Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lesson 5 St. Peter


St. Peter's true and original name was Simon, sometimes occurring in the form Symeon. (Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1). He was the son of Jona (Johannes) and was born in Bethsaida (John 1:42, 44), a town on Lake Genesareth, the position of which cannot be established with certainty, although it is usually sought at the northern end of the lake. The Apostle Andrew was his brother, and the Apostle Philip came from the same town.
Simon settled in Capharnaum, where he was living with his mother-in-law in his own house (Matthew 8:14; Luke 4:38) at the beginning of Christ's public ministry (about A.D. 26-28). Simon was thus married, and, according to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), had children. The same writer relates the tradition that Peter's wife suffered martyrdom (ibid., VII, xi ed. cit., III, 306). Concerning these facts, adopted by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., III, xxxi) from Clement, the ancient Christian literature which has come down to us is silent. Simon pursued in Capharnaum the profitable occupation of fisherman in Lake Genesareth, possessing his own boat (Luke 5:3).
Peter meets Our Lord
Like so many of his Jewish contemporaries, he was attracted by the Baptist's preaching of penance and was, with his brother Andrew, among John's associates in Bethania on the eastern bank of the Jordan. When, after the High Council had sent envoys for the second time to the Baptist, the latter pointed to Jesus who was passing, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God", Andrew and another disciple followed the Saviour to his residence and remained with Him one day.
Later, meeting his brother Simon, Andrew said "We have found the Messias", and brought him to Jesus, who, looking upon him, said: "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter". Already, at this first meeting, the Saviour foretold the change of Simon's name to Cephas (Kephas; Aramaic Kipha, rock), which is translated Petros (Latin, Petrus) a proof that Christ had already special views with regard to Simon. Later, probably at the time of his definitive call to the Apostolate with the eleven other Apostles, Jesus actually gave Simon the name of Cephas (Petrus), after which he was usually called Peter, especially by Christ on the solemn occasion after Peter's profession of faith (Matthew 16:18; cf. below). The Evangelists often combine the two names, while St. Paul uses the name Cephas.
Peter becomes a disciple
After the first meeting Peter with the other early disciples remained with Jesus for some time, accompanying Him to Galilee (Marriage at Cana), Judaea, and Jerusalem, and through Samaria back to Galilee (John 2-4). Here Peter resumed his occupation of fisherman for a short time, but soon received the definitive call of the Saviour to become one of His permanent disciples. Peter and Andrew were engaged at their calling when Jesus met and addressed them: "Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men". On the same occasion the sons of Zebedee were called (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11; it is here assumed that Luke refers to the same occasion as the other Evangelists). Thenceforth Peter remained always in the immediate neighbourhood of Our Lord. After preaching the Sermon on the Mount and curing the son of the centurion in Capharnaum, Jesus came to Peter's house and cured his wife's mother, who was sick of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31). A little later Christ chose His Twelve Apostles as His constant associates in preaching the kingdom of God.
Growing prominence among the Twelve
Among the Twelve Peter soon became conspicuous. Though of irresolute character, he clings with the greatest fidelity, firmness of faith, and inward love to the Saviour; rash alike in word and act, he is full of zeal and enthusiasm, though momentarily easily accessible to external influences and intimidated by difficulties. The more prominent the Apostles become in the Evangelical narrative, the more conspicuous does Peter appear as the first among them. In the list of the Twelve on the occasion of their solemn call to the Apostolate, not only does Peter stand always at their head, but the surname Petrus given him by Christ is especially emphasized (Matthew 10:2): "Duodecim autem Apostolorum nomina haec: Primus Simon qui dicitur Petrus. . ."; Mark 3:14-16: "Et fecit ut essent duodecim cum illo, et ut mitteret eos praedicare . . . et imposuit Simoni nomen Petrus"; Luke 6:13-14: "Et cum dies factus esset, vocavit discipulos suos, et elegit duodecim ex ipsis (quos et Apostolos nominavit): Simonem, quem cognominavit Petrum . . ." On various occasions Peter speaks in the name of the other Apostles (Matthew 15:15; 19:27; Luke 12:41, etc.). When Christ's words are addressed to all the Apostles, Peter answers in their name (e.g., Matthew 16:16). Frequently the Saviour turns specially to Peter (Matthew 26:40; Luke 22:31, etc.).
Very characteristic is the expression of true fidelity to Jesus, which Peter addressed to Him in the name of the other Apostles. Christ, after He had spoken of the mystery of the reception of His Body and Blood (John 6:22 sqq.) and many of His disciples had left Him, asked the Twelve if they too should leave Him; Peter's answer comes immediately: "Lord to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Holy One of God" (Vulgate "thou art the Christ, the Son of God"). Christ Himself unmistakably accords Peter a special precedence and the first place among the Apostles, and designates him for such on various occasions. Peter was one of the three Apostles (with James and John) who were with Christ on certain special occasions the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51); the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:28), the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). On several occasions also Christ favoured him above all the others; He enters Peter's boat on Lake Genesareth to preach to the multitude on the shore (Luke 5:3); when He was miraculously walking upon the waters, He called Peter to come to Him across the lake (Matthew 14:28 sqq.); He sent him to the lake to catch the fish in whose mouth Peter found the stater to pay as tribute (Matthew 17:24 sqq.).
Peter becomes Head of the Apostles
In especially solemn fashion Christ accentuated Peter's precedence among the Apostles, when, after Peter had recognized Him as the Messias, He promised that he would be head of His flock. Jesus was then dwelling with His Apostles in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, engaged on His work of salvation. As Christ's coming agreed so little in power and glory with the expectations of the Messias, many different views concerning Him were current. While journeying along with His Apostles, Jesus asks them: "Whom do men say that the Son of man is?" The Apostles answered: "Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets". Jesus said to them: "But whom do you say that I am?" Simon said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God". And Jesus answering said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [Kipha, a rock], and upon this rock [Kipha] I will build my church [ekklesian], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven". Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21).
By the word "rock" the Saviour cannot have meant Himself, but only Peter, as is so much more apparent in Aramaic in which the same word (Kipha) is used for "Peter" and "rock". His statement then admits of but one explanation, namely, that He wishes to make Peter the head of the whole community of those who believed in Him as the true Messias; that through this foundation (Peter) the Kingdom of Christ would be unconquerable; that the spiritual guidance of the faithful was placed in the hands of Peter, as the special representative of Christ. This meaning becomes so much the clearer when we remember that the words "bind" and "loose" are not metaphorical, but Jewish juridical terms. It is also clear that the position of Peter among the other Apostles and in the Christian community was the basis for the Kingdom of God on earth, that is, the Church of Christ. Peter was personally installed as Head of the Apostles by Christ Himself. This foundation created for the Church by its Founder could not disappear with the person of Peter, but was intended to continue and did continue (as actual history shows) in the primacy of the Roman Church and its bishops.
Entirely inconsistent and in itself untenable is the position of Protestants who (like Schnitzer in recent times) assert that the primacy of the Roman bishops cannot be deduced from the precedence which Peter held among the Apostles. Just as the essential activity of the Twelve Apostles in building up and extending the Church did not entirely disappear with their deaths, so surely did the Apostolic Primacy of Peter not completely vanish. As intended by Christ, it must have continued its existence and development in a form appropriate to the ecclesiastical organism, just as the office of the Apostles continued in an appropriate form.
Objections have been raised against the genuineness of the wording of the passage, but the unanimous testimony of the manuscripts, the parallel passages in the other Gospels, and the fixed belief of pre-Constantine literature furnish the surest proofs of the genuineness and untampered state of the text of Matthew (cf. "Stimmen aus MariaLaach", I, 1896,129 sqq.; "Theologie und Glaube", II, 1910, 842 sqq.).
His difficulty with Christ's Passion
In spite of his firm faith in Jesus, Peter had so far no clear knowledge of the mission and work of the Saviour. The sufferings of Christ especially, as contradictory to his worldly conception of the Messias, were inconceivable to him, and his erroneous conception occasionally elicited a sharp reproof from Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33). Peter's irresolute character, which continued notwithstanding his enthusiastic fidelity to his Master, was clearly revealed in connection with the Passion of Christ. The Saviour had already told him that Satan had desired him that he might sift him as wheat. But Christ had prayed for him that his faith fail not, and, being once converted, he confirms his brethren (Luke 22:31-32). Peter's assurance that he was ready to accompany his Master to prison and to death, elicited Christ's prediction that Peter should deny Him (Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:33-38).
When Christ proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples before the Last Supper, and came first to Peter, the latter at first protested, but, on Christ's declaring that otherwise he should have no part with Him, immediately said: "Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head" (John 13:1-10). In the Garden of Gethsemani Peter had to submit to the Saviour's reproach that he had slept like the others, while his Master suffered deadly anguish (Mark 14:37). At the seizing of Jesus, Peter in an outburst of anger wished to defend his Master by force, but was forbidden to do so. He at first took to flight with the other Apostles (John 18:10-11; Matthew 26:56); then turning he followed his captured Lord to the courtyard of the High Priest, and there denied Christ, asserting explicitly and swearing that he knew Him not (Matthew 26:58-75; Mark 14:54-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27). This denial was of course due, not to a lapse of interior faith in Christ, but to exterior fear and cowardice. His sorrow was thus so much the greater, when, after his Master had turned His gaze towards him, he clearly recognized what he had done.
The Risen Lord confirms Peter's precedence
In spite of this weakness, his position as head of the Apostles was later confirmed by Jesus, and his precedence was not less conspicuous after the Resurrection than before. The women, who were the first to find Christ's tomb empty, received from the angel a special message for Peter (Mark 16:7). To him alone of the Apostles did Christ appear on the first day after the Resurrection (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). But, most important of all, when He appeared at the Lake of Genesareth, Christ renewed to Peter His special commission to feed and defend His flock, after Peter had thrice affirmed his special love for his Master (John 21:15-17). In conclusion Christ foretold the violent death Peter would have to suffer, and thus invited him to follow Him in a special manner (John 21:20-23). Thus was Peter called and trained for the Apostleship and clothed with the primacy of the Apostles, which he exercised in a most unequivocal manner after Christ's Ascension into Heaven.
Our information concerning the earliest Apostolic activity of St. Peter in Jerusalem, Judaea, and the districts stretching northwards as far as Syria is derived mainly from the first portion of the Acts of the Apostles, and is confirmed by parallel statements incidentally in the Epistles of St. Paul.
Among the crowd of Apostles and disciples who, after Christ's Ascension into Heaven from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem to await the fulfilment of His promise to send the Holy Ghost, Peter is immediately conspicuous as the leader of all, and is henceforth constantly recognized as the head of the original Christian community in Jerusalem. He takes the initiative in the appointment to the Apostolic College of another witness of the life, death and resurrection of Christ to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). After the descent of the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost, Peter standing at the head of the Apostles delivers the first public sermon to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and wins a large number of Jews as converts to the Christian community (Acts 2:14-41). First of the Apostles, he worked a public miracle, when with John he went up into the temple and cured the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. To the people crowding in amazement about the two Apostles, he preaches a long sermon in the Porch of Solomon, and brings new increase to the flock of believers (Acts 3:1-4:4).
In the subsequent examinations of the two Apostles before the Jewish High Council, Peter defends in undismayed and impressive fashion the cause of Jesus and the obligation and liberty of the Apostles to preach the Gospel (Acts 4:5-21). When Ananias and Sapphira attempt to deceive the Apostles and the people Peter appears as judge of their action, and God executes the sentence of punishment passed by the Apostle by causing the sudden death of the two guilty parties (Acts 5:1-11). By numerous miracles God confirms the Apostolic activity of Christ's confessors, and here also there is special mention of Peter, since it is recorded that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and neighbouring towns carried their sick in their beds into the streets so that the shadow of Peter might fall on them and they might be thereby healed (Acts 5:12-16). The ever-increasing number of the faithful caused the Jewish supreme council to adopt new measures against the Apostles, but "Peter and the Apostles" answer that they "ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29 sqq.). Not only in Jerusalem itself did Peter labour in fulfilling the mission entrusted to him by his Master. He also retained connection with the other Christian communities in Palestine, and preached the Gospel both there and in the lands situated farther north. When Philip the Deacon had won a large number of believers in Samaria, Peter and John were deputed to proceed thither from Jerusalem to organize the community and to invoke the Holy Ghost to descend upon the faithful. Peter appears a second time as judge, in the case of the magician Simon, who had wished to purchase from the Apostles the power that he also could invoke the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14-25). On their way back to Jerusalem, the two Apostles preached the joyous tidings of the Kingdom of God. Subsequently, after Paul's departure from Jerusalem and conversion before Damascus, the Christian communities in Palestine were left at peace by the Jewish council.
Peter now undertook an extensive missionary tour, which brought him to the maritime cities, Lydda, Joppe, and Caesarea. In Lydda he cured the palsied Eneas, in Joppe he raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead; and at Caesarea, instructed by a vision which he had in Joppe, he baptized and received into the Church the first non-Jewish Christians, the centurion Cornelius and his kinsmen (Acts 9:31-10:48). On Peter's return to Jerusalem a little later, the strict Jewish Christians, who regarded the complete observance of the Jewish law as binding on all, asked him why he had entered and eaten in the house of the uncircumcised. Peter tells of his vision and defends his action, which was ratified by the Apostles and the faithful in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18).
A confirmation of the position accorded to Peter by Luke, in the Acts, is afforded by the testimony of St. Paul (Galatians 1:18-20). After his conversion and three years' residence in Arabia, Paul came to Jerusalem "to see Peter". Here the Apostle of the Gentiles clearly designates Peter as the authorized head of the Apostles and of the early Christian Church. Peter's long residence in Jerusalem and Palestine soon came to an end. Herod Agrippa I began (A.D. 42-44) a new persecution of the Church in Jerusalem; after the execution of James, the son of Zebedee, this ruler had Peter cast into prison, intending to have him also executed after the Jewish Pasch was over. Peter, however, was freed in a miraculous manner, and, proceeding to the house of the mother of John Mark, where many of the faithful were assembled for prayer, informed them of his liberation from the hands of Herod, commissioned them to communicate the fact to James and the brethren, and then left Jerusalem to go to "another place" (Acts 12:1-18). Concerning St. Peter's subsequent activity we receive no further connected information from the extant sources, although we possess short notices of certain individual episodes of his later life.
St. Luke does not tell us whither Peter went after his liberation from the prison in Jerusalem. From incidental statements we know that he subsequently made extensive missionary tours in the East, although we are given no clue to the chronology of his journeys. It is certain that he remained for a time at Antioch; he may even have returned thither several times. The Christian community of Antioch was founded by Christianized Jews who had been driven from Jerusalem by the persecution (Acts 11:19 sqq.). Peter's residence among them is proved by the episode concerning the observance of the Jewish ceremonial law even by Christianized pagans, related by St. Paul (Galatians 2:11-21). The chief Apostles in Jerusalem — the "pillars", Peter, James, and John — had unreservedly approved St. Paul's Apostolate to the Gentiles, while they themselves intended to labour principally among the Jews. While Paul was dwelling in Antioch (the date cannot be accurately determined), St. Peter came thither and mingled freely with the non-Jewish Christians of the community, frequenting their houses and sharing their meals. But when the Christianized Jews arrived in Jerusalem, Peter, fearing lest these rigid observers of the Jewish ceremonial law should be scandalized thereat, and his influence with the Jewish Christians be imperiled, avoided thenceforth eating with the uncircumcised.
His conduct made a great impression on the other Jewish Christians at Antioch, so that even Barnabas, St. Paul's companion, now avoided eating with the Christianized pagans. As this action was entirely opposed to the principles and practice of Paul, and might lead to confusion among the converted pagans, this Apostle addressed a public reproach to St. Peter, because his conduct seemed to indicate a wish to compel the pagan converts to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law. The whole incident is another proof of the authoritative position of St. Peter in the early Church, since his example and conduct was regarded as decisive. But Paul, who rightly saw the inconsistency in the conduct of Peter and the Jewish Christians, did not hesitate to defend the immunity of converted pagans from the Jewish Law. Concerning Peter's subsequent attitude on this question St. Paul gives us no explicit information. But it is highly probable that Peter ratified the contention of the Apostle of the Gentiles, and thenceforth conducted himself towards the Christianized pagans as at first. As the principal opponents of his views in this connexion, Paul names and combats in all his writings only the extreme Jewish Christians coming "from James" (i.e., from Jerusalem). While the date of this occurrence, whether before or after the Council of the Apostles, cannot be determined, it probably took place after the council (see below). The later tradition, which existed as early as the end of the second century (Origen, "Hom. vi in Lucam"; Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", III, xxxvi), that Peter founded the Church of Antioch, indicates the fact that he laboured a long period there, and also perhaps that he dwelt there towards the end of his life and then appointed Evodrius, the first of the line of Antiochian bishops, head of the community. This latter view would best explain the tradition referring the foundation of the Church of Antioch to St. Peter.
It is also probable that Peter pursued his Apostolic labours in various districts of Asia Minor for it can scarcely be supposed that the entire period between his liberation from prison and the Council of the Apostles was spent uninterruptedly in one city, whether Antioch, Rome, or elsewhere. And, since he subsequently addressed the first of his Epistles to the faithful in the Provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Asia, one may reasonably assume that he had laboured personally at least in certain cities of these provinces, devoting himself chiefly to the Diaspora. The Epistle, however, is of a general character, and gives little indication of personal relations with the persons to whom it is addressed. The tradition related by Bishop Dionysius of Corinth (in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", II, xxviii) in his letter to the Roman Church under Pope Soter (165-74), that Peter had (like Paul) dwelt in Corinth and planted the Church there, cannot be entirely rejected. Even though the tradition should receive no support from the existence of the "party of Cephas", which Paul mentions among the other divisions of the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22), still Peter's sojourn in Corinth (even in connection with the planting and government of the Church by Paul) is not impossible. That St. Peter undertook various Apostolic journeys (doubtless about this time, especially when he was no longer permanently residing in Jerusalem) is clearly established by the general remark of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:5, concerning the "rest of the apostles, and the brethren [cousins] of the Lord, and Cephas", who were travelling around in the exercise of their Apostleship.
Peter returned occasionally to the original Christian Church of Jerusalem, the guidance of which was entrusted to St. James, the relative of Jesus, after the departure of the Prince of the Apostles (A.D. 42-44). The last mention of St. Peter in the Acts (15:1-29; cf. Galatians 2:1-10) occurs in the report of the Council of the Apostles on the occasion of such a passing visit. In consequence of the trouble caused by extreme Jewish Christians to Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, the Church of this city sent these two Apostles with other envoys to Jerusalem to secure a definitive decision concerning the obligations of the converted pagans (see JUDAIZERS). In addition to James, Peter and John were then (about A.D. 50-51) in Jerusalem. In the discussion and decision of this important question, Peter naturally exercised a decisive influence. When a great divergence of views had manifested itself in the assembly, Peter spoke the deciding word. Long before, in accordance with God's testimony, he had announced the Gospels to the heathen (conversion of Cornelius and his household); why, therefore, attempt to place the Jewish yoke on the necks of converted pagans? After Paul and Barnabas had related how God had wrought among the Gentiles by them, James, the chief representative of the Jewish Christians, adopted Peter's view and in agreement therewith made proposals which were expressed in an encyclical to the converted pagans.
The occurrences in Caesarea and Antioch and the debate at the Council of Jerusalem show clearly Peter's attitude towards the converts from paganism. Like the other eleven original Apostles, he regarded himself as called to preach the Faith in Jesus first among the Jews (Acts 10:42), so that the chosen people of God might share in the salvation in Christ, promised to them primarily and issuing from their midst. The vision at Joppe and the effusion of the Holy Ghost over the converted pagan Cornelius and his kinsmen determined Peter to admit these forthwith into the community of the faithful, without imposing on them the Jewish Law. During his Apostolic journeys outside Palestine, he recognized in practice the equality of Gentile and Jewish converts, as his original conduct at Antioch proves. His aloofness from the Gentile converts, out of consideration for the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, was by no means an official recognition of the views of the extreme Judaizers, who were so opposed to St. Paul. This is established clearly and incontestably by his attitude at the Council of Jerusalem. Between Peter and Paul there was no dogmatic difference in their conception of salvation for Jewish and Gentile Christians. The recognition of Paul as the Apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-9) was entirely sincere, and excludes all question of a fundamental divergence of views. St. Peter and the other Apostles recognized the converts from paganism as Christian brothers on an equal footing; Jewish and Gentile Christians formed a single Kingdom of Christ. If therefore Peter devoted the preponderating portion of his Apostolic activity to the Jews, this arose chiefly from practical considerations, and from the position of Israel as the Chosen People. Baur's hypothesis of opposing currents of "Petrinism" and "Paulinism" in the early Church is absolutely untenable, and is today entirely rejected by Protestants.
It is an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter laboured in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom. As to the duration of his Apostolic activity in the Roman capital, the continuity or otherwise of his residence there, the details and success of his labours, and the chronology of his arrival and death, all these questions are uncertain, and can be solved only on hypotheses more or less well-founded. The essential fact is that Peter died at Rome: this constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter.
St. Peter's residence and death in Rome are established beyond contention as historical facts by a series of distinct testimonies extending from the end of the first to the end of the second centuries, and issuing from several lands.
· That the manner, and therefore the place of his death, must have been known in widely extended Christian circles at the end of the first century is clear from the remark introduced into the Gospel of St. John concerning Christ's prophecy that Peter was bound to Him and would be led whither he would not — "And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:18-19, see above). Such a remark presupposes in the readers of the Fourth Gospel a knowledge of the death of Peter.
· St. Peter's First Epistle was written almost undoubtedly from Rome, since the salutation at the end reads: "The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark" (5:13). Babylon must here be identified with the Roman capital; since Babylon on the Euphrates, which lay in ruins, or New Babylon (Seleucia) on the Tigris, or the Egyptian Babylon near Memphis, or Jerusalem cannot be meant, the reference must be to Rome, the only city which is called Babylon elsewhere in ancient Christian literature (Revelation 17:5; 18:10; "Oracula Sibyl.", V, verses 143 and 159, ed. Geffcken, Leipzig, 1902, 111).
· From Bishop Papias of Hierapolis and Clement of Alexandria, who both appeal to the testimony of the old presbyters (i.e., the disciples of the Apostles), we learn that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome at the request of the Roman Christians, who desired a written memorial of the doctrine preached to them by St. Peter and his disciples (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", II, xv; III, xl; VI, xiv); this is confirmed by Irenaeus (Adv. haer., III, i). In connection with this information concerning the Gospel of St. Mark, Eusebius, relying perhaps on an earlier source, says that Peter described Rome figuratively as Babylon in his First Epistle.
· Another testimony concerning the martyrdom of Peter and Paul is supplied by Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians (written about A.D. 95-97), wherein he says (v): "Through zeal and cunning the greatest and most righteous supports [of the Church] have suffered persecution and been warred to death. Let us place before our eyes the good Apostles — St. Peter, who in consequence of unjust zeal, suffered not one or two, but numerous miseries, and, having thus given testimony (martyresas), has entered the merited place of glory". He then mentions Paul and a number of elect, who were assembled with the others and suffered martyrdom "among us" (en hemin, i.e., among the Romans, the meaning that the expression also bears in chap. iv). He is speaking undoubtedly, as the whole passage proves, of the Neronian persecution, and thus refers the martyrdom of Peter and Paul to that epoch.
· In his letter written at the beginning of the second century (before 117), while being brought to Rome for martyrdom, the venerable Bishop Ignatius of Antioch endeavours by every means to restrain the Roman Christians from striving for his pardon, remarking: "I issue you no commands, like Peter and Paul: they were Apostles, while I am but a captive" (Ad. Romans 4). The meaning of this remark must be that the two Apostles laboured personally in Rome, and with Apostolic authority preached the Gospel there.
· Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, in his letter to the Roman Church in the time of Pope Soter (165-74), says: "You have therefore by your urgent exhortation bound close together the sowing of Peter and Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both planted the seed of the Gospel also in Corinth, and together instructed us, just as they likewise taught in the same place in Italy and at the same time suffered martyrdom" (in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", II, xxviii).
· Irenaeus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor and a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna (a disciple of St. John), passed a considerable time in Rome shortly after the middle of the second century, and then proceeded to Lyons, where he became bishop in 177; he described the Roman Church as the most prominent and chief preserver of the Apostolic tradition, as "the greatest and most ancient church, known by all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul" (Adv. haer., III, iii; cf. III, i). He thus makes use of the universally known and recognized fact of the Apostolic activity of Peter and Paul in Rome, to find therein a proof from tradition against the heretics.
· In his "Hypotyposes" (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xiv), Clement of Alexandria, teacher in the catechetical school of that city from about 190, says on the strength of the tradition of the presbyters: "After Peter had announced the Word of God in Rome and preached the Gospel in the spirit of God, the multitude of hearers requested Mark, who had long accompanied Peter on all his journeys, to write down what the Apostles had preached to them" (see above).
· Like Irenaeus, Tertullian appeals, in his writings against heretics, to the proof afforded by the Apostolic labours of Peter and Paul in Rome of the truth of ecclesiastical tradition. In "De Praescriptione", xxxv, he says: "If thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome where authority is ever within reach. How fortunate is this Church for which the Apostles have poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter has emulated the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John" (scil. the Baptist). In "Scorpiace", xv, he also speaks of Peter's crucifixion. "The budding faith Nero first made bloody in Rome. There Peter was girded by another, since he was bound to the cross". As an illustration that it was immaterial with what water baptism is administered, he states in his book ("On Baptism", ch. v) that there is "no difference between that with which John baptized in the Jordan and that with which Peter baptized in the Tiber"; and against Marcion he appeals to the testimony of the Roman Christians, "to whom Peter and Paul have bequeathed the Gospel sealed with their blood" (Adv. Marc., IV, v).
· The Roman, Caius, who lived in Rome in the time of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217), wrote in his "Dialogue with Proclus" (in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", II, xxviii) directed against the Montanists: "But I can show the trophies of the Apostles. If you care to go to the Vatican or to the road to Ostia, thou shalt find the trophies of those who have founded this Church". By the trophies (tropaia) Eusebius understands the graves of the Apostles, but his view is opposed by modern investigators who believe that the place of execution is meant. For our purpose it is immaterial which opinion is correct, as the testimony retains its full value in either case. At any rate the place of execution and burial of both were close together; St. Peter, who was executed on the Vatican, received also his burial there. Eusebius also refers to "the inscription of the names of Peter and Paul, which have been preserved to the present day on the burial-places there" (i.e. at Rome).
· There thus existed in Rome an ancient epigraphic memorial commemorating the death of the Apostles. The obscure notice in the Muratorian Fragment ("Lucas optime theofile conprindit quia sub praesentia eius singula gerebantur sicuti et semote passionem petri evidenter declarat", ed. Preuschen, Tübingen, 1910, p. 29) also presupposes an ancient definite tradition concerning Peter's death in Rome.
· The apocryphal Acts of St. Peter and the Acts of Sts. Peter and Paul likewise belong to the series of testimonies of the death of the two Apostles in Rome.
In opposition to this distinct and unanimous testimony of early Christendom, some few Protestant historians have attempted in recent times to set aside the residence and death of Peter at Rome as legendary. These attempts have resulted in complete failure. It was asserted that the tradition concerning Peter's residence in Rome first originated in Ebionite circles, and formed part of the Legend of Simon the Magician, in which Paul is opposed by Peter as a false Apostle under Simon; just as this fight was transplanted to Rome, so also sprang up at an early date the legend of Peter's activity in that capital (thus in Baur, "Paulus", 2nd ed., 245 sqq., followed by Hase and especially Lipsius, "Die quellen der römischen Petrussage", Kiel, 1872). But this hypothesis is proved fundamentally untenable by the whole character and purely local importance of Ebionitism, and is directly refuted by the above genuine and entirely independent testimonies, which are at least as ancient. It has moreover been now entirely abandoned by serious Protestant historians (cf., e.g., Harnack's remarks in "Gesch. der altchristl. Literatur", II, i, 244, n. 2). A more recent attempt was made by Erbes (Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch., 1901, pp. 1 sqq., 161 sqq.) to demonstrate that St. Peter was martyred at Jerusalem. He appeals to the apocryphal Acts of St. Peter, in which two Romans, Albinus and Agrippa, are mentioned as persecutors of the Apostles. These he identifies with the Albinus, Procurator of Judaea, and successor of Festus and Agrippa II, Prince of Galilee, and thence conciudes that Peter was condemned to death and sacrificed by this procurator at Jerusalem. The untenableness of this hypothesis becomes immediately apparent from the mere fact that our earliest definite testimony concerning Peter's death in Rome far antedates the apocryphal Acts; besides, never throughout the whole range of Christian antiquity has any city other than Rome been designated the place of martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Although the fact of St. Peter's activity and death in Rome is so clearly established, we possess no precise information regarding the details of his Roman sojourn. The narratives contained in the apocryphal literature of the second century concerning the supposed strife between Peter and Simon Magus belong to the domain of legend. From the already mentioned statements regarding the origin of the Gospel of St. Mark we may conclude that Peter laboured for a long period in Rome. This conclusion is confirmed by the unanimous voice of tradition which, as early as the second half of the second century, designates the Prince of the Apostles the founder of the Roman Church. It is widely held that Peter paid a first visit to Rome after he had been miraculously liberated from the prison in Jerusalem; that, by "another place", Luke meant Rome, but omitted the name for special reasons. It is not impossible that Peter made a missionary journey to Rome about this time (after 42 A.D.), but such a journey cannot be established with certainty. At any rate, we cannot appeal in support of this theory to the chronological notices in Eusebius and Jerome, since, although these notices extend back to the chronicles of the third century, they are not old traditions, but the result of calculations on the basis of episcopal lists. Into the Roman list of bishops dating from the second century, there was introduced in the third century (as we learn from Eusebius and the "Chronograph of 354") the notice of a twenty-five years' pontificate for St. Peter, but we are unable to trace its origin. This entry consequently affords no ground for the hypothesis of a first visit by St. Peter to Rome after his liberation from prison (about 42). We can therefore admit only the possibility of such an early visit to the capital.
The task of determining the year of St. Peter's death is attended with similar difficulties. In the fourth century, and even in the chronicles of the third, we find two different entries. In the "Chronicle" of Eusebius the thirteenth or fourteenth year of Nero is given as that of the death of Peter and Paul (67-68); this date, accepted by Jerome, is that generally held. The year 67 is also supported by the statement, also accepted by Eusebius and Jerome, that Peter came to Rome under the Emperor Claudius (according to Jerome, in 42), and by the above-mentioned tradition of the twenty-five years' episcopate of Peter (cf. Bartolini, "Sopra l'anno 67 se fosse quello del martirio dei gloriosi Apostoli", Rome, 1868) . A different statement is furnished by the "Chronograph of 354" (ed. Duchesne, "Liber Pontificalis", I, 1 sqq.). This refers St. Peter's arrival in Rome to the year 30, and his death and that of St. Paul to 55.
Duchesne has shown that the dates in the "Chronograph" were inserted in a list of the popes which contains only their names and the duration of their pontificates, and then, on the chronological supposition that the year of Christ's death was 29, the year 30 was inserted as the beginning of Peter's pontificate, and his death referred to 55, on the basis of the twenty-five years' pontificate (op. cit., introd., vi sqq.). This date has however been recently defended by Kellner ("Jesus von Nazareth u. seine Apostel im Rahmen der Zeitgeschichte", Ratisbon, 1908; "Tradition geschichtl. Bearbeitung u. Legende in der Chronologie des apostol. Zeitalters", Bonn, 1909). Other historians have accepted the year 65 (e.g., Bianchini, in his edition of the "Liber Pontificalis" in P.L. CXXVII. 435 sqq.) or 66 (e.g. Foggini, "De romani b. Petri itinere et episcopatu", Florence, 1741; also Tillemont). Harnack endeavoured to establish the year 64 (i.e. the beginning of the Neronian persecution) as that of Peter's death ("Gesch. der altchristl. Lit. bis Eusebius", pt. II, "Die Chronologie", I, 240 sqq.). This date, which had been already supported by Cave, du Pin, and Wieseler, has been accepted by Duchesne (Hist. ancienne de l'eglise, I, 64). Erbes refers St. Peter's death to 22 Feb., 63, St. Paul's to 64 ("Texte u. Untersuchungen", new series, IV, i, Leipzig, 1900, "Die Todestage der Apostel Petrus u. Paulus u. ihre rom. Denkmaeler"). The date of Peter's death is thus not yet decided; the period between July, 64 (outbreak of the Neronian persecution), and the beginning of 68 (on 9 July Nero fled from Rome and committed suicide) must be left open for the date of his death. The day of his martyrdom is also unknown; 29 June, the accepted day of his feast since the fourth century, cannot be proved to be the day of his death (see below).
Concerning the manner of Peter's death, we possess a tradition — attested to by Tertullian at the end of the second century (see above) and by Origen (in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", II, i) — that he suffered crucifixion. Origen says: "Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer". As the place of execution may be accepted with great probability the Neronian Gardens on the Vatican, since there, according to Tacitus, were enacted in general the gruesome scenes of the Neronian persecution; and in this district, in the vicinity of the Via Cornelia and at the foot of the Vatican Hills, the Prince of the Apostles found his burial place. Of this grave (since the word tropaion was, as already remarked, rightly understood of the tomb) Caius already speaks in the third century. For a time the remains of Peter lay with those of Paul in a vault on the Appian Way at the place ad Catacumbas, where the Church of St. Sebastian (which on its erection in the fourth century was dedicated to the two Apostles) now stands. The remains had probably been brought thither at the beginning of the Valerian persecution in 258, to protect them from the threatened desecration when the Christian burial-places were confiscated. They were later restored to their former resting-place, and Constantine the Great had a magnificent basilica erected over the grave of St. Peter at the foot of the Vatican Hill. This basilica was replaced by the present St. Peter's in the sixteenth century. The vault with the altar built above it (confessio) has been since the fourth century the most highly venerated martyr's shrine in the West. In the substructure of the altar, over the vault which contained the sarcophagus with the remains of St. Peter, a cavity was made. This was closed by a small door in front of the altar. By opening this door the pilgrim could enjoy the great privilege of kneeling directly over the sarcophagus of the Apostle. Keys of this door were given as previous souvenirs (cf. Gregory of Tours, "De gloria martyrum", I, xxviii).
The memory of St. Peter is also closely associated with the Catacomb of St. Priscilla on the Via Salaria. According to a tradition, current in later Christian antiquity, St. Peter here instructed the faithful and administered baptism. This tradition seems to have been based on still earlier monumental testimonies. The catacomb is situated under the garden of a villa of the ancient Christian and senatorial family, the Acilii Glabriones, and its foundation extends back to the end of the first century; and since Acilius Glabrio, consul in 91, was condemned to death under Domitian as a Christian, it is quite possible that the Christian faith of the family extended back to Apostolic times, and that the Prince of the Apostles had been given hospitable reception in their house during his residence at Rome. The relations between Peter and Pudens whose house stood on the site of the present titular church of Pudens (now Santa Pudentiana) seem to rest rather on a legend.
Concerning the Epistles of St. Peter, see EPISTLES OF SAINT PETER; concerning the various apocrypha bearing the name of Peter, especially the Apocalypse and the Gospel of St. Peter, see APOCRYPHA. The apocryphal sermon of Peter (kerygma), dating from the second half of the second century, was probably a collection of supposed sermons by the Apostle; several fragments are preserved by Clement of Alexandria (cf. Dobschuts, "Das Kerygma Petri kritisch untersucht" in "Texte u. Untersuchungen", XI, i, Leipzig, 1893).
As early as the fourth century a feast was celebrated in memory of Sts. Peter and Paul on the same day, although the day was not the same in the East as in Rome. The Syrian Martyrology of the end of the fourth century, which is an excerpt from a Greek catalogue of saints from Asia Minor, gives the following feasts in connexion with Christmas (25 Dec.): 26 Dec., St. Stephen; 27 Dec., Sts. James and John; 28 Dec., Sts. Peter and Paul. In St. Gregory of Nyssa's panegyric on St. Basil we are also informed that these feasts of the Apostles and St. Stephen follow immediately after Christmas. The Armenians celebrated the feast also on 27 Dec.; the Nestorians on the second Friday after the Epiphany. It is evident that 28 (27) Dec. was (like 26 Dec. for St. Stephen) arbitrarily selected, no tradition concerning the date of the saints' death being forthcoming. The chief feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was kept in Rome on 29 June as early as the third or fourth century. The list of feasts of the martyrs in the Chronograph of Philocalus appends this notice to the date — "III. Kal. Jul. Petri in Catacumbas et Pauli Ostiense Tusco et Basso Cose." (=the year 258) . The "Martyrologium Hieronyminanum" has, in the Berne manuscript, the following notice for 29 June: "Romae via Aurelia natale sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, Petri in Vaticano, Pauli in via Ostiensi, utrumque in catacumbas, passi sub Nerone, Basso et Tusco consulibus" (ed. de Rossi-Duchesne, 84).
The date 258 in the notices shows that from this year the memory of the two Apostles was celebrated on 29 June in the Via Appia ad Catacumbas (near San Sebastiano fuori le mura), because on this date the remains of the Apostles were translated thither (see above). Later, perhaps on the building of the church over the graves on the Vatican and in the Via Ostiensis, the remains were restored to their former resting-place: Peter's to the Vatican Basilica and Paul's to the church on the Via Ostiensis. In the place Ad Catacumbas a church was also built as early as the fourth century in honour of the two Apostles. From 258 their principal feast was kept on 29 June, on which date solemn Divine Service was held in the above-mentioned three churches from ancient times (Duchesne, "Origines du culte chretien", 5th ed., Paris, 1909, 271 sqq., 283 sqq.; Urbain, "Ein Martyrologium der christl. Gemeinde zu Rom an Anfang des 5. Jahrh.", Leipzig, 1901, 169 sqq.; Kellner, "Heortologie", 3rd ed., Freiburg, 1911, 210 sqq.). Legend sought to explain the temporary occupation by the Apostles of the grave Ad Catacumbas by supposing that, shortly after their death, the Oriental Christians wished to steal their bodies and bring them to the East. This whole story is evidently a product of popular legend. (Concerning the Feast of the Chair of Peter, see CHAIR OF PETER.)
A third Roman feast of the Apostles takes place on 1 August: the feast of St. Peter's Chains. This feast was originally the dedication feast of the church of the Apostle, erected on the Esquiline Hill in the fourth century. A titular priest of the church, Philippus, was papal legate at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The church was rebuilt by Sixtus III (432-40) at the expense of the Byzantine imperial family. Either the solemn consecration took place on 1 August, or this was the day of dedication of the earlier church. Perhaps this day was selected to replace the heathen festivities which took place on 1 August. In this church, which is still standing (S. Pietro in Vincoli), were probably preserved from the fourth century St. Peter's chains, which were greatly venerated, small filings from the chains being regarded as precious relics. The church thus early received the name in Vinculis, and the feast of 1 August became the feast of St. Peter's Chains (Duchesne, op. cit., 286 sqq.; Kellner, loc. cit., 216 sqq.). The memory of both Peter and Paul was later associated also with two places of ancient Rome: the Via Sacra, outside the Forum, where the magician Simon was said to have been hurled down at the prayer of Peter and the prison Tullianum, or Carcer Mamertinus, where the Apostles were supposed to have been kept until their execution. At both these places, also, shrines of the Apostles were erected, and that of the Mamertine Prison still remains in almost its original form from the early Roman time. These local commemorations of the Apostles are based on legends, and no special celebrations are held in the two churches. It is, however, not impossible that Peter and Paul were actually confined in the chief prison in Rome at the fort of the Capitol, of which the present Carcer Mamertinus is a remnant.
The oldest extant is the bronze medallion with the heads of the Apostles; this dates from the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, and is preserved in the Christian Museum of the Vatican Library. Peter has a strong, roundish head, prominent jaw-bones, a receding forehead, thick, curly hair and beard. (See illustration in CATACOMBS.) The features are so individual that it partakes of the nature of a portrait. This type is also found in two representations of St. Peter in a chamber of the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus, dating from the second half of the third century (Wilpert, "Die Malerein der Katakomben Rom", plates 94 and 96). In the paintings of the catacombs Sts. Peter and Paul frequently appear as interceders and advocates for the dead in the representations of the Last Judgment (Wilpert, 390 sqq.), and as introducing an Orante (a praying figure representing the dead) into Paradise.
In the numerous representations of Christ in the midst of His Apostles, which occur in the paintings of the catacombs and carved on sarcophagi, Peter and Paul always occupy the places of honour on the right and left of the Saviour. In the mosaics of the Roman basilicas, dating from the fourth to the ninth centuries, Christ appears as the central figure, with Sts. Peter and Paul on His right and left, and besides these the saints especially venerated in the particular church. On sarcophagi and other memorials appear scenes from the life of St. Peter: his walking on Lake Genesareth, when Christ summoned him from the boat; the prophecy of his denial; the washing of his feet; the raising of Tabitha from the dead; the capture of Peter and the conducting of him to the place of execution. On two gilt glasses he is represented as Moses drawing water from the rock with his staff; the name Peter under the scene shows that he is regarded as the guide of the people of God in the New Testament.
Particularly frequent in the period between the fourth and sixth centuries is the scene of the delivery of the Law to Peter, which occurs on various kinds of monuments. Christ hands St. Peter a folded or open scroll, on which is often the inscription Lex Domini (Law of the Lord) or Dominus legem dat (The Lord gives the law). In the mausoleum of Constantina at Rome (S. Costanza, in the Via Nomentana) this scene is given as a pendant to the delivery of the Law to Moses. In representations on fifth-century sarcophagi the Lord presents to Peter (instead of the scroll) the keys. In carvings of the fourth century Peter often bears a staff in his hand (after the fifth century, a cross with a long shaft, carried by the Apostle on his shoulder), as a kind of sceptre indicative of Peter's office. From the end of the sixth century this is replaced by the keys (usually two, but sometimes three), which henceforth became the attribute of Peter. Even the renowned and greatly venerated bronze statue in St. Peter's possesses them; this, the best-known representation of the Apostle, dates from the last period of Christian antiquity (Grisar, "Analecta romana", I, Rome, 1899, 627 sqq.).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lesson Four: Joseph, The Magi and the Shepherds

1: Killing off the Magi Myths

Is this how you see the Magi story?A bright star appeared in the sky. It was seen in the east by three kings. It then moved off and the Kings followed it until it came to Bethlehem At the same time Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem, and after trying a dozen or so inns, (which unfortunately were full up), they ended up in a stable. The star then stopped over the stable were Jesus had just been born. Passing a few joyful shepherds on the way out, the Kings came in and presented gifts to the baby, who was lying in a manger.I hope people will not be too offended if I say that the above account of things is at worse erroneous or at best confused. The Bible is still the world's best selling book but I doubt that many people have actually read it and have taken in what it says. Even in today's largely literate society, there are many who still rely on what others say, rather than going to look at the evidence themselves. The above account of the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem owes more to imagination and attempts to fill out the time in Nativity plays, than it does to the Bible!Let's see what the Bible says. There is only one book in the Bible that specifically mentions the Magi and star in its account of Jesus' birth. That book is Matthew's Gospel, which is the first book of the New Testament. The account starts in the 2nd Chapter beginning at the first verse and going on to the 23rd verse. Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Magi, from the east, arrived in Jerusalem saying; Where is the one born King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising, and came to worship him. Now hearing this, King Herod was troubled and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him. Having assembled all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired from them where the Christ was to be born. They told him; In Bethlehem of Judea, for it has been written through the prophet; 'And you Bethlehem in the land of Judah, among the rulers of Judah, are not at all the least. For out of you will come forth a ruler of Judah who will shepherd my people - Israel. ' Then Herod, secretly calling the Magi, inquired carefully from them the time of the appearing star. Sending them to Bethlehem he said: Go and question carefully concerning the child, and when you find him report to me so that I also may come and worship him. So hearing the king they went. Behold! The star that they had seen at its rising in the east went before them until coming, it stood over where the child was. Seeing the star they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. Coming into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother. Falling down they worshipped him and opening their treasures they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been warned by a dream not to return to Herod, they departed by another way to their own country. (My own English version) Notice several points of interest. Nowhere does it mention 'Kings'. Neither does it say how many there were. There is no indication of where they came from, their racial characteristics, their names or their mode of transport. Notice also that they did not follow a star to Jerusalem or Bethlehem. They saw the star before their journey; they saw it again just as they approached Bethlehem. The only guiding it did was as they approached Bethlehem. You will also see that there is no mention of a stable or any indication that Jesus was a new born baby when the Magi arrived.With a lack of information for plays and stories, people have embellished it. Occasionally this is in keeping with the facts; mostly it is in contradiction to them. If you want to look at this subject seriously you will have to go through the possibly painful process of killing off the myths. The Mythical Names and Origins.Various names have been given to the Magi. Hormizdah, Yazdegerd and Perozdh are mentioned in one account. In another, they have the names, Hor, Basanater and Karsudan. The Western tradition names them Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. These names were first used by Origen (d. 254) and become popular from the 6th Century. In a mosaic in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, dating from AD 550, Balthasar is middle aged with a black beard, Gaspar is old and has a white beard and Melchoir is young and beardless. By the 9th Century the tradition was firmly established that they represent 3 races. Balthasar was Asian, Gaspar a white European and Melchoir was African and therefore black. However the dipiction of each often varies from painting to painting and from tale to tale. The ages of each are often interposed and even the races are occasionally interchanged.They did not popularly become 'Kings' until the 10th Century when painters started to depict them as such. However the 'Kings' idea flourished in various parts of the world as early as AD 250 - Tertullian in Africa certainly called them such. Roman Catholic tradition claims to have various parts of their bodies preserved as holy relics. Camels and ships are also mentioned in the Old Testament which find themselves in various stories. This is a particularly good example of the romanticism of these embellishments. Camel riding was normally used by traders who needed to carry goods, anyone with a bit of money, like our Magi, would have used horses. The number of the Magi, (not mentioned in the Bible), has also been the subject of Christian imagination. A 2nd century drawing in the Roman catacombs at Domitilla, Rome, depicts four Wise Men, two on either side, presenting their gifts to Mary and the child. Another catacomb drawing shows only two Magi. In some medieval art there are twelve Wise Men. However, it has to be said that most often three Wise Men are shown, one for each gift.
What exactly are Magi?

The term, like a lot of words, has changed it's meaning over a period of time. It was originally associated with the Medes and the Persians and has it's beginning with a man called Zoroaster. Around the year 1000 BC, Zoroaster began to proclaim a religious message based on the principle `Do good, hate evil'. He preached that there was just one god, Ahura-Mazda, (Wise Lord). Ahura-Madza was the good force in the world represented by purifying fire and water and was apparantly a god that one could talk to. Opposed to the good, taught Zoroaster, was a dark power of evil. This code of belief has survived in one form or other throughout history and even has its followers today in the poorer comunities of modern day Iran.
The term Magi was originally reserved for a tribe of the Medes who were priests for the Persian empire and the Zoastrian Religion. Having said this the term 'Magi' became popular and eventually by the 1st century AD, it was being used of any mysterious person who had access to knowledge not normally known to most people. Thus in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:9 ff) we have the exploits of a man calling himself 'Simon - the Great Power'. He earned himself a living by performing magic - doing the work of a 'magos'. This is very similar to modern stage magicians, who having learned the art of illusion, use it to make the impossible seem possible. Today most of these magicians would not claim to have magic powers but simply special knowledge, (although there are exceptions!) Simon, like all magicians, always on the look out for new tricks to add to his repertoire, saw the miracles performed by the apostles and tried to buy the secret off them! Needless to say, this attitude was given short shrift by the apostles! Also in the book of Acts we have a Jew called Elymas, also described as a 'magos'. (Acts 13:6-12) He was an advisor to the proconsul in Paphos, Serginus Paulus. Luke describes him as a false prophet and he is later accused of 'perverting the ways of the Lord.'
These individuals are both depicted as being wicked and opposed to the work of God. They are in fact charlatans whose lack of real wisdom leads to their own downfall. The Magi in Matthew's gospel, however, seem a very different group of people to either the conjuror Simon or the deceiver Elymas. They seem to be quiet, sincere and of admirable conduct. They had apparantly come across knowledge through careful research and wished only to respond to it. At no time is there any indication that they gained anything material from their research. Is there perhaps any use of the word, 'Magi', which fits this description better that the ones we have seen? Well, some Magi at this time were employed by rulers of countries much the same way as specialists are employed by modern governments today; to keep them up to date on latest developments and to provide advice. Being high up in social circles, but not military people, Magi were sometimes used as envoys to travel to other countries, representing the royal family. They would gather for important events like coronations, funerals or the opening of new cities or harbours. This was particularly so if the Magi were related to the royal family in some way. They would have been interested in time keeping, calenders, tides, medicine, religion, alchemy and many other subjects. They would have been particularly interested in the study of the night sky. It was thought at that time, that what was observed in the sky was reflected in the events upon the earth. Monitoring of events in the heavens, it was believed gave insight into what was happening, or going to happen upon the earth. A knowledge of the night sky was therefore essential. Is this what our Magi were, religious, scholarly envoys? It does seem to fit better the kind of 'Magi' we find in Matthew's account.

Where did our Magi come from?

The Bible tells us that the Wise Men came from the East. Exactly how far east, and to what extent that description can be interpreted is largely unknown. Much later legend has the each of the Wise Men coming from different countries. However, three (because of the 3 gifts) Wise Men coming independently to the same place and perhaps meeting up upon the way is not suggested by scripture. Neither is it a strong argument to say they could only have bought a particular gift from it's country of origin. The trade routes would have made any gift available from almost any country in the area.
Here are 3 main possibilities.

Persia -
Did the Wise Men of Matthew's gospel come from Persia, the home of the Zoroastrian Magi? This is possible and it was certainly a main belief of the early Christian Church. In a letter associated with the Synod of Jerusalem in AD. 836 an incident was related to have happened in AD. 614 when Persian armies invaded the Holy Land destroying Christian Churches. Apparently when they came to the Basilica in Bethlehem they refused to destroy it because of a mosaic depicting the adoration of the Magi. It turns out they recognized them because of their dress; the belted tunics and full sleeves, in trousers wearing Phrygian caps. They were fellow Persians! Clement of Alexandria believed that Persian writings actually refer to the coming of the Son of God. The apocryphal Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, 7:1 says in its account of the Magi that they came to Jerusalem 'according the prediction of Zoroaster.' They may have been referring to a doctrine of Zoroastrianism where says that a son of Zoroaster will be born many years after his death by a virgin who will bathe in a lake where Zoroaster's semen is preserved. This son will apparently raise the dead and crush the forces of evil. Later Christians got rather excited about this apparent pagan prophecy of the coming of the Messiah since there is no evidence that it was known by the gospel writers or by the apostles. It is possible that our Magi knew of this prophecy and others concerning this figure of salvation.

Arabia -
Another way of approaching this is to look at the Old Testament expectations and its idea of 'the East.' . The gifts brought by the wise men mentioned in Matthew are also mentioned in the Old Testament.
In Isaiah 60: 6 it says,
'Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.'
Psalm 72:15 says
'Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given to him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long.'
Sheba was a country located in south-west Arabia. It was known for its wealth by trading spices, gold and jewels with Mediterranean countries. At this time Sheba was ruled by Priest-Kings who oversaw the worship of stars, sun and moon. A temple to the moon-god, Ilumquh, dating from the 7th century BC has been discovered by archaeologists at Marib, once the capital of Sheba. These Biblical passages clearly refers to the tributes of gold being brought from Sheba to the new ruler in Israel. The Jewish religion would have some familiarity in Arabia since there were colonies of Jews in the area and as we have seen the Shebans had an interest in stars. Also the 'people of the east' or 'bene-qedem' are often associated with wisdom; for example in 1 Kings 4:30 we are told, 'Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. ' The term 'people of the east' refers to a number of tribes including Midianites, Amalekites (Jdg. 6:3), Moabites, Ammonites (Ezk. 25:10) and Kedarites. All of them roughly in the area known as Arabia. It is also significant that the earliest references to the Magi in Christian thought are that they came from Arabia. Justin, in AD. 160 wrote in his Dialogue, 'Magi from Arabia came to him. (that is Herod)' In AD. 96 Clement of Rome wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that he associated frankincense and myrrh with 'the districts near Arabia.' Arabia then seems to fit in best with Old Testament expectations as the origin of the gospel Magi.

Babylon -
The final possibility for the home of our Magi is Babylon. This is based upon the facts that we have concerning the Babylonians. They had apparently studied the night's sky to a most excellent degree. Their meticulous research and extensive records of astronomical phenomenon were unmatched in the western world. In addition to this was the widespread Jewish influence in Babylon due to the large numbers of Jews who stayed in Babylon after the Exile in the 6th Century BC. Babylon was in a unique position then of having well informed Magi, both of astronomical events and Jewish Messianic expectations. In addition the book of Daniel frequently mentions Magi in the Babylonian Court. (Daniel 1:20, 2:2, 4:1, 4:9, 5:11) Despite all this the early Christian writers seem not to have heard that the Magi came from Babylon. The theory never occurred to the early Christian writers; at least none of the writings we have mention the possibility of the Magi being Babylonian. It is strange therefore that it seems to have the backing of most modern scholars. Many of them take it as established fact that the Magi were Babylonian.

Hymns, songs, story books, television and radio all say that the Magi were kings. Yet Matthew's gospel says nothing of them being kings. Where does this idea come from? The discovery of the account of King Tiridates, a Magi, might have had some influence on this. Mostly it is attempts by later scholars to squeeze information out of the Old Testamant passages.

Isaiah 60:3
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Psalms 72:10
The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts.

Psalm 68:29
Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts.

What are we to make of these prophecies?
Old Testament prophecies tend to have an immediate use for the time they were made but they are often used for a distant event as well. The prophecy in Psalm 72:10 (above) is a good example. It mentions the kings of Tarshish bringing tribute. This was originally for King David, to show how his rule will impress other nations. However if the whole psalm is read, it goes beyond King David's time and looks to a more perfect king and kingdom. Like a three dimensional image, the focus can be pulled backwards and forwards, giving emphasis to different parts of the image. It need not be true that kings came to Jesus and presented him with herds of camels, chests of gold and other gifts. (For instance we are told nothing of herds of camels given to the infant Jesus!) The principle of what happened to David will symbolically happen to the coming Messiah. Therefore the Magi need not be kings, but symbolically, the prophecies are fulfilled in the coming of wise men to Jesus.
Having said that, it is possible that the Magi were members of royal families, or lords of some kinds. Magi tended to come from those social groups. It is not impossible for a Magi to be a king. History knows of at least one, King Tiradates. However they are not described as Kings in the New Testament and therefore the term should not really be used.
How credible is our Magi account?

Accounts of Magi occur throughout ancient literature. Typical is this verse from Herodotus when the King asked advice about a possible rival king.
The Magi said, "O King, we too are very anxious that your sovereignty prosper: for otherwise, it passes from your nation to this boy who is a Persian, and so we Medes are enslaved and held of no account by the Persians, as we are of another blood, but while you, our countryman, are established king, we have our share of power, and great honour is shown us by you.
(Histories 1.120.5)

Magi were very involved in the affairs of kings and often had the responsibilities of deciding who would be king in the event of a dispute. It was not unknown for them to rule a country in certain circumstances.
It might be supposed that groups of Magi did not take it upon themselves to go visit important people, hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away. In fact this is not the case; part of the job of some Magi was to act as envoys on behalf of their monarch.
The historian, Josephus tells us that in 10 BC ambassadors came to celebrate the building of Caesarea Sebaste, bearing gifts. They came apparently to reciprocate for gifts given by King Herod to their respective countries. (Ant. 16.5.1)
A story is found in various places of the King of Armenia, Tiridates. (This includes Dio Cassius 63.1-7, Pliny's Natural History 30.6.16-17 and Suetonius' Nero 13) It tells us that in AD 66, he and his three royal companions, journeyed to Rome to pay homage and to make predictions about the Emperor Nero. Pliny, a Roman historian particularly notes that they were Magi. However there are several differences between these Magi and the gospel Magi. The gospel Magi are not described as kings (but most Magi were of the lordly classes or related to the monarchy). Neither do our Magi make predictions or have ulterior motives for wanting to worship the holy child. However, what we can say of these other accounts is that they demonstrate the normality of the gospel account. There is nothing improbable about it. To what extent our account has affected these other accounts, or to what extent these other accounts have affected Matthew's account is not known. However it is interesting that in Pliny's account he says that Tiridates and his companions did not go back the way they came but returned by another route. This is a curious phrase for they apparantly had no reason to go back by another route but of course our Magi did. The gospel Magi returned home by another route to avoid King Herod. (Matt 2:12)
Who Were the Magi?
By Chuck Missler
Each year, as we approach the holiday season, our preparations for Christmas include revisiting the events surrounding the birth of Our Lord. Bethlehem, (1) the shepherds, and the angels are familiar to us all. But not much is generally known about the mysterious "Magi" who came to worship the infant Jesus. The following background may be helpful to stimulate conversations around the fireplace as our thoughts turn to this incredible event from which we measure our very calendar.
Most of what we associate with the "Magi" is from early church traditions. Most have assumed there were three of them, since they brought three specific gifts (but the Biblical text doesn't number them). They are called "Magi" from the Latinized form of the Greek word magoi, transliterated from the Persian, for a select sect of priests. (Our word "magic" comes from the same root.)
As the years passed, the traditions became increasingly embellished. By the 3rd century they were viewed as kings. By the 6th century they had names: Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. Some even associated them with Shem, Ham and Japheth--the three sons of Noah--and thus with Asia, Africa, and Europe. A 141h century Armenian tradition identifies them as Balthasar, King of Arabia; Melchior, King of Persia; and Gasper, King of India.
(Relics attributed to them emerged in the 4th century and were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the 5th century, and then to Cologne in 1162 where they remain enshrined.)
These are interesting traditions, but what do we really know about them?
The Priesthood of the Medes
.The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. (2) (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster. (3) That all came later.)
It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods. (4)
The Role of Daniel
One of the titles given to Daniel was Rab-mag, the Chief of the Magi. (5) His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires--the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots involving the ordeal of the lion's den. (6)
Daniel apparently entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment. But first let's review some historical background.
Political Background
Since the days of Daniel, the fortunes of both the Persian and the Jewish nation had been closely intertwined. Both nations had, in their turn, fallen under Seleucid domination in the wake of Alexander's conquests. Subsequently, both had regained their independence: the Jews under Maccabean leadership, and the Persians as the dominating ruling group within the Parthian Empire.
It was at this time that the Magi, in their dual priestly and governmental office, composed the upper house of the Council of the Megistanes (from which we get the term "magistrates"), whose duties included the absolute choice and election of the king of the realm.
It was, therefore, a group of Persian--Parthian "king makers" who entered Jerusalem in the latter days of the reign of Herod. Herod's reaction was understandably one of fear when one considers the background of Roman-Parthian rivalry that prevailed during his lifetime.
Rome on the Rise
Pompey, the first Roman conqueror of Jerusalem in 63 B.C., had attacked the Armenian outpost of Parthia. In 55 B.C. Crassus led Roman legions in sacking Jerusalem and in a subsequent attack on Parthia proper. The Romans were decisively defeated at the battle of Carrhae with the loss of 30,000 troops, including their commander. The Parthians counterattacked with a token invasion of Armenia, Syria, and Palestine.
Nominal Roman rule was reestablished under Antipater, the father of Herod, who, in his turn, retreated before another Parthian invasion in 40 B.C.
Mark Antony reestablished Roman sovereignty in 37 B.C. and, like Crassus before him, Also embarked on a similarly ill-fated Parthian expedition. His disastrous retreat was followed by another wave of invading Parthians, which swept all Roman opposition completely out of Palestine (including Herod himself, who fled to Alexandria and then to Rome).
With Parthian collaboration, Jewish sovereignty was restored, and Jerusalem was fortified with a Jewish garrison.
Herod, by this time, had secured from Augustus Caesar the title of "King of the Jews." However, it was not for three years, including a five months' siege by Roman troops, that Herod was able to occupy his own capital city! Herod had thus gained the throne of a rebellious buffer state which was situated between two mighty contending empires. At any time his own subjects might conspire in bringing the Parthians to their aid. At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod may have been close to his final illness. Augustus was also aged, and Rome, since the retirement of Tiberius, was without an experienced military commander. Pro-Parthian Armenia was fomenting revolt against Rome (which was successfully accomplished within two years.)
The Tensions in Parthia
The time was ripe for another Parthian invasion of the buffer provinces, except for the fact that Parthia itself was racked by internal dissension. Phraates IV, the unpopular and aging king, had once been deposed and it was not improbable that the Persian Magi were already involved in the political maneuvering requisite to choosing his successor. It was conceivable that the Magi might be taking advantage of the king's lack of Popularity to further their own interests with the establishment of a new dynasty, which could have been implemented if a sufficiently strong contender could be found.
At this time it was entirely conceivable that the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, culminating in the writings of Daniel, one of their own Magians, was of profound motivating significance. The promise of a divinely imposed world dominion at the hands of a Jewish monarch might be more than acceptable to them. (Their own Persian and Medo-Persian history was studded with Jewish nobles, ministers, and counselors; and in the great Achaemenid days, some of the kings themselves were of Jewish blood.)
The Entourage to Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with all imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by an adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem.
It would seem as if these Magi were attempting to perpetrate a border incident which could bring swift reprisal from Parthian armies. Their request of Herod regarding the one who "has been born King of the Jews" (7) was a calculated insult to him, a non--Jew (8) who had contrived and bribed his way into that office.
Consulting his scribes, Herod discovered from the prophecies in the Tanach (the Old Testament) that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. (9) Hiding his concern and expressing sincere interest, Herod requested them to keep him informed.
After finding the babe and presenting their prophetic gifts, the Magi "being warned in a dream" (a form of communication most acceptable to them) departed to their own country, ignoring Herod's request. (Within two years Phraataces, the parricide son of Phraates IV, was duly installed by the Magi as the new ruler of Parthia.)
Daniel's Messianic Role
Living six centuries before the birth of Christ, Daniel certainly received an incredible number of Messianic prophecies. In addition to several overviews of all of Gentile world history, (10) the Angel Gabriel told him the precise day that Jesus would present Himself as King to Jerusalem."
It is interesting that Daniel's founding of a secret sect of the Magi also had a role in having these prominent Gentiles present gifts at the birth of the Jewish Messiah.
The Christmas Gifts
The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also prophetic, speaking of our Lord's offices of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of His kingship; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment anticipating His death.
In the Millennium, He will also receive the gifts of gold and frankincense;" but no myrrh: His death was once and for all.
What gifts are YOU going to give Him this year? Discuss it with Him.
The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels; they are practically also the only reliable sources, for, whilst, on the holy patriarch's life, as on many other points connected with the Saviour's history which are left untouched by the canonical writings, the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some episodes of St. Joseph's life may be noted the so-called "Gospel of James", the "Pseudo-Matthew", the "Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary", the "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", and the "Life of the Virgin and Death of Joseph".
St. Matthew (1:16) calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob; according to St. Luke (3:23), Heli was his father. This is not the place to recite the many and most various endeavours to solve the vexing questions arising from the divergences between both genealogies; nor is it necessary to point out the explanation which meets best all the requirements of the problem (see GENEALOGY OF CHRIST); suffice it to remind the reader that, contrary to what was once advocated, most modern writers readily admit that in both documents we possess the genealogy of Joseph, and that it is quite possible to reconcile their data.
At any rate, Bethlehem, the city of David and his descendants, appears to have been the birth-place of Joseph. When, however, the Gospel history opens, namely, a few months before the Annunciation, Joseph was settled at Nazareth. Why and when he forsook his home-place to betake himself to Galilee is not ascertained; some suppose -- and the supposition is by no means improbable -- that the then-moderate circumstances of the family and the necessity of earning a living may have brought about the change. St. Joseph, indeed, was a tekton, as we learn from Matthew 13:55, and Mark 6:3. The word means both mechanic in general and carpenter in particular; St. Justin vouches for the latter sense (Dial. cum Tryph., lxxxviii, in P.G., VI, 688), and tradition has accepted this interpretation, which is followed in the English Bible.
It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. Most modern commentators, following the footsteps of St. Thomas, understand that, at the epoch of the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph's marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God.
The Incarnation
This marriage, true and complete, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, "De cons. Evang.", II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; "Cont. Julian.", V, xii, 45 in P.L.. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon was the faith of Joseph in his spouse to be sorely tried: she was with child. However painful the discovery must have been for him, unaware as he was of the mystery of the Incarnation, his delicate feelings forbade him to defame his affianced, and he resolved "to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24).
The Nativity and the Flight to Egypt
A few months later, the time came for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, to be enrolled, according to the decree issued by Caesar Augustus: a new source of anxiety for Joseph, for "her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered", and "there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7). What must have been the thoughts of the holy man at the birth of the Saviour, the coming of the shepherds and of the wise men, and at the events which occurred at the time of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, we can merely guess; St. Luke tells only that he was "wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him" (k12:33). New trials were soon to follow. The news that a king of the Jews was born could not but kindle in the wicked heart of the old and bloody tyrant, Herod, the fire of jealousy. Again "an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee" (Matthew 2:13).
Return to Nazareth
The summons to go back to Palestine came only after a few years, and the Holy Family settled again at Nazareth. St. Joseph's was henceforth the simple and uneventful life of an humble Jew, supporting himself and his family by his work, and faithful to the religious practices commanded by the Law or observed by pious Israelites. The only noteworthy incident recorded by the Gospel is the loss of, and anxious quest for, Jesus, then twelve years old, when He had strayed during the yearly pilgrimage to the Holy City (Luke 2:42-51).
This is the last we hear of St. Joseph in the sacred writings, and we may well suppose that Jesus's foster-father died before the beginning of Savior's public life. In several circumstances, indeed, the Gospels speak of the latter's mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), but never do they speak of His father in connection with the rest of the family; they tell us only that Our Lord, during His public life, was referred to as the son of Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42; Luke 4:22) the carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Would Jesus, moreover, when about die on the Cross, have entrusted His mother to John's care, had St. Joseph been still alive?
According to the apocryphal "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", the holy man reached his hundred and eleventh year when he died, on 20 July (A.D. 18 or 19). St. Epiphanius gives him ninety years of age at the time of his demise; and if we are to believe the Venerable Bede, he was buried in the Valley of Josaphat. In truth we do not know when St. Joseph died; it is most unlikely that he attained the ripe old age spoken of by the "Story of Joseph" and St. Epiphanius. The probability is that he died and was buried at Nazareth.
Joseph was "a just man". This praise bestowed by the Holy Ghost, and the privilege of having been chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus and the Spouse of the Virgin Mother, are the foundations of the honour paid to St. Joseph by the Church. So well-grounded are these foundations that it is not a little surprising that the cult of St. Joseph was so slow in winning recognition. Foremost among the causes of this is the fact that "during the first centuries of the Church's existence, it was only the martyrs who enjoyed veneration" (Kellner). Far from being ignored or passed over in silence during the early Christian ages, St. Joseph's prerogatives were occasionally descanted upon by the Fathers; even such eulogies as cannot be attributed to the writers among whose works they found admittance bear witness that the ideas and devotion therein expressed were familiar, not only to the theologians and preachers, and must have been readily welcomed by the people. The earliest traces of public recognition of the sanctity of St. Joseph are to be found in the East. His feast, if we may trust the assertions of Papebroch, was kept by the Copts as early as the beginning of the fourth century. Nicephorus Callistus tells likewise -- on what authority we do not know -- that in the great basilica erected at Bethlehem by St. Helena, there was a gorgeous oratory dedicated to the honour of our saint. Certain it is, at all events, that the feast of "Joseph the Carpenter" is entered, on 20 July, in one of the old Coptic Calendars in our possession, as also in a Synazarium of the eighth and nineth century published by Cardinal Mai (Script. Vet. Nova Coll., IV, 15 sqq.). Greek menologies of a later date at least mention St. Joseph on 25 or 26 December, and a twofold commemoration of him along with other saints was made on the two Sundays next before and after Christmas.
In the West the name of the foster-father of Our Lord (Nutritor Domini) appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and we find in 1129, for the first time, a church dedicated to his honour at Bologna. The devotion, then merely private, as it seems, gained a great impetus owing to the influence and zeal of such saintly persons as St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude (d. 1310), and St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373). According to Benedict XIV (De Serv. Dei beatif., I, iv, n. 11; xx, n. 17), "the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cultus to St. Joseph". His feast, introduced towards the end shortly afterwards, into the Dominican Calendar, gradually gained a foothold in various dioceses of Western Europe. Among the most zealous promoters of the devotion at that epoch, St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), Peter d'Ailly (d. 1420), St. Bernadine of Siena (d. 1444), and Jehan Charlier Gerson (d. 1429) deserve an especial mention. Gerson, who had, in 1400, composed an Office of the Espousals of Joseph particularly at the Council of Constance (1414), in promoting the public recognition of the cult of St. Joseph. Only under the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), were the efforts of these holy men rewarded by Roman Calendar (19 March). From that time the devotion acquired greater and greater popularity, the dignity of the feast keeping pace with this steady growth. At first only a festum simplex, it was soon elevated to a double rite by Innocent VIII (1484-92), declared by Gregory XV, in 1621, a festival of obligation, at the instance of the Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I and of King Charles II of Spain, and raised to the rank of a double of the second class by Clement XI (1700-21). Further, Benedict XIII, in 1726, inserted the name into the Litany of the Saints.
One festival in the year, however, was not deemed enough to satisfy the piety of the people. The feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, so strenuously advocated by Gerson, and permitted first by Paul III to the Franciscans, then to other religious orders and individual dioceses, was, in 1725, granted to all countries that solicited it, a proper Office, compiled by the Dominican Pierto Aurato, being assigned, and the day appointed being 23 January. Nor was this all, for the reformed Order of Carmelites, into which St. Teresa had infused her great devotion to the foster-father of Jesus, chose him, in 1621, for their patron, and in 1689, were allowed to celebrate the feast of his Patronage on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast, soon adopted throughout the Spanish Kingdom, was later on extended to all states and dioceses which asked for the privilege. No devotion, perhaps, has grown so universal, none seems to have appealed so forcibly to the heart of the Christian people, and particularly of the labouring classes, during the nineteenth century, as that of St. Joseph.
This wonderful and unprecedented increase of popularity called for a new lustre to be added to the cult of the saint. Accordingly, one of the first acts of the pontificate of Pius IX, himself singularly devoted to St. Joseph, was to extend to the whole Church the feast of the Patronage (1847), and in December, 1870, according to the wishes of the bishops and of all the faithful, he solemnly declared the Holy Patriarch Joseph, patron of the Catholic Church, and enjoined that his feast (19 March) should henceforth be celebrated as a double of the first class (but without octave, on account of Lent). Following the footsteps of their predecessor, Leo XIII and Pius X have shown an equal desire to add their own jewel to the crown of St. Joseph: the former, by permitting on certain days the reading of the votive Office of the saint; and the latter by approving, on 18 March, 1909, a litany in honour of him whose name he had received in baptism.

The Nativity shepherds
Names: Asher, Zebulun, Justus, Nicodemus, Joseph, Barshabba, and Jose
Source: The Syrian Book of the Bee
Appear in the Bible at Luke 2
The Book of the Bee was written by Bishop Shelemon in the Aramaic language in the thirteenth century.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mary Mother of God

1st century
The Mother, of God, Mother of Jesus, wife of St. Joseph, and the greatest of all Christian saints. The Virgin Mother “was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men”. Mary is venerated with a special cult, called by St. Thomas Aquinas, hyperdulia, as the highest of God’s creatures. The principal events of her life are celebrated as liturgical feasts of the universal Church. Mary’s life and role in the history of salvation is prefigured in the Old Testament, while the events of her life are recorded in the New Testament. Traditionally, she was declared the daughter of Sts. Joachim and Anne. Born in Jerusalem, Mary was presented in the Temple and took a vow of virginity. Living in Nazareth, Mary was visited by the archangel Gabriel, who announced to her that she would become the Mother of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. She became betrothed to St. Joseph and went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was bearing St. John the Baptist. Acknowledged by Elizabeth as the Mother of God, Mary intoned the Magnificat. When Emperor Augustus declared a census throughout the vast Roman Empire, Mary and St. Joseph went to Bethlehem, his city of lineage, as he belonged to the House of David. There Mary gave birth to Jesus and was visited by the Three Kings. Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, where St. Simeon rejoiced and Mary received word of sorrows to come later. Warned to flee, St. Joseph and Mary went to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. They remained in Egypt until King Herod died and then returned to Nazareth. Nothing is known of Mary’s life during the next years except for a visit to the Temple of Jerusalem, at which time Mary and Joseph sought the young Jesus, who was in the Temple with the learned elders. The first recorded miracle of Jesus was performed at a wedding in Cana, and Mary was instrumental in calling Christ’s attention to the need. Mary was present at the Crucifixion in Jerusalem, and there she was given into John’s care. She was also with the disciples in the days before the Pentecost, and it is believed that she was present at the resurrection and Ascension. No scriptural reference concerns Mary’s last years on earth. According to tradition, she went to Ephesus, where she experienced her “dormition.” Another tradition states that she remained in Jerusalem. The belief that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven is one of the oldest traditions of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII declared this belief Catholic dogma in 1950. The feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception - that Mary, as the Mother of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, was free of original sin at the moment of her conception was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854 . The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8. The birthday of Mary is an old feast in the Church, celebrated on September 8 since the seventh century. Pope Pius XII dedicated the entire human race to Mary in 1944. The Church has long taught that Mary is truly the Mother of God . St. Paul observed that “God sent His Son, born of a woman," expressing the union of the human and the divine in Christ. As Christ possesses two natures, human and divine, Mary was the Mother of God in his human nature. This special role of Mary in salvation history is clearly depicted in the Gospel in which she is seen constantly at her son’s side during his soteriological mission. Because of this role exemplified by her acceptance of Christ into her womb, her offering of him to God at the Temple, her urging him to perform his first miracle, and her standing at the foot of the Cross at Calvary Mary was joined fully in the sacrifice by Christ of himself. Pope Benedict XV wrote in 1918: “To such an extent did Mary suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated him - insofar as she could in order to appease the justice of God, that we might rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ” . Mary is entitled to the title of Queen because, as Pope Pius XII expressed it in a 1946 radio speech, “Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through him, with him, and subordinate to him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest, and by singular election.” Mary possesses a unique relationship with all three Persons of the Trinity, thereby giving her a claim to the title of Queenship. She was chosen by God the Father to be the Mother of his Son; God the Holy Spirit chose her to be his virginal spouse for the Incarnation of the Son; and God the Son chose her to be his mother, the means of incarnating into the world for the purposes of the redemption of humanity. This Queen is also our Mother. While she is not our Mother in the physical sense, she is called a spiritual mother, for she conceives, gives birth, and nurtures the spiritual lives of grace for each person. As Mediatrix of All Graces, she is ever present at the side of each person, giving nourishment and hope, from the moment of spiritual birth at Baptism to the moment of death. The confidence that each person should have in Mary was expressed by Pope Pius IX in the encyclical Ubipriinum : “The foundation of all our confidence. . . is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is his will, that we obtain everything through Mary.”
Is the worship of Mary biblical?

Bishop Alphonse de Ligouri is more responsible than any other for promoting the worship of Mary, therefore dethroning Christ and enthroning Mary in the hearts of the people. Rather than excommunicating him for his heresies, the Catholic Church canonized him as a saint and published his book, called "The Glories of Mary," which is famous, influential, and widely read. He noted that Mary was given rulership over one half of the kingdom of God and rules over the kingdom of mercy while Jesus rules over the kingdom of justice. He wrote that people should pray to Mary as a mediator and look to her as an object of trust for answered prayer. The book also states there is no salvation outside of Mary. Even though the Catholic Church mentions his views are extreme and not representative of the church, no one bothered to silence de Liguori as a heretic. Rather, he was canonized as a saint and declared to be a "doctor of the church." His teachings have influenced many popes.

Allow me to present here the versions of the Catholic doctrines about Mary compared to what the Bible says. The sources for this section are the Bible and the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," which has numbered paragraphs. For brevity's sake, I will use "Catechism" plus the number of the paragraph(s).
· ALL-HOLY - Mary, "the All-Holy," lived a perfectly sinless life (Catechism 411, 493).

Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

Revelation 15:4 says, "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy."

Romans 3:10 says, "There is none righteous, no, not one."

NOTE: In contrast, Mary said that God is her Savior (Luke 1:47). If God was her Savior, then Mary was not sinless. Sinless people do not need a Savior.
· CO-MEDIATOR - Mary is the co-mediator to whom we can entrust all our cares and petitions (Catechism 968-970, 2677).

There is only one mediator, and that is Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men -- the testimony given in its proper time."

Hebrews 7:25 says, "Therefore He (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them."

Ephesians 3:12 says, "In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."

NOTE: If Jesus is constantly interceding for us and He is able to save us "to the uttermost," then He doesn't need Mary's help. If we can approach God with "boldness" and "confidence" because of our faith in Jesus, then we don't need Mary's help either.
These are only two of many doctrines regarding the worship of Mary. There is not enough room to list all of them here.

On May 7, 1997, Pope John Paul II dedicated his general audience to "the Virgin Mary" and urged all Christians to accept her as their mother. He noted the words spoken by Jesus on the cross to Mary and John -- "Woman, behold thy son!" and "Behold thy mother!" (John 19:26, 27), and he claimed that in this statement, "It is possible to understand the authentic meaning in the worship of Mary in the ecclesial community. . .which furthermore is based on the will of Christ" (Vatican Information Service, May 7, 1997). He said "the history of Christian piety teaches that Mary is the path that leads to Christ, and that filial devotion to her does not at all diminish intimacy with Jesus, but rather, increases it and leads it to very high levels of perfection." He concluded by asking all Christians "to make room for Mary in their daily lives, acknowledging her providential role in the path of Salvation."
Death of virgin Mary - How did she die?

We do not know for sure the place or circumstances of the death of Virgin Mary. One tradition attests that she died in Jerusalem. Another tradition points to the city of Ephesus, where she is said to have lived for a short time prior to her death.

As legend says, Mary did not live in the city of Ephesus itself because she liked remoteness, so she inhabited a small house on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem. It was a very lonely place, but had many fertile slopes as well as rock caves where several Christian family members and friends of Mary already lived. John had a house built for her there. She lived in what one would call a scattered village, as there were both Jewish and Christian settlers living in caves fitted out with woodworks, or in huts or tents. Mary's house was the only one built of stone.

Soon after her arrival there, Mary had built behind the house a Way of the Cross with twelve stations. At each Station, there were memorial stones -- eight smooth stones with many sides, each resting on a base of the same stone. The stones and their bases were all inscribed with Hebrew letters. These stations were all in little hollows, with the exception of the Station of Mount Calvary, which was on a hill. The Station of the Holy Sepulcher was in a little cave over this hill.

Her stone house had a spring running under it. The windows were high up near the flat roof, and the main part of the house was divided by a fireplace in the middle, sunk into the ground. Behind the fireplace was what was called Mary's oratory, which is defined as a small chapel for prayer. In a niche in the center of the wall, there was a receptacle like a tabernacle where a cross stood, about the length of a man's arm. To the right and left of the fireplace were doors which led into the back part of the house. The door to the right led to the bedchamber, and through the door to the left of the oratory was a small room where her clothes and other belongings were kept. She lived here quietly with a maidservant, a younger woman who gathered food when needed. John would visit them both when he was not away on travel.

Stories say that on the day of the death of Virgin Mary, she was lying on the couch in the little sleeping alcove of her home. She had lived a full life and her body was now old and tired. The Apostles had assembled there because of her impending death, and they held a service in the front part of the house. Peter stood in priestly vestment before the altar with the others behind him as if in a choir.

Several times throughout the day Mary was lifted up by the women to drink juice which had been pressed from yellow berries. Newcomers would come and be embraced by those who were already there, and after their feet had been washed, they approached Mary's couch to greet her in reverence. She was so weak that it was difficult for her to talk, but towards evening, as she realized her death was approaching, she said farewell to the Apostles, disciples, and women who were present. She lay back on her pillows and Peter gave her Holy Communion. Legend says she died after the ninth hour, which is the same time as Our Lord.

Legend says that Peter then anointed the body, praying as he did so. Myrrh was laid in the armpits and bosom of her body as well as between the shoulders and the neck, chin and cheeks. Her body was wrapped in a gravecloth and placed in a wicker coffin which stood nearby. On her breast was laid a wreath of red, white, and sky-blue flowers. The coffin was taken to the cave where she was buried.