How “Lucifer” became a name for the prince of darkness

One of my students needed to know how “Lucifer” became a name for Satan.  I thought there would be an easy dictionary entry somewhere, but neither she nor I could find one source that tracks the evolution of the name, so I spent a few minutes this morning pulling the facts together from various places.  It was an enjoyable time—I haven’t had many opportunities over the past decade to indulge in my specialization.

It all starts with the idolatry of the Babylonians.  They worshipped the morning star (Venus in her rising before the sun) under the name of Istar.  So when the prophet Isaiah speaks the rise and fall of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14), he refers to him metaphorically as haylayl, ben mishawmayim, literally, “shining one, son of the morning,” that is, the morning star (Isaiah 14:12).  The Septuagint translated haylayl as heosphoros, “morning bearer,” another name for the morning star, which in Greek is also called phosophoros, “light-bearer.”  The Vulgate translated the word as Lucifer, which is a Latinization of phosophoros and also names the morning star as “light bearer”.  When the Bible began to be translated into English, this word was simply carried over, so that until 1611 English Bibles also rendered the term as “Lucifer” (so says the OED).

Early Jewish traditions, which seem to pre-dating Christ, understood Isaiah 14 as speaking about the rise and fall of Satan.  We can see this interpretation reflected for example in the Apocalypse of Elijah 4:11 and in Life of Adam and Eve 12:1 and 15:3, and many other places.  While the term “Lucifer” or heosphoros occurs in the New Testament only in a positive sense (2Peter 1:19), the Jewish traditions regarding angels and demons are clearly reflected, and the general Jewish interpretation of the meaning of Babylon in Isaiah 14 comes out in Revelation (see especially 18:12, but it’s present throughout).  In the early centuries of the Church, the name “Lucifer” was not yet exclusively associated with evil, so that we even have a “Saint Lucifer” from the 3rd Century who died for the Nicene faith (celebrated in the Church’s calendar on May 20).  But Jerome passes on the traditional interpretation of Isaiah 14:12, and Augustine takes “Lucifer” as a proper name for Satan in his description of how one who was enlightened became dark.  So at least by the 4th and 5th Centuries “Lucifer” had become one of the Adversary’s proper names.

And there we have it!  There is more to the story, for sure, but that’s what came to hand from my personal library.

Share Button

St. Thomas Aquinas on a bizarre marital situation

Amidst the Amoris Laetitia debates, one thing I have wondered about is how people find themselves in the difficult situations everyone is discussing.  How does it happen that someone (a) enters a second civil marriage and (b) is obliged to keep up sexual relations and (c) requires the Eucharist to keep going?  I don’t have the pastoral experience to rattle off examples.

But while editing a translation of St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, I came across one such case—not likely in this day and age, but a possible scenario nonetheless.  St. Thomas holds the position that exterior words expressing consent do not result in marriage if interior consent is lacking, but he raises this objection to his own view (Scriptum IV.27.1.2, quaes. 4):

Obj. 3: If someone is proved to have consented to someone else through words about the present, he is forced to have her as his wife, under pain of excommunication, even if he says that mental consent was lacking; even if he has afterward consented to another with words expressive of his mental consent. But this would not be the case, if mental consent were required for marriage. Therefore, it is not required.

Let’s pause and absorb this amazing scenario.  Billy Bob went through a wedding ceremony in which he did not intend to get married but managed to fool everyone there.  Despite all apperances, Billy Bob’s conscience requires him to admit that he did not marry that woman.  Later, Billy Bob went through a second wedding ceremony in which he did sincerely intend to get married, and his conscience requires him to admit that he is married to that woman.  But in the eyes of the law and of the Church, which can only go by what is perceptible from the outside, Billy Bob is married to the first woman and not to the second, and (at least under medieval law) he could be subject to severe penalties if he refused to live as a married man with that first wife—including physical intimacy.  He has not just a shadowy, self-judged duty to keep up his marital status with her, but an objective, legal, and ecclesially enforced obligation!

Now, surely Billy Bob is under unimaginable pressures.  The direction of today’s debates would suggest that he can arrange with his priest to receive communion while continuing in what his conscience tells him is an adulterous union:  this is the best that he can offer God in the circumstance.  But St. Thomas has a different pastoral suggestion:

Billy Bob could flee the country.  Or, if that’s too harsh, he could just submit to excommunication from the Church:

Reply Obj. 3: In such a case the Church compels him to stay with his first wife, since it judges based on what appears externally. Nor is it deceived in justice, although it may be deceived in fact. But that man should undergo excommunication rather than be intimate with his first wife, or he should flee to some other distant region.

Zowie.  I’m not sure how long the Angelic Doctor would last in today’s climate.

Share Button

Mysteries of the Holy Family

Immanuel Kant’s essay, What Is Enlightenment, explains for the modern world what “enlightenment” means.  To be enlightened, he says, is to become entirely independent in thought.  Children grow up depending on others for everything, of course, and even for their thoughts and opinions, but to be enlightened means that one throws aside childish dependence and thinks entirely for oneself. Something about the claim rings true, especially for our ruggedly individual age.

Yet without saying so explicitly, Kant’s position casts the family as a necessary evil.  We have to grow up in families, but they train us to live below our dignity by thinking like slaves.  To reach human perfection is to shake off the effects of family life.

Yesterday’s feast and today’s solemnity remind us that the family is a path to enlightenment; that childhood as such is a path to humanity and even beyond; that the bonds between parent and child are bonds indeed, but not fetters.

Along these lines, let me toss out three mysteries relating to the Holy Family:

  1. A parent can stand in for the child’s own will.

This is just a natural reality, but isn’t this a remarkable thing?  When my son had a life-threatening medical condition, I had to decide—on his behalf—what would be done to his body, what course would determine all.  Before my children were ever aware of their surroundings, I chose where they would live, and consequently what nation and what state would claim their citizenship, and as a result what laws they would be under.  Extending this natural reality, I even committed my children to God through baptism, and by so doing I brought on them all the obligations of a Christian.  It is an astonishing and wonderful thing that one human person can be so entrusted to another.

  1. The child Jesus had both a divine and a human will.

When I teach about the mystery of the Incarnation, students are typically ready with the formula they learned in their catechisms:  Jesus is one divine person in two natures, one divine and one human.  But they are typically shocked by the obvious implication that Jesus has a divine will and a human will, two roots of love, two ultimate centers of desire.  Of course, even Jesus’ human will is the human will of a divine person:  the life of the Word of God extends into time and space through the Incarnation, such that anyone who has seen the man Jesus has seen the Father.  Consequently, the love of the Word of God is replayed in the love of the man Jesus:  this man loving the Father is God’s own Son loving him through a human nature!  A human nature has been caught up into and, so to speak, included in the inner life of the Trinity.

  1. The previous two mysteries together make a third.

Joseph acted as foster father and Mary as the natural mother of the child Jesus.  When they circumcised him—an event commemorated as part of today’s feast, according to the current Martyrology—they chose God on behalf of the Word of God.  When they committed Jesus to the faith of Israel, they turned toward the Father on behalf of his own Son.  They were caught up into the mystery of the Incarnation, and for the brief period of his infancy they stood in for the theandric will of the God-man.  Now that just makes this parent break out in goose bumps.

God be praised for the family!  God be praised for the mystery of the Incarnation!  God be praised, I say, for the mystery of the Holy Family.

Share Button

Non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium

This is just a quick note to let my subscribers know I published this article over at the Catholic World Report:

Sometimes “religious obsequium” is translated “religious assent,” at other times “religious submission,” and at other times “religious respect”. What exactly are we being asked to do?

(Nils @nilshuber/Unsplash.com)
Share Button

Experiencing Sacred Time

The Solemnity of All Saints stands out for me as—well, solemn.  By celebrating the communion of saints as such, the day seems to offer thanksgiving for the fact that we celebrate the saints, for the very existence of the sanctoral cycle.  So every November 1st, I find myself reflecting on the fact of sacred days and times.

Charles Taylor argues that a loss of the sense of sacred time was key in the transition to modernity.  Medieval man experienced times as defined by content and as ordered not only by chronology alone, so that “Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997.”  But modern man experiences time as homogeneous and empty, ordered simply by one time’s replacing another in sequence.  Modern man can believe in eternity, says Taylor, but he can’t experience eternity’s penetration into time in a naïve, unreflective way.

Taylor is surely right that this was one strand in the transition to secularity.  But how absolute a doom is modernity?  Can a man today experience sacred time in an immediate way, or will it always be mediated to him through some kind of abstract consideration?  Or will it—even worse—always be constituted by a wistful recollection of a bygone era when Christians really experienced the seasons, like those nostalgic Christmas cards depicting horses and sleighs and Victorian houses?

In this post, I want to describe my own experience of sacred time.  I don’t know whether it would count for Taylor as “immediate” or “naïve,” but there is something immediate and unreflective about it to me.  The experience is complex, because time is complex. Continue reading “Experiencing Sacred Time”

Share Button

Three notes on the death penalty

Over the past year, I have made slow progress toward deepening my grasp of moral philosophy.  As a philosopher, I am still not ready to join all the discussions that swirl around the Internet.

But when people began to wrangle about Pope Francis’s comments on the death penalty, I noticed a few points that I could contribute as a theologian.  Here are some key lines from the Holy Father’s remarks:

It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity.  It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which—ultimately—only God is the true judge and guarantor.

This is a strong argument, to be sure.  I hope to do some justice to the strength of the argument below.  But as a Catholic biblical scholar, I see three points that might deserve consideration: Continue reading “Three notes on the death penalty”

Share Button

To love the Lord with all your mind

As a college teacher, I often have to reflect on what a college education really aims at.  What should we be doing?

Jesus was asked a similar question once: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” The question was very broad, of course:  it meant something like, “What should we be doing with the whole of our lives?”  But the answer he gave, because it applies to every part of life, applies to a college as well.  He cited Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

One could spend a life unpacking that one sentence. But what I want to focus on now is the fact that Jesus didn’t quote it the way it is found in Deuteronomy—the way I just wrote it out. What he said was this: Continue reading “To love the Lord with all your mind”

Share Button

Standing in the Solar System

My home was in the path of the total eclipse of 2017.  The hype before the event made us all doubt it could possibly live up to the anticipation—and yet it did.  And how.  Follow this link to read my essay over at The Peregrine Magazine, “Standing in the Solar System”.

Image credit: The Peregrine Magazine
Share Button

Following the Mass with the Imagination

At the Foot of the Mountain

At Home

Either the evening or the morning before Mass, I thoughtfully review the Mass readings.  I do not try to spend a lot of time on them, but I want to be familiar with the main points beforehand.

When the time for Mass approaches, I travel through space to the Church building.  All the while I reflect that the Mass itself will be a journey, but not through space:  it will be a spiritual ascent, a journey in thought, love, and grace.  It will be a journey more real than the physical journey to the Church, just as spirit is more real than body.

This is the law of the temple:  the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy. – Ezek 43:12 Continue reading “Following the Mass with the Imagination”

Share Button

The Our Father and the Beatitudes

St. Augustine was confident that the Beatitudes are the key to the Sermon on the Mount.  They lay out the goal toward which the entire Christian life—and so, implicitly, the entire Sermon—is ordered, and they describe the person who attains the goal.  When Augustine commented on the Our Father, the model for all Christian prayer, he was similarly confident that the Beatitudes must somehow be the key.  Our prayer should be directed to the goal of our life, right?

“The Conversion of St. Augustine,” by Fra Angelico

In a moment of inspiration, he decided to line up the petitions of the Our Father with the Beatitudes, in order: Continue reading “The Our Father and the Beatitudes”

Share Button