Sunday, April 16, 2006

Father Cantalamessa's Homily Against Heresy And Fantasy

POPE JOHN PAUL II always spoke for himself with a love and warmth that millions of the Catholic faithful the world over responded to in kind -- until Parkinson's and advanced age made it literally impossible for him to talk, just before he died at Lent last year.

POPE BENEDICT XVI began a different style of communications with the faithful on Good Friday this year however, by having the Vatican's "Preacher of the Household" deliver a stinging homily against Hollywood heresies, novelistic fantasies and much besides.

The homily is significant because here is what the Church thinks about the challenge posed by new information about olden times and the theories and speculations that are naturally spawned. But an appeal to authority, tradition, or even, divine revelation, may ring hollow in a world besotted of information. Perhaps another apostle, my own personal favorite -- St. Thomas the Doubter -- has finally established skepticism as a popular virtue. Dogmatism has found a worthy adversary.

Some may find herein a 21st century version of that great classic, the fire-and-brimstone sermon, or the outlines of a coming, cogent reply from the Roman Catholic Church magisterium to Judas, Mary Magdalene, the Gnostics, Leonardo da Vinci and Dan Brown, Harold Bloom, Marvin Meyer, Elaine Pagels and National Geographic. And all might agree we have found a modern Irenaeus in Benedict, whose first Papal Bull, Deus Caritas Est is liberally quoted by the Preacher. It is a thought-provoking sermon and I invite a serious reflection, discernment and commentary from regular readers. So here verbatim, is the Homily of the deliciously named Father Cantalamessa, with mine and your commentary in the comment thread...The footnotes alone are precious as they mention many authors, books and issues that are central to the current controversies fuelled by both pop culture and scientific challenges to official Church histories and narratives of its origins and foundations ...(via "the World from Rome")

VATICAN CITY, APRIL, 2006 Here is a translation of the Good Friday sermon preached today in St. Peter's Basilica, before Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia, by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Pontifical Household.
Father Cantalamessa's Good Friday Homily (via ZENIT.ORG)

"God Manifests His Love for Us"

1. Christians, be serious in taking action!

"The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This word of Scripture -- and in a special way the reference to the itching for anything new -- is being realized in a new and impressive way in our days. While we celebrate here the memory of the passion and death of the Savior, millions of people are seduced by the clever rewriting of ancient legends to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was never crucified. In the United States a best-seller at present is an edition of The Gospel of Thomas, presented as the Gospel that "spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus."[1]

Some years ago, Raymond Brown, the greatest biblical scholar of the Passion, wrote: "It is an embarrassing insight into human nature that the more fantastic the scenario, the more sensational is the promotion it receives and the more intense the faddish interest it attracts. People who would never bother reading a responsible analysis of the traditions about how Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead are fascinated by the report of some 'new insight' to the effect that he was not crucified or did not die, especially if the subsequent career involved running off with Mary Magdalene to India … These theories demonstrate that in relation to the passion of Jesus, despite the popular maxim, fiction is stranger than fact, and often, intentionally or not, more profitable."[2]

There is much talk about Judas' betrayal, without realizing that it is being repeated. Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for thirty denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii. No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave, which instead will flare up with the imminent release of a certain film, but being concerned for years with the history of Ancient Christianity, I feel the duty to call attention to a huge misunderstanding which is at the bottom of all this pseudo-historical literature.

The apocryphal gospels on which they lean are texts that have always been known, in whole or in part, but with which not even the most critical and hostile historians of Christianity ever thought, before today, that history could be made. It would be as if within two centuries an attempt were made to reconstruct a present-day history based on novels written in our age.

The huge misunderstanding is the fact that they use these writings to make them say exactly the opposite of what they intended. They are part of the gnostic literature of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The gnostic vision -- a mixture of Platonic dualism and Eastern doctrines, cloaked in biblical ideas -- holds that the material world is an illusion, the work of the God of the Old Testament, who is an evil god, or at least inferior; Christ did not die on the cross, because he never assumed, except in appearance, a human body, the latter being unworthy of God (Docetism).

If, according to The Gospel of Judas, of which there has been much talk in recent days, Jesus himself orders the apostle to betray him, it is because, by dying, the divine spirit which was in him would finally be able to liberate itself from involvement of the flesh and re-ascend to heaven. Marriage oriented to births is to be avoided; woman will be saved only if the "feminine principle" (thelus) personified by her, is transformed into the masculine principle, that is, if she ceases to be woman.[3]

The funny thing is that today there are those who believe they see in these writings the exaltation of the feminine principle, of sexuality, of the full and uninhibited enjoyment of this material world, contrary to the official Church which would always have frustrated all this! The same mistake is noted in regard to the doctrine of reincarnation. Present in the Eastern religions as a punishment due to previous faults and as something to which one longs to put an end with all one's might, it is accepted in the West as a wonderful possibility to live and enjoy this world indefinitely.

These are issues that would not merit being addressed in this place and on this day, but we cannot allow the silence of believers to be mistaken for embarrassment and that the good faith (or foolishness?) of millions of people be crassly manipulated by the media, without raising a cry of protest, not only in the name of the faith, but also of common sense and healthy reason. It is the moment, I believe, to hear again the admonishment of Dante Alighieri:

Christians, be serious in taking action:
Do not be like a feather to every wind,
Nor think that every water cleanses you.
You have the New and the Old Testament
And the Shepherd of the Church to guide you;
Let this be all you need for your salvation …
Be men, do not be senseless sheep.[4]

2. The Passion Preceded the Incarnation!

But let us leave these fantasies to one side. They have a common explanation: We are in the age of the media and the media are more interested in novelty than in truth. Let us concentrate on the mystery that we are celebrating. The best way to reflect this year on the mystery of Good Friday would be to re-read the entire first part of the Pope's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," Not being able to do so here, I would like at least to comment on some passages that refer more directly to the mystery of this day. We read in the encyclical:

"To fix one's gaze on the pierced side of Christ, of which John speaks, helps to understand what has been the point of departure of this encyclical letter: 'God is love.' It is there, on the cross, where this truth can be contemplated. And, beginning from there, we must now define what love is. And, from that gaze, the Christian finds the orientation of his living and loving."[5]

Yes, God is love! It has been said that, if all the Bibles of the world were to be destroyed by some cataclysm or iconoclastic rage and only one copy remained; and if this copy was also so damaged that only one page was still whole, and likewise if this page was so wrinkled that only one line could still be read: if that line was the line of the First Letter of John where it is written that "God is love!" the whole Bible would have been saved, because the whole content is there.

I lived my childhood in a cottage only a few meters from a high-tension electrical wire, but we lived in darkness, or with the light of candles. Between us and the electrical wire was a railway, and with the war going on, nobody thought of overcoming the small obstacle. This is what happens with the love of God: It is there, within our grasp, capable of illuminating and warming everything in our life, but we live out our existence in darkness and cold. This is the only true reason for sadness in life.

God is love, and the cross of Christ is the supreme proof, the historical demonstration. There are two ways of manifesting one's love towards someone, said Nicholas Cabasilas, an author of the Byzantine East. The first consists of doing good to the person loved, of giving gifts; the second, much more demanding, consists of suffering for him. God has loved us in the first way, that is, with a munificent love, in creation, when he filled us with gifts, within and outside us; he has loved us with a suffering love in the redemption, when he invented his own annihilation, suffering for us the most terrible torments, for the purpose of convincing us of his love.[6] Therefore, it is on the cross that one must now contemplate the truth that "God is love."

The word "passion" has two meanings: It can indicate a vehement love, "passionate," or a mortal suffering. There is continuity between the two things and daily experience shows how easily one passes from one to the other. It was also like this, and first of all, in God. There is a passion, Origen wrote, that precedes the incarnation. This is "the passion of love" that God has always nourished towards the human race and that, in the fullness of time, led him to come on earth and suffer for us.[7]

3. Three Orders of Greatness

The encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" indicates a new way of engaging in the apologetics of the Christian faith, perhaps the only way possible today and certainly the most effective. It does not pit supernatural values against natural values, divine love against human love, eros against agape, but shows the original harmony, that must be continually discovered healed, due to human sin and frailty. The Gospel not only coincides with human ideals, but in the literal sense of realizing them, the Gospel restores, elevates and protects them. It does not exclude eros from life, but rather excludes the poison of egoism from eros.

There are three orders of greatness, Pascal said in his famous "Pensées."[8] The first is the material order or of bodies: in it excels one who has many properties, who is gifted with athletic strength or physical beauty. It is a value that should not be disparaged, but it is the lowest. Above it is the order of genius and intelligence in which thinkers, inventors, scientists, artists, and poets are distinguished. This is an order of a different quality. To be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly does not add or subtract anything from genius. The physical deformity attributed to their person, does not take anything away from the beauty of Socrates' thought or Leopardi's poetry.

The value of genius is certainly higher than the preceding, but it is not yet the highest. Above it is another order of greatness, and it is the order of love, of goodness. (Pascal calls it the order of holiness and grace). A drop of holiness, Gounod said, is worth more than an ocean of genius. To be beautiful or ugly, learned or illiterate does not add or take anything away from a saint. His greatness is of a different order.

Christianity belongs to this third level. In the novel Quo Vadis, a pagan asks the Apostle Peter who had just arrived in Rome: Athens has given us wisdom, Rome power, and what does your religion offer us? Peter responds: Love! Love is the most fragile thing that exists in the world; it is represented, and it is, as a child. It can be killed with very little, as we have seen with horror these days that very little is needed to kill a child. But what do power and wisdom become, that is strength and genius, without love and goodness? They become Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the rest that we know well.

4. Forgiving love

"God's eros for man," continues the encyclical, "is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives" (no. 10).

This quality also shines in the highest degree in the mystery of the cross. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," Jesus said in the Cenacle (John 15:13). One could exclaim: a love does exist, O Christ, which is greater than giving one's life for one's friends. Yours! You did not give your life for your friends, but for your enemies! Paul says "one will hardly die for the righteous man -- though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

However, it does not take long to discover that the contrast is only apparent. The word "friends" in the active sense indicates those who love you, but in the passive sense it indicates those who are loved by you. Jesus calls Judas "friend" (Matthew 26:50) not because Judas loved him, but because He loved Judas! There is no greater love than to give one's life for enemies, considering them friends: this is the meaning of Jesus' phrase. Men can be enemies of God, but God will never be able to be an enemy of man. It is the terrible advantage of children over fathers (and mothers).

We must reflect in what way, specifically, the love of Christ on the cross can help the man of today to find, as the encyclical says, "the orientation of his living and loving." It is a love of mercy, that excuses and forgives, which does not wish to destroy the enemy, but, if anything, enmity (cf. Ephesians 2:16). Jeremiah, the closest among men to the Christ of the Passion, prays to God saying: "let me see the vengeance upon them" (Jeremiah 11:20); Jesus dies saying: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

It is precisely this mercy and capacity for forgiveness of which we are in need today, so as not to slide ever more into the abyss of globalized violence. The Apostle wrote to the Colossians: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Colossians 3:12-13).

To have mercy means to be moved to pity (misereor) in the heart (cordis) in regard to one's enemy, to understand of what fabric we are all made and hence to forgive. What might happen if, by a miracle of history, in the Near East, the two peoples at war for decades, rather than blaming one another were to begin to think of the suffering of others, to be moved to pity for one another. A wall of division between them would no longer be necessary. The same thing must be said of so many other ongoing conflicts in the world, including those between the different religious confessions and Christian Churches.

How much truth there is in the verse of Pascoli: "Men, peace! In the prostrate earth, too great is the mystery."[10] A common fate of death looms over all. Humanity is enveloped in so much darkness and bowed under so much suffering that we must have some compassion and solidarity for one another.

5. The duty to love

There is another teaching that comes to us from the love of God manifested on the cross of Christ. God's love for man is faithful and eternal: "I have loved you with an everlasting love," says God to man in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:3); and again, "I will not be false to my faithfulness" (Psalm 89:34). God has bound himself to love forever; he has deprived himself of the freedom to turn back. This is the profound meaning of the Covenant that in Christ became "new and eternal."

Questioned ever more frequently in our society is what relationship there might exist between the love of two young people and the law of marriage; what need love has, which is impulsive and spontaneous, to be "bound." Ever more numerous therefore are those who refuse the institution of marriage and choose so-called free love or simple, de facto, living together.

Only if one discovers the profound and vital relationship that exists between law and love, decision and institution, can one respond correctly to those questions and give young people a convincing reason to be "bound" to love forever and not to be afraid to make love a "duty."

"Only when the duty to love exists," wrote the philosopher who, after Plato, has written the most beautiful things about love, "only then is love guaranteed for ever against any alteration; eternally liberated in blessed independence; assured in eternal blessedness against any desperation."[11] The meaning of these words is that the person who loves, the more intensely he loves, the more he perceives with anguish the danger his love runs. A danger that does not come from others, but from himself.

He knows well in fact that he is inconstant and that tomorrow, alas, he might get tired and no longer love or change the object of his love. And, now that he is in the light of love, he sees clearly what an irreparable loss this would entail, so he protects himself by "binding" himself to love with the bond of duty, thus anchoring in eternity his act of love in time.

Ulysses wanted to return to see his homeland and wife again, but he had to pass through the place of the Sirens that lured mariners with their singing and lead them to crash against the rocks. What did he do? He had himself tied to the vessel's mast, after having plugged the ears of companions with wax. Arriving at the spot, charmed, he cried out to be loosed to reach the Sirens, but his companions could not hear him and so he was able to see his homeland and embrace his wife and son again.[12] It is a myth, but it helps to understand the reason for "indissoluble" marriage and, on a different plane, for religious vows.

The duty to love protects love from "desperation" and renders it "blessed and independent" in the sense that it protects from the desperation of not being able to love forever. Show me some one who is really in love -- said the same thinker -- and he will tell you if, in love, there is opposition between pleasure and duty; if the thought of "having" to love for the whole of life brings fear and anguish to the lover, or, rather, supreme joy and happiness.

Appearing one day in Holy Week to Blessed Angela of Foligno, Christ said a word to her that has become famous: "I have not loved you for fun!"[13] Christ, indeed, has not loved us for fun. There is a gamesome and playful dimension in love, but it itself is not a game; it is the most serious thing and most charged with consequences that exists in the world; human life depends on it. Aeschylus compares love to a lion cub that is raised at home, "docile and tender at first even more than a child," with which one can even play but then growing up, is capable of slaughter and of staining the house with blood.[14]

These considerations are not enough to change the present culture that exalts the freedom to change and the spontaneity of the moment, the practice off "use and discard" applied even to love. (Life, unfortunately, will do so when at the end we find ourselves with ashes in hand and the sadness of not having built anything lasting with love). But that they at least serve to confirm the goodness and beauty of the choice of those who have decided to live love between man and woman according to God's plan and to attract many young people to make the same choice.

Nothing more remains for us but to intone with Paul the hymn to the victorious love of God. He invites us to attain with him a marvelous experience of interior healing. He thinks about all the negative things and critical moments of his life: tribulation, anguish, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger and the sword. He contemplates them in the light of the certainty of the love of God and shouts: "But in all this we emerge triumphant thanks to him who loves us!"

Lift up your gaze; from your personal life move to consider the world that surrounds you and the universal human destination, and again the same joyous certainty: "I am convinced that neither death nor life...nor present things nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).

We reclaim his invitation, this Friday of the Passion, and we repeat his words for us while, before long, we adore the cross of Christ.

* * *

[1] H. Bloom, in the interpretative essay that accompanies M. Meyer's edition, The Gospel of Thomas, Harper, San Francisco, s.d., p. 125.
[2] R. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, II, New York, 1998, pp. 1092-1096
[3] See logion 114 in The Gospel of Thomas, ed, Mayer, p. 63); in the Gospel of the Egyptians, Jesus says: "I have come to destroy woman's work" (cf. Clemens of Al., Stromata, III, 63). This explains why The Gospel of Thomas became the gospel of the Manicheans, while it was severely combated by ecclesiastical authors (for example, by Hippolytus of Rome), who defended the goodness of marriage and of creation in general.
[4] Paradiso, V, 73-80.

[5] Benedict XVI, Enc. "Deus Caritas Est," 12.
[6] Cf. N. Cabasilas, Life in Christ, VI, 2 (PG 150, 645).
[7] Cf. Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel, 6,6 (GCS, 1925, p. 384 f).
[8] Cf. B. Pascal, "Pensées," 793, ed. Brunschvicg.
[9] Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis, chapt. 33.

[10] Giovanni Pascoli, "I due fanciulli."
[11] S. Kierkegaard, Acts of Love, I, 2, 40, ed. by C. Fabro, Milan, 1983, p. 177 ff.
[12] Cf. Odyssey, XII.
[13] The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno, Instructio 23 (ed. Quaracchi, Grottaferrata, 1985, p. 612).
[14] Aeschylus, Agamemnon, vv. 717 ff.


Rizalist said...

The footnotes in the Sermon are precious. They contain some very interesting references. I have yet to get my copy of Meyer's new book The Gospel of Thomas, where a favorite author, Harold Bloom writes an "afterword," which is available on the net. In some ways Thomas is even more interesting than Judas. His Gospel is "Christ-Zen" -- full of koan-like "sayings" that evoke Jesus fully as a "teacher" as opposed to a political leader or a savior. Also traditionally classed in the Gnostic heretical tradition, I like St. Thomas a great deal because he gives an alternative interpretation of the Christ event that is very different than that which comes to us via the filter of the Holy Roman Empire of the first millennium.

Regarding the Da Vinci code, I think the real payload of that is a lance on Male Chauvinism in the Roman Catholic Church, and of celibacy. Father Cardenas of the Opus Dei interviewed recently by Ricky Carandang doubts that the novel or its movie can change 2000 years of teaching and tradition, as indeed novels and fantasies have come and gone before.

But this line of reasoning, strangely enough, only reinforces the argument that therefore allowing priests to marry cannot possibly change the essential message of Christianity either, nor is the insane exclusion of women from the priesthood and hierarchy a viable solution to financial stability for the Catholic Church, or its sore lack of warm bodies to err, man, the ministries.

If modern Christians, in other words, can come to accept the concept, even fictionally, of a married Christ and Magdalene, priestly celibacy has just been rocked to its roots. And if Mary Magdalene is no whore, the all-male priesthood will be exposed for what it is.

Anonymous said...

Happy Easter DJB!

Pardon me for lifting two comments (yours and a certain kamuning)on a late february philippine commentary post and used it on Ricky's blog to answer people asking who you are.

mapunta tayo sa post na ito.

Alam ko bilang isang katoliko may iba akong opinion at paniniwala.
Para sa akin maaring magbago maaring hindi ang takbo ng roman catholicism tulad ng maraming pari dito sa pilipinas na nag rerequest kung pwede silang mag asawa. at madami ding kumukwestyonn kung bakit lalaki lang ang pwedeng magpari.
maaring ilang papa pa ang darating at papanaw bago bago dumating ang changes na ito.

ako nasubukan ko na ding maging born again at pagkalipas ng ilang taon at bumalik din ako sa pagiging Catholic dahil mahirap palang bumatikos sa hindi mo namang lubos maunawaan.

English na nga lang ulit.

Thank you dean for your space.
I understand you have been mixing catholicism and protestantism while growing up with your parents,
Boy, that is hard!

Rizalist said...

These theories demonstrate that in relation to the passion of Jesus, despite the popular maxim, fiction is stranger than fact, and often, intentionally or not, more profitable."

This was really quite a surprising cheap shot from Fr. Cantalamessa, considering how, in ages past, the Roman Church itself profited mightily from the sales of indulgences, based on the entirely invented place or state called PURGATORY.

But you can still, for a mere 50 pesos, and the recitation of a certain prayer or oration, win a full pardon from such a hellish place, by buying the stampita with that prayer on it at places like San Pablo Libreria in Pasay City.

Anonymous said...

Me again DJB,
As I might have said I once left catholicism because of too many questions of why and some more confusing stuff like people going to baclaran and walk on their knees an many more including purgatory.
Like before I too think that the sign of the cross was a form of an anting anting like ,stampitas,scapulars that will shield you from the devil.

I even joined a roman trip with the Opus Dei for the beatification of Escriva and got turned off by people saying na magdasal ka kay Father Jose Maria Escriva..Sabi ko bakit ako sa kanya magdarasal?Kulang na lang murahin ako ng opus Dei member na yon.

maaring mahina ang foundation ko at nag born again ako at talagang mahina siguro ako at madaling malito at ngayon balik katoloiko ako.

Pasensya ka na DJB kung magulo ako.

Gusto kong makita ang comment ni Pingkian at ni BFR tungkol sa side ng mga Catholics.

Rizalist said...

I think Christianity is something very different than what the organized religion called Catholicism says it is. I'm with Garry Willis. Christ meant it when he said his Kingdom was not of this earth. Until he proves it otherwise, to me Benedict is just some Italian holy man. Organized religions have tended to kill and exterminate each other. As a scientist I am naturally skeptical of anything that clings to what I think is a false distinction: that between the natural and the supernatural.

You are not magulo Karl. I am magulo. And Christ was magulo. As Willis says, you never knew when He might suddenly cause several hundred pigs to go insane and jump off a cliff, or drive the money changers from the temples.

By the way it isn't just the Catholic "Christianists" as Andrew Sullivan calls them. There are many who think of religion as power more than anything else, earthly power really.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again DJB!
More power to you!
Looks like the others are on their easter vacation.

Rizalist said...

Cantalamessa:"The apocryphal gospels on which they lean are texts that have always been known, in whole or in part, but with which not even the most critical and hostile historians of Christianity ever thought, before today, that history could be made. It would be as if within two centuries an attempt were made to reconstruct a present-day history based on novels written in our age."

Hmmm, hey Rizalist! what do you make of this from the Preacher?! He doesn't think much of novels in history. Oh no! It's all fact and truth and hard historical data for Fr. Cantalamessa.

Dominique said...

Hi, Dean,

You say that "skepticism has finally established skepticism as a popular virtue." I think that this is the virtue that Fr. Cantalamessa is trying to exhort when it comes to sensationalistic exposes.

Skepticism by itself does not stand, simply because we cannot doubt everything. Skepticism pits what we hold true against a claim to the contrary.

St. Thomas doubted because he held it true that a man cannot raise himself from the dead, as his friends claimed. And yet remember also that when he was presented with the evidence, he had no choice but to relent. And we all can know what Christ said about that (or at least, you can read it in the Bible.)

Anyway, if it interests you, try looking up the works of Bart Ehrman, a biblical scholar. I have not read his books myself, but I have gone through some of his interviews on the web.

Oh, and Happy Easter!

Rizalist said...

Dominique, Thanks for the comment. I have some thoughts...

I don't think we the Faithful need Fr. Cantalamessa to tell us to be skeptical of Hollywood movies and English novels!

When he calls the apocryphal gospels "pseudo-historical fantasies" from I gather he wants us to treat the canonical gospels as serious history.

But I don't think anyone wants to treat the Da Vinci Code as history, since it is plainly fiction. Nor do I like thinking of the Gospels (any of them) as "history". To me they are a unique genre of literature that "create" Christianity quite apart from the historical details even of how they came to be. To me thay are all suspiciously "literature."

Even the canonical gospels don't agree on "historical details" anyway!

So I think this argument of Fr. Cantalamessa is weak. He cannot expect ordinary people to reject the aprocryphal gospels as "pseudo history" unless he expects ordinary people to accept the canonical gospels as serious history. Which I'm afraid they don't. Because like me, I think ordinary people see that the truth of Christianity as independent of certain historical details.

What will actually happen now, as with all significant fiction, such as the Noli and Fili, is something more subtle.

I see certain issues in the Church being affected by something like the Da Vinci code, namely -- priestly celibacy and male chauvinism in the church, which I think are the true targets of Dan Brown's book.

The fictive premise of the da Vinci code is that Jesus and Mary Magdalen were married and had children. What could be more natural? I think that as Catholics become comfortable with this idea, priestly celibacy will come to be seen as absurd, since not only Simon Peter, but Jesus Christ himself did not practice celibacy.

It is "almost" irrelevant whether Jesus marriage to Magdalene was an historical fact, because for true Christians, I think, it doesn't take anything away at all from the basic message for Christ to have been married. In fact it enhances it!

Thus fiction is enough to constitute a powerful rhetorical argument against things like priestly celibacy. And the exultation of the feminine principle in the book lances the official male chauvinism of the RCC.

Amadeo said...

A stirring sermon.

However, to stay honest at being a serious devotee/observer/critic of the Catholic Faith, one really has to dig deeper and peel off the superficial layers of its rituals and ritualism.

In the case of us Filipinos, most of whom were born into the faith, it will not suffice then to simply be born into the faith, grew up in it, found it wanting in many things, and thus turn one’s back to it. There’s more than meets the eye, how this difficult and much-challenged faith can be manifested and exercised in this present life.

I foresee, for example, that even within our lifetimes, the tradition and practice of priestly celibacy in an all-male priesthood will be rocked at its base. And it will come out as not really a big deal. Because it is not part of dogma, whether assumed or declared. Thus, the faith will continue to stay integral and uncompromised.

Amadeo said...

And let me add:

Regarding writings that the Church adheres to, be they from Scriptures, or letters like epistles, there has to be, and there is, an implied acceptance and assurance that they do not in any way faithfully retrace(though they could) historical facts as they actually happen. Rather that they are faithful accounts of truths as perceived and documented through the prism of fallible writers. Thus, the role of faith has to come into play.

Rizalist said...

It seems to me that the religious experience often occurs on two distinct levels: the moral and the theological.

Now among the many varieties of organized religions in the world, we could imagine a comparative table of their various moralities and theologies, their faith principles and traditions.

But I think, if one were to look closely, almost everything these major religions would differ would come almost exclusively from the theologies of each.

I think "ordinary" people of all religions know this instinctively. But the power structures of all organized religions cannot actually allow such ecumenism to go too far. For it would end up exterminating it seems, the bases for the "faith" you refer to as being necessary, and which I like to think of as a suspension of disbelief.

Rizalist said...

The cilice mentioned in the novel is a thigh-mounted type, but i guess the original cilices were coarse hairy shirts. But am puzzled at your analogy with exercise equipment. When you wore a cilice, did you lose weight too as a result? Concentration is certainly important in sports or any other endeavour, but how effective is pain at inducing concentration? Aerobics itself would be a real pain, and not the pleasure it ought to be, if self-mortification were its principal object. I don't know Dom, cilice or crucifix I just don't see the grace in it. Not even self-inflicted does it evince any merit. Guess I have to try it?

Amadeo said...


If by theologies of the different religions we agree to mean their general systems of beliefs and doctrines, I could probably argue that in the case of the major religions they could all be made generic with some modifications as to be indistinguishable. Thus, the different acts of faith would only be ancillary, because most would be agreed on the more crucial issues of a higher being, the afterlife, moral codes of conduct, etc.

I for example, do not believe in a personal God, one invested with manifestations and representations, and thus would be in contravention with popular Catholic or Christian teachings. But I continue to keep my faith in the things that to me count.

And even the Catholic Church understands this. This lumbering behemoth of a religion may in time keep abreast with newly revealed wisdom. Just give it time.

Growing up Catholic, one is reminded of the strict precept that outside the Faith there is no salvation. But that changed and gave birth to the period of ecumenism.

One ex-Jesuit who is a talk show host in one of the radio stations here once remarked that religion is only for adults. And he gave his reasons, which I am inclined to believe.

Thus, if we mean by “ordinary” our typical churchgoer in the Philippine setting, I have my doubts about their instinctive ability to discern. One of your entries detailed events that went beyond the borders of idolatry, and yes, even beyond fanaticism.

Rizalist said...

Here is the problem that I think arises. Say, there are only two religions, Alpha and Omega.

Alphans says, "We believe in the Ten Orders of Alpha, which were handed down to us from ages past by our prophet and founder, Beta."

Omegans say, "We believe in the Ten Laws of Omega, which were handed down to us from ages past by our founder and prophet, Psi."

Although written in different languages and scripts, both "theologies" are very different sounding and looking, but they do boil down to the same Thou Shalt and Nots.

But for centuries the Alphans and Omegans have slain each other over the differences.

I doubt very much that given the same moral situation and personal choices (not debating positions) that the average Gnostic believer would act much differently than the average Christian or Buddhist.

I think in this sense, Fr. Cantalamessa may have missed the point that the laity are getting from the fiction -- that a married Jesus Christ somehow makes more sense, not because people care about historical accuracy, but because it might lead to reform in the present world, by having us all believe in a slightly different "history"!

Let's not miss the forest for the trees. This is not really about "history" but about what should happen next by our better lights. I think fiction can help us find those lights, when lectures, sermons, and dogma just don't ring true for so many.

Personally, I believe Christianity could survive a major revision of our view of Jesus, for indeed, how often has that changed radically already in history?

The Catholic Church cannot claim that it does not change and evolve, even in its primary narratives. Look it accepted democracy. That was a big change from Holy Roman Empire.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

Hello,Karl, my take about this was expressed in an article by someone I look up to but it is too long to post here. I will just tell you the opening lines and if you want to see the whole article you may

"They literally disrobed Jesus when they nailed him to the cross. Now they are AGAIN trying to 'literarily" disrobe him of his Divinity and reduce him to mere man by marrying him off to Mary Magdalene and by demeaning him through his betrayer Judas Iscariot."

"It would be funny if it does not hurt when you laugh. Because they are nailing Jesus on the cross once more and once more for the same reason - MONEY. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and after him now come Dan Brown, using Da Vinci to make Jesus look bad, is making a lot of money - at the expense of Jesus."

The whole article is at

Rizalist said...

No doubt there is a profit motive to book and movie. But how does using Da Vinci "make Jesus look bad"? How can a mere blockbuster movie make Jesus look bad?

After reading the novel last year, I became very interested in Leonardo da Vinci, (whose birthday was last Saturday April 15!). I learned all about his famous tempera-on-plaster painting the Last Supper which is in the refectory at the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent and has a fascinating history. It was recently restored, and as I think you know, it reportedly reveals a very different dinner companion with Jesus.

But have you seen The Last Supper?

What do you think "St. John the Younger" or Mary Magdalen?

Amadeo said...

Here's a more detailed graphic of the part of John, or Mary as claimed.

The restorer claims that she had to do it "flake by flake" to arrive at the restored picture.

Still, I think Dan Brown spins a tall tale. Remember another Da Vinci classic, Mona Lisa, has been determined to have been superimposed or painted over with at least another image, this time of another sex.

The stories have been that DaVinci was gay and that the final Mona Lisa is a self-portrait, transgendered from the one underneath.

So, which to believe?

Rizalist said...

Amadeo, Actually that was a very reputable study that got published in Scientific American. They did a detailed morphological comparison between a known self-portrait of LDV, executed in old age, and the famous Mona Lisa, which for a long time was said to be a portrait of a real woman. Hehe. Maybe yes, maybe no. The stunning result is that the facial topographies in the two portraits are so congruent as to leave no doubt that they are portraits of the same person! But there is no reason to think LDV was a cross dresser or gay. Maybe when he painted the Mona Lisa he was just playing a monstrous joke on everybody, and that THAT is what the MYSTERIOUS SMILE of the Mona Lisa means!

PS>LDV is known to have been a superb graphic artist, who draw stuff to scale with great accuracy and precision.

Regarding the restoration work on The Last Supper, I must admit, I can't believe it could possibly be the same thing he executed over half a millennium ago. But do you agree, the person next to Jesus on his right but speaking to Peter, IS a woman with blonde hair and even the suggestion of a breast? That is no man, or am I blind? Maybe he was drawing an effeminate person and suggesting Christ was gay?

Uh-uh. I like Dan Brown's speculation better.

Amadeo said...


Take a peek at this "for adults only" graphic:

And I "rest" my case, though the feminine-looking guy of Da Vinci is definitely not "at rest".

Now, doesn't he look like the "john" on the right of Christ?


Care to import the graphic to your blog?

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

No, DJB, I DID NOT SEE THE LAST SUPPER. I was not there! And neither was Leonardo Da Vinci there. That happened almost 2,000 years ago.

Yes, I also think that that is a woman in Da Vinci's account of the Last Supper. But why should I believe him when he was not born yet to record the event? Sabi ng lolo ko, Paano niya nalaman, wala naman siya dun?
But, if it was Peter who painted the picture......

The celebration of the Passover is an event where only men are admitted in the table. To put a woman there in his account of the Last Supper is naughty on the part of LDV but it goes against Jewish Tradition because it happened during the Jewish Feast of the Passover.

I am sorry DJB, but as a Christian I believe that Dan Brown disrespected Jesus and while his book and movie is running all the way to the bank, he will reap what he has sown one day. For as soon as the controversy wears out, the book, together with its author Dan Brown, will be forgotten, but the name they disrespected - JESUS - will stand FOREVER! And that is an AMEN!

Dominique said...

Hi, Dean: I was being slightly facetious with the comparison to the exercise machines. Really, whenever I walk into a gym, I can't help but think that these are modern instruments of torture. No pain, no gain, as they say. But people willingly take to them.

The funny thing is people do so many things to their bodies for vanity (piercings, studs, lipo, exercise machines) but they're applauded as expressions of individuality and health. But if someone quietly wears a cilice for his or her spiritual benefit (never mind if others believe or not), then he or she is a fanatic? O sige, another example just came to mind: high heels, which I'm sure can be quite painful to wear (dunno, haven't actually tried wearing a pair...honest!), but some women don't seem to mind.

Yes, I did wear the thigh wrap cilice. It was a two-inch wide strip of chain links. Impressive-looking, as I said, but really just mildly uncomfortable. It no way hampered my ability to play soccer or basketball.

Come to think of it, I did wear another type of cilice: a back-brace to straighten out the posture. I can tell you that was much more uncomfortable and painful, but it did get rid of my stoop. Come to think of it, I may have to wear it again. You can get it from any Rose Pharmacy, if you're curious.

Dominique said...

Hi, Dean: just decided to break this up as a separate comment.

I think most people have it backwards: the Bible is not the basis of Faith; rather, the Faith is the basis of the Bible. Ehrman, though I have not read him yet, seems to have more to say on the history of the formation of the Bible. The New Testament that we have was put together in the Council of Nicea (if I'm not mistaken), after culling from the extant literature, and at that time, there were several other accounts. This was already during the time of Constantine.

"Aha! so the books were not divinely inspired after all," some people would say. Well, that depends on what you want to mean by divinely-inspired. If you want it to mean some spectacular feat whereby the books dropped from heaven, well, I don't think we'll come to an agreement. I like to think that God works more quietly.

In any case, if we were looking for perfect consistency down to the last detail, then we would only have fewer books, or even one book, right? It's easier to maintain. But, no, the Church fathers decided to include the books they did, despite the difficulties some of them might have introduced. Are we smarter now and that's why we notice the inconsistencies? Well, let's not underestimate the faculties of the people who came before us. In any case, there is an overall thematic consistency to the Bible, especially when you read it in terms of God's covenant.

You know, I just find it funny that many people arguing against priestly celibacy are not priests themselves. One would think that if it ought to be priests themselves who want to shake of its shackles, but no! Priestly celibacy is a much later development, and applies only to the Roman rite and not to Eastern Orthodox.

I think, though, that there is a practical reason for celibacy. I'm not a priest myself, but I am single and -- darn it! -- I just have so much more free time and freedom to come and go as I please as compared to my married friends. So if one really wants to dedicate oneself to the service of God and Church, well, I think that's the way to go.

By the way, Ehrman also has a scholarly book which debunks "The DaVinci Code."

Rizalist said...

BFR--Be consoled! It is NOT POSSIBLE to disrespect Jesus Christ enough to diminish him. Isn't that what he already proved during His Passion and Death. Could there be any greater ignominy. Yet wasn't he victorious? Does anyone seriously believe that any, blog novel or mere movie could exceed what already transpired?

"Jesus Christ" is an idea, a meme that has survived and thrived through 2000 years of human foolishness and abuse. There must be something internally solid and invincible about this "idea" that to this day, in this unknown and insignificant bit of cyberspace, we are arguing -- and honoring -- Him. Even when we try to do the opposite!

Rizalist said...

Folks, I must be forthright about my position. Let me just say this about Art such as novels and paintings.

Of course there is no "historicity" to a painting like The Last Supper. It is an artist's conception. But of what? Dan Brown makes of something perhaps few of us have noticed before: There do not appear to be Jesus and Twelve men but Jesus, eleven men, and a woman. Yet if you inspect any Filipino family's abode, you will find this picture there and everyone will tell you it's Jesus and 12 men.

What can this possibly mean? Why should it mean anything at all? As BFR decries, Leonardo was not there! How could he know who was there and when and why?

But I think that is not the point of art. In both that painting and the novel itself the point I think really has to do with WOMAN and her place in the Church. Simple as that.

It's a subtle, sophisticated attack on priestly celibacy and male chauvinism in the Church.

I'd like to hear opinions about that!

Anonymous said...

Male chauvinism...
If you say The author of the novel subtly attacks male chauvism in the church, then I agree.

unfortunately many religions put women behind or below.

I remmeber HillBlogger's point why the pta of schools in France consider Muslim women not to cover their faces as to let them be equal with men.
But if society allows them but religion does not, then it is a moral dilemma for the female french students.

But I observe mosts religions to adapt and adjust to society.

Before digressing to far let me just repeat that I agree that the novel subtly attacks male chauvinism in the church.

AmericanPainter said...

Male role of sole leadership in the Church has a basis of authority and according to the Apostle Paul it is the way to go. He writes that women are to be silent in the Church and follow the teachings of men. As much as this will drive some up the wall, he goes even further in the book of Ephesians 5th chapter he said Men are the head of the household as Christ is the head of the Church. He instructed wives to obey your husband.

Women’s lib would kill me for this, but I believe that the Bible is the Holy inspired word of God and is to be followed neither adding to or taking away from. I don’t need books written by men or women with their own axe to grind!

People may change over time but the Bible remains the same.

Rizalist said...

American Painter--Christianity was willing to give up all that "one true Faith" stuff some time ago, along with capital heresy punishable by burning at the Stake.

I think it will evolve and give up priestly celibacy too.

Because I think male supremacy is not essential to Christianity. Maybe it was at one time, I will grant you that, but I do believe that Churches EVOLVE.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

DJB, you said you believe that Churches evolve. However, I rather think that it is the faithfuls that evolve because the Church is an institution that is too CONSERVATIVE to change. The faithfuls on the other hand can change with the times, in fact, I believe they do. They are now celebrating Holy Week in a different manner, so much unlike the way their forefathers did. The Church however is lagging behind and must remain as much as it was before. Which for me is for the good to help us keep our collective feet on the ground.

The Church cannot get away from having the men in charge. It is as American Painter said BIBLICAL, in fact very much so. The Church cannot veer away from this. The men leads and the women follow.

But, and this is a big but, the Christian FAITHFULS has evolved and are now recognizing and using women in positions of leadership in the church. Not as head of the Church, mind you, but very much near the top. This is not a portent of an upheaval but of a better understanding of the role everyone plays in the ministries of the church.

We must accept that when Jesus Christ said "GO YE!" He means YOU, whether you are a man or a woman. For when God created us, He made us MAN and WOMAN.

Rizalist said...

I know I'm hard on the organized Church. It's because they are so transparently human, yet they think the world can still be fooled by their old foolish tricks and illusions into thinking they've got something special fromt he divine, that I am hard on them. I doubt very much, from his sermon, whether Fr. C has even read the novel. He would find no need to, I would think, as he reached for his Encyclopaedia on Ancient Heresies and Prescribed Proscriptions. He is still concerned about the teachings of the Church being seen and revered as absolutely true, as if Gutenberg hasn't been around 500 years, the reformation never happened, nor Islam.

The conversation Fiction holds with Religion is of the historical kind that ask, "what if" already established tradition is wrong?

The motif of a married Jesus Christ, I claim, will proceed now in the minds of men and in history as an anti-thesis to the reality of unmarried priests, all of whom have abnormal sex lives (in the statistical sense) and unmarried women likewise specialized in nunneries and treated as second class citizens.

Can it ever happen that most Catholics, including its leaders whom we really ought not to separate from "the Church", would come to view celibacy as weird and unnecessary to Christianity itself? It was certainly "weird" for a 30 year old Jewish man of the time to be unmarried. It was only when the Church had become Holy and Roman and imperial that it somehow became theological to exclude women from the priesthood and the hierarchy of power. And what about the status of women in the church, never mind women's lib?

I think God invented evolution so He wouldn't have to do all the work Himself.

I guess a kind of democratic revolution has to occur in the earthly church. We'll save all that monarchical glory for later. Later.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

DJB, there is a distinction between the organized Church that became the Iglesia Apostolica Catolica Romana and the Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself in Caesaria Philippi. The latter is called EKKLESIA and referred to by the Apostle Paul as the BODY OF CHRIST with JESUS AS THE HEAD.

Yes, you are right, the world can no longer be fooled by the tricks and illusions of the organized Church which was reponsible for the INQUISITION that killed millions of Christian martyrs before and after the Protestant Reformation. It is not divine.

But the original Apostolic Church is divine as it IS the body of believers worldwide that faithfully believe ONLY IN JESUS as its HEAD and SAVIOUR. EKKLESIA means "those were called out" and God called them his chosen people and more in 1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."

We are a people that belongs to God and let us praise God for that. And the faithfuls can do that without being an organized Church worldwide. JESUS CHRIST CAN AND WILL ORGANIZE HIS BODY when His time comes like Paul said in 1 Corithians 15.

Rizalist said...

BFR--Am about to leave for the IBlog2 Conference at UP Diliman in a few minutes. We sent your friend the KJV yesterday, but it may arrive in a few days. Will bring a copy to UP today in case I run into you. God rest ye, easy, gentlefolks.

AmericanPainter said...


A lot of people have given up much. They write their own books to substantiate their own wishes or beliefs and in doing so do “EVOLVE.”

For me, my divine source is the Bible which does NOT evolve.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

DJB, I am eagerly waiting for the KJV. Thank you for this accomodation:

I am sorry I was not in UP yesterday. It's been ages since I last visited and 4 decades since I was a wide-eyed student there. How was the IBlog conference?

To American Painter: You are right, the faithfuls have evolved and in the process some have lost their awe and respect for the Word of God and the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

But like you, I anchor my faith on the Holy Bible, the only one in this world that will remain unchanged. 1 Peter 1:24 "For all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, But the Word of the Lord stands forever."