Born of the Virgin Mary

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Monsignor Knox points out that the title Our Lady is not an ancient title that we see from the early days of the Church, but it seems to come perhaps in the Middle Ages and perhaps it’s connected to the tradition of the troubadours who sang epic songs of heroes and of a courtly love for the beautiful noble maiden. If you’re familiar with Dante’s Comedy, the woman Beatrice is one of these beautiful noble maidens for whom Dante has a chaste and courtly love.

Monsignor Knox then gets to his main point about this phrase. Mary was really the mother of Jesus. Like a true mother, she gave birth to the boy. It was a real live birth. Jesus was not some kind of a phantom; he was a real human baby. So when we refer to her as the mother of God, we are saying he was his true mother. When we say that Mary is the mother of God, we are also saying that Jesus is truly God.

And this brings Monsignor Knox to focus on the word “virgin.” Mary was truly a virgin. Jesus had no earthly father. And Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life. You might have heard of the objection that elsewhere in the scriptures people refer to Jesus’s brothers, and you might have heard of the explanation which is that in those languages, there was no distinction among close relatives. We know that John the Baptist was Jesus’s cousin because we know that his mother Elizabeth was a close relative of Mary, but those languages did not have differentiation between brother and cousin the way our English language does. So when we read the word brother in the scriptures, we need to mentally substitute the phrase close relative. Jesus had no brothers or sisters in the way we mean the word today, for Mary remained ever virgin.

And Monsignor Knox argues that it is fitting, indeed, it is appropriate, that the son of God should be born in a miraculous way. It seems right that the Son of God would be born to a virgin who would remain one. Certainly if you put yourself in the shoes of Joseph, you might realistically choose not to insist upon natural marital rights with a woman about whom an angel came and visited you in the middle of the night, a woman whose birth was in a stable attended by the animals, but then shepherds showed up saying that Angels had sung to them from the heavens about the birth of this boy. And then three foreigners who are some kind of philosopher / magicians come to pay homage to your son and offer gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Joseph can tell that something miraculous is going on with this boy who was born of the Virgin Mary.

Monsignor Knox notes that for some reason people stumble more over this claim that Mary was a virgin before and after and always more than they stumble over the claim of the Resurrection. And it does seem that if believers are willing to say that a man was killed on Friday and then rose by his own power from death on Sunday, then it takes no greater leap of faith to say that he was born of a virgin who remained a virgin after his birth. But for some reason, people do struggle over this teaching.

Why a Virgin Birth

And Monsignor Knox offers an answer as to why this is the case. And I’ve put it here on the screen because I think it’s so well said. “The resurrection, through which our Lord passed out of his mortal life, is meant to assure us that life is a bigger thing than death. The Virgin birth, by which he entered into mortal life, is meant to assure us that spirit is a bigger thing than body.”

He then offers this explanation: After the fall in the Garden of Eden, therefore a consequence of original sin, our passions can dominate our will — our bodily desires and urges can overwhelm our intellect and choosing functions — so that the body can seem more important or more powerful than the spirit or the soul. And Monsignor Knox argues that we see this confusion complicates important things such as Love and Marriage.

Born of the Virgin Mary

His conclusion, which I have on the screen, is: “The word was made flesh in order that we, creatures of the flesh, might be brought, once more, under the power of the spirit.”

And in Jesus Christ Our Lord

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is and in Jesus Christ his only son.

Jesus is just the Aramaic form of the word that we see in the Old Testament Joshua. So it’s a relatively familiar name for a boy, and as is the case with so many Hebrew names, it means something. In this case it means “he who saves, savior.” It’s also a noble name in that it connects to Joshua, who led his people across the Jordan into the promised land completing the Exodus. So the name Joshua or Jesus is automatically a powerful and impressive name for a person.

But Monsignor Knox focuses more on the next term, Christ, for that is the weightier term. Calling somebody the Christ is calling somebody the Messiah. You might remember the scene from the gospels when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And there are answers that suggest people think he’s a prophet like Elijah, and others think he might be John the Baptist. When Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am,” that’s when St Peter has one of his greatest moments and blurts out, “You are the Christ.” And Jesus confirms how important this is because he says, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” [Mt. 16:17]

The Christ is the Messiah and the anointed one, for that’s what they all mean. Christ is just the Latin word for anointed one, and Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed one, so we’re all talking about the same thing no matter which word we use.

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Rejoice and Be Converted

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent which is frequently known by the Latin word that opens the entrance antiphon. And that word is laetare. Laetare means rejoice. And as we enter the church on this fourth Sunday in Lent we are met with the command to rejoice.

And on this Rejoice Sunday we are given the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is one of the best-known parables of the Gospels, and it has been covered many times over by better preachers than me. So if you heard it all before, my deepest apologies.

But what strikes me on reading the scriptures for today is how the reading from Saint Paul’s letter ties in with the parable to show us that the life of Grace replaces the life of the Mosaic law, as the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Covenant which will be sealed by Jesus Christ’s passion and death and resurrection.

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Father Almighty

So far we have covered the beginning of the Creed, and we have covered the words: “I believe in God.” The next concept is the Father Almighty. And Monsignor Knox uses this to take a look at the problem of suffering. People struggle with the fact that a loving God who is Almighty doesn’t seem to fit with the suffering that we see in the world today. The objection is that either God is not loving or he is not Almighty, if he were then these things wouldn’t happen to good people. 

Monsignor Knox suggests that when we have these types of reactions, we are being driven more by the feelings of the heart than the reasonings of the brain. He uses the example of when we lose a loved one. In our grief, we ask could God have prevented this from happening? And if he couldn’t then he’s not almighty God. And if he could but he didn’t, then he is certainly not my loving father. 

That’s the nature of our emotional response to suffering. So Monsignor Knox clarifies what we mean when we say that God is Almighty. And what we mean is that he is Almighty in the sense that no limits can be imposed on him by anything outside of him. In our earlier discussion about how he is the first cause, we concluded that unless we are going to accept the absurdity of endless causes, there must be an uncaused case, which we understand is God, the First Mover. From that starting point, we understand that nothing can happen unless in some sense God wills it. So he is not powerless to prevent human suffering. And because God is a god of order, he will not do anything that is against reason. That’s the principle of noncontradiction that we discussed last week. For example, God couldn’t create two equal sized things and it also be true that one of them was larger than the other. So that limit is imposed by God himself on himself: that he doesn’t create illogical absurdities. And part of why that makes sense is because God is truth. And it is untrue that two things can be equal sized and yet one is larger than the other. That’s the kind of illogical absurdity that God limits himself from participating in. 

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Hungry to Know Our Dignity

The talk will revolve around the parable of the Prodigal Son and St. Pope John Paul II’s 1980 encyclical on the Mercy of God known by its Latin title, “Dives in Misericordia.”

Because one is never sure of the depth of an audience’s familiarity with the Bible, let me give you a very brief synopsis of the parable of the Prodigal Son. A rich man has two sons, and the older son is a dutiful and obedient and quiet man who does what his father expects him to do. The younger son is impatient. At the beginning of the story, he is impatient to receive his inheritance, and so he asks for it from his father so that he will have it before his father dies. His father agrees. So the young man takes his new wealth and goes off to foreign lands and squanders it on wine and women. Out of money and down on his luck, he has to take a job feeding the pigs. In that low position, he admits the reality of what he has done, and decides to go back to his father and seek employment as a servant rather than to be returned to his status as the son. As the younger son is approaching his home, the father sees him and runs out and embraces him and gives him new clothes and a ring and says, “let’s have a big party because my son has returned.” The older brother seems a bit put out by this generosity, and he points out that he has never even asked for one little thing but always done what his father asked of him and yet his father has never given him a party.

While the older brother is very interesting, let’s leave him by the wayside and focus on the Prodigal Son – the younger son – and the loving father. I have heard, you may have heard this too, that this story could also be called the parable of the loving father. And John Paul II suggests that in this story we see the essence of Divine Mercy in the profound drama that plays out between the Father’s Love and the wastefulness and sin of the younger son.

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The Creed in Slow Motion Pt 1.


Ronald Knox was an Anglican whose conversion was partly due to his relationship with G.K. Chesterton, a famous public Catholic intellectual at the time. Having gone through the English upper-class education system and been ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912, he was brought into the Catholic Church in 1917 and quickly ordained a priest in the Catholic Church.

Recognized for his scholarship and his writing, the English bishops tasked him with translating the Vulgate into English. The English translation everyone used was called the Douay-Rheims Bible and was translated about the same time as the King James version in the early 1600s.

Msgr. Knox was sent to a rural convent so he could work undistracted, but soon after the War started, many urban girls were sent there for safety, and he became the chaplain to this impromptu school for girls. After three years together, he decided to use his sermon time in a different way. He chose to lead them through the Apostle’s Creed – the one we say at the beginning of the Rosary, not the one we say at Mass. At that time, the Mass was prayed in Latin, and all the girls would know the Latin prayers, which is why his commentaries are full of bits of Latin.


Msgr. Knox starts with the first word of the Creed: Credo. (This is why we call it the Creed, for it is a profession of faith and the first word is the Latin word for the phrase “I believe” in English.

As we go through the Creed, I will try to provide you with the Latin, the English words translated faithfully, and then the English written out as we would write English.

He asks the question, “Why ‘I believe’ instead of ‘we believe’ in the middle of Mass, which is our great communal celebration. Think about the opening rites of our Mass, in which we confess our sins and then sing the Gloria. Sometimes we pray the prayer in the group setting but emphasize the singular – as in the Credo and the Confiteor – while other times we pray in the group but emphasize the collective – as in the Gloria: we praise thee (laudamus te), we bless thee (benedicimus te), we adore thee (adoramus te), we glorify thee (glorificamus te).

So, what is going on here? What is significant about the use of the first person singular or the first person plural?

When we sing the Gloria, we are like the glorious company of the Apostles in Heaven losing ourselves in our song of praise to God. We join in the chorus of praise and adoration of the Almighty.

When we recite the Creed – alone or in a group – we are declaring our personal belief in the doctrines of the Church. The “I” is critical, for we are personally responsible for our declaration of faith. The Creed is what the Church believes in a very distilled form. I am declaring myself in union with the Church when I recite the Creed. I may not understand the fullness of each doctrine, but I am declaring my faith in each one.

And the same personal responsibility applies when it comes to confessing our sins. We just completed a long examination of moral questions so that we could prepare well for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we walk into the confessional, the priest expects us to confess our sins, not the sins of others. (Wouldn’t that be so much more fun!)

If I find there are parts of the Creed I do not believe, then I should consider studying and seeking some help from a qualified person to help my grow in my understanding to the point that I do believe. Or, perhaps, I should be honest about my lack of belief, my lack of faith, and stop reciting it.

Once a year at Easter, we substitute a Profession of Faith for the Nicene Creed, so that the doctrines are posed as questions and the people answer “I do.” If you have been to a baptism, you have heard the same format. Each time we pray the Creed, we are renewing our commitment to the faith, and this personal statement is critical if we are to have a personal relationship with our Lord.

Msgr. Knox points out that the belief embedded in the Creed is not the same thing as the belief that credulous or gullible people believe. He says:

The difference between being a credulous person and being a sensible person isn’t a question of HOW MANY things you believe; it’s a question of whether you believe the RIGHT things; that is whether you demand the right kind of evidence before you believe a thing or not. (p.4)

He cites newspaper reports of the Loch Ness Monster, but we could talk about people who believe what they see on Tiktok or Twitter. We should not believe it just because we read about it on social media. But, on the other hand, if you get persistent and similar reports from multiple sources you regard as sensible and truthful, then it is foolish not to believe it – even if you also saw it on social media.

Many of the historical items in the gospels are confirmed by non-religious sources. That Pilate was there is confirmed by Jewish sources. That crucifixion was a means of execution at the time was confirmed by many other examples of Romans using it.

Knox then points out that to believe a thing is not the same as not denying it. It means focusing your mind on it until you care about it enough to want to really know whether it is true or not. If you really believe a thing, it becomes part of the make-up of your mind. In the case of the Creed, our faith becomes the framework for how we interact with the world and the lens through which we see the world.

More Logic

One of the bases for belief in the Creed is the reliability of the Catholic Church. The Church will be mentioned directly later in the Creed, but as we have already seen in earlier sessions, the Church has the job of protecting the deposit of the faith, and it is protected from error in matters of faith and morals by the Holy Spirit, which is something we get directly from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels.

Msgr. Knox then points out that some things don’t have to be believed entirely on the authority of the Church, and he pivots to some of the ways that St. Thomas Aquinas proved the existence of God on the basis of reason alone.

A prerequisite of reason and logical thinking is the principle of non-contradiction. It means that two statements that are opposite cannot both be true. One cannot truthfully say, “I am a man” and also declare “I am a woman.” One cannot be both; one must be either male or female. This fundamental truth is under assault today, and many self-declared smart people endorse what is called “gender fluidity,” but all of this is illogical thinking because it violates the principle of non-contradiction. In our study of the moral life, we learned what a sin is. Well, if murder is a sin, then murder cannot not be a sin. When somebody confesses to murder but does not see it as an immoral act, then he has departed from rationality. He is declaring as true something that cannot be true.

A second important concept is the idea that logic cannot end in a dead end. We cannot end up in self-contradiction, nor can we end up in falsehood. And more commonly, we cannot end up in an endless repetition of the same premise over and over. This one is very common for anyone who has talked with inquisitive young boys, for they love to ask “why” to the answer of every question. There always seems to be something that came before the last thing we listed. If every event has a cause, then we will be stuck in an endless circle of causes. And that is reduction to the absurd. In order to not end up there, we must consider that there is a First Cause, something that does not have a prior cause. That first cause is God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and Msgr. Knox. 

Knox then walks the girls through the proof based on intelligent design. Seeing the order of the universe, logically one can conclude there was a designer, for otherwise we would see randomness and chaos but we do not. That designer is God.