Friday, April 11, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

The recent discovery of the ancient Coptic manuscript purporting to Jesus speaking of his wife has rocked the world of both archeology and gynotheology. A team of scientists has concluded that the fragment, a mere 1 1/2" x 3 3/4" containing 33 words, is not a modern forgery.

Radiocarbon tests conducted at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced an origination date for the papyrus of 659-859 CE, according to Harvard. MIT also studied the chemical composition of the papyrus and patterns of oxidation.

Dr. Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School historian,  first announced the existence of the fragment in September 2012, at the International Coptic Congress in Rome, where she dubbed it "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife." Prof. King cautioned, that this miniscule fragment does not prove conclusively that Jesus was married.  Mr. Myron Leibermann, a junior account executive at Publicistas who are actively pursuing the branding rights for this product, concurred: "Sure we know that this little scrap proves nothing, but we think "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is a pretty sexy title for it --- you're only as good as the publicity you can generate. That's what makes coin!"

According to Dr. King, "This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family," King said.  She did not elaborate on how a fragmentary scrape from over six hundred years after Jesus lived, and well into the late Byzantine age when Christianity was already doctrinally solidified by the Great Ecumenical Councils, could given any reason for calling into question what the Church had long established.

"This papyrus apparently dates circa the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD), at which point the Church was speaking to more mundane matters like whether Jesus could be depicted on icons, in response to the Iconoclastic Controversy under Emperor Leo III.  There is no evidence that any such debates were occurring among the orthodox catholic churches at the time this fragment dates, nor any time previously, except for bizarre gnostic sects like the Montanists and the author of the spurious Gospel of Philip", said Billy Chandler, a local area high school senior at Our Lady of Critical Thinking Catholic High School, who displayed a better grasp of early Christianity than the Harvard professor. 

Inexplicably, Dr, King opined: "The main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus—a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued."

Other scholars point to the many examples of women who followed Jesus, were mothers and wives, served in the Church in caring for widows and orphans, opened their houses for early Christian worship and community, assisted to baptize women at the time when baptisms were in the nude, and even underwent torture and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. "Hotly debated?  pfffft.... Hasn't she read the acts of Perpetua and Felicity? Perpetua was a married noblewoman with a suckling baby, and Felicity was pregnant at the time... which raises some questions about the conditions of their respective hymens", stated Dr. Jean Bolland, who holds the Delehaye Chair in Hagiography.

A careful study of the 7th to 9th century Coptic papyrus, read in the context of other ancient papyri troves such as  from Nag Hammadi and Oyxrhynchus, give a decidedly different possible explanation of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.

Dr. Benjamin Bell, a world renown papyrologist specializing in ancient Jewish humor in the middle Nile region, suggested that, "This is a wonderful rare find, a real treasure for us all.  Little is known about Jewish life in Egypt during the late Classical period apart from a few papryi. The persecutions under the goyim left the Jewish communities impoverished and tight-knit, but at least they retained their sense of humor. Based on the hand writing style this fragment appears to have come from the hills outside of Koptos where there was a thriving Jewish community in the late Byzantine age that specialized in self deprecating jokes".

Dr. Benjamin Bell, world renowned Egyptologist and specialist in ancient Jewish humor

Prof. Bell compared this to other ancient manuscripts, and suggested that this was a script from a precursor to the later Borscht Belt comedians. "The missing parts are contextually reclaimable:  "Jesus said to them, ' [take] my wife, [please]  ... [gevalt!] She will also be my disciple [? I was just looking for a date and a little hanky panky!]" 

Another interesting passage seems to be an early form of the old Semitic joke, "Let the wicked people swell up... [like the armpits infested by the fleas of a thousand camels]".   Dr. Bell suggested that the partial "my moth.." probably refers to another regional schtick, "[Just got back from a pleasure trip: I took] my moth[er-in-law to Cairo]".

Prof. Bell also pointed out  that other parts of the fragment appear to include the partial phrase: "I'll be [here all week, try the veal]" and "D[on't forget to tip your waite]r."  He indicated that a lot of Byzantine-era standup comics often stole material from each other, as evinced by the 5th century text from Schlomo the Pseudo-Goniff.  "But its all comedy gold," asserted Dr. Bell, "GOLD!".

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Christ Child Shrine: A Call for Artists

We've been working on wonderful project to design a shrine dedicated to the Christ Child at the Mount Claret Retreat Center. The shrine itself will be an outdoor, open air shrine, intended to create an enclosed garden space for contemplation as part of a much larger campus plan.

The shrine sits in a larger garden area as a separate place for prayer,  meditation, and quiet conversation for the retreat guests.
The heavy rubble masonry continues the same texture and mass found through out the existing site, and is respectful of the indigenous desert architecture of the ancient first people in the American Southwest. The rich blue interior is intended to create a cool and refreshing interior, in a subtle way alluding to the cloak of Our Lady in which we find consolation and intimacy with her Son. 
 The Shrine is also intended to be a sort of oasis in the desert, a place of refuge from the sun, with a canopy of trees and the element of water to create a microclimate despite the heat of the day.

The themes of the Christ Child shrine are related to life and the fundamental religious intuition: the oval shape recalling the womb and the egg, water and fire, the Tree of Life, the stone forms arising from the earth,as well as the encompassing womb like shrines of the earliest known sacred architecture such as at Göbekli Tepe and the hypogea at Malta.

Shrine is the first phase of a larger landscape and master planning project for Mount Claret, which will eventually include a desert garden for the Stations of the Cross as well.

The focal point of the shrine will be a sculptural image of the Christ Child, probably a bronze or stone carving, three dimensional, depicting Jesus in some appropriate posture and gesture, with the age and artistic details to be determined, but probably more of a pre-adolescent or adolescent rather than an infant or toddler.

The artistic details will be worked out with the selected artist.  The figure will be approximately 4' tall, on a 6" to 8" plinth.

Interested artists are encouraged to submit a portfolio and a proposal to us at:

Steven Schloeder AIA
Liturgical Environs PC
9402 South 47th Place
Phoenix AZ 85044

t. 480.783.8787

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Those Irish take penance at Lent a bit too seriously....

Parishioner scorched by ashes on Ash Wednesday...

A priest was forced to abandon an Ash Wednesday mass yesterday – after 30 of his parishioners had their foreheads burned by the blessed ashes.

Fr Eugene Baker had given out the ashes to everyone in the congregation when they started to complain about a burning sensation.
He was forced to stop the mass in St Joseph’s Church in Newtownshandrum in north Cork and advise the congregation to go into the church sacristy and wash the ashes off.
Fr Baker told that he is surprised by the anomaly and he apologised to his parishioners.
He has sent the ashes to the public health laboratory in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork for testing.

My only Lenten accident was a few years ago when the old fellow giving ashes need more practice at the target range...

Monday, January 6, 2014

University of Mary course in Catholic Church Architecture!!!

This coming semester I will be teaching a 3 credit course at University of Mary, Tempe AZ extension campus, on "Catholic Church Architecture: History Theory Criticism".

The course is open to all U Mary students, and all Arizona State University students with full cross registration credit.  Especially welcome are interested students from the Architecture program and from the Religious Studies department at Arizona State University.  

Note: This course is not listed in the ASU catalog, so interested students are encouraged to contact:

Registrar at the University of Mary
 t. 480.290.7047,

Non-students may also register to audit the course at reduced tuition, please contact the Registrar.

Course Description: 
CATHOLIC CHURCH ARCHITECTURE (CTH 325) will examine the theological, liturgical, symbolic, historical, canonical, and cultural aspects of Catholic church architecture. 
The class will approach the architectural patrimony of the Church primarily as “signs and symbols of the heavenly realities” to understand how this vision has been interpreted through the ages, with particular references to the 20th century changes in Catholic architecture, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the architectural implementation of the Council’s vision, and the contemporary liturgical and architectural discussions.

Tuesdays and Thursdays: 4 - 5:15 pm
215 E. 7th Street 
Tempe Arizona

Monday, December 23, 2013

What Leonard Cohen missed....

Leonard Cohen's masterpiece "Hallelujah" has been covered by a vast number of world class musicians -- from Bon Jovi to Bono, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, KD Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Neil Diamond, Allison Crowe, and the Maccabeats each brought their own interpretation to this haunting melody, built around a simple chord progression "that goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift."


Beauty, simplicity, sound that cuts to the heart. I can't explain it: it is tragically beautiful.

Cohen's song is a cri de coeur: a long for meaning, beauty, truth, love, and transcendence in a materialistic, atheistic, profane, and sexualized world. His poetry appeals to the dignity we all seek, that for which we all inherently yearn, and that for which we all intuit is our right as beings in relationship. But in a nihilistic wasteland, this cry of the heart cannot be answered. There is nothing but self-reference to make sense of the desire for something greater than the atoms and energy that somehow make up these self-aware biosystems we call "human beings".

Yet we cry for more. We think we are important. We want to be heard. We want relationship. We want to be meaningful. We demand it -- any assault against "human dignity" is met with outrage -- yet on what grounds? If the atheist is right, all we are are material stuff in a particular arrangement, everything is just physics and chemistry, atoms and energy, and is theoretically reducible to the laws of the way stuff works.  Even that "dignity" and "self" and "outrage" is theoretically reducible to the atoms and molecules and chemical reactions and electromagnetic operations of the brain organ. It has no meaning or value beyond the material stuff of the brain organ that outputs it. There is no necessary relationship in the material world, only taxonomies that the brain organ organizes to make sense of the material world, and enshrines as "knowledge" or "truth" or "science". But even these are reducible and theoretically explicable in purely neuroscientific terms, which are themselves the output of those same physical processes they purport to explain. There is no way in the physicalist worldview to get beyond that same worldview to determine if it is correct or not. It is all just electrochemical reactions that respond to electrochemical reactions.

Yet everything we know about the world speaks of relationship, of order, of meaning beyond our own material constraint. It seems to me that either "relationship" is a fabrication of brain organs, or it is a reality beyond the brain organs that output "relationship" as a response to stimuli in a purely mechanical and material process. There is no other possibility -- it is binary -- either the universe is imbued with relationship, with logos, with love and we are products of that Relationship, that Logos, that Love; or all these things we value are valueless apart from some electrochemical process in a bunch of material stuff we call human beings.

This is, in short, why I could be either a Catholic or a nihilist, with no third choice.

Either everything matters, or nothing matters: God, the Incarnation, the Church, love, the sacraments, human dignity, goodness, truth, beauty, relationship, and meaning on the one hand; nothing on the other hand.

And that nothing is a real nothing: one can't even call it a cruel trick of the Universe to bring forth (by evolution, or emergent properties of particles, or whatever the physicalist tries to explain) a self conscious thing that longs for something that is nonexistent on its own terms, but must only be the byproduct of the evolutionary or emergent processes that allow for it. And all the scientistic atheist can do is resort to this highly religious language -- relationship, connection, order, rationality, knowledge, meaning -- to make sense of the response to stimuli in their electrochemical brain organs that simultaneously reject the notion that there is any hierarchy or order or intentionality to existence itself. Everything is either a random byproduct of energy, matter, chemicals, "stuff", etc., or it is a true product of Mind: of intentional relationship, of willed love, of God. 

For it all to be of God: that the universe is imbued with relationship and love from God who reveals himself as relationship (the Trinity) and love (1John 4:7-8) makes sense to me. For it to all be random happen-chance, that we are really just "stuff" that for no reason at all can reflect on whether or not we are just "stuff", does not even  produce an electrochemical output that coheres with everything else we know about the universe. For it to be true, all order, all relationship, all hierarchy and all values (why we should value one material thing like a spouse over another material thing like a carrot), simply crumbles to dust. Entropy and chaos win because order and intelligibility are the inexplicable anomalies.

So back to Leonard Cohen and the cry of his heart. Christ answers that cry; Christ is the only one who can even be addressed with that Hallelujah. He alone answers to that secret chord, that name taken in vain, that blaze of light, that Lord of Song. Given the sheer beauty of the gift that Mr. Cohen gave us, it was only a matter of time before someone brought out this submerged implication, and made the song even more beautiful when framed in reference to the divine beauty that we Christians now celebrate in the Nativity of the Lord. The band Cloverton has done just that in this Christmas Hallelujah.


To all men and women of good will, Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist, I wish you all peace and blessings this Christmas. May we all come to know the love and relationship that we all seek, for which we were all made, and without which we can never be content.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Martyrs of Nigeria, Orate Pro Nobis...

NOTE:  I have deleted the photo, which is evidently not from an atrocity but from an accident.  I apologize for the error.

At least 205 Christians Killed by Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria; Thousands Displaced, Church Services Halted (link here)

Pray for the Christians being persecuted by the Muslims in Nigeria.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I have a face for radio...

I'll be speaking with Michael Dixon about Catholic church architecture, liturgy, and theology on The Bishop's Hour, 1310 AM Immaculate Heart Radio, at 11 a.m. MST on Monday, 16th December 2013.
Diocese of Phoenix Crest

There will be an encore presentation on Thursday, 19th December at 9 p.m. MST.

Michael Dixon and I will be discussing the sacramental meaning of Catholic church architecture, and how we can best design and build new churches that help us engage more fully in the Mass and our life as Catholics.

“The Bishop’s Hour” is a new one-hour Catholic radio program presented by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. Hosted by veteran broadcaster Michael Dixon, the program presents news and features about your faith and spiritual life. This program airs each Monday at 11 a.m. on 1310 AM Immaculate Heart Radio in Phoenix. Encore presentations air on Thursdays at 9 p.m.