Kolbe Report 8/26/23

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Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Most of our readers have probably experienced the game known as “Chinese whispers”—although it could just as well be called “American whispers” or “Australian whispers.”  A group of children are lined up, and the child at one end of the line is given a sentence to “pass on” in a whisper to the child next to him, who then passes it on in a whisper to the child next to him, until the message reaches the end of the line, at which point the child at the end of the chain announces the message as he received it from his neighbor.  Howls of laughter usually erupt at this point, because the message announced often bears little if any resemblance to the original message.

When I was a young elementary school teacher, I used this “exercise” with my ten and eleven year old students in history classes to demonstrate that oral tradition was unreliable, just as a similar exercise had been used by countless numbers of teachers to teach untold numbers of students the same lesson.  I never reflected on the absurdity of drawing such a weighty conclusion from such a silly exercise, and it took me decades to realize the utter folly of the “demonstration.“

When one realizes how important genealogy was to our Catholic and Hebrew forebears and to ancient people in general, it becomes apparent that the game of Chinese whispers actually demonstrates how far modern man has drifted away from the pious mentality of our ancestors, both Christian and pagan, for whom a precise knowledge of their lineage had a profound and often practical significance.  If one were to imagine a situation in which a kidnapper told a group of kidnapped children to play Chinese whispers and that the penalty for garbling even a syllable of the message would be certain death, there is not a group of children in the world who would not successfully “hand on” the message.  The children “know” that transmitting the message is not important to them or to anyone else and that they are expected to butcher it—so they do.

But that is a far cry from the oral tradition of our ancestors.

Catholic Tradition Trumps Academic Speculation

St. Luke and St. Matthew relate that Our Lord Jesus Christ was born during the reign of Herod the Great.   Even skeptical scholars must admit that this fulfilled—if only by “coincidence”—a prediction recorded in the Bible more than 1500 years beforehand from the mouth of the Patriarch Jacob.  Prophesying over his son Judah, the Patriarch Jacob had declared:

The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations (Genesis 49:10).

When the Romans appointed Herod the Great to rule over Palestine, the rulership of the Holy Land was definitively taken away from the descendants of Judah, thus heralding the advent of the Messiah.  However, the scholarly consensus has long supported the view that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.—and this alleged “fact” has been used to argue against the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, since St. Matthew and St. Luke appear to contradict the historical evidence by recording Our Lord’s birth after the death of King Herod.  As always happens in cases of this kind, however, when sufficient evidence comes to light, the veracity of Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition is vindicated.  One striking piece of confirmatory evidence from astronomical records was recently pointed out by a professor of physics at Oglethorpe University in a letter to the Biblical Archaeology Review.   He writes:

Let me add a footnote to Suzanne Singer’s report on the final journey of Herod the Great . . . : She gives the standard date of his death as 4 B.C. [Jesus’ birth is often dated to 4 B.C. based on the fact that both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus’ birth with Herod’s reign—Ed.] Readers may be interested to learn there is reason to reconsider the date of Herod’s death.

This date is based on Josephus’s remark in Antiquities 17.6.4 that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod died. This is traditionally ascribed to the eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C.

Unfortunately, this eclipse was visible only very late that night in Judea and was additionally a minor and only partial eclipse.

There were no lunar eclipses visible in Judea thereafter until two occurred in the year 1 B.C. Of these two, the one on December 29, just two days before the change of eras, gets my vote since it was the one most likely to be seen and remembered. That then dates the death of Herod the Great into the first year of the current era, four years after the usual date.

Perhaps the much-maligned monk who calculated the change of era was not quite so far off as has been supposed.

John A. Cramer
Professor of Physics
Oglethorpe University
Atlanta, Georgia

Dionysius Exiguus

The “much-maligned monk” was Dionysius Exiguus who drew upon the most reliable sixth century sources to calculate the birth of Christ so that the subsequent history of the world could be dated accordingly.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The surname EXIGUUS, or "The Little", adopted probably in self-deprecation and not because he was small of stature; flourished in the earlier part of the sixth century, dying before the year 544. According to his friend and fellow-student, Cassiodorus (De divinis Lectionibus, c. xxiii), though by birth a Scythian, he was in character a true Roman and thorough Catholic, most learned in both tongues—i.e., Greek and Latin — and an accomplished Scripturist. Much of his life was spent in Rome, where he governed a monastery as abbot. His industry was very great and he did good service in translating standard works from Greek into Latin, principally the "Life of St. Pachomius", the "Instruction of St. Proclus of Constantinople" for the Armenians, the "De opificio hominis" of St. Gregory of Nyssa, the history of the discovery of the head of St. John the Baptist . . .

In chronology Dionysius has left his mark conspicuously, for it was he who introduced the use of the Christian Era . . .to which dates are reckoned from the Incarnation, which he assigned to 25 March, in the year 754 from the foundation of Rome . . . By this method of computation he intended to supersede the "Era of Diocletian" previously employed, being unwilling, as he tells us, that the name of an impious persecutor should be thus kept in memory. The Era of the Incarnation, often called the Dionysian Era, was soon much used in Italy and, to some extent, a little later in Spain; during the eighth and ninth centuries it was adopted in England. Charlemagne is said to have been the first Christian ruler to employ it officially. It was not until the tenth century that it was employed in the papal chancery.

In light of Blessed Anne Catherine’s visions and Dr. Robert Powell’s astronomical research, Dionysius Exiguus’ date for the Incarnation appears to have been remarkably close to the true date—much closer than the date preferred by most scholars today.  According to Blessed Anne Catherine’s visions, the birth of Christ took place in 2 B.C., within two years of Dionysius’ date.  Moreover, this date harmonizes perfectly with the Gospel accounts, allowing time for King Herod to order the massacre of the Holy Innocents before suffering the terrible consequences of his crimes shortly after the lunar eclipse of December 29, the day after the traditional Feast of the Holy Innocents, in 1 B.C.  Thus, it would appear that modern scholars with all of their computers and sophisticated research tools have not been able to approximate the true date of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ as accurately as the Abbot Dionysius did 1500 years ago!

Restored House of Our Lady at Ephesus

Pious Tradition Trumps Academic Consensus

In reality, there are many examples of pious tradition trumping academic speculation.  In a recent newsletter, we recalled that Blessed Anne Catherine’s visions were used to rediscover the site of the home that Our Lady shared with St. John the Evangelist in Ephesus.   According to one account:

The house was discovered almost by chance, although with God there is no such thing as a "a coincidence" or "by chance." This is how it happened: On their search [the search team led by Fr. Poulin] became thirsty and asked some local women working in the field where they might get some water. The women told them to go to "the monastery" up the mountain. The "monastery" was but a pile of stones and some crude inhabited buildings and most importantly, a ruin in the center. Its construction and layout seemed to match the description given by Emmerich and recorded by von Brentano. . .

On the second ascent to the same place they found an old stone cistern which was connected to the house. It had Hebrew inscriptions. That evening they learned from the locals that for generations the people had a habit of going to that spot to pray to the Blessed Virgin. Upon closer inspection Fr. Poulin was certain that the dimensions and floor plan corresponded to Emmerich's account.

Later it was discovered that the foundations of the House dated to the first century. The original soot-blackened hearthstones were discovered beneath the existing floor at the exact place where Sister Catherine said that a fireplace was located. The House was restored and soon a trickle of pilgrims began to go there.

Is it not remarkable that during the many centuries when the memory of Our Lady’s home in Ephesus fell into oblivion among Catholic and secular scholars, “people had a habit of going to that spot to pray to the Blessed Virgin”?  Indeed, before Fr. Poulin and his associates found the Holy House of Ephesus, the academic consensus dismissed the whole idea as a pious legend, with little, if any, foundation in history.

How grateful we should be to our ancestors who handed down so many treasures of the faith to us!  And how zealous we should be to preserve what has been handed down!

Yours in Christ through the Holy Theotokos in union with St. Joseph,

Hugh Owen

P.S.  Pamela Acker, Brother Columba Maria and I will be giving Kolbe seminars in South Carolina the weekend of September 23-24 and in North Carolina from September 27-October 1.   We have an opening on Tuesday, September 26, when we could give a presentation in South or North Carolina if you or someone you know could find a venue for one or all of us.   If you have a possible venue, please contact me at as soon as possible.

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