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Judas: "Still A Contenda!"

And now a word from the sponsor:

To the Editor of The New York Times:Re Gospel Truth (Op-Ed, Dec. 1), about the Gospel of Judas:April D. DeConick speaks too confidently when she talks about our mistakes in translation. She knows better. The issues of translation she highlights are almost all discussed in the notes in the popular edition and critical edition of the Gospel of Judas, and the observation that Judas is the thirteenth daimon in the text is open to discussion and debate.Professor DeConicks additional insinuations of ulterior motives by her fellow scholars in the establishment of the Coptic text and the development of an appropriate translation are extremely disappointing and disturbing. She knows how we struggled carefully and honestly with this difficult text preserved in fragments.Professor DeConick comes up with her interpretation of the Gospel of Judas by virtually ignoring all the positive things said about Judas in the text. In the end, Professor DeConicks Judas recalls Brando in On the Waterfront. He coulda been a contenda, he coulda been somebody if he just were not so demonic.When the positive things said about Judas in the Gospel of Judas are given fair consideration, it may be said: Judas is still a contenda.

Marvin Meyer,Orange, Calif., Dec. 4, 2007

The writer, one of the original editors and translators of the Gospel of Judas, is a professor of religious studies at Chapman University.

To the Editor:

When we became involved in the Gospel of Judas project, we assembled a team of scholars to examine, conserve, authenticate and translate the Coptic manuscript. The chief translator, Rodolphe Kasser, is one of the worlds leading Coptologists.Assisting him were three other eminent Coptic scholars. We also assembled an advisory panel of nine leading scholars and religious authorities who reviewed the manuscript, advising on its importance and impact. Once we were certain of the documents authenticity and had a consensus translation, we published it expeditiously and put the content on our Web site.Virtually all issues April D. DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in footnotes in both the popular and critical editions. People can disagree about certain words, but the entire document needs to be considered for an accurate reading of the text.When we published, we encouraged respectful, global discourse. We invite Professor DeConick and other scholars to join us at the National Geographic Society to continue the public discussion.Terry Garcia

Executive Vice President,Mission Programs,National Geographic Society,Washington, Dec. 4, 2007


Commenting Guidelines

I find the two letters defending National Geographic reasonably persuasive. As I had noted before, one of the most "shocking" allegations in the DeConick piece is that the National Geographic translations renders "daimon" (referring to Judas) as "soul," when the correct translations should be "demon." But in the Pagels/King book, King translates it as "god," and give her reasons for doing so in the notes. I don't read Coptic, so I can't weigh in on what an accurate translation should be. But it seems to me what we have is a disagreement among respectable scholars, not some kind of scandal (as DeConick seems to be implying). And I doubt the publication of the various books was an attempt to prove the canonical Gospels got it wrong. Certainly that is not the position of the Pagels/King book, which says upfront we learn nothing new about Judas and Jesus from The Gospel of Judas. What we learn is something about second-century Christianity.It appears to bother some people that there were different "Christianities" in the early centuries and what we have is the version that incorporated and/or suppressed the others. For contemporary believers, I don't see why that should be threatening.

David: I don't think it requires too much imagination to figure out why some people would be threatened by the idea of multiple Christianities and multiple texts. The plurality renders the historical development of "orthodox" Christianity somewhat messy. Who made the decisions? How are the texts related to each other? and so on. I think it threatens the notion that history cleanly corresponds to the texts.On the other hand, the threat can be reduced when one has confidence in the truth of the gospel as proclaimed by the church (as opposed to faith in every word of the gospels). Unfortunately, the content of this good news does seem to fluctuate from century to century. Simply studying the history of mainstream Christianity is enough to reveal a rather large plurality of Christianities over time.

I don't know who these people are who are said to be bothered by the existence of several different ways of understanding and living Christianity in the early Church, but I certainly am not among them. Their existence has been known to anyone who has read the NT itself, never mind the Apostolic Fathers and later writers as well, such as Irenaeus who went to mind-numbing lengths to describe them in the first two books of his great work and whose descriptions, I understand, have been largely shown to be accurate by recently discovered Gnostic texts. The point that DeConick was contesting, as I read it, was whether Judas was the hero of the new-found text or not. She seems to think it has been misunderstood, which, of course, would affect how one would understand the group behind it, or for which it was intended.We are all at the mercy of the scholars, of course; it comes down to which ones we choose to trust, and whether we do that intelligently and reasonably.

I think the promotional campaign also made it clear--again and again and again--that this was a revolutionary recasting of Christian history, and that Judas was in fact the hero of the Gospel story, and a hero who was written as a villain by the big bad old Instituional Church. The scholars writing the NatGeo books also made their choices in order to further that view. Moreover, the scholars cooperated in a promotional campaign that was quite un-scholarly, in that the texts they used were kept from all other scholars. So there was no chance to refute what they were claiming. This wasn't scholarship--it was salesmanship. They got their story out their first, and it stuck. Again, one must remember that the vast majority of people who hear about a "new" Gospel assume that it is coeval with the canonical four. It is injected into the mix as a competing narrative that was quashed. Like Joe Komonchak, I have no problem with the notion of "competing Christianities." It was always thus, and is today. I have a problem with those who try to spin history.

Bravo, David Gibson!Very well said. I'd only add that the mainstream media swallowed the sales pitch entirely and produced most of the general confusion that followed.

And in the NatGeo "Special" that was aired, Irenaeus was portrayed as the classic authoritarian villain. All together: "Hissss!"

Robert: I did not see the special to which you refer, but if Elaine Pagels was involved in it, I imagine that she was the anti-Irenaeus spokesperson. He does not come off well at all in her book Beyond Belief.That said, in the question of how many gospels should count, Irenaeus's answer that, just as there are four winds there should be four gospels, is not the most compelling. I also think that once John was affirmed as canonical, the synoptics were read, and for many continue to be read, through the lens of John, possibly producing a very different reading. However, I think we have had this lens discussion before, so I will say no more.

I also have no problem with competing Christianities. It has always been thus and will always be. Diversity of expression is a strength. We could talk much more about that. The current leadership in Rome would do well to reflect on that as well! But I digress.The broader issue which Joseph alluded to has to do with the basic historicity concerning the core events surrounding Jesus' life and ministry.Judas figures importantly in that history. I think that the judgement of history (and the facts) do present Judas as the one who betrayed the Christ. Consequenlty he is a symbol. But the symbol is related to the facts of history which is fixed. It can't be spun.As far as Judas having good qualities, of course that is certain. In terms of the charge that his positive qualities have been ignored, we should recall that Hitler and the Nazi's were amazingly efficient and indeed a model for the delivery of social services. They were supported by many progressive intellectualy. But nobody talks about that because other facets and choices of the Nazi program are abhorrent and so they are now rightly vilifed.

Having gone back to the National Geographic site and reread their initial announcements, I have to pretty much agree with what David Gibson says above about the promotional campaign. However, I still don't buy the notion that DeConick has laid bare a plot that was hitherto unknown. I bought the two National Geographic books when they came out, and once I got through the account of the discovering and the reconstruction of the damaged Coptic document, I lost interest, because I realized I was not going to find out anything about the historical Jesus or the real Judas. I will have to go back and look at the books to see if they say that explicitly. Pagels and King do say that explicitly. It looks to me now that it is DeConick who is engaging in a bit of sensationalism herself. See Marvin Meyer's press release on the National Geographic. His letter in the Times is an abridged version of the much longer press release. am now trying to decide whether to order the following from Amazon so that I can settle all of this for myself:

Simple logic argues for the understanding that Judas could not have always been as villainous as he is made to appear in the Gospels. For one thing, Judas found Jesus of Nazareth an attractive character, and probably made great sacrifices to follow him, as did the other Apostles. For another, Jesus himself, supposedly a good judge of character, saw something in Judas Iscariot that made him want to call him to be within the circle of his closest friends. As I mention in my book "A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas and Life's Big Questions," the most compelling explanation, at least for me, for his betrayal of Jesus comes from the Scripture scholar William Barclay, who argued that, in light of his suicide, the only explanation that is sensible is that Judas hoped some good would come of his actions. "This is the only explanation that makes sense in light of the facts," Barclay wrote.That is, other explanations (greed, jealousy, and so on) fail when you think about his subsequent suicide (assuming you accept this as factual). Perhaps Judas may have foolishly thought that by delivering Jesus into the hands of the Romans that he could force Jesus to act as a "real" Messiah, and begin the decisive battle against the Roman occupiers. Seeing Jesus's abject "failure" on the Cross would have led Judas to remorse, despair and ultimately suicide. Were the other explanations valid, there would have been no reason for him to regret his actions. Of course all of this is speculative. As the Rev. John Meier says in the first volume of his series, "A Marginal Jew," the only two things we know about Judas is that he was a disciple and that he betrayed Jesus. The rest, he says rightly, is speculation.

Joseph,It wasn't just the talking heads. There was a re-enactment of Irenaeus, Grand Inquisitor style, sweeping the gnostic writings off the table into the dust bin of history. Embarrassing B-Movie stuff.As for the "four winds:" an aesthetic analogy, but surely not the theologically determinative criterion. Rather the "rule of faith" is what governs the selection; as it did the inclusion of the Old Testament contra Marcion.Finally, I agree we've had too many back and forths regarding the perils of docetism or adoptionism. But the beauty (both aesthetically and theologically) of the quadriform Gospel is that you have to hold the Synoptics and John in soul-stretching tension.

Fr. James:Judas may have foolishly thought that by delivering Jesus into the hands of the Romans that he could force Jesus to act as a real Messiah, and begin the decisive battle against the Roman occupiers.It boils down to character.Maybe duplicity and a certain inauthenticity was part of Judas' character. Notwithstanding those character defects, he was chosen by Jesus. Yet, he remains responsible for his own moral choices - as does Jesus.The issue is the extent to which Jesus was complicit in Judas' actions (whatever the motivations) and further whether he even tacitly supported them. I think not. The Gospels seem to suggest that Jesus was aware of what Judas was going to do, but it also intimates that he did not agree with his choices. It doesn't appear that Judas consulted with Jesus.I am left to conclude that Judas acted unilaterally and did not discuss whatever he was going to do and whatever his motivations with Jesus. Peter stated his intentions but Jesus clearly disagreed with Peter and Peter ultimately supported how Jesus chose to respond.Finally, Judas also chose his death.I recall reading where Benedict or then Ratzinger wrote that the factual nature of Judas' actions are bolstered by the fact that Judas spoils the overall narrative of the story and makes it awkward. Jesus was not able to restore all the tribes of people and bring them together in harmony (symbolized by 'the Twelve'). There is a deep, deep betrayal in that inner sanctum of trust and intimacy that Jesus enjoyed with his most trusted friends.I am reminded of Tolstoy's letter to someone when they asked him why he threw Anna on the track in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy replied that he did not throw her off the tracks, she threw herself off. There was no moral judgement on his part. He didn't make her commit suicide - she just did. The point is that even in that fictional character there is an internal logic and trajectory that happens as a consequence of Anna's life choices. So too with Judas.

I agree that, of course, Judas was responsible for his own death. And I believe that, at least as I read the Gospels, Jesus did not encourage Judas's actions, since that would remove some of Judas's own personal moral agency and his free will. To that end, I think that Jesus's "Do what you are going to do" at the Last Supper is more an expression of resignation than encouragement. As for the factual basis of Judas, by Father Meier's criteria of "embarrassment" we have to conclude that having Jesus betrayed by one of his closest friends is not something that the early church would have "invented." When I was interviewing Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, for my book, he agreed with this analysis, and said that the wholesale invention of a Judas character (as some have posited--e.g., Judas represents "Judea" or, worse, "the Jews) is highly unlikely. "Rather," as Father Harrington says, "Judas's betrayal of Jesus was a known and most embarrassing fact."The story of Judas Iscariot continues to fascinate people, which is one reason for the interest in the "Gospel of Judas." Perhaps his betrayal of his close friend, and of his God, strikes a chord within all of us, as we struggle to follow God and yet fail to embrace the poverty of spirit to which God calls all of us--a spiritual poverty that admits the possibility that we will not understand God's actions. This was the spiritual poverty that Judas was unable to embrace. Judas apparently wanted to make God in his image rather than allow God to make Judas in His. But as Johannes Baptist Metz says in "Poverty of Spirit," the story of Judas reminds us that particular kind of spiritual poverty is often betrayed by those who are closest to it.

I have always wondered why the betrayal by Judas (at least as depicted in the synoptics) was "necessary." Jesus is portrayed as a very public person, easily recognized, who makes a very public entrance into Jerusalem. If he had been in hiding, then it would have taken someone to lead the authorities to his hiding place, but that does not seem to be at all the case. Also, why is the prearranged signal of a kiss necessary? If you are leading a band of armed men to capture someone, when you happen upon him, all you need to do is point and say, "That's him." Jesus himself asks somewhat the same question: "Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." (Mark 14: 48-49)

For what it is worth, here is a link to a piece I wrote in the wake of the initial Judas Gospel hubbub: of what I say has already been said; the fascination of the ambiguity of Judas. But I do like Greene's quote, from The End of the Affair: "Hatred seems to operate the same glands as love; it even produces the same actions. If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?"

On "competing Christianities": the phrase is valid, perhaps, as a historical description. It should be kept in mind that in the case of the competition between the "Gnostic" and the "Catholic" interpretation of what, if anything, God was about in Jesus Chrsit, it was also a matter of incompatible Christianities, that is, the one excludes the other, as both sides were clearly aware of at the time. That the "Catholic" version prevailed, thence to determine the course of the religious history of the West is, I understand, regarded as unfortunate by Elaine Pagels. The episode of the "Gospel of Judas" is just the latest in a larger narrative involving her work over many years.By the way, DeConick did not explicitly accuse the scholars associated with the NGS version of the text of deliberate falsification or of fad faith. She has invited Pagels and King to speak at the session on the document she will be hosting in the Spring. The most she did was to leave the question open whether something else was going on in the whole affair, and that by itself was enough to spark the two letters to the Times.

As to the question of why Jesus was arrested (or at least apprehended) at night, several Scripture scholars point out that the Romans (and perhaps some of the Jewish leaders) may have feared reprisals if they did so during the daytime. Remember that Jesus had been, presumably just the week before during his procession into the city, welcomed by ecstatic crowds. The kiss, from what I have read, was not simply the way a disciple sometimes greeted his teacher, but also an unmistakeable pointer, that is, one that would leave no doubt whatsoever about the identity of the man. As to why it was "necessary" I wonder if that isn't perhaps a bit of explanation on the part of the Gospel writers, struggling to help their communities and readers grasp this awful fact of Christ's suffering and death. But, in hindsight, we can see that it was "necessary" that Jesus die in order to rise again. To my mind, the "necessity" is very closely related to the idea of human sinfulness, in that our own inability to accept Jesus and his message makes his ultimate rejection "necessary" or at least a foregone conclusion. In many ways, all of us continue to reject him. Finally, in the "for what it's worth" department, here's my own piece, from The Boston Globe last year:

One need not go to the second century to find a question mark about Judas. Even the New Testament is not clear on how he died. I rather like the Lucan version in Acts where he bought a field with the money he received for handing Jesus over, but accidently fell down and bought the farm. I have often mused about what would have come of him had he not fallen in that field. The story clearly shows that he wanted a place of his own and did not want to share in the Jerusalem community. He is the antithesis to Barnabas who sells a field and shares the proceeds from the sale and places the proceeds at the apostles' feet. Barnabas is an example of how the early community was homothymadon "together." On the basis of this account may we assume that Judas was responsible for his own death?David,I think you are correct to question the necessity of betrayal, since whatever statements Jesus made against the Temple were likely enough to have him arrested. The betrayal seems to have symbolic value. Peter does it, too. The only ones who stick with Jesus are the women who accompanied him.George D:Where does the idea come from that Judas handed Jesus over to the Romans? The canonical gospels claim that the crowd Judas handed Jesus over to came from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders (synoptics) with John adding soldiers and police brought by the same group. Are the Romans?

James Martin: Your use of the word "necessary" reminds of the reflections of Aquinas on this term. As I am sure you know, Aquinas suggested that the term had two possible meanings (not an unusual strategy for the Doctor). Something might be necessary as required to achieve a certain end, as in food is necessary for stopping hunger, or something might be necessary to achieve some end in a better way, as in a horse on a journey (better than walking). The former is strictly necessary and the latter is not. Aquinas thought of the Incarnation in the second sense, a move that I think some Christians would find rather shocking. Your interpretation of the necessity of Christ's death seems to trade on both senses, in that one MUST die before rising, but one need not die on a cross to remind us of our sinfulness, however, such a death may be better remind us of this than simply a death by old age. However much I may prefer your analysis to traditional atonement, recapitulation, or substitution understandings of Christ, would you agree that it is not quite the standard theological line, at least in so far as that standard line tends to depart from Aquinas and argue that the Incarnation, and the death of Christ on the Cross were both necessary in the strict sense of the term?

Yes, Aquinas was almost Jesuitical in his use of distinctions! Of course there are several traditional theological interpretations of Christ's death--including substitution, atonement, recapitulation--but the one that I am suggesting is not new: that Christ was, in a sense, bound to die because of our own sinfulness and humanitiy's inability to accept his message. For me though it is more fruitful to meditate not simply on the theological "reasons" for Christ's death, but on his own willingness to die, and his ultimate rising from the dead: what I would call the more "personal" aspects of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Less the perspective from God the Father, and more from the perspective of Christ the Son. But that's just my own spirituality. For others those grander theological questions, like those tackled by Anselm and Aquinas, provide a great deal of consolation. I think different parts of the Gospels naturally appeal to different people.

Gerry O'Collins' "Jesus our Redeemer: a Christian Approach to Salvation" (Oxford:2007) offers a good discussion of biblical and theological perspectives.Against Gnostic disclaimers (of which the "Gospel of Judas" is, I take it, representative), the apostolic tradition's conviction is well recapitulated by Tertullian: "caro cardo salutis" -- salvation's hinge is the flesh.If one probes the "pathology" (James Martin's humanity's sinfulness and inability to accept the message), one may arrive, with the Letter to the Hebrews at this realization: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, Christ himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through his death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were held in life-long bondage" (Heb 2:14&15).In other words, if "fear of death" is at the root of humanity's illness, can the disease be cured short of death's transformation from within?Much to ponder in Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death." And in T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi:""I had seen birth and death,/ But had thought they were different; this Birth was/ Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death."

Mr. Pettit: I don't know why you consider it "the standard theological line" "to depart from Aquinas and argue that the Incarnation, and the death of Christ on the Cross were both necessary in the strict sense of the term". This wasn't what I was taught in my theology classes where we were made aware of the difference between Anselm and Aquinas on the necessity of the Incarnation and atoning death, that Aquinas spent more time on the "rationes convenientiae" (contingent intelligibility) of the two great mysteries than on their "rationes necessariae" (necessity).

Professor Komonchak: You are certainly right to call me to account when I suggest that there is any such thing as a "standard theological line" in Christian theology. Two thousand years of trying has not yielded such a thing. Perhaps I should have said "widely held," as I think I would have been on safer ground to suggest that it is widely held by Christians, at least those in the pews, that both the Incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus should be understood as necessary, largely because of humanity's sinfulness. I was also thinking of such average Christians when I wondered if the idea of competing Christianities could be perceived as threatening by some. My other problem may be that I mingle with many many Protestants, and such theological distinctions as those made between Aquinas and Anselm are not commonly made in these circles.Here is my wider agenda: I think that Christian theology could benefit from a sustained attempt to re-evaluate the relationship between Christology and soteriology, as I find that many of the classic rationales, Prof. Imbelli's appeal to Hebrews not withstanding, are no longer quite as clear or compelling to many Christians. Penal theories of atonement, have, I think, won the day in a large number of Christian circles, and yet, I think other Christians find such notions repugnant.I really am not trying to cause trouble. Rather, when I see what seems like promising theological reflection on these topics, such as that offered by James Martin above, I only seek to uncover a little open recognition that these are as much creative contributions to the theology of the future as they are representations of the a theology of the past.

I have nothing to add to the topic under discussion here. But I do thank the contributors for the constructive way they have discussed it and responded to one another. For me, at least, this is a fine example of how thoughtful, informed people can help one another, as well as those of us who are less well-informed, work through important matters.Again, thanks.

There is no need to learn Coptic to find out the sense of daimon generally. It is a Greek word. In the NT daimon and more often than not the variant daimonion are used exclusively of evil spirits, demons. In Ancient Greek generally the words are used of divinities, spirits, sometimes of entities that are inferior to gods (theoi) but superior to mortals, also in particular of superhuman entities that affect human lives. To address someone as daimonie is to implicitly ask the equivalent of "what is the matter with you". Also one's daimon can be one's luck or fate, the hand one has been dealt. In fact that seem to be the original sense since it is probably connected with the verb daio in the sense "deal out". "hand out".

As for Judas I would agree that all we can be sure of is that he was one of the chosen Twelve and that he handed Jesus over to his enemies. I think "betrayed" is really an interpretation rather than a translation, but you could argue about that.

I agree that the substitutionary penal theory of the atonement alienates many people from the faith. The sad thing is that it is often taken to be the meaning of the word "atonement" itself, when in fact it is simply one attempt to explain the redemption and is, I believe, a distortion of the biblical and traditional data. It is not, for example, the view of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, to name only western greats.

A very long time ago (in a past so distant that an 800-page theology book cost $24.95) I managed to read Jesus; An Experiment in Christology by Edward Schillebeeckx in its entirety. I didn't understand all that much of it, but there is one passage that startled me and that I have always remembered. I think it may be what Joe Pettit and Joseph A. Komonchak are discussing. Schillebeeckx said the following:

In a post-medieval theory of Christian redemption as penal substitution (offering a thoroughly false interpretation of Anselms doctrine of satisfaction), man really was condemned by Gods transcendent righteousness to blind submission and barren culpability: God demands the sacrifice of an innocent Jesus in order to release mankind from its guilt in the sight of God. It is just what the aeroplane hijackers do nowadays with their innocent hostages in order to expose at the bar of world opinion the guilt of society as a whole. (p. 592)

I believe this is basically what we were taught in grade school--that the sin of Adam and Eve "closed the gates of heaven." In order to get them open again, there had to be a sacrifice so good that God would accept it. So the Son became a man and suffered such a horrible death for our sins, that God reopened the gates of heaven to let Jesus back in, and he left the gates open for the rest of us. It never made any sense to me, morally speaking. Why should a perfectly innocent person have to be tortured and cruelly executed to make up for something he didn't do? What kind of father would demand that?

David:My only question: Were you really taught this in grade school? I may be at a disadvantage since I received my little religious education at weekly CCD sessions, a break from our public schools every Wednesday afternoon. But I have no memory of being taught anything like this, even later in my education. But I have heard others say that something similar was taught to them.

During Mass this afternoon, I was regrettably distracted by the idea that much of the discussion on this thread, as well as the historical discussion of why Jesus came to redeem us and what Judas (and others) had to do with His redemptive work, has as its philosophical background the problem of human evil. Human evil, by definition, is contingent. It need not to have occurred. But history tells us that human evil has been and is pervasive. I doubt that the philosophical problem of the origin of human evil is soluble. So it is not surprising that it bedevils the attempts to talk about what Jesus did and why He did it.I do not mean to suggest that all answers about Jesus's mission are equally worthy of acceptance. But I do doubt that any of them can overcome the intellectual enigma posed by the problem of contingent, but pervasive human evil.On this the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it is not inappropriate to recognize just how hoard we'd find it to imagine a real flesh and blood human being who was sinless. I do not deny the Immaculate Conception. I simply note how hard it would be for me, or anyone, to imagine what it would be like to be without fault.

Fr. Komanchak,My religious education in grade school came mainly from the Baltimore Catechism. Searching the Internet, I have found some versions of it and found some questions and answer that sound familiar to me. Here are a few:Q. 319. Did God abandon man after he fell into sin? A. God did not abandon man after he fell into sin, but promised him a Redeemer, who was to satisfy for man's sin and reopen to him the gates of heaven.Q. 320. What do we mean by the "gates of heaven"?A. By the "gates of heaven" we mean the divine power by which God keeps us out of heaven or admits us into it, at His pleasure.Q. 321. Who is the Redeemer? A. Our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind.Q. 347. Why was the coming of the Redeemer so long delayed? A. The coming of the Redeemer was so long delayed that the world -- suffering from every misery -- might learn the great evil of sin and know that God alone could help fallen man.Q. 391. Why did the Jewish religion, which up to the death of Christ had been the true religion, cease at that time to be the true religion? A. The Jewish religion, which, up to the death of Christ, had been the true religion, ceased at that time to be the true religion, because it was only a promise of the redemption and figure of the Christian religion, and when the redemption was accomplished and the Christian religion established by the death of Christ, the promise and the figure were no longer necessary.90. What is meant by the Redemption? By the Redemption is meant that Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer of the whole human race, offered His sufferings and death to God as a fitting sacrifice in satisfaction for the sins of men, and regained for them the right to be children of God and heirs of heaven.(See question 358)Satisfaction is compensation for an offense or injury against another.A redeemer is one who pays a price to regain something that has been lost or given up. No creature could, of himself, make adequate satisfaction for sin, which offends the infinite majesty of God. Every creature is finite and, as such, is unable to make infinite satisfaction. Although God wished all to be saved, and although Christ died for all, yet only those to whom the merits of His Passion are applied will benefit by His death.The death of Christ was a sacrifice of infinite merit and satisfaction, by which man was redeemed. Christ was both priest and victim in the sacrifice whereby He redeemed us. AS priest He offered His Passion and death to God for us, and as victim He suffered and died.

David: Your appeal to the Baltimore Catechism, especially question 90, is quite helpful. It also highlights one issue not often brought up, but which I think may be crucial; namely, the redemptive character of Jesus has historically been a principle rationale, and often THE rationale, for affirming the Incarnation (you will note that it also appears in the quote from Hebrews above provided by Robert Imbelli where Jesus must defeat the devil, but it does not appear in the spirituality present by James Martin, the necessary link, that is, does not appear, although I gather the Incarnation does). Thus, as we look a questions of redemption and find them unpersuasive, and sometime absurd, we not only make claims about redemption, but we also challenge some of the classic theological rationales for the Incarnation. In other words, there was in theology a very close connection between redemption and Incarnation, and I think that a case can be made that this connection has been broken in dramatic ways.Bernard: I used to get in trouble in CCD whenever the question of the Immaculate Conception was on the table. I would ask, if God could do this in the life of Mary, why could not God do this in all human lives? To be sure, not every human could be the mother of Jesus, but that, to me, seemed to be beside the point.Regarding our sinfulness, I agree that it is pervasive. I wonder, however, if the Christian need to resolve the problem, rather than just live with it as the Jews do, is a mistake. Part of the problem has to do with the Christian claim that there is something "original" going on here, rather than simply something perduring. Thinking in terms of an "original" sin, it is thought that we can somehow return to the status quo ante, whereas something the perdures has no state to return to. Those of us who accept an evolutionary account of human existence have an especially difficult time conceiving of what life could have meant prior to the "origin" of sin. If find that many considerations of original sin simply drop any real meaning of original, and simply use it as symbolic way of describing pervasive sin.

A few thoughts on this fascinating discussion:1. the Church has not (to my knowledge) "canonized" one view of redemption, though in its catechesis it has certainly drawn on several.2. I agree that the issue of "soteriology" is crucial and is intimately related to "Christology."3. It's helpful to differentiate between images ("gates of heaven") and concepts ("satisfaction," "sacrifice").4. For the image of "redemption" (a "buying back") from the time of the early fathers the issue was raised: to whom was the "price" paid (God, the devil)?5. For all the above Gerald O'Collins recent book, "Jesus our Redeemer" which I mention in a comment above is a dependable and insightful guide.6. Though I regret that the discussion proved distracting to Bernard during yesterday's Mass, I think his wrestling with "the problem of human evil" is of the essence of the matter.7. Hence, in a previous comment, I introduced the medical term "pathology" to focus reflection on the human predicament in which we are all implicated. How do we understand the spiritual "disease" to which we are prone?8. Part of the undeveloped state of our understanding of salvation is due, I think, to our insufficient probing of the problem. The cover-all term, "sin," needs to be broken open further. In response to one of his critics, Anselm said: "nondum cognovisti quanti ponderis sit peccatum:" you haven't yet penetrated how terrible is the weight of sin.9. I called attention to the citation from Hebrews, not to invoke the "devil" prematurely (though, Lord knows, we, heirs of the 20th century, need to come to grips with the pervasive demonic anti-human), but to suggest that reflecting on "fear of death" may give us some insight into the motive force that eventuates so often in death-dealing in its myriad forms. Thus my reference to Becker's Denial of Death's baneful consequences.10. To return, then, to the Gnostics. As I understand their perennial attraction, it is their recognition that "flesh and blood" doomed to death is the pathology. Their "soteriology" therefore can be summed up as "EXCARNATION" getting rid of, getting out of the flesh. Isn't this what Judas assists Jesus in doing, according to the eponymous gospel?11. For the apostolic tradition, the divine solution is precisely the contrary: INCARNATION, entering into the flesh -- "even unto death, death on a cross" (as the Philippians hymn proclaims in wonder), and as the Eliot poem I cite above ponders.12. It is by dying that Christ destroyed our death: transforming at its root our fear of death that leads us to all the deaths that we, wittingly and unwittingly, inflict. I apologize for the Lonergan-like points -- it helps my attempt at clarity. And I stop at 12 so as not to transgress the demonic 13 :)!My suggestion, in brief, is that any "solution" we articulate is also a function of our understanding of the "problem." But not to be pursued until Mass is over.Blessed Second Sunday of Advent!

For an interesting argument agsinst the plausibility penalty theory and for something rather different I recommend Herbert McCabe's essay "Good Friday: the Mystery of the Cross", originally in New Blackfriars, March 1986 and reprinted in his book God Matters, pp. 90-100. In brief McCabe argues that Christ died because was willing to be completely and perfectly human and that this is how he was able to bring hope of salvation to the rest of us. Unfortunately the detailed argument is too long to present here.

I have found a paragraph that is short enough to reproduce (God Matters p. 99):In the 48th Question of the Tertia Pars, St. Thomas allows for a whole variety of ways of seeing what we now call "atonement": Christ's death is a kind of scrifice, a kind of redemption, a kind of satisfaction for sin, and so on. Characteristically, he finds a place for all sorts of insights where others have been hynotised by one model or another. But in all cases St. Thomas finds the rationale of the atonement in the loving obedience of the man Jesus. He is very insistent that it is Jesus as a human being who does the work of our salvation, acting of course throught the grace of God and acting as the instrument of God, but acting as a human being, a saint. It is this loving obedience displayed finally on the cross that merits for Jesus his resurrection and the salvation of his followers. We are not saved by the intervention of a god, but by the great sanctity of one of ourselves, a sanctity great enough for his prayer for us to be heard.

The Baltimore Catechism does not present the theory of penal substitution, that is, that God punished Christ instead of us, so that when his justice was "satisfied," he could forgive mankind. Penal substitution in fact seems to have been introduced by Calvin, although it was also taken over by some Catholic preachers, who sometimes took an almost pornographic delight in describing the pains God inflicted on his innocent Son.

Joe Petit: Hi, Joe. To be clear, I do not think that "original sin" talk gives us an account of the origin of evil. Why is there evil? Clearly, the Adam and Eve story is no historical account. Rather, I think that it says that we don't know of anyone who was sinless, apart from Jesus and Mary. And excepting these two gets us no closer to seeing why there is evil at all. Second, as a Christian, I don't have any special itch to solve the problem of evil. But I do think that it is very important to admit the conceptual intractability of evil.Third, I think that it is important not to reduce the problem of the origin of evil, the problem of why there is evil at all, to evil's pervasiveness. Pervasiveness is an empirical matter. Questions of origins of whatever kind, including that of evil, have ontological import.Cheers.

Fr. Komonchak,I take it that, referring back to the Schillebeeckx quote, what I was taught (from the Baltimore Catechism) was not "penal substitution" but "Anselm's doctrine of satisfaction." But don't both require the suffering and death of a totally innocent Jesus to "reopen the gates of heaven" and reestablish the proper relationship between God the Father and mankind? One more question: Isn't the idea of Jesus's death as a sacrifice based on the idea of the kind of sacrifices that took place in the temple--that is, animal sacrifices? The Baltimore Catechism I quoted above says, "The death of Christ was a sacrifice of infinite merit and satisfaction, by which man was redeemed." Does this imply that animal sacrifices were actually pleasing to God and efficacious in some way, but imperfect?

Bernard: You offer helpful clarifications. A few thoughts on the ontology of evil. I have increasely come to believe in the reality of evil as such. However, I have also, for the moment, come to the conclusion that evil as such cannot be intentional, it cannot have freedom; for in all freedom one creates, and even the most evil creation still betrays a dependence on the Creator. Thus, evil relies on creatures (us) who are never entirely evil. As a presence, evil could be compared to weather or water; two realities that have no intention, no freedom, in themselves, but the presence of which can dramatically alter our behavior.The essence of evil is destruction. The essence of God is creation. Creation requires freedom, destruction does not. Like water, evil spreads wherever it can. It does not care if you are already sick, poor, depressed, broken in so many ways. All the more cracks for it to leak into a life. All the more reason to be an advocate for the poor, vulnerable, isolated, and despised. They are some of those most vulnerable to the destructive power of evil (although certainly not the only who are vulnerable).As for origins, I wonder sometimes if the darkness which covered the face of the deep, the chaos that came before creation, was ever truly dispelled by creation. Can we speak of it as lingering? Is darkness merely the absence of light, or something in itself? Scritpure denies creation ex nihilo, and perhaps ex nihilo is too ontologically tidy. Theologically, this would raise an interesting problem. If not even God's creation can dispel evil, can we then say that it is ontologically, as well as empirically, pervasive?There remains one basic way to dispel evil, and that is to proclaim in words and in deeds the glory and goodness of God (and humming a good hymn never hurt either!).

The Catechism is kind of interesting on the fall of man, saying, "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents." So the account uses figurative language, but presumably when the Catechism says "our first parents," it is not speaking figuratively. (Or is it?) If I am not mistaken, there is a notion that the fall of man affected not only human beings, but also nature itself. There is a theory that everyone alive today has a common female ancestor who lived about 200,000 years ago in Africa (the so called "mitochondrial Eve") so I don't suppose the the idea of "our first parents" is out of the question to those who believe in evolution (whether or not the theory about "Eve" is true). But certainly we know that "nature, red in tooth and claw" predates anything even resembling humans.

David: The fascinating thing for me is that in the vast majority of cases, nature is not red in tooth and claw. Rather, claws are used to scratch backs. That is, what it means to be "fit" in nature most of the time means learning how to cooperate with those lives that are around you. I imagine there are some eugenic shadows in America's preference for reading evolution as a matter deadly competition and struggle, rather than a cooperation. Cancer is fallen, but mitochondria are not.However, as one who enjoys gardening, but who must deal with spikes on weeds, weeds that kill everything around them, and the smell of deadly plants like nightshade, I do wonder if evil does manifest itself in the natural world, as well as in the human.

Joe,You and I must watch different nature documentaries! When I was a kid (and yes, there was actually television back then) the nature documentaries didn't show the predators actually catching and eating their prey, but now frequently they do.Of course there is a lot of cooperation in nature. But there is a lot of "evil," too. Particularly within the insect world, there are really freaky and disturbing things that go on. In any case, my point is that if the entire human race actually does have two parents from whom we all descended, I think we can say for certain that the "evil" in nature predates the fall. There were diseases, earthquakes, lightning strikes, predators and prey, fish eating their own young, and female praying mantises killing and eating male praying mantises as they are mating. When I was growing up, my father had a very large garden. I remember him complaining bitterly that the raccoons (or where they opossums?) would gnaw the stalks of corn so they fell over, and then take only one or two bites from the ear before moving on to the next stalk. So God said to Adam and Eve:Cursed is the ground because of you;In toil you will eat of itAll the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;And you will eat the plants of the field; But I find it hard to believe that there was some profound change in nature because of the fall that changed the nature of gardening.

Joe Petit and David Nickol: It is important, I think, to distinguish between moral evil, the kind of evil that we deliberately perpetrate, and natural evil, the supposedly evil things that come about without any deliberate action on our part. In Spes Salvi, Pope Benedict makes a case for not considering death an evil. Whatever one thinks of that argument, I would defend the claim that when we can intervene to prevent or ameliorate some human suffering caused by natural evils we have some moral obligation to do so, an obligation that can, of course be overridden by other factors.I realize that the classical problem of evil deals with both natural and moral evils. For present purposes, I'm only talking about moral, and by extension political, evils.

Yes, David, I would say that the Baltimore Catechisms presentation was closer to Anselms view than to the penal substitution with which it is often confused. That an innocent Jesus suffered and thus merited his own resurrection and our salvation does not mean that his divine Father willed his punishment, much less inflicted it himself through human surrogates. That Christ should have been tortured and put to death was a great evil in no way willed by God who at best permitted it (as so much other evil, moral and physical, in this universe). That Christ should have been willing to endure this evil out of fidelity and loving obedience is the great good that has won our salvation. It was Christs love under such circumstances that was the great good that more than made up for the evil of sinthat is what satisfaction means.Some of this, of course, is in the NT itself whose writers had to try to make sense out of a suffering Messiah and Savior; some of it is much later efforts to do justice to the biblical texts. As has been pointed out a couple of times here, the satisfaction-theory sets out only one theory of the Atonement or Redemption, and it is not necessarily the best one.As for sacrifice, the biblical notion is very complex. In some passages in the NT, it is only alluded to, but the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the example of the high priests bringing the blood of the slain animal into the Holy of Holies as the type of Christs entry into heaven with the blood of his own sacrifice, so that, as my late and lamented biblical mentor, Myles M. Bourke, insisted, the sacrifice does not reach its high moment without the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. The slaying was not the essential moment of the sacrifice but the entrance into the Holy of Holies. You can see this notion set out in Msgr. Bourkes commentary on Hebrews in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Bernard: Although it may not have seemed obvious, I actually was referring to something closer to moral evil in nature than I was to classic understandings of natural evil. Just as Hopkins tells us how "The world is charged with the grandeur of God," and many others have claimed that God's law is revealed in nature, so I have begun to wonder if evil can manifest itself in nature in a similar way. So while such evil would not quite be moral, if moral requires freedom, it would still be like moral evil in the same way that natural law is like moral good.Joseph Komonchak: I wonder (and the wondering is not unique to me) if Anselm's understanding of satisfaction is wedded too heavily to fuedal notions of the "honor" of the lord of the land, and honor that required satisfaction whenever it was violated. I find those who know Anselm much better than me make this argument (e.g. Southern's biography of Anselm), and I just do not see God reacting to humans like a feudal lord might if someone killed a dear on his property without permission.

Well, he might if he killed a dear!I once studied Anselm's argument closely enough to publish an article about it, and I thought the feudal notion not as central to the argument as some have made it to be.I love Augustine's discussion of whether one can assign a cause to an evil will. Evil in a will is a defect, he argued, and it makes no more sense to ssek a cause of it than it does to want to see darkness or to hear silence.

Fr. Komonchak, if "evil in a will is a defect," and not simply the finitude ingredient in everything created, whence the origin of this defect? Let me add that the term 'origin' does not refer to time. It refers to the ontological conditions that make something, here evil, possible. Thus, moral evil is not analogous to darkness.

The ontological condition that makes moral evil possible is free will. I think that moral evil and darkness are indeed analogous, that is, both similar and dissimilar. The resemblance is that wanting to see darkness or to hear silence may be natural, but a moment's reflection makes one realize that darkness can't be seen nor silence heard. Similarly, one might like to understand moral evil, know its cause, but moral evil is in fact the absence of intelligibility, of reasonableness. Why do I not do what I know I should? Can I give a reason that explains this failure? If I had a reason, it wouldn't be sinful. (Contrast a reason with a rationalization.)The matter requires what Lonergan calls an "inverse insight," a recognition that there is nothing to understand. I don't think human finitude is itself an evil, and certainly nor a moral evil; else how could it be said that God looked at what he had made and found it very good, good in all its finitude. So I don't think that evil in a will can be identified with finitiude.

Any discussion with ontological in it is over my head, but I can't help but observe that God saw that creation was good in Chapter 1, but in Chapter 3 his first two humans have brought a curse down on the whole human race, and by Chapter 6 we have reached this point:

The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earthmen and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the airfor I am grieved that I have made them."

If we're to take this literally, if it weren't for Noah, we wouldn't be here. (I don't take it literally, but what exactly does it mean figuratively?)

My point exactly: the problem is not created human finitude but what God's good creatures have done with their freedom. In all the curses, there's always a glimmer of hope: the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the snake's seed; the mark of Cain; the exception of Noah and his family saved from the inundation; etc.