Monday, May 23, 2016

Development of the N.T. Canon

A New Testament canon of 27 books took time to develop. That is an historical fact.  Here is part of the chart I compiled on the formation of the NT for The God Who is Love. (This excerpt was tailored for a talk on the Book of Revelation.) The full chart can also be found in Appendix I of The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics:


Key
The final column indicates whether the author proposed a New Testament Canon or was simply commenting on the books in question.                  
 “–” indicates that this book was not yet recognized
Year
Author
Location
Work in which information is found
Canon or Comments
        


300 – 325 A.D.
Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea
Palestine
History of the Church, Book III
Labels  Apocalypse of John “spurious”
343 – 381 A.D.
Council of Laodicea (Local council, NOT an infallible statement)
Phrygia, Asia  Minor
Canons [or Rulings] of Laodicea
Canon
– Revelation
350 A.D
St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem
Palestine
Catechetical Lectures

Canon 

– Revelation
367 A.D.
St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria
Alexandria, Egypt
Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter
CURRENT  CANON
380 A.D.
St. Ampholichius of Iconium, Bishop
Iconium (Present day Turkey)
Iambic Letter to Seleucus

Comment

“the Revelation of John some accept, but most will call it spurious. . .”
382 A.D.
St. Damasus I, Pope
Rome, Italy
The Decrees of Damasus[1]

CURRENT CANON
383 – 389 A.D.
St. Gregory of
Nazianz, Bishop
Arianz,
Eastern Asia Minor
Collected Poems

Canon

– Revelation
393 A.D.
Council of Hippo
Hippo,
Africa
Canons of the Council of Hippo
CURRENT CANON


397 A.D.
St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
Hippo,
Africa
Christian Instruction
CURRENT CANON
405 A.D.
Innocent I, Pope
Rome, Italy
Letter to Exsuperius (Bishop of Toulouse)
CURRENT CANON


[1] The Decree of Damasus appears to have originally been part of the Decrees of the Council of Rome (a local council, not an Ecumenical). As such it is not considered an infallible statement.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Visiting Matthew Leonard's "The Art of Catholic"


I recently had the opportunity - on my birthday no less! - to record a podcast with Matthew Leonard, Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. I've written about Matthew's work before, so having the chance to talk with him about The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics was a huge honor. Matthew has released our chat in two parts. Here are links to each with a brief description of the content:


Who wrote Hebrews and why it’s one of the most argued topics in Scripture study
Why Hebrews has special relevance today given the current condition of the world
How Hebrews bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments
The Jewish background of Hebrews (does that sound redundant?)
How the doctrine of the Trinity is unveiled in Hebrews

How Hebrews lays out the Catholic “plan of salvation” in 7 verses
The grittiness of Jesus’ humanity and how he learned obedience through suffering
What the famous faith “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 teaches us about heaven and the communion of saints
Why critics of Catholicism who say there’s no mention of the Eucharist in Hebrews (“so it can’t be a Catholic book”) are dead wrong


Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: "The Porch and the Cross" by Kevin Vost



Christianity has long held that our Faith is a reasonable one. From the recognition of God’s existence to the right use of our sexuality, human reason powerfully reaffirms our deepest convictions as Catholics. Not only do we Christians need to be able to present our beliefs in a logical way, but as our society descends further into secularism it behooves us to be able to show how the traditional understanding of morality and family life are not simply “antiquated religious notions,” but are demonstrably true to any person willing to employ their reason in living according to nature. This is where philosophy, and Stoic philosophy in particular, has always been of value to Christians. As St. Justin Martyr explained in the second century, “In moral philosophy the Stoics have established right principles, and the poets too have expounded such, because the seed of the Word was implanted in the whole human race” (Second Apology VIII, 1). And that brings me to the new book from my friend Dr. Kevin Vost, The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living. I am incredibly gratified that Angelico Press recognized it as an ideal complement to my work of biblical exegesis/apologetics, The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics.


In The Porch and the Cross, Dr. Vost introduces us to the lives, teachings, and legacies of four of the most influential Stoic philosophers – Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. (Amazingly, two were historical contemporaries of the Lord Jesus; we even read of Seneca’s brother, Gallio, in Acts 18:12-27!) Unless you are already steeped in the Stoics, I have no doubt that, like me, you will be amazed at what you discover in this book.


Allow me to follow Dr. Vost’s lead and begin with Musonius Rufus. The man was a first-century “pro-life” activist! Not only did he publicly protest the gladiatorial games in Athens, but he also extolled the ancient laws prohibiting abortion and contraception. He taught that marriage was the natural union of one man and one woman, entered into for the beauty of life-long companionship and the welcoming of new lives (hopefully, many new lives) into the world. Parents, and not an amorphous state, bore the responsibility for educating their children –and that applied equally to sons and daughters (since both possessed the same powers of reason).


Dr. Vost then presents us with pride of the Stoics, Epictetus – the slave (his very name means “acquired”) who gained his freedom and rose to prominence as a professional philosopher. Epictetus taught that happiness, no matter one’s state in life, lay in interior freedom. It is what we say to ourselves, and not our circumstances, that determine our emotions and actions; and it is our moral purpose that distinguishes us from animals. He addressed practical means of growing in virtue and combating what we Christians would come to call the seven deadly sins. Is it any wonder that his Handbook was adapted for use in Christian monasteries? Further, Epictetus’ insights  served as the basis for psychotherapists Albert Ellis’s rational-emotive therapy and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy.


I realize that I have two Stoics yet to discuss: Of Seneca let me simply note that his maxims were especially loved by the early Dominicans and that St. Thomas Aquinas made copious use of them when extolling the virtues in his Summa Theologica. (Is there a stronger endorsement?) Dr. Vost’s chapters covering Marcus Aurelius are truly inspirational – a Roman emporer who embraced simplicity, sexual purity, and was convinced that all human beings, no matter their station in life, possessed dignity. Listen to him for yourself: “[M]y philosophy means keeping that vital spark within you free from damage and degradation, using it to transcend pain and pleasure, doing everything with a purpose, avoiding lies and hypocrisy, not relying on another person’s actions or failings. To accept everything that comes and everything that is given, as coming from the same spiritual source” (Meditations, II, 17). It is the grace of Christ that makes it possible for us to do just that!


The Stoics had their short comings, but Christians have always recognized them as powerful cultural allies in explicating a morality rooted in the natural law and the inculcation of virtue. Dr. Kevin Vost’s The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (Angelico Press, 2016) is a much needed reminder that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, has always valued its Jewish and Gentile heritage:  We embrace Revelation and philosophy, faith and reason – all in the service of Christ, Truth incarnate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Thought from the Road to Emmaus

I have shared before how the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorites. It overflows with meaning. After years of meditating upon it, I am still coming to new realizations.

This morning, and I don't know what triggered it, I was struck by the way that the disciples' "eyes were kept from recognizing Him" as Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Lk. 24:16, 27). It is a reminder to us of the innumerable times that the Lord addresses us through the members of His Body. We do not register that it is the Lord addressing us; but it is. Let us rejoice anew at the promise Jesus made to His apostles and disciples, "He who hears you hears me" (Lk. 10:16; Mt. 10:4), because He continues to make good on it today through their successors!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: "Meditations on Mary" by Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

"Elegant" strikes me as the perfect word to describe Meditations on Mary (Sophia Institute, 2015). From the simple beauty and feel of its cover to the profound prose within, one comes away from this collection of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet's meditations with the distinct sense of having been elevated above the coarse and mundane. These meditations from the famed 17th century French bishop and orator are appearing in English for the first time; my sincere thanks to translator and editor, Christopher O. Blum.

This is a compact book but not a "quick read." Like all rich fare it is best consumed slowly. Bossuet's insights are so striking, and his call to self-examination so constant, that I had to limit myself to one or two meditations (there are twenty-four in all) at a time. This makes it ideal to bring into your prayer time.

His reflections upon our Blessed Mother are strike me as "modern" - scriptural, with an abundance of awe, and phrased in such a way as to be sensitive to, and to kindly lead, our separated brothers and sisters to a recognition of their spiritual mother. I fell in love with these words from the first meditation, "The True Eve." After quoting Irenaeus (c.180 A.D.), Tertullian (c. 210), and Augustine (c. 410) as to Mary's role in our salvation, Bossuet continues:
Truly we misunderstand God if we think that his glory would be diminished by being shared with his creatures. God is not like us: in giving away a part, he retains the whole. If this seems strange consider that God is the only one who can give without loss...When he joins his creatures to his work, it is not to unburden himself, but to honor them, and so all of the glory remains his. When the Fathers taught us that Mary was associated in a singular way with the great work of the Son of God, they in no way diminished the Savior's glory (p.3-4).
Or consider the way Bossuet's meditation on the Assumption anticipates John Paul II's Theology of the Body:
Mary's sacred body, the throne of chastity, the temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and the seat of the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35), could not remain in the tomb. The triumph of Mary would have been imperfect if her holy body, which was in a way the source of her glory, had not participated in it (p.117).
Authentic Marian devotion is focused not upon our Lady, but the Lord Jesus; and so, Bossuet's meditations constantly progress from Mary to Jesus, and from pondering God's activity to directly addressing Him in prayer. Like the best religious works, it flawlessly weds theology and devotion. I may not affirm every minuscule point that Bossuet makes - likely shortsightedness on my part - but Meditations on Mary is a work of spiritual elegance that I hardily recommend.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Conquering Pornography - A New Course from Devin Rose

Devin Rose is a masterful apologist with a fire for seeing men become all that they were intended to be in Christ. I want to draw your attention to a new, online course that Devin is offering.
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Allow me to set the table for you. In this course you will be getting:
  • Nine exclusive videos giving you the strategy to follow.
  • Devin's ebook, Unbreakable Purity, the guide to conquering pornography
  • Access to his Bootcamp, with daily instructions on specific actions to take
  • The option of joining a private forum with other men in the course to encourage one another and share tips
  • The opportunity to email Devin personally anytime you need support or encouragement
If you or anyone you know is suffering from this addiction, I urge you to take advantage of this course. There is a great deal more to say, and you can view course content more in-depth by visiting Devin's website. May the Lord grant you the freedom you are seeking!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: "Hounds of the Lord" by Kevin Vost


Hounds of the Lord: Great Dominican Saints Every Catholic Should Know is one of four new books from Dr. Kevin Vost that I have read in the last twelve months. To call his literary output "astounding" hardly does it justice. The amount of research alone, not to mention the exquisite prose and meaty content, is beyond anything I could even imagine producing.

In Hounds of the Lord Kevin widens his gaze from his spiritual mentor, St. Thomas Aquinas, to contemplate the religious order that molded him, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), now celebrating its 800th years. Using the Thinker-Doer-Lover paradigm, already familiar to readers of his Three Irish Saints, Kevin provides chapter-length biographies of:  The order's founder, St. Dominic de Guzman, Bl. Humbart of Romans, Bl. Fra Angelico, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Martin de Porres, St. Rose of Lima, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Kevin has also included additional page-length biographies of Bl. Jordan of Saxony. St. Hyacinth of Poland, St. Agnes of Montepulciano, St. Vincent Ferrer, Pope St. Pius V, Ven. Louis of Granada, St. Catherine de Ricci, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, and Servant of God Mother Mary Alphonsa Hawthorne.

I don't think one could read of these incredible men and women without finding new inspiration to study, pray, and pour oneself out in love. Kevin's style of writing takes me back to an earlier time; he writes with the intellectual flare and wit of a Bishop Sheen or Frank Sheed. Hounds of the Lord is ideal reading for Lent or any time of year.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Why Are You Terrified?"

Jesus and the Apostles were out at sea. Jesus was catching up on some well-deserved sleep when a violent storm hit, so violent that the boat began taking on water. Jesus kept right on sleeping - until the Apostles woke him, screaming, "Don't you care that we are perishing?" Jesus rose, "rebuked" the wind and sea and then spun to face the Apostles, "Why were you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?" (Mark 4:40).

After having been with Him, after seeing Him heal and cast out devils, after hearing His proclamation of the Father's great love for them, Jesus was shocked by the Apostles' abject terror. They had yet to look at the world through His eyes and to understand that nothing outside of them had the power to snatch them from the Father's hand - not even death. They would not understand until Jesus had been raised and the Spirit poured out on Pentecost.

In the light of Christ's Resurrection, the Apostles finally saw the world as it was: under the Lord's dominion. Nothing is outside His power. Yes, men can commit gross evils, but only because God allows them to exercise their freewills. And, the divine power can turn evil back upon itself with a simple command. The rulers of this world crucified the Lord Jesus; but the Father raised Him and Christ now sits enthroned at His right hand, ready to judge the living and the dead (Acts 2:23-24, 36). That is reality.

Our culture is disintegrating. Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa are persecuted and killed, and some form of persecution seems to loom on the horizon for us (in addition to that already occurring in academia and the court of public opinion). But I hear the Lord say, "Why are you terrified?"; and I remember the reality to which Jesus witnessed to before Pilate, and Peter and John before the Sanhedrin:
[Pilate said,] "Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11). 
[The Sanhedrin] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).
We follow Jesus, Who had power to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:18), and Who has promised to raise us up, too (John 6:40). What do men and women who have been promised a resurrection from the dead have to fear?  I hate to insert Star Wars into such a serious post, but Obi Wan Kenobi's words to Vader at their final duel capture this truth perfectly: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."What can possibly terrify a Christian? Nothing, except allowing ourselves to be robbed of that transformation and eternal treasure. We must continue praying for the grace to persevere and not give into a fear of pain. We must pray, so that
...we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
This reality should fill us with a deep, authentic joy. Thank You, Lord. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

New Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Ave Maria Press and the Apostleship of Prayer have partnered to provide two amazing tools for helping us to go deeper into prayer this Lent. (And at a combined price of $7.70, they're mighty kind to the pocketbook!) One of the themes that has dominated my thought these past five years is the way our sacramental and devotional lives unite us to the human prayer of Christ Himself (CCC 2740). Two of the devotions I discussed in Through, With, and In Him were lectio divina (sacred reading) and the Stations of the Cross. These new resources from AMP not only provide wonderful introductions to both, but lead you step by step to make real progress in their use.

I've decided that Sacred Reading for Lent 2016 by Douglas Leonard, executive director of the Apostleship of Prayer, is going to be my daily devotional this Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and going through Easter Sunday, it provides readers with six simple steps for practicing lectio divina with the Mass's daily Gospel reading:
1) A short prayer for intentionally placing ourselves in God's presence 
2) The text of the day's Gospel reading 
3) Text-specific prompts to help us notice what we think and feel as we read the passage 
4) A prayer starter for speaking to the Lord about what we have read 
5) The words the author felt that Jesus impressed upon his own heart while meditating upon the passage and the invitation for us to listen for Jesus' words to us 
6) A prayerful invitation for God to show us, concretely, how we are to live this day in the light of our reading and listening.
Lectio is such a simple manner of prayer, but it yields powerful results. In His humility the Lord Jesus, the Word Incarnate, listened as the Father spoke to Him through Moses and the prophets (Luke 9:28-31). When we practice lectio, Jesus manifests this aspect of His prayer in us. 

[ALLOW ME TO OFFER TWO BRIEF CAUTIONS. First: If you sense that the Lord is saying something to you during the listening portion of your prayer (#5 in this resource) that is at odds with the Catholic Faith, then it is not the Lord that you are hearing. Second: In the Introduction to Sacred Reading, the author encourages us to speak to the saints in our prayer as well to the Lord. I wholeheartedly agree. Use your imagination as to how the Blessed Mother, Peter, and the other saints in the Gospel reading felt witnessing those events. Speak to them about what you've read and ask them to intercede for you. Do not, however, make the mistake of asking the saints to share his/her thoughts with you. Our communication with the saints is meant to be one-way (unless the Lord should take the highly unusual step of sending them to speak us; and then we shouldn't give the message any credence until we taken it to a trusted spiritual director or knowledgeable priest).]

The Fridays of Lent are of course even more intense times of
prayer, and the Stations of the Cross are a time-honored means for uniting ourselves to our Lord in the midst of His Passion. This new book of meditations from Father William Prosper, however, focuses our gaze on the way that each of the fourteen stations speak to us of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith.

Stations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus reawakens us to the awesome truth that what Jesus accomplished in His Passion becomes present to us at every celebration of the Eucharist. Each station is introduced by an image and either a passage of Scripture or quotation from a saint. These are followed by a page-length meditation penned by Fr. Prospero and conclude with the prayer, "Heart of Jesus, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, I offer myself to you for the salvation of all."
William Prospero, S.J.
The book's foreword adds significance to the words of that prayer. It reveals how "Fr. Will," the author, walked the way of the Cross with Jesus, trustfully surrendering himself to the perfect will of the Father as he suffered kidney cancer, chemotherapy, and fungal pneumonia before his death on Sept. 18, 2014. Father Will's meditations bear the stamp of authenticity.

Hats off to Ave Maria Press and the Apostleship of Prayer for such solid resources...and please pray throughout Lent for the repose of the soul of our brother, Fr. Will.