Swimming the Tiber 25: The Queen Mother

When I first heard the title “Queen of Heaven,” I must admit that I was troubled. In the limited context in which I grasped monarchy (and divine relationships), I said something like, “So Mary is supposed to be the spouse of Joseph, but she’s really the spouse of the Father (as the Father of Jesus) or the Holy Spirit (as the one who ‘overshadowed’ Mary), and now she’s the spouse of Jesus (the King)?”

Well, first of all, the Incarnation lacks the vulgar carnality of Zeus’ conquests. There was nothing sexual about the entire arrangement (after all, we know that Mary remained a virgin, or else there would have been no virgin birth). We also know that Mary was the spouse of Joseph (he did not break off their engagement, and he raised the Son of God as his own son).1

But the real crux of this question was in Mary’s relationship to the King. As an ignorant American, I had very little experience with the methods and manners of monarchies. All I knew was that England had kings and queens and sometimes they were spouses and sometimes a king or queen had a bunch of lovers (instead of spouses) to avoid sharing power. There was probably also an element of taking fairy tales at their word: if you marry a prince, you get to be queen when he becomes king.

But I never knew the concept of the queen mother. The queen mother is not the ruling monarch (Queen Elizabeth is a queen and a mother, but not the queen mother), but rather the spouse of the ruling monarch’s father. That is to say, she was married to the king, and then the king died, and her son became king. This is the context in which Mary is the “Queen of Heaven.” With Jesus as King, his mother holds a special place in Creation.

The concept of the queen mother can be found in a few places in Scripture. First, there’s the place in 1 Kings 2:13-21, where Adonijah goes to Bathsheba (the queen mother of King Solomon) to request her aid. When she goes on his behalf to Solomon, we see that Solomon sets up a throne for her, and she sits at his right hand. We see that the queen mother has authority and respect and influence (since she is sought to make this request of Solomon).

We see, in a way, a reflection of this event in John 2:1-11. Mary comes to Jesus to intercede on behalf of those hosting the wedding–“They have no wine.” Unlike Bathsheba, she has not been deceived by those requesting something of her (Adonijah is trying to steal the throne by marrying one of King David’s wives), and unlike Solomon, Jesus does not make promises that he fails to deliver on (in the verses following those referenced above, Solomon goes on to kill Adonijah and anyone who supported his claim to the throne). Instead, we see Jesus express his desire not to participate, but Mary’s request (as the queen mother) has influence, so he performs his first public miracle. (This incident, combined with the reality of intercessory prayer that I talked about a couple of weeks ago, is behind almost all Catholic devotion to Mary as an intercessor, someone who can pray on our behalf and ask for our aid.)

The prophet Jeremiah also mentions the queen mother in Jeremiah 13:18; 22:26; 29:2. The idea of a queen mother is also a thing that still exists. (It’s entirely possible that my own ignorance of this throughout my youth is an isolated incident, and most people know what a queen mother is.)

To further connect Mary to Jesus as the queen mother, we see Luke 1:43 (Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, “the mother of my lord”). We also see John use frequent royal language about Jesus in John 18:33-37; 19:2-5, 10-15, 19-22. When we get to verse 25, we’re well aware of Jesus’ kingship (mostly because of John’s excellent use of irony).

And [they] stoodlit. had been made to stand before the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the [one] of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Jesus, therefore, having beheld the mother and the disciple standing nearlit. having stood near, whom [he] loved, [he] says to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then [he] says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own [things].

– John 19:25-27 (my translation)

The full importance of this moment involves a position for Mary that we’ll discuss later, but we clearly see Jesus’ mother being identified in a special way in the midst of his crucifixion, at which point we’re acutely aware that he is the King. Her status as queen mother is reinforced here.

There is one final passage to look at: Revelation 12:1-6. Here we see Mary “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” How do we know this is Mary? Because she’s pregnant, and the devil sought to consume her child as soon as he was born (recall Matthew 2:16-18, compare Exodus 1:15-16). We see that this child is to rule (literally shepherd) all the nations (compare Matthew 25:31-36; John 10:1-18), and that he is taken at birth to the throne of God.

I hope that clears up the question a little bit. Mary is the Queen of Heaven, not as the reigning monarch, but as his mother. We ask for her prayer because there is established precedent that Mary can (and does) make requests of Jesus, which he fulfills out of love for her. She is given special consideration as beautiful and regal, with her own throne (as with Bathsheba in 1 Kings) and her own crown (as in Revelation). Every aspect of this is based not on her own merit, but on the grace granted her by God through Jesus Christ.

Next week, we’ll be tackling another major point of contention about Mary: the doctrine of her perpetual virginity and just how that relates to all these “brothers” Jesus is said to have in the Gospels.

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Footnotes:
1 It’s important to note that Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit in several places, as well as the spouse of St. Joseph. Polygamy should not be presumed here, but a mystical relationship that I will tackle a little bit more next week. Suffice it to say for now that Mary’s relationship to the Holy Spirit does involve the conception of Jesus, but does not involve a carnal act of conception.

Swimming the Tiber 24: Theotokos

And then Anastasius, teaching upon [the] church, was saying, “Let no one call Mary ‘God-birther’; for Mary was of man; and [it is] impossible that God be brought forth from man.” This [thing], having been heard, troubled both many priests and all laymen in [the] same [way]; for they had been instructedThis is a periphrastic form (see note 6 from a few months ago for more general information on that) focusing on the current state of the people hearing Anastasius’ speech. before to {speak of Christ in terms of God},I have rendered this text thus for clarity in English; literally, it is something like, to theologize about Christ, or, to discuss theology in regard to Christ. and not even one [had been instructed] to divide him from the economy [of incarnation], as a man, in accordance with [his] divinity…

– Socrates Scholasticus, Ἐκκλησιαστική Ἱστορία VII.32 (my translation)

Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History records for us the moment at which the Nestorian heresy began. (Some of you may say, “But wait! Why isn’t it the Anastasian heresy?” The short answer is that Nestorius brought Anastasius to that particular party and probably defended him in person; he proceeded to assert “Christotokos” (literally, Christ-birther) over the traditional “Theotokos” (God-birther) for the rest of his life. Nestorius may or may not have personally denied the hypostatic union of Christ.)

This moment is important, because from the very beginning, we see the real problem with questioning Mary’s title as “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” or “God-birther.” In the first place, some people (like Anastasius and many modern Protestants) think it means that we’re saying Mary somehow predated God the Father, or the entire Godhead, and that she (rather than God) is the original originator. But no one’s saying that at all. I don’t think even the wildest, most heretical, crazy people say that.

What we are saying is that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and that Jesus is God. I have started my discussion of Mary with the term Theotokos because it’s honestly the easiest discussion to have. Calling Mary “Theotokos” says almost nothing at all about Mary, but it says everything about Christ. If we refuse to consider Mary the “Mother of God,” then we are refusing to say that Jesus Christ is God. But we know that Jesus is God. You may recall a list of verses supporting in my recent post on marriage (about a third of the way down, under point number 4).

Christology was central to the argument in the fifth century about “Theotokos,” and it is the reality of Christ’s hypostatic union of two natures that justifies the term. If you object to the term “Theotokos” on the grounds that Mary is not the mother of God the Father, or that she is not the mother of the whole Trinity, then recognize both (1) what Catholics are actually saying about Mary, and (2) what you’re actually saying about Jesus.

Because, as I said a moment ago, we’re not saying that Mary predated the Father, or that Mary is somehow a parent to the Godhead; all we’re saying is that Mary is the mother of Jesus and that Jesus is God.

And if you disagree with that, then you’re denying the Scripture on one or both counts.

I’m sure you have other objections about Mary, besides the term “Mother of God.” Don’t worry; we’ll get to them. Like I said earlier, I started with Theotokos because it’s the easiest to explain, so this short post is your reward for sticking with me on this. Next week, we’re moving on to another of Mary’s controversial titles: Queen of Heaven.

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Swimming the Tiber 23: When the Saints Go Marching in

God creates out of nothing, wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.

– Søren Kierkegaard, trans. Alexander Dru (emphasis original)

But these [men], remaining behind in confidence, inherited glory and honor and both were raised and became written by God in their memorial into the ages of the ages. Amen.

It is also necessary therefore that we be glued to examples such as these, brothers. For [it] has been written,1 “Glue [yourselves] to the holy [ones], because the [ones] being glued to them will be made holy.”

– First Letter of Pope St. Clement I to the Corinthians
between AD 95 and 97 (my translation)
With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
– Psalm 18:25-26, NRSVCE

There are, perhaps, two primary elements of Protestant argumentation against the saints. Okay, three. We’ll go with three, because there are probably more, and I don’t want to spend months on this subject.

In the first place, I used to say, Scripture uses “the saints” to refer to all Christians, not just the dead in heaven. This is plainly evident in Acts 9:13, 32, 41; 26:10; Romans 8:27; 12:13; 15:25-26; 16:2, 15; 1 Corinthians 6:1-2; 14:33; 16:1, 15; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:12; Ephesians 1:1, 15; 3:8; 4:12; 6:18; Philippians 1:1; 4:21-22; Colossians 1:2, 4, 26; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 5:10; Philemon 1:5, 7; Hebrews 6:10; 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 13:7, 10; 22:21.

But you know where it’s less evident? In Scripture. Specifically, in Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:18; 2:19; 5:3; Colossians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Revelation 14:12; 18:20; 19:8. Sure, it’s fewer verses, but I really only need one to point out that use of the term is not universally consistent. The word itself means “holy” or “sacred” (I translated it “holy” in the passage above by the fourth Pope, as I usually do), not merely “Christian” or even “faithful,” so that’s strike one against it being synonymous with “believer.”

These passages point out what we already know quite intuitively: we are not already saints. We are “called to be saints” (Romans and 1 Corinthians) with a “glorious inheritance” to acquire (Ephesians 1), so we may be united with (others who are called) saints (Ephesians 2); all the while we are called to a higher standard of behavior (Ephesians 5). This inheritance belongs to the holy ones in the light, to which we must gain access by God’s grace (Colossians). The saints, too, are those who will return with Jesus when he comes to us again (1 Thessalonians). The saints adhere to righteousness (Revelation 14), though we on earth only strive to do so. They are counted among those in heaven (Revelation 18), and they have done “righteous deeds” (Revelation 19).

So while we are all “saints” (Christians), we are not all “saints” (holy). Both uses of the term were common in the early Church. As time went on, the “holy” usage (technically, the original usage) won out, because we called ourselves Christians and didn’t need euphemisms for it once people stopped killing us all the time.

The second major point I made against “the saints” as a Protestant was this: “You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 10:20, NRSVCE). Because, okay, sure, maybe there are some saintly folks in heaven–but that doesn’t mean we should worship them! Talking about “venerating” the saints, “revering” them, and so on–that’s idolatry, plain and simple!

But is that what veneration is? Is it “worship,” which is reserved for God alone? I would say not, and Scripture agrees with me. In the first place, most of our “veneration” is looking to the saints as examples (see the Clement quote above). We want to emulate the saints, and in so doing, emulate Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 4:15-16; 11:1-2; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; etc.). We treat them with respect and honor (which is not worship, or else we would not be commanded to do it so often – compare Romans 12:9-10; Ephesians 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:3, 17-18; 1 Peter 2:16-17). We consider them paragons of virtue and people to be admired and followed (compare Hebrews 11).

“But what about angels?” you may say, “You venerate angels, too, and Revelation 19:10 clearly says not to do that.”

On the other hand, Joshua 5:13-15 seems to have no trouble with it whatsoever. The angels, like the saints, are faithful to God, obedient to his will, serving and worshiping him always; we should be so blessed as to live as they do. (And, I say in hope, someday we shall, worshiping and praising God in that eternal day.)

There seems to be little in Scripture to suggest that properly due veneration is forbidden, but rather setting people or things at or above God’s place is. The former is appropriate, the latter is idolatry. Catholics do the former and repudiate the latter as much as anyone. We follow the saints only insofar as they lead us to God.

My third argument against the saints was about what Catholics frequently do in venerating the saints: prayer. “You can’t pray to the saints!” I said, “Even if you don’t count veneration as worship, prayer must be!”

In a profoundly anticlimactic way, I ask, “Must it?” Let me refer back to my very first post in this series, wherein I defined the term “to pray” for the purposes of this conversation. For Catholics, “praying” doesn’t mean “worship,” but it means “making a request.” We are not worshiping the holy dead, but asking them for their assistance. After all, “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NRSVCE) and, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12, NRSVCE). We know that the saints are in heaven, praising and worshiping God, and so we know that they are righteous; especially in the midst of our sin, their prayer would be effective indeed at getting us the grace and help we need.

This has nothing to do with adding a layer between us and God. Of course we can still pray to God. Catholics have more prayers to God than any other denomination.2 This is asking for help from people perfectly willing to offer it. Look at the full text of James 5:16. “Pray for one another.” Consider also Matthew 18:19-20; Romans 15:30-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; etc. We should pray to God for each other, and we ask each other for prayer. Christians of all denominations submit prayer requests to their local church or Bible study group or Sunday school. We submit these requests because we know that we are one Body in Christ with our fellow believers–but we are also one Body in Christ with all the saints in heaven; why should we not ask for their prayers as well?

Here ends my primer on the saints. I have answered the three points I thought were heavy-hitters when I was Protestant. Perhaps I have missed others, but I have confidence in the faith. Feel free to ask via comment or email if you have questions. Next week, we begin to tackle my greatest challenge yet; this one part of the Catholic faith tripped me up more than any other, but it is no stumbling block. The driving force behind my repulsion here was not sound theology or prophetic utterance, but simple emotional reactionism, couched in my ignorant youth. The topic for the next several weeks is the greatest of all the saints, Mary, Jesus’ mother.

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Footnotes:
1Coincidentally, no one is quite sure where this is written, but Clement certainly thought highly of it.
2Probably. I mean, it’s almost guaranteed, statistically speaking. Just by the numbers.

Swimming the Tiber 22: Holy Water, Crucifixes, and Other Vampire-Killing Miscellany

When it comes to holy objects and Catholicism, Protestants (like the old me) usually have two objections: “holy” and “objects.”

Here’s what I mean: As a Protestant, I frequently objected to the idea that Catholics could have “blessed” or “holy” objects. Material things were just that: material. They could not have any effect on the eternal. Any object referred to as “holy” or “blessed” was automatically suspect and probably an idol.

At the same time, I was basically raised to be an iconoclast. “Iconoclast” comes from the Greek words εἰκών (eikon, “likeness” or “image,” from which we get “icon”) and κλάω (klao, “to break”); it refers to those, generally, who destroy statues, icons, and other religious imagery on the claim that it is all idolatrous.

There are a few issues at work here. The first is that, when I was a Protestant, I was a dualist. Here’s what I mean by that: on some level (not an especially conscious one, but somewhere in there), I believed that the material world was entirely broken, entirely flawed, and ultimately, a prison for us human “souls.” Any praise for the material, then, was idolatrous, because “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless” (John 6:63). (In case you’ve forgotten, I rebutted such use of that verse about six weeks ago.)

This sort of anti-materialism is heretical wherever it is found. It was common in early heresies and led to severe austerities (starving to death) or severe indulgence (gluttony and sexual promiscuity). It goes directly against Scripture (Genesis 1 tells us that the material world, which God created, is good). It defies our unified nature (we are whole persons; we have souls and bodies, but we cannot be reduced to either). Worst of all, it suggests that God Himself could not overcome the “wretchedness” of the flesh even by being incarnate in it. That Jesus was born should be enough to refute any claim that the material world is inherently worthless.

Another issue was my fear that objects could be too easily elevated, especially when there was no evidence that they should be. But that’s not true; there’s plenty of evidence for objects being made holy by God. It began in the Old Testament, when God declared some things blessed (so blessed, in fact, that they should be in his very Presence: Exodus 3:5; 30:34-36; Deuteronomy 28:5). God then prescribed a method for blessing things with salt, whether sacrifices or other objects, which is still used by the Catholic Church today (Leviticus 2:13; 2 Kings 2:19-22; Ezekiel 43:24).

“Wait, wait, wait!” you say, “Catholics sprinkle things with holy water, not salt.” Sure, because there is a lot tied up in holy water besides the blessing of salt (baptism, the water flowing from the side of Christ, the water flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47, and so on), but holy water only becomes holy water through a fairly complicated blessing that includes the exorcism of salt and blessing the water with that salt. (Recall also the “salt and light” of Matthew 5.)

But the holiness of objects doesn’t stop with salt and holy water. Consider that the hem of Jesus’ cloak could heal people (Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48). But this extension of holiness from a saintly person to their possessions did not end with Jesus; the personal possessions of Paul were the same way (Acts 19:11-12). Holiness can be imputed, then, from a holy person (such as God’s own Son or the most prolific writer in the New Testament, the latter of whom called himself the chief of sinners) into an object, and that object can retain that power for a time. A man whose faith I trust has himself witnessed a piece of the True Cross (a shard of wood from the very Cross of Christ, that bore his Body and Blood) heal a man in the midst of a violent seizure.

But as with all things, it is the faith of those around the objects that binds them, and any power is really the power of God. But to say that the objects are worthless, or that to keep them and bless them and use them in order to bless is idolatry… these are not statements grounded in Scripture.

But there is another part to this discussion: aren’t images of God idolatrous? Isn’t it wicked to keep any sort of depiction of the Lord among your possessions? If so, Catholics are the worst of idolaters; every Catholic parish has at least one crucifix, which alone would be enough to condemn us.

In case you’re unfamiliar, a crucifix is distinguished from the Protestant cross in that a crucifix depicts the Lord in his time of suffering, whereas Protestant crosses are empty. Protestants say that this is because the cross is empty now, because Christ is risen. And Catholics say, “Yes, of course he is; we’re not disputing that.” The crucifix does not depict Christ on the cross because we are continually crucifying him; it is a reminder. It is a reminder, first of all, that he did die on the cross (and that he rose again); it is a reminder, too, of that once-for-all sacrifice being made present continually in the Eucharist (see my posts 5-6 weeks ago on that subject for more info).

In many ways, holy objects are designed to serve that exact purpose (i.e., as a reminder). All images of Christ point not to some idol but to God through Christ. This is what it means to “bless” others, and that is the explicit purpose of blessed objects, which are often called “sacramentals” because they point toward the sacraments (all of which point to Christ). See the Catechism section 1667 and following. How can it be wrong to point people to Christ?

Some say the sin is in the numbering of the Ten Commandments. Iconoclastic Protestants generally number the Ten Commandments thus:

  1. Do not have any other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7)
  2. Do not make any idols or graven images (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
  3. Do not use the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11)
  4. Do not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20)
  5. Do not covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21)

By calling out a ban on graven images in a separate commandment, some try to argue that any graven image of Christ is sinful, but the logic doesn’t follow that. If we are prevented from making a graven image, then it should not matter whose image it is; but if we are allowed some images (e.g., paintings, sculptures, photographs), then the issue must not lie with the images themselves, but with how they are used.

Catholics, on the other hand, number the commandments in this way:

  1. Do not have any other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-10)
  2. Do not use the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11)
  3. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife (Exodus 20:17a; Deuteronomy 5:21a)
  4. Do not covet your neighbor’s goods (Exodus 20:17b; Deuteronomy 5:21b)

The injunction against graven images is pretty clearly tied to worship of other gods and idolatry, meaning that idolatry is the sin, not the images themselves. This reinforces my point from a moment ago: the issue lies with how images are used, not that images exist. If we do not worship images, then there should be no injunction against them.

For the rest the list, this is another area where I prefer to lean on the strength of Tradition. The Deuteronomy passage makes the distinction between Catholics’ #9 and #10 clearer, but it’s not obviously meant to be set apart from the rest of that verse. Given the ambiguity, as I said, I lean on Tradition, and Tradition is in better keeping with the point that the material world is good (see above, where I argued against my former heresy).

After all, depictions of Jesus’ appearance are not idolatry unless we worship the depictions, because Jesus really does have a face; that he possesses a human nature should encourage us to represent it in art and in holy objects as a reminder. (In the same way, we keep photographs of our beloved friends and family, to remind us how they look, what they have done, and what they mean to us–at no point and in no way do we treat the photos as if they were really our friends and family. Images of Christ work on the same level.)

Some will also argue against the use of any holy object on the grounds of temptation for some (1 Corinthians 8). This is, in many respects, a legitimate concern. But it is also a matter of prudence. How many people are there that you know of who struggle with literal idolatry? I don’t mean the worship of abstract objects (like wealth), materialism, or self in place of God (this is indeed common), but how many struggle daily with the temptation to worship man-made images? Is it realistic, in the cultural context of the present, to say that images are a temptation in the same way as food offered to idols was in the time of Paul? I think not, but I am open to more information.

So I stand with the Church and say that sacramental objects, like holy water and blessed crucifixes and the Cross of Christ and the kerchief of St. Paul, are not evil and do not constitute idolatry, but are a boon to us, both by the power God gives them through our faith and by the reminder they serve in pointing to Christ. Next week, then, I will take this issue to the next level: if the use of holy objects is not idolatry, what about the veneration of holy people?

Good Theology, Weak Conclusion

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in ScriptureA Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture by Scott Hahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another solid addition to Scott Hahn’s repertoire of theological works. The subject of the book is covenantal theology, that is, that God’s relationship with humanity is based in a series of covenants, beginning first with Adam and Eve and culminating in the new covenant through Jesus Christ. The book covers this full range, starting in Genesis and wrapping up in Revelation.

I like this, first of all, because it has a lot of useful information packed in here. It’s even better when you read the accompanying Scripture references; that can really ground what Dr. Hahn is saying and help you keep the right frame of mind. (It’s tempting with works of theology to get lost in the details or high-mindedness; more than some of Dr. Hahn’s other works, this book is prone to that temptation, but refocusing on the Bible passages, taking notes, and keeping a dictionary handy can solve that problem for the average reader.)

It also presents the cohesive story of Scripture in a way that reconciles easily with the traditional view of the Church, but isn’t something you hear in every pulpit. (It’s hard to tell the entire history of the world in this single book, much less in a single homily or sermon.)

Some things to watch out for:
(1) Puns. As with all of Dr. Hahn’s non-academic works, there are puns throughout (mostly in section and chapter titles). If you are deeply unnerved by dad jokes, steel yourself before reading.

(2) A small number of minor typos (I think I can count on one hand the number of books that did not have at least this, though, and my books are not on that list).

(3) The final chapter and especially the final few pages. In my opinion, a book is made or broken by its conclusion, and this book fell pretty hard at the end. It’s almost as if Dr. Hahn had a prescribed limit, and when he reached it, he ended the book, even though he wasn’t finished. The conclusion here is rushed at best and sorely lacking at worst.

Let me explain what I mean: the final chapter takes for granted that the Book of Revelation is about the Mass. There is a lot of evidence for this (not the least of which is in the Mass itself, where liturgy aims to resemble John’s vision of heaven), but Dr. Hahn glosses over it quickly. In part, he’s not aiming to answer that question right now (he has at least one other book about that, and this chapter is supposed to be about the Church), but I think it’s a shortcoming that he doesn’t address the elephant in the room for any Protestant that worships without the liturgy: Revelation as a prognosis for the end of the world. Even a brief amount of detail here would put more minds at ease, I think.

The final few pages in particular are where the real let-down happens for me. Up to this point, Dr. Hahn has been describing a powerful image of the eternal Church, the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem. In the last couple of pages, he turns to the question that I think should be the climax of a theological work (rather than the afterthought): how then should we live?

He writes, “It may seem that the Church John envisions is a far cry from the Church that we have experienced. We see scandal and hypocrisy, bland liturgies, false teaching, broken families, sin and sinners everywhere. Down the street a new ‘nondenominational’ fellowship may be serving up the Bible hot and spicy; its members are more rigorously observing God’s law and more devoutly praying to him. Millions of Catholic have joined so-called Bible-believing churches because in them they see greater fervor. What do we do?” (260-261)

At this point, I thought, “Alright, let’s do it! Let’s talk about the beauty of the Church, the power and transforming grace of the sacraments, the wonder of embracing the divine, the authority of Christ and the Church, the richness of our traditions, the truth of our teaching, the healing of our fellowship, and the depth of God’s mercy (even if only for a moment, since we’re almost on the last page)!”

Instead, the last page and a half can, I think, be summarized like this: “Well, the Church is the True Church, so you’ll just have to set aside your reservations and stay Catholic. Sometimes we see bad things, but we need to ignore those and focus on becoming saints.”

As a conclusion, I think it gets it about half-right: We definitely need to become holy in our whole lives, and that is a critical element in the Church. But even before we’re saints, we can work at the local, diocesan, national, and Church-wide levels, wherever we are, to continually transform hearts and conform ourselves to God’s desire, to renew a right spirit within each of us, to convert the sinner, forgive the sin, and save people.

“Don’t focus so much on sin and become a saint” sounds like very private advice, given to a private person intending to stay private, but the Catholic Church needs to embrace again her deep and abiding community. We are all united in the Mass, which is celebrated continually, every hour of every day, somewhere in the world; we should embrace that community, and as we join together with the saints and angels in heaven, we should strive always to be counted in that number–and not just ourselves, but the person next to us in the pew, in the parking lot, in class or at work, and on the street. Yes, absolutely, become a saint–but do whatever you can to make your brother a saint, too.

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