Monday, 29 January 2018

What Does The Good Samaritan Parable Mean?

The Good Samaritan, Vincent Van Gogh (after Eugène Delacroix), 1890, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

This is the text of the well known parable.

25 Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” 27 The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. 32 So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. 34 He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ 36 Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The parable proper (Luke 10:29-37) is Jesus' reply to the "lawyer", who "stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”", and not satisfied with Jesus' approval of his summing up of the Law in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, insists - "wanting to justify himself" - by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

What escapes most people - who otherwise fully understand the significance of  choosing the Samaritan as a paradigma deliberately  "scandalous" for any Jew, and, even more so, for a "lawyer" - is that Jesus does NOT give a definition of neighbor [Greek: plesion; Hebrew: rea`], BUT reverses the question of the "lawyer", suggesting, through the parable, what it means to be/become neighbor: to help, without calculation of personal cost, any fellow human in distress.

Friday, 19 January 2018

What Is The "Good News"?



Apart from Prov 25:25 and Prov 15:30, the expression "good news" ONLY appears in the New Testament. It is the literal translation of the Greek composite word euaggelion (Strong's G2098) usually translated in English with "gospel". It appears in the NT more than 70 times, in various expressions, first and foremost "gospel of the kingdom", but also "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), "gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15) etc.

But what is the "gospel", what are the "good news" proclaimed and brought definitively by Jesus with his life, words, works, passion, death and resurrection?

I believe the essence is best expressed by these two verses:

He [Jesus] said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)

The Kingdom of God is near, and all it takes to be part of it is repent and accept God's salvation.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Trinitarian Appropriation


In the course of a debate , looking at the * footnote relative to 1 Cor 12:4-6 (USCCB-NAB) I encountered the word “appropriation”, used in a rather criptic, evasive way.

So that got me curious. A google-search with the string "appropriation person trinity" gave as first hit Appropriation (@ newadvent.org/cathen). Here is the incipit of the article:

Appropriation [@ Catholic Encyclopedia]

In general, consists in the attribution to a person or thing of a character or quality which determines in a special way this person or thing. In theology, appropriation is used in speaking of the different Persons of the Trinity. It consists in attributing certain names, qualities, or operations to one of the Persons, not, however, to the exclusion of the others, but in preference to the others. The qualities and names thus appropriated belong essentially to all the Persons; yet, according to our understanding of the data of revelation and our theological concepts, we consider some of these characteristics or names as belonging to one Person rather than to another, or as determining more clearly this particular Person. (...) Appropriation is not merely arbitrary; it is based on our knowledge of the Trinity, which knowledge has its sources and rules in Revelation (Scripture and tradition) and in the analogies which our reason discovers between created things and persons and the Persons of the Trinity as those persons are represented in Revelation. Of necessity, we understand the data of Revelation only under human concepts, that is, in an analogical way (see ANALOGY. It is, therefore, by their analogy with creatures and created relations that we conceive the different Persons of the Trinity and their relations. Each Person of the Trinity is presented to us with a proper characteristic which is the constitutive element of the personality. Remarking, as we do naturally, that among creatures certain attributes, qualities, or operations are the properties of the person possessing such a characteristic, we conceive the Trinity after this remote suggestion, though in an analogical and supereminent way, and we appropriate to each Person of the Trinity the names, qualities, or operations which, in creatures, are the consequences or properties of this characteristic. (...) [bolding by MdS]
I will let the readers enjoy for themselves the rest of the verbiage with which the entire article is steeped, but, with reference to the above ample excerpt, I would like to ask these questions:

Do you believe that "our knowledge of the Trinity ... has its sources and rules in Revelation (Scripture and tradition)"?

What do you think of this mouthful: "Remarking, as we do naturally, that among creatures certain attributes, qualities, or operations are the properties of the person possessing such a characteristic, we conceive the Trinity after this remote suggestion, though in an analogical and supereminent way, and we appropriate to each Person of the Trinity the names, qualities, or operations which, in creatures, are the consequences or properties of this characteristic."?

Comments welcome ...

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Does the Catholic Church believe in the "immortality of the soul"?





This is an old, nay ancient question, but I believe that it is worth taking up again.

I think the situation is perfectly expressed in this Letter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 1979.

Some passages, in particular, reveal the purely instrumental nature of the affirmation of the "soul", compared to the faith in the resurrection, which is the only genuinely scriptural belief. 

N.B. I have interspersed the text of the letter with [my comments].

Letter on certain questions regarding Eschatology

(by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith @ vatican.va - you can read the letter in its entirety clicking on the title above)

(...)  The element in question is the article of the Creed concerning life  everlasting and so everything in general after death. When setting forth  this teaching, it is not permissible to remove any point, nor can a defective or uncertain outlook be adopted without endangering the faith and salvation of Christians. (...)

The  importance of this final article of the baptismal Creed is obvious: it  expresses the goal and purpose of God's plan, the unfolding of which is  described in the Creed. If there is no resurrection,  the whole structure of faith collapses, as St. Paul states so  forcefully (cf. 1 Cor. 15). If the content of the words "life  everlasting" is uncertain for Christians, the promises contained in the  Gospel and the meaning of creation and Redemption disappear, and even  earthly life itself must be said to be deprived of all hope (cf. Heb.  11:1).

(...) One encounters discussions about the existence of the soul and the meaning of life after death, and the question is put of what  happens between the death of the Christian and the general resurrection. All this disturbs the faithful, since they no longer find the vocabulary they are used to and their familiar ideas. (...)

The  Sacred Congregation, whose task it is to advance and protect the  doctrine of the faith, here wishes to recall what the Church teaches in  the name of Christ, especially concerning what happens between the death  of the Christian and the general resurrection.

1. The Church believes (cf. the Creed) in the resurrection of the dead.

2. The Church understands this resurrection as referring to the whole person; for the elect it is nothing other than the extension to human beings of the resurrection of Christ itself.

3.  The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after  death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the  "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the  word "soul," the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition. Although not unaware that this term has various meanings in the Bible, the Church thinks that there is no valid reason for rejecting it; moreover, she considers that the use of some word as a vehicle is absolutely indispensable in order to support the faith of Christians. [which is an elegant way of saying that "soul", regardless of the reality of its "immortality after death" is a useful practical tool ...]

4. The  Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render  meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the  religious acts offered for the dead. [this is rather cynical: we need the "immortality after death" for pastoral and liturgical reasons, therefore we affirm it!] All these are, in their substance, loci theologici. [Loci theologici or loci communes, are the common topics of discussion in theology]

5. In accordance with the Scriptures, the Church looks for "the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Dei verbum, 1,4), believing it to be distinct and deferred with respect to the situation of people immediately after death.

6.  In teaching her doctrine about man's destiny after death, the Church  excludes any explanation that would deprive the assumption of the Virgin  Mary of its unique meaning, namely the fact that the bodily  glorification of the Virgin is an anticipation of the glorification that is the destiny of all the other elect. [ehm ...]

7.  In fidelity to the New Testament and Tradition, the Church believes in  the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ. [so, implicitly the CDF affirms that they are NOT with Christ immediately after death ...]  She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who  will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have  a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. She believes in the  possibility of a purification for the elect before they see God, a  purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned.  This is what the Church means when speaking of Hell and Purgatory. [note  how the "Purgatory" is no more a "place" or "state" for some "souls"  after death, BUT a process of "purification for the elect "]

When  dealing with man's situation after death, one must especially beware of  arbitrary imaginative representations; excess of this kind is a major  cause of the difficulties that Christian faith often encounters. Respect  must, however, be given to the images employed in the Scriptures. Their  profound meaning must be discerned, while avoiding the risk of  over-attenuating them, since this often empties of substance the  realities designated by the images.

Neither Scripture nor theology provides sufficient light for a proper picture of life after death. Christians  must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand  they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of  the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life  (charity is the law of the kingdom of God and our charity on earth will  be the measure of our sharing in God's glory in heaven); on the other  hand, they must be clearly aware of the radical break between the  present life and the future one, due to the fact that the economy of  faith will be replaced by the economy of the fullness of life: we shall  be with Christ and "we shall see God" (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2), and it is in  these promises and marvellous mysteries that our hope essentially  consists. Our imagination may be incapable of reaching these heights,  but our heart does so instinctively and completely.

Having  recalled these points of doctrine, we would now like to clarify the  principal features of the pastoral responsibility to be exercised in the  present circumstances in accordance with Christian prudence.

The  difficulties connected with these questions impose serious obligations  on theologians, whose function is indispensable. Accordingly they have  every right to encouragement from us and to the margin of freedom  lawfully demanded by their methodology. We must, however, unceasingly  remind Christians of the Church's teaching, which is the basis both of  Christian life and of scholarly research. Efforts must also be made to  ensure that theologians share in our pastoral concern, so that their  studies and research may not be thoughtlessly set before the faithful,  who today more than ever are exposed to dangers to their faith.

The  last Synod highlighted the attention given by the bishops to the  essential points of catechesis with a view to the good of the faithful.  All who are commissioned to transmit these points must have a clear view  of them. We must therefore provide them with the means to be firm with  regard to the essence of the doctrine and at the same time careful not  to allow childish or arbitrary images to be considered truths of faith.

A  Diocesan or National Doctrinal Commission should exercise constant and  painstaking vigilance with regard to publications, not only to give  timely warning to the faithful about writings that are unreliable in  doctrine but also and especially to acquaint them with works that can  nourish and support their faith. This is a difficult and important task,  but it is made urgent both by the wide circulation of printed  publications and by the decentralization of responsibilities demanded by  circumstances and desired by the Ecumenical Council.

At an  audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme  Pontiff John Paul II approved the present Letter, decided upon at an  Ordinary Meeting of this Sacred Congregation, and ordered its  publication.

In Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on May 17, 1979.

Franjo Cardinal Seper,   Prefect

BTW, in the above document, the "score" is: 
Resurrection: 6 - Soul: 2

BBTW the expression "immortality of the soul", or "immortal soul", is never used throughout the whole document ...

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Jews and Christians diverge, first of all, on the Messiah: can they converge again on the Messiah?


Very schematically, this is what happened to the notion of Messiah, during and after the 2nd half of the 1st century CE:

The few (Jewish) followers of Yeshua of Nazareth proclaimed that he was the Messiah => then their Christian heirs overdid it, and, by the end of the 4th century they ended up with "god-the-son", the "second person of the trinity" => now fewer and fewer Christians believe that Jesus was God, or son of God, or, literally the awaited Messiah.

The overwhelming majority of the Jews refused to recognize Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah  => then after the destruction of the temple, for centuries and nearly two millennia they held on to the expectation of the Messiah (Moschiach) as a future event => now fewer and fewer Jews believe in the literal coming of the Messiah as some future event relative to a real individual human being.

Can anyone see them converge again precisely where they parted their ways: on the Messiah?

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Is the God of the Bible compatible with morality?


Raymond D. Bradley, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University, in an article titled A Moral Argument for Atheism (1999, see @ infidels.org) gives this definition of objective morality [some believe that it would be more appropriate to speak of "universal morality"]:

[By objective morality] [w]e mean a set of moral truths that would remain true no matter what any individual or social group thought or desired.

He goes on to give a few examples of moral principles that he considers to be paradigms of objective moral truths:

P1: It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.

P2. It is morally wrong to provide one's troops with young women captives with the prospect of their being used as sex-slaves.

P3. It is morally wrong to make people cannibalize their friends and family.

P4. It is morally wrong to practise human sacrifice, by burning or otherwise.

P5. It is morally wrong to torture people endlessly for their beliefs.

For each of the 5 above principles, Bradley give examples, from the Bible, whereby the God of the Bible would have repeatedly infringed each and every one of them:

I1. In violation of P1, for instance, God himself drowned the whole human race except Noah and his family [Gen. 7:23]; he punished King David for carrying out a census that he himself had ordered and then complied with David's request that others be punished instead of him by sending a plague to kill 70,000 people [II Sam. 24:1-15]; and he commanded Joshua to kill old and young, little children, maidens, and women (the inhabitants of some 31 kingdoms) while pursuing his genocidal practices of ethnic cleansing in the lands that orthodox Jews still regard as part of Greater Israel [see Josh., chapter 10 in particular]. These are just three out of hundreds of examples of God's violations of P1.

I2. In violation of P2, after commanding soldiers to slaughter all the Midianite men, women, and young boys without mercy, God permitted the soldiers to use the 32,000 surviving virgins for themselves. [Num. 31:17-18].

I3. In violation of P3, God repeatedly says he has made, or will make, people cannibalize their own children, husbands, wives, parents, and friends because they haven't obeyed him. [Lev 26:29, Deut 28:53-57, Jer 19:9, Ezek 5:10]

I4. In violation of P4, God condoned Jephthah's act in sacrificing his only child as a burnt offering to God [Judg. 11:30-39].

I5. Finally, in violation of P5, God's own sacrificial "Lamb," Jesus, will watch as he tortures most members of the human race for ever and ever, mainly because they haven't believed in him. The book of Revelation tells us that "everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" [Rev. 13:8] will go to Hell where they "will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever: and they have no rest day or night" [Rev. 14:10-11].

In regard to I4, some have adopted the strategy of denying that Judges 11:30-39 speaks at all of Jephthah "sacrificing his only child as a burnt offering to God", but it would "only" be relative to Jephthah dedicating his daughter to the service of the Tabernacle at Shiloh as "sacred prostitute". Apart from the rather dubious morality and compatibility with the dictates of the God of the Bible of this imaginative hypothesis, let's leave aside this specific discussion, and let's concentrate on the 4 other points.

In his article, Raymond D. Bradley goes on to say that biblical theists are confronted with a logical quandary which strikes at the very heart of their belief that the God of Scripture is holy.

According to Bradley they cannot, without contradiction, believe all four of the statements:

(1) Any act that God commits, causes, commands, or condones is morally permissible.
(2) The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commits, causes, commands, and condones.
(3) It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles. [that is the principles exemplified by P1-5]
(4) The Bible tells us that God does in fact commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.

The trouble—comments Bradley— is that these statements form an inconsistent tetrad such that from any three one can validly infer the falsity of the remaining one. Thus, one can coherently assert (1), (2), and (3) only at the cost of giving up (4); assert (2), (3), and (4) only at the cost of giving up (1); and so on.

For a detailed exam and argument, see section D: A logical quandary for theists: an inconsistent tetrad.

You can look at David Bradley's article in detail.

For my part here are some observations (1, 2, 3) and counter-observations (1a, 2a, 3a):

1. The notion that the god of the Old Testament was the monster-god, guilty of infanticide and genocide, whereas the god of the New Testament is the kinder, gentler god, is untenable. Yahweh slaughtered whole populations, but, according to standard Christian doctrine, whole populations are doomed not to death but to eternal suffering... for having the wrong beliefs or no belief. Apologists offer a smorgasbord of excuses and explanations (the penalty is not for wrong belief but for SIN... God is so holy that he cannot abide SIN... God has the right to do as he sees fit with those who remain in SIN...), but they all sound to me like fawning obsequiousness before a despot.
1a. Nobody can make positive statement on the amount of people that are destined for condemnation at the Final Judgement. And I believe that the most obvious reading of the "second death" at Rev 20:14 is pure and simple annihilation of those who had wilfully refused Life Everlasting in their earthly life, anyway.

2. The objection that we cannot hold God to human standards of good and evil is untenable. When we use words like "good" and "evil," they carry connotations that humans can understand on the basis of human parlance and experience. If it is true that we cannot hold God to human standards, then we cannot apply words like "good" to him unless we can recognise something in his actions that we recognise as good. In fact, we ought to recognise God's actions as of a character so good that we, as finite and fallible beings, could not hope to achieve the same level of goodness; but the point is that God's actions would be in the category of what we recognise as "good"--else we have no right to call them "good." Conversely, if God's actions are recognisable as "bad," we must not refrain from calling them "bad." (The Bible has something to say about calling evil good and good evil.) The Maltheists look at scriptural accounts and conclude with some logic, that God must be evil. This view is blasphemous, but it is at least honest, which is more than I can say for Christian fundamentalists who read the same accounts and piously declare that each act of infanticide and genocide attributed to God is another demonstration of God's goodness and greatness and worthiness of our worship.
2a. The only possible apology of the God of the Bible, in my view, is that not the whole Bible (OT in particular, but also NT) is truly inspired, but much of it reflects a political agenda of the authors, conveniently attributed to God, who is blameless by definition.

3. If we believe that God is good, then we must reject scriptural literalism, for such accounts, taken at face value, bespeak a god who is anything but good as we humans understand the term good, and that criterion of good is the only one we should resort to, if we are not hypocrites.
3a. More, not the whole Bible is inspired, or rather it sometimes reflects human motives, rather than divine.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Is it appropriate to call Paul an apostle?


Strictly speaking, this is the only criterion to qualify as a member of the college of the Apostles, one of the Twelve:

21 Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, 22 beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” (Acts 1:21-22)

Paul was perfectly aware that he did not qualify.

So, in the strict sense of the word, the Apostles are the Twelve chosen directly by Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels they are all identified, with only minor differences for Luke. The list in the Gospel of John is incomplete, but not incompatible with the Synoptics, and, in any case, in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself refers to the Apostles as "the twelve" (John 6:67-71), even three times.

The only time that Paul, in his epistles, uses the expression "the twelve", is in this passage, where Paul recognizes that ultimately his preaching of Christ's Resurrection is based on the witness of "the twelve" ...

3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.  (1 Cor 15:3-8)

... and it is "what [he] also received" from them.

It is important to notice that Paul does not use the word "disciple" (mathētēs), which is not used either in the LXX or in the Epistles of the NT, but only in the Gospels and in Acts.

Jesus ONLY instituted as Apostles Twelve people, who were his original disciples.

If we look at the Gospels and at Acts, we find only a hint of a special apparition to Cephas (Luke 24:33-34), we do not find any mention of a special apparition to James, let alone an apparition to "five hundred of the brothers [and sisters] at the same time". On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke has an extensive account of an appartition to two disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In the Gospel of John, the Twelve are not referred to as Apostles but as disciples (John 20). We know that they were the Twelve (actually, only Eleven, because, obviously, Judas Iscariot was not there), because we read that Thomas Dydimus, who is explicitly referred to as "one of the Twelve", refused to believe what "the other disciples" affirmed to have seen when he was absent (John 20:24-25).

One week later, the same "disciples" (again, mathētaiJohn 20:26-29), this time with Thomas Dydimus, saw the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, in spite of Paul's inconsistencies, it stands to reason that the expression "the Twelve" refers to the original group of Twelve Apostles hand-picked by Jesus.