Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 17, 2006

Since Christmas Eve is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are only one week away from Christmas. Customarily, this week has been a week of intensified prayer and even works of penance to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Certain cultures maintain this tradition by abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve. Because the days fall as they do, our Mass schedule is also somewhat confusing for next weekend. Planning ahead will ensure that we are able to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent with its joyful anticipation – as well as to enjoy the celebration of the Birth of Christ on Christmas Day. The Sacred Liturgy prepares us for this Feast, but also allows us to encounter these Mysteries in a tangible way.

Continuing with our preparation for Christmas, but also in our exploration of Tertullian and his theology, we move into the “Montanist” or heretical period of his work. Not everything that Tertullian wrote during this time was in error, as we will see, but his separation from the Church casts suspicion on them. In order to refute another heretic, Marcion, he wrote “On the Flesh of Christ,” proving that Christ has a human body. Appropriately, we will explore this work today.

Christ, by sharing in human birth, demonstrates his care and concern for every aspect of human life: “Our birth He reforms from death by a second birth from heaven; our flesh He restored every harassing malady; when leprous, He cleanses it of the stain; when blind, He rekindles its light; when palsied, He renews its strength; when possessed with devils, He exorcises it; when dead, He reanimates, -- then shall we blush to own [our flesh]?” (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 4).

Recalling the dualism of Marcion’s heresy, we can understand why Marcion would be ashamed of God having human flesh, since there can be no interaction between spirit and matter. Nevertheless, Tertullian demonstrates the Catholic faith quite strongly, in insisting on the reality of Christ’s birth. “Which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? That He should bear the flesh, or the cross? Be circumcised, or be crucified? Be cradled, or be coffined? Be laid in a manger, or in a tomb?” (ch. 5).

If all these things were merely figments of the imagination, or only “phantoms,” we are reminded “all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom” (ibid.). Tertullian adds a rhetorical flourish to illustrate his point: “You ought rather to have brought Christ down, not from heaven, but from some troop of mountebanks, not as God besides man, but simply as a man, a magician; not as the High Priest of our salvation, but as the conjurer in a show; not as the raiser of the dead, but as the misleader of the living, -- except that, if He were a magician, He must have had a nativity!” (ibid.).

As a corollary of the truth of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, he sanctified humanity: “For in putting on our flesh, He made it His own; in making it His own, He made it sinless” (ch. 16). In all of these statements, Tertullian does not err or stray from the Catholic faith, and although his rhetoric may seem extreme in certain cases, his goal was to publicly defend the truth of the Incarnation.

Our Holy Land pilgrimage preparations are in full swing; please prayerfully consider joining us as we explore the places made holy by Jesus’ own footsteps. There are flyers in the gathering area. Have a blessed Third Week of Advent as we “rejoice in the Lord always,” and prepare our hearts and homes for His coming at Christmas. May God bless you!