Did God Really Kill Onan for Spilling His Seed or for Something Else?

A reevaluation of Onanism in Genesis 38

Today we examine the sin of Onan and whether God directly killed Onan merely for the sin of contraception or for something more?

Before I begin this article, know from the outset that I uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to sexual morality and contraception. And while I believe and practice the Catholic teaching, I will suggest that the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:9 is not chiefly about the sin of contraception (by way of coitus interruptus) but rather relates to Messianic sacrilege.

First off, what is Onanism?

Webster’s Dictionary defines Onanism as:

1:masturbation
2:coitus interruptus
3:self-gratification

Onanism in the Context of Levirate Marriage:

Onanism is named after the biblical Onan who in Genesis 33 is told by his father, the Patriarch Judah (father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel), to have sex his dead brother’s widow Tamar so that she is not childless. Having sex with the widow of your brother is called “Levirate marriage.”

It is called “Levirate” marriage because the the Latin word “levir” means “husband’s brother.” Centuries after the time of Judah and Onan, Levirate marriage was mandated by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

Levirate marriage is interesting because it a biblically sanctioned form of either fornication/adultery. For example, Judah’s son Er dies and leave his wife Tamar a widow. His younger brother Onan is required to have sex with Er’s widow Tamar and give her children. This happens whether Onan is not married (sex with Tamar would normally be fornication) or whether Onan is already married to another woman (sex with Tamar would then normally be adultery). It’s not clear from the text, but if the union of the man and the widow constitutes a real marriage, then he’d have multiple wives (sex with Tamar would require polygamy).

Either way, Onan and Tamar are having sex outside of natural law of marriage between one man and one woman, and the arrangement is sanctioned by God. (It’s a situation requiring a footnote.) Moreover, the child produced by these sexual relations would NOT belong to Onan’s house or lineage, but rather to his dead brother Er as Deuteronomy later makes apparent.

The Death of Onan after “Spilling Seed” in Genesis 38:

Here is the precise situation of Er (the deceased), Tamar (Er’s widow), and Onan (younger surviving brother of Er) in Genesis 38:

Then Judah said to [his son] Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife [Tamar], and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also.

Onan’s sin by spilling his semen on the ground is so great that God immediately kills him. This sin of Onanism is terribly grave.

Catholic Apologists (including myself in two my own books) have pointed to Onanism in Genesis 38 as a prohibition against contraception. And they are right to do so, but God did not kill Onan merely for spilling his semen outside of Tamar. Thousands of men have spilled their seed through masturbation and coitus interruptus before, during, and after this time period, and none of them, as far as we know, received a direct death penalty from the Lord.

Why then did God kill Onan in this special case?

Might I suggest that Onan’s sin was especially grave because he was the eldest surviving son of the patriarch Judah. As such he is designated ancestor for the line of the Messiah of Israel. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah and Matthew and Luke’s Gospels show that Christ descends from the genetic tribe of Judah.

The narrative goes on to show that this widow Tamar grows desperate so that she veils herself as a prostitute and hired herself out to Judah who does not know that the prostitute is actually his daughter in law. And from their illicit union springs the Messianic line descending into Jesus Christ Himself. Tamar is one of the few women explictly named in the geneology of Christ in Matthew:

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. (Gen 1:3)

Jewish Irony of Sexual Rights

From a Jewish point of view, the story is ironic. Onan has the right to have sex with Tamar and he spills his seed and despises his birthright as a Messianic forebear. Judah their father actually pays to have sex with Tamar, and he plants the seed and by doing so skips over his sons. The sons no longer have the privilege of being in the lineage of Jesus Christ. This is why, I believe, Onan is killed directly by God. Onan was not likely the first man to masturbate or practice coitus interruptus (both are sins). His GREATER sin was that he despised the Messianic dynasty of the Christ.

Onan engages in coitus interruptus and the Lord slew him. Judah the father engages in prostitution, adultery, and incest…and he lives. The deciding factor over life and death here is willingness to produce a genetic line in accord with the promises of God.

A Final Thought on Judah as Messianic Forebear:

Genesis repeatedly flips the divine inheritance rights of the first born son. Abraham bears Ishmael first and later Isaac. But Isaac is given the covenantal Messianic birthright. Isaac bears Esau and Jacob. But Jacob the younger wins the covenantal Messianic birthright by way of trickery.

Jacob’s first four sons (in order) are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. But the first three lose their birthrights:

  • In Genesis 34, the second and third born Simeon and Levi lose their status with their father Jacob for their violence.
  • In Genesis 35, Reuben the first born copulates with his step-mother and loses the rights as first-born of Israel.
  • In Genesis 36, we read of the descendents of Esau – those that did not receive the covenantal birthright.
  • In Genesis 37, Judah intervenes to have Joseph sold as a slave, rather than be killed or left in a waterless pit. This shows Judah as righteous and rightly next in line for the covenantal blessing.
  • In Genesis 38, we have the story of Er, Onan, and Tamar with Judah copulating with his daughter-in-law Tamar.

It’s obvious that the narrative from Gen 34-38 is trying to establish not 1-Reuben, 2-Simeon, or 3-Levi as the rightful heir of Abraham, but the fourth born Judah as the rightful heir. Judah’s sons are so sinful that God arranges (by trickery of Tamar) for Judah to copulate with Tamar and skip over his sons altogether.

Conclusion: Sexual Ethics and the Messiah

It’s stunning for any reader of the Bible to see how casually it mentions prostitution, fornication (eg. Samson), adultery, and polygamy. Abraham even seems willing (twice) to share his beautiful wife sexually with rulers so as not to be killed himself.

It almost seems that God totally tolerates sexual sins among the great male saints of the Old Testament. That is is why it is so surprising when God directly intervenes and kills Onan for his sexual sin. This is why I think we can conclude that the “sin of Onan” was not merely contraception by way of coitus interruptus. Rather, Onan’s sin was he was interfering with the dynasty of the promised “Seed of Adam and Abraham” – Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The theological purpose of the book Genesis is track “the Seed” from Adam > Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Judah. And it seems that Gen 34-38 is all a transition to highlight Judah. If so, then the sin of Onan is made profoundly grave not because its mere contraception, but that it’s contraceiving the plan of God for Judah’s messianic dynasty leading to “the Promised Seed” of Genesis 3:15, who is the Messiah.

If you’d like to learn more Old Testament history, check out my book on Judaism and Catholicism: The Crucified Rabbi and sign up for online biblical, historical, and theological classes at the New Saint Thomas Institute.

Did Israel’s God have a Wife? “Queen of Heaven” in Jeremiah 7

Why Protestants reject Mary as Queen of Heaven

Most Protestants claim (as well as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that in the early 300s, the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine co-opted Christianity for political purposes and transformed Rome’s pagan theology, imagery and titles into Christian versions:

  1. pagan Temples became Christian Churches
  2. the title “Queen of Heaven” was transferred from the Roman goddess Magna Dea to Jesus Christ’s mother Mary
  3. Pontifex Maximus was transferred as title for Bishop of Rome
  4. patron deities were modified into patron saints
  5. The first day of the week, dedicated as “Sun-Day” became the day of Christian worship rather than the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday

Other examples could be listed. I’ve argued that Constantine was truly Christian and that paganization did not occur in The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. Rather, I defend the (Catholic) belief that the Holy Trinity planned from creation to use the Roman Empire as the means of salvation through the Roman crucifixion of the eternal Son of God under Roman domination.

Today we address the title “Queen of Heaven” as applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestants adhere to the principle of sola scripture (only scripture). In doing so, they search the pages of Scripture for “Queen of Heaven” and they find it in the Old Testament:

The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. (Jer 7:18)

and again:

But we will do everything that we have vowed, burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no evil. (Jer 44:7)

The prophet Jeremiah here condemns how Israelites adopted then pagan practice of offering cakes and drink offerings to “the queen of heaven.” This “queen of heaven” was the goddess Asherah who was universally worshipped in the Middle East as a consort bride to Baal or even Yahweh.

We have, in fact, found an archeological pithos sherd found at Kuntillet Ajrud be with an inscription reading: “Yahweh and his Asherah” as depicted below:

There is biblical and archeological evidence for devotion to God’s wife Asherah. But this devotion was contrary to the monotheism practiced by Abraham, Moses, and David. The Israelite prophets were constantly recalling Israel away from worship of Asherah and back to the monotheistic worship of Yahweh.

It would seem, then, to the Protestant that the Catholic practice of calling Mary “Queen of Heaven” is a return to this banned practice in Jeremiah. Epiphanius of Salamis even writes of an early female Christian heresy around AD 375, whereby women devotees in Arabia would worship Mary and offer bread-rolls (Greek κολλυρις or kollyris) to Mary as if she were a goddess. This seems to be a holdover from worship of Asherah as described by Jeremiah.

And yet the Catholic Church does NOT give worship (Greek latria) to Mary. She receives the highest form of praise for a created human (Greek hyperdulia), since she is a human and will always remain a human. However, she is the earthly mother of the King of Heaven and Earth. And by that honor, she is Queen of Heaven.

Moreover, Revelation chapter 12 depicts the mother of the Messiah as crowned with 12 stars, clothed with the sun, and standing on the moon. She is no doubt the Queen of Heaven, just as she is also the Queen of the Jews.

And we should remember that pagan kings were also called Messiah, Son of God, King of Kings, King of Heaven, etc. and yet we do not hesitate to grant these titles to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The abuse of a term by pagans (e.g. Son of God, Queen of Heaven, Pontifex Maximus) does not forfeit their proper use by God-fearing Christians in an orthodox sense.

Question: Do you honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven You can leave a comment by clicking here.

When Parents Die: Vladimir Lenin vs St John Paul II

When Vladimir Lenin’s father died, he declared that God could not exist, and he became and atheist and Marxist.

When Karol Wojtyła’s mother died, his faith in Christ became deeper, and he became a priest, became Pope John Paul II, and was later canonized as a saint.

Both men had pious fathers and both men lost their parents.

However, Lenin became a tyrant and mass-murderer. John Paul II became an inspiration for the entire world and pointed people to return to faith in Christ.

What made the difference in their life choices?

Question: Please leave a comment to share your ideas or thoughts on this. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Fall of Satan described in Ezekiel 28

I previously explained how Saint Augustine described the Fall of Lucifer and the demons and related it to Genesis Chapter 1. See video below In this article, I’m asking the question: “Is the Fall of Satan described in Ezekiel 28?” Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine interpret the passage as allegorically referring to Lucifer.

Below is the original video on the Fall of Lucifer. Scroll below it to learn more about Ezekiel 28.

In Ezekiel 28, the prophet speaks against the King of Tyre, who was a historical person living in hostility to Yahweh and the people of Israel. However, the prophecy becomes quiet metaphysical and describes a personage beyond the historic King of Tyre. Tyre is the northern neighbor of historical Israel, see photo below:

Here’s the entire passage with my commentary in red (I generally use “Lucifer” to describe him as pre-fallen, non-sinful; and “Satan” to refer to him as fallen and sinful).

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

“You were the signet of perfection, [Tertullian interprets “signet” or “seal” as meaning that Lucifer was created in the image of God with perfection – he had the highest created intellect and will]
full of wisdom
and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; [This is taking us beyond the historical king and back to the garden of Eden.]
every precious stone was your covering,
carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. [The wearing of jewels was an honor of the High Priest of Israel. This language depicts Lucifer as originally a High Priest ministering before the presence of God.]
On the day that you were created they were prepared. [Lucifer was created in time and as good]

14 With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; [Commentators debate this because the Seraph, not the Cherub, is the highest kind of angel. And yet here Lucifer the highest angel is called a second-tier “cherub.” It may be that angels like, priests “contain” the lower orders within them. For example, every priest is also a deacon and every bishop is also a priest and deacon, etc.]
you were on the holy mountain of God; [This reminds us that Eden is a mountain. It’s a high place like a temple or pyramid.]
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. [Eden or the Holy Moutain is fiery because of the love of God. “Seraph” means “burning one.”.]

15 You were blameless in your ways [This places Lucifer as sinless in the Garden of Eden. This points to Eden being something beyond a historical and geographical place on planet earth.]
from the day you were created, [Lucifer was created in time and as good]
till iniquity was found in you. [Here he falls in the sin of pride. He becomes Satan.]
16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, [Satan is profane and cast away from the Mountain that is Eden]
and the guardian cherub drove you out [this may refer to Saint Michael, see video]
from the midst of the stones of fire. [again the holy Eden/Mountain is on fire]
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; [pride was his sin]
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground; [this seems to refer to Satan being cast to planet earth]
I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. [If we are still observing the fall of Satan, then “kings” here refers to the angelic hosts who witness God’s judgment against him.]
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade
you profaned your sanctuaries; [His “sanctuaries” may refer to angels that were below him and in his charge – the third of angels that fell with him when God “separated the dark from the light”.]
so I brought forth fire from the midst of you;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes upon the earth [Satan is no longer beautiful but scorched and ashen]
in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more for ever.” [An eternal condemnation for Satan.]

As you move through the passage, it is difficult to see how it might apply to the historical King of Tyre. He did not live in Eden or on a burning Holy Mountain. He was not cast out by God and scorched with fire and made ugly. So how then would it apply to the King of Tyre?

It is likely that the King of Tyre is singled out as being Satan-like because of his historical association with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. King Hiram of Tyre made an alliance with Solomon (Solomon was a Messianic “Son of David”, which I’ve discussed here and relating it to Saint Joseph). And King Hiram provided architects, worders, cedar, and gold for the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Temple of Solomon was a mock up model of the Garden of Eden (Temple as Garden of Eden explained in my book The Crucified Rabbi) on the Temple Mount (Moriah).

King Solomon is a Christ-like figure and perhaps King Hiram is like a “high angel” figure. Hence, the King of Tyre’s dynasty turning against God is like Lucifer turning against God and His Messiah.

Regardless, the Ezekiel 28 is the locus classicus on the fall of Lucifer.

Applications for Christians Today:

  • Pride is the sin of Satan and the highest sin (v. 17). Let us pray for humility and meditate on the humility of Jesus Christ.
  • Satan’s fall is liturgical. It refers to priestly structures and sacred places. We cannot bend, break, or corrupt the liturgy of God because the liturgy presents God’s hierarchy and holiness for his creation.
  • It was Saint Michael (a much lower angel) that resisted Satan for the honor of God and His Logos. Let us have devotion and recourse to Saint Michael as a guardian given to us by Christ. It also signifies that personal agents in the lower orders of creation (lower laity or lower clergy) can and do have a place in God’s economy.
  • Christ and His Church have given us tools and defenses to protect us from Satan and his demons. these include:
    • 7 Sacraments
    • Holy water (uniting us to Christ as a sign of baptism)
    • Sacramentals (scapulars, St Benedict medals, blessed salt)
    • Devotion to Our Lady – Mary has replaced Satan as the highest creature in Heaven. Satan, we are told by exorcists, is especially ashamed of being c0-defeated and replaced by a “mere” human woman.
  • The best thing we can do is avoid sin through the grace of Jesus Christ. Every time we sin, even venially, we allow Satan to have a greater influence over our lives and our world.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us,

Dr Taylor Marshall

When William Shakespeare died on the Feast of Saint George

Here’s a fun St George fact:

William Shakespeare died on the feast day of Saint George: April 23.It fits nicely with Shakespeare’s play Henry V which features the battle cry:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish author of Don Quixote (and solder at Battle of Lepanto) also died on April 23.

It’s also worth noting that the novel Dracula begins on April 23, the feast of Saint George, since Dracula a “slaying the dragon myth.” Dracula translates as “little dragon.”

On of the the readers of my Saint George historical novel Sword and Serpent also recently pointed out the center placement of Saint George on the Russian Coat of Arms up until 1917 (year of Our Lady of Fatima):

If you’d like to learn more about Saint George in history, please join our Sword and Serpent Discussion Group on Facebook by clicking here.

Godspeed,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

PS: Book 3 in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy comes out later this year.

How Saints are Canonized? From Local to Papal Canonizations over time

Episcopal Canonization (began in 300s)

Local bishops would recognize martyrs or deceased confessors (saints who were not martyred) within their diocese by confirming the cultus of the person and often by doing so by erected an altar over their grave or by placing their remains/relics within an altar.

Metropolitan Canonizations (began in 400s)

By the time of Saint Augustine (d. 430), the process required the further ratification of the metropolitan archbishop of the province to which the saint belonged. (A province is a collection of dioceses within a Roman province headed by a metropolitan archbishop.)

The last Metropolitan canonization of a saint occurred in AD 1153 with the canonization of Saint Walter of Pontoise by the Archbishop of Rouen. After this, Popes in Rome reserved the right to canonize saints.

Papal Canonization (began in AD 993)

As the Church gained more political power, Catholic royalty would press bishops to canonize their kinfolk and ancestors so as to prop up their political standing as being holy and beneficent. It better establishes your crown if dad or granddad is a venerated saint.

Popes as Bishops of Rome had canonized Roman saints. But AD 993 marks the first papal canonization outside Roman territory with that of Saint Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg (and belonging to the family of the  Ottonian dynasty) by Pope John XV.

Pope Alexander III decreed in 1170 that the canonization of saints was reserved to the Pope alone after investigation.

Pope Benedict XIV (1740 – 1758) established the procedure for papal canonizations. Since 1983, under John Paul II, the process looks like this:

  1. Servant of God – person submitted by local bishop to Rome for consideration
  2. Venerable – Rome formally recognizes the heroic virtue of the person. The person is not said to be in Heaven, does not receive a feast day, and churches or shrines cannot be dedicated to this person. However, prayer cards can be printed and distributed.
  3. Blessed – This is the papal approval for a local diocesan cult. One confirmed miracle through the post-mortem intercession of the person is required.Beatification confirms officially that it is “worthy of belief” that the Venerable is in Heaven and saved. A feast day is assigned to the Blessed but it is restricted to the home diocese of the Blessed and not to the universal Church.
  4. Saint – This is the papal approval for a universal cultus of the person. A total of two miracles are required (one more after the beatification miracle). The feast day is universal and parish churches, cathedrals and shrines may be named after the saint. Canonization confirms that the person certainly enjoys the Beatific Vision of Heaven.

Equipollent (Papal) Canonization (began in late 1500s)

Beginning in the late 1500s, Popes also recognized an form of papal canonization known as “equipollent canonization.” Equipollent means “equal in power.” These canonization do not require a formal process of canonization or miracles. Rather, equipollent canonizations recognize an already large, ancient and thriving cultus to a deceased and miraculous Christian person. Here are the conditions:

  1. existence of an ancient cultus of the person
  2. a constant attestation to the virtues or martyrdom of the person
  3. uninterrupted fame as a worker of miracles

Examples include these equipollent saints:

  • Bruno
  • Raymond Nonnatus (literally “not born”)
  • Stephen of Hungary
  • Margaret of Scotland
  • Wenceslaus of Bohemia
  • Peter Damian
  • Boniface
  • Cyril and Methodius
  • Ephrem the Syrian
  • Albert the Great
  • John of Ávila
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Gregory of Narek

There has been increase in equipollent canonizations: 18 or so in the last 100 years. My guess is that this will reduce over time as most canonized saints are more recent and will likely go through the now established papal canonization process.

All Saint, pray for us,

Taylor Marshall, PhD

The Filioque as Nicene Theology for Arian Goths and the Creed of Ulfilas

A New Theory on the Filioque and the Holy Spirit

I’ve been listening to The Story of the Goths by Henry Bradley (get the audible version for free by using this link) and it’s fantastic. A recurrent theme is the fact that the Goths were Arians going back to their evangelization by the Arian missionary Ulfilas or Wulfila (“Little Wolf”).

Depiction of Ulfilas or “Wulfila” preaching to Gothic Warriors

Ulfilas was ordained by that conniving villain of a bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia – the same Arian bishop who baptized Constantine and sought to exonerate Arius. Ulfilas carried the Semi-Arian version of Christianity to the Goths and they adopted it contrary to the Faith of Rome.

The Arian Goths divided into Ostrogoths (Western/German and Italian Goths) and Visigoths (Eastern/Spanish Goths).

In AD 587, King Reccared I (Visigothic King of Spain) renounced the Arian heresy and embraced Catholicism. This marks the transition of Spain from Arian to Catholic.

I record how the old statue of Saint Luke known as Our Lady of Guadalupe was then given to Catholic Spain by Saint Gregory the Great to celebrate the conversion of Reccared and his kingdom. Learn the full story of “old and new Guadalupe” in full video “Our Lady of Guadalupe” lesson at New Saint Thomas Institute.

This conversion meant that King Reccared rejected the Arian Creed of Ulfilas and instead adopted the Orthodox Creed of Nicea and Constantinople – the same one we recite every Sunday at Mass. Two years later, historians observe the insertion of the Latin term Filioque (Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and from the Son”) into the Nicene Creed at the Third Synod of Toledo in AD 589.

The Usual Theological Consensus on “Why Filioque?”

If you take any theological class (including my own) on the topic of Filioque, you will hear something like this typical explanation:

The Goths had been Arian since the days of Ulfilas, and thus they believed that the Son of God was created, less than the Father, and was not co-eternal or consubstantial with the Father. So when the Goths became Catholic and rejected the heresy of Arianism, they felt the need to beef up the Nicene Creed. These Gothic Catholic converts added that the “Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son” so as to establish the Son as fully God and the Holy Spirit as fully God. And this addition eventually became standard in the Latin version of the Creed – even though the Greeks protest to this day.

This is the standard historical theology narrative, and I have taught it to my students dozens of times. However, I have recently come to reject this explanation after studying Gothic Arianism and the Creed of Ulfilas. Here’s why:

New Theory on the Filioque

My new theory is that the Filioque was added so as to make the Nicene Creed o fAD 381 sound more like the Arian Creed of Ulfilas while remaining 100% orthodox. Let me explain:

1. The Nicene Creed is enough against the Arians

The Nicene Creed in its Greek (and Latin) text thoroughly demolishes the heresy of Arius. There is no room for the position of Arius within the text:

“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father,
through him all things were made.”

Arians (beginning with Arius himself in the early 300s) hated this language from Nicea. Adding “proceeds from the Son” later into the Creed really does not add anything against the Arian case. Arians, as far as we know, did not regard the text about the procession of the Holy Spirit as a battleground text in the Nicene Creed. So something else seems to be happening with “and from the Son” or Filioque.

2. The Arian Creed of Ulfilas has a lot to say about the relationship between the Son and the Spirit:

So if “and from the Son” was not an extra prop up for the divinity of Christ, what was it? After reading a translation of the Gothic “Creed of Ulfilas,” it jumped off the page to me. I reproduce  the full known text of the Arian Creed of Ulfilas here with my comments in red:

I, Ulfilas, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord:

I believe in one God the Father, the only unbegotten and invisible.

And in his only-begotten Son [Arians used “only begotten” but in the sense of being a singular creature.], our Lord and God, [Arians said the Son of God was “a God” by divine privilege, but not “the one and only God.” For Arians this distinction of “the God” was for the Father alone.] the designer and maker of all creation [Arians grant that the creation came through the Son], having none other like him [radical Arian claim that the Son is unlike the Father], so that one alone among all beings is God the Father, who is also the God of our God). [Here again is the Arian distinction that the Father is “the God” and that the Son is “a god” by privilege our “our god” in relation to fallen humans.]

And in one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power, as Christ said after his resurrection to his apostles: [here Ulfilas cites two Scripture passages having the Spirit proceed from the Son or Filioque:]

“And behold, I send [Jesus does the sending of the Spirit] the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and again,
“But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you [in the context of Jesus ascending and sending an advocate]” (Acts 1:8);

being neither God (the Father) nor our God (Christ), but the minister of Christ [Holy Spirit is a minister of Christ and related to Christ rather than to the Father]…subject and obedient in all things to the Son [Spirit subordinated to the Son]; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father… (whom) he ordained in the Holy Spirit through his Christ.

So in the Gothic Arian Creed, the understanding of their “Trinity” looks like this:

In the Gothic Arian mock up, I placed a dashed line between the Father and the Son do show that this generation is not consubstantial but signals a new created substance for the Son.

Whereas the original Nicene Creed of AD 381, read strictly, looks more like this:

So what I’m suggesting is that the Filioque was added so as to make the Nicene Creed conform intellectually with the way Ulfilas’s Gothic Arians spoke of the Holy Spirit. So this Option 1:

Which can be moved around to be envisioned like this Option 2:

Option 2 has the same arrows and same processions, but different arrangement. It should become obvious that the theological jump from the Gothic Arian Creed of Ulfilas (left) to that of the Nicene Filioque Creed (center) is less of theological jump than to the Strict Nicene chart (right)

Conclusion:

To summarize then, the Filioque was introduced into Spain in AD 589 not to “prop up” God the Son’s divinity (that was already accomplished in the Christology section of the Nicene Creed), but rather to illustrate an Orthodox read to the way that the Gothic Arian Creed spoke of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. Moreover, orthodox Catholic saints had often and approvingly spoke of the Spirit’s procession from the Son:

  • St Basil the Great
  • St Gregory Nazianzus
  • St Gregory Nyssa
  • St Hilary of Poitiers
  • St Ambrose
  • St Augustine

So the Filioque was an orthodox addition that helped the Visigoths embrace Nicene Orthodoxy. Visigoths knew that they were abandoning Arianism with regard to the Son of God, but what may have been more difficult to understand for them was how the original Nicene Creed does not explicitly express any relation between the Son and Spirit since the Gothic Arian Creed speaks only of a relation between the Son and Spirit.

All that being said, I’m fully supportive of the Filioque in the Creed because: A) it’s in Scripture, B) it’s in the great Greek and Latin Fathers, and C) the Pope has power to bind and loose dogmas, councils, patriarchs, and even Creeds.

I’m certainly open to rebuttal, objections, and criticisms. So let them roll.

Question: Is the Filioque a response to the Gothic Arian understanding of the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Son? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Novitiate Movie: Were 1950s Teaching Nuns a Bad Idea?

Your grandparents have memories of getting their knuckles rapped by nuns such as Sister Theodora and Sister Dolores. We tradition-minded (younger) Catholics look back with reverent nostalgia. So many beautiful nuns in glorious habits that bordered on the glamorous:

Nuns in habits are like visible leaven for society. They lift it up.

But, as we know, it came crashing down in the 1960s. The world began to see this instead:

A new film titled Novitiate seeks to explore (in an insidiously Hollywood way) this shift from the 1950s self-flagellating wimple nuns to the 1960s hippie V2 nuns. Here’s the trailer:

I’m sure the film will be a theological disaster, but it touches on something questionable. If the 1950s convent was a spiritual Shangri-La, why did half the nuns leave and why did the remaining majority pick up acoustic guitars and cheer on the white-washing of their convents and churches?

Here’s my theory: The 1950s nuns were being asked to transform their monastic vocation into “outside the convent Activism” and it obscured their vocation. And yes, I’m especially (and controversially) referring to their ubiquitous role as school teachers.

As a father of 8 children, I would love to have free private Catholic school education for my children. Today’s private Catholic tuition rates are between $4,000 and $18,000 per child per year. Using the lower number, it could cost $416,000 to educate all of them. Using the upper number, it would cost almost $1.9 million dollars.

So yes, habited nuns staffing Catholic private schools (for free) would be awesome. I’m sure every layman (especially wage-earning fathers) and every bishop in the 1940s thought this was a brilliant idea.

Yet as a student of Catholic Church History, I have to admit that “nuns teaching children” just isn’t a traditional model of female religious life. Historically, nuns prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, fasted, prayed, and labored: crops, beehives, baskets, weaving lace and fabric, etc. One can hardly imagine the Desert Mothers teaching school. Similarly, in the Eastern Christian tradition, you do not observe consecrated nuns leaving their cells to open up grammar schools.

And speaking of children and education, consider your Catholic mother today. These mothers have anywhere from 12 to 1 children at home. Some homeschool their children, because the public school situation is not consonant with their values and educational goals. These mothers are exhausted.

Now consider the nuns of 1950. They were overseeing and teaching and feeding and cleaning up after 30+ kids per day. These were not their own children. I’m sure these kids were cute, but that wears off after awhile.

At 6pm, a husband doesn’t open the garage door and give her a hug and kiss and say, “Wow, dinner smells great.” She doesn’t have the comfort of sexual intimacy or the hope of seeing her children bear grandchildren and attend to her in old age. Almost all the kids in the convent schools will move on and go away.

It’s a very difficult vocation. I have no doubt that God has this vocation for special women. Teaching orders have been, are, and will be part of the Catholic Church.

But a gargantuan problem had already entered the female orders. Some have said that young women entered orders in order to pursue studies and work that society would not yet allow them to do. Once that began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, they left.

A further problem is that the nunneries were no longer centers of monasticism. Teaching kids for no pay isn’t too fun, I imagine. The only thing to keep you on task would be monastic commitment. And monasticism was already slipping away.

These convents very rapidly exchanged the outward norms of Catholic devotion for Freudian psychology and new age spirituality. Why? The monastic element was not there. Teaching was had become a form of activism.

“I want to join a convent and teach mathematics and the catechism to cute children.”

Is that a vocation to the religious life? Which is prior? This is who I want to be? This is what I want to do?

I imagine that I may get flamed in the comments section for even suggesting that pre-Vatican II religious life was not healthy. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if you think so, provide evidence. And to all the faithful sisters who have persevered through things that we could never comprehend, thank you and may Christ reward you.

I recall meeting an 80 year old nun in a convent full of nuns that wore street cloths and went by their civilian names. I remember her name as Sister Dolores. She spoke clearly and devoutly about Christ her Spouse. She was full of faith – and I could tell that she had endured suffering. There are jewels out there. I’m not question that obvious fact. I’m questioning the “out of the convent” activism that obscured the identity of women religious in the 20th century.

Question: I look forward to your thoughts and comments. I’d especially like to hear about the experience of those who were children in these schools. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Bad Popes and the Saeculum Obscurum

We have heard of the Dark Ages and most people wrongly label the Medieval Era (ca. AD 600-1500) as the Dark Ages.

There is, however, an age that is unanimously classified as the Saeculum Obscurum or “Dark Age.” It’s the 60 years from election of Pope Sergius III in 904 until the death of Pope John XII in 964.

This dark age is also called the Pornocracy because the Popes were intertwined with the powerful Theophylact I, who was Count of Tusculum and de facto ruler of Rome.

Theophylact and his wife Theodora effectively whored out their 15 year old daughter Marozia to be the concubine of Pope Sergius III (904–911). Popes cannot enter into valid marriage alliances, but they can share a bed. By doing so Theophylact united his own political power to the pillow of the Pope of Rome.

As if that were not enough, Theophylact was cuckolded by his own wife Theodora when she became the lover of Pope John X (914–928). Moreover, Pope John X is said to have been a lover both of Theodora (mother) and her daughter Marozia. And Pope John XI (931–935) was the illegitimate son of their daughter Marozia (perhaps the son of Sergius III). Marozia managed for her son Pope John XI to be elected at age 21.

Altogether, a bastard son, two grandsons, two great grandsons, and one great great grandson of Marozia became Popes!!! She even had a descendent who became an anti-Pope. Oh, and Pope John XIII was her nephew, the son of her sister Theodora.

It’s no wonder that this era is called the Reign of the Harlots. Theodora and Marozia (mother and daughter) used their sexual skills to control the Popes while Theophylact benefited politically from his wife and daughter’s pursuits. This papal corruption endured for six decades.

If you get discouraged by sexual scandals in the Church or by politics in Rome, we can be reminded that Christ allows it for some good reason that we do not yet understand. 

Several valid high priests of the Old Testament and several valid Popes of the New Testament have operated in ways that are selfish, dishonest, immoral, and abusive. The high priests after the Maccabees were especially cruel, lustful, and murderous. And Catholic Popes have been equally cruel, lustful, and murderous.

Christ Himself indicated this possibility in His teaching to us:

Matthew 24:
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant [Pope], whom his master [Jesus Christ] has set over his household [Catholic Church], to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant [Pope] whom his master [Christ] when he comes will find so doing. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, 50 the master [Christ] of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, 51 and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

As Saint Gregory the Great taught, Popes are “servants of the servants of God” set over the household while the Master Christ is away. We are required by filial charity to pray for our Pope’s protection and intentions daily. Salvation is through the Master, not through the Servant. And yet, Christ has appointed a Servant so we have teachings built on the Rock.

Even during the Dark Age of 904-964, Christ saved souls, worked in the local parishes, effected the sacraments, and lifted up great saints. Poland, Hungary, and Russia were being effectively evangelized. While Popes were whoring it up in Rome, Good King Wenceslaus (d. 935) was bringing holiness to Bohemia. And Saint Odo was carrying out the Cluniac Reforms.

Our Lord Jesus Christ may be “away,” but He is still present and working among us in every age, even in the darkest age.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

PS: If you’d like to study Medieval Catholic History, please join us online. The New Saint Thomas Institute is now offering three Certificates in Church History: Patristics, Medieval, and Reformation and Modern. Click here to enroll and begin learning about Christian History from the Fathers, Saints, and Popes: New Saint Thomas Institute.

Popes during the Saeculum Obscurum (AD 904-964)
Pope Sergius III (904–911) lover of Marozia
Pope Anastasius III (911–913)
Pope Lando (913–914)
Pope John X (914–928) lover of Theodora (the mother) and Marozia (daughter).
Pope Leo VI (928–928)
Pope Stephen VII (928–931)
Pope John XI (931–935) son of Marozia, son of Pope Sergius III.
Pope Leo VII (936–939)
Pope Stephen VIII (939–942)
Pope Marinus II (942–946)
Pope Agapetus II (946–955)
Pope John XII (955–964) grandson of Marozia, by her son Alberic II of Spoleto. He is often rated as “Worst Pope Ever.”

Dividing Eastern and Western Christianity is Not Patristic

Today we Christians often think of Christianity as “Eastern or Western” and assume that it’s always been that way. Nope. Not really.

In the first 900 years of Christianity, over 50 Popes were Greek. Greeks and Latins criss-crossed freely. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (modern France) was Greek. Saint Theodore of Canterbury (England) was Greek.

After Gregory the Great (d. 604), every single Pope for the next 200 years was Greek. These were native Greek speaking Popes celebrating Latin liturgy in Rome.

Even the Pope that crowned Charlemagne (Saint Leo III) was Greek.

Art, hagiography, architecture, liturgy, chant, music, monasticism – all of it was criss-crossing back and forth between East and West. Christianity was Christianity.

It wasn’t until the 1000s and then especially in the 1200s that the cross-pollination ceased.

If the Eastern Orthodox returned to full union with Rome, I would suspect that after many decades, there could be Greek Popes again and that art, theology, liturgy, etc. would continue to cross-pollinate. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy for Christians everywhere.

In a future post, I will explore the tradition of loooong interregnums between Popes.