Tomar is a historically outstanding town in the Ribatejo region of central Portugal. Straddling the banks of the River Nabão, Tomar has narrow cobbled streets and a whole host of appealing buildings. It is also home to one of the most important architectural and religious monuments in the country – the Convento de Cristo, former headquarters of the Knights Templar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this magnificent monastery and its associated castle sit in a commanding position on a wooded hill overlooking the town.
The Knights Templar was an elite fighting force and semi-religious order that was founded in 1119, during the Crusades. Under the guidance of Gualdim Pais, the visionary Grand Master of the Portuguese Knights, the order began construction of a castle on the hill overlooking Tomar around 1160. The design of the castle’s famous ‘rotunda’ church was inspired by similar structures in Jerusalem. Each knight took a vow of poverty and chastity and wore a white coat emblazoned with a red cross. Over the years, the Templars spread across Europe, gaining extraordinary wealth in the process – and also many powerful enemies!
By the early 1300s, amid accusations of heresy, the order was finally suppressed. However, in Portugal, the Templars re-emerged again in 1320, reincarnated as the ‘Order of Christ’, but now under the control of the throne. It was thanks to the wealth of this new order that Prince Henry the Navigator (who was Grand Master from 1417-1460) was able to fund Portugal’s legendary maritime voyages. The order’s proud symbol – the Cross of Christ – became the distinguished banner for the country’s great age of exploration and discovery. From the 13th to the 17th century, the Convento de Cristo underwent continuous expansion to become the superb monument it is today.
We entered the castle grounds through the main gate and stopped to admire the outside of the circular 12th century church. After entering the monastery, we realised that there was a surprise around every corner. We counted eight cloisters, the largest of which is regarded as a renaissance masterpiece. There are charming terraces with great views over the countryside, an infirmary, a pharmacy and some gloomy monks’ living quarters.
The interior of the beautiful round church, known as the charola, is the chief attraction. The aisle is circular with a high altar enclosed within a central octagon, and the surrounding walls are decorated with murals of sacred art from the 16th century. This was the knights’ private oratorium and they attended services here whilst seated on horseback!
Just outside the church, the tiny Santa Bárbara cloister has a grandstand view of the chapter house’s amazing ornate Manueline window. This bizarre masterpiece is structured around two carvings of ships’ masts, adorned with knots, cork, coral and seaweed. Although covered in lichen and clearly in need of renovation, these somber blemishes just add to the window’s extraordinary appeal.
A secure supply of water to the complex was provided in the early 17th century by means of a six-kilometre aqueduct. This supreme engineering structure is most impressive where it crosses the steep Vale da Ribeira dos Pegões just outside Tomar. It has two magnificent 30m high tiers of arches and there is a tempting high-level walkway along the top of the conduit – but a painful drop should you stumble and fall!
The ordinary town residents have always been able to enjoy a plentiful water supply from the River Nabão itself.
From Roman times onwards, waterpower was used to drive mills, oil-presses and water wheels for irrigation and industry. The Roda do Nabão is a modern and much-admired water wheel located next to the town’s lovely central Parque de Mouchão. Constructed of pinewood, it is a perfect example of how the force of the River Nabão was used for local economic benefit.
Tomar has many other noteworthy attractions and we began our exploration on the east side of the river at the Santa Maria do Olival, a simple church dating from the 12th century and home to many Templar tombs, notably Gualdim Pais, the Grand Master himself. Plain on the outside and plain on the inside, this is a church with considerable charm and overlooked by most visitors.
Crossing the river using the scenic ‘Old Bridge’ and turning left, we found the Match Box Museum in a shady courtyard of the Convento de São Francisco. It has a mind-boggling collection of 43,000 matchboxes from 120 countries displayed like colourful tapestries.
The medieval heart of Tomar lies nearby and we wandered through its cobbled lanes to visit Portugal’s oldest surviving medieval synagogue. Many Portuguese have Jewish ancestry and Tomar was once the home of a thriving Jewish community. This 15th century Hebrew temple has variously been used as a prison, a hayloft and a grocery warehouse during its long history, but has now been splendidly renovated and is home to an interesting small museum. There are strange upturned earthenware jars set high in its walls to improve acoustics!
The spacious Praça da República, surrounded by attractive 17th century buildings is at the very heart of the old town, and overlooked by the lovely Igreja de São João Baptista. The church has an octagonal spire and two superbly ornamental Manueline doorways. The handsome city hall lies directly opposite and between the two, in a befitting place in the middle of the square, stands an imposing statue of the city’s illustrious founder, Gualdim Pais.
Every four years, the square becomes the centre of activities for Tomar’s most famous cultural event – the Festa dos Tabuleiros. This ancient celebration, associated with the Feast of the Holy Spirit, is actually thought to have its roots in earlier pagan fertility rites. Its highlight is a procession of hundreds of local girls (traditionally virgins) carrying tall ‘tabuleiros’ on their heads. These unusual headdresses are built from loaves of bread, decorated with flowers, and have a white dove at the top to symbolize the Holy Spirit. A local boy helps each girl to support her enormous ‘hat’ as it can weigh up to 15kg. However, these male attendants are not apparently required to be virgins!
One wonders exactly what Gualdim Pais would think about modern Tomar if he were alive today – international tour groups tramping through his beautiful church and young ladies walking the streets with stacks of loaves on their heads? However, he and his fellow Templar Knights would no doubt have been very happy to collect the considerable tourist income for their charitable coffers!
by Nigel Wright in portugalresident.com
Templar Corps firma Protocolo con Sigillum Templi, principal club de Estudios Templarios de habla hispana
El Templar Corps International (templarcorps.org) ha firmado un protocolo con Sigillum Templi, el más grande e importante club de Estúdios Templários de habla hispana. La primera iniciativa conjunta es un Curso de estudio en la web en español sobre la Orden del Templo, que comienza el 25 de julio.
En una breve entrevista, Víctor Padilla Nieto, Administrador General, nos da una idea de lo que podemos esperar de esta colaboración.
TEMPLAR GLOBE:Victor, cuéntanos sobre Sigillum Temple, cuando a sido fundado y qué tipo de trabajo se ha publicado?
VICTOR PADILLA NIETO: Sigillum templo es un proyecto creado en el 2015 por un grupo multidisciplinar que estudia la Historia, principalmente en el período de vigencia de la orden del Temple.
Esto conlleva una serie de líneas de investigación para comprender y posteriormente divulgar el entorno de los Pobres Compañeros de Cristo y su herencia.
TG: ¿Cómo podemos unirnos a Sigilum Templi?
VPN: Tenemos diferentes vías de divulgación: Página de Facebook muy dinámica; Blog del medievo con más de 1500 entradas Onda Sigillum. Con un programa que investiga las Claves Ocultas de la Historia
Una web dónde poner en común las investigaciones y con una zona privada para socios.
TG: ¿Hay un boletín o revista para suscribirse?
VPN: Desde hace unos meses disponemos de dos tipos de publicaciones. Una digital y gratuita rllamada Cartularium templi, que se publica en PDF y se distribuye vía Facebook y en la web, y otra de pago por suscripción anual, el Codice Sigillum, impresa a todo color con unas 100 paginas. Escrita por los más prestigiosos articulistas y conocedores del medievo en general y de la Orden del Templo en particular.
TG: ¿Cuán importante es la historia de los templarios en el contexto de la Reconquista?
VPN: La importancia de la reconquista en la península Ibérica por parte de la orden del Temple es vital. No se puede concebir sin su ayuda a los diferentes reinos cristianos peninsulares. Mallorca, Valencia, Murcia, Sevilla, Algarve, entre otros muchos, son territorios ganados por el Temple a los diferentes reinos mencionados. Participaciones en la conquista de Calatrava la vieja y la inequívoca victoria en las Navas de Tolosa en las que las crónicas destacan a los caballeros templarios como los más aguerridos.
TG: ¿Qué motiva esta asociación con Templar Corps?
VPN: El principal motivo para esta asociación con Templar Corps es poder divulgar la historia sin dogmatismo. Templar Corps está avalada por un equipo de librepensadores que los diferencia con la mayoría de entidades con otros fines divulgativos más o menos dirigidos. Tanto Sigillum Templi como Templar Corps son entidades autosuficientes e independientes.
TG: ¿Qué puede esperar aprender un estudiante de este Curso?
VPN: En este curso los estudiantes van a tomar conciencia plena de la vital importancia de la Orden en la península Ibérica, y no solamente esto, sino que aprenderá el conocimiento esotérico básico para entender el por qué de muchas de las acciones que tuvieron y su significado.
TG: ¿La ciencia, el arte, la arquitectura, el conocimiento y la espiritualidad templaria son relevantes hoy en día o es solo un recordatorio nostálgico del pasado?
VPN: Por supuesto son importantes. Nada que ver con la nostalgia del pasado. La iconografía templaria revela al iniciado un camino al esoterismo. La geometría sagrada aplicada a las construcciones se ha puesto cada vez más en valor con la aplicación de nuevas tecnologías del siglo XXI . La organización de las encomiendas es un hito en el medievo. La alimentación está reglada y aplicada con nociones de dietética e higiene alimentaria… En resumen, la continuidad que da la orden del Temple a la Gran Tradición Ancestral, pone de manifiesto el enorme conocimiento que se transmite a todos y para todos.
Gracias Victor. Te deseamos lo mejor para el curso.
Puedes encontrar más información aquí:
The Templar Corps International (templarcorps.org) – Academy has signed a Protocol with Sigillum Templi the largest and most important Spanish speaking Templar research club. The first joint initiative is an online Study Course in Spanish about the Order of the Temple, starting the 25th of July.
In a short interview, Victor Padilla Nieto, Administrador General, gives us an idea of what we can expect from this collaboration.
TEMPLAR GLOBE: Victor, tell us about Sigilum Templi, how old it is and what kind of research or investigation you have published?
VICTOR PADILLA NIETO: Sigillum temple is a project created in 2015 by a multidisciplinary group that
studies History, mainly in the period of the historical Order of the Temple. This involves a series of lines of research to understand and subsequently disclose the environment where the Poor Companions of Christ appeared and their heritage.
TG: How can we join Sigilum Templi?
VPN: We have different ways of making this work available: a very dynamic Facebook page , a Medieval blog with more than 1500 entries, a radio program program that investigates the Hidden Keys to History and a website where research can be shared and with a private area for members.
TG: Is there a bulletin or magazine to subscribe?
VPN: Yes. For a few months now we have had two types of publications. A free and digital one called Cartularium Templi, which is published in PDF and distributed via Facebook and the web, and another under annual subscription, the Codice Sigillum, printed in full color with about 100 pages, authored by the most prestigious columnists and connoisseurs of the Middle Ages in general and of the Order of the Temple in particular.
TG: How important is the history of the Templars in the context of the Reconquista?
VPN: The importance of the reconquest in the Iberian peninsula by the order of the Temple is vital. The different peninsular Christian kingdoms cannot be conceived without their help. Mallorca, Valencia, Murcia, Seville, Algarve, among many others, are territories won by the Temple to the different kingdoms mentioned. Their participation in the conquest of Calatrava the old and the unequivocal victory in the Navas de Tolosa in which the chronicles highlight the Knights Templar as the most fearless.
TG: What motivates this partnership with Templar Corps?
VPN: The main reason for this association with Templar Corps is to be able to spread the story without dogmatism. Templar Corps is endorsed by a team of freethinkers that differentiates them from most entities with other, more or less, purposes with an agenda. Both Sigillum Templi and the Templar Corps are self-sufficient and independent entities.
TG: What can a student of this Course expect to learn?
VPN: In this Course, students will become fully aware of the vital importance of the Order in the Iberian Peninsula, and not only this, but they will also learn basic esoteric knowledge to understand the reason for many of their actions and the meaning behind them.
TG: Are science, art, architecture, knowledge and Templar spirituality relevant today or is it just a nostalgic reminder of the past?
VPN: Of course they are important. Nothing to do with nostalgia for the past. Templar iconography reveals to the initiate a path to esotericism. The sacred geometry applied to constructions has been increasingly valued with the application of new technologies of the 21st century. The organization of the Commanderies is a milestone in the Middle Ages. Food is regulated and applied with notions of dietetics and food hygiene… In summary, the continuity that ensures that the Order of the Temple is part of the Great Ancestral Tradition, shows the enormous knowledge that has been transmitted to all and for all.
Thank you Victor. We wish you the best for the Course.
You can find more information here:
An appetising aroma of sheep’s cheese and smoked chorizo sausages wafted through the stalls of Estremoz’s famous Saturday market. This weekly extravaganza shows off the best of the Alentejo’s local produce, including olives, chutneys, honey, fruit, vegetables and colourful ceramics. It is also home to a superb ‘flea market’ with stalls offering everything from coin collections to cowbells! The market is held in the Rossio Marquês de Pombal, a vast square at the town’s centre.
Estremoz exudes a real feeling of elegance and wealth, because high-grade white marble has been extensively used in the construction of its churches, civic buildings, streets and squares. So plentiful is the availability of top quality marble from the many quarries in this part of the Alentejo, that Estremoz and the nearby towns of Borba and Vila Viçosa have even used it for the doorsteps of their humblest cottages.
Unseasonal rain and a chill wind cut short our perusal of the flea market so we scuttled away to visit another of Estremoz’s attractions, the celebrated Café Águias d’Ouro (Golden Eagles Café). Built early in the 20th century, this art nouveau coffee house has long been famed for political debate, so we were not surprised to be surrounded by men emotionally discussing the weighty matters of local politics. Here was a café with just the kind of atmosphere one reads about in Portuguese literature.
Next to the Rossio, there is a peaceful municipal garden and the picturesque Lago do Gadanha (Lake of the Scythe), named after its central scythe-wielding statue. Nearby are a couple of splendid churches – the Igreja de São Francisco and the Convento dos Congregados, the latter of which is also home to a museum of sacred art.
As the rain turned even heavier, we decided to cross the square to visit one of Portugal’s national monuments, the Convento das Maltesas. This historic building, once a hospital, has a charming cloister at its centre and houses Estremoz’s ‘Live Science Centre’ (Centro de Ciência Viva). It is a very impressive interactive and educational science museum, where children of all ages can learn about the wonders of our planet. Perfect for stimulating scientific curiosity!
The old city of Estremoz
The ‘Cidade Velha’ (old city), with its palace and castle, stands defiantly on top of the hill overlooking the new town far below. It is reached by following a labyrinth of narrow winding streets and through two sets of impressive medieval walls, the construction of which began in 1261. Estremoz Castle is the town’s classic landmark, built during the 13th century as a defensive fortress. Within this fortification, King Dinis later built a palace where he lived with his wife Isabel of Aragon. Queen Isabel was famously generous to the poor and gained the status of a saint amongst the local population. She even has a tasty almond-flavoured cake, the ‘Bolo Rainha Santa’, in her name.
The castle has an imposing 27m high tower made from white marble, and the palace next door has been converted into a luxurious Pousada. This majestic hotel was our comfortable home during our time in Estremoz and boasts two magnificent lounges and a stately dining room, all containing a fantastic array of period Portuguese furniture. The top of the tower is reached by access through the Pousada and has a wide-ranging view of the Alentejo landscape. There is a chapel to the saintly Queen Isabel behind the palace and her own skillfully carved statue stands in the square close to the base of the tower. However, she does look rather glum!
This same square also gives access to the Igreja de Santa Maria, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, and the fascinating Museu Municipal. Built in the Manueline style, the lovely Santa Maria church has tombstones emblazoned with coats-of-arms of many notable Portuguese families.
The museum has an eclectic display of Alentejana objects on show, from exquisitely carved figures in wood and cork depicting rural activities, to rooms depicting local life in the 19th century. But it is the colourful ‘Bonecos de Estremoz’ that catch the eye! Literally translated as ‘Dolls of Estremoz’, there are 500 of these colourfully-painted figurines made from clay. This original folk art is more than three centuries old and in 2017 was classified by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
We discovered that the restaurant A Cadeia Quinhentista (Old 16th Century Gaol), just behind the Santa Maria Church, had some great examples of the best of Alentejana cuisine. Its menu was stacked with interesting local dishes – from ‘Pézinhos de Coentrada’ (pork’s feet with coriander) to the famous dessert ‘Sericaia’ (egg pudding served with cinnamon and plum syrup).
Elvas and Evoramonte
No visit to this part of the Alentejo would be complete without seeing something of Elvas and Evoramonte. Elvas is a wonderfully preserved fortress town located further east, close to the Spanish border, and justifiably popular with military historians. It was the first line of defence against Spanish invasion and its walls were designed so that no side was left unprotected – resulting in a unique star arrangement of battlements.
Essential for outlasting a protracted siege was a reliable supply of clean water, and this was ensured by construction of a long and impressive aqueduct. Elvas managed to fend off three separate Spanish sieges, only falling in 1808 during the Napoleonic wars. We spent a fascinating day exploring the town’s cobbled streets, churches, the ancient castle and the impressive battlements.
Evoramonte is one of the Alentejo’s lesser-known jewels. This ancient little town to the west of Estremoz has a medieval quarter straddling a ridge 481 metres in height. A good road winds its way to the top and we parked close to its pretty church and immaculately-kept cemetery. The 16th century castle, built in the Italian renaissance style, is perched at the other end of the settlement at the highest point and offers remarkable views.
It was a joy to stroll along the one and only street, deserted on a bitterly cold day, and we just couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle of the local wine at the village gift shop. This became the final part of our simple Alentejo lunch at home the following day – delicious smoked chorizo, tangy sheep’s cheese, olives and wonderful Alentejo bread followed by a tasty ‘Bolo Rainha Santa’. Happy memories!
By Nigel Wright
Nigel Wright and his wife Sue moved to Portugal 13 years ago and live near Guia. They lived and worked in the Far East and Middle East during the 1980s and 90s, and although now retired, still continue to travel and seek out new cultural experiences. His other interests include tennis, gardening and photography.
There is a part of Spain, within a day’s drive of the Algarve, that you may have never heard of, let alone visited. If I’m right, you have been missing something interesting.
I’m talking about the Duero River valley. If you have driven north through Spain, heading for France or Britain, you have almost certainly driven from Salamanca through Valladolid and on to Burgos and Santander or Bilbao or France. You have driven right across the Duero River just south of Valladolid in the small town of Tordesillas.
The Duero River rises near Soria and runs from east to west through the provinces of Valladolid and Zamora before it forms the Spanish-Portuguese border for a while. When it enters Portugal, it changes its name to become the Douro and splashes on west to Porto and the Atlantic.
We all know the wonderful Douro wines – but you may not be aware of the fact that, in Spain, this river nourishes some very excellent Spanish wines, too.
There are a number of DOs (Denominación de Origen) that depend on the special climactic effects created by the Duero. The best known are the Ribera del Duero (home of Vega Sicilia, which is arguably Spain’s greatest wine) to the east of Valladolid and Rueda to the south of Tordesillas, but excellent, though lesser known, wines are also produced in the DOs of Cigales, north of Valladolid, and in Toro, Zamora and Los Arribes, all in the province of Zamora.
The red wines of Valladolid province are primarily made with the Tempranillo varietal and the whites with Verdejo or, increasingly, Sauvignon Blanc. In Zamora province, Tempranillo (here often called Tinta de Toro or Tinta del Pais) is equally as important but Garnacha and Juan Garcia are gaining in usage. Almost all the wines produced in both provinces are single varietals rather than blends and it is only in the Rueda DO that white wines are produced in quantity.
The Toro wines were so prestigious that King Alfonso IX of Léon conceded privileges for their production in the 12th century and Columbus took Toro wine on his 1492 expedition, because it could survive long journeys due to its structure and body.
A group of us recently wanted to experience the various Duero wines in situ, so we used the harvest festival in Toro (Fiesta de la Vendimia) in mid-October as our excuse to spend a week tasting wines, eating some wonderful Castillian tapas and looking at the scenery and architectural wonders of the area.
Our base was the Hotel Juan II in Toro, overlooking the Duero and right next to the magnificent collegiate church of Santa Maria la Mayor, a really beautiful combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture that was begun in 1160.
Not far away was the impressive Monasterio de Sancti Spiritus, founded in 1307 and home to a lovely collection of religious art and a beautiful Romanesque cloisters. More interesting, from our point of view, was the beautiful alabaster sarcophagus of Beatriz of Portugal, only child of King Ferdinand I and, in 1383, wife and Queen Consort of King Juan I of Castille.
Our tour took us to the Los Arribes DO, a long, narrow strip of rocky slopes along the eastern banks of the Duero on the Portuguese border (the name “Arribes” derives from the Latin ad ripam, which means “on the banks of”). The terroir is so hardscrabble and dry it is amazing that any wine at all can be grown, but, in fact, we tasted some quite drinkable ones. We also had the opportunity to take a cruise in the international waters of the ”Grand Canyon” of the Arribes del Duero. It was quite spectacular.
On our way back to Toro we stopped in Zamora for a walk around the old town, a look at the cathedral built in the mid-12th century, with its graceful cupola covered with scallop tiling, and an excellent dinner in one of the province’s finest restaurants, El Rincón de Antonio, the tasting menu of which was, of course, complemented by very tasty Rueda white and Toro red wines.
The Toro Fiesta runs over four days, and, during it, the town’s population swells from just under 10,000 to about 30,000, with the influx being almost entirely Spanish tourists.
The townsfolk are dressed in medieval costume and the celebrations are capped by the Gran Torneo de Justas Medieval on Saturday afternoon in the very rustic bullring. This is an hour long pièce de theatre, by four knights-errant and their pages, of (simulated) jousting, sword play and various pranks, all played for laughs to the vast amusement of the crowd. Of course, the knight representing Castille “won”, at the expense of the insipid (and probably drunk) knight representing Portugal and the mean and ugly black knight. Cheers all around.
On a political note, our visit was just after the “referendum” vote in Catalonia, and we were struck by the vibrant nationalist spirit in evidence all around us. There were many Spanish flags displayed prominently – a practice that, until now, had been rather frowned upon as being slightly fascist. It was clear that, while the illegal vote may have been divisive vis-à-vis Catalonia, it had certainly brought the rest of Spain closer together as a nation.
Our drive back home on the Sunday (with a boot full of good Spanish wine) was about 750km, all autoroute, and covered in about six hours – leaving time for a good tapas lunch on the way. Viva España!
By Larry Hampton
Nicholas Haimovici-Hastier, Regent of the OSMTJ and Antonio Paris, Master of the OSMTHU
Following a few requests for information and clarification, after the new year started with one more of the many ill advised and irregular “coups d’etat” that recurrently affect fraternal groups, this one resembling the Wild West of fearless cowboys and bandits, we are pleased to make the following DECLARATION:
Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem Universal (OSMTHU)
Having started an unstoppable movement of International Cooperation between all good willing legitimate Templar Branches of the Order, announced in October 2018, confirmed by the OSMTHU and the OSMTJ in June 2019 and signed in an Agreement with the creation in October 2019 of the International Conference of Almourol between the Municipality of one of the oldest and most significant Templar locations in Europe and the OSMTHU and the OSMTJ, that will take place again in 2020, 2021 and 2022, becoming the most important single Templar location for cultural, academic and fraternal Templar exchange in the world, we declare that:
a) The Agreement Signed in Almourol, Portugal the 13 of October 2019 between the Municipality, the OSMTHU and the OSMTJ is valid until the year 2022
b) On the OSMTJ side, the Agreement was signed by Regent Nicholas Haimovici-Hastier, binding the Order and his International Council
c) Regent Haimovici-Hastier maintains his position as Head of the OSMTJ, maintaining regular status regarding the OSMTHU, the Municipality and all matters relating to the Agreement and Conferences
d) The recent mutiny perpetrated by rogue groups that had past associations with the OSMTJ is not recognized as legitimate by the OSMTHU and has no bearing in the Agreement or future efforts of International Cooperation
e) The OSMTHU recognizes that misguided ambitions and an empty hearted hunger for fragmentation frequently find safe harbor within the Order; when such forces become visible, leaving the dirt behind has been the best way to carry on with the good work
f) Since the determination to Cooperate and Converge at an international level is the scope of our work in the next few years, the Order rejects any association with irregular illegitimate movements that seek to hinder that purpose
g) We take this opportunity to invite all Templars of good faith and provenance to converge in Almourol, Portugal in October 2020 for the Second International Conference and partake the friendship and fraternal welcome extended to all men and women of heart
h) Yes, the light remains in the East
Luis de Matos
We would like to wish Regent Haimovici and his International Council a great year of 2020.
Thomas Becket , Saint, martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury, b. at London, December 21, 1118 (?); d. at Canterbury, December 29, 1170. St. Thomas was born of parents who, coming from Normandy, had settled in England some years previously. No reliance can be placed upon the legend that his mother was a Saracen. In after life his humble birth was made the subject of spiteful comment, though his parents were not peasants, but people of some mark, and from his earliest years their son had been well taught and had associated with gentlefolk. He learned to read at Merton Abbey and then studied in Paris. On leaving school he employed himself in secretarial work, first with Sir Richer de l’Aigle and then with his kinsman, Osbert Huitdeniers, who was “Justiciar” of London. Somewhere about the year 1141, under circumstances that are variously related, he entered the service of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in that household he won his master’s favor and eventually became the most trusted of all his clerks. A description embodied in the Icelandic Saga and derived probably from Robert of Cricklade gives a vivid portrait of him at this period. “To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.” Theobald recognized his capacity, made use of him in many delicate negotiations, and after allowing him to go for a year to study civil and canon law at Bologna and Auxerre, ordained him deacon in 1154, after bestowing upon him several preferments, the most important of which was the Archdeaconry of Canterbury (see Radford, “Thomas of London”, p. 53).
It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took “Thomas of London”, as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry’s wide dominions. The chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that “they had but one heart and one mind”. Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart. Whether the chancellor, who was after all the elder man, was the true originator of the administrative reforms which Henry introduced cannot now be clearly determined. In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king’s imperial views and love of splendor were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: “If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?”
In 1153 Thomas acted as justice itinerant in three counties. In 1159 he seems to have been the chief organizer of Henry’s expedition to Toulouse, upon which he accompanied him, and though it seems to be untrue that the impost of “scutage” was called into existence for that occasion (Round, “Feudal England”, 268-73), still Thomas undoubtedly pressed on the exaction of this money contribution in lieu of military service and enforced it against ecclesiastics in such a way that bitter complaints were made of the disproportionately heavy burden thus imposed upon the Church. In the military operations Thomas took a leading part, and Garnier, a French chronicler, who lived to write of the virtues of St. Thomas and his martyrdom, declares that in these encounters he saw him unhorse many French knights. Deacon though he was, he led the most daring attacks in person, and Edward Grim also gives us to understand that in laying waste the enemy’s country with fire and sword the chancellor’s principles did not materially differ from those of the other commanders of his time. But although, as men then reported, “he put off the archdeacon”, in this and other ways, he was very far from assuming the licentious manners of those around him. No word was ever breathed against his personal purity. Foul conduct or foul speech, lying or unchastity were hateful to him, and on occasion he punished them severely. He seems at all times to have had clear principles with regard to the claims of the Church, and even during this period of his chancellorship he more than once risked Henry’s grievous displeasure. For example, he opposed the dispensation which Henry for political reasons extorted from the pope, and strove to prevent the marriage of Mary, Abbess of Romsey, to Matthew of Boulogne. But to the very limits of what his conscience permitted, Thomas identified himself with his master’s interests, and Tennyson is true to history when he makes the archbishop say:
I served our Theobald well when I was with him: I served King Henry well as Chancellor: I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.
Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy. Our authorities are agreed that from the first Thomas drew back in alarm. “I know your plans for the Church”, he said, “you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose.” But Henry would not be gainsaid, and Thomas at the instance of Cardinal Henry of Pisa, who urged it upon him as a service to religion, yielded in spite of his misgivings. He was ordained priest on Saturday in Whitweek and consecrated bishop the next day, Sunday, June 3, 1162. It seems to have been St. Thomas who obtained for England the privilege of keeping the feast of the Blessed Trinity on that Sunday, the anniversary of his consecration, and more than a century afterwards this custom was adopted by the papal Court itself and eventually imposed upon the whole world.
A great change took place in the saint’s way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practiced secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On August 10 he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king’s wish he resigned the chancellorship. Whereupon Henry seems to have required him to surrender certain ecclesiastical preferments which he still retained, notably the archdeaconry, and when this was not done at once showed bitter displeasure. Other misunderstandings soon followed. The archbishop, having, as he believed, the king’s express permission, set about to reclaim alienated estates belonging to his see, a procedure which again gave offense. Still more serious was the open resistance which he made to the king’s proposal that a voluntary offering to the sheriffs should be paid into the royal treasury. As the first recorded instance of any determined opposition to the king’s arbitrary will in a matter of taxation, the incident is of much constitutional importance. The saint’s protest seems to have been successful, but the relations with the king only grew more strained.
Soon after this the great matter of dispute was reached in the resistance made by Thomas to the king’s officials when they attempted to assert jurisdiction over criminous clerks. The question has been dealt with in some detail in the article England (V, 436). That the saint himself had no wish to be lenient with criminous clerks has been well shown by Norgate (Angevin Kings, ii, 22). It was with him simply a question of principle. St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected Henry of a design to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church. With this view Henry summoned the bishops at Westminster (October 1, 1163) to sanction certain as yet unspecified articles which he called his grandfather’s customs (avitoe consuetudines), one of the known objects of which was to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts. The other bishops, as the demand was still in the vague, showed a willingness to submit, though with the condition “saving our order”, upon which St. Thomas inflexibly insisted. The king’s resentment was thereupon manifested by requiring the archbishop to surrender certain castles he had hitherto retained, and by other acts of unfriendliness. In deference to what he believed to be the pope’s wish, the archbishop in December consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs “loyally and in good faith”. But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon (January 13, 1164) sought to draw the saint on to a formal and public acceptance of the “Constitutions of Clarendon”, under which name the sixteen articles, the avitoe consuetudines as finally drafted, have been commonly known, St. Thomas, though at first yielding somewhat to the solicitations of the other bishops, in the end took up an attitude of uncompromising resistance.
Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution. When opposing a claim made against him by John the Marshal, Thomas upon a frivolous pretext was found guilty of contempt of court. For this he was sentenced to pay £500; other demands for large sums of money followed, and finally, though a complete release of all claims against him as chancellor had been given on his becoming archbishop, he was required to render an account of nearly all the moneys which had passed through his hands in his discharge of the office. Eventually a sum of nearly £30,000 was demanded of him. His fellow bishops, summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king’s mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnly warned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way out throughthe mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (October 13, 1164), sailed in disguise from Sandwich (November 2), and, after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens, on November 23 The pope, who had given a cold reception to certain episcopal envoys sent by Henry, welcomed the saint very kindly, and refused to accept his resignation of his see. On November 30, Thomas went to take up his residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, though he was compelled to leave this refuge a year later, as Henry, after confiscating the archbishop’s property and banishing all the Becket kinsfolk, threatened to wreak his vengeance on the whole Cistercian Order if they continued to harbor him.
The negotiations between Henry, the pope, and the archbishop dragged on for the next four years without the position being sensibly changed. Although the saint remained firm in his resistance to the principle of the Constitutions of Clarendon, he was willing to make any concessions that could be reasonably asked of him, and on January 6, 1169, when the kings of England and France were in conference at Montmirail, he threw himself at Henry’s feet, but as he still refused to accept the obnoxious customs Henry repulsed him. At last in 1170 some sort of reconciliation was patched up. The question of the customs was not mentioned and Henry professed himself willing to be guided by the archbishop’s council as to amends due to the See of Canterbury for the recent violation of its rights in the crowning of Henry’s son by the Archbishop of York. On December 1, 1170, St. Thomas again landed in England, and was received with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm. But trouble almost immediately occurred in connection with the absolution of two of the bishops, whose sentence of excommunication St. Thomas had brought with him, as well as over the restoration by the de Broc family of the archbishop’s castle at Saltwood. How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on December 29 is not quite clear. Four knights who came from France demanded the absolution of the bishops. St. Thomas would not comply. They left for a space, but came back at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, “Where is the traitor?” the saint boldly replied, “Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God.” They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. His faithful companion, Edward Grim, who bore his cross, was wounded in the struggle.
A tremendous reaction of feeling followed this deed of blood. In an extraordinarily brief space of time devotion to the martyred archbishop had spread all through Europe. The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, February 21, 1173. On July 12, 1174, Henry II did public penance, and was scourged at the archbishop’s tomb. An immense number of miracles were worked, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr’s holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were dismantled; but the matter is by no means clear, and, although the weight of learned opinion is adverse, there are still those who believe that a skeleton found in the crypt in January, 1888, is the body of St. Thomas. The story that Henry VIII in 1538 summoned the archbishop to stand his trial for high treason, and that when, in June, 1538, the trial had been held and the accused pronounced contumacious, the body was ordered to be disinterred and burnt, is probably apocryphal.
by Herbert Thurston in catholic.com
VN Barquinha celebrates protocol with Templar order that will make CITA the “world’s most important repository on the Order of the Temple”
The Vila Nova da Barquinha Municipality has entered into a protocol with two branches of the Templar Order – the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolimitani Universalis (OSMTHU) and the Ordre Sovereign et Militaiire du Temple de Jerusalem (OSMTJ) – to declare the municipality and the Interpretation Center Almourol Templar (CITA) as an International Place of Templar Cultural Interest.
The proposal for the protocol came to the Municipal Chamber meeting on October 9 and deserved a positive opinion from the executive.
Councilor Marina Honório explains that the initiative results from the association of OSMTHU and OSMTJ who also wants Vila Nova da Barquinha to host “an annual event of the International Congress type and the recommendation that bibliographic collections and objects could be sent to the Center and enrich the CITA as an unavoidable international reference on the Order of the Temple and its cultural influences across the ages.”
As a starting point for this collaboration, Fernando Freire explained that both branches of the Order have already approved several initiatives aimed at encouraging collectors, archives and library owners to make donations and to make CITA by 2021 the “most important, complete and extensive”. repository and bibliographic collection on the Order of the Temple ”.
On the OSMTHU side, one of the initiatives is the negotiation of the passage of the Temple Archive, consisting of multiple original documentation concerning the International Chancellery and the International Federative Alliance Secretariat since 1988, as well as various objects and archives, on loan to the locality of Soria, Spain since 2007, for CITA in Vila Nova da Barquinha.
Another initiative to be taken by OSMTHU is to designate CITA as the “custodial institution to be handed over the update of the Order’s Archives, composed of the official documentation produced by the International Chancellery annually” as well as the “addition of historical documentary collections. bibliographic and objects of archaeological, academic or museological interest that can be donated ”.
The OSMTHU will also offer a forged replica, according to traditional rules, of the sword of the crusader Godofredo Bulhões, symbol of the historical context that gave rise to the Order of the Temple.
The OSMTJ will contribute with the deposit of a thematic bibliographic collection as well as an extensive documentary archive about the activity of the Order in the last half of the twentieth century.
In addition to the initiatives in terms of Archive and Library, the protocol also provides for cultural exchanges, through the loan and exhibition of specific pieces.
Finally, this collaboration also aims to hold an International Conference. An “annual international event taking place in 2020, 2021 and 2022”, as explained by the mayor of VN Barquinha, Fernando Freire.
The venue for the annual event will be CITA, whose organization, programming and promotion will be the responsibility of the two orders involved in the protocol.
It is recalled that the Templar Interpretation Center of Almourol was opened to the public in November 2018 and is a pioneer center for the Order of the Temple in Portugal, endowed with a relevant set of features including an exhibition space, auditorium and thematic library.
By Ana Rita Cristóvão, antenalivre.pt
Why do Christians say the Our Father (the “Lord’s Prayer”) slightly differently?
Catholics conclude with “deliver us from evil,” whereas most Protestants, following Matthew 6:13 in the King James Version, go on to say something like, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Are Catholics leaving out this phrase from Jesus’ prayer, or are Protestants adding to it?
Neither seems to be a good idea for Christians (e.g., Deut. 4:2, 12:21; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:19). To some Protestants, the Catholic omission seems like a clear example of the Church “subtracting from Scripture” (due to some “tradition of men,” perhaps). However, the history behind this little phrase is a bit more involved—and it argues for the reliability of Church tradition, not against it.
The first thing to note is that the prayer differs even among the Gospels themselves. Although the form in Matthew is the one used by nearly all Christians today, a shorter version is recorded in Luke chapter 11, where it ends with “lead us not into temptation” (v.4). So technically, one would be completely biblically justified in simply ending the prayer there.
A second interesting thing is that the verse in question is not included in the “oldest and best” biblical manuscripts, and is therefore not considered by the majority of biblical scholars today, whether Catholic or Protestant, to be part of the original biblical text. The King James Version of the Bible is based on the Textus Receptus, which itself was not based on the oldest manuscripts we have today. Neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Vaticanus contains the verse—in fact, the earliest witness we have to the longer ending of the Our Father is a late fourth- or early fifth-century parchment called Codex Washingtonensis.
The English wording of the Our Father that Protestants use today reflects the version based on the English version of the Bible produced by Tyndale in 1525. Tyndale’s version was not found in the liturgical tradition of western Christendom until the 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer. And although the longer ending remains popular today, there are many Bibles that do not include it. Catholic Bible translations (e.g., the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims, or the New American) have never included it, and most Protestant Bibles do not either. Even modern versions of the King James includes a footnote stating that the phrase is omitted in older manuscripts.
Furthermore, although early Church Fathers such as Jerome, Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Augustine wrote of the importance and beauty of the “Our Father” prayer, none of them included the phrase when they referenced it. The commentaries on the prayer by Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian do not include it either. John Chrysostom did discuss the phrase in his fourth-century homily on Matthew (19:10).
When we turn from Scripture commentary to Church Tradition, we find this phrase (which resembles 1 Chronicles 29:11) in ancient liturgical use as a short doxology (praise response) to the Lord’s Prayer. The Christian manual known as the Didache (c. A.D. 95) has a short version of the doxology after the Our Father in chapter 8, and the longer reading is found in the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions (7.24). From there it was incorporated into the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as well. Thus, it seems that this phrase might very well have been a doxology—a conclusion to the original prayer that Jesus instructed his disciples to say.
Scriptural and traditional evidence points to a fourth-century addition of the phrase to the original prayer. It is likely that around this time, a scribe familiar with the liturgy added the doxology to Sacred Scripture while copying the Our Father passage, and it found its way into later translations of the Bible itself. These copies eventually outnumbered the more ancient documents, and the phrase was included in the Gospels in the majority of ancient Bible manuscripts from then on.
When early Protestants produced their own Bible translations in the sixteenth century, they used the majority text as their source. The result was that their translations included the phrase as if it were part of the original Gospel writings. In England, Tyndale’s translation included it, and when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, he decreed its inclusion in worship. Finally, the virulently anti-Catholic Queen Elizabeth had it included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Once it was brought over to America by the Puritans, the phrase’s addition was further solidified.
So, in conclusion, it seems that English Protestants added a traditional Catholic prayer to the Bible in order to distance themselves from what they thought were unbiblical Catholic traditions. Although Protestants have corrected many of their modern Bible translations, it seems their tradition(!) of adding a Catholic doxology to the scriptural Lord’s Prayer may take a bit more time to overcome.
 The ASV, CEV, ESV, GWT, GNT, NET, NIV, NIRV, NLT, and TNIV do not include the phrase, and others such as the HCSB, NASB, and NCV often bracket the phrase to set it off from the original text.
by Douglas M. Beaumont, in catholic.com
Son of God. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.—The title “son of God” is frequent in the Old Testament. The word “son” was employed among the Semites to signify not only filiation, but other close connection or intimate relationship. Thus, “a son of strength” was a hero, a warrior, “son of wickedness” a wicked man, “sons of pride” wild beasts, “son of possession” a possessor, “son of pledging” a hostage, “son of lightning” a swift bird, “son of death” one doomed to death, “son of a bow” an arrow, “son of Belial” a wicked man, “sons of prophets” disciples of prophets, etc. The title “son of God” was applied in the Old Testament to persons having any special relationship with God. Angels, just and pious men, the descendants of Seth, were called “sons of God” (Job, i, 6; ii, 1; Ps. lxxxviii, 7; Wisd., ii, 13; etc.). In a similar manner it was given to Israelites (Deut., xiv, 1); and of Israel, as a nation, we read: “And thou shalt say to him: Thus saith the Lord: Israel is my son, my firstborn. I have said to thee: Let my son go, that he may serve me” (Ex., iv, 22 sq.). The leaders of the people, kings, princes, judges, as holding authority from God, were called sons of God. The theocratic king as lieutenant of God, and especially when he was providentially selected to be a type of the Messiah, was honored with the title “son of God”. But the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Elect of God, was par excellence called the Son of God (Pa. ii, 7). Even Wellhausen admits that Ps. ii is Messianic (see Hast., “Dict. of the Bible”, IV, 571). The prophecies regarding the Messiah became clearer as time went on, and the result is ably summed up by Sanday (ibid.): “The Scriptures of which we have been speaking mark so many different contributions to the total result, but the result, when it is attained, has the completeness of an organic whole. A Figure was created—projected as it were upon the clouds which was invested with all the attributes of a person. And the minds of men were turned towards it in an attitude of expectation. It makes no matter that the lines of the Figure are drawn from different originals. They meet at last in a single portraiture. And we should never have known how perfectly they meet if we had not the New Testament picture to compare with that of the Old Testament. The most literal fulfillment of prediction would not be more conclusive proof that all the course of the world and all the threads of history are in one guiding Hand.” The Messiah besides being the Son of God was to be called Emmanuel (God with us), Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, Prince of Peace (Is., viii, 8; ix, 6) (see Messiah).
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.—The title “the Son of God” is frequently applied to Jesus Christ in the Gospels and Epistles. In the latter it is everywhere employed as a short formula for expressing His Divinity (Sanday); and this usage throws light on the meaning to be attached to it in many passages of the Gospels. The angel announced: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High … the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke, i, 32, 35). Nathaniel, at his first meeting, called Him the Son of God (John, i, 49). The devils called Him by the same name, the Jews ironically, and the Apostles after He quelled the storm. In all these cases its meaning was equivalent to the Messiah, at least. But much more is implied in the confession of St. Peter, the testimony of the Father, and the words of Jesus Christ.
Confession of St. Peter.—We read in Matt., xvi, 15, 16: “Simon Peter answered and 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.” The parallel passages have: “Thou art the Christ” (Mark, viii, 29), “The Christ of God” (Luke, ix, 20). There can be no doubt that St. Matthew gives the original form of the expression, and that St. Mark and St. Luke in giving “the Christ” (the Messiah), instead, used it in the sense in which they understood it when they wrote, viz. as equivalent to “the incarnate Son of God” (see Rose, VI). Sanday, writing of St. Peter’s confession, says: “the context clearly proves that Matthew had before him some further tradition, possibly that of the Logia, but in any case a tradition that has the look of being original” (Hastings, “Dict. of the Bible”). As Rose well points out, in the minds of the Evangelists Jesus Christ was the Messiah because He was the Son of God, and not the Son of God because He was the Messiah.
Testimony of the Father.—At the Baptism.—”And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt., iii, 16, 17). “And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Mark, i, 11; Luke, iii, 22).
At the Transfiguration.—”And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him” (Matt., xvii, 5; Mark, ix, 6; Luke, ix, 35). Though Rose admits that the words spoken at the Baptism need not necessarily mean more than what was suggested by the Old Testament, viz. Son of God is equal to the Messiah, still, as the same words were used on both occasions, it is likely they had the same meaning in both cases. The Transfiguration took place within a week after St. Peter’s confession, and the words were used in the meaning in which the three disciples would then understand them; and at the Baptism it is probable that only Christ, and perhaps the Baptist, heard them, so that it is not necessary to interpret them according to the current opinions of the crowd. Even so cautious a critic as the Anglican Professor Sanday writes on these passages: “And if, on the occasions in question, the Spirit of God did intimate prophetically to chosen witnesses, more or fewer, a revelation couched partly in the language of the ancient Scriptures, it would by no means follow that the meaning of the revelation was limited to the meaning of the older Scriptures. On the contrary, it would be likely enough that the old words would be charged with new meaning—that, indeed the revelation … would yet be in substance a new revelation ….And we may assume that to His (Christ’s) mind the announcement `Thou art my Son’ meant not only all that it ever meant to the most enlightened seers of the past, but, yet more, all that the response of His own heart told Him that it meant in the present…. But it is possible, and we should be justified in supposing—not by way of dogmatic assertion but by way of pious belief—in view of the later history and the progress of subsequent revelation, that the words were intended to suggest a new truth, not hitherto made known, viz. that the Son was Son not only in the sense of the Messianic King, or of an Ideal People, but that the idea of sonship was fulfilled in Him in a way yet more mysterious and yet more essential; in other words, that He was Son, not merely in prophetic revelation, but in actual transcendent fact before the foundation of the world” (Hastings, “Dict. of the Bible”).
Testimony of Jesus Christ.—(I) The Synoptics.—The key to this is contained in His words, after the Resurrection: “I ascend to my Father and to your Father” (John, xx, 17). He always spoke of my Father, never of our Father. He said to the disciples: “Thus then shall you pray: Our Father”, etc. He everywhere draws the clearest possible distinction between the way in which God was His Father and in which He was the Father of all creatures. His expressions clearly prove that He claimed to be of the same nature with God; and His claims to Divine Sonship are contained very clearly in the Synoptic Gospels, though not as frequently as in St. John.
“Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” (Luke, ii, 49); “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me you, that work iniquity” (Matt., vii, 21-23). “Everyone therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt., x, 32). “At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him. Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matt., xi, 25-30; Luke, x, 21, 22). In the parable of the wicked husbandmen the son is distinguished from all other messengers: “Therefore having yet one son, most dear to him; he also sent him unto them last of all, saying: They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen said one to another: This is the heir; come let us kill him” (Mark, xii, 6). Compare Matt., xxii, 2, “The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son.” In Matt., xvii, 25, He states that as Son of God He is free from the temple tax. “David therefore himself calleth him Lord, and whence is he then his son?” (Mark, xii, 37). He is Lord of the angels. He shall come “in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And he shall send his angels” (Matt., xxiv, 30, 31). He confessed before Caiphas that he was the Son of the blessed God (Mark, xiv, 61-2). “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost … and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt., xxviii, 19, 20).
The claims of Jesus Christ, as set forth in the Synoptic Gospels, are so great that Salmon is justified in writing (Introd. to New Test., p. 197): “We deny that they [Christ’s utterances in the Fourth Gospel] are at all inconsistent with what is attributed to Him in the Synoptic Gospels. On the contrary, the dignity of our Savior’s person, and the duty of adhering to Him, are as strongly stated in the discourses which St. Matthew puts into His mouth as in any later Gospel…. The Synoptic Evangelists all agree in representing Jesus as persisting in this claim [of Supreme Judge] to the end, and finally incurring condemnation for blasphemy from the high-priest and the Jewish Council. . It follows that the claims which the Synoptic Gospels represent our Lord as making for Himself are so high … that, if we accept the Synoptic Gospels as truly representing the character of our Lord’s language about Himself, we certainly have no right to reject St. John’s account, on the score that he puts too exalted language about Himself into the mouth of our Lord.”
St. John’s Gospel.—It will not be necessary to give more than a few passages from St. John’s Gospel. “My Father worketh until now; and I work. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things which he himself doth: and greater works than these will he shew him, that you may wonder. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and giveth life: so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. For neither doth the Father judge any man, but hath given’ all judgment to the Son. That all may honor the Son, as they honor the Father” (v, 17, 20-23). “And this is the will of my Father that sent me: that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth in him, may have life everlasting, and I will raise him up in the last day” (vi, 40). “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee….And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee” (xvii, 1, 5).
St. Paul.—St. Paul in the Epistles, which were written much earlier than most of our Gospels, clearly teaches the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He was the true Son of God; and it is important to remember that his enemies the Judaizers never dared to attack this teaching, a fact which proves that they could not find the smallest semblance of a discrepancy between his doctrines on this point and that of the other Apostles.
Son of Man.—In the Old Testament “son of man” is always translated in the Septuaginst without the article as Greek: uios anthropou. It is employed as a poetical synonym for man, or for the ideal man, e.g. “God is not as a man, that he should lie, nor as a son of man, that he should be changed” (Num., xxiii, 19). “Blessed is the man that doth this and the son of man that shall lay hold on this” (Is., lvi, 2). “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand: and upon the son of man whom thou hast confirmed for thyself” (Ps. lxxix, 18). The Prophet Ezechiel is addressed by God as “son of man” more than ninety times, e.g. “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee” (Ezech., ii, 1). This usage is confined to Ezechiel except one passage in Daniel, where Gabriel said: “Understand, O son of man, for in the time of the end the vision shall be fulfilled” (Dan., viii, 17).
In the great vision of Daniel, after the appearance of the four beasts, we read: “I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo, one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and he came even to the Ancient of days: and they presented him before him. And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom shall not be destroyed” (vii, 13 sq.). The person who appears here as son of man is interpreted by many non-Catholics as representing the Messianic kingdom, but there is nothing to prevent the passage from being taken to represent not only the Messianic kingdom, but par excellence the Messianic king. In the explanation, verse 17, the four beasts are “four kings” R.V., not “four kingdoms” as translated by D. V., though they appear to signify four kingdoms as well, for the characteristics of oriental kingdoms were identified with the characters of their kings. So when it is said in verse 18: “But the saints of the most high God shall take the kingdom: and they shall possess the kingdom for ever and ever”, the king is no more excluded here than in the case of the four beasts. The “son of man” here was early interpreted of the Messiah, in the Book of Henoch, where the expression is used almost as a Messianic title, though there is a good deal in Drummond’s argument that even here it was not used as a Messianic title notwithstanding the fact that it was understood of the Messiah. It has to be added that in the time of Christ it was not very widely, if at all, known as a Messianic title.
The employment of the expression in the Gospels is very remarkable. It is used to designate Jesus Christ no fewer than eighty-one times—thirty times in St. Matthew, fourteen times in St. Mark, twenty-five times in St. Luke, and twelve times in St. John. Contrary to what obtains in the Septuagint, it appears everywhere with the article, as o uios tou anthropou. Greek scholars are agreed that the correct translation of this is “the son of man”, not “the son of the man”. The possible ambiguity may be one of the reasons why it is seldom or never found in the early Greek Fathers as a title for Christ. But the most remarkable thing connected with “the Son of Man” is that it is found only in the mouth of Christ. It is never employed by the disciples or Evangelists, nor by the early Christian writers. It is found once only in Acts, where St. Stephen exclaims: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (vii, 55). The whole incident proves that it was a well-known expression of Christ’s. Though the saying was so frequently employed by Christ, the disciples preferred some more honorific title and we do not find it at all in St. Paul nor in the other Epistles. St. Paul perhaps uses something like an equivalent when he calls Christ the second or last Adam. The writers of the Epistles, moreover, probably wished to avoid the Greek ambiguity just alluded to.
The expression is Christ’s, in spite of the futile attempts of some German Rationalists and others to show that He could not have used it. It was not invented by the writers of the Gospels to whom it did not appear to be a favorite title, as they never use it of Christ themselves. It was not derived by them from what is asserted was a false interpretation of Daniel, because it appears in the early portions of the public ministry where there is no reference to Daniel. The objection that Christ could not have used it in Aramaic because the only similar expression was bar-nasha, which then meant only “man”, bar having by that time lost its meaning of “son”, is not of much weight. Only little is known of the Aramaic spoken in Palestine in the time of Christ; and as Drummond points out special meaning could be given to the word by the emphasis with which it was pronounced, even if bar-nasha had lost its primary meaning in Palestine, which is not at all proved. As the same writer shows, there were other expressions in Aramaic which Christ could have employed for the purpose, and Sanday suggests that He may have occasionally spoken in Greek.
The early Fathers were of the opinion that the expression was used out of humility and to show Christ’s human nature, and this is very probable considering the early rise of Docetism. This is also the opinion of Cornelius a Lapide. Others, such as Knabenbauer, think that He adopted a title which would not give umbrage to His enemies, and which, as time went on, was capable of being applied so as to cover His Messianic claims—to include everything that had been foretold of the representative man, the second Adam, the suffering servant of Jehovah, the Messianic king.
By C. Aherne in catholic.com
Christians have always known that the four canonical Gospels describe the same major events in Christ’s life but in different ways. For example, consider what God says at Jesus’ baptism. In Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22, God says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” But in Matthew 3:17 God says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” So which is it? Did God say, “You are my beloved son” or “This is my beloved son?”
The apocryphal second-century Gospel of the Ebionites proposed a novel answer to this question. In this account, written more than a century after the events it purports to describe, the Father speaks three times—presumably to account for what Matthew, Mark, and Luke record. But this seems implausible given that none of the canonical Gospels—the ones the Church recognizes to be inspired—describe the Father speaking more than once. Besides, would the Father really need to repeat himself to the crowd, or to Jesus, when both could hear what he said the first time?
A better explanation for passages like these is that they differ only in what they say, not in what they assert. This brings us to a good rule of thumb: differing Gospel descriptions do not equal contradictions. A true contradiction in Scripture would occur only when two statements taken together assert that both “X” and “not X” are true at the same time and in the same circumstance. Non-identical descriptions are not necessarily contradictions, because the author may not have asserted the literal truth of every detail in his account. This is understandable, given the nature of ancient historical writing.
How to write history
The second-century Roman author Lucian of Samosata said that the historian “must sacrifice to no God but Truth” and that “Facts are not to be collected at haphazard but with careful, laborious, repeated investigation.” This parallels the prologue of Luke’s Gospel in which the evangelist describes gathering sources in order to create his historical record of what Jesus said and did. Both Luke and Lucian were committed to accurately recording the past, but Lucian also wrote, “The historian’s spirit should not be without a touch of the poetical.”
Consider, for example, how ancient historians recorded speeches that were given decades or centuries earlier. According to Lucian, speeches “should suit the character both of the speaker and of the occasion . . . but in these cases you have the counsel’s right of showing your eloquence.”
In other words, historians can compose speeches with words that were never actually spoken as long as the words they choose are something the person would have said. Thucydides, one of ancient Greece’s most important historians, put it this way: with reference to the speeches in this history, some
were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said.
Historiography scholar Jonas Grethlein corroborates this: “It is widely agreed that most speeches in ancient historiography do not reproduce verba ipissima [what was originally said].” As long as the meaning of the speaker was preserved, an ancient historian was free to use words that differed from what the speaker might actually have said.
We do this even today when we paraphrase speeches given at formal events. After all, when we are asked, “What did the speaker say?” we give a summary with some quotation—not an hour-long recitation.
What is true of ancient historians is also true of the authors of the Gospels. They were concerned with recording history, but their style of historical writing was not the same as the histories we are familiar with today. According to New Testament scholar Craig Keener,
It is anachronistic to assume that ancient and modern histories would share all the same generic features (such as the way speeches should be composed) simply because we employ the same term today to describe both . . . Ancient historians sometimes fleshed out scenes and speeches to produce a coherent narrative in a way that their contemporaries expected but that modern academic historians would not consider acceptable when writing for their own peers.
This is why when we read the Gospels we must distinguish between truths the evangelists were asserting and details they provided to accompany those assertions. The latter could vary in accordance with the standards of ancient historical writing without compromising the truths the author wanted to express to his audience.
Effects on the Gospels
Let’s return to the example of Jesus’ baptism. All three evangelists agree that at this event God publicly revealed himself to be the Father of Jesus. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ only in the words they used to describe that revelation. Matthew chose to emphasize how this message affected the crowd, whereas Mark and Luke emphasized how the message affected Jesus. There is no contradiction, because all three writers are asserting the same truth: that Jesus is God’s Son. They only do so in different ways.
The same can be said of the cock crowing before Peter’s denial. Each evangelist records this detail differently (possibly because they used different sources), but they all assert the same truth: that the cock’s crow coincided with Peter’s denial of Jesus. In fact, sometimes these differences reveal more about the author of a story than the story he was describing.
For example, think about how Mark describes the hemorrhaging woman who Jesus healed. He says she “suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:26). Luke, “the beloved physician” (see Colossians 4:14), on the other hand, may not have wanted to unduly criticize his peers, so he simply said the woman “spent all her living upon physicians and could not be healed by any one” (Luke 8:43). Both statements assert the same thing—the best human medicine could not help this woman. They simply describe this fact differently.
In conclusion, it is a fallacy to say the Gospels must either be chronologically ordered and detail rich accounts of the life of Christ, or else they must be fictional, theological treatises. Instead, the closest literary genre that describes the Gospels is bioi, or ancient biography.
According to Richard Burridge, ancient biography, “was a flexible genre having strong relationships with history, encomium and rhetoric, moral philosophy and the concern for character.” The purpose of bioi was to recount stories of important people for the purpose of edifying readers, not merely to recount historical facts in the life of a certain person.
Burridge goes on to say, “[T]rying to decode the Gospels through the genre of modern biography, when the author encoded his message in the genre of ancient [biography], will lead to another nonsense—blaming the text for not containing modern predilections which it was never meant to contain.” This includes blaming Mark for not describing Jesus’ infancy, blaming John for not describing events like the Last Supper, or blaming the evangelists as a whole for not conforming to our expectations of a modern biography or newspaper article.
The differences among the Gospel accounts are also typical of ancient Roman historical writing. For example, there are three contradictory ancient accounts of what Emperor Nero did during the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. Some say he metaphorically “fiddled while Rome burned,” but others say he had nothing to do with the fire.
Since scholars rarely doubt the accuracy of non=biblical ancient Roman history in spite of these contradictions, they should give the same benefit of the doubt to the Gospels and not hastily write them off as unhistorical contradictions just because they differ in the details they record.
 Even Tatian the Syrian, who authored the earliest known attempt to harmonize the four Gospels in the Diatessaron, says that God only spoke once and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (4.28).
 “H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, trans., The Works of Lucian of Samosata, Vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), 129–31.”
 Ibid, 130.
 Ibid, 134.
 “Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.22.1. Cited in Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for “Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2016), 79–81.”
 “Jonas Grethlein, Experience and Teleology in Ancient Historiography: “Futures Past” from Herodotus to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 64.
 “Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), 110.”
 “It has become much clearer that the Gospels are in fact very similar in type to ancient biographies (Greek, bioi; Latin, vitae).” James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003), 185.”
 “Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 67.”
 Ibid., 249.
 “Our main sources for the fire are Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. All three of these ancient Roman historians agree there was a fire in Rome, but they disagree about the actions of the emperor, who many believed had started the fire in order to free up space for the construction of a future palace. Was Nero not responsible and away in the city of Antium during the fire as Tacitus says (Annals 15.44)? Did Nero send men to burn the city and watch from the tower of Maecenas as Suetonius says (Life of Nero 38)? Or did Nero start the fire himself and watch from the rooftop of the imperial palace as Dio Cassius says (Roman History 62.16–17)? See also Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 570.”
Mary Magdalen , so called either from Magdala near Tiberias on the west shore of Galilee, or, possibly from a Talmudic expression MNRLA SY`RA NSYYA, i.e.” curling women’s hair”, which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress. In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke, viii, 2-3), where it is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark, xvi, 9). She is next named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark, xv, 40; Matt., xxvii, 56; John, xix, 25; Luke, xxiii, 49). She saw Christ laid in the tomb, and she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons: the “sinner” of Luke, vii, 36-50; the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Luke, x, 38-42, and John, xi; and Mary Magdalen. On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John, xi, 1), “that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels”. It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the “sinner” of Luke, vii, 37, which is most combatted by Protestants (see Plummer, “International Critical Comment. on St. Luke”, p. 209). It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the “sinner” with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. (See Mayor in Hastings, “Dictionary of the Bible”, III, 284.) The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion.
The first fact mentioned in the Gospel relating to the question under discussion is the anointing of Christ’s feet by a woman, a “sinner” in the city (Luke, vii, 37-50). This belongs to the Galilean ministry, it precedes the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and the third Passover. Immediately afterwards St. Luke describes a missionary circuit in Galilee and tells us of the women who ministered to Christ, among them being “Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth” (Luke, viii, 2); but he does not tell us that she is to be identified with the” sinner” of the previous chapter. In x, 38-42, he tells us of Christ’s visit to Martha and Mary” in a certain town”; it is impossible to identify this town, but it is clear from ix, 53, that Christ had definitively left Galilee, and it is quite possible that this “town” was Bethany. This seems confirmed by the preceding parable of the good Samaritan, which must almost certainly have been spoken on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. But here again we note that there is no suggestion of an identification of the three persons, viz., the “sinner”, Mary Magdalen, and Mary of Bethany; and if we had only St. Luke to guide us we should certainly have no grounds for so identifying them. St. John, however, clearly identifies Mary of Bethany with the woman who anointed Christ’s feet (xii; cf. Matt., xxvit and Mark, xiv). It is remarkable that already in xi, 2, St. John has spoken of Mary as “she that anointed the Lord’s feet”, e aleipsasa; it is commonly said that he refers to the subsequent anointing which he himself describes in xii, 3-8; but it may be questioned whether he would have used e aleipsasa if another woman, and she a “sinner” in the city, had done the same. It is conceivable that St. John, just because he is writing so long after the event and at a time when Mary was dead, wishes to point out to us that she was really the same as the “sinner”. In the same way St. Luke may have veiled her identity precisely because he did not wish to defame one who was yet living; he certainly does something similar in the case of St. Matthew whose identity with Levi the publican (v, 7) he conceals.
If the foregoing argument holds good, Mary of Bethany and the “sinner” are one and the same. But an examination of St. John’s Gospel makes it almost impossible to deny the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalen. From St. John we learn the name of the “woman” who anointed Christ’s feet previous to the last supper. We may remark here that it seems unnecessary to hold that because St. Matthew and St. Mark say “two days before the Passover”, while St. John says “six days” there were, therefore, two distinct anointings following one another. St. John does not necessarily mean that the supper and the anointing took place six days before, but only that Christ came to Bethany six days before the Passover. At that supper, then, Mary received the glorious encomium, “she hath wrought a good work upon Me.. in pouring this ointment upon My body she hath done it for My burial. wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached… that also which she bath done shall be told for a memory of her.” Is it credible, in view of all this, that this Mary should have no place at the foot of the cross, nor at the tomb of Christ? Yet it is Mary Magdalen who, according to all the Evangelists, stood at the foot of the cross and assisted at the entombment and was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. And while St. John calls, her “Mary Magdalen” in xix, 25, xx, 1, 18, he calls her simply “Mary” in xx, 11 and 16.
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole the “sinner” comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen “out of whom seven devils were gone forth”; shortly after, we find her “sitting at the Lord’s feet and hearing His words”. To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection—excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ’s feet—it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head—the first (Luke, vii) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF ST. MARY MAGDALEN.—The Greek Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours, “De miraculis”, I, xxx, supports the statement that she went to Ephesus. However, according to a French tradition (LAZARUS OF BETHANY, Saint), Mary, Lazarus, and some companions came to Marseilles and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalen is said to have retired to a hill, La Sainte-Baume, near by, where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of St. Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lath, afterwards called St. Maxi-min. History is silent about these relics till 745, when, according to the chronicler Sigebert, they were removed to Vezelay through fear of the Saracens. No record is preserved of their return, but in 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a convent at La Sainte-Baume for the Dominicans, the shrine was found intact, with an inscription stating why they were hidden. In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus sent by Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate vessel. In 1814 the church of La Ste Baume, wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there, where it has lain so long, and where it has been the center of so many pilgrimages.
by Hugh Pope, in catholic.com
There are many ways to argue for the historical reliability of the Gospels. One compelling approach is to point to what nineteenth-century Anglican priest J.J. Blunt called “undesigned coincidences.”
These occur when you have two texts containing pieces of information that fit together in ways that corroborate each other—without the authors having colluded to plant the information. The existence of such interlocking details in the Gospels suggest their veracity. They don’t corroborate each other in ways that you would expect if the authors were colluding. They’re not conspicuous verbatim agreements on the main facts, suggesting a conspiracy, but rather random details that fit together in subtle ways that may not be immediately apparent.
So many undesigned coincidences in the Gospels have been identified that a whole book can be written on them. But let me just share two of them.
- Undesigned coincidence #1: Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand provides a detail that explains why Jesus asks Philip where they can buy some bread in John’s account of the same event (John 6:5; Luke 9:10-12).
John sets up the feeding of the five thousand with a conversation that Jesus has with Philip, in which Jesus asks, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip responds in distress, telling Jesus, “two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (v.6).
What’s important for our purposes is that Jesus asks Philip. Why does he? You might think that Jesus would ask someone a little more important, like Peter, James, or John, rather than an apostle whose name is always listed among the second tier of apostles in Scripture (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13-14).
We find a clue at the beginning of Luke’s account of the same miracle, in chapter 9. Luke tells us that Jesus took the apostles and “withdrew apart to a city called Bethsaida” (v.10). This is important because according to John 1:43, “Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.”
Being from Bethsaida, Philip would’ve had current local knowledge of where to buy bread. Thus, we have a plausible explanation for why Jesus asks Philip. Luke provides a piece of information that John lacks, but in an indirect way that doesn’t seem to be planned; hence an “undesigned coincidence.”
But someone may object, “Of course, John 1:43 tells us that Philip was from Bethsaida, but he also says that Andrew and Peter were from there as well. So why didn’t Jesus ask Peter or Andrew? They would have had the same local knowledge, right?”
This would be true if they were all residents there at the time of the miracle. But we have evidence that they weren’t: they were residents of Capernaum. In Mark 1:21, we read about how Jesus, along with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, “went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath . . . entered a synagogue and taught.” Then in verse 29, Mark tells us, “And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.”
Peter and Andrew, therefore, although originally from Bethsaida, were living in Capernaum during the time of Jesus’s ministry. As such, they wouldn’t have known the best place in Bethsaida to buy bread. But Phillip did.
- Undesigned coincidence #2: Mark’s account of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law (1:21, 29-32) provides a detail that explains why people in Matthew’s account waited until evening to approach Jesus for healing (8:14-16).
Here’s what we read in Matthew 8:14-16:
And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick.
Why did people wait until evening to bring to Jesus those who were possessed and sick? You would think they’d want Jesus to start healing the sick and suffering right away.
The answer is found in Mark’s parallel account of this event (Mark 1:21, 29-32):
And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught . . . And immediately he [Jesus] left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
Notice how verse 21 tells us the day on which Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law: the Sabbath. This is why people waited until sundown, the end of the Sabbath (during which it was forbidden to do work), to bring their sick and possessed loved ones to Jesus.
They waited until evening lest the Pharisees view their attempt to bring the sick and possessed to Jesus for healing as a breach of the Sabbath rest. This is a reasonable assumption given the fact that the Pharisees viewed even the performance of a miracle as breaking the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; John 5:16).
By themselves, undesigned coincidences might not be fully convincing for a skeptic. But they are not meant to stand alone. They form a cumulative argument: it’s strongest when the coincidences are taken as a whole. As one author put it, “it’s death by a thousand mosquito bites.” (Being from Louisiana, I know what that’s all about!) They’re even stronger when presented alongside other evidence to make a comprehensive and convincing case for the trustworthiness of the Gospels.
by Karlo Broussard, in catholic.com
John the Baptist, Saint.—The principal sources of information concerning the life and ministry of St. John the Baptist are the canonical Gospels. Of these St. Luke is the most complete, giving as he does the wonderful circumstances accompanying the birth of the Precursor and items on his ministry and death. St. Matthew’s Gospel stands in close relation with that of St. Luke, as far as John’s public ministry is concerned, but contains nothing in reference to his early life. From St. Mark, whose account of the Precursor’s life is very meagre, no new detail can be gathered. Finally, the fourth Gospel has this special feature, that it gives the testimony of St. John after the Savior’s baptism. Besides the indications supplied by these writings, passing allusions occur in such passages as Acts, xiii, 24; xix, 1-6; but these are few and bear on the subject only indirectly. To the above should be added what Josephus relates in his Jewish Antiquities (XVIII, v, 2), but it should be remembered that he is woefully erratic in his dates, mistaken in proper names, and seems to arrange facts according to his own political views; however, his judgment of John, also what he tells us regarding the Precursor’s popularity, together with a few details of minor importance, are worthy of the historian’s attention. The same cannot be said of the apocryphal gospels, because the scant information they give of the Precursor is either copied from the canonical Gospels (and to these they can add no authority), or else is a mass of idle vagaries.
Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest of the course of Abia, the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the priests were divided (I Par., xxiv, 7-19); Elizabeth, the Precursor’s mother, “was of the daughters of Aaron”, according to St. Luke (i, 5); the same Evangelist, a few verses farther on (i, 26), calls her the “cousin” (suggenis) of Mary. These two statements appear to be conflicting, for how, it will be asked, could a cousin of the Blessed Virgin be “of the daughters of Aaron”? The problem might be solved by adopting the reading given in an old Persian version, where we find “mother’s sister” (metradelphe) instead of “cousin”. A somewhat analogous explanation, probably borrowed from some apocryphal writing, and perhaps correct, is given by St. Hippolytus (in Nicephor., II, iii). According to him, Mathan had three daughters: Mary, Soba, and Ann. Mary, the oldest, married a man of Bethlehem and was the mother of Salome; Soba married at Bethlehem also, but a “son of Levi”, by whom she had Elizabeth; Ann wedded a Galilean (Joachim) and bore Mary, the Mother of God. Thus Salome, Elizabeth, and the Blessed Virgin were first cousins, and Elizabeth, “of the daughters of Aaron” on her father’s side, was, on her mother’s side, the cousin of Mary. Zachary’s home is designated only in a vague manner by St. Luke: it was “a city of Juda”, “in the hill-country” (i, 39). Reland, advocating the unwarranted assumption that Juda might be a misspelling of the name, proposed to read in its stead Jutta (Jos., xv, 55; xxi, 16; D.V.: Jota, Jeta), a priestly town south of Hebron. But priests did not always live in priestly towns (Mathathias’s home was at Modin; Simon Machabeus’s at Gaza). A tradition, which can be traced back to the time before the Crusades, points to the little town of Ain-Karim, five miles southwest of Jerusalem.
The birth of the Precursor was announced in a most striking manner. Zachary and Elizabeth, as we learn from St. Luke, “were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame; and they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren” (i, 6-7). Long they had prayed that their union might be blessed with off-spring; but, now that “they were both advanced in years”, the reproach of barrenness bore heavily upon them. “And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord. And all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people” (i, 8-17). As Zachary was slow in believing this startling prediction, the angel, making himself known to him, announced that, in punishment of his incredulity, he should be stricken with dumbness until the promise was fulfilled. “And it came to pass, after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months” (i, 23-24).
Now during the sixth month, the Annunciation had taken place, and, as Mary had heard from the angel the fact of her cousin’s conceiving, she went “with haste” to congratulate her. “And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant”—filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost—”leaped for joy in her womb”, as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should “be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb”. Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin. When “Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, … she brought forth a son” (i, 57); and “on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him by his father’s name Zachary. And his mother answering, said: Not so, but he shall be called John. And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And demanding a writing table, he wrote, saying: John is his name. And they all wondered” (i, 59-63). They were not aware that no better name could be applied (John, Hebr.: Jehohanan, i.e. “Jahweh hath mercy”) to him who, as his father prophesied, was to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: to give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto remission of their sins: through the bowels of the mercy of our God” (i, 76-78). Moreover, all these events, to wit, a child born to an aged couple, Zachary’s sudden dumbness, his equally sudden recovery of speech, his astounding utterance might justly strike with wonderment the assembled neighbors; these could hardly help asking: “What an one, think ye, shall this child be?” (i, 66).
As to the date of the birth of John the Baptist, nothing can be said with certainty. The Gospel suggests that the Precursor was born about six months before Christ; but the year of Christ’s nativity has not so far been ascertained. Nor is there anything certain about the season of Christ’s birth, for it is well known that the assignment of the feast of Christmas to the twenty-fifth of December is not grounded on historical evidence, but is possibly suggested by merely astronomical considerations, also, perhaps, inferred from astronomico-theological reasonings. Besides, no calculations can be based upon the time of the year when the course of Abia was serving in the Temple, since each one of the twenty-four courses of priests had two turns a year. Of John’s early life St. Luke tells us only that “the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts, until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (i, 80). Should we ask just when the Precursor went into the wilderness, an old tradition echoed by Paul Warnefried (Paul the Deacon), in the hymn, “Ut queant laxis”, composed in honor of the saint, gives an answer hardly more definite than the statement of the Gospel: “Antra deserti teneris sub annis … petiit …” Other writers, however, thought they knew better. For instance, St. Peter of Alexandria believed St. John was taken into the desert to escape the wrath of Herod, who, if we may believe report, was impelled by fear of losing his kingdom to seek the life of the Precursor, just as he was, later on, to seek that of the newborn Savior. It was added also that Herod on this account had Zachary put to death between the temple and the altar, because he had prophesied the coming of the Messias (Baron., “Annal. Apparat.”, n. 53). These are worthless legends long since branded by St. Jerome as “apocryphorum somnia”.
Passing, then, with St. Luke, over a period of some thirty years, we reach what may be considered the beginning of the public ministry of St. John (see Biblical Chronology). Up to this he had led in the desert the life of an anchorite; now he comes forth to deliver his message to the world. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching” (Luke, iii, 1-3), clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier (Matt., xi, 8; Luke, vii, 24), but in those “of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle about his loins”; and “his meat “—he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking (Matt., xi, 18; Luke, vii, 33)—”was locusts and wild honey” (Matt., iii, 4; Mark, i, 6); his whole countenance, far from suggesting the idea of a reed shaken by the wind (Matt., xi, 7; Luke, vii, 24), manifested undaunted constancy. A few incredulous scoffers feigned to be scandalized: “He hath a devil” (Matt., xi, 18). Nevertheless, “Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan” (Matt., iii, 5), drawn by his strong and winning personality, went out to him; the austerity of his life added immensely to the weight of his words; for the simple folk, he was truly a prophet (Matt., xi, 9; cf. Luke, i, 76, 77). “Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt., iii, 2), such was the burden of his teaching. Men of all conditions flocked round him.
Pharisees and Sadducees were there; the latter attracted perhaps by curiosity and scepticism, the former expecting possibly a word of praise for their multitudinous customs and practices, and, all, probably, more anxious to see which of the rival sects the new prophet would commend than to seek instruction. But John laid bare their hypocrisy. Drawing his similes from the surrounding scenery, and even, after the Oriental fashion, making use of a play on words (abanimbanim), he lashed their pride with this well-deserved rebuke: “Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire” (Matt., iii 7-10; Luke, iii, 7-9). It was clear something had to be done. The men of good will among the listeners asked: “What shall we do?” (Probably some were wealthy and, according to the custom of people in such circumstances, were clad in two tunics.—Joseph., “Antiq.”, XVIII, v, 7.) “And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner” (Luke, iii, 11). Some were publicans; on them he enjoined not to exact more than the rate of taxes fixed by law (Luke, iii, 13). To the soldiers (probably Jewish police officers) he recommended not to do violence to any man, nor falsely to denounce anyone, and to be content with their pay (Luke, iii, 14). In other words, he cautioned them against trusting in their national privileges, he did not countenance the tenets of any sect, nor did he advocate the forsaking of one’s ordinary state of life, but faithfulness and honesty in the fulfillment of one’s duties, and the humble confession of one’s sins.
To confirm the good dispositions of his listeners, John baptized them in the Jordan, “saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins [cf. St. Thom., “Summ. Theol.”, III, Q. xxxviii, a. 2 and 3] as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice” (Joseph., “Antiq.”, XVIII, vii). This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed “the Baptist” (i.e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matt., xi, 11; by his own disciples, Luke, vii, 20; by Herod, Matt., xiv, 2; by Herodias, Matt., xiv, 3). Still his right to baptize was questioned by some (John, i, 25); the Pharisees and the lawyers refused to comply with this ceremony, on the plea that baptism, as a preparation for the kingdom of God, was connected only with the Messias (Ezech., xxxvi, 25; Zach., xiii, 1, etc.), Elias, and the prophet spoken of in Deut., xviii, 15. John’s reply was that he was Divinely “sent to baptize with water” (John, i, 33); to this, later on, our Savior bore testimony, when, in answer to the Pharisees trying to ensnare him, he implicitly declared that John’s baptism was from heaven (Mark, xi, 30). Whilst baptizing, John, lest the people might think “that perhaps he might be the Christ” (Luke, iii, 15), did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner’s mission: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke, iii, 16, 17). Whatever John may have meant by this baptism “with fire”, he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come.
Here it will not be amiss to touch on the scene of the Precursor’s ministry. The locality should be sought in that part of the Jordan valley (Luke, iii, 3) which is called the desert (Mark, i, 4). Two places are mentioned in the Fourth Gospel in this connection: Bethania (John, i, 28) and Ennon (A. V. Aenon, John, iii, 23). As to Bethania, the reading Bethabara, first given by Origen, should be discarded; but the Alexandrine scholar perhaps was less wrong in suggesting the other reading, Bethara, possibly a Greek form of Betharan; at any rate, the site in question must be looked for “beyond the Jordan” (John, i, 28). The second place, Ennon, “near Salim” (John, iii, 23), the extreme northern point marked in the Madaba mosaic map, is described in Eusebius’s “Onomasticon” as being eight miles south of Scythopolis (Beisan), and should be sought probably at Ed-Deir or El-Fatur, a short distance from the Jordan (Lagrange, in “Revue Biblique”, IV, 1895, pp. 502-05). Moreover, a long-standing tradition, traced back to A.D. 333, associates the activity of the Precursor, particularly the Baptism of the Lord, with the neighborhood of Deir Mar-Yuhanna (Qasr el-Yehud).
The Precursor had been preaching and baptizing for some time (just how long is not known), when Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan, to be baptized by him. Why, it might be asked, should He “who did no sin” (I Pet., ii, 22) seek John’s “baptism of penance for the remission of sins” (Luke, iii, 3)? The Fathers of the Church answer very appropriately that this was the occasion preordained by the Father when Jesus should be manifested to the world as the Son of God; then again, by submitting to it, Jesus sanctioned the baptism of John. “But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matt., 14). These words, implying, as they do, that John knew Jesus, are in seeming conflict with a later declaration of John recorded in the Fourth Gospel: “I knew him not” (John, i, 33). Most interpreters take it that the Precursor had some intimation of Jesus being the Messias: they assign this as the reason why John at first refused to baptize him; but the heavenly manifestation had, a few moments later, changed this intimation into perfect knowledge. “And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him. And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him…. And, behold, a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt.,15-17).
After this baptism, while Jesus was preaching through the towns of Galilee, going into Judea only occasionally for the feast days, John continued his ministry in the valley of the Jordan. It was at this time that “the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: Who art thou? And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ. And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No. They said, therefore, unto him: Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias” (John, i, 19-23). John denied he was Elias, whom the Jews were looking for (Matt., xvii, 10; Mark, ix, 10). Nor did Jesus admit it, though His words to His disciples at first sight seem to point that way; “Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things. But I say to you, that Elias is already come” (Matt., xvii, 11; Mark, ix, 11-12). St. Matthew notes “the disciples understood, that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist” (Matt., xvii, 13). This was equal to saying, “Elias is not to come in the flesh.” But, in speaking of John before the multitude, Jesus made it plain that he called John Elias figuratively: “If you will receive it, he is Elias that is to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt., xi, 14, 15). This had been anticipated by the angel when, announcing John’s birth to Zachary, he foretold that the child would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke, i, 17). “The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me … that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water…. And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God” (John, i, 29-34).
Among the many listeners flocking to St. John, some, more deeply touched by his doctrine, stayed with him, thus forming, as around other famous doctors of the law, a group of disciples. These he exhorted to fast (Mark, ii, 18), these he taught special forms of prayer (Luke, v, 33; xi, 1). Their number, according to the pseudo-Clementine literature, reached thirty (Horn. ii, 23). Among them was Andrew of Bethsaida of Galilee (John, i, 44). One day, as Jesus was standing in the distance, John, pointing Him out, repeated his previous declaration: “Behold the Lamb of God”. Then Andrew, with another disciple of John, hearing this, followed Jesus (John, i, 36-38). This account of the calling of Andrew and Simon differs materially from that found in St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke; yet it should be noticed that St. Luke, in particular, so narrates the meeting of the two brothers with the Savior, as to let us infer they already knew Him. Now, on the other hand, since the Fourth Evangelist does not say that Andrew and his companions forthwith left their business to devote themselves exclusively to the Gospel or its preparation, there is clearly no absolute discordance between the narration of the first three Gospels and that of St. John.
The Precursor, after the lapse of several months, again appears on the scene, and he is still preaching and baptizing on the banks of the Jordan (John, iii, 23). Jesus, in the meantime, had gathered about Himself a following of disciples, and He came “into the land of Judea: and there He abode with them, and baptized (John, iii, 22),—”though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples” (John, iv, 2).—”There arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews [the best Greek texts have “a Jew”] concerning purification” (John, iii, 25), that is to say, as is suggested by the context, concerning the relative value of both baptisms. The disciples of John came to him: “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou gayest testimony, behold he baptizeth, and all men come to him” (John, iii, 26-27). They undoubtedly meant that Jesus should give way to John who had recommended Him, and that, by baptizing, He was encroaching upon the rights of John. “John answered and said: A man cannot receive any thing, unless it be given him from heaven. You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above, is above all. He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from heaven, is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth….” (John, iii, 27-36).
The above narration recalls the fact before mentioned (John, i, 28), that part of the Baptist’s ministry was exercised in Perea: Ennon, another scene of his labors, was within the borders of Galilee; both Perea and Galilee made up the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. This prince, a son worthy of his father Herod the Great, had married, likely for political reasons, the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabathaeans. But on a visit to Rome, he fell in love with his niece Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip (son of the younger Mariamne), and induced her to come on to Galilee. When and where the Precursor met Herod, we are not told, but from the synoptic Gospels we learn that John dared to rebuke the tetrarch for his evil deeds, especially his public adultery. Herod, swayed by Herodias, did not allow the unwelcome reprover to go unpunished: he “sent and apprehended John and bound him in prison”. Josephus tells us quite another story, containing perhaps also an element of truth. “As great crowds clustered around John, Herod became afraid lest the Baptist should abuse his moral authority over them to incite them to rebellion, as they would do anything at his bidding; therefore he thought it wiser, so as to prevent possible happenings, to take away the dangerous preacher… and he imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaerus” (Antiq., XVIII, v, 2). Whatever may have been the chief motive of the tetrarch’s policy, it is certain that Herodias nourished a bitter hatred against John: “She laid snares for him: and was desirous to put him to death” (Mark, vi, 19). Although Herod first shared her desire, yet “he feared the people: because they esteemed him as a prophet” (Matt., xiv, 5). After some time this resentment on Herod’s part seems to have abated, for, according to Mark, vi, 19, 20, he heard John willingly and did many things at his suggestion.
John, in his fetters, was attended by some of his disciples, who kept him in touch with the events of the day. He thus learned of the wonders wrought by Jesus. At this point it cannot be supposed that John’s faith wavered in the least. Some of his disciples, however, would not be convinced by his words that Jesus was the Messias. Accordingly, he sent them to Jesus, bidding them say: “John the Baptist hath sent us to thee, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another? (And in that same hour, he cured many of their [the people’s] diseases, and hurts, and evil spirits; and to many that were blind he gave sight.) And answering, he said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to the poor the gospel is preached: and blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me” (Luke, vii, 20-23; Matt., xi, 3-6).
How this interview affected John’s disciples, we do not know; but we do know the encomium it occasioned of John from the lips of Jesus: “And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John. What went ye out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind ? “All knew full well why John was in prison, and that in his captivity he was more than ever the undaunted champion of truth and virtue.—”But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are in costly apparel, and live delicately, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke, vii, 24-28). And continuing, Jesus pointed out the inconsistency of the world in its opinions both of himself and his precursor: “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and you say: He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking: and you say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke, vii, 33-35).
St. John languished probably for some time in the fortress of Machaerus; but the ire of Herodias, unlike that of Herod, never abated: she watched her chance. It came at the birthday feast which Herod, after Roman fashion, gave to the “princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias [Josephus gives her name: Salome] had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee…. Who when she was gone out, said to her mother, what shall I ask? But she said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: but sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish: and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother” (Mark, vi, 21-28). Thus was done to death the greatest “amongst them that are born of women”, the prize awarded to a dancing girl, the toll exacted for an oath rashly taken and criminally kept (St. Augustine). At such an unjustifiable execution even the Jews were shocked, and they attributed to Divine vengeance the defeat Herod sustained afterwards at the hands of Aretas, his rightful father-in-law (Joseph., loc. cit.). John’s disciples, hearing of his death, “came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb” (Mark, vi, 29), “and came and told Jesus” (Matt., xiv, 12).
The lasting impression made by the Precursor upon those who had come within his influence cannot be better illustrated than by mentioning the awe which seized upon Herod when he heard of the wonders wrought by Jesus who, in his mind, was no other than John the Baptist come to life (Matt., xiv, 1, 2, etc.). The Precursor’s influence did not die with him. It was far-reaching, too, as we learn from Acts, xviii, 25; xix, 3, where we find that proselytes at Ephesus had received from Apollo and others the baptism of John. Moreover, early Christian writers speak of a sect taking its name from John and holding only to his baptism. The date of John the Baptist’s death, August 29, assigned in the liturgical calendars can hardly be relied upon, because it is scarcely based upon trustworthy documents. His burial-place has been fixed by an old tradition at Sebaste (Samaria). But if there be any truth in Josephus’s assertion, that John was put to death at Machaerus, it is hard to understand why he was buried so far from the Herodian fortress. Still, it is quite possible that, at a later date unknown to us, his sacred remains were carried to Sebaste. At any rate, about the middle of the fourth century, his tomb was there honored, as we are informed on the testimony of Rufinus and Theodoretus. These authors add that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate (c. A.D. 362), the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics was carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria; and there, on May 27, 395, these relics were laid in the gorgeous basilica just dedicated to the Precursor on the site of the once famous temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to the miracles there wrought. Perhaps some of the relics had been brought back to Sebaste. Other portions at different times found their way to many sanctuaries of the Christian world, and long is the list of the churches claiming possession of some part of the precious treasure. What became of the head of the Precursor is difficult to determine. Nicephorus (I, ix) and Metaphrastes say Herodias had. it buried in the fortress of Machaerus; others insist that it was interred in Herod’s palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. In the many and discordant relations concerning this relic, unfortunately much uncertainty prevails; their discrepancies in almost every point render the problem so intricate as to baffle solution. This signal relic, in whole or in part, is claimed by several churches, among them Amiens, Nemours, St-Jean d’Angeli (France), S. Silvestro in Capite (Rome). This fact Tillemont traces to a mistaking of one St. John for another, an explanation which, in certain cases, appears to be founded on good grounds and accounts well for this otherwise puzzling multiplication of relics.
The honor paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honor a saint. But why is the feast proper, as it were, of St. John on the day of his nativity, whereas with other saints it is the day of their death? Because it was meet that the birth of him who, unlike the rest, was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb”, should be signalized as a day of triumph. The celebration of the Decollation of John the Baptist, on August 29, enjoys almost the same antiquity. We find also in the oldest martyrologies mention of a feast of the Conception of the Precursor on September 24. But the most solemn celebration in honor of this saint was always that of his Nativity, preceded until recently by a fast. Many places adopted the custom introduced by St. Sabas of having a double Office on this day, as on the day of the Nativity of the Lord. The first Office, intended to signify the time of the Law and the Prophets which lasted up to St. John (Luke, xvi, 16), began at sunset, and was chanted without Alleluia; the second, meant to celebrate the opening of the time of grace, and gladdened by the singing of Alleluia, was held during the night. The resemblance of the feast of St. John with that of Christmas was carried farther, for another feature of the 24th of June was the celebration of three masses: the first, in the dead of night, recalled his mission of Precursor; the second, at daybreak, commemorated the baptism he conferred; and the third, at the hour of Terce, honored his sanctity. The whole liturgy of the day, repeatedly enriched by the additions of several popes, was in suggestiveness and beauty on a par with the liturgy of Christmas. So sacred was St. John’s day deemed that two rival armies, meeting face to face on June 23, by common accord put off the battle until the morrow of the feast (Battle of Fontenay, 841). “Joy, which is the characteristic of the day, radiated from the sacred precincts. The lovely summer nights, at St. John’s tide, gave free scope to popular display of lively faith among various nationalities. Scarce had the last rays of the setting sun died away when, all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain-top, and in an instant, every town, and village, and hamlet was lighted up” (Gueranger). The custom of the “St. John’s fires”, whatever its origin, has, in certain regions, endured unto this day.
by Charles L. Souvay in catholic.com
A few weeks ago, while leading a pilgrimage tour to Israel, I couldn’t wait to bring the group to one of the greatest museums in the world: the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Packed with artifacts from the biblical period, it’s a treasure trove for anyone interested in the material remains of salvation history.
The museum also houses one of the more important archaeological finds of recent years: an artifact that has bolstered our confidence in the veracity of the Old Testament accounts of the kingdom of David, his son Solomon, and their successors.
Biblical “minimalists” had long contended that King David did not actually preside over a kingdom that originated circa the tenth century B.C., as the Bible states. Indeed, these scholars alleged that David, Solomon, and in fact the entire line of Davidic kings chronicled in the Old Testament, are nothing more than fictional characters invented by the writers of the Hebrew scriptures.
In favor of the “minimalist” argument was the lack of any evidence of David’s existence outside the Bible.
But here’s where archaeology came to the rescue. During the 1993-94 excavations at Tel Dan, in northern Israel, a stele (a stone slab bearing an inscription) was unearthed. Made from basalt, a volcanic rock plentiful in the region, it bears an account of a military victory. Scholars have postulated that the inscription commemorates an Aramean king’s defeat of Israelite forces. It may have been commissioned by Hazael or Ben-Hadad III, his son (cf. 2 Kings 10:32, 13:3, 22; 2 Chron. 22:5).
The key line on the monument, the stunning find, is the mention of the “House of David.” There it was, written in stone—independent confirmation of David’s existence and of a line of kings so powerful that defeating armies from this “House” warranted a public brag of sorts on this stele, for all passersby to read and marvel at.
Analysis of the stele dates it to the mid-ninth century BC, right around the time when, according to Scripture, David’s dynasty would have been flourishing. It appears that the stele was broken by the Israelites after they recaptured the area some time later, and was eventually repurposed into building blocks for the city wall.
After this discovery, as chronicled by Craig Evans, the minimalists changed their approach. “Okay, okay,” they admitted, “maybe David existed after all. But he was a nobody. A local tribal chief, at best, certainly not the originator of the vast, Iron-Age kingdom described in the Old Testament.”
At this point, faced with what seems like special pleading, one is tempted to respond like Jerry Seinfeld: “Really? Really?”
But don’t despair—again, archaeology is our friend here.
First of all, if David had been merely a small-time local yokel, what on earth were his descendants doing fighting battles all the way up north, near the modern-day border that separates Israel and Syria, far from his allegedly tiny operation in Jerusalem?
Also, a vast, centralized complex of buildings—in all likelihood, a government compound—has been unearthed in the Old City of Jerusalem, and can be seen on tours today. It’s located in what’s known as the “City of David” and dates to approximately the tenth century B.C.; once more, the time when Scripture says that David and Solomon were establishing their empire. Again, this seems fairly excessive if we’re talking about an insignificant tribal chieftain, but it does fit the biblical narrative of David’s expansive realm.
To this our minimalist might say, “I’ll grant you that David existed, and perhaps he did preside over a significantly large kingdom, but we still can’t trust what the Bible says about him. The people of David’s time would not have been significantly literate enough to record his exploits or those of his descendants”.
This last objection is at least partially answered by—you guessed it—yet another archaeological discovery. In 2008, an ostracon (an inscribed piece of pottery) dating to the tenth century B.C. was disinterred at the ancient fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which was the only fortified Judahite city during the reigns of David and his predecessor, King Saul (in fact, the Qeiyafa ostracon is the only extant relic that mentions Saul).
The famed French epigrapher Émile Puech regards the inscription as the earliest writing narrating the transition of Israel from a people ruled by judges into a kingdom. It shows that the people living around David’s time were literate, and in fact, more than capable of recording (and passing on) the annals of David’s dynasty, such as we see in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles.
The Tel Dan stele and the Qeiyafa ostracon are just two examples from the multitude of archaeological discoveries in Israel that have bolstered our understanding of, and in many cases substantiated the reliability of, biblical records of history. Since only roughly five percent of all biblical sites have been excavated to date (which is unbelievable considering how much has already been found), It’s truly exciting to think of how many more such finds may be unearthed in the years to come.
by Cale Clarke, in catholic.com