Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany



It is a wonderful feast. It has to be properly celebrated. The virulent temptation is to get lost in a cosmetic celebration of the Epiphany. It cannot be about sentimentality. We can so easily get distracted with ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ or even see Epiphany as a time to conclude the Festive period. But it is more than that. We can get emotional too over a baby and admire these wandering gypsies or kings (especially on camels with exotic gifts) or the notion of a star. But the reality behind the story, is much more dangerous and radical. The Epiphany screams at us from the bowels of the earth. It asks us to live and learn. It demands that we reach out and cope with the new situations, new people, a new language and a new culture. We are missionaries in our own country and in our own lives. Our faith architecture is now inadequate. The jargon of faith won’t do. There is no hiding in the past or attempting to do things as we used to do them or hankering after wistful nostalgia or dreaming of how good things used to be, in the old days. We can’t allow ourselves be skulking in sadness with a sense of loss. This is a very challenging  feast. It calls for pioneers in faith. The very sinews of our faith are stretched to the limits. They won’t break. But stretching exercises are essential.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory:

We are asked: “Lift your eyes; look around.” (Isaiah 60). If we look around at present, we are haunted by the ghosts of the virus. They get everywhere. They are lurking in the most unlikely places. They seep into our innards. These ghosts are frightening. They tease and taunt us. They jail us. They lock us up and lock us down. Our minds are sodden. But the Feast still says: ‘Lift up those eyes and look around.’ What do we see? We can soak ourselves in nostalgia. We were free (BC – before Corona). We could go where we wanted. We could do what we liked, as we wished. We could eat, drink and be merry. We could even attend Church sometimes and go through the motions of Mass and Liturgy. Now everything is changed and indeed ‘a terrible beauty is born.’ We are stripped of our controls. It isn’t only the old and those who are compromised (health-wise) that are vulnerable. We are all fragile and vulnerable. This is an opportunity to become students and learners. We can become creative and imaginative. In the wider Church, we are given another method or approach with the Synodal pathways. But this has to be real. It isn’t something to talk about. It is practical and immediate. It happens locally. In Dublin we have the Task Force Report. That too has to be real and implemented. It cannot be a lovely document riddled with validation by quotations from the popes. It is the lived reality and experience that matters. The Feast is the metaphor for all of us.

The Capitol and maverick:

Many of us now associate the 6th January with the invasion of the Capitol in the US. This place is a symbol and exemplar of democracy. It is the supposed heart of civilisation. Democracy was the best the West had to offer, for developing nations! In fact, serious efforts were made to impose this form of Government on ‘the suffering people’ of many a country. We were indeed quite arrogant. But now. There was a riot inspired by a President. There was a leader who would bask in the language of the ‘big lie’ and ‘the steal’ and could gather millions who echoed his words. Truth is only what he says it is. Many follow him. What does that tell us about democracy in America now? What is the revelation? Where is the epiphany? Whose star is being followed? What now for all of us? In the UK, Boris is frequently called a serial liar whether that is true or not can be debated. There surely is a political call for integrity; for truthfulness. It is urgent. In Church life, we too must move away from all the certainties of the past. The rigid positions. The clarities. The absolutes. The hinterland of black/white. We move into the mist. We are adventurers. We are travellers. We prepare to learn a new language. The search goes on. For what matters. And for whom. And yet Pope Francis is undermined by many who embrace the absolutes of certainty and who can’t see faith and incarnation as continuing in our daily lives and everywhere. We have to be people of the Epiphany- a living pilgrimage. Humility, humour and honesty are the essentials. The searching never stops. Augustine’s words are true, “You have made us for yourself O Lord and we are restless, until we rest in you.” (Confessions).   The restlessness is permanent. This is the Epiphany. The Feast. The mission. The challenge. There is no room for fear or for hesitancy. On your bike. On your camel. There is the call and the demand. The Epiphany is a grown up adult faith or rather a grown up Community, which is searching. We should be grateful for this opportunity. The Epiphany asks us to explore and face the radical questions of a different world. It is exciting and frightening and wonderful and brazen. We all need an Epiphany. Reach out. Reach up. Stretch the muscles of our minds, imaginations and hearts. We are being prepared through the refinement of Covid 19.


Seamus Ahearne osa

P.S. Some of this appeared last year but there are some additions:

‘As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted’…(Used in  Daily Mirror after WW2). I think it applies here too!



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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany.

    Seamus, thank you for that. You know, as a young fella growing up in Donegal, I don’t think I was ever aware of Nollaig na mBan.

    However, I intend not to be controversial today, so no more mention of Charlie except to remember someone once saying “Cad a dhéanfamid feasta gan Charlie …”. I can’t actually remember who now but certainly not the author/poet of Caoine Cill Chais.

    But, gan Charlie as it now is, he certainly can still stir the passions.

    God rest him.

    My mind is exercised this morning by something else, something I have just read in The Times( London ).

    I only buy The Times on a Saturday to read Matthew Parris, a Tory grandee who knows his party inside out, for his ongoing analysis of the bizarre phenomenon that is Boris. And, he never disappoints. Once again today he is well worth the £2.50 to get the paper.

    However, another article in this morning’s paper has got me thinking. It is a piece by His Beatitude, Theophilis III, Patriarch of Jerusalem. He explains how Christians are under threat in the very cradle of their faith in Jerusalem by radical Zionist extremists.

    He quotes the Gospel of St. John the Baptist ? where we read that St. John “came as a witness to the light ” of Jesus Christ and that his Church, (Ratzinger would probably not approve of that title), the Greek Orthodox Church, has always been a witness to that light.

    He tells us what a privilege it is to lead his Church in the Holy Land as Patriarch of Jerusalem.

    Then he tells us that the first of his 140 predecessors was St. James, the brother of Jesus who, like a number of others, was martyred for his faith.

    And that is what has been exercising my mind ever since I read it, his reference to James, the brother of Jesus Christ.

    Are we, as Catholic Christians, still asked to accept that Mary was “ever virgin.” ? I remember when I first read the Gospels and seeing mention of Jesus’ brothers and sisters –or was it one sister — and discussing this with priest friends who then still felt obliged to defend the teaching by explaining how, in those days, cousins were referred to as brothers and sisters. My reply was always that when Mary went to visit Elizabeth after the angel appeared to her she went to visit not her sister but her cousin. So, the Gospel writers knew the difference.

    I am reflecting today as well on that front page story in the Examiner which is actually distressing and sad.

    I am also remembering one of Brendan’s recent excellent articles in which he discussed the future of our church as the ministerial priesthood disappears.

    At the time I offered an opinion on how I felt there were certain teachings and doctrine that decent, self-respecting young Catholic men with a degree of personal integrity would find difficult to sign up to if they were considering the priesthood.

    In the general scheme of things perhaps this is not such a major issue. But it still requires a certain degree of dishonesty to preach something that is obviously contrary to what we read in the Gospel.

    We do come across every so often a reference to some teaching or other coming from a “later theological tradition”. My first experience of this was reading Fr. Joseph Fitzyer SJ explain that the idea of Jesus being sacrificed for our sake came from a “later theological tradition”.

    So, I am wondering if the idea of the “ever Virgin” is also part of a later theological tradition. Perhaps, Joe could help here.

    And, I also wonder if the famous dictum of another Mary might also be appropriate in this instance.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Beauty of Epiphany…

    Thanks Paddy@1 for the summary of the article by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. I note you give him his full title and honorific, His Beatitude. But why the dismissive and groundless parenthesis, (“Ratzinger would probably not approve of that title”). Joseph Ratzinger, former Pope Benedict XVI, has always approved heartily of the Greek Orthodox Church, including the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and His Beatitude, Theophilos III. I don’t think you should just fillet this important article to take a dig at Joseph Ratzinger or go on worrying about Mary’s virginity. If only they had virginity tests back then!

    Theophilos came to the Jerusalem patriarchate relatively young at 53 in 2005, just a few months after Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope at 78. The Patriarchate website includes a full report on Benedict’s Orthodox Easter 2009 visit to the Holy Land, including the part played by Theophilus III and the addresses of both Pope and Patriarch.

    Paddy, the next link (below the 2009 blog on the website) is to yesterday’s article to which you referred. It is certainly worth reading. It is also at this link:

    But knowing you’re such a fan of Apostolic Succession lists, the Patriarchate website also gives us the dated list of Theophilos’s 140 predecessors, beginning not with ‘James brother of Jesus’ but ‘James brother of God.’ I don’t think the Patriarchate of Raphoe could beat that.

    PS But as both those links are causing me bother, you may just have to google.

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Eddie, I cannot agree that my Ratzinger parenthesis was groundless.

    About twenty years ago, probably, I think, in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was Prefect of the CDF, produced a document in which he firmly stated that only our Catholic Church has the right to call it self “church”. The rest of them were merely “ecclesial communities”, if I remember correctly. Of course, it was all very well thought out and plausible as you would expect from a great mind like Ratzinger. And, we were all to accept it as “definitive teaching”. Remember that, this new quasi infallible status that had entered into Vatican documents. I am not aware of any mention of that since Francis’ arrival.
    Thank God for Francis.

    Now, at the time, I was chair of our Archdiocesan Ecumenical Commission and I also represented our church on the Council of Edinburgh Churches Together.
    So, I was interacting with good men and women from the other churches who had a sincere and long held commitment to the cause of church unity.
    Ratzinger’s arrogant put down of their churches was excruciatingly embarrassing. I will never forget it.

    I am pleased to now be informed, Eddie, that he “always approved heartily”of the Greek Orthodox Church. Great!! He certainly didn’t extend the same approval to the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church (Church of England), the Methodist Church and other “ecclesial communities”.

    Talk about the “curse of theological narcissism”, Cardinal Bergoglio’s famous remark at the final large congregational meeting before entering the conclave that elected him pope. Well, this document — the title of which I cannot recall this morning — would certainly qualify and be very high on the list.

    I never had much time for Ratzinger anyway but this greatly added to my already existing negativity.

    The night of his election as pope a priest friend phoned me in some distress telling me that that had been the worst day of his Catholic life. It probably was mine too.

    This has made me think back on the whole Wojtyla-Ratzinger era and what a dark, depressing time it was. Having Francis has been a miracle or perhaps it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who had previously been so conspicuously absent in Rome.

    Thank God for Francis.

    Eddie, I want to wish you all the best for 2022 and good health and stay safe in these strange and dangerous times.


  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany…

    Paddy@3, to say something we do not need to say everything. @2 above, I questioned your throwaway line in parenthesis, (‘Ratzinger would probably not approve of that title’). You were suggesting that Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI does/did not regard the Greek Orthodox Church as a real church.
    You refer to ‘Dominus Jesus’, the CDF Declaration of 2000. I refer you to ‘Dominus Jesus’, Ch 4 on ‘The Unicity and Unity of the Church’, Section 17, parags 1 & 2:
    p.1, “The Eastern Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by the closest bonds, that is by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.”
    p.2, “On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense.”
    There is much more in parags 1 & 2 and succeeding paragraphs of Section 17 to clarify and modify those two opening sentences.

    Seems to me there is nothing in these paragraphs of ‘Dominus Jesus’ to contradict the sense of Vatican II’s ‘Decree on Ecumenism’, Ch III, Section 1: Special Consideration of Eastern Churches; and Section 2: Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West. Apart that is from the “spirit of the Council” or the still hovering spirit of John XXIII. As the younger Ratzinger noted, there is normally nothing so dead as a dead pope, except for Angelo Roncalli.

    Given the apparent need to take potshots, in season and out, at Joseph Ratzinger and his post-Vat2 metamorphosis, perhaps John Wilkins’ 2010 Commonweal review of the young Ratzinger’s 4-part account of the Council Sessions ‘Highlights’ is worth revisiting: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/ratzinger-vatican-ii
    My own tongue-in-cheek contribution to a recent publication, “We Remember Maynooth” was “I wonder who’s Ratzinger now’ (with an echo of a 20th century ditty, ‘I wonder who’s kissing her now’) as I recalled the young progressive’s 1963/64 revealing accounts of the first two sessions, provided for our edification by the FURROW.

  5. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Eddie, thank you for jogging my memory on Dominus Jesus and, also, it’s imposition of the certain prerequisites/qualifications, “the valid episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery” required for a community of Christians to qualify for the title “church”.

    My first thought tonight is who is qualified and has the authority to impose those prerequisites? And, who decides what these qualifications should be?

    Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect of the CDF, obviously thought he had that authority. Is this some ancient tradition dating back to when the CDF was the Inquisition, perhaps? Probably not.

    Once again, I think, it’s probably the curse of narcissism , theological or otherwise, that is to blame here. And, remember it was one of Enda’s famous four words in Dáil Éireann in July 2011 when he was discussing the Cloyne Report even before Francis mentioned it.

    I am surprised that you are of the opinion that Dominus Jesus did not undermine Unitatis Redintegratio or the spirit of the Council. I think at the very least, Eddie, one would have to say that this document came from a mindset that had no great concern or commitment to the cause of ecumenism. And, it definitely did undermine, if only briefly, the spirit of cooperation and friendship that existed among Christians, especially since Vatican II. I can vouch for that. We could surely have done without gratuitously insulting our Christian brothers and sisters.

    There is one other example that I know of where Ratzinger was decidedly unecumenical. At the time of the the publication of the Joint Statement on Justification with the Lutherans, I remember attending a lecture on the Joint Statement at the Dominican Chaplaincy here at Edinburgh University given by a senior Dominican scholar — once tipped to be Archbishop of Westminster — whose name I just cannot recall now. Anyway, he explained that despite John Paul II’s desperation to get the deal done, Ratzinger was being difficult bringing up the importance of confession, for example. As a result he was savaged in the German press and he had to respond in the media in his homeland to defend himself.

    Eddie, you mention the apparent need to take potshots at Ratzinger. I don’t feel that need because it is surely obvious to all reasonably informed Catholics the many areas where his influence was, to put it mildly, unfortunate. And, taking potshots at him would be akin to shooting into an open goal.

    And, I do know what a great, young reform-minded scholar he was, brought to the Council by Cardinal Frings as a peritus.

    And, then later, he fled his lecture theatre in Tubingen when it was invaded by the radical students — Trotkyists, I think, — never to return. Poor man.

    I think that showed that he was never a very robust individual and why he was never, in my opinion, an autocrat like his predecessor. Then again, the late Bernard Haring and the late Jacque Dupuis, might have had reason to disagree with that and, also, Charles Curran, Matthew Fox and probably others that I have not heard of.

    What more can I say, Eddie, except perhaps, once again, thank God for Francis?

    I didn’t think my reflection on Theophilos’ article would lead to a debate on Joseph Ratzinger. I was simply seeking guidance on our church’s current position on the “ever” Virgin Mary.

    I once read a wonderful book by Robert Eisenman, famous for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled “James the brother of Jesus.”
    I hadn’t really thought about this for a while but the matter of fact way that Theophilos referred to the first of his predecessors as “James the brother of Jesus” simply stirred my thoughts again on what and why our church currently teaches as it does on this matter.

    I had hoped that Joe’s knowledge and wisdom might have helped us here.

    From your brief comment @3 above, Eddie, I don’t think you feel inclined to discuss.

    Good night and God bless.


  6. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne- The Challenge of Epiphany…

    Paddy, I think you’ll find that most or all of the Eastern Orthodox Church believe and teach that Mary was and remained ‘Aeiparthenos’/ ever-virgin. Theophilos III would have no difficulty in acknowledging James of Jerusalem as James the brother of Jesus or, as Jerusalem’s apostolic succession list puts it, ‘James brother of God’. Their explanation, based on the first known mention of the belief in a 2nd century text called the Gospel or Protoevangelion of James, refers to James, Jude etc. as earlier sons of the allegedly elderly Joseph, step-brothers rather than half-brothers of Jesus. Not very convincing, I guess, but it has had a lasting effect on the portrayal of Joseph in many a Christmas Crib and Nativity play. St Jerome mentions the belief as being held by earlier Church Fathers of the 2nd & 3rd centuries, but he says James etc. were cousins- though ‘adelphos’/brother (from ‘delphús’ = womb) is, as you suggested, rarely used in the wider brotherly sense of cousin; anepsiós/anepsiá being the more usual or sometimes adelphinós/á. But the Protoevangelion of James seems to have had its effect on Ambrose, Augustine, and the Council of Ephesus (431) and later councils of the first seven centuries.

    If, though, we are to regard this belief and teaching as “coming from a later theological tradition”, we are still talking about the first half of the first millennium, not a later merely ‘western’ or Roman theological tradition. It would definitely be one of those doctrines for which Cardinal Ratzinger praised the Greek or Eastern Orthodox for their ‘faithfulness to the first millennium’ – however he might fault that faithfulness with being ‘petrified’ through a lack of openness to later second millennium developments.

    But you’re right, Paddy. “Ask Joe!” Life’s too short for all this stuff. On which note, many thanks for your good wishes. Yes, health issues continue to bug me. But there again, Ratzinger at 95 and Bergoglio at 85, with half a lung and a semicolon but no signs of a full-stop, are a rebuke to any of us who complain. Beir bua agus beannacht. Eddie

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: Epiphany…

    I am too in awe of the Theotokos to take up this sort of questioning, at least just now.

    On Dominus Iesus, it had a chilling effect on interreligious dialogue as well as on ecumenism.

    I tussled with it in this book: https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Joseph-Stephen-OLeary/dp/026803740X/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_es_US=ÅMÅŽÕÑ&crid=3D7DX084O5JN9&keywords=conventional and ultimate truth&qid=1642041023&sprefix=conventional and ultimate truth,aps,298&sr=8-1


    The following passage from Dominus Iesus (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2000) ascribes to other religions a more crucial salvific role than Vatican II did and avoids the aura of pseudolegitimacy suggested by the idea of anonymous Christianity:

    ‘Nevertheless, God, who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love, “does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain ‘gaps, insufficiencies and errors’ (Paul VI)” (John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, #55). Therefore, the sacred books of other religions, which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence of their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace which they contain.’ (#8)

    The “therefore” here has the air of a non sequitur, and the sentence it introduces seems anxious to limit the role ascribed to religions in the quotation from John Paul II. It is clear, in any case, that in current church teaching it is not only in the depths of their spirit that people are open to the mystery of Christ: it is above all their religious traditions that foster this openness and give it concrete embodiment, whether this role is seen as de jure or merely de facto (a problematic distinction introduced in Dominus Iesus).

    The religions themselves are the chief link of humanity to the Christian Gospel; we are to see them as converging on Christ or at least as oriented to the Kingdom Jesus preached. There is then no need to imagine that, in addition to their deepest religious wisdom, non-Christians also have some arcane connection with Christ of which they are unaware or which must be sought in the twilight region of their unconscious. When the CDF document denies to the religions “a divine origin or an ex opere operato efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments” (#21), a suspicion of inconsistency arises, as if the authors are torn “between the conciliar (Vatican II) and post-conciliar inclusivistic affirmation of positive salvific elements in other religions and the pre-conciliar ecclesiological exclusivism of the extra ecclesiam nulla salus which obviously dominates over a number of statements in DI” (Schmidt-Leukel 2008:278). The tension adverted to here lies at the heart of Christian self-understanding, but it should be taken as a stimulating kōan rather than as a barrier to dialogue.

    The tension is usually resolved by simply saying that other religions have a partial and imperfect grasp of the fullness of divine revelation but can serve as preparations for the Christian Gospel. But this implies that we have such mastery of our own and other traditions that we can securely identify what God is doing in all of them as well as the limits of what he has done. Better to assume that at the core of every great religious tradition lies a knowledge of ultimate truth, a knowledge every bit as authoritative and convincing as the Christian knowledge of Christ.

    Measuring the degrees of such saving knowledge in the respective traditions and fretting about distortions or deficiencies is a worry that is tangential to the core realities in each religion. All religious traditions are fraught with deficiencies, yet they can still function as channels of ultimacy. Vatican II’s recognition of a ray of divine light in other religions was a positive vision, a platform for opening dialogue and mutual appreciation, but when it is erected into an explanatory principle whereby the other religions can be categorized and graded, or a criterion for a schoolmasterly checking of their alleged distortions of the divine light, then the trustful pastoral opening of the council has been overtaken by a crippling anxiety.

    Augustine’s embrace and critique of Neoplatonism could serve as a model here, insofar as it remained a living engagement to the end, never an effort to put the non-Christian tradition in a box and to defuse its challenge to the Christian quest for understanding.

    (One reviewer says I simply ‘dismiss’ Dominus Iesus, but I dare say I have studied it much more closely than he, and in dialogue with many Asian theologians.)

  8. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Eddie@6,thank you for that, really excellent. I was about to say that even Joe’s marvellous erudition would struggle to better that but then he goes and blows us away @7.
    Thanks Joe.

    We are all so privileged to be able to share in discourse with such scholarly minds on this site. I hope the 1000+ priests who are members of the ACP but never contribute to this site at least appreciate how fortunate we all are with our ongoing education which is available here.

    I want to enquire what you both think of not just the clash of ideologies but actually theologies that is pertinent to the birth of Jesus –Jewish and Imperial Roman — and , indeed, right through the gospels. But, I have to leave that for later as I now have to rush off and treat the dental needs of the good people of Edinburgh.

    PS Thanks, Séamus for mentioning the Epiphany.

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany…

    Ah now Paddy, I never went to school myself, though I did meet a few scholars on their way home. When it comes to talk of ‘scholarly minds’, I must immediately cry ‘Nego paritatem’. Joe soars on eagle’s wings and we should indeed be in awe of his contributions and of his much wider scholarship and multiple publications. Me, I’m a bit of a magpie, a picker up of honest trifles, or like the jackdaw of R(h)eims, who nicked the Cardinal Archbishop’s turquoise ring but was soon reduced to abject penitence by the prelate’s mighty curse.

    But you’re right. The 1000+ ever silent, ever invisible ordained members of this parish should be at least on their knees in eternal gratitude for what the founders, current leaders, eminent philosophers, theologians, canonists, ecologists, scripture scholars, historians, educationists, pastors, liturgists, homilists, enthusiastic synodalists, zoomsters and professional contrarians have offered them here over nearly a dozen years. But I fear that, like many of the signed up members of the Teaching Unions I have encountered over nearly sixty years, most of the 1000+ are only here for th’insurance.

  10. Soline Humbert says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    #7 Joe’s statement ”I am too in awe of the Theotokos…”in the context of the Epiphany brought to my mind the line ”The wise ones knelt to hear the woman’s word in wonder”.

    Here is the complete poem :

    Before Jesus was his mother
    Before supper in the upper room,
    Breakfast in the barn.

    Before the Passover Feast,
    A feeding trough.
    And here, the altar
    Of Earth, fair linens
    Of hay and seed.

    Before his cry,
    Her cry.
    Before his sweat of blood
    Her bleeding and tears.
    Before his offering,

    Before the breaking
    Of bread and death,
    The breaking of her body
    In birth.

    Before the offering
    Of the cup,
    The offering of her
    Before his blood
    Her blood.

    And by her body and blood
    Alone, his body and blood
    And whole human being.

    The wise ones knelt
    To hear the woman’s word in wonder.
    Holding up her sacred child,
    Her spark of God in the form
    Of a babe,
    She said:

    «Receive and let
    Your hearts be healed
    And your lives be filled
    With love, for
    This is my body,
    This is my blood »

    Mary Sacerdota, Mary Protopriest of the New Covenant by Rev. Dr Alla Renée Bozarth

  11. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    Thanks for that thought-provoking poem, Soline. I wrote a comment but it frustratingly disappeared.

    If the triple virginity underscores Christ’s divinity, the motherhood (‘Mater admirabilis’) — undeniable and free of any suspicion of docetism — underscores his humanity. ‘Show unto us the fruit of thy womb.’

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    We chortled rudely when Cardinal Sin wept at Fatima over the Union of the Hearts, or when Jean Galot, SJ, the nemesis of Schillebeeckx, wrote books on the Heart of Jesus, the Heart of Mary, and the Heart of the Father, earning the nickname, ‘the cardiologist,’ but Luther says: ‘Who looks into the heart of Jesus, looks into the Father’s heart’ (Weimar Edition, II, p. 140). The poem Soline shared implies that ‘who looks into Mary’s heart, looks into the heart of Jesus.’ Luther finished his book on the Magnificat as a prisoner in the Wartburg (an amazing place where time seems to have stopped). He looked into Mary’s heart and saw humility, humility, humility (the foundation of medieval mysticism). A legend has it that Pope Leo X read the text and said ‘Blessed are the hands that wrote this book.’ That can hardly be true, since Leo can hardly have read German, and the Latin version appeared only in 1525, four years after Leo’s death. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Mariology

    Here are some nice photos of another Leo, visiting Maynooth: https://maynoothcollege.ie/news-events/2022/visit-from-tánaiste-leo-varadkar-td-1?fbclid=IwAR3pNgx9ExxhblWGfTSnwmp-br3wsBVsQ9I1efNC6HTZXDTj6F1zf-yaagw

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    But Leo X may have read German: he was brilliant, and travelled in France, Holland (meeting Erasmus), and Germany from 1494 to 1500 (aged 19 to 25); see Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes.

  14. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    Joe @12. Is your link to Leo the Great and retinue at Maynooth an illustration of Fine Gael finally at Prayer? Will FF and SF get parity of treatment in pursuit of the Bishops’ vote? Glad to see they got a look in at our old haunt, the Russell Library. But did the FG TD & MEP raise the issue of Daniel Mannix’s removal of young Kevin Higgins (later O’Higgins) in his chub year for smoking and other delicts? Of course Clongowes had earlier expelled him, so they may want a word with the Jesuits as well. But yes, nice photos.

  15. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    The April 1918 Sinn Féin (Mansion House) conference “coincided with the spring meeting of the catholic hierarchy. De Valera, already in communication with Archbishop William Walsh, proposed that they send a deputation, on which he played a key role, to seek their support; ‘I have lived all my life among priests’, he reassured Tim Healy, who was apprehensive about bearding the bishops in their den. When the hierarchy received De Valera at Maynooth, they conferred on Sinn Féin ‘the moral sanction of a legitimate political party and removed it from the realm of theological and moral suspicion’” (https://www.dib.ie/biography/de-valera-eamon-dev-a2472). He had lectured in the college before 1916, commuting from Dublin, and I recall him visiting as President during my student days (as previously in the North Mon, Cork –both institutions having the same motto “Pro deo et patria’); President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh also visited. But I do not recall an acting Taoiseach or Tánaiste visiting the college. I wonder is there a protocol.

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    Queen Victoria was not impressed by the seminarians when she visited the town of Maynooth: https://issuu.com/maynooth10k/docs/10ktimes_extra/s/11515313. Thirty years later the wayward Empress of Austria visited Maynooth College three times (accidentally the first time) to the intense annoyance of Victoria who told her husband to recall her.

    Other visitors include:

    Daniel O’Connell 1847

    Edward Prince of Wales 1868

    Prime Minister Gladstone (out of office) 1877

    Edward VII and Queen Alexandra 1903 (satirized in Joyce’s Ulysses)

    George V and Queen Mary 1911

    Prince Rainier and Princess Grace 1963

    King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia 1986


  17. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Eddie and Joe, thank you both again for such an interesting conversation in your reflections posted above. And, also, Soline for your lovely poem.

    I am still reflecting on the “ever” virgin bit.

    Eddie@6 you referred to: “A 2nd century text called the Gospel or Protoevangelion of James, refers to James, Jude etc. as earlier sons of the allegedly elderly Joseph, step-brothers rather than half-brothers of Jesus. Not very convincing.” No, not very convincing but it certainly would cause the plot to thicken as Mary would have been Joseph’s second wife, the first wife, presumably, deceased.

    Joe@7 when you mentioned your sense of awe at the Theotokos. I actually had to goggle the meaning of the word such is my great knowledge of the subject. And, also, when commenting on Soline’s poem and you mention the triple virginity underscoring Jesus’ divinity, again I am struggling to understand.

    However, it is surely significant that we are told in Matthew 1:18-25 that after the angel’s message Joseph “had no marital relations with her (Mary) until she had borne a son: and he named him Jesus”, until being the telling word in this verse.

    But, leaving aside the “ever” question for now there are other significant factors in this story that I, for one, have only recently grasped. And, this in relation not to the virgin birth itself but to the actual divine virginal conception of Jesus which is, apparently, significant. There are other examples of miraculous pregnancies or divine conceptions mentioned in scripture but Mary’s divine virginal conception is unique.

    Scripture scholars like to talk about context or the contextual matrix in which scripture is written.

    This story of Jesus’ birth in the first century context is not just historical but also theological. It is, in fact, a clash of theologies, imperial Roman theology on the one hand and a theology grounded in the God of Israel as known in the Bible and Jesus on the other.

    When Jesus was born there was another divine redeemer around at that time, Octavian, who had brought peace to the world after one hundred years of unrest and twenty years of unending, brutal civil war when it seemed as if the Roman Empire was intent on destroying itself. In the last great battle of antiquity on September 2nd, 31 BCE in the Ionian Sea off Cape Actium in North Western Greece, Octavian defeated his foes and sent Mark Antony and Cleopatra off to their self inflicted fate at Alexandria. Octavian became the Divine Caesar, Caesar Augustus, hailed as Son of God, (Apollo), Lord Redeemer and Saviour of the World.

    Adolf Gustav Deissmann, Professor of New Testament theology at the University of Berlin, early in the last century wrote of the confrontational purpose of taking the title “Lord” from Caesar Augustus and giving it to Jesus and on the polemic parallelism involved in this clash of theologies. “Light from the Ancient East” 1910.

    Surely, a very dangerous business for Jesus and his followers and, probably, the reason Jesus was to die. The late, great Joseph Fitzmyer SJ, was surely aware of all this when he wrote that the teaching that Jesus had to die for our sins was part “of a later theological tradition”.

    So, what has this got to do with the virginal conception of Jesus.?

    While it was claimed that Octavian was divinely conceived, through the power of the Greek God Opollo and his mother Atia, it could not be claimed that Atia was still a virgin when her son was conceived. So, the divine, virginal conception of Jesus was much exalted above that of Caesar’s divine conception. Also, in Matthew’s attempted genealogy of Jesus from Abraham he mentions 42 generations but he can only report on 40. So, why would he even try?

    Scholars claim that this was a counter-genealogy, an attempt to propose a more impressive and longer genealogy, a more exalted genealogy, in fact, than that of Octavian, which began with his ancestors fleeing Troy on their way to Italy to begin the Julian line. This important context in reading the Gospels is relevant even in Jesus’ final week.

    On Palm Sunday as Jesus, riding on a donkey, is part of a peasant procession down the Mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem and cheered by his followers, there is another procession approaching the west of the city lead by Pontius Pilate in front of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers which proclaims the power of the Empire. I have now, through my own research, discovered that these two processions embody what is referred to as the central conflict of the week what would lead to Jesus’ death.

    I do wonder now why this was never explained to us. I have attended Palm Sunday Mass, I suppose, every Sunday certainly of my adult life, and listened to the accompanying homilies/sermons. Yet, never was this important context of Jesus’ procession entering Jerusalem ever explained. I think Professor Deissmann may have been the first scholar to bring all this to our notice. However, I am sure, since then, many others have researched and studied this.

    As well as Joseph Fitzmyer and other scripture scholars, I expect people like yourself, Joe and Eddie and, I am sure, Seán too, have all been aware of this. However, it has been a recent discovery for me. Why is that?

    Fr. Diarmuid Ó Murchú, in his excellent book Incarnation, explains that all the major faiths have a need to keep their followers, the faithful, infantalized.

    Is that what has happened here? We cannot be trusted with knowledge, with the truth.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    I just discovered in Sophia University Library Adolf Deissmann, Licht vom Osten, 4th ed. with 83 illustrations, 1923, 450 big pages. A recent book on him calls him ‘An (unjustly) almost forgotten theologian and philologist.’ The basic idea of a parallelism and rivalry between the cult of Christ and the cult of Caesar (notably in Luke 2 and in John 20:28) may circulate widely and has probably been touched on in many sermons. The two parades on Palm Sunday is new to me, and sounds speculative. Same re the purpose of the genealogies; I would actually be disappointed to think that they were a mere riposte to Augustus (who in any case had been succeeded by the miserable Tiberius at the time of Christ’s birth). I would be really disappointed if the point of Holy Week and the Paschal Mystery reduced to a clash of two Caesarships.

    ‘Fr. Diarmuid Ó Murchú, in his excellent book Incarnation, explains that all the major faiths have a need to keep their followers, the faithful, infantilized.’ Sorry, but this is cynical. Buddhism is a religion that stretches the mind and undercuts infantile delusion, and Judaism encourages mental cultivation in Talmudic sessions. The Protestant and Anglican churches have a high degree of scriptural sophistication, and we should be learning from them as we struggle to fill our scriptural deficit. Catholic institutions of higher learning encouraged the most daunting philosophical thought, and what most threatens that heritage is the falling numbers of Dominicans and Jesuits.

    On the virginal conception there is a striking line in Philo to the effect that Sarah conceived Isaac when she was alone with the angel.

  19. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Oops, of course Christ was born under Augustus, not Tiberius. Augustus has a privileged status in Christian lore as monarch of universal peace. Virgil’s fourth eclogue in his praise is embraced as a prophetic text.

  20. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne:The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Joe, I am genuinely surprised that all this isn’t old news to you.

    I am sure all scripture scholars are familiar with the context I have mentioned.

    I will reply more fully to you later but, for now, I think I need to quote accurately what Fr. Diarmuid Ó Murchú said in Incarnation.

    He never used the word “infantalized”. I was trying to remember what he said and, so, I was paraphrasing.

    What he actually said was this (P.24, Incarnation): “When God and Jesus are adorned with metaphysical, patriarchal qualities, inevitably Christian believers become ensnared in codependent relations wherein adulthood is compromised and undermined. All the major religions advocate childlike dependency, which all too often morphs into childish subservience.
    Codependency has several meanings, but for the present work, it denotes those collusive behaviours whereby a person ends up behaving like a passive child, thus undermining the evolution of adult maturity.”

    Perhaps, you might still think that is unfair but I do think there is evidence of it around.

    Thanks for your reply, Joe.


  21. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne:The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Joe, the imperial procession was well known in the Jewish homeland in the first century. It was standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the major Jewish festivals. This was a show of imperial power as they, including Pilate, processed up from Caesarea Maritima.

    But they were also there to deter trouble especially at Passover, a festival that celebrated the Jewish people’s liberation from an earlier empire. I would expect this would all stand proper historic scrutiny.

    Jesus’ attitude to Rome would surely have been influenced by his undoubted awareness of the genocidal atrocities committed by Rome in Galilee after the death of Herod and the Jewish uprising. (Our horror of Bloody Sunday in Croke Park or Bloody Sunday in Derry multiplied many times.) This would have occurred shortly before or shortly after he and his parents settled there after they had left Egypt.

    Just a few miles north of Nazareth, for example, Sepphoris, the main town of Galilee, was burnt to the ground. According to Josephus, thousands of youth were put to the sword and women and children imprisoned So, his counter procession on Palm Sunday may have had a very special significance for him.

    I read that much of the scholarship of the last 50 years has emphasized that we must understand Jesus within Judaism and not Jesus against Judaism. Jesus was a part of Judaism, not apart from Judaism.

    What would Oliver J have said !!

  22. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne:The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Paddy, Scripture scholars connect Jesus with the fraught political background, but it’s a very complicated topic. The gospels portray him as acting the role of a political messiah, Son of David, but also as denying that this is the primary purpose of his mission. Those who want the true historical facts about Jesus, such as Dominic Crossan, terrify us with their scepticism. Was Jesus ever in Egypt? Did the entry into Jerusalem really happen in the days before Passover or did Jesus spend a longer time debating with the locals? Did it happen at all or is it just a prophecy-fulfilment tale? Was there really a superscription on the cross, ‘the King of the Jews’ etc.? Raymond Brown refutes some of Crossan’s speculations, but he seems to remain enclosed within exegesis of the gospels as we have them and to avoid the complexities of political context and the possible politics of Jesus himself in historical fact. It would be nice to have a comprehensive, authoritative book on this tangle of questions, connecting the political background, the teaching and action of Jesus, the the pictures given by the four gospels, but my impression is that scholars who write in this direction ultimately offer only sketches that are open to debate.

    As to infantilism among believers, we see it illustrated all the time in the religious nuttiness of Trumpists and conspiracy theorists, etc. However, our religion does urge total dependence on grace, becoming as little children, abandonment to divine providence, and trust in an all-powerful paternal God (infinite, ineffable, incomprehensible, etc.) who created heaven and earth and sustains us in being. Dependence on him is supposed to release us from anxiety and empower us for creative good works. I disagree with talk of a process god, an evolving god, a god who is cosmic force still in search of his definition, a god who is the possible waiting for us to make him fully actual, etc. “When God and Jesus are adorned with metaphysical, patriarchal qualities, inevitably Christian believers become ensnared in codependent relations wherein adulthood is compromised and undermined.” How does he define ‘metaphysical’ and ‘patriarchal’ and who is doing the ‘adorning’? The scriptural authors? The church fathers? “All the major religions advocate childlike dependency, which all too often morphs into childish subservience”–but abusus non tollit usus. St Thérèse de Lisieux babbles like a naive infant, yet she speaks from eternity. Would she pass the proposed test of adult maturity? Is she convicted of “those collusive behaviours whereby a person ends up behaving like a passive child, thus undermining the evolution of adult maturity.” I would say she advanced at lightning speed to a super-maturity.

    I think Teilhard de Chardin persuasively synthesizes evolutional vision with classical theism (God as final telos of cosmic evolution, an utterly transcendent instance like the point of light shining at the end of Dante’s Paradiso or the utterly simple One of Plotinus, adopted by the church in its dogma of divine simplicity (Lateran IV, Vatican I)–with the result that his spirituality retains a Jesuit stamp. Tony Equale, whom I discussed here a while back, says that Teilhard should have dumped the transcendent God and embraced ‘materialist monism’ as the key to authentic and integrated spirituality.

    Before attempting to speak of God in a new way we need a critical review of all the revisionist proposals put forward in modern times since Schelling and Hegel (perhaps too generously embraced by Walter Kasper and Hans Küng), bringing out their fatal flaws; as well as a review of the more orthodox (though still innovative) discourses on God from such as Barth and Rahner, sounding the areas where they are stiff or abstract or barren. The huge popularity of negative theology in recent decades is an understandable reaction to rampant unbelief and mental confusion among believers. Maybe the last word–after all the useful and skilful words warmly conveying divine consolation–is: ‘Be still, and know that I am God'(Ps 46:10).

  23. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Séamus Ahearne:The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    Paddy, any further input from me would be mere floundering so as they say on ‘Dragons’ Den’, Sorry but I’m out…

  24. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of the Epiphany.

    It now seems like a long time since the Epiphany especially as the St. Bridget’s Crosses are being made this weekend at home in Ireland.

    Once again, Joe, I am grateful that you choose to share your breadth and depth of knowledge of these matters with us all.

    Some of the scholars you mention, Tony Equale and Schelling, I had never heard of.

    But I have heard of John Dominic Crossan and I have read some of his work. I first came across him in Diarmuid O’Murchu’s Incarnation where his writing is referred to on a number of occasions.

    My initial research found that he is an American scripture scholar and one of today’s leading experts on Jesus. Further investigation discovered that he is much more than that. He is, in fact, a Tipperary man, born in Nenagh two years before my mother- in- law was also born in Nenagh, but Agnes had never heard of him. Of course, he was a priest who left the priesthood and, I suppose, in those days men like John would have been conveniently deleted from history.

    I have to say, Joe, I don’t feel terrified nor do I regard what he writes as scepticism. I have read just two of his books both written jointly with the late Marcus Borg, The First Christmas and The Last Week. I do, however, feel grateful to have become aware of such great scholarship and to begin to learn to understand a different context to the gospel stories. A priest friend recently remarked to me that it can be “dangerous” to dig too deeply into the origins of our faith. But, surely, for those of us for whom faith has been so important all our lives it is natural that we should have a need to more fully understand the foundational tenets of that faith. And, if we find that those foundations are not as solid that we had always believed, then so be it.

    About fifteen, maybe even twenty years ago now, I bought Jesus A Portrait by Gerald O’Collins SJ, another big name. However, I could never finish the book, it just wasn’t for me. However, no chance of that with The First Christmas and The Last Week. Once you start them there is no putting them down.

    I really have to thank Fr. Tony Flannery for my new enlightenment or my bit of new enlightenment. In Tony’s essay, The Language of Doctrine, a few years ago — also entitled How much of Church Doctrine do we really believe? — he posed some basic questions such as do we still accept the traditional understanding of God as a male figure resident in the heavens somewhere in the skies, etc., etc. You know I hadn’t really thought much about it as I think I still had the traditional understanding of God that I had learned on my Granny’s knee and at national school. But when I did think about it for just a few seconds reading Tony’s essay I quickly decided that that traditional image was not really for me anymore. So I had to try and learn to understand what is the reality of the God that I believe in. And, so that took me to Diarmuid and then to John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg.

    Tony’s last ten years have certainly not been wasted. He is truly a modern day prophet in the true sense.

    And, Joe, you mentioned the need for a “comprehensive, authoritative book on this tangle of questions”. Now, while I am far from being well read in these matters I am really pleased that I feel I have made a decent start with the three books I have mentioned.

    And, as for the question, “Did it happen at all or is it just a prophecy-fulfilment tale?”, surely midrash is accepted as part of the reality of how the scriptures came into being.

    I have never read anywhere it being questioned if Jesus was ever in Egypt, for example. But of course, we know that Luke’s 5-point plan to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth does not stand up to historic scrutiny. Of course, Matthew did not need any plan to get them to Bethlehem as they were already there, at home, in fact, and not in a stable. Luke and Matthew cannot both be right and so, once again, I cannot understand how the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy held for so long.

    Eddie, I could never imagine you “floundering”. You mentioned early on in this discourse that you felt you were getting too old to worry about things like the virgin birth. I can understand that.
    I am just grateful that while my grey cells are still in pretty good nick I am starting to become a bit more educated on matters relating to my life long, and devoutly held, faith.

    At Mass this evening as I uttered the words “ever virgin, mother of God”, I realised I was still none the wiser as to how our Church can still ask us to believe that.

    Thank you both for such an intelligent, educated and enlightening conversation.

    Good night and God bless.


  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    Séamus Ahearne: The Challenge of Epiphany

    Paddy Crossan is a thoroughly Irish, charming, goodnatured fellow, whose literary brilliance was apparent in his first book, Cliffs of Fall. His books are well worth reading. But I do find rather terrifying the idea that Jesus disappeared in a mass grave and that the Resurrection is just a midrash, a vision of faith. I take my stand on I Cor 15. https://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/04/the_resurrectio.html

    Paintings of God as an old man sitting on a throne in the sky are an unfortunate legacy, but they are largely corrected already by the Catechism, at least as taught by the Presentation Sisters and the Christian Brothers, not to mention by Scripture (Jn 1:18, I Tim 1:17) and the Fathers.

    The imagery of God on a heavenly throne in such texts as Isaiah 6, Daniel, and the book of Revelation convey an overwhelming impression of divine transcendence and sublimity. Dante’s image of God as a distant point of light reflects the utter simplicity of the One of Plotinus, a thinker who taught Augustine how to think of God and who also deeply impacted Greek theology. Lateran IV and Vatican I stress this divine simplicity (which is also the cornerstone of Aquinas’s theology, Summa Theologica I, q.3).

    If someone wants to produce a revisionist idea of God, this is what they have to wrestle with, not facile caricatures of a doddering old gent on a tottering throne. FWJ Schelling (1775-1854), the most readable if not reliable of the four great thinkers of German Idealism (contemporaries of the four great Viennese composers, in the astonishing half-century around 1800), produced such a revisionist idea of God in his 1809 text on The Essence of Human Freedom. I don’t know of any attempt to make it compatible with Christian doctrine, but the later Schelling, who cosied up to Christian sources, continues to fascinate theologians such as Cardinal Walter Kasper. Paul Tillich also wrote a book on Schelling.

    ‘In Tony’s essay, The Language of Doctrine, a few years ago — also entitled How much of Church Doctrine do we really believe? — he posed some basic questions such as do we still accept the traditional understanding of God as a male figure resident in the heavens somewhere in the skies, etc., etc. You know I hadn’t really thought much about it as I think I still had the traditional understanding of God.’ I think it is important not to confuse pious lore with Christian Doctrine, which often blows that lore out of the water.

    There are hundreds of modern alternatives to Christian Doctrine, and informed atheists such as Ludwig Feuerbach are very good at making us feel the need to renew and revise traditional theism. But the best revisionists are those who try to remain within the constraints of Christian Doctrine, such as Barth, Tillich, Rahner, Kasper, JL Marion. E Jüngel, etc. Clutch too rigidly at classical doctrine or dump it for the lure of some image of God as a part of a cosmic process and you quickly find that God has evaporated.

    An essential corrective to the unreality of speculation is offered by Jewish thinkers (Buber, Rosenzweig, Heschel, et al.), who remain in close contact with the biblical experience of wrestling with God.

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