Monthly Archives: April 2013

God’s Role in Suffering

      Suffering is a difficult topic to deal with, but as human beings we are forced to confront the idea of suffering on a daily basis. People’s ideas of the origin of their personal suffering tend to vary from individual to individual, and this creates problems for those who wish to maintain any kind of dogma on the subject. During the high-school religion course “The Paschal Mystery and the Church,” my classmates and I have read and discussed scripture regarding the many facets of Christ’s life, suffering being chief among them. My teacher has attempted to utilize biblical passages and church tradition to explain how God fits into human suffering. Despite attending a Catholic school, almost every one of my peers holds a slightly different belief regarding this topic.

      Many students seem to hold to ideas that resemble predestination. They say that God’s plan is set in stone, and we are all following a path which He has set out for us. It is our job, they say, to make the most of what we are given. Several times, we have moved in a giant circle of one person trying to disprove the other, only to end with either party going away thinking exactly what they did at the beginning. Part of the problem with our discussion is the aggressively dogmatic approach to religious study that the teacher, and the church in general, seem to take. By refusing to consider the ideas of the students, they fail to get across their message in any constructive way.

      As a Catholic school student, I personally tend to follow ritual practice according to their rules, however I believe that Catholic teaching on many issues is slightly flawed. The area of suffering in particular is one which I believe few churches can speak to effectively. Clearly a loving God couldn’t intend for humanity to suffer endlessly, but it is also impossible that a simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, all loving God could be allowing his best loved creation to suffer. I see a God indifferent to the suffering of individuals as being far more likely. Perhaps, after all, we are not necessarily God’s exclusive concern above the rest of nature. I must emphasize the fact that this is not based in scripture, rather in reasoned thought and meditation on the subject over many months and years.

      In an article by Fr. Jack Wintz O.F.M., the concept of “ambush theology” is discussed extensively. Fr. Wintz says how the idea that God is, as he says, “waiting to get us” is simplistic. He claims that this sort of thinking leads to a distorted view of God. Fr. Wintz uses terms like “simplistic,” comparing that theology to that of children. He says that it is inadequate to explain suffering as God’s punishment when the innocent suffer. This sort of language seems, to me, to be patronizing, and it has a dogmatic air about it. If anything were to confuse and drive away students of scripture, this would.

      Suffering is truly more complex than to simply say that it is just God, or to say that it is caused by sin as the Catholic Church teaches. Many Catholic teachers try to explain suffering as being the result of human sinfulness. They say it is truly not punishment from God, but that it is the direct result of sin. The suffering of a victim of rape or torture is undoubtedly suffering at the hands of sin, however those who starve and die after and earthquake or a hurricane are suffering from entirely natural events. To say that a hurricane is in any way caused by sin without also considering it to be divine punishment for said sin is to follow a similar sort of flawed logic to those who Fr. Wintz and others claim to oppose.

      We see suffering all around us. The violence of the natural world, the actions of those most despicable members of our society, and the pain of loss and grief. These are all forms of suffering which we cannot control, but which are also entirely worldly events. Though the Old Testament of the Bible tends to consider these things to be the actions a vengeful God, we can see that a truly loving God would never cause pain and death. By the same token, we can be sure that this loving God can’t be ignoring our pain and suffering. Suffering is, perhaps, not really the domain of the divine. Humans have the great benefit of free will, and what happens in our lives is entirely up to us. Life is only what we make of it, how we deal with our suffering. It is really up to us, not as individuals, but as a species, to determine whether suffering will continue unchecked or if we will seek it out and work alleviate the pain of others.

Works Cited

Wintz, Jack, OFM. “AmericanCatholic.org – Catholic Update ©1987 – Why Must I Suffer by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.” AmericanCatholic.org – Catholic Update ©1987 – Why Must I Suffer by Jack Wintz, O.F.M. Catholic Update, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0287.asp&gt;.

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Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ: a Review

     In Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, there are many themes that tend to be unsettling or upsetting to the average viewer. It is an especially powerful movie for a Christian, especially a Catholic, because it depicts the suffering of Jesus in a way that is far more tangible to us. It is realistic, not dulled to make it more palatable for the modern moviegoer. It also illustrates the many trials of Jesus’ conviction as well as the agonizing pain of overcoming fear of death and persecution and the temptation to flee. This movie shows us in a very clear way exactly how Jesus suffered.

     The movie focuses on realism in that it does not try to weaken the imagery of Jesus’ suffering. We often see the passion depicted in a way that is weakened to make it more appealing to Hollywood. Mel Gibson depicted the passion by showing every detail of the physical and mental suffering of Jesus and the disciples. This gives us an idea of how we might have reacted to the situations in the Gospels if we were there. Personally, I found that the movie changed my feelings on how the Gospels should be read; the movie shows the Gospels in such a visually impressive way that I recognize the suffering far better now than before.

     The Movie could easily be criticized for it’s harsh treatment of the Jews and the comparatively mild look at the Romans role in Christ’s execution. In framing the film as he did, Gibson seems to be implicating the Jews in the murder of Jesus. This distorted vision of history combined with the powerful, emotional imagery of the film is a dangerous combination. When one views “The Passion of the Christ,” it is best to keep one’s mind open to the Catholic viewpoint, but it is also important to understand the historical flaws which have been subtly, and not so subtly, inserted into the film.

     Gibson’s movie allows us to better understand the suffering of Jesus, as well as any victim of torture, by showing the true extent to which a person may suffer before death. One thing that all the original audiences of the Gospels had in common was that they lived within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Some were Romans, some were Jews, but all of them lived in the Empire. The Gospels, and most of the New Testament, are written in a way that assumes we recognize the impact of certain things. All the early Christians would have known personally what happened at a crucifixion. In our modern view, the crucifixion is nowhere near as violent or painful as it would have really been. One may find that their feelings shift from being unable to familiarize oneself with the pain of the crucified people to being sympathetic to all people who were crucified.

     The movie also shows us what other punishments were really like. It gives us an up close view of scourging, whippings, the various torture devices used by the Romans, and the true pain that someone would go through. When we read the Gospels, it is assumed that these are things we know already, but when we watch this movie, we are given the full picture of what Jesus suffered through. This film, despite its historical flaws, allows us to understand the pain and suffering of those who are tortured or executed. Regardless of whether we are followers of Christ, to understand the suffering of others is an extremely important ability.

     This film utilizes the idea of demons and Satan to emphasize the shame of Judas, the suffering of Jesus, and the evil of the Romans and the Jewish priests. Though the instances in which demons and evil things interact with Jesus and Judas are not accurate according to the Gospels, they allow us to see the full extent to which those involved might have suffered internally. These symbolic additions illustrate the emotional pain of Judas and Jesus.

     Many of the non-gospel additions to the movie come from Sister Ann Catherine Emmerch’s visions from “The Dolorous Passion.” This gives us another perspective from which to view the Gospels. For me, the addition of Sister Ann Catherine Emmerch’s visions shows how Jesus had to confront temptation just as we do. When Satan arrives in the Garden of Gethsemane and the snake crawls out toward Jesus, there is a clear reference to the Garden of Eden. We see that Jesus, who has come to save us for the sins of Adam and Eve is rejecting the temptation that they accepted. In this case, his temptation is to flee and to escape capture by the authorities.

     “The Passion of the Christ” has allowed me look at the Gospels as events which can be grasped much more easily now that I have seen what it would have been like to be there. The connections drawn to Jesus’ life as a carpenter and his relationship with Mary connect him to the average person. This movie shows us how Jesus gave his life, despite the temptation to use his free will to escape. Despite the injection of Mel Gibson’s questionable personal views, “The Passion of the Christ,” if viewed with an open mind and a questioning approach, is a fascinating film and a theologically rewarding experience.

Works Cited

Emmerch, Ann C. “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Index. Sacred-Texts.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/pjc/&gt;.

The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel and Monica Belluci. Icon Productions, 2004. Film.

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Christ’s House Divided: The Great East-West Schism of 1054

The Schism of 1054 changed the face of the western world forever. How did it happen? What were some of the important causes and consequences?

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April 10, 2013 · 1:48 am

Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale: Antisemitism and Medieval Culture

Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale: Antisemitism and Medieval Culture

     Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most important contributors to the development of the English language. His most famous works are the “Canterbury Tales,” a collection of poems and short stories which are told by a group of pilgrims traveling to the grave of Thomas Becket. The tales were made up of both prosaic and poetic works which formed a greater narrative of virtue, corruption, comedy and tragedy. The “Canterbury Tales” are a commentary on European society during Chaucer’s time, and they often reflect the culture and period of his writing. “The Prioress’s Tale” is a specific poem of the “Canterbury Tales” that highlights to influence of medieval society on Chaucer’s work.

     Chaucer was born some time between 1340 and 1345 around London (“The Geoffrey Chaucer Website Homepage,” Harvard University.) He was raised by vintners in London and descended from wealthy English merchants. The records of civil cases involving his family, the fines they paid, and those they had levied on others suggest that they were of some economic means. Chaucer worked as a civil servant in London, and this allows us to see a much more detailed record of his life and work as compared to other figures of the time. (Hulbert, 230)

     Chaucer served in the English Army during King Edward III’s war in France. He was sent as an envoy of the King to Milan in 1378. Milanese culture and literature inspired much of his literary work in English. Milan was one of the great centers of culture and art in the fourteenth century, and when trade and diplomacy was conducted in Milan, their advances were exported. In this way, Italy had inspired many of the great English writers and poets such as Shakespeare and Robert Browning to create their works. (“The World of Chaucer,” University of Glasgow.) The cultural, linguistic, and social developments made in Milan helped men such as Chaucer as they contributed to the same development in England. (Ward 214)

     Throughout his life Chaucer wrote his poetry and stories about the culture and religion of his time. His most famous works are the “Canterbury Tales”. Since he spent much of his time as a courtier and civil servant in the king’s court in London, he dealt with people from all parts of society. Chaucer would have viewed a cross section of Medieval English society that covered the clergy, landed gentry, peasants, and merchants. Chaucer’s time in London further acquainted him with the church, and he was forced to deal with what he saw as the corruption of the faith. (“The World of Chaucer,” University of Glasgow.)

     In addition to Chaucer’s connections to the complex facets of medieval London, he would have also been in contact with a Jewish minority in the city. The common view on Jews in the fourteenth century was far from positive. What many of us would see as terribly offensive or racist views were commonplace in the time of Chaucer. Jews were often restricted in which jobs they could hold and where they could live. This environment of hatred and distrust of Jews contributed to the antisemitic tone of “The Prioress’s Tale”. (Hulbert, 230)

     During “The Prioress’ Tale,” the Prioress tells the story of a Jewish Ghetto in Asia. A Christian boy in the city is singing the prayer Alma Redemptoris on his way home from school. When the Jews hear his prayer, they become furious with him. In their rage, the Jewish people hire a thug to slit the boy’s throat, and they throw the body into a pit. The boy’s mother laments , and when the boy is discovered and a funeral held, the Jews are killed by hanging. The boy is sprinkled with holy water, and he begins to sing. He says that he has been given a grain by the Virgin Mary, and when it is removed he dies. The Christians in the city bury the boy in a marble tomb as a martyr. (“The Geoffrey Chaucer Website Homepage.” Harvard University.)

     The obviously hateful and ignorant undertones of antisemitism found in this story illustrate how not only Jews, but all those who were different were framed in the middle ages. Chaucer is not alone in his views, but it is perhaps more startling to realize that one of the great fathers of the English language was, by modern standards, a bigot. It is necessary to look beyond the fear of the middle ages to see that this story is really about how the purity of society, namely that of the church, must be maintained. Although the Jews are used as antagonists, they really represent the greater threat of corruption against the Catholic Church. (“ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.”)

     The Prioress’s story expresses many of the common social conventions of the time. This tale, among many others, reflects the culture of fourteenth century Europe by depicting the common view of Jews as evil and murderous. Clearly the tale isn’t based on true events, but it is treated as a warning about Jews. Chaucer was heavily influenced by the cultural, political, and religious norms of his period. Medieval culture during Chaucer’s lifetime was rapidly changing as a result of problems with the church, and shifts in the ways people thought were occurring with increasing regularity. Increased social mobility, less dependence upon the church, and more self government within the cities became common. (“ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.”)

     “The Prioress’s Tale” along with the tales of the friar and the monk illustrate the views Chaucer held regarding the Church at the time. He, like many of his time, saw the church as corrupt and earthly. The church had been slowly accumulating wealth over hundreds of years of dominance in Europe, and it flaunted it with golden reliquaries and rich, expensive cathedrals. Chaucer took particular offense at the fact that even the monasteries had become corrupt. These views are reflected in the fact that he depicts the clergy in the “Canterbury Tales” as, at best earthly and aristocratic, and at worst corrupt and greedy. (Hadow, 393)

     The poem makes many connections between its protagonists and the Virgin Mary. The child makes direct reference to her during the miracle of his singing while dead. Mary was the consummate symbol of purity in the middle ages, and Chaucer is evoking her to symbolize the need for a return to the earlier days of the church. In contrast, the story ties the Jews to Satan. Chaucer says how the ghetto where the Jews live is a place where the king has “allowed” usury and evil things to happen. Clearly the ghetto is seen as a benefit to the Jews, and the king is viewed in a less positive light because the ghetto is allowed to be present in the city. Jews were often seen as dirty or corrupt. In addition to being a reflection upon medieval culture, this serves as a metaphor for the decay of society. (“ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.”)

“The Prioress’ Tale” is a perfect example of how much of our early history and literature is based on antiquated ideas about race and religion, however it is also an influential piece of poetic and literary work. Chaucer shaped much of the way in which modern poetry is written by using iambic pentameter. It originally allowed the illiterate to understand his story, but it continued to be used as a rhyme scheme for centuries. Though the rhyme scheme and other poetic aspects of the tales are difficult to see once translated into Modern English, when read in Middle English, it is clear that the impact of Chaucer’s work is present in the works of Shakespeare and others.(“The World of Chaucer.” University of Glasgow.)

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” were written in Middle English, an earlier form of English. Middle English is the language which eventually developed into the modern English we use today. Chaucer is often considered one of the fathers of the English language, an important contributor to the growth of the language. In the poetic stories in the “Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer used iambic pentameter similarly to Shakespeare’s poems. This is one of the ways by which modern scholars have been able to determine the proper Middle English pronunciation. Middle English is, contrary to popular belief, far from what Shakespeare spoke. William Shakespeare spoke Early-Modern English. Chaucer’s English was a far older version of the language, spoken from the eleventh century AD until as late as the seventeenth century in some rural areas. (“ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.”)

In his work, Chaucer creates an engaging narrative of the travels of the pilgrims on the road to the tomb of the great defender of the Church, Thomas Becket. He does this by using the stories they tell to one another, rather than by directly telling the story of their travels. This allows him to develop their character using the stories they tell. Chaucer’s tales analyze members of Medieval society such as the Prioress, and he uses this to comment on society and to send a message about the church. Chaucer’s views on Jews and other cultural differences between his time an ours are evident in his writing, and they illustrate the rich historical period in which Chaucer live out his days. (Ward 105)

Works Cited

Beers, Henry A. “From Chaucer to Tennyson [Hardcover].” From Chaucer to Tennyson: Henry A. Beers: 9780554329208: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.amazon.com/From-Chaucer-Tennyson-Henry-Beers/dp/0554329204&gt;. Used P. 50-106 regarding the influence of Chaucer on English poetry.

“The Geoffrey Chaucer Website Homepage.” Harvard University. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/&gt;. Homepage of the Chaucer studies at Harvard.

Hadow, Grace E. “Chaucer and His Times [Paperback].” Chaucer and His Times: Grace E. Hadow: 9781162729510: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. Used pages 93-272 regarding the life of Chaucer related to his writing.

Hulbert, James. “Chaucer’s Official Life …” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://books.google.com/books/about/Chaucer_s_official_life.html?id=17wLAAAAYAAJ&gt;. Used pages 9-239 regarding Chaucer’s time as a courtier in London.

“ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies.” ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.the-orb.net/textbooks/anthology/beidler/life.html&gt;. Online article regarding the life and works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Ward, Adolphus William. Chaucer,. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880. Print. Used pages 97-490 regarding the influences on Chaucer in his time.

“The World of Chaucer.” University of Glasgow. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/chaucer/index.html&gt;. Copies of the actual works of Chaucer, including the Prioress’ tale.

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