Monday, March 2, 2009

Flashback: A 1946 Lenten Special with Fr. Emeric Lawrence OSB.


As a Lenten special I give you yet another lecture excerpt from Fr. Emeric Lawrence, OSB, my theology prof back in the dark, dusty ages before Vatican II… the theology current though not often taught with such (justifiable to me) Catholic chauvinism. Here goes…October 8, 1946: Truman is president, the Cold War is hot but the lecture…staid, stately but evocative of full audience participation …is cool.

Fr. Emeric: “All right, take your seats…and that means you, Bede Hall as well as you Mr. Fred Eisenzimmer. Mr. Eisenzimmer are you one of the Eisenzimmers from Cold Spring? You are not: no matter…except that the Eizenzimmers of Cold Spring are brewers of the delicious 3.2% beer, called naturally “Cold Spring Beer” which I know as a devout tee-totaler you have not sampled. When you finally get settled down…there you are…I have a question for Mr. Orville Hesch.

“Mr. Hesch: Why did Jesus Christ make a mystery about his being God? He was God so why didn’t he say so in plain words? You will note as you read the New Testament that he seemed to quite deliberately obscure who He was. The Jews wondered about it—some of them indignantly. We find them in John 10:24 asking `How long wilt thou go on keeping us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us openly!’ Did they not have a point, Mr. Hesch? You say what? You say they did. Good answer.

“Now remain standing, Mr. Hesch: I am not finished with you yet. Did Christ ever give a hint…or even more than that…of His being God? You say yes. Where did He give that, Mr. Hesch? Your reading of the New Testament is key here. You say…you say…EXCELLENT, MR. HESCH! Mr. Hesch has drunk deeply from the New Testament…and I am sure this is all…aside from our pure Lake Sagatagan well water…that he has drunk during the past week [class laughter]. Can you give us a prĂ©cis…that means a cogent summary…Mr. Hesch? No? Well anyhow you have done well. One more question, Mr. Hesch. Where did he say so? [Hesch answers: at Caesarea].

“Very-very good, Mr. Hesch. Now you may sit down to well-deserved applause. Class!” [Class applause with some muttered groans of jealousy which always occurred when one of their number was singled out for lavish praise.]

“Who Do You Say I Am?”

“Mr. Hesch has named the place and I will set the scene. It WAS at Caesarea Philippi. Christ asks the apostles, `Who do you say I am?’ And Peter responds and says, `Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’ Jesus answers this declaration: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon, son of Jonah; it is not flesh and blood, it is My Father Who is in Heaven that has revealed this to thee. And I tell thee this in my turn: that thou art Peter and it is upon this rock that I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’

So now we come to the great question: These apostles had been close to him for a long time and still He had not revealed Himself until now when Peter draws his conclusion…so why not…Mr. Cornelius Whalen? Why did He not just up and tell them?

“You say He wanted to let them work it out for themselves. EXCELLENT ANSWER! Excellent answer. But why did He want them to work it out for themselves? Why did He not just come out with it? Try again, Mr. Whalen. You don’t know: an honest answer. Mr. Charles Baron. Ah, you have a glimmer of the answer—that they…the apostles…were Jews. So they were Jews: so what? Explain please.

“Excellent, Mr. Baron! You have read the commentary by Msgr. Ronald Knox assigned at the last class. You’re right: All Jews of that day…sinners, reprobates, all… believed in God. So…where are we going with this realization? (You may sit down, Mr. Baron). We are going to this point: all Jews, no matter how sinful, were in AWE OF GOD. So if Christ Our Lord had begun with the announcement like this the way we ex-GIs used to hear official military announcements at mess or on board ship: `NOW HEAR THIS!” [class roaring laughter, especially from the ex-military] what would be the reaction, Mr. Harry Arth?”

“Right you are, Mr. Arth: They would have fallen flat on their faces! Their understanding of the majesty of God…the realization that Christ was God…had to come a little bit at a time. Indeed as you read the New Testament, you see that Christ led them slowly, gradually to the understanding, bringing them to the point where THEY WOULD TELL HIM, as Peter did. What little hints? Things that only God has a right to do: like Him conferring forgiveness for sin…adding to the law that God handed down on Sinai…moving on and on to deeper stuff: `I and the Father are One.’…then `No one knows the Son but the Father but no one knows the Father but the Son.’

“He had to let it sink in, just as Mr. William Augustine who reads his lesson from the New Testament every night as is required [dubious laughter], eventually enjoys the fact that it is sinking in. Mr. Augustine: You know from your reading that Peter was not alone in making this declaration—that Nathaniel did in John 1:49. What was the nature of Nathaniel’s declaration to Christ, Mr. Augustine?

Nathaniel’s Declaration.

“It was…what? No, not exactly a duplicate of Peter’s, Mr. William Augustine. Tonight go back and read John 1:49 again. And read Msgr. Knox again. Nathaniel said: `Thou, Master, art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.’ What, Mr. Augustine? Mr. Augustine wishes to protest my summary statement that Nathaniel’s statement was NOT identical to Peter’s. And yet I still maintain it was NOT. How many agree with Mr. Augustine? Hands! I see none but Mr. Augustine’s! How many agree with me? I see many. I suppose this is the wily way students think they shall please the professor in such a way that the word `pandering’ comes to mind [class rueful laughter]…but Mr. Augustine has a very good point by challenging my declaration, and I shall remember him for it…shall long remember him for it.

“The answer is…anyone? No one has the answer yet they agree with me: aha, pragmatic, aren’t you? Duplicitous more likely! [Class murmurs guilty laughter]. Never mind, I did this myself when I was confronted by my professor with the same problem, good old Fr. Ernest whom you call, behind his back, “Ernie” [class laughter]. As I did when I was a student [extended class laughter]. You think Ernie…er, Father Ernest [continued laughter]…does not know you call him “Ernie”? He does but you know, don’t you, that you are not to call him fondly even `Father Ernie’ in his presence. Fr. Abbot does not call him `Ernie’ in or out of his presence. I shudder to think of what would happen to you or any one of us if any anyone absent-mindedly called him that. Well, but I digress. Now the question: What happened before Nathaniel made his declaration which is called his confession?

Nathaniel’s Confession and Peter’s.

“Again: What happened before Nathaniel made his confession? Mr. Bede Hall who at last has stopped doodling [laughter]. Mr. Hall, stand up if you can disengage yourself from your cartooning—what is the answer: what happened before Nathaniel made his confession to Christ? And Mr. Hall is correct! Christ had made that stunning revelation that He had seen Nathaniel under a fig tree…which Nathaniel thought only he was aware of. So Nathaniel’s confession is…what? His confession is of HUMAN REASON, therefore he reasoned Christ was more than man. Also the apostles moved slowly to that conclusion when they saw Him calming the storm with one word—and they said to each other: `Who is this who is obeyed even by the winds and the sea?” [Mark 4-40].

“But of the two…Nathaniel and Peter…whose testimony was more profound? Mr. James Ebert. Which was more meaningful? You say Peter’s! Yes, it was. Peter’s testimony is a true act of faith, made under the effect of grace of God witness Christ’s statement in recognition of this: “It is not flesh and blood but My Father Who is in heaven that has revealed this to thee.”

“Let me say there is a dramatic difference between how Catholics view the apostles and how non-Catholics do. In Catholic belief, the unique mark is that you can a real function for the Apostles—not as mere bystanders. You can see the function of their working it out so they come to the realization. That is because the apostles (excepting Judas, of course) become the hierarchy of Christ’s Church and we are truly an hierarchal Church. In non-Catholic belief we find the apostles are bit players for the most part, making of themselves fools for the Master. Very much like that of Nigel Bruce to Basil Rathbone. Who are these men, Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone, Mr. John Oberst?

“ Yes, you know your films well . Rathbone plays Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce the always baffled, bumbling Dr. Watson. In non-Catholic interpretation where the role of the apostles as members of the divinely structure hierarchal Church is ignored, the apostles seem always to be playing the Dr. Watson role. Not in the Catholic version where the Lord’s statement `You have not chosen me; I have chosen you’ comes to mind.

“Had they known Christ was God from the outset, they would have been thrown into fear—possibly panic. Fear and panic bars any further resolution. It would have barred any movement toward intimacy. And what is the moral for us? In our approach to God we are aided greatly in seeing Him in our nature whereby the mind embarks on a continuous study of Him. As with enduring friendships, we begin timidly, then get to know, then get to love…in a manly way…our deepest friends. And so the experience of Christ for the apostles started with their own personal experience…and from there it grew into intimacy. Which is how we…as we approach perfection—approach it, not completely attain it—grow slowly into intimacy with Our Lord because the evangelists allow it by not encouraging their own personalities to enter.

“In summary, the poet Francis Thompson has written that no pagan ever saw a tree as did Wordsworth…by which I say that no pagan ever saw the same infinity, the same eternity, the same immensity as Catholics true to their faith as I will strive that you become…Catholics who little by little have become closer, ever closer to God and thus to men—and to ourselves. That is called sanctity, gentlemen. And you will launch a beginning to it or I will answer for it…for it is my task to make this a reality.”


  1. Tom,I love ya but why the silence on the vrdolyak case?

  2. Tom-

    I work at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and would love to catch up via e-mail about happenings in Illinois.

    When you have time can you shoot me an e-mail at vharris at