"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

November 14, 2019

Culture and history in a theology of the local Church

I have been working on the theology of the local Church since at least 1981.  When I first approached the question, I took local cultures to be the decisive element in defining the local character of a local Church.  For reasons set out in the first of the essays found here, I began to move away from culture to history, or historical moment and challenge, as better identifying what makes a local Church local.  The two essays, you will find, have whole sections that are identical.

JAK – Culture and history as conditions

JAK – Catholicity & Redemption


September 8, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Five homilies, with essentially the same theme…

Sunday 23 – 1992

Sunday 23 – 1995

Sunday 23 – 2001

Sunday 23 – 2007

Sunday 23 – 2010

August 31, 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 3 homilies

Sunday 22 – 1992

Sunday 22 – 2004

Sunday 22 – 2007

August 30, 2019

Episcopal conferences

Filed under: Essays, Foundations in Ecclesiology, Uncategorized — Tags: , — komonchak @ 5:04 pm

The Final Report of the 1985 Synod of Bishops called for a clarification of the theological and canonical nature of episcopal conferences. Even though the Report could be taken to be calling for theologians and canon lawyers to undertake that task, the Vatican took this to mean that they should appoint a committee to do the clarifying.  The result of this was an “Instrumentum laboris” (working paper) sent out to the bishops of the world.  It would receive severe criticisms from many episcopates, including that of the USA for which I wrote a lengthy critique which was adopted by the bishops.

A symposium on episcopal conferences was held at Georgetown University, the results of which were published in a book. I was asked to write an introduction explaining what the controversies were that surrounded the institution and then to offer a theological assessment of the working paper. Both essays are available here: JAK – Two essays on episcopal conferences .

The official text that came out of the Vatican effort is entitled Apostolos suos. It will be seen that the critiques of the draft had little effect, and this text presented a very narrow vision of the conferences which are basically seen as threats to the pope or to diocesan bishops, or to both.

Pope Francis has asked that the question of the role and authority of episcopal conferences be re-opened. These essays, then, if of little effect forty years ago, may have some pertinence today.

April 21, 2019

What is “the day the Lord has made”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — komonchak @ 10:33 am

This is the Easter Alleluia which used to be sung by the celebrant just before reading the Easter Gospel. It was sung at three different registers, from low to high.

This is from one of Augustine’s Easter sermons. In the fourth paragraph below, the “infants” were not babies but those who had been baptized at the Easter Vigil, just beginning their Christian lives.

You have heard Christ the Lord preached in these words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). This is Christ the Lord, who if he had not lowered himself but had wished to remain so forever, we would have perished. We acknowledge the Word as God with God; we acknowledge the only Son equal to the Father; we acknowledge the light from light, the Day from Day. The Day who made the day was not himself made by the Day but begotten from it.

If, then, the Day from Day was not made but begotten, then what is the day the Lord has made? Why is it called day? Because it is light. “And God called the light day.” Let us ask, then, which day the Lord has made that we may rejoice and be glad in it.

At the very beginning of the world’s creation, it is read that “darkness was over the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved over the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and light was made. And God divided the light from the darkness, and he called the light day and the darkness he called night” (Gen 1:2-5). This is a day the Lord has made. But is it the day in which we are to rejoice and be glad? There is another day the Lord has made which we should instead acknowledge, and rejoice and be glad in it.

It was said to believers in Christ: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). If a light, then a day, because “God called the light day.” Yesterday God’s Spirit moved over the water here too. There had been darkness over the abyss, because these infants were still bearing their sins. But when through the Spirit their sins were forgiven them, then did the Lord say: “Let there be light, and light was made.” Here is “the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 117[118], 24).

We are addressing you this day with the words of the Apostle: O day which the Lord has made, “you once were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). “Once, he says, “you were darkness.” Were you darkness, or not? Recall your deeds, and see if you weren’t. Look at the your consciences. Because you once were darkness, but now are light, not in yourselves, but in the Lord, “walk as children of the light.” (Augustine, Sermon 226; PL 38, 1009)

April 20, 2019

Our daily baptism

Several of Augustine’s sermons have survived in which he prepared people to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. A few of them were given for the ceremony at which the Creed was given and explained to them–the traditio Symboli)–as he went through the Creed phrase by phrase. Here “the forgiveness of sins” is related not only to their upcoming baptism but to their daily prayer afterwards.

“The forgiveness of sins.” If this did not exist in the Church, there would be no hope. If there were no forgiveness of sins in the Church, there would be no hope of a future life and an eternal liberation. Thanks be to God who gave his Church this gift. You are about to come to the holy fountain; you will be washed by baptism; you will be renewed by the bath of regeneration; and you will be without sin when you come up out of that bath. All those past things that were pursuing you will be destroyed there. Your sins were like the Egyptians following, pursuing, the Israelites, but only up to the Red Sea. What does that mean: up to the Red Sea? Up to the fountain of Christ consecrated by the cross and blood of Christ. What is red makes red…. If you see the cross, notice the blood, too. If you see what is hanging there, notice what is flowing. The side of Christ was pierced by a lance and our price flowed out. Baptism is marked with the mark of Christ, that is, the water by which you were dyed and as it were passed through the Red Sea. Your sins are your enemies. They follow you, but only up to the sea. When you will enter that sea, you will escape and those sins will be destroyed, just as while the Israelites were escaping on to dry land, water covered the Egyptians. And what does Scripture say? “Not one of them remained” (Ps 105[106]: 11). Whether you sinned many times or sinned few times, whether you sinned greatly or sinned slightly: not even the least of them remains.

But because our victory is in this world, where no one lives without sin, the forgiveness of sins does not consist only in the washing of sacred Baptism, but also in the daily Lord’s Prayer that you will receive in eight days. In that prayer you will find as it were your daily baptism, and you will give thanks to God who gave this gift to his Church, the one we confess in the Symbol when, after saying “holy Church,” we add: ‘the forgiveness of sins.” (Augustine, Sermon 215, 8, PL 38, 1065)

April 19, 2019

Redefining ugliness and beauty

People occasionally ask me why this Friday is called “Good”. The answer lies in the simple, quiet liturgy of this day which does not give way to grief much less indulge in morose lingering over the pains Christ endured, but instead celebrates the fruit the tree of the Cross produced, as in the antiphon that may be sung while the Cross is being venerated: “We adore your Cross, O Lord, and we bless and praise your holy resurrection, for, behold, because of this tree joy has come to the whole world!” To know this joy, of course, requires that one find wisdom and power where others see only folly and weakness (1 Cor 1:22-25). In the two passages below, Augustine echoes the Apostle’s theme in terms of beauty and ugliness.

That “the Word was made flesh” is very beautiful to people who understand. “Far be it from me to glory,” said one of the friends of the Bridegroom,” except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14) It’s not enough that you are not ashamed by the cross; you must glory in it.

Why, then, is the Bridegroom said not to have any beauty or fairness (see Is 53:2-3)? Because Christ was crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But why did he have beauty on the cross? Because the folly of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God is stronger than men.

May the Bridegroom who is beauty wherever he is come to meet us who have come to believe. Beautiful as God, as the Word who is with God; beautiful in the womb of the Virgin, where he did not lose his divinity but assumed our humanity; beautiful when born, a Word who could not speak, because while he was still unable to speak, while he was being held and suckled, the heavens spoke, the Angels sang his praises, a star guided the Magi, he was adored in the manger, he who is food for the meek.

Beautiful, then, in heaven, beautiful on earth, beautiful in the womb, beautiful in the arms of his parents, beautiful when performing miracles; beautiful when being scourged; beautiful in his invitation to life; beautiful in his scorn of death; beautiful in surrendering his life and in taking it up again; beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. (Augustine, En. in Ps. 44, 3)


Whoever loves me keeps my commandments, and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him.” And what will he give him? “And I will show myself to him” (Jn 14:21). This is what will be seen when he does what he said: “And I will show myself to him.” There you will see Gods justice; there, without a book, you will read it in the Word. When you will see him as he is, our wandering will be over, and we will rejoice with the joy of the angels.

And what is the way there? It is faith. For the sake of your faith, Christ became ugly, though Christ remains beautiful. The one more beautiful than the children of men will be seen after our wandering. But how is he seen now by faith? And we have seen him, and he had no beauty or comeliness; his face was abject, and his position ugly (that is, his power), despised and ugly was his position, a man considered a leper, and knowing how to bear infirmities (Is 53:2-3). Christ’s ugliness makes you beautiful. [Deformitas Christi te format]. For if he had not been willing to be ugly, you would not have regained the beauty which you had lost. He hung ugly on the cross, but his ugliness was our beauty. [deformitas illius pulchritudo nostra erat]

In this life, then, let us hold on to the ugly Christ. What does “ugly Christ” mean? “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This is Christ’s ugliness…. This is the way: to believe in the one crucified. We bear the sign of this ugliness on our foreheads; let us not be ashamed at Christ’s ugliness. (Augustine, Sermon 27, 5-6; PL 38, 181)

April 18, 2019

“I have given you an example”

To the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” Augustine often linked the statement in the First Epistle of St. John, “If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). If we are to say that prayer every day, then every day we must have something that needs to be forgiven. The same realistic assessment underlies the passage below where the second part of that petition (“as we forgive our debtors”) is here found to be part of the symbolic meaning of Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples, part of that of which Christ gave us an example at the Last Supper.

But besides this moral interpretation of the passage, we remember how we drew to your attention the greatness of this act of the Lord’s: we said that, in washing the feet of disciples who were already washed and clean, the Lord was instituting a sign. Because of the human feelings that occupy us on earth, however far we may have advanced in achieving righteousness, we might know that we are not exempt from sin, which He washes away by interceding for us when we pray the Father in heaven to forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.

What connection, then, can such an understanding of the passage have with the one he himself gave when he explained the reason for his act in the words, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you”? Can we say that even a brother may cleanse a brother from the contagion of his sin? Yes indeed; we know that the deep significance of this deed of the Lord also admonishes us to confess our faults to one another and to pray for one another, just as Christ also intercedes for us. Let us listen to the Apostle James, who states this precept with the greatest clearness when he says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another” (Jam 5:16). Of this also the Lord gave us the example. For if He who neither has, nor had, nor will have any sin, prays for our sins, how much more ought we to pray for one another’s in turn! And if He forgives us, whom we have nothing to forgive; how much more ought we, who are unable to live here without sin, to forgive one another! For what else does the Lord apparently intimate in the profound significance of this sacramental, when He says, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you,” but what the apostle states in very plain terms, “Forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against someone: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you” (Col 3:13)?

Let us therefore forgive one another’s faults, and pray for one another’s faults, and thus in a way we will be washing one another’s feet. Our part, by His grace, is to provide this ministry of love and humility; God’s part is to hear us, and to cleanse us from all the pollution of our sins through Christ, and in Christ; so that what we forgive to others, that is, what we loose on earth may be loosed in heaven (see Mt 18:18). (Tractate on John 58, 5)

April 17, 2019

Weeds everywhere

Augustine often spoke of the Church of this age as a corpus permixtum, a mixed body, and he made full use of parables and images from the Scriptures to illustrate and prove that it will only be in the next age that the Church will be “without stain or wrinkle.” The Church now is the harvesting floor where wheat and chaff lie together before the threshing begins; it is the net that is being hauled toward shore, in which good fish and bad swim alongside one another until they can be distinguished on land; and it is the field in which both wheat and weeds are growing until the harvesters will separate them (see Mt 13:24-30, 36-43). And there is no group in the Church that is without this mixture, something we have learned all too well in recent years.

Where has the enemy not sown weeds? Where has he not found wheat and not strewn it with weeds? Has he sown only among lay people and not among the clergy or among bishops? Has he sown only among married men and not among the chaste professed? Has he sown only among married women and not among nuns? Has he sown only in the homes of lay people, and not in congregations of monks? The enemy has strewn seed everywhere, sowed everywhere–where has he left seed not mixed with weeds?

But, thank God, the one who has deigned to separate cannot err–your charity is not hidden from him. Weeds are found in the loftiest, most exalted harvest, even in the professed life weeds are found, and you say, “Even there wicked people are found, even in that congregation there are wicked people!” But the wicked will not reign forever with the good. Why are you surprised that you have found bad people in a holy place? Don’t you know that in paradise the first sin was disobedience, and an angel fell because of it? Did that stain heaven? Adam fell, and did that stain paradise? One of the sons of Noah fell, and did that stain the home of the just one? Judas fell, and did that stain the choir of Apostles?

Sometimes by human judgment some are thought to be wheat who in fact are weeds, and some are thought weeds who in fact are wheat. And because these things are hidden, the Apostle says: “Do not judge before the time, until the Lord comes and casts light on things hidden in darkness, and he will reveal the thoughts of the heart, and then there will be praise for each one from God” (1 Cor 4:5). Human praise passes: sometimes a person praises a bad man and doesn’t know it; sometimes he accuses a holy man, and doesn’t know it. May God forgive those who do not know, and come to the aid of those who are toiling. (Ser 73A, 1.5,3)

April 16, 2019

Seeking because found

His mercy saw you before you knew him, when you were still lying under sin. Did we first seek Christ, or did he seek us first? Did we in our illness go to the Physician, or did he come to the sick? Wasn’t that sheep lost, and didn’t the shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and seek and find it and joyfully carry it back on his shoulders? Wasn’t that coin lost, and didn’t the woman light a lamp and search through her house until she found it? And when she had found it, she said to her neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I lost.” In the same way we were lost like that sheep, lost like that coin…. We were sought so that we might be found, and it is because we were found that we are speaking. There is no pride in this because before we were found, we would have been lost if we had not been sought…. We are seeking you lest you be lost. We are seeking you because we were sought. We want to find you because we were found. (Tr. in Ioannis Evang., v, 12; PL 35, 1448)

A major theme in Augustine is that of seeking in order to find, finding in order to seek, but here it’s his (our) being sought and found that inspires the Christian imperative and motivates his ministry. “We seek you because we were found.” Another way of expressing that the imperatives that ought to drive our Christian hearts are immediate implications of the indicatives that state what we have received. How can those shown mercy not show mercy? How can those sought and found not seek in order to find?

Perhaps you know Pascal’s variation on the theme in the fragment in which he has Christ say: “You would not have sought me if you had not already found me.” I’m not sure that Augustine would have put it that way, but I would love to be a bug on the wall as Pascal and he talk with one another about it. I think they might have agreed that to begin to seek God is already the work of God’s grace. It’s somewhat like when Augustine says that to cry out from the depths–De profoundis–is already to begin to rise….

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