St. Francis is one of the most famous saints in Church history.

He’s so significant that the current pope—Pope Francis—chose to take his name.

October 4th is his memorial day.

But who was he, and what did he do?

Here are 12 things to know and share . . .


1) When did St. Francis live?

He was born in 1181 or 1182 (we’re not sure), and he died in 1226. He thus lived to be only 44 or 45 years old.

He was born—and he died—in Assisi, Italy, which is somewhat near Rome.

You can read about Assisi here.


2) How did he get the name “Francis”?

Although many people take new names upon entering religious life, this is not how St. Francis originally got his name.

He was born Giovanni (John) di Bernardone, but in his infancy, his father, Pietro (Peter), began calling him Francesco (“the Frenchman”).

We are not sure why.


3) What was St. Francis’s early life like?

His family was well-to-do, his father being a wealthy silk merchant.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

He was not very studious, and his literary education remained incomplete. Although associated with his father in trade, he showed little liking for a merchant's career, and his parents seemed to have indulged his every whim.

Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, speaks in very severe terms of Francis's youth.

Certain it is that the saint's early life gave no presage of the golden years that were to come.

No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine clothes and showy display.

Handsome, gay, gallant, and courteous, he soon became the prime favorite among the young nobles of Assisi, the foremost in every feat of arms, the leader of the civil revels, the very king of frolic.

But even at this time Francis showed an instinctive sympathy with the poor, and though he spent money lavishly, it still flowed in such channels as to attest a princely magnanimity of spirit.


4) Did he fight in the military?

Yes. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

When about twenty, Francis went out with the townsmen to fight the Perugians in one of the petty skirmishes so frequent at that time between the rival cities.

The Assisians were defeated on this occasion, and Francis, being among those taken prisoners, was held captive for more than a year in Perugia.

A low fever which he there contracted appears to have turned his thoughts to the things of eternity; at least the emptiness of the life he had been leading came to him during that long illness.

With returning health, however, Francis's eagerness after glory reawakened and his fancy wandered in search of victories; at length he resolved to embrace a military career, and circumstances seemed to favor his aspirations.


5) How did his life change?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Not long after his return to Assisi [in 1205], whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian's below the town, he heard a voice saying: "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin."

Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father's shop, impulsively bundled together a load of colored drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart  [market] of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian's.

When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully.


6) How did his parents react?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son's conduct, and Francis, to avert his father's wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian's for a whole month.

When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman.

Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone's absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian's, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father.

The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian's, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance.

This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction.

Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven.'"


7) How did he begin the Franciscan order?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Having obtained a coarse woolen tunic of "beast cooler", the dress then worn by the poorest Umbrian peasants, and tied it round him with a knotted rope, Francis went forth at once exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace.

The Assisians had already ceased to scoff at Francis; they now paused in wonderment; his example even drew others to him.

Bernard of Quintavalle, a magnate of the town, was the first to join Francis, and he was soon followed by Peter of Cattaneo, a well-known canon of the cathedral.

In true spirit of religious enthusiasm, Francis repaired to the church of St. Nicholas and sought to learn God's will in their regard by thrice opening at random the book of the Gospels on the altar.

Each time it opened at passages where Christ told His disciples to leave all things and follow Him.

"This shall be our rule of life", exclaimed Francis, and led his companions to the public square, where they forthwith gave away all their belongings to the poor.


8) Was Francis ever ordained?

Yes. He was ordained a deacon, but not a priest.


9) Did St. Francis invent the Nativity Scene we find in many Churches (and homes) at Christmas time today?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

It was during Christmastide of this year (1223) that the saint conceived the idea of celebrating the Nativity "in a new manner", by reproducing in a church at Greccio the praesepio [Latin, “crib,” “manger”] of Bethlehem, and he has thus come to be regarded as having inaugurated the population devotion of the Crib.


10) How did St. Francis receive the stigmata of Christ?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September [in 1224]) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart.

Brother Leo, who was with St. Francis when he received the stigmata, has left us in his note to the saint's autograph blessing, preserved at Assisi, a clear and simple account of the miracle, which for the rest is better attested than many another historical fact.

The saint's right side is described as bearing on open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward.

After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification.


11) How did St. Francis’s death and canonization come about?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Worn out, moreover, as Francis now was by eighteen years of unremitting toil, his strength gave way completely, and at times his eyesight so far failed him that he was almost wholly blind.

During an access of anguish, Francis paid a last visit to St. Clare at St. Damian's, and it was in a little hut of reeds, made for him in the garden there, that the saint composed that "Canticle of the Sun", in which his poetic genius expands itself so gloriously.

This was in September, 1225. Not long afterwards Francis, at the urgent instance of Brother Elias, underwent an unsuccessful operation for the eyes, at Rieti.

He seems to have passed the winter 1225-26 at Siena, whither he had been taken for further medical treatment.

[By April, 1226] alarming dropsical symptoms [i.e., edema, abnormal bodily swelling due to water retention] had developed, and it was in a dying condition that Francis set out for Assisi. . . .

In the early autumn Francis, feeling the hand of death upon him, was carried to his beloved Porziuncola, that he might breathe his last sigh where his vocation had been revealed to him and whence his order had struggled into sight. . . .

Then wishing to give a last token of detachment and to show he no longer had anything in common with the world, Francis removed his poor habit and lay down on the bare ground, covered with a borrowed cloth, rejoicing that he was able to keep faith with his Lady Poverty to the end.

He was canonized in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.


12) Where can we learn more about St. Francis?

Much more here.

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Guardian_Angel_01October 2 is the memorial of the Guardian Angels in the liturgy.

Here are 8 things to know and share about the angels it celebrates . . .


1) What is a guardian angel?

A guardian angel is an angel (a created, non-human, non-corporeal being) that has been assigned to guard a particular person, especially with respect to helping that person avoid spiritual dangers and achieve salvation.

The angel may also help the person avoid physical dangers, particularly if this will help the person achieve salvation.


2) Where do we read about guardian angels in Scripture?

We see angels helping people on various occasions in Scripture, but there are certain instances in which we see angels providing a protective function over a period of time.

In Tobit, Raphael is assigned to an extended mission to help Tobit’s son (and his family in general).

In Daniel, Michael is described as “the great prince who has charge of your [Daniel’s] people” (Dan. 12:1). He is thus depicted as the guardian angel of Israel.

In the Gospels, Jesus indicates that there are guardian angels for individuals, including little children. He says:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 18:10).


3) What does Jesus mean when he says these angels “always behold” the fact of the Father?

It may mean that they are constantly standing in his presence in heaven and able to communicate the needs of their charges to him.

Alternately, based on the idea that angels are messengers (Greek, angelos = “messenger”) in the heavenly court, it may mean that whenever these angels seek access to the heavenly court, they are always granted it and allowed to present the needs to their charges to God.


4) What does the Church teach about guardian angels?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God [CCC 336].

See here fore more on the Church’s teachings on angels in general.


5) Who has guardian angels?

It is considered theologically certain that each member of the faith has a special guardian angel from the time of baptism.

This view is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which speaks of “each believer” having a guardian angel.

Although it is certain that the faithful have guardian angels, it is commonly thought that they are even more widely available. Ludwig Ott explains:

According to the general teaching of the theologians, however, not only every baptized person, but every human being, including unbelievers, has his own special guardian angel from his birth [Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 120].

This understanding is reflected in an Angelus address by Benedict XVI, who stated:

Dear friends, the Lord is ever close and active in humanity’s history and accompanies us with the unique presence of his Angels, whom today the Church venerates as “Guardian Angels”, that is, ministers of the divine care for every human being. From the beginning until the hour of death, human life is surrounded by their constant protection [Angelus, Oct. 2, 2011].


5) How can we thank them for the help they give us?

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explained:

Devotion to the Holy Angels gives rise to a certain form of the Christian life which is characterized by:

  • devout gratitude to God for having placed these heavenly spirits of great sanctity and dignity at the service of man;
  • an attitude of devotion deriving from the knowledge of living constantly in the presence of the Holy Angels of God;- serenity and confidence in facing difficult situations, since the Lord guides and protects the faithful in the way of justice through the ministry of His Holy Angels. Among the prayers to the Guardian Angels the Angele Dei is especially popular, and is often recited by families at morning and evening prayers, or at the recitation of the Angelus [Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 216].


6) What is the Angele Dei prayer?

Translated into English, it reads:

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here,
ever this day,
be at my side,
to light and guard,
rule and guide.


This prayer is particular suited for devotion to guardian angels, since it is addressed directly to one’s own guardian angel.


7) Are there dangers to watch out for in venerating angels?

The Congregation stated:

Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations:

  • when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and daemons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer;
  • when the daily events of life, which have nothing or little to do with our progressive maturing on the journey towards Christ are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels [op. cit., 217].


8) Should we assign names to our guardian angels?

The Congregation stated:

The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture [ibid.].

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Doctor-Who-The-Caretaker (3)In this episode we review and analyse episode 6 of season 8, entitled ‘The Caretaker’.  Does Clara lead multiple lives? What is Missy’s relation to the Doctor? How will the relationship between the Doctor and Danny evolve?

Join Jimmy Akin, Fr. Cory Sticha, Stephanie Zimmer, Dom Bettinelli and Fr. Roderick for discussion, analysis, and speculation!

 Click here to listen to the link or use the player, below, on the web site.

Links for this episode:

Check out Jimmy Akin’s blog Let’s Watch Doctor Who, Stephanie’s podcast TV Rewind and Dom Bettinelli & Fr. Roderick’s podcast Secrets of Star Wars!

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pope-francisThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 4 to 28 September 2014.


General Audiences




Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

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St_Augustine_-_Lightner_MuseumAccording to a view that St. Augustine proposed when he began his Harmony of the Gospels, Mark was the second Gospel to be written, and it was basically an abridgement of Matthew.

Luke then wrote third, and John last.

This idea is known as the “Augustinian hypothesis.”

Despite its historical popularity, there are several reasons to think that it is incorrect.


Augustine’s Arguments

St. Augustine wrote:

Mark follows him [Matthew] closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer.

For in his narrative he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages.

Much, too, he narrates in words almost numerically and identically the same as those used by Matthew, where the agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest [Harmony of the Gospels, I:2:4].

Augustine thus argued that Mark followed Matthew (he was “his attendant”) and that he shortened Matthew (he was his “epitomizer”). He therefore offers two arguments for his proposal:

1) Mark has a great deal of material in common with Matthew compared to Luke and John.

2) Mark’s wording is very similar to that of Matthew compared to Luke and John.


The Argument from Parallels

It’s quite true that Mark’s Gospel has a great deal in common with Matthew’s Gospel.

It is commonly estimated that 90% of the material found in Mark is also found in Matthew (B. F. Streeter, The Four Gospels, 160). Nine out of ten verses in Mark are paralleled in Matthew!

There are more parallels between Mark and Matthew than in any two other pairings of Gospels, so there does seem to be a special relationship between the two.

Augustine could be correct, then, that Mark took Matthew’s Gospel and abridged it, but it could also be the other way around: Matthew could have taken Mark’s Gospel, used nine tenths of it, and then added traditions from other sources.

Like many arguments concerning the Synoptic Problem, this one is reversible. Either Gospel could be using the other, so more evidence is needed to decide the question.


The Argument from Language

A problem for Augustine’s argument based on similarity of language is that, even if he is right that Mark’s language is most similar to Matthew’s, the argument would be reversible.

Just as with the previous argument, such similarity of language could be explained either by Mark using Matthew or by Matthew using Mark.

We still need to look for more evidence.


Matthew the Eyewitness

Some have argued that if, as traditionally has been held, Matthew was the author of the Gospel that bears his name then he would have been unlikely to use the Gospel of Mark.

It is pointed out that Matthew was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, whereas Mark was not. Would an eyewitness really base his Gospel on one written by non-eyewitness?

Some have suggested that the answer is no, he would not be likely to do that. Therefore, since there is a relationship between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, this relationship is better explained if Mark—the non-eyewitness—used Matthew’s Gospel rather than the other way around.

How good is this argument?

One could challenge it by arguing that Matthew didn’t write the Gospel attributed to him, but I support the traditional authorship view, so I don’t have an interest in going that route.

I do, however, think the argument is open to serious critique.


It’s Weak

First, each of the Gospels uses material that the author was not an eyewitness of. None of them are simply memoirs of what someone experience when they were with Jesus.

This demonstrates that the Evangelists were not averse to describing events that they did not witness and for which they had to rely on sources.

Second, Matthew’s Gospel indicates that he was not among Jesus’ first disciples. That group was recruited in chapter 4, but Matthew doesn’t appear until chapter 9.

While Matthew likely heard the content of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) multiple times during his time with Jesus, he is dependent on others for what happened before he joined Jesus’ band of disciples.

Third, the issue is not whether a text was written by an eyewitness but whether it is accurate.

If Matthew thought that Mark’s Gospel was accurate then he could use it as a source whether it was written by an eyewitness or not. Indeed, he could have found that Mark corresponded well with his own memories of Jesus’ ministry and used it as a source.

Fourth, the earliest evidence we have—evidence that dates from the first century figure known as John the Presbyter (who may or may not be the same as John the Apostle)—indicates that Mark was based on the preaching of Peter, and Peter was an eyewitness.

Indeed, Peter was an even more authoritative eyewitness than Matthew (cf. Matt. 16:18). He was also one of Jesus’ first disciples and had been with Jesus longer than Matthew.

The view that Mark’s Gospel was based on Peter’s preaching was present in the first century, and for precisely this reason Matthew might have chosen to use it as one of his sources.

Furthermore, according to Acts, Matthew and Peter seem to have spent more than a decade living and preaching in Jerusalem after the ministry of Jesus. Matthew thus would have heard Peter’s preaching on many occasions and would have been able to recognize Mark as an accurate record of it.


My Own Experience

I can also speak from my own experience, here.

In the ancient, pre-copyright age, authors borrowed much more freely from each other than they do today.

This was particularly so in anonymous works, which both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels were in the sense that their names are not recorded in the text itself.

If Matthew came across Mark’s Gospel and realized that it presented the core of the story of Jesus in much the way he would present it then he would have been inclined to use it as a laborsaving means.

Why reinvent the wheel? Why not use what’s already there, supplement it, and polish it?

This is an experience I have had many times. For over twenty years, I have worked in an educational ministry that publishes a lot of resources, often without bylines.

In this informal, collaborative environment, I have had the occasion many times to take text originally written by someone else, apply it to a new purpose, and modify it accordingly.

I don’t do that for books, articles, or blog posts that are meant to be copyrighted and published under my name. Modern rules about copyright and plagiarism apply to those.

But there is another class of materials (e.g., materials the ministry publishes without a byline or that are attributed to “staff”) where those rules do not apply, and different internal authors may freely borrow from one another.

If I was producing such a text, and a prior text of the same category was available that did much of what I wanted the new text to do, I would not hesitate to use its language—extracting, expanding, abridging, and editing it to fit the new purpose.

This environment is much like the one that seems to have prevailed among the Synoptic Evangelists—where they were all united in the common purpose of telling the story of Jesus and questions of authorial “ownership” of their texts was secondary.

Since Matthew was not producing a memoir but a biography, he was willing to use sources to describe things that he didn’t see. Given that, he likely would have been willing to use sources to describe things he did witness—rather than insisting on deliberately starting from scratch to describe them.

Based on my own experience, I have no difficulty imagining Matthew taking Mark’s Gospel in hand and saying, “This does much of what I want. I’ll use it as a base text and expand and modify it to suit the purposes I want my own Gospel to fulfill.”

The argument that Matthew would not have used Mark because Mark was not an eyewitness thus strikes me as very weak.


Mark the Epitomizer?

Augustine said that “Mark follows him [Matthew] closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer” (Latin, Marcus eum subsecutus, tanquam pedissequus et breviator ejus videtur).

Many moderns may be puzzled by the meaning of this, because for us the term “epitome” is usually understood to mean an outstanding example of something (e.g., “John was the epitome of a Southern gentleman”).

In the ancient world, though, an epitome was something else: It was a shortened version of a literary work—something like the Reader’s Digest “condensed” books that were popular some time ago.

If you’re too young to remember those then think of the book summaries published by CliffNotes or SparkNotes, though those aren’t as close a parallel.

Epitomes allowed ancient readers to get the gist of a work of literature without having to read the whole thing, which could often be quite long.

By saying that Mark “looks like” Matthew’s epitomizer, Augustine means that Mark appears to have made a condensed version of Matthew.


A New Opportunity

The idea that Mark is an epitome of Matthew opens up a new way to shed light on our question because it allows us to ask: “If Mark is an epitome of Matthew, does it fit the model of other ancient epitomes or not?”

If Mark works like other ancient epitomes then it would strengthen Augustine’s case.

On the other hand, if Mark does not work like other ancient epitomes then it would weaken it.

It is clear that Mark looks like an epitome of Matthew in two respects:

  1. It is shorter than the original.
  2. It parallels much of the substance of the original rather than just a part or a few parts of it.

In every other way, though, Mark does not look like an epitome of Matthew.

This is perhaps why Augustine uses somewhat cautious language, saying that Mark “looks like” Matthew’s epitomizer rather than fully asserting it. Augustine may realize that Mark didn’t fit the model of other ancient epitomes.


Ancient Epitomes

In 2001, Robert Derrenbacker published a fascinating doctoral thesis entitled Ancient Compositional Practices and the Synoptic Problem (online here). He has a very helpful discussion of ancient epitomes and how they worked (see, esp., pp. 79-86).

One of the things that Derrenbacker brings out is the fact that ancient epitomes tended to be abridgements of much longer works.

For example, 2 Maccabees is an abridgement of a five-volume history by Jason of Cyrene (2 Macc. 2:23). This means that 2 Maccabees, which originally fit in a single scroll, was a condensation of a work that originally filled five scrolls.

Another thing Derrenbacker brings out is that ancient epitomizers didn’t just shorten works. That’s something they could do simply by deleting sections of the work. Instead, they also tightened up individual sections—or pericopes (per-ih-ko-PEEs)—of the works.

Thus, in the case of a historical or biographical epitome, they would recount incidents found in the original book but use fewer words to tell the story.

This was one of their key tools in making the epitome shorter than the original since it allowed them to save space without losing substance.


Mark vs. the Epitomes

When we compare the Gospel of Mark with the kind of epitomes used in the ancient world, we find that it is dramatically different on both of the counts just mentioned.

Matthew has 18,345 words in the Greek New Testament, while Mark has 11,304. This means that Matthew is only 1.6 times as long as Mark. (Put another way, Mark is 62% as long as Matthew.)

Contrast that to the original work of Jason of Cyrene, which was at least 5 times longer than 2 Maccabees.

Furthermore, Matthew was itself a fairly short work that could fit inside a single scroll. Given its word count, it could be read out loud in less than two hours.

Matthew was thus not the kind of work that called for an epitome. It was too short for that.

And it certainly didn’t call for an epitome that was 62% the length of the original. That’s not a great deal of space savings, and so there wouldn’t have been a great deal of demand for such a work.


Mark’s Pericopes

Another striking way in which Mark does not look like an epitome of Matthew is the fact that the individual pericopes within it don’t tend to be shorter than the parallels in Matthew. Instead, they tend to be longer.

B. H. Streeter notes:

For example, the number of words employed by Mark to tell the stories of the Gadarene Demoniac, Jairus’ Daughter, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand are respectively 325, 374 and 235; Matthew contrives to tell them in 136, 135 and 157 words [The Four Gospels, 158].

So Mark typically uses more words to tell a given story about Jesus than Matthew does.

But that is not what ancient epitomizers did. As we said, they tended to tighten up stories and use fewer words to recount them because this was a key tool in making an epitome: It allowed the author to save space while retaining substance.

The fact that Mark does the opposite would make him unlike any other epitomizer in the ancient world, and thus we have evidence that he wasn’t epitomizing.

Instead, the fact that Matthew uses fewer words to tell the same stories as Mark suggests that Matthew was producing an expanded edition of Mark—keeping 90% of the substance but tightening up the stories for reasons of style and perhaps to make room for all the additional material he wanted to include.

This brings us to the question of editorial choices the Evangelists made about what material to include.


Important Material Cut Out?

If Mark is an epitome of Matthew then we must ask the question of why he omitted the particular parts of Matthew that he did.

Doing so surely saved space, but he could have achieved the same goal by omitting other parts of Matthew—so why did he skip the ones that he did?

Here’s a list of the pericopes of Matthew that Matthew would have had to leave out:

  • The Genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17)
  • The Birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:18-25)
  • The Slaughter of the Innocents (Matt. 2:1-23)
  • The Beatitudes (Matt. 4:23-5:12)
  • The Value of the Law (Matt. 5:17-20)
  • Teaching About Killing and Anger (Matt. 5:21-24)
  • Make Peace with Your Accuser (Matt. 5:25-26)
  • Teaching on Adultery and Lust (Matt. 5:27-30)
  • Teaching on Divorce and Adultery (Matt. 5:31-32)
  • Teaching on Swearing (Matt. 5:33-37)
  • “Love Your Enemies” (Matt. 5:38-48)
  • Piety Before Men and Alms (Matt. 6:1-4)
  • Piety Before Men and Prayer (Matt. 6:5-8)
  • The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-15)
  • Piety Before Men and Fasting (Matt. 6:16-18)
  • “Treasure in Heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21)
  • “The Lamp of Your Body” (Matt. 6:22-23)
  • “You Cannot Serve God and Mammon” (Matt. 6:24)
  • “Do Not Be Anxious About Your Life” (Matt. 6:25-34)
  • “Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged” (Matt. 7:1-5)
  • Pearls Before Swine (Matt. 7:06)
  • “Ask, Seek, Knock” (Matt. 7:7-11)
  • The Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12)
  • The Narrow Gate(Matt. 7:13-14)
  • “No Good Tree Bears Bad Fruit” (Matt. 7:15-20)
  • Putting Jesus’ Teaching into Action (Matt. 7:21-27)
  • The Centurion’s Servant (Matt. 8:5-13)
  • Excuses for Not Following Jesus (Matt. 8:18-22)
  • Healing Two Blind Men (Matt. 9:27-31)
  • Exorcizing a Mute Demoniac (Matt. 9:32-34)
  • “The Harvest is Plentiful” (Matt. 9:35-38)
  • Fear and Comfort (Matt. 10:26-33)
  • Jesus Brings Division (Matt. 10:34-36)
  • The Cost of Discipleship (Matt. 10:37-11:1)
  • A Question from John the Baptist (Matt. 11:2-19)
  • Woe to Unrepentant Cities (Matt. 11:20-24)
  • Hidden from the Wise (Matt. 11:25-30)
  • “By Your Words You Will be Justified” (Matt. 12:33-37)
  • “The Sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12:38-42)
  • The Unclean Spirit Returns (Matt. 12:43-45)
  • The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matt. 13:24-30)
  • The Parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13:33)
  • The Parable of the Weeds Explained (Matt. 13:34-43)
  • The Parable of the Treasure in the Field (Matt. 13:44)
  • The Parable of the Precious Pearl (Matt. 13:45-46)
  • The Parable of the Net Thrown into the Sea (Matt. 13:47-52)
  • Does Jesus Pay the Tax? (Matt. 17:24-27)
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt. 18:12-14)
  • Forgiving the Brother Who Sins (Matt. 18:15-22)
  • The Parable of Unforgiving Debtor (Matt. 18:23-35)
  • The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16)
  • Jesus in the Temple (Matt. 21:14-17)
  • The Parable of the Banquet (Matt. 22:1-14)
  • Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:1-36)
  • “Your House Is Forsaken” (Matt. 23:37-39)
  • “The Son of Man Is Coming at an Unexpected Hour” (Matt. 24:42-51)
  • The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13)
  • The Parable of the Talents/Pounds (Matt. 25:14-30)
  • The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46)
  • Securing the Tomb (Matt. 27:62-66)
  • Explaining the Empty Tomb (Matt. 28:11-15)

One can imagine Mark omitting material he considered to be of lesser importance, but that does not seem to be a description of much of the material in this list.

Mark would have deleted everything concerning the genealogy, birth, and early life of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, and most of Jesus’ parables, as well as other notable passages.

While we might suppose he would omit some of the items above for space reasons, some are simply too important—in contrast to what Mark retained—to suppose that this is the answer.

For example, is the Lord’s Prayer—which he would have omitted—really less important than the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman or the healing of the man with the withered hand—both of which he would have chosen to retain?


Unimportant Material Added?

On the epitome hypothesis, Mark didn’t just omit material from Matthew. He also added new material of his own:

  • Exorcising an Unclean Spirit in the Synagogue (Mark 1:23-28)
  • Departure from Capernaum (Mark 1:35-39)
  • Jesus Teaches by the Sea (Mark 2:13)
  • Jesus’ Family Hears (Mark 3:20-21)
  • The Kingdom Like Seed (Mark 4:26-29)
  • Healing a Deaf Man (Mark 7:32-37)
  • Healing a Blind Man (Mark 8:22-26)
  • The Unauthorized Exorcist (Mark 9:38-41)
  • Visiting the Temple (Mark 11:11)
  • The Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44)
  • Jesus Appears to Two Disciples (Mark 16:12-13)

Again: Is this material of sufficient value to warrant omitting much of the material he would have excluded?

Is the Lord’s Prayer really less important than Mark’s note about Jesus departing Capernaum or his family hearing about what was happening with Jesus before they show up?

Is it worth omitting the bulk of Jesus’ teachings as found in Matthew in order to add material that largely concerns additional stories about healing and exorcism and that duplicate other, similar accounts?

By contrast, if Matthew used Mark then, given the minor importance and largely duplicative nature of this material, it is easy to see how Matthew could have omitted it in interests of space (so he could add all Jesus’ teaching material) rather than the other way around.


An Unsuccessful Epitome?

One of the things that Derrenbacker brings out in his discussion of epitomes is that they tended to replace the works that they abridged.

Very often the epitome was more popular than the original, and so more copies of it were made than of the original. This allowed the epitome to survive the ages while the original perished.

A case in point is 2 Maccabees. We have this epitome, but Jason of Cyrene’s original, five-volume history is lost.

The reason for this phenomenon is that the epitomes were of more value to the ancient audiences than the original. It was a case of “less is more”:

  1. The epitomes took much less time to read and absorb, while still allowing the reader to get the gist of the original.
  2. Also, being shorter, they were much cheaper in an age in which books had to be hand written and so were much more costly than today’s printing technology makes possible.

But what value did Mark think he would be adding for the reader by producing an epitome of Matthew?

He wasn’t giving them extra value in terms of dramatic space savings. And he wasn’t giving them extra value in terms of new material. The handful of minor, reduplicative stories he would have added would scarcely offset the loss of the huge bulk of teaching material in Matthew that he would have had to set aside.

This lack of added value—both in terms of space and content—would have set Mark up to be an unsuccessful epitome.

And, in fact, Mark’s Gospel was by far the least popular of the four Gospels in the early Church. One of the ways that we know this is by counting the number of early manuscripts of the Gospels that have survived.

Of the Gospel manuscripts that date to the second and third centuries a.d., there are 12 of Matthew, 7 of Luke, 16 of John, and only 1 of Mark! (Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts, ch. 1). The fact that so few manuscripts of Mark have survived from this period compared to the others suggests that there were fewer copies of Mark in circulation.

Given that there are twelve ancient manuscripts of Matthew and only one of Mark, it is clear that Matthew was quite a bit more popular than Mark.

This means that Mark, if it was an epitome of Matthew, was a spectacularly unsuccessful one that did not, in the eyes of the ancient readers, add significant value over its original. Indeed, as the number of surviving manuscripts suggests, they saw it as quite a bit less valuable.

The Case Against the Augustinian Hypothesis

We have seen a number of reasons to be skeptical of St. Augustine’s proposal that Mark was the second Gospel written and that it was an epitome of Matthew:

  • Both of the arguments that Augustine proposes are reversible and can support either the view that Mark used Matthew or that Matthew used Mark.
  • The idea that Matthew wouldn’t use Mark because the latter was not an eyewitness is unconvincing.
  • We have first century evidence, via John the Presbyter, that Mark was based on the preaching of Peter rather than on Matthew.
  • Matthew is a long enough a work to need an epitome.
  • Mark is not a major abridgment of Matthew, being 62% as long as the proposed original.
  • By regularly using more words rather than fewer to recount the same stories, Mark would have been behaving very unlike ancient epitomizers and rejecting one of the key tools they used to make their abridgements.
  • Much of the material Mark would have omitted seems more important than what he retained.
  • The material that Mark would have added to Matthew seems much less important than the material he omitted.
  • By adding so little value in terms of space savings and content, Mark would be a badly designed and unnecessary epitome which went on to be very unpopular.

In view of these facts, Augustine’s impression that Mark “looks like” Matthew’s epitomizer is true only in a very superficial sense. A closer examination of the matter suggests that Mark’s Gospel is not an epitome of Matthew.


Augustine’s Later Doubts?

In his initial discussion of the matter, Augustine used cautious language—only asserting that Mark “looks like” or “seems like” Matthew’s epitomizer.

He may have become even less confident of this idea as he worked on his Harmony of the Gospels, because there is a later passage that some scholars have taken as a modification of his initial view.

After having worked through and carefully compared the three Synoptics, Augustine makes this statement:

Mark . . . either appears to be preferentially the companion of Matthew, as he narrates a larger number of matters in unison with him than with the rest . . . or else, in accordance with the more probable account of the matter, he holds a course in conjunction with both [the other Synoptists]. For although he is at one with Matthew in the larger number of passages, he is nevertheless at one rather with Luke in some others [Harmony of the Gospels 4:10:11].

Here Augustine seems to make two proposals.

  • The first seems to be a restatement of the view he expressed at the beginning of his harmony—that Mark accompanies or is “the companion of Matthew” as he writes his Gospel.
  • The second acknowledges that as he writes his Gospel he “holds a course in conjunction with both” Matthew and Luke, though he follows the first more than the second.

This may mean that, after his close comparison of the Gospels, Augustine had reason to modify his view of Mark as an apparent epitome of Matthew and that he may have concluded that “the more probable account of the matter” was that Mark used both Matthew and Luke.

This would be consistent with the modern Griesbach Hypothesis, though we must be careful here, because Augustine is not fully clear in what he says.

By speaking of Mark accompanying and “holding a course” with the other two Synoptic Evangelists, he may simply be noting the parallels in sequence that occur between them, without supposing a particular theory of how they were composed.

If so, he would have arrived at the insight that many moderns have proposed—that Mark is the “middle term” between Matthew and Luke. This, however, can be explained in more than one way. The Griesbach Hypothesis is one proposal that makes Mark the middle term, but there are others.

Thus David Pearson, who wrote a key paper on this topic, cautioned:

The question of whether or not Augustine had two views of the order in which the gospels were composed just as he had two views of their mutual relationships must remain open [“Augustine and the Augustinian Hypothesis: A Reexamination of Augustine’s Thought in De consensu evangelistarum,” in New Synoptic Studies: The Cambridge Gospel Conference and Beyond (ed. William R. Farmer, Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1983) 37-64].

Regardless of whether Augustine later changed his view of the order in which the Gospels were composed, his initial proposal that Mark was an epitome of the Gospel of Matthew appears to be mistaken.

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archangelsSeptember 29th is the feast of St.s Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—archangels.

These are the only three angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture, and this is their day.

Here are 7 things to know and share . . .


1) What is an archangel?

The word “archangel” (Greek, archangelos) means “high-ranking angel”—the same way that “archbishop” means a high-ranking bishop.

Only St. Michael is described as an archangel in Scripture (Jude 9), but it is common to honor St.s Gabriel and Raphael as archangels also.


2) Why are they called “saints” if they’re angels rather than humans?

The word “saint” (Greek, hagios) means “holy one.”

It does not mean “holy human being.” As a result, it can apply to holy ones that aren’t human.

Since St.s Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael all chose to side with God rather than the devil, they are holy angels and thus saints.

All angels that sided with God are saints, but these three’s names are known to us, and so they are picked out by name in the liturgy.


3) Does this day have any other names?

Yes. Traditionally in English it has also been called “Michaelmas” (i.e., the Mass that celebrates St. Michael, on the same principle that “Christmas” is the Mass that celebrates Christ’s birth).


4) What do we know about St. Michael?

His name means “Who is like God?” (The implied answer is: Nobody; God is the greatest there is.)

St. Michael is mentioned by name in three books of Scripture:

  • In Daniel, he is described as “one of the chief princes” in the heavenly hierarchy (Dan. 10:13). He is also described to Daniel as “your prince” (Dan. 10:12). The meaning of this phrase is later clarified, and Michael is described as “the great prince who has charge of your people” (Dan. 12:1). He is thus depicted as the guardian angel of Israel. These same passages also refer to Michael doing battle against the spiritual forces at work against Israel.
  • In Jude 9, Michael is said to have contended with the devil over the body of Moses. On this occasion, we are told, “he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”
  • In Revelation, Michael and his angels are depicted fighting the devil and casting them out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-8). He is also commonly identified as the angel who binds the devil and seals him in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), though the name “Michael” is not given on this occasion.


5) What do we know about St. Gabriel?

His name means “God is my warrior” (meaning, essentially, “God is my defender”).

St. Gabriel is mentioned in two books of Scripture:

  • In Daniel, he is assigned to help Daniel understand the meaning of a vision he has seen (Dan. 8:16). Later, while Daniel is in a prolonged period of prayer, Gabriel comes to him (Dan. 9:21) and gives him the prophecy of “seventy weeks of years” concerning Israel’s future (Dan. 9:24-27).
  • In Luke, he appears to Zechariah the priest and announces the conception and birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-19). Later, he appears to the Virgin Mary and announces the conception and birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26-33).


6) What do we know about St. Raphael?

His name means “God heals.”

St. Raphael is mentioned in a single book of Scripture: Tobit.

In Tobit, the blind Tobit and the maid Sarah, whose seven husbands have been killed by the demon Asmodeus, pray to God.

The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God. And Raphael was sent to heal the two of them: to scale away the white films of Tobit’s eyes; to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel in marriage to Tobias the son of Tobit, and to bind Asmodeus the evil demon, because Tobias was entitled to possess her (Tob. 3:16-17).

Raphael thus becomes a travelling companion of Tobias, posing as a relative named Azarias son of Ananias (Tob. 5:12). He eventually binds the demon, enabling Tobias to safely marry Sarah, and provides the means for Tobit to be healed of his blindness.

Afterward, he reveals his true identity, saying:

I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One (Tob. 12:15).


7) How is this day celebrated?

In addition to its commemoration in the liturgy, there are various local ways of celebrating this day. See here for some examples.

See also here.

It might also be a good day to say the Prayer to St. Michael:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

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q-redRecently, I’ve been doing a series of blog posts about how the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate to each other.

In biblical studies, this is known as the Synoptic Problem.

Today the most popular solution to this problem is known as the “Two-Source Hypothesis.”

According to this view, Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and it was used by both Matthew and Luke.

In addition, this view holds that Matthew and Luke also used a lost, hypothetical source known as Q.


Q and Me

Personally, I am a Q skeptic. That’s why I’ve written more than once about reasons to doubt the existence of Q.

I think that the data that advocates of Q appeal to likely can be explained in other, better ways.

Before resorting to hypothetical, lost documents to explain the fact that Matthew and Luke have a large number of verses in common, we should give serious consideration to the idea that Luke drew these verses from Matthew or that Matthew drew them from Luke.


Hating on Q

I’ve been surprised, in the comments boxes and on Facebook, at the amount of hostility that some folks have displayed toward the idea of Q.

For example, some have dismissed Q as “the claptrap of modernistic historical criticism” and declaring it “a diversion from the truth” and similar things.

But while disagreement with the Q hypothesis can be justified, outright hostility toward it is uncalled for.


The Basis for the Idea

The idea behind Q is that there was a source—likely a written source—behind the 235 verses in Matthew that are paralleled in Luke but not in Mark or John.

This is a large number of verses, and it amounts to more than a fifth of Matthew and Luke.

Given that amount of material in common—and the fact that the material is sometimes presented in the same order—it isn’t unreasonable to propose that there is a source behind this material.

In fact, we’ve already seen two such proposals: Matthew was Luke’s source for this material, or Luke was Matthew’s source for it.

Either of these possibilities would explain both the content of the material and the elements of common order that it displays.


But If . . .

But if one could show that both of these possibilities are unlikely for some reason then it would not be unreasonable to propose that there was a third source that both Matthew and Luke drew upon for the material.

Neither would it be unreasonable to propose that this source was written.

Luke even alludes to previous written accounts of Christ’s ministry (Luke 1:1).

Since he says that he wrote his own Gospel after “having followed all things closely for some time past”—with “all things” seeming to include the previous written accounts—it is very likely that Luke used such written sources.

Indeed, virtually everyone agrees that he either used Matthew or Mark as a source (possibly both), so there is no reason to be hostile to the idea that he used another such source.


A Lost Source?

Since we don’t have any manuscripts of Q today, if it ever existed, it has been lost.

But the idea of a lost source is not intrinsically problematic.

Indeed—all of the sources that the Evangelists used, whether written or oral, seem to have perished, leaving only the Gospels themselves.


An Objection

One could object that many of the people who advocate Q—including some of its earliest advocates—have tried to use the claim to undermine the authority of the Gospels.

This is true, but it does not ultimately matter.

The idea that there is a common source behind the 235 verses Matthew and Luke have in common does not do anything, of itself, to undermine the authority of the Gospels.

The Gospels are based on sources—as Luke acknowledges—and so the idea of sources behind them is not intrinsically threatening.

The proposal that a common source is behind these 235 verses is an idea that needs to be evaluated based on the evidence—not who proposed it or what their motives were.


Ad Hominem Arguments

Indeed, arguments that attack an idea based on who proposed it or what that person’s motives were—rather than evaluating the evidence for and against it—are known as ad hominem arguments (i.e., arguments “to the man” rather than to the evidence).

Such arguments are at high risk of committing a logical fallacy.

More generally, rejecting an idea because of where it came from risks committing the genetic fallacy.


A Better Way

A better way of approaching the question is to set aside these issues and look at the Q proposal objectively, weighing the evidence for and against it.

If you want to go after Q based on the evidence, have at it!

I do that myself!

In fact, here’s a book by Mark Goodacre that can help you do that.

And here’s another.


Faithful Q Scholars

While it may be true that some advocates of Q have an agenda of undermining the authority of the Gospels, they are by no means the only Q advocates out there.

There are also lots of biblical scholars who thoroughly uphold the authority of Scripture and who endorse the Q hypothesis.

Indeed, in a 2003 speech, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) addressed the Pontifical Biblical Commission and noted that the Two-Source Hypothesis (which proposes Q as one of the sources behind Matthew and Luke) is “accepted today by almost everyone” [Relationship Between the Magisterium and Exegetes].

That “almost everyone” includes lots of faithful Catholic biblical scholars, as well as lots of non-Catholic ones who support the authority of the Gospels.


A Present Minority

Actually, the fact that Q-skeptics, such as myself, are a small minority today is something that provides us with another reason to keep the rhetoric cool.

If you want to get people to change their minds about Q, a calm, reasoned approach based on the evidence will get you a lot farther than just dumping on the view of the majority.

And there is another, even more fundamental reason to take this approach . . .


The Golden Rule

Majorities can often ill-treat minorities, and it’s certainly been the case that some advocates of Q have used inflammatory, insulting language regarding those who are skeptical of Q.

Indeed, if you read the books of Q skeptics, they point out the inflammatory language that has been used against them and their proposals.

Naturally, they don’t like being treated that way in print.

Fortunately, many of them—including many of the most effective Q skeptics—have resisted the temptation to answer in kind.

After all, didn’t Jesus say something about treating others the way that you would like to be treated?

That statement is found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, but it isn’t found in Mark or John.

Ironically, it’s part of the Q material!

And whether Q was a separate, written source or not—this saying of Christ is authoritative.

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The Synoptic Problem

by Jimmy Akin

in Bible

Here is a series of posts I’ve been doing about the Synoptic Problem (i.e., the way in which the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are related to each other):


The Two-Source Hypothesis:

The Augustinian Hypothesis:

The Griesbach Hypothesis:

  • Forthcoming

The Farrer Hypothesis:

  • Forthcoming

The Wilke Hypothesis:

  • Forthcoming

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CatholicAnswersLogoIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (9/25/14), Jimmy takes on the following questions:

  • How is the landowner in the parable of the workers in the vineyard “fair”?
  • How to deal with nephew getting married tomorrow in a non-Catholic ceremony?
  • How to understand Romans 9 when it talks about the “vessels of wrath”?
  • Who are “the elect”? What are the different ways this word is used?
  • Technically speaking, what is a shrine?
  • Can people with dementia receive the sacraments?
  • If salvation is a gift then why do we need to go to confession?
  • How to help a godchild who has a health problem and whose parents are in a destructive relationship?
  • What obligations do we have regarding attending weddings that are known up-front to be invalid?
  • How to respond to people who say that we must abstain from eating meat?

 Click here to listen to the link or use the player, below, on the web site.


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delphoxIn this episode we review and analyze episode 5 of season 8, entitled ‘Time Heist’.  Is life less valuable when we lose our memories? Plus, What do all the Greek references mean?

Join Jimmy Akin, Dom Bettinelli and Fr. Roderick for discussion, analysis and speculation!

Links for this episode:

Check out Jimmy Akin’s blog Let’s Watch Doctor Who and Dom Bettinelli & Fr. Roderick’s podcast Secrets of Star Wars!

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Download the mp3 of the episode.

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