The ‘Pope Francis effect’—changing the way the world sees the papacy

By Phil Lawler (bioarticlesemail) | Jul 29, 2014

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A long-overdue reform of the Vatican’s media operations is still only in the planning stages, yet the “Pope Francis effect” has already become evident in the way the Vatican handles the news.

Take a look at today’s statement from the Vatican Information Service (VIS), about the Pope’s visit to the Church of Reconciliation in Caserta. The Vatican release summarizes the Pope’s remarks to the Evangelical congregation. Of course. That’s what you would expect.

But what you would not expect, if you read Vatican releases on a regular basis, is equal treatment for the remarks of the Pope’s host, Pastor Giovanni Traettino. I have been reading VIS releases on a daily basis for nearly 20 years now, and I can testify that in the past, when the Pope has been one of two or more speakers at a public event, the Vatican barely mentions the others; the focus is always on the Pontiff. A speech by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople or the Cardinal Secretary of State may merit a summary, but never as much coverage as the Pope’s talk. Yet here the Vatican news service took pains to provide a fair summary of the talk given by an Evangelical pastor. L’Osservatore Romano’s coverage was remarkably similar, devoting roughly equal space to the Pope’s remarks and those of Pastor Traettino.

Now if you’re tempted to think that the Vatican is slipping into religious indifferentism, by putting a Protestant minister on equal footing with the Pope, please stop. VIS is a news service, serving the needs of journalists. A statement by the Roman Pontiff is certainly more authoritative than one by a Protestant leader, but it is not necessarily more newsworthy. The Vatican evidently wanted to call attention to the words with which Pastor Traettino greeted the Pope.

Still I have no question that this new approach represents a shift in the way Vatican officials view the papal office—a shift that Pope Francis is doing everything that he can to encourage. The “old” approach treats the Pope like an 18th-century monarch, and suggests that when he is in the room, everyone else present pales into insignificance. The “new” approach treats the Pontiff as an ordinary human being—admittedly one with extraordinary responsibility and commensurate authority—in conversation with other human beings who might have interesting things to say.

Clearly Pope Francis is on a campaign to remind the world—and, yes, to remind his aides at the Vatican—that the Bishop of Rome is not a temporal potentate, and the spiritual authority of the papacy should not be camouflaged by the trappings of an archaic monarchy. That message, I sense, is beginning to sink in.

Ready for another illustration of my point? Check out this report from Vatican Radio, on the Pope’s earlier visit with Catholic priests in Caserta. To be more specific, take a good look at the photo that appears on the top of the Vatican Radio report. Do you notice anything unusual?

I do. The Holy Father is sitting beside another bishop (I assume that’s Bishop Giovanni D’Alise of Caserta) at a small table. The Pope is not seated on a throne, not set apart, not alone on a raised platform, not even on a higher chair. He is seated beside his brother bishop as any other man might be seated beside a colleague at a business meeting. At first glance it seems so natural, and in fact it is. But again I can testify that in 20+ years of following news from the Vatican, I cannot recall similar staging for any public appearance by a Roman Pontiff.

Some good Catholics regret this Pope’s approach, I realize. Some people love the traditional honors reserved for the Roman Pontiff. For myself, I have trouble imagining St. Peter in a cappa magna let alone a sedia gestatoria. Traditions can enrich us, but they can also sometimes imprison us. If the “old ways” of the Vatican have interfered with the exercise of the Pope’s spiritual leadership, then the changes wrought by the “Pope Francis effect” may be a tonic.

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Taken from: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1046

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The Book of Tobias and the Catholic ideal of Marriage

by Raymond Taouk

The Reason the book of Tobias is chosen to set forth the high ideal which the Church has set forth on marriage is not because the Old Testament perfectly presents to us the Christian notion of marriage but because in it we see a perfect blue print of the Christian ideal of Marriage according the mind of God. If we take the relevant principles that the book of Tobias exemplifies and incorporate it into the New Testament teaching of Marriage – we will have a firm theological basis for living the married life and attaining a high degree of sanctity by living according to the maxims of Sacred Scripture.

Canonicity and Historicity of the book

I would like to give you a brief overview of the book of Tobias itself so that you have some understand about it’s historicity and canonicity, since this is one of those inspired books of the bible that the protestant regard as apocryphal. They deny that it’s inspired even though its authenticity is vouched for from the early ages of the Church. For example its clearly quoted in the didache which is one of the earliest Christian manuals. It is also quoted by St. Polycap, St.’s Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius and a number of other Church Fathers all defended it’s canonically, not to mention the fact that it was also unequivocally affirmed to belong to the canon of scripture at the Council of Trent .

The interesting thing about the book of Tobias besides its profound insight to true notion of marriage which I shall look at shortly, is that neither its author nor the date of its authorship is not exactly known. Some ascribe its work to a joint authorship of Tobias and his Son, while the more common opinion today is that it was authored by someone else. It’s said to have been written anywhere between 350 – 150 BC mainly because the greater majority of theologians don’t hold that it was written by Tobias himself but by someone else many years later under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who wrote down an account ot what had previously taken place much like what Moses did in when he wrote the Pentateuch under the inspiration of the holy Ghost even though we know that Moses was not around “in the beginning” (Genesis 1) and yet no one denies that the book of Genesis was written by Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

In addition, we are not certain in which language it was originally written. Some Biblical scholars maintain that it was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic and then translated into Greek. The earliest Hebrew version of the book that we have available dates back to the 5th Century, while there is an Aramaic version available, which dates back to the 7th Century.

St. Jerome states that his Latin Vulgate translation was made from the Aramaic, which he had translated with help of person who knew both Hebrew and the Chaldean (Praef. in librum Tobiae, PL 29, 25 f.).

As to the literary Character of the book their is a dispute as to whether the book is historical or merely a piously inspired inspired book intended to encourage the Jews in their captivity. Nevertheless, after reading the pros and cons on the issue it’s true to say that regardless of whether or not it is relating to us a true historical even or not it still remains didactic and most important of all it still remains part of the inspired word of God. Just as we hold that the parable of Our Lord remain part of the inspired word of God even if the truths they relate are not necessarily historical facts.

The book of Tobias – overview of content

To those of you who are not familiar with the book itself – I think it would be worth first giving you a brief outline:

The story opens with Tobias, the elder, who a Jew from the Tribe of Nephtali , who was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the time of Shalmaneser and carried to Nineveh with a number of his countrymen. Tobias was upright from his youth and so he quickly won the honor and respect of the people and became wealthy, so that he was able to help his fellow countrymen and bury the dead even though this angered the King. Later on, however he lost his wealth and was blindedby some bird dropping which got into his eyes and so he could no longer see. Like Job, his own wife upbraided him for his firm confidence in God in his affliction (2:22) as he would not blame God for sufferings. In his distress he prayed to God to be allowed to die if God so willed. At the same time, a young and beautiful girl called Sara was also praying for the same thing, since she was unjustly accused of murdering the various men that had entered into marriage with her, who all died before the marriage could be consummated.

God however in his providence answers both their prayers in the form of Tobias the younger, who when his father asked him to make a trip to Rages in Media to collect some money that was owing to him, was willing to do so but somewhat hesitant because he was afraid to set out on so long a journey to Media without any real knowledge of the surrounding regions. However, Azarias offers to help him to get to his destination. And so both Tobias and his guide set out to together to Money to collect the Money that was owing to his Father.

After an exciting journey, in which Tobias is attacked by a large fish that he kills at the instigation of his guide, they both loge at the house of Ragual a relative of Tobias, who is also the father of Sara, who I mentioned earlier. Azarias advises Tobias to take Sara’s hand in marriage. But Tobias was reluctant since he had already heard that she had taken several husbands all of which were killed by a devil. So he wasn’t willing to try his luck. However, Azarias reassures him that to have confidence in God and tells him who to overcome the devil. When Tobias is finally convinced they go to as Sara’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage, but they are at first reluctant to accept since they think that Tobias will also be killed but eventually like Tobias they make an act of faith and consent. Now on their marriage night both Tobias and his new bride Sara follow the advice of Azarias and spend three nights in prayer together before coming together to consummate their marriage.

While Tobias remains at the house of Raguael, Azarias goes ahead of Tobias to collect the money from Gabelus that was owed to Tobias’s father. while in the meantime Tobias’s Father and Mother begin to worry about his delay since he is their only son. Once again, Anna begins to upbraid Tobias (the elder) for sending out his son into a distant land. Eventually however Tobias takes leave of from Raguel and goes back home with his new bride and all the money and abundance of gifts that he had received from Sara’s parents. When he gets home, he is greeted by his parents and at instigation Azarias Tobias anoints the eyes of his father with the Gaul of the fish that he had obtained on his journey. His father’s sight is restored.

Finally in thanksgiving for the help that he received from his companion Tobias goes about trying to repay this stranger with some money only to find out that this stranger reveals his identity as being St. Raphael “one of the seven angels who stand before the throne of God” (12:5). The angel tells them that their afflictions were permitted by God to try them; “Because you were acceptable to God it was necessary that Temptation should prove thee” (Tobias 12:13). At hearing this they were filled with fear and admiration and remained prostrate on their faces for three hours giving glory to God, while St. Raphael disappears from their presence.

It is from this revelation that St. Raphael is given the title of “Patron of Travelers” and “help of the sick”, but he could also be given the title “patron of those seeking matrimony”.

To those who are married and who have not read the book of Tobias I recommend you do so. In order to get the context for what I am about to say it would be at least good for me to reiterate in more detail the more pertinent parts of the book, especially that which is found in the 6th and 8th chapters of the book. In these chapters we read that young Tobias asks his tour guide where they are headed next – the response to which scripture tells us that St. Raphael simply answers “Here is one whose name is Raguel, a near kinsman of your tribe, and he has a daughter named Sara, but he has no son nor any other daughter beside her. All his substance is due to you, and you must take her to wife. Ask her therefore of her father, and he will give her you to wife. Then Tobias answered, and said: I hear that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died: moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them. Now I am afraid, lest the same thing should happen to me also: and whereas I am the only child of my parents, I should bring down their old age with sorrow to hell.” Then the angel Raphael said to him: “Hear me, and I will show you who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shall take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. “- (Tobias 6).

Now in taking the advice from his tour guide – Scripture further tells us “Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: ‘Sara, arise, and let us pray to God today, and tomorrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.’ So they both arose, and prayed earnestly both together that health might be given them, and Tobias said: ‘Lord God of our fathers, may the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains, and the rivers, and all Thy creatures that are in them, bless Thee. You made Adam of the slime of the earth, and gave him Eve for a helper. And now, Lord, you know, that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which Thy name may be blessed for ever and ever.’ Sara also said: ; ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, and let us grow old both together in health” (Tobias 8:4-10).

From these profound words I hope to draw out for you the Catholic ideal of Marriage . An Ideal which is latent throughout the New Testament and an exemplified in the lives of those canonized saints and Martyrs who truly understood the purpose of marriage.

1. Correct attitude/Outlook

The first principle that the angel Rachael sets down for his Tobias is to have a correct attitude, a correct look upon marriage. Thousands of People enter into marriage daily with the wrong attitude/outlook towards marriage. While the thought that should be instilled in our minds with regards to marriage is the great holiness and responsibilities of that the married state requires, yet it is so sad to say that most people today take a purely materialistic view of marriage so that their only thoughts are of the natural benefits that come with marriage. While it’s true that their are natural benefits in the married state (the mutual help of the spouses, conjugal love etc.) but these are only secondary advantages of marriage even on the purely natural level, since the primary end of Marriage is the procreation and education of children to continue the human race. That is why the angels do not marry since they have no need of maintaining their own existence since they do not die. Man doesn’t have that advantage of the Angels and so in order to continue the human race God instituted the marriage (Gen 2).

Even from a purely natural level, marriage has had it’s place in society long before it was elevated the dignity of a sacrament (Eph 5:32). Marriage on the purely natural level is a contract between a man and women to enter into a life long union (Gen 2:24) for the purpose of (primarily) raising children and (secondarily) providing one another with mutual support (Genesis 2:18)

This life long union has now been given an additional dignity by being elevated by Christ to the status of Sacrament, which is symbolic of union between Christ and His Church , which is why, St. Ambrose declared that marriage was “sanctified y Christ, His divine voice saying “they shall be two in one flesh” (Mark 7:12). Marriage is symbolic of Christ union with his Church because it is he who elevated it to a dignity of a sacrament, an gave it an ideal. For this reason does St. Paul affirm “Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for it” (Eph 5:25).

Hence it is evident that from the earliest of times matrimony among Christians was always recognized as a sacrament and therefore something exalted and sacred capable of imparting grace to the couple. These graces however are only given to those who enter into marriage with high ideals of the state they are entering and with the purpose of living up to its obligations. Like the other sacraments, Matrimony confers on those who receive it worthily a twofold grace. Firstly, it imparts sanctifying grace, and secondly it imparts a special sacramental grace, which means the spouses now have special claim to the supernatural help that they will need in their married life.

I say this since as you already know, if someone receives the sacrament of matrimony unworthily, that is in the state of mortal sin, even if the marriage be valid, he will not only incur God’s anger but will be deprived of the supernatural helps that are needed in the married life.

Even if it had not been elevated to the great dignity of a sacrament it would not change the fact that it could still not be rightly used as a mere means or occasion to fulfill the natural desires of the flesh since we are not as the horse and mule, we are not beasts but rational animals endowed with reason!

Keep in mind that the words I just quoted from the book of Tobias were written in the Old Testament, a time in which, while marriage amongst the Jews was still considered to be something not just natural but also religious, yet it had still not be elevated to the dignity of sacrament and so how much more should we now be moved to look upon marriage as a very holy union, made in Christ for the sanctification of the spouses and salvation of the spouses. That is why St. Paul in his exhortation to wives tells them that it is through child bearing that they shall be saved (1 Tim 2:15). This is because marriage is a state in which those who have received the sacrament of matrimony must work to sanctify themselves and those under them in preparation for eternal life. That is why something that all who want to get married should ask themselves before they choose their spouse is not “does she/he have blue eyes” but: is this person going to help me and my children to get to heaven! That is the real question. If the answer is no – then the option is clear – no marriage. That is why from the very beginning the Church has always done all that she could to prevent marriages between Catholics and Non-Catholics because not only is the eternal salvation of the spouses at stake but inevitably also that of the Children.

As a rule, no Catholic who lives the faith and see things according to the faith would find it difficult to understand why the Church is opposes to these sorts of unions, which are not suggested by God but by “the Devil, the Flesh and world” (1 John 2). And so as a rule , Anyone who marries a non -Catholic is certainly not judging from the motives or standards of the faith. In the Old Testament God explicitly condemned these marriages. In the New Testament our lord is no less explicit “he who loves Mother or Father more than me , is not worthy of me “. Don’t deceive yourself on this point, for as the marriage progress you will also begin to see this more and more.

The reason I say this is because in order to have a correct outlook on marriage we must first judge things from supernatural motives of faith and not from the standards that the world dictates to us. This is because marriage is not something purely personal, its something public. It’s a public act that you now belong to someone. In fact, the reason that the previous husbands of young Sara had not been acceptable to God was that they entered into marriage for their own personal desire of lust and not from the motives of faith. They didn’t enter into marriage with the motive of extending the linage of the Children of Abraham. Whereas Tobias who was rightly instructed in the things of the faith, had the right attitude towards marriage. St. Raphael points out the public aspect of matrimony when he points out to Tobais saying “the second night you will be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs. And the third night you will obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you” (Tobias 6:20).

It is the family which is basic building block/unit of society. For this reason marriage is a Public sacrament, which is not purely for ourselves. Just as a priest who is ordained is not ordained for his own sake but for the sake of bringing men to God, so to those who are married are united together in holy matrimony to beget saints to God.

Those who base their marriage on mere physical attraction or self gratification or whatever worldly motive deceive themselves. As Children of God we must judge by the standards of God, in other words we must judge by the standards of the faith.

That is something that the book of Tobias really drives home to us. Look at the verse I just quoted. Did young Tobias spend years in dating this girl before he got married to her? No! He had never met the girl and yet St. Raphael suggest to him to take in marriage a women he had never met. That sounds radical, but its not. St. Raphael who is an Angel has God’s perspective on Marriage. That perspective is that marriage is not about worldly pleasures and feeling good, but that it is a holy union between a man and women destined to raise saints to God. That is what matters, all else is vain. Those who base their marriage on mere physical attraction of the spouse deceive themselves since “Beauty is only skin deep”. As Catholics we have to judge from the standards of faith.

2. Purpose

The second principle that comes through is the correct purpose of marriage. What is the ultimate purpose of marriage? Well Tobias makes it clear “Lord, thou know, that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which Thy name may be blessed for ever and ever.” These same sentiments were also those of Sara who shortly before had prayed to God saying “ You know, O Lord, that I never coveted a husband, and have kept my soul clean from all lust. Never have I joined myself with them that play (fornicators): neither have I made myself partaker with them that walk in lightness. But a husband I consented to take, with thy fear, not with my lust” (Tobias 3:16). In other words, the intention in getting married of these two saintly spouses was not so that they could gratify their natural desires but so they could united in their fear of God with the hope of raising children and educating them according to the will of God.

That is exactly what the priest affirms in the Nuptial Mass, “May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob be with you, and may He fulfill His blessing in you: that you may see your children’s children even to the third and fourth generation, and everlasting”.

In fact The word matrimony itself come from comes from two Latin words “Matris” (Mother) and “Munus” (office/gift), which means the gift or duty of mother hood. And so the very name indicates God’s purpose in instituting marriage, namely that the spouses by their union have now been established in the office of parenthood. Just as the priest is by his very his very ordination anointed for the office of the priesthood, so also every married Christian by his very marriage is anointed/established by the sacrament of matrimony into the office of motherhood or fatherhood.

From this we can also see why marriage is seen as something Holy and sacred because in the union between the spouses God allows mere insignificant creatures to become “Pro-creatures” with the Almighty! Our Catholic theology even asserts on this point that at the moment of conception God infallibly infuses the soul making what we have begotten to a living rational creature. What a profound mystery. God confirms every act of generation by positively giving each child a rational soul which will henceforth have an eternal destiny. We can now see why God takes great offense of those who make light of marriage or the marital act.

Those words of Tobias speak volumes to our Modern world In a day and age in which children are seen as burden or a curse, . We ought to look upon having children as one of the great blessings of marriage. In fact through Old Testament theology, sterility or the inability to have children was always seen as curse from God. When the world regards what is a curse as being a blessing you truly know that there is something wrong!

While I don’t want to get into the question of how many children and the issue of NFP but what I will say is that as Catholic, as adopted son’s of God we should be ready to accept all the children that God wants to send us. God is not out to deceive us, if by his help we have 10 children or 10,000 children, He will give us the necessary means and graces that we need to raise those children. In fact if the non-believers have a great number of children (i.e. Muslims) and naturally speaking God helps them to raise those children (Matt 5:45), is he not going to help you who have a special right to his help. If he helps strangers how much more does he help his sons? (Matt 7:11).

On this I will nevertheless add that as a qualification, that we note well that in the book of Tobias, that Tobias himself doesn’t merely come home to his parent with some beautiful looking young bride, with a smiling face and empty hands. He comes home with all the money that he was sent out to collect and whatever else he was able to obtain from Raguel in order to provide for his young bride. In other words as children of God we have to actually think before we get married not only about who we marry, and why, but also about when. Since if a person is not able to provide for his spouse and have himself somewhat (reasonably) established, he shouldn’t get married in the first place. This is something which is often overlooked in our self centered society, where marriage is often looked at as a means of instant self gratification.

I know that in our days one of the customs that is often overlook or entirely ignored in modern times is the that custom of seeking the blessing of our parents and that the parents of the future spouse to enter into matrimony. It has true that parents might often reject our choice of person on some personal grounds yet realistically most parents only want the best for their Children. So like Tobias we ought to seek also to obtain the parental blessing for our marriages. I think most bad marriages would have been avoided if the kids to the time to listen to the advice of their parents. But the problem is that, like I am sure any priest could tell you, when people want to get married the only thing they know is “we are in love”. So it’s hard to reason with someone who has his head in the stars. The problem is though, that we have to learn to think with our heads and not your hearts. That’s why God gave us a brains!

3. God’s assistance for Godly Marriages

In the spiritual life there is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum, in other words you are either filled with the sentiments of the world or the sentiments of the faith. Now the same is true of the Christian life as whole. Where ever God’s rights are trampled upon you can be sure that the devil is around to claim his victory, that’s why St. Raphael explicates those who the devil has power over are ” they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.”

In other words, if Jesus and Mary do not preside at your marriage, the devil will surely usurp their place. The more victories gained in this regard the greater is his power and dominion over society. That is why today most, marriages today end in divorce. In fact, Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on Christian marriage states that many of the terrible problems afflicting modern society can be traced back to the breakdown of the family.

Nevertheless over the those marriages which Christ and His Church presides, Tertullian asks “Where shall we find power to declare the happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, the offering confirms, the blessing seals, the angels proclaim and the Father ratifies?”

Yes, who can comprehend the joy of those who are united in matrimony with the true blessing of God and His Church. They have a peace and blessing that the world cannot give.

The very reason that the devil had power over the men who previously married Sara, was because they were only to marry her out of lust, since she was as scripture relates “a beautiful young women”. It is by this lust that the devil was given so much power over them. Today the devil is given the same power over those who have already given themselves over to the temptation of lust, and it is for that reason that there are a great number of people who are already spiritually dead.

In fact in order to understand why so many marriages end in divorce all we need to do is look at why the couples got married in the first place. Was it to raise saints to God? I doubt that in most cases God ever really crossed their minds. If such is the case how can such a marriage last in our self centered modern world? These people who marry for selfish reasons (money, pleasure, beauty, etc) never find happiness there is always something lacking, it is because true happiness is attained only by those who are completely generous and ready to sacrifice themselves in all things.

  1. The Importance of Prayer

As Catholics no matter what vocation or state in life we consider we must first pray to God for counsel and guidance. In seeking for a wife this even more important, since if you make the wrong decision you are stuck with it for life – “for better or for worse.”There is no divorce in the Catholic Church. We don’t have such a word. It’s not part of our Catholic dictionary! “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9). No state law can change this, since no human law is above the natural law or Divine Law of God.

Unlike a vocation you can try out marriage for a few years and then decide you want to leave. So you have to pray, pray and pray, that God grants you the graces you need to chose the right spouse and to avoid like a plague a spouse that would not be beneficial to you. The book of Proverbs tells us that : “House and riches are given by parents: but a prudent wife is properly from the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:14)

Again we read in Ecclesiasticus that: “A good wife is a good portion; she shall be given in the portion of them that fear God, to a man for his good deeds. Rich or poor, if his heart is good, his countenance shall be cheerful at all times.” (Ecclesiasticus 26:1-4)

In other words a good wife is a blessing from God. like all blessing from God that we obtain we have to first ask for them and then merit to obtain them both by our prayers and a godly life. That is why St. Raphael tells young Tobias to pray together with his spouse before their marriage is consummated.

I will say on this point that you should pray together not only as a family once you married but even before that since it is only by doing this that you will avoid being like the horse and mule, which have not understanding,” for its over them the devil has power.”

You see the sacramental grace that you receive at matrimony is meant to help you to fulfill your duty of state but in order to be in tune with that grace you have to pray. It’s only in prayer that we obtain the graces we need and merit God’s blessing.

A good priest I know told me that he often recommends to those who he is giving marriage instructions to imitate Tobias and Sara literally, so that they should spend 3 days in prayer after the marriage ceremony before the marriage is consummated. In this way, they will gain many graces for the future difficulties that they will inevitably encounter in marriage.

If you want to be led by the hand of Gods providence like Tobias, then you have to pray. The venerable Louis de Ponte on this point gives us some encouraging words:

“God is not only the author of matrimony, but He brings to that state, by a special providence, those who He wishes to be in it. He acts thus both of the good of society and for the happiness of individuals; and, although according to the teaching of the Church, it is better and more perfect to observe virginity than to engage in matrimony,’ yet Divine Providence is not less admirable in the matter of vocations to the marriage state than in vocations to perpetual continence.”

Undeniably the book of Tobias clearly is encouraging in this regard. It shows us that God truly does desire we make the right decision and that he does care about with who and how we spend our earthly life. That is exactly what we see in the book of Tobias, especially when in her distress Sara prayed to God after the death of all her previous husbands saying “either I was unworthy of them, or they perhaps were not worthy of me: because perhaps you have kept me for another man” (Tobias 316). And that is exactly what God did, he had something else in mind for her. But she would not have received God’s help if she had not first been a devote servant. So we must also seek to put God first in all that we do so that in return he will neither allow us to be deceived or to deceive ourselves which is what happens in most cases today.

In other words even with regards to your marriage God doesn’t work by mere chance but he will guide you by his providence to the marriage state on he condition that you ask for his help in not allowing yourself to be deceived with regards to the person you marry.

So its by prayer that we will be lead to make the right decision and by its by prayer that you will get the graces you need to raise a family and to keep and sanctify that family. As the saying goes, “A family that prays together stays together,”! That is why the priests will often stress the importance of the Family Rosary. Only in eternity will you realize the great amount of graces that you have won for your family by the praying together the rosary.

5. Raising Saints

How many families today have apostate children? Or Parents?

Catholics often forget that the salvation of their Children is something that they will be held accountable for.

The Reason we have the 4th Commandment “Honor thy Father and Mother” is because the Parents take the place of God. They are like “gods” to the children they are entrusted with. However implicit in this commandment is the law that parents must rightly fulfill their obligations towards their children. To fulfill these obligations, you must first know them and work to put them into effect.

Any Children that God sends us are only given to us on trust, we are their custodians but they ultimately belong to God and so if by your negligence they become reprobates you will have to pay account for it.

The gospel tells us, that a good plant cannot produce bad fruit, and that a bad one cannot produce good fruit. We learn from this, that a good father brings up good children. But, if the parents are wicked, how can the children be virtuous? Have you ever, says Our Lord, in the same gospel, seen grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (Matt. 5:16) So, it is impossible, or rather very difficult, to find children virtuous, who are brought up by immoral parents! There is a lot resting up the shoulders of parents.

On this I would like to quote to you the great words of Dom Prosper Gueranger, from his Book the Liturgical year (Vol.V, pg. 411-2) :

“What greatness there is in a little child? But what a responsibility for the world! If God does not wait for the age of reason before bestowing His gifts, His sublime haste is due to the impatience of His love, but at the same time their duty to these children of heaven, to form them and educate them in a way befitting of their divine lineage is incumbent on them. The education of a Kings son corresponds to the dignity of his birth, and those who have the honor of being his tutors never forget that he is a prince. Instructions, common to all, are presented to him in a way, which harmonizes with his exalted destiny, and everything is directed to rendering him capable of wearing his crown with glory. Does the education of a child of God need less care? Is it right that his teachers should forget his birth and his destine?”

In other words it’s not merely enough to beget children, we also have to instruct them. That is why God warns us in the book of ecclesiasticus that “It is better to die without children, than to leave ungodly Children” (Eccles 16:4). Since “to be fruitful and multiply” regards primarily the instruction and education of children and not merely the begetting of children which any idiot can do.

It is no coincidence that saints come from saintly families. No one knew better than St. Paul, the saying that “saints are not born they are made” and that is why he explicitly states in what the proper education of children consists. He says that it consists in discipline and correction: “And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord (Ephes. 5:4). Discipline here, implies an obligation of educating them in habits of virtue by word and example. This is what the Holy Ghost tell us to practice: Do you have children? Instruct them and bow down their neck from their childhood. (Eccl. 7:25)

According to Saint Thomas, scandalous parents compel, in a certain manner, their children to lead a bad life. This statement should in a sense be obvious since the children look can often but follow the example of their parents since it’s all that they know.

To add to this scripture tells us that those who fail to instruct their children in the ways of God will not only be punished in the next life but also in this life. While those who fulfill their duty will like wise not only be rewarded in the next life but also in this life “Instruct your son, and he will refresh you, and will give delight to your soul. (Prov. 29:17). If this is true so also is the contrary, namely an ignorant child is a source of sorrow to his father since the ignorance of his obligations as a Christian is always accompanied with a bad life. That is why scripture tells us that a Father who loves his children will correct them and put them on the right path: “He that spares the rod hates his son” (Prov. 13:24) . In fact Saint Bernard, goes as far saying that those who fail to correct and educate their Children in the faith “are not fathers, but murderers, they kill, not the bodies, but the souls of their children”.

I can assure you God’s scrutiny will be far more rigorous than that of all men put together. Just listen to the hard hitting words of St. Paul : ” if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Conclusion

It seem undeniably clear that the Holiness and Sanctity of Marriage is explicitly stressed in the book of Tobias : “We are Children of Saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God” (Tobias 8:5). Those who know not God can also come together and bring forth children and in this sense, they become an extension of Satin and His Kingdom, since in general reprobate parents bring forth children who will become reprobate unless by a miracle of grace they are converted to the faith. While on the other hand as children of the saints we must be an extension of the Kingdom of God on earth and work to extend that kingdom. Every family must be a reflection of hte Holy Family of Nazareth, that is why in order to redeem us Our Lord chose to come to us in and through the family, in order to exemplify for us the reality of what the family should be.

If what we see presented to us in the book of Tobias took place under the old law, which did not have any of the abundance of Holiness or grace which is seen in the New Testament times, how much more holiness is demanded of us now that we have received that grace? If anything comes through in the book of Tobias it’s the notion that most men fall short of the true ideal of Marriage. In which case they will have to pay a strict account for their failings. If for example God did not spear the men who entered into marriage with Sara with a false outlook on marriage, how much more shall we be guilty before God, since we claim to be “children of the saints”.

The principle is simple. We belong to God and so as true sons of God we have a high standard to live up to and this is only accomplished by entering into holy matrimony with a profoundly supernatural and realistic outlook based ultimately on the firm principles of the Catholic faith.

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Taken from: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/morality/family/tobias.htm

Woman’s Indispensable Role in Salvation History

 

H.H. Pope John Paul II
General Audience
March 27, 1996
1. The Old Testament holds up for our admiration some extraordinary women who, impelled by the Spirit of God, share in the struggles and triumphs of Israel or contribute to its salvation. Their presence in the history of the people is neither marginal nor passive: they appear as true protagonists of salvation history. Here are the most significant examples.
After the crossing of the Red Sea, the sacred text emphasizes the initiative of a woman inspired to make this decisive event a festive celebration: “Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea'” (Ex 15:20-21).
This mention of feminine enterprise in the context of a celebration stresses not only the importance of woman’s role, but also her particular ability for praising and thanking God.
Positive contribution of women to salvation history
2. The action of the prophetess Deborah, at the time of the Judges, is even more important. After ordering the commander of the army to go and gather his men, she guarantees by her presence the success of Israel’s army, predicting that another woman, Jael, will kill their enemy’s general.
To celebrate the great victory, Deborah also sings a long canticle praising Jael’s action: “Most blessed of women be Jael, … of tent-dwelling women most blessed” (Jgs 5:24). In the New Testament this praise is echoed in the words Elizabeth addresses to Mary on the day of the Visitation: “Blessed are you among women …” (Lk 1:42).
The significant role of women in the salvation of their people, highlighted by the figures of Deborah and Jael, is presented again in the story of another prophetess named Huldah, who lived at the time of King Josiah.
Questioned by the priest Hilkiah, she made prophecies announcing that forgiveness would be shown to the king who feared the divine wrath. Huldah thus becomes a messenger of mercy and peace (cf. 2 Kgs 22:14-20).
3. The Books of Judith and Esther, whose purpose is to idealize the positive contribution of woman to the history of the chosen people, present—in a violent cultural context—two women who win victory and salvation for the Israelites.
The Book of Judith, in particular, tells of a fearsome army sent by Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Israel. Led by Holofernes, the enemy army is ready to seize the city of Bethulia, amid the desperation of its inhabitants, who, considering any resistance to be useless, ask their rulers to surrender. But the city’s elders, who in the absence of immediate aid declare themselves ready to hand Bethulia over to the enemy, are rebuked by Judith for their lack of faith as she professes her complete trust in the salvation that comes from the Lord.
After a long invocation to God, she who is a symbol of fidelity to the Lord, of humble prayer and of the intention to remain chaste goes to Holofernes, the proud, idolatrous and dissolute enemy general.
Left alone with him and before striking him, Judith prays to Yahweh, saying: “Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!” (Jdt 13:7). Then, taking Holofernes’ sword, she cuts off his head.
Here too, as in the case of David and Goliath, the Lord used weakness to triumph over strength. On this occasion, however, it was a woman who brought victory: Judith, without being held back by the cowardice and unbelief of the people’s rulers, goes to Holofernes and kills him, earning the gratitude and praise of the High Priest and the elders of Jerusalem. The latter exclaimed to the woman who had defeated the enemy: “You are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation! You have done all this single-handed; you have done great good to Israel, and God is well pleased with it. May the Almighty Lord bless you for ever!” (Jdt 15:9-10).
4. The events narrated in the Book of Esther occurred in another very difficult situation for the Jews. In the kingdom of Persia, Haman, the king’s superintendent, decrees the extermination of the Jews. To remove the danger, Mardocai, a Jew living in the citadel of Susa, turns to his niece Esther, who lives in the king’s palace where she has attained the rank of queen. Contrary to the law in force, she presents herself to the king without being summoned, thus risking the death penalty, and she obtains the revocation of the extermination decree. Haman is executed, Mordocai comes to power and the Jews delivered from menace, thus get the better of their enemies.
Judith and Esther both risk their lives to win the salvation of their people. The two interventions, however, are quite different: Esther does not kill the enemy but, by playing the role of mediator, intercedes for those who are threatened with destruction.
Holy Spirit sketches Mary’s role in human salvation
5. This intercessory role is later attributed to another female figure, Abigail, the wife of Nabal, by the First Book of Samuel. Here too, it is due to her intervention that salvation is once again achieved.
She goes to meet David, who has decided to destroy Nabal’s family, and asks forgiveness for her husband’s sins. Thus she delivers his house from certain destruction (1 Sm 25).
As can be easily noted, the Old Testament tradition frequently emphasizes the decisive action of women in the salvation of Israel, especially in the writings closest to the coming of Christ. In this way the Holy Spirit, through the events connected with Old Testament women, sketches with ever greater precision the characteristics of Mary’s mission in the work of salvation for the entire human race.


Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 April 1996

Return to Main Page: John Paul

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http://www.piercedhearts.org/jpii/general_audiences/gen_aud_1996/mar_27_1996.htm

World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland

World Youth Day - Poland at Night

Plans for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow are well underway! At Catholic Travel Centre, we’re passionate about World Youth Day, and we’re passionate about helping your group have the experience of a lifetime in Poland.Our World Youth Day 2016 itineraries include a Basic 9-Day Itinerary, as well as optional and customizable pre-World Youth Day and post-World Youth Day Extension Tours throughout Poland, as well as to Prague, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and more!

Stay up to date on WYD information by signing up for updates. Or contact a member of our World Youth Day team today toll-free at (800) 553-5233 or at WYD@GoCatholicTravel.com for more information.

See you in Krakow!

wyd-poland-header12

Pope Francis Announces the Next World Youth Day

http://www.worldyouthdaytrips.com/

 

Death of AMAIC Supporter Bishop John Jobst

John Jobst was Bishop of the Kimberley for almost 37 years.

With reference to our Constitution, the Most Reverend John Jobst, Bishop of Broome (Western Australia), had written:
“I welcome the establishment of the Australian Marian Academy which could be associated with the Marian Academy in Rome . One cannot but notice the role of the Mother of God in “crushing the serpent’s head” throughout the history of the Church …. [Pope John Paul II] has spoken out clearly and encouraged any efforts promoting the devotion to Mary the Mother of God. For these reasons the Marian Academy is very timely …. I can only say that the statements made in the Constitution are true and in keeping with the Church’s sound teaching …”.
 
 
we read of his death:

Kimberley’s ‘flying bishop’ John Jobst dies aged 94

Updated Tue 8 Jul 2014, 9:22pm AEST
 
A Catholic bishop known throughout the Kimberley as the “flying bishop” for his habit of piloting light aircraft to visit his far-flung parishioners has died at the age of 94.
German-born John Jobst was bishop of the Kimberley region for nearly 37 years, finally retiring in 1995.
He was a pioneer of remote education in northern WA and helped establish several schools in Aboriginal communities.
He was also a founder of Notre Dame University in Broome and a passionate advocate of Indigenous land rights.
Bishop Jobst passed away at the weekend in Germany.
Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders said Bishop Jobst was interested in schooling in remote Aboriginal communities years before Indigenous education became a government priority.
He was also well-known for using his pilot licence to cover his vast bush parish.
The aircraft were paid for with donations from church members in Perth.
“He flew those aircraft around the Kimberley, from station to station and from town to town, and some of the towns weren’t much of a town then,” Bishop Saunders said.
“But he was always willing to cart something, or go out of his way, or pick up someone who was sick or ill.”
Bishop Saunders said his predecessor was a “fiercely determined” man.
“He turned determination into an art form and failure was something that he didn’t live with very well,” he said.
“Hence it was that he … started eight remote schools in the Kimberley and was instrumental in getting the University of Notre Dame in Broome going.”

Purgatory is a Refining Fire

….

“The day of judgment is coming, to burn like a furnace,” Malachi 4, verse 1. chapter 3, verse 2, “the refiners for silver and gold.” Hebrews 12, verse 29, tells us that our God is a consuming fire. That’s the kind of love He has. It just burns out of control. Our God is madly in love with us. He’s madly in love with us. It’s sheer madness for the God who owes us nothing, to whom we owe everything but to whom we gave practically nothing. He turns around and gives us everything including himself by becoming one of us and allowing us to kill him. He’s madly in love with us, and that mad love is burning out of control and filling this vast universe. It’s just that our physical eyes can’t see it, but they will some day and our souls will undergo it. And those who have refined their love through self-sacrifice and mortification and penance and charity through the spirit of the foundation which is Christ, but those who have done so are going to enter into that fiery love of God and say, “Oooh, it feels so good! I’m home.” And other people are going to look back where they have compromised and taken short cuts; they’ve done a lot of great things in love and faith and hope. They’ve even suffered some, but they have taken a lot of short cuts, They are going to enter that fire and say, “Ooh, ooh…,” and purgatory is for them.

 

Now the saints in heaven would freeze in purgatory, and hell fire for the saints in heaven would be like ice, dry ice. Our God is a consuming fire. The periphery of the universe is hell fire. That isn’t the hottest. The hottest is what you find when you get closest to God. Out of the nine choirs of angels, the highest are the Seraphim. In Hebrew it means the burning ones. They glow bright because they are consumed with this passionate, fiery love that God has for all eternity for us as His children.

 

….

 

Magi’s Star of Reference to Life of Jesus Christ

 

by

Damien F. Mackey

“I, Jesus … am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star”.

Revelation 22:16

Some Laudable Efforts to Identify the Star

What was the ‘Star’ that the Magi saw?“… we saw His star in the east …” (Matthew 2:2). For what I believe to be the correct answer to this question, I am indebted to Lieutenant- Colonel G. Mackinlay, whose inspired book, The Magi: How They Recognised Christ’s Star (Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), reveals how the Creator God’s providential arrangement of “signs and seasons, days and years” (Genesis 1:14) – the heavenly bodies affecting earthly seasons and religious festivals – enables for a precise chronological calculation of the infancy of Jesus Christ and also his last years on earth. Colonel Mackinlay rejects the notion that the Bethlehem Star was a conjunction of planets or a meteor. It was instead, he explains, the Morning Star, the planet Venus, so important for the ancients, but of less significance for we modern city dwellers with our artificial lights.

That the Magi’s Star was Venus is a conclusion that other good researchers have reached as well based on their grasp of a combination of biblical texts. A most praiseworthy effort in this regard, apart from Mackinlay’s, is that of Bruce Killian, Venus The Star Of Bethlehem (http://www.scripturescholar.com/VenusStarofBethlehem.htm), from which I shall also be taking some quotations.

Another laudable attempt to identify the Star of the Magi is that recently of Texan lawyer, Frederick (‘Rick’) A. Larson, who, however, favours the planet Jupiter as the biblical star. Larson has the lawyer’s detective-like knack of being able to pick up clues in, say, Matthew 2:1-12, the account of the Magi and the Star, that other readers might pass over without due pause. He brings to the narrative, awe, passion, emotion, a love and knowledge of the Scriptures (including Genesis; the Psalms; Isaiah; the Book of Job; Malachi; and Revelation), as well as the benefit of sophisticated computer software, such as the astronomical program, “Starry Night” (*), a tool obviously lacking to Mackinlay in his day.

* A very important comment on chronology

Studies on the Star of the Magi and on other archaeoastronomical issues, with their retrocalculations of the night skies back into BC time, assume that our AD time is fixed, and that we actually live, today, a little over 2000 years after the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Not until revisionists like Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky came along were the standard BC calculations and ‘Dark Ages’ seriously questioned, and that has led to scholars today also rigorously testing AD time and its ‘Dark Ages’. See, e.g., Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/volatile/Niemitz-1997.pdf) and Jan Beaufort’s summary (http://www.cybis.se/forfun/dendro/hollstein/hollstein0/beaufort/index.htm). I, whilst not necessarily agreeing with all of what these writers have to say, think that there is enough in their theses, however, and that of those to whom they refer, to prompt one seriously to question the accuracy of the received AD dates.

Larson has picked up what he has called“The Nine Points of Christ’s Star” that he believes to be the key pieces in the puzzle of the sacred text, and he says he will not be satisfied with a final scenario that does not accommodate all nine of these. Such is Larson’s thoroughness that even eight points for him will not suffice.

Could the star have been a meteorite; a comet; a supernova; a planet;or a new star?

One point that most pick up, Larson says, is that the star seen by the Magi rose in the East:“Greek en anatole, meaning they saw his star rising in the east”. This description can apply as well to various of these aforementioned types of heavenly bodies. Another point is that it was seen for an extended period of time. Larson rules out a comet on various grounds; one being that, in antiquity, comets were generally associated with doom.

A crucial point that Larson has picked up is that Herod – and apparently Jerusalem in general -seemed blissfully unaware of the presence of this harbinger star. It was only the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem that had awakened Herod to the extraordinary situation that had now arisen in his kingdom. That would again rule out a comet, which the ancients (so much better attuned to the sky than we generally are today) would not have missed. A comet would have been “the talk of the town”, Larson rightly says.

The Magi, of course (whether or not they had actually arisen from the prophet Daniel’s school in the East, as Larson believes), would have had the benefit of Daniel’s Messianic prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27 **) to guide them as to the approximate time to expect the Messiah. They would have been able to have combined this sacred text with their expert reading of the‘book’ of the heavens.

** A second chronological note

Daniel’s prophecy no longer works for us chronologically, with its beginning in the first year of King Cyrus now dated to 539 BC. As Martin Anstey (The Romance of Bible Chronology) and Philip Mauro (The Wonders of Bible Chronology) have shown, this date is 82 years too early for Daniel’s prophecy to work, meaning that historians have created too many Persian kings. Daniel’s count of years should begin at 457 BC instead of 539. This point is crucial.

Whatever the Star was, says Larson, it did no arrest the attention of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

One of Larson’s nine points, his first in fact, has to do with this tricky subject of chronology. And this area of research may be his weak link, and may actually vitiate his whole argument. Larson has determined, based on an ancient version of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, that the Birth of the Messiah had occurred in relation to the reign of Herod in 3-2 BC. However Daryn Graham has, in a recent ground-breaking article investigating the Census of Caesar Augustus at the time Jesus’s Birth (Luke 2:1-7), shown conclusively that the Nativity must have occurred in 8 BC. I must stress once again, however, that, whilst I believe that Graham is entirely correct in his choice of the 8 BC census for that of St. Luke, one ought not retrocalculate back to that actual date, e.g. using computer software, to determine the skies at that particular time. Here is the relevant part of Graham’s must-read article, “Luke’s Census: Dating the Birth of Jesus” (Archaeological Diggings,December/January edition):

…. Even though the countless Christians throughout the ages have differed significantly from person to person, all have but one true test of faith and that is the belief in Jesus Christ being none other than the Son of God, and indeed, God himself. According to the Bible which contains the earliest surviving accounts of Jesus life, Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judaea, during which time a census was being taken. Of course, once we determine exactly which census that was we can also discover the precise date for Jesus’birth. But as to which census that was has left many an accomplished modern historian without an answer. However, doubting the accuracy of the Bible on these grounds is literally jumping hastily to unnecessary conclusions. As with so many things ancient, a little investigative work can help to fill in the picture. As I will now explain, the birth of Jesus Christ as told of in the Bible is firmly rooted in solid historical facts, and this is true also of the census during that humble, yet historically momentous and epoch-making birth.

The Census

The problem many historians in the past have faced is that the most common English translations of Luke’s gospel’s description of the census can be translated several ways. But, of course, considering millennia have passed since Luke wrote it, it is forgivable that some things have been lost in translation. The common NIV translation reads: “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria) And everyone went to his own town to register.” …. The problem for past historians is that the particular detail regarding Quirinius in this NIV translation can not have been the intended meaning by Luke. True, there was a census in Judaea during Quirinius’ governorship which began in 6AD … but it was certainly not of the entire Roman Empire. The 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus made that crystal clear by writing Quirinius’ census was confined only to Syria to determine the local inhabitants’ tax payments. …. Of course, it is unlikely that Luke, who was a meticulous historian, was incorrect – it is rather that case that the translation itself is incorrect. But considering that even the influential, though at times unreliable, 4th century AD Christian historian Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History maintained this reading … it is understandable that it has gained so much credibility.

We can be sure of Luke’s true meaning when we consider the following. There are two other translation possibilities raised by experts, the second of which discussed here is perfectly consistent with archaeological and historical records and is, I firmly believe, Luke’s intended translation. But for the sake of interest, we will look at both. The first possibility some say should read: “This first census was taken when Quirinius was governor”. …. But this is on very shaky ground. For one thing it is known by historians that it was not the first census decreed. The Res Gestae Divi Augusti, (The Accomplishments of the Divine Augustus) written by the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar himself, shows that Augustus carried out previous censuses in 28BC and again in 8BC … years before Quirinius’ governorship of Syria. The Res Gestae was written by Augustus in his final years in the early 1st century AD and was inscribed on the walls of temples around the empire. It has been preserved for us today in the temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra (Ankara in modern Turkey). Fragments from Pisidia (also in modern Turkey) have also survived. It is doubtful Luke, who wrote his Gospel only about 50 years later, was not aware of such facts as the ones recorded in Augustus’ Res Gestae. But the second alternative translation held by some experts and very much so myself to be Luke’s intended one, however, makes all of the ancient evidence fall into place with Luke’s original meaning, showing that his Gospel is historically precise and grounded in solid fact. According to this translation the census described by Luke originally in ancient Greek was not taken ‘while Quirinius was governor’ but ‘before Quirinius was governor’. ….

In regard to which of Augustus’censuses before Quirinius’ governorship Luke could have referred to, the solution is crystal clear. The 28BC census was taken of Roman citizens alone, so that one is ruled out. However the 8BC census, which was not only for Roman citizens, but also for the whole empire’s population, is exactly like the one Luke referred to. Inscriptions discovered in Spain, Cyrene and Turkey show that the purpose of it was for everyone in the empire to register their allegiance to Augustus – an effort that resulted in a large measure of peace throughout the Roman world. An inscription from Turkey reads, “I will be loyal to Caesar Augustus and to his children and descendants all my life in word, in deed, and in thought.” …. Another from Spain says, “Of my own volition I express my regard for the safety, honor and victory of the Emperor Caesar Augustus…” …. The wording of the oath of allegiance in Judaea was probably somewhat similar to these. Incidentally, in later years the Romans conducted such censuses to determine taxes, but that was not yet the case of the actual one we are looking at. So, the translation that the census Luke referred to was the one before Quirinius’ term holds up to scrutiny, and that it involved ‘entire Roman world’is verified by the archaeological findings.

You may be wondering, as have I in the past, why Luke bothered to describe the registration ‘before Quirinius’ at all – why not write who really was governor of Syria at the time of the 8BC census? There is a good answer for that. The ‘entire Roman world’ census Luke referred to was a huge undertaking that spanned years under many governors throughout the whole massive empire. Papyrus found in Egypt a century ago show it took place there in 9BC … while inscriptions discovered more recently indicate it was conducted in Cyrene around 7BC … Spain in 6BC … and Paphlagonia (in northern Turkey) in 3BC. …. As to when it took place in Judaea, Josephus, is of help. He stated Judaea registered during Saturninus’ governorship of 8-6BC, adding that the census there was brought to a close nearly a year prior to the end of that governorship. …. Given that in those times the period for registration lasted for a whole year, this means that Saturninus began conducting it soon after he entered office in 8BC. As you can appreciate, it must have been so much easier for Luke, then, to simply use the basic terms he did than go into such endless particulars his audience would have been quite familiar with anyway.

As to what was involved in that census, Luke summed it up well – “everyone went to his own town to register”.…. By comparing this statement with the archaeological evidence, it is clear, thankfully, that in this case nothing at all is lost in translation. Papyri preserved in Egyptian sands are impressive in number and a few even show what was involved in a Roman census. In one papyrus, recording an edict for a census by a Roman governor of Egypt in 104AD, all Egyptians were required to return to their hometowns for registration. It even states “anyone found without a permit [to stay away from their hometown] thereafter will be severely punished”. ….

In those days it was essential for the Romans to maintain ties between its empire’s population and their homelands in order to sustain the local economies. In that way landlords had a ready and constant supply of tenants. A census was one means of achieving that end. Although Joseph lived in Galilee when Augustus ordered his census, his lineage went back to King David, and hence he had to travel to Bethlehem, David’s hometown. …. But of course, as always, there were some exceptions to the rule. In Alexandria, Egyptians needed to remain there to keep the city going could obtain permits to stay there to register.

Luke’s remark that ‘everyone went to his own town’ is also historical. In an actual census declaration preserved on papyrus from the Egyptian village of Bacchias dated to 91AD it is clear that the male head of the household took himself and his family to his own hometown where he registered himself firstly, then his house, and then his family. In the case of that particular declaration, it was written down by a village secretary because those registering were illiterate. …. In Joseph’s case, though, he may have possessed the literary skills to write his own declaration. As a carpenter, Jew, and inhabitant of the Galilee during his time he could have been well-versed in geometry and the Jewish scriptures. …. Jesus’ ability to read may also be a strong indication that the rest of their family, including Joseph, could also read and write.

This all means that Luke’s gospel is much more than a collection of stories. Its narrative is factual and reliable. As Luke wrote, Jesus must have been born sometime between early 8BC to early 7BC during the empire-wide registration conducted before Quirinius’governorship of Syria. Of course, I would love to take the credit for determining this approximate date of Jesus’ birth, but I must confess I am not the first by a long stretch. The famous ancient Christian Tertullian, a legal expert from northern Africa, writing over a century earlier than Eusebius a few years after the turn of the 3rd century AD, recorded that indeed Jesus was born during Saturninus’ governorship of Judaea. …. This is important because Tertullian had valuable access to official Roman records and was thus in a perfect position to know such a fact.

In case you were wondering, as for why the turning of our era takes place in our calendar 8 years later – it is actually a mishap. In the 6th century AD, the monk Dionysius, while reforming the calendar, wrongly dated some key historical events, and so his miscalculations are with us today.

But besides Luke’s gospel, another Biblical book also describes events surrounding Jesus’ birth – the Gospel of Matthew – and it is also very useful. This gospel provides us with valuable insight into the life of Jesus since Matthew was a disciple of Jesus himself. Like Luke, Matthew wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He also wrote that he was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who ruled Judaea during Saturninus’ governorship during the census mentioned by Luke. So given Luke’s gospel’s trustworthiness, that Matthew’s one agrees with it places it too on solid historical ground.

[End of quote]

Coincidentally –but not based upon so firm a foundation of scientifico-historical reality –does Mackinlay arrive at the same date of 8 BC for the Nativity (as did Sir William Ramsay).

Another vital point of evidence as far as Larson is concerned is that the Magi’s Star stopped.This was the point that had given Larson the greatest difficulty. But then it occurred to him that the planets, due to the optical phenomenon known as“retrograde motion”, actually appear to stop. Mars does a loop; Venus does a backflip; Jupiter inscribes a shallow circle. Larson has opted for the bright planet Jupiter as the “Star” seen by the Magi.

Here is a simplification of Larson’s picturesque account of it all, from the Annunciation (his September of 3 BC) to the Birth (his June of 2 BC), reading from his computer program for that period, beginning with a most unusual triple conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus, the “King” star:

Jupiter crowns Regulus [King] in Leo [Tribe of Judah].

Up rises Virgo [the Virgin] clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her feet. It is Rosh-hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Nine months later the biggest planet [Jupiter] goes together with the brightest planet [Venus, the Mother planet] to make the brightest star anyone alive has ever seen. Right over Jerusalem it sets.

The Magi arrive, about November, and go to Herod – ‘where is the baby king?’ Herod, after consultation with his scribes, says ‘Bethlehem’. The Magi leave on the 5-mile trek, look up and there is the star Jupiter right over the little town of Bethlehem.

The one who is doing the maths for the Magi informs them that Jupiter is in full retrograde – it has stopped. It is now the 25th of December.

In consideration of the ingenious use of modern computer software programs as employed by Larson and others, I would suggest that we need to be well aware of those chronological issues already referred to.

Killian, whilst warmly praising Larson’s effort, has offered his own criticisms of Larson’s “The Star of Bethlehem” (op. cit.):

Fredrick Larson is a lawyer and does and excellent job of selling the wrong identification of the Star of Bethlehem. He identifies the Star of Bethlehem as Jupiter. He also notes that Jupiter is the largest of the planets, but that was unknown to the ancients who would see Venus as the most important because it was the brightest. He sees the king of the Jews identified in a month long shallow loop of Jupiter near Regulus the king star in the constellation of Leo. It does not“crown” this star but loops near it as it appears to loop like a Spiro graph drawing continuously in the sky. He then observed a close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter to indicate the conception of Jesus and he claims these two stars coming together was the brightest star anyone had ever seen. The problem is that Venus at its inferior conjunction is brighter than these two stars together. Finally he saw a link between the woman in Revelation 12 giving birth, but he fails to mention this happens each year and that it was not visible because it was during the day. He further presents the star guiding the magi to Bethlehem when they already knew that was where they were to go, but not identifying which of the many boys in Bethlehem was the newborn king. The stopping of Jupiter is when it reverses and goes into retrograde motion, but this point really does not even point to Bethlehem because when do you determine that this has occurred, visually you can’t, and when during the night?

A miracle—many believe the star that guided the magi was simply a miracle. A light clearly called a star. Today we live at a time that planes fly over head all the time, God could have done this but why say a star guided them rather than an angel. It is clear from the information presented in this article that God was able from the foundation of the world to use the lights He set in the sky to guide the magi. I believe that most who hold this view do not recognize the special attributes of the planet Venus. These stars could be seen by all, but were faint, one would only see them if they were paying close attention.

[End of quote]

Killian would agree with Larson, though, about the Divine use of easy-to-read star tableaux:

Why did God Make the Sun, Moon and Stars?

The Bible explains the purpose of the sun, moon and stars in the first chapter of the Bible. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, seasons, days and years (Genesis 1:14). The Bible groups the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, etc. together, generally their purpose is to be lights and to order time, but one oftheir purposes is to be for signs. …. The word sign in the Bible in its simplest form is used synonymously with our word picture. …. The stars form pictures that we call constellations, in a connect-the-dots fashion. The Bible mentions constellations, some by name: the Bear, Orion, Pleiades. …. The sign for the tribe of Judah was a banner with a picture of a lion for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. …. The constellation associated with Judah is Leo, which is Latin for lion. …. From the context sign not only means picture, but has a clear relation to time, because of its association with seasons, days and years. So to summarize one of the purposes for the sun, moon and stars is to be pictures marking particular times.

[End of quote]

And he goes on to give his own picturesque star pattern for the Nativity (his 2 BC):

The Prophetic Link

The Leader of the Magi at one time was the prophet Daniel (Daniel 2:48) so the Magi learned of God and the Bible. The most important discovery was connecting the dawning sky with the rising of His star on August 24, 2 B.C. to Jacob’s well known prophesy in Genesis 49:9-10. Jacob (also called Israel) calls Judah a lion, thus the Bible links Judahwith a lion. Venus rose in the constellation of Leo (Latin for lion). On this day, three planets Mercury, Mars and Jupiter formed a vertical line in the hind feet area of the constellation Leo. Jacob prophesies, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:10). The three planets in a line form a scepter. The Magi observed a scepter, a mark of kingship, in Leo representing the tribe of Judahmarked by His star. After marking the picture, Venus continued to rise in the sky after sunrise.

A picture of a lion superimposed over the constellation Leo. To allow visualization of the scepter between the feet and His star.

….

The planets formed a line, picturing a ruler’s staff or scepter on August 18 and the stars remained in line gradually pivoting and shortening until the scepter was vertical. The scepter is about the same size as Orion’s belt, but brighter. This passage is in Hebrew poetry; the ruler’s staff and the scepter refer to the same thing. Hebrew poetry repeats or contrasts objects or ideas rather than rhyming words. On the day Venus rose, this line of stars was about to go out of alignment. Venus was ‘He that comes’ to mark the scepter in Leo, Venus represents Jesus, the scepter belongs to Jesus. By the next day August 25, the planets no longer formed a scepter, the scepter had departed. August 24 is the only day that fit the prophecy and one had to have excellent visibility conditions and one had to be alert to spot it then. This date is significant because before the 24thof August the scepter was visible, but His star was not visible and so had not come, after the 24th of August the line of stars no longer formed a scepter.

The Magi were familiar with another prophecy that helped them to understand Jacob’s prophecy. Balaam said,“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel”(Numbers 24:17). This is the first mention in the Bible of a single star. The first mention of a word in the Bible is often significant. Balaam refers to a star as ‘him’ and he parallels a star and a scepter. This is a section of poetry so scepter and star are related objects. Verse nine mentions a lion. The meaning of a star will come out of Jacob is the star represents one who would descend from Jacob. The scepter and His star in Leo fulfill both the prophecy by Jacob and the prophecy of Balaam. These are two scriptural witnesses to this sign. The king to whom the scepter belongs was announced. On this day when the bright morning star rose it was visible throughout the day and it set in the direction of Jerusalem. The star preceded them on their journey. Everyone who writes on the Star of Bethlehem mentions this passage, but typically identify the star Regulus with the scepter.

[End of quote]

Killian, like Larson, may basically be on the right track in employing such celestial picture tableaux about the Magi’s Star.

Mackinlay had also determined, as we have read, that the Star of Bethlehem was a planet, namely Venus in his case. He did not, back in his day, have the advantage of modern computer software, as has Larson, but was reliant on astronomical charts to put a date to the circumstances of Venus that he had determined had pertained to the chronology of Jesus Christ. Mackinlay – like Larson and others, relying heavily on the Scriptures – showed just how significant Venus was as “the morning star” and “the evening star”, and he quoted texts from the prophet Micah; including that fateful text without which Herod (the Godfather of today’s abortionists) would never have condemned to death the children of Bethlehem. Mackinlay also shows through Micah that John the Baptist was symbolised as the morning star, heralding as it does the dawn (Christ). He was able to determine an internal chronology of Jesus Christ, and the Baptist, based on the periods of shining of the morning star, all this in connection with historical data, seasons and Jewish feasts.

As said, the inherent weakness in such reconstructions as Larson’s, and even Mackinlay’s, is their presuming that the conventional dates for Herod and Jesus Christ are basically accurate – just as 539 BC is now wrongly presumed to be a certain date for King Cyrus of Persia – and that it is therefore simply a matter of finding an astronomical scenario within that conventional period and then being able to refine the dates using sophisticated modern scientific data. Happily, though, neither Larson’s nor Mackinlay’s scenario has that odd situation of the shepherds watching their sheep out in the open, in winter, that critics seem to latch on to every Christmas in order to ridicule St. Matthew’s account.

I definitely think that the type of heavenly body that had guided the Magi must have been a planet,and I very much favour Mackinlay’s choice for it of Venus, which planet does also figure in Frederick Larson’s scenario in conjunction with Jupiter, Larson’s showcase “Star”. The solar system is, according to Larson, like a vast clock of immense power, precision and beauty. I would recommend anyone to view his fascinating DVD, “The Star of Bethlehem” (http://www.bethlehemstar.net/), in order the better to appreciate what Genesis 1:14 is telling is, that the heavenly bodies were created to “be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years”. As Larson so wonderfully describes it:

… if the Star wasn’t magic or a special miracle from outside of the natural order, then it was something even more startling. It was a Clockwork Star. And that is overwhelming. The movement of the heavenly bodies is regular, like a great clock. The Clockwork Star finally means that from the very instant at which God flung the universe into existence, he also knew the moment he would enter human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He marked it in the stars. ….

To which I should add:

The Bible has provided us with an exact chronology from Adam to Jesus Christ (the “second Adam”). Though it is difficult now for human beings to arrive at the exact calculations, we can nevertheless get close. For our AD calculations, however, we do not have this advantage. But the answer must nevertheless lie with Jesus Christ, who is the key to time. He is the Lord of all History, the First and the Last; the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus Christ is the reason for history, the creator of history, and the guide and culmination of all history (cf. Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 2:13). For a perfect chronology, one will need to be able to read this celestial clock, or cosmic book, along the lines of a Frederick Larson, with the benefit of advanced computer technology perhaps – but also independently of the stumbling block that is the conventional chronology – to find at what precise point in time the Birth of the Messiah actually occurred.

Who will be wise enough to do this?

As Pope Benedict XVI stated in his 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” … but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences ….

Killian, also favouring Venus, goes so far as to say that the Magi were studying the Scriptures more than they were the actual heavens:

The Star of Bethlehem was Venus, the brightest star in the sky. This star guided the magi by pointing to a picture in the sky of a lion with a scepter, indicating the Jewish Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the one to rule all the earth was coming. It was a study of the Scripture not the heavens that led to finding that enigmatic star. ….

Why identify Venus as the Star of Bethlehem?

Jesus called himself “the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16). Venus is ‘the bright morning star’.How can the ‘bright morning star’ be identified as Venus? First, Venus can be seen during the day and is the brightest natural object in the sky after the sun and moon. It is the brightest object that can be called a star. Second, the ancients referred to exactly two planets as ‘morning stars’, they were called morning stars because they were normally only visible for a few hours before dawn. The morning stars are Mercury and Venus. They are morning stars because when they are visible in the morning they are normally only visible for a few hours before sunrise. This is a result of their orbits being closer to the sun than the earth. All other heavenly bodies are further from the sun than they earth and are therefore visible throughout the night. Mercury and Venus are also the evening stars. Again they are the evening stars because when they are visible in the evening they are only visible for a few hours after sunset. Since Jesus calls himself the bright morning star or Venus and the Magi saw His star as it rose, it is likely Venus was the star the Magi saw and we call the Star of Bethlehem. Venus rises as both the morning and the evening star. Since Jesus is ‘the bright morning star,’it had to be Venus rising in the morning not in the evening. Venus spends about half of its cycle as a morning star. Once every 1.6 years (584 days), Venus rises for the first time with the sun in the morning. Venus rose to mark Jesus’resurrection Sunday April 5, A.D. 33.

….

When Venus rose near Jesus’birth, the Magi had to spot Venus on the first day it rose to observe these signs. The Magi where professional astronomer-astrologers so they would be able to spot Venus at the earliest possible time. Since Venus is the brighter of the two morning stars and Jesus is the bright morning star, it is logical to conclude that Venus is His star. The Magi observed His star at its rising therefore the day they observed Venus rise for the first time in a particular cycle would be that time to which they are referring.

[End of quote]

Why Mackinlay’s Synthesis is to be preferred

Neither Killian’s nor Larson’s efforts worthwhile though they are, can, I believe, match the coherent consistency of Mackinlay’s model, that shows a Divine plan at work in every major phase of the life of Jesus Christ. Mackinlay is able to demonstrate how perfectly the eight year cycles of Venus, ‘His star’, wrap around the events of the life of Christ (who is also the “Sun of righteousness”), shining throughout the joyful occasions, but hidden during episodes of sadness and darkness. But not only does the Divine artist make use of the planet Venus in this regard. The Moon, too, in its various phases, and also the seasons (reflecting now abundance, now paucity), as Mackinlay shows, also serve as chronological markers. Mackinlay’s harmonious theory has, to my way of thinking, the same sort of inherent consistency as has Florence and Kenneth Wood’s explanation, in Homer’s Secret ‘Iliad’ (http://www.amazon.com/Homers-Secret-Iliad-Night-Decoded/dp/0719557801), that the battles between the Greeks and Trojans as described in The Iliad mirror the movements of stars and constellations as they appear to fight for ascendancy in the sky.

Since Mackinlay’s thesis is too detailed to do justice to it here, with all of its diagrams and detailed astronomical explanations always interwoven with the Scriptures, the interested reader is strongly advised to read the entire book.

Mackinlay commences with the example of Saint John the Baptist and his association also with the morning star. (This symbolism has an Old Testament precedent, too, in Joseph’s astronomical dream, Genesis 37:9-10, according to which people are represented by heavenly bodies). Let us begin.

Simile of St. John the Baptist to the Morning Star

The figurative use of the morning star in reference to the Baptist is evident from the prophet Malachi’s description of the Christ’s forerunner: “My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me” (Malachi 3:1); because, as noted by Mackinlay (p. 39), “the same figure of speech is supported by Malachi 4:2, where the Christ is spoken of as the Sun of righteousness, who shall arise with healing in His wings”. That this definitely is the right association of scriptural ideas is shown by the reference made by Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:76), to these two passages in the Old Testament. Thus, on the occasion of St. John’s circumcision, Zechariah prophesied of him: “You shall go before the face of the lord”, and, two verses later, he likens the coming of the Christ to “the Dayspring [or Sunrising] from on high”, which shall visit us.

We note further that this same passage from Malachi, with reference to the Baptist, was quoted also by Mark the Evangelist (1:2); by the angel of the Lord who had appeared to Zechariah before his son’s birth (Luke 1:17); by the Baptist himself (John 3:28); by Jesus during his ministry (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27); and by the Apostle Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:24-25). These quotations are all the more remarkable because they were made at considerable intervals of time the one from the other. Jesus used the words more than three decades after they had been spoken to Zechariah by the angel, announcing that Christ’s forerunner would be born. And St. Paul referred to the very same passage in the Book of Malachi some fourteen years after Jesus had spoken them.

St. John the Evangelist wrote of the Baptist: “The same came for a witness, that he might bear witness to the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but came that he might bear witness to the Light” (John 1:7, 8). Mackinlay, commenting on this passage (p. 41), says that “The Light par excellence is the Sun, and the Morning Star, which reflects its light, is not the light itself, but is a witness of the coming great luminary”. All four Evangelists record the Baptist as stating that the Christ would come after him: a statement in perfect harmony with the comparison of himself to the morning star (se e.g. Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16 and John 1:15).

On three memorable occasions St. John the Baptist preceded and also testified to Jesus: viz. some months before Jesus’s birth (Luke 1:41, 44); shortly before Jesus’s public ministry (Matthew 3:11); and by his violent death at the hands of Herod, about a year before the Crucifixion (Matthew 14:10). Alluding to the Baptist’s martyrdom, Jesus said: “Even so shall the Son of Man also suffer” (Matthew 17:12, 13).

The figure of St. John the Baptist as the morning star is therefore a most appropriate one.

Object of Reference Always Present

Mackinlay, following through Isaac Newton’s principle that the Jewish teachers frequently made figurative allusions to things that were actually present, suggested (p. 56) that “other allusions” unspecified by Newton, “such, for instance, as the comparison of the Baptist to the shining of the Morning Star”, must also indicate that the object of reference was present. “We may reasonably conclude”, he added, “that the planet was then to be seen in the early morning before sunrise”. Mackinlay realised that if Newton’s principle really worked in this instance, it would enable him to “find an indication of the dates of the ministries of Christ and of John, and consequently of the crucifixion”. Making use of calculations made by expert astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Mackinlay, himself a professional observer, drew up a chart recording the periods when Venus appeared as the morning star for the period AD 23-36 – “a period which covers all possible limits for the beginning and ending of Christ’s ministry”. {One will need to refer to Mackinlay’s own chart reproducing the astronomical data that he had received}.

From Mackinlay’s diagram we learn that the morning star shines continuously on the average for about seven and a half lunar months at the end of each night, giving at least an hour’s notice of sunrise; but if we include the period when it is still visible, but gives shorter notice, the time of shining may be lengthened to about nine lunar months.

An eight years’ cycle containing five periods of the shining of the morning star -useful for practical purposes – exists between the apparent movements of the sun and Venus, correct to within a little over two days. The morning star is conventionally estimated (see previous comment on chronology) to have begun to shine at the vernal equinox, AD 25, and eight years afterwards, viz. in AD 33, it began again its period of shining at the same season of the year; and so, generally, at all years separated from each other by eight years, the shinings of the morning star were during the same months.

From the historical data available, it is conventionally agreed that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred between the years AD 28 – 33. Of necessity, then, the three and a half years’ ministry (Mackinlay is of the view that Christ’s public ministry lasted “the longer period” of between three and four years, whilst he also discusses “the shorter period” of less than three years) would have begun in one of the years AD 24-29 (conventional dating).

We shall proceed now to examine in more detail those passages in the Gospels that refer to St. John the Baptist as the morning star.

(a) Beginning of the Baptist’s Ministry

At the very beginning of his ministry, the Baptist referred to the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, in which he himself is likened to the morning star, when he said:“He who comes after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:2, etc.). Now, according to Newton’s principle of scriptural interpretation, that figures are taken from things actually present, the morning star would have been shining when the Baptist began his ministry; thus the witness in the sky, and the human messenger, each gave a prolonged heralding of the One who was to come.

If we refer to the Gospel of Matthew (3:8, 10 and 12), we find St. John the Baptist using three figures of speech at the beginning of his ministry:

1. “Now is the axe laid to the root of the trees” – presumably to mark the unfruitful trees to be cut down (see also Matthew 7:19).

2. “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down …”.

3. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire”.

As Mackinlay has noted (p. 60), these three figures used by St. John all refer to the time of harvest, which would have taken place within the month of the Passover, “as the place where John began his ministry was the deep depression‘round about Jordan’ (Luke 3:3), where the harvest is far earlier than on the Judaean hills”. Now according to Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star was shining during the month after the Passover (April or May) only in the years AD 24, 25 and 27, in the period AD 24-29. Hence we conclude that St. John the Baptist began his ministry in one of these three years.

(b) Beginning of Jesus’s Ministry

The Baptist again bore witness just before the beginning of Jesus Christ’s public ministry, when he proclaimed to the people: “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me’” (John 1:15); and he repeated that statement the next day (John 1:30) – again bearing out the simile of the morning star and the rising sun. Mackinlay, analysing what time of year this was, is certain that it must have been a good deal later than the beginning of St. John’s own ministry; “probably at least four or five months, to allow time for the Baptist to be known and to attract public attention”, he says (p. 61). It could not have been earlier than the latter part of August, he goes on; and “it must also have been long before the following Passover”, for several events in Jesus’s ministry “occurred before that date”. Mackinlay suggests that Jesus Christ most likely began his public ministry, “which we must date from the marriage in Cana of Galilee”,before November, “because there would have been leaves on the fig tree” when Nathanael came from under it (John 1:47, 48) (pp. 61-62). Jesus approvingly called Nathanael “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47). Unlike the hypocrites who loved to pray so as to be seen by men (Matthew 6:5), Nathanael had carefully hidden himself for quiet prayer under cover of his fig tree, and so he was greatly surprised that Jesus had seen him there.

In Scripture, the state of the vegetation of the fig tree is used to indicate the seasons of the year (see Matthew 24:32). We are informed that when the branch of the fig tree “becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near”.

From the Song of Songs (2:13), we read of the season when “the fig tree puts forth her green figs”; and the fading of the leaf of the fig tree is mentioned in Isaiah 34:4.

From this scriptural detail, relating to seasons, Mackinlay is able to narrow even further the choice of years (from AD 24-29) for the beginning of the two ministries. “We must reject AD 24, for the morning star definitely was not shining between the months August to November of that year”, he writes (p. 63). This leaves us with only two options, viz. AD 25 and 27. At this stage Mackinlay makes a further assumption – previously he had asked the reader to assume for the time being that “the shorter period’ choice for the length of Jesus’s ministry be out aside – in relation to the date AD 27. Whilst admitting that AD 27 would fulfil the necessary conditions given above “if we suppose that Christ began His ministry within a month or six weeks from the time of John’s first appearance”, Mackinlay elected to put aside this date for reasons that would become apparent later on.

“He must increase, but I must decrease”.

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under the figure that we are considering is: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). According to F. Meyer, the Baptist “knew that he was not the Light, but sent to bear witness of it, not the Sun, but the Star that announces the dawn …” (Life and Light of Men, p. 42). St. John’s words may have foreshadowed his imprisonment as well, as Mackinlay thinks, for “they were uttered after the first Passover, which took place, according to the assumption which we have just made, in AD 26, but before the Baptist was cast into prison” (pp. 63-64). Consequently, he adds, we may assume that St. John the Baptist spoke these words about the beginning or the middle of April. Meyer may not have been correct, however, in concluding his otherwise beautiful metaphor above by saying that “the Star”, which represents the Baptist, and which “announces the dawn”, also “wanes in the growing light” of the Sun. The waning of a celestial body appears to be the scriptural symbolism for the destruction of wickedness. The seeming annihilation of the stars caused by the rising of the sun, was an ancient figure of speech used to typify the triumph of good over the powers of darkness and evil. Mackinlay suggests that this may be the image intended by St. Paul when he spoke of “The lawless one, whom the Lord shall bring to nought by the manifestation (in Greek, “shining forth”) of His coming” (II Thessalonians 2:8); and he adds that the figure of the rising sun extinguishing the light of the stars “is associated with conflict, punishment and judgment, which certainly did not represent the relationship between Christ and His forerunner John” (p. 65). Undoubtedly, rather, the impression that the Evangelist was intending to convey in this instance was one of the morning star decreasing in the sense of its non-appearance in the sky at the end of each night, as the increasing power of the sun’s heat and light became manifest. The planet Venus moves further and further away from its position as morning star, and increases its angular distance on the other side of the sun as the evening star. According to Mackinlay, in the year 26 AD Venus began to appear as the evening star “shortly before midsummer” (p. 64).

Interestingly, Mackinlay’s chart indicates that it is the more probable explanation of the non-appearance of Venus in the sky at the end of the night as being the more appropriate figure to depict the decreasing of St. John the Baptist, which is fulfilled in the circumstance under consideration.
Imprisonment of St. John the Baptist.

It is likely, as W. Sanday has noted (Outlines from the Life of Christ, p. 49), that the imprisonment of the Baptist took place after the Passover, and before the harvest of AD 26 (John 4:35); and soon after St. John had stated that “He must increase, but I must decrease”. Sanday considered that the events surrounding the Passover (of John 2:13-4:45) did not occupy more than three or four weeks, and when Jesus arrived in Galilee (see Matthew 4:12) the impression of his public acts at Jerusalem was still fresh. Sanday thought that his estimation of the date of the Baptist’s imprisonment was “somewhat strengthened by the fact that the Synoptic Gospels record no events after Christ’s Baptism and before John was delivered up, except the Temptation (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14 see also Luke 4:14); and because the Apostle Paul said that “as John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. No, but after me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie’.” (Acts 13:25)”. These words tend to place the end of the Baptist’s career rather early, because the message here referred to was proclaimed by him when he announced the Messiah, in autumn of AD 25 (John 1:26, 27).

Following Mackinlay (p. 64), we therefore estimate that St. John the Baptist was imprisoned about the middle or end of April, AD 26, when, as is apparent from Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star, appropriately, was not shining.

“He was a burning and shining lamp”

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under this simile is a very striking one.

Jesus speaks of him as “a burning and shining lamp; and you were willing to rejoice for a season in his light”. (John 5:35). Mackinlay has suggested that, because the definite article is used twice in the Greek version of this passage, “it therefore seems to indicate some particular light” (p. 67). Though St. John was in prison, Jesus said of him at this time: “You sent to John, and both was and still is a witness to the truth” (John 5:33). Regarding the phrase “to rejoice for a season in his light”, Dr. Harpur tells of a custom in the East for travellers by night to sing songs at the rising of the morning star because it announces that the darkness and dangers of the night are coming to an end (as referred to by Mackinlay, p. 68).

In effect, then, Jesus was saying that the disciples of the Baptist were willing to rejoice in the light of the herald of day, which shines only by reflecting the light of the coming sun; but should rejoice now ever more since the sun itself had arisen – since “the Light of the World” had actually come. This interpretation harmonises with Jesus’s statement recorded a few verses on (John 5:39) that “you search the Scriptures … which bear witness of Me”; the inference again being – now that I have come, you ought to receive Me.

All through this conversation, Mackinlay notes, “the subject is that of bearing witness” – by his own works; by the Father; by the Baptist; by the Scriptures and by Moses – “the whole pointing to the necessity of receiving the One to whom such abundant witness had been borne”.

The time when Jesus made this particular statement about the Scriptures bearing witness to Him was just after the un-named feast of John 5:1, and before the Passover of John 6:4. It is often assumed, Mackinlay informs us, that this un-named feast was Passover – but some have opted for naming it the feast of Purim, fixed several centuries earlier by the command of Queen Esther (Esther 9:32); or even the feast of Weeks at the beginning of June (p. 69). This does not affect our chronological scheme, however, for we learn from Mackinlay’s chart that the morning star was appropriately shining on each one of these feasts in AD 27.

The Crucifixion.

But when we come to the last Passover, in the year AD 29, the herald of the dawn had just disappeared. Mackinlay shows (p. 81) that the disappearance of the planet Venus harmonises perfectly with the record of the complete isolation of Jesus Christ at his Crucifixion, given as follows:

(1) The disappearance of the witness John by death (Matthew 14:10).

) The forsaking of Our Lord by all his disciples (Matthew 26:56; Psalm 38:11; 49:20).

(3) The absence of any record of a ministry of angels, as after the Temptation (Matthew 4:11).

(4) The hiding of God’s face, when Christ uttered the cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1).

(5) In nature, the Sun’ light failed (Luke 23:45).

(6) Being daytime, the Paschal Full Moon was, of course, below the horizon.

Most relevant to our subject also is the following chapter from Mackinlay’s book:

Chapter Three: “A Star … out of Jacob”

Mackinlay commences by establishing “the greater probability” of the following two facts:

(a) That the Nativity of Jesus Christ was at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star,

and

(b) That the Nativity was at a Feast of Tabernacles (p. 140).

Firstly, we consider Mackinlay’s reason for believing that the Lord’s Nativity was:

(a) Five months after a period of shining.

To begin with, we must consider what reason there is for supposing that the morning star was shining at all when Jesus Christ was born. In Malachi 3:1, as we have seen already, St. John the Baptist is referred to under the figure of the morning star, as the forerunner of the Christ. But the morning star itself may be called “My messenger who shall prepare the way before Me”. It is not unusual for inanimate objects thus to be spoken of in Scripture, for instance in Psalm 88:38 we have “the faithful witness in the sky”, and in Psalm 148:3 the sun, moon and stars of light are exhorted to praise God.

Consequently, as Mackinlay has explained it (p. 141), “we can reasonably suppose that the Morning Star was shining at the Nativity”. Furthermore, he adds, if the morning star were the herald of the coming One, it is fitting to imagine that a somewhat prolonged notice should be given; for “it would be more dignified and stately for the one to precede the other by a considerable interval, than that both should come almost together”.

We shall find Mackinlay’s supposition of a prolonged heralding by the morning star borne out by the following inference. According to the principle of metaphors being taken from things present, we could infer that the morning star was actually shining when Jesus Christ (in Matthew 11:10), quoting Malachi 3:1, spoke of the Baptist as “My messenger … before My face”. Consistently following the same line of thought, we may reasonably infer that the morning star was also shining more than thirty years earlier when Zechariah quoted the same scriptural verse– i.e. Malachi 3:1 – at the circumcision of his son, John (Luke 1:76). Even had this appropriate passage not been quoted at the time, Mackinlay suggests (p. 142), “we might have inferred that the herald in the sky would harmoniously have been shining at the birth of the human herald”.

Mackinlay further suggests from his inference that both Jesus and John were born when the morning star was shining, that “both must have been born during the same period of its shining”. [He shows this in his charts]. The Annunciation to Mary was made by the angel Gabriel in the sixth month after the announcement to Zechariah (Luke 1:13, 24, 26); and so it follows that the Baptist was born five to six months before Jesus. Since Mackinlay’s charts indicate that the periods of shining are separated from each other by intervals of time greater than six months, then both Jesus and his herald must have been born during the same period of shining.

Consequently Jesus Christ was born at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star.

It will be noticed that some years in Mackinlay’s charts are omitted – this is due simply to lack of space – but no events recorded in the Gospels took place in these omitted years, nor were any of them enrolment (see below) or Sabbath years.

(b) At a Feast of Tabernacles

The Law, we are told by St. Paul, has “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The various ordinances and feasts of the Old Testament, if properly understood, are found, according to Mackinlay, “to refer to and foreshadow many events and doctrines of the New Testament” (p. 143). Again, A. Gordon had remarked that:“Many speak slightingly of the types, but they are as accurate as mathematics; they fix the sequence of events in redemption as rigidly as the order of sunrise and noontide is fixed in the heavens” (The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 28). The deductions drawn from Gospel harmonies attest the truth of his statement.

We have already observed that the Sabbath Year began at the Feast of Tabernacles; the great feasts of Passover and Weeks following in due course. Jesus’s death took place at the Passover (Matthew 27:50), probably, Mackinlay believes, “at the very hour when the paschal lambs were killed”. “Our Passover … has been sacrificed, even Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:7); the great Victim foretold during so many ages by the yearly shedding of blood at that feast. The first Passover at the Exodus was held on the anniversary of the day when the promise –accompanied by sacrifice – was given to Abraham, that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan (Exodus 12:41; Genesis 15:8-18).

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath after the Passover (John 20:1); the day on which the sheaf of first fruits, promise of the future harvest, was waved before God (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Hence we are told by Saint Paul that as“Christ the first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20. 23) rose, so those who believe in him will also rise afterwards. This day was the anniversary of Israel’s crossing through the “Sea of Reeds” (Exodus 12-14), and, as in the case of the Passover, it was also a date memorable in early history, being the day when the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). The month Nisan, which had been the seventh month, became the first at the Exodus (Exodus 12:2). Thus Christ’s Resurrection was heralded by two most beautiful and fitting types, occurring almost – possibly exactly – on the same day of the year; by the renewed earth emerging from the waters of the Flood, and by the redeemed people emerging from the waters of the “Sea of Reeds”.

Mackinlay proceeded to search for any harmonies that there may be between the characteristics of this Feast of Tabernacles and the events recorded in connection with the Nativity. As we have noticed previously, he says (p. 146), there were two great characteristics of the Feast of Tabernacles: 1. Great joy and 2. Living in booths (tents).

1. Great joy.

The Israelites were told at this feast, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:40), and “You shall rejoice in your feast … you shall be altogether joyful” (Deuteronomy 16:14, 15). King Solomon dedicated his Temple on a Feast of Tabernacles, and the people afterwards were sent away “joyful and glad of heart” (1 Kings 8:2, 66; 2 Chronicles 7:10). There was no public rejoicing at the Nativity of Jesus Christ, however; on the contrary, as Mackinlay notes, “shortly afterwards Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3). But though He was rejected by the majority, we find the characteristic joy of Tabernacles reflected in the expectant and spiritually-minded souls. Before the Nativity both the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth rejoiced in anticipation of it (Luke 1:38, 42, 44, 46, 47). At the Nativity an angel appeared to the shepherds and brought them good tidings of great joy; and then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’.” The shepherds then came to the infant Saviour and returned “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:9-20).

Forty days after the Nativity, at the Purification, Simeon, who had been waiting a long time for the consolation of Israel, and the venerable Anna who was a constant worshipper, joined in with their notes of praise and gladness (Luke 2:22-38). And lastly the wise men from the East “rejoiced with exceeding great joy” when they saw the star indicating where the Saviour was, and they came into the house, saw the young Child with his Mother, and presented the gifts that they had brought (Matthew 2:9-11). This “Mother”, the Virgin Mary, is the ultimate“Star” pointing to Jesus Christ, her Son. John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Mater (1987), is full of allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘our fixed point’, or star‘of reference’. To quote just this one example (# 3):

….The fact that she “preceded” the coming of Christ is reflected every year in the liturgy of Advent. Therefore, if to that ancient historical expectation of the Saviour we compare these years which are bringing us closer to the end of the second Millennium after Christ and to the beginning of the third, it becomes fully comprehensible that in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to her, the one who in the “night” of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true “Morning Star” (Stella Matutina). For just as this star, together with the “dawn,” precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Saviour, the rising of the “Sun of Justice” in the history of the human race.

According to Mackinlay (pp. 147-148), the living in booths finds a parallel in the language of the Apostle John, when he wrote concerning the Birth of Jesus, “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14); and Our Lord himself used a somewhat similar figure when he spoke of his body thus “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I shall raise it up” (John 2:19) – words misunderstood by his enemies and afterwards quoted against him (Matthew 26:61; 27:40).

It was at the Feast of Tabernacles that the glory of God filled the Temple that King Solomon had prepared for Him (2 Chronicles 5:3, 13, 14), and it would seem to have been at the beginning or first day of the feast, the fifteenth day of the month. Consequently, in Mackinlay’s opinion (p. 148) “it would appear to be harmonious that the Advent of the Lord Jesus in the body divinely prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5) should also take place at the same feast and most suitably on the first day of its celebration”.

It will be noticed that the glory of God did not cover the tent of meeting when the Israelites were in the wilderness, and did not fill the tabernacle, at the Feast of Tabernacles. But it did so on the first day of the first month of the second year after the departure from Egypt (Exodus 40:17, 34, 35). We must remember that there was no Feast of Tabernacles in the wilderness, nor was the Sabbath Year kept at this stage; but both of these ordinances were to be observed when the Israelites entered into the Promised Land (Exodus 34:22). No agricultural operations were carried out during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

As the Feast of Tabernacles inaugurated the Sabbath Year, Mackinlay judged (p. 149) that the glory of God filled the temple on the first day of the feast, “as that would be in harmony with what happened in the tabernacle in the wilderness when the glory of the Lord filled it on the first day of the only style of year then observed”.

A. Edersheim, writing about the Feast of Tabernacles, says (The Temple, note on p. 272): “It is remarkable how many allusions to this feast occur in the writings of the prophets, as if its types were the goal of all their desires”.

Some concluding thoughts about

the“Star in the East”

We now come to the difficult and intricate matter of identifying the star that the Magi saw in the East, and that ultimately led them to the place where Christ, his Mother and Joseph were (Matthew 2:1-12). Much has been written about this famous incident, and there have been proposed many varying identifications for the star. It has at various times been identified as a comet; a new star; a conjunction of planets; a supernova. St. Augustine sometimes argued that it was a regular star of the heavens (e.g. in Serm. Epiph.), at other times that it was a new star appearing, for instance in the constellation Virgo (Contra Faustum, Bk. 2, ch. 5 a med.). St. Thomas Aquinas, following Chrysostom, was more inclined to the view that the star of the Nativity was not a regular part of the heavenly system; but was a newly-created star (Summ. Theol. IIIa, q. 36, a. 7). But he did allow for other opinions: viz. that it was an angel or a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He also quoted Pope St. Leo (Serm. de Epiph, 31), who wrote that the star must have been more bright and beautiful than the other stars, for its appearance instantly convinced the Magi that it had an urgent and important meaning.

We know from Scripture that the heavenly bodies were invested by God with a fourfold function: “… for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”(Genesis 1:14). The point of the “days and years” is obvious. The Hebrew word‘moed’, translated as “seasons”, is used to indicate something fixed or appointed. When it is used of time, according to Ben Adam (Astrology, p. 49), “it is always a predetermined time – a time in which something predetermined is to happen”. It is never used in Scripture to denote any of the four seasons of the year. Already we have seen how God uses the various heavenly bodies for seasons in this sense, and for signs or symbols.

An understanding and study of God’s purpose and meaning in relation to the lights of the firmament is a true astrology, as opposed to the divinely forbidden and foolish astrology that is fatalistic. Dr. E. Bullinger (Witness of the Stars, 1893) had shown that the constellations of the zodiac, when read in the correct (not popular) order, and with their original (not corrupted and later) designations, give us a condensed history of the fulfilment of the divine promise made in the Garden of the coming Deliverer, the seed of the Woman, and the crushing of the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). According to Bullinger, this truth of the witness of the stars is told in Psalm 19:1-4: “The heavens are proclaiming the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands .… No speech, no voice, no word is heard, yet their message goes out through all the earth, and their words to the utmost bounds of the habitable world”.

In the sign Virgo, where the true beginning lies for reading the circular zodiac (not in Aries, according modern belief) is the commencement of all prophecy in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your seed and her seed. She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel”. Later prophecy identifies this Woman as being of the stock of Israel, the seed of Abraham, the line of David; and, further, She is to be a virgin:“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew’s inspired adaptation, in 1:23, of Isaiah 7:14).

The first constellation in Virgo is Coma, represented by a woman and child, and meaning “the desired”, or “the longed for”. We have the word used by the Holy Spirit in this very connection, in Haggai 2:7: “The DESIRE of all nations shall come”. Bullinger and others have suggested that it was in all probability the constellation of Coma in which “the Star of Bethlehem” appeared (op. cit., p. 36). He also recalls a traditional prophecy, well-known in the East, “carefully preserved and handed down, that a new star would appear in this sign [i.e. of Coma] when He whom it foretold should be born” (ibid., pp. 36-37).

This, he thought (ibid., p. 37), was doubtless referred to in the prophecy of Balaam the sorcerer, just prior to the entry of the Israelite host into the Promised Land; a prophecy “which would thus receive a double fulfilment, first of the literal “Star”, and also of the person to whom it referred”. Thus God spoke through Balaam (Numbers 24:17):

There shall come forth a star out of Jacob

And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

This two-fold repletion of an idea – where the two nouns in the first verse correspond effectively to the two nouns in the second verse (thus ‘star’ to‘sceptre’, and ‘Jacob’ to ‘Israel’) – so characteristic of Hebrew and Canaanite literature, also points in this case to a two-fold fulfilment of the prophecy. These words were fulfilled in a minimised sense a millennium before Christ, during the reign of King David, the sceptre of Israel, and a descendant of Jacob. But the prophecy would not be properly and completely fulfilled until the time of the Incarnation and the Birth of the true Messiah, who would be known as the “Son of David”.

But, as Bullinger says (ibid., p. 31), “It is difficult to separate the Virgin and her Seed” in the prophecies. Therefore, the genius of Hebrew expression in allowing for a two-fold interpretation of this particular prophecy, opens the door for the fullest possible meaning to be deduced from these words. As the following comment by Pope Pius XII (spoken to the crowds of Fatima on May 13, 1946) would imply, the words of the above prophecy, applicable to Jesus Christ, also have relationship to his Mother as Co-Redemptrix: “Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through Him, with him, and subordinate to him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest and by singular election”. (As quoted by Fr. William Most, Mary in Our Life, p. 25).

Matthew (2:1-12) is the only Evangelist to narrate the incident of the star seen by the Magi, leading them to the Christ with his Mother, Mary, in David’s city of Bethlehem. What does Matthew tell us about this star? That the Magi had seen it in the East, calling it “His star”, and that it indicated that He was to be worshipped as King of the Jews (2:2). And, later, that Herod determined from the time when the star first appeared how old the Child was (2:7). Finally, Matthew narrates that the Magi were filled with joy when they saw the star, after their meeting with Herod, and that they followed the star which “went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the Child was”(2:10-11).

Two things are to be noted here. Contrary to popular belief, nowhere at all does Matthew say that the Magi followed the star from their own country to Judaea! He simply says that they saw the star in their own country, “in the East”, and that they came to Jerusalem to worship the King of the Jews. Once there in Jerusalem, they see the star and are filled with joy, and from Jerusalem they follow the star to Bethlehem, and to the very place where the Child is to be found. There the star comes to rest. From this last attestation some Bible-believing astronomers will assert that the star of Bethlehem was entirely miraculous, and was not a known heavenly body (star, planet, comet, nova, or conjunction).

Others have suggested that, because the Magi referred to the star as “His star”,it must have been a new star, created especially for the time of the Nativity. But before we propose our own suggested identification, certain conclusions by way of elimination can be reached already:

1. The star of Bethlehem could not have been a meteor or a meteorite; the life of one is too short.

2. Likewise, the star could not have been a comet or a nova without having attracted world-wide attention.

Neither seems to have been present at the time of Jesus Christ’s Birth; although, according to J. Bjornstad and S. Johnson (Star Signs and Salvation in the Age of Aquarius, p. 60), “there may be an indication from Chinese records that a nova did appear around this time”. Nevertheless, while a comet would appear to move, a nova would not.

3. Perhaps the most popular identification of the star of Bethlehem – because this identification fits the dates proposed today as being most likely for the event of the Nativity – is that it was in fact a conjunction of two or more planets. Kepler (1571-1631) was the first astronomer to point out that three times in BC 7 there were conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn (now estimated at May 29, September 29, and December 4). These conjunctions occurred in the sign of Pisces (Bullinger, op, cit, p. 39). An event such as this is comparatively rare, happening only about once every one hundred and twenty-five years. A major objection to this particular conjunction, however, is that the two planets never seem to approach one another closer than twice the distance of the moon’s diameter; “therefore they could never have been viewed as a single star” (Bjornstad et al, ibid.). Obviously, then, the difficulty of the star’s appearing to be standing over Bethlehem while the Magi were looking on, is a major obstacle to accepting this interpretation.

Mackinlay has rightly noted that “it appears to be a principle in miracles to use existing agents in a miraculous way, rather than to create fresh ones” (p. 151). This statement is borne out throughout the Scriptures; for instance, when Joshua wanted light, another sun was not created, but the light of the existing one was employed to the necessary effect (Joshua 10:12); and when Jesus fed the multitudes, He did not specially create bread, but miraculously multiplied the existing stock. Also, at Fatima in 1917, God worked a miracle of the sun that already shone in the sky; it was not a miraculous new sun that danced above the crowds.

Mackinlay (quoting Alford’s Commentary on the New Testament) remarks that “the expression of the Magi, ‘we have seen his star’, does not seem to point to any miraculous appearance, but to something observed in the course of their watching of the heavens”. This seems natural and probable. Mackinlay also dismisses the suggestion that, because the Magi referred to ‘His star’,it must have been one specially sent for the occasion. This suggestion, he says (p. 152), “can have no weight, because when Christ was speaking of God the Father in the Sermon on the Mount He said, “He maketh His Sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45). As the ordinary great luminary is certainly intended in this passage, it must follow that the expression “His Star” may refer to one of the well-now orbs of heaven”.

With reference to the suggestion by Kepler and other astronomers that the star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of planets, Mackinlay notes that “the appearances at conjunctions depend on the positions of two or more stars, and they are changing from night to night”. We have no account of “stars”, he adds (p. 153).

What were the characteristics of the star seen by the Magi?

(1) Twice it was mentioned specially as being seen “in the East” (Matthew 2:2, 9), inferentially it was not also to be seen in the South and West as are the other stars.

(2) It had been visible for some considerable period; the wise men doubtlessly had seen it in their own country, from which the journey might involve weeks, possibly months, of travel.

That it had appeared for some considerable time is inferred also from Herod’s question, as to “what time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7), and from his subsequent action in fixing on the maximum age of the infants to be murdered“from two years old and under, according to the time which he had carefully learned of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

“What ordinary celestial body bears the characteristics we have just referred to”?,Mackinlay asks (p. 154). “Surely the reply must be the Morning Star, which is only seen in the East, and which shines continuously at the end of each night for a period of about nine lunar months in the latitude of Palestine, an object which the Magi must have observed over and over again in the course of their watching of the heavens”.

Pope Francis lambasts Catholic bishops who helped cover up child abuse

Pontiff makes strongest condemnation yet of paedophile priests and senior clergy who obfuscated rather than punished
Leaders of the Roman Catholic church who failed to “respond adequately” to reports of child sex abuse by paedophile priests caused “even greater suffering” to their victims and will in future be held accountable, Pope Francis has said, in a clear rebuke to bishops who helped cover up the scandal and shield abusers.

In his strongest condemnation yet of the way in which the church handled its abuse crisis, Francis asked victims for forgiveness not only on account of those who had perpetrated the abuse but also those senior figures whose “sins of omission” had exacerbated the problem.

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” he said. The sexual abuse of minors by priests and other men of the cloth required the church to “make reparation”.

The pontiff was delivering the powerful homily at a morning mass in the Vatican before a group of six abuse victims, including two from the United Kingdom. Sixteen months into his papacy, it was his first such encounter.

“It is something more than despicable actions,” Francis said of clerical sex abuse. “It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence.”

He added: “There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not.”

It is not the first time that Francis has condemned abuse, but his words delivered at the Santa Martha guesthouse on Vatican grounds were particularly pointed towards those clerics who may have enabled the abuse to be “camouflaged with a complicity”.

“I beg your forgiveness … for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk,” said Francis, according to a translation made available by the Vatican.

All bishops, added the pope, must exercise “the utmost care” in order to protect minors. “And they will be held accountable,” he warned.

Advocates of abuse victims have long complained that the church has yet to act to punish those bishops who contributed to cover-ups. And, reacting to the pope’s words on Monday, the main US victims’ group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (Snap), did not appear to have been won over, arguing that words were no substitute for concrete policy changes. The church needed a leader who was not only kind but had “the toughness to fire complicit church officials, it said in a statement.

“The pope says the church should ‘make reparations’ to victims. That’s secondary. Stopping abuse and protecting children comes first. And sadly, no child on earth is safer today because of this meeting.”

Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, declined to identify the six adults who saw Francis for around 30 minutes each on Monday, saying only that two were from the United Kingdom, two from Ireland and two from Germany.

One, however – Irish woman Marie Kane, 43 – broke her silence, telling Irish radio RTE the audience had been an important vindication. “It can’t go any higher than this,” she said.

“I felt it came from the heart,” she added. “For me he seemed very sincere and very sorry. And I think he realises he has a lot of changes to make. I’d like to believe he will, but, you know, I don’t know. We can only leave it with him and wait and see.”

She said she had prayed for change in the church while attending the mass with the pope. “You know, just do more,” she said. “Get these guys out of power that shouldn’t be there – that are guilty of cover-ups, and who covered up in my case, as well, and they know who they are, you know. So, yes, change. Change.”

The Vatican has been hauled over the coals repeatedly this year by two United Nations human rights panels, both of which unleaded harsh criticism on the church for its handling of the scandal, and urged it to do more to punish paedophile priests and their protectors, to support victims and to protect children.

Pope Francis has said he intends to find new ways forward, having set up a commission for the protection of minors, which met again in the Vatican on Sunday. The panel, which includes Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, has been dismissed by some other advocates as a superficial gesture.

They have found fault with the way the pope, 77, has approached the scandal since his election last March. While condemning the abuse, Francis has seemed at times reluctant to mount a full-frontal attack on the church, for instance riling many in March by claiming that no other organisation or institution in the world had “done more” to tackle child abuse. Some critics have also questioned why it took him more than a year into his papacy to meet with victims.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, Lombardi said the encounters had been “extremely broad and intense” and had left the victims with “the feeling that they had been listened to … with great attention”.

He rejected accusations that the event was nothing more than a publicity stunt, saying he was “not surprised” that some people could not understand the “positive intentions” of either Francis or Benedict XVI, who met with abuse victims on several occasions.

But, he said: “It is totally clear that it was not a public relations event. If you [had seen] the people coming out of this meeting with the pope you [would have seen] that this was not a public relations event.”

….

Taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/07/pope-francis-catholic-bishops-child-paedophile-abuse-priest-condemn

 

Hell: the inside story

 

Does Hell exist?

Fr David Watt considers a heated controversy.

For many modern Catholics, it is mortal sin to believe in mortal sin, let alone to believe in Hell. And yet, could we know, just using general theological considerations (‘we have a loving God’ and so forth), we must reject the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent. See Chapter 12 of the Decree on Justification and Canon 16 of the same decree, which anathematises those who are sure of their eventual salvation, the only exception being those whose confidence is derived from private revelation (for example, the so-called ‘Great Promise’ of the Sacred Heart via St Margaret Mary, concerning the Nine First Fridays).

Furthermore, arguments for universal salvation, whether as certain, probable, or merely possible, have a habit of proving too much. By parity of reasoning they would support universal salvation for all rebels against God, angelic as well as human. For instance, ‘a loving God would never send anyone to Hell’ — no man nor fallen angel either? ‘The sufferings in Hell would spoil the happiness of the blessed in Heaven’ — including the suffering of the demons? Perhaps that is why those denying the existence of a populated Hell frequently also deny the existence of angels, in flagrant contradiction of both Scripture and Tradition compared with, for example No 393 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

‘Many are called, but few are chosen’ (Mt 22:14). It is because of texts such as this that the Church has never accepted the hypothesis of an empty Hell. Until modern times, the hypothesis seems to have been upheld by virtually no-one. Origen did advance it, which is why, notwithstanding his vast erudition, he is not ‘St Origen’ or a Father of the Church. For proposing, albeit tentatively, that no-one goes to Hell (understood in the Church’s sense as a state which is eternal), he was repeatedly condemned, amongst others by Pope Vigilius and, later, the Second Council of Constantinople (553).

Even in the Old Testament it is clear that not all are saved. Consider, for instance, Dan 12:2: ‘And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, others to see everlasting reproach’. It is fashionable nowadays to say of ‘apocalyptic language’ that it cannot be taken literally. Well, obviously there is some non-literalness here, ‘sleep’ standing for death; however, if this text does not mean that some are damned, does it also fail to mean that some are saved? For it is exactly symmetrical regarding these two groups. The text is indeed apocalyptic in the true sense of that word, ie revelatory. It reveals something about the future. That is the way the Church has always taken it. Many New Testament texts, eg Mt 25:31-46, are likewise symmetrical between the blessed and the damned.

Here is one more Biblical reference to Hell – St Jude’s mention of Sodom and Gomorrah’s ‘punishment of eternal fire’ (Jude 7). Scripture, particularly the New Testament and the Gospels, has innumerable references to everlasting punishment. I will not quote more, for the sake of brevity and also because, as the Second Council of Orange put it in another context, ‘more texts will not profit those for whom a few do not suffice’.

One theologian for whom they do not suffice is Hans Urs von Balthasar. How then does he deal with such texts? He simply admits there are parts of Scripture which exclude universal salvation, but claims other texts say the opposite. In his book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? he repeatedly asserts that Scripture contradicts itself on this point. But having asserted that God’s Word is incoherent, von Balthasar, logically enough, gives himself permission to be incoherent in turn. For instance, he claims that Scriptural talk of Hell is just a warning. How can it be just a warning if, according to von Balthasar himself, the Good Book affirms over and over again that men do in fact go to Hell?

What then is the right way to deal with the texts von Balthasar sees as denying Hell? By the age-old technique of harmonisation, unmodish though it may be. Von Balthasar admits, and his critics vigorously assert, that Scripture repeatedly rejects universal salvation. This then is a datum, and other texts are to be read in the light of it. Take for example the “universalist” text 1 Cor 15:22: ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’. If this affirms salvation for all, why does St Paul say in the very same letter (3:17): ‘If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him’? Why does he warn in this letter (6:9-10, 8:11, 9:27) and elsewhere about the danger of eternal damnation? And if St Paul is universalist, what sense can it make to speak as he does (eg Rom 2:5) of the ‘day of wrath’?

Von Balthasar gives statements such as ‘all shall be made alive’ a mathematical interpretation, as if ‘all’ means every single one. But in ordinary speech ‘all’ need not bear this sense. Suppose I say ‘it has been raining all day’. I am not thereby necessarily saying rain has fallen every single second. And indeed there is clear evidence that in 1 Cor 15:22, ‘all’ does not mean ‘every single human being’. We need only read a single verse further: ‘But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits; then at His coming those who belong to Him’. So it is those who belong to Christ who shall be ‘made alive’.

What then do we make of God’s universal salvific will, as expressed in such texts as 1 Tim 2:4: ‘God our Saviour … desires all men to be saved …’? The traditional answer distinguishes God’s will antecedent to man’s choice, which is a salvific will, from God’s will consequent on man’s choice. Against this distinction, von Balthasar offers no argument; only mockery. Yet clearly there is a kind of Divine Will that is infallibly fulfilled and a kind that is not. Contrast, for example, God’s will to create the universe with His will that we not sin. God’s universal salvific will surely is of the second sort.

Von Balthasar, like others, tries to argue from the premise that we don’t know any particular individual is damned to the conclusion that we don’t know there are any people in Hell. The premise can be impugned: if Judas Iscariot was saved, how would it have been ‘better for that man that he not be born’ (Mt 26:24)? But even were the premise true, the conclusion would not follow; it is like saying, ‘because I don’t know of any individual who comes from Iceland, I don’t know there are any individuals who come from Iceland’.

Belief in universal salvation, as abetted by the likes of von Balthasar, has white-anted the Church in her missionary endeavours. If everyone will attain to Heaven anyway, what becomes of traditional ‘zeal for the salvation of souls’? Why be a St Francis Xavier, baptising so many that his arm ached? And let us also ignore Our Lady’s request (Fatima in Lucia’s own words, 12th edition, Jan 2002, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos, Fatima, vol 1, p180): ‘Pray; pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there is no one to pray and make sacrifice for them’.

Does God no longer love those in Hell? The answer is that He does; however, He loves the blessed much more. Here some would object: ‘If God is infinite, His love must be infinite, so He can’t love one more than another’. This objection displays an ignorance of the logic of infinity. Since Cantor’s celebrated proof, mathematicians have known that some infinities are larger than others. For example, the entire set of counting numbers is smaller than the set of so-called real numbers, even just those in the interval from zero to one.

A sign of Divine Love for the damned is in ending their earthly probation when He did, to stop them adding sin to sin and hence clocking up more severe punishment. As Vatican II points out, there are degrees of suffering in Hell depending on the degree of guilt (Lumen Gentium 14, towards the end).

How the devil must laugh to hear people, even priests, denying his reality or the existence of Hell.  Nevertheless, praise God, there is a return to orthodoxy, particularly among the younger generation of Catholics; so the future of the Church looks bright.

 As Our Lady prophesised at Fatima, in the end Her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

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Taken from: http://www.therecord.com.au/blog/hell-the-inside-story/

Pope Francis approves the revival of exorcism as a canon Catholic practice

 

COMING soon to a street near you: An exorcism. It’s for real. The Pope has officially revived the medieval practice in a fresh fight against evil.

Spearheading this fight against demonic domination are 250 priests from 30 countries. Now, the International Association of Exorcists has gone mainstream.

The Vatican officially approves.

Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reports that a Vatican governing committee has put the exorcist organisation’s constitution to the test — and found it pure.

“Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer,” the head of the association, Reverend Francesco Bamonte, said.

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The ancient practice of exorcism is going mainstream with churches training priests to meet demand.

OCCULT KILLINGS: Is the Devil at large in the US?

His group of holy warriors are now a part of canon law.

Unlike his recent predecessors, Pope Francis has a strong focus on the personification of the Devil. Satan is regularly mentioned in speeches and presentations.

He was quite clear about the personification of evil in one of his opening speeches as Pope: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the Devil,” he declared.

The Pope has even tried his own hand at exorcism: Last year he placed his hands on the head of a man said to be possessed by four demons. Exorcists say the words he uttered were part of a prayer of “liberation”.

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Taken from: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/pope-francis-approves-the-revival-of-exorcism-as-a-canon-catholic-practice/story-fniym3t1-1226976158404