Prayers Requested

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion

A very dear friend, a very holy priest who is in his 90s, has taken a severe fall and is not expected to live.

Please pray for him, for his family, and for all who are in similar situations.

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pope-francis2This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 25 February to 13 March 2014.




Papal Tweets

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According to many observers, Pope Francis was elected to--AND WILL--set of an earthquake in Vatican circles. Here are 9 things to know and share.

If he did then, as an apologist, I’d be severely annoyed.

But wait! Could this be yet another case of people taking the pope out of context?

Yes. Yes it can.

And it is.

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .


1) What’s being claimed?

It’s being claimed that Pope Francis said the Church doesn’t need apologists or crusaders.


2) Where did he allegedly say this?

In a speech to the Congregation for Bishops.

It isn’t yet online in English, but it’s in Italian here.


3) What did he say?

According to the Washington Post:

He exhorted them to find “authentic” pastors who display “professionalism, service and holiness of life.”

Bishops, he continued, should be “guardians of doctrine, not to measure how far the world lives from the truth it contains, but to fascinate the world, to enchant the world with the beauty of love, to seduce it with the free gift of the Gospel.”

“The church doesn’t need apologists for their own agendas or crusaders for their own battles,” he added, “but humble and faithful sowers of the truth.”


4) Why is that not a diss on apologists?


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francis_baptismThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 19 February to 7 March 2014.


General Audiences




Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “How to live a good marriage? United to the Lord, who always renews our love and strengthens it to overcome every difficulty.” @pontifex, 3 March 2013
  • “In life we all make many mistakes. Let us learn to recognize our errors and ask forgiveness.” @pontifex, 4 March 2013
  • “Lent is a good time for sacrificing. Let us deny ourselves something every day to help others.” @pontifex, 5 March 2013
  • “Let us pray for Christians who are victims of persecution, so that they may know how to respond to evil with good.” @pontifex, 6 March 2013
  • “Our deepest joy comes from Christ: remaining with him, walking with him, being his disciples.” @pontifex, 7 March 2013
  • “The challenge for Christian spouses:remaining together, knowing how to love one another always, and doing so in a way that their love grows.” @pontifex, 8 March 2013


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feedingofthe5000It’s obvious that the four Gospels agree on the main facts about Jesus’ life:

  • He lived in first century Palestine.
  • He travelled through Galilee and Judea.
  • He worked miracles.
  • He taught.
  • He was crucified in Jerusalem at the time of Passover during the administration of Pontius Pilate.
  • He rose from the dead.
  • And so on.

All that’s obvious.


Contradictions Among the Gospels?

Critics of the Gospels therefore tend to focus on lesser matters—various differences among the Gospels on matters of detail.

The charges of contradictions among the Gospels tend to vanish, however, if one reads the texts carefully and if one understands the way ancient narrative texts worked and the freedom that authors had in how they presented their material.

They were, for example, free to paraphrase, they were free to place events in non-chronological order for literary effect, they were permitted to simplify and streamline events to just the main facts, and they were free to draw out different implications.


Rehearsed Witnesses?

Defenders of the Gospels sometimes point out that these kinds of differences are what we would expect of Gospels written by eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness testimony.

After all, in a courtroom you expect eyewitnesses to see things from different perspectives, to not all say exactly the same things, to paraphrase, and to alternately overlap and omit detail.

If the witnesses have too much harmony in their testimony—if they all say exactly the same things in exactly the same words, with no variation of detail—then it’s a sign that the witnesses have been rehearsed and their testimony becomes suspect.

They may be colluding with each other instead of telling what they really experienced.


Signs of Credibility

When evaluating testimony, lawyers (and juries!) look for signs of credibility in the testimony of the witnesses.

One sign of credibility is when tiny details do line up, but they’re the kind of details that the witnesses would not have thought to conspire about.

At first, these details don’t leap out at you. They’re hidden until you do a closer study of the testimony.

But when they harmonize, they give added evidence that you’re hearing the truth.

Are there such hidden harmonies among the Gospels?



A Question for Philip

Here’s a hidden harmony between the material recorded in John’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel.


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clementalexClement of Alexandria was a figure who flourished in the second half of the second century and the beginning of the third (c. A.D. 150 – c. 215).

We have some of his works, some are lost, and some are preserved in fragments.

Among the fragments, he makes a number of interesting claims.

All of what follows is to be taken with a grain of salt, as indicating possibilities, not necessarily probabilities or much less certainties.


On Mark

He writes:

Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter publicly preached the Gospel at Rome before some of Caesar’s equites [i.e., knights], and adduced many testimonies to Christ, in order that thereby they might be able to commit to memory what was spoken, of what was spoken by Peter, wrote entirely what is called the Gospel according to Mark.

Key points: Says that Mark (1) wrote at Rome, (2) based on Peter’s preaching, (3) while Peter was preaching.

In another fragment, he writes (according to Eusebius):

So, then, through the visit of the divine word to them, the power of Simon [Magus] was extinguished, and immediately was destroyed along with the man himself.

And such a ray of godliness shone forth on the minds of Peter’s hearers, that they were not satisfied with the once hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine proclamation, but with all manner of entreaties importuned Mark, to whom the Gospel is ascribed, he being the companion of Peter, that he would leave in writing a record of the teaching which had been delivered to them verbally; and did not let the man alone till they prevailed upon him; and so to them we owe the Scripture called the Gospel by Mark.

On learning what had been done, through the revelation of the Spirit, it is said that the apostle [Peter] was delighted with the enthusiasm of the men, and sanctioned the composition for reading in the Churches. Clement gives the narrative in the sixth book of the Hypotyposes.

Key points: Says that Mark wrote (1) after the fall of Simon Magus (in his conflict with Peter at Rome), (2) was asked to produce the Gospel of Mark based on Peter’s oral preaching, (3) received approval afterward from Peter, who was therefore still alive.


On the Gospels in General

According to Eusebius:

Again, in the same books Clement has set down a tradition which he had received from the elders before him, in regard to the order of the Gospels, to the following effect. He says that the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first, and that the Gospel according to Mark was composed in the following circumstances:—

Peter having preached the word publicly at Rome, and by the Spirit proclaimed the Gospel, those who were present, who were numerous, entreated Mark, inasmuch as he had attended him from an early period, and remembered what had been said, to write down what had been spoken. On his composing the Gospel, he handed it to those who had made the request to him; which coming to Peter’s knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged. But John, the last of all, seeing that what was corporeal was set forth in the Gospels, on the entreaty of his intimate friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.

Key points: He says that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (“the Gospels containing the genealogies”) were written first. This view is uncommon today, but it is endorsed by what is known as the Griesbach hypothesis. Other patristic sources do not hold Clement’s position but advocate either Mark being written first or the canonical sequences of Matthew, Mark, Luke.

As before, Mark is said to have written upon request based on the preaching of Peter. However, there are two additional points: (1) He was asked to write because he “remembered what had been said” and (2) Peter “neither hindered nor encouraged” this.

The first point differs from the Griesbach hypothesis, which holds either that Mark combined and shortened Matthew and Luke or, in one variant, that Peter did so and Mark had Peter transcribed. Both of these differ from what Clement says, which is that Mark wrote it, apparently without Peter’s involvement, because “he remembered what had been said” by Peter in his preaching.

In view of this, it would appear better to describe Clement as an advocate of the Independence hypothesis who appears to have held to the same order proposed by the Griesbach hypothesis.

His previous statement about Peter endorsing it would presumably be explained by supposing that Peter initially did not endorse it but later did.

On John, Clement holds that he wrote last of all, with knowledge of what was written in the other Gospels. He further holds that he did so based on the requests of friends, and that he wrote a deliberately different sort of Gospel (a “spiritual” rather than a “corporeal” one).


On Luke

He writes:

As Luke also may be recognized by the style, both to have composed the Acts of the Apostles, and to have translated Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews.

Key points: Regards Luke as being putting Hebrews in its final (Greek) literary form, with Paul ultimately behind it.

In another fragment, he writes (according to Eusebius):

And he says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is Paul’s, and was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke, having carefully translated it, gave it to the Greeks, and hence the same coloring in the expression is discoverable in this Epistle and the Acts; and that the name Paul an Apostle was very properly not prefixed, for, he says, that writing to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced against him and suspected, he with great wisdom did not repel them in the beginning by putting down his name.

Key points: Reinforces above claim, indicating that the original was written in “Hebrew” (probably Aramaic). Claims that Paul’s name was not affixed because of Jewish prejudice against him.

This latter seems unlikely, as the author of the letter expects the readers to know who he is, as he conveys greetings to them from various people, including Timothy. Would an anonymous person convey greetings from mutual acquaintances and not expect the readers to know or ask who wrote the letter? Giving the greetings from these acquaintances–and Judaizers would be equally hostile to Timothy as a companion of Paul–would only raise the question of the identity of the author and undermine the attempt to win them by impersonal argument. If Paul had a role in this letter, his name was omitted for some other reason.


On Jude

He writes:

Jude, who wrote the Catholic Epistle, the brother of the sons of Joseph, and very religious, while knowing the near relationship of the Lord, yet did not say that he himself was His brother. But what said he? Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ,— of Him as Lord; but the brother of James. For this is true; he was His brother, (the son) of Joseph.

Key points: Regards Jude (and by implication, James the Just) as sons of Joseph and thus step-brothers rather than cousins of Jesus.


On 1 John

He writes:

Following the Gospel according to John, and in accordance with it, this Epistle also contains the spiritual principle.

What therefore he says, from the beginning, the Presbyter explained to this effect, that the beginning of generation is not separated from the beginning of the Creator.

Key points: He may be regarding the author of 1 John (or even the Gospel of John) as John “the Presbyter,” who a number of Fathers (including Jerome) regarded as the author of 2 and 3 John (see Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious Men ch.s, 9 and 18). Former Pope Benedict XVI concurs on John the Elder writing 2 and 3 John and holds that he was the final author of the Gospel of John, though he holds it was based on the memories of John son of Zebedee (see Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1).


On 2 John

He writes:

The second Epistle of John, which is written to Virgins, is very simple. It was written to a Babylonian lady, by name Electa, and indicates the election of the holy Church.

Key points: He holds that the epistle was written to a specific lady (a “Babylonian”–Roman? Chaldean?) named “Electa” (Greek, “chosen”). This view is not generally held today, and it is supposed that the “Elect Lady” or “Chosen Lady” is a symbol of a local church and that the reference to her “children” are a reference to her members (this would work better than the idea that the letter was written to “to virgins,” as represented by a woman named Electa if Electa had children).


On the Baptism of the Apostles

He writes:

Yes, truly, the apostles were baptized, as Clement the Stromatist relates in the fifth book of the Hypotyposes. For, in explaining the apostolic statement, I thank God that I baptized none of you  [in 1 Corinthians] he says, Christ is said to have baptized Peter alone, and Peter Andrew, and Andrew John, and they James and the rest.

Key points: This would answer a longstanding question of whether the apostles were baptized. The importance of baptism being such that Jesus himself was baptized, and it being a universal command among Christians, one would think that they were, but the Gospels are silent on this matter. (Though Acts does record that Paul was baptized.)

Whether it happened, and, if so, whether Clement’s account of how it happened, though, is another matter.


On Barnabas

He writes:

To James the Just, and John and Peter, the Lord after His resurrection imparted knowledge (τὴν γνῶσιν.) These imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the Seventy, of whom Barnabas was one.

Key point: Identifies Barnabas as one of the Seventy mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. This is not the way Luke introduces Barnabas in Acts. There he presents him as a native of Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Other traditions also may suggest he was not one of the Seventy, though it is possible.


On James the Just

We saw above that he identified James the Just as a step-brother of Jesus.

He also records this concerning the death of James the Just:

And of this James, Clement also relates an anecdote worthy of remembrance in the seventh book of the Hypotyposes, from a tradition of his predecessors. He says that the man who brought him to trial, on seeing him bear his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was a Christian himself. Accordingly, he says, they were both led away together, and on the way the other asked James to forgive him. And he, considering a little, said, Peace be to you and kissed him. And so both were beheaded together.


On the Date of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion Relative to Passover

Passover was the 14th of Nisan, and John presents the Crucifixion as happening on this day and the Last Supper on the previous day. Yet the synoptics present the Last Supper as a Passover meal. How this can be squared is a longtime subject of discussion.

According to Clement:

Accordingly, in the years gone by, Jesus went to eat the passover sacrificed by the Jews, keeping the feast. But when he had preached He who was the Passover, the Lamb of God, led as a sheep to the slaughter, presently taught His disciples the mystery of the type [i.e., the Passover lamb] on the thirteenth day, on which also they inquired, Where will You that we prepare for You to eat the passover? (Matthew 26:17) It was on this day, then, that both the consecration of the unleavened bread and the preparation for the feast took place. Whence John naturally describes the disciples as already previously prepared to have their feet washed by the Lord. And on the following day our Savior suffered, He who was the Passover, propitiously sacrificed by the Jews. . . .

Suitably, therefore, to the fourteenth day, on which He also suffered, in the morning, the chief priests and the scribes, who brought Him to Pilate, did not enter the Prætorium, that they might not be defiled, but might freely eat the passover in the evening. With this precise determination of the days both the whole Scriptures agree, and the Gospels harmonize. The resurrection also attests it. He certainly rose on the third day, which fell on the first day of the weeks of harvest, on which the law prescribed that the priest should offer up the sheaf.

Key point: Clement sees Jesus as performing the Last Supper on the 13th of Nisan and teaching the disciples “the type” of the Passover lamb on this day. That is, he held the Last Supper as an anticipation, or early celebration, of the Passover meal–pointing to what would happen the next day, when the Passover lambs would be slaughtered and he would be Crucified.

This is my understanding as well. (It also is former Pope Benedict XVI’s.)


On the Candlestick/Menorah of the Temple

He writes:

The candlestick which stood at the south of the altar signified the seven planets, which seem to us to revolve around the meridian, on either side of which rise three branches; since the sun also like the lamp, balanced in the midst of the planets by divine wisdom, illumines by its light those above and below. On the other side of the altar was situated the table on which the loaves were displayed, because from that quarter of the heaven vital and nourishing breezes blow.

Key points: He identifies the seven branches of the candlestick/menorah with the seven classical planets (i.e., celestial bodies that change their position relative to the fixed stars). These were the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn–the only ones visible to the naked eye. He identifies the sun, the most important of the seven, with the middle branch of the lamp, with three on each side.


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popefrancisThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 2 February to March 1 2014.


Apostolic Letter

General Audiences


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “Our Lady is always close to us, especially when we feel the weight of life with all its problems.” @pontifex, 24 February 2014
  • “All of us who are baptized are missionary disciples. We are called to become a living Gospel in the world.” @pontifex, 25 February 2014
  • “In a family it is normal to take charge of those who need help. Do not be afraid of frailty!” @pontifex, 27 February 2014
  • The Eucharist is essential for us: it is Christ who wishes to enter our lives and fill us with his grace. @pontifex, 28 February 2014
  • “Let us thank all those who teach in Catholic schools. Educating is an act of love; it is like giving life.” @pontifex, 1 March 2014

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calendarIf you look at old indulgences (e.g., as found on holy cards from before the 1960s), you’ll find that they often contain a reference to a certain number of “days.”

What do those days represent? If you’ve got a 500 days indulgences, what does that mean? Does it mean you get out of purgatory 500 days earlier than you would have otherwise?

No, but a lot of people were confused on this point, which is why–when the regulations regarding the granting of indulgences were revised in 1967, Pope Paul VI eliminated all references to “days” had had all such indulgences labeled “partial” (in contrast to “plenary”)–see Indulgentiarum Doctrina chapter 5; also norm 4.

So indulgences no longer have days attached to them, but when they did, what did they refer to?

The early 20th century Catholic Encyclopedia (s.v. Indulgences) explains them this way:

A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value.

In the early Church, the penitential discipline frequently required a period of time in which a person did penance before they could be absolved and lead a normal sacramental and liturgical life.

The penalty for procuring an abortion, in some times and places, was ten years of penance.

Gaining an indulgences “of one year” thus would cancel the equivalent of one year of penance according to the early Church’s way of reckoning penances.

The “days” attached to indulgences were this analogous to the days used in the ancient penitential system.

I’ve known that for a long time, but I’ve always wanted an official statement of the fact, not just an explanation offered by the theological expert who wrote the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

So I thought: Why not look in the Raccolta?

The Raccolta was the Church’s official collection of indulgences before the 1967 revision. It’s the equivalent of the modern Enchiridion (Handbook) of Indulgences.

So I looked up a 1903 edition of the Raccolta online. Sure enough, it carries an introduction (“On Holy Indulgences and the Conditions Requisite for Gaining Them”), which addresses the matter.

It states:

By Partial indulgences of days, or quarantines, or years, so much of the temporal punishment which had to be undergone either in this life or in the next, is remitted in favor of him who gains them, as would have been remitted by the performance of the penances of so many days, quarantines (penances of forty days’ duration), years, etc., prescribed in the ancient penitential canons of the Church.

This confirms what the Catholic Encyclopedia says.

It appears that the introduction was composed by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences and Sacred Relics (see section VII), which would make it an official explanation and not something added by a publisher.

If so, that gives me the official explanation I’ve been wanting of what the “days” were.

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AaronAdairAmong skeptics, Dr. Aaron Adair is sometimes hailed as the “go to” guy on the Star of Bethlehem.

He’s even written a book arguing that the Star didn’t exist.

Recently, he engaged a post I wrote about the Star of Bethlehem.

Here is my reply . . .


First Things First

First, you can read our previous interaction in the comments box on this post.

I want to thank Dr. Adair for striving to maintain a positive tone, both in the combox and in his book, The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View.

Although he has occasional lapses (who doesn’t?), it’s clear that he is striving to avoid the kind of snark and venom that are often found in works by some skeptics.

As a non-fan of snark and venom (including when it is used by Catholics), I appreciate that.


Various Proposals

In his book, Adair rightly argues against a number of interpretations of what the Star was, and this is to be expected.

The Star can’t have been all of the different things that have been proposed, and some of the proposals are easier to rule out than others.

Sometimes part of his argument is based on the erroneous (but popular) idea that Jesus was born sometime before 4 B.C.

I’ve argued why that was not the case before, on grounds completely unrelated to the Star (see here, here, and here).

Because he uses the more popular dating, Adair too quickly discounts some possible understandings of the Star, but even in these cases, he has an argument to fall back on.


Adair’s Ultimate Argument

For Adair, the ultimate argument against any understanding of the Star as a natural (but providential) phenomenon, is based on the alleged motion of the Star as described by Matthew.

This argument is found in chapter 7 of his book, “           Failure of All Natural Hypotheses,” and it is regularly presented as the “clincher” for why any particular view of the Star as a natural phenomenon cannot be true.

Adair summarizes the argument this way:

Matthew talks about a Star that travels south towards a particular destination, leading on eastern sages, until it comes to its destination, stops and hangs over a particular hovel in the small town of Bethlehem. No object in the sky can do such a thing, not by a long shot.

Although I had not read Adair’s book when I wrote my original post, this was precisely the view I was arguing against.

The text of Matthew does not, in fact, require the star to move in an abnormal manner.

So in the combox, I asked Adair how he would respond, and he provided a brief response.

Since he has more length to argue his view in his book, however, I will reply to what is found there.


Going Greek


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starofbethlehem2The Star of Bethlehem is endlessly fascinating. All kinds of theories about what it was have been proposed.

Based on the way Matthew describes it, some have thought it was a supernatural manifestation that led the magi around.

Some have even suggested it was a flying saucer.

Some have said it was a myth and never really existed.

All of these views are based on the idea that the star didn’t move the way a normal star would.

Is this correct?

Here are 8 things to know and share . . .


1) Why would people think the star’s motion was unusual?

There is a popular impression that the magi began following the star in their eastern homeland and that it led them to Jerusalem. This is taken to mean that the star moved from east to west.

From Jerusalem, they go to Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem.

Then, according to this impression, the star stops and hovers over the house where Jesus was residing.

The star is thus taken to move from east to west, turn south, and then hover.

That makes it sound like a light in the sky that isn’t a normal star but something else.

However, this account is mistaken.


2) Why is it mistaken?

This view goes wrong because of the assumption that the magi were following the star.

That’s not what Matthew says.

Let’s look at what he does say:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,  “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” [Matthew 2:1-2].

The phrase “in the East” is ambiguous. It might mean that they were in the East when they saw it (they were from the East, after all), or it may mean that they saw it when it rose over the eastern horizon.

Except for the stars that never set, stars rise over the eastern horizon and set below the western horizon, just like the sun does.

Either way, this does not tell us much, because the event occurred between one and two years earlier, based on the time they tell Herod (Matthew 2:16).

The apparent position of the star would have changed radically over that time, as almost all stars do as the earth orbits the sun.

In any event, Matthew does not say that the magi were following the star. He does not say that it led them to Jerusalem.

Instead, he says something that suggests something else.


3) What does he say that suggests they weren’t just following the star?


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