Tag Archives: Christianity

Tertullian on Marriage A Commentary

couple at altar Pintrest

(photo: Pintrest)

I am reading Ancient Christian Commentaries for a project about Christian marriage. The purpose of reading these Commentaries is to review the Church’s understanding of the sacrament over the course of time. Tertullian makes an interesting read because of his own history with the faith. He exercised a Roman lifestyle in the latter decades of the second century A.D. from Carthage in North Africa. He converted to Christianity and studied to become a priest, ordained in the year 200. Most of the writings that have come down to us were accomplished while he was studying. He separated from Rome to join the Montanists and later developed his own sect of Christians that lasted into the fourth century (newadvent.org). The interest is in how the following develops a concept of a sacramental marriage. This is important to me in modern times due to the number of Christian denominations that do not recognize marriage as a sacrament.
The following text was written to his wife. The reader must recognize the cultural variances from our own time, and that Tertullian’s profession was that of a Roman arbiter if not a lawyer himself. The piece is titled in the Commentaries “Mutual Servants, Equally Serving”

“Where do we find language adequately to express the happiness of that marriage which the Church cements, the oblation confirms, the benediction signs and seals, the angels celebrate, and the Father holds as approved? For all around the world young people do not rightly and lawfully wed without their parents’ consent. What kind of yoke is it, that two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, one service will take on in tandem? The enjoy kinship in spirit and flesh. They are mutual servants with no discrepancy of interests. Truly they are “two in one flesh”. Where the flesh is one, the spirit is one as well. Together they pray, together bow down, together perform their fasts, mutually teaching, mutually entreating, mutually upholding. In the Church of God, they hold an equal place. The stand equally at the banquet of God, equally in crisis, equally facing persecutions, and equally in refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other. Neither is troublesome to the other.”

(“Ancient Christian Commentaries: New Testament II, Mark.” Oden, Thomas GenEd. Downers Grove; Inter Varsity Press. 1998. Print. pp 128 – 9).

Tertullian gives the best word picture of the ideal of marriage I recall hearing or reading.
First, he offers what it means to be blessed in the Church. Beyond vows of man-to-woman-to-man, the two join in the Eucharistic sacrifice, their first joint ‘yes’ to God’s Word. This action of gift of selves receives the return gift of our Lord’s blessings and seal. Angels celebrating announce the spiritual celebration in heaven, for the binding of the vow on earth is also bound in heaven. Something greater than the two is beginning in our visible reality and something greater is growing in the spiritual realm. We are embodied spirits, participating in the kingdom. Their ‘yes’ to Divine law, to a participation in the creative process of a new entity to feed and nurture and bound to the promise to overflow the new and renewing love into the creation of more lives. Their ‘yes’ is approved of by the loving Creator.
Next, the image of a yoke invokes unity of movement and purpose. What does a yoke do? It binds the efforts, the skills, the strengths of one to the other. They now harness their hopes and desires, disciplined by the commitment they accepted together, driving each the other to the same service to the Creator and His creation. One may not ever move in a direction while the other must hold to course. One may not falter that the other will fail to carry the full load of the effort.
Thus, their prayers become one with the yoke. They will together bear each other in lean times, suffering deprivations. No lesson can be learned by one that the other cannot also learn and both then teach from. The will coach each other, encourage each the other, defend each other, sustain the efforts of the work along the journey. They can hide nothing from each other for the bindings hold them in such proximity that all things are shared. Should one bring trouble, the other will suffer it also. When one finds joy, the other will participate equally.
Together they vow at the altar. Together they stand in God’s grace at his table of plenty.


What Do You Believe?

It is a question I asked my children often when they were in high school and for a few years after.  I still ask them once or twice a year, and when they ask me for advice (not often, but when they ask) the question above is always the opening query.  Philosophy, for the little our education system teaches these days, is still the foundation for making sound decisions, and it is important for each person to remember what their own foundation is periodically.  Some call it ‘centering’.  I prefer ‘foundation’.  One builds character on some foundation.

Consider the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs.  Has your mind already jumped ahead to which of them had the stronger foundation of faith or belief to last out life’s storms?  Do you already know who or what your own ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is?  This simple childhood story represents Western philosophy education at its basic level and typically in the home.  Then, there’s the popular culture book “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. What is taught in education today?  A myriad of concepts come to mind and to discuss them would veer off my intent here.  What is relevant is that each of us finds some level of commitment to some principle of life, and we move forward with our lives.  Few venture beyond what was learned in middle school or high school, testing what they believe in their forays into their work or through their college years and beyond.

For all the years I asked the question of my children my point was to know what they chose to hold true from what their mother and I taught them, and what they picked up along the way on their own to strengthen or replace those lessons.  It remains a question they don’t like answering,…yet.  One day, I hope the example with have their own children squirming in a chair.  This is not some sadistic plot but an effort to get them ready for their own ‘Big Bad Wolves’.

For all the asking of what they believe, they have never turned the question back on me.  I can’t say why because it would be speculative, and that is always a mistake when building friendships.  However, I have been doing some reading about how to continue to build this friendship with my children I am prompted by the author to answer the question posed for myself.  In all my fifty-seven years, no one has ever asked me. I’ve been studying theology at the Master’s level for three years, and the question hasn’t come up there either.  I’m certain my actions have demonstrated for those around me, especially my children, what I believe.  The deeper answer is why?

“Why am I Catholic?”

Simple answer is, I believe. Sure, I was born and raised, schooled through grammar school. But I joined the Navy, for crying out loud, and stayed 20 years. With all I’ve seen, why ‘stay’ Catholic?

Because, for all I’ve seen, it is True, and the Church remains a repository of Truth, and that Truth is carried to every corner of society, every day of the year. The reason the Catholic social networks are as strong as they are is because the embodied spirits of the people let the life of Christ shine through in what they do, some a little, some a lot, and some in everything they do.  Catholic health care makes up one sixth of the healthcare economy in the U.S.  Catholic Charities is the largest relief organization in the world.  The Catholic school system, from grammar school through high school, and into post secondary education, is the largest private school system in the world.  These are the works of the Church that come from the faith.

What the public hears more of, though, are the sins of the Church.  Of course, it’s what we expect.  Two-percent of our priests have committed unspeakable acts in the past several decades.  Movies portray these same servants in poor light since the 1960’s.  Long forgotten is Pat O’Brian’s portrayal of Father Flanagan, founder of Boy’s Town in the 1940’s.  The Exorcist was a pop-culture phenomenon and now a ‘new’ fall drama on a major TV network.  Charlton Heston’s Moses in the 1956 Ten Commandments is now dependent on implied illusions of a child messenger because of Christian Bale’s bump on the head, a far more earthly portrayal of the myth-history.  The modern stories of Saint Pope John Paul II and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta can hardly keep up with the world’s reminders of our real sins and culture’s distortion of both our work and our theology.  Zombies and vampires are somehow more believable than God becoming man and sharing our embodied spirit existence here on earth.

I still choose to believe.  I continue to be inspired by the Spirit.  I continue to hold that when I attend Mass I am at an intersection of this material world and the spiritual heaven. And in receiving what appears to many as only bread and wine, I affirm that it is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God as described in the Gospels.  It is both an act of Faith  and an act of Will of my Conscience.

If you ask yourself the title question, what answer do you come up with?










A First Attempt to Describe the Real Presence

There’s a question I’ve been trying to work out in my head for some time.  It needs to be written down.  One thing I’m certain of is I won’t mash it into intelligible words on my own.  The subject is as old as Christianity is.  How is it the words of Jesus at the his last supper become the Eucharist and how is His presence continue to envelope the Sacrament with each and every consecration.?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…May God prevent me from writing heresy and may His grace protect my readers from the Tempter.

Jesus Christ and His real presence in the Eucharist is a mystery I am unable to deny without suffering death of this temporal body of which I have been given charge. I am fifty-five years old and steeped in the Catholic faith from birth, yet I know that in my heart I was aware of this Truth from my conception. I became conscious of the idea through Catechism for First Communion, I studied some as a teen, I defended it as mystery as an adult in the U.S. Navy. Yet, as I ask more questions and delve further into the theologies and philosophies argued I am nagged by the ‘how’ of this Truth being possible.

I have seen the stories of Eucharistic mysteries throughout Europe and the two millennia of the Christian faith. A fire in a French Church with the Eucharist on the altar, and those fighting the fire see the Eucharist float above a burning table. A Priest in Italy questioned as I do and as he prays the consecration the bread becomes flesh, the wine becomes blood. Both remain so to this day. Another Italian church holds wafers that are hundreds of years old, blessed Eucharist that has not decayed in the centuries since it was raised up. Open to the air this should all be dust, were it simply bread, devoured by insects and rodents, yet it remains intact. Three examples of miracles of the Eucharist. Three reasons to believe in the Divine real presence in the Sacrament.

I have still wondered, and strongly so, for the last year or two if the more real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the continued real presence of those whose faith sustains, whether strongly or weakly, their presence and participation at mass? St. Paul tells us ‘we’ are the body of Christ. Why shouldn’t it be that ‘we’ are the reality that remains when the bread and wine are consecrated? Why shouldn’t it be, then, that our praxis be the sacrament, that in receiving the Eucharist we recommit to the Gospel and become the body and blood of Christ to this temporal world?

This cannot be all. This would make the action completely on our part to carry forward the word of Jesus the Christ, and admit to all observers that we regard the Eucharist something different than Jesus intended. “I am the Bread of Life”, He told us. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you cannot have life within you.” These words turned many away. It was sacrilege for a Jew to drink the life-blood of an animal. Yet Jesus did not call them back. He did not try to convince them He was speaking in signs or symbols. He even asked His apostles if they would leave too. The image stands.

Jesus consecrated bread and wine during His last supper with his apostles and select disciples. He told them the bread was His body and the wine His blood. Three of four evangelists and St. Paul recorded these words. So, how does this happen? It happened in France in a fire and in Italy at a consecration, twice. Most of the time there is no temporal change, though. What, then, if I consider a non-temporal change? What if at the moment of consecration at a mass the bread and wine become the body and blood even as the raised body of Jesus was transformed?

Consider what we know of our temporal world that we cannot see. Consider the levels of light and electromagnetic energies our eyes will not pick up, but that cameras do, that special scientific instruments do. What we can see is very small compared to what our instruments tell us exist. A child’s science lesson is to put two magnets end to end. In one direction, they pull each other together faster than the child can move to stop them. Place one in the other direction and its counterpart can be pushed across the smooth surface where we observe them. Think about this at the refrigerator, and play a bit. Since this unseen energy is pressed in front of us, cannot a Divine energy be infused into the Eucharist, just as real yet infinitely more powerful; powerful enough to change the hearts of human beings?

I will say ‘inspired’, though doubters will say ‘imagined’. I am inspired to believe that this is so, that at the same level of Divine energy that came in a cloud over Mount Sinai, the same cloud of energy that enveloped the Tabernacle in the desert, the same Divine energy that came down on Jesus at His baptism and on the mountain during the Transfiguration, this same Divine energy envelopes the bread and wine during the consecration at Mass. Heaven meets earth at the altar when our priests raise the gifts of ourselves, our lives, and of the bread and wine and God, Jesus, infuses His Divinity into the same gifts, the food and us. The bread and wine are now His body and blood even as His risen body was flesh and blood.

And, oh, to consume this gift, to let this Divine energy raise our meager humanity to His Divine life… as Jeff Cavins states, “I would crawl on my knees to receive this…” every chance I get. Father John Riccardo stated in a parish mission once, “To be in the presence of the Eucharist is radiation therapy for the soul.” The Divine energy penetrates us completely. Our body, mind, and soul are gifted to have this same energy, if only for a moment before our humanity begins to lose it. Yet we faithful hold on to it while we “go forth in the peace of Christ, to love and serve the world”.

Is this the message of salvation? It is certainly part of it; that we are gifted with His presence until the end of this temporal order, restored by His gift and His sacrifice to be the stewards of all we are individually and collectively charged to be. The many parts of the One Body are to be the light to the world, and the energy to make that light shine is in the real presence of Jesus the Christ in the Eucharist, received at each mass and each communion service we determine to crawl up to Him on reverent knees to receive.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…




The Bible and a Patriot’s Word – Why I Exercise the First Amendment

I often get asked by people close to me why I write so many letters-to-the-editor and letters to my political representatives. After all, who really reads them but the staff that has to answer them, and of those, more often than not the reply takes shape in a form letter giving the politician’s/leader’s position on whatever the topic is. What’s the point?

Less often I am asked why I spend time reading the Bible. My family is familiar with my faith. Sailors I served with see many of our shipmates spending time inside the cover of this Book. Still, what is the point of reading stories of one nation’s journey through time or of the early years of Christianity in the twenty-first century?

Both questions can be answered with many examples, but my particular inspiration for writing today is the story relayed to me by my morning meditation. 2 Kings 5: 1 – 15 is a story from ancient Israel, a time when it was a small kingdom confined to the hills of what we now call the Palestinian West Bank. It lie alongside the cross roads of the great trade routes that still exist today and little attention was paid to it. So little that taking captives for slaves from the outlying settlements was probably routine.

The short story relays how the commanding general of one kingdom contracted a disease of the skin, and how his wife’s Israeli slave girl spoke of a prophet in her homeland who could heal the man. The general, with his king’s permission, crosses the border and goes to the king of Israel, only to learn that it wasn’t the king who was the prophet, it was one of his servants.

Then comes a humbling part. Expecting to have an elaborate ceremony where drums thunder and chants are made and hands are waved, the general from a foreign land, who has stolen a young girl from the land he is in, is simply told, “Go wash yourself, seven times, in the Jordan River.” The prophet didn’t even come out of his house to tell him, but used his own servant to relay the word. Insulting to a man of his import! Trivial! He could have washed in the rivers in his own kingdom! But his servants say to him, “If it was something difficult you were directed to do, wouldn’t you have done it? Why not do this?” The end of the story is that the general does wash in the Jordan and he is cleansed of his skin disease. Imagine that! Just ‘take a bath’.

Some might see a remarkable ‘miracle’ in the story. Others a lesson in humility for the general. Others the fear of a king who sees a neighboring army general on his doorstep, wondering when the attack will come. But David McCasland, writing for July 30th, 2013 in Our Daily Bread sees in the story the influence of the servants. The slave girl, who would have no obligation to speak, telling her mistress of a person who could help. The servants of a general, suggesting that the action suggested was so simple, why not just give it a try? They were right near the Jordan River. They’d have to cross it anyway, such as it is. Why not camp there for the night and take the baths suggested?

We are not servants or slaves in our country. And we do have a protected freedom of speech. Why not exercise it? Why not speak our minds to those who are our leaders. Though we cannot see the whole picture of events and consequences necessary to manage and create an environment for success of our people, maybe we’ll have the one idea that is necessary to move one obstacle we don’t even fully comprehend, one that could make a difference for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of our fellow citizens.

So the next time you perceive something that just seems such a simple solution, or when you feel strongly about an issue in your town, State, or our Nation, pull up a keyboard or break out a pen, some paper, and a stamp, and figure out what it is you want to say, and to whom. Write your local editor, your leadership/politician and tell them what you think. There’s no telling what might happen because you did.

My thanks for my own inspiration today, to David McCasland and Our Daily Bread on-line.

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