TCA Faith for January/February 2010

Was Matthew Really the Author?

Q. I only recently started reading The Catholic Answer, but it is a blessing to me. I’ve learned so much from just a couple of recent issues.

I was struck by your answer to a question in the January/February 2009 issue, “Why Write in the Third Person?” You indicated that St. Matthew the Apostle was the author of the Gospel According to Matthew.

In the New American Bible I have, the introduction to Matthew says that book was not written by him and, in fact, is almost completely based on the Gospel of Mark.

Do you agree that St. Matthew didn’t write Matthew’s Gospel? Wouldn’t that be a more likely and accurate reason for why the book was written in the third person?

Thank you for devoting your time and talents to TCA Faith. God bless you.

Michael H. Starks, via e-mail

A. The unanimous testimony of the early Church is that St. Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

Only in the last two centuries or so have many scholars argued Matthew was not the author of the Gospel attributed to him. I agree with the many competent scholars who take the word of the early Church on this question.

Those who claim St. Matthew did not write the Gospel attributed to him also argue that Mark is the first Gospel written. Apart from other evidence they adduce, there is an ideological factor involved — namely, an anti-Catholic influence. This has been pointed out by Catholic scholars and by some non-Catholic scholars as well.

If advocates of the position that Mark came first can establish their case, they can and do argue that the Matthew chapter 16 passages about St. Peter and the Petrine primacy are not part of the earliest tradition, but were added later.

The fact is, however, that even apart from Matthew 16, the entire weight of the rest of the New Testament confirms the role of Peter and his successors as earthly heads of the Church. 

First Reference to “Church”?

Q. When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18), is that the first time in the Bible the word “church” is used? If so, then how did people know what that word was if they had never heard it before?

Name withheld by request

A. The Old Testament uses two words to designate the entire people of Israel as a religious community. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament made in the centuries before Christ, translates these words as ecclesia and synagoge . We translate them as “church” and “synagogue.”

The sacred writers of the New Testament clearly distinguished them, applying the term ecclesia (which translated the Hebrew term qahal ) only to the community of Christian believers.

The new and uniquely Christian meaning of the term ecclesia (literally, “those called out”) reflects the fact that the Church is the kingdom of the Messiah. Through the Hebrew prophets God promised that His Messiah would establish a kingdom, with these basic characteristics:

It would have a new sacrificial system (see Ps 109:4; Mal 1:11; Jer 33:20-21).

It would be a kingdom possessing divine revelation (see Jer 31:31-34; Zec 8:3).

It would be governed by authority coming directly from the Messiah (Ez 34:23; 37:24-28; Jer 18:6).

When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah (see Mt 16:16), Jesus was obviously delighted: “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Mt 16:17).

Then Jesus said, in effect: “You know I am the Messiah, so you know from Scripture [the Old Testament] that I have a kingdom. And you know what kind of kingdom it is. So I now put you in charge of that kingdom, as its earthly head.”

Immediately, the word “church” ( ecclesia in the Greek New Testament, which no doubt translates the Aramaic qahal that Jesus would have used in speech) would have a world of meaning for those who came to know Jesus as the Messiah. So, as Matthew 18:18 tells us, Jesus could use the term with His apostles soon after, confident they knew He was designating the messianic community. 

Judas a Demon?

Q. I am having a discussion with someone who says Judas was never a Christian, but was a devil from the beginning. I say he was a Christian who lost his faith. Who is correct?

Glenn D. Faini, via e-mail

A. We read in John 6:64: “Jesus knew from the beginning … the one who would betray him.” In several passages Luke and John suggest it was in the course of his years with Jesus that Judas succumbed to Satan’s temptation.

Luke 6:16 simply refers to “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (emphasis added).

As the feast of the Passover drew near, and the chief priests and scribes sought how to kill Jesus, “Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot … and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss a plan for handing him [Jesus] over to them” (Lk 22:3-4).

John 13:2 tells us that it was “during supper” when “the devil had already induced Judas son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him [Jesus] over.”

As noted above, all these verses seem to say that Judas was not a “devil” from the beginning.

And yet, the latter part of John 6 records Jesus’ strong words to those disciples who refused to accept His command to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Peter responded, saying, in effect, “We will stay with you; we have no one else to turn to.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” (v. 70). Note the present tense: “is a devil.” And Jesus said this fairly early in his ministry.

Finally, if Judas were a “devil” from the beginning, intent on seeing Jesus put to death, why did Judas take his own life in despair when his plan succeeded? (By the way: When Jesus said Judas was “a devil,” we must take that to mean, not that Judas himself was actually a demon instead of a man, but rather that he was under the influence, or perhaps even the control, of a demon.)

Perhaps you and your friend should simply agree to disagree on this question. Who of us knows what the answer is? 

Litany of the Virgin?

Q. Could you please tell me the origin of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I was asked this question when I was carrying out an apostolate in my quarter.

Paul E. Ekpe, Cameroon, Africa

A. This litany is also known as the Litany of Loreto, because of its use at the shrine of the Holy House at Loreto (see sidebar at left). The litany was composed during the Middle Ages and approved for the Church’s use by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. In his approval he suppressed the public use of any other Marian litany.

This beautiful prayer invokes Our Lady’s intercession under numerous titles by which she has been called. Praying it with careful reflection on each of their meanings provides marvelous insights into her role as our mother. 

Resurrection Foreknowledge?

Q. Did Jesus know that He would rise from the dead in three days?

Penny Luhrsen, Camarillo, Calif.

A. Both Matthew and Luke report that on three separate occasions Jesus told his apostles He would be put to death and rise on the third day (see Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:6-7).

At first glance these words seem to make Jesus’ acceptance of death rather simple: “Yes, I’ll die a cruel death, but in three days I’ll be alive again.” But Jesus made this prediction for the encouragement of the apostles, as He did in the transfiguration.

Even if throughout His passion Our Lord had remembered He would rise, that memory would not have lessened the agony He endured in scourging and crucifixion. His agony was unique. He suffered as no other human being ever has or ever can suffer.

In his sermon on “The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” Cardinal John Henry Newman offers precious insight. It would seem, he says, that Our Lord’s suffering lacked in intensity because He knew he was innocent and would rise on the third day. But, says the cardinal, we must remember that in His passion Our Lord “put himself under suffering, and that deliberately and calmly.”

Cardinal Newman believed that in His perfect identification with us sinners, Jesus withdrew from His mind all consciousness of His innocence and His ultimate triumph. In His passion, “He thought only of the present burden which was upon Him, and which He had come upon earth to sustain.”

As fully man and fully God, Jesus suffered the agony with no thought of the future. Perfectly innocent, fully human, fully divine, Our Lord plumbed depths of suffering no human being can even approach. 

Way, Truth, Life?

Q. Could you please help me understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6)? I understand “way” to mean His way of life, the cross. But I do not understand what is “truth” in this sense. What truth did he mean? And did “the life” mean His way of life again? Or the everlasting life we shall have in heaven?

Kelley Kemp, via e-mail

A. To say that our Lord Jesus is the Way is to say that he is the path which links earth to heaven. Recall his promise to Nathanael: “You will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” (Jn 1:51). He is the example we must follow if we are to go to the Father. It is through his merits that we are enabled to enter heaven.

Jesus is the Truth because he reveals the Father to the fullest possible extent we can receive that revelation. He brings the truth of God to us for our salvation. How ironic, indeed tragic, it was for Pontius Pilate to face the Truth Incarnate and ask, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38).

Jesus is the Life which we were created to share. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). He is the Life because he shares with us the life of the Father, even in this life. “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). 

“Full Communion”?

Q. In a previous column you referred to a Church document which teaches that anyone who denies even one of the Church’s teachings is no longer “in the full communion of the Catholic Church.” This seems quite drastic. Please explain.

Name withheld by request

A. The document in question is Pope John Paul II’s motu proprio (“on his own initiative”) Ad Tuendam Fidem (“To Protect the Faith”). It deals with certain additions to the Codes of Canon Law of the Catholic and Eastern Churches. In a commentary on certain portions of the document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith added the words quoted in your question. This does seem drastic, until we analyze the reason for the teaching.

Suppose a Catholic declares that he accepts everything the Church teaches except for her teaching on abortion. Three consequences necessarily follow. First, he has implicitly denied the Church’s ability to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals. If she is wrong in even only one respect, she can lay no claim to speaking infallibly in the name of Christ.

Second, to speak metaphorically, that dissenter (as we call him) has taken a position at the top of a very slippery downhill slope. Seldom, if ever, does a dissenting Catholic stop with rejecting only one of the Church’s teachings. Inevitably, he will begin to question and even to deny other teachings.

This fact can be demonstrated in the careers of notorious dissenters in this country. Most of them began by rejecting the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. Soon they began to reject more and more of the Church’s teachings.

Third, by rejecting one of the Church’s teachings, our hypothetical Catholic has taken up a non-Catholic attitude toward all Church teachings. He has made himself the final authority in doctrinal matters. In this scenario, he decides what is authentic Catholicism. In truth, he has become a Protestant.

No dissenter can know the true joy of being Catholic. In one way or another he is always at odds with the Church. Only that person who completely submits to the Church’s magisterial authority; only that person who lives in the knowledge that Jesus Christ speaks to him through the Church; only that person can be a truly zestful, ardent Catholic. 

Zechariah and Mary

Q. My wife and I have a small Bible study group with another family, and the following question came up. In Genesis 17:17 and 18:12, both Abraham and Sarah seem to be questioning the Lord about having a son. In the New Testament, Zechariah seems to do the same (see Lk 1:18). Soon after, Mary responds to the angel with the question, “How can this be?” (Lk 1:34).

All three seem to be answering with a question, and yet when Zechariah expresses doubt when told of the impending birth of John the Baptist, he is struck dumb (see Lk 1:18-20). Would you give the reasons why God treated Abraham, Sarah, Zechariah and Mary differently?

George Lahner, Cincinnati, Ohio

A. The answer to your perceptive question, I think, lies in the difference among the situations you refer to. They are not identical.

Abraham had begotten a child by the slave girl Hagar when he was 86. When God promised him another son, Abraham was 99. Sarah was 90, long past childbearing age. In their eyes, conception was simply an impossibility; they had no hope of bearing a child.

The Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin had made a private vow of lifelong virginity prior to her marriage. What Gabriel promised to her seemed a clear impossibility. She, too, had no hope of bearing a child because of her private vow.

Now look at Zechariah’s situation. The angel appearing to Zechariah frightened him. The angel spoke reassuringly: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John” (Lk 1:13). Zechariah did express disbelief, as had Abraham and Sarah.

But note the angel’s words: “ Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Apparently, Zechariah had prayed for a child, probably for a son. One does not pray for something one is convinced is impossible. I think Zechariah was punished with muteness because he sold God short. Even though he had evidently prayed for a son, he did not believe that God would answer his prayer. This was a failure of faith, which was not present in the case of Abraham and Sarah or our Blessed Mother. 

What About the SSPV?

Q. Is the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV) in union with the pope at this time? And were they ever excommunicated in the first place? I’m confused about this. Our son has been a member for several years, and they are very extreme, to the point that he will not be a pallbearer at any relative’s funeral. I hope you can ease my mind a little. They seem to be very cultish. He has distanced himself from the family.

Name withheld

A. The Society of St. Pius V is most certainly not in communion with the pope. This society is a breakaway group from a larger schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Society of Pius V was formed in 1983 by nine priests whom Archbishop Lefebvre expelled for disciplinary reasons. This group of nine contends that Pope Pius XII was the last legitimate pope; all his successors are merely pretenders to the papal throne.

A few years after the Society of St. Pius V was formed, it split, and half the priests formed something called Catholic Restoration. We may safely assume that further splits will occur in the future, if there are enough priests left in the Society to make a split. The history of these groups (Society of St. Pius X and Society of St. Pius V) clearly illustrates what happens when groups of Christians separate themselves from the divinely appointed center of unity of the Church.

That is the reason why we have more than 30,000 separate denominations today, and the number keeps growing.

Regardless of what these groups think of themselves, they are essentially Protestant. They reject the Church’s authority and try to make themselves the final authority in matters of faith and morals. They are bound to fail. Pray for them to come to their senses and come back to their true home.

 “Generational Sin”?

Q. Is there such a thing as “generational sin”? My wife’s Bible-sharing group is divided in its opinions. Some say there is no such thing. The others say there is, and cited Leviticus as their authority. Who is right?

Vincent, Malaysia

A. In Exodus 20:5 God tells His people: “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” God also tells His people much the same in Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18 and Deuteronomy 5:9. This is God’s comment on the nature of sin.

Stand beside a quiet pond and toss a large rock far out into the pond. Watch the concentric circles go out and out from the point of impact. You finally lose track of all the circles.

Sin is like that. Even the most private sin affects the sinner’s relationship with others, and they in turn may pass on that effect to others without realizing it.

In order to emphasize the fact that everything God allows to happen is somehow part of His overall plan, the Old Testament tends to ascribe almost everything to God’s direct will. So-called “generational sin” points to the far-reaching effects of sin. But in my opinion, God is not saying He will punish innocent persons for the sin of others. He is simply saying that the effects of sin will be “visited” upon the children and even later descendants of the sinner.

Common experience confirms this reality. We have all witnessed how the spiritual, moral and emotional brokenness of a parent can have dire effects on children, grandchildren and beyond.

The notion that God might actively punish the innocent for the sins of their parents is cleared away by God’s teaching through later prophets. In the days of the New Covenant, God said through Jeremiah, “They shall no longer say, ‘The fathers ate unripe grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ but through his own fault only shall anyone die: the teeth of him who eats unripe grapes shall be set on edge” (31:29-30).

Ezekiel later refers to the proverb Jeremiah quoted (see Ez 18:1-4). 

Changing God’s Mind?

Q. Please help me understand the nature of prayer petition. Why do we pray for the sick and dying when it may be God’s will for that person to be in that condition? Is God going to change His mind based on our asking for healing or longer life?

If you say that what we should pray for is God’s will to be done, what point is there to that, since we know that God is all-powerful and therefore His will will be done. If we don’t pray for healing, are we doing an injustice to that person by not trying to influence God’s plan for them?

In other words, what’s the point? Thanking you in advance for helping this poor pilgrim understand.

William Stockhousen, Northville, Mich.

A. The purpose of petitionary prayer is not to try to “influence” God or to try to persuade Him to change His mind. That, of course, is impossible. The purpose of petitionary prayer is to provide further channels through which God’s will can be worked out in the lives of those for whom we pray.

Obviously God could ignore us and simply, perfectly carry out His will quite apart from us. But God does us the great honor of allowing us to assist Him in the carrying out of His will.

When I pray for a person to be healed, I am praying for God’s will perfectly to be worked out in that person. Praying, in other words, for God’s healing, whatever form that may take.

A secondary purpose of prayers of petition is to help us draw closer to the Father, to become more focused on His will, more focused on trying, helping, to carry out that will. 

St. Veronica?

Q. The Sixth Station of the Cross is the description of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. There is no description of this loving act of kindness mentioned in the Gospels. Please tell us about the origins of this story.

The information in TCA is wonderful. Thank you for providing this great resource for inquiring minds about our faith.

Robert M. Mastroni, Trumbull, Conn.

A. Thanks for your kind words about the magazine.

Under the name of Veronica the Church has long honored the memory of a pious woman who went with Jesus on the road to Calvary. According to this tradition, the towel she gave Our Lord to wipe his face retained an imprint of his face.

The woman went to Rome, taking this image with her. It was publicly venerated over a long period of time.

Over time, there began to appear several images of Jesus in Rome. The best known and oldest was called the “true image” (vera icon). This title was mistaken for the name of a person, and gradually “Veronica” (true image) was associated with a person.

There is no documentation for these traditions, but this act of compassion may well have taken place as Jesus struggled under the weight of the cross. TCA

Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D. J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter's Church in the same city.

The Holy House of Loreto (sidebar)

According to an ancient tradition, the shrine called the Holy House of Loreto (often rendered as Loretto in English) preserves the house of Our Lady at Nazareth. That earthly home of Our Lady consisted of two parts: a cave carved out of rock (venerated now in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth) and a stone house in front of it.

According to tradition, in 1291, when the Crusaders were finally driven from Palestine with the loss of the port of Acre, Our Lady’s house of stone was transported “through an angelic ministry,” first to Illyria and then (Dec. 10, 1294) to the region of Loreto, presently in the province of Ancona, Italy.

Today, in view of documentary evidence resulting from archaeological diggings underneath the Holy House (1962-1965), and of philological and iconographic studies, there is growing support for the hypothesis that the stones of the Holy House were transferred to Loreto aboard ship and through human ingenuity.

A document dated September 1294 affirms that Niceforo Angelo, ruler of Epirus, Greece, gave his daughter Ithamar in marriage to Filippo di Taranto, fourth son of Charles II d’Anjou, King of Naples. At that time, Angelo presented his new son-in-law with a set of dowry gifts. Among those on the list this one appears clearly: “The holy stones taken from the house of Our Lady, the Virgin Mother of God.”

This information accords well with what certain other studies at the beginning of this century say about what was written in certain documents in the Vatican Archives which cannot now be found. According to these records, the above-mentioned Byzantine family of Angelo, or De Angelis, in the 13th century saved the stones of the Holy House of Nazareth from destruction by the Muslims and had them transported to Loreto, there to be reassembled.

Some archaeological finds also support the document of 1294.

First, two coins were found under the Holy House that had been issued by Guido de La Roche, Duke of Athens, Greece, minted in the period 1287-1308, the time when the Holy House was transferred. Guido was son of Elena Angelo (Ithamar’s cousin) and a vassal of Filippo de Taranto.

Second is the writing on a stone of the Holy House that might be read as “Ateneorum” — that is, “from Athens” — referring to the well-known geographical location of the Angelo family.

Third is a coin of Ladislaus of Angiò-Durazzo, grand nephew of Filippo di Taranto and King of Naples 1386-1414. It was found between stones of the Holy House together with five small crosses of reddish cloth. The crosses belonged either to Crusaders or, more probably, to horsemen of a military order which, in the Middle Ages, defended the Holy Land and the relics.

These crosses were found together with the remains of an ostrich egg. That bird, which was well known in Palestine since ancient times, came to be a symbol of faith among ancient and medieval Christians. The eggs were eaten in the Middle East, and their shells were sometimes used to create vessels or for ornamentation.

Finally, of great archaeological interest are some graffiti carved into the stone of the Holy House that are quite similar to those found at Nazareth.

Perhaps it was from the name of Angelo (meaning “angel”) d’Epiro that there arose the popular version of the transfer of the Holy House “through an angelic ministry.”

Whatever may be the truth about how the Holy House was transported — through an angelic ministry or through human ingenuity also inspired from on high — it is clear that Loreto has a very special tie with the dwelling place of Mary in Nazareth.