Catholic in Yanchep

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)


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EASTER | Some stats and graphs on why the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are extraordinary

Have you ever been told that the Bible is historically unreliable and not been sure how to respond?  Most people who make that claim are using it as a lever to excuse themselves from taking Christianity seriously.  Press them, and you find they have not actually studied the facts about the Bible’s historicity.  It’s a sign of the craziness of our times that the word ‘facts’ has itself become contentious.  Setting that aside, it’s instructive to look at the statistics relating to the extant New Testament manuscripts.  If we dig into the figures, we discover some striking data that rarely seem to find their way into the popular media.

I first became interested in this subject when I read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which has recently been released as a film and will be available in Australia in May 2017.  While I don’t agree with everything Strobel writes, and find his writing style annoying in its lack of subtlety and constant attempts to re-create the scene, his interviewees are usually well-known scholars in their fields.

We’re all familiar today with the way some news items ‘go viral’.  A similar thing happened after Christ’s Resurrection: an astounding explosion in documented output by authors describing it.  So singular, extraordinary, impossible, fantastic, and unbelievable was this event, that not only did it inspire four contemporary eye-witness and/or “one-step-removed-from-eye-witness” authors to produce accounts (something unheard of for any other event in ancient history), but the sheer volume and speed of propagation of these documents is unparalleled, considering the technology available in this period of history.

Focussing in on just two aspects of this phenomenon, I’d like to share with you some graphs for those of you who are visual learners.  I will concentrate on these two questions:

  1. Number of manuscripts.
    1. How many ancient manuscripts of the New Testament exist?
    2. How does this compare with the number of manuscripts of other ancient documents?
  2. Time interval
    1. What is the time interval between the date of composition and the earliest extant manuscript?
    2. How does this compare with other ancient documents?

Just to define my terms, I should mention that by manuscripts I am including handwritten copies prior to the invention of the printing press, inscribed on papyrus, parchment, vellum, and paper, in any number of languages from that period:  Greek and Latin, Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian, amongst others.

Comparing the most well-known works from this period, we find a breakdown as shown in Table 1 below.  Surprising, isn’t it, that there are only seven manuscripts of Virgil’s Aeneid, ten of Caesar’s Gallic Wars which it was de rigueur for every Latin scholar of my era to read, but over 24,000 of the New Testament?  Testament, indeed, to the power of the Gospel.  Even Homer’s Iliad is fewer by about 37 times.  A graph makes the disparity even more striking.  When it’s the Bible versus ‘everything else’, ‘everything else’ pales, mathematically speaking, into insignificance.  And I haven’t even included the numerous commentaries about the New Testament which would explode the figures into the stratosphere.Manuscript-Number-Graph

 

 

Manuscript-Numbers

Manuscripts of Iron Age writings: the Numbers

Another measure we can look at is the time interval between the best-estimate date of composition and the earliest extant manuscript.  Disputants like to claim “Oh well, the New Testament was written long after the events it describes”.  Actually, when the Bible is compared to other works from about the same era, one finds that the intervals involved for the Bible are relatively short.  The bars on the graph below show the time interval from the creation of each work (bottom of bar) to the date of the first extant copy (top of bar) of each manuscript.  Using the same criteria as historians use for other works, the New Testament compares favourably – in fact it appears to be more reliable than other ancient texts.  I have arranged these by date of composition, so that it is clear which documents are contemporaneous with each other.

Manuscript-Summary

Interval-Authorship-to-Extant

So now, when you are challenged about the reliability of the Gospels, please share with your friends these facts and figures.  There are numerous other points that can be made regarding the Resurrection of Christ as a real event, and I encourage you to go and see the film, The Case for Christ, when it is released next month.  And for a Catholic version on a similar theme, try Dr Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus  – written in a more scholarly style, with much additional data, but still accessible to the general reader.

Wishing all readers a joyful and blessed Easter!


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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B | The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed

parable_of_the_mustard_seedWhat can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.  (Mark 4:30-32)

What is this kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about in parables?  Jesus is the seed described in John 12:24.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Jesus becomes that ‘smallest of all the seeds’ in his humiliation and death, but what follows is the Resurrection and the expansion of his Kingdom, the Church.  We see this pattern repeated in so many ways in church history.  Fr Barron illustrates this in his homily for today with the examples of Charles Lwanga, Mother Theresa and St Francis of Assisi.

It’s not only the membership of the church that grows like a mustard tree, but also our understanding of Jesus’ teaching.  This is the image that Blessed John Henry Newman used in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  I have heard the Catholic Church described by Protestants as ‘legalistic’.  It seems that part of the objection is that we have too much doctrine.  But if we love the Lord, then exploring his word results in a natural growth in our understanding.  New understandings never contradict previous understandings, but are brought forth from them in the same way that advances in the deductive sciences are made: by starting on the trunk of the tree with known knowns, and pursuing them along the branches and smaller twigs to areas which require further elucidation.  In this way, the tree keeps becoming more all-encompassing.  So, for example, the idea of Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos) was premised on the prior understanding that Jesus the man was also fully Divine, and that he had two natures in one person: a divine nature and a human nature united in a ‘mystical union’ or hypostatic union.  This doctrine was only formally defined at the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) as a response to Nestorianism which held that Jesus was not the same as the eternal Word of God, he was just a human who had received divinity from the Father.  [For more on Newman’s concept of the Development of Doctrine, go here.]

Because new understandings must be consistent with previous understandings, the Church cannot change its teaching on Marriage, no matter what pressures are brought to bear by the culture.  That is the beauty of the Catholic Church: consistent in its teachings from the Apostolic era until today.  That is why Archbishop Costelloe has felt it necessary to reiterate the Church’s teaching during the current debate on same-sex marriage in Australia.  A pastoral letter will be given out today at all Masses explaining the Church’s position.  You can read it here:  Same-sex Marriage Pastoral Letter FINAL

Please also read the ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage‘ document from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Well done to the Bishops!  You may well find that the media and the same-sex lobbyists want to crucify you too, but stand firm!

Today’s Mass readings (Australia)

Word format:Year B 11th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B 11th Sunday 2015

 

 

 


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The Dedication of St John Lateran | Why do church buildings matter?

Archbasilica of St John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), part of the nave with statues of the twelve apostles, in front of the baldacchino (canopy) over the altar containing the heads of Sts Peter and Paul.  The papal cathedra is in the apse beyond.

Archbasilica of St John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), part of the nave with statues of the twelve apostles, in front of the baldacchino (canopy) over the altar containing the heads of Sts Peter and Paul. The papal cathedra is in the apse beyond.

This weekend’s newsletter can be downloaded here:

Word format: Dedication of St John Lateran

Pdf format: Dedication of St John Lateran

To us in Australia, it may seem a bit strange to have a feast to celebrate the dedication of a Church in Rome.  But let’s not be superficial.

If we want to understand this feast we need to be attentive to the meaning of church buildings, says Fr Robert Barron.  Click on the links below to listen:

Click-here-to-listen

Additional material here:Click-here-to-listen

 

Fast facts about St John Lateran:

  • St John Lateran is the oldest of all the Roman Basilicas.
  • It is the mother church of all Catholics. The dedication plaque describes the church as: Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater, et caput or, “of all the churches of the city and the world, the mother and head”.
  • Enclosed inside the stone and marble altar, is an ancient wooden altar which tradition says is the altar used by St Peter when he was leader of the Church in Rome. It was brought by Constantine and Sylvester from the church of Santa Pudenziana which was built in 140-155 A.D. during the pontificate of the 10th pope, Pius I.  Santa Pudenziana is the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome, and was the residence of the Pope prior to the move to the Lateran.
  • Inside the canopy above the altar are reliquaries containing the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Paul was beheaded around the years 64-67.
  • It was consecrated in 324 A.D. by the 33rd Pope, St Sylvester I.
  • In the apse of the church is the cathedra of the bishop of Rome, that is the teaching chair of our spiritual father, the Pope.
  • The land was donated by Constantine to the then bishop of Rome, the 32nd Pope Miltiades who presided over the Lateran Synod in 313, which declared Donatism to be a heresy.  (The Donatists held that people who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution of Diocletian, could not be forgiven and go on to become priests dispensing valid sacraments.)
  • The name Lateran comes from the land which was owned by the noble Imperial Roman family of the Laterani.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that it is the original dedication of this church to Christ the Saviour that we are celebrating on 9th November.  St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist are co-patrons of the cathedral.