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Michael J. O’LoughlinNovember 27, 2012

We’re approaching that time of year when oversensitive atheists lash out against nativity scenes and oversensitive Christians reply by raging on about the supposed War on Christmas. One name I was surprised to see added to the list this year was the Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict XVI, whose final installment of the Jesus of Nazareth series, exploring the infancy narratives, comes out just in time for Advent.

From CNN:

It’s Christmas, but not as you know it: a new book released this week by Pope Benedict XVI looks at the early life of Jesus -- and debunks several myths about how the Nativity unfolded.

In "Jesus of Nazareth -- The Infancy Narratives," the pope says the Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus' birth date.

According to the pope's research, there is also no evidence in the Gospels that the cattle and other animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present.

He also debunks the claim that angels sang at the birth, a staple theme of Christmas carols.

Upstanding Catholic Stephen Colbert is not happy. In a segment called “Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude - Pope Benedict XVI” Colbert says the pope is mistaken and has obviously not read the Gospel of the Little Drummer Boy. Watch that here.

We'll be sure to pass along the Catholic condemnation of Pope Benedict from people like this as soon as it's available.

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Thomas Piatak
9 years 7 months ago
Actually, Pope Benedict XVI has specifically criticized the War against Christmas.  In his September 2010 address at Westminster Hall, he specifically criticized "those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none."
Jeanne Linconnue
9 years 7 months ago
Bruce, it would be far better to put your faith in God alone if you seek the Truth. Human beings - including popes - are not infallible. Benedict is one scholar among thousands of similarly qualified scholars - all of whom make what come down to educated guesses. Well, not guesses really - educated interpretations.

The scriptures are full of contradictions - read them through and they will jump out at you. Read  competent academic histories of the biblical times (the Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian scriptures) and you will find even more contradictions. Even the gospel versions of Jesus' birth don't agree, although only Luke went into detail about it. Luke created a reason for Joseph to go to Bethlehem - the census of Quirinius. There is no scholarly historical evidence that returning to one's ancestral home was required for the census, but more importantly for those looking for historical accuracy, the historians believe that this particular census took place years after the death of Herod. (Luke's gospel wasn't written until 30-40 years after Jeus's death and he may have adjusted the timing and the details of Jesus's birth in order to get his message across). According to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born during Herod's reign. Matthew doesn't have ''infancy narratives'' per se - only Luke goes into detail. Herod died years before the census that Luke  alludes to.  The pope concedes that the year of Jesus's birth is in dispute. Why did Luke do this? Because the writer of Luke and the writers of all the gospel accounts of Jesus needed to allude back to the traditional prophecies so well known to their Jewish constituency. In this case, Luke was tying Jesus's birth to prophecies about the coming of the messiah, who was to born of the house of David - Bethlehem is the ''town'' of David.

Those who believe that the bible describes truth literally are in danger of missing the real Truth of the scriptures.

Were there angels?  According to Luke there were - at least in the fields.  But - who are angels.....really?  I'm sure there were angels there, especially one or two to help Mary with the birth. But I suspect that they may have been ''disguised'' as ordinary human beings, just as the many angels in my life have been.

One does not have to take it all literally to seek and find Truth in the scriptures. It's there!  And sometimes it is more readily found by those who understand that Truth is often conveyed through metaphor rather than through literal narratives.

The beauty of the Christmas story is still there - angels or no angels, animals or no animals, census or no census! Read the pope's book if you wish - but read it understanding that he is just a man - highly educated but still human - and he really has no greater access to the Truth than do you - just open your mind, and your heart and your soul and you will be able to hear the angel voices!  Merry Christmas, Bruce
9 years 7 months ago
God became flesh and we should focus on that profound reality for every human being born on this earth. Animals and angels are irrelevent to this glorius mystery of Christ's Incarnation. Some of us would do well to lighten up a bit.
Marie Rehbein
9 years 7 months ago
Is Pope Benedict XVI Lutheran?  Imagine going all Sola Scriptura over the Christmas story...
9 years 7 months ago
(#4) Hello Jeanne,   I think I agree with you more than I disagree. You are right saying that Scripture contains contradictions, and factor in the hyperbolic nature of lots of Scripture   you can see the need for scholarship, helpful to unravel the human language of the inspired writer, so as to get to the prime message intended by the Inspirer, the Holy Spirit. Once adequate scholarship happens prayer allows one to understand that truth is truth not because I believe it but truth is truth whether I believe it or not.

I find PBXVI a trustworthy   teacher. Of course he’s subject to mistakes as all humans are, except in Faith and Morals. Connectedly there’s an understanding in theology, probably applicable across the board that says, when two equally competent sources come up with opposite, or contrary points of view on the same subject, one may in good conscience follow either opinion. Maybe there are equally competent scholars that would come up with opinions opposite, or contrary to PBXVI on the Infancy Narratives, but I choose to follow Benedict not because he is Pope, but because I find his conclusions reasonable.

I do find the “no angles” thing hard, but as you said angles come in many ways, maybe dressed as shepherds, or a neighborhood woman bringing assistance as you suggested. Abraham in the OT entertained angles unaware, thinking they were travelers .Angels can even take animal forms as recorded in the life of St. John Bosco.  Thugs out to get Don Bosco because he had successfully sheltered and educated children that used to be unlawfully abused slavishly, thus interfering with criminal revenues, trailed him one night on a dark street intending to mug him. Suddenly a large fierce-looking dog walked side by side with Don Bosco, frightening the thugs and causing them to disappear. The Saint  later said the dog was his Guardian Angel.  The Church assured us based on Scripture that we all have a Guardian Angel. Interesting.

So really, I have no gripe with you! Thanks for taking time to comment on my post and may I send you what you sent me, a MERRY CHRISTMAS greeting!
Frank Gibbons
9 years 7 months ago
My advise to Stephen Colbert, Michael O'Laughlin and to the commentators is read the book. The Pope does not say that there were no angels.  He does not say that there were no beasts.  He does not view the infancy narratives as myths.  As I say, read the book (I did) before commenting on it. 
Jeanne Linconnue
9 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Bruce.  I may at times doubt the existence of God, but I have never doubted the existence of angels - especially guardian angels.  But, while we agree on angels, we do part ways as far as the ''trustworthiness'' of the interpretations of the ''teacher'' who is the current pope.  He may be a ''brilliant theologian'', but I tend to doubt that, based on his demonstrated lack of understanding of basic right and wrong - he seems to lack the moral reasoning ability of the average 7 year old. Once he's shown some understanding of the basics, maybe proceed to theology someday.  Pay him no more heed than you would the Grinch. (Actually sometimes it's possible that Dr. Seuss offers more wisdom and insight than the ''brilliant theologians'')  Again - Joyeux Noel!
JR Cosgrove
9 years 7 months ago
Does this mean it is really 2018 or more and the Mayan calendar ended 6 years ago and the end of the world happened and we missed it.  Oh I forgot we are in the ''Common Era'' not the ''Year of our Lord.''

Merry Christmas everyone and to put everyone in the right spirit for Christmas here is a link of a modern Christmas hymn by someone I know.  Someone with the voice of an angel.

9 years 7 months ago
Of late I’ve been finding it useful to quote Blessed Pope JP II who said, “Truth is not truth because we believe it. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not.” Now I use that quote again, defending the scholarship of PB XVI in his enlightened clarification of certain parts of the Christmas story, verifiably untrue.

In his new book on Jesus of Nazareth (which I must read) in part dealing with the Infancy narratives, Benedict points out there is nothing in the Gospels to back-up the presence of animals in the shelter where Jesus was born. Joseph unable to find room at the roadside Inn must have heard about a nearby shelter, maybe a place that could be used, or had been used, or was being used as a place to shelter animals – all speculation, not scripturally verifiable.

 So he hurried there to tidy it up as lodging for his pregnant wife, himself and others who may have travelled with him – maybe family members and (even perhaps his children from a previous marriage?) A vague tradition claims that Joseph’s first wife who bore him some children had died, again speculation. If Joseph did have a large entourage, not just himself and his pregnant wife, it could explain why there was “no room” at the already crowded Inn. Again,  speculation, but interesting. At any rate, the Pope says there’s   no scriptural evidence of animals present at the First Christmas and I accept his peerless scholarship.

The Holy Father also said there were no angles in the Christmas scene, a truth that makes me a little sad, but which I feel compelled to accept rooted in the profound competency of the one making   the claim. I consider Pope Benedict XVI is not just doctrinally infallible respecting his papal charism,  but also theologically, scripturally and  scholastically “infallible” as well! The angle stories in the Infancy narratives must be literary devises I guess, Luke’s “prescription” of enhancement, kind of “doctoring” things up if you get my drift!

Yes, for sure, “Truth is truth not because we believe it. Truth is truth whether we believe it or  not.”  Good enough for me.  Merry Christmas!
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years 7 months ago
I'm a long time Xmas grinch, annoyed with the endless merriment and crass excitement that surrounds this holiday.  If you ask me, the days of Advent should be a time of quiet and dark waiting, followed by the wonder of Christmas, when Christians celebrate the unbelievable - that God would Incarnate, and live in our midst as one of us.

The annual shopping extravaganza distracts and cheapens the holiday.  That is what the "War on Christmas" is all about.  I'm encouraged that the Pope is joining us grinches.

I don't know how many people that I've run into lately that tell me that they don't like Christmas anymore.  I know that they are talking about all the fake merriment and shopping, all made legitimate (and somehow religious and beyond reproach) because someone puts a creche or tree up.  Isn't it high time Christians at least complained?
Craig McKee
9 years 6 months ago
Bah! Humbug! to all who cannot relate to THIS incarnation of the bethlehem story:
(warning: there are ANIMALS and SINGING in this version!)


Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Kevin Murphy
9 years 6 months ago
From Kevin M. Clarke's review of Pope Benedict's book at First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/11/what-the-pope-really-said-about-christmas):

"Benedict actually affirms the image of the ox and the donkey present at the manger by pointing to Old Testament imagery and, later, to iconographic tradition that complement the Gospel source. His words justify, rather than call into question, the presence of the animals in the manger scene. This is the beauty of Benedict’s writing, and why he is perhaps better read in the study or in the adoration chapel than in the newsroom. On the one hand, he points out what is obvious: the absence of the animals in the Gospel narrative. On the other, he shows why Christians came to understand that the animals were there, adding, “No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass.”
And those talking, non-singing angels? What did the Pope actually say? He writes concerning the gloria, “According to the evangelist, the angels ‘said’ this.” That must be about as far as some in the secular press read, because the very next sentence is: “But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent” (p. 73). To paraphrase, the pope is saying that when one reads Luke and sees that the angels “said” their glorious words, the angels were of course singing (because that is what angels do)."
Jeanne Linconnue
9 years 6 months ago
Bruce (#16), well it seems we are both breaking our vowed intentions not to post too much. However, mis-readings are all too common, and I wish to correct yet another one by you. Just as you incorrectly said that I equated the pope's intelligence to that of a 7 year when what I really said is that the pope seems to lack the moral understanding of right and wrong of the average 7 year old (a very different thing than cognitive intelligence), you now mis-state what I said about the pope in this - you wrote: ''You feel that PBXVI is a great sinner and you not only hate his sins but him too.''  No, no, no. I did NOT say that I ''hate'' him. I said that I do not ''like' him, in response to your earlier statement that you do ''like'' him. Based on his public face and what he has said and done (and more on what he has ''failed to do''), he is not somebody that I would have any interest in meeting or spending time with. We spend times with those we ''like''.  But, I don't ''hate'' anyone. As far as forgiveness and mercy go, that's up to God and I do not doubt for a moment that God forgives all (including those who ''sin against the Holy ''Spirit'') - even those who think that protecting an institution from ''scandal'' and protecting the clerical class from civil prosecution at the expense of tens of thousands of young victims of sexual abuse is the ''right'' thing to do.  Any 7 year old will tell you that it isn't, though. He's spent too many years in ecclesiastical ivory towers, and too few in ''real'' life. He doesn't understand - it's all academic to him - it's all head games to him - whether it's the deep suffering of innocent children at the hands of priests or the presence (or lack thereof) of animals at the site (unknown) of Jesus's birth. Too many clerics are like him - they are so removed from ordinary human life and ordinary human emotion and close loving human relationships and from basic human empathy that they become robotic in their responses to real human tragedy.

The definition of ''love'' most often used by christians as in ''christian'' love does not always include ''liking.'' Two different things, just as ''intelligence'' and ''moral reasoning ability'' are two different things. But I don't ''hate'' him. Because of christian love for him, though, I would be so very happy to see before his death some sign of TRUE repentance, and TRUE conversion of heart. For his sake, at some point it would be good for his soul if he would ''own'' his role in enabling the harm that has come from his decisions over the years, truly repent and surrender to God.  An honest and truly sincere mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa to the tens of thousands who were so grievously harmed through his protection of the guilty would not be out of order either. But it has to be HONEST and demonstrated through ACTIONS - not just empty words and crocodile tears whenever the world's press happens to be around.  Until that happens, it is hard to trust his interpretations of much of anything really, ''theological'' or otherwise.
9 years 6 months ago
(#10) Hi Jeanne, -   I want to be brief, avoiding hogging posting space, not favoring on and on conversations.  So, even though    there’s    torrents of thoughts   swirling within, I hope it won’t be a losing battle with this post. My wife calls me a “windbag!” Others are less kind and tell me I am subject to, diarrhea of words and constipation of thoughts! Let’s hope not!
Just want to say I’m surprised that you equate PBXVI’s   intelligence to be that of a seven year old. You can’t really mean that. Maybe it’s his   conservative theology that bugs you. In some ways I can agree with you, but that doesn’t prevent me, nor should it prevent you   from acknowledging and respecting his personal integrity, not to mention his monumental intellect. Like the rest of us poor mortals he’s subject to flawed judgment, but like the rest of us, struggles to do his best. I like him!
 When it comes to sometimes “doubting” the existence of God, join the club! God is a mystery a personality defying description, Omnipotent, Unfathomable, often seemingly aloof, yet a Holy One  who likes to be called “Father” and even more intimately according to St. Paul, “Abba” which a Palestinian man once said means “Daddy.” Patrick V. Ahearn, a great singer, wonderful man of good humor and now deceased Auxiliary Bishop of New York, visiting the Holy Land saw a small child fall on rocky ground and ran to his dad crying “Abba! Abba!” The Bishop asked the lad’s dad what that meant and was told the English equivalent would be “Daddy!”
 So, the Holy and Omnipotent One,  the Unfathomable One the Incomprehensible   One, who creates stars out of nothing and spins universes on his fingertips, loves being called “Daddy and is also capable  of weeping at the gravesite of one of his dear friends, can leave us with mixed feelings trying to relate to him, forgetting that no one knows the mind of God and no one can advise him. Yet he eats fish, sweats and gets tired, sleeps, is  totally human, our God whom we love, yet at times fret about  him to him and others something like Job, because he seems so aloof, so uncaring. No wonder people doubt him, even deny him, but   also love him and  is unconditionally loved by him in return. What a God! Keep Faith!
 Hope I’ve made sense as I say AGAIN, adios and wish you,   S Rozhdestvom!
Vince Killoran
9 years 6 months ago
Looking past the fake "War on Christmas" and whether the Pope mentioned angels I notice this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/29/larry-deprimo-nypd-cop-gives-homeless-boots_n_2209178.html.
9 years 6 months ago
Hi Jeanne, Here I go again, breaking my own rule against too many backs and forths.  We’re going to have to agree to disagree, although I do not disagree with you entirely. As Christian we always hate the sin, but never the sinner. You feel that PBXVI is a great sinner and you not only hate his sins but him too. I can’t do that. The Mysterious One we call “God” is, according to Scripture, “Mercy personified”   hating the sin which drove nails into his wrists, but loving the sinner who hammered them in by our personal sins. Mercy so permeates the Deity that in Scripture we are assured, “God’s mercy is above all his works.” In a sense when it comes to “mercy” towards the repentant sinner, the God I believe in is a pushover, an ever forgiving Father of his prodical  daughters and sons.

My life experiences prevent me from judging the sinner harshly a lot of that attitude rooted in the following true story from younger years. There was a priest, exemplary in observing all the rules, considered by many to be a good priest. But he was so judgmental, hash in judging even minor infractions, a real holy terror! But then death arrived and on his deathbed the poor man was terrified of having to soon face the judgments of God recalling the words of Jesus, “As you judge, so shall you be judged!”  He feared a harsh judgment since his judgments had been so harsh. Thankfully the other priests around his deathbed convinced him that the merciful God had forgiven him and the agonizing priest did die peacefully. For me that true story was very formative in how I judged the   sinner, always hating the sin, mine included, but loving the sinner as Jesus does.

Also dealing with the unfathomable mercy of God, there is a strand in Franciscan Speculative Theology that says, the creation of Hell was an act of supreme mercy on God’s part in relation to the fallen Angelics. I think it was Scotus, or maybe Bonaventure who proposed that after a very large numer of angels learned that the Second Person of the Trinity was to become man and they would have to worship him as God, they rebelled at having to bow down to a being of lower nature than theirs. By that decision the Fallen Angels abhorred God and so in mercy God created hell  where they wouldn’t have to be in his presence – something like the human experience which sometimes leads us to say towards a person we strongly  dislike, “! can’t stand to be in his/ her sight!” So God mercifully sent them to hell. Just speculation but an interesting   Franciscan concept. And I am a Professor Secular Franciscan, not clergy but married with wife children and grandkids.

No doubt Jeanne, lots of grevious sin have been committed especi in the sexual abuse of children by episcopal and clerical neglect and those sins are horrendous, But we must love the sinner even if he be a Pope, while hating the sin. And in the final analysis we are all sinners in one way or the other, all forgiveeble by God and even the ultimate source of great personal holiness through repentance and proper recompense to the abused. Only one sin is unforgiveable – the Sin against the Holy Spirit which is the sin that says my sin too  great for God to forgive.It is beyond Divine Mercy. Hope this makes some sense to you. 
9 years 6 months ago
Hi Jeanne - we're at an impasse. I hate "loose ends" incompleted exchanges but we've got to conclude. You write, I respond trying to read between the lines to understand what you are really saying - then you respond saying I am misrepresenting what you said. Let's pray for each other. It's said, "When you dream upon a star, your dreams come true." May that "star" be the Star of Bethelehem.  Have a MARY Christmas!
Jeanne Linconnue
9 years 6 months ago
Ah, Bruce - read it again. I did not equate the pope's intelligence with that of a seven year old. I questioned his ability to differentiate right from wrong - his moral reasoning ability - which seems at times to be at the level of those who are generally younger than seven and thus not deemed ready for first communion (the age the church assumes moral reasoning ability).  One can be highly cognitively intelligent, as is the pope, and yet lack an understanding of right and wrong.  And because he has not demonstrated that he understands certain basic rights and wrongs - or if he understands them he lacks the courage to act on this understanding - I do not automatically assume that the conclusions of his cognitive intelligence (interpretations and theology) are ''trustworthy''.  In fact, at this point, I tend the other way - knowing what is known about him and his decisions and actions related to promoting bishops who protected pedophiles (etc, etc),  just about anything he says is suspect. Unlike you, I don't respect his ''personal integrity'' (he hasn't demonstrated that he actually has any) nor do I like him. I don't like people who refuse to hold those who protected criminals responsible or accountable for enabling the sexual abuse of young people.  He personally refused to intervene as head of the CDF in the case of the ongoing molestation of the deaf boys in the Catholic boarding school - even when the bishop begged him to do something.  However, Fr. Roy is laicized and excommunicated for daring to support women's ordination. Recognizing the equality of women in the eyes of God is an unforgivable sin to this Roman emperor and his men.  Child abuse? Totally forgivable. In fact - it's important to reward the bishops who kept silent to ''protect'' the institution.  Who cares about the kids? Not this pope. Nor his predecessor. The pope's academic ''brilliance'' means nothing when he stood by and allowed this priest (and others) to remain free to continue to molest children.   Sorry - I cannot trust a papal ''prince'' who, like the emperor in the fable, has no clothes. 

Jeanne Linconnue
9 years 6 months ago
Hi, Bruce. Perhaps there would be no impasse if you responded to my actual words, rather than ''reading between the lines'' and changing my actual words. I used the words ''moral reasoning ability'' and ''knowing right from wrong' and you changed those to ''intelligence''. There is no need to ''read between the lines'' to try to understand what I am ''really saying.'' I say pretty clearly what I think. I use simple words, plain words, easy to understand words. Take me at my word(s) and we will avoid the circular comments.

 I said that I ''don't like'' the pope and you changed that to ''hate'' and then went on to deliver a homily on why I should hate the sins and not the sinner. I never said I hated anybody.

So, it will be easier in the future if you could simply refrain from putting words into my ''mouth'' (into my post). 

9 years 6 months ago
Re: Comment #20
She shoots... she scores. Sorry Bruce... your use of many words makes Jeannes point (for me) about the Pope. Where there is intellect, doesn't mean their is love, morality, righteousness, or even understanding. You thought and typed many words, but you missed her point, and even went as far as changing her words to make your point. You listened, but you didn't really "hear" what she was "saying". Then on top of it all you try and "pull rank" on her by stating what your credentials are: "I am a Professor Secular Franciscan", in what looked to me, as a feeble attempt at trying to invalidate the REAL points she was making. Shame on you. No need to reply... save your time, energy, and mine.
Neil Bastien
9 years 6 months ago

Do any of us truly know what angels do? :)

The Christmas tale of Christ's birth is simply a beautiful narrative that has served for centuries as our marker for discerning the wonderful mystery of the incarnation. It is for each of us what it will be and the power of such stories is truly a gift in itself from one generation to another for all time. Thank you Matthew, thank you Luke, and a very merry and blessed Christmas to all. 

Dan Hannula
9 years 6 months ago
As one who is can trace ancesters back to seventheeth century Massachusetts Bay (they were Puritans), I find it interesting to note that way back then, when that colony was as close as any English speaking colony could get to a theocracy, that Christmas celebrations were banned by law.

Perhaps if we refrained with the tinsel, et al (just a bit) we might understand its meaning better. 
9 years 6 months ago
Hi Bee,  My discussion with Jeanne, who expressed her views and I in turn expressed mine, poorly perhaps is over. The reason for this post is to assure you I wasn't "pulling rank" by mentioning my Secular Francian affiliation, but rather it seemed to me a way ro indicate where I was coming from, namely committed to the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, an "instrument of peace" which I always try to emulate. To "pull rank" is just about the last thing I would ever trry to do, preferring to see everybody far superior to me and hoping that if anyone remembers me at all, let them remember me as a Catholic man who knew a little about many things, but not very much about anything. That's me! Thanks for your post  but please let's end it here with a promise of prayer and a wish for a very Mary Christmas!

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