First Full Day of Work toward World Youth Day in Madrid

12 May

¡Ya vamos! Here we go!

Today was the first full day of work for me, in the Department of Communications, and for a friend and university colleague with whom I travelled here and with whom I am living in Madrid, who is in the Department of Culture, in preparation for World Youth Day 2011 that will take place August 16-21. So far, I have been impressed by Madrid, from the helpfulness of our host family to the cleanliness, order, and expanse of Madrid’s metro system, to the climate– that said, we have yet to feel the brunt of the renowned Madrid summer heat– to the welcome we have received from fellow World Youth Day staff and volunteers.

My first day consisted of meetings and of e-mailing Canadian and American youth ministers from several parishes and dioceses. In establishing new contacts and following up on old ones with youth ministers and the youth that they serve, I am searching for stories from English-speaking youth who will be participating in this year’s “JMJ” (the Spanish acronym for World Youth Day, la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud) for web-based publication.

The Spanish work day begins and ends much later than the usual work day in Canada. Meal times are also longer and much later; with a fellow Canadian in Communications I concurred that for my Canadian stomach to get used to this it will take some time.

Warren Schmidt, desde Madrid (from Madrid) JMJ/WYD 2011.

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Homily Assignment on Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius

8 May

The following is the last of three assignments I submitted for my course entitled “Thought of Vatican II” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON Canada (MDiv Year II, Semester I, dated 7 December 2010). One of the options for this “integrative” assignment for those who foresee entering ordained ministry was to write a “homily,” taking into account one of the Decrees or Declarations (not one of the constitutions: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, or Gaudium et Spes)  of the Second Vatican Council as well as liturgical readings for the day on which the homily would be preached (It was not actually required to deliver the homily orally; only to write it). As I had presented earlier in this course on the Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, my homily assignment focused on the same document. The original preface I wrote to explain the imagined liturgical setting and readings appears before the homily itself, and an appendix with the readings appears after it.

Preface

The liturgical setting of the following homily is a Mass of ordination to the presbyterate. In this homily assignment, I will correlate the core teachings of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, with the Scriptural readings I have selected for this Mass.  The first reading, Isaiah 61:3a, focuses on the universal divine commission to serve persons most in need. The Gospel acclamation, Luke’s quotation from Isaiah 61:1, carries forward this notion of service into the Gospel reading, Luke 22:14-20, 24-30, which joins the imperative of humble service given by Jesus to his apostles and to their successors with the institution of the Eucharist. Likewise, Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 and its responsorial verse, 1 Corinthians 10:16, relate the themes of service in God’s name an Eucharist as both communion– among human beings and between humankind and God– and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. The second reading, 1 Peter 5:1-4, applies the Christian obligation of humility specifically to presbyteral ministry; a presbyter is not to work for his own gain, but for the good of all among whom the presbyter ministers.

Homily

The Fathers of Vatican II were highly attentive toward the significance of formation for ordained priesthood and toward presbyteral ministry itself. Two Conciliar decrees, Optatam Totius and Presbyterorum Ordinis, focused on these respective subjects. Vatican II as a whole was primarily a council of renewal of the Catholic Church, a council at once of aggiornamento, or bringing the Church up to date, and of ressourcement, a return to sources– to tradition both Biblical and extra-Biblical, with a special esteem of the early Church Fathers– and ultimately to God. This need for renewal of the Church is acknowledged in the opening sentence of Optatam Totius, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Priestly Formation. This document begins by entrusting much of this ecclesial renewal to its priests and those who form men discerning the Sacrament of Orders. Optatam Totius declares: “This sacred Synod well knows that the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on a ministry of priests [that] is vitalized by the Spirit of Christ.”

The foundation of all priestly formation, then, is Christ, in whose priesthood the ordained participate. The priest is called, says Optatam Totius, to be vitalized, that is, enlivened, by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ’s Spirit– as our first reading from Isaiah puts it, “the Spirit of the LORD God”– the priest is anointed for service to God and to the Church, the people of God. During this very liturgy of priestly ordination, the priests, once vested with stole and chasuble, will be anointed with chrism on the palms of their hands. The Holy Spirit of Christ, begotten of the Father, is at this point called to rest upon the candidate for Orders, through the prayer from the Rite of Ordination that coincides with the anointing of hands: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” Together, the anointing with chrism of the hands of the newly ordained and this prayer recall the constant presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Not only in Holy Orders, but in our Baptism into the priesthood of the faithful, in Confirmation, and in the Anointing of the Sick recipients of these Sacraments are anointed with chrism. Thus, from our reception into the Church until our reception into the company of the saints in heaven, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us as God’s Spirit is on the prophets and upon Christ. In the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life” (cf. the Nicene Creed), we are perpetually vitalized.

Renewed by the Spirit of the Lord, the Church and priesthood within it are by nature transcendent of earthly borders, such as those between nations, languages, cultures, and social classes, yet at the same time God shows preference toward the poor, the captives, and the oppressed. To these, Isaiah writes, he had been “anointed to bring good news… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” Jesus made Isaiah’s mission his own from the beginning of his ministry, as we have heard in today’s Gospel Acclamation. That verse is drawn from Luke who, uniquely among the Gospel authors, includes Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah 61 before the Synagogue assembly in Nazareth on the Sabbath. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first act of public ministry. Jesus begins, as had Isaiah before him, by announcing that he had been sealed by the Spirit to evangelize, to free those held captive by that which is not of God, to restore sight to the blind, and “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour.” We might recall that Jesus’ first act of prophecy, the words of Isaiah from the scroll, was well-received by his audience. However, for declaring that his message of reconciliation and of healing would extend to those most in need, whether Jews or Gentiles, Jesus draws the assembly’s rejection. Undeterred, Jesus continues his mission, as the concluding sentence of Luke 4 illustrates: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

The same proclamation of the kingdom of God for which Jesus was sent is also our purpose and our imperative in priestly ministry in Christ’s stead. An entire chapter of Optatam Totius is devoted to “matters [that] have a special bearing on the sacred ministry” of the presbyterate, namely those of pastoral service: “catechetics, preaching, liturgical worship, the conferral of the Sacraments, works of charity, [and] the duty of seeking out the straying sheep and unbelievers,” according to article nineteen of this decree. Not to be disconnected from the intellectual and spiritual formation for priesthood treated in previous chapters of Vatican II’s Decree on Priestly Formation, nonetheless “the promotion of strictly pastoral training” for priests-to-be is given a special place as the title of the sixth chapter of Optatam Totius. Without this pastoral dimension, the import of the Catholic priesthood and of priestly formation is minimized. As pastoral training is necessarily linked to intellectual and spiritual formation of clergy if priestly formation is to be considered holistic so, too, I go as far as to say that those pastoral services enumerated in article nineteen of Optatam Totius all ought to be understood as works of charity. Here I do not read into Optatam Totius a concept not in the document; the same article nineteen of this decree underscores the chief “qualities to be developed in seminarians,” such as promotion of dialogue, and “a capacity to listen to other people and to open their hearts in a spirit of charity to the various circumstances of human need.”

My emphasis on the pastoral aspect of the presbyterate and of priestly formation, and on all pastoral works as works of charity, comes from my experience as an associate of the religious community of priests to which I belong, the Basilian Fathers. I was sent early in my priestly formation to Cali, Colombia, to teach high school French and English and to learn Spanish. As I gradually learned not only a new language but a new culture, I noted that, in addition to abject poverty, most people of the Basilian school and parish had received little catechetical instruction. The mission of the Basilians in Cali, then, was at once to alleviate the material poverty of those whom we served, as well as to provide an education– often entirely subsidized– to these people in both religious and secular disciplines. From that, there developed a deep bond of love between the Basilians and the residents of our parish neighbourhood. This was impressed upon me one day when, as a community manual labour exercise, I was washing clay roofing shingles in our schoolyard. A poor man on the street approached the schoolyard gate and greeted me with a smile, “Hola, Padre”– “Hello, Father!” Not yet ordained at that time, I had difficulty then– and I still do– with being called “Father,” for the pastoral responsibility that this title denotes, yet if I were to be called Father, all my works, I prayed, would be acts of charity. My priesthood, modeled after that of Christ, would be pastoral by definition. Priesthood is an anointing to pastoral acts of charity, whether one is a parish priest, a high-school, university, or seminary instructor, a scholar; whether one is praying, in recreation, or is washing shingles in a schoolyard. Priesthood is pastoral charity, oriented toward the good of human community and finally toward God.

My appointment to Colombia increased my awareness that priesthood, as a ministry of ecclesial leadership in charity, takes into account both the universal Church and the local church.  At the same time, the universality– the catholicity– of the Church became more evident to me as did the particular needs of local churches, regions, and nations. I was sent from Edmonton to Cali, after only six months as a Basilian associate, the earliest stage of formation in our religious community. The differences between the two churches are remarkable; the relative affluence of Edmonton over Cali, the religious devotion inherent in Colombian culture, and the linguistic dissimilarity between the two places are but a few of these distinctions. Nonetheless, the same Mass is celebrated in both Edmonton and Cali; Edmontonian and Caleño Catholics belong to the same Church in communion with the See of Rome.

Regarding priestly formation in particular, Optatam Totius holds in tension the recognition of the necessities of local churches and of those of the universal Church. The decree begins with an accent on the former: “Since the variety of peoples is so great,” says article one of Optatam Totius, “only general rules,” such as the establishment of “Program[s] of Priestly Formation” by regional bishops’ conferences, “can be legislated.” In Optatam Totius’ next article, though, which begins its chapter on “the intensified encouragement of priestly vocations,” the document is clear that “the task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community.” The encouragement of vocations to ordained priesthood evidently begins at the local level– in homes, in schools, and in parishes– yet it extends universally. To those who will be ordained shortly: The best way to encourage vocations, not only to the priesthood but to the specific vocation to which God calls each Christian, is to live your own divine calling to Holy Orders joyfully. In today’s second reading, the author of 1 Peter acknowledges that his vocation as an elder– literally, a presbyter– is not easy. He is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed.” Articles nine and ten of Optatam Totius echo this eschatological balance of 1 Peter of the “obligations” and even “hardship of the priestly life” with joy “in the blessedness promised by the Gospel” and by a “profound identification of” the priest’s entire life with that of Jesus Christ.

Priesthood, configured to Christ, is more than the power to confect the Eucharist, although this sacerdotal privilege is not unimportant. As per article eight of Optatam Totius, the priest must “be taught to look for Christ in many places: in faithful meditation on God’s word, in active communion with the holy mysteries of the Church… in the bishop” whom they assist, “the poor, the young, the sick, the sinful, and the unbelieving.” The Eucharist is only the beginning of Christian service; the priest who confects it for and receives it with the people of God must not, as today’s Gospel and second reading both affirm, “lord it over” those whom we serve as leaders. The Eucharistic feast must be united with and must give way to service. Moreover, as we heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the Eucharist, over which the priest presides, is at once an act of thanksgiving and one that draws human beings into ever-closer communion with one another and with God.

Let us pray, then, for the priestly candidates present before us here, and for all priests and those in formation for Holy Orders, that they might be joyful instruments of and participants in the priesthood of Christ. In this Eucharistic celebration we thank God for the gift of priests, “the hope of the Church,” as concludes Optatam Totius, and for those entrusted with their formation.

Appendix: Readings for Homily Assignment on Optatam Totius

Thought of Vatican II- SMT 3670 HF

Readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, selected according to The Rites of the Catholic Church, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1980), 2:102-106.

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-3a

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-18 (Response: 1 Corinthians 10:16)

12What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord

 R: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.

17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
   and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people. R.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4

1Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it— not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

Gospel Acclamation (Luke 4:18-19)

 Alleluia.

 The Lord sent me to bring good news to the poor and freedom to prisoners.

 Alleluia.

Gospel Reading: Luke 22:14-20, 24-30

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso: George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, Father of Vatican II

16 Apr

Archbishop George Bernard Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II, but “spoke only once to the assembled council fathers,” on ecumenism.[1] However, I have chosen Flahiff as the subject of my biography of a council father because of his significant involvement in the promotion and development of Vatican II’s theological appreciation of religious life, and because the study of Flahiff’s life is of special interest to me as a Basilian in formation for priestly service. I will therefore consider Flahiff’s efforts in preparation for the Second Vatican Council, his role as a Father of the Second Vatican Council, and how Flahiff’s teaching and example, notably as Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil, were an anticipation of the Council. Lastly, I will discuss Flahiff’s post-Conciliar application of the theological legacy of Vatican II.

Flahiff, thirty years ordained, was elected to his second term as Superior General of the Basilian Fathers on 14 June 1960.[2] During his inaugural six-year term in this position, Flahiff was instrumental in the 1955 reunification of the Basilian Fathers of Viviers, France, and of Toronto, Canada, divided since 1922.[3] As head of the Basilians, he also anticipated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially in the areas of Catholic education, of liturgy, of missions, and of religious life. Flahiff, though, perpetually deemed himself unworthy of positions of ecclesial leadership. In what may have been a reference to a quotation from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Flahiff’s baptismal namesake, when one of his fellow monks became Pope Eugene III in 1145, Flahiff said to Basilian Chapter delegates upon his second election as Superior General, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”[4] Recalled nonetheless by his successor as Superior General, Fr. Joseph Wey, as a “man of God” and an example to his confreres of charity, of care for his fellow Basilians and for those to whom he ministered, and of a “vigourous interior life,”[5] Flahiff was named Archbishop of Winnipeg on 15 March 1961.[6] Vatican II, convoked on Christmas Day, 1961, by Pope John XXIII, opened in October of the following year.[7]

Formal planning for Vatican II had commenced with the motu proprio of June 5, 1960, Superno Dei Nutu, in which John XXIII established the Council’s preparatory commissions and secretariats. Once Flahiff had been appointed to head the See of Winnipeg, “the Council organizers,” Fr. P. Wallace Platt writes, “were not long in fingering the new archbishop to help in the preparation.”[8] His assignment to the Preparatory Commission on Religious Life was an added surprise for the self-effacing Flahiff, who had begun his episcopacy only six months earlier. Flahiff’s progression from Basilian Superior General to archbishop to father of an ecumenical council was indeed swift, even astonishing many of his Basilian confreres.[9] Flahiff cautiously accepted the new responsibilities long foreseen for him by Rome, as he noted concerning his April, 1961, private audience with Pope John XXIII. Archbishop-elect for less than a month at that time, Flahiff replied hesitantly to a question from the pontiff about his age: “Fifty-five years, Holy Father.”[10] John XXIII then responded:

That is fine. I was forty-four [years old] when I was consecrated a bishop. I will tell you something. It is all in the Pater Noster– three things: hallowed- kingdom- will. [God’s] will only matters. [God] chooses you.[11]

The pope’s entreaty failed to dispel Flahiff’s anxiety at becoming a bishop. John XXIII, though, remained convinced that Flahiff was a worthy selection to the episcopate. Christ Himself, pleaded Pope John again, willed that Flahiff serve as a bishop. The pope informed Flahiff that he had seen the scrutinium, “the document outlining the qualifications of the candidate for a bishopric,” and that “we were all pleased: you were for this post.” Flahiff then told John XXIII his episcopal motto, Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso, at which the pope “beamed, ‘Ah, bene, bene! That is it!’”[12] Flahiff was sustained as he had been before his episcopal consecration, by a deep life of prayer. Amid rumours that Flahiff would fill the vacant See of Winnipeg, before the Vatican Radio announcement that he had in fact been named its bishop, another Canadian bishop cynically remarked: “I hear they are going to appoint a bishop who prays.”[13] Flahiff’s reputation for prayerful discernment of God’s will and of the good of his confreres both individually and congregationally had gained him widespread admiration among Basilians. As Basilian Superior General from 1954 to 1961, he was keenly interested in the welfare of the burgeoning community, especially in the areas of vocations and religious and priestly formation and vocations, as well as the missions. Flahiff’s commitment to such matters, to which five letters written by, to, or about Flahiff during or immediately following his generalate attest, foreshadowed the attention paid to those themes at Vatican II a decade later.

The first of these letters, dated 21 May 1955, is addressed to Flahiff by Fr. John Collins, Director of the Basilian Mission Centre in Rosenberg, Texas.[14] Collins had met with Bishop Wendelin J. Nold of Galveston, who asked for the appointment of two additional Basilian priests to serve the rapidly growing Mexican community in his diocese. Two days later, Bishop Nold sent this request in writing to Collins. He proposed not only that the Basilian presence in Rosenberg be maintained, but that the Basilians also replace the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in immigrant chaplaincy in Sugar Land or Stafford and establish a second mission centre in Angleton.[15] Upon notification via Collins of Bishop Nold’s petition, Flahiff appointed Fr. William F. McGee as Superior in Angleton and Collins to the parishes in Sugar Land and in Stafford.[16] Flahiff’s acceptance of this increased Basilian commitment to the missions was only the beginning of the order’s rapid spread into mission territory; by the end of Flahiff’s generalate, the Basilians were established in Mexico City.[17] As Superior General, Flahiff also actively sought religious vocations, as shown by his letters to Frs. A. Leland Higgins, Basilian General Councillor, and John Corrigan. Two letters of 3 March 1961 chronicle one of Flahiff’s last appointments of his generalate, that of Fr. Edmund Brennan as Vocation Director.[18] Although Flahiff had chosen Brennan to succeed Corrigan due to the latter’s poor health, he recognized Corrigan’s expertise in religious formation- he had published a book, Theology of Religious Vocation- and assured him of the need for his collaboration with the newly-assigned Brennan.[19] A fifth letter, from Fr. John Fiore congratulating Flahiff on his consecration as bishop, shows that a Vatican II understanding of the episcopacy as the “fullness”[20] of Holy Orders, as Fiore wrote, was already ingrained in the Basilian order before the Council.

During Vatican II, Archbishop Flahiff’s input before the assembly was limited. Behind the scenes, though, Flahiff participated actively in conciliar discussions. A member of the pre-conciliar Commission on Religious Life, Flahiff later contributed to the writing of Perfectae caritatis, Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life.[21] Flahiff’s sole opportunity to speak before the assembly came during the Council’s third session on 2 October 1964. His speech on “the schema on ecumenism” that became Unitatis redintegratio[22] was remarkable for his assessment of the purifying role of intra-Christian divisions. Flahiff stated that “schisms can remind the Church that ‘she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.’”[23]

Flahiff was appointed after Vatican II to the Congregations for Religious Life and Secular Institutes and for Catholic Education. He was also one of four Canadian bishops to attend each of the first two Synods of Bishops in Rome in 1967 and 1971. Pope Paul VI named Flahiff a Cardinal on 28 March 1969.[24] P. Wallace Platt speculates that Cardinal Flahiff’s further rise in ecclesial ranks was thus halted by a strong minority in the Roman Curia who were suspicious of him. For instance, Flahiff’s recommendation to the 1971 Synod of Bishops for greater recognition of “the aspirations of women… in the life of the Church” was met with criticism from those who regarded Flahiff as advocating the ordination of women.[25] Nonetheless, within the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the Congregation of St. Basil, Cardinal Flahiff was particularly respected. He reminded his fellow Basilians, most notably at the order’s 1966 General Chapter that, in keeping with Perfectae caritatis, all aspects of religious life require constant scrutiny and renewal. Flahiff also frequently emphasized the interconnection among the documents of Vatican II.[26] He retired to the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada in 1982 and died in the same city on 22 August 1989. George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, father of Vatican II, is remembered primarily by P. Wallace Platt for his “example” as “a zealous pastor, a humble religious, a faithful [priest,] and an admirable human person.”[27]

WRS

——

This essay was originally submitted on 12 October 2010 for a course entitled “Thought of Vatican II,” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year II, Semester I.


[1] P. Wallace Platt, Gentle Eminence: A Life of Cardinal Flahiff (Montreal/ Kingston/ London/ Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), 101.

[2] P. Wallace Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” in Dictionary of Basilian Biography, 2nd ed. (Toronto/ Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 216-217.

[3] Ibid., 216.

[4] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 66.

[5] Ibid., 66-67.

[6] Ibid., 224.

[7] Walter M. Abbott, ed. “Important Dates of Vatican II,” in The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 741.

[8] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 91.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 75.

[13] Ibid., 75.

[14] John Collins to George B. Flahiff, 21 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[15] Wendelin J. Nold to John Collins, 23 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[16] George B. Flahiff to Wendelin J. Nold, 18 June 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[17] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[18] George B. Flahiff to A, Leland Higgins, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[19] George B. Flahiff to John Corrigan, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[20] John Fiore to George B. Flahiff, 2 May 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[21] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[22] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[25] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[26] George B. Flahiff, “Vatican II and the Religious Life,”16 August 1966, Keynote address to the Basilian Convention, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY.

[27] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 213-218.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.

WRS

[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.

A Brief, Prayerful Announcement– Reflection for Mass of March 25, 2011– Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

25 Mar

 

Friday, March 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8-10; Psalm 40: 7-10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

…And now, a brief announcement… “The Holy Spirit [has] come upon [us], and the power of the Most High [overshadows us].”[1] Nine months from today, we will celebrate Jesus’ Nativity, but the process of our bearing Christ into our world begins now, as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord. We are urged, then, to begin, if we have not already begun, to be converted and to open our hearts and minds to renewal, to be better disposed to do the will of God… End of announcement.

Looking over my notes for the Liturgical Presiding practicum, I saw that our class had been told clearly about proper brevity and placement of announcements within the order of the Mass. Announcements are to be made where a natural break occurs within the Mass, for instance between the reception of Communion and the Concluding Rites, so as not to be disruptive to the flow of the liturgy.[2]

Amid our activities outside of the Mass, although in a different way than at Mass, announcements can be timely and humourous, thought-provoking, or even inspiring. For example, a creative television commercial may make one laugh or be likely to buy a product or adopt a lifestyle change. More deeply, the expected birth of a child within a family, announced during a family dinner, is a message of remarkable beauty.

However, many announcements are ill-timed, too long, repetitive, or disruptive, whether within or outside of Mass. Let us return to the examples of the television commercial and the pregnancy announcement. Some commercials are effective by their repetition in moving us to buy the products advertised, yet I detest seeing the same commercial multiple times in a row, unless it is a profoundly creative use of thirty seconds. Such a recurrent announcement is disruptive to whatever show I am trying to watch.

How might the announcement of an impending birth of a child be as disruptive, albeit in a different way, as the repetitious or dull television commercial? Today’s Gospel, I think, answers that question. I imagined upon re-reading Luke’s infancy narrative that I had been given the role of evaluating the Angel Gabriel’s technique in Liturgical Presiding. I do indeed have a similar assignment for the class I am in; for it I took notes on last Sunday’s Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. The presider was not an angel.

If Gabriel were not an angel and if this were a Mass, the little Pharisee in me concerned with liturgical rubrics would have had a lot to say. In class, we are reminded not to begin Mass with a secular greeting in place of a “sacred” one, and thus to begin in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then “The Lord be with you.”[3] Poor Gabriel gets off to a bad start here: “Hail, full of grace.”[4] The Greek imperative Χαῖρε, which we read as “Hail,” can also mean “Rejoice” or a simple, underwhelming “Hello!”[5] No wonder Mary found Gabriel’s salutation disconcerting! Then Gabriel proceeds to make a verbose and unfocused announcement. He not only tells Mary that she will bear a child, but that the barren Elizabeth will as well.[6] Then Gabriel simply departs from the scene.[7] If I had been in Mary’s place, I, like her, would have been “greatly perplexed.”[8] Herein, though, lies the success of Gabriel’s announcement: It allows for Mary’s participation in the narrative, much as the participation of the People of God during Mass contributes to good liturgy.

Mary’s fiat– her faithful “Here am I,”[9] which does not replace her perplexity at her conception of God made human but overcomes it– is an announcement in itself. In fact, her announcement is the most important one of today’s Gospel reading. Let it be our announcement, too, then, for it is appropriate at all times and at any time. And now, our brief, prayerful, announcement: “Here [are we], the servant[s] of the Lord, let it be done to [us] according to your word.”[10]

WRS


[1] Luke 1:35

[2] “Eucharistic Liturgy.” Course notes handout, Liturgical Presiding, SMP 3165 HS (Toronto: University of St. Michael’s College, 23 January 2011).

[3] Dennis C. Smolarski, How Not to Say Mass: A Guidebook on Liturgical Principles and the Roman Missal, 2nd ed. (New York, NY/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003), 51.

[4] Luke 1:28. The Greek Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη (Hi’-reh, keh-cha-ri-tō-meh’-nay) literally translates as “Hail, [woman] being (or, who is) made graceful.” See also The Greek Bible, http://www.greekbible.com/index.php.  Accessed 23 March 2011. Search for Luke 1:28, then click on the word κεχαριτωμένη to open the lexical entry for the verb χαριτόω, “I make graceful.”

[5] The Greek Bible, entry on the verb χαίρω. http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?xai/rw_v-2pad-s–_p. Accessed 23 March 2011. This word appeared on an exam in the New Testament Greek course I am taking, as part of a multiple choice question, “God revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb (Exodus 3:14) in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) as…” The correct answer (in Greek, from the Septuagint) is Εἱμι ὁ ὠν (“Amy ha own,” meaning “I am the one being” or more eloquently, “I am the one who is.” One of the incorrect choices, which was good for a few laughs in class, was Χαῖρε, το ὀνομα μοι Θεος ἐστίν (Hi’-reh, tah ah’-nah-mah moy thay-ahs’ es-tin’), which means in this context, “Hello, my name is God.”

[6] Luke 1:31, 36.

[7] Luke 1:38

[8] Luke 1:29

[9] Luke 1:38

[10] Ibid.

The Seventy- Luke 10:1-24

24 Dec

Back on 25 March 2009, I began my last post on a section of the Gospel of Luke with a flashback to the Annunciation, the event recounted in the opening chapter of Luke when the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son, Jesus, “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Gabriel’s message is one of great joy: “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you,” yet Mary is said by Luke to be “greatly troubled” by it (vv 28-29). This episode ends with Mary’s joyful acceptance of God’s will for her: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (v 38). At those words, though, in characteristically Lukan fashion, Gabriel exits the scene and Mary is left alone. The joy of the occasion is combined with anxiety. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the experience of discipleship is one of joy amid crisis.

That combination of joy and of crisis is again at the forefront at the close of Luke’s infancy narrative. As the prophetess Anna exhibits the mark of a true disciple by her ceaseless prayer in the Temple, Simeon, even while he blesses the Holy Family who has come to Jerusalem to present the Child Jesus to the Lord, predicts ominously: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). Joy abounds as the anticipated “redemption of Israel” (v 25) is fulfilled by the Incarnation of the Son of God, yet from a young age Jesus knows that He “must be in [His] Father’s house” (v 49). He must complete His mission that will culminate on a cross in Jerusalem, the city upon which the Lukan Gospel is focused. Christ’s Passion and death on that cross, though, will not be the end. At Emmaus the Risen Jesus opens the hearts and minds of His fearful disciples to the Scriptures (Luke 24:32, 45) and to His presence “in the breaking of the bread” (v 35).  Then, as He ascends to the Father, Jesus directs His disciples back to Jerusalem where they will receive the Holy Spirit and will be sent forth as His witnesses (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:8, 2:1-4). Thus begins the mission of the Church.

Like the earthly life of Our Lord, the era of the Church has been marked by joy and by crisis, and like the early disciples in Luke’s account we must orient ourselves toward the Holy City. Indeed, as Christ set His face toward that goal (Luke 9:51), we must set ours toward the Heavenly Jerusalem. We are promised success in our Christian vocation, even while on earth we await the eternal bliss of heaven. Our earthly joy in God’s presence is intrinsic to our divine call to discipleship, a mission of which none of us are worthy. Simon Peter, the first of the Twelve chosen by Jesus to follow Him according to Luke, encountered his own sinfulness on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:8). Peter’s sorrow, fear, and incomprehension in the presence of the holy are transformed by Jesus into joy and reassurance as the Rock of the Apostles is sent forth: “From now on, you will be catching [people]” (v 10).

Jesus, though, is not content to send only Peter in His stead; twelve Apostles are selected “to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2) Jesus clarifies that the mission of the Twelve will be demanding; they are to “take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor food, nor money, and… no one” is to “take a second tunic” (v 3) Our Lord’s commissioning of the Twelve begins Chapter nine of the Gospel of Luke. In that chapter, the Twelve grapple with the Messianic identity of their divine Master (vv 18-21). This Messiah predicts His death twice in the same chapter (vv 22 43b-45), leaving His Apostles confused and frightened. Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John in a tremendous theophany in which the Son of God is affirmed by His heavenly Father: “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him” (v 35). However, even the Transfiguration unmistakeably points toward Jesus’ “exodus” (v 31); the Gospel’s climax, Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem, is again vividly foreshadowed.

Even the most fervent disciple would find the demands of fellowship in this Messiah difficult. After the awe-filled Transfiguration, the Twelve experience repeated failure in living the mission that they were sent to accomplish. Commissioned to heal the sick, they are not able to cure the demoniac child; their faith is no greater than that of the “faithless and perverse generation” (v 41) to which they belong. Jesus’ command to take nothing with them and to rely on God’s providence is neglected as the disciples clash over which one among them is greatest (vv 46-48). Instead of welcoming the outcast– they were to enter into the houses of the people on their way and build Christ’s kingdom of peace– they exclude the foreign exorcist (vv 49-50). Jesus, though, presses on.

Our Lord is determined to reach Jerusalem, although the road to the Holy City is arduous. It traverses the land of the hated Samaritans (vv 51-56). To follow Jesus requires the subordination of one’s earthly priorities– the security of one’s home, one’s family, one’s comfort in familiar surroundings and activities, and even one’s life (vv 57-62)– to discipleship of and in Christ. Jesus knows the difficulty of the task He entrusts to His disciples; this mission must conclude in self-sacrifice so that God will fill our emptiness with the glory of His resurrection. The path of Jesus leads us to the Cross if we are willing to accompany Him. Christ will not be deterred in accomplishing His salvific goal, nor does He stop at the call of only Twelve Apostles. Instead, Jesus expands the vocation of the Twelve to the whole Church, symbolized by the group of seventy[-two] first mentioned at the outset of Chapter Ten of the Gospel of Luke. There, Jesus sends these seventy “ahead of Him in pairs to every town” (Luke 10:1) with similar yet more expansive instructions to those with which He sent the Twelve in the preceding chapter of the same Gospel:

Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals, and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you… Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ (vv 3-11)

These verses are not mere repetition by Jesus or by the Evangelist, although they do represent a typically Lukan couplet motif together with Luke 9:1-5. For example, the list of forbidden articles and activities in Luke 10:4 is similar to that in Luke 9:3: neither the Twelve nor the Seventy are to bring money or a sack in which to carry it on their journeys. The “walking stick” proscribed in 9:3 is substituted for a sanction against greeting other persons “along the way,” while instead of instructing the disciples not to “take a second tunic,” as in 9:3, in 10:4 Jesus says to the Seventy, “Carry… no sandals.”

Despite differences in wording and in order between the prohibitions in Luke 9:3 and 10:4, the message of both verses is essentially identical: discipleship in Christ requires total reliance on God, thus detachment from three sources of material security, whatever temporary good these might yield. The first of these sources is financial gain, symbolized by money and the sack in which to store it. The second, represented by the walking stick or by greeting people “along the way,” is adherence to a particular place or dependence upon particular people for happiness. The third source is attachment to goods– not only to clothing– indicated by the tunic or by the sandals.

Firstly, by these orders to His two sets of disciples, the Twelve and the Seventy, Jesus does not advocate destitution. In fact, Our Lord affirms in Luke 10:7 that “the labourer deserves his payment.” To deny the remuneration due a worker is a grave injustice: “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). Secondly, neither does Jesus teach against close interpersonal relationships, or against a desire to serve in a specific environment. From my own perspective of religious life, for instance, I am frequently asked by friends, relatives, former students, and confrères alike whether I would want to return someday to our Basilian community in Colombia in which I last served over two years ago. I respond to such questions that I would go without reserve if called to serve there again. In six months in Cali, the people of our Congregation’s parish and school there taught me about true poverty: out of their material nothingness came a deep joy and faith that filled my comparative void and that continues to sustain me spiritually to this day. By the grace of God, though, I have also experienced great joy in Basilian community, whether in Edmonton, Cali, Windsor, or Toronto. I am open to service in any apostolate to which I am appointed, and I pray that this might always be so. Thirdly, by barring His disciples from carrying a second tunic or sandals, Jesus does not teach that to be well-attired is contrary to Christian fellowship. He does, though, urge simplicity of a pilgrim people. Money, friendship, a place to live and to work, and physical belongings are all necessary, but a Christian disciple must not regard these passing earthly goods as greater than the enduring good that awaits us in heaven.

Perhaps Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum, on Capital and Labour, puts this message best. Following an affirmation of the right of the worker to a just wage, Rerum Novarum continues:

The Church, with Jesus Christ as her Master and Guide, aims higher still… The things of earth cannot be understood or valued aright without taking into consideration the life to come, the life that will know no death.[1]

The valuation of eternal life over any finite earthly good is at the core of Jesus’ instruction as He commissions the Twelve and then the Seventy. Elsewhere in the Gospels, the same message is proclaimed even more clearly: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt 6:33).

Upon sending forth the Twelve as well as the Seventy, Jesus stresses confidence in God over material possessions and even over other persons who might welcome His disciples along their way. The same instructions are conveyed in similar vocabulary and order, yet one ought not to dismiss as insignificant the true differences between Jesus’ words at the commissioning of the Twelve and of the Seventy. For example, Jesus’ more urgent exhortation to the Seventy in Luke 10:2, “the harvest is abundant but the labourers are few, so ask the Master of the harvest to send out labourers for His harvest,” is entirely absent from His directions to the Twelve in Luke 9. The following verse, a warning to the Seventy that they will be “like lambs among wolves,” also is not paralleled at the beginning of Luke’s previous chapter. However, comparable orders to those in Luke 10:1-16 are given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.[2] No parallel of any of Luke’s sending of the Seventy is found in Mark’s Gospel. Some sayings in Luke 9, such as Jesus’ mandate to the Twelve, are much less detailed than in Luke’s following chapter: “Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you… shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them” (Luke 9:5). In Luke 10, this directive is more expansive; the Seventy are to accept and to return the hospitality of the “peaceful person” (Luke 10:6)– literally the “son of peace”[3]– and the proclamation of the imminence of the “Kingdom of God”[4] (vv 9, 11) is to follow whether or not the disciples are welcomed in the towns through which they travel.

These noteworthy discrepancies between the beginnings of Luke 9 and 10, and parallels or lack thereof between Luke 10:1-16 and passages in the other Synoptic Gospels, suggest that Luke’s accounts of the commissioning of the Twelve and of the Seventy stem from different sources. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share the account of the sending out of the Twelve, although Matthew’s version of this pericope is arranged differently than those of Mark and of Luke.[5] In cases where a passage is included in all three Synoptic Gospels or in Mark and either Matthew or Luke, most Biblical scholars assume Markan priority– that is, that Matthew, Luke, or both used Mark, whose Gospel is held to have been the first to have been written, as their documentary source about the life of Christ.[6] Material shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as “triple tradition,” makes up approximately five hundred verses, or about three quarters of Mark, forty-five percent of Matthew, and forty-one percent of Luke. Moreover, ninety-one percent of Mark is also paralleled in Matthew, in Luke, or in both of these other Synoptic Gospels. While these parallels in wording and often in arrangement between the Synoptics can be explained by Markan priority, this theory does not account for “double tradition” material, found in Matthew and in Luke but not in Mark. These nearly two-hundred-fifty verses of double tradition, of which Mark could not have been a source, comprise almost a quarter of the Gospel of Matthew and over one fifth of the Gospel of Luke. A majority of scholars theorize that the origin of this double tradition is a non-extant document called “Q,” after the German word quelle, which means “source.” Chief among many arguments against the Q hypothesis by a strong minority of Scripture scholars is that Q, a theoretical written collection of sayings of Jesus, compiled from oral tradition and probably lacking Nativity and Passion narratives, has yet to be discovered.

Nevertheless, double and triple tradition agreements among Matthew, Mark, and Luke have led to widely accepted theories such as Markan priority and Q. In addition to material paralleled in multiple Synoptic Gospels, though, many verses and entire passages in Matthew or in Luke are unique to these Gospels. About thirty-five percent of the Gospel of Luke is uniquely Lukan, while one fifth of the content of Matthew is found in no other Gospel. Such a vast amount of uniquely Matthean or Lukan material is unlikely to have been the result of these evangelists’ independent additions to source documents available to both of them; more plausibly, Matthew and Luke employed in their composition written and oral sources not accessible to the other author. Matthean source material can be abbreviated “M,” and Lukan source material “L.”

M and L content are important to the distinctive order and structure of the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, respectively. In the case of Luke 10, a verse of material found only in Luke begins both a new chapter in that Gospel and a new pericope: “After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit” (Luke 10:1). Such verses as this, which represent clear breaks between pericopes, are called seams. Matthean seam verses, including the evangelist’s adaptation of Old Testament texts, are more often M content than are Lukan seams comprised of L text.  In the Gospel of Matthew, M material seams follow particular formulas, two examples of which are “fulfillment citations” and use of contrast between the sayings of Jesus and the commandments of the Old Testament. Matthean fulfillment citations, wherein events occur to fulfill “what the Lord had said through [a] prophet,” introduce or conclude six pericopes between Matthew’s infancy narrative and the beginning of his account of Jesus’ nascent Galilean ministry.[7] The latter form of Matthean seam is found six times in a section of the Sermon on the Mount often called the “antitheses,” in which Jesus cites a tenet of Mosaic Law, prefaced by the phrase, “You have heard that it was said…” Then, Jesus interprets each statute for His own audience: “But I say to you…” Here, Jesus is not portrayed as abolishing the Law, but, as Matthew writes, in fulfillment of it (Matt 5:17). Thus, like Matthew’s fulfillment citations, the so-called antitheses– not true antithetical pairings of Moses’ Law and Jesus’ teachings, as if Jesus were attempting to supersede the Torah, but Rabbinic applications of the Torah to the social situation of Jesus’, or more likely Matthew’s, hearers– present Jesus in continuity with Israel’s religious and legal tradition.[8]

Unlike Matthew, Luke’s inclusion of Old Testament citations is rare, as are L material seams as opposed to M seams in Matthew. Where L seams occur in Luke, their break from the preceding pericope and led into the subsequent text are subtle. For example, Luke 10:1, an L verse, continues on the theme of the demands of discipleship presented in the triplet of proverbs in Luke 9:57-62. Discipleship is the central thesis through to Jesus’ blessing of the seventy in Luke 10:23-24. Nevertheless, Luke 10:1 is a break from the texts that precede and succeed it. Luke 9:57-62 and 10:2-16 is shared by Matthew and is therefore Q material with important Lukan modifications.

I turn now to the final four verses of this sequence of Q sayings in which Jesus condemns towns whose people have not accepted His message. Those towns, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, are contrasted with Tyre and Sidon, cities that would have repented readily given the same opportunity to hear Jesus as were the three Galilean communities. Especially in comparison with the larger pagan centres of Tyre and Sidon, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were small fishing villages near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the first-century C.E.[9] Jesus’ denunciation of these particular communities for their rejection of His preaching of God’s Kingdom, then, as opposed to larger towns where He had been, seems quite harsh. Of these villages, Capernaum is alluded to most often in Luke– four times (4:23, 31; 7:1; 10:15).[10] It was, despite its small size, a main centre of Jesus’ teaching ministry. It had presumably had more opportunities than other villages in its vicinity to reject Jesus. Evidently from Luke’s account, Capernaum had developed a worse reputation than other nearby villages for declining to receive Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. Thus, it draws the starkest condemnation: “As for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down into the netherworld’” (Luke 10:15). As poor as Capernaum’s reputation may have been, though, it was not, even for Luke, entirely depraved. Jesus’ first miracle there according to Luke is well-received; the people of Capernaum recognize Jesus’ authority (Luke 5:32) and rapidly spread the news (v 37) of His healing of a demoniac (vv 33-35) and teaching in their synagogue (v 31). Luke mentions Chorazin only once in his Gospel (Luke 10:13), while he refers to Bethsaida twice (Luke 9:10, as site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and 10:13). Why, then, such insignificant villages draw such a scathing rebuke in Luke 10:13-16 remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the message of this pericope is clear: Jesus’ human disciples, whether the Twelve or the Seventy, have been given divine authority to herald the inauguration of God’s kingdom. To fail to heed their message is to reject Christ, and therefore whoever rejects the Son of God, mediator between the divine and human as He is fully both, rejects God the Father.

If one reads no further than Luke 10:16, the tone of the Lukan account of the mission of the Seventy would suggest their utter failure. If those sent “ahead of [Jesus] to every town… He intended to visit” (Luke 10:1) had been unable to elicit repentance in three tiny fishing communities, their success would have been even less likely in larger towns, yet the Seventy return to their Lord rejoicing: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (v 17). Their joy is not inappropriate; the Seventy recognize that their power to exorcise demons comes from Christ (Luke 9:1). However, Jesus warns them, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Insofar as Jesus’ disciples have been empowered to participate in bringing to fulfillment the reign of God on earth, it has already been established in Christ. Satan, cast in Luke 10:18 as the “adversary”– the “prosecuting attourney,”[11] writes John L. McKenzie, of late Old Testament prophecy and wisdom traditions– has already fallen “like lightning from the sky” (v 18). Jesus’ disciples are promised that they will conquer even “serpents and scorpions,” and that nothing will harm” them (v 19). This promise is not a prediction by Jesus or by the evangelist of an end to persecution of Jesus’ followers. That has yet to occur, and if this latest “century of martyrs”[12] is any indication, maltreatment of Christians is on the increase. Instead, Luke’s message is that Jesus has provided for His disciples’ eternal welfare. Although Satan’s tyranny is still very much active in the world, it will be brought to an end with the eschaton, a process that is already underway.[13]

Following his admonition of the Seventy, newly-returned from their successful mission of evangelization, Jesus takes His turn to rejoice in prayer. McKenzie notes that Luke 10:21-22 parallels Matthew 11:25-27 almost exactly, with one important Lukan addition: Luke “alone mentions the rejoicing of Jesus in the Spirit.”[14] This allusion to the Holy Spirit is characteristic of Luke and of Acts.[15] At Jesus’ Ascension in Acts, the Apostles are reminded of our Lord’s own Baptism “with the Holy Spirit.” That Baptism is then conferred upon them; in the Holy Spirit they are to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) Luke often presents the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son. Three examples come to mind of this Trinitarian tendency of Luke: The first is his account of Jesus Baptism, during which the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus while “a voice from heaven,” that of the Father, declares that in His Son He is “well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)  The second is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), in which some consider the cloud (v 34) to be a reference to the Spirit, and the voice that says, “This is my chosen Son” (v 35), to be that of the Father. Jesus is present, of course, as a man. The third instance in Luke of the presentation of the whole Trinity in the same pericope is in Luke 10:21-22. Here, Jesus’ praise of the Father for His revelation to the “childlike” (v 21) is prefaced by Christ’s joy in the Holy Spirit.

These and other Lukan texts have therefore been used to support Trinitarian theology and in particular the divinity of the Holy Spirit. These dogmas, universal among Christians today, were disputed questions in the fourth century. The Council of Constantinople in 381, drawing especially upon the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Gregory Nazianzen, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa, affirmed that the Spirit is equal in divinity to the Father and the Son. Although St. Basil never cited Luke 10:21 specifically in his formative work De Spiritu Sancto to argue that the Holy Spirit is divine, this verse is used liturgically to this day by various Christian churches on the feast day of Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzen.[16]

Another pertinent feature of Luke 10:21-22 is the identification in these verses between Jesus and divine wisdom.[17] Jesus and “anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (v 22) are alone able to know the identity of the Father. Moreover, the Father has chosen through the Son to reveal “these things” not to the “wise and learned” but to the childlike.” These verses recall the wisdom texts of the Old Testament. For instance, Sirach 51:1 reads, “I give you thanks, O God of my Father; I will praise you, O God my saviour!” Additionally, the prophetic tradition contains warnings about the limits of human wisdom compared to that of God, as in Isaiah 29:14b: “The wisdom of… wise men shall perish, and the understanding of… prudent men be hid.” God alone can reveal wisdom to humankind, for God alone is wisdom. Christ is at once wisdom’s mediator and wisdom incarnate. God will fill the humble disciple with His own wisdom. In this sense Luke points us toward God, wisdom and giver of wisdom to those who turn to Him: “To him who lacks understanding, I say, ‘Come, eat my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:4-6) At the same time as we, who lack understanding of God’s ways, are called to turn toward God, we have been supremely blessed like no other people: God-wisdom has become for us a human being. Thus we can say as our Lord said to His disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (Luke 10:24)

I began this article by recalling the Annunciation, a moment of great blessing told by Luke, and I conclude on this day before Christmas, another such moment. The announcement to Mary that she would bring Christ our Saviour into the world was at the same time a joyful and a troubling mystery. Likewise, the discipleship in Christ to which we are continually called brings with it experiences of blessing, of struggle, of joy, and of crisis. Let us pray as we celebrate our Lord’s Nativity for those who struggle in their faith, and for the persecuted, that they might be truly blessed. Let us also pray for those whose encounter with Christ, wisdom of God, who comes to us as a baby in a manger and will come again, has impelled them to proclaim the Gospel with joy. We, the disciples of Christ after the Twelve and the Seventy, await with this same joy the blessing of God that lasts forever. Amen.


[2] See Matthew 9:37-38, 10:7-16. The sayings of Jesus to His disciples found in Matthew differ in arrangement from those in Luke 10.

[3] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, 2:143 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968).

[4] Matthew parallels these “Kingdom of God” sayings found in Luke 10:9, 11. See Matthew 10:7, although note that Matthew prefers “Kingdom of heaven” to Luke’s “Kingdom of God.” See Philip P. Kapusta, “The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ Versus the ‘Kingdom of God:’ Two Kingdoms, or One?” http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/157.htm. Accessed 24 December, 2010.

[5] Colleen Shantz, “Redaction Criticism and the Gospel of Matthew,” Class Notes, SMB 1501 HS: Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 28 January, 2010. Unless otherwise noted, these course notes are my source for definitions (especially double and triple tradition, Q, M, and L content) and figures I discuss in this section, such as the percentages of triple and double tradition found in each of the Synoptic Gospels.

[6] Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 4th ed. (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 94.

[7] These pericopes are the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:18-25) visit of the Magi (2:1-12), the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt (vv 13-15), the massacre of the infants (vv 16-18), the Holy Family’s return from Egypt (vv 19-23), and the beginning of the Galilean ministry (4:12-17). Seam verses (also fulfillment citations) are Matthew 1:23; 2:6, 15, 18, 23, and 4:15-16.

[8] Anna Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean? Explaining the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables in Simple and Universal Human Concepts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 65.

[9] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[10] Bible Gateway, “Keyword Search Results: Capernaum,” http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=Capernaum&version1=31&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no. Accessed 23 December 2010.

[11] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[12] H.W. Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2,000-year History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), 377.

[13] “Eschaton” is from Greek, referring to the “last things”; the term is synonymous with the end times.

[14] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:143.

[15] Ibid. Luke and Acts are held to have been written by the same author.

[16] “Readings for the Feast of St. Basil the Great,” http://www.liturgies.net/saints/0614basil/readings.htm. This site lists Catholic as well as Orthodox and Anglican liturgies and prayers. Roman Catholics celebrate the feast of Sts. Basil and Gregory on January 2; otherwise this feast is observed on June 14.

[17] D. Rebecca Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology.” http://www.franciscan-anglican. com/Sophia.htm#_ftn12. Accessed 24 December 2010.

Jesus as the Wisdom of God: Wisdom Christology in the Gospel of Matthew

17 Dec

Jesus is never explicitly identified in the canonical Gospels with divine wisdom, and the sole Biblical instance of such an equation is in 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Paul writes that Jesus is “the wisdom of God.” Wisdom is therefore unlike titles commonly used in the Gospels to refer to Jesus such as teacher, son of man, son of God, son of David, and Christ or Messiah. According to Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, though, “Christological discourses” began within “a time span as short as twenty years after Jesus’ death” that described Jesus as the incarnation of the wisdom of God.[1] Wisdom Christology is more often associated with the Gospel of John, wherein Jesus is likened to the divine logos present from the creation of the cosmos (John 1:1, Genesis 1:1), than with the Synoptic Gospels.[2] However, the identification of Jesus as divine wisdom incarnate is present in Matthew, albeit more subtly than in John. In this paper, then, I will examine the wisdom Christology of the Gospel of Matthew. I will begin with a discussion of the historical roots in ancient Israel of the link between God and wisdom; a strong argument is made that this history originated in Israel’s monarchical period with the Israelite appropriation of wisdom literature, along with monarchical government itself, from Egypt. Following this historical sketch, I will identify where wisdom Christology is present in Matthew’s Gospel, with what divine actions this understanding of Jesus is associated, and how this notion of Jesus as wisdom might enrich the contemporary Church.

Wisdom literature in ancient Israel was an “exceedingly complex” tradition with a “variety of uses and implications” both secular and religious.[3] It was not novel at the time of Jesus’ earthly life, but dates back, according to Fiorenza, to at least the Babylonian Exile.[4] Moreover, Fiorenza writes, “wisdom’s theological roots are found not only in postexilic Jewish circles… but also in apocalyptic literature and in the writings of Qumran.”[5] Roland E. Murphy traces the wisdom genre of Israel to its monarchical period, and even beyond, to ancient Egypt: “Israel seems to have imitated Egypt in cultivating this type of literature, just as she had imitated Egypt in adopting the government of kingship.”[6] 1 Kings 3:1, which tells of the marriage of Solomon to a daughter of Pharaoh, is Biblical evidence in Murphy’s view of a strong probability of Egyptian cultural influence on monarchical Israel. The complex bureaucracy of a royal court system resulted from Israel’s adoption of monarchical government in imitation of its neighbours. Therefore, as “other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5) upon which Israel’s kinship was patterned had governed the intricate relationships between and “conduct of” courtiers, so too did Israel.[7]

Egypt’s ordering of its royal court through “teaching” or Sebayit, is notable, Murphy contends, for its influence on the organization of Israel’s monarchy, particularly under King Solomon. Murphy goes on to cite “remarkable similarities” between the Egyptian Sebayit and wisdom sayings of the Book of Proverbs that relate to order in a royal court and by extension to regulation of society as a whole. For example, both the Sebayit and Proverbs 2:4 extol those who seek after wisdom as a “hidden treasure.” Proverbs 23:1 mirrors passages of the Sebayit that list rules to be observed when dining before a ruler, and Egyptian wisdom writings about the “absolute reliability”[8] of a royal messenger are paralleled in Proverbs 25:13. Murphy contends that sapiential sayings from the Sebayit resemble not only those in Proverbs but many contained in other Old Testament wisdom books as well. He relates for instance the twenty-second century B.C.E. instructions in the Sebayit (ANET 417) to Meri-ka-re from his father Wah-ka-re on the importance of a ruler’s virtue– “More acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of an evildoer”– to the connection in 1 Samuel 5:22 and Ecclesiastes 4:17 between the value to God of Israelite kings’ sacrifices and their moral integrity.[9]

While the wisdom literature of the kingdoms of Egypt and of Israel is concerned with the ordering of expanded royal court systems, prophetic allusions to wisdom immediately prior to and during the Babylonian Exile take on a more negative tone than in the sapiential writings of Israel’s monarchical period. The first “explicit references to… wise men, or hăkāmîn,” Murphy writes, are found in Isaiah, whose characterization of those said to be wise is especially “harsh.”[10] Murphy quotes Isaiah 29:14 to support this assertion: “The wisdom of [Israel’s] wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men [will] be hid.” In the midst of the Exile, the prevailing notion among Israelites became that human wisdom is negligible in comparison to that of God. This sapientology persisted after the Exile, with two important modifications: Firstly, human beings were increasingly viewed as capable of discerning right moral conduct from experience and from natural order, thought to be a manner of divine self-communication to humankind. Secondly, Mosaic Law was increasingly understood as the utmost form of God-to-human communication of wisdom. Thus the roles of scribes and priests– both of whom Ezra is a prime example (Ezra 7:6)– evolved into that of interpretation and instruction in Torah.[11] These sopherim, or wise men (in Greek, σοφοι), whose main function had become religious, in contrast to the mainly secular occupation of the wise men of Israel’s royal courts, were significant well into the New Testament period and especially in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 23:34).[12]

Although the concept of divine self-communication as wisdom– particularly through Torah and through nature– developed in the post-Exilic period, “only in the later books [of the Old Testament]” was “wisdom… predicated of God.”[13] The personification of divine wisdom present in these late Old Testament period texts introduces a paradox: wisdom is at once remote from creation, attributable only to God (Job 28:13, 23), yet revealed to humankind as the recognition that “the fear of the LORD is wisdom” (v 28) or as the “craftsman” present in creation (Proverbs 8:30, Wisdom 9:9). Another problem arises with this representation “of wisdom as a person”: Wisdom thus might be understood as “no more than a personification, just as other aspects of God are personified in the Old Testament [such as God’s] Word (Isa 55:10-11) and spirit (63:10-11).” Roland E. Murphy responds to that potential danger by emphasizing not the late Old Testament personification of wisdom itself, but that the chief theological purpose of this period’s depiction of wisdom as a person is to highlight wisdom as divine communication to humankind. Wisdom in this period is not yet synonymous with God, but wisdom personified is understood in the late Old Testament era as a means of God-to-human communication. Therefore “the possibility of a supreme communication [of God as wisdom in the person of] Jesus Christ” in the New Testament age is left open.[14]

The depiction of Jesus as divine wisdom incarnate is most overt in 1 Corinthians and in the Gospel of John, among the earliest and latest New Testament writings, respectively. In the former, Paul affirms that Jesus is Θεου σοφιαν, “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), while from the outset of the latter, while not using the Greek word for wisdom, σοφια, or its derivatives in his prologue, John identifies Jesus as God’s wisdom and then immediately as God; the Johannine Jesus is the Word who at the creation of the universe “was with God and… was God” (John 1:1).  Clearly, then, the notion present throughout the New Testament period of Christ as God expressed as wisdom represents a shift from the latest Old Testament sapientology in which divine wisdom is not God but an attribute of God and the principal manner of divine-to-human communication. This shift, as Fiorenza indicates, occurred within twenty years of Jesus’ death,[15] during a time that gave rise to the written source material for much of the New Testament. Thus, the probability is strong that where wisdom sayings are present in the New Testament, they are intended, after their sources, to portray Jesus as God’s wisdom, not only as a divine trait but as fully God.

Jesus is associated with divine wisdom not only in the Johannine and Pauline literature, but also in the Synoptic Gospels. While such an identification of Jesus as the wisdom of God is made once in Mark (6:2) and six times in Luke (2:40, 52; 7:35; 11:31, 49; 21:15),[16] wisdom Christology is also integral to the Gospel of Matthew. Five instances of σοφια and cognates occur in the first Gospel (Matt 11:19, 25; 12:42; 13:54; 23:34).[17] This term is used Christologically the first four times it appears in Matthew, whereas in its fifth and final incidence it is applied to those whom Jesus has sent in his stead and who will be persecuted and killed.

Matthew refers to wisdom or to the wise on these five occasions in five distinct pericopes, the first three of which are original to Q, paralleled in Luke but omitted in Mark: Jesus’ words about John the Baptist (Matt 11:7-19),[18] his thanksgiving to the Father (vv 25-27),[19] and his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees for seeking signs from him (12:38-42).[20] One Matthean pericope that includes a sapiential saying, that of Jesus rejection at Nazareth, is of Markan origin and is not paralleled in Luke.[21] The fifth Matthean reference to wisdom or to the wise occurs within Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-36). While this pericope is present in abbreviated form in both Mark and Luke, the allusion to the “prophets… wise men (σοφους) and scribes”[22] (Matt 23:34) sent by Jesus, who will be rejected by Israel’s religious authorities, is uniquely Matthean.[23]

Although Matthew and Luke share Jesus’ speech “to the crowds about John” (Matt 11:7-19, Luke 7:24-35), and both end this pericope with a wisdom saying, the two evangelists differ slightly yet significantly in their redaction of that concluding verse. Whereas in Luke Jesus asserts that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35), Matthew has edited the same Q verse to “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 11:19). M. Jack Suggs argues that “Luke’s editorial activity has taken the entire passage out of the context of wisdom thought altogether.”[24] The purpose of Luke’s closer approximation of the Q form than Matthew is to emphasize the expanded accessibility of divine wisdom personified in Christ to “the entire nation of Israel” as wisdom’s “children.”[25] According to Fiorenza, the Lukan “Sophia-God of Jesus recognizes all Israelites as her children.” Israel therefore “is justified… by all of them.”[26] D. Rebecca Dinovo notes that Luke’s version of this verse more closely parallels the wisdom text of Proverbs in which Wisdom speaks to her children: “Now, O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject… Happy [are] those who keep my ways” (Prov 8:32).

In contrast to Luke, Matthew’s redaction as “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” emphasizes that Jesus is the unique manifestation of divine Sophia. The Matthean Jesus is “Sophia incarnate”[27]; the same cannot be said of the Lukan Jesus on the basis of this pericope alone. In Matthew as in Luke, Suggs writes, “Jesus and John stand as the eschatological envoys of Wisdom.”[28] Both are therefore Wisdom’s prophets, but at that point the Matthean characterizations of each diverge.  With the inclusion of the proverb that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 19:11) within the longest Q section preserved intact in Matthew and Luke[29] that extends from John’s disciples’ question to Jesus about whether he is the awaited Messiah (vv 2-3) to Jesus’ thanksgiving to the Father (vv 25-27), Matthew distinguishes John, wisdom’s greatest-ever prophet, from Jesus, who is wisdom. Suggs therefore writes that, as per Matthew,

Jesus is no longer the last and greatest of wisdom’s children; in him are the deeds of Wisdom to be uniquely seen… A succession of prophets [has] been inspired by Wisdom, of whom the greatest is John… Wisdom sends forth her prophets– from the first generation to this generation [that] has rejected Jesus and John. However, it would not… overstate the case that for Matthew [as for John the evangelist] Wisdom has “become flesh and dwelled among us.” (John 1:14)[30]

Suggs therefore asserts that, by the Matthean redaction as “deeds” of wisdom as opposed to Luke’s “children,” the evangelist intended to present Jesus as Wisdom incarnate. His argument is sound in that he considers this proverb the culmination of the entire Q section that begins with the list of Jesus’ Messianic deeds in response to the Baptist’s question about whether Jesus is the Christ. (Matt 11: 2-4). The thesis of Matthew 11:2-27 is that Jesus, announced by the Baptist, is the divine deed of wisdom and is Wisdom, fully divine and fully human. Jesus’ deeds of wisdom, as listed in Matthew 11:4-6 and pointed to again in verses 21 and 24, affirm his Messiahship that is exclusive of all other human beings. However, Matthew’s stress on the transcendence of Jesus as wisdom and as Messiah does not relegate the Christian disciple, whether in Matthew’s time or contemporarily, to the role of passive spectator to Jesus’ Messianic deeds. Inasmuch as the Matthean Jesus is uniquely divine Wisdom in human flesh, he is also Wisdom’s eschatological prophet. As such, Jesus has been granted the fullness of the Father’s authority over “all things” (Matt 11:27, 28:18). Stephen C. Barton writes that Jesus’ authority as prophet and mediator of wisdom according to the divine will (Matt 11:26), and indeed Jesus’ identification with divine wisdom itself, “is the fruit of being in a filial relationship with God, a relationship characterized on the human side by specific moral-religious qualities such as humility, obedience, and trust.”[31]

Such are qualities of “the childlike,” whom Matthew contrasts with the “children… in the marketplace” (Matt 11:16) who reject both the austere John the Baptist’s proclamation of the coming kingdom of God– the dirge for which they “do not mourn”– and the joyous actualization of that kingdom in the person of Jesus– “the flute” for which they “do not dance” (v 17).[32] Those children are in Matthew the false disciples who are nevertheless “wise and learned” by the common understanding of the time of Jesus and of the evangelist. The Matthean distinction between the “childlike,” those who trust in God’s wisdom and “gracious will” (v 26), and the restless children in the marketplace or the “wise and learned” is, according to Barton, “part of the larger Gospel theme that wisdom is a gift from God and therefore is not constrained by conventional expectations about where to find it, even expectations [that] associate wisdom with… [leaders] like the scribes, Pharisees, and priests… with… places like Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, or [with] Torah.”[33]

For the contemporary Church as for the Matthean community, the focal point of the wisdom Christology of Matthew 11:7-19 and 25-27, and of the larger Q section from which these pericopes originate, is that, as Barton indicates, wisdom belongs to God and is revealed by God most fully in Jesus and by the Son to the extent that and “to whom he wishes to reveal [the Father]” in himself as wisdom (Matt 11:27). As Jesus’ revelation to humankind of God’s wisdom is inseparable from the relational unity of being between the Father and the Son, so too, the Christian disciple’s reception and dissemination of that divine wisdom cannot occur outside the context of human commitment to relationship with other human beings– that is, to building inter-human community, a theme integral to the Gospel of Matthew– and with God. Wisdom as God’s gift revealed to and heralded by human beings, is therefore, as Barton states, “the fruit… of a way of life and a pattern of faithfulness, [as opposed to] a process of solitary intellection.”[34]

A pressing temptation for the Church today is to regard itself as capable of mediating wisdom apart from God. To succumb to this deception has eschatological consequences, in particular when Christian leaders, purporting to speak for God, incite anxiety about persecution and disasters that will precede the end of time. Teachings not to worry about these forthcoming events are prominent in Matthew. For example, one ought to depend upon God’s providence to sustain even his or her life (Matt 6:25-32). God, in this case “the Spirit of the Father,” will speak in the disciples’ favour in time of persecution (Matt 10:20); the faithful follower of Jesus will not escape the “knowledge” of the Father (v 29). Matthew therefore attributes to Jesus words of eschatological comfort to those who follow God’s will. That divine will proposes only two related Commandments for Christians to follow: to love God and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (Matt 22:37-39). In observing those statutes, the disciple is freed from anxiety over final judgment (Matt 11:24) and is open to Jesus who is eschatological consolation, in continuity with “the law and the prophets” (v 40) as well as the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. While Wisdom in Sirach 6:24-25 calls its disciples to live by Torah as under a yoke and fetters,[35] Jesus invites us to himself, as he is Wisdom and the fulfillment of Torah: “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matt 11:28-30).

Like Matthew 11:2-27, which includes two references to Jesus as Wisdom and is appended by another, the Matthean addition in verses 28-30 of Jesus’ invitation to take up his yoke, the next application of wisdom to Jesus also occurs within a Q-based pericope.[36] In Matthew 12:38-42, the “scribes and the Pharisees” demand a sign from Jesus (v 38), but do not realize that Jesus, the utmost of divine signs, is the Messiah already among them. Thus, they incur Jesus’ rebuke; they have had many opportunities to witness God with Israel and now does not acknowledge Jesus, the sign of prophecy “greater than Jonah” (v 41) and that of wisdom “greater than Solomon,” (v 42) as divine. The sapiential saying in this pericope’s last verse complements those in Matthew 11: 19 and 26. While those point to the exclusivity of Jesus as Sophia-God and eschatological prophet of wisdom, that in Matthew 12:42 highlights the supremacy– the “greater than” aspect– of wisdom’s self-manifestation as Jesus Christ.[37] The theme of Jesus as supreme sign of God permeates the Gospel of Matthew. Thus Matthew underscores that Jesus, as a human being, is the fullness of God’s presence among human beings. The evangelist does so by applying the Old Testament notion of divine sign as expressions of the “activity of God”[38] in the world to Jesus, who is the sought-after “Emmanuel… God [who] is with us” (Matt 1:23, Isa 7:10) from the beginning to “the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Jesus’ claim in Matthew 12:41-42 of Messianic, prophetic, and sapiential supremacy is also relevant for Christianity today. Matthew identifies Jesus as “greater than” all wisdom and prophecy that has preceded or will succeed him, thus for contemporary Christians to dispute over who is greatest (Matt 18:1-5, 20:20-26) is at the same time futile and destructive of human community. The pre-eminence of wisdom and prophecy are the Messiah’s alone. Matthew consistently condemns the urge among some members of his community to dominate fellow disciples. In Matthew, Jesus does not lord his Godhead over his followers (Matt 21:25); his primacy is felt not as the bearer of titles (Matt 23:10) Instead, Jesus, “the greatest among [us],” is so because he has come among us “to serve and to give his life” (Matt 21:28). Jesus thus models service for the Church today to the point of self-sacrifice. In my own ministerial experience, particularly in a leadership role as a children’s sacramental preparation instructor, I am reminded by Jesus as depicted by Matthew that I am to the children I teach their servant and the Church’s servant more than their proud teacher. Jesus is the children’s teacher through me. Also, the more I ask questions of the children and allow them to reflect and to respond as opposed to lecturing them from my knowledge, the more I am awed by their wisdom. The children I teach, then, become my teachers of humility and faithfulness and draw me, as I hope to draw them, the future of the Church, closer to Jesus (Matt 18:2-5), servant, teacher, Wisdom, and God.

After the allusion to Jesus as “something greater than Solomon” in Matthew 12:42, the next reference to wisdom in the first Gospel is when the “people in [the] Synagogue” in Nazareth question the source of Jesus’ “wisdom and mighty deeds.” (Matt 13:54) As in the wisdom sayings in Matthew 11, the evangelist here links the identification of Jesus as wisdom with wisdom’s manifestation through the deeds of its prophet, Christ. Similarly to the wisdom references of Matthew 11, but emphasized further in Matthew 13:54, revelation of Christ as wisdom through his deeds is contingent upon the active faith of wisdom’s receiver. That message again is as true for today’s Church as it was for the Church to which Matthew wrote his Gospel.

The fifth and last Matthean instance of a cognate of σοφια is not applied to Jesus but to the disciples who by Matthew’s time had already come under persecution of both religious leaders within Judaism and Roman authorities. Jesus connects these emissaries of wisdom whom he sends– “prophets, wise men, and scribes” (Matt 23:34) insofar as Christ is the embodiment of wisdom and the prophets and scribes steward and proclaim it­– with the Old Testament prophets who were also persecuted (Matt 23:30). While religious persecution is remote from contemporary North American Christian experience, it occurs at an unprecedented rate, with an estimated annual number of Christians killed for their faith in the world of 150 000.[39] Such a degree of persecution impels Christians who enjoy freedom of religion to advocate its expansion and to be aware of ways to alleviate suffering of those for whom it is suppressed.

Matthew’s identification of Jesus, wisdom’s prophet, with wisdom itself calls us to such a prophetic role in today’s Church. Employing especially the late Old Testament period concept of God as communicator of divine wisdom to humankind, that itself evolved from Israelite and non-Israelite traditions, Matthew argued that Jesus is uniquely and supremely the fullness of divine wisdom in human flesh. The Christian of Matthew’s time and of ours is given the task to mediate Christ as prophet, as servant, as God, and as wisdom to the world.


Notes:

[1] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1994), 139.

[2] Stephen C. Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church, and the Contemporary World, edited by Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1999), 104-105.

[3] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:492.

[4] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 133.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” 1:488.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 1:490.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 1:488.

[11] Matthew Black, “Scribes,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 4:246.

[12] Ibid., 4:246-247.

[13] Roland E. Murphy, “Introduction to Wisdom Literature,” 1:493.

[14] Ibid., 1:494.

[15] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 139.

[16] Bible Gateway, “Quick Search Results: σοφ,” http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch= %CF%83%CE%BF%CF%86&qs_version=TR1894. Accessed 8 December 2010.

[17] The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, trans. Alfred Marshall (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 44, 51, 59, 104.

[18] Burton H. Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, 5th ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 55-56.

[19] Ibid., 57-58.

[20] Ibid., 72-73.

[21] Ibid., 86. Luke includes Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth and, as in Matthew and Mark, this episode highlights Jesus’ prophetic role. However, this pericope is transposed to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke (4:16-30) and does not contain a wisdom saying. Throckmorton does not list the Lukan pericope in parallel with the similar account in the other Synoptic Gospels.

[22] The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, 104.

[23] Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels, 165-168.

[24] M. Jack Suggs, Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 55-56.

[25] D. Rebecca Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology.” http://www.franciscan-anglican. com/Sophia.htm#_ftn12. Accessed 10 December 2010.

[26] Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, 140.

[27] Suggs, Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel, 58.

[28] Ibid., 55.

[29] Ibid., 37.

[30] Ibid., 57.

[31] Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” 96.

[32] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:83.

[33] Barton, “Gospel Wisdom,” 96.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Dinovo, “Developing a Biblical Sophia Christology,” accessed 10 December 2010.

[36] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” 2:85.

[37] James D.G. Dunn, “Jesus: Teacher of Wisdom or Wisdom Incarnate,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church, and the Contemporary World, edited by Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1999), 88.

[38] McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” 2:85.

[39] Ron Csillag, “Christianity Arguably the Most Persecuted Religion in the World,” Toronto Star, 4 December 2010.