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Fraudulent Scholarship, Whether Archaeological or Neo-Gnostic, Misleads Christians

The headlines jumped out at us. Newspapers across the United States highlighted the indictment of four professional archaeologists and collectors in the Holy Land for fraud. Another indictment followed. Major artifacts had been forged and sold, charged the Israeli government, with the goal of changing history and religious beliefs (especially Catholic and Jewish) and to make money. The Israeli government is prosecuting those who have faked archaeological findings.

Museums and collectors had been duped by “experts” in the field of archaeology over a period of twenty years. According to Israeli sources, these indictments are just the tip of the iceberg-the scope of the fraud is huge. The men indicted denied the charges, but the court provided a list of 124 witnesses against them.

Three of the most famous fraudulent artifacts were a purported ossuary or burial box of James, which had been touted to prove that Jesus had a brother, a stone tablet with forged written instructions supposedly by King Yoash on maintenance work at the ancient Jewish Temple, and an ivory pomegranate promoted by scholars as the only relic from Solomon’s Temple.

The publicity which had trumpeted the discovery of an ossuary of James in 2003, a burial box supposedly anciently labelled, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” included a press conference in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archeology Society. (See Archaeology; A Publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, September/October 2003). Press releases claimed that the discovery was authenticated as dating from the first century A.D. by an epigrapher from the Sorbonne in Paris.

In response to that press conference, every major television network, including NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, the History Channel, and CNN, and newspapers such as the New York Times, the Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostTime Magazine, and Newsweek, featured the story of the discovery of the “ossuary of James” as genuine archaeology, from the earliest biblical times.

Christianity Today presented a panel of “experts” to explore the question, “Does James’s bone box destroy Roman Catholic belief in the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity?” There were jokes on the Internet about what it might have been like to be a brother of Jesus.

It has turned out that the ossuary was genuine, a common burial box from the time, but the inscription was a recent fake. (Israeli Insider, January 9, 2005; see also The New York Times, and The Guardian, December 29, 2004.) When Israeli police raided the home of the collector who had first presented the ossuary, one Oded Golan, they found an array of materials used in forgeries and the “precious” ossuary sitting upstairs on a dirty toilet.

Israeli officials had suspected forgery activity for some time, but it was when the Yoash tablet was offered for sale to the Israel Museum for $4.5 million two years ago that the investigation began in earnest. The investigation was assisted by one man involved in the ring who drank in Israeli pubs and bragged about the exploits of the forgery ring.

Those who wrote articles or even a book about the tremendous impact of the find of the “ossuary of James” are now scrambling to defend their writings and their hope that the ossuary still may be genuine. Those who had staked their careers on its authenticity and claimed that it contradicted Catholic doctrine continue to defend its authenticity. The Discovery Channel is handling the discovery of its egregious error by placing a poll on its website for readers to vote to determine whether the ossuary inscription is real or fake.

One wonders if those who presented the television shows about the marvels of this fake will lose their jobs as Dan Rather did (at least as an anchor) after his shoddy political reporting was exposed, and whether there will be massive resignations at PBS.

Parallel Frauds or Fakes?

This scandal raises important questions about attempts to discredit the canonical Gospels, the living Word of God, and the central teachings of Christianity through what is called scholar-ship. Many quickly accepted the forged archaeology as more believable than the testimony of the saints and Fathers of the Church, living witnesses whose profound writings flowed from the life and theology of the Church of the first centuries.

It raises questions about inter-pretations related to other discoveries of “early” materials and attempts to date them earlier and earlier against the evidence, about the bending of research to fit one’s own project, or the manipulation of sources to prove one’s point. How many other frauds or fakes have been presented as true from a desire to change history, change religious beliefs, or from the desire for money, prestige or fame? In how many cases is religious scholarship being rewritten, not in the service of Christ and his Church, but to further one’s own agenda or political or economic future?

The Gnostic “Gospels”

The discovery in Egypt in 1947 of a collection of more than fifty buried documents which had been concealed since the fourth century had also given opportunity for banner headlines declaring that these were valuable texts suppressed by the Church. As soon as the doc-uments were found it was claimed that they probably presented a different, better view of early Christianity and would prove the falsity of many traditions. Those claims have continued over the years, even though the texts, which came to be called the Nag Hammadi documents, turned out to contain none of the Bible books in the canon of the Scriptures, but simply collections of fragmented sayings of Gnostics whose theology was not accepted by the early Church.

What Are These Strange, New Gospels?

Over the years since 1947, articles, books, and television shows have appeared about these Gnostic writings, contend-ing that the origins of Christianity were quite different from the standard accounts, and that there was a whole lost world in these documents. The publicity campaigns regarding these so-called revolutionary finds has made their claims notorious.

Our eighth-grade grandson mentioned to us the other day, “You know there is a Gospel of Mary. I have heard of that.” Over the past years young people who have come to work as live-in Catholic Workers at Casa Juan Diego have told us about their classes, including classes at Catholic colleges, featuring the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic writings. Sometimes these apocryphal writings are presented as equal to or even better than the four Gospels in the New Testament. These references are to the Gnostic writings in the Nag Hammadi collection, which includes fragments entitled “The Gospel of Mary” (referring to Mary Magdalene) and the “Gospel of Thomas.”

Gnosticism is defined in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy as “the teachings of a family of sects which flourished from the second to the fourth centuries, combining elements of Christianity with Platonism.” The Gnostics did not accept the Old Testament. Neither did they accept the passion and death of Jesus. They believed that Jesus death was illusory-something like a magic trick. (Media and academic resistance to the movie “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004 clearly had neo-Gnostic elements.)

Protestant scholar Phillip Jenkins (Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way, Oxford University Press, 2001) describes Gnostic mythology as quite different from Christianity: “Gnostics thoroughly rejected the Jewish tradition … Trapped in matter and subordinate to the powers of destiny, human beings were slaves to powerful cosmic forces, or archons-‘rulers’-a subjugation which could be overcome by liberating the inner spark of the divine within the individual believer. This was achieved by learning the mystical practices, spells, and words of power which would allow the initiate to ascend to the highest spiritual realms of light and truth. Gnosticism offered an elaborate mythological system with a hierarchy of many spiritual forces who together comprised the ‘fullness’ or pleroma, and Christ was one being among this great array …”

Jenkins points out that “these uncanonical texts were written at a time when the episcopal hierarchy was already well established, when the early house churches were a distant memory, and when the canonical Gospels were already widely known as the principal authorities for the life of Jesus.” It is not surprising, he points out, that the “Gospel of Mary,” for example, presents demeaning portraits of Peter and the Apostles (written long after their deaths) when the Gnostic goal at the time was undermining the Bishops.

In 1979 Elaine Pagels published a book entitled The Gnostic Gospels on the Nag Hammadi documents, which became immediately popular and continues to be read today in college classrooms. (Only four of the texts actually have the word “gospel” in the title.) Pagels, writing in a popular style, argued that in the disagreements in early Christianity, the wrong side won.

Pagels attributed the victory to what she hints is the evil political power of the Emperor Constantine and speaks of “Constantine’s creed.” She declares that religion should have no creeds! and claims that there was no unity of belief before Constantine. Pagels and many others, especially “religious” shows on PBS and other television channels, depict Constantine as the one who made everyone become Christian in Rome and make him look like a monster. Constantine, who was baptized only shortly before he died, did not force people to be Christian. New research has indicated that Constantine was the one who created religious freedom in Rome, where before everyone had had to practice the religion of the pagan gods. (For a look at the sources on Constantine we might suggest T. G. Elliott’s The Christianity of Constantine The Great, Univ. of Scranton Press, 1996.)

The Jesus Seminar

Jenkins tells us that “in the 1980s publicity about Nag Hammadi merged into renewed coverage of the quest for the historical Jesus, which from 1985 onward found expression in the Jesus Seminar.”

The Jesus Seminar, child of Robert Funk and Dominic Crossan, through a massive publicity campaign and manipulation of the press brought notoriety and even respectability to their twice a year meetings in which they “debated” the historical Jesus and voted on colored beads about which statements in the Gospels might be true words of Jesus. They sought to popularize their writings in the marketplace of buying and selling and succeeded in doing so.

Those who participate in the Jesus Seminar published their own translation of the Gospels and included the Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi documents, calling their book The Five Gospels. It was on the best seller list in Publishers’ Weekly for nine months. Other books from participants have been very popular as well.

Like the archeological frauds, the Jesus Seminar seems determined to change people’s beliefs through their “interpretation” of discoveries. Luke Timothy Johnson (The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, Harper San Francisco, 1996), called the marketing of their ideas “commerce in Christ,” and showed how Funk wanted to “liberate” Jesus from the Gospels.

The Jesus Seminar spokespeople reveled in presenting themselves as heretical foes of orthodoxy. Jenkins points out that Funk was especially good at sound bites: such as, “We should give Jesus a demotion…”

Any criticism of their publicity stunts and methods brought cries of persecution by the Jesus Seminar-and more and more publicity. This, despite the fact that they had declared war on Christianity and attacked the Church at every turn.

If They Are “Gospels, They Are Certainly “Johnny Come Lately”

Dating Gnostic sources and providing independent authority for their early existence is the weakest link in the claim for special authenticity for Gnostic gospels. Try as they may, scholars cannot scientifically date Gnostic material much before mid-second century and often later.

Jenkins points out that the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were completed by the year 100 or so. It is unlikely that any of the Nag Hammadi materials date from much before 150 and most were probably written between 150 and 250 or later. There is no way to know with certainty that they were written much before 350 when they were hidden.

While Karen King of the Jesus Seminar has attempted to place an early date on the “Gospel of Mary,” most other scholars have disagreed with these attempts. Dating of texts is a very subjective exercise. The scholars depend on such clues as the setting and a comparison of the ideas and language with other texts from the time of the writing. On these grounds most scholars would argue that the “Gospel of Mary” was written at the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. The motivation for attempts to date some of these publications earlier and earlier would seem to be to support modern aspirations and hopes and dreams, such as establishing Mary of Magdalene as an Apostle. Even Rosemary Ruether, however, dates the “Gospel of Mary” no earlier than the early third century.

It is hard to imagine why those who might have been especially receptive to documents which might discredit the historical Church or promote their own strongly held ideas which reflect contemporary concerns could embrace these spurious texts, especially the “Gospel of Thomas,” which includes the following quote:

“Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go out from among us, because women are not worthy of the Life. Jesus said: See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resemb-ing you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

One translator of the Nag Hammadi documents, Birger A. Pearson of UC Santa Barbara, has harshly criticized what he calls ideologically driven scholarship in his article “The Gospel According to the Jesus Seminar.”

“The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar is a non-Jewish Jesus. To put it metaphorically the Seminar has performed a forcible epispasm on the his-torical Jesus, a surgical procedure removing the marks of his circumcision.” Jesus is pre-sented by the Seminar as one who “consistently violated every provision of his religious tradition and taught others to do the same.” The Seminar rejected eschatology completely, and left Jesus as a “laconic sage.”

Pearson argues that the ideology driving the Jesus Seminar is one of secularization and describes its participants thus: “A group of secularized theologians and secular aca-demics went seeking a secular Jesus, and they found him! They think they found him, but, in fact, they created him. Jesus the ‘party animal,’ whose zany wit and caustic humor would enliven an otherwise dull cocktail party.” According to Pearson, “An obvious question that the Jesus Seminar has not entertained, but will presumably have to be faced, is this: Who would want to crucify a laconic sage, even one whose discourse is distinctive? And why?”

The neo-Gnostics have taken the Nag Hammadi texts and created a new religion, not unlike the Gnosticism of early times. A favorite technique of modern and postmodern neo-Gnostic writers is always to present their subject matter as forbidden. This is the best core marketing tool from Elaine Pagels down to the Jesus Seminar-the claim that the churches, especially the Catholic Church, have deceived the people and repressed this information. The same technique is a gold mine for professors who need to publish or perish. This approach has led to respectability via chairs of respected universities.

Why Was It Necessary to Invent a Sordid Tale of Repression?

Prominent Presbyterian Paul F. Rack asserts that the real story is quite different and describes what happened in the early years of Christianity: “Gnosticism did not die out simply due to any organized persecution by the orthodox. The Church’s power did not become so centralized and focused until centuries later, and in the East at least it did not generally have the kind of police power that today we might identify with the Spanish Inquisition. Heresy and diversity existed and even thrived in the Eastern Church. The Church was not the Gestapo Pagels and others would have us believe. It makes more sense to understand that these books simply did not make the cut and stand the test of time. They became irrelevant, dated, obsolete, and anachronistic. When they were collected for the library in Nag Hammadi, it was like someone who haunts old record stores for ‘one-hit wonders’ and other obscure singles of the 60s and 70s.

“Granted, it occasionally happens that something thrown out with the trash in one generation becomes relevant later, even much later. Pagels and others do make the case that the ideas expressed in the Gnostic writings resonate with our spiritual longings today.

“This may be true, but it is not necessary to invent a sordid tale of brutal repression in order to explain it. The fact that the story is presented in these terms betrays a primary agenda of many who write so glowingly about the Gnostics … Most of this is aimed at Roman Catholicism, but any form of the Church as an organized community is apparently ab-horrent to them. It is this very modern prejudice, more than historical accuracy, which informs the way they present the story of the Gnostics.”

One might suggest that the Gnostic writings were abandoned because they pale in the light of the Gospels and Letters of the New Testament, and that they died a natural death because of this shallow content, rather than the martyrdom of rejection by the Church claimed by modern Gnostic writers who have an academic ax to grind. As Rack puts it:

“One reason gnosticism faded was the inadequacy, indeed falsehood, of its vision. Few of those who are quick to romanticize gnosticism today want to be reminded that many forms of gnosticism were so ‘spiritual’ that they expressed a suspicion of and hatred for matter, and even creation itself was considered the evil product of an evil demigod. This is not exactly a foundation on which to build an ecological spirituality.

“Another reason for the failure of gnosticism is that gnostics made miserable martyrs. Gnostics would readily deny their faith in Christ when required to do so by the imperial government. If, as they believed, the body and matter were evil or illusory, why would they get so exercised about what they did in the body? In choosing to save their own skins the gnostics were weakening their own movement as well as alienating those among the orthodox who friends and family members did become martyrs” (from “Exhuming Gnosticism”).

New “Religious Studies”

Beginning with the “Enlightenment” of the 18th and 19th centuries, “historical” studies and the archaeology of religion tended to attempt to discredit church tradition and Scripture.

More recently, however, in addition to publicity campaigns about documents “suppressed” by the Church, the changed character of the academic profession and universities themselves in the last 50 years can explain much.

The development of depart-ments of religious studies in secular universities across the United States as opposed to the traditional study of theology only in seminaries and schools of religion has provided an explosion of thousands of scholars studying religion from a secular point of view-a study not necessarily connected in any way to faith or practice or to any understanding of tradition in one’s own life. These new scholars include a majority of non-theologians. Many of them see their work in the field of social science, even though they may teach in the department of religious studies. All must publish or perish, and new “discoveries” present quite tempting material on which to focus one’s research. Another development which has fed into the changes in the university in the study of religion has been the tremendous increase in lay staff in Catholic parishes. Those who have pursued a course in religious studies, presented from a secular point of view, have been hired in many Catholic parishes in ministry and the field of education, thus perpetuating secular myths about biblical studies within the parishes. Sometimes it seems as though parish classes are being taught by the Jesus Seminar.

Claiming oppression of early Gnostic materials by the church has often been the main attraction for college students choosing courses, rather than the profundity of offered studies: “Come and study the great truths suppressed by the church and Constantine!”

The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown’s popular book and now movie, The Da Vinci Code, is a new Gnostic gospel. It has slight roots in the fragmented Nag Hammadi Gnostic writings. On this slim ground Brown fabricates a parody through outrageous statements about the Church.

Brown is a genius in creating new ways of attacking Catholi-cism and denigrating Catholic teaching. The book is a romp through Catholic practice, mis-representing any teaching that comes in his path. His is a sophisticated witch hunt that one can only compare with the writings of Maria Monk, a fake ex-nun whose scurrilous writings influenced a generation of anti-Catholics. Although his story is fiction, Brown simply claims in interviews that his fiction is fact. The amazing thing is that readers of his book are taken in by his fiction and publish comments after reading his book that now they know about the Catholic Church and what really happened.

Brown misrepresents Catholic Church teachings on women, sexuality, family, and celibacy. Church teaching is inaccurately and unfairly portrayed as proceeding from a mysogynistic stance.

Brown claims that the Church suppressed gospels outside of the tradition as a matter of gaining power, portraying the claims of the divinity of Jesus by the early Church as a politically motivated fourth century invention. He further presents the hierarchy and the Church as not established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, but rather organs of political power created and exercised by men to satisfy greed and ambition.

Brown’s real shocker for readers is his contention that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married, had children, and founded a royal bloodline. Brown’s plot line is that the evil Catholic Church has been trying to keep this a secret for centuries.

Brown especially doesn’t like Catholic sex and anything con-nected with it, claiming that the Catholic Church believes sex is bad, especially if you give it up to follow Jesus. This, despite the fact that one of the seven sacraments is Holy Matrimony (Here is one couple that gives their vote in favor of Holy Matrimony.) Giving up all and following Jesus is another sacrament–Holy Orders. To Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, as in centuries of Church tradition, marriage is a good thing that some give up to give all to God in complete dedication. Celibacy is an embrace of love for God rather than a negation, a witness that there is more to come.

Opus Dei

Page one of the popular novel by Brown opens his on attack Opus Dei as a Catholic sect that has been the “topic of recent controversy due to reports of brainwashing, coer-cion, and a practice known as ‘corporal mortification.'” Brown adds that Opus Dei has completed a $45 million building on Lexington Avenue in New York-as if Catholic groups are not allowed to build buildings, and if they do, one has to challenge their “subversive” motivation. While building expensive buildings is not our style or the style of the Catholic Worker, it still seems odd that any secular group can build very expensive buildings without attacks on all sides. Even the Catholic Daughters of America have a large building in New York.

Brown then goes on to use his tremendous writing skills, at-tempting to brainwash the reader into accepting his rather strange image not only of Catholicism, but especially of Opus Dei.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council Opus Dei was con-sidered an avant garde group that focused on spirituality for lay people-not just priests and nuns-living out the spiritual life and the pursuit of holiness in the world. This was relatively new, emphasizing the call to holiness for lay people who worked in a very secular environment. There was this distinction-or so it appeared-that holiness was for priests and Sisters much more than for lay people. Opus Dei changed that perception before the Council, as did Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the Catholic Worker movement and the Lacouture/Hugo retreat movement.

The basis for one of Brown’s harsh criticisms of Opus Dei is what he calls coercion. For lay people and those interested in pursuing Opus Dei spirituality, it made sense that they seek out Opus Dei members for guidance and spiritual direction, rather than another religious com-munity. Maybe Opus Dei insists on this, which makes sense, and may be what Brown calls coercion. There were also rumors that Opus Dei ran Spanish banks.

Making a novel out of corporal punishment and misrepresenting the truth may be the best way to sell novels, but it is unhistoric. In pre-Vatican II days what Brown calls corporal punishment (what Catholics call penance) was common practice, from keeping a strict communion fast, to not eating meat on Friday, to kneeling instead of sitting to pray, to using a corded rope to swat oneself on the back to suffer with Jesus as he suffered scourging at the pillar. The latter practice was limited to contemplative sisters and priests and on occasion for lay people. There was also the practice of wearing an uncomfortable chain around one’s waist or wearing a hair shirt, again to identify with the sufferings of Jesus, to identify with the Passion of Christ, offering one’s own suffering with his.

In the experience of the authors, these practices were never adopted except under the guidance of a spiritual director-who generally discouraged them. The biggest danger wasn’t injury through the discipline, but the danger of pride-thinking one was special or a saint because they used the discipline.

Common parlance that those seeking a spiritual life must have a spiritual director quoted Saint Teresa of Avila who insisted that anyone taking the spiritual life seriously have a spiritual director, otherwise one might be directed by the devil. Spiritual direction was often connected to going to confession, which en-couraged honesty. Having a mature and wise spiritual direc-tor was considered a sine qua non of the spiritual life and the safeguard against inappropriate practices. The Da Vinci Code creates out of whole cloth a story of abuse from what was an acceptable practice in Catholicism for centuries

Today, spiritual directors have been for the most part replaced by counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, all of which are very expensive and may not be as effective or free of brainwashing.

Things are Changing at Opus Dei

Recently, we (the editors) spoke on Catholic Worker spirituality and life at a con-ference at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. We noticed that Dr. Paul Sigmund, a professor from Princeton University, was speaking there on Gustavo Gutierrez and Liberation Theolo

Much to our surprise, Sigmund gave positive emphasis to what is happening to Opus Dei in South America, specifically Chile, where he says that members of Opus Dei have been leaving their rich enclaves and going to the countryside and the poorest areas to work with and organize the poor.

We thought this was rather strange and not in accord with the image of Opus Dei, so we spoke with him afterwards. He confirmed the same stance and stated this phenomenon was occurring also in Guatemala.

While we may not agree with the Opus Dei approach, we were impressed with the gesture of turning toward the poor.

Later, we shared this with an Opus Dei priest who talks like Dorothy Day, and he confirmed the same, adding the reason for the change. Since Opus Dei is a prelature, they have their own Bishop in Rome. Thus the Pope has easy access to the Opus Dei leadership and apparently, the Pope got to him in regards to Opus Dei working with the poor.

Frauds and Fragmentations

One wonders about all the time, energy and publicity taken up with publishing related to the Nag Hammadi documents. A cursory glance at them reveals that they are disjointed, fragmented sayings-one-liners with no narrative or unity.

Modern Gnostics search endlessly for an alternative to a Christianity founded solidly in early writings and resources and the witness of the early Church. They are grasping at straws, attempting to remake Christianity to their own image and likeness, or a Christianity they can accept-mere side shows to the real article.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin developed through the Catholic Worker movement a way of studying and utilizing the ancient resources, but at the same time relating them to contemporary challenges. They avoided what was clearly on the fringe of early Christianity to choose what was at its heart.

Peter Maurin, along with other great thinkers like Nicholas Berdyaev, believed that fragmentation in scholarship was a great problem. Peter knew that fragmentation limited human freedom and personal responsi-bility, in its early forms and today. He believed that an authentic Christian humanism was only possible when philo-sophy, education, politics and economics were not fragmented, not severed from their roots in the spiritual, and therefore from ethics and practical virtues. According to Dorothy, Jesuit Daniel Lord told this story about Peter Maurin: Peter me of his encounter with a priest on a Catholic campus, “who was a great scholar and a man of power in the world of learning.” He how he had grasped the arm of the priest, shaken his finger under his nose and demanded, “What are you doing for the Catholic social revolution?” Peter asked Fr. Lord, “Do you know what he answered me?” He said, “That is not my field.” This was inconceivable to Peter.

This Is Our Faith

The life and work of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day was greatly influenced and inspired by the New Testament, the Fathers of the Church, the Prophets of Israel, and the lives of the Saints.

At every turn Dorothy quoted from these inspired people to underpin what she was doing-the fourteen Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. She never missed an opportunity to talk about the Saints and early Church writers and relate them to the daily crises that the Catholic Workers endured and the tragic situations in the world, those related to economics and violence and war. This was her bread and butter.

Once she had become a Catholic, Dorothy’s vade mecum, was the daily Missal, where she not only found the Scripture readings for each day’s Mass, but stories of the lives of the Saints and readings from their writings. Although Dorothy was not a patristics scholar, she and other Catholic Workers combed the writings of the early Church to better be able to respond to the daily challenges that they encoun-tered, the many problems among guests who had suffered so much, as well as problems in community. They helped her survive life in what Catholic Worker Stanley Vishnewski said sometimes might be called “houses of hostility” instead of Houses of Hospitality.

Peter Maurin was always speaking of the teachings and reflections of the Fathers of the Church and the Prophets of Israel. They were the foundation of the Worker movement, along with the New Testament, the Saints, and contemporary philosophy of personalism, already reflected in the lives of the Saints. Dorothy said that when Peter spoke of the Fathers of the Church and the Prophets of Israel, what he talked was getting down to the roots, the heart of the faith, “about how money lending at interest was originally forbidden by them, about the year of Jubilee when all debts were remitted, and there was a general release and discharge from debts and bondage and a reinstating of every man in his former possessions.” He and Dorothy frequently told how theologian-saints from the early Church said every house should have a Christ’s room to take in a person in need. They reminded us through these inspired writers that greed was not accepted by God and that violence, especially against the poor, was not God’s way. Rather, the Lord’s way was and is the Works of Mercy and love for all, including enemies.

Two of the earliest Apostolic Fathers whom Dorothy quoted were Pope St. Clement of Rome and Bishop Ignatius of Antioch. Both of these representatives of the early Church from the first century were most concerned about unity in the Body of Christ in the midst of dissension.

When wars were tearing people and nations apart, on several occasions Dorothy brought in the words of St. Clement, sometimes as head-lines in The Catholic Worker: “Why do the Members of Christ tear one another? Why do we rise up against our own body in such madness? Have we forgotten that we are all members one of another?”

Many have been perplexed at Dorothy’s comment that if the Cardinal Archbishop of New York asked her to stop publishing The Catholic Worker or to shut down the Worker, she would comply. She was referring to Ignatius of Antioch, from the first century, who above all things asked Christians to be in unity with their bishops, their priests, their deacons. She quoted him in the February 1978 issue of the paper: “Reading St. Ignatius of Antioch on submission to bishops prompted a breakfast discussion on obedience. One of us said she would move to another diocese (if told to close the Worker). I said I would obey, thinking of ‘man’s first disobedience.’ The Lord would straighten things out, I am sure.” Dorothy may have been reading his Epistle to the Smyrnaens, where he encouraged Christians to abjure all factions.

Dorothy had spent years trying to find faith and meaning (or as she put it, God had been pursuing her down the days and down the nights, as in the famous poem, which Eugene O’Neill recited to her in Greenwich Village before her conversion) and found it in the Catholic Church. There she found not only her faith in the Triune God incarnated in history in Jesus of Nazareth and the community of believers gathered together in the Mass, the Eucharist, but also discovered the Works of Mercy and the social teaching of the Church. She, like Ignatius of Antioch wanted unity with the Church she now loved and wasn’t about to give it up.

The words of Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch, should give pause to those who contend that there was no agreement on belief, no creed, before Con-stantine and the Council of Nicea. Ignatius died in 107:

“Glory be to Jesus Christ, the Divine One who has gifted you with such wisdom. I have seen how immovably settled in faith you are; nailed body and soul, as it were to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and rooted and grounded in love by His blood. You hold the firmest convictions about our Lord; believing Him to be truly of David’s line in His manhood, yet Son of God by the Divine will and power; truly born of a Virgin; baptized by John for His fulfilling of all righteousness, and in the days of Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch truly pierced by nails in His human flesh (a fruit imparting life to us from His most blessed Passion), so that by His resurrection He might set up a beacon for all time to call together His saints and believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.”

Ignatius takes on the Gnostics of his time who thought Jesus’ passion and death was illusory:

“All this He submitted to for our sakes, that salvation might be ours. And suffer He did, verily and indeed; just as He did verily and indeed raise Himself again. His Passion was no unreal illusion, as some sceptics aver who are all unreality themselves … For my own part, I know and believe that He was in actual human flesh, even after His resurrection….” (Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin)

Dorothy Day did not always give the impression that she was ecumenical. The fact that all of her former friends, including socialists, anarchists, and some communists, were dismayed that she embraced Catholicism did not deter from going straight ahead, giving her ringing declaration of faith as strong as that of Ignatius. In From Union Square to Rome, the story of her conversion, she made it clear that she was not only saying “I believe,” but “I believe in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”:

“Now the creed to which I subscribe is like a battle cry, engraved on my heart–the Credo of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Before, in those former times, I could say: ‘I shall sleep in the dust: and if thou seek me in the morning, I shall not be.’ (Job 7:21) Now I can say: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth and the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I myself shall see and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom’ (Job 19:25-27).” In the meantime she would work at building up the civilization of Love, the Kingdom of God, making life here on earth a little more like heaven for the many who suffered, quoting the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

As part of Dorothy and Peter’s going to the roots, back to the sources, they loved the Desert Fathers and monasticism. When the period of terrible martyrdoms in Rome, (to which Ignatius of Antioch joyfully gave his life) was over, white martyrdom began, with the early Desert Fathers and monks.

An important aspect of Dorothy and Peter’s interest in the Desert Fathers was that of their flight to the wilderness from the cities to escape military service, which they believed was incompatible with their faith. Dorothy recounted in the February 1944 CW how Peter had told her about St. Bernard and how later “he took a dozen warriors away from the siege of a city and built up a foundation in the wilderness.”

In the February 1943 issue of The Catholic Worker, Dorothy emphasized how much she had learned from the Desert Fathers about “personalism and com-munitarianism,” telling how “thousands of monasteries began then for people to live together as well as to seek solitary places.” She noted that these monks who practiced penance, such as fasting and prayed always, also practiced hospitality.

Another favorite of Dorothy was Ephraem the Syrian (c. 306-373); She quoted from The Desert Father about him: “He was a quiet scholar, and without fail a man of hospitality to all who came to him. In the crisis of famine which visited his countryside, Ephraem ‘turned man of affairs, building a rough-and-ready hospital of three hundred beds, nursing and feeding those who had any spark of life in them, burying the dead.'” The writings and lives of these saints and martyrs give a vision that can inspire all of us, never captured by the Gnostics.

What About Church Reform?

Dorothy Day did not bury her head in the sand in regards to the human side of the Church. She spoke her piece about clergy living in fancy rectories or about how religious accept property from wealthy industrialists who may have gained their wealth off the backs of the poor.

But Dorothy could not buy into the new “Lutheranism,” which sees the Church hierarchy as intrinsically corrupt, much as Luther saw human nature, and she did not buy into today’s super critics-“nothing good can come out of Rome.” There was never any doubt that she would rather live with the Church as it is rather than live without it. For her, the answer was Holy Mother the Church rather than Holy Mother the State. Dorothy and Peter had hope for the Church and felt a responsibility to bring her best teachings to the fore. They constantly tried to get into the public view the great documents of the Church of the last hundred years as well as those of the earliest years. One of the favorite Church documents of both Peter and Dorothy was Pius XI’s encyclical on St. Francis of Assisi, the great Church reformer. Rite expiatis, or St. Francis, Herald of the Great King. They developed a model of reform of the Church based on that of Francis and other saints. The Church was corrupt at the time of Francis and he responded-by first reforming himself and deepening his prayer life more and more in the Gospel. He chose to reform the Church through his intensification of living the faith, instead of the Hiroshima approach so popular today. In fact, his intensification was so strong that the Brothers had to tell him to cool it: “Put yourself out, Brother Francis, or you will burn yourself up!” The Catholic Worker model for reform is this intensification of the living of the Gospel.

In their response to Church and world in their times, Francis and the Catholic Workers chose not to be secular or to be power seekers; They were not right-wing religious nuts, or left-wing religious nuts.

A big deficit of today’s reformers is the neglect of basing their reform in the Gospel itself, for example, on the Sermon on the Mount, and Matthew 25. Key Bible passages like these, what Peter Maurin’s father called the “shock maxims” of the Gospel, have kept the Catholic Worker close to the Gospel and helped the Workers creatively live out their faith. The Workers did not take them out of context, however, believing in the whole Bible as a narrative of faith.

As Robert Louis Wilken, renowned patristic scholar, puts it in his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (Yale University Press, 2003):

Although I deal with ideas and arguments, I am convinced that the study of early Christian thought has been too preoccupied with ideas. The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the heart and minds of men and women and to change their lives.” Wilken gives a practical example of how each Christian is called to take into his or her own heart a love of and identification with Christ:

“All Christian witness is in the first person, a truth I learned in training lectors to read the lessons in the liturgy. When I began to work with lectors I thought the most important thing was to read slowly and loudly. But then I began to realize that pace and volume were insufficient. Often the readers did not understand what they were reading. This led me to spend time with them studying the meaning of the passages to be read. But then I sensed that understanding was not enough. The readers had to learn to speak not in the voice of Paul or Isaiah but in their own voice-using, of course, the words of Paul or Isaiah. The text must pass through the life of the lector so that it becomes a living word in the present, not a recitation of what someone said long ago. Only then can the lesson be heard by the congregation as the Word of God.”

Popular writing today even among Catholics features titles such as Called to Question. There is so much writing about questioning the Church instead of responding to the Gospel. It often appears that saying the Church is all screwed up is an excuse for not giving up all and following Jesus. We have made a religion out of resisting the Church instead of following the Gospel. We have questioned the Church enough. We need to question our motives, our lifestyle, materialism and the wars in which we participate. There is enough hot air from extremes in the Catholic Church to surround the world with balloons. It is time for answers, for a radical response with our lives.

Is It the Real Gospel That They Fear?

In reflecting on efforts like that of the Jesus Seminar to discredit Jesus the Christ in favor of a simple sage from history, Luke Timothy Johnson asks, “Is what is claimed to be a pursuit of the historical Jesus not in truth a kind of flight from the image of Jesus and of discipleship inexorably ingrained in these texts? For our present age, in which the ‘wisdom of the world’ is expressed in individualism, narcissism, preoccupation with private rights, and competition, the ‘wisdom of the cross” is the most profoundly countercultural message of all. Instead of an effort to rectify the distorting effect of the Gospel narratives, the effort to reconstruct Jesus according to some other pattern appears increasingly as an attempt to flee the scandal of the Gospel.”

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXV, No. 2, March-April 2005.