5 keys to understanding the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

BY LILIANA MONTES | ACI Prensa 14.08.2019 4.29PM

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Every August 15 we celebrate the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to the Heavens. Here are five keys that will help us to better understand this truth about the Catholic faith.

1. You must know what a dogma means

A dogma is a truth of absolute, definitive, infallible, irrevocable and unquestionable faith revealed by God through the Bible or the Sacred Tradition. After being proclaimed, it cannot be repealed or denied, either by the Pope or by conciliar decision.

For a truth to become dogma, it is necessary that it be proposed directly by the Catholic Church to the faithful as part of their faith and doctrine, through a solemn and infallible definition by the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.

2. “Assumption” does not mean the same as “Ascension”

According to the tradition and theology of the Catholic Church, the Assumption is the celebration of when the body and soul of the Virgin Mary were glorified and taken to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It should not be confused with Ascension, which refers to Jesus Christ.

It is said that the resurrection of the bodies will occur at the end of time, but in the case of the Virgin Mary this fact was anticipated by a unique and singular privilege.

This dogma is also celebrated by the Orthodox Church.

3. Dogma was proclaimed 170 years ago by Pius XII

From 1849 various requests began to arrive at the Holy See so that the Assumption of the Virgin could be declared a dogma of faith. It was Pope Pius XII who, on November 1, 1950, published the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (MD) that proclaimed the dogma with these words:

“For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honour of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” (MD, 44).

4. The Assumption of Mary is anticipation of our own resurrection

This celebration has a double objective: The happy departure of Mary from this life and the Assumption of her body to heaven. The answer as to why it is important for Catholics is found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says in number 966: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.”

The importance of the Assumption of the Virgin for all of us is given in the relationship it has between the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our resurrection. That Mary is found in body and soul already glorified in Heaven, is the anticipation of our own resurrection, since she is a human being like us.

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5. The Virgin did not experience corruption in the body at the end of her earthly life

Scripture does not give details about the last years of Mary on earth from Pentecost to the Assumption, we only know that the Virgin was entrusted by Jesus to Saint John. In declaring the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Pius XII did not want to decide whether the Virgin died and rose again immediately, or if she went straight to heaven. Many theologians think that the Virgin died to be more like Jesus, but others argue that the “Transit of Mary” or Dormition occurred, which has been celebrated in the East since the first centuries.

However, what both positions coincide is that the Virgin Mary, by a special privilege of God, did not experience the corruption of her body and went to heaven, where she reigns alive and glorious, next to Jesus.

@ Translated and edited from its original Spanish version by Valentine Umoh 15.08.2019

YOU TOO CAN BE A SAINT … WE ARE ALL CALLED TO HOLINESS!

All saints day

The first day of November every year, the universal Church celebrates the feast day of all the Saints both known and unknown. The Book of Revelation describes these people in a figurative language thus: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7: 9 – 14)

The invitation and the call to holiness is a universal call and invitation. Every human being is called to holiness. It is not the reserve of priests, monks, religious men or women. No matter your status, gender or colour. All are called to holiness. From the North to the South, from the East to the West. From every nation, race, people, and tongue the invitation is to all. Through your work, your studies, your daily activities, your sacrifices and your sufferings you are all purified to be saints. This is the meaning of Christ´s words in Matthew 5:48 “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is unfortunate to witness how so many are so preoccupied with today, and tomorrow yet not aiming at holiness. Everyone is preaching Divine Manifestation, Success and Prosperity but not many people aim at holiness.

A call to sainthood does not mean you should fly from the world, but it means that you should sanctify the world by your life of authentic Christian witnessing. By living a good life, one responds to the call to holiness. The call to holiness does not mean you should live in the Church doing many days of prayers and dry fasting, it means that you should love your brothers and sisters and wish everybody well. A call to holiness can never be minimized nor truncated by the signs of times. We live in society where Satanism and Sexism is gradually becoming the world´s most patronized religion. The call to sainthood thus becomes a call to be the catalyst of positive change in the society. It is a call to reject evil and embrace good. A call to promote everything that is good and worthwhile. A call to stand on the side of justice, the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted and the marginalized of the society. A call to say No to the culture of nudism and the culture of death and violence. A call to work with all men and women of good will to sanitize and collapse all forms of oppressive and inhumane socio-political structures.

The Church´s list or Litany of Saints can never be exhaustive because there are many unknown Saints from every nation, race, people, and tongue. What the Church intends to communicate by her litany is to give us some examples of people whose lives are worth emulating in order that their lives can serve as a guide and compass for us. About the Saints the author of the Book of Revelation says: “Therefore are they before the throne of God and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7: 15-17 RSV). The Saints are at peace and happiness with God. They have received life´s highest reward that is, Eternal Life with God. Let us not forget the warning of Christ: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36 KJV).

Saint Paul gives us the easiest way to respond to this call of love and sainthood, he says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8,9 NAB)

When the Saints will be matching on, wont you like to be in the number? If the thief crucified with Jesus could be a Saint, you too are not exempted. When I was in the high school, one of the morning assembly songs that still strikes me went thus: “If you do good, kingdom is waiting for you, if you do bad, there is no more kingdom waiting for you.”

Together with the Church we rejoice with all our brothers and sisters who through sufferings and persecutions of all types have kept themselves holy and spotless and so are now at peace with God. Where they are today, we too will like to be as well. Or wouldn’t you? The choice is yours and the time is now!

May the Saints continually intercede for us in our daily lives and struggles!

Saint Thomas Aquinas – Pray for us!

Saint Anthony of Padua – Pray for us!

Saint Valentine – Pray for us!

All the Saints of God – Pray and intercede for us!

HAPPY ALL SAINTS DAY!

 

Valentine Umoh

01.11.2018

Birth Control: what the Church teaches[1]

Birth control

General Introduction

God blessed the first couple with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). This blessing expresses the conviction that sexuality and marriage serve the propagation of human kind. A wealth of children is considered by Holy Scriptures as favour from God and a reason for joy (cf. Gen 24:60; Ps 127:3[2]). Before now people generally had no problem accepting children as they come. Accepting children as they come became a problem due to some changes that have taken place in society. These changes among others include a rapid demographic development which has created the fear in many that the available resources may not be enough to serve the rapidly growing population. And thus, may result to malnutrition, poor lodging conditions, inadequate education, unemployment, inadequate medical care and unhygienic conditions. This raises the question of the justification or even the necessity of birth control, of its limits and means to achieve it. The Church as the custodian of Truth and Morality does not condemn birth control generally but rather teaches the proper means by which this can be done without violating the natural law as well as the divine law. In what follows we shall give a kind of historical account of the Church’s teaching on birth control.

What is Birth control?

Birth control according to the New Catholic Encyclopaedia (1967) essentially denotes the voluntary control (restriction) of the reproductive effect of sexual intercourse. It refers not only to the intentional limitation of the family size or the spacing of births through any of the several possible means including periodic continence but also to the practice of contraception to achieved desired results. Thomas Pazhayampallil in Pastoral Guide (2004) defines it as the obstruction of either the conjugal act or the biological factors of fertility in the couple in order to ensure that unprogrammed birth will not take place. In concrete terms, the artificial means of birth control are generally referred to as “contraception.”

Types of Birth control

a) Natural Means of Birth control

Also called Natural Family Planning it is defined by Thomas Pazhayampallil’s Pastoral Guide, no. 473 as planning of birth of children based on in-built indicator of fertility and infertility in a woman’s body. Natural Family Planning is based on the biological fact that there is a period of sterility during the menstrual cycle of each woman. This means that there are a number of days during which there is no ripe ovum present in the female genital tract. The menstrual cycle ends with the discharge of the unfertilized eggs. It is about recognising and making use of those periods of infertility when the ripe eggs are beyond shooting range. This method was propounded during the second half of the 19th century. However, in 1929 and 1930 respectively two doctors Knaus (Austria) and Ogino (Japan) carried out a research which resulted in the rhythm/calendar method. According to their research, human conception can occur in a certain limited period between two menses and this period is called the fertile period and the rest of the days are free/infertile/safe period. Since then many methods of the Natural Family planning have been proposed which we shall see later. Pope Paul VI refers to this as “licit” means of regulating birth. The Church’s teaching authority recommends them for those who have just reasons to regulate birth.

b)Artificial Means of Birth control

This means the use in the sexual act of any mechanical instrument, chemical substance or bodily action (withdrawal) which has as its purpose the prevention of conception. Thomas Pazhayampallil lists the artificial means of birth control (contraception) to include: interrupted sexual act (withdrawal), vaginal douche, condom, the diaphragm, the loop (the ring, the spiral, the bow), pills and some spermicidal creams and jellies. Interrupted sexual act is the withdrawal of the penis from the vagina before ejaculation so that the sperm is spilled outside the vagina thus preventing fertilization. Vaginal Douche is a contraceptive device in which a vagina is washed out after sexual intercourse with the addition of some chemicals. Condom is a synthetic rubber sheet placed over an erect penis to retain the sperm at ejaculation and prevent it from being deposited in the vagina. The Diaphragm is a dome-shaped rubberized cup with a metal spring rim which after applying a spermicidal cream or jelly, the user positions it so that the rim spans between the posterior fornix and the pubic bone covering the cervix. Pope Paul VI refers to this as “illicit” means of regulating birth. The morality of the artificial means of birth control stems from the general principle that every conjugal act must remain open to the transmission of life that is, every conjugal act must retain its essential relationship to procreation. Based on the above principle the artificial means of birth control (contraception) has been excluded as licit means of birth control by an unbroken and constant teaching of the Church as follows:

The Church’s teachings on Birth Control

Biblical foundations

The 38th chapter of Genesis tells the story of Judah, his sons and Tamar. One of the sons, Onan, practiced the sin of contraception –coitus interruptus (withdrawal) with Tamar. The Bible tells us that God slew him because he had done this abominable thing (Gen 38:10); that is spilling his semen on the ground. Gen 38:11-26 and Deut 25: 5-10 show that he was not killed for violating the Levirate law but for contraception. (Cf. Lev 18:22-23; 20:13). In the New Testament the Greek “pharmakeia” – sorcery possibly refers to birth control. “pharmakeia” denotes the mixing of various potions for secret purposes, one of which was to prevent pregnancy. In all three of the passages it appears, it is in a context condemning sexual immorality; two of which also condemn murder (cf. Gal 5:19-26; Rev. 19:21; 21:8). These passages condemn the use of the products of “pharmakeia” for birth control purpose and thus by implication, the artificial means of birth control is condemned. On the other hand, 1Cor 7:5 supports the practice of natural family planning.

Patristic voices

Early Church Fathers were undivided in their condemnation of artificial birth control. Among these include: Letter of Barnabas, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Lactantius, John Chrysostom, Jerome, St. Ephrem, Epiphanius and Bishop Zeno of Verona. For instance, Origen (2nd C) says that the one who wastes the gifts of God resembles Onan who was put to death. Lactantius (3rd century) observed that the genital organs are for procreation and we must obey this divine law with utmost devotion. St. Ephrem as well as Bishop Zeno of Verona of the 4th Century condemned Onanism as abominable. For St. John Chrysostom, those who do not allow the children to begin their life have mutilated the nature and committed murder. In his Ad Eustochium, St Jerome acknowledged that those women who take and drink drugs of sterility commit murde

The Medieval Fathers

St. Augustine explicitly condemned contraception in his De Conjugiis adulterinis. For him intercourse even within marriage is unlawful and wicked where conception is prevented. Women who take pills to prevent conception commit murder. In his Summa contra Gentiles, the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas condemned contraception as against both the dictates of Natural law and the Divine design for the conjugal act. Ejaculation of sperm contrary to the purpose of procreation is morally disordered and constitutes a sin no less in gravity than murder. St. Albert, the great also wrote extensively against the above immoral practice

Modern Times: Conciliar and Magisterial teachings

Pope Pius XI: In 1930 Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii declared: “Since the conjugal act is destined primarily be nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious…any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin.”

Pope Pius XII: In his October 29, 1951 address to a convention of Italian Catholic Midwives, Pope Pius XII re-affirmed the teachings of Casti Connubii stating that contraception in all its forms is an intrinsically immoral act and that this precept is an expression of both divine and natural law.

Pope John XXIII: He objected to contraception and birth control in accordance with the Church’s teaching. This led him to establish the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate, popularly known as “Birth control commission” in 1963. In his Mater et magistra he further affirmed the teaching of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council: by means of an extraordinary magisterium the Council Fathers in no. 51 of Gaudium et Spes states that when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, objective standards of morality must be followed. In this regard therefore, it is morally wrong for Christians to employ methods of Birth control which are found to be blameworthy by the magisterium. This means that all artificial methods of birth control (contraception) are excluded as licit means of birth control.

Pope Paul VI: He expanded the commission’s membership to include physicians, psychiatrists, demographers, sociologists, economist and married couples. At the end the commission’s deliberations there were two reports; the majority report which proposed a shift in the Church’s traditional teaching and the minority report which urged the Pope to hold fast to that teaching. After due reflection on the matter, he wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 that was based on the minority report. It is worthwhile to x-ray some of Pope Paul’s teaching in Humane Vitae

The bases of Humanae Vitae’s teachings – The Doctrinal principles:

This includes the principle of Totality of man: a being composite of matter and spirit with a vocation that is not only natural and earthly but also supernatural and eternal. It is also centred on the two coordinates of conjugal love and responsible parenthood. Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who is love. Conjugal love is fully human; it is total, faithful and exclusive until death. Conjugal love demands responsible parenthood. Thus, in deciding the number of children to be raised due to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions of the time, couples should not proceed at will but must pay attention to the objective norms of morality. In doing this, they must recognise their own duties towards God, themselves, the family and the society in a correct hierarchy of values. Furthermore, each and every marriage (conjugal) act must remain open to the transmission of life (HV 11). This is because according to the natural law, there is an “inseparable connection willed by God and unable to be broken by the human person on his own initiative between the unitive and procreative purposes of the conjugal act.” Thus, an act of mutual (conjugal) love which impairs the capacity to transmit life contradicts the will of the Author of life of which humans have no authority to counter

Licit and Illicit ways of Birth control

The above doctrinal principles lead to drawing a line of demarcation between the licit and illicit means of birth control. In this regard all direct interruption of the generative process already begun and especially directly willed and procured abortion even if for therapeutic reasons are illicit means of birth control. Included in this list are all direct sterilizations, whether perpetual or temporary, of either man or woman. Lastly, every action, which either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes either as an end or as a means to render procreation impossible are illicit ways of birth control. The licit means include: 1) therapeutic means which are truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism even though impediment to procreation be foreseen but not directly willed; 2) Recourse to the natural rhythm immanent in the generative functions, that is, the use of conjugal act in the infecund periods only. Here birth is regulated without offending the moral principles of life. This is what is referred to as Natural Family Planning

Consequences of Artificial Birth Control

Pope Paul VI justifies the above position by outlining some of the grave consequences of the artificial methods. First, there will suddenly be open an easy road to both conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of the standards of morality in the society. Second, women will lose their human dignity and respect as the employment of contraceptive devices would lead to their becoming mere sexual objects of satisfaction for men.[3] Third, morality and the mission of generating life would be exposed to arbitrary will of individuals and the public authorities

Pastoral directives

The Pope knowing that this teaching on birth control may appear difficult to many or even impossible of actuation gives some pastoral directives. First, the Holy Father holds that the honest practice of birth control demands that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions about the true values of life and family and then tend towards acquiring self-mastery. This self-mastery which is an integral part of the virtue of chastity demands the help of God (grace) with some ascetic practices, some intermittent periods of abstinence on the part of the couple. The advantage of self-mastery/chastity as a tool for birth control is that it gives serenity and peace, facilitates the solution to other problems, favours the attention for one’s partner, helps them drive out selfishness and deepens their sense of responsibility. Pastors and confessors are to teach married couples the indispensable way of prayer and prepare them to have recourse with faith to the sacraments of Eucharist and penance. They are never to be discouraged by their own weaknesses. The Pope calls upon the media and other stakeholders of human society to create an atmosphere favourable for the practice of chastity.

St. Pope John Paul II: he has repeatedly reaffirmed the above teaching of the Church on many occasions. In his address to the Episcopal Conference of the United States on Oct 8, 1979 he declared: “I myself today, with the same conviction of Paul VI, ratify the teaching of this encyclical.” Similarly in his June 7, 1980 Address to a group of Indonesian Bishops he reiterated that contraception is to be judged objectively so illicit that it can never, for any reason be justified. In n.32 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (1981) he affirmed that contraception leads to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love. In n.80 of the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993) he re-affirmed contraception as an intrinsic evil. He re-iterated this teaching with further clarifications in his “Additional Meditation” before Angelus on July 17, 1994.[4]

Pope Benedict XVI: in 2008, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the traditional Church’s teaching on birth control. He says that birth control (contraception) negates the intimate truth of conjugal love with which the divine gift of life is communicated. Magisterial teachings therefore aim at protecting conjugal love. He reaffirmed the use of natural family planning for couples wanting to space their children.[5] He re-emphasized this stance in 2010 in an interview which was published in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

Pope Francis: in an interview with the Italian daily Newspaper Corriere della Sera on March, 2014, Pope Francis recently reaffirmed the Church’s teachings on contraception and birth control. He acknowledged Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae as being prophetic. He praises his predecessor’s courage to go against the majority, to defend moral discipline as well as oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. He stressed that there is no need to change that teaching.

The Code of Canon Law:

Canon 1398 of the 1983 code states that a person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication. This shows the severity of the moral evil of employing an illicit means of regulating birth. Canon 1055 reaffirms the Church’s teaching on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC 2368 acknowledges that for just reasons couples may wish to space births of their children as a demand of responsible parenthood. However, in doing this they should conform to objective criteria of morality. CCC 2399 states clearly that legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means. Furthermore CCC 2370 reiterates that every action that intentionally renders procreation impossible is intrinsically evil. It rather recommends the natural family planning as a moral alternative for birth control.

Natural Family Planning: A moral alternative[6]

The justification for the Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a moral alternative to contraception in birth control according to the teaching authority of the Church (magisterium) is further evident when one understands the essential differences between both means as follows: Contraception is the intentional use of a drug, chemical, device or procedure to prevent pregnancy by acting directly against the fertility of each marriage act (sex). The biological purpose of sex is to reproduce, yet contraception denies the goodness of fertility. It is a lie in “body language” (CCC 2370). It works against our nature, i.e. God’s purpose for creating us. It also helps to promote the sins of adultery (sex outside of marriage) and fornication (sex before marriage) by reducing the chance of “embarrassing” consequences. On the other hand, in NFP, couples do not work directly against the fertility of the conjugal act but regulate birth by periodically abstaining from the conjugal act. The act is periodically avoided and not abused. NFP only gives information to help a couple choose between abstinence and the conjugal act. During the woman’s naturally infertile times, spouses can engage in the conjugal act; whereas, during the fertile periods, they can abstain. Under NFP, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; whereas in contraception, they impede the development of natural processes (Cf. Humanae Vitae 16). Even though the moral intention is to regulate birth by abstinence, NFP still respects the goodness of human fertility. NFP does demand “just reasons”, self-discipline, sacrifice, mutual consent (Cf. 1Cor. 7:5; Casti connubii 53) and openness to new life (CCC 2366) from both spouses.

Some of the Methods of Natural Family Planning include:

Rhythm Method: Conception occurs when the sperm is deposited in the vagina of a woman and unites with the ovum produced by the woman. This union of sperm and ovum (fertilization) can take place only when a mature ovum is present. Since a woman usually produce only one ovum per menstrual cycle and the ovum remains alive from twelve hours to two days (48 hours) unless it is fertilized and a male sperm from a healthy man can normally survive up to 72 hours, so conception can only be possible within four days in a menstrual cycle. 3 to 4 days must be allowed to forestall any possible mistake. Thus, possible fertile period within the entire menstrual period is 8 days. The rest are free days or safe/sterile period. However, the difficulty of this method is that the menstrual cycle is not the same for all women and that a woman’s periods many vary from their previous pattern. The onus lies on the mature woman to study and know her periods and body regulations.

Temperature Method: here, a special fever thermometer may also be used to find out the safe period. After the woman’s egg is released, the temperature rises above normal though only about 0.4°F. The thermal shift to the higher level is caused by progesterone which is only produced after the ovum has left the ovary. The temperature stays at this higher level until just before the start of the next menstruation when it drops again to the normal level. Once the higher temperature level as been recorded for three days, the woman can be sure that her ovum is already broken up and the unsafe period over. The difficulty of this method is that it require a thermometer, charts and regularity in taking the temperature. Besides the temperature may be upset by other causes such as slight illness, time etc.

Ovulation Method: This method is based on the biological fact of mucus as an indication that the ovulation has set in. This mucus must be there to preserve the sperm cells and lead it to the ovum. After ovulation there is a feeling of dryness around the vagina. At about the arrival of ovulation this mucus becomes slippery giving a feeling of lubrication.

Summarily, it is to be noted that NFP does not separate sex from responsibility; it is not just a method based on physiology but is based on virtue. It is based on sexual self-control, which is necessary for a healthy marriage. It respects God’s design of the inseparability of the unitive and procreative ends of the conjugal acts; does not impede the sources of life as well as respects the principle that each and every conjugal act must be open to the transmission of life.

Evaluation and Conclusion

From what has been said above, it is clear the Church is not totally against birth control as such but what the Church is against is offending the moral principles of life in a bid to achieve such.[7] Indeed, the Church through the teachings of Humanae Vitae recognises that certain circumstance could make the regulation of birth a necessity. Such conditions include: Physical (sickness, present or imminent, proximate or remote), Psychological (insanity, depression); and external conditions (Lack of finance, war/ disaster whether natural or artificial and the problem of demography). However, while respecting these genuine conditions (reasons) for birth control, the Church teaches recourse not to the artificial methods (contraception) but the natural methods, that is, the Natural Family Planning. In this way, the Church teaches that the normal and real birth control is self-control or self-mastery.

The advantages of the Natural Family Planning include: it enhances and intensifies the relationship between the spouses, promotes marital harmony and equality, it educates for continence, help build marital spirituality; improves the quality of life, restores dignity to women, and strengthens marriage and family life. Conversely, recourse to contraceptives would widen the road to marital infidelity as well as bring about a general lowering of moral standards. Despite being a ‘sign of contradiction’ in modern society, the Church continues to re-enforce with much intensity her unbroken and constant moral teachings on birth control.

Notes

[1] Originally my B.Th Moral Theology thesis for the Bachelor of Theology Comprehensive Examinations of Seat of Wisdom Seminary Owerri, May 2014. The Church´s teachings on the value of life is eternally valid and it is intimately connected with her teaching on birth control. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that artificial contraception is sinful and immoral and may frustrate a divine plan to bring a new life into the world. Instead of using birth control methods such as pill, IUDs, diaphragms, and condoms, Catholics can use Natural Family Planning (NFP) techniques. While the Church does not judge and condemn persons and individuals who continually advise, promote, propagate and practice these immoral forms of artificial contraception, she calls all to an inner conversion of heart while she remains unwavering in putting forth her true teachings and moral values as a matter of the Divine mandate she has received from Christ.

[2] “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one´s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate.” RSV.

[3] Today, the prophecy of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, seems to have come to pass. The contemporary world is sexually charged, men and women are fast becoming mere sexual objects for sexual fantasies and exploration. Was this the plan of God at creation? Because men and women now put so much confidence in artificial means of birth control especially condom are we not witnesses to the widespread of marital infidelity and single parenthood? Was this the plan of God at creation? There is a need to return to the drawing board, if not humanity may be heading towards auto-destruction.

[4] He said: “Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood…as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so. Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfil one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God´s co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responsible attitude. In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary. However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms. One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be “violated” by artificial interference.”

[5] The 2008 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith´s instruction Dignitatis Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions reiterates Church opposition to contraception, mentioning new methods of interception and contragestion, notably female condoms and morning-after pills, which also “fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral.”

[6] The Church permits and encourages married couples to space births and plan how big or small their families will be by using Natural Family Planning (NFP). By using natural science – taking body temperature, checking body fluids, and using some computations – a woman can determine with 95% accuracy when to have sex and not get pregnant. A woman is fertile during approximately seven to ten days per cycle and is infertile the rest of the time. When practiced properly, NFP is as effective as any artificial birth control method. And it is not difficult to learn. Mother Theresa taught poor, illiterate Indian women how to effectively use NFP. In addition, no prescription and no expensive devices are involved, so it is easy on the budget.

[7] For the Church, the worst aspect of birth control pills is that many of them are not true contraceptives; they do not prevent the sperm and egg from conceiving. Instead, they work as an abortifacient, causing the uterus to eject potentially fertilized eggs. Because the Church teaches that life begins at conception, any fertilized egg is an embryo and a human person. Also, artificial contraception is morally wrong because each and every sex act can occur only between husband and wife and must be directed towards two ends: love and life, that is, the intimate unity between the man and woman (love) and possibly procreating another human being (life). Conception and pregnancy do not have to occur each time, but no man-made barriers should prevent what God may intend to happen. When love and life – unity and procreation – are separated, then sex becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Birth control makes sex recreational, and removing what may be perceived as the “danger” of pregnancy means that couples no longer need to communicate about when and when not to have sex and whether they want o can afford another child. Discussions on this topic can strengthen the marriage.

© Valentine Anthony Umoh 2018

Universidad de Navarra
Facultad de Teología
vumoh@alumni.unav.es
vatexs86@gmail.com

THE CHALLENGES OF MISSION IN NIGERIA[1]

Challenges of mission1

Mission has always posed questions and challenges to those who genuinely engage in it. In the past, the challenges were primarily of a physical nature, consisting in the acceptance of uncommon privations for the missionary.[2] Today the challenges transcend the physical and affect many other dimensions due to the complexity of modern society. Generally, “mission is quite a herculean enterprise, and very demanding. The Church right from her inception never found it easy and she still finds it really tough.”[3] The Church in Nigeria faces a lot of challenges in her mission to enshrine the Gospel message and values in the hearts of the Nigerians.

Many authors have pointed out some challenges or the other to mission. For T. Okere it is primarily the problem of inadequate missionary method.[4] B. Ukwuegbu thinks that the lack of an explicit confrontational evangelization is the major challenge to mission in Nigeria.[5] For J. Ukpong, the socio-economic contexts and problems make mission an uphill task here.[6] A. Vasumu et al conceive it as the problem of lack of proper catechesis, syncretism, secularism and illiteracy.[7]

The CBCN highlights the setbacks and some areas of weakness with regard to mission to include: lack of genuineness of purpose in the so-called vocation boom to the priestly and religious life; lack of vocations in some parts of the country; a sense of male, clerical domination in the Church; lack of personal conversion among the teeming population of Nigerian Christians as evident in the high level of corruption in the country; lack of sufficient catechesis; religious syncretism; Pentecostalism; proliferation of ethnic and religious violence in the country; lack of proper coordination and documentation of the mission ad extra activities of the Church in Nigeria.[8] The problem of ignorance, diseases and misery (poverty), postmodernism, ethnicity and cultural differences, lack of proper inculturation, failure of inter-religious dialogue, division among Christians, proliferation of churches, the improper and inadequate use of means of social communication are among other problems and challenges that befall missionary activity in Nigeria today.[9]

From the above barrage of challenges this study, while claiming not to be exhaustive chooses to concentrate and focus on some of these challenges.

INADEQUATE MISSIONARY METHODS

Pope Paul VI in his address to the College of Cardinals on June 22, 1973 said:

The conditions of society today require us to revise our methods and to seek out with all our energy new ways and means by which the Christian message may be brought to the men of our times, for it is only in this message that they can find the answers to their doubts and the inspiration to carry out the obligation arising from their mutual dependency.[10]

On another occasion, the Holy Father asked: “What method should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effects? Does the Church not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put into people’s heart with conviction, freedom of the spirit and effectiveness?”[11]

In his 1982 Address to the Nigerian Bishops, Pope John Paul II called them to a new era of evangelization that will be new in its Zeal, new in its Methods, new in its Expression and new in its Strategies: “in this pastoral visit, I express the hope that it would initiate a new era of evangelization. This is my earnest prayer, that zeal for evangelization will envelop the Church in Nigeria.”[12]

The above seeks to show how important method and strategy are to mission. Mission succeeds and fails by means of the method employed. The changing Nigerian society demands that missionary methods and strategies be revised and updated. To better appreciate why missionary methods today are considered inadequate a glimpse at some of the methods used by the early missionaries will suffice. These among others include

a) The Ruling Class Method[13]

The first missionary method of evangelization used by most early missionaries was that of finding favour with the Ruler and the Upper class of the place they visited; with these they could convert them and their household and through them their subjects. This was precisely the method used by the Holy Ghost Fathers. For instance, within the old Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province they converted the traditional ruler Samuel Obi Anazonwu and Chief Idigo of Aguleri and their families. Both not only surrendered vast portions of their lands to the Church but also became the flag bearers of evangelization in this zone together with their families

b) Christian Mission House[14]

Following the abolishing of slave trade by the British Parliament’s Act of 1807, there were movements of slaves from those countries where they were sold. This gave rise to the problem of settling the slaves who could not go back to their original homes due to the loss of contact and segregation. The missionaries took it as a challenge to settle the ex-slaves and the proximate thing to do was to keep them in camps called Christian villages which later graduated into Mission houses. With Fr. Lutz one sees concrete examples in Onitsha, Aguleri, Nsugbe and Nteje. In doing this, the early missionaries were convinced of doing service to God and that eventual conversion was obvious. There was also the sense of removing those free slaves from being contaminated by impurities and ungodly ‘paganism’ of their society. The freed slaves did eventually become the foundation members of the Church especially in the Southern part of Nigeria

c) Humanitarian/Charitable Work[15]

Following the abolition of the slave trade, the atmosphere favoured humanitarian and charitable works. The situation was already gleaming in Africa as many thought of bringing something better to poor Africans so as to uplift their ugly situation. Fr. Lutz on arrival at Onitsha after experiencing the mission in Sierra Leone had at the back of his mind ‘integral human development.’ Celestine Obi puts it thus:

For him evangelization meant more than teaching the natives to read the bible in their own language, he came to win the whole man- body and soul for Christ. Charity, commiseration and seeking the well-being of the natives marked his evangelical method.[16]

As such he not only built schools, but also leprosarium, dispensaries, hospitals and workshops to cater for all kinds of persons. The sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny who came from France helped in giving medical assistance to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In Western Nigeria, for instance, the S M A Fathers, Francois and Coquard opened the first dispensary and orphanage in Lagos. This method was very effective, but the motive was sometimes misguided.

Other Early Missionary Methods include: The Sponsored Mission or Portuguese Padroado System, the School Apostolate, Dialogical Method and Catechesis. All these methods did have their various strengths and weaknesses.

The paramount questions now are: since there is still the need for both primary and secondary evangelization in Nigeria, how is the Church in Nigeria responding to these missionary needs? What missionary methods is the Church adopting today?

A survey of the missionary activities of the various Dioceses, parishes and organizations that make up the Church in Nigeria, as well as written documents on Missionary efforts in Nigeria,[17] indicate that some of the methods adopted by the Church in Nigeria today are similar to those she inherited from her early missionaries. These will include among others; promotion of indigenous clergy and religious orders, creation of new dioceses, parishes and ecclesial basic communities[18], human promotion, evangelization through means of social communication, charity apostolate (care of the poor, sick and needy), school apostolate and inter-religious dialogue. A brief highlight on these latter methods will also serve the purpose of this study.

a) Promotion of Indigenous Clergy and Religious Orders

Pope John Paul II, following the indication of the Second Vatican Council in the document Ad Gentes Divinitus, wrote that the evangelization of all peoples is the direct responsibility of the bishops both as members of the College of Bishops and as pastors of the particular Churches. Religious institutes and diocesan priests also share in this direct responsibility for mission apart from the mission of all the baptized in Christ.

The first missionary approach of the Church in Nigeria is to ensure that there is a stable growth in priestly vocations and indigenous religious orders. The Nigerian factor of the segmentation of the country along geographical, ethnic and linguistic lines has made such an approach, an imperative for any successful mission. The success of mission in Nigeria largely depends on this factor and method because the gospel must consider the ethnic, linguistic and cultural peculiarity of the people if it is to be embraced.

The yearly ordination of priests in the different dioceses in Nigeria and the profession of final vows in the Religious Institutes by the sons and daughters of Nigeria show the effectiveness of this approach. This is what propelled the establishment of the Missionary Society of St. Paul by the CBCN[19], The Sons/Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy Congregation by Bishop Anthony Nwedo, The Holy Rosary Sisters, Daughters of Divine Love, Society of Jesus the Saviour by Fr. Emmanuel Edeh, Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, etc.

When Pope Paul VI addressed the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) in Kampala, Uganda in 1969 he said: “Africans, you are now your own missionaries.” This could be interpreted to mean that for the success of mission in Africa, especially in Nigeria, a vibrant and robust network of indigenous clergy and religious institutes is indispensable.

b) Creation of Dioceses, Parishes and Ecclesial Basic Communities (EBCs)

The Church in Nigeria believes in the creation of dioceses, parishes and ecclesial basic communities. The fact that the world’s population is increasing in a geometric progression has also given rise to a relative growth in the population of Christians in the globe including Nigeria. This increase in the population of the laity which is unfortunately inversely proportional to the increase in the population of the clergy has given rise to the formation of ecclesial basic communities where some trained lay faithful are placed in charge in line with the Vatican II’s ecclesiology of the Church as people of God.[20] The logic and the theology of the creation of new dioceses, parishes and EBCs are to bring the Good News and Faith in Jesus Christ nearer to the people especially in their own language and culture. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual society; thus, for the Gospel to be relevant it must speak to the people in their own particular context and life situation. With the creation of more dioceses and parishes the gap created by differences in culture, language and tribe is bridged so that people can feel at home with the faith

c) Human Promotion

The Church in Nigeria strongly believes that authentic development is centred on the human person, on the actualization of his potentials and on the fulfilment of his legitimate aspirations.[21] She is fully aware that development is not just a matter of building beautiful bridges, fanciful airports, business and holiday resorts and skyscrapers but primarily about building the human person. She also believes that “a nation is not just a geographical space. It is an aggregate of people who live a common life rooted in and inspired by common ideals and core values, a common life in which the dignity of every human person is respected.”[22] This means that a geographical space where people are forced to live together at gunpoint may be called a state, but it cannot be properly called a nation.

Hence, no national development or growth can be recorded without an integral and harmonious human promotion and development, and the Church in her wisdom is fully aware that her evangelizing mission can make little or no meaning without its inseparable connection with human promotion. No wonder Pope Benedict XVI declared in his parting words to the Synod Fathers, during his sermon at the closing Mass, that: “…as she offers the bread of the Word and the Eucharist, the Church [in Nigeria should] dedicate herself also to work, with every means available, so that no African [Nigerian] will be without daily bread. That is why, along with the task of primary evangelization, Christians are active in the interventions of human promotion.”[23] Thus, the Church as part of her missionary methods makes concerted effort to promote the human person. This can be seen in the areas of education, healthcare, aid to the needy, development projects, defence of human rights and commitment to bring about democracy and legally constituted states.

Even though every member of the Church is called to be a promoter of Human dignity, this function is specifically given to the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), acting in the name of the Church and as prescribed by the Synod. With the JDPC the Church in Nigeria not only speaks out against all forms of “unfair conditions” and “inequalities” but also works to bring an end to such structures of social evil to ensure the development of peoples which according to Pope Paul VI is the new name for peace.[24] During the Second Plenary meeting held at Bishop Nwedo Pastoral Centre, Umuahia the CBCN exclaimed:

Nigerians continue to live in fear and tension. In spite of the acclaimed efforts to beef up security in the nation, bombings and senseless killings of innocent Nigerians, continue in the northern part of the country, while kidnapping and periodic murders and armed robberies continue in the southern part. The failure of government at all levels and other security agencies to provide adequate security for all Nigerians is a grave form of abuse of human dignity. This unfortunate situation leads to distrust of government and allied authorities. It creates loopholes for evil doers to thrive and for the proliferation of arms and dangerous weapons under the guise of self-defence.[25]

The Church is, therefore, committed to the principles of Justice, Peace and Development not only in words but also in action. This is made evident in her various interventions in the process of National policy formulations. The Church is fully aware that this is one of the major ways to make herself present to the oppressed, the sick and the voiceless and defenceless of our Nigerian society. This is a veritable missionary method and stride.[26]

d) Evangelization through Means of Social Communications

Gone are the days when the Church stayed aloof from utilizing the means of social communications in her mission. Today the media – both print and electronic – play a major role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. The media aids in publicizing the missionary involvement of the Church as well as canvasses for sponsorship and support by way of financial or material missionary cooperation. The Church must really see this method as indispensable in this age of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) if she is to succeed in her mission. For example, almost all the dioceses in Nigeria have a Newspaper which creates awareness of the presence of the Church in the society and her role as the conscience of the society. Furthermore, almost all the Catholic institutions, schools, colleges, universities publish magazines and journals; all for the promotion of the continuance of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Also, there is a widespread use of the cyberspace to preach the Gospel through Church owned websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, etc. Many also utilize the Television and Radio services for the broadcast of evangelization programmes. This is a method that must be strengthened and maintained

e) Charity Apostolate

The Church cannot be indifferent to the plight of the poor in the society. Like every other human society Nigeria is beset with the problems of ignorance, poverty, malnutrition, disease, premature death which at times are caused by human selfishness and unjust social structures. Whatever the case, the Church undertakes a missio pauperes (mission to the poor) as part of her evangelizing mission. A clear example of this is found in the establishment of Orphanages, leprosarium, Home for the physically challenged by the Church and the constant visit by Church organizations to these places in terms of giving material support. We also see this gesture in cases of displaced persons and refugees by way of relief aids to them through the JDPC. For example, on October 10, 2010 residents of Yakassawa Kwari who fell victims to flood waters from the Tiga/Challawa dams were given relief materials worth millions of Naira through the JDPC of the Catholic Diocese of Kano. Even in the 2012 flood saga, the JDPC was at the frontline of giving relief materials to displaced persons. And in 2014, the JDPC of Ijebu Ode diocese gave out over N12bn in loans to the needy. The Scheme, which had empowered about a 100,000 beneficiaries, who are women in small and medium scale agric-business and allied sectors across the South West of Nigeria was designed to boost the women and the agricultural sector of the economy. The loan which was meant to promote small and medium enterprises in agro-produce, expand existing ones, as well as empower women, could be repaid over a period of 10 years.[27]

f) School Apostolate

The Church has considered school apostolate a very indispensable and pertinent tool for evangelization. Francis Bacon says that “knowledge is power” and man is a being that is in constant pursuit of knowledge. The Church has throughout the ages recognised this demand so that she uses school apostolate in the work of mission. To take a concrete instance, the Church has numerous schools and institutions of learning from where she spreads her teaching. The Church uses her schools for enlightenment on the faith and for catechesis. When the early missionaries came to Nigeria, they built schools alongside churches and these helped to facilitate evangelization and indoctrination as what was not fully taught in the Church was completed in the school. Today as before the school apostolate is still a veritable missionary method; though it may not be strong as before. The Church in Nigeria lays a serious and strong emphasis on education and she notes:

Quality education produces citizens who will work for the establishment and maintenance of a just socio-economic and political order. It is the antidote for the recurring and related problems of poverty, corruption, insecurity and incompetence in our land…Quality education involves the formation of the whole person, that is, the human person in his or her spiritual, intellectual, moral and technical dimensions. It is rooted in and animated by spiritual values. Does not the evil of science without morality stare us in the face? Technical education without ethical values creates persons who promote a culture of death. The terrorists in our midst are without doubt well educated in the technique of making explosives. In the same way, religion without the use of the intellect makes us intolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. Faith without reason breeds fanatics. Artisans of a new Nigeria—religious leaders, politicians, civil servants, business men and women, parents—need holistic education.[28]

The Church in Nigeria can be proud of her track record in the field of education. In some Nigerian towns and villages, the only place of learning is a primary or secondary school built and run by the Catholic Church and her dedicated teachers drawn from her clergy, religious, lay faithful and even men and women of other faiths. Before the ill-advised take-over of the schools by the military government in the early 1970s, Catholic schools showed that Nigerian children could live in harmony in spite of religious and ethnic differences. Her schools were noted for the formation of the intellect and the conscience for competence

g) Inter-religious Dialogue

According to experts the expression “inter-religious dialogue” unfolds in four major forms: Dialogue of Life, Dialogue of Action, Dialogue of Discourse and Dialogue of Religious Experience. In each of these, the common denominator is dialogue which generally means “a communicative process that entails a mutual and an impersonal relationship between two or more partners on the platform of subject-to-subject communicative encounter.”[29] It is all about emphasizing the common elements that bind people than what separates them, understanding their common values and grounds. It is all about understanding the other and trying to live in harmony. The Church sees this as a veritable method of evangelization especially in the Nigerian situation. Her ability to make her presence felt after the example of God, the Father who welcomes all that come to him will add to her missionary progress. That is why the CBCN has on several occasions summoned the nation to peaceful co-existence beyond the ethnic, religious and political divide. Through the JDPC department of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), she carries out with other faith traditions a common action in aid to the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden and as a conscience of the society. She is at the forefront of religious tolerance and freedom of worship. The Church in Nigeria really believes in inter-religious dialogue and goes all out to engrave it as one of her evangelization or mission strategies.

The above are the current missionary methods in Nigeria. Though they have created much impact, they are still considered inadequate as missionary methods per se. This is either because of their superficiality or their inability to convert. One should not forget that the end of every missionary outreach is to convert hearts to Christ. The Conciliar document on the Church’s missionary activity make it explicitly clear that mission is going out and planting the Church in places where people do not yet believe in Christ. But not only that, it also involves ministry in places in need of renewal, where there is a state of regression and weakness. In this regard, pastoral ministry is not mission in the strict sense of the term though it is closely associated with missionary activity. It is on this note that one could see that the above enumerated missionary methods today are somewhat geared towards pastoral ministry. The missionary methods she adopts does not make her ‘confrontational’ and zealous in the quest for souls as is seen in the resurging ‘Pentecostalist movements’ or ‘Independent churches.’[30]

PENTECOSTALISM, RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AND SYNCRETISM

Not only that Pentecostalism has made serious inroads into the Catholic Church in Nigeria as observed by the Catholic Hierarchy in Nigeria but their proliferation in the country seems to occasion an accelerated divide within the Christian fold such that missionary efforts by the Church is seriously challenged. In order not to ‘lose her members’ some Catholic missionaries, priests and religious tend to incorporate the Pentecostalist mentality in their mode of worship, prayers and preaching. So that in the Church today one finds some tendencies of a fundamentalist interpretation of the scripture, an overly emotional style of worship, an unhealthy preoccupation with demons and demonology, and an excessive insistence on miracles, signs and wonders. These New Religious Movements as most authors prefer to call them challenge the Church in the areas of Inculturation, Dynamic and lively worship, Catechesis or Bible study, Holistic Gospel, and true brotherhood.[31] Thus, if the evangelizing mission of the Church in Nigeria is to be relevant and successful in this present era, she must take into serious consideration the challenges posed by Pentecostalism.[32]

Syncretism on the other hand refers to a process of combining different religious practices or beliefs, which may lead to a new synthesis or to a strengthening, weakening or dissolution of old allegiances.[33] Syncretism is really an axe that the Church must grind and grapple with. Even though the Christian Faith has come to stay in Nigeria, there is still a vacuum or a gulf existing between the Christian Faith and the African Traditional beliefs and practices. Many Christians are neither fully Christians nor are they committed worshippers of the African Traditional Religion. Thus, the people among whom the message of salvation is announced are sometimes set on the horns of dilemma in trying to really part with their traditional practices and to embrace the Gospel message in its entirety. Even though several and concerted attempts have been made and are still made at inculturating the message of Christ, syncretistic practices are still shooting up in unimaginable proportions, and this constitutes a serious challenge to the mission of the Church. This challenge will only be overcome when the Church in Nigeria gets it right on inculturation.

POVERTY AND MATERIALISM

“Nigeria’s poverty level rises, hits 71.5%, Sokoto, Niger top list of poorest states” was the Monday, 13 February 2012 Newspaper headline of the Nigerian Tribune written by Gbola Subair of Abuja. In clear terms, the analyst wrote:

POVERTY in Nigeria is rising with almost 100 million people living on less than $1 a day despite strong growth, data showed on Monday. The percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty — those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing — rose to 60.9 per cent in 2010, compared with 54.7 per cent in 2004, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said. Although Nigeria’s economy is projected to continue growing, poverty is likely to get worse as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. “It remains a paradox … that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year,” Statistician General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale, told reporters at a press conference in Abuja, on Monday.[34]

Poverty is to be understood here in the sense of a sub-human standard of living. It is a condition prevalent in most underdeveloped and developing countries of which Nigeria is a typical example. Poverty is often accompanied by class distinctions in society and social alienation. In Nigeria the level of poverty is extremely on the increase every day. The Church must see it as part of its proclamation of the kingdom as well as her missionary activity to help people in the country attain a level of living that befits their human dignity. However, while hating poverty and seeking to wipe it out, or at least diminish it in society, the Church must love the poor and devote time to them. The purpose of ministry to the poor must not be to keep them poor and good Christians and citizens. Rather the purpose must be to give them the hope and the means they need to conquer poverty in their lives and to serve God and their neighbour in freedom. Poverty poses a challenge to the Church in Nigeria as it is everywhere. The Church must see it as part of her missionary imperative. In this way, she will integrate it into her mission programmes and recognise that intermittent charity is not the solution. A true response to the situation must be founded on a planned programme that will help the people themselves overcome their condition of poverty.

The serious challenge here is the other side of the story. Because of the level of poverty in the country, some ‘missionaries’ or preachers of the gospel and regrettably too Catholic priests and religious tend to see the ministry as a means of getting rich and accumulating wealth. “Some Nigerian Missionaries display an inordinate desire for money and other material benefits. This is a great hindrance to the credible proclamation of the Gospel.”[35] Materialism is a serious set-back to mission in Nigeria. Many priests in mission lands mismanage and divert the funds meant for missionary promotion to their private accounts in a bid to get rich. This attitude by some missionaries has become scandalous to the extent that those who voluntarily supported mission financially (missionary co-operation) withdraw their support and resources. This is because the intention of the donors is defeated due to sheer greed and materialism.

Thus, for the Church in Nigeria to really go far in mission ad intra she must join forces with other organizations to combat the rapidly increasing widespread poverty in the country. The 1971 Synod of Bishops states that: “actions on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”[36] Actions to remedy the situation of poverty in Nigeria should not be considered as secondary aspects of the Church’s mission.

NEGLECT OF THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN MISSION

How many Catholic TV and Radio Stations are there in Nigeria? How many Catholic programs are aired on the TV Channels and Radio stations all over Nigeria in a day, in a week, in a month and in a year? How many Nigeria Catholic websites are there? Does the Church in Nigeria have a National Daily Newspaper?[37] How many Catholic printing presses are there? How else can her explicit and prophetic proclamation of the gospel message and values be heard except through these means of social communication? The above questions suggest that the lack a massive employment of the means of Social communication is still a challenge to the evangelizing mission of the Church.[38] The Lineamenta for the First African Synod states thus: “Given the importance of social communications, the Particular Churches should endeavour to seek the greatest possible access to these tools which would permit the Church to proclaim “quite openly and unhindered” (Acts 28:31) the Good News of Jesus Christ. If possible, these Churches could acquire themselves and run their own transmitting stations; they should at least seek to obtain air time in local and national programs. The Church should take advantage of these means to awaken people to Christianity whose message can lead to a just and peaceful society.”[39] How many provinces, diocese and religious houses have hearkened to this Synodal directive? Africae Munus directs that “The Church [in Nigeria] needs to be increasingly present in the media so as to make them not only a tool for the spread of the Gospel but also for educating the African peoples to reconciliation in truth, and the promotion of justice and peace.”[40] The Church in Nigeria must optimally employ the use of these social media if her mission is to effective today.

LACK OF PROPER FORMATION OF MISSIONARY AGENTS

Who are the missionary agents in Nigeria? The College of Bishops and the Clergy are primary missionary agents. They are supposed to work together to stimulate, promote and direct the work for the missions as well as make the mission spirit and zeal of the people of God present and as it were visible. The Nigerian Bishops and priests are currently doing their best in coordinating missionary activities not only in Nigeria but also beyond her frontiers. But the fruits of mission may likewise suggest that their best is not good enough. For, considering the facts, the number of priests in Nigeria now is not commensurate with the work they do. They are all engrossed in pastoral care and ministry. Little or no work is done in the area of primary evangelization and charity.

Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, active as well as the contemplatives are supposed to be playing a very serious and major role in the evangelizing mission in Nigeria. The birth of many indigenous religious orders and many vocations to them is a special gift of God to the Church in Nigeria. They are supposed to carry often the burden of primary evangelization in those parts of the country that are yet to be evangelized. Though their efforts so far are to be commended, more still must be done.[41] Religious institutes play a major role in the evangelization of the world. But according to the Second Vatican Council, they:

Should ask themselves sincerely in the presence of God, whether they could not be able to extend their activity for the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the nations; whether they could not possibly leave certain ministries to others so that they themselves could expend their forces for the missions.[42]

This question is very important for instance in Nigeria where many Religious institutes are almost becoming secular, competing with the secular-diocesan clergy. In fact, some of them simply have no missionary focus or target. It is among them, that true missionaries in the strictest sense of the term are supposed to be born. Considering the number of religious houses in Nigeria today, one wonders whether the missionary work is proportionate to their ever-increasing numerical presence.

Among the other agents of mission in Nigeria, the laity occupies a distinguished place. This is because through them the seed of mission is sown in the family, (the domestic Church) and actively engaged in socio-economic and political life in the civil societies, they act like the leaven of the Good News in the world:

If the mission of the Church is ever to be accomplished in the area of Justice, development and peace, lay Catholics who are competent and enlightened in the noble art of politics should devote themselves to the service of the state and courageously take on the burdens of political life.[43]

The laity are the primary agents in the task of inculturating and evangelizing the moral values of postmodern society. Among the laity a special mission is assigned to the Catechists. If this task is neglected, the Church will become more and more an irrelevant “ghetto Church” and will be isolated from the creative currents of postmodernity.[44] Many lay faithful have hearkened to this clarion call of the Church in Nigeria and are already putting up their best to permeate the polity with the Gospel values. On the contrary those who are not measuring up to expectation need to hear the Synod’s advice:

Many Catholics [Christians] in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office. The Synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church [Christianity] a bad name.[45]

The problem with all the above agents of mission lies with either the improper formation or the lack of it. Due to this lack, there is proportionate lack of personal conversion on the part of the agents themselves. Pope Paul VI and John Paul unanimously agree that “the evangelizers must first be evangelized themselves.”[46] That is why the proper formation of missionary agents is indispensable if the Church wants to take her mission serious. Some are not even convinced of what they do. This is blamed in part on insufficient catechesis. The great majority of adult Catholics in Nigeria ended their catechesis with the lessons they received while preparing for confirmation either as teenagers or young adults. Thereafter, they have received no further religious education to match their academic or professional education. As a result, they have not been challenged to a personal and mature commitment to Christ and his Gospel. They are simply nominal Christians, even Church goers.[47]

This lack of personal conversion is evident from the fact that though in Nigeria we have many Catholic flocking to the church for liturgical activities and devotional exercises, there is a sharp contrast between their lives within the Church premises and their conduct outside, in their places of work and business and they are prepared to engage in all manner of sharp and corrupt practices that bedevil the Nigerian society even while professing to be good Catholics.[48]

The foregoing excursus has been an attempt to critically examine some of the most serious challenges the Church in Nigeria faces today with respect to her missionary mandate. And somehow ‘possible’ solutions have been proffered to these challenges. What remains now is the positive reception of these on the part of the key players and the respective follow-up actions.


Notes

[1] This work originally formed the Chapter Four of my Memoir titled: “The Challenges of Mission in Nigeria: Fifty Years After Ad Gentes Divinitus” Submitted to the Theology Faculty of Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri as a partial fulfilment for the Award of the Bachelor´s Degree in Theology, June 2014. It is also a development of my previous article titled: “A Critical Assessment of Mission Approach in Nigeria” Published in NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 23, March 2013). Now it is here edited.

[2] Cf. T. Bellagamba, “Many and Mission Today” in Africa Christian Studies, (Vol. 5, No. 1, Nairobi, March 1989), p. 30.

[3] M. Warren, “The Missionary Obligation Today” In International Review of Mission, (Vol.39, no.1599), p.118.

[4] Cf. T. Okere, Church, Theology and Society in Africa, (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Pub. Co. Ltd., 2005), pp. 64-69.

[5] Cf. B. Ukwuegbu, Confrontational Evangelization: Foundations, Features and Prospects (Onitsha: Effective Key Pub. Ltd., 1995), pp. 100-119.

[6] Cf. J. Ukpong, “Proclaiming the Kingdom of God in Africa Today” in J. Ukpong (ed) Proclaiming the Kingdom: Essays in Contextual New Testament Studies (Port Harcourt: CIWA Publications, 1993), pp. 154-157.

[7] Cf. A. Vasumu et al, “Mission and Discipleship: A Call for Self-emptying” In NACATHS Journal of African Theology (Vol. 22, March 2012), pp. 68-70.

[8] Cf. CBCN, Op. cit, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, pp. 13-16.

[9] Cf. CBCN, “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World”: Manual of the Laity, (Abuja, CSN, 2009), pp. 13-17.

[10] Paul VI, Address to the College of Cardinals, 22 June, 1973.

[11] EN 8.

[12] John Paul II, Address to Nigerian Bishops, Lagos, 15 February, 1982.

[13] Cf. J. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria 1847-1891: The making of a new Elite, (Harlow, 1981), pp.14-15; C. Obi (ed), A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, (Onitsha: Africana Pub., 1990), p. 29ff; E. Ayandele, Nigerian Historical Studies, (London: Frank, 1971), p.159ff; B. Okike, The Need for Mission Throug Inculturation and Dialogue, (Rome: Gregorian Press, 1995), pp. 1-4; V. Umoh, “A Critical Assessment of Mission Approach in Nigeria” In NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 23, March 2013), p. 100ff.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] C. Obi, (ed.), A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, (Onitsha: Africana Pub., 1990), p. 29.

[17] Cf. CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, 2011; N. Omenka, (ed.), The Church in Nigeria: Studies on the Religious and Socio-Cultural Challenges (Enugu: Snaap Press, 2003); CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Family of God on Mission, 2004; C. Njoku, & M. Ezeh (eds.), History of the Catholic Church in Owerri Ecclesiastical Province (1912-2012), (Owerri: Assumpta Press, 2012), etc.

[18] In some place these are also called Basic Christian communities.

[19] Initiated and Facilitated by His Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekandem of blessed memory.

[20] Cf. S. Okanumee, “Formation of Ecclesial Basic Communities: Implications for Evangelization in Nigeria” in NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 22, March 2012), pp. 13-15.

[21] Cf. CBCN, Growing a New Nigeria, Joint Pastoral Letter on the 50th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Political independence (13th March, 2011).

[22] CBCN, The Word of God and the Building of the Nigerian Nation, (Abuja: Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria), 10.

[23] This Synod was held in the Vatican from 4th to 25th October 2009 with the topic: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the World” (Mt 5:13, 14); Benedict XVI, “Message of the Second African Synod” (Vatican City, 25th October, 2009). Words in brackets are mine.

[24] Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (March 26 1967), 76.

[25] CBCN, Promoting Authentic Development, A Communiqué issued at the End of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Bishop Anthony Nwedo Pastoral Centre, Umuahia, Abia State, 8th – 14th September, 2012, 4.

[26] Between February and April 2018, owing to the recent events of killings in some parts of Nigeria especially in Benue and Southern Kaduna which is a result of the failure of governance and the security agencies in the country, the CBCN had sent delegates to the Presidency who united with one voice made strong statements against bad governance and expressed the feelings of the poor masses to the President. This is one of such instances where the Church has made her missionary commitment felt in Nigeria with regards to human promotion.

[27] In times of serious crises like inter-communal violence, killings and natural disaster where many lives are lost and many persons either injured or displaced, The Church often make obligatory collections from the different parishes and the dioceses to ameliorate the sufferings of these brothers in need.

[28] Communiqué at the End of the First Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference Centre Lugbe, Abuja, February 25 – March 2, 2012, 9.

[29]H. Ochulor, The Function of Dialogue in the Process of Evangelization (Owerri: Edu-Edy Publication, 2004), p.114.

[30] Cf. K. Enang, The Nigerian Catholics and the Independent Churches, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications, 2012).

[31] Cf. D. Udoette, Christianity in Nigeria: Trends and Interpretations, (Uyo: Alcollins Printers Nig., 2012), pp. 149-159.

[32] Ibid., p. 160. See also D. Ukpong, Nigerian Pentecostalism: Case, Diagnosis and Prescription (Uyo, Fruities’ Publications, 2008). For him all the positive impacts of Pentecostalism which range from the use of the Holy Bible, Music, Spirituality and Prayer, Preaching, Proclamation, Teaching, Worship, Lay participation, use of Mass Media, ecclesial consciousness, church support, devotional practices Aesthetics of Religious Ambience are a real challenge to the Church in Nigeria.

[33] Cf. A. Asiegbu, A Crisis of Faith and a Quest for Spirituality (Enugu, Pearl functions, 2000), p. 12.

[34] Gbola Subair, “BOKO HARAM’S FUNDING TRACED TO UK, SAUDI ARABIA” in Nigerian Tribune, Monday February 13, 2012 Headline reports. Maryam Uwais, the Special Advisor to the President on Social Protection says about 67% of Nigerian population live below poverty line as reported by Vanguard News in February 2018.

[35] CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, p. 23.

[36] Synod of Bishops, Iustitia in Mundo, Justice in the World (November 30, 1971), 6.

[37] In 2014, a symposium was held in the Seat of Wisdom Seminary Auditorium, Owerri, organized by the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, this question was posed: Is a Nigerian Daily Catholic Newspaper possible? And one could also ask, is a Nigerian Catholic TV possible?

[38] However, it must be recognized that today, more than ever there is a wake-up action by many cooperate individuals, parishes and dioceses and so one can point out clearly to one or two examples of the Church´s effort. The Catholic Television of Nigeria (CTV) Abuja and the Lumen Christi TV Lagos stand as archetypes and testimonies of these efforts today. More are being expected in the years ahead.

[39] General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa, Lineamenta (Vatican City, 1990), 91.

[40] Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus (19 November, 2011), 145.

[41] For instance, they work in many dioceses in the Northern part of the country that are yet to receive the gospel, they provide services in those dioceses where the indigenous clergy and religious are either lacking or insufficient.

[42] AG 40

[43] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 75, see also CBCN, “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World” (cf.Matthew 5:13-16): Manual of the Laity, 2009, 140.

[44] A. Echema, Priests and Laity Collaboration in the Postmodern Church (Owerri, Assumpta Press, 2011), p. 164

[45] Synod of Bishops, Second Special Assembly on Africa, Message 23, (Vatican City, 2009). Brackets mine

[46] EN 15; RM 49

[47] Cf. CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, p. 15.

[48] Ibid., pp. 14-15.
© Valentine Anthony Umoh 2018

Universidad de Navarra
Facultad de Teología
vumoh@alumni.unav.es
vatexs86@gmail.com

Messiah in Isaiah 7:14

Mesiah in isaiahpics

Introduction

Many ink has been spilled on this single verse. The one important question that occupies studies in this single verse over the centuries has been the messianic character of the text. Is Isaiah 7:14 Messianic? William Most argues thus:

Catholic scholars at one time used to defend the messianic nature of that text.  Then they shifted to divided positions:  some said the child spoken of was the King Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz, to whom Isaiah spoke.  Others would say it is Christ.  A third position is quite possible if we hold that there can be multiple fulfillment of prophecies. The text could refer to both Hezekiah and Christ.

This is the simple way to summarize and categorize the trends of thought over the centuries on this particular text. It becomes particularly interesting when Matt 1:22–23 refers to this text in the context of the angel´s annunciation to Joseph of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” A text which has been used by the Church over the centuries to defend her teaching on the virginal conception. Given this context therefore, it becomes particularly crystal clear that to defend the messianic character of Isa7:14 tantamount to defending the virginal conception of the Messiah. Scholars who disagree with the messianic character of this text argue on the wrong interpretation of the Hebrew “Almah” meaning “Young woman” as “Parthenos” meaning “virgin” by the Septuagint (LXX). Some others argue from the point of view of the “sign.”

However, when all the terminological problematics are resolved and the historical and literary context of the text is correctly understood, it becomes clear that the text is Messianic. In such a venture according to Montague, the exegete (biblical scholar) therefore, will need the companionship of faith to understand it as such:

In this sense only the interpreter inspired by faith can interpret scripture as the word of God. A theologian without faith is a misnomer; he or she may be a social scientist or a student of world religions, but he is not a theologian. Faith of itself, of course, does not assure competence in the exegetical tools required to come up with plausible insights[1].

In this regard Karl Barth and Benedict XVI agree that there are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb, in which Jesus did not remain, nor see corruption. In these two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb –  are found the cornerstones of faith. If God does not have power over matter, then he simply is not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and the resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.[2]

Any scholar who shares this faith is wont to see in Isa7:14 a prophecy that was fulfilled in the virgin Birth of Jesus according to Matt and those who don’t share this faith no matter the abundance of materials available will not see this prophecy as messianic.

This work shall attempt to assess the available materials and data, from the texts itself in its historical and literary context. Examine the thoughts of early Church Fathers, the magisterium, theologians in order to reinforce the messianic character of this text. Given the wide range of materials on this study, it is virtually an impossible task to claim to exhaustively examine previous thoughts on the work. But the work shall examine the most relevant.

The Textual consideration of Isaiah 7:14

 

Hebrew Text (MT) LXX
לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֙ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם א֑וֹת הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמ֖וֹ עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃

 

διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ
Vulgate (Vg) Spanish (Biblia Navarra)
propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel

 

Pues bien, el propio Señor os da un signo. Mirad, la virgen está encinta y dará a luz un hijo, a quien pondrán por nombre Enmanuel.
English KJV English NJB[3]
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel The Lord will give you a sign in any case: It is this: the young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.

 

Terminological Analysis

הָעַלְמָ֗ה παρθένος

As seen in the table above, The Greek of the crucial verse in Isa7:14 reads thus: διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ, “for this reason the Lord Himself will give you (Plur. [ =house of David] a sign. Look, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and you (sing) shall call him Immanuel.” Here, three changes from the MT are noteworthy: a) future indicatives (ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει), “shall be with child,” and τέξεται, “shall bear”) replace the present participles of the MT (הרה and ילדת), which thus give a more remote meaning to the sign; b) הָעַלְמָ֗ה, “young girl,” of the MT is given a more specific meaning, ἡ παρθένος, “virgin”;[4] and c) the ambiguous וְקָרָ֥את, which is vocalized in the MT as וְקָרָ֥את, i.e., fem. 3rd person sing., “and she shall call,” can also be read as in Judg 12:1, i.e., masc. 2nd person sing. After making these valuable observations, Fitzmyer, couldn´t draw a good conclusions from these changes but remarked: “In any case, none of these difference changes the meaning of the sign into a more pronounced “messianic” connotation.”[5] He however goes on to underline that “the most important difference is ἡ παρθένος, which affects the woman, whereas the value of the sign is found in the birth and name of the child.”[6] However, given the context of his argument in the entire book “the One who is to come” whereby he tries to diminish the existence of any explicit announcement of the coming messiah before the first two centuries before Christ, then one could understand why even with the evidence clearly before him, he refuses to acknowledge any explicit messianic context of the text. He will certainly say the same regarding Isa9:5-6 “Again, they could refer to an ideal future Davidic king, but he is not called Christos, “Messiah,” though these verses contribute to the proper understanding of the eschatological role of God´s messenger, they say nothing about the messianic figure.”[7]

We must now closely examine both the Hebrew עַלְמָ֗ה and the Septuagint translation, (LXX) παρθένος, given that most of the debates on this text center on these terms. The Hebrew עַלְמָ֗ה does not necessarily mean a virgin.  It means a young girl of marriageable age, who is presumed to be a virgin.

The OT uses the word עַלְמָ֗ה only seven times:  Gen 24:43; Ex 2:8; Prov 30:19; Ps 68:26; Songs 1:3 and 6:8, plus, of course Isa7:14.  Out of these only Genesis 24:43 and Isa7:14 seemed clear enough to the LXX translators that they rendered it by παρθένος which, of course, definitely means virgin. In Gen 24:43 Isaac is on his way to find a bride for himself.  He then proposes to God that he will stand by the well of water, and asks that the עַלְמָ֗ה who comes out to draw water, and who offers water for both him and his camels may be the one he should take as a bride.  Exodus 2:8 tells how the daughter of Pharaoh told the sister of the infant Moses to get a Hebrew woman to nurse him.  We would think likely that the sister was a virgin, since she seems to be still living with her mother.  But the LXX was being quite careful:  it used the broader word “νεάνις” (neanis), young woman.  Proverbs 30:19 says the author cannot understand a few things.  One of them is “the way of a man with an עַלְמָ֗ה It seems to mean his desire for intercourse.  That of course could be true even if she were not a virgin.  Yet a young man in general would want a virgin. Even so, the LXX did not render such as παρθένος in fact, it changed the sense, rendering “en neoteti” _ the writer of Proverbs does not understand the way of a man “in his youth.” Psalm 68:26 speaks of the “alamoth” playing with timbrels in a victory procession, we would say most likely, at least, they are virgins.  But the LXX stayed with the more generic νεάνις again.  Songs 1:3 is not very clear:  “Therefore do the “alamoth” love you.”  O. Kaiser thinks that in Songs 6:8 “virginity . . . is certainly ruled out.”  One may not agree, for the verse says:  “There are 60 queens, 80 concubines, and “alamoth” without number.”  Now if a girl is neither a queen, nor a concubine, it seems likely she is still a virgin.  But the LXX again stayed with νεάνις

Thus, it is gathered that the LXX was extremely careful about translating עַלְמָ֗ה as παρθένος, virgin.  It did it only twice.  One of those two times is in Isa7:14. Hence it seems that the LXX was quite convinced that it really did mean a virgin in Isa7:14

Historical Context

Clearly this text is a pre-exilic prophecy. “The lively scenes in Isa7ff take place in the time of the Syro-Ephraimite War, around 733 B.C., in which attempt was made to force Judah to join the anti-Assyrian coalition.”[8] The Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III had quashed the beginnings of an uprising by the Syro-Palestinian states by means of a surprise campaign. King Rezin of Damascus/Syria and King Pekah of Israel then formed a coalition against the great Assyrian power. Since they could not persuade King Ahaz of Judah to enter their alliance, they decided to take to the field against the Jerusalem king, in order to force him into their alliance.[9] In doing this, they intended to overthrow him, depose the house of David, and set up “the son of Tabeel” (Isa 7:6) in place of the former Davidic line. All this is in retaliation for Judah´s refusal to join their alliance against the Assyrian menace.[10] Ahaz and his people were afraid in the face of the enemy alliance. However, Ahaz, evidently a clever and calculating politician maintained his stand. He will not enter into an anti-Assyrian alliance because for him, that had no chance of success given the superior power of Assyria at the moment. Instead of joining such an alliance, he concluded a protection treaty with Assyria. For him, this was the wisest course of action in the present circumstance: it will guarantee him security and saved him from destruction. This however, will not come without a price: the worship of the national gods of Assyria.

In the midst of this national crisis, God directs Isaiah to go with his son Shear-Jashub (meaning “a remnant will return”), to meet the Judean King Ahaz as the king inspects the water reserves to determine how long he can last in what certainly will be a siege of Jerusalem. God´s words to Ahaz is, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Is7:9b). Furthermore, the prophet invites Ahaz to ask God for a “sign”[11] i.e., a “miracle”, either from heaven or earth (v.11). But Ahaz, depending more on his alleged savvy as an international politician, protests that such a request will “put [God] to the test” and tempt him (v.12) – a deed he claims the Bible forbids him to exercise (presumably Dt 6:6). Probably Ahaz has already sent off messengers to the king of Assyria with tribute and a request to put pressure on the two kings allied against him.

In spite of that reluctance, Isaiah proceeds with the sign the Lord himself has given, which indicates that the Lord will deliver Ahaz in spite of the fact that the present house of David does not merit any consideration, much less a divine prophecy or a miracle

Literary Context

Isa7:14 is one of the authentic Isaian sayings according to the testimony of biblical studies.[12] It is located within the context of the so-called book of Emmanuel found in Isa7-12. It is in the Proto-Isaiah, and the prophecy is addressed to Ahaz.

The Prelude to the prophecy is Isaiah 7:1-10

Judah is faced with invasion by its northern neighbours, the Kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Aram-Damascus (Syria), but God instructs the prophet Isaiah to tell king Ahaz that God will destroy Judah’s enemies (Isaiah 7:1-10):

When Ahaz … was king of Judah, Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah … king of Israel, marched on Jerusalem, they were unable to prevail against it. When the House of David was told that Syria had allied itself with Ephraim, their hearts and the hearts of their people trembled … But the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, … and say to him, ‘Be firm and keep calm, …

The prophecy is properly in Isaiah 7:11-16

Isaiah delivers God’s message to Ahaz and tells him to ask for a sign to confirm that this is a true prophecy (v7:11). Ahaz refuses, saying he will not test God (7:12). Isaiah replies that Ahaz will have a sign whether he asks for it or not, and the sign will be the birth of a child, and the child’s mother will call it Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us” (7:13-14); by the time the infant “learns to reject the bad and choose the good” (i.e., is old enough to know right from wrong) he will be eating curds and honey, and Ephraim and Syria will be destroyed (7:15-16):

Aftermath of the Prophecy is Isaiah 7:17-25

Isaiah 7:17 follows, with a further prophecy that at some unspecified future date God will call up Assyria against Judah: “The Lord will cause to come upon you and your people and your ancestral house such days as have not been seen since Ephraim broke away from Judah – the king of Assyria” (v7:17). Vv18-25 describe the devastation that will result: “In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines … will be turned over to thorns and briars” (v 23). The “curds and honey” reappear, but this time the image is no longer associated with Immanuel: “In that day a man will save alive a young cow and two sheep, and there will be such an abundance of milk, he will eat curds and honey” (v21-22).

It is therefore clear without dispute that the text has all the characteristics of the literary genre of prophecy.

Messianic Character of the text

Matthew’s Interpretation

It must be noted first and foremost that the use of this text in the NT by Matt confirms its Messianic character.

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which means, “GOD WITH US” (Matt 1:22– 23).

Matt’s application of the prophecy to Mary and Jesus and his use of the fulfillment formula leave little doubt how he interprets Isaiah’s words. Mary is the virgin prophesied by Isaiah, and Jesus is the child. In addition, Matt clearly understands virgin in the technical sense. He follows the LXX in using the unambiguous Greek expression for virgin (παρθένος). He carefully identifies the Holy Spirit as the source of Mary’s conception (1:18–20).

Rabbinic Literature

In his 1996’s “The problem of Isaiah 7:14” William Most invoked the witnesses of Rabbinic Literature especially in the Targums to sustain a sound theological argument for the Messianic character of Isaiah 7,14.[13] His arguments are summarized thus:

1.) According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a), Hillel, the great teacher of the time of Christ, said

“There will be no Messiah for Israel, because they already had him in the days of Hezekiah.”[14]

Also, Johanan B. Zakkai, according to Talmus, Berakoth 28b, said:

“Prepare a throne for Hezekiah, king of Judah, who is coming.”

A fine Jewish scholar, Samson Levey[15] comments:

“Johanan’s statement is especially significant, for it was he who salvaged what little he could in 70 C.E.” 

That was after the destruction of the Temple, a traumatic event for all Jews.  Levey also observes, in his comment on the Targum Jonathan to Isa9:5, that the use of tenses in the targum as compared with the Hebrew makes us suspect that the writer of the targum had Hezekiah in mind as the Messiah which incidentally is an indication of a rather early date for the targum, since the view that Hezekiah had been the Messiah was dropped later on.  The Jews later dropped the idea that Hezekiah was the Messiah:  the Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a cites Rabbi Joseph as pointing out it could not be Hezekiah, since Zechariah 9:9, which dates after the time of Hezekiah, still foretold a Messiah as to come in the future.

Jacob Neusner, an eminent Jewish scholar in his “Messiah in Context”, made the remarkable admission that since Christians began to say that the Messiah had already come, and the Jews had no Messiah to look forward to, Jews began to say that Hezekiah had not been the Messiah:  “It was important to reject the claim that Hezekiah had been the Messiah.”

The implication is of great importance:  The Jews at one time, as we saw from the words of the great Hillel, had considered Hezekiah as the Messiah, which meant that they did see Isa7:14 as messianic but later, to keep Christians from claiming that prophecy, began to deny it was messianic, saying it did not mean Hezekiah.  Christians, of course would agree Hezekiah was not the Messiah, but would still insist that Isa7:14 was messianic. This is a valid, sound and logical argument.

2) The Targum Jonathan states that Isa9:5-6 is messianic, scholars commonly agree that the child in 9:5-6 is the same as the child in 7:14. Therefore, Isa7:14 must be messianic too, and the early Jewish view that it was messianic, as we saw in Hillel, must be correct.[16]

Church´s use and tradition: Patristics and Magisterium

The Fathers understood this prophecy as the key text pointing to Christ as the Messiah. However, they encountered much opposition from the Jews who disagreed with the early Christians interpretation of the word “almah” as “virgin.” In their denial of Jesus as the Messiah, the Jews argued that almah meant nothing other than “young woman” and thus was not proof of Jesus’ birth from Mary as a virgin. Matt pointed out clearly that Christ’s birth is a direct fulfillment of Is7:14. The Church Fathers put all their effort in defense of the Messianic character of this text. St Justin, the Martyr, St. Augustine, St. Maximus of Turin, Proclus of Constantinople, St. Jerome, St. Basil, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom are among the Church Fathers whose contributions were indeed significant in the growing understanding of the text. The contributions revolved around the concept of “the sign” and “virgin.” For want of space few of their arguments will be highlighted.

St. Justin Martyr explains why the virgin birth was foretold by Isaiah:

He said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they will call his name, God with us.” Through the prophetic spirit God announced beforehand that things which are unimaginable and believed to be impossible for human beings would take place, in order that when it occurred it would be believed and received by faith because it had been promised. In order to ensure that someone does not accuse us of saying the same things as the poets, who say that Zeus came to women for sexual pleasure, we will explain the words of this prophecy clearly. The phrase “behold, the virgin shall conceive” means that the virgin would conceive without intercourse. If she had in fact had intercourse with someone, she would not have been a virgin. God’s power came on the virgin, overshadowed her and caused her to conceive while she remained a virgin.

St. Augustine also reminds us that the person being born was God Himself! And that with God all things are possible.

St. Maximus of Turin, in a beautiful Christmas sermon using Isa7:14, expresses the fittingness of the mystery of Mary’s virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ:

Christ, the salvation of all things, then, is born—He who the prophets testified is the king of the nations. He is born of a virgin, as Isaiah declares …. The manner of His birth proves the truth about the Lord: a virgin conceived without knowing a man…

Next, we will listen to the wisdom of St. Jerome:

Isaiah tells of the mystery of our faith and hope: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” I know that the Jews are accustomed to meet us with the objection that in Hebrew the word almah does not mean a virgin but a “young woman.” And to speak truth, a virgin is properly called bethulah, but a young woman, or a girl, is not almah but naarah! What then is the meaning of almah? A hidden virgin, that is, not merely virgin, but a virgin and something more, because not every virgin is hidden, shut off from the occasional sight of men.

Notice how easily and masterfully he refutes the Jews! They probably felt sorry for ever allowing Jerome to study Hebrew from them. For he didn’t let any of the Jews put forth purposeful mistranslations in hopes of discrediting Christianity. St. Jerome learned the language for this very reason; to truly know and master every aspect of Scripture!

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 387) goes on to tell us what constitutes a sign and that the sign of Isaiah cannot possibly refer to Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, as the Jews claimed:

Now then, a sign has to be something extraordinary. For the water from the rock was a sign, and the parting of the sea, and the turning back of the sun, and things of that sort. But what I am about to say has greater argumentative force against the Jews: … the prophecy happened within the sixteen years (of Ahaz’s reign), Hezekiah was born at least nine years earlier. What need was there to make a prophecy about someone who had already been born before his father became king? Indeed, he does not say: “she conceived,” but: “the virgin shall conceive,” in the style of a prediction.

St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom have exactly the same view thus:

A young woman giving birth is no sign at all! But a virgin giving birth surely is, since a sign has to be something out of the ordinary and beyond the laws of nature, something that makes an impression on those who see it and hear of it. That is why it is called a sign, because it stands out.

It is possible to see a multiple fulfillment pattern in 7:14, namely, the prophecy would refer to both Hezekiah and to Christ?  St. Augustine already in his De civitate Dei 17:3 recognized that some OT prophecies refer only to OT persons or events, some to Christ and His Church, and some to both.  He would notice this to be the case by finding the prophecy would fit partly the one, partly the other.  Inasmuch as some things in Is7:14 seem to fit Hezekiah better, some to fit Christ better, this may well be the case here.

Vatican II, in Lumen gentium n. 55, used a similar principle:  “These primeval documents, as they are read in the Church, and are understood under the light of later and full revelation, gradually more clearly bring to light the figure of the woman, the Mother of the Redeemer.  She, under this light, is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise, given to our first parents after their sin, of victory over the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15).  Similarly, she is the Virgin who will conceive and bear a Son whose name will be called Emmanuel (cf. Is 7:14; Mic 5:2-3; Mt 1:22-23).”[17]

Behind this principle of course is the fact that the Principal Author of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit, of course could intend more than the human author might see at the time of writing. So, one gathers two things from this text of Vatican II: (1) The complete sense of Isa7:14 was not clear at the start, probably not even to the human author; (2) it has become clear now, with the passage of time, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  So, one sees that as a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit did intend the messianic sense. So at least in this sense, Vatican II does teach that Mary is the virgin of Isa7:14.

To understand the messianic import of Isa7:14, Pope John Paul II, employs other texts namely Isa9:5-6; Mic5:2-3 and 2Sam7:13-14. In his General Audience of January 3, 1996, speaking on “Isaiah´s Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation”, the Holy Father keys into the Church´s traditional interpretation. In its original context, the prophecy was the divine reply to a lack of faith on the part of King Ahaz, who, threatened with an invasion from the armies of the neighbouring kings sought his own salvation and that of his kingdom in Assyria’s protection. In advising him to put his trust solely in God and to reject the dreadful Assyrian intervention, the prophet Isaiah invites him on the Lord’s behalf to make an act of faith in God’s power. The Pope, also reiterated the fact that the prophecy must be understood in the context of God´s promise to David in 2Sam. Here the prophet Nathan promises the king God’s favour towards his descendent: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2Sam 7:13-14). While Isa9:5 enumerates the qualities of the messianic child, Mic5:2-3 names the birthplace of the Messianic child.

 

Contemporary Exegesis

  1. a) Rudolf Kilian´s Commentary on Isaiah gives four groups of exegetical interpretation of this text:
  2. “Emmanuel” refers to the Messiah.
  3. “God with us” is a son of King Ahaz, perhaps Hezekiah.
  4. “God with us” refers to one of the sons of the prophet Isaiah
  5. Emmanuel is the new Israel and the “almah” (“virgin”) is the “symbolic figure of Zion.

Taking the first type, the danger is that the idea of messiah only reached its fully developed form at the time of the Exile and thereafter. Here at most one could be dealing with an anticipation of this figure: there is nothing contemporary with Isaiah that might correspond to it. The second thesis does not add up. The third does not either. The context of the prophet in no way points towards such a notion indicated in the fourth, and in any event, such a sign could not be historically contemporary. Thus, Kilian concludes: “As a result of this overview it turns out that no single attempt at interpretation is entirely convincing. The mother and child remain a mystery, at least, but probably also to the contemporary audience, perhaps even to the prophet himself.”[18]

  1. b) R. Bruce Compton[19] gives three major approaches thus;
  2. i) Exclusively historical:

A young woman, who may or may not have been a virgin at the time of the prophecy, marries and gives birth to a son. Some identify the woman as Isaiah’s wife and the son as Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Others opt for the woman to be Ahaz’s wife, Abi, and the son to be Hezekiah.[20] In either case, the prophecy has no direct or explicit reference to Jesus.

  1. ii) Exclusively messianic.

The woman, a virgin, is Mary, and the son is Jesus. Opinion is divided over the meaning of vv15–16. Some take vv15–16 as describing the experience of Jesus in the first century B.C./A.D.14 Others distinguish the reference to Jesus in v14 from the child mentioned in vv15–16 so that vv15–16 describe the experience of a child in eighth century Judah.[21] Regardless, v14 refers to the birth of Jesus and has no direct bearing on Ahaz’s immediate circumstances.

iii) Double fulfillment.

The initial fulfillment takes place with the birth of a child shortly after the prophecy, while the subsequent fulfillment takes place with the birth of Jesus. Proponents explain the relationship between these fulfillments in one of two ways. Some see the relationship as involving a sensus plenior or fuller meaning where Matt expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words in their original setting to include a reference to Jesus’ conception and birth. Others understand the relationship to involve typology, where Matt takes Isaiah’s words as foreshadowing something beyond their immediate context and applies them to Jesus in a type-antitype relationship.[22]

  1. c) Benedict XVI´s double Question approach:

Benedict XVI´s theological contribution to the concerns of Biblical Exegesis in finding a valid interpretation to Isa7:14 is worth noting. He posed two questions thus:

1)“What is the sign promised to Ahaz in this text?”

Benedict XVI answers that Matt and the entire Christian tradition, sees in it a prophecy of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary: even though Jesus is not actually named Emmanuel, nevertheless he is Emmanuel, as the entire history of the Gospels seeks to demonstrate. This man – they tell us – in his very person is God´s being-with-men. He is true man and at the same time God, God´s true son. But the question comes again.

2) Is that how Isaiah understood the prophetic sign? On this, Benedict XVI, agrees that it is rightly objected in the first place, that the sign announced to Ahaz was intended for him, there and then, and was meant to stir him to faith in the God of Israel as the true ruler of the world. This means that the sign would need to be sought and identified within the historical context in which it was announced by the prophet.

In this regard, Benedict XVI, rightly observes that exegesis has searched meticulously, using all the resources of historical scholarship, for a contemporary interpretation – and it has failed.[23] This will mean that there is need to approach the text from a faith-view.

Resolving the points of tension 

From the point of view of contemporary exegesis, it could be noticed that there is a tension between the exclusively messianic view of the text and the exclusively historical view of the text. An evaluation of the various interpretations will show that an exclusively messianic view faces two related problems. If the entire Immanuel prophecy refers to Jesus, then how do vv15–16 apply to Jesus, and, more to the point, how does Jesus’ birth in the first century serve as a precursor for the demise of the Syro-Ephraimite coalition in the eighth century?

The answer to the tension is to see the prophecy as a vision and to understand that vv15–16 include an embedded assumption about the birth of this child. Thus, Isaiah prophesies that he sees in a vision a virgin who is about to become pregnant and bear a son. The precise timing of this event is not revealed. Isaiah’s embedded assumption is that were the child born in the immediate future, the child would certainly experience what vv15–16 describe. Furthermore, were the child born at that time, before he reaches the age of discernment, God would intervene and defeat the coalition threatening Ahaz and Judah. Technically, it does not matter when the promised son is actually born. The focal point with this part of the prophecy is the designated period of time between the birth of a child and the age at which the child is capable of moral discernment. In other words, the designated period of time Isaiah mentions is something of a constant and, therefore, does not depend on the fact that the child in view was not born for several centuries. In the context of this prophecy, Isaiah declares what will take place, were the child born in the immediate future. Assuming that were to happen, v16 identifies that aspect of the prophecy that serves to confirm God’s promise to Ahaz in v7. By the time the child reaches that age, the land whose two kings Ahaz feared will be forsaken.

Conclusion

In 734 B.C., Isaiah brings a message of hope to a Judean king and the nation. Both the Davidic king and, consequently, the Davidic line faced imminent death. The message of hope is composed of a single prophecy with two parts, each having its own promise and fulfillment. The first part addresses the threat to the Davidic line. Isaiah announces that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call him Immanuel. This promise is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and serves to confirm the preservation of the Davidic line and the fulfillment of the Davidic promises. The second part of the prophecy addresses the threat specifically to Ahaz as the Davidic king. Supposing this son were born in the near future, Isaiah declares that before he would reach the age of discernment, the two nations and their kings threatening Ahaz will be overthrown. This second promise is fulfilled in the demise of these two kings and the subjugation of their lands by the king of Assyria, all within the time period designated by Isaiah. Furthermore, the near fulfillment of this second promise serves to confirm the fulfillment of the first promise and to underscore the inerrancy and authority of God’s word.

The evidences of the Matt´s usage, Rabbinic Literature, the constant use of the Church especially in the Patristics and the problematics of contemporary exegesis all help to reveal the fact that Isa7:14 is Messianic. If not an exclusively Messianic character given the historical contexts and events surely through the principle of double fulfillment.

Benedict XVI draws from the above to assert not only its Messianic character but also its universality:

“So, what are we to say? The passage about the virgin who gives birth to Emmanuel, like the great Suffering Servant song in Is 53, is a word in waiting. There is nothing in its own historical context to correspond to it. So, it remains an open question: it is addressed not merely to Ahaz. Nor is it addressed merely to Israel. It is addressed to humanity. The sign that God himself announces is given not for a specific political situation, but it concerns the whole history of humanity.” [24]

He adds succinctly and with a personal conviction thus:

Indeed, I believe that in our own day, after all the efforts of critical exegesis, we can share anew this sense of astonishment at the fact that a saying from the year 733BC., incomprehensible for so long, came true at the moment of the conception of Jesus Christ – that God did indeed give us a great sign intended for the whole world.[25]

The Vatican II document, Dei Verbum, n.12, called for two methodologies to be used in the exegetical process. The first is historical criticism and the second is a theological process that includes three aspects. First, the unity of the Bible must be kept in mind. Second, the passage being interpreted must be seen in the context of the living tradition of the Church. Third, the analogy of faith must be observed. The living tradition of the whole Church includes: the teaching office of the Church (the magisterium); the teaching of the fathers of the Church; the use of the Scriptures in the liturgy and in prayer; and the testimony of the saints. Analogy of faith means that the biblical interpretation must be in agreement with the doctrine of the Church. In Verbum Domini (nn29-49), Pope Benedict XVI directly addresses the issue of the proper exegesis of Scripture. Despite its inadequacies, the historical critical method remains necessary for exegesis but must also be supplemented with other interpretive aspects that include the tradition of the Church as found in patristic and medieval thought.

Taking all these into consideration, coming from the background of an historico-literary exegesis as well as a hermeneutic of faith, Isa7:14 is evidently messianic. Jesus is the child prophesied, Mary her mother conceived him as virgin. On the cross, it was revealed that the child is indeed the eternal king (cf John19:19); and the leitmotif of 2Sam7 is also preserved. In this way scripture cannot be annulled (cf John10:35) but fulfilled in Christ.

[1] MONTAGUE, T., Understanding the Bible. A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, New York, Paulist Press, 2007 p.125

 [2] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Infancy Narratives, the Infancy Narratives, trans by Philip Whitmore, New York: Bloomsbury, 2012, pp56-57.

[3] NAB reads thus: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.”

[4] Many scholars and exegetes have pointed out clearly that ἡ παρθένος still remains the preferred reading in the critical editions of the LXX of Isaiah, but ἡ νεάνις, “a young girl,” is read in other Greek versions and in some MSS of the LXX.

[5] Fitzmyer, J., The One who is to Come, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, quoting J. Lust, “Messianism in the Septuagint: Isaiah 8:23B – 9:6 (9:1-7).” This is rather impoverished understanding of the biblical text in the light of the new revelation in Christ. Unfortunately, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J belongs to the category of scholars who accuse others of reading too much messianic meaning into the Isaiah´s text. However, if one holds on to his argument that these texts (Isa7:1-9; 8:23-9:6 and 11:1-10) which clearly forms the context for Isa7:14, is to be understood only as a reassurance of the continuation of the Davidic monarchy (dynasty) in the light of the Nathan prophecy of 2 Samuel 7, then, he will be found guilty of contradicting himself when for instance Matthew´s gospel establishes the place of Jesus as the Son of David.

[8] Schmidt, W., Old Testament Introduction, trans by O´Connel, M., New York: The Crossroad Publishing company, 2008.

[9] The details are described in 2Kings 16:1.20

[10] Obviously, since it is a historical fact, all biblical texts, present the same data. The choice of the text depends largely on the reader. However, I found a better chronology of events with theological interpretations in Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 2012, pp 46 -49 and also in Kaiser, W., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995, pp. 158 -162. So, I chose to adopt same.

[11] It is important to understand the meaning of “a sign.” A sign might be a predictive word about the future or a miracle, as it is in Ex 4:8-9; 7:8-12; Dt 13:2-5; Judges 6:36 – 40; 2Kgs 20:8-11; Isa 38:7-

[12] Op. cit., Kaiser, W., 1995, p.245

[13] William G. Most holds his Ph.D. in Latin and Greek from the Catholic University of America.  He taught theology and classics at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa for more than forty years. I found in his article “The Problem of Isaiah 7:14” Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN, a very convincing argument from Rabbinical Literature on the messianic character of Isa 7:14 and so adopted it here.

[14] Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984

[15] Samson Levey, “The Messiah, An Aramaic Interpretation,” Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974, pp. 142, 144.

[16] Cf. for example, Kaiser, Otto, Isaiah 1-12.  2d ed. tr. J. Bowden, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1983.  John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah:  The Eighth-century Prophet, Abingdon, Nashville, 1987, surprisingly insist that a “messianic interpretation must be ruled out, if we are correct in rendering the verse in the past tense.”  But it is a familiar fact that the perfect in Hebrew, even outside of a prophecy, can stand for future.  Cf. Joüon, Grammaire de l’Hebreu Biblique, 2d ed. Institute Biblique Pontifical, Rome, 1947, #112. These documents are cited in William Most´s work: “The problem of Isaiah 7:14”

[17] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Nov 21, 1964, n. 55

[18] Kilian, R., Jesaja 1-12, 1986, p.62 quoted in Benedict XVI pp49-50

[19] Compton, B., “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14–16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning” in DBSJ 12 (2007): 3–15

[20] 2 Kgs 18:2. John D. W. Watts, Isaiah, 2 vols., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1985, 1987), 1:97–104. See also Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), pp. 310–12; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 232–34.

[21] Robert G. Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. 141–44.

[22] Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) J. Ridderbos, Isaiah, trans. John Vriend, Bible Student’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), pp. 85–97; Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), pp. 32–34. See also Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, in vol. 6 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), pp. 63–65.

[23] Pope Benedict XVI here cites the example of Rudolf Kilian, who in his commentary on Isaiah, described the four principal types of interpretation that has so far been advanced.

[24] Benedict XVI, p50.

[25] Benedict XVI, pp50-51.

Selected Bibliography

SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964

SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, November 18, 1965

KAISER, W., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995

MOST, W., “The Problem of Isaiah 7:14” Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN

MONTAGUE, T., Understanding the Bible. A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, New York, Paulist Press, 2007

FITZMYER, J., The One who is to Come, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007

SCHMIDT, W., Old Testament Introduction, trans by O’Connell, M., New York: The Crossroad Publishing company, 2008.

BENEDICT XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Infancy Narratives, trans by Philip Whitmore, New York: Bloomsbury, 2012

©Valentine Anthony Umoh 2017

Universidad de Navarra

Facultad de Teología

Teología Bíblica
E-31080 Pamplona
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