should be considered that the eleven caves of the Dead Sea – twelve now and located many kilometers from each other, certainly have different histories; to assign a priori the same date for the caves is absurd.
In addition, in 95 AD, the Pharisee Synod of Yabneh decided to suppress a number of writings deemed to be non-conforming; and if they contained the name of YHWH, it was out of the question to destroy them, they were to be stored in inaccessible caches. Many of the Dead Sea writings meet this criterion, some have even been burned on one side, as a sign of being excluded. It is therefore most certainly in the year 135 AD (end of the Second “Jewish war”) that we must locate the terminus ad quem.
An additional argument for the year 135 comes from the discovery, at the end of 2016, of a twelfth manuscript cave in the Judean Desert. This Cave 12 of the Dead Sea (very difficult to access) contained manuscript jars – they were most likely broken and looted in the 19th century – but a few fragments of manuscripts were found on the ground. However, it was occupied during the Second “Jewish War,” as evidenced by the coins linked to this second uprising and the remains of weapons found there. Recall that two fragments of the New Testament in Greek were found in Cave 7: 7Q4 (1Tim 3,16.4,3) and 7Q5 (Mk 6,52-53).
Moreover, it was obvious that the Dead Sea Scrolls dated from various periods and in particular after the year 70 AD. Some of them bear witness to different versions, in which there are additions – which presupposes successive editorial periods. Some of these additions have a “Christian” aftertaste, which corresponds well to a period between 70 and 135 AD.
What We Learn From The Testament Of Zabulon
Consequently, it is no longer appropriate to present these additions as pre-Christian, nor those passages of the same ideological bent found in the caves, or known long before the discoveries of 1947. There is no need to invent “Christian interpolators” who, in the end, during the second or third century, falsified supposedly pre-Christian texts; and for this reason, all the more mysterious, as these passages are not really Christian. Obviously, the simple solution is that these texts with their “Christian” passages go back as they are to 1st or early 2nd century versions. Nothing like an example to understand.
In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the simplest (and very well attested) example is that of passage 9.8 of the Testament of Zabulon, which is presented in two versions, between which versions the manuscripts are more or less evenly distributed. It should be noted in passing that the additions in question are less interpolations than rewritings which lengthen the passage. The first version is short, the other is significantly longer.
The short version reads: “After that, the Lord himself, the light of righteousness, will arise for you, and you will return to your land. And you will see Him in Jerusalem, because of His holy name” (Test. Zab. 9.8).
The second, longer version reads:
“After that, the Lord himself will raise for you, the light of righteousness [unchanged quote from Hosea 10:12], and healing and compassion will be in his wings. He will deliver from Beliar all the captivity of the children of men, and every straying spirit will be trampled underfoot; and He will convert all nations to serve Him zealously. And you will see God in the form of a man chosen by the Lord, in Jerusalem, because of his name.”
The lesson of the short version does not summarize that of the longer version, for it is clearly anterior: it simply evokes the eschatological vision of the victorious return to the Country, a biblical vision taking as a model either the return from Exile with Nehemiah, or even the Exodus. Perhaps this is a prophecy of comfort after the insurrection of 66-70 AD, which forced all those who did not want to take part to flee the country.
The lesson in the longer version, which is obviously later, is that it may well be a “Christian prophecy” ex post facto? In fact, if the author were a Christian, he would not have written that the Lord would have “chosen” to take the “form of a grown man.” Rather, Christian theology says that the “(announced) visit of God” to His people took place in that He “took flesh,” not in that He took a “form” (an already existing body). We find a comparable formulation in two others Testaments (“God takes a body” [Test. Simeon 6: 7]; God “appeared in the form of a lowly man/came in the flesh” [Test. Benjamin 10: 7;8])’ and it indicates that God invests and manipulates an adult man, as suggested in another way, notably in Fragment 3 of Ms. 4Q286-287: “…Holy Spirit [rep] daring on His Messiah….” This corresponds to the conception of a Messiah Jesus inhabited by the Spirit (= adopted by God) from his baptism in the Jordan, a conception that the Sabellians or Mandaeans of Mesopotamia had, and later the disciples of Paul of Samosata had, that is, the monarchianists, and many others.
Thus, the author of the Testament of Zabulon, 9.8, a late version, offers very little apostolic “Christianity;” and it is even more evident when one notices that here it is God who invests a man with His Spirit, and not the Word (Logos or meltā in Aramaic) who “becomes flesh” (Jn 1:14). The difference is not minimal; it is of a Trinitarian nature. We are therefore not faced with a “naive Christology,” as Marc Philonenko thinks, but with a radical reinterpretation. Certainly, the first expressions of the apostolic faith do not have the precision of the later formulations or forms (especially conciliar); but they are biblical and clearly Trinitarian.
We should not focus on the term “form,” which renders the Greek, morphe. We find it with the qualifier of “human” in the Letter to the Ephesians (XVIII) of Ignatius of Antioch (martyred around 107); but it is precisely not the question of a God who is to come in this “form” but who “appears” it in: “Then… the old kingdom was ruined, when God appeared in the form of a man, for a newness of eternal life.” In fact, behind the Greek expression, morphe Theou, we must see the Aramaic dmwtᵓ dᵓlhᵓ, “consanguinity-likeness of Aloha,” which refers to Genesis, when God created man “in his image (Hebrew tselem, shadow-image) and his likeness-aspect (Hebrew demuwth – see also Ezekiel 1:13).” We are very far from the negation of the divinity of the Messiah (Jesus), implied by the messianist formula “to come in a man.”
Where do these confusions come from?
A Lack Of Knowledge Of The Historical (Aramaic) Context?
A lack of knowledge of apostolic Syro-Aramaic Christianity and of the first drifting away is certainly a cause of confusion. Few scholars have understood that expressions referred to as “non-Trinitarian Christians” (in the Testaments, or other parallel writings referred by these scholars as “inter-Testamentary”) were in fact shifts from the apostolic faith expressed in the New Testament (and not the other way around).
Even before the discoveries of the Dead Sea, the idea circulated that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs could have inspired the New Testament writings – when in fact in the matter of influence, one should consider the reverse. Thus, according to R.H. Charles, Gad 6:3-6 would have given Matthew 18: 15-35 (+ Luke 17:3); Daniel 5:3 would have given Matthew 22:37-39; Joseph 1:5-6 would have given Matthew 25:35-36; Levi 6:2 would have given Luke 2:19; Levi 14:4 would have given John 1:9; Benjamin 6:4 would have given John 5:41; Simeon 2:8 would have given Acts 12:11. Charles also pointed out 70 terms common to these Testaments and to the Pauline corpus.
Indeed, Jesus did not promise a triumph to come but world trials preceding the Judgment of his Coming: Luke 21: 9-11;27: “And when you shall hear of wars and seditions, be not terrified: these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet presently. Then he said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines, and terrors from heaven; and there shall be great signs… And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty.” Matthew 24: 7;29-30: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places… And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.”
This is all the more evident here as this shift is expressed in a co-text which apocalyptically emphasizes earthly success. On the contrary, in Luke 21 and Matthew 24, Jesus does not announce an earthly success. This is a post-Christian doctrine, focused on the kingdom of God to be built (or imposed) on the earth. That is, a “messianist” doctrine – and even the first of its kind in history. Such a doctrine could only have arisen as a distortion of a prior Announcement of the Kingdom of God to come, that which Jesus gave but whose realization on earth depends on his Second Coming.
In fact, when we put things in their place, we realize that we must consider the existence of two distortions or primitive drifts of the apostolic faith, one of which is messianism which claims to save the world – the other being focused on the future of the individual person (Irenaeus of Lyon, in Against Heresies, essentially focused on the Gnostic drifts of the apostolic faith, and marginally on the messianist drift.). These deviant doctrines are unlikely to have been clearly developed before the year 70; they certainly were developed in the years following the destruction of the Temple, so shocking to Jewish religious consciousness (and to some extent also to Judeo-Christians, despite Jesus’ warnings).
Thus, when we read the later versions of the Testaments today, there is no longer any need to ask the insoluble question of supposed late “Christian interpolators” – they are post-Christian rewritings, inspired by messianist ideology, created by Jewish Christians who opposed the teaching of the apostles (i.e., ex-Judeo-Christians); and this after the crisis of the destruction of the Temple.
Saint John Confronted By Post-Christian Currents?
By definition, the writings of Saint John owe nothing to later texts. As for earlier texts, one could largely mention the Book of Enoch, whose apocalyptic style has an air of resemblance to the Revelation of Saint John. This text may date back to the 3rd century BC, but it went through different versions – it was a bestseller. There is much talk of visions, angels and demons punished by the fire in which kings and the powerful, who follow them, also burn. These are spiritual commonplaces. Saint John was not inspired by this especially when he describes a lake of fire engulfing the beast, the false prophet and the devil (Rev. 19:20; 20:10); and all those who were not found written in the book of Life (Rev 20:15). His images are much more significant.
There remain therefore the writings which were contemporary with him, and those which interest us, especially are those which, after the year 70, testify to doctrines opposed to those of the apostles, whether in a Messianist sense or in the sense of an exaltation of the “spiritual me” – that is to say the current of masters who claimed a more or less magical “spiritual knowledge,” who therefore qualified as “Gnostics” (in any case explicitly since Carpocrates, at the beginning of the second century), and who, more often than not, claimed to be the “true Christians.” (Gnosis is a “reinterpretation of Christian doctrine,” writes Robert M. Grant). Did Saint John want to respond to the promoters of these currents which distorted faith in Jesus Christ?
We note first that in its own way, each of these two currents is led to deny the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Since the Messianist perspective is the salvation of the world, it is unthinkable that the Messiah failed in the project of world domination that God is presumed to have entrusted to him, to the point of dying on a cross – which is a curse in the biblical view (Deuteronomy 21:23). Thus, someone else was substituted for him and he was taken to Heaven, where he awaits the moment to return to earth, to resume work and to succeed in conquering the world. (In a passage from the Testament of Levi, written as a reproach to the Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah, it is not specified that Jesus died: “The man who renews the Law by the power of the Most High, you hail him with the title of Impostor. Then by your malice, you then throw yourself on him to kill him, without knowing if he will rise up and let his innocent blood fall on your heads. But I say to you, because of him, your holt sanctuary will be razed to the ground” (16:3-4). Curiously, we read in the Koran: “[The Jews say:] We really killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, messenger of God. But they neither killed nor crucified him, but someone resembling him was put before them [before their eyes]… but God raised him up to him”(Sur. 4.157-158).
As the Messiah is a superman, he will reign 400 years. The number 400 can be read in the Latin, Georgian and Proto-Arabic versions of the Fourth Book of Ezra 7: 28-31. Islam inherits this expectation of a re-descending of “the Messiah Jesus” (al-masiḥ ‘Isa in the proper words of the Koran), an essential expectation in the historical preaching of Muhammad, according to many hadith-s (Amir-Moezzi ), and far from the character created by legend. But Islamic theology (well after the Koran) divided the 400 years by ten: after having killed the dragon and defeated his armies, Jesus only lives 40 years.
As for the spiritualist perspective (known as “Gnostic”), it too cannot envisage that the Messiah Son of God is really dead – and therefore he did not really rise from the dead either. It was his body, or an appearance, that was crucified – the Master was no longer there, he had already left his body – and he was made to say: “I am not the one who is fixed to the cross” (Acts of John, No. 99). This has been called “Docetism;” but it is simply a feature of all spiritualist systems.
(The Acts of John is subtly Gnostic, it never attacks the Christian faith head-on. In No. 101, we read, “Nothing, therefore, of the things which they will say of me have I suffered: nay, that suffering also which I showed unto thee and the rest in the dance, I will that it be called a mystery…. that I am, not what I said, but what thou art able to know, because thou art akin thereto. Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer. Now what those things are I signify unto thee, for I know that thou wilt understand.”. Regarding the negation of the cross, there is Ignatius of Antioch, Epistola ad Smyrnaeos, 2 – P.G. V, 707: “All this he suffered for us, so that we may be saved. And he truly suffered, as he also truly rose from the dead, not, as some unbelievers say, that he suffered only in appearance.” As well, Ad Trallianos, 10 – P.G. V, 682, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 24.3 – P.G. XLI, 311).
In his Revelation, Saint John is clear. The angel, spokesperson for Jesus, tells of his pre-existence and his Easter mystery: “Thus saith he who is the First and the Last, he who was dead and who [re] lived” (Rev 2:8 FG ). And John saw a vision, in the middle of the throne, of a Lamb slain (Rev 56). He is the Word-Speech [Logos, Aramaic, meltā] of God (Rev 19:13). God and the Lamb sit together on the Throne, from which flows the river of living waters (Rev 22:1). The first response to the distortions of Revelation received by the apostles and disciples is the affirmation of it.
However, Saint John goes further; his Revelation takes into account the nascent post-Christian currents. Without claiming to be exhaustive, let’s take a closer look.
Revelation In The Face Of The Messianist Distortion Of Revelation
We have already looked at passages from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in their later versions, which are heavily borrowed from Messianist ideology dreaming of an Israel that will rebuild the Temple (destroyed in 70 AD – Test. Levi XVII, 10), and ruling over the whole world through a King-Priest (Test. Levi XVIII, 3-4).
Another writing, also found in the caves of the Dead Sea in several copies (seven in all – which speaks to its importance), the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, is still more explicit. It reads: “The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness… when the exiles of the Sons of Light return from the Wilderness of the Peoples to camp in the Wilderness of Jerusalem…. On the day when the Kittim [the Romans] fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by Him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the Sons of Darkness” (Col. 1: 1-9; 1QM1-14).
What has been called the Rule of the Community prescribes “to love all the children of light, each according to his good for the divine purpose, and to hate all the children of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God” (1QS 1.9-10). And if this is not understood, it clearly calls for an “eternal hatred towards men of perdition” (1QS 9,21-22). André Dupont-Sommer translates “men of perdition,” as “men of the pit,” which Josephus uses to designate the ungodly (Jewish War II, 11,155). A similar expression, “way of the Pit,” can be found in another cave writing, The Wiles of the Wanton Woman.
A fragment of an Isaiah Commentary, found in Cave IV, speaks of the descendant of “David who will appear in the last [days]… And God will sustain him with [a spirit] mighty [… and give him ] a glorious throne, [a] [sacred] diadem and ceremonial vestments… scepter in his hands, and he will reign over all the G[enti]ls and even Magog [and his army… all] the peoples will be submitted to his sword”(4Q161 10 22-26).
Note the logic of the system. If we are to save the world and establish the will of God in it, we must hate those who oppose the global takeover, since they are enemies of God, no matter how sympathetic they may appear. Similar beliefs are expressed later in the Quran: “It was not you who killed them, it was God who killed them” (Quran 8,17); “Fight them (to death that is to say go so far as to kill them) so that God by your hands may chastise them” (Quran 9,14).
We should also note the mistrust taught towards women, who, concerned about their home, always run the risk of diverting man from the eschatological combat prescribed for him. A fragmentary text, also taken from one of the caves in the Dead Sea and aptly entitled, The Wiles of the Wicked Woman, reads: “Her [woman’s] eyes she casts here and there, and she flutters her eyelashes shamelessly… in order to make the humble to rebel from God and to turn their steps far from the ways of righteousness… in order to lead man astray into the ways of the Pit and to seduce the sons of men with flattery.” As the translator points out, there is no allegorical meaning to seek: the prostitute here is the image of woman herself.
We can note weaker anti-feminist passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; the strongest is in the Testament of Judah: “The angel of God showed me that women will always rule, over kings as well as over the poor. From the king, they take away his glory, from the brave, his strength, from the poor the least support in his poverty” (15.5-6. Trans. In la Bible , p. 867).
On the other hand, in the Koran, the messianist logic goes all the way: “From your wives and your children [comes] an enemy for you (min azwâji-kum wa awlâdi-kum‘ adûwan lakum); take care!… Your goods and your children are only a seduction (fitnah, temptation)” (Sura 64.14-15). The translator Kechrid captures the meaning well: “You have an enemy in your wives and in your children.” Wives and children represent a potential danger, because from them (min here clearly means, “derived from”) comes opposition (an enemy) to the Cause – which verse 15 confirms. “By making his wife submit,” explains Antoine Moussali, “the man assures his own submission and that of his wife to the good of the ummah which has the responsibility for the rights of God” (Judaïsme, christianisme et islam. Etude comparée, p. 171).
To understand the source from which these messianist delusions come, we must look at the teaching of Jesus who certainly spoke of the “children of light” (John 12:36 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 5). But he never used the phrase “sons of darkness” – and it is not found anywhere in the New Testament either. We only read this, at the end of a parable: “for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (Luke 16,8). The difference between “sons of this world” and “sons of darkness,” in the same opposition to “sons of [the] light” is blatantly obvious: the expression “sons of darkness” implies a condemnation, almost a predestination of the world to Hell, while “sons of this world,” admittedly a negative expression, leaves the door open. The messianist ideology classifies those of this earth, mankind, into two camps: “the good” on the one hand and, on the other, those who do not follow the good and who are therefore bad.
In fact, this idea of classifying people, never more current than today in media propaganda, comes from a dramatic secularization of the sorting conducted by God in the Hereafter and during the Judgment which belongs only to Him – a conviction that permeates the whole of the New Testament and particularly Revelation. The shift from a Judgment carried out by God (and by his Angels) to a judgment conducted by messianist powers through exterminations and genocides is a radical distortion.
Jesus had guarded against such distortion ahead of time; it is the parable of the wheat and the cockle: “Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire, so will it be in the culmination of the present time (en te sunteleïai tou aíonos – aïon, epoch). The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 40-42).
The harvest will not be made by the workers of the parable. Under what circumstances will this be done? This is precisely the object of the Book of Revelation which, in particular and like other passages of the New Testament, announces a time to come of the “kingdom of the righteous,” as Saint Irenaeus says. But such a time is after the Judgment of those who will be on the earth. If one reverses the prospect and pretends to bring about the Kingdom of God before He intervenes Himself, one is doing the work of Satan who pushes the hatred of “others,” as is always seen.
There was already a certain danger of distortion from the Old Testament, because of the awareness of belonging to the “chosen people.” This is why Jesus affirmed: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you” (Matthew 5: 43-44). With messianism, the “negation of the other,” to use the expression of Claude Levi=Strauss, is no longer a danger – it is an established doctrine.
In Revelation, God’s faithful are busy learning a new song (Rev 14: 1-3), or singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev 15, 1-3), not exterminating the sons of darkness in great carnage. Jesus is the only one who can dispense judgment. He holds “the two-edged sword [ḥarbā, pūmēh]” (Rev 2,12). It is “the sword [ḥarbā] of my mouth [pūmēh],” he says (Rev 2,16) that is, the Word of God (cf., Isaiah 49:2). He is aided by “the powers of Heaven [which] follow him on white mares,” carrying a sword “in” their mouths [pūmhon]” (Rev 19:15). Satan-Dragon is conquered by the sons of the woman, “conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the power of the Word [melṯā] of his testimony” (Rev 12:11), not by the armed hand of warriors. “Babel the great” destroys itself; or more exactly is destroyed because of “the Beast” and the “false prophet” who, for their part, are then thrown into the lake of fire by the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19).
Only the one who wears the golden crown (Rev 14,14) can bring peace on earth and, through his angel, bind Satan (Rev 20,1-10). It is priestly work, that of the Lamb who is at the same time high priest of the Holy City which is a Temple (a cube, Rev 21:16;22). As the song of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders already said, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10 FG).
Without having fully covered the question, we see that Revelation responds in a way to the nascent messianism, which has already formed itself into a frightening doctrine. Likewise, this writing of Saint John also responds to the other nascent post-Christianity, spiritualism.
Revelation In The Face Of The Spiritualist Distortion Of Revelation
The reproaches made to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation relate to temptations that can sometimes be called spiritualist-Gnostic. We have seen above (see also note 22) that this current fundamentally denies the death and therefore the resurrection of Jesus. Why?
Close to the “seat of Satan,” the Church which was in Pergamum, the third Church, was confronted by the Nicolaitans who professed a certain doctrine that detracted from the moral sense rooted in created nature (Rev 2:14). Certain members of the community had fallen into this trap, one which was not very different from the teaching of “Balaam,” king of Moab, to which chapters 22 to 24 of Deuteronomy are devoted – but he was also known outside the Bible. Balaam was the figure known as the corruptor of the faith according to the Epistle of Jude (1:11) and the 2nd Epistle of Peter (2:15). Such a corruptor of the religious and moral sense makes one think of gnosis.
If we go directly to the Seventh Church, that of Laodicea, we suspect here not a confrontation but a spiritualist shift. This church thinks, “I’m rich, I don’t need anything,” all the while it is “destitute and naked.” Spiritual sufficiency is the hallmark of the Gnostics, who believe they have accessed the depths of God but who are “neither hot nor cold” – such is the first reproach made to this Church – they play spiritual but their works are miserable (Rev 3: 14-18).
Despite its good works and burning love, the Fourth Church, that of Thyatira, was grimly grappling with a false prophetess (whose biblical figure is Jezebel), who was dragging this church into esotericism and “the depths of Satan, as they say” (Rev 2:23-24). This is another trait gnosis, and not the least. Of course, the Gnostics do not officially claim to be Lucifer, although there is today in the United States an openly dedicated “Church” of Satan, with a storefront, and many other satanic public manifestations. According to their doctrine, they dedicate themselves to the Angels and to “God,” a God who is not the good Creator but a kind of pantheistic entity nevertheless marked by a negative pole, either hidden or brought to light according to the Gnostic schools, and always related to matter. Man must to extricate himself from material reality, in order to probe spiritual depths. “Admirable Sophists,” writes Saint Irenaeus (he died in 201 AD) not without humor; “they scrutinize the depths of the unknown Father and recount the supra-celestial mysteries into which the angels wish to lose their gaze” (Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 37, 6 et 38,1).
In practice, each having its “master,” these currents are multiple and include both moral depravity and forms of asceticism based on the capture of spiritual powers – angelic, in fact. Magic and angel worship are never far away, and the angels who play these games are not from God. Besides, John writes: “And I fell before his [Angel’s] feet, and bowed myself down to him. And he said to me: No! I am your companion and that of your brothers, those to whom there is [who have] the testimony of Jesus. Bow down more to God” (Rev 19.10 FG). And he makes us hear the angel of “Good Hope” who invites the inhabitants of the earth to recognize the Creator: “Bow down to [Him] who made the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the springs of ‘waters!” (Rev 14.7). The only angel who awaits the prostration of men is Lucifer.
It is very difficult to determine by analysis what exactly the spiritualist denaturation of Christianity is, since there is the impression of finding contradictions from one system to another; and there are always incomprehensible subtleties. Gnoses defy rationality – they are its tomb. However, if we ask ourselves the question of their origins, rather than trying to submit them to a broad analysis, things become clearer.
The text of Revelation speaks of a woman who claims to be a “prophetess” and who deceives the faithful of Thyatira. It must be understood that, first of all, there are authentic prophets and prophetesses, and that the normal Christian life is (or should be) through the living link with God which is called “the Holy Spirit,” a link with the divine Life which unites to Jesus Christ, who leads to the Father. When we speak of the “Trinity,” we are not simply speaking of a Revelation (of God) – we are at the same time speaking of a participation of human life in this “Trinitarian” life; that is, of a certain human experience. This diverse and personal experience is certainly not reduced to prophetic inspirations, through which angels give intuitions on behalf of God about the present or the future – but these inspirations are very important: “And those whom God has appointed in the Church are first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then doers of mighty deeds, those who have the gifts of healing, helping others, administering, and various kinds of tongues,” writes St. Paul (1Co 12:28).
Obviously, the gift of prophecy is the most striking, along with that of miracles. And, moreover, prophecy is most important for Christians, even though rationalism, which has invaded the Latin Church since the Renaissance (and already before in academic circles), ended up suffocating it. But these brilliant gifts can become objects of lust, though they are free gifts given for the common good of the community. Hence this warning from Saint Paul: “It was he [Christ] who established some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints [the new people of God] for the work of ministry in building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
Sadly, many work for their own power, fame, or wealth, and this has even become the self-centered norm of the world we live in. The Acts of the Apostles tell us about a certain Simon, who was a magician before being baptized, and who “was astonished when he saw the great signs and mighty deeds that were taking place” (Acts 8:13). And, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18-19). Of course, the apostles rejected this.
If we want to understand the spiritualist approach, it is fundamental to look at the common intention that underlies the abundant diversity of the gnostic beliefs or practices that go from intellectualism to magical forms of religiosity – in order to have access to the spiritual power of the spirits; that is to say, of the angelic world. This is a counterfeit of the Christian experience of the action of the Spirit and of the angels of God – for it is no longer with the Holy Spirit and these angels that one comes into contact. As much as messianisms are counterfeits of the redemptive action of Christ (it is a question of liberating and saving the world in the place of Christ, while basically claiming to do so in His name), spiritualisms are counterfeits of the Spirit (it is a question of liberating the human being from that which prevents him from accessing the world of spiritual powers; that is to say, of helping each one to save himself, primarily by following the “true” path opened by the guide Jesus).
(Raymond Aaron has clearly shown that totalitarian atheistic messianisms are in reality “secular religions.” Hannah Arendt’s work must also be reread from this angle. Gnosis, writes Jacques Lacarriere, appears in history from the first centuries of Christianity, preached by a character mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, by the name of Simon Magus. And we find there the essential principles that characterize it – the creation of the world is the work of a false God, the true God is unknown to man, the world is there only to separate him from Him. For Simon Magus, the only way for man to break the illusion of the world and to reach plenitude is to live out his desires freely. Desire, in all its forms, is the only divine part that resides in the human being).
Often, we take too lightly the beginning of the treatise, Against Heresies, where St. Irenaeus relates with precision how the proliferation of spiritualisms is historically rooted in Simon the Magician and his very inventive disciples – Menander, then Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, etc. It is especially Irenaeus in Against Heresies who endeavors to trace the genealogy of the first branches of spiritualism, and gives many details concerning their respective doctrines. But about the Nicolaitans, founded according to him by the disciple of the apostles named Nicholas, he says nothing more (I, 26,3) than Revelation.
Everything was at stake in the Jewish world, already well-established wherever access to great trade was possible, from Spain to China and from the steppes in the north to Ethiopia (Nubia at the time) in the south. It was a Jewish world which was prompted to take a position with regard to Jesus, which was far from simple. To want to look at spiritualisms as a type of extension of Greek philosophy (or a development of Indian Brahmanic thought) is a dead end that goes back a long way. “The Philosophoumena, a work of the 2nd or 3rd centuries,” notes Roland Hureaux, “examines the relationship of the gnostic doctrines with Greek philosophy, endeavoring to show, and not in a very convincing way, the filiation of this to those. The work is attributed without certainty to Hippolytus of Rome (170-234).” The spiritualist doctrines, which excel in taking on very diverse forms, do not hesitate to integrate elements of local or philosophical traditions, according to the inspiration of this or that teacher.
The knowledge of “hidden things” – occult powers, the future, etc. – is what Gnostics seek. Among the fragments found in the Dead Sea caves, only two, 4Q301 and 1Q27 – per present state of research – insist on the importance of knowledge by advocating a certain disdain for the world and an elitism – we are still far from gnosis. Moreover, we have seen that the manuscripts of the caves were often marked by that other post-Christianism, namely, messianism. On the other hand, when in Revelation it is a question of the “false prophet” at whose instigation the blood of the saints and prophets of the moment is shed (16:6), it is indeed of the Gnoses and their anti-Christianism that we are talking about: “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come forth from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits with the power to work miracles. They were sent to the kings of the entire world to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty… In her [Babylon the great] In her was found the blood of the Prophets, of the saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (16:13-14; 18:24).
Escaping The Trap Of Post-Christian Dialectics
We have perceived the dialectic of current history.
Messianisms oppose their saviors against the enemies of God and who are doomed to be exterminated so that the world may be saved. There is, of course, the vision of a negative and obscurantist past, of a present filled with struggle and sacrifices to be made for the Cause, and of a future that will be filled with joy. Communism and Nazism functioned on this dialectic, and it has not yet finished functioning today.
Spiritualisms also have their dialectic, subtle as it should be – the dialectic of the divine man. Their common conviction can be stated as follows: Jesus is “God;” we all are “God,” but some more than others. In order to become divine and to dominate the spiritual world, man must free himself from his antagonisms, from the appearances of good and evil, and from suffering – the latter being the sign of the still unresolved clash between flesh and spirit. The dialectic by which Gnosticism justifies itself can be schematized in a single way – only the themes differ from one Gnostic group to another. Saint Paul again writes: “[you are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph2:20); and, “[the mystery of Christ] was not disclosed to human beings in previous generations, but now it has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph3:5):
The idea of metempsychosis, linked to the presumed imperfection of a previous life and taken up from old Indo-European traditions, is external to this system, and very marginal; it is mentioned by Iranaeus, Epiphanius, and the Philosophoumena – only when speaking about Basilides.
Philosophers will immediately notice here a Hegelian functioning – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – well known to be central in the dialectic of history. There is nothing surprising in this. The two dialectics, that of history and that of the divine man, are never more than two antagonistic counterfeits of the one and only dialectic that is true and that reveals in particular – the Revelation of Saint John.
And this is how we escape the traps of messianisms and spiritualisms, announced by Jesus himself – the former under the term, “false messiahs,” and the latter under that of “false prophets” (Mt 24:24). Revelation reveals to us the struggle, both historical and trans-historical, between the angels of God and the saints on the one hand, and the angelic and human forces of evil on the other. There are never two fixed human opposites that confront each other, even at the time of the Judgment, because Judgment will be the work of God alone and of his angels, and because the history of each person is played out in the course of his or her life. Nor is there a division in man in the sense of a part that is good (his spirit) and another that is evil (his body).
This apocalyptic revelation is much stronger and more precise than a similar passage in the letters written by St. John many years earlier. For example: “Dear children, this is the last hour. You have heard that the Antichrist was coming, and now many antichrists have already come. Thus, we know that it is the final hour. They went out from us, but they never really belonged to us” (1Jn 2:18-19); and: “Many deceivers have gone forth into the world, those who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Any such person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist” (2Jn 7). John does not yet see what exactly is at stake and what is to come.
For that, the revelation of an angel becomes necessary, through which Jesus speaks to him (Rev 1:1-2).
Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.
The featured image shows an illustration from the Ottheinrich Bible (folio 295r, Revelation, chapter 12). ca. 1530-1532.
History records again and again that many world leaders think they and their kingdoms will last forever. They think in some cases that their armies will rule the world indefinitely for they are the greatest of all humans. Their nation will outlive and outperform all others.
But what is it that builds a nation? What are the ingredients that build a nation to be kind, generous, strong, and looking after the people that inhabit it? And what are the ingredients that destroy a nation? Second Chronicles 32 & 33 offers us a little insight into these important questions. Manasseh was born 700 years before Christ and came to the throne at the age of just 12. His father Hezekiah was a good king, in that he built up the kingdom of Judah in the ways of God. We are told that “he did what was right in the eyes of God.” Hezekiah had woven into the fabric of Judean life the standards and values of Almighty God including the Ten Commandments. And because of this God was with him.
Manasseh, his son, was brought up in the faith from birth. He would have known the ways of God, the Scriptures and the Ten Commandments. But instead of following in the ways of his father, he followed in the wicked ways of his grandfather, Ahaz. Isn’t it profoundly sad when a son, or for that matter a daughter, chooses to abandon, and turn away from the faith of their parents? All those years of setting an example, bringing them to church, Sunday School, and praying for them, seemingly come to nothing.
Manasseh, during his wicked and godless reign of 55 years, successfully carried out three things to good effect. Number one, he obliterated the godly principles on which the nation was founded. Second, he encouraged and accelerated the growth of heathenism by allowing any form of godlessness to grow and prosper; Third, he instituted the persecution of the prophets; they were muted or killed. These are the things that destroy a nation. Is it possible for one person to lead millions into untold evils? Yes, it is. Just one person, armed with an ideology can lead millions into untold evil. Manasseh did it. And he did it for a very long time. Of course, we don’t need to go back as far as Manasseh to see the evidence and outworking of systemic godlessness.
Josef Stalin was once a young man preparing for the Russian Orthodox Ministry. During training as a priest, he abandoned his faith to lead Russia on a purge where his Marxist regime slaughtered upwards of 20 million of its own people. To slaughter 20 million in the biggest country in the world, you need a lot of people to believe and implement your idealogy.
It was a Marxist philosophy with the core belief that there is “no God.” Stalin’s regime told the people a lie and brutally reinforced the lie. He and his regime lied and suppressed the truth. He and his cohorts denied people the truth. He systematically replaced the traditional orthodox belief by instituting Marxism. Marxism or the state would provide for and look after the people, from the cradle to the grave; Not God. God played no part in a person’s life or the state’s life.
On his death bed in 1953; as he lay dying, he raised a defiant clinched fist towards heaven. He died unrepentant. How did one person manage to lead millions into untold evil? Well, in days gone by, when many of the masses were illiterate and uneducated, people did not know how to think for themselves. In many ways they were easily led. The serfs or peasants were unable to think with logic and reason. Chairman Mao leader of the Communist Party in China had a similar approach as Stalin only he managed to murder around 50 million of his own people during the 1950 and 1960 purges.
It was Adolf Hitler, another tyrant in the same mould who said, “if you repeat a lie often enough it eventually becomes thought of as truth.” He started off by blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s woes and then justified it by gassing 12,000 a day.
Brainwashing people with ideologies is nothing new. Many influential people today clamour and exert pressure for the removal of any boundaries, any restraints, for a decent society to exist and any moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are seen as restrictive and abhorrent. The prevailing culture, mainly through education systems, are systematically brainwashing young, impressionable people into believing a lie – that there is no God. There is no such thing as sin or judgement, therefore, there is no need for salvation.
In the very beginning, God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There was a restraint, a prohibition placed upon him. If you disobey, there will be consequences. GK Chesterton said, “Before you tear down a fence, you need to ask first, why is the fence there in the first place?”
One of the ways a nation’s morality can be measured is by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, particularly the elderly and children. How are we treating the elderly in care homes and those isolated in various communities? Is it a level playing field compared with younger sick patients in hospital?
How are we treating our children? What are we doing to the lives of thousands of unborn children killed in the womb for no other reason than that in the vast majority of cases it is inconvenient for the woman? No thought is given to a perfectly healthy child. The NSPCC reports 1 in 5 children in Britain have suffered some form of severe maltreatment, which includes all sorts of serious abuse.
Manasseh destroyed the godly principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – God’s law. He actively encouraged the growth of heathenism, allowing all godless beliefs to flourish; and he brought about the persecution of the prophets. He shut the prophets down. It was a three-pronged attack with the sole aim of removing any trace of God from society. Manasseh worshipped Molloch, who required new born babies as living sacrifices. As the babies cried out the priests beat their drums louder to drown out the cries. Disposing of babies as a commodity to be killed marked where the nation was. It can’t go much lower.
Where a nation is encouraged to live life without any restraints, where there are no boundaries, no absolutes, no sense of personal responsibility – everyone suffers. In particular the innocent, the unborn, and the vulnerable.
The depravity reached a new low when Manasseh even offered his own sons in the fire of Gehenna outside Jerusalem. Once you begin tearing down the things of God, you build up the things not of God, because the void has to be filled by something. As GK Chesterton reminds us, “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” With all sin, wrong doing gives way to further wrong doing. It gets to a point where a person loses any sense of identity and sacredness.
Anthony Bourdain was a 61-year-old celebrity chef, who had it all. Money, fame, and food. In fact, he described it as the greatest job in the world. Yet in June 2018 his body was found in a Paris hotel room; he had tragically taken his own life. It was disclosed that he had been a heavy drinker and a heroin/cocaine addict most of his life.
A couple of years before his death, a member of the audience in one of his many TV shows asked him, “How could I get your job?” He replied; “Drop out of college, don’t concentrate, and do a lot of cocaine and heroin.” That was the helpful answer he gave to a young fan. Bourdain also said that he used his body as a play thing over the years.
In contrast, we have comments of the Apostle Paul on how we use our bodies: “Flee from sexuality immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually, sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?” Two very different thoughts on how we use our bodies.
If a person violates the laws of God, he violates himself; and, sadly, the world actively encourages you to do just that. It’s all a bit morbid, isn’t it? But it’s happening all around us. Look at the evidence. There is no Utopia, as many idealists think, round the corner. Man has dreamed of this since the debacle of building the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Let’s ditch the negative and concentrate on what are the things that build a nation to be kind, generous, just and protecting of its people and others.
In fact, a lawyer in Luke 10 knew the answer. He told Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Whatever we do and however we live our lives in any nation, it must begin and end with God. We give him our all; we live for him. The impact of this will greatly affect for the good how we see, understand and relate to others who live alongside us and beyond. When God brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt, he made it abundantly clear to them that when they obeyed his commands and precepts, he would be with them and things would work out well for them. The new nation would be a peaceful, wealthy and prosperous one.
But once they disobeyed him and chased after the idols and gods of other nations, they lost God’s special protection and blessing. Much of Deuteronomy speaks of God’s dealings with this new “nation.” The American film actor Denzil Washington recently released a video where he speaks about his faith in God and “Putting God First.” Something he says he has sought to do for most of his life. Life is relational. The strength and stability of any nation depends on our understanding of God as revealed in his word to all people.
In it, God tells us how to stop and prevent wars, how to solve problems, how to deal with sin and wrong-doing, how to avoid wrong choices, and be reconciled to others. How to deal with things we are drawn to we know are wrong.
How strange it is that the majority of people try to live their lives without the Bible. They wonder why their marriages fail, their bodies are in trouble, their minds are in turmoil, why they move from one mess to another mess, why they keep on making bad choices. And society suffers as a result. William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, John Newton, Martin Luther King Junior, Florence Nightingale, Michael Faraday, Billy Graham, Isaac Newton – like Abraham were friends of God who understood him as revealed through Scripture. All influenced the lives of many for good and thus the peace and prosperity of the nation.
What about this wicked man Manasseh? What happened to him? God often allows a nation to hit rock bottom morally and spiritually before He acts. And before God acts, He always warns. That’s why He sent the prophets time and again to Israel to warn them. In His great mercy He gives people a chance to turn away from their sin, and turn towards Him. When we see the lawlessness, the contempt for God abounds today; God is very much aware of what is happening. He is not blind or incapacitated to do something about it. It’s just a matter of His time before He acts. And act He will.
It was the same with Israel and its people. We are told, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.” The nation had become so God-resistant they did not want to know, they weren’t interested. God brings judgement on the nation because, He has a right to do so; He has the right to bring judgement on any nation on this planet; because “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” God brings a foreign army, the Assyrians, against Israel. Manasseh is captured, shackled and brought to the Assyrian capital Babylon, where he is held as a prisoner. Manasseh gets a touch of his own medicine, being led about with a hook in his nose, and the people laughing at him. If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably thinking and hoping that God will destroy this wicked man in much the same way he destroyed the lives of countless others.
Be amazed to know that Manasseh repented of his wickedness and turned to God. What an amazing turnaround. Is this the same man? How could a perverted, worthless, evil, individual comparable to the likes of Stalin come to believe in God? The answer is through God’s grace. Grace is undeserved merit. No human being deserves God’s grace but through his mercy his grace is freely given to all, including someone like Manasseh. Despite what he did, the terrible crimes he committed, the killing of little children, God through His grace and love for this wretched individual still gave him an opportunity to turn from his wicked ways; which he did. Manasseh had sunk so low; he knew that he needed God more than anything else. God not only forgave him, He gave him a new heart, a new purpose, and a new life.
Tragically the damage was done to a nation after 55 years of systematically destroying any remnant of what was sacred and encouraging the growth of paganism, and persecuting the godly. Judah would not recover. It would take someone else to come and lead the nation in the ways of God. And God had already a young Josiah in place. Josiah would lead the nation back to where it should be. It just takes one person to lead a nation into untold evil; or, lead it to receive God’s blessing.
Alan Wilson is a retired Presbyterian minister, who lives in Northern Ireland.
The featured image shows, “King Manasseh in exile,” by Maerten de Vos; painted ca. 1550-1603.