Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dies Domini: Creation and Worship

Easter Sunday
Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord

       In July of 1998, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter entitled Dies Domini (or, in English, "The Lord's Day").   In this letter, the Holy Father sought to renew the devotion to and increase the understanding of the Christian celebration of Sunday, the Day of the Lord.

     I have wanted to write on this Apostolic Letter for quite a while, but life goes by so quickly and I have so little time for thinking and even less for writing.   Now, perhaps in conjunction with our Old Testament study I might accomplish a little of my hope if I can occasionally slip in at least a few thoughts on this wonderful letter as they relate to our Bible study. 

Time and the Day of the Lord

    "In the beginning..." is not only the beginning of matter and space, but also the beginning of time.  And, as the Easter Vigil prayer reminds us, all time was not only created by God, but belongs to Him:

 Christ yesterday and today,
the Beginning and the End,
the Alpha and Omega.
His are the times and ages:
To Him be glory and dominion
Through all ages of eternity. Amen

     Christians can honor God with the way they spend their time, or they can fail to honor Him.  We can sanctify the time and use it to remind ourselves and others of the great events of salvation history, or we can just let it dribble on by filled with entertainment and distractions. Sunday, especially, is a day on which the Church asks us to consider how we will spend our time honoring God. 

Pope John Paul II
The Lord's Day--as Sunday was called from Apostolic times--has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery.  In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection.  It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death, the fulfilment in him of the first creation and the dawn of "the new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17)--Dies Domini, 1

Sunday is our "fundamental feastday" (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy),  "established not only to  mark the succession of time but to reveal time's deeper meaning." (Dies Domini, 2)

Pope John Paul II urges us on to "recover the deep doctrinal foundations underlying the Church's precept [to attend Mass on Sunday]" (DD, 6) so that we might fulfill move effectively and thoughtfully our duty to keep Sunday holy, "especially by sharing in the Eucharist and by relaxing in a spirit of Christian joy and fraternity..." (DD, 7).  

In this "mini-series", I hope we can explore together those deeper doctrinal foundations and ways in which we can celebrate Sunday more faithfully and devotedly in our homes and families.

Sunday:  The Glory of Creation

Creation of Light, Gustav Dore
 As we saw in the lesson on The Blessed Trinity in Creation, Christ, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, is both the origin of the entire universe and its final end, or destiny.  At the very beginning of creation, God had in mind Christ's saving mission and our ultimate union with Him in Christ as the purpose of His creating act. 

This Christocentric perspective, embracing the whole arc of time, filled God's well-pleased gaze when, ceasing from all his work, he "blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (Gen 2:3)...then was born the "Sabbath"--DD, 8

     Even from the very beginning, Creation itself is oriented to the worship of God.  And God Himself reveals this orientation by instituting the Sabbath rest, which calls His people to participate with Him in His divinely completed work.  

   When we think about God "resting" from His "work", we are not to think of God sort of hanging around and relaxing because, man, it was tough to create the whole universe! Took a lot of thought....

Indeed, we know from the Scriptures that God never rests in the sense of ceasing to work.  Our Lord even had to correct the Pharisees on this point:

The man  [whom Jesus healed] went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working."--Jn 5:15-17

When we talk about God "resting", we mean that all of His work is completed:

It speaks, as it were, of God's lingering before the "very good" work which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight. This is a "contemplative" gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved.  It is a gaze which God casts upon all things, but in a special way upon man, the crown of creation--DD, 11 

And as He looks upon man, He sees also the salvation which will be won for us by Christ.  He sees that Christ will "make all things new," (Rev. 21:5)  that in a new, sanctified heaven and earth, God's Will will be done.

On Sunday, consider the great work of creation, and the even greater fulfillment of creation in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  Consider the sustaining power of God who enlivens continually both your soul and your body.  As we progress through our study of the Pentateuch and through these mini-lessons on Dies Domini, the beautiful picture of God, our Lover and Creator, our Redeemer and Savior, our Lord and King, will unfold through the stories of the Old Testament to be finally revealed completely in Christ Himself.

Ideas for sanctifying Sunday in the home: Sunday as a reflection of Creation and God's Rest

Go to Mass (this one is required, don't get so into the "rest" idea that you "rest" right through Mass!)
Take a nature walk.
Take a nap.
Snuggle up together and read a nature story.
Cook dinner outside.
Do an ecological project: feed the birds, pick up garbage, plant flowers
Decorate your Sunday dinner table with fresh picked wildflowers.
Turn off the TV and enjoy the your eyes and ears!
Thank God for His gifts by taking a special time for prayer together with your family.  This is a great day to start praying the Rosary, if you don't already enjoy this family devotion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Pentateuch, Day 3: The Blessed Trinity in Creation

God Separating Light from Darkness, Michelangelo

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth

Each Sunday, Catholics recite "The Creed", the basic truths of Christianity that were first set down by the Apostles and then handed on faithfully to our own day.  The Nicene Creed begins thus:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen...

As Catholics, we believe that one God created all the visible and invisible realities which we call "the world", and which the ancient Hebrews indicated under the phrase "heavens and earth".  But not all people have believed in one, all-powerful God.  In fact, the text of Genesis echoes pagan creation accounts that were well-known in the surrounding cultures of the Middle East. In contrast to these stories, the divinely-inspired writer of Genesis wanted to communicate, using images and terms familiar to his reader, that the world was created, not by a group of gods and demi-gods struggling to bring order out of the primordial chaos, but by a single, almighty Power that not only created order, but also created all matter out of nothing.

The Trinity in Creation

The Old Testament suggests, and the New Testament reveals the creative action of the Son and the Spirit, inseparably one with that of the Father.  This creative cooperation  is clearly affirmed in the Church's rule of faith:  "There exists but one God...he is the Father, God, the Creator, the author, the giver of order.  He made all things by himself, that is, by his Word and by his Wisdom", "by the Son and the Spirit" who, so to speak, are "his hands".  Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity.--CCC 292

In the first few verses of Genesis, we see evidence of all the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.  First, we have God creating Before the beginning, God the Father already had conceived the entire plan of creation and salvation, which He would enact with the Son, His Word, and the Spirit, His Wisdom.  As we read in Day 2, the New Testament states,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world... Eph. 1:3

Creation, James Tissot
In the beginning, God created all matter ex nihilo, which is Latin for "out of nothing".  In fact, the verb used for "created" in Gen. 1:1 is a translation of a Hebrew word which only is used with God as the subject.  Man can "make" from pre-existing materials any number of things, but only God can "create" out of absolutely nothing.  The matter which He created was primordial matter;  it is depicted in Genesis as a deep ocean in the midst of darkness, over which the creative and loving Spirit hovers.  The Spirit is often shown in Scripture to be the Giver of Life.  "When Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground." Ps 104:30  

The Word of God and his Breath are at the origin of the being and life of every creature. It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation, for he is God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son...power over life pertains to the Spirit, for being God he preserves creation in the Father through the Son--CCC 703

To impose order upon this matter, God spoke, "Let there be light!" Gen. 1:3  The Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, is the active agent in the creation and ordering of the world.  As St. John will say in the prologue to his Gospel:

 In the beginning (sound familiar?) was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  Jn 1:1-4

Christ Himself was present at Creation, as He had always been present with the Father; all was made through Him and for Him, as the Nicene Creed says:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.  God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.  Through Him all things were made. 

St. Paul makes the same point:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God...for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth...all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  Col. 1:15-17

The work of creation belongs to the Blessed Trinity, the three Divine Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A Good Creation

Enuma Elish tabl
The cultures surrounding the Hebrew people had their own creation myths. In the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, the creation of the world is described as being the result of a struggle between opposing gods.  In this account, a dragon is sundered in two by Marduk, god of light, and its dead body forms the heavens and the earth:

Then the lord paused to view her dead body,
That he might divide the form and do artful works.
He split her like a shellfish into two parts:
Half of her he set up as a covering for heaven,
Pulled down the bar and posted guards.
He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.--Enuma Elish

From the blood of this dragon, man is fashioned.  Pope Benedict (while he was Cardinal Ratzinger) described the worldview these myths produced:

It is a foreboding picture of the world and of humankind that we encounter here:  The world is a dragon's body, and human beings have dragon's blood in them.  At the very origin of the world lurks something sinister, and in the deepest part of humankind there lies something rebellious, demonic, and evil...Such views were not simply fairy tales.  They expressed the discomfiting realities that human beings experienced in the world and among themselves. --In the Beginning, Pope Benedict XVI

The very heart of creation for these pagans is death and violence.  The world is not good, but bad, vicious, and evil.

By contrast, the Biblical writer begins with a world "without form and void"; it is dark, but not demonic.  It is not yet full of light, but it is material created by God who is Light.  God, by the power of His Word, creates a world that is both ordered and good.

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.--Gen. 1:3-4

For the Hebrew, and later for the Christian, the world was created by a good, loving God and was itself good.  Physical creation is not, as some philosophies hold, inherently evil or corrupt, nor is it a random, orderless collection of events.

...we are told [in the first verses of Genesis] that God alone, who is the eternal Reason that is eternal love, created the world, and that it rests in his hands.  Only with this in mind can we appreciate the dramatic confrontation implicit in this biblical text, in which all these confused [Babylonian] myths were rejected and the world was given its origin in God's Reason and in his Word.--In the Beginning, Pope Benedict XVI  

Divine Providence

"Divine Providence" is the term we use to denote God's constant care and guidance of His creation.  Not only did God create this world in the beginning, but Scripture describes His almighty power  upholding and keeping alive and in existence all of creation at every moment of history. He sustains it all, and is continually guiding it forward toward the ultimate perfection for which He created it in the first place.   God created you in your mother's womb, He never fails to sustain you in existence at each and every moment, and He will do this for all eternity. 

  With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves.  He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end.  Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence.--CCC 301

Take a moment this week to meditate on the great goodness, power, and love of God, Who at each and every moment of your life is blessing you with the beauty of His creation, sustaining you and guiding you, and loving you with an infinite love.

Main Idea:  Creation is the good and glorious work of the Blessed Trinity, three Persons in One God, Who are sustaining and guiding it to its final destiny.    

Your Assignment 
1. Genesis, chapter 2.
2. Read the CCC, paragraphs 279-281, 287-289
3. Look up and define "providence".  

Next lesson:  Myth or Science?

I wanted to post a Youtube video of "Morning Has Broken" here, but I can't seem to get it to play without a bunch of ads!  Yikes!  Any tips on how to get the ads off of the video??? 

Couldn't figure out how to delete the ads, so please just turn them off and enjoy the music.  I do not endorse any of the products! 


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Pentateuch, Day 2: In the Beginning

Creation, Lewis Bowman

In this first (short!) post on Genesis, we will see what the Church has to say about God's purpose and plan for creation.  

In the beginning, GOD created...

     With these stirring words, the first book of the Bible opens. The drama of our salvation commences in the very first verses and will continue on throughout the entire Scriptures, and, in fact, to the end of time itself.  The Greek Septuagint text entitles this book "Genesis", which comes from a Greek word meaning "to be born", and hence comes our title for this book of beginnings. 

Why did God create?

      Whenever we discuss the beginning of any project or creation, we also are discussing its end.  For who creates intentionally without some distinct purpose? 

Every agent acts for an end;  otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance....[God] purposes only to communicate His perfection, which is His goodness, while every creature endeavors to acquire its own perfection, which is the likeness of the divine perfection and goodness.  Therefore the divine goodness is the end of all things.--St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 45, 4.

Christ, the Alpha and Omega
When God created the heavens and the 
earth, He had in mind a definite purpose.  All of His creation is directed toward the fulfillment of this end.  The end, or purpose, of all creation is the goodness and glory of God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is finally perfectly realized in our union with God in Christ.  God is both the beginning and the end of creation, the "Alpha and the Omega"--Rev. 21:6.

Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: "The world was made for the glory of God." St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things "not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it", for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: "Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand." 

The First Vatican Council explains:
This one, true God, of his own goodness and "almighty power", not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel "and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal. . ."--CCC 293


We can not discuss the first few chapter of the Bible without at the same time seeing in them the seeds of salvation which will come to fruition in the Bible's final chapters:  

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them..." 
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  Revelation 21:2-3, 22

The New Jersusalem Descending, Carolsfeld

Here is fulfilled the plan which God intended to accomplish from the very beginning:  manifesting His glory by "the benefits which He bestows on creatures."  

We see this same theme in the opening verses of the Epistle to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.  For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  Ephesians 1:3-10 
Christ Enthroned with Saints, William Dyce

As we begin the study of Genesis, it is important for us to bear always in mind the whole of salvation history and the final end of God's creation, redeemed and united to Him in the glory of Heaven.

Main Idea:  God created the universe, both seen and unseen, to show forth and communicate His glory and goodness.

Next lesson:  The Blessed Trinity

No homework! 

I wanted to post more, but this is all I could do before Friday, so I decided to post this, even though it is very short.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Pentateuch, Day 1: The Books of Moses

Torah Scroll

I.  Welcome back!
     I hope you had a nice break...I know I did!  We begin today our study of the first five books of the Bible.  These first five books are known as "The Pentateuch" or "The Books of Moses" and include:


These books are also known collectively as "The Torah", and are considered to be the foundational books of Judaism.  They are also foundational to many Catholic doctrines, and so our study of them is important to a fuller understanding of Catholic teaching.

Pentateuch literally means "five scrolls".  It is derived from the Greek penta, meaning five, and teukhos, meaning scroll cases.

II.  Author and Time of Composition

Prophet Moses, Gentile de Fabriano
The first five books of the Bible were inspired by God and have traditionally been attributed to Moses. Moses was thought to have used even older sources to compile the book of Genesis, as well as recounting his own life experiences in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  If this is true, then these books would date from around either the 1400's B.C. or 1200's B.C.  (The two most accepted dates for the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.)  Modern scholars, however, propose a different scenario for both the authorship and dating of these early books.  

III.  The Documentary Hypothesis 

Many scholars today believe that the Pentateuch was written by a variety of authors, whose writings were later compiled and edited into a single work much after the time of Moses.  This hypothesis proposes two primary authors for Genesis: "J", which stands for the "Yahwist" source, and "E", which is known as the "Elohist" source.  The writings of these two authors are distinguished by their use of the names Yahweh (or Jehovah) and Elohim, respectively, for God.  These authors are  thought to have written around the tenth or ninth century B.C.  To another writer, known as "D" or the Deuteronomistic source,  is attributed the book of Deuteronomy around 700 B.C.  All of these authors may have made use of earlier material. Additionally, scholars suggest another writer/editor who may have been a member of the priestly class of Israelites, and whom they label "P"  (for "priestly" source). The final form of the Pentateuch was the result of P's work, perhaps undertaken as late as 400 B.C.  

The Documentary Hypothesis does not completely rule out the possibility that some of the sources of the material were written by Moses himself. 

IV.  The Church's View on the "JEDP" Theory

This Documentary Hyposthesis is also known as the "JEDP" Theory, from the initials of the proposed authors.  The Pontifical Bible Commission addressed the acceptability of this theory early in the 20th century.  The Commission made the following points:

1.  There is not sufficient evidence to support the idea that these books do not have Moses as their primary author, but were composed by authors and from sources that dated later than Moses.

2.  It is not necessary to believe that "Moses wrote with his own hand or dictated to amanuenses all and everything contained in [the Pentateuch]."  In other words, some of the material in these books might have come from other authors or editors.

An amanuensis is someone employed to take dictation; basically, a scribe.  The origin of the word is Latin, from the words ab manus, or "by hand".

3.  It is possible that "he [Moses] entrusted the composition of the work itself, conceived by himself under the influence of divine inspiration, to some other person or persons, but in such a manner that they rendered faithfully his own thoughts, wrote nothing contrary to his will, and omitted nothing."  Thus, under this arrangement, the books were approved by Moses and published as the work of Moses himself.

4.  Moses may have used both written and oral sources to compile his account.

5.  Later editing and updating may have been undertaken, "such as additions after the death of Moses, either appended by an inspired author or inserted into the text as glosses and explanations; certain words and forms translated from the ancient language to a more recent language..."

6.  This editing may have resulted in some "faulty readings... concerning which it is lawful to investigate and judge according to the laws of criticism."  The Commission was addressing here faulty readings caused by copying errors.

In summary, the Commission found that while there may have been other contributors and editors who added to Moses' writings or updated them, the Pentateuch is substantially the work of Moses himself.  The Pontifical Bible Commission's findings are not binding, and Catholic scholars are encouraged to continue studying the sources of the books of Moses.  The Church hopes these studies will provide new evidence to support substantial Mosaic authorship.

V.  The Location

These early books all take place in the area of the world known as the Fertile Crescent, as well as in Egypt.  If you are not familiar with this area of the world, you may want to take a few minutes this week to look at a map.  There will be some homework assignments for you below!

VI.  The Foundational Importance of the Pentateuch

Why should we take the time and trouble to study these ancient writings?  What bearing can they possibly have on our lives today?  Consider the many very crucial themes introduced and developed in these first five books:

Who is man?
Who is God?
How did this world come into being, and what is its relationship to God?
Is man good?
What is sin?
What is temptation?
Has God promised a Savior?  Do we know anything about Him?
How powerful is God?
What does God expect of us?

In addition to addressing these questions, and many more, these books provide the groundwork for understanding many important Catholic doctrines:
The Fall
The Immaculate Conception
Mary as the "New Eve"
Christ as the "New Adam"
Christ as the "New Moses" 
The Sacrament of Marriage
The Sacrament of Baptism
Christ as the "Bridegroom"
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
The Tyranny of Sin
The Salvific Work of Christ
Christ as the Lamb of God

...and lots more!

VII.  Our Plan

As we embark on our new series, I want to outline our plan of study so that you, dear reader, will understand the general approach we are taking in this overview.  First of all, it is an overview...which I will try hard to remember so that we don't get bogged down in tons of little details.  There is so much that is interesting and we could literally spend months on the first few chapters of Genesis alone, but I promise not to actually spend months on just a few chapters! (no need to panic...yet!)

We will:

1. Discuss the most important stories in each book.

2. Consider the teachings of the Catholic Church on each of these stories, as well as try to include some of the Father's and Saint's writings that discuss these Old Testament events.

3.  We will strive to always consider the full meaning of these events, remembering that the "New Testament lies hidden in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New Testament." (St. Augustine) What do the events of the Old Testament tell us about Christ?  How are they fulfilled in Christ?

me, posting twice a week!
 Finally, I will definitely post a new lesson every Tuesday.  I was finding that twice a week was too much to keep up with gracefully on a regular basis.  However, I will try to post a lesson on Friday, as well, whenever I can.  So we don't take months...

Your Assignments

1.  Read Genesis 1 to prepare for the next lesson.
2.  Find the following on a map of the Near East:  Tigris River, Euphrates River, Israel, Egypt, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Jordan River, Jerusalem.  Knowing the locations of these few physical landmarks will help "orient" you and help you follow the events of the Pentateuch as they unfold.
3.  If you are keeping a journal for this study, you might want to write down your ideas about God the Creator.  What do you think the first chapter of Genesis is trying to tell us about God and His creation?  I'd love to hear your comments!

Main Idea:  The first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, were (most likely!) substantially authored by Moses.  Many essential Catholic doctrines are founded upon and illuminated by the events recounted in these books.

Next lesson:  In the Beginning

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Pentateuch

Moses, by Michaelangelo

     The Pentateuch series of posts will begin on Tuesday, March 22nd.   See you then!