Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas--God So Loved The World That He Sent His Only Son

Well, we finally finished the series on what an evangelical renewal of Religious Life might look at.  I was relieved to hear from one reader, Olllddude, that he (I presume a he) “really enjoyed” it because my readership went waaaay down over the two weeks or so I was posting it. It just isn’t as sexy as calling out the krazies or hitting issues like who gets to go to Holy Communion or just how many silk worms have laid down their lives so that Cardinal Burke can cut his dashing figure at Christmas Midnight Mass.   Nevertheless, I am glad to have written it because I believe that the renewal of Religious Life is a top priority for a renewal of the Church.  Love ‘em or leave ‘em, the Nuns on the Bus and the LCWR mavens arguing with the plump prelates of the CDF get the rest of us thinking, arguing, and looking at the issues.  And if these same women—and the guy Religious too—got their act together in terms of a truly evangelical life-style that shook the rest of us out of our cultural complacency, I think our Church would be something very different.  Not only would our favorite member of the Sacred College find himself under inpatient care for his wardrobe affectations that are somewhat of a hybrid of Louis XIV and Lady Gaga, but we would be freed of the web woven by the culture wars that are confusing the platform of the Religious Right for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how we reach out to Gays, the Remarried, the Cohabitating, and those for whom English is a second language.  But enough about all that for now.  I want to get to the purpose of this particular posting. 
Purpose of this particular posting, Oh! I almost forgot: Merry Christmas.  Let’s remember that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  God did not send his Son to condemn the World, but so that the World might be saved through him.  Not my original idea, but it works so well, I want to borrow it.
About a week and a half ago I had a response from a reader named Christopher.  Christopher got a little itchy about my not responding right away, but that was, I assured him, because I didn’t want just to do a response hidden away beneath the posting to which he was reacting, but to do a posting on the questions he raised  about several of my entries, and in particular about my claim that the translation “for many” is not a good translation of the “pro multis” found in the Latin text of the Mass because the “pro multis” itself is a faulty translation of the Greek original.  But before I go further, let me post Christopher’s remarks. 
I've read your back posts concerning 'pro multis', and you're simply mistaken in your reading of the Greek. The phrase which is rendered into Latin as 'pro multis' is not, as you state, 'hoi polloi' ("the many" or "the multitude") but 'peri pollwn', which can only mean "for many" or "on behalf of many" (which is why it's rendered precisely as such in modern translations of the New Testament, which are based directly on the Greek). And while "for many" CAN be interpreted with a Calvinist slant, it need not be. It's perfectly consistent with the Catholic belief that those who, in fact, are reprobate need not have been and could have freely availed themselves of salvation through Christ. Your preferred translation of "for all," however, is extremely problematic, since the only way you can rule out universal salvation (if indeed you wish to rule it out) is to say that Christ's suffering was at least partially in vain (i.e., his suffering for those who would nonetheless reject salvation on Foundations of the Anglican Church XCVIX
Well, let me begin by coming clean.  When I referred to the Greek word πολλοι I referred to it in the nominative case. (Greek, unlike English, is a highly inflected language, which means that a word changes its case (nouns or adjectives) or tense (verb) depending on its role in the sentence.  A noun, or the adjective that agrees with it, which is the subject of the sentence is in the “nominative case.”  A noun (and its adjectives) which is object of the action of the verb, is in the “accusative case.” And so on, there being distinct cases for indirect objects, to imply possession, to follow certain prepositions etc.  This exists only barely in English but we can find remnants of inflection in pronouns: “I” am the subject of this sentence.   But when you are talking about “me” you might need to use the accusative case following the preposition “about.”  When you give “me” a gift you also would use the accusative case since “me” refers to the object of the action of the verb “give.”   (Actually, that could be a dative since I am the indirect object and not the direct object of the verb, but we don’t have a dative in English and thus the indirect object in English is in the accusative case. And now of course that gift is “mine” which is the possessive form of the pronoun “I.”   I hope you get this concept because in all honesty as a freshman in high school starting Latin I, it was the most difficult concept for me to grasp.  Even though I instinctively get it right in English 99.9% of the time, I never really understood it until well into Latin III.  And then there was Greek.  And German.  And Hebrew.  Fortunately French and Italian are not so highly inflected—they are more like English but you still have to watch out a bit. 
In any case, when referring to a noun in a foreign language the convention is that one refers to it in the nominative case regardless of how it is used in the sentence.  And so I referred to ‘οι πολλοι in the nominative when in fact it is, as Christopher points out πολλϖν, the genitive (possessive) case in the Greek.  The reason that it is in the genitive is that it follows the preposition περι which means, “concerning” and περι takes the genitive case when it means “about” or “concerning.”   That provides us with the first level of our answer. (Just in case you feel like we have slipped through the looking glass, be assured that in academics this surrealism is our version of normal.  Just think of what it would have been like if Sheldon Cooper had gone into Liberal Arts rather than Physics.) 
It has been a long time since I studied last studied Greek (44 years to be precise) though I do remember hashing all this out again when I did my theological work. But just to be sure, I went over the classical languages department and sat down with one of our Greek scholars and had him review it with me. 
Whereas when one refers to a noun in the nominative in Greek, as in English, one usually places the article, in this case ‘οι (which means “the”), the article would not normally be used in Koine Greek after the preposition περι.  (Koine is the Greek dialect used throughout much of the eastern end of the Roman Empire at the time the Christian Scriptures [as well as the Old Testament Septuagint] were composed.  Koine distinguishes the popular Greek of the Graeco-Roman world from the Attic Greek of Thucydides (5th century BC) or the archaic Ionic of Homer in an even earlier period.  The significance is not in the absence of the yet implied οι” in the word πολλοι (genitive: πολλϖν) itself.  While it means “many” it is not, as it is in English, an adjective nor as in the Words of Institution, an adjective acting as a noun (poured out for you and for many).  The word πολλοι, or more properly, ‘οι πολλοι is a noun and it  means not “many” in a restrictive sense, but “a multitude,” or “the masses,” or in the phrase of Edward George Earle Bulwer Lytton Bulwer (only an Englishman could carry such a name) and much cherished by Winston Churchill: “the great unwashed.”  There is not a universality but an inclusivity built into the word at which the English “many” fails.
So how do we translate it.  The French have, I believe, done it best: pour la multitude.   The problem with a prayer that says that Christ’s blood was shed for “many” is that Christ did not die for many.  He in fact died for all.  This does not mean that all accept the salvation offered them in Christ’s blood, but it is our Catholic faith that the Redemptive Sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary and renewed in each Mass is sufficient for the salvation of humankind. 
The problem with universal salvation—that all will be saved—is that ultimately it denies freedom of the will.  If we are all saved then we have no choice but to accept the Love of God.  Going back to the beginning of the third century, the Christian tradition condemned this teaching that all are saved precisely because it robs us of our freedom of the will.  Universal salvation requires that we are ultimately compelled to love God and be loved by him for all eternity.  There is no shortage of Catholics greats—including Saint Thérèse if Lisieux who, in forfeit of proper catechesis, so believed however.  And of course, while we cannot hold that all people will be saved we can hope that each person will be saved, the end result being somewhat the same while the later formula leaves the individual’s freedom of will intact. 
When Innocent X condemned Jansenism in 1653 this issue of Christ dying for all, many, some, or a few was raised.  The Jansenists, who in their Catholic mutation of Calvin’s heresy of double predestination, claimed that it conformed to the Semipelagian heresy to claim that Christ died or shed his blood for all men.  Pope Innocent condemned that proposition of Janesnism, and in so doing established that our Catholic faith does indeed claim that Christ died/shed his blood, for all.  Kontemporary Katholic Krazieism today is nothing other than a strain of Jansenism redivivus.  The fuss over the Words of Institution asserting that Christ died for all was a thorn in their double-predestination side as it means that all people are (potentially) saved in as much as Christ’s redemptive act is sufficient for the salvation of all.  Again, remember, though that our free will enables us to reject the gift.    And since the inadequate “for many” translation has been revived in the current translation of the Roman Missal, the krazies in their sermons, talks, blogs, and videos have used the liturgical text to advance their Jansenist poison claiming that the liturgy makes it clear that Christ did not die for all but only for those who will be saved.  I have noticed that since the ascendency of Pope Francis, more and more elements of the previous translation are slipping back into the Mass.  I for one am glad to see many priests going back to the “for all.” 
That being said, let’s slip from the rabbit hole back into the light of day—Christmas Day—and celebrate that wonderful mysterium fidei:  God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  God did not send his Son to condemn the World, but so that the World might be saved through him.   God’s Will, whatever our freedom, is that all people be saved.  

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