What Augustine Means by “Confession.”

Augustine, in his autobiography entitled Confessions, praises God for taking him from a dark and sinful state, to the light of faith in Jesus Christ. He boldly admits his sinful past, and asks God to “come into me.” Confession, then, to Augustine, is both a prayer of thanks for God’s great glory and an acknowledgement of his sins and his human weakness.

Augustine describes his wayward past (for example, thinking lustful thoughts during mass, which he attended as a young man with his mother). He also describes his true conversion to the Christian faith, and his regret for having violated God’s moral laws for much of his life.

Although Augustine came from a good family, he stole things and socialized with bad, young people. He confesses that he believed in a false belief system and engaged in illicit sexual activity. When one of his friends dies, he is overwhelmed with emptiness. Because of the great influence of St. Ambrose, as Augustine enters his 30s, he begins to understand the true, Christian God.

Confessions is both a prayer thanking God and a testament to God’s glory for taking Augustine away from a sinful life obsessed with material pleasures and sin, to one of great joy and fulfillment—founded on the truth of what his mother, St. Monica, had always tried to teach him as a youth.

Logos As Christ

At first, reading Arius’ Letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, a reader is struck with a sense that Arius is being persecuted for a nuance, an inconsequential idea being debated among Christians of the time. A modern reader, who is inundated with worse heresies daily, may be struck by Arius’ weak support for his argument, and even his obsession with his persecutors (rather than his argument). His appeal to his friend, “orthodox Eusebius,” however, at first seems harmless.

Then, when one reads the thorough analysis of Athanasius, which presents the Arian viewpoint fairly and more thoroughly— not as a strawman— it becomes clear that “Arianism” was a very serious heresy, which, at such a seminal time, had the potential to lead many souls astray. What is at stake in this controversy is the Trinity Itself. If Arius is right, that Jesus, having been created, must therefore be “less” than God the Father (since God is eternal), then Christ is not actually consubstantial with the Father. This would mean his Passion, death and resurrection could not defeat death, just as God’s miracles in the Old Testament (or even the healing Jesus performed on earth) did not defeat death for mankind.

Athanasius cites John; to me, this ends the argument: “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and apart from him not one thing came to be … and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us …” (87, citing John 1). For Arius to be correct, John must be wrong. Athanasius was correct to compare Arius to Caiaphas.

Irenaeus: Supporting the Martyrs by Refuting the Gnostics

The Old Testament (OT), according to the Church, reveals the one true God, and God so loved the world, we learn in the New Testament (NT), that He became man (John 3:16). A dangerous heresy called Gnosticism, among other things, separated the god of the OT from the god of the NT; indeed, Gnostics saw the material world that God created as evil. Irenaeus recognized that this gnostic heresy, which denied the humanity of Christ, was leading souls astray.

Irenaeus’ work, Against Heresies, meticulously and effectively dismantles the gnostic heresy. Irenaeus accomplishes this by, among other things, showing that Jesus Christ can actually be found in the OT, and, as the disciple John points out, “[i]n the beginning was the Word…[and] all things came to be through him…” In other words, God and Jesus Christ are one and the same.

It is understandable that some Christians would try to devise a logical explanation for the apparent change in the God of the OT and the God of the NT. “An eye for an eye,” became “turn the other cheek,” for example. Irenaeus’ explanation is not that God changed, for He (the Truth) is “impassible.” Irenaeus might refute the gnostics by pointing out that yes, we change, and thus in God’s mercy and love, the method of His incarnational revelation also changes. In His patience and mercy, He chose the time, the people, and the place for the fulfillment of the OT.

Belief in Christ saves souls, but only a belief in the true Christ—thus Irenaeus’ work, which helped to stop a serious heresy, is a great contribution by a great saint who devoted his life to the salvation of souls. His work is a tribute to the true faith for which so many have been martyred—and continue to be martyred.

Perpetua’s Heroic Christian Identity

In examining Perpetua’s identity, we learn that she was a newly married woman of good family and upbringing, a nursing mother, a daughter, a Roman citizen, and one of three children. We learn that she was 22 years old and a catechumen, not even yet baptized into the faith when she was arrested, yet the identity she most valued was the Christian identity. When her father implored her to disavow her Christian faith, she said, “do you see this vase here…Could it be called by any other name than what it is?” When her father replied “no,” she responded, “well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”

Thus her identity as a Christian was superior to her identity as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a Roman citizen, and a woman. Perpetua’s faithful identity as a Christian was evident through her captivity unto death where she endured pain to the greatest degree. Her and her fellow martyr’s example of “perseverance and nobility of soul” reflected the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Their witness to Christ, then and even today, inspires many to become Christian.

Revelation: The Difficult and Helpful Mysteries

The book of Revelation is exciting and interesting. It is also disturbing. It is written by “the disciple that Jesus loved,” John, who was an eyewitness to the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The most difficult image for me in the text involves the marking of 144,000 people from all the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:4). I find this difficult because I do not understand it, and although I know that these persons represent Jews, I have no idea what role John (Christ) is saying of these “144,000” Jews or of the Jews generally. It is difficult to know if this prophecy has already come to pass or is yet to come to pass. While I have my own opinions on many of the mysteries of Revelation, the unknowable dreams of Saint John, presented in the book of Revelation, leave the modern mind frustrated.

The image that is most helpful to me involves the active and glorious role of the Blessed Mother. Mary, queen of all saints and the mother of God, who has been justly glorified, and who, through apparitions, has been involved in the lives of so many billions of Christians throughout the world for two millennia, is rarely mentioned elsewhere in the bible. Indeed, the prayer “Hail Mary” pretty much quotes most of what there is explicitly in the bible about Mary and the Annunciation. In Revelation, however cryptically, Mary is depicted as a central figure in the spiritual realm, a woman attacked by Satan (whom she defeats, as he is then cast out of heaven). In Revelation 12:1, Mary is depicted as being clothed by the sun, with the moon under her feet, “and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

I find the central role that Mary plays in Revelation helpful to me because I have a strong personal devotion to the Blessed Mother and these passages provide me with biblical justification— from a primary source— for this devotion. Although faith alone should be enough to guide me on these matters, logical support from a source as great as John gives me solace.

John1:1-5,14: God Becomes Man and Fulfills the Old Testament

In John 1:1-5, 14, the apostle John, whose Gospel is written from the perspective of an eyewitness, is proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, that He has always existed, and that He is, indeed, God made man.

John poetically begins with the first three words of the Old Testament: “In the beginning…” Similarly, the first five verses of John attach Christ to the God who created the world in Genesis: “He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). Just as Genesis is a description of how God created the heavens and the earth, John, speaking of Jesus Christ, states “all things came to be through Him…” (John 1:3).

In Genesis 1:3-4, God created light and separated the light from the darkness. Similarly, John proclaims Jesus Christ as “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). In the first chapter of John, then, we learn that Jesus is God—the very same God who is described in Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament. John uses poetic parallelism to accomplish this task. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops notes in their footnote in John 1:14,“[t]he incarnate Word is the new mode of God’s presence among His people.”

Wright, Ratzinger, and the Resurrection

N.T. Wright points out that the idea of bodily resurrection was debated among the Jews before Christ, and the idea of resurrection is explicitly in the Old Testament (e.g., Ezekial 37:1-14, the vision of the valley of dry bones). The Pharisees, for example, were looking for an earthly, political return of Israel, at which time those who had been loyal to the Torah would be resurrected. Wright argues that Christianity in some ways grew out of the movement called “second-temple Judaism,” which also saw resurrection in the light of prophesy regarding Israel’s fortunes. In any event, resurrection meant one thing: fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger writes that to the Christian, belief in the Resurrection is equivalent to believing that “‘Love is strong as death’” (302, citing Song 8:6). Ratzinger argues that self-made attempts at immortality (e.g., by having children or creating fame), is shallow: “more nonbeing than being” (303). The only true immortality can arise through the power of love, and attaching yourself to that power through Christ. “His resurrection is our life” (306), according to Ratzinger. “[O]nly his love, coinciding with God’s own power of life and love, can be the foundation of our immortality” (306). In God, the “power of love had really proved itself stronger than the power of death” (310).

To Christians, Christ’s death on the cross and His Resurrection is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy and the beginning of the Kingdom of God, where death itself has been defeated. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected, and by his sacrifice, all who believe in him are saved, and will also be bodily resurrected and join him in paradise after our death.

Balancing Poetic License and Historical Accuracy: “Quid Est Veritas?”

Historical accuracy is something most historians battle with when attempting to portray reality and truth. Reality, in a biblical sense, is something my generation clings to with too much skepticism. Did Jonah live in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights, and did Noah really rally two of each animal onto his ark? No. The point of these stories, which we often miss, is to confer meaning to the readers. Many of us dwell too much on the literal meaning of the bible.

Ben Affleck does a good job in explaining an understanding of the difference between “poet” and “bookkeeper,” or imagination vs. literal. Google defines a poet as “someone who possesses special powers of imagination or expression.” Affleck explains that there is a “push and pull” between the bookkeeper’s reality and the poet’s reality, but all that truly matters is the deeper, essential truth and understanding, regardless of the way it is told.

I don’t believe Affleck to be a poet, nor do I believe him to be a bookkeeper, but instead somewhere in between the two. He didn’t direct the movie through his imagination as a poet, and neither did he create the movie based completely on literal understanding. However, he does settle in the middle of the two by relaying to us the deeper and essential truth, while still adding the touches that Hollywood demands.

In some ways using “poetic license” provides a more accurate way to capture the truth—especially in spiritual matters. If the subject is math, the bookkeeper’s reality is most reliable. If the subject is the human heart and soul, we must look to the poet. Because we are fallen creatures, our skepticism demands the accuracy of the bookkeeper and the power of the poet. The bible strikes the balance Ben Affleck describes.

God Answers Israel’s Plea: The Beginning of Prophecy

When we think about the incarnational nature of God’s revelation to man, we recognize that God chose to use prophets to communicate to man, but we do not know why until we return to the Ten Commandments and the Book of Exodus.

To begin to understand why God uses prophets, it is essential to return to the Ten Commandments because, as James Kugal points out, in the book of Exodus, the first two commandments are presented in first person. That is, God refers to Himself as “I.” For the next eight commandments, in contrast, God is referred to in the third person.

This fascinating transition from the first person to the third person represents the beginning of prophecy and God’s use of intermediaries to speak to His people.

In a sense, this was done at the bequest of man, who proclaimed great fear at hearing God directly, and begged that Moses be the one to transmit God’s law (Ex. 20: 18-21).

All men are flawed, including prophets (with the exception of Jesus Christ, for He is God made flesh). Prophecy, then, is necessarily also flawed. Prophets, even Moses himself, are not perfect, and this reality must always be considered when thinking about God’s word and prophecy.