Monday, April 28, 2008

Personal Asides: Answers on the Fig Tree…Theological Wonk Question 7…An Addendum to Chris Robling’s Astute Illinois Review Post.


The Fig Tree.

I’ve got to tell you Jesse Taylor is right—although everybody who wrote on this question made signal contributions. Leon Dixon was also on the mark. Fig trees in the Holy Land, scholars tell us, bear fruit twice a year, in June and in September. Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, which occurred on April 15. His encounter with the fig tree occurred the week before Passover. No fig tree would bear fruit that early. Mark tells us “It was not the time for figs”; Jesus knew that. The fig tree did have leaves. So it appears He did not go to the tree to get fruit. Scripture scholars reason that it was a diseased tree notwithstanding. Some scholars say Jesus “cursed” the tree; others maintain He did not but made a prediction. The event seems to have been meant as a symbol of the Jews of that day, which is why Jesse Taylor and Leon Dixon are right.

In the Old Testament, the fig tree is the favorite of all trees. It is the first tree mentioned in the Bible, in the account of the fall of Adam and Eve they “sewed fig leaves” to cover their nakedness [Gn 3:7]. Throughout the Old Testament, the fig tree is seen as the symbol of prosperity. The fig tree grows to a height of between 35 and 40 feet, has spreading branches and has broad, thick leaves which give shade in the summer. They are often planted in vineyards; they flourish in stony soil. The fruit can be eaten fresh or dried; dried figs are made up in cakes and were even applied for medicinal effects. Along with the vine, the olive and the pomegranate, the fig is one of the most common fruit trees in the Bible. ` The fig tree carries fruit for 10 months a year.

Christ’s announcement “May no fruit ever come from you again” was a judgment on His people and its interpretation has been criticized by later ecumenists. The fig tree served as symbol of God’s chosen people. The Messiah had come but His people did not recognize Him and were about to crucify Him. They were as spiritually barren as the fig tree was physically barren. Scripture scholar, the leading Catholic scholar of his time, John McKenzie SJ writes “the fig tree which is bearing no fruit is a symbol of an unbelieving Israel, which is cursed [McKenzie’s word] for its unbelief and remains barren.” Obviously this is not 21st century politically correct but there it is, in one interpretation anyhow. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin disputed this in one of his trips to Jerusalem in company of Jewish rabbis and scholars.

McKenzie’s judgment is not flattering to the Jews but he was a first-ranking biblical scholar—and this seems to be the way it is in the judgment of many Christian scholars. Readers of divergent opinions and Jewish scholars may want to comment on this interpretation and indeed are welcome.

Catholic Theological Wonk Question 7: Mary, the “Mother of God”?

To say Mary is the “mother of God” is specious, many Protestant fundamentalist scholars say, because nowhere is the phrase contained in Scripture. The nearest thing to it is in Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth exclaims to Mary “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” It’s not the phrase “Mother of God” and Protestant fundamentalists say the text uses the Greek “kurios” in the sense of divinity at some times but also uses it in human contexts. Also, fundamentalist Protestants insist—rightly, it would seem—that God does not have a Mother since He always was and always will be. Without spending any research time or your search engine, if you insist on “Mother of God,” how would you explain it? This is a very tough one—so tough I think even Jesse Taylor might decide to punt. Your comments.

Chris Robling’s “Illinois Review” Post.

In the last several days in the “Illinois Review,” Chris Robling, a friend of mine for many years, has given an invaluable insight into the historical background of the institution that John Kass has aptly named “the Combine.” I urge you to read its two-parts. I quarrel with nothing he has written but would supply this addendum.

The “Combine” had its start in baby steps with the Richard B. Ogilvie administrations both as Cook county president and as governor of Illinois. Prior to that time, young people particularly worked in politics for awhile, took state jobs and then drifted off to the private sector. Think back and see if you can identify any ex-staffers of Bill Stratton who played important roles in politics of government following the Stratton terms—or staffers of Otto Kerner (don’t mention Ted Isaacs: he went to jail with Kerner) or Sam Shapiro. It was a time before huge public works, bond houses got so deeply involved in state government financing schemes. Ogilvie became a hero to the Democrats for one purpose only: he took the heat for passing the state income tax and he convinced the then patrician boss of the legislature, Senate leader W. Russell Arrington to introduce the bill. While many Democrats decorously stepped aside, Ogilvie took the credit for the enlarging of state government based on the Nelson Rockefeller model—and fittingly, he paid the bill. But Ogilvie was as nothing compared to what happened later. The shill for Cook county Democrats in the Republican party was, in fact, Tim Sheehan who was unalterably opposed to Ogilvie. Sheehan was very-very close to the Cook county Democratic party. He ran against the senior Daley but was in the fold—particularly close to Frank Annunzio. But Tim who was a very wealthy man didn’t profit from his closeness: he just enjoyed the favor of the Dem party.

The state income tax contributed significantly to the growth of state government. With Ogilvie came one Tom Drennan, the grim, humorless visage who kept a favor book. But Drennan’s and Ogilvie’s plan was to build a strong Republican party based on patronage and favors—not to align the Republican party with the Democratic. Ogilvie had begun as sheriff; he elected a Republican sheriff in his stead. He elected a Republican Cook county treasurer. Those were relatively innocent days. It really became a “Combine,” where the distinctions between Republican and Democratic parties were erased under Big Jim Thompson. Supposedly Thompson had an animus to conservative Republicans because he had been passed over by them as a Republican for Cook county state’s attorney. That’s the legend dispensed by those who want to give Thompson a rationale for what he did. Yes, he was passed over but I doubt whether that made him the Combine creature he was—and is. The needle on Thompson’s compass always pointed to City Hall.

Thompson begat the “Combine” that exists today. He didn’t make any bones about the fact that he had no differences with Democrats, nor does he today. Look at how he has cravenly served Blagojevich with his law firm, serving as Blago’s ahem “ethics” firm. Democrats were joined at the hip with the Thompson administration on everything—issues, pork, patronage and contracts. Therefore in biblical language, Thompson begat a legion of players with no political rudder—just the knack of cooperating with the Democrats others which put the Republican party to sleep. make money. Thompson had a kind of decorous flare about him that warded off trouble when he was governor but he begat George Ryan who had no flair at all but a pink snout that quivered with joy when he smelled power, patronage and returned favors. George Ryan was the legitimate heir to Thompson, not Jim Edgar. Chris can recall how his old boss Don Totten sought to run for lieutenant governor with Thompson and challenged Ryan. You know where Thompson would come down—for Ryan. Totten was an honorable man who had his own conservative views on public policy. Ryan had no views. If he expressed any views, they came out “oink.”

Witness how slavishly Thompson defended Ryan, putting his law firm to his service, enduring opprobrium in order to pay a debt heaven knows what for. Driving him to jail in his own limousine, cutting bonuses in his law firm to pay for the “pro-bono” service to this blustering bum. The Jim Thompson story is a tragedy because one with extraordinary intellectual and political gifts allowed himself to wallow up and down the legislative halls, doing errands for the Wirtz family liquor interests with questionable legislation that had to be undone, among others.

Another Thompson legatee cum Republi-crat hack was Judy Baar Topinka learned early, cutting deals with Bill Lipinski to sabotage a Republican who came very close to unseating him (she marked her sample ballots as committeeman for Lipinski which may have decided a very close race). Cutting deals with Bobby Rush and Blagojevich to head off Tommy Dart for treasurer. . She dissed social conservatives, abandoned her earlier pro-life record and rode in gay rights parade, blowing kisses to the crowds, heedless of any solidarity with her party. So you see, Bob Kjellander is just another player next to those who rose to influential positions as lawyers and heavily connected favor-dispensers. If Bill Cellini began under Ogivlie, he became a member of the college of cardinals under Thompson. George Ryan was promoted to lieutenant governor under Thompson and then as secretary of state and finally governor.

And if Thompson had been circumspect regarding the Combine as governor, he dropped all pretense as private citizen. He became known as a lobbying illusionist with no ideals, who would accept almost any client provided the money was there, gum-shoeing around the legislature plying his wares as no other ex-governor has done. His abandonment of caution exhibited itself in his service to the two crooks at the “Sun-Times” for whom he served as chairman of the audit committee, behaving like the watchdog that didn’t bark. And if the nadir of the Republican end of the Combine was Big Jim’s client George Ryan, with his responsibility for six kids being burned alive through license fixing, the nadir of the Democratic half certainly must end with Rod Blagojevich…and the steamy scene of Ali Ata bringing $25,000 in an envelope to Tony Rezko who ushered Ata into a conference room where there sat Blagojevich himself and the epitaph: “It had better be a job where you can make some money.”


With respect to whether Kjellander pressured Rove to fire Patrick Fitzgerald, I agree with Peter Fitzgerald in that I strongly doubt Rove would be dumb enough to move against a prosecutor of the highest visibility as Patrick Fitzgerald. But the “mediocre” rating came from somebody. Some day after we are all dead, historians may learn who. I think it was handed down to Alberto Gonzales directly from the Oval Office…and I mean the Occupant…for whatever reason we cannot fathom now.

For some unfathomable reason, George W. Bush has been in love with Richard M. Daley. If I didn’t know better I’d almost suspect it is unmanly. It is similar to the wistful, psychologically complex crush Richard Nixon had on John Connally. Nixon saw in Connally a suave operator which the jittery, uncertain, perspiring president with a shriveled ego viewed as cool. God knows nobody could imagine Rich Daley is cool. We will find out his attraction to Bush some day. Blame Rove and Kjellander for many things but don’t imagine they marked Fitzgerald’s enviable dossier as “mediocre.” That came from Bush himself—and will redound to his discredit in the full sweep of history.

Now that I re-read it, I see I have added a lot to Chris’ two pieces on the “Combine.”


  1. The answer to your theology wonk question seems pretty straightforward: Mary is the mother of Jesus; His divine nature and human nature are inseparable; therefore, Jesus is God, and Mary is the Mother of God (or as the Orthodox call her, "Theotokos" -- God-bearer.)

  2. Simple fact - Rove tried to shaft Fitzgerald and he failed. He even met Senator Fitzgerald and told him he was not happy with Fitzi been appointed to Chicago

  3. " I mean the Occupant…for whatever reason we cannot fathom now."

    Hmm very simple just ask Scoot Libby and remember Karl rap dance ? and he poked fun at Fitzi who he clearly does not like

  4. I'm just sayin'April 29, 2008 at 5:09 AM

    The Combine truly consolidated power under Thompson. Very true.

    Tom, maybe it's time to acknowledge one thing that Thompson led that made it much easier to do that, i.e., taking from Republicans the right to directly elect the people who run the State GOP. Robling's guy Thompson was directly responsible for giving us a rigged system for leader selection that made the IL GOP a wholly owned subsidiary of the Combine.

    It's easy to regurgitate some obvious history. Maybe if you didn't spend so much time poo pooing a positive solution, i.e., returning to direct elections, maybe you could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Robling's silence on the solution side also no doubt has something to do with his past service to the Thompsons.

    Oh that's right, some guy on the SCC carried a gun 40 years ago and he was directly elected. Let's get rid of elections for everything then. Real Democracy gave us Bill and Hillary Clinton too.

    No wonder this state is such a disaster. Real solutions means some people couldn't pontificate anymore about ancient history like the Combine's origins.