St Joseph as Hidden Tekton King: Exploring the Davidic Identity of Joseph

Saint Joseph as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings

In a previous post, we discussed how Saint Joseph is described in the original Greek New Testament as a τέκτων or “tekton,” which is usually translated as “carpenter,” but it is better translated as “artisan.” A tekton is anyone involved in physical construction and repair. Joseph may have worked with stone, wood, metal, cement, clay, and other substances. The words “technology” and “architecture” are related to the Indo-European root for tekton.

I’m going to argue that “tekton” means more than carpenter, and that it signifies Saint Joseph as a “Master Builder” like his forefathers King David and King Solomon. So let’s go…

We often forget that Saint Joseph is a hidden king. In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is the rightful hidden king who does not rule but patiently waits in hiding for the proper fullness of days during which he will inaugurate his reign. We see this come to fulfillment in the aptly named third volume Return of the King.

Saint Matthew tells us that Saint Joseph is the heir of King David. I won’t post the entire. genealogy, but you can read it at Matthew 1:1-17:

Here is the abbreviated version:

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of….Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

Saint Joseph is the same kind of king of Aragorn. He is the true genetic heir of David. However, there has been a tragic political shift, and the descendent of David no longer rules from the Palace of David. Instead, Jerusalem is occupied by the imposter King Herod and by uncircumcised idol-worshipping Romans. Like Aragorn, Joseph lives in exile. Joseph lives in Nazareth.

So Joseph is a tekton. A craftsman or artison. This should lead our well-read biblical minds back to the stories of King David and King Solomon:

  • David built Jerusalem.
  • David built a royal palace.
  • David received the divine blueprints to build the Temple of God.

The Davidic Covenant works like this:

“God will be a house (genetic family line of kings) for David and David will build a house for God (physical Temple).”

[To learn more about the 7 Covenants and how that map on to Thomas Aquinas plan of 3 Epochs, please explore the New Saint Thomas Institute’s module lesson on Covenant Theology in “Redmptive History.”]

In royal terms, a house is a legal genetic line. For example, the “House of Windsor.” This is the divinely establish “House of David.” God promises David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). But the Davidic covenant also has a “house of God” built in Jerusalem in which God shall dwell to establish and regulate David’s kingdom until the advent of the appointed David Messiah.

King David was told by God that he had too much blood on his hands to build the Temple. Instead, David’s son Solomon would build the house/temple. Solomon the son of David becomes the tekton of God’s kingdom. He builds the house of God. He has the ark of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies. He makes it beautiful and by his prayers, the Divine Glory fills the Temple.

Think now to Joseph. He is a royal king. He builds a house for Mary (Ark of the Covenant) where she is protected and guarded. The Divine Presence (Word made Flesh) comes to inhabit the house that he built. Joseph is the Davidic King. He humbly rules and reigns over Mary and Jesus (even though they are both superior to Joseph).

The irony is that at the actual birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary are literally without a physical house. Tradition places them in a cave stable. We come to learn from Christ that the true Temple is Christ Jesus. Christ says, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days,” referencing the Temple of his Body.

David is a tekton and he is building a house. But the house he is building is the body of the Christ Child. The food and the nurture comes from David. Consequently, David is a tekton of Christ’s body. We are fed on the Eucharist. But Saint Joseph provided food to the Jesus who is the Eucharist. 

Joseph is the Bread-Winner for the Bread of Life.

The climax of the Davidic Covenant finds the king-tekton in exile building a secret Temple of the Holy Spirit – the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate in human flesh. As with King David, David do not conceive the design for the Temple in Jerusalem. They came from Heaven.

Likewise, Joseph did not conceive the New Temple of New Covenant. He does not conceive Jesus. The Logos came from Heaven. Joseph received (David) the plan, and then he oversaw (Solomon) the growth and establishment of that Temple. This is why when Christ reaches maturity (age 30) Joseph is already gone. He perfectly executed his divine vocation as guardian of the hypostatic union.

Happy Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker,

Dr. Taylor Marshall

If you’d like to take online classes with Dr. Marshall,
please visit the New Saint Thomas Institute (available in 47 nations).

Did Christ Appear First to His Mother after Resurrection?

All the Gospel writers specifically describe Christ appearing first to Saint Mary Magdalene on the morning of His resurrection from the dead: “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).

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There is however a [late] Christian tradition that Christ first appeared to His Mother Mary and then afterwards appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene as depicted in the Gospel accounts. This would explain why the Blessed Mother felt no need to go to the tomb of Christ. She already knew and believed that He had risen from the dead early Sunday morning.

It also explains why Christ is not at the tomb Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene arrives. He is somewhere else and then arrives to speak with her. Where was He at that moment? Well, some say Christ was visiting His mother on the third day – just as she also discovered Christ again “in His Father’s house” when she had lost Him at age twelve in the Temple after three days.

So did Christ appear first to His Mother Mary?

We find Saint Anselm as the first Catholic Doctor of the Church to teach that Christ secretly appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene. This is the opinion of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila.

The visionary Blessed Maria of Agreda also received a vision showing that Christ first appeared to the Blessed Mother before visiting Saint Mary Magdalene. Even Saint John Paul II affirmed the possibility that Christ secretly appeared to His Mother first of all:

“It is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.” (Saint John Paul II, May 21, 1997)

We already explored the idea that Mary was not at the tomb Sunday morning because Christ had already appeared to her and she was confirmed already in her belief in the resurrection. However, one might assert that the Mother of God’s faith was already so strong that she had not need to see the resurrected Christ. She already believed without proof.

My own opinion (which carries no weight) is that Mary’s soul was so united to that of Christ at His death and even to His soul’s descent to the dead that she was aware of His ministry to the dead (including her husband Saint Joseph and her kinfoll such as Saint John the Baptist, Saint Zechariah, and Saint Elizabeth, Saint Anna, et al.), that she knew the precise moment of His resurrection and saw it in her soul. Whether Christ appeared outwardly to her physical eyes or only in her heart – her perception of Christ by Faith was more than any saint will have when they “see” Jesus Christ.

Christos anesti,

Dr. Taylor Marshall

Scripture and Science: Historical Day of Christ’s Death in AD 33

In our Church History Certificate in the New Saint Thomas Institute, we looked at the biblical and scientific data for determining the exact date of Christ’s death on the cross. Please join us for this sample video from our Church History Module 2: Christ and the Covenants:

“Good Friday – Finding the Historical Date” from Church History Module 2: Christ and the Covenants

If you don’t see the video in your browser or email, please click here to watch it.

[If you’d like to begin online Catholic classes and earn your Certificate(s) in: Catholic Church History Church Fathers or in Medieval History and Theology, you can begin this Easter with Spring Enrollment. The New Saint Thomas Institute is currently having $1 tuition discount for Easter. Click here to learn more.]

Here’s a preview of our New Saint Thomas Institute Certificate in Church History. Please explore and sign up if it’s a good fit:

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A blessed Good Friday to you,

Taylor Marshall

How did Christ ride a Donkey AND a Colt (at the same time?)

The Mystical Sign of Christ riding a Donkey and a Colt

For years I was confused by Saint Matthew’s description about Palm Sunday: we read that Christ rode a female donkey and her baby colt.

However, in Mark, Luke, and John, we read that Christ rode a donkey without any mention of the her colt. For some reason, I had imagined that Christ rode the she-donkey and the little colt at the same time – wide straddling both. This seems ridiculous, but I didn’t know how else to visualize what Matthew was describing.

jesus-christ-riding-into-jerusalem-for-passover

I finally found clarity while reading Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary on the passage. According to Lapide, Christ first rode the ass up and down the mount and then transferred and rode the colt into the city.

There is a practical reason for this. The she-ass would be stronger and more able to go up and down the terrain. Next, the colt would be able to bring him into the city easily.

Yet there is a mystical signification is this as well. The she-ass and her colt signify “the two sorts of people of which the world is made up—the Jews, accustomed to the yoke of the Mosaic law, who were represented by the ass; and the Gentiles, living up to this time without the Law of God, and who were denoted by the colt.”

The she-ass represents Mother Israel who has been burdened with the Law of Moses. Saint Peter our first Pope described the Mosaic Law as “a yoke…which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10, D-R).

The young colt represents the new and untrained Gentiles – the wild olive branch that the Apostle describes as the Gentiles.

Christ our Lord rode both to signify that both the Jews and the Gentiles were called to be Christophoroi – Christ-bearers.

Question: Now it’s your turn: How did we carry “Christ to the world” in our age. What is the humble donkey or colt in our lives that communicates Christ’s Gospel to others? Please leave a comment. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here’s Thomas Aquinas on why Christ rode a donkey on Palm Sunday. 

Get Dr. Marshall’s book Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages for free by clicking here.

The Horrific Dream of the Wife of Pontius Pilate (about the Nicene Creed)

Let’s examine at the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife and the horrific dream that she had in Matthew 27 and how it relates to the Apostles and Nicene Creed.

St Claudia Pontius Pilate

In our New Saint Thomas Institute Catholic Church History series on the Arian Heresy Controversy and the Council of Constantinople, our student Alicia asks:

Is there a reason why the name of Pontius Pilate was included in the second creed?

Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history. If you interested in the redemptive meaning of Rome, the Roman Pontius Pilate, and the Roman cross of execution in the redemption of man by a Jewish Messiah, please see my book The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholicism. 

There is a “tradition” that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting “sub Pontio Pilato” over and over and over.

What she was hearing was the billions of Christians who recite “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

Most woman would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the remote efficient cause of Christ’s crucifixion.

The dream of “Claudia” is referred to in Matthew 27:19:

While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”

If the tradition is true, she dreamed of the countless recitations and liturgical chants of “under Pontius Pilate.”

Origen is the first to mention that she converted to Christianity. She is a saint. In art, she is depicted as whispering into the ear of Pontius. Mel Gibson’s Passion depicts Claudia giving linens to the Blessed Mother to collect the Blood of Christ from the scourging.

St Claudia cloths to Mary

Saint Claudia, pray for us.

If you’d like to take our courses on Historical Theology, the Creeds, the Councils, and Catholic Tradition, please sign up with us at newsaintthomas.com.

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Was St Simeon in Luke 2 also the Son of Hillel the Rabbi?

Ever since I wrote The Crucified Rabbi, I continue to come across great rabbinical insights into Catholicism. Once recent example is the probability that the Simeon in Luke’s G0spel is the famous Simeon ben Hillel – son of the famous Rabbi Hillel.

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Here’s the passage from Luke:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” – Luke 2:25-35

Simeon is the first explicit prophet of Mary’s sorrow at the crucifixion and piercing of Christ: “a sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”

Simeon ben Hillel was the son of Hillel the Elder. When Hillel died, Simeon took over as President of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.Hillel did not die until about 10 AD. Simeon was likely active at the Temple during this time, but I doubt he was an “old man.”

At first I thought this was proof that Simeon could NOT be Hillel’s son, since the Simeon in Luke 2 is an “old man” but Simeon ben Hillel would have been a middle aged man. And then I noticed that Luke never calls Simeon “old.” I read it over and over. It’s not there in Luke’s text. Simeon is not necessarily old in Luke 2. I’ve seen so many paintings of the Presentation and of Simeon as an old grey bearded priest that I’ve assumed that he was “old,” but the text doesn’t say it.

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So could Simeon in Luke 2 be Simeon ben Hillel? Perhaps.

Saint Simeon pray for us to Christ our Lord and Mediator!

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why was Mary purified at the Temple? And did she receive Sacraments?

If Mary was immaculate and without sin, why was she “purified” in Luke 2? Also, would she have been Baptized, Confirmed, and have received Extreme Unction? Read on for answers:

February 2 marks the 40th day from Christmas, and as Saint Luke tells us, Mary and Joseph presented Our Infant Lord at the Temple on the 40th day after his birth.

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There are 2 things happening here:

  1. Leviticus 12 states that when an Israelite woman gives birth she becomes ritually unclean:
    1. if child is a boy, she is unclean 7 days after birth and that her uncleanness endures for an additional 33 days due to the flow of her post-partum blood flow. So after 40 days, she is presented herself at the Temple to be purified and readmitted to the liturgical life of Israel.
    2. if child is a girl, she is unclean 14 days after birth and that her uncleanness endures for an additional 66 days due to the flow of her post-partum blood flow. So after 80 days, she is presented herself at the Temple to be purified and readmitted to the liturgical life of Israel.
    3. Jesus is male and so the timeline is 40 days. Dec 25 + 40 days = Feb 2.
  2. The woman is to bring a sacrifice to the Temple to dedicate the son or daughter:
    1. Ideally, she brings a lamb.
    2. However, “if she cannot lay her hand on a lamb fit to be offered, she must bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, one as a burnt-sacrifice and one by way of amends.”
    3. Mary, being poor, brought two doves – but in reality she brought THE Lamb of God.

There are two theological conundrums here:

  1. Jesus is the Son of God. Why would he need sacrifice offered for Him?
  2. How could Jesus, the Pure One, make Mary impure through birthAnd isn’t Mary immaculate and entirely pure?

The answer is found in the Baptism of Christ. Christ submitted to Baptism not because he needed grace or the remission of Original Sin, but because He wanted to unite himself to sinners while at the same time instituting the Sacrament of Baptism.

Christ indeed submitted to every law of Moses so as to fulfill the Old Law perfectly (hence, we Christians do not need to submit the ceremonial and judicial precepts of Moses – like not eating pork).

Mary and the Rites of the Old Law and New Law

The same is true of Mary – both for the Old Law and the New Law. She submitted to the entire Old Law even though she knew that her Son fulfilled the Law and stood above the Law as God. She beautifully conformed to His pattern and example. Same goes for Joseph.

It is Catholic tradition that Mary was full of grace and that she did not need the sacraments, but that she submitted to the rites and sacraments of the New Law – namely that she was baptized, confirmed, and fervently received the Eucharist – even though all the graces were already present within her.

There is a tradition that Christ only baptized two persons by His own hand: Peter and Mary. Peter then baptized the other 11 Apostles and then the 12 Apostles baptized the multitudes.

Catholic commentator Cornelius Lapide even speculates that Mary received Extreme Unction from the hand of an Apostle before her Dormition, even though she didn’t need it since corruption could not touch her. Lapide is clear that she would have never gone to confession, however. Confession requires the matter of actual sins committed in order for the form of absolution to be proclaimed. Mary had nothing at all to confess.

Question: Are you humbled that Jesus and Mary submitted to rules and rites that she did not need? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

PS: Joy and I were once able to attend Mass with Pope Benedict XVI (when we were not yet Catholics) on February 2 for the feast of the Presentation of Christ. It was a moment of conversion for us to Catholicism – since I in that moment came to know that I was not in communion with the Successor of Saint Peter.

In defense of “I am not worthy” in the Roman Mass

The Huffington Post recently published an article titled “Dear Pope Francis, End the Religious Ritual that Devalues Human Life” by Christine Horner.

Ms. Horner writes:

Every single day before communion, millions of Christians verbally declare one of the most destructive phrases in human history.

Stop the press.The tribunal of the Huffington Post’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has made a judgment. According to them, Catholics are daily reciting: “one of the most destructive phrases in human history.” How awful. Catholics are ruining their self-esteem daily by saying these words in public:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This statement, a recitation of Matthew 8:8, is one of the most destructive phrases in human history…and it has a long history. Every Roman Catholic Pope, bishop, priest, and pious laymen has been reciting this (biblical) phrase daily for over 1,300 years. Yet according to Ms. Horner this acclamation of “unworthiness” is one of the most destructive things a Christian can say.

domine non sum dignus padre pio

She is incorrect, but I can see where she is coming form. Our American culture is a cult of self-esteem. In the United States, we are taught that depression, theft, rape, murder, racism, war, unemployment, etc. are essentially caused by a lack of self-esteem.

Dignus, Dignity, and the Imago Deo

Since our culture has lost its roots in the virtue tradition of Christendom, we no longer understand human dignity in terms of being conformed to the imago Dei (image of God). Our worth is no longer related to a divine being that loved to create us and loves to redeem us.

True human dignity relies on theism. When we say in Mass “Lord, I am not worthy, the Latin is “Domine, non sum dignus.” You don’t need to know Latin to see that dignus (Latin: “worthy”) is related to our English term “dignity.”

This is where Ms. Horner at the Huffington Post misses the mark. She claims that our saying, “Lord I am not worthy” is a form “negative reinforcement.” For her it confirms the alleged Catholic strategy of drowning people in guilt and unworthiness – which to her translates as fostering low self-esteem.

Self-Esteem or God-Esteem

The Huffington Post lacks the theological foundation to understand that promoting self-esteem without God-esteem is the path to destruction and sorrow. The “You go girl!” culture of self-affirmation and self-esteem trumpeted by secularist outlets like the Huff-Po for the last 30 years attempts to produce “esteem” from a collective. If enough people say, “You are so beautiful” then this will translate to a girl truly believing she is beautiful. If enough people just say, “You are so intelligent,” it will translate into intelligent people.

The problem for them is that this approach to esteem relies on a consistent collective that reinforces the message. This is why “bullies” are such a problem in the modern self-esteem cult. They are destroying the collective affirmation process. And then there is also the inconsistent messaging. Every one is told they are equally special and worthy, but the media outlets quietly suggest that some are more special and worthy. Taylor Swift, Robert Downey Jr, Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone seem be more worthy than the rest of us.

So where do we find find esteem or worthiness?

Worthiness, Suffering, and Martyrdom

When we look at Christianity at the turn of the 4th century, we find Christians standing up to the supreme arbitrator and law giver (the Roman Emperor) and the entire political/social collective (the Roman Empire) for the sake of a dignus that was not granted by collective, the media, the culture, or the secular state.

They discovered a divine dignus.

Saint Agnes of Rome cannot be persuaded to abandon Christ, her virginity, her modesty, or her virtue. Why is she so strong? Because the collective is coming together to affirm her?

No, she is so strong because she finds herself unworthy of anything outside of her life in Christo. Her esteem is thousands of times higher than the richest matrons of Rome – even higher than that of the senator or emperor himself. If Christ rose from the dead, and Christ is truly “under her roof,” well then she has it all.

The Huffington Post and the women’s mags at the supermarket checkout line are trying to lift “self-esteem” to empower people to love themselves and value themselves.

They are telling us, “Don’t say ‘I’m unworthy,’ but rather say ‘I am worthy of everything.’ Deep down inside say to yourself, ‘I have a perfect body. I’m rich. I’m popular. I’m basically Leonardo DiCaprio/Taylor Swift,’ and then you will be so!'”

But let’s be honest. That doesn’t work. And even if you are the sexiest or richest person of the year, does that translate to worthiness and happiness? Apparently not.

Liturgical Worthiness

Our liturgical affirmation Domine non sum dignus is not isolated. It is placed in a context. Let’s look at its location within the Roman Rite:

  • Eucharistic Prayer
  • Our Father
  • “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
  • Agnus Dei
  • “Lord I’m not worthy…”
  • Reception of Communion

The acclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) by Saint John the Baptist is theologically proximate to “I am not worthy,” since John the Baptist also says, “even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).

The Christian who says, “I am not worthy” has just recited the Our Father, declaring that God is our Father. Not something we are inherently worthy of, but something He grants as a gratuitous gift. Next, the believer hears “The peace of the Lord be with you.” The liturgical context is essential familial, peaceful, and redemptive.

We do say, “I am not worthy,” but the “but” is important. We say, “but only say the word and my soul shall be cleaned.” This statement is an affirmation of hope!

And what is the next phrase that the priest proclaims to the Christian? He proclaims, “The Body of Christ,” and the believer receives the Eucharist. That is the word that makes clean. That is the word that makes worthy.

Conclusion on “Being Worthy”

Ms. Horner does a disservice by isolating one line of liturgical text from the whole of the Eucharistic liturgy. Most non-Catholics have no idea about its placement proximate to the Our Father, the peace, or the climax of Catholic liturgy in the reception of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Most non-Catholic readers do not understand that Christ enters “under the roof” of our mouths and that we become one in Him and He in us. Yet this is where we find our worthiness. When we esteem God, we find our dignity fully. God designed it that way.

Sadly, the cultural self-esteem cult of finding an ever larger and louder voice of affirmation will not transform a man or woman into something beautiful or truly worthy. Only God can do that for us. Without this Eucharistic miracle “under our roofs,” we will continue to be plagued by cultural decline, despair, and violence. With your kindness and love, share the Gospel with others. Invite them to Mass with you this Sunday. Let others see the hope that we have in the Eucharist.

Godspeed,

Taylor Marshall

 

Free Catholic Webinar Class: Catholic Rome and Papacy 101

You’re invited to this week’s NSTI Catholic Webinar class on Rome and the Early Papacy 101.

This webinar is a “mini-version” of the class that I teach to Catholic Seminarians in Rome. This class is complimentary; however, space is limited and you must reserve your spot before Wednesday. You can register (reserve your spot) by clicking here.

Early Papacy 101 Class with Dr Marshall

YOU WILL DISCOVER INFO ABOUT:

  • The Old Testament and Rome
  • Tradition of Peter in Rome
  • Popes after Peter in Rome
  • Importance of St Clement of Rome
  • The Power of the Bishop of Rome in 2nd Century
  • EVERYONE THAT ATTENDS WILL RECEIVE a pdf Handout on these Catholic topics.

This webinar is a “mini-version” of the class that I teach to Catholic Seminarians in Rome. Space is limited and you must reserve your spot before Wednesday. You can register (reserve your spot) by clicking here.

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Why Did Jesus Wash the Feet of the Apostles? Pope Francis, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine

Recently the Catholic Church has been wrestling with the significance of foot washing – the liturgical reenactment of Christ washing the feet of His Apostles on the night before He was betrayed.

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The Council of Elvira (Spain, AD 305) prohibited the washing of feet because heretical ideas were being associated with it: “The feet of the newly baptized are not to be washed by the priests or clerics” (Elvira 48). Saint Ambrose of Milan, against this rulings of the Council, considered foot washing to be “sacrament” of great importance. In Milan and other places, “foot washing” was a prelude to sacramental baptism.

The Albigensian heretics held foot washing in high esteem and assigned to it a theological importance without parallel in the orthodox Catholic Church. Up until the last century, Popes, Abbots, and Kings would wash the feet of the poor as a sign of humility and servant leadership. More on that later.

Foot Washing Enters the Mass in 1955

Up until 60 years ago, the custom of foot washing did not appear in the Roman Eucharistic liturgy. Until 1955, the Roman Missal included a rite of foot washing detached from the Mass. Pope Pius XII was the first Pope to have foot washing included in the Mass and it was stipulated that it would be the feet of men, presumably as a sign of the male-only priesthood.

Hence, foot washing is relatively new liturgical rite. 

In 2013, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and non-Christians (Muslims) at a juvenile detention center in Rome 2013. Pope Francis revised the direction of the Roman Missal in 2016 to include men and women as a sign of inclusion.

Theology of Foot Washing? Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine:

I wrote a well-known book on Judaism and Catholicism that covers the liturgical and sacramental connections between the Old Testament and Catholic Christianity called The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. It’s a popular text now in Catholic schools and seminaries. You can read reviews of it on amazon here.Crucified Rabbi Look InsideUnfortunately, I did not include a section on foot washing. So here goes:

Saint Jerome in his Epistle to Pope Damasus states that Christ washed His Apostles’ feet to prepare them for the preaching of the gospel, in fulfillment to the prophecy of Isaiah:

“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, of them that bring good tidings.” (Isa. 52:7)

The Apostles were ordained as sacerdotal priests at the Last Supper and so the foot washing is to prepare them to carry the Gospel to foreign lands. It’s a commissioning rite to “preach the Gospel of peace.”

Saint Ambrose associates the foot washing to original sin and the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 since it is with “the heel” that the Messiah and His followers will crush Satan’s head:

“Because Adam was tripped up by the devil and the venom was poured out over thy feet, therefore dost thou wash thy feet that in that part where the serpent ensnared thee there may be added the more abundant aid of sanctification, so that he be not able to trip thee up hereafter.” Saint Ambrose De Sacramentis3, 1)

Saint Augustine and Cyprian associate the washing of feet with the removal of venial sins. This is why Christ says: “He that has been washed needs not but to wash his feet, but is clean throughout.” The Apostles were already baptized. Peter asks for a second baptism (his head) but Christ refuses. The Apostles had already been baptized and their sins removed, however, the lower sins that trip us up also have to be remitted before receiving the Holy Eucharist. Hence, the foot washing was a liturgical penitential rite prior to the First Communion of the Apostles.

Is Right to Allow Women?

Prior to Francis, the men chosen to receive foot washing symbolized the 12 Apostles. As described above, foot washing seems to be a priestly rite preparing the Apostles to have the “beautiful feet” foretold by Isaiah. Since men alone can be Catholic priests, only men were chosen for the washing of feet.

One might argue, however, that Christ calls all men and women to proclaim the Gospel with beautiful feet. Proclaiming or sharing the Good News is not exclusively a sacerdotal action. Moreover, Saint Paul states that all Christians are called to crush Satan under their (beautiful) feet (Rom 16:19). The Coptic liturgy includes the act of the priest washing the feet of the entire congregation! So there is liturgical precedent for including women in the washing of the feet.

Is it Right to Allow Non-Christians?

What I cannot reconcile theologically is the act of washing the feet of non-baptized members of other religions, namely adherents of Islam, within the Eucharistic liturgy. Peter’s words and Christ’s response presume that the recipients are “washed already,” that is, baptized. Foot washing is an intra-baptized experience.

There is precedent for foot washing as a pre-baptismal rite (in the catechetical context of Easter baptisms), but it’s not clear that the Muslims receiving papal foot washing are preparing for baptism.

My personal belief is that foot washings should be returned to their pre-1955 status. Popes, Abbots, Kings, Presidents, parents, et al. can wash the feet of anyone they like as a sign of humility outside the Eucharistic liturgical rites of the Church.

If a Pope or King washes the feet of another outside of the liturgy, then it is simply a sign of humility. When it’s placed inside the context of Eucharistic liturgy, then we strain to attach a theological meaning to it…and that’s where we run into trouble.

If we want to show outward acts of “inclusion” to the non-baptized, we could give give them blessed bread or other gifts. Or we could wash their feet in contexts that aren’t sacramental. 

Question: I would love to hear your thoughts on foot washing. Please keep the comments respectful. No bashing of the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is our Holy Father. You can leave a comment by clicking here.