Asserting Total Reality at a Deeper Level
I agree with Maria Hsia Chang’s proposal in “The Virgin Birth: Where Science Meets Scripture” (Dec.): All Christians should be gratified if the DNA traces from the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium Cloth are eventually determined to be that of an XX male. An extremely rare XX male with no Y chromosome would be fully consistent with a mystery pregnancy, a virgin birth. The Gospel account would be confirmed by science.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “by definition, miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature, but if they are real they must, in the very act of so doing, assert all the more the unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level.” Lewis added that when a miracle enters nature’s realm “it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested. The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.”
We might ask: Why would our Creator choose a virgin birth for a Man who otherwise would be in the line of succession to the throne of David, as the King of the Jews? Perhaps because the baby Jesus would be the Lord of all. The miracle of the birth of Christ pushed the boundaries of God’s natural design in order to re-conform our lives to a new pattern for all mankind.
Jay B. Gaskill
Idaho Falls, Idaho
While one’s belief in the Virgin Birth shouldn’t depend on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, Maria Hsia Chang makes a prima facie case that brilliantly shifts the burden of proof to those who would confirm or deny DNA from the Shroud as evidence of the miraculous birth.
The quotation from Dietrich von Hildebrand that accompanied Maria Hsia Chang’s article expresses a great truth: “There can be no contradiction between revealed truth and science, but only between revealed truth and certain philosophical speculations, interpretations, deductions, or presuppositions that somehow become illegitimately associated with certain scientific discoveries.” The article exemplifies just such an illegitimate interpretation against which von Hildebrand warned.
Chang assumes the authenticity of the Shroud and the Oviedo Cloth. If they are not truly what she believes them to be, then any “evidence” derived from them is nonexistent. I have no opinion one way or the other, but it must be obvious that no definitive proof of either one’s authenticity could ever be forthcoming. Leaving this aside, the article contains serious mistakes.
Chang uncritically accepts her “expert witness” Frank J. Tipler’s assertion about an XX male: “This is the expected signature of the simplest virgin birth, the XX male generated by an SRY inserted into an X chromosome.” His deduction is erroneous.
The XX male syndrome (the Albert de la Chappelle syndrome) describes the genetic constituents of a person conceived and born in a natural manner. The crossover of a gene may occur during meiosis of the father’s gametes. In this case, it was the SRY that crossed over from his Y chromosome to his X chromosome. The XX male (the father’s progeny) therefore has one normal X chromosome from the child’s mother and one X chromosome that contains the SRY from the father. I fail to see how this is consistent with a virgin birth.
Chang asserts, “If a male is born of a virgin and is without a human father, biologists would expect that the child’s DNA, instead of having the XY sex chromosomes of normal males, would have no Y chromosome. In other words, the child would be an XX male.” Not so. Why would the child not be XO — that is, having only an X chromosome and no other, either X or Y? That a child might be XO does occur (but not from a virgin birth, let’s be clear). We know it as Turner syndrome. The child is phenotypically female (i.e., in external appearance) but internally the gonads are abnormal. Certain physical signs accompany this, but if they go unrecognized (which is not uncommon because they can be subtle), then the child is diagnosed when puberty does not occur.
Tipler and Chang think the XX male resulting from a virgin birth would have only the sex chromosomes of the mother because the mother is the only source of the child’s genome. If this were the case, whence came the SRY, which they know could only come from a male? If both X chromosomes came from the mother, including the one with the SRY, would she herself not be an XX male? This leads to a further gross error: If any offspring has the same genetic makeup as its progenitor, the offspring would be a clone (an exact copy), not truly the offspring of two parents.
Rare persons have both sex chromosomes from only one of the parents. This results from a problem during meiosis, in which instead of each chromosome migrating to one of the two new cells each containing 23 chromosomes, both go to the same one (this is called uniparental heterodisomy, one parent’s two sex chromosomes), or by one of the sex chromosomes being duplicated so the two chromosomes are exactly the same (uniparental isodisomy, one chromosome of one parent duplicated). The complementary gamete from the other parent would have no sex chromosomes — you see why a very rare combination of events must occur. If the other parent’s gamete does contain sex chromosomes, other rare conditions may result: XXY, XYY, and others.
It is critically important to realize that in any of the children with Turner syndrome, or those with sex chromosomes from only one parent, all the other chromosome pairs derive from both parents.
So Tipler and Chang are left unable to account for the origin of the SRY and all the other chromosomes to complement the mother’s in their “virgin birth.” They can only say the offspring would be a clone of the progenitor, which is impossible by their own premise that a female gave birth to a male.
Whatever pious motivations may have animated them, Tipler and Chang’s assertions are indefensible as science.
A low point in the argument was plumbed when Chang quotes Tipler’s blithe comment that his thesis can serve as proof that Jesus could not have married and been procreative, and that this can be used to contradict the scurrilous imaginings of a popular novelist. Apparently, all three — Tipler, Chang, and the author of The DaVinci Code — are ignorant of basic scriptural texts, such as “He was tempted in all things like us, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
A hymn of the Orthodox Church speaks of the Virgin Mary as “the gate through which human thoughts cannot pass.” This is not obscurantism. True science has enormous resources and potential, but its misuses must constantly be guarded against; its competence is limited. It helps us see the miraculous because miracles would not be miraculous unless we could recognize a natural order that could be abrogated or transcended.
So, how did the Virgin Birth occur?
Certainly, the Creator of DNA could create the genetic foundation of the Incarnate Lord, which, if one could see it (though why would one pry?), would be fully and normally human. If one had accepted, prior to discoveries of chromosomes, genes, and DNA, the macroscopic, visible identity and concomitant unfathomable mystery of the Person of Christ, the God-Man, is it more difficult to accept the mysteries of His coming to be of the microscopic and submicroscopic ground of what we see with unaided eyes?
The Lord told the people that His Father could create from the stones children of Abraham. The Virgin Birth is only marginally less incomprehensible.
Huntington, New York
So Jesus Christ had defective chromosomes and small testicles, and that’s why He was chaste and never married? I think I like Dan Brown’s heresy about Christ having a wife and kids better.
Espoused, Not Betrothed
I have no knowledge to assess Maria Hsia Chang’s DNA analysis and conclusions, and I assume them to be correct. But in reference to her comments about Mary and the “Criterion of Embarrassment,” Scripture is clear that Mary was married to Joseph when she agreed to conceive Jesus and carry Him in her womb (cf. Mt. 1:19). Why else would Joseph have considered “quietly divorcing her”?
Maria Hsia Chang missed an important point about the marriage of Mary and Joseph: They were already married at the time of the Incarnation. The Jewish rite of kiddushin, which we currently translate as “betrothal,” was the legal portion of the ceremony. The couple was now married and only death or divorce could separate them. Infidelity would constitute a matter of adultery, a capital offense, and not fornication, for which the punishment was stoning (cf. Deut. 22:22-29).
Mary and Joseph’s true marital status has been amply defended over the centuries, recently by Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (1989) and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012).
The terrible Bible translations that came out in the 1970s used the words engaged and betrothed in place of espoused from earlier, more accurate translations. It has always seemed obvious to me that God, who kept His Son’s mother free from all sin, would not put her in a situation that would bring her purity into question among her neighbors.
Should We Mourn the Loss of Wax Candles?
I wonder what Paul Malocha (“Invasion of the Empty Universals,” Dec.) would say about another item that is, to use his words, “iconic to a particular spiritual reality” — viz., the candle. Christ as the Light of the World has long been symbolized by the candle, in particular the Paschal Candle. We do use genuine wax for that, but what about all the other candles that play a role in our liturgies? I’m thinking of the candles for the Advent wreath, benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, baptisms, Tenebrae on Good Friday, and the small candles for the congregation in the Easter Vigil liturgy, not to forget the candles on the altar at Mass.
Are they not, too, “iconic to a particular spiritual reality”? Yet, do we feel a loss and should we complain when they are replaced with imitation candles containing oil reservoirs? Or electric candles? When I last sang in choir years ago, I remember being grateful that the traditional wax candles had been replaced with electric candles — I didn’t have to worry about hot wax dripping on my hands or robe as I tried to handle a light in one hand and the music in the other in the darkened church at the Easter Vigil Mass.
Of course, I support reading from the Book of the Gospels from the ambo, but I would mention the case of our associate pastor, an excellent preacher, who likes to come down from the ambo after the Gospel is read from the traditional book. He holds his iPhone in his hand and refers to it to quote passages of Scripture. It is much handier than having to carry and hold the large and heavy Book of the Gospels, and less distracting than having him fumble with handwritten notes. So, at least where the reading is not a prescribed part of the liturgy, I would not deride his little computer, which contains the Word of God, as an “empty universal.”
PAUL MALOCHA REPLIES:
Indeed, I do think something is lost in switching from wax to electric or even oil candles. The individual candles of course symbolize the faithful themselves. Wax combusts and the candle is thus expended by its very act of shedding light. So it is that our own lives, lived sacrificially in imitation of Christ, give off light to others. Yet there is perhaps an incongruity here: The Paschal candle represents the risen Christ, who no longer dies. So what happens to the symbolism of the self-expending candle? I think it can be taken to represent the mystery of Christ’s eternal sacrifice — the Lamb, standing as though slain. The sheer size of the Paschal candle mitigates the symbol’s limitation, helping us forget that this candle too eventually will run down.
With regard to the homilist using his iPhone for handy reference to Scripture as he steps away from the lectern, I suppose if one regards this posture as beneficial and is not distracted by the device itself, this would seem to be a positive. To begin with, I do not favor the priest moving down among the congregation during Mass. In general, I think there needs to be more emphasis these days on the verticality of the Church and less on her horizontality. If before Vatican II the pendulum had swung too far toward clericalism, now it is too far in the other direction. Especially at Mass, the Church’s hierarchical nature should be showing because this is when we focus on God who is Other and on Christ’s salvific work, which we cannot supply of our own resources, either individually or as a community. Clergy and congregation can mix in the parish hall after Mass.
And so, while electric candles and iPhones are convenient and practical, convenience and practicality are not central principles of the Mass. I would suggest for consideration Romano Guardini’s view (as expressed in The Spirit of the Liturgy) that the Mass is not primarily about accomplishing a purpose but rather is about experiencing meaning. Yes, the Mass has the purpose of confecting the Eucharist, but this is part of the whole fabric of meaning into which we enter. We are invited to experience and revel in our relationship with Christ — our status as adopted sons of God. The Mass is an earthly rendering of Heaven, a grace-filled experience that is supposed to sustain us when we step outside.
Having said all that, I think Mr. Baruch hints at something important to remember when we are faced with an apparent liturgical abuse: It’s not worth making one’s own self and others miserable. I find it helpful to remember the adage: unity in essentials; diversity in non-essentials; charity in all things.
Against All Evidence?
In her review of Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square (Dec.), Elizabeth Hanink asserts that Fr. Neuhaus was “a cheerleader for the Bush administration’s [and Democratic Party opposition’s] 2003 invasion of Iraq, claiming, against all evidence, that it qualified as a just war.” Against all evidence? Really?
Saddam Hussein was committing genocide against America’s ally, the Kurds, as well as against Shia Iraqis, but this constitutes zero evidence for a just war? Hussein’s military shot at Air Force jets protecting the Kurds in the established “No Fly Zone.” Is that zero evidence for a just war? What sort of standards do scholars set when they do not count certain viciously attacked Muslims as worth protecting? Which side did Fr. Neuhaus and First Things take in the Clinton-era war against Serbia? Was that a just war? The Vatican and Fr. Neuhaus, both cheerleaders, thought it qualified as justified aggression. So why were Kosovar Muslims’ lives so priceless that they warranted the bombing of European Christians, but two Muslim groups in Iraq didn’t make the cut for immediately stopping Baathist Sunni mass murderers? Can anyone explain why Milosevic was a worse monster than Hussein? At least in these cases, Fr. Neuhaus was consistent in his calls for the protection of the oppressed.
The True Reasons for the Loss of Faith
In your New Oxford Note “Is Benedict to Blame?” (Dec.) you write that Vatican II’s “vaunted liturgical reforms couldn’t keep converts and Catholics alike from being swept away from the Church in great waves,” and there wasn’t much Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI could do to “stem the rising tide.”
In our parish, a group of us, under the guidance of our pastor, went out looking for the sheep who have left the fold. We returned with unremarkable results. One statement saddened me the most: “What difference does it make?” This from a couple that now goes to a Lutheran church.
I don’t think Vatican II was the destructive force so many have made it out to be. Rather, lethargy, relativism, and laziness are the true reasons for the loss of faith in our day. How many people in the past year have read from the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a book on Catholic philosophy, or at least one good, solid Catholic book of any kind?
We Get What We Deserve
There is understandable alarm at the rising power and influence of militant Islam, particularly its terrorist wing, the suicide bombers. However, it would be naïve to be surprised or righteously indignant. We have deserved it!
In the Old Testament, when the Israelites forsook the commands of the Lord and served the false gods of the surrounding tribes, they were punished by being unable to beat their enemies in battle, at one time being imprisoned in Babylon for 70 years.
Nowadays, we do not acknowledge any divine authority but lay ourselves open to punishment nevertheless.
What have we done?
– In Great Britain, we have murdered more than eight million babies in their mothers’ wombs since the Abortion Act legalizing the practice went into effect in 1968 — a crime unequaled in history.
– We have excluded all mention of God in our legislation.
– We enshrine in law so-called same-sex marriage, formerly a “sin crying out to Heaven for vengeance.”
How come most of us in the Western world still live in relative comfort and safety and take it all for granted? God’s patience with us is truly astounding and surely will not last much longer.
At Fatima in 1917 our Blessed Mother predicted all this and gave us the remedy: prayer and penance. In the coming centenary of Fatima, will average Catholics take notice of Mary’s urgent advice? I fear not.
Bowling Green, Missouri
A Love Neither Empty nor Made Up of Mere Words
In his letter “Live & Let Live: It’s as Simple as That” (Dec.), George Carney asks, “How have any of you had your freedom to practice your Christian faith abrogated by anyone else?” He then states, “It is only when you choose to use your faith as an excuse to influence or intervene in the lives of others that conflict arises.”
Mr. Carney, who professes to be a nonbeliever, seems to have a different notion of the Christian faith than a Christian does. He cites our freedom to attend Mass, pray, and meet with other Christians. While those are important, if doing those things alone were the way a Christian practiced his faith, it would be a dead faith, as St. James writes (2:17). A Christian, when living as he is commanded by the second greatest commandment, is always concerned about his neighbor; and the love he is supposed to bear toward his neighbor is not empty or made up of mere words but is concrete, like that of the Good Samaritan.
The Christian idea of love is seeking the good of the other. The ultimate good of anyone is union with God in Heaven. The worst possible thing for anyone is spending eternity in Hell separated from God. There are times and ways that laws and social action may help influence people to act rightly; these may depend on the circumstances and other mitigating factors, but such laws or social actions having to do with right living are often motivated by that love.
Mr. Carney closes by giving us his own commandment, telling us what to do. Instead of following the commandments of God, he wants us to follow the commandment of George: “Live your lives your way, and extend to others the same right. It’s that simple.” Yet, this proposal is likely to lead to conflict: My way is bound to clash with the ways of others. What shall guide us, then, except the even simpler “might makes right”? Some people already believe this; are they not to be prevented from living their lives this way?
Mr. Carney disavows the natural law and morality, labeling them as mere “beliefs” and not truths, yet he would offer his own version of right and wrong — which is that people should live as he thinks best. But why should people live like that, just because he says so?
Noel J. Augustyn
Chevy Chase, Maryland
George Carney claims in his letter (Dec.) that I seem to be “obsessed” with homosexuality. Since obsessed has defamatory connotations, I would like to set the record straight, as it were. Over the course of my career, I have hired people who were openly gay, promoted them, awarded performance bonuses to them, and socialized with them. Some would consider me to be their friend, and vice versa. There are no grounds to imply that I am a bigot or have some sort of “phobia” in this regard.
That said, I am not prepared to abandon natural reality and enter the world of make believe, pretending that LGBT instincts and behaviors are not abnormal. This pretension has been the essence of the LGBT movement for most of the past half-century.
In response to his original letter (Jul.-Aug.), Mr. Carney received a number of examples from NOR readers (Oct.) of how people who “choose to live their lives in a different way” can adversely impact the lives of others. It is clear that these have not enlightened him in the least, perhaps because, as he demonstrates in his follow-up letter (Dec.), he does not understand that religious practice is not restricted to worship.
I agree with Mr. Carney that neither he nor I have ever been told that we must profess the Christian faith or be beheaded, burned alive, or drowned in a cage. On the other hand, there are Christians who have been told that they must relinquish their Christian faith or die, and when they did not disavow their faith, they were killed. It happens all over the Middle East, and this past October a school shooter in Oregon asked his victims if they were Christian before he shot them. After he killed the first Christian student, the other Christian students must have known what was in store for them. What a curious group of people these Christians are, willing to die for their faith!
Mr. Carney accuses me and people like me of “structuring the civil law to reflect [our] private beliefs (see contraception, abortion, divorce, polygamy, etc.),” saying that this is where he and I part company. I’ve seen Mr. Carney’s side of the fence and found it not very attractive. I have siblings living the three A’s — atheism, alternative lifestyles, and AIDS — and it has been quite sad to witness.
Moreover, I have worked with post-abortive women seeking healing from their abortions; their tears sometimes sounded like a howl from the deepest part of their bodies. I’ve sat with fathers, grandparents, and siblings of aborted children as they also cried. Being with them on their powerful journey of healing was an honor.
Sitting in the hospital with a couple waiting to receive their adopted twin boys right after birth was a special time. Seeing the joy on their faces when they held those babies, I thought of the birth mother down the hall who had given those two boys life and then given them life again with their adoptive parents.
Then there was the young woman who sobbed because she was pregnant again. She birthed her first child, aborted her second child, and didn’t want to abort ever again. She had just started college and didn’t know how she would handle all this. Her boyfriend, who only worked part-time jobs, was oblivious to the situation. There are so many mothers whose boyfriends have abandoned them either at the beginning of a pregnancy or after a birth or abortion. So many of these boyfriends leave behind them a string of single women with children.
Recently, we’ve learned that the slicing up of dead or alive preborn babies to sell their body parts is a lucrative business for the abortion industry. While it is often said that these babies’ body parts are used for scientific study, they are also used for many other activities, including researching aphrodisiacs and food delicacies.
All of this is to explain why we oppose contraception, abortion, divorce, and the redefinition of marriage.
In the end, Mr. Carney, though you asked NOR readers to convince you, you are the only one who can convince yourself. This is your journey. I must caution you, though: God has a delicious sense of humor. Many such as you have crossed the Tiber and walked through the doors of the Catholic Church to be received into the faith. I wish you the best on your journey.
Dianna Kappel Stuart de Turner
The Way of St. James: A Pilgrim's Report
I have walked the Camino de Santiago twice, from San Juan Pres du Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, then on to Finisterre on the west coast of Spain. The second time I also went on to Muxia. All three of these places claim to be the true end of the pilgrim route. So it was with interest and eagerness that I read Joseph Cornwall’s article “The Way of St. James” (Sept.).
I walked in 2003 and again in 2008. Certainly by the second time the route had become more commercialized. Cornwall notes that “pilgrims today” enjoy “a respite from work with mile after mile of gorgeous countryside” and “accommodations every hour or two.” He makes it sound easy, even slick. This was not my experience.
The walk was challenging. Typical daily “stages” between pilgrim hostels were between 12 and 20 miles, sometimes over 30. There were mountains, some with snow. A cup of coffee might be available en route, or not. If it rained, we got wet. I developed shin splints, stress fractures, tendonitis, sprains, blisters, and sunburn. Colds and bronchitis were passed around in the dense communal dormitories and hostels. One woman was bitten by a rattlesnake. Many abandoned the walk because of injuries and exhaustion.
That said, with more than 200,000 people now walking every year, some holiday-making would be hard to avoid. Communal meals and plentiful, inexpensive wine added to the camaraderie we enjoyed. This is not new: At the height of the route’s popularity, in medieval times, more than half a million people walked the route annually. The cities of Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and others grew up around it as commercial hubs to serve (and profit from) the tide of humanity.
Religious institutions grew up around the route as well in those days, though most of these are now in ruins. Nowadays, many churches on the route are locked up, though with time and effort we were able to find a local person with a key who would let us in to pray. Of the 68 percent of Spaniards who identify as Catholics, only 14 percent attend Mass weekly. The number of nuns and parish priests is shrinking too. But the number of people walking the Camino is growing.
One group I met during my second walk was made up of singers. Their goal was to gain entry to every church on the Camino, ruined or whole, and sing religious choral music in them.
Other pilgrims had other goals. I did not meet anyone who did not have a reason for walking, though they often found it difficult to explain, whether they were devout Catholics or not. And many were not. They were walking to find, not because they had already found.
Cornwall quotes St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Continue therefore to live in Christ Jesus the Lord…. See to it that no one deceives you through any empty seductive philosophy.” I agree with his emphasis, and I believe, from my experience and that of others, that this is the goal of most pilgrims on the Camino, though they might voice it differently, in other languages, and with ideas rooted in other cultural traditions.
I thank Mr. Cornwall for his compelling portrait of St. James: “James was fearless. He came to Galicia with his love of winning, his love of capture, his love of combat and conquest…. [He would] settle for nothing less than the end of the earth — Finis Terrae — to which to carry the message of his great Friend and Master.”
Even today, Galicia is rural, mountainous, with unpredictable weather — much of it cold and wet. The populace is famously stubborn. In James, the Galicians met their match. And we can meet ours.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Fr. John A. Perricone’s guest column “On the Usefulness of Anger” (Oct.) is a rallying cry only the righteous will answer.
Every act of faux mercy is a forced-march retreat further from the truth. And mercy absent of truth is simply diluted to good manners, or at best proper English etiquette. It is time the Church militant cried out Deus vult! upon the three-headed scourge of moral relativism, indifference, and discouragement. Once more under the breach, dear friends, once more!
Many Catholics, coerced by modernity, have been tricked into standing by idly, silently, as oblations to the gods of Progress and Liberalism are made on our doorsteps. As sacrifices are subsidized by tax dollars. As tradition is replaced with tolerance. Non possumus!
Our hearts should be on fire. After all, our hearts are enthroned to something sacred. Modernity’s heart is cold and grim, not even gray. It seems the only time this tepid society gets angry is when the temperature of a Starbucks grande caramel macchiato is not quite right.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height. On, on, you noblest Catholic. Answer the call.
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