Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—27 September AD 2020
Ave Maria!


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    About 450 years before Christ, the Greek philosopher, Protagoras made the rather famous statement that “man is the measure of all things.”[1]   His statement was a bit surprising, for most of the earlier Greeks were awed by the insignificance of men and mankind when compared to the enormity of the universe which even they were able to see with the naked eye.  Man had generally been thought of as nothing more than one component among the infinitely many, that had somehow been brought into being by the mysterious Force that brought order out of the primordial chaos of creation.  Man was nothing when compared with the Logos—the intelligence that ordered the universe—literally, the Word that brought cosmos [and chronos] out of chaos.

    Christianity has always sided with the view of these earlier philosophers.  “In the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God ... and all things were made through Him.”[2]   Man, of course, is important, but he is only God's “image and likeness,” made to “show forth God's glory in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.”[3]   In Christianity, things are properly defined in terms of God rather than in terms of man.

    But the idea of putting man at the center of the universe offers a certain temptation to all of us who share humanity.  There is something flattering—perhaps even comforting—to think that the universe was made for us alone, and that we are the measure of all things that are and are not.  So it is not surprising that this notion of the Greek Protagoras appears now and again in human philosophy.  Indeed, it is one of the central mistakes of modern philosophy, beginning perhaps with the “Enlightenment” before the French Revolution, entering into Protestantism in the 18th and 19th centuries, and heavily influencing even those who call themselves “Catholics” during the 20th and 21st centuries.

    This erroneous modern philosophy and religion, in defining all things in terms of mankind, seeks to deny the reality of the supernatural.  The Modernist God—“if there is a God” —is a Creator who is isolated from His creatures—the “clockmaker” who built the universe, wound it up, and then walked away to watch from a distance.  Prayer and spirituality are reduced to psychology, because to the Modernist, his own thoughts are the most rarefied and spiritual things he can imagine.  There is nothing higher, the Modernist says, for “man is the measure of all things.”

    Our Lord Jesus Christ presents a special problem for the Modernist:  for, if there is no supernatural, and if man's thoughts are the only spirituality, and if the Creator has walked away from His creation—then there is no possibility that the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”   To the Modernist, our Lord can never be more than a great man, a philosopher who showed us a way by which we might live in this purely natural world of ours.  And, of course, when the Modernist reduces Jesus Christ to the level of mere man, he makes Him just one among many.  If Jesus was just a great teacher, well, so was the Buddha, and so was Confucius, and so were dozens of other men who speculated as to how man might best conduct himself in a world that was defined by the minds of men.

    Now, the Scribes and the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders about whom we read in today's Gospel, believed in a God who had given His Law to Moses, and who was to be worshipped with the sacrifices of animals in the Temple—but even they tended to think of God as someone who was far away and unapproachable, “insulated,” so to speak, from His people.   They had taken up where the Sadducees were unsuccessful, trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him into trouble with either the civil authorities or with the authorities of the Temple:  “Was it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?”  What were His views concerning the resurrection of the body?  “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”[4]

    Our Lord's answer rings out as an answer for all times;  not just to the Scribes and Pharisees, but as well to Protagoras the Greek, and to the Modernists in our own times:  Man is important, but he is not the measure of all things.  One must “render to God what is God's” and must love Him with one's “whole heart, soul, and mind.”  Only from this love of God do we have love of man—it is God who is the measure of all things.

    And, if that wasn't enough for the Pharisees and the Modernists, His next statement says even more.  He quotes Psalm 109, written by King David:  “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”  Every Jew knew that the coming Messiah, the Christ, was to be a descendant of King David.  He would be a King, and, as the Psalm continues, a “priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.”  But if David spoke of Him as “my Lord,” and spoke of Him in the past tense, of His “birth before the daystar”—then this Messiah had to be one who came, in time, both before and after David, and begotten of God Himself.  How much more intimate could the relationship between heaven and earth have been than for God to send His begotten Son to redeem His people?  How little was this like the watchmaker who wound the clock and walked away!

    “Neither did anyone dare from that day forth to ask Him any more questions.”  Nothing is more powerful than the truth to confound those in error.  If they had previously misunderstood our Lord's references to “the Father” and to Himself as “the Son of the Father,” there now could be no doubt.  To the Pharisee, to the Scribe, to the Modernist, indeed, to all men of all times, Jesus Christ—who had healed the sick, and raised the dead, calmed the seas and walked upon the waters—and proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God.


[1]   Frederick Copleston, S.J.,  A History of Philosophy (Garden City: Image 1962), vol. I, part 1, p. 108

[3]   Genesis i: 26 Catechism #2, Q.3.

[4]   Gospel:  Matthew xxii: 34-46


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