Monthly Archives: April 2023

On Saints Mark, Philip and James – 2023

St. Mark, second from the right. His symbol is a lion, seen sleeping in the right foreground…) 

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Saturday, April 29, 2023 – Last Tuesday, April 25, was the Feast Day for Saint Mark, also known as Mark the Evangelist. Next Monday, May 1, is the Feast Day for St. Philip and St. James.

Turning to St. Mark first, his Gospel is a Cinderella story. For centuries the Early Church Fathers neglected his Gospel. St. Augustine called it “the drudge and condenser” of Matthew. His written Greek was clumsy and more awkward than the more-polished Greek of Matthew, Luke and John. Result? Mark’s was the “least cited Gospel in the early Christian period:”

But “this Cinderella got her glass slipper,” beginning in the 19th century…  That’s when Bible scholars finally noticed the other three Gospels all cited material from Mark, but “he does not do the same for them…” As a result of that, since the 19th century Mark’s “has become the most studied and influential Gospel.”

In other words, later scholars concluded that Mark “started the process and set the pattern of and for the other three Gospels.” That late recognition – of Mark as the real trend-setter of the four Gospels – is where the Cinderella metaphor comes in. On the other hand, there’s some debate whether the Great Commission at the end of his Gospel is authentic.

That end, Mark 16:14–18, leads to a question: Did Mark write it, or was it added later?

According to some critics … Jesus never speaks with his disciples after his resurrection. They argue that the original Gospel of Mark ends at [16:8] with the women leaving the tomb.

Mark 16:8 says the women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That could be a bad place to end a Gospel of hope, so some scholars think a later redactor added more to the part after Mark 16:8.

That add-on included the Great Commission, maybe to cheer things up.

I explored this idea in 2015’s St. Mark’s “Cinderella story.” One scholar said that if the Gospel ended at 16:8, Mark had painted a “bleak and frightening picture.” But he did so – the scholar said – because that was what Mark’s main audience was going through at the time. His Gospel – ending at 16:8 – merely reflected that great persecution. In other words, Mark didn’t candy coat the trials and tribulations that all followers of Jesus can go through.

But is that Mark 16:8 ending so bad? Here’s what leads up to verse 8:

As they entered the tomb, [the women] saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Even without the Great Commission, this ending offers hope. As one author said, there’s “a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet. And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.” In other words, that “terrible anguished” original ending – even without the Great Commission – is nevertheless “not the ending.”

One view is that the shorter ending means the Resurrection continues “even to this day.” By and through the way we live our lives even 2,000 years after Jesus. Another view is that an ending at Mark 16:8 simply reflects the reality that life isn’t a bowl of cherries. A third view is that a good Christian is not called to a life of ease: “It is to vigor, not comfort that you are called.“

The longer ending presents a neat and tidy happy ending, all wrapped up in ribbons and bows. The shorter ending gives us a picture of life as it really is. Including Christians , and that can be confusing to some of them. (But only to those who haven’t developed a strong Faith.)

And speaking of confusion, that leads to Saints Philip and James. The problem is, we’re not sure who they are. “James” was popular and widespread name in Jesus’ time. It was associated with Jacob, who became “Israel” by wresting with the angel in Genesis 32:24-32. The English name “James” is a variant of “Jacob,” or in Hebrew, “Ya’akov.” And the New Testament lists at least three “James” who could fit the bill, and possibly as many as eight.

Our best guess is the James remembered on May 1 is James the Lesser, also called James the Son of Alphaeus. (Not to be confused with James the Greater, also called “James the Elder.”) This lesser James “appears only four times in the New Testament, each time in a list of the twelve apostles.” But he gets his own feast day, as does St. Philip.

The best guess here is that this Philip is Philip the Apostle, but there was also a Philip the Deacon. “One of the seven men chosen by the Apostles to perform certain administrative tasks for the poor in the early Christian community at Jerusalem (Acts 6:5-7). Because of his zeal in preaching the gospel he became known as Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8).”

But again, our best guess is the May 1 Feast Day remembers Philip the Apostle. Wikipedia had this Philip as a disciple from Bethsaida, and that Andrew and Peter were from the same town. Jesus tested him in John 6:6, and he and Andrew told Jesus about some Greeks who wanted to see Him in John 12:20-22. Wikipedia also noted that this Philip is not to be confused the “the Deacon,” in Acts 8:26-40, “Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.” In past posts I’ve made that mistake myself. As to why these two saints are celebrated together:

The two apostles Philip and James the Lesser are remembered with a single liturgical feast because their relics, transferred respectively from Hierapolis and Jerusalem, were placed together in the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles [“Santi Apostoli“] in Rome.

So as I ended my 2022 post, Here’s to Saints Philip and James – “Whoever you are.

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Saints Philip and James the Lesser – in the “Basilica of the 12 Holy Apostles…*” 

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The upper image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: The Four Evangelists:  “Rubens portrayed the four evangelists while working together on their texts.  An angel helps them…   Each gospel author can be identified by an attribute. The attributes were derived from the opening verses of the gospels.  From left to right: Luke (bull), Matthew (man [angel]), Mark (lion), and John (eagle).” See also Four Evangelists – Wikipedia.

I borrowed from past posts including 2015’s On St. Mark’s “Cinderella story,” 2016’s More on “arguing with God” – and St. Mark as Cinderella, On St. Mark, 2020 – and today’s “plague,” On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020, and 2022’s Here’s to Saints Philip and James – “Whoever you are.”

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

“Vigor not comfort.” I last noted that phrase from Evelyn Underhill in Thanksgiving 2022 – and an Unknown American Icon. The quote is from Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, as edited:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.  (E.A.)

Ariel Press (1914), at page 177. See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

On developing a strong Faith. See Arguing with God.

Philip the Evangelist is identified as the man in Acts 8:26-40, “Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch,” not Philip the Apostle. Earlier posts to the contrary are mistaken. See also CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Philip the Apostle – New Advent: “The second-century tradition concerning him is uncertain, inasmuch as a similar tradition is recorded concerning Philip the Deacon and Evangelist — a phenomenon which must be the result of confusion caused by the existence of the two Philips.”

Re: Santi Apostoli. A “6th-century Roman Catholic parish and titular church and minor basilica in RomeItaly, dedicated originally to St. James and St. Philip, whose remains are kept here.”

The lower image is courtesy of Saints Philip and James – Franciscan Media. Caption: “Image: Detail of reredos | Polytych by Maestà | Wikimedia.”

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On Doubting Thomas Sunday – 2023

A stained glass version of the Apostle Thomas proving to himself that Jesus had risen…

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Back in 2014, I posted First musings – Readings for Doubting Thomas Sunday. Looking back – nine years later – the post seems primitive. But it was only the second blog post I ever did. My first post was The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary. It was about Quasimodo Sunday, also known as Second Sunday of Easter. (Because Easter isn’t one day, it’s a whole season. It lasts 50 days, from Easter Sunday to the day of Pentecost or “Whitsunday.”)

As if all that isn’t confusing enough, this April 16, 2023 – the Second Sunday of Easter – could also be called “the Sunday of Many Names.” Aside from the two mentioned above, it’s called “Doubting Thomas Sunday.” That’s because the Gospel reading is always John 20:19-31, the story of disciple Thomas and the doubts he had about Jesus being risen from the dead after being crucified. It’s also called Low Sunday and the Octave of Easter, but I’ll get to those later.

Getting back to Doubting Thomas, Wikipedia defines the term generically as a “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.” The term refers to the Apostle Thomas, “who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.” On the other hand, you could say that experiencing – in person – the Force that Created the Universe is or should be what church-going is all about. (See for example, Wesleyan Quadrilateral.)

Wikipedia went on to explain that Thomas the Apostle – also called Didymus, meaning “The Twin” – was best known from the account in John 20:19-31. He questioned Jesus’ resurrection at first, but after his direct experience – seeing and touching Jesus’ wounded body – he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Of course we can’t have that direct experience – not in this life anyway – but there’s something to be said for having doubts and then overcoming them.

You could say there are two kinds of faith. The first is blindly believing, without asking any questions, having any doubts or asking how other people have interpreted the Bible. The second type does ask questions, does dig deeper and as a result often comes across doubt. You could think of that second type of faith as a form of resistance training. The Blind Faith Christian doesn’t like “resistance.” He does the same old boring exercise, over and over again, and stays at the same low level of spiritual fitness. The Healthy Doubt Christian welcomes resistance, and asks the probing questions that often lead to doubt. But in the process, he ultimately grows spiritually stronger by overcoming that resistance, by overcoming those doubts.

That 2014 post had a link, If you doubt and question … It asked, “If you doubt and question your faith will it become stronger?” Unfortunately the current link won’t take you there, but back then the “Best Answer” to the Yahoo question included this:

Remember Thomas, the disciple, who wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he put his hand into Jesus’s wounds. He went on to die spreading the gospel in Persia and India. God gave us free choice, He doesn’t want us to be robots, He could have made us like that, but wanted us to choose for ourselves. You learn and grow by questioning. 

In other words, there seem to be Christians who see The Faith of the Bible as a spiritual strait-jacket, a pre-shaped form into which “we” have to mold ourselves. This type of Christian also seems to believe that St. Peter will have some kind of checklist at the Pearly Gates, so that if you don’t answer every litmus test question exactly right you won’t get in.

Other Christians see The Faith as a set of Spiritual Wings, like it says in Isaiah 40:31:

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I.e., a set of spiritual wings that can take you to wonderful places and experiences you couldn’t imagine. The choice is yours, but as for me an my house, I’ll pick the spiritual wings.

And now back to those other names for the Second Sunday of Easter. One is Low Sunday, because church attendance falls off so drastically that first Sunday “after.” (Compared with the high attendance of Easter Day itself.) Another name is the Octave of Easter. That’s the eight-day period, “or octave, that begins on Easter Sunday and ends with the following Sunday.”

Then there’s that Quasimodo Sunday. But that’s not because of Quasimodo – the guy shown in the image below – better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2 , a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day. First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…” [Or, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up” in salvation.] In Latin the verse reads: “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” Literally, “quasi modo means ‘as if in [this] manner.’”

Since “geniti” translates as “newborn” and the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident, the “quasi modo” in question roughly translates, “As if in the manner” (of newborn babes)

And incidentally, that character in Hunchback of Notre-Dame was named after the opening words of First Peter 2:2. In the New International Version it reads, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” 

Which brings us back those “Blind Faith” Christians. They like staying “newborn babes,” spiritually. They don’t want to grow up in their salvation. Or as noted below, they stay in the security of Christian boot camp, where they learned the fundamentals. They don’t want to venture out and use the skills they’ve learned. Or have the spiritual adventures of a “spiritual wings” Christian.

The bottom line? Don’t be a Quasimodo!

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The upper image is courtesy of Doubting Thomas – Image Results. See also Crossroads Initiative, which featured the image.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

Season of Easter. See Eastertide – Wikipedia. Also ponder this: The second Sunday after Easter – Easter Sunday – would not be until next Sunday, April 23. On that note see also 2021’s Happy “Sunday of Many Names!”

“As for me and my house.” Joshua 24:15, “if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Quasimodo Sunday. The link from the Catholic News Agency shows yet another name: The “Sunday following Easter is typically remembered as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday,’ a feast day established by Pope John Paul II which honors the divine mercy of Jesus.”

The lower image is courtesy of Quasimodo – Wikipedia. Caption: “‘A tear for a drop of water’ Esmeralda gives a drink to Quasimodo in one of Gustave Brion‘s illustrations.”

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On the Annunciation and the end of Lent – 2023

“Surprise!” Gabriel makes his announcement to Mary  and she shrinks back in terror…

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Saturday, April 1, 2023 – Last Saturday, March 25, was the Feast day set aside for the Annunciation. The full and formal title is the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the Angel Gabriel gave Mary a big surprise. It offers a good metaphor, of how the early Church Fathers sometimes “figured it backwards.” And it all started with the birth of Jesus. 

First, those early Church Fathers decided they’d celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. (For reasons explained later.) Then figured back nine months. Since they said Jesus was born on December 25, He had to be “conceived” the previous March 25. That’s where the Annunciation comes in. It celebrates “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus,” Son of God, “marking his Incarnation.” From there it’s not much of a leap to conclude that Conception and Annunciation had to happen the same day.  “She would conceive” became “she did conceive.”

Which brings up how Mary probably reacted, as shown in the painting above by Rossetti:

…look at Mary’s expression… This is not one of acquiescence or pleasure. This is a look almost of horror at what she has just been told… She is painfully thin and her hesitance and sad look tinged with fear endears her to us. 

Or consider what Garry Wills said: “For me, the most convincing pictures or sculptures of the Annunciation to Mary show her in a state of panic … shrinking off from the angel, looking cornered by him.” He noted especially some 14th century paintings, “where Mary is made so faint by the angel’s words that she sways back and must grab a pillar to keep herself upright.”

Which is one way of saying that being God’s Chosen isn’t always a bowl of cherries. That’s pretty much what Simeon told Mary in Luke 2:35, that “a sword will pierce even your own soul.” (When she presented the eight-day old Jesus in the Temple.) No wonder she shrunk back in terror.

Something to ponder during this Lenten period of “prayer, penance and self-denial.”

As for early Church Fathers choosing December 25 as when Jesus was born, there is one familiar old wives’ tale. That the day was a pagan holiday, Saturnalia, which the Fathers chose “to make Christianity chime with a polytheistic society already attuned to December 25 revelry.” But an article from the Biblical Archaeology Society says that couldn’t be true:

Hippolytus was a Christian author who wrote in the early third century AD, and Saturnalia and the feast of Sol were not celebrated on December 25 that early in Roman history; Saturnalia never was, and the feast of Sol only came to be later. So Hippolytus clearly could not have chosen the date to please pagan sentiments.

Hippolytus calculated December 25 as Jesus’ birthday before 235 A.D., before those “pagan sentiments” even existed. (He died in 235 A.D., and the Feast of Sol didn’t start until 274 A.D.)

Then there’s Why December 25? | Christian History | Christianity Today. It said the “eventual choice” of December 25 was made “perhaps as early as 273,” well after Hyppolytus died, and that early Fathers “decided to commandeer the date,” introducing a new festival, because “pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity.”

Of more interest is the idea that some leaders opposed celebrating Jesus’ birthday at all: “Origen (c.185-c.254) preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored. Birthdays were for pagan gods.” But these are called Rabbit Trails. More to the point, note that the day coincides with the “northern vernal equinox:”

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September.  The word itself has several related definitions.  The oldest meaning is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration.  The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

So the Annunciation is celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox. (Vernal from the Latin word for “spring.”) In turn the birth of Jesus is celebrated about the time of the winter solstice. (The summer solstice is the year’s longest day, the winter solstice the shortest.)

Which just goes to show that the Christian history hasn’t been a smooth, painless road, even with Jesus pointing the way. Or as Job 5:7 put it, “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Which brings up the matter of the Incarnation. As Wikipedia put it:

The Incarnation … is the belief that [Jesus], “became flesh” by being conceived in the womb of Mary…  [The Son of God] took on a human body and nature and became both man and God… [I]ts clearest teaching is in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” The Incarnation is commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, and also reference can be made to the Feast of the Annunciation; “different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation” are celebrated at Christmas and the Annunciation.

Which brings up tomorrow, Palm Sunday. It starts Holy Week, which in turn marks Lent’s “beginning of the end.*” That week ends in the triumph of Easter, and begins with “Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” But in between comes the seeming tragedy of Good Friday. Which just goes to show how God can transform our lives as well, even from seeming tragedy.

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 “Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” marking the beginning of Holy Week… 

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The upper image is courtesy of Rossetti Annunciation – Image Results. See indented quotation is from The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – my daily art display.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

I borrowed from past posts, including 2015’s The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and The Annunciation (2022) – and Mary “shrinking back.”

Re: Luke 2:35, and “a sword will pierce even your own soul.” From the NASB 1995 translation, the New American Standard Bible 1995 (NASB1995).

The full “Biblical Archaeology” citation is December 25th and Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society. Also, aside from Hippolytus of Rome, there was also a Hippolytus of Athens, a figure in Greek mythology, and the Hippolytus, the subject of the play by Euripides.

Re: “Beginning of the end.” A feeble attempt at a clever allusion to a Quote by Winston S. Churchill: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (After England’s victory at El Alamein, North Africa.)

The lower image is courtesy of Palm Sunday Paintings – Image Results.

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