Sunday, December 21, 2014

RSM Notes on Nahum

Introductory: 

The book of Nahum is never quoted in the NT. No major Christian Sunday lectionary includes readings from it. No Haftorah reading in the Jewish synagogue service employs it. In Year II of the Catholic Daily Lectionary, Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7 is read on Friday of the 18th week in Ordinary Time. The responsorial verse for this day sets the theme of the Mass: "It is I who deal death and give life." God has the power to punish and save, give life or death. The Responsorial Psalm is Deut 32:35c-36b, 39, 41. The Gospel reading is Mt 16:24-28.

To the best of my knowledge now reading from Nahum is used in the Office of Readings.

Nahum (Hebrew: nachûm) means "one who is consoled," "one who is comforted." The name is widely believed to be a contraction of the name Nehemiah, "the consolation of God." It is related to the name Noah, an interesting fact given the flood imagery employed in the book There may be a play on the name in Nah 3:7~"And all who look on you will shrink from you and say, Wasted is Nineveh; who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters (Heb. nâcham,) for her." The book has been greatly criticized in modern times because of the apparent glee with which the prophet celebrates the demise of the Assyrian Empire, but two things should be kept in mind: 1. the sheer brutality of the Assyrians, which they both glorified and eroticized; 2. A proper understanding of the biblical concepts of wrath and vengeance.

After a superscription wherein the book is described an oracle (literally, "burden") against Nineveh, the capitol and personification of the Assyrian Empire, there follows an introduction (Nah 1:2-11), beginning with a hymn which portrays God as a divine warrior (Nah 1:2-8),. In this hymn God is portrayed as a avenger of wrongdoing possessing cosmic power (Nah 1:2-5) against which nothing or no one can stand (Nah 2:6). He can protect those who trust in Him (Nah 2:7) even as He brings down punishment on is foes (Nah 1:8). This hymn is followed by a rhetorical question directed towards the Assyrians and, possibly, doubters among God's people (Nah 1:9a). This question introduces a statement about the certainty of His victory (Nah 1:9b-10). This introductory section ends with a reminder of how God had rescued His people and the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrians in time past (Nah 1:11). This is a reference to the 701 BC siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian king Sennacherib who, through his commander, counseled the defenders of Jerusalem not to trust either their king of their God. God, however, forced the Assyrians to withdraw (see 2 Kings 18:13-19:37).

The rest of the book has been variously outlined by scholars. I like the following reverse parallel structure:

A1). INTRODUCTION.  Nah 1:12-15.  The strength of Assyria will come to naught. They had been sent to punish God's people, but will do so no more (Nah 1:12; see Isa 10:5-27). Their power is broken and their king will die (Nah 1:13-14). God's people will rejoice and offer thanksgiving sacrifices in celebration (Nah 1:15).

B1). A CALL TO ACTION WHICH AVAILS NOTHING. Nah 2:1-10. God "the scatterer" has come against the city of Nineveh and its defenders are called to take action (Nah 2:1). As the Assyrians had been sent by God to punish His people, so now He has sent the scarlet clad Babylonians to punish Assyria and to restore the fortunes of His people (Nah 2:2-3). Already they are in the suburbs of the city, threatening the walls of the city-proper (Nah 2:4). Assyrian officers rush to defend the walls but, ominously, they stumble (Nah 2:5). I see this as implying that their legendary military efficiency--emphasized in Isa 5:26-30--is coming to and end. The river gates which regulated the flow of water into the city and controlled flooding are compromised and the city is flooded and the palace "melts" ( Nah 2:6, so the text should read). God, the Divine Warrior who had power to dry up rivers and melt hills now floods Nineveh and melts its palace (see Nah 1:4-5). The stature of the goddess Ishtar, "mistress" of the city is "stripped" of it adornments and taken as booty while her "maidens" [priestesses] mourn (Nah 2:7). Ironically, the flooded city is compared to a pool whose waters have been drained away and which no human power can halt (Nah 2:8). The image probably relates to the fleeing Assyrian soldiers. Isaiah 8:5-8 had described the invading Assyrians as a raging flood, but in confrontation with the Cosmic Warrior their military might has drained away. The city of plunderers is plundered (Nah 2:9). This section, which began with a call to the Assyrians to gird their loins and collect their strength (Nah 2:1) now ends with talk of faint hearts, weak knees, and anguished loins (Nah 2:10).

C1). A RHETORICAL QUESTION INTRODUCES A TAUNT AGAINST ASSYRIAN PRIDE. Nah 2:11-12. The lair (Nineveh) of the once mighty lion of Assyria can no longer be found. Assyrian might was often depicted in terms of a lion attack (Amos 3:4, 8, 12). The Assyrian Chronicles often portray the empires kings as having lion-like qualities, and the goddess Ishtar was often portrayed in artwork as a lioness.
D1). JUDGEMENT AGAINST THE LIONS OF ASSYRIA. Nah 2:13. This section obviously builds on the previous one. But note that God is again described as coming against Assyria (as in Nah 2:1). Assyrian military messengers will no longer herald conquests and victories; a contrast with the message of good news that God's victory will bring (Nah 1:15).
E). WOE UPON THE BLOODY CITY AND ITS HARLOTRIES. Nah 3:1-4
D2). JUDGMENT AGAINST THE HARLOT CITY. Nah 3:5-7. As in the D1 section (Nah 3:13) God is said to be against Nineveh/Assyria. Building upon the E section (Nah 3:1-4) which mentioned "harlotries" the fate of the city is compared to that of a harlot's treatment in the ancient world. Behind the image is the military practice of the Assyrians who, to humiliate their captives would strip them, cover them with dung, or throw them on dung heaps (Isa 20:4; Amos 4:2). 
 C2).  A RHETORICAL QUESTION INTRODUCES A TAUNT AGAINST ASSYRIAN PRIDE. Nah 3:8-13.  The Egyptian city of Thebes was one the first truly great city of the Middle East. It was for nearly fourteen hundred years the center of the Great Egyptian Empire-from circa 2,000 BC until its fall to the Assyrians in 663 BC. Like Nineveh, which was located on the Euphrates,  it was a great river city on the banks of the Nile. Like Nineveh and its Euphrates, Thebes was protected by a series of moats fed by the Nile and, like Nineveh, it was though impregnable. But Nineveh too will fall; and what they had perpetrated on the inhabitants of Thebes will be perpetrated on them. The lion who had once dwelt in its lair of Nineveh  secure, coming and going at will (section C1, Nah 2:11-12), will have no refuge from enemies. The lion that once cared for its cubs (Nah 2:12) will behold their deaths. The Assyrian lion/king who once protected his lioness will see the men of his military become as women. The lion who once fed his own will have his military might plundered like ripe figs.
B2). A CALL TO ACTION WHICH AVAILS NOTHING. Nah 3:14-17. No matter what the Assyrians do to prepare for the siege (Nah 3:14), it will come to naught. No matter how much water they draw, it will not quench the fire. Fire and sword will devour them like locusts, even if they were to multiply like locust (Nah 3:15-17).
A2). CONCLUSION. Nah 3:18-19. One interpretation is as follows: the Assyrian king's "shepherds" (military commanders) and nobles are dead ("asleep," "slumber"). This recalls the A1 section which spoke about the Assyrian might passing away (Nah 1:12). My own opinion is that the shepherds and nobles are references to the Assyrian gods and the image of sleep/slumber a reference to their inability to aid the king or protect themselves--he introduction had promised that they would be "cut off" Nah 1:14. In the introduction their demise is bound up with that of the king whose name would not be perpetuated, and whose grave would be dug. Here, they are helpless in the face of the God, "the scatterer" (Nah 2:1) who has "scattered" the king's people (Nah 3:18). The king himself is grievously wounded, ready for the previously mentioned grave (Nah 3:19). The good news of Assyria's demise, directed towards Judah (1:15), is news all those afflicted by Assyria will rejoice in.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

RSM Notes on Isaiah 1

I have included some brief footnotes at the end of this post along with a suggested resource list for those who wish to delve more deeply into Isaiah. If length is a concern, the RSM administrator is free to delete these. If that course is taken I will provide a link in the comment box for those interested in this material.

ISAIAH 1 IN THE LECTIONARY AND OFFICE:

Although I wont be doing so in this post, it is often fruitful to study a given text (such as Isaiah 1) in relation to other texts associated with it in the Lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). In the Liturgy of the Hours Isaiah 1:1-18 is the scripture reading used in the Office of Readings for the First Sunday of Advent. It is prefaced by Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 2:1-12; and Psalm 3:1-8. The reading for the next day consists of Isaiah 1:21-27, 2:1-5. It is prefaced by Psalm 6:1-10; Psalm 9:1-10; and Psalm 9:11-20. In the Daily Lectionary for Mass, Isaiah 1:10-17 is the first reading for Monday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time (Year 2). It is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23  and Matthew 10:34-11:1. On Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent (Years 1 & 2) the first reading is Isaiah 1:10, 16-20. Like the previous passage from Isaiah it is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23. The Gospel reading that accompanies it is Matthew 23:1-12.

One should pay attention to verbal, thematic and theological connections and contrasts in comparing Isaiah with the other passages. One might also ask certain questions, such as, why is it that in the Office all of Isaiah 1 is covered in the first two days of Advent except for Isa 1:19-20 and Isa 1:28-31? Why is it that on Tuesday of the second week of Lent the Mass reading skips from Isa 1:10 to Isa 1:16-20, eliminating Isa 1:11-15?

NOTES ON ISAIAH 1:

Read Isaiah 1:1. This is a superscription to the entire book and was probably added at a late date; possibly at the final compiling/editing of the book (scroll). It is written in the 3rd person and the style is referred to as either archival or titular style. Archival, because it serves as a record to the time period of Isaiah's ministry via the four kings mentioned; titular, because it serves as a title, mentioning the author (Isaiah) and the subject matter (vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem).

The first king mentioned, Uzziah, began his reign around 785 BC. The reign of the last mentioned king, Hezekiah, ended in 698 BC. Assuming that Isaiah 6 narrates the prophet's initial call to ministry, modern scholars establish its beginning in 742 BC, "the year King Uzziah died" (Isa 6:1). This is rather problematic. His ministry can be dated with certainty to have lasted until at least 701 since he is shown to be active in the events surrounding the Assyrian invasion of Judah in that year (see chapters 36-37).

Read Isaiah 1:2-3. The Prophet Announces God's Accusation Against His People. The text opens with a call to attention and the reason for it: Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken. Bidding heaven and earth in this fashion calls to mind the Book of Deuteronomy wherein Moses is portrayed as delivering a series of exhortatory sermons to the people to inform and warn them concerning what was necessary for them to maintain possession of the Promised Land they were about to enter (e.g., Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20). Thus the first "sermon" in Isaiah begins on an ominous note. See footnote 1.

What the LORD has spoken is an indictment of His people: "Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.” In a fashion typical of the wisdom genre they are compared to beasts. The ox, and, especially, the ass, were common symbols of stupidity and stubbornness (Prov 7:22; 26:3; Job 11:12; Gen 16:12). The statement that Israel does not know, my people does not understand, indicates in the Hebrew text that their lack of knowledge/understanding is willful.

Read Isaiah 1:4-9. The text opens with the Hebrew word hoy, which would be better translated as "woe" rather than "ah." The opening verse is a lament for what God's sons (2) and people (3) have become. 

What is lamented is the fact that the people have reversed their most fundamental relations with God as witnessed to in the foundational traditions of the Old Testament, where it is seen that Israel is God's firstborn son whose duty it is to serve God (Ex 4:22-23). It was this Father-God that carried them through the desert (Deut 1:31), and trained them to learn obedience (Deut 8:5). But they have rebelled against their Father (Isa 1:2) and become offspring of evildoers and sons who deal corruptly (Isa 1:4). Also in these foundational traditions Israel was to be especially "God's own people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). In Isaiah's day they were the exact opposite; a sinful nation and a people estranged from God (Isa 1:4). These "priestly people" were also perverting their religious activity (see Isa 1:11-15). See footnote 2.

 The question in Isa 1:5 is rhetorical and is intended to get the people to rethink their relational status with their Father. According to Deuteronomy, failure to maintain covenant loyalty to their God would bring covenant punishments upon the people, culminating in invasion, siege and exile (Deut 28:49-57, 63-68). There were warnings about these things that heaven and earth had heard Moses deliver to the people (e.g., Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20), and indeed, the people of Isaiah's day had begun to suffer such things. In Isa 1:5-8 the people and the Promised Land are kind of melded into one. The people/land are portrayed as a rebellious son who has been punished so repeatedly that no spot is left upon which to exact punishment (Isa 1:5-6). What is behind this image is the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC when the Promised Land was fiercely devastated, and dozens of fortified towns and cities (intended to protect Jerusalem) were destroyed. Out of a sheer act of mercy God saved His still unrepentant people (Isa 1:9).

Read Isaiah 1:10-17.  The fact that God had spared His people from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa 1:9) had nothing to do with their religiosity which the prophet here highlights as a mere sham and hateful to God (Isa 1:11-15); detestable because it is devoid of any moral concern for others (Isa 1:16-17). The fact that God has spared his undeserving people (9) is probably to be taken as an intended incentive for the people to treat rightly those among them in need of mercy and justice.

Read Isa 1:18-20. God calls the people to repentance and obedience, promising that they will again be able to eat the good things of the land (19). Recall Isa 1:7 where we saw that the land was desolated and its fruit consumed by foreigners. Obedience to God would have prevented this situation (Deut 28:49-51); here we see God promise that repentance can bring it to an end (see also Deut 31:1-10).

Read Isa 1:21-31. The people had been bidden to wash themselves (Isa 1:16), and they had been told that the redness of their sins could become the whiteness of innocence (Isa 1:18). Here in this present passage we see an incentive for the people to cleanse themselves (repent); a cleansing punishment from God is coming. Those who have become or remain corrupted (Isa 1:-23a),  not caring for widows or orphans (Isa 1:23b) will be treated as God's enemies and experience a searing blast of judgment, like tainted silver in a furnace (Isa 1:24-25). In this way renewal will come about (Isa 1:26). Because of this judgment some will repent (Isa 1:27), others will remain obstinate (Isa 1:28). Those among the obstinate who have indulged in the worship of idols under oak trees (terebinths) and in groves (gardens) will become like dry, dead trees and withered gardens, stuff to kindle fires ((Isa 1:29-31).


FOOTNOTES:

1. Extremely ominous is Isaiah 1:2-4 which calls to mind the early verses of the song God taught to Moses and Moses taught to the people. That song was intended to act as a witness against the people and indicates that God knew the people would forsake him (see Deut 31:16-22).   Pertinent to this passage of Isaiah are the following phrases from the song: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth...For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Ascribe greatness to out God...A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he. They have dealt corruptly with him, they are no longer his children because of their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus requite the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, and made you and established you?" (see Deut 32:1-6).

2. Stark reversals or contrasts are a characteristic of Isaiah's preaching (e.g., Isa 1:21-23; 3:16-26; 5:1, 4). However, in the midst of such reversals something better is often promised. Compare for example the negative Isa 1:21-23 with the positive Isa 1:25-26. Also, compare Isa 3:16-26 which portrays the daughters of Jerusalem in a negative light and the protective gates of Jerusalem as mourning with Isa 4:2-6 where the daughters are cleansed and Zion/Jerusalem is protected by the presence of God.

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:

The Men and Message of the Old Testament. Catholic. By Peter F. Ellis. Dated but still useful.

Father William Most's Chapter Summaries of Isaiah. Online. Catholic. Opens with some introductory material.

Introduction to Isaiah. Online. Catholic. A very brief introduction written by Mark Giszczak.


The Conscience of Israel: Pre-Exilic Prophets and Prophecy. By Father Bruce Vawter. A dated but still useful introduction to prophecy and to the times and themes of Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah.

Isaiah Chapter 1. Notes from the famed 11th century Jewish Rabbi, Rashi. Online.

The Purpose of the Book of Isaiah. Online. Protestant.

Sennacherib's Attack on Hezekiah. Online. Protestant. Tries to make sense out of the confusing biblical and Assyrian accounts of this event.

Old Testament Prophets. Online audio by Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN. listen to episodes, 1, and 30-51.

The Book of Isaiah. By Edward J Kissane. Catholic. Dated but still useful.

Isaiah 1-39: Old Testament Message Series. By Father Joseph Jensen.

Isaiah 40-66: Old Testament Message Series. By Father John Scullion.

Isaias: Prophet for Our Time. By Father Hubert von Zeller. Originally published in 1938.

Father Cornelius a Lapide's Latin Commentary on Isaiah.

Navarre Bible Commentary on the Major Prophets. Catholic.

Isaiah 1-39: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical. 

Isaiah 40-55: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Isaiah 56-66. Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Eusebius of Caesarea's Commentary on Isaiah.

St Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah and Origen's Homilies 1-9 on Isaiah.

The Church's Bible: Isaiah. Patristic and Medieval excerpts on various parts of the prophet.

Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture: Isaiah 1-39.

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah 40-66.

St Thomas Aquinas' Lectures on Isaiah are being translated into English and will become available to Logos Bible Software users. I don't know if there are plans to publish it in book format as well.



Friday, December 05, 2014

Some Notes on Mark 1:2-9

Today we look at the prologue of Mark’s Gospel, which is usually identified as incorporating verses 2 through 13 of his first chapter; however, you can also include verse 14 and 15 into it, because they are transitional and, as a result, can be taken with either the prologue or the body of the Gospel. On my old blog you can find several different outlines which show that the prologue, with the inclusion of verse 14 and 15, can easily be divided into two major parts, with content from the two parts providing contrasting parallels between John and Jesus. Part one, Mk 1:2-8 focuses on the person and mission of the Baptist, while part two, Mk 1:10-15 focus on our Blessed Lord. Mk 1:9 represents the hinge or center around which the parallels are built. In part 1, Mk 1:2, we are told that a messenger will prepare the way of the Lord. In part 2, Mk 1:14-15, we see that the messengers function is complete, and the Lord begins his own activity. In part 1, Mk 1:3, John is described in terms of Scripture as a voice, while in part 2, Mk 1:11 the voice of God is heard declaring who Jesus is. Essentially what you have is a new revelation building upon and clarifying the OT revelation. In part 1 Mk 1:4, John is in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. In part 2 Mk1:12-13 Jesus is driven into the desert and is tested by Satan. Mark is not as explicit as the other synoptics but he clearly implies that our Lord was victorious. In other words, Jesus triumphs over the being and his activity which made it necessary for man to repent in the first place. In part 1, Mk 1:5, people go into the desert acknowledging their sins, and John ministers to them with his baptism. In part 2, Mk 1:13 our Lord is ministered to by angels. In part 1, Mk 1:6, John’s sparse diet consists of locust and wild honey. In part 2, Mk 1:12, Our lord is fasting. In part 1, Mk 1:7-8, John says that one mightier than himself will come. He also says while he himself baptizes with water, the mightier one will baptize with the Holy Spirit. In part 2, Mk 1:10 our lord, after being baptized, receives the spirit. Mark notes that Jesus receives the Spirit upon coming up from the water, thus emphasizing that the descent of the Spirit is not a direct result of John’s baptism. The two outlines we give on our blog may differ somewhat from one another and from our own presentation, but it is quite clear that St Mark intended contrasts and comparisons between John and Jesus.
Let’s now go through the text in a bit more detail.

Mk 1:2-3. The prologue opens with a biblical inscription which Mark attributes to the Prophet Isaiah, but which is in fact made up of two text. This was a standard practice in Mark’s day as the Qumran literature, the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls show. Why, in a compiled text, one author was singled out is unknown. Father John Donahue and Father Daniel Harrington, in their commentary on Mark in the Sacra Pagina series, suggest that since Mark has several allusions to Isaiah in his prologue he wanted to draw specific attention to him at the beginning. Whatever the case may be, here is what St Mark writes: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert; Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.”

The first passage he quotes is from Malachi 3:1, which reads: “Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face.” The second is from Isaiah 40:3, which reads “The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.” In the Malachi text, God is promising to send an angel, or messenger-that’s what the word angel means-before his own face. The word face, by the way, is common biblical idiom for presence. In the Isaiah text, the voice in the desert is saying that people have to prepare for the coming of the Lord God. If you look at the way Mark words the texts, he is clearly insinuating that Jesus is divine.

The theme of the desert looms large in the OT. God led Israel out into the desert to worship him. He let them be tested in order to refine and prepare them for a covenant relationship with him in the promised land. Occasionally, the obeyed him and did his will, more often than not however, they failed (see for example Exodus chapter 16; Numbers 11; and Psalm 78:17-53). As they stood on the Plains of Moab, ready to enter the promised land, Moses reminded them of all God had done for them and telling them to remain faithful, lest God drive them into exile. We see this for example in Deuteronomy 5:32-40; and in chapters 28 and 29. But in spite of their failures, the desert was the place of God’s saving deeds (see Psalm 78:12-16). According to the prophets it would again become the place of God’s salvific deeds (see Hosea 2:16-25). God’s great redemptive activity in the Exodus thus became a model by which the prophets described his future redemptive acts. This is what Isaiah is doing in the prophecy Mark quotes. Isaiah is predicting the end of the Babylonian Exile, and Mark sees it prophetically as a harbinger of an even greater salvific event wrought through Jesus Christ.

Mk 1:4-5. So, according to verses 4 and 5, John is out in the desert preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and people from Judea and Jerusalem come out to him and are baptized in the Jordan. Now, we think this is a very interesting question: Where is John? Is he on the west or the east side of the Jordan? If he is on the east side, he is outside the promised land. If this is the case, then what the people are doing by going out to him is enacting a personal exile. In Deuteronomy 29:27 the people are threatened with exile into a strange land if the do not obey God. In Chapter 30:1-9 however, they are told that if they repent, they will once again return to the land God gave them and enjoy his favor. Are the people going into a symbolic exile, repenting, then returning to the promised land? It is an interesting question, unfortunately Mark is not specific as to where John was exactly.

Mk 1:6. In verse 6, John is described as wearing camel’s hair and being girded with a leather belt. A hairy mantle was the traditional garment of a prophet; at least this is suggested by Zechariah the prophet in Zech 13:4 of his book. But Mark certainly wishes his readers to think of Elijah the prophet, the great defender of the covenant who sought to restore the people to their covenant fidelity with God. In 2 Kings 1:8 Elijah is described as dressed in a hairy garment with a leather belt. The man who is given that description is King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. Like Elijah before him, John the Baptist will be persecuted by a king and his queen. According to 2 Kings 2:6-11, Elijah was taken up alive into heaven and seen no more. We saw that at the beginning of chapter 3 of Malachi, the prophet had predicted a messenger who would herald the coming Lord. That chapter ends with the promise that before the day of the Lord comes, God would send Elijah the prophet to turn the hearts of fathers to the children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest God come and strike the land. Clearly St Mark wants us to see the Baptist as fulfilling the expected return of Elijah. In fact, in Mk 9:12 of the Gospel, Jesus clearly indicates that it was the Baptist who fulfilled the Elijah expectations: “But I say to you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatsoever they would, as it is written of him.”

Now as we have just seen, Elijah comes to restore family relations. In this respect we should note what Malachi writes in chapter 2:10-17 He portrays the people as asking “have we not all one father/” And the prophet responds by saying: “Why then does everyone of us despise his brother, violating the covenant of our fathers?” He then goes on to condemn divorce. It seems then that the prophecy that Elijah would come to restore family relations is integral to Malachi’s teaching. In light of this, isn’t it interesting that just before Mark describes the death of John the Baptist he writes about Jesus rejection at Nazareth, which he terms his patris, his fatherland. And because of this rejection Jesus states that a prophet has no honor in his patris, among his kin, or even in his own house. You can read about this in Mk 6:1-6. When St Mark tells of the death of the Baptist he first tells us that John was arrested by Herod for he had said to him: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And I’m sure we all know how the death of the Baptist came about. Herod had a party at which the daughter of his immorally gotten wife danced. Herod promised the girl she could ask anything, and at the mother’s instigation she asked for the head of the baptist. This saddened Herod, but he fulfilled the request. That was one screwed up pseudo-family to say the least.

We find all of this interesting, but unfortunately we are not biblical scholars and cannot develop these ideas. We will leave the subject by noting that the image of family is very important in Mark. Jesus is often shown in a house with his disciples and even defines them as his family.

Mk 1:7-9. In verses 7-8 we are told that John preached the following: “There comes after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie…He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”

John portrays himself as the most menial of slaves, while the coming one is mighty, or powerful. John Baptizes with water, the coming one with the Holy Spirit. What does Mark mean by baptism with the Holy Spirit?

We do not think it is a reference to the Sacrament of Baptism. Outside of the prologue Mark mentions the Holy Spirit only twice; once in Mk 3:29, and again in Mk 13:11. In both cases the reference seems to refer to the action or power of the Spirit who is already possessed. After Jesus is baptized by John, but not because of that baptism (for John's baptism was not sacramental), he receives the Spirit and by the Spirit is driven into the desert to confront Satan. Now the same word Mark uses for the Spirit driving Jesus into the desert is later used in reference to Jesus casting or driving out demons, suggesting that he is acting by the Power of the Spirit. In Mk 3:22-27 Jesus is accused of driving out demons by the power of Satan. Our Blessed Lord responds to that by asking "how can Satan drive out Satan? A house or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." He then says: “No man can enter the house of a strong man and rob him of his goods, unless he first bind the strong man, and then he shall plunder his house.”

Our Lord is clearly calling Satan the strong man, and he is using the same word John used when he described Jesus as the mightier one in Mk 1:7. Our Lord then goes on to say that the only sin that cannot e forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and Mark tells us he said this because he had been accused of having an unclean spirit. The implication is that the unforgivable sin is calling that which is done by the Holy Spirit evil, such as miracles, the Bible, the mission of the Church, etc. We think that baptism with the Holy Spirit means being imbued with the power of the Spirit by which we can overcome all that is opposed and hostile to the Gospel. In Mk 13:9-13 Our Blessed Lord warns us of persecution. We will be called to account before authorities and will have to witness to them, but we are not to worry about what to say before them, for what we are to say will be given to us by the Spirit.

After telling us that a mightier one is coming, Mark tells us in verse 9 that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John. A not to subtle indication that the one spoken of by the Baptist is now on the scene. Coming as it does on the heels of John’s denigration of himself in comparison to the coming one this statement is jarring. This fact must have troubled a lot of people who conceived of Jesus’ advent as one of earthly greatness and glory.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Some Notes on Isaiah 1:1-31

At the end of this post I've included some suggested resources for the study of Isaiah.

Although I wont be doing so in this post, it is often fruitful to study a given text (such as Isaiah 1) in relation to other texts associated with it in the Lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office).  One should pay attention to verbal, thematic and theological connections and contrasts. One might also ask certain questions, such as, why is it that in the Office all of Isaiah 1 is covered in the first two days of Advent except for Isa 1:19-20 and Isa 1:28-31? Why is it that on Tuesday of the second week of Lent the Mas reading skips from Isa 1:10 to Isa 1:16-20, eliminating Isa 1:11-15?

In the Liturgy of the Hours Isaiah 1:1-18 is the scripture reading used in the Office of Readings for the First Sunday of Advent. It is prefaced by Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 2:1-12; and Psalm 3:1-8. The reading for the next day consists of Isaiah 1:21-27, 2:1-5. It is prefaced by Psalm 6:1-10; Psalm 9:1-10; and Psalm 9:11-20. In the Daily Lectionary for Mass, Isaiah 1:10-17 is the first reading for Monday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time (Year 2). It is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23  and Matthew 10:34-11:1. On Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent (Years 1 & 2) the first reading is Isaiah 1:10, 16-20. Like the previous passage from Isaiah it is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23. The Gospel reading that accompanies it is Matthew 23:1-12.

Read Isaiah 1:1. This is a superscription to the entire book and was probably added at a late date; possibly at the final compiling/editing of the book (scroll). It is written in the 3rd person and the style is referred to as either archival or titular style. Archival, because it serves as a record to the time period of Isaiah's ministry via the four kings mentioned; titular, because it serves as a title, mentioning the author (Isaiah) and the subject matter (vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem).

The first king mentioned, Uzziah, began his reign around 785 BC. The reign of the last mentioned king, Hezekiah, ended in 698 BC. Assuming that Isaiah 6 narrates the prophet's initial call to ministry, modern scholars establish its beginning in 742 BC, "the year King Uzziah died" (Isa 6:1).***

The rest of chapter 1 exhibits aspects of ancient covenant lawsuits in that it accuses the people of covenant violations; but it  also contains prophetic paranesis (exhortation). The overall point of the "sermon" is to get the people to consider their broken relational status with their God and change it.

Read Isaiah 1:2-9. The prophet calls heaven and earth to hear God speak (Isa 1:2a). What God speaks is an accusation  against His children for forsaking both Him [explicit] and His covenant [implicit] (Isa 1:2b-3).  Isaiah's bidding heaven and earth to hear and listen calls to mind the warnings Moses gave to the people as they readied themselves to enter the Promised Land (Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20). Thus the first "sermon" in Isaiah begins on an ominous note.


Extremely ominous is Isaiah 1:2-4 which calls to mind the early verses of the song God taught to Moses and Moses taught to the people. That song was intended to act as a witness against the people and indicates that God knew the people would forsake him (see Deut 31:16-22).   Pertinent to this passage of Isaiah are the following phrases from the song: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth...For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Ascribe greatness to out God...A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he. They have dealt corruptly with him, they are no longer his children because of their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus requite the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, and made you and established you?" (see Deut 32:1-6).

In the foundational traditions of the Old Testament it is seen that Israel is God's firstborn son whose duty it is to serve God (Ex 4:22-23). It was this Father-God that carried them through the desert (Deut 1:31), and trained them to learn obedience (Deut 8:5). But they have rebelled against their Father (Isa 1:2) and have become "offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly" (Isa 1:4).

Also in these foundational traditions Israel was to be especially God's own people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6). In Isaiah's day they were the exact opposite; a sinful nation and a people estranged from God (Isa 1:4). They were also perverting their religious activity (Isa 1:11-15)

Verses 2 and 4 provide a stark and disturbing reversal characteristic of Isaiah's preaching (e.g., Isa 1:21-23; 3:16-26; 5:1, 4). However, in the midst of such reversals something better is often promised. Compare for example the negative Isa 1:21-23 with the positive Isa 1:25-26. Also, compare Isa 3:16-26 which portrays the daughters of Jerusalem in a negative light and the protective gates of Jerusalem as mourning with Isa 4:2-6 where the daughters are cleansed and Zion/Jerusalem is protected by the presence of God.

According to Deuteronomy, failure to maintain covenant loyalty to their God would bring covenant punishments upon the people, culminating in invasion, siege and exile (Deut 28:49-57, 63-68). There were warnings about these things that heaven and earth had heard Moses deliver to the people (e.g., Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20), and indeed, the people of Isaiah's day had begun to suffer such things. In Isa 1:5-8 the people and the Promised Land are kind of melded into one. The people/land are portrayed as a rebellious son who has been punished so repeatedly that no spot is left upon which to exact punishment (Isa 1:5-6). What is behind this image is the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC when the Promised Land was fiercely devastated, and dozens of fortified towns and cities (intended to protect Jerusalem) were destroyed. Out of a sheer act of mercy God saved His still unrepentant people (Isa 1:9).

Read Isaiah 1:10-17.  The fact that God had spared His people from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa 1:9) had nothing to do with their religiosity which the prophet here highlights as a mere sham and hateful to God (Isa 1:11-15); detestable because it is devoid of any moral concern for others (Isa 1:16-17). The fact that God has spared his undeserving people (9) is probably to be taken as an intended incentive for the people to treat rightly those among them in need of mercy and justice.

Read Isa 1:18-20. God calls the people to repentance and obedience, promising that they will again be able to eat the good things of the land (19). Recall Isa 1:7 where we saw that the land was desolated and its fruit consumed by foreigners. Obedience to God would have prevented this situation (Deut 28:49-51); here we see God promise that repentance can bring it to an end (see also Deut 31:1-10).

Read Isa 1:21-31. The people had been bidden to wash themselves (Isa 1:16), and they had been told that the redness of their sins could become the whiteness of innocence (Isa 1:18). Here in this present passage we see an incentive for the people to cleanse themselves (repent); a cleansing punishment from God is coming. Those who have become or remain corrupted (Isa 1:-23a),  not caring for widows or orphans (Isa 1:23b) will be treated as God's enemies and experience a searing blast of judgment, like tainted silver in a furnace (Isa 1:24-25). In this way renewal will come about (Isa 1:26). Because of this judgment some will repent (Isa 1:27), others will remain obstinate (Isa 1:28). Those among the obstinate who have indulged in the worship of idols under oak trees (terebinths) and in groves (gardens) will become like dry, dead trees and withered gardens, stuff to kindle fires ((Isa 1:29-31).

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:

Father William Most's Chapter Summaries of Isaiah. Online. Catholic. Opens with some introductory material.

Introduction to Isaiah. Online. Catholic. A very brief introduction written by Mark Giszczak.

Isaiah Chapter 1. Notes from the famed 11th century Rabbi, Rashi. Online.

The Purpose of the Book of Isaiah. Online. Protestant.

Sennacherib's Attack on Hezekiah. Online. Protestant. Tries to make sense out of the confusing biblical and Assyrian accounts of this event.

Old Testament Prophets. Online audio by Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN. listen to episodes, 1, and 30-51.

The Book of Isaiah. By Edward J Kissane. Catholic. Dated but still useful.

Isaiah 1-39: Old Testament Message Series. By Father Joseph Jensen.

Isaiah 40-66: Old Testament Message Series. By Father John Scullion.

Isaias: Prophet for Our Time. By Father Hubert von Zeller. Originally published in 1938.

Father Cornelius a Lapide's Latin Commentary on Isaiah.

Navarre Bible Commentary on the Major Prophets. Catholic.

Isaiah 1-39: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical. 

Isaiah 40-55: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Isaiah 56-66. Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Eusebius of Caesarea's Commentary on Isaiah.

St Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah and Origen's Homilies 1-9 on Isaiah.

The Church's Bible: Isaiah. Patristic and Medieval excerpts on various parts of the prophet.

Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture: Isaiah 1-39.

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah 40-66.

St Thomas Aquinas' Lectures on Isaiah are being translated into English and will become available to Logos Bible Software users. I don't know if there are plans to publish it in book format as well.





Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Father Callan's Commentary on Romans Chapter 8:1-17

THE FOURTH FRUIT OF JUSTIFICATION: THE HAPPINESS OF REGENERATED MAN, WHO NOW HAS GRACE TO LIVE A CHRISTIAN LIFE, AND THEREBY IS GIVEN A PLEDGE OF HIS RESURRECTION
Romans 8:1-11

A Summary of Romans 8:1-11~This chapter contains a sublime exposition of the precious treasures and glorious prospects of the Christian life. In the present section the Apostle concludes, after all that has been said so far regarding the fruits of justification, that those who have been regenerated in Jesus Christ by Baptism are no longer under penalties; for the new life effected in us by the Spirit has delivered us from former tyranny. The shortcomings of the Law, which was undermined by the perversity of the flesh, God has supplied for by sending His Son to triumph over the flesh, and to enable us to live hereafter according to the spirit, thus fulfilling the Law in our lives. This last they cannot do who follow the flesh, because the flesh and the spirit are mutually opposing agencies. But the spirit of Christians has been reinforced by God’s Spirit dwelling in them. Being in Christ they possess His Spirit, and so are enabled not only to live a spiritual life now, but to look forward to the glorious life of the resurrection.

Rom 8:1. There is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh.

After having shown that those justified by means of faith in Christ are delivered from the wrath of God, from sin, and from the Law, St. Paul draws a very important and consoling inference, which is a conclusion to all that has preceded since Chapter 6. We know from sad experience, he says, what it means to be under the Law, and we know also what it means to be under grace. Now, i.e., under the New Law of grace, there is no condemnation, i.e., there is nothing that merits condemnation to them that are, etc., i.e., to the faithful who by means of Baptism have been incorporated in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:3 ff.) and live by His life (Rom 6:11, 23), members of His body, as the branches live from the vine (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 2:20; John 14:19-20).

Who walk, etc. This final clause of the verse is wanting in the best Greek MSS., and is regarded as a gloss by most critics. Hence also in the Vulgate, qui non secundum carnem ambulant should be omitted.

Rom 8:2. For the law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and of death.

This verse is a proof of the preceding. Those who are in Christ Jesus live according to the Spirit that has delivered them from the law of sin and death, i.e., they live a spiritual life through the grace of the Holy Ghost which is communicated to their souls. The law of the spirit can mean the law of the Holy Ghost, as such; or the law of grace, the proper effect of the Holy Ghost communicated to man (St. Thomas). The second meanings seems more probable here. The opposition is with the law of sin which was in our flesh, and to some extent with the law of the reason (Rom 7:23). Sin, as is supposed, has been forgiven, and the law of reason has been fortified by the law of grace.

Of life, i.e., of life in Christ Jesus. It is better to join Christ Jesus with life than with hath delivered (St. Thomas, Kiihl, etc.).

Me (μέ), the reading of the Vulgate and of the ordinary Greek, is better supported than "thee" (σε) by the Fathers; but less so by the MSS. The sense is the same in either case, since the question regards regenerated man.

The law of sin does not mean concupiscence, because it is a matter of faith and of experience that the Christian is not free from this effect of original sin. It means, therefore, the dominion of sin, from which we are delivered by the spiritual life, the life of grace. By this same spiritual life, or life of the spirit, we are delivered from the law of death inasmuch as temporal death would be at the same time eternal death (Lagrange).

Rom 8:3. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh; God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh;


In the preceding verse we were told how Christians through their union with Christ are delivered from sin, and here we see how God has condemned sin through the Incarnation of His Son. St. Thomas says this verse shows three things : (a) the necessity of the Incarnation, (b) the mode of the Incarnation, (c) the fruit of the Incarnation.

What the law could not do (το γαρ αδυνατον του νομου). Literally, "What was impossible to the law"—not because it was not good and holy in itself, but because of our corrupt human nature—God has effected by sending his own Son, i.e., through the Incarnation of His Only-begotten Son.

In the likeness, etc. The resemblance between the flesh of Christ and ours was in this, that the Word of God assumed real human flesh and human nature just like our own, but without the stain of sin upon it. Christ's conception was by the Holy Ghost, not by sinful man; and the flesh and blood which He took was of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Hence He had our real human nature and flesh, but not the corruption which sin has left in our nature— Ostendit nos quidem habere carnem peccati, Filium vero Dei similitudinem habuisse carnis peccati, non carnem peccati (Origen). But since the human nature of Christ, although pure and holy, was subject to pain and death, which were the consequences of sin, it is said to have had the likeness or resemblance of sinful flesh.

And of sin (και περι αμαρτια), i.e., on account of sin, in order to destroy it. These words are to be connected with what precedes (Cornely, Lagrange); they show that the mission or purpose of Christ's coming was to conquer sin and thus redeem man.

Hath condemned sin, i.e., has destroyed the reign of sin personified which, from the fall to Christ, held mankind in slavery. But when was this destruction of the dominion of sin effected? Some say it was at the death of Christ on the cross, but others (Lagrange, Zahn, etc.) hold that the deliverance here spoken of through the condemnation of sin took place at the very time of the Incarnation itself of the Son of God. It was then that God saw all that Christ would do to conquer sin, and then that sin was vanquished, because Christ took flesh free from sin (Lagrange).

In the flesh, i.e., in the flesh of Christ immolated for us all on the cross. God finally condemned and cast out sin through the sufferings of His Only-begotten Son "in the flesh," especially on the cross. This victory of Christ over sin is extended to all flesh, i.e., to all human nature, inasmuch as all by faith and grace may share in the merits and triumph of Christ.

The in quo of the Vulgate has the sense of quia or quatenus. The accusative in similitudinem (εν ομοιωματι) follows the participle mittens because motion is implied.

Rom 8:4. That the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.

That the justification, etc. God destroyed the regime of sin in order that "the justification of the law," i.e., the moral precepts or commandments of the Law, might be fulfilled in us. The passive might be fulfilled (πληρωθη) is used to show that the observance of the Law is due more to the action and grace of God, than to our efforts and strength.

In us, who walk, etc., indicates the fact of our cooperation with God's grace in living not according to the concupiscence of the carnal man, but according to grace. πνευμα ("spirit"), as opposed to σαρκα ("flesh") here, means grace, the spiritual principle of our actions, and not the Holy Ghost (Lagr.).

Rom 8:5. For they that are according to the flesh, mind the things that are of the flesh; but they that are according to the spirit, mind the things that are of the spirit.

The opposition between the flesh and the spirit, indicated  in the preceding verse, induced the Apostle to show more at length (Rom 8:5-8) the contrasts between the two. They that are according to the flesh, i.e., they that follow the concupiscence of their flesh, put their thoughts and affections in the things of the flesh, such as impurity, gluttony, and the like; whereas they who follow the spirit, i.e., grace, aspire to the things of grace, which are charity, joy, peace, etc. 

Sentiunt of the Vulgate is not in the Greek.

6. For the wisdom of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace.

The wisdom (το φρονημα), i.e., the aspiration, the tendency of the flesh is toward the death of the body and of the soul; but the aspiration or tendency of the spirit, i.e., of grace, is toward life and peace here and hereafter. The difference here indicated is the contrast between a life of sin and a life of grace in union with Christ. 

Rom 8:7. Because the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be. Rom 8:8. And they who are in the flesh, cannot please God. 

In these verses St. Paul gives two reasons why the wisdom, i.e., the tendency of the flesh is towards death: (a) because it is an enemy of God, the source of all life, since it is not subject to the divine will as expressed in God’s law, but seeks rather the things that God has forbidden; (b) because they whose flesh is under the domination of sin, whose flesh cooperates with sin, cannot please God, and are consequently surely condemned to death. 

Neither can it be, i.e., so long as the wisdom of the flesh holds sway, it cannot be subject; let the wisdom of the flesh cease, and man can be subject” (St. Aug.).

Verse 7 in the Vulgate has translated (φρόνημα) by sapientia (i.e., wisdom), but studium ("mindset," "thoughts") or affectus ("affections," "state of mind") is again the correct word. The phrase inimica est Deo ("enemy to God") should be inimicitia est in Deum ("enemy against God"). 

Rom 8:9. But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

The Apostle now applies his doctrine to the Roman Christians. But you Romans in your life do not follow the promptings of the flesh, the enemy of God, but the promptings of the spirit, i.e., of grace, if so (ειπερ), i.e., if, as I have reason to believe, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, abides in you. St. Paul takes care to note that if the Romans are following, as he believes, the promptings of grace, it is not due to their own efforts, but to the Holy Ghost who dwells in them. But since it is possible for the Christian to lose, through mortal sin, the Holy Spirit whom he received in Baptism, who is the Spirit of Christ as well as of God the Father, St. Paul goes on to observe that if anyone has lost this Holy Spirit, he no longer pertains to Christ, and has ceased to be a living member of Christ’s fold.

The Spirit of God is here the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that proceeds equally from the Father and from the Son (John 15:22). The text proves nothing against the distinction of the Third Divine Person; neither does it prove directly that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son. The Spirit is here termed the Spirit of Christ because He dwells in the soul through union with Christ. 

Rom 8:10. And if Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead, because of sin;
but the spirit liveth, because of justification.

Here the Apostle says to the Romans that if Christ by His Holy Spirit dwells in them, their bodies indeed are dead, i.e., subject to death, on account of original sin in which they were born; but their spirit, i.e., their souls, live the life of grace for the purpose of producing good works, the fruits of “justification.”

Because of justification (δια δικαιοσυνην) can mean: (a) that the justification given to the soul by God is the source of the spiritual life (St. Thomas, Cornely); or (b) that the spiritual life is the source of good works, that the spiritual life is propter justitiam exercendam (Lietzmann, Lagr.). 

Rom 8:11. And if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you; he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

In this verse we are told that they in whom the Spirit of God dwells do not only enjoy now the life of grace for their souls, but that they shall also have their mortal bodies raised gloriously from the dead on the last day. The Resurrection of Jesus and of all the dead is attributed to the Father because the Resurrection is a work of power, and to the Father especially such works are attributed. As God, of course, our Lord raised Himself from the dead (John 10:18) ; but as man He was raised by the Father. The Resurrection of Christ was the type of our resurrection (1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14; Philip 3:21; 1 Thess 4:14). The reason here assigned for the resurrection of the bodies of the just is because during life they were the temples of the Holy Ghost. The Apostle is not now speaking about the resurrection of the wicked.

Because of his spirit, etc. There are different readings of this final clause. Soden prefers the genitive reading:  “through the Spirit dwelling in you,” which would mean that the Holy Ghost will be the immediate cause of our resurrection. The accusative reading, which is that of the oldest MSS., has: δια το ενοικουν αυτου πνευμα, i.e., “on account of the Spirit dwelling in you,” propter dignitatem Spiritus, etc. This latter is the reading adopted in the Vulgate.

THE DANGER OF FOLLOWING THE FLESH 

A Summary of Romans 8:12-13~These two verses are a corollary from all that has been said since chapter vi, and they give the final answer to the objections of Rom 6:1, 15. From what has been said it follows that for all the benefits that have been enumerated we are not debtors to the flesh, which enslaved us to sin and which of itself would again reduce us to slavery. The Apostle leaves it to be understood that we are debtors to the Spirit, to live according to Its dictates rather than according to the dictates of the flesh. 

Rom 8:12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh Rom 8:13. For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. 

The works of the flesh lead to the death of the soul here and hereafter. But if we live in the spirit which we have received in Baptism, which is a principle of spiritual life in us, opposing to the works of the flesh the works of grace, we shall live now the life of grace, and hereafter the life of glory. There are, therefore, for the Christian the alternatives of eternal life, if he lives according to the spirit; or of eternal death, if he follows the dictates of the flesh. The spirit here means the principle of the spiritual life, namely, grace (Cornely), and not the Holy Ghost (Zahn, Kuhl). With this verse St. Paul has done with the flesh, and turns to consider more exclusively the spirit.

THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE HEIRS OF FUTURE GLORY 

A Summary of Romans 8:14-30~In this section the Apostle considers the qualities of Christians, who are the adopted sons of God. If we are sons of God, we are heirs with Christ, and therefore heirs of future glory (verses 14-18). The certainty of this future glory is proved: (a) from the desire of irrational creatures (verses 19-22); (b) from the desire of the faithful (verses 23-25); (c) from the desire of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us (verses 26, 27); (d) from the designs of God Himself (verses 28-30). 

Rom 8:14. For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 

Whosoever are led, etc., i.e., those who are governed by the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, and who, consequently, repress and control the desires of the flesh, are the sons of God, because sanctifying grace, communicated to them by the Holy Ghost, unites them to Christ, and makes them members of His mystical body and His brothers. To be a son of God, therefore, it is necessary not only to have received the Holy Ghost, but to be also governed by Him. 

Rom 8:15. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).

This and the following verse constitute a kind of parenthesis in which the Apostle shows why Christians are truly the adopted sons of God. He does not say that formerly they received the spirit of servitude, but only that the spirit they now have is unlike that which used to move them. Hence παλιν (“again”) is to be joined to εις φοβον (“in fear”), and not to ελαβετε (“received”). 

You have not received, etc., in Baptism the spirit of bondage or slavery which in Judaism you possessed, and which made you serve God without affection and from fear, as an unwilling slave would serve his master. Such a spirit could not come from God, or be pleasing to God.

The pagans served their divinities in this servile manner, being always moved by the fear of chastisement. The Jewish Law also was called the law of fear, because it did not exclude all servility. To secure its observance it had no power to confer grace (Rom 9:3; Gal 3:12, Gal 3:21), but was forced to hold out threats of chastisement or promises of temporal reward (Heb 8:66; Heb 9:15). A spirit like this, says the Apostle, the Christians have not received. On the contrary, they have received the spirit of adoption of sons, i.e., a disposition of mind and soul which enables them to serve God out of love, as a good son would serve his father.

The spirit, therefore, which the Christians have received, and which is here in question, is not the Holy Ghost (verse 16), nor a supernatural principle of their actions, but a disposition of mind given by God, and as such, supernatural, similar to the spirit of wisdom spoken of in the Old Testament (Isa 11:2-3; Isa 28:6). Cf. Lagrange, h. 1. This spirit is a characteristic mark of a Christian, whereby he is known to be of the adopted sons of God; and of a filial disposition of soul which makes him freely choose to serve God not out of fear, but out of love. To this spirit of piety which the Christian possesses the Holy Ghost also bears witness (verse 16) that the faithful are the sons of God. 

Abba is an Aramaic word which the Apostle here tells us means Father (cf. Mark 14:36; Gal 4:6). Some think the term pertained to an official prayer, but more probably it was only an expression of tenderness toward God, the Father.

The in timore of the Vulgate ought to be in timorem. 

Rom 8:16. For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.

This verse completes the previous one and shows still more clearly that we are the sons of God. For the Spirit himself giveth testimony, etc., i.e., the Holy Ghost joins our spirit (verse 15) in bearing witness that we are truly the adopted children of God, because it is by the impulse of this Holy Spirit, together with our own, that we,  with filial love, invoke God by the name of Father (Gal 4:6). Here, however, we must observe that short of a special divine revelation we can never be absolutely certain that we are in a state of grace and are the sons of God; and that, consequently, the testimony which seems to come from the Holy Spirit may not be a deception of our own minds or of the evil one (cf. Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. de Justif., cap. 9. can. 14, 15). Moral certitude
in such matters is all we can hope for.

Lagrange holds that our spirit of the present verse is not the same as the spirit spoken of in the second part of the preceding verse, but is rather a more complete gift of God, coming from an outpouring of love from the Holy Ghost, who dwells in our souls and is the principle of our good actions. 

That we are (οτι εσμεν) refers to the Christians who are the sons of God. The term τεκνα (“sons”) here is used in the same sense as υιοι. υιοι was used in verse 14: For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons (υιοι) of God.  There are some who would dispute this, claiming that τεκνα denotes a natural relationship while υιοι denotes a legal or ethical one. But the two words are often used in the same sense.  τεκνα can mean natural relations, children, sons, etc., but it can also be used in reference to underlings in one employment, servants, pupils etc. υιοι can refer to one’s agent, a king’s ambassador, etc., but it can also denote children in the proper sense. 

Rom 8:17. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

St. Paul now alludes to the Roman law which recognized the same rights to inheritance in adopted sons as in natural ones (Gal 4:1 ff.); and he concludes that since we are the adopted children of God, we shall be heirs together with Christ of God’s life and glory (verses 13, 18). It is by reason of our union with Christ that we have a right to share in the eternal goods which are His by nature. But we shall be glorified with Christ only on condition that here below we suffer in union with Him. As He only through humiliation, sufferings and death entered into His glory; so we also must bear our sufferings and crosses in union with Him, in a disposition akin to His, if we wish to have part in His life and glory hereafter. 

Yet so. The conjunction ειπερ may be translated, as in the Vulgate, by si tamen; or by si quidem, as many moderns prefer. The sense is nearly the same, except for the meaning which ινα (“that”) receives in these two interpretations. According to the first, suffering with Christ in order to be glorified with Him is a matter of free choice; but if we choose so to suffer, it is with the intention (eo fine ut) that we shall be glorified with Him. According to the second interpretation, suffering with Christ is looked upon more as a fact of our present existence, the natural outcome of which is that we shall be glorified with Christ hereafter. This latter interpretation establishes a natural connection between suffering with Christ and reigning with Him, without this expressed intention on our part, which the former interpretation does not seem to recognize.






Sunday, November 23, 2014

Catholic Scripture Manual on Mark 1:9-13~The Baptism and Testing of Jesus

Mk 1:9 And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in Jordan. 

In those days. Either an indefinite formula referring to St John's preaching, or more probably a reference to the days of our Lord's hidden life at Nazareth, which ended when He attained His thirtieth year. 

it came to pass, in those days. In my opinion the first possibility mentioned above is closer to the meaning. Since Mark makes no reference to "our Lord's hidden life in Nazareth," the phrase means: It came to pass that in those days, as John the Baptist was baptizing and predicting that a Mightier One would come with a more significant baptism (Mk 1:7-8), Jesus, the Mightier One, did indeed come and was baptized by John.

Nazareth. A small despised city on the southern slopes of Galilee. Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? (St John 1:46). 
in the Jordan. One local tradition points out an ancient ford, near Succoth, as the spot where Jesus was baptized, another refers it to a ford near Jericho. The latter was easier of access.  The latter site also has numerous archaeological indications that show the site was venerated as the spot of the Baptism as early as the fourth century. The site would recall the events of the Exodus since it is the traditional spot where the Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, bringing the Exodus to its end (Josh 3:14-17).

Mk 1:10 And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Spirit as a dove descending and remaining on him. 

forthwith = immediately; both favourite words of St Mark. This adverb, as employed by St Mark, does not always express uninterrupted sequence.

He saw the heavens opened. "He" refers to Jesus Himself, but St John also saw the rent in the heavens, and probably the people present perceived the miracle.

opened. Literally "rent" or "torn." The same word is used to express the rending of the rocks at our Lord's crucifixion. The word is also used to describe the rending of the Temple veil (see Mt 27:51; cf. Mk 15:38).

Mk 1:11 And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

a voice from heaven. During our Saviour s lifetime a miraculous voice was heard three times:

(a) At His Baptism: Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased.

(b) At the Transfiguration: This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him. See Mk 9:2-8.

(c) In the Temple during Holy Week: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. See Jn 12:28.

Mk 1:12 And immediately the Spirit drove him out into the desert.

The Spirit drove him. The Holy Ghost who dwelt in all His fulness iii our Lord, influenced Him to act energetically but at the same time freely. Cf. "Led" by the Spirit (St Matt. 4:1., St Luke 4:1).

out into the desert, A local tradition points to Quarantania, a district north-west of Jericho, as the scene of our Lord s fasting and temptation.

Mk 1:13 And he was in the desert forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by Satan. And he was with beasts: and the angels ministered to him.

forty days, etc. Satan ( = adversary) perhaps tempted our Lord the whole forty days, but with greater violence at the end. 

with beasts. A detail peculiar to St Mark.

The district of Quarantania was infested with wild-boars, foxes, leopards, wolves, etc. This closes St Mark's brief mention of the Temptation. 

Angels ministered. They supplied our Lord's bodily wants.

St Mark defers the account of St John s imprisonment, which is related with his martyrdom in Mk 6:17-29.

Catholic Scripture Manual on Mark 1:1-8~The Mission of St John the Baptist

Text in red, if any, are my additions.

Mk 1:1 THE beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Most writers regard this verse as the title of the book. 

Gospel, i.e. the tidings of salvation, or the story of the life of Jesus Christ (see Intro., p. 15).

Concerning the word “Gospel” the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:
“GOSPEL: The “good news” of God’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is this Gospel or good news that the Apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the entire world (571, 1946). The Gospel is handed on in the apostolic tradition of the Church as the source of all-saving truth and moral discipline (75). The four Gospels are the books written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which have for their central object Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son: his life, teachings, Passion and glorification, and his Church’s beginnings under the Spirit’s guidance (124, 514).”

Jesus = Saviour. Christ = Anointed. Kings, priests and prophets were anointed, and Jesus was all three. 

Concerning the name Jesus see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 430-435 (hereafter CCC).

Concerning the title Christ see CCC 436-440. Concerning “Son of God” see CCC 441-445. 

Mk 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee.

As it is written in Isaiah:  St Mark actually begins by a quotation from Malachi: Behold, I send My angel, and he shall -prepare the way before My face (Mal 3:1). Our Lord Himself applies these words to St John. This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send, etc. (St Matt. 11:10.). For the Isaiah quotation see on verse 2.

The texts of Malachi and Isaiah are similar inasmuch as they both allude to the Exodus with it’s reference to an angel which will go before the people (Ex 23:20). Both also speak about preparing the way before the Lord.

St Mark, as historian, only quotes the Old Testament twice; here and in Mk 15:28, And with the wicked He was reputed. The passage concerning the angel who should prepare the way, referred primarily to the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon, but the doctors of the law saw in this prophecy a secondary allusion to the Messiah.

Mk 1:3 A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.

A voice of one crying. A reference to a herald preceding a monarch and proclaiming his coming.

in the desert. The desert in which St John preached, was a tract of very thinly-inhabited land, lying east of Jerusalem and north of the Dead Sea.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. St John exhorted his hearers to do this, by confessing their sins and bringing forth worthy fruits of penance. See Mk 1:5 and especially Luke 3:3, 7-14.

make straight his paths. An allusion to the Eastern custom of sending out workmen to prepare the roads for the passage of a monarch. It consisted in filling valleys, levelling hills, and making devious paths straight and even.

Isaiah 40:3 is almost certainly a mockery of the gods of Babylon. In ancient times highways were rebuilt for kings and gods (idols) so that they might enter their capital city in splendor, often as a celebration for the victory of the king and his gods over foreign people and their gods. The people of God and the utensils of worship taken from the Jerusalem Temple at the time of the Babylonian conquest and the exile that followed were, no doubt, led along such a road as they entered Babylon, with their conquerors celebrating their and their god’s victory over them and their God. Of course, they failed to understand that what they deemed the defeat of Israel’s God was, in fact, part of a plan orchestrated by him. The King of Babylon, like the King of Assyria before him, thought that he had conquered just another god, and for this both suffered the consequences (Isa 10:10-11; 14:13-15). Here God is declaring that he will have his own victory procession, triumphantly leading his people out of the pagan city he-not the gods of Babylon-had led them into. On this processional highway “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” and “all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”  (verse 5). His word stands forever (unlike “flesh”, see Isa 40:6-8) and accomplishes his will (Isa 55:10-11). Thus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we see a note of triumph and victory hinted at. Jesus will be confronted by Satan, the prince of demons and the one whose power is behind every false god, and He will be victorious (implied in Mk 1:12-13; explicit in Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13).
For the use of the Isaiah passage in reference to John the Baptist here and in Matt 11:10 see the CCC 719. One may also wish to consult the footnote to Mk 1:2-3 in the NABRE. 

Mk 1:4 John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins.

baptizing. The use of the present participle denotes an action frequently repeated. John was extremely busy with baptizing and preaching given the huge numbers who went out to him (see the next verse; also Mt 3:5 and note the reference to “crowds” [plural] in Luke 4:7, 10).

preaching. St John preached before he baptized; the order is here inverted. Baptizing was the characteristic feature of his ministry.

baptism of penance. Not the Sacrament of Baptism but a penitential rite to prepare them for the preaching of our Lord. This “baptism of penance” could not, of itself, take away sin.

Mk 1:5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all they of Jerusalem and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

all the country, etc. This is one of St Mark s graphic touches. The other Gospels mention the various classes of people who listened to St John soldiers, tax-gatherers (St Luke 3:10-14).

river of Jordan = the river Jordan.

confessing their sins, i.e. “declaring their deeds.” These words do not refer to the Sacrament of Penance, which was not then instituted. The Law of Moses prescribed a detailed confession of certain sins, e.g. unjust or rash oaths. Leviticus: Let him do penance for his sin, and offer of the flocks an ewe lamb or a she-goat, and the priest shall pray for him and for his sin (Lev 5:5-6).

Mk 1:6 And John was clothed camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and he ate locusts and wild honey.

camel’s hair. A. rough cloth made from coarse camel s hair. St John the Baptist led a life of penance, hence his clothes and food were of the poorest.

leathern girdle. The rich wore expensive girdles; the poor used a plain leathern strap such as the Arabs of the desert still wear. Recall Jesus’ words in reference to the Baptist in Mt 11:8~But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. The Baptist’s dress calls to mind the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).

locusts. A rather large-winged insect considered “clean” by the Jews. The food of the poor. The locusts were dried in the sun and sometimes made into cakes.

wild honey was found in quantities in the clefts of the rocks in the desert, or the term may mean the tree-honey, a gum found exuding from certain trees.

Mk 1:7 And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.

after me. St John the Baptist was born about six months before our Lord. As no Jew was allowed to preach before his thirtieth year, Jesus began His public life about six months later than St John.

I doubt the phrase there cometh after me one, &c, has anything to do with age. More likely it’s picking up on the theme of “before” in verses 2~Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. John is prophesying the coming fulfillment of the foundational purpose of his ministry. Indeed, in Mk 1:9 Jesus will come to the already ministering  Baptist, be baptized by him and then start his own ministry for which the Baptist’s was a prelude. 

mightier than I. Note the Baptist’s humility, Jesus is “the Mighty One.” The Greek word ισχυροτερος (ischyroteros) means mighty or powerful one. As the Mighty One Jesus has come to subdue “the strong man” (ισχυρου = ischyrou) Satan (see Mk 3:23-27).

to stoop down. A minute detail proper to St Mark.

and loose. To loose and carry the shoes was the work of the slave, who performed this office for his master, when the latter entered a temple or banqueting hall.

Mk 1:8 I have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. 

I have baptised you with water, etc. The Baptist exalts Christ’s baptism, which conferred the Holy Ghost, and regenerated the soul.