The Spiritual Intelligence of Scripture

Scriptural Intelligence

There are multiple intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, social, musical, interpersonal, etc. There is also religious intelligence, e.g. the intelligence of scripture, and the mystical intelligence of the mysteries of God. Here are quotations from various translations:

  • "Everyone who heard him was amazed at the intelligence of his answers."(Lk 2:47)
  • “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Are you still without intelligence?" (Mk 8:17)
  • "Listen, Israel. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your intelligence, and with all your strength." (Mk 12:33)
  • He said to them, “O men without intelligence!” Then beginning with Moses and all he prophets, he opened their intelligence to all the scriptures concerning him. (Lk 24:25)
  • "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your intelligence so that you may discern the will of God." (Romans 12:2)
  • “O Galatians without intelligence!” (Galatians 3:1)
  • "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you may understand (with your mystical intelligence) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses any knowledge." (Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • "Be renewed in your spiritual intelligence and put on the new man, which was created according to God’s image in righteousness and true holiness." (Ephesians 4:23-24)

The purpose of education is to develop a child's intelligence in light of Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Universities endeavor to develop more fully the many forms of human intelligence: logical, technical, artistic, musical, relational, moral, religious (in religious studies), etc. Technical rationality is a very limited form of intelligence; it applies only to logic and engineering but not to other forms of human intelligence. Most English bible translations use “mind” or “spirit” rather than “intelligence” but in the social sciences as in education it is more common to write about intelligence than mind or spirit.

Scriptural intelligence, like literary intelligence, requires a great familiarity of the texts. It takes years of study to assimilate the scriptural subculture, and it requires daily meditation rather than academic studies. Biblical intelligence leads to spiritual wisdom, while theology leads to cognitive wisdom; both are desirable but biblical intelligence should have the priority.

Adapted from


Palm Sunday (Ps 22)

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

This is a feeling I felt quite a few times. The complaint goes on, “My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” Depression is bad, but the feeling of abandonment makes it worse.

This psalm is very long. It goes through ups and downs. At once the writer recalls the faith of Israel: “In you our father trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and were not disappointed.” This was true in the past, but will it apply to me now?

“All who see me mock me. They shake their heads at me: ‘He relied on the Lord – let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.’” This line evokes the situation in Babylon when the Israelites were the butt of local contempt as the subjugated under-class. (This psalm was probably written some time after the end of the exile.) Abandoned by God is one thing, but to be rejected by neighbors makes it worse.

The depressive mood evokes nightmarish images: “Many bulls surround me; fierce bulls encircle me. Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.” In depression one has the feeling of being totally surrounded, with no possible exit.

Finally, one may contemplate one’s own death, in the worst possible situation, that of a criminal execution: “They have pieced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them.” It may even be an execution by crucifixion.

Physical depression is challenging; psychological depression is morose, but spiritual depression can be suicidal, at least in thought. And it drags on. The psalmist seems to say, “It’s OK to complain on to the Lord. Complain! Complain! but keep the faith.

In a storm, the sun does not disappear; it only hides behind the clouds. It takes faith and patience to weather a storm. When it is over one can say, “You who fear the Lord, give praise! He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, but heard me when I cried out!”

After Good Friday comes Resurrection Day. Alleluia!


Fifth week of Lent (Jn 12:20-33)

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Lord!

This is Laetare Sunday: REJOICE: MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE LORD! In today’s reading:: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified...Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified him and will glorified him again.’”

The glory of God is celebrated throughout the bible, especially in the psalms. His glory shines in nature: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” (19:1) This is a common experience for most people. His glory also shines in his temple,” Rise up, ancient doors! Let the King of glory come in!” (24:7) People have lavished their greatest works of art to their temples to inspire reverence and to let the King of glory come in. Yet God’s greatest glory is man “You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor.”

Scripture also tells another story about human greatness: “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” But by the grace and glory of God we are all transformed. In a breathtaking sentence: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” ( 2 Co 3:18)

It is the greatest man, the Son of Man, who is the greatest glory of God. Yet his glory came as a high price, the price of anxiety and utter despair: “Father save me!” And worse, if possible, “It is for this purpose that I have come.” It is unfathomable how the great glory of God can be revealed under such unglorious ways..

This is the Sunday of Laetare – the midpoint in the Lent – Rejoice! He who died conquered death, so that we may all say, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Laetare! Rejoice!


Fourth week of Lent (Jn 3:14-21)

To Nicodemus: on Universal Salvation

No, salvation is not limited to those born again, as one may expect from the dialogue with Nicodemus. The promise of universal salvation is repeated three times: “That everyone who believes in him might not perish.” “That the world be saved through him.” Whoever believes in him will not be condemned.” The judgement is this: “The true light which enlightens everyone, has come into the world.” Everyone who live in the light will be attracted to the truth, “so that his/her work may be clearly seen as done in God.” Those who do not live in the light will retreat into darkness, thus condemning themselves.

There is no mention here of “good works” or of church identity but of faith (“to believe” is mentioned four times in these few lines). There is a clear distinction between “believing that” in reference to creeds, and “believing in” in reference to a person. Believers often repeat their creed at church – upon command, when prompted to do so. This kind of faith is mostly based on tradition and habit; it often implied little conviction and makes few demands. “Faith in” is shown mostly in times of crisis or through religious commitment. Failures in career, finances, family life, and health often trigger questions of faith; some lose faith in themselves and sink in depression and self-destructive behaviors. Failures test whether our faith is strong enough to profess that we are not abandoned by God. Psalm 21/22 begins with “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” and ends with “I will proclaim your name.” This kind of faith is work, really hard work. It applies to all people of whatever religion.

Nicodemus was a pious Jew who had many beliefs – out of habit and custom. He needed to learn a faith beyond tradition which required commitment. “I will poor over the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look at him they have pierced, they will morn.” (Zech. 12:10) This prophecy is part of a promise of general destruction.. When this crisis will come, people will need a new spirit and a new faith, beyond custom and tradition. This prophecy is also often applied to the crucified Christ who is the ultimate test of faith – whether, in a time of personal crisis, we can have faith in a forsaken Christ. But the crucified Jesus is also present in all tho suffer: will we then show a spirit of mercy?


Third week of Lent (Jn 2:13-25)

The Cleansing of the Temple & the Dangers of Reform

This story, at the very beginning of the gospel of John, has the same meaning as in the gospel of Mark: it describes the conflict that will lead to Jesus' tragic end. In Mark Jesus’ opponents are the scribes and the Pharisees, while in John they are “the Jews,” an anonymous group that represents the forces of darkness like in a Greek tragedy, rather than real people.

“The Jews” asked for a sign, but were only given the image of the temple rebuilt in three days. This is an unintelligible sign by common standards. What “the Jews” expected was an unquestionable sign like the sun turning black or the moon shining in the middle of the day. Jesus is suggesting here that biblical signs require an openness to mystery that goes beyond the obvious, but from the very beginning there is resistance and misunderstanding. Even the disciples did not understand this sign until a few years later.

From the very beginning of John’s gospel, the sign of contradiction is the temple-body of God destroyed and rebuilt in three days. We thus realize, after having read the Prologue in chapter one, that Jesus is the new temple that will replace the old one, until in the heavenly Jerusalem “the temple is the Lamb [where} the glory of God gives it light.” All this is suggested through symbols.

The cleansing of the temple brings to mind the temple story of Jeremiah. The prophet stood at the gate of the temple and proclaimed, “Reform your ways and your deeds [or else] I will destroy this temple like Shiloh.” What was required was a total change of heart, “no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” It is not this moral sermon but the indictment of “The Temple! The Temple! The Temple!” that provoked an immediate outcry: “the priests and the prophets laid hold on him, crying: ‘You must die!’” (Jr 8:1-15; 26:1-19). Clearly it is dangerous to attack people’s sacred objects, their temple, their rituals, and their ingrained traditions.

Change is inevitable. We all have to introduce changes in work and family, and they usually provoke resistance and outcry. In order to succeed, changes require proper timing. If, in a vsion, we could see the past, the present, and the future, timing would be made easy. The Spirit of God scrunizes everything, even the dvine mysteries, hence what we need is spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we may know the mystery of God's will. Intimacy with the spirit of God through reflection and prayer is needed for reform to succeed. As in gospel times, the spirit speaks through signs–often those of every day life: a conversation, a reading, or a casual event, and these are the signs we miss most easily .

I am in the process of scrutinizing the future. I haven't seen any clear signs yet. It is tempting to decide by outselves, and then the road taken may lead to failure. May we all introduce change in wisdom and spiritual knowledge!

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at: align="center"> 


Second week of Lent (Mk:9:2-10)

Transfiguration: Jesus Firstborn Among Many Brothers

By becoming transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, we will become transfigured into glory with him, in a family where he will be the firstborn among many brothers. As stated in the free translation of Voice, "From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters." (Rm 8:29). All things have to be re-created in him, for "he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Col 1:15)

The voice in the cloud tells us what to do: "This is my beloved one. Listen to him." This line echoes Isaiah's poems about the servant of the Lord. "Here is my servant, my chosen one with whom I am pleased." To be a servant of the Lord is a life time program. Such a servant is a friend of peace, healing bruised relationships and letting conflicts die away: "A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench."

"Upon him I have put my spirit. -- Listen to him." Listening is the greatest gift we can make to others; it is giving them our mindfulness, in body and soul. The child listen out of obedience but the disciple listens out of admiration. The child only listens when told to do something, while the disciple lists at all times to be able to say like Samuel, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,."

“Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth, like a lamb led to slaughter.” The disciple is no greater than the master but when treated harshly he can say, “The Lord is my shepherd;’ there is nothing I shall fear.” To violence he will not oppose violence. In all things he will be an instrument of peace, for where there is hatred he will sow love. “See I am doing something new!” It is the transfiguration of those transformed at the image of the Firstborn of all creation.

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:



Second week of Lent (Genesis 22: 12-18)

Abraham's Sacrifice: Not a Test!

To understand Abraham's sacrifice of his son as a loyalty test is probably as gross historical misunderstanding. The text of the book of Genesis was probably written at about the same time as the others books of the Pentateuch; if not, we may assume that the main ideas of all these books were discussed in relationship to one another.

In Exodus 22:28 we read "You shall give me the firstborn of your sons. You must do the same with your oxen and your sheep." This prescription comes among many others that are totally unrelated.. The next one says "Flesh torn to pieces in the field you shall not eat; you must throw it to the dogs." People must have understood these prescriptions. It must have been clear to them that the oxen and sheep offered to the Lord would be slaughtered in sacrifice but not human beings.

A temptation may have emerged in the minds of some people: do not people in the neighboring nations offer human sacrifices? Is it possible the Yahweh requires a human sacrifice?The "parable" of Abraham's sacrifice may have been introduced in the Genesis narrative precisely in order to answer this question. The story makes it absolutely clear: in no way does the God bound by covenant with Abraham and his descendents want human sacrifices. The shedding of human life has always abhorrent to him. Hence the parable of Abraham's sacrifice can be understood as a thought experiment meant to reinforce the sacredness of human life.

We may apply this thought experiment to ourselves. What would we say if God said, "what you have most precious, offer it to me in sacrifice." Some people offer their lives, but this is not a common vocation. More than a thought experiment, it is a common experience to lose job, friends, money, family, and health. Many people then say, "How can God this to me!" It is the time then to renew our part of the covenant which requires love not sacrifice, faith not material things. God does not test; rather, he invites all to his banquet through faith and hope.

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:


First week of Lent (Mk 1: 12-15)


            Mark tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan, but he does not describe these temptations. Instead there are a few hints of ordinary everyday temptations. They are: the temptations of success, of giving in to social expectations, or using power in order to convince, and the temptation of flee from suffering and impeding failure. These are very common temptations.

            The Markan narrative begins with a success story. In his first teaching at the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus gains the admiration of his audience for his authority and the cure of a demoniac. Next, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and a night cures many people pressing at the door of the house. Clearly his reputation was set as a powerful faith healer and his future success assured. In the morning Simon beseeched him, “Healer, everybody is looking for you,”– meaning, “Let have more healings!” – “No, let us go to nearby villages to preach, for this is the purpose I have come.” (Mk 1:35-38)  Success is always very tempting but it may drive us in a false direction. Like for actors and actresses, success may cast us in limiting social roles. Success may also fill us with vanity and self-glory.

            “Who do people say that I am?” – “Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah’ and he warned them not to tell anyone about him.”  There were high expectations about the Messiah, and all were flattering. Here the temptation was giving  in to social expectations. A future of turmoil and suffering?  Peter rebuked him. “Behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.”  (Mk 8: 29-33) It is very tempting to see social expectations as God’s will. Are they?

            Shortly after feeding a crow of four thousand, the Pharisees asked for a sign. “He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?... Then left, got into the goat, and went off to the other shore.” (Mk 8:11-13) Miracles are signs; if misunderstood they are counter-productive.  Here the temptation was to use one more sign of power to gain confidence his reluctant audience. Common tools of power to convince others are irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, belittling, yelling, even hitting. In such a temptation it may be better to leave the scene rather than use hurtful words of power that are counter-productive.

            Finally, at the prospect of suffering and public failure, Jesus in Gethsemane was “greatly distressed and troubled.”  His temptation was to flee. The movie The Last Temptation of Christ projects what would have happened had Jesus run away. At the prospect of failure, we may at times have the opportunity to run away. Instead  we may cry, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” Then only answer is trust. And at the end, hopefully we may be able to say with the psalmist, “The generations will be told of... the deliverance you have brought.” (Ps. 22)
            Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:


19th Sunday of O.T.: Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings, 19)

From the God of power to the God of silent whispers

Elijah walked forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai to encounter the God of Moses in storm, earthquake, and fire. All his life he had experienced the God of power. During the seven year famine, God had provided: “Ravens brought him bread and meat.” Later a widow provided him with little cakes, “for the Lord says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain.” When the son of the widow died, Elijah prayed. “The Lord heard his prayer, and the life breath returned to the child’s body and he lived.”

The greatest show of power was the contest on Mount Carmel between the priests of Baal and the God of Israel. Elijah had proposed: “You shall call upon the name of your gods, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire is God.” The priests of Baal hopped around their altar, slashing themselves with swords. Elijah had his altar drenched with water, not once but three times. Then upon Elijah’s invocation, “The Lord’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lipped up the water in the trench.” Adding his own power to the power of God, Elijah ordered, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape.” And he slaughtered them all. Great is the power of our God!

At Mount Horeb, the Mount Sinai where Moses had encountered God in the fury of nature, he expected to find the same. “Why are you here, Elijah? He answered, ‘I have been most zealous for the God of hosts [the God of armies and victories]. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets.’” I want revenge from the God of power, that he kill all my enemies.

“There was a strong and violent wind–but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake–but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire–but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent whisper.” Elijah probably did not understand. The event was recorded, but it was understood only many centuries later.

The prophets slowly discovered that God speaks in soft whispers. He “Won’t shout, or raise his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” Elijah had murdered his opponents; maybe he realized his mistake when he confessed, “I am no better than my ancestors.” God did not give up on him but provided him with food and water for a long journey into the desert of silence. Then God revealed himself to him in a whisper.

The conversion from a God of power to one of whispers is experienced anew by each generation, by each individual. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on a high mountain and his garments became white as light, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here. This is what we expected all along: a sign in the sky for all to see, a sign of your power!” Jesus turned to him and said “Behind me, Satan, because you’re not thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts!” What a reprimand after Peter had just been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that is, ecclesiastical power. Peter and the papacy may represent church power, but Peter was the first to abandon Jesus, along with all the others. God's power is greatest in weakness.

“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deeds and words” – a man of divine power.– “We had hoped that he was the one to restore Israel” – to restore Israel’s political power. “Then Jesus told them, “O, men of little intelligence! How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, didn’t he?” In spite of all the prophets, it is easier to believe in a God of power than in a God of silent whispers.

The revelation on Horeb did not replace that on Mount Sinai. God still reveals himself, individually and collectively, in earthquakes and fires, or sickness and failure. It is hard not to listen to the inner voice when one is struck with cancer or a family collapse.

What are the earthquakes and fires that challenged your self-righteousness? What are your spiritual practices to listen to God’s silent whispers?


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:1)

God's voice in everyday life

Today on television one could see coming to Mass about 2,000 men at the end of their three day pilgrimage on foot. They had come to Cotignac, a sanctuary dedicated to Mary and Joseph. These fathers came from all over France to discuss, share, and pray for their families, especially their children. (Wives have their own 2-3 day pilgrimage a few weeks later). I found their piety during this outdoor Mass and their testimonies after Mass to be a good illustration of my understanding of John 1:1.

At the beginning was the Logos (Voice, Grand Design, Wisdom)

For more than 15 centuries, Western Christianity read in St. Jerome's translation of the bible that "In principio erat Verbum." In the Roman culture centered on rhetoric and public speech, "verbum" referred to the spoken word of orators. For us who have spent ten to twenty years learning from books, "word" unconsciously refers to the written word. At Mass, the priest often presents processionally the written Bible to the assembly. In common language, the "word of God" usually refers to the written Bible.

At the beginning of the universe was the Spoken Word: "Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light." God spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. God's Voice is life and light, never discourse, speech, or written message. Most of the Jewish Bible was written between 500 and 1,000 years after Abraham and David. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the apostles a new voice and the power to proclaim God's grand design through Jesus Christ. To this day the creative Voice of God speak (never tweets) to the mind, soul, and conscience, often through the written word, and more often independently of it.

Logos means much more than "verbum." It was central in Greek culture and philosophy. It meant word but also rationality, wisdom, intelligent design, and much more. At creation, God's Voice was intelligent design for the universe in expansion. With salvation the Voice is the grand design for humankind to return to the Father. God's Word is wisdom, knowledge that fulfills, news that bring happiness, good news to share with others.

This is what I saw on the French state television on July 2. During Mass, one could see how these men were listening to the Voice, motionless, eyes closed. In four testimonies after Mass, we learned about God's Voice, grand design, and wisdom in their lives. Edouard had been a very successful CEO. Unexpectedly he went to deliver medication to sisters serving the poor in Africa. He heard the Voice, and had a dream like Joseph. It changed his life. He had found the grand design of God for his life. Bernard and Anne-Claire now have a life full of joy, they say, as the unexpected result of an accident that left Anne-Claire amnesic after a coma of ten months. They have been transformed by this trauma which gave them wisdom and silent joy. Laurent heard a steady Whisper at the annual pilgrimage of men reflecting on their role as fathers. He has learned to follow the example of St. Joseph, the soft father of his adoptive son, and to give up the authoritarian model inherited from his father and grandfather. Michèle and Jean-Marie, like Joseph the migrant to Egypt and Nazareth, learned to give up their careers as nature lovers to become ever more involved with the poor in the streets in poor neighborhood. In short all heard the Voice outside the structure of liturgy and bible studies, they came to understand the true grand design for their lives, and find wisdom and joy.

As envisioned by John in his Prologue, at the beginning was Logos, Voice, intelligent grand design, cosmic beauty and wisdom for the world. For tele-spectators like me, this program also brought forth a faint whisper of grand design and wisdom. Thanks be to God!


17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mt. 13:44-52)

Misunderstanding All Four Parables

Today’s gospel reading invites us to reflect on four parables which all seem easy and obvious. The kingdom of God is like finding a hidden treasure or a rare pearl for which one must sell all one’s possessions. It is also like sorting the good and the bad fish after a catch: this is what the angels will do at the end of time.

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." Then, instead of congratulating them, Jesus added another parable: a good scribe must sort the old and the new. “Obvious again! What’s the point?” The apostles did not get it; this is why Jesus added this fourth parable. Let’s go over the texts.

In reference to finding a hidden treasure for which one must sell all one’s possessions Jesus had told a young man,”Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." This is a radical demand. It is not just going to church on Sundays and saying “we have the treasure of Catholic truth.” Granted we cannot all do that, but that's what the text means.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls." One can only find the kingdom by searching. Finding God’s grand design for each of us is finding the rare pearl of our deepest identity or vocation. To find the will of God, hence our vocation and deepest identity, is a lifetime quest for which we may have to give up much of our superficial possessions.

After a catch the fishermen must separate the good and he bad fish, or in another parable, the weeds and the wheat. Let the angels do their job of separating the saints and the sinners; in the meanwhile it is our job to distinguish and separate the good and bad deeds, attitudes and beliefs. And this is also the point of the fourth parable.

To every scribe sitting in from of him, Jesus said, “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven [must] bring both new and old things out of his treasure chest.” All educated Jews must select both “new things” from the New Testament and “old things” from the Old Testament. This applies to all believers at all times: we must select both old things from scripture and church teachings and new things from the voice of God in nature, history, and conscience. Fifty years ago, one of the greatest mortal sins was pre-marital sex, while missing one Sunday Mass would send you to hell forever. Over the much of the last thirty years, abortion has been the greatest and often the only intrinsic evil in our culture of death. Today as ever, every scribe or educated believer must bring forth “ both new and old things out of his treasure chest.”

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." While it may be obvious, the real problem is to practice it. In common parlance, the value of a thing is measured by its price. What is the price we are willing to pay for the hidden treasure, the rare pearl, and the search for Christian truth, identity, and vocation?


20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Romans 5:212-15)

“Through one man death entered the world.”

It is often assumed that the wages of sin are death. Had not God said to the first couple, “ When you eat from it [the tree of life] you shall die?”

I do not know the origin of the speculation that Adam would not have died had he not sinned. This belief continues to this day. Reportedly, “It’s commonly said that biblical creationists believe in ‘no death before the Fall’. But while humans clearly didn’t die before the fall, there’s no evidence that other life-forms didn't die.”

To understand the wages of sin as physical death contradicts the whole biblical tradition and vitiates St. Paul’s argument about Adam and Jesus.

After sinning, Adam and Eve did not drop dead but were afraid because they saw they were naked. The curses inflicted on them were clearly spelled out: labor pain and toiling all the days of life, “until you return to the ground, from which you were taken.” Throughout the Bible, death is the natural return to the dust from which the Adamites are taken. Punishment for sin may be sickness, disease, foreign invasion, and premature death, not death itself.

After forming man taken from the dust of the earth God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, obviously the breath of divine life, not just physical life – God did not breathe life into all the animals he created. Only Adam was created at God’s image, and all Adamites, not just Christians, benefit from the divine breath in them.

If we take the wages of death to be physical death, then the promised life of Jesus Christ refers tolife after death, in the other world, in a dualistic perspective. In this case we only have to wait to see this other-worldly life.

One may also read Paul’s comparison of Jesus with Adam as an individualistic theological thesis: “If by one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” This can be taken as a dogmatic statement to be accepted intellectually, the way children accept catechism teachings. By a single man, Adam, transgression brought death; by a single man, Jesus Christ, God’s grace came to overflow many. But such an interpretation does not do justice to the gist of Romans and Galatians.

Ultimately Paul's point is a comparison between the behavior of the followers of Adam leading to spiritual death, that is, the loss of divine breath in them, and the behavior of the followers of Christ leading to the gracious gift that overflows many. This is the very purpose of Romans: it is not just a dogmatic thesis to be accepted intellectually but an appeal to discipleship. “O stupid Galatians! Did you receive the Spirit from ....accepting a dogmatic thesis, or from your life of faith?” If God breathed his life into all humans, all the more will he breath the Spirit into the followers of Jesus Christ.

Now it is the job of the homilist to help his audience define the ways of Adam that lead to slow death: e.g. social media addiction, pornography, drugs and alcoholism, etc. and to define the ways of Jesus Christ that lead to life: e.g. love of neighbor and compassion for the weak, biblical studies, meditation, etc. Jesus Christ brought life so that his followers may have it in abundance, in this life, not just in the life to come.
Inspired by


Trinity Sunday (EX 34:4-9)

Mercy vs. Miséricorde: the limitations of language

I was happy to read on Sunday June 10 the words of God to Moses (Exodus 4-6:)
                 L’Eternel, l’Eternel, Dieu miséricordieux et compatissant
      I was less happy when I read the translation adopted by the CCB:
                  The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God.

The main difference is  “mercy” versus “miséricorde.”
The Sunday after Easter is called the Sunday of “divina misericordia” - in English the Sunday of divine mercy, and in French le dimanche de la miséricorde divine. The year 2016 was the Jubilee of divine Mercy; in French it was “l’année de la Miséricorde.” In English there is no equivalent of the Latin misericordia. In French there is no exact equivalent of the English mercy.

Mercy comes from “from Old French merci ‘pity’ or ‘thanks,’ from Latin merces, ‘reward,’ in Christian Latin ‘pity, favor, heavenly reward.’” Generally speaking mercy means clemency “toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” Mercy evokes the context of a judgment in court where the accused asks for pity like  a beggar.

Miséricorde means “compassion for the misery of others,” especially the most needy ones. Asking for divine mercy suggests asking for clemency to a God who has the power the punish, by begging for forgiveness for one’s sins. Asking for divine miséricorde  suggests appealing for compassion to a God who has always shown compassion for the misery of his people since he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. In the first case God is seen as just but eternally angry since the sin of Adam. In the second case God is compassionate by nature and  sin only increases his desire to save the sinner.

The imagery of an angry God has a long history. To the question Cur Deus homo? (why did God become man?) Anselm’s  answer was “satisfaction” to the honor of God for sins of humankind, and satisfaction was obtained through the suffering on the Cross. Over the centuries it became obvious that satisfaction required suffering and reparation.

In about 1665, “One night, after returning home from a ball for Carnival dressed in her finery, [Margaret Alacoque] experienced a vision of Christ, scourged and bloody. He reproached her for her forgetfulness of him.” She initiated the practice of the Friday Holy Hour in memory of the agony at Gethsemane.  Her life was full of suffering and mortification.  The devotion to the Sacred Heart is often associated with reparation. In about 1924, “Once I was at a dance,” recounts Faustina in her dairy, “I suddenly saw Jesus racked with pain, all covered with wounds [ who said] ‘How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” Her life was full of suffering and mortification. “My child, you please Me most by suffering. The more you come to love suffering, My daughter, the purer your love for Me will be.” There is a long tradition that requires suffering and mortification to appease God. There are also apparitions of the Virgin Mary asking for prayer and penance to avoid the imminent justice of God.

Revelation happens through language. Whether one thinks of God in terms of “mercy” or “miséricorde” depends on one’s culture. Even saints speak the language of their culture. The visions of Margaret Mary Alacoque took place within the context of French Jansenism. Faustina experienced Jesus according to the culture of expiation of the 1930s and 1940s when there were quite a few mystics experiencing union with Christ in his passion (e.g. Padre Pio). One can only think through the language of one’s culture but one's language is not a prison. The original language of revelation, Hebrew and Greek, must be translated into and understood in reference to the many languages of the world. This is the purpose of exegesis and indirectly, of the Sunday homily.