PopeFrancis-fingerThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 23 June to 12 July 2014.




Motu Proprio


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “With God, nothing is lost; but without him, everything is lost.” @pontifex, 8 April 2014
  • “Do not be afraid to cast yourselves into the arms of God; whatever he asks of you, he will repay a hundredfold.” @pontifex, 10 April 2014
  • “The World Cup allowed people from different countries and religions to come together. May sport always promote the culture of encounter.” @pontifex, 12 April 2014

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our-lady-crushes-the-serpent-2In the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, we read:

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.”

And the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” [Gen. 3:13-15].

This translation, found also in many older editions of the Latin Vulgate, is the basis for common depictions in Catholic art of Mary with a serpent beneath her feet.

The idea is that Genesis 3:15 foreshadows the gospel, in which the power of the devil is broken through Jesus, Mary’s Son.

The fact that Genesis 3:15 is, on one level, an early announcement of the gospel is agreed by Christians of many persuasions. But what about this specific translation, where it says “she” shall crush the serpent’s head and the serpent shall strike at “her” heel?

You won’t find that in in a lot of Bibles. Instead, they will say things like what we read in the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel [Gen. 3:15].

Here we have masculine pronouns: “He” shall crush, and “his” heel is in danger.


Why the difference?

According to A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Bernard Orchard, et al., ed.s):

It can hardly be doubted that the feminine pronoun had its origin in the error of an early copyist of Vg. In his Lib. Quaest. Heb. in Gen. St Jerome quotes the Old Latin version of this text with the masc. (ipse) and translates the Hebrew with the same, PL 23, 943, and ipse is the reading of various Vg MSS. It is therefore highly improbable that he translated ipsa here [comment on Gen. 3:15b].

This is a little dense and uses some abbreviations that may not be familiar, so let me unpack it:

  • St. Jerome himself quotes the Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) version of the text, in which the masculine pronoun ipse is used.
  • Elsewhere, he also translates it from the Hebrew with the masculine pronoun ipse.
  • Various manuscripts of the Vulgate also include ipse.
  • Therefore, it is improbable that Jerome used the feminine form of the pronoun (ipsa) in his original edition of the Vulgate.
  • Therefore, the use of the feminine form in some editions of the Vulgate is due to an early copyist’s error.


What does the Hebrew say?

Whether the commentary is correct on how the feminine pronouns got into the Vulgate (and it likely is correct), they are not there in the Hebrew.

In the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15, the phrase translated “he will strike” is hu’ y’shuph-ka. Similarly, the phrase translated “will strike his heel” is t’shuphe-nu `aqeb, which more literally is “he will strike him on the heel.

Both of these phrases are unmistakably using the masculine gender:

  • In the first phrase, hu’ is a third person singular masculine pronoun, meaning “he.” The equivalent feminine pronoun (“she”) would be hiy’, not hu’.
  • Also in the first phrase, the verb form y’shuph-ka is masculine: “he will strike.” If it were feminine, it would be t’shuph-ka (“she will strike”).
  • In the second phrase, the pronoun suffix -nu (“him”) is unmistakably masculine. If it were feminine, it would be –ah (“her”).

I’ve heard it suggested that the difference in translation is that, in biblical times, Hebrew did not have written vowels and that these were added later, in medieval times.

It’s true that the text was written using an alphabet of consonants and that points were later added to indicate vowels, but this is not the explanation here.

The relevant gender forms are all indicated in the Hebrew text even if it is written without vowels. The consonants alone tell you that we are using masculine pronouns and verb forms.

An example that is fairly easy to see in English is y’shuph (“he will strike”). In Hebrew, the first letter of that is the consonant yod, and that tells us that it is masculine. If it were feminine (“she will strike”) then it would be t’shuph, and the first letter would be the consonant tav.


And the Greek?

The Septuagint—the Greek version of the Old Testament that was used by the authors of the New Testament and that has always been the standard version of the Old Testament among Greek-speaking Christians—similarly has masculine pronouns.

The “he” in “he shall strike” is autos (masculine), not autē (feminine).

Similarly, the “his” in “his heel” is autou (masculine), not autēs (feminine).


And the Early Church Fathers?

Similarly, we find the Early Church Fathers using the masculine. For example, the second century Father St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote:

God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall be on the watch for your head, and you on the watch for His heel” [Against Heresies 5:21:1].

So the Hebrew original, the Greek version used by the New Testament authors and in Greek-speaking Christianity, the pre-Jerome Old Latin edition, various early Fathers, and even Jerome himself all used the masculine rather than the feminine in this passage.


Contemporary Recognition

If we look at contemporary ecclesiastical sources, we see that they don’t use the feminine in this text.

For example, in the version of the Vulgate that is on the Vatican’s web site, we read:

Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius; ipsum conteret caput tuum, et tu conteres calcaneum eius [Gen. 3:15].

This uses ipsum, which is neuter (“it”) rather than feminine. The reason for this gender (which Hebrew lacks) is that the word for “seed” (Latin, semen) is neuter. The idea is that it—the seed of the woman—will strike the serpent’s head.

Similarly, in his encyclical on the Virgin Mary, St. John Paul II wrote:

And so, there comes into the world a Son, “the seed of the woman” who will crush the evil of sin in its very origins: “he will crush the head of the serpent.” As we see from the words of the Protogospel, the victory of the woman’s Son will not take place without a hard struggle, a struggle that is to extend through the whole of human history [Redemptoris Mater 11].

And Benedict XVI stated:

After the original sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3: 15) [Angelus, Dec. 8, 2009].


Interpreting the Passage

None of this takes away the Marian understanding of the passage, but it does help us take the text on its original terms.

As St. Thomas Aquinas—and the Catechism of the Catholic Church—indicate, “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal” (CCC 116).

In the original context, the woman that is being discussed is Eve. It was she who was deceived by the serpent (Gen. 3:13). Her seed, understood in the original context, is all mankind, for “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 2:20).

On the literal level, Genesis 3:15 refers—at least in part—to the conflict that men and snakes have historically had between them.

But on a higher, spiritual level, it has other meanings. Since the serpent is also to be understood as the devil (Rev. 12:9), and the “seed” as Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16; the word in Greek is sperma = “seed”), the passage is also to be understood as an annunciation of the gospel, in which Christ defeats the devil.

This does not happen without Mary, and so there is also a Marian dimension to the text.

Thus St. John Paul II stated:

The Father’s plan begins to be revealed in the “Protoevangelium”, when, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God announces that he will put enmity between the serpent and the woman:  it will be the woman’s son who will crush the serpent’s head (cf. Gn 3: 15).

The promise begins to be fulfilled at the Annunciation, when Mary is given the proposal to become the Mother of the Savior [General Audience, Jan. 5, 2000].

In the same way, Benedict XVI continued his discussion of the passage by stating:

It [Gen. 3:15] is the announcement of revenge: at the dawn of the Creation, Satan seems to have the upper hand, but the son of a woman is to crush his head. Thus, through the descendence of a woman, God himself will triumph. Goodness will triumph. That woman is the Virgin Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot [ibid.].

So both pontiffs acknowledge a Marian dimension to the text: It is through her Son that Mary crushes the serpent’s head.

There is thus no need to pit the Marian interpretation against the Christological one. They are in harmony.

Indeed, there is even an even broader interpretation, for every Christian has a part to play in defeating the works of the devil. It is likely that St. Paul is thinking of Genesis 3:15 when, in his letter to the Romans, he writes:

For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you [Rom 16:19-20].

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feedingthehungryIn the Gospels, the most famous miracle associated with Jesus—other than the Resurrection—is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It’s recorded in all four Gospels.

But Matthew and Mark record an additional, similar miracle, known as the Feeding of the Four Thousand. The numbers connected with this miracle are a little different (four thousand people are fed, they use seven loaves and “a few small fish,” and they pick up seven baskets of leftovers), but it’s the same basic type of miracle.

That may be why Luke and John chose not to record it: Given the space limitations on ancient books, which needed to fit comfortably within a scroll, they may have concluded that they would only record one miracle of this type, and they picked the more impressive one.

But even if a miraculous multiplication of food has been done before, and on a somewhat larger scale, it’s still impressive! That may be why Matthew and Mark chose to record it.

There may also be another reason, but it requires a little detective work.


Jesus’ Travels

Matthew, Mark, and Luke record most of Jesus’ ministry as taking place in Galilee, which is an area north of Judea. In these three Gospels, Jesus is in Judea at the very beginning of his ministry, when he is baptized by John, and again at the end of his ministry, when he is crucified in Jerusalem. Between those points, however, he spends most of his time in Galilee.

But not all of it.

He also makes excursions into Gentile territory, such as when he exorcizes the Gerasene/Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). That’s why there was a herd of two thousand pigs in that story—because the Gerasenes were Gentiles and ate pork.

It’s interesting that, at the end of the story, Jesus tells the formerly possessed man to spread the word about what God had done for him. This is the opposite of what Jesus frequently did in Galilee, where he often told people to keep what he did for them quiet.

The apparent reason for this was to try to keep from being mobbed or unwillingly declared king as people came to regard him as a political Messiah (John 6:15).

But since he spent most of his time in Galilee, there was less danger of that, and having the demoniac reveal what Jesus had done for him wouldn’t interfere with his ministry. Indeed, it would help Gentiles learn about the God of Israel!

If you read carefully, though, you see that—as Jesus continues to make excursions into Gentile territory—his reputation starts growing among them.

That brings us to the two feeding miracles.


Feeding the Five Thousand

Matthew and Mark say that this miracle occurred in “a lonely place” by the Sea of Galilee, but they don’t say where (Matt. 14:13, Mark 6:32). John is also vague about where it happened (John 6:1), but Luke tells us that it took place near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10).

Bethsaida was the original home of Peter and Andrew (John 1:44). It was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, the name Beth-Tsaida means “House of Fishing.”

It was, in any event, in Jewish territory, and so the Feeding of the Five Thousand involved a predominantly Jewish audience.

What about the other feeding miracle?


“Just Who Is Really Unclean, Here?”

In Mark 7, Jesus is criticized by some scribes and Pharisees because his disciples eat without washing their hands, according to Jewish custom. Jesus defends the disciples by saying that it is what comes out of a man’s heart, not what goes into his mouth, that makes him unclean (7:1-23).

Mark then adds an editorial comment to flesh out the implications of this: “Thus he declared all foods clean” (7:19). This was an important thing, since there was a question in the early Church about whether Gentiles had to keep the Jewish food laws (Rom. 14, Gal. 2:11-14, Col. 2:16).

This sets us up for a series of stories involving Gentiles.

First, Mark records Jesus going on an excursion to Tyre and Sidon, which are in modern-day Lebanon, to the north of Galilee. There he encounters the Syrophoenician woman—a Gentile—and exorcizes her daughter (7:24-30).

Mark then states: “Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis” (7:31).

The Decapolis was a group of ten cities that lay primarily on the east side of the Jordan River, in what is now the country of Jordan.

At the time, they were Greco-Roman cities, so they were Gentile rather than Jewish. In fact, Gerasa and Gadara were two of the ten cities, and so Jesus is going back into the same territory where he exorcized the demoniac.

But his reputation as a miracle-worker has grown, perhaps as a result of that man’s spreading the word, and he is brought a deaf mute, who he also heals (7:32-37).

Then something really interesting happens.


Feeding the Four Thousand

Mark reports:

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come a long way” [Mark 7:1-3].

So the Feeding of the Four Thousand, which occurs in this same sequence of stories involving Gentiles, after Jesus has journeyed into the Decapolis, appears to involve a Gentile audience.

In other words: It’s the Gentile sequel to the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Jesus may have encountered trouble at home—such as the conflict with the Pharisees over hand washing—but his reputation in the Decapolis has grown to the point that he can now attract an audience of four thousand Gentiles and hold them for three days until they run out of food, leading to the second feeding miracle.

Matthew’s account is similar. In his version there is the conflict with the Pharisees about hand washing (Matt. 15:1-20), then Jesus goes to Tyre and Sidon and exorcizes the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Matthew specifically notes that the woman is “a Canaanite,” Matt 15:22). Afterward, as in Mark, Jesus journeys back and “passed along the Sea of Galilee” (Matt. 15:29), which is what you’d likely do to get to the Decapolis.

Matthew doesn’t make it explicit that Jesus was in the Decapolis when he performed the next set of miracles, which included healing “the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others” (Matt. 15:30), but he does say that, “the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:31).

This would be a strange thing to say if the audience were Jewish. Jews already glorified the God of Israel. They did it all the time. They worshipped him daily.

What would be more remarkable—worthy of Matthew making a remark on it—is for Gentiles to glorify the God of Israel.

We’ve already from Mark’s account that the Feeding of the Four Thousand likely involved a predominantly Gentile audience, and the crowd that glorifies the God of Israel in Matthew turns out to be the same crowd of four thousand that he immediately proceeds to feed (Matt. 15:32-38).

It thus looks like both Matthew and Mark subtly portray the Feeding of the Four Thousand as the Gentile sequel to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, foreshadowing the including of Jews and Gentiles within his Church.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 19 June to 3 July 2014.


General Audiences




+ 17 June 2014 – To members of the “Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura”

+ 20 June 2014 – To participants in the Conference on International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values

+ 21 June 2014 – Visit to the Penitentiary of Castrovillari (Cosenza)

+ 21 June 2014 – Meeting with diocesan priests in the Cathedral (Cassano all’Jonio)

+ 28 June 2014 – Greeting to a group of young people from the Diocese of Rome who are involved in vocational discernment

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “Jesus, help us to love God as Father and our neighbour as ourselve” @pontifex, 30 June 2014
  • “To live as true children of God means to love our neighbour and to be close to those who are lonely and in difficulty.” @pontifex, 1 July 2014
  • “Dear young people, do not give up your dreams of a more just world!” @pontifex, 3 July 2014


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Luke, like Matthew and Mark, contains an extensive discourse about the destruction of the Jewish temple. You can read his version in Luke 21:5-36. The parallels are Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

Now here is the way Luke’s Gospel ends:

50 Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God [Luke 24:50-53].

While it’s true, historically, that the disciples continued to worship in the temple for some time, Luke didn’t have to end his Gospel with a mention of the temple (the other Evangelists didn’t)–and it’s such a positive mention in view of Jesus’ prophecy of its destruction just a few chapters earlier.

If that prophecy had already been fulfilled when Luke wrote his Gospel, it would be a little odd for Luke to end with the image of the disciples happily worshipping in the temple.

After the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, it was forcefully impressed on Christian consciousness that the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus spelt the end of the temple and its system of worship. That didn’t really sink in until the temple was destroyed, as Acts records the disciples (including Paul) continuing to worship in the temple for decades (until the mid-A.D. 50s, when Paul gets arrested and the story shifts away from Jerusalem for the last time).

Luke’s ending seems more like the way the temple and its services would be portrayed before it was destroyed–when Christians still frequented it and regarded it as the House of God.

This is not a decisive argument for when Luke was written, but it is “a straw in the wind” that points to it being composed before A.D. 70.

Fortunately, we have other, stronger reasons to suppose that. (It was most likely written around A.D. 59, since Acts stops suddenly in A.D. 60.)

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There are places in the Gospel of Mark where he “gets ahead of himself,” telling us one part of the story and then going back to fill in what we need to understand it.

And example is when he exorcizes the Gerasene demoniac. He writes:

 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; 7 and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” [Mark 5:6-9]

Notice how verse 8 provides the explanation for the material before it. Jesus had already begun to perform the exorcism when the demon cried out.

This is a characteristic of Mark’s style, which is a little breathless. He’s so excited to tell the story that he gets a little ahead and sometimes needs to fill the audience in on the back story. (He also uses the word “immediately” constantly, as well as joining many clauses with “and,” and describes past events in the present tense–all of which create a driving sense of forward momentum in the plot.)

Sometime I should try to catalog all of the places where Mark does this.

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PopeFrancis-fingerThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 7 to 29 June 2014.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “Let us pray for the Christian communities in the Middle East, that they may continue to live in the land where Christianity was born.” @pontifex, 23 June 2014
  • “How I wish everyone had decent work! It is essential for human dignity.” @pontifex, 24 June 2014
  • “The family is essential to sustaining human and social development.” @pontifex, 26 June 2014
  • “In the face of life’s difficulties, let us ask the Lord for the strength to remain joyful witnesses to our faith.”@pontifex, 27 June 2014
  • “To be friends with God means to pray with simplicity, like children talking to their parents.” @pontifex, 28 June 2014
  • “May Saints Peter and Paul bless the city of Rome and the entire pilgrim Church throughout the world.” @pontifex, 29 June 2014

Roman Curia

This document is also available in multiple e-book formats for Kindle, Nook, iOS, along with PDF. Download via Brandon Vogt’s site. The Vatican has given permission to Bishop’s conferences to make this available with permission and specifically the U.S.C.C.B. has given permission to Brandon Vogt in this case.

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coburns-croppedRecently on Facebook, I let people know about the situation of Gretchen Passantino-Coburn and her husband Pat.

I wrote:

Gretchen Passantino Coburn is an outstanding Evangelical apologist for the Christian Faith. She and her late husband, Bob Passantino, in the spirit of C. S. Lewis, recognize Catholics as brother Christians struggling against the forces arrayed against us.

Gretchen recently and very graciously invited me to guest blog on her site, even though I was expressing a different point of view. That’s how classy she is!

Bob Passantino played a key and supportive role in my conversion to the Catholic Church. It was also a role that led to my coming to work at Catholic Answers.

Now Gretchen is in danger of losing their house.

I value the apologetic ministry that Gretchen and Bob established to promote the Christian Faith, and I recommend that those who have been helped by my own apologetics ministry donate to prevent the loss of their home.

I have!



I’d like to extend the same invitation to readers of my blog. If you can help, please do.

Right now–until Monday, June 30th–they have a matching grant so that every dollar donated up to $10,000 will be matched by an anonymous donor.

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If I do say so myself, this is one for the annals of unflappability.


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popefrancisThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 30 May to 20 June 2014.


General Audiences




Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “May the Lord bless the family and strengthen it in this moment of crisis.” @pontifex, 16 June 2014
  • “Sometimes we cast the elderly aside, but they are a precious treasure: to cast them aside is an injustice and an irreparable loss.” @pontifex, 17 June 2014
  • “There is never a reason to lose hope. Jesus says: “I am with you until the end of the world”.” @pontifex, 19 June 2014
  • “There is so much indifference in the face of suffering. May we overcome indifference with concrete acts of charity.” @pontifex, 20 June 2014

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