The Crucifixion Re-Considered in Light of Aristotle’s Four Causes

Christians understand the Crucifixion of Christ primarily as a salvific act of self-offering on behalf of sinful mankind. As such, it’s easy to understand it primarily as a Sacrifice in which Christ is both Priest and Victim. But that interpretation isn’t comprehensive. Christ was condemned to death as an outlaw and revolutionary. But the charges were false, and Christ was innocent. When asked whether He was a king, Christ answered, “For this was I born and for this did I come into the world: to bear witness to the truth.”

So He was a victim of injustice on account of His message. The connection between salvific self-sacrifice with strong ritual overtones on the one hand and the judicial murder of a truth-teller on the other isn’t obvious. People often liken the death of Socrates to the death of Christ, but Christianity revolves around the Cross in a way post-Socratic philosophy would regard as perverse.

I will attempt to distinguish and correlate the different aspects of the Crucifixion. It’s an incomplete account, but it’s a start. I use the Aristotelian concepts of material, formal, efficient, and final causes: Continue reading

Easter and the Power of the Holy Name of Mary

14 And when she had thus said, she [Mary Magdalen] turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
I6 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

~John 20:14-16

St. Mary Magdalen recognized the Risen Lord only when He called her by her name, Mary. Just saying the name Mary snaps her out of her anxiety and restores her ability to see Christ. I think there’s a mystery here. Catholics honor the Holy Name of Mary (after the Holy Name of Jesus, obviously); we even celebrate a feast day in honor of it (Sept. 12). It seems that almost all of the women who followed Christ were named Mary; there are at least three of them, and it’s hard to keep track of which is which.

Continue reading

“Weep Not Over Me”: A Prophecy of the Fall of Jerusalem

27 And there followed Him a great multitude of people and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.
28 But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.
29 For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren and the wombs that have not borne and the paps that have not given suck.
30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us. And to the hills: Cover us.
31 For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?

~St. Luke 23: 27-30

Apocalyptic. Prophetic. Christ says this during the feast of Passover, as He is being led out of Jerusalem to be crucified by Roman soldiers before the city walls. Just 37 years later, in the year 70, the Roman emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that the city had a huge number of pilgrims trapped in it because the Roman siege began at Passover. As the siege progressed, many of the inhabitants would try to break out of the city walls to find food. The Romans caught as many as 500 a day and crucified them in front of the city walls so the people inside could see them. Continue reading

Was the Last Supper Celebrated Before the Passover Sacrifice?

The timelines of the Passion narrative are kind of confusing. On the one hand, the Last Supper certainly seems to be a Seder meal, which means the Passover lamb was slaughtered on Holy Thursday. On the other hand, there are indications that Christ died on the Cross on the same day and at the same time as the Passover lambs, which means the Last Supper was celebrated a day early.

Some have proposed that Christ and the Apostles observed a different calendar where the Passover fell a few days earlier than at the Temple, but then the Last Supper would not literally have been Christ’s “last supper.” Continue reading

Twelve Legions of Angels

From the Gospel reading on Palm Sunday:

“53 Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and He will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels?

54 How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done?”

–St. Matt. 26:53-54

Twelve legions must have seemed like an absurd number. At one point, the Roman Empire had a total of 36 legions, so 12 legions would have amounted to one-third of the entire Roman army. The historical irony is that that’s how many legions the Roman emperor Hadrian sent to Judea to crush the revolt of the false messiah Bar Kokhba in the 130s.

Lent and Easter as a Week of Weeks and Summary of Human History

St. Augustine compared human history to a week with seven (or eight) days/ages:

–Day/Age 1: Adam to Noah
–Day/Age 2: Noah to Abraham
–Day/Age 3: Abraham to David
–Day/Age 4: David to the Exile
–Day/Age 5: the Exile to the First Coming of Christ
–Day/Age 6: the First Coming of Christ to His Second Coming
–Day/Age 7: the Second Coming and General Resurrection, merging into the eighth day/age of eternity

So, the sixth age–the Friday of the week of human history–marks the First Coming and Passion of Christ. Continue reading

Jeremiah on Our Lady’s Sorrows

For several hundred years, the Friday before Good Friday was the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“21 For the affliction of the daughter of my people I am afflicted, and made sorrowful, astonishment hath taken hold on me.
22 Is there no balm in Galaad? or is no physician there? Why then is not the wound of the daughter of my people closed?”

~Jeremiah 8:21-22

“17 And thou shalt speak this word to them: Let my eyes shed down tears night and day, and let them not cease, because the virgin daughter of my people is afflicted with a great affliction, with an exceeding grievous evil.”

~Jeremiah 14:17

The Samaritan Woman and the Six Ages of the World

From today’s Gospel in the Novus Ordo Missae:

[16] Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither. [17] The woman answered, and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well, I have no husband: [18] For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly. ~St. John’s Gospel 4:16-18

The five husbands represent five marriage-covenants, five dispensations between God and mankind. Five ages of the world preceded the coming of the Messiah: Continue reading

The Immaculate Conception, the Messiah, and the Golden Gate

Note: Here in the Driftless Area where I’m writing this, it’s still the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In medieval art, the Immaculate Conception is depicted by Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, meeting and embracing at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. According to an apocryphal work called the Protoevangelium of James, Joachim and Anne had been barren, but an angel visited Anne to announce the birth of a child. She then met Joachim at the Golden Gate as he left the Temple after offering a sacrifice. The Golden Gate is the eastern gate of the Temple Mount, and tradition said that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem through this gate. The legend and the image link the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Golden Gate; she is the true “Gate of Heaven” through which the Messiah enters the world. Here’s a painting of the scene by Giotto:

The Golden Gate, known in Jewish sources as the Gate of Mercy, is pretty interesting in its own right. Continue reading