The Horned Moses
The Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome contains a statue of Moses with horns. I’ve seen this appalling demonic image at other Catholic sites as well. This is a blatant example of the Catholic Church’s tendency to paganize biblical religion – in this case, the man chosen by God to establish the Old Covenant with the Jewish people.
This issue is due to the choice of words used by St. Jerome in his fourth-century Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, which is the basis for the Catholic Douay Rheims version in English.
“And when Moses came down from the mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned (Latin, comuta) from the conversation of the Lord.”
The Hebrew word used in Exodus 34:29 that describes the light that radiated in Moses’ face after being in the presence of God is the word “keren/karan.” This word can be translated literally as “horns” – as in two beams of light – or figuratively as “light” or “radiance.” Whether one likes the word choice or not, it is a legitimate literal translation of the passage, if a bit awkward. St. Jerome correctly understood the term to mean “glorified.” However, modern Catholic versions no longer follow his wording. Hence, the New American Bible says,
“As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he spoke with the Lord.”
In creating the sculpture called “Moses,” Michelangelo chose to depict the glow in the face of Moses using the horn image found in St. Jerome’s Vulgate. This had nothing to do with the paganization of the Bible or Moses. It was simply a practical way of portraying in stone the light in Moses’ face, similar to the use of halos in portraying sanctity.
Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
Perhaps the virginal conception of Jesus really did take place, but Mary’s virginity ended there. She and Joseph did not remain celibate. After the birth of Jesus, they had sexual relations of the ordinary type, which produced the “brothers and sisters of the Lord.” Mary’s alleged perpetual virginity is just another Catholic myth.
Let me respond to this objection in a different way, using a very mundane metaphor.
Let’s say, one sunny afternoon in July, you’re at a baseball game in which your favorite team is playing. Your favorite player on that favorite team then steps up to bat, swings, and hits a home run. The ball soars high over the field and stands and falls precisely to the place you’re seated. You stretch out your hand and catch it.
Now you coddle that ball as if it were gold, and to you it is – the treasure of a lifetime. When you return to your car after the game, you place it on the seat next to you. On the drive home, you constantly admire it and even lovingly whisper to it, as if it were the love of your life. Back home, you find a safe bookshelf on which to place it. The next day, you shop online for a fancy pedestal with a glass case. After the pedestal arrives, you place the ball in the case and securely mount the pedestal on your fireplace hearth where all can admire it.
Everyone who enters that room is now subject to your long-winded and generously enhanced account of the game, the home run, and the day you caught that ball. But most importantly, no one – absolutely no one – will ever be permitted to remove the ball from its fancy pedestal and case. Never again will it be touched, hit, or thrown. It has been withdrawn from all ordinary use. The ball hit by your favorite player on your favorite team is far too special to ever be used by anyone else, due to the exceptional status of the one who hit it.
Now let’s consider the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On a day St. Paul described as “the fullness of time,” the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin in the village of Nazareth. He greeted her, not using her personal name, but with her heavenly title – “full of grace.” Others have rendered this, “highly favored daughter.” Regardless, Mary had been prepared for this moment with an abundance of graces from the instant of her conception. For her vocation would be absolutely essential to the redemption of the world.
After hearing the glad tidings that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary was concerned only for her virginity. Once Gabriel assured her it would be honored, Our Lady bowed her head and declared her perfect submission to the will of God. And immediately, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity came upon her, and the Word was made flesh.
The flesh of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was taken directly from the flesh of Mary. Her body produced His, and would daily nourish it as well. The instrument with which humanity would be redeemed was derived from her. In a sense, to look upon Jesus would be to look upon Mary.
Miracle followed miracle, until the Savior of the world was born in a cold dark stable amid straw and farm animals, just outside of the village of Bethlehem.
The heavenly hosts sang at this birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.” Shepherds, beckoned by these angelic beings, left their fields to admire Him. Magi came from the east to adore Him, guided by a mysterious star. And Herod the Great, terrified and viciously jealous, plotted to murder Him.
And then, when it was all over, Joseph said to Mary, “Hey, babe, let’s roll in the hay and make some babies in the normal way.”
At least, that’s the opinion of many Christians.
Pardon me, but this common belief among Protestants is indirect blasphemy. It is a mockery of the infinite sanctity of Christ, in that it amounts to the profane use of the mother who gave birth to Him, and who provided Him with the physical body that, once offered on the Cross, would be the instrument by which the gates of heaven would be torn open, so that fallen mankind could finally enter.
No man would ever have touched Our Lady – not a good man, because of his virtue, nor even a bad man, because of his fear of God. No man would have dared to penetrate that sanctuary, that holy of holies where the Savior of the world had been conceived and carried for nine months. And least of all would St. Joseph have done so – the man called by God to be the guardian of both the Messiah and His Mother.
Mary’s virginity was perpetual. Never did she have sexual relations with the foster father of Jesus, nor with any other man. She was the life-long spouse of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, she was far too special to be embraced by anyone else, due to the exceptional status of the One who overshadowed her.
If you can understand the case of a man preserving a precious baseball, can you not understand as well the case of God Almighty preserving the precious Mother of the Messiah?
The Magi and Astrology
Every year on the solemnity of the Epiphany, we read the account of three eastern astrologers who, in seeing an extraordinary star, rightly interpret the phenomenon as indicating a great king had been born. God used astrology to lead these Magi to Bethlehem, and the Holy Family graciously received their pious visit. Therefore, God clearly approves of the practice astrology, and so, too, must the Church.
Actually, astrology did not lead the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. It led them only to the paranoid bloodthirsty dictator, King Herod the Great. And yet, it did not lead them even to him. Astrology had almost nothing to do with the visit of the Magi, and God certainly did not endorse it.
The stars and planets belong to God, not to astrology. God does not bow to the charts and maps of mere men; He does not conform His activities to man-made assessments of the zodiac intended to foresee His free actions from heaven or free human events on earth. Hence, the appearance of the star of Bethlehem suggested to the Magi only that an important figure had been born. That God used such an indication in no way suggests that the complex theories of astrology are correct or reliable, but only that God uses from time to time natural elements to announce supernatural events. That one instance of this should coincide with the eyes and minds of three astrologers means nothing for astrology. Hence, in spite of the star seen in the East, the Magi could not find their way to Christ, except by inquiring about Him in Jerusalem. If astrological theory had been true and correct, then this visit to the center of Judaism would have been unnecessary, and the Magi would have left their Persian homes and headed directly for the stable or cave of Bethlehem. But astrology could offer them no such guidance. As it happened, it was Old Testament prophecy that correctly directed them to the Messiah’s manger.
But why, when the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem from the East, did they think of Jerusalem? What astrological notion brought them to the Holy City?
Once again, astrological theory had nothing to do with Jerusalem. At the time of Our Lord’s birth, Israel was rife with Messianic expectation. One can see this in the excitement generated by the ministry of John the Baptist. The Jewish authorities were anxious to ask him whether or not he was the One to come. The Jews were prepared to believe Jesus was the Messiah as well, until He showed Himself to be a type of Messiah quite different from the one they expected and wanted.
The Old Testament contains many Messianic prophecies, and the Jewish scholars would mentally pour over these passages night and day. But the Jews did not live only in Israel; they were also dispersed throughout the Gentile world. This dispersion is called the “diaspora.” By means of this diaspora, the Jewish faith was spread throughout the world, and with it, knowledge among the Gentiles of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
If the Magi were truly “wise men,” then they would have been at least somewhat familiar with Judaism, its wisdom literature, and its prophetic books. Seeing the star and believing it signaled the birth of a great figure, the Magi would have recalled the mysterious Old Testament references to a Jewish Messiah, such as this passage from the Book of Numbers:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17).
Hence, the Magi decided to inquire at the center of Judaism – the city of Jerusalem – regarding the place of the Messiah’s birth. And in this city, they found their answer as provided, not by divination or astrology, but by the Jewish prophet Micah:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2).
God searches for us wherever we are to be found. He comes to us even in the depths of our sin and unbelief. But if He speaks to us under such circumstances, He certainly is not endorsing such sin and unbelief, but calling us out of it. Imagine the logical absurdity of suggesting that, because a person turned to God in the midst of an act of adultery or murder, God, therefore was endorsing adultery or murder. And so it was with the Magi. God found them in the midst of pagan superstition, and then called them from it to turn to the Jewish prophets in order to discover the Christ Child. In doing so, God in no way endorsed the superstitions of divination and astrology.