Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 Prognostication Challenge

As the new year is upon us, it's time to look back to 2007, say goodbye and begin anew. Many people like to make predictions for the new year, so here are some of mine (in no particular order). Please don't think that I have special inside information. Most of these are just plain guesses, sometimes informed but mostly not. (Note also that these are predictions, not necessarily wishes.)

In the Church
* Pope Benedict XVI will promulgate an encyclical letter on faith.
* The pope will celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form, either in St Peter's Basilica or in his own Cathedral of St John the Lateran.
* Legislation to allow for women to be consecrated as bishops will not be passed in the Church of England (the process will take longer).
* The Lambeth Conference will be postponed until it can consider the Covenant with more bishops present. An alternative and informal consultation may take place in its stead.
* Two more dioceses will leave the Episcopal Church, and at least two more will begin the process before the end of the year.
* No bishop will be deposed for "abandonment of communion" in the Episcopal Church in 2008.
* Bishop Bennison will be deposed in 2008.
* I will not be elected a bishop in 2008 (I thought I should include at least one accurate prediction).

In the Nation
* Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States.
* The housing market will rebound in 2008.
* Hannah Montana will be involved in some kind of scandal.
* This season of Lost, though shortened by the writers' strike, will be the best yet.
* It will be announced that the George W. Bush Presidential Library will be located at Baylor University.
* The continental United States will not be attacked by terrorists in 2008, although news will be released that some threats were stopped before they could be carried out.
* The New England Patriots will go to the Super Bowl, but will not win (or at least not cover the spread).
* The half-time show will be half-way decent.
* David Beckham will be released from his contract.
* Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) will break up.
* Paris Hilton will announce that she is engaged to be married.
* A major politician will use the phrase "Don't tase me, bro!" in a speech or debate.
* O J Simpson will go to jail.

In the World
* Chinese athletes will not perform as well as expected in the Beijing summer Olympic games.
* A major catastrophe will hit in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean.
* Britain will not switch to the Euro.
* French President Nicolas Sarkozy will make a significant speech in the United States (either to congress or the United Nations).
* The war in Iraq will show steady improvement, while the war in Afghanistan will either maintain or continue to loose momentum. There will be no large scale withdrawal of US troops from either theater.
* President Medvedev of Russia will prove to not be the figurehead for Vladimir Putin, and thus there will not be the expected shift of power from the Russian office of president to prime minister.

I welcome your predictions for 2008 on any topic. Please leave them in the comments. At the end of 2008, I will repost them to see how we did.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What you need to know about "the Pill"

What you need to know about Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a week-long festival (December 26th to January 1st) honoring African-American heritage. It features activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations in sacrifice to African ancestors, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. It was created by Maulana Ron Everett Karenga in 1966. The name Kwanzaa is an East African term for "first fruits." The candles represent the seven principles, formulated in 1977, of Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith (that is, faith in the victory of the Black struggle).

Karenga is an unfortunate figure to be associated with any "family" festival. In 1965, he founded a Black Nationalist group called Organization Us, a rival of the Black Panthers.

In 1971 Karenga, Louis Smith, and Luz Maria Tamayo were convicted of felony assault and false imprisonment for assaulting and torturing over a two day period two women from the Us organization, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis. A May 14, 1971 article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Ms. Davis's mouth and placed against Ms. Davis's face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

In 1975, Karenga was released from California State Prison, and re-established the US organization under a new structure and a Marxist-humanist outlook. He was awarded a doctorate and has been a teacher and writer in Black Studies.

Kwanzaa was originally created as an alternative to the Christian Christmas and the Jewish Hanukkah. Karenga wanted no part in honoring the birth of Jesus, so he developed a festival to honor African heritage instead. Of Christianity, Karenga wrote, "The Christian is our worse enemy. Quiet as it's kept, it was a Christian who enslaved us. Quiet as it's kept it's a Christian who burns us. Quiet as it's kept it's a Christian who beats us down on the street; and quiet as it's kept when the thing goes down it'll be a Christian that's shooting us down. You have to face the fact that if the Christian is doing all this there must be something wrong with Christianity." For more [less than] inspiring comments, see The Quotable Karenga.

As Kwanzaa gained more mainstream adherents since the radical 1960s, Karenga altered his position so as not to alienate practicing Christians, stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."

I think it is a good thing for people to celebrate their heritage. I wish there was an alternative to Kwanzaa less tainted in its origin. Perhaps the feast day of an African or an African-American saint will one day fulfill that role. I also have difficulties with the seven principles, as they are so tied to racist nationalism in their interpretation. In any case, celebrations in addition to Christmas are okay. Celebrations that take the place of Christmas are certainly not--at least for believers.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Becket: on being a turbulent priest

The last words of Thomas Becket, 40th Archbishop of Canterbury, before he was martyred on 29 December 1170: "Willingly I die for the name of Jesus and in the defense of the Church."

O God, our strength and our salvation, who didst call upon thy servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of thy people and a defender of thy Church: Keep thy household from all evil and raise up among us leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A hoodie infestation

Last night, these two hooligans broke in and took a nap on our couch. But we caught them red-handed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Putting the Mass back in Christmas

A sermon for the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

T’was the night before Christmas, when all through God’s house
Every creature was singing, even the church mouse.
The oblations were placed on the altar with care,
With faith that the Savior soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their pew,
While the sacrament, in remembrance, we all must do.
And the choir and organ, along with the brass,
Had just settled into a long Christ’s Mass.

Tonight we celebrate the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This can be a very busy and stressful time of year. You may feel like you have just crossed the finish line. Whether you came in last or came in first, you’re probably just glad that it’s over. Well, I’ve got news for you. It ain’t over yet. The cooking and parties may be over. The holiday bustle is over. The annoying TV commercials are over (thank heaven). The Christmas music may soon go off the radio. But the celebration of our Lord's nativity is just beginning.

We celebrate his birth, his circumcision under the law of Moses, and his manifestation to the world in the visit of the Magi. This is the twelve-day Christmas season, and I hope it will be a joyful one for you and yours.

Many people tire of the commercialization of Christmas. I think it is a good thing, in general, but I know it can go to far. Many people use the reminder, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

If you frequent my blog, you have seen the video of the linebacker from that Super Bowl commercial from a few years ago, reminding all of us that Jesus is the reason for the season. He tackles Santa Claus, tackles men and women shopping, tackles people singing secular Christmas songs, and tackles anyone using the abbreviation “Xmas.” The linebacker sets up a nativity scene and tells kids about Jesus. In all this, he’s doing his best to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas.” May I offer a similar suggestion from a different angle (and less abrasively)? Let’s put the “Mass” back in “Christmas.”
The word Christmas, of course, is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass”— the Mass of Christ, the Holy Eucharist offered to celebrate his nativity. There are some similar contractions or “musses” on the calendar. Four days from now, December 27th it will be Childermas—the Feast of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. On February 2nd, we celebrate Candlemas—the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of the blessed Virgin Mary. It is so named because of the tradition of blessing candles on that day. Blessed Simeon recognized Jesus on that occasion in the Temple as God’s light of revelation to the nations and Israel’s glory.

August 1 is Lammas day (or loaf-mass day), when loaves of bread are brought to the church and blessed as the first fruits of the harvest. November 11th is Martinmas, or the feast of St Martin of Tours. It marked the time to slaughter cattle and salt them for winter. September 29th is Michaelmas—the Feast of St Michael the Archangel. As he combated evil, it was a special day to settle debts.

The Mass is especially suited to the commemoration of Christ’s nativity. As it was in David’s time, Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth was surrounded by flocks of sheep with their shepherds. It was on this holy night that heaven and earth—the visible and the invisible
parts of God’s glorious creation—overlapped. As simple shepherds gazed up into the dark and starry night sky, it was suddenly filled with the light of heaven.

With the brilliance of God’s glory shining all around them, these simple shepherds became sore afraid. And the angel of the Lord said, “Be not afraid. I bring good news. “This is news of great joy for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The quiet countryside once punctuated by the baahs of sheep came alive with the sound of fluttering angel wings and with the music of all the choirs of heaven, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men on earth.”

In AD 112 the governor Pliny reported to the emperor Trajan that the Christians in Bithynia had the custom of meeting together before dawn on an appointed day (Sunday) and they would “sing a hymn to Christ as God.” They were still joining the voices that the shepherds heard angels singing to celebrate the birth of Christ. The form of that hymn of praise Gloria in excelsis deo we sang tonight is attributed to Pope Telesphorus, 130 years after the birth of Christ. It was first sing by the angels of heaven over Bethlehem. We still sing it today on most occasions at the beginning of the holy Mass.
Next in the liturgy, we hear the readings from the holy Scriptures. The readings from the Old Testament were called the “Prophecies” in the early Church because they saw that so much of the Old Testament spoke prophetically of Christ.

In his first letter to the Corinthians (10:3-4), St Paul wrote about God leading his people through the Exodus and supernaturally providing them with food from heaven and drink from a spring in a desert rock. “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink,” the Apostle Paul explained, “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”

On the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:44), the risen Lord himself helped some disciples understand the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Jesus told them, “‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

The Gospel is also proclaimed at every Mass, just as an angel from heaven first appeared to Our Lady and proclaimed the good news to her. The Archangel Gabriel, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; of his kingdom, there will be no end.”

Mary responded with faith to the proposal to God’s redemptive plan. The obedience of this woman began to undo the disobedience of the first. Faith is where the ravages of sin begin to be undone. On Sundays and holy days, after hearing the gospel at Mass, we profess our faith in God through the Nicene Creed. On this night, the blessed Mother bore the only-begotten Son of God,
"begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, true God from true God." The eternal manna, the true bread which comes down from heaven was manifested to us for the first in Beth-lehem, the “House of Bread.”

Jesus’ ancestor David was born in Bethlehem, it is called the “city of David” for it was also there, in his hometown, that David was anointed by the prophet Samuel as king of Israel. His successor, the Christ, was born there as well, and claimed the throne of his father David.

It was fitting that the Lord would be born at the house of bread, for according to St John’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the living bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Whoever eats of this bread shall live forever. And the bread which I shall give us my flesh.”

At holy Mass, we offer our simple gifts of bread and wine in thanksgiving to God. The Christian altar is the meeting-place of heaven and earth, where the visible and invisible begin to overlap. In celebrating the Eucharist, we go back to Bethlehem, where the incarnation of the divine Word is unveiled, and receive our heavenly manna at the house of bread.

St Augustine once testified, “How great the dignity of a priest in whose hands Christ again becomes man.” The same thing happens at every Mass—an Easter, a Good Friday, an Annunciation, and a Christmas. Blessed John of Alvernia, the Franciscan priest was allowed to see as much, when in a vision, he saw his hands cradling the baby Jesus at the altar. The true bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world is not food symbolizing God; it is, rather, God symbolizing food.

St John of Damascus once said, “If I am asked how bread is changed into the Body of Christ, I answer: The Holy Ghost overshadows the priest and operates that in the elements which he effected in the womb of the Virgin Mary.” The same Jesus who was born this night in a lowly village, the Son of God incarnate in human flesh and blood, who offered himself on the altar of the cross and rose victorious from the dead is the same Jesus offered to us in Holy Communion.

At every Mass, we join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven in their unending hymn of praise to God for this unspeakable mystery.
So come—come to Bethlehem, and see him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king. This night, let us put the Mass back in Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Advent calendar is almost empty


A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A.

A teenage girl turns up pregnant, to the surprise of family and friends. She says a stranger showed up in her room one night, told her not to worry, that things would be okay, and convinced her that the whole thing was “God’s will.” . . . A young man, just getting started in his relationship, is already wrestling with the question of divorce. “How can a girl I love so much really be cheating on me?” Should he try to save the relationship, or haul her into divorce court? . . . “Couples in conflict” on the next Dr Phil Show.

On this last Sunday of Advent, our focus moves from the future (the Second Coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead) back into the past (the first Coming of Jesus at his Incarnation). On the other two years of the Sunday lectionary, this is Mary’s Sunday, but in this year, our attention turns more to Joseph.

In our Gospel today, Joseph learns about the pregnancy of Mary, and wrestles with what to think about it and what to do about it. Matthew does not tell us if he learned about it through rumor, or from Mary herself, but I would suspect the latter. He loves her, but can he trust her? How can he believe such an incredible story? We find in Mary and Joseph, people of character who are able to deal with this crisis with faith and confidence that God has a will and a future for each of us. Indeed, if they were on the Dr Phil Show, it wouldn’t be good television. They just wouldn’t be sensational enough.

We read in Matthew’s Gospel that Joseph, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, Son of David,do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

A few notes of explanation are in order. It may sound confusing that they had not yet married, and yet the terms “husband” and “wife” are used and Joseph is contemplating a divorce on grounds of adultery. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible that we use here at St Alban's translates it “engaged,” but it would be more accurate to say they are “betrothed.”

Betrothal is unfamiliar to us today, but is still practiced in other cultures today. Betrothal is now a part of the wedding ceremony in Jewish and Christian worship. That’s how it is in the marriage rite in the Prayer Book. It is found at the beginning of the rite in the declaration of consent.

“Mary, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? Mary and Joseph went through some ritual promise along these lines. It was a public exchange of pledges, with a blessing by religious authorities. It would also include the payment of the dowry and the bridal price.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians also have this betrothal at the beginning of their liturgy today, but they show its uniqueness by doing it at the narthex, before the wedding party enters into the church. The contractual obligations were just as binding before marital consummation, and the only way out was divorce—a certificate testifying that the marriage is dissolved and that the bearer is free to marry another.

For Joseph, that is a hard choice to have to make.It would seem that the facts indicate that Mary has committed adultery. But if he publicly exposes her, she would be vulnerable not only to shame in the community, but also stoning under the Torah. He will arrange for the paperwork behind the scenes so she can have the certificate to marry whomever it is she has been involved with.

Why does he go about it this way? Matthew tells us Joseph is "a righteous man." It is a way of informing the reader that Joseph keeps the Law of Moses, but also a way of telling us that he is a man of solid character, and he exhibits traits of mercy and kindness above others. Think for a moment this season, How can we be “righteous people”? Does your conduct characterize you as a righteous person? Are you Christian only because you go to a church? Or does the word “Christian” describe how you see the world, hear God’s voice, and live your life from day to day?

Joseph was willing to listen to God, and follow where God would lead. Joseph assumed that God’s will was more important than his own. As Matthew tells the story, Joseph is attentive to God in dreams.In a dream, Joseph is told that Mary has not sinned, that this child to be born is the culmination of Israel’s history. He will name this Son Jesus (which means "Yahweh saves"), for God’s plan is that Jesus will save us from our sins, and he bids Joseph to be a willing part of that plan.

Mary has already signaled her cooperation in the divine plan. That is why in theology, she is given the title “Co-Redemptrix.” This is not to say that she is in any sense equal to Christ. What it means is that she is the secondary efficient cause of our redemption because through her fiat, Mary provided the matter for the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world—the flesh and blood that Jesus assumed in the Incarnation and offered on the cross. But Mary isn’t the only one involved in God’s redemptive plan. Jesus will need not just a womb and a mother to nurture him and stand by him, but also someone to give shelter, a protector, a provider, a care-taker—in short, a Dad. What an awesome thing to be foster-father to the Son of God!

This season consider, What are ways that we can share in Christ’s work? As Mary and Joseph are to be willing co-workers with God in the awesome plan of redemption, so we also are co-workers. In addition to cultivating that righteousness in ourselves, as Joseph was righteous, we need to share it with others.

We have had wonderful opportunities to be co-workers with Christ at St Alban’s. For much of our history, our major work had been our parochial school. Now, we are in a period of transition, learning how to be a parish without a school, searching for our next apostolate. Let us be willing to serve, taking advantage of opportunities.

We have building to do here, ways to contribute for future generations. Have you returned your pledge card yet? We have no excuse no to. As Fr Homer Rogers used to say, we should all be either contributing or if not, it means we must be living off the alms of the church.

We have work here to do for current generations in our parish and beyond. We have a loyal army of Sunday School teachers, but frankly, we have very few students. Take advantage of your opportunities, or help us create new ones. Consider bringing your friends and neighbors to church. Our charge to spread the gospel is a command from Jesus. And our doing so is a way of sharing in his work. One of the churches I went to growing up, had a “people” pledge every January. You would sign a commitment card saying, "I pledge to bring 3 in ’83. I pledge to bring 4 in ’84. I pledge to bring 5 in ’85." Can you pledge today to bring at least one person to Christ in the next twelve months? You won’t just be giving people a spiritual home, you are helping Jesus save souls.

In that regard, there’s one important thing that I want you to notice. We give first, and receive second—that the pattern in God’s plan. Joseph knew that when he understood that the Savior must first empty himself and be born as a lowly little baby. Joseph heeded the call to be a part of God’s plan.

We see this same pattern in our worship. We begin, “Blessed be God . . .” We end with, “God bless you.”Before it is time to be fed, we must learn to feed others. St Alban’s is a place where you can be fed, but more importantly, it is a place where you can learn how to feed others. According to his will, we give first and receive second.

That faith and hope sustained Joseph and Mary in their joyful expectation. Joseph was patient and kind, faithful, discerning, and expecting. God wants us to participate in their Advent watchfulness. We must be discerning and expecting—like them, willing to watch and willing to follow. Let us resolve to be kind and faithful and patient.

We must go to Bethlehem again and see, the eager longing of all the world. The dawn of hope for tomorrow—the birth of a Savior, Jesus, who will unloose the shackles of sin and death, and bring us all to freedom in righteousness.

All this took place to fulfill what was spoken through the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:18--lost in translation

There are many reasons not to like the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which we use at St Alban's. It is a problematic translation, and this Sunday's reading is a good example of that. Point in case, Matthew 1:18.

The NRSV reads: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit."

Now, I'm not one to attack a translation as evil or say that there's a conspiracy to mislead or conceal the truth. I just think this one is a poor translation. The problems in this case come from the highlighted words, "engaged" and "lived together." They are both give the wrong impression due to what we are familiar with in our society and how we use those words today.

It would be more accurate to say that they were betrothed. This is very different from what we know as the modern marital engagement, which began around the 1200s. Mary and Joseph are not fiancée and fiancé, they are "wife" and "husband." Joseph is contemplating "divorce," not a "breakup."

The other problem is the translation that this is "before they lived together," which given that they are only "engaged" in the NRSV, makes it sound like they are planning to shack-up. But they are not planning anything sinful. It is a reference to "before the wedding." The marriage is finalized by a great celebration and the wife moving in with the husband and consummating the marriage. Hence, Matthew assures the reader that Mary did move in with Joseph, but that they did not consummate the marriage. It would better to say, "before they came together."

A lesser problem with this verse (less problematic than an oddity) is also the translation of "Jesus the Messiah" in the first sentence. It should be "Jesus the Christ." While it is true that Messiah and Christ are equivalent, Messiah is a Hebrew word and Christ is a Greek word. This is a translation of the Greek New Testament into English, not into Hebrew.

Here is Matthew 1:18 in some other translations:

Young's Literal Translation
"And of Jesus Christ, the birth was thus: For his mother Mary having been betrothed to Joseph, before their coming together she was found to have conceived from the Holy Spirit."

King James Version
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost."

Revised Standard Version
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit."

New American Standard Bible
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit."

English Standard Version
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit."

New International Version
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit."

New Jerusalem Bible
"This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit."

New American Bible
"Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My blood glucose level was 91

Frankly, I hate it when people talk about their medical problems (especially on their blogs). But if you would allow me this one indulgence, I have to celebrate (and cake and ice cream are out of the question).

In mid November I was diagnosed with Type-II Diabetes. My blood glucose at that time was about 350-400. The normal range is 80-120. I've been working on it since then, and it has been coming down. I checked it again before dinner tonight and the reading was 91--the first time it has dipped below 100. So, that's just one more reason for me to have a very happy Christmas.

My current vestment project




Thursday, December 20, 2007

The linebacker tackles Christmas

Source: Christmas Linebacker

Iker's first diocesan convention as president

I was looking through some old journals of the annual conventions of the Diocese of Forth Worth recently (I know, I know--a slow day, a little Christmas reading). I thought the story of Bishop Iker's first convention in 1994 is worth recounting.

Bishop Pope opened the convention at All Saints' Episcopal School in Fort Worth on Friday, 7 October 1994 and made a short farewell statement. He concluded by noting:

"Finally, and I cannot say this more strongly, we are not held together by property and coercive canons. If we fall back on those things, rather than our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be pitied and the Church ends up looking like a jail keeper rather than the dispenser of the saving grace of God."

After this, Bishop Pope turned the gavel over to the coadjutor, Bishop Iker. At that point, Pope began a sabbatical leave which lasted until his retirement. Iker assumed the presidency of the convention, and on Saturday morning gave a wonderful address on ecclesiastical unity at the Holy Eucharist to the delegates (will post at a later date).

The convention continued its business session with the consideration of a number of controversial resolutions. Fr Samuel Edwards had proposed several radical changes. Among them, removal of Article 1 of the constitution (accession to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church), withdrawal of consent to be included in Province VII of the Episcopal Church, and a canon specifying that parishes (rather than the diocese) own their property.

Mr. Bill Vermooten of St Andrew's, Grand Prairie, stood on a point of personal privilege and asked if he was correct in his understanding that the passage of this first resolution would begin the steps toward severing the diocese's ties with the national church and the General Convention, asking for clarification of the language.

Bishop Iker stated that he'd be less than honest if he did not say that he believed members of the convention have already decided that they are leaving the Episcopal Church. "I regret that very much, and I would do everything I possibly can pastorally and otherwise to dissuade them from doing so. I believe the resolution before you is to withdraw from the Episcopal Church. It takes two conventions to do that. If it is passed at this convention, it will have to come back to the next convention. Does that answer your question?"

Mr Vermooten indicated that he was satisfied with the bishop's clarification. All of Fr Edwards' resolutions were defeated.

First-degree homicide of an unborn child

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) -- A married man is charged with attempted murder for slipping his girlfriend a drug that authorities say caused her to miscarry twice. 34 year-old Manishkumar Patel of Appleton is charged with 7 felonies and two misdemeanors. They include attempted first-degree murder of an unborn child, stalking, burglary and two counts of violating a restraining order. Outagamie County Court Commissioner Brian Figy ordered Patel held on cash bail of $750,000.

Authorities say he and his girlfriend, 39-year-old family physician Darshana Patel, have a 3-year-old child together, but he's married to someone else. Patel is a common Indian last name. Darshana Patel became pregnant two more times but miscarried in December and September.

Outagamie County Sheriff's Sergeant Ryan Carpenter says that Manishkumar Patel bought her a smoothie about a week or two before her second miscarriage. Darshana Patel noticed white powder on the rim and, feigning illness, took the drink back to her office. Carpenter says Darshana Patel sent a sample of the smoothie to a California lab for analysis, suspecting she had been slipped the abortion pill known as RU-486. She approached the sheriff's department when it tested positive for the drug.

I am thankful that the law is willing to acknowledge this as a crime, given that if the woman (Darshana) had wanted the drug, there would be no criminal charges to be filed. Wisconsin is one of 37 states with a "fetal homicide" law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under the 1998 law, anyone who attacks a pregnant woman and injures or kills her fetus could face life in prison.

On the other hand, I am discouraged that consent seems to be the measure of morality (as is often the case today in sexual ethics). I am also uncertain as to why the charge is "attempted" homicide if his plan apparently worked and she miscarried. The reporting is not that clear. It sounded like this is the third pregnancy and she noticed this time, but I found other reports that say she got the test results back too late and this was the second miscarriage.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A return to ritual

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Is there some connection between the two headlines on this cover of US News & World Report? Treating depression and returning to ritual seem to go hand-in-hand to me. I like how the statue of the angel is gazing toward just the right place.

Actually, the article for the cover story is a very interesting read. It argues that there is a return to ritual across the board, and even in other religions. Here is a snippet:

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.

Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping. But it is not simply a return to the past—at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms. They are engaging in what Penn State sociologist of religion Roger Finke calls "innovative returns to tradition."

Read the whole article here.

John the Baptist and original sin

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In our college bible study last week, the question came up about whether John the Baptist (like Mary) was also immaculately conceived, or somehow free from original sin. I went looking, and Jimmy Akin was very helpful. As he notes in response to a question as to whether John the Baptist was born without original sin:

This is not something that the Catholic Church teaches, but it is what may be called a pious and probable belief among Catholics.

The reason is that in Luke 1:13-15, when an angel prophecies the birth of John the Baptist, he says: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.”

It is commonly understood that the Holy Spirit does not fill those who are still in a state of original sin. As Catholics use the term, "original sin" refers to the privation of the sanctifying grace which unites us with God. A soul filled with the Holy Spirit seems unquestionably to be united with God and thus not deprived of sanctifying grace. Hence, it has not original sin as the term is commonly used among Catholics, just as every person who has been baptized or otherwise justified has not original sin as Catholics use the term.

(N.B., Protestants have a different and more expansive definition of the term "original sin," which includes the corrupt nature we inherit from Adam and which remains with us after we are justified. Consequently, it would sound very improbable to them that any person in this life does not have original sin, but this is because of the way the term is used in their circles, not because of a substantive theological difference.)

(N.B.B., If it is granted that John the Baptist was freed from original sin before birth, it does not follow that he was immaculate, as was the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is firstly because he may have been freed of original sin after his conception and before birth, whereas Mary was preserved from her conception from contracting original sin. And it secondly is because Mary was not only free of original sin, as is posited in the case of John the Baptist, but also utterly free of the stain of original sin, which includes more than just the deprivation of sanctifying grace. It also includes, for example, the later tendency to sin--concupiscence--to which we are subject in this life.)

That was very helpful. I found a similar, but far simpler reference to the idea in the 1917 Encyclopedia of Catholicism on New Advent:

Now during the sixth month, the Annunciation had taken place, and, as Mary had heard from the angel the fact of her cousin's conceiving, she went "with haste" to congratulate her. "And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant" -- filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost -- "leaped for joy in her womb", as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should "be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb". Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church also has a little more useful information:

According to tradition (Origen, Ambrose, Jerome, and Leo the Great) John the Baptist was endowed with pre-natal grace at the time of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:41). Consequently the Feast of his Nativity . . . was regarded as of a greater solemnity than that of his death.

It may be that the idea has fallen by the wayside in recent decades, for I noticed that this opinion is not mentioned in John Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Richard McBrien’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism, nor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As Jimmy Akin points out, part of it has to do with where you start, i.e., with your definition of original sin. In the traditional Catholic definition of original sin (the privation of sanctifying grace) the idea that John the Baptist was "cleansed" of original sin when he was filled with the Holy Spirit makes sense. It is essentially what we would mean by the term "baptism of desire."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New white and gold vestments

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I have completed a low Mass set of white and gold vestments for Fr Ronald Baker and the people of St. Alban's, Hubbard. They will get to enjoy them for Christmas. The purple altar frontal in the background was one I made a few years ago. I am currently finishing up a gold-on-gold set for myself (pictures to come). If you have a project you would like me to consider working on, just email me and we'll talk.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

N T Wright answers the questions

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Trevin Wax interviewed Bishop N T Wright of Durham on November 19th for the Said At Southern Podcast. It is worth a listen, for here are some of the highlights:

On the sacraments:
I guess, as an Anglican, there’s always room to move, which can be a dangerous thing, but also a very healthy thing, because bits of the great biblical tradition which you haven’t fully plugged into before you’ve got the space to grow into… not least, the sacraments. You know there’s very little about the sacraments in the teaching I received when I was in my teens, but in my twenties, working with folk for whom that was actually really very important, in a very biblical way… it gave me the space, enabled me to grow.

On the importance of worship:
That’s like saying, “Tell me why breathing is so important to you.” I think if I stopped doing it, I would fall down, or something. I have to look in the mirror and say, “Why is worship important?” Well, it’s what I do. And it’s only comparatively recently, in the last maybe 15 to 20 years that I’ve reflected on why worship is important, which is like somebody who’s always enjoyed eating all their life suddenly reading about the theory of how food works or that sort of thing.

On defining the Gospel:
When Paul talks about “the gospel,” he means “the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it. . . . Paul slices straight in with the Isaianic message: Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed. And in the middle of that, of course, it’s good news for you and me. But that’s the derivative from, or the corollary of the good news which is a message about Jesus that has a second-order effect on me and you and us.

But the gospel is not itself about
you are this sort of a person and this can happen to you. That’s the result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3-4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16-17 which says very clearly: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.” That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.

On the role of justification:
The doctrine of justification comes into play because the whole plan of God is and has been right since the Fall to sort out the mess that the world is in. We British say “to put the world to rights.” I’ve discovered that that’s not the way Americans say it and people scratch their heads and say, “Funny… what does he mean by that?” It means to fix the thing, to make it all better again. And that is there because God is the Creator God, he doesn’t want to say, “Okay, creation was very good, but I’m scrapping it.” He wants to say, “Creation is so good that I’m going to rescue it.” . . .

Then there is this odd thing that we are called by the gospel to be people who are renewed in advance of that final renewal. And there’s that dynamic which is a salvation dynamic. God’s going to do the great thing in the future, and my goodness, he’s doing it with us already in the present! And then the justification thing comes in because within that narrative, we have also the sense that because the world is wrong and is out of joint and is sinful and all the rest of it, this is also a judicial, a law-court framework, and that’s the law-court language of justification. So we say that the future moment when God will finally do what God will finally do, he will declare, by raising them from the dead: “These people are in the right!” That’s going to happen in the future. And then justification by faith says, that verdict too is anticipated in the present.

On "salvation" versus "justification":
The word “salvation” denotes rescue. Rescue? What from? Well, of course, ultimately death. And since it is sin that colludes with the forces of evil and decay, sin leads to death. So we are rescued from sin and death. Now those may be the same event as the present and future justification. But the word “salvation” and the word “justification” are not interchangeable. It’s as though, supposing we have a class that starts at 9:00 in the morning and suppose that 9:00 in the morning also happens to the be the moment when the sun rises in the middle of winter. Now you can say “sunrise” or you can say “the beginning of class.” Those denote the same moment, but they connote something quite different. One is a statement about things that are going on in the wider world. Another is a statement about something very specific that’s happening this morning in my educational experience. They may be the same moment.

In the same way, justification present and future correspond to salvation present and future, but they’re different language systems to talk about different sorts of events that happen to be taking place at the same time. That’s hugely important. And it happens when we’re reading Isaiah, as well as when we’re reading Paul actually. People have often said, “
Your idea…” (pointing to me) “…that future salvation will be based on the whole life led.” I say, Excuse me. I didn’t write Romans 2:1-16! Romans 2:1-16 is Romans 2:1-16. The evangelical tradition has screened out Romans 2 because it didn’t know what it was there for.

On the Catholic and Protestant views of justification:
I think there’s been an enormous amount of misunderstanding. I have met many Roman Catholic theologians who will emphasize as much as any good Protestant preacher that everything comes from the love and grace of God. The problem again and again has been terminological. And of course at the Reformation, there were many in the Roman system who just didn’t get it and who had been so corrupted by some of the nonsenses that were going on in the late medieval period that they really did believe you had to do all these extra bits and pieces and works of supererogation. And it was hooked into the doctrine of purgatory and all of that. But in terms of the sovereign grace of God, you’ve got that in Thomas Aquinas just as you’ve got it in John Calvin. I think it’s time to stand back and take a much longer, harder look at what’s going on.

On the authority of the Word of God:
I’ve been trying to stress that the risen Jesus does not say to the disciples, “All authority on heaven and earth is given to the books you chaps are going to go off and write.” He says, “All authority on heaven and earth is given to Me.So that if we say that Scripture is authoritative, what we must actually mean is that the authority which is vested in Christ alone is mediated through Scripture. That’s a more complicated thing than simply having a book on the shelf, full of right answers that you can go and look up. It’s more a way of saying that when we read Scripture and determine to live under it, we are actually saying we want to live under the sovereign lordship of Jesus mediated through this book.

When you say it like that, then all sorts of other things happen as a result, like what is the sovereign lordship of Jesus all about? Is it simply to fill our heads with right answers to difficult questions? Well, right answers to difficult questions are better than wrong answers to difficult questions. But no, the authority of Jesus Christ is there to transform and heal and save the world, to make the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. So the question then is, how does the authority of Scripture serve that purpose?. And that’s actually much more interesting than simply using Scripture to settle or raise indeed doctrinal disputes within the church.

There are many more good nuggets in the interview. You can listen here, or read the transcript here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why December 25th?

Most people who know some history about the matter think the answer is that the church took a pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun god on the winter solstice (which is when the days start to lengthen again) and set up a rival celebration of Christ's birth--the true Light, dawning in a dark world. That's essentially how Elesha Coffman explains it in this article for Christian History magazine. But is that really the case?

William Tighe says it ain't so in his article "Calculating Christmas," published in Touchtone magazine. He begins:

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

Read the whole thing here.

Between hope and hopelessness

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A sermon for Yr A, Advent 2, given at St Alban's on December 9, 2007.

To listen to the audio version, click here.

What is the difference between hope and hopelessness? I think John the Baptist would answer that it is whether or not you can have a chance at a fresh start. Of course, he’d go on to say that you desperately need one (and he’d be right).

People came out to John at the Jordan river valley for all kinds of reasons. Some were merely curious, wanting to see what the fuss was about. Some might have come as opponents, to denounce what he was doing. But those who waded into the water were looking for a fresh start. They were looking for hope. As John had said, the kingdom is near, the Lord will come soon. Who can stand before the Lord on that day, but those who are pure in heart? And how can you get purity of heart when you’ve been heading down the wrong path for so long? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just begin again?

Some of you might be looking for new beginnings in your own life. Sometimes it’s just a matter of situations that we can’t control—we want a new job, a new neighborhood or new home—but very often we need a new beginning because we’ve put ourselves in an unfixable situation through our own mistakes and blunders, and even sins. You’ve messed things up by your sins, your pride, selfish, greedy, lusting sins. Now your family is messed up, your marriage is messed up, your life is messed up. And you finally realize how desperately you need to begin again. John appeared in the desert at the Jordan river, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The Jewish people had a number of ceremonial washings—life was full of these ritual purifications in and out of the home (remember those six stone jars of water that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding in Cana? They were for ritual washings). People have speculated, therefore, on exactly what he was up to. Many think that John was holding a ritual which is essentially a proselyte baptism, the ritual washing of a gentile in the process of embracing the Jewish faith. Yet most, if not all, of who came to see him were fellow Jews. If so, it helps us understand that John said, in effect, “You are no better than the heathen, and like a pagan, you must start from scratch. It is time for you to begin again.”

Another insight might come from the place where John ministered in the desert. Remember that when the people of Israel left Egypt, they remained as wanderers in the Sinai desert for forty years. When that generation had passed, including Moses, it was time for his successor Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land. The spot chosen for the invasion is where the Jordan River is easiest to cross at its southern end where it flows into the Dead Sea, near the walled Canaanite city of Jericho. As they are beginning to cross the Jordan, suddenly the water stopped flowing. They cross through on dry ground, just as they did once at the Red Sea. So they pulled twelve stones out of the riverbed and erected a monument representing the twelve tribes, to commemorate God’s mercy.

John the Baptist came on the scene during a time of national humiliation, proclaiming that the time to repent had come and that the one chosen by God to deliver them was ready to appear in response to their repentance. To dramatize his message he called the multitudes down to wash themselves of sinful disobedience in the place at the Jordan River in the same place where Joshua had led them into the Promised Land. Essentially, he had them go out and come in again. He had them begin again. They were acting out their confession that they had squandered their life in the land God had given them. He symbolically collected the nation at the Jordan River, awaiting a new Joshua to lead them in.

That’s what repentance is all about—new beginnings. In Hebrew, the word means to physically turn around or reverse direction. Some of you desperately need to turn around in some area of life, and all of us can easily recall some time when we had to. In Greek, the word is a little more abstract. It means a reorientation of the mind, in stark contrast to old ways of thinking and old ways of seeing the world, and thus, old ways of doing things. At the bottom of this fundamental reorientation is a change from selfishness to selflessness, from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness.

The ritual act of purification was taken up as a way to express that repentance--that desire to remove the stain of past failures and transgressions--and begin again with a clean heart in the land of promise. Our English word repentance has a Latin root, repoenitere, which is the expression for great sorry or intense regret. Ironically, hope for a bright tomorrow, begins with sorrow today. Let’s face it, no one turns his or her life around without first becoming discontented with the way things are and wanting to make a change for the better. In church, the word for it is “repentance.”

The fruit of that repentance is the new and changed way of living that follows. The fruit is the life ahead of you, not the life you left behind you. That means no more cheating on your husband or wife (or even flirting), or no more fornication, no more getting drunk or going to those kinds of parties, no more gambling, no more cheating, no more cussin’, no more unhealthy habits related to diet and exercise, no more gossip, no more back-biting, no more name-calling, etc. Before you start to think, “well that sounds rather boring." Remember that was the stuff that got you into trouble in the first place. Repentance begins with sorrow over our sins, becomes a change in the mind, turns into a new direction in the body, and embraces the hope of a better future.

At some point in our lives, we must all come to the conviction that we do sin—we not only fall short of God’s glory (who wouldn’t), but we willfully rebel against his will and ostracize him from our lives. That has disastrous consequences, because God is the source of life. To cut ourselves off from him is to cut ourselves off from God. That’s why St Paul wrote to the Romans (6:23) “The wages of sin is death.” Thankfully, he went on to say, “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

He’s the Lord who’s coming into the world. He’s the one John the Baptist is getting us ready to receive. Jesus is the one who will be born in Bethlehem, The eternal Word of God made flesh, living as a human being. As God and man he will suffer and die on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem to atone for the sins of the world, to make forgiveness possible. Finally, he will rise from the grave, as a sign of his vindication. He now offers us a share in his risen life, a new beginning and a bright future. John calls upon each of us to be a part of it.

As St Matthew tells the story in his gospel, many people came to him for baptism, but some of those were Pharisees and Saduccees who were unrepentant. John called them out: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance.” They had nothing to show for their repentance, because they were not repentant. They had no sorrow over their own sin, no hope for a new tomorrow. They were instead self-righteous. They presumed upon God’s mercy.

These Pharisees and Sadducees trusted in their own heritage of the chosen people to save them from God’s wrath on the day of judgment. They didn’t seem to notice that the people being baptized by John in the river Jordan had the same heritage. We often do the same thing. We say, "That guy really needs to clean up his act." But then we conveniently ignore our own problems. These Pharisees and Sadducees did not see their own need to begin again, while those who came for baptism did recognize their need and turned to God for mercy.

John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Bear fruit that befits repentance. Do not say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father' (as if that’s all you would ever need to make yourself righteous). God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” What stones, I wonder? Could it be a reference to the stones of the monument built 1400 years earlier by the Hebrews when they entered the Promised Land? It was built as a reminder of God’s mercy, but some had forgotten they needed it.

Do not be like those self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees who thought they had nothing to worry about. Far from it. Sin is so destructive. Turn again and again from your evil ways. That's one of our baptismal promises, "Whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord." Make you confession. Return for living water and fresh grace. This Advent, make a place in your heart to welcome Christ as Lord.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"I am the Immaculate Conception"

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Ineffabilis Deus
Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception

God ineffable--whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly"--having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so lover her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son--the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart--and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.

The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin--a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God--and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. From this very doctrine, flourishing and wondrously propagated in the Catholic world through the efforts and zeal of the bishops, was made very clear by the Church when she did not hesitate to present for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. By this most significant fact, the Church made it clear indeed that the conception of Mary is to be venerated as something extraordinary, wonderful, eminently holy, and different from the conception of all other human beings--for the Church celebrates only the feast days of the saints.

And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.

These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Roman Church, mother and teacher of all Churches, has continued to teach this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Yet the more important actions of the Church deserve to be mentioned in detail. For such dignity and authority belong to the Church that she alone is the center of truth and of Catholic unity. It is the Church in which alone religion has been inviolably preserved and from which all other Churches must receive the tradition of the Faith.

The same Roman Church, therefore, desired nothing more than by the most persuasive means to state, to protect, to promote and to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This fact is most clearly shown to the whole world by numerous and significant acts of the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors. To them, in the person of the Prince of the Apostles, were divinely entrusted by Christ our Lord, the charge and supreme care and the power of feeding the lambs and sheep; in particular, of confirming their brethren, and of ruling and governing the universal Church.

Our predecessors, indeed, by virtue of their apostolic authority, gloried in instituting the Feast of the Conception in the Roman Church. They did so to enhance its importance and dignity by a suitable Office and Mass, whereby the prerogative of the Virgin, her exception from the hereditary taint, was most distinctly affirmed. As to the homage already instituted, they spared no effort to promote and to extend it either by the granting of indulgences, or by allowing cities, provinces and kingdoms to choose as their patroness God's own Mother, under the title of "The Immaculate Conception." Again, our predecessors approved confraternities, congregations and religious communities founded in honor of the Immaculate Conception, monasteries, hospitals, altars, or churches; they praised persons who vowed to uphold with all their ability the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. Besides, it afforded the greatest joy to our predecessors to ordain that the Feast of the Conception should be celebrated in every church with the very same honor as the Feast of the Nativity; that it should be celebrated with an octave by the whole Church; that it should be reverently and generally observed as a holy day of obligation; and that a pontifical Capella should be held in our Liberian pontifical basilica on the day dedicated to the conception of the Virgin. Finally, in their desire to impress this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God upon the hearts of the faithful, and to intensify the people's piety and enthusiasm for the homage and the veneration of the Virgin conceived without the stain of original sin, they delighted to grant, with the greatest pleasure, permission to proclaim the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto, and in the Preface of the Mass, so that the rule of prayer might thus serve to illustrate the rule of belief. Therefore, we ourselves, following the procedure of our predecessors, have not only approved and accepted what had already been established, but bearing in mind, moreover, the decree of Sixtus IV, have confirmed by our authority a proper Office in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and have with exceeding joy extended its use to the universal Church.

Now inasmuch as whatever pertains to sacred worship is intimately connected with its object and cannot have either consistency or durability if this object is vague or uncertain, our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, therefore, while directing all their efforts toward an increase of the devotion to the conception, made it their aim not only to emphasize the object with the utmost zeal, but also to enunciate the exact doctrine. Definitely and clearly they taught that the feast was held in honor of the conception of the Virgin. They denounced as false and absolutely foreign to the mind of the Church the opinion of those who held and affirmed that it was not the conception of the Virgin but her sanctification that was honored by the Church. They never thought that greater leniency should be extended toward those who, attempting to disprove the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, devised a distinction between the first and second instance of conception and inferred that the conception which the Church celebrates was not that of the first instance of conception but the second. In fact, they held it was their duty not only to uphold and defend with all their power the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin but also to assert that the true object of this veneration was her conception considered in its first instant. Hence the words of one of our predecessors, Alexander VII, who authoritatively and decisively declared the mind of the Church: "Concerning the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ancient indeed is that devotion of the faithful based on the belief that her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception."

Moreover, our predecessors considered it their special solemn duty with all diligence, zeal, and effort to preserve intact the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. For, not only have they in no way ever allowed this doctrine to be censured or changed, but they have gone much further and by clear statements repeatedly asserted that the doctrine by which we profess the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin is on its own merits entirely in harmony with the ecclesiastical veneration; that it is ancient and widespread, and of the same nature as that which the Roman Church has undertaken to promote and to protect, and that it is entirely worthy to be used in the Sacred Liturgy and solemn prayers. Not content with this they most strictly prohibited any opinion contrary to this doctrine to be defended in public or private in order that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin might remain inviolate. By repeated blows they wished to put an end to such an opinion. And lest these oft-repeated and clearest statements seem useless, they added a sanction to them.

All these things our illustrious predecessor, Alexander VII, summed up in these words: "We have in mind the fact that the Holy Roman Church solemnly celebrated the Feast of the Conception of the undefiled and ever-Virgin Mary, and has long ago appointed for this a special and proper Office according to the pious, devout, and laudable instruction which was given by our predecessor, Sixtus IV. Likewise, we were desirous, after the example of our predecessors, to favor this praiseworthy piety, devotion, feast and veneration -- a veneration which is in keeping with the piety unchanged in the Roman Church from the day it was instituted. We also desired to protect this piety and devotion of venerating and extolling the most Blessed Virgin preserved from original sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we were anxious to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in the flock of Christ by putting down arguments and controversies and by removing scandals. So at the instance and request of the bishops mentioned above, with the chapters of the churches, and of King Philip and his kingdoms, we renew the Constitutions and Decrees issued by the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors, especially Sixtus IV, Paul V, and Gregory XV, in favor of the doctrine asserting that the soul of the Blessed Virgin, in its creation and infusion into the body, was endowed with the grace of the Holy Spirit and preserved from original sin; and also in favor of the feast and veneration of the conception of the Virgin Mother of God, which, as is manifest, was instituted in keeping with that pious belief. So we command this feast to be observed under the censures and penalties contained in the same Constitutions.

"And therefore, against all and everyone of those who shall continue to construe the said Constitutions and Decrees in a manner apt to frustrate the favor which is thereby given to the said doctrine, and to the feast and relative veneration, or who shall dare to call into question the said sentence, feast and worship, or in any way whatever, directly or indirectly, shall declare themselves opposed to it under any pretext whatsoever, were it but only to the extent of examining the possibilities of effecting the definition, or who shall comment upon and interpret the Sacred Scripture, or the Fathers or Doctors in connection therewith, or finally, for any reason, or on any occasion, shall dare, either in writing or verbally, to speak, preach, treat, dispute or determine upon, or assert whatsoever against the foregoing matters, or who shall adduce any arguments against them, while leaving them unresolved, or who shall disagree therewith in any other conceivable manner, we hereby declare that in addition to the penalties and censures contained in the Constitutions issued by Sixtus IV to which we want them to be subjected and to which we subject them by the present Constitution, we hereby decree that they be deprived of the authority of preaching, reading in public, that is to say teaching and interpreting; and that they be also deprived ipso facto of the power of voting, either actively or passively, in all elections, without the need for any further declaration; and that also, ipso facto, without any further declaration, they shall incur the penalty of perpetual disability from preaching, reading in public, teaching and interpreting, and that it shall not be possible to absolve them from such penalty, or remove it, save through ourselves, or the Roman Pontiffs who shall succeed us.

"We also require that the same shall remain subject to any other penalties which by us, of our own free will--or by the Roman Pontiffs, our successors (according as they may decree)--shall be deemed advisable to establish, and by the present Constitution we declare them subject thereto, and hereby renew the above Decrees and Constitutions of Paul V and Gregory XV.

"Moreover, as regards those books in which the said sentence, feast and relative veneration are called into question or are contradicted in any way whatsoever, according to what has already been stated, either in writing or verbally, in discourses, sermons, lectures, treatises and debates--that may have been printed after the above--praised Decree of Paul V, or may be printed hereafter we hereby prohibit them, subject to the penalties and censures established by the Index of prohibited books, and ipso facto, without any further declaration, we desire and command that they be held as expressly prohibited."

All are aware with how much diligence this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God has been handed down, proposed and defended by the most outstanding religious orders, by the more celebrated theological academies, and by very eminent doctors in the sciences of theology. All know, likewise, how eager the bishops have been to profess openly and publicly, even in ecclesiastical assemblies, that Mary, the most holy Mother of God, by virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint, and hence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime.

Besides, we must note a fact of the greatest importance indeed. Even the Council of Trent itself, when it promulgated the dogmatic decree concerning original sin, following the testimonies of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers and of the renowned Council, decreed and defined that all men are born infected by original sin; nevertheless, it solemnly declared that it had no intention of including the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in this decree and in the general extension of its definition. Indeed, considering the times and circumstances, the Fathers of Trent sufficiently intimated by this declaration that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from the original stain; and thus they clearly signified that nothing could be reasonably cited from the Sacred Scriptures, from Tradition, or from the authority of the Fathers, which would in any way be opposed to so great a prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.

And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner--this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus--that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning.

The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly Scriptures, had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin's supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin, and her renowned victory over the most foul enemy of the human race. This they did in the books they wrote to explain the Scriptures, to vindicate the dogmas, and to instruct the faithful. These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind--words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, "I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed"--taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

This sublime and singular privilege of the Blessed Virgin, together with her most excellent innocence, purity, holiness and freedom from every stain of sin, as well as the unspeakable abundance and greatness of all heavenly graces, virtues and privileges -- these the Fathers beheld in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world; in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned' in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully; in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong; in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots; as in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains; in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendors, is full of the glory of God; and in very many other biblical types of this kind. In such allusions the Fathers taught that the exalted dignity of the Mother of God, her spotless innocence and her sanctity unstained by any fault, had been prophesied in a wonderful manner.

In like manner did they use the words of the prophets to describe this wondrous abundance of divine gifts and the original innocence of the Virgin of whom Jesus was born. They celebrated the august Virgin as the spotless dove, as the holy Jerusalem, as the exalted throne of God, as the ark and house of holiness which Eternal Wisdom built, and as that Queen who, abounding in delights and leaning on her Beloved, came forth from the mouth of the Most High, entirely perfect, beautiful, most dear to God and never stained with the least blemish.

When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God--indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Eve with a wonderful variety of expressions. Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most Blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power she utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one.

Accordingly, the Fathers have never ceased to call the Mother of God the lily among thorns, the land entirely intact, the Virgin undefiled, immaculate, ever blessed, and free from all contagion of sin, she from whom was formed the new Adam, the flawless, brightest, and most beautiful paradise of innocence, immortality and delights planted by God himself and protected against all the snares of the poisonous serpent, the incorruptible wood that the worm of sin had never corrupted, the fountain ever clear and sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the most holy temple, the treasure of immortality, the one and only daughter of life--not of death--the plant not of anger but of grace, through the singular providence of God growing ever green contrary to the common law, coming as it does from a corrupted and tainted root.

As if these splendid eulogies and tributes were not sufficient, the Fathers proclaimed with particular and definite statements that when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned; for to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely. They also declared that the most glorious Virgin was Reparatrix of the first parents, the giver of life to posterity; that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the serpent, "I will put enmities between you and the woman."--unmistakable evidence that she crushed the poisonous head of the serpent. And hence they affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant; that she was never in darkness but always in light; and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace.

To these praises they have added very noble words. Speaking of the conception of the Virgin, they testified that nature yielded to grace and, unable to go on, stood trembling. The Virgin Mother of God would not be conceived by Anna before grace would bear its fruits; it was proper that she be conceived as the first-born, by whom "the first-born of every creature" would be conceived. They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam, did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself and formed by the Holy Spirit, truly a work in royal purple, adorned and woven with gold, which that new Beseleel made. They affirmed that the same Virgin is, and is deservedly, the first and especial work of God, escaping the fiery arrows the evil one; that she is beautiful by nature and entirely free from all stain; that at her Immaculate Conception she came into the world all radiant like the dawn. For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness.

This doctrine so filled the minds and souls of our ancestors in the faith that a singular and truly marvelous style of speech came into vogue among them. They have frequently addressed the Mother of God as immaculate, as immaculate in every respect; innocent, and verily most innocent; spotless, and entirely spotless; holy and removed from every stain of sin; all pure, all stainless, the very model of purity and innocence; more beautiful than beauty, more lovely than loveliness; more holy than holiness, singularly holy and most pure in soul and body; the one who surpassed all integrity and virginity; the only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the most Holy Spirit. God alone excepted, Mary is more excellent than all, and by nature fair and beautiful, and more holy than the Cherubim and Seraphim. To praise her all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice.

Everyone is cognizant that this style of speech has passed almost spontaneously into the books of the most holy liturgy and the Offices of the Church, in which they occur so often and abundantly. In them, the Mother of God is invoked and praised as the one spotless and most beautiful dove, as a rose ever blooming, as perfectly pure, ever immaculate, and ever blessed. She is celebrated as innocence never sullied and as the second Eve who brought forth the Emmanuel.

No wonder, then, that the Pastors of the Church and the faithful gloried daily more and more in professing with so much piety, religion, and love this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, which, as the Fathers discerned, was recorded in the Divine Scriptures; which was handed down in so many of their most important writings; which was expressed and celebrated in so many illustrious monuments of venerable antiquity; which was proposed and confirmed by the official and authoritative teaching of the Church. Hence, nothing was dearer, nothing more pleasing to these pastors than to venerate, invoke, and proclaim with most ardent affection the Virgin Mother of God conceived without original stain. Accordingly, from ancient times the bishops of the Church, ecclesiastics, religious orders, and even emperors and kings, have earnestly petitioned this Apostolic See to define a dogma of the Catholic Faith the Immaculate Conception of the most holy Mother of God. These petitions were renewed in these our own times; they were especially brought to the attention of Gregory XVI, our predecessor of happy memory, and to ourselves, not only by bishops, but by the secular clergy and religious orders, by sovereign rulers and by the faithful.

Mindful, indeed, of all these things and considering them most attentively with particular joy in our heart, as soon as we, by the inscrutable design of Providence, had been raised to the sublime Chair of St. Peter--in spite of our unworthiness--and had begun to govern the universal Church, nothing have we had more at heart--a heart which from our tenderest years has overflowed with devoted veneration and love for the most Blessed Virgin--than to show forth her prerogatives in resplendent light.

That we might proceed with great prudence, we established a special congregation of our venerable brethren, the cardinals of the holy Roman Church, illustrious for their piety, wisdom, and knowledge of the sacred scriptures. We also selected priests, both secular and regular, well trained in the theological sciences, that they should most carefully consider all matters pertaining to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin and make known to us their opinion.

Although we knew the mind of the bishops from the petitions which we had received from them, namely, that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin be finally defined, nevertheless, on February 2, 1849, we sent an Encyclical Letter from Gaeta to all our venerable brethren, the bishops of the Catholic world, that they should offer prayers to God and then tell us in writing what the piety and devotion of their faithful was in regard to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. We likewise inquired what the bishops themselves thought about defining this doctrine and what their wishes were in regard to making known with all possible solemnity our supreme judgment.

We were certainly filled with the greatest consolation when the replies of our venerable brethren came to us. For, replying to us with a most enthusiastic joy, exultation and zeal, they not only again confirmed their own singular piety toward the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, and that of the secular and religious clergy and of the faithful, but with one voice they even entreated us to define our supreme judgment and authority the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. In the meantime we were indeed filled with no less joy when, after a diligent examination, our venerable brethren, the cardinals of the special congregation and the theologians chosen by us as counselors (whom we mentioned above), asked with the same enthusiasm and fervor for the definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God.

Consequently, following the examples of our predecessors, and desiring to proceed in the traditional manner, we announced and held a consistory, in which we addressed our brethren, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. It was the greatest spiritual joy for us when we heard them ask us to promulgate the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God.

Therefore, having full trust in the Lord that the opportune time had come for defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, which Holy Scripture, venerable Tradition, the constant mind of the Church, the desire of Catholic bishops and the faithful, and the memorable Acts and Constitutions of our predecessors, wonderfully illustrate and proclaim, and having most diligently considered all things, as we poured forth to God ceaseless and fervent prayers, we concluded that we should no longer delay in decreeing and defining by our supreme authority the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And thus, we can satisfy the most holy desire of the Catholic world as well as our own devotion toward the most holy Virgin, and at the same time honor more and more the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord through his holy Mother--since whatever honor and praise are bestowed on the Mother redound to the Son.

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

[Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam.]

Hence, if anyone shall dare--which God forbid!--to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.

Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to his most holy Mother. All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin--in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world: in her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honor of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament, and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers. We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign "from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth," and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the eighth day of December, 1854, in the eighth year of our pontificate.