Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Two Words & Paganism

It is Advent, which means to secular society it is "Christmas time," which means it is time for the "apologists" to caterwaul about commercialization and the "real meaning of Christmas," which was evanescing from living memory when Dickens walked the streets of London during the Darwinian and Industrial Revolutions. We make hot cocoa and watch movies with our families about snow and kindness on Friday night only to trounce our fellow shoppers in the toy aisles the next Saturday morning. Post-modern paganism has infiltrated "Christmas," but do many realize how deep the treachery goes?

Two ideas that were once fundamentally Christian now and inherently held to be positive, suffering and heaven, have evolved into new ideas more consonant with Egyptian and Hellenistic religions than the one Europe practiced from Charlemagne until Luther.

No....
Heaven. We know precious little about it. We do know that Christ will come again to "judge the living and the dead." We give the last Sunday after Pentecost and the Divine Office of Advent to the consideration of this simple fact. We also believe in the "resurrection of the dead" and the "resurrection of the body." Christ will raise those already in heaven back to life in their physical bodies to judge them, not in a particular way, but for His own glory and to separate the sheep from the goats for all creation to see. Some of the Greek Fathers of the Alexandrian tradition held that there would be a renewal of all things at this point, wherein all creation would be restored to God; Origen's reputation fell in part because he extended this idea to the evil one. Between heaven and earth, death, resurrection, and judgement, there will be a continuity of both consciousness and body. Passing from one to the other is akin to graduation from an engineer training program to an engineering job. The latter fulfills the promises and manifests the greater reality latent in the former. Modern society has taken "Paradise," the word Our Lord used to describe heaven from the Cross, and made it into something quite separate from our current vivacity, something similar to the pagan afterlife. Media depictions of heaven as a puerile, nebulous playground with chubby winged children do not help our cause nor do saccharine family consolations about a "better place." If the "afterlife" or generic heaven has anything in common with our current life, it is that we will have a great family reunion and barbecue in the backyard for eternity while some fellow named Jesus stands eerily in the background. Frankly, I do not see why we would not barbecue for eternity with people who held similarly erroneous concepts about God.

Suffering. Most egregiously, the idea of suffering is now devoid of any significant meaning. Suffering, for us Catholics, is a difficulty given by Christ for our sanctification and salvation. Suffering never exceeds our capacity to endure it with His help. Some may be weighed down by suffering while others experience it only in moderation, but there is no escaping it. I know one faithful Catholic who has led quite an unhappy life, at odds with his siblings, losing his parents, and his vocation crushed. This fellow calls the 1950s spiel about God's "perfect plan for you" a "bad sales pitch two generations old. The only real message I have found in life is 'Embrace the Cross'." Even the saint of joy, Philip Neri, suffered from his joy. After receiving the Holy Spirit as a ball of fire, his heart enlarged and broke some ribs, which remained broken and probing into his heart for the rest of his life. Suffering is a part of life after the Fall. Christ touched this ordinary part of life and made it extraordinary and a means to Him! Suffering to post-modern man means varying gradations of unhappiness, the lowest of which being crimes against humanity publicized on university campuses (campi?). The most common argument against God's existence or His goodness that I hear is "How could a loving God create a world with so much suffering?" to which I retorted, "He made the world. We made the suffering." Mankind is infallible, God is not. Suffering is an affliction visited upon man by some ulterior and impersonal force—like racial discrimination. To the Christian, this is irrational rubbish. The unhappy do not necessarily suffer. Those killed in great war crimes do not necessarily suffer either. They can die. They can be unhappy and miserable, but they may not be suffering. Suffering, in this writer's private opinion, partially consists of knowing something is not as God wishes it to be. A monk suffering under an oppressive abbot or a student failing a class or a man about to be killed by a warlord's militia can all suffer if they realize their predicament contravene's God's order and they recognize that God has offered them this irregularity to put their own lives right. The monk with take his prayer more seriously, the student will study harder, and the doomed man will repent of his sins and think of his family. For the non-believer, this is not suffering. It is worse. It is unhappiness.

St. Paul's words, "But we preach Christ crucified," have never been more relevant. Embrace the Cross. The rest follows. Retain the "Keep Christ in Christmas" bumper stickers by all means, too.

24 comments:

  1. It seems that most apologists are more into the current culture wars than actually explaining the Faith.

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    1. My quibble with "apologists" is that they are still fighting protestantism with basic arguments about the Eucharist and the papacy. Modern society has moved on to materialistic agnosticism and the "apologists" do not know how to get into common people's heads and point them the right way. Neither do most clergy, but that's a different matter/

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  2. RT,

    Thank you for that. Still one of the finest blogs in Catholic blogdom.

    Next year (the one that starts in twenty-odd days) sometime when I'm in Dallas again, I'd be delighted to buy you a beer.

    A most merry and blessed Christmas to you!

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    1. Thank you! Look me up if you are ever in the area!

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  3. At this time of year one starts to hear again the endless "25th of December is because of Sol Invictus and that's why we celebrate X-mas on that day" argument (one of my pet peeves).

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    1. Indeed. And then it's followed up by Trads quoting Taylor Marshall's nonsensical "Christmas has existed since day 1 of Christianity because the apostles asked Mary when's Christ's birthday was because who wouldn't want to know Christ's birthday?"

      Yes, because birthdays have ALWAYS been as important to people as they are now in our commercialized plasticine artificial society...

      Read the bloody Church Fathers "Dr." Marshall!

      ...of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below - Origen

      ...you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred. - Arnobius

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    2. It's not entirely unreasonable to think that the date of Christ's birth was made known to the Apostles. Nor would they necessarily consider his birthday unimportant. After all, the event was heralded by angels and celestial signs. Even if Our Lady did not tell them, some of the other living witnesses (shepherds) probably told that story for the rest of their lives. I don't know if the December 25 date is truly accurate, but it could be.

      And Marshall's doctorate is real enough, though you wouldn't know it from the sloppy way he writes his blog.

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    3. At least it's more real than Sungenis' "doctorate".

      "Sungenis obtained a Ph.D. in religious studies from the Calamus International University (CIU), a private, unaccredited distance-learning institution located in the Republic of Vanuatu"

      Anyway, it isn't unreasonable that the date was passed into memory. However it clearly was not considered worth preserving liturgically. It was the Church of Rome that uncovered or rediscovered the actual date through the Roman Census records (per Tertullian and St. Justin Martyr) and the feast of Christmas was being celebrated in Rome exclusively by about 180 AD. The date was shared by the Romans sometime in the 4th Century and it spread to everyone else (See St. John Chrysostom's Christmas sermon to the Church of Antioch, which was still fighting among itself whether to adopt the feast). It appears the only Church who did not adopt the feast was the Armenian Church and to this day they don't celebrate it ("Epiphany covers the Nativity and so much more").

      That quote from Origen is from a time before Rome had shared the date with everyone else. The Alexandrians - who at the time had the most developed theology in Christianity - were using all sorts of means to calculate the birth of Christ and coming up with wildly divergent results. Origen was frustrated by the whole thing and reprimanded them for trying to imitate pagans, stating that the spiritual birth of the Messiah was far more important than the physical birth. He than adds, "By the way THAT date is March 25".

      I wonder what Origen would think of the fact that the Annunciation is not a Day of Obligation in many American dioceses...

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    4. That's funny, I had a long discussion about Sungenis and his supposed degree just last night, prompted by a friend of mine having watched his interview with Michael Voris. The man is a charlatan, winding up traditionalists about a nonexistent gnat when they should be extracting the camel from their soup.

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    5. You might enjoy this.

      http://www.geocentrismdebunked.org/some-background-on-the-new-geocentrists/

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  4. Dear R.T. Your reflections are beautiful and worthy of serious thought.

    As for suffering, it is the coin of purchase in the economy of divine salvation.

    O, and when ti comes to Jesus being born on the 25th, we can trust a Jew that is the case:

    Alfred Edersheim, in his "The Life and Times of Jesus" (It can be read online for free)

    "And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief , that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, 'the tower of the flock.' This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah [951] leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices [952], and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover -- that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest.

    Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

    It was, then, on that ‘wintry night’ of the 25th of December, that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed. "

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  5. It looks as though his kids celebrated b-days

    Job 1:

    There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, and that man was simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil. [2] And there were born to him seven sons and three daughters. [3] And his possession was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a family exceeding great: and this man was great among all the people of the east. [4] And his sons went, and made a feast by houses every one in his day. And sending they called their three sisters to eat and drink with them.

    Ver. 4. His day of the week in succession; (Pineda) or each on his birthday, (Genesis xl. 20., and Matthew xiv. 6.; Grotius) or once a month, &c. The daughters of Job were probably unmarried.

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  6. Lord of Bollocks, is the Annunciation a Holy Day in any Diocese anywhere in the world? I don't think so, and that is not a Vatican II thing.

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    1. Not anymore. From the Catholic Encyclopedia: "This feast was always a holy day of obligation in the Universal Church. As such it was abrogated first for France and the French dependencies, 9 April, 1802; and for the United States, by the Third Council of Baltimore, in 1884."

      It should be again, but the bishops would probably then seek, and gain, approval to transfer it to a Sunday, even during Lent.

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    2. Of course it's not a Vatican II thing. My 1961 Roman Missal says as much (it also has a pretty major "Feast of the Miraculous Medal" for some American dioceses).

      In the Greek Catholic church I attend it is considered as high a feastday as the Dormition.

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    3. When did the Chuch start celebrating the Annunciation?

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    4. The 52nd canon of Trullo references it, so it was being celebrated in the East before AD 692.

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    5. Again, from the [ambivalent] Catholic Encyclopedia: "In the Latin Church this feast is first mentioned in the Sacramentarium of Pope Gelasius (d. 496), which we possess in a manuscript of the seventh century; it is also contained in the Sacramentarium of St. Gregory (d. 604), one manuscript of which dates back to the eighth century. Since these sacramentaries contain additions posterior to the time of Gelasius and Gregory, Duchesne (Origines du culte chr├ętien, 118, 261) ascribes the origin of this feast in Rome to the seventh century; Probst, however, (Sacramentarien, 264) thinks that it really belongs to the time of Pope Gelasius. The tenth Synod of Toledo (656), and Trullan Synod (692) speak of this feast as one universally celebrated in the Catholic Church."

      The feast probably came to Rome and Constantinople around the same time, the latter not being as much of the "East" as we now like to think. The modern dichotomy between the "East" (a generic conglomeration of the Byzantine Orthodox, non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, Assyrians, Byzantine Catholics and far Eastern Catholics) and "West" (Latin Catholic) is historically rubbish. Until the upsurge of Byzantine ambition (Trullo synod, Photios etc) and the Latin separation (Gregory the Great) from the Empire, Rome and Constantinople were under one political and cultural system under which the religious practices subsided. Hence the Greek and Latin liturgical coincidences from that time (the old Holy week, use of octaves, vestments, the emphasis of certain feasts—like the Nativity of John the Baptist and St Andrew—that the real Eastern churches did not hold). I cannot speak for the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian rites, and others—knowing absolutely nothing about them—but the Imperial churches of Rome and Byzantium/Constantinople seem to have had the feast in the 5th century.

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    6. I ask because I'm trying to figure out if its celebration is older than Christmas, given a certain "theory" I've heard for the date of the latter's celebration.

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  7. I take it some here have hear of the Integral Age explanation?

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    1. www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/integral-age-update

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    2. I do not see why the two explanations are exclusive. It would make sense given the prominence of the Annunciation in the liturgical kalendar of the various churches. Still, it is also clear from the patristic record that, at least in Antioch—and maybe Constantinople, they received Christmas from Rome. Perhaps Rome held the date from the earliest times and diffused it abroad?

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  8. M.J. has an Advent bumper sticker and also a Christmas one that reads

    Keep Christ and The Mass in Christmas

    No sense for we trads to truncate the Holy Season in imitation of the proddies

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  9. Don't rush the Holy Days Season
    Advent exists for a specific reason


    Bumper Stickers; it's the New Evangelisation

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