The Legend of Longinus

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Longinus. Who was Longinus?

Tradition holds that the Roman Centurion who commanded the Roman soldiers at Christ’s crucifixion was named Longinus. Longinus is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

English: Centurion (Roman army) historical ree...

English: Centurion (Roman army) historical reenactment Boulogne sur mer (France). Français : Centurion (armée Romaine) Reconstitution historique à Boulogne sur Mer en France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one knows for sure what the Centurion’s name was since the gospels do not name him. For my purposes I will refer to the unnamed Centurion as Longinus because I do not have a good reason not to!

What is known about Longinus is what he said at the crucifixion:

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV) (Also Mark 15:39)

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Luke’s Gospel says this about Longinus:

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV)

Over the centuries there has been much debate, not so much about the Centurion’s name but about the meaning of his words.

Some believe that since Longinus was a gentile (anyone not a Jew) that his words did not mean what plainly has been recorded. What is argued is this; the Hebrews had the notion of one God while the Romans worshiped many. From this observation some conclude Longinus meant that Jesus was a son of one of the gods. They would further argue that the gospel writers (Matthew and Mark) spun Longinus’ words to fit within their own Hebrew culture to say “the Son of God.” I am not certain what they do with Longinus’ words in Luke that declare Jesus’ innocence.

Church tradition on the other hand accepts Longinus’ words at face value to mean what they say. The painting on the left illustrates the scene and titles it, “The Confession of Longinus” meaning that Longinus truly recognized Jesus as the Son of God and is confessing his belief.

It should be remembered that as a Roman Officer Longinus would have been in close proximity to Pilate and all the events leading up to Pilate ordering him to be in charge of the legionnaires who would crucify Jesus and the two thieves. I believe he would have understood why Jesus was being crucified just as he was aware that Pilate seemed reluctant to crucify Jesus since Jesus had committed no crime against Rome and simply went along with the crowd who were on the verge of rioting. (See Matthew 27)

There really is no reason to doubt that Longinus and the soldiers with him were struck with awe (or fear) and at the moment of Jesus’ death recognized him for exactly who he said he was, the Son of God.

This is not merely an academic exercise to determine who might be right or who might be wrong about the meaning of Longinus’ words. Longinus’ words have eternal consequences if one accepts them at face value or not.

If God can open the eyes of a hard-bitten Roman Centurion to truth the he certainly can open anyone’s eyes to the same truth.

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Some Thoughts on DOMA

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I was thinking of this passage the other day probably because of a scene in The History Channel’s series on the Bible.

…Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:5-7 ESV)

The people of Israel wanted to be like all the nations and have a king. The prophet and judge Samuel recognizes the demand as folly and does not like it but God says to Samuel, give them what they want and don’t take it personally because the people are actually rejecting me.

Rejection of God as the ruling force in people’s lives is not unique to Old Testament Israel. In our own semi-Christianized culture the rejection of God as Creator and Ruler is widespread and the evidence is everywhere.

The pressure builds on the Supreme Court.

The pressure builds on the Supreme Court.

In our country the State reigns supreme in practice which is why the California Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is now being debated in the Supreme Court. If God were supreme then one of the primary purposes of marriage would end the debate.

God said this:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)

If a person (big if) takes Scripture seriously we see that God created male and female and told the male and female to be fruitful and multiply something that only a male and female can do.

That fact that DOMA is being judged by the Supreme Court judges illustrates, no matter which way it goes that the highest authority in the land is the king, as represented in the US by the President, Congress and in the final analysis, the Supreme Court.

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Personally, I think that even if DOMA stands it will only be a matter of time until “the people” get what they want. As it goes now Progressives and some, maybe most, Economic Conservatives are working overtime to redefine the family in their own eyes, apart from the rather obvious created order. (Even an evolutionist gets that homosexual couples cannot procreate.)

The people of Israel got their wish. They got a king but they also received a warning from the prophet and judge Samuel:

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.   He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:10-15; 1 Samuel 8:16-18 ESV)

When the law of man trumps the natural created order there will be consequences of that we can be sure.

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History That Interests Me

In the History Channel’s new series on the Vikings there is an episode where the Vikings raid the Island of Lindisfarne, a small island off of England’s Northumbrian coast. The raid is thought to be the beginning of Viking adventures on England, Scotland, Ireland, France and just about everywhere else their longships could carry them.

In the episode the Viking leader, Ragnar, takes prisoner a Saxon monk by the name of Athelstan. Athelstan speaks the language of the northmen and that’s what probably saves his life. As the Vikings loot the monastery of its treasures (crosses, chalices, candle holders, etc, made from precious metals) Athelstan hides a book under his robes. Ragnar catches him and asks quizzically why the monk would save a book when saving a treasure would make more sense.

Athelstan replies to the effect that the book, is the Book of John from the Bible and it…

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The Evil Gene

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The headline read Ordinary German Soldiers Responsible War Crimes, not just SS. (Daily Mail, UK)

It was the second time I saw the article. The first time it was in Der Spiegel a German magazine, English edition and the second time in the UK’s Daily Mail.

In both cases the headline revolves around secret recordings that have been exposed. The recordings were made during WW2 in prison camps for German soldiers, sailors and airmen in the UK. The recordings catch them telling stories of the their atrocities and bragging about them. It makes for pretty disgusting reading. Germans in particular should pay attention to the new book on the subject because it has become a popular myth in Germany and elsewhere to simply blame all the atrocities on the SS.

The revelation should cause some soul-searching but not just among the Germans.

While reading of the atrocities and the accompanying bragging turns my stomach it really does not surprise me.

As an American of primarily German extraction I often wondered how an advanced western, outwardly Christian nation could descend into barbarity apparently without much of a collective conscience? But in my study of theology I found out why. It’s because we all have the same gene. Germans, Canadians, Americans, Russians, everyone, has the evil atrocity gene.

What country or nationality (there is only one race-the human race) that has never committed an atrocity? The answer is none of them. Oh, they may differ in scope and scale but all are guilty.

Keep in mind that the first recorded atrocity, a murder, took place centuries ago when Cain killed his brother Abel.

It’s not popular to say so today, but we all are born with murder in our hearts and given the “right” circumstances it squirts out like a vile poison. We live in a culture that argues that man “is basically good” but that flies in the face of historical and personal experience.

There is a scene in the Lord of the Rings that makes the point.

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In the movie the good wizard Gandalf wants to get the ring from Bilbo so that Frodo can carry it to its presumed destruction.

Bilbo, of the peaceable, gentle hobbit race, who would not hurt a fly gets very angry at Gandalf, very angry, even though Gandalf is three times his size and represents tremendous magical power. Yet, Bilbo challenges Gandalf. Why?

The ring I think most will agree represents power of some sort. It promises something to everyone who holds it. There are no exceptions and even the “saintly” Frodo is tempted by its controlling influence.

Bilbo’s unexpected scene of rage is not because the ring, something outside of himself, is controlling him. Bilbo’s rage is the result of what is already inside of him-resident evil. While ordinarily peaceable and easy-going the ring represents something Bilbo begins to demand-power!

In other words the desire for power that the rings represents resides within Bilbo and even a gentle soul like Bilbo Baggins has the capacity to do evil in order to achieve the desire of his heart.

In our culture we often ask why is it that good people do evil when we should ask why do evil people ever do good?

Yes, it’s a theological question and I certainly am not the first one to pose it or to ponder it.

In 1962 Adolf Eichmann was executed by the Israeli’s for his numerous war crimes. The trial was an international sensation in part because Israeli Intelligence (Mossad) had grabbed Eichman from his adopted homeland of Argentina and spirited him back to Israel.

Eichmann on trial in Israel, 1962

Eichmann on trial in Israel, 1962

Eichmann’s defense was the same as the Nuremberg defendants, that is, “I was only following orders.” The defense did not wash and Eichmann was executed. His last words included a belief that he would see God, thus implying he was going to heaven.

I read Eichman’s story long after his execution (I was only nine at the time) but I’ll never forget what one prominent Israeli said (I think a Judge.) He said that one thing he found scary was the idea that Eichmann’s lack of conscience and ability to call evil good resided in all of us.

In other words, there really was nothing all that unique about Eichmann and given similar circumstances and opportunity any of us might have done the same. My source for this analysis has long since been forgotten by me but the below paragraphs from Wiki take us in the same direction:

—Political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew who fled Germany after Hitler’s rise to power, reported on Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, a book formed by this reporting, Arendt details the conclusion of several Israeli psychiatrists that Eichmann was “normal.” She called him the embodiment of the “Banality of Evil”, as he appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality, displaying neither guilt nor hatred. She suggested that this most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi criminals were manifestly psychopathic and different from ordinary people. Eichmann himself said he joined the SS not because he agreed with its ethos, but to build a career.[58]

Stanley Milgram interpreted Arendt’s work as stating that even the most ordinary of people can commit horrendous crimes if placed in certain situations and given certain incentives. He wrote: “I must conclude that Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine.”[59] However, Arendt did not suggest that Eichmann was normal or that any person placed in his situation would have done as he did. According to her account, Eichmann had abdicated his will to make moral choices, and thus his autonomy.[60] Eichmann claimed he was just following orders, and that he was therefore respecting the duties of a “bureaucrat”. Arendt thus argued that he had essentially forsaken the conditions of morality, autonomy and the ability to question orders (see Führerprinzip).—

Banality means “commonplace.” That is, evil is commonplace, because it is common to man. It does not mean that every man follows through on every evil he is capable of. It simply means we all have the capacity for tremendous evil given certain situation and certain incentives.

Eichmann’s motive was a career “with the winning side” meaning the Nazi’s. To be sure Nazi ideology of Jew hatred was a factor. Jews were an enemy of the Reich so to a Nazi, it made sense to kill them, a clear example of when wrong is right in the mind of one whose conscience has been totally hardened.

Eichmann was a Lutheran but any connection he had to Christianity had long since been erased by his own quest for power (the ring issue) and by a church that had long since caved to nonsense and with few exceptions abandoned the Cross.

Today we are fond of classifying all murderers regardless of scope and scale of being psychopaths, as if they are mentally ill. Eichmann was found “normal” because in his culture he was normal just as the ordinary German soldiers who committed atrocities and laughed about it.

Our problem as human beings, is seeing the evil outside of ourselves as being the problem whereas Jesus saw the evil inside of us as being the main problem.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 ESV)

This is not to minimize the scope and scale of Nazi atrocities. It is to say that no culture, no nationality, no country, is immune from such things. The capacity for evil is always there and our only hope is in the one who identifies what our main problem truly is.

Will the Pope Change Catholicism?

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I’ve been debating with myself for a number of days wondering if I should comment on the new Pope or more precisely, how the mainstream, left-wing media, is spinning the story.

I decided not to.

Why?

Well, I think the Catholic Church is an ally in the culture war but how they deal with liberal Catholics and their allies in the left-wing media is their business.

My issues with Catholicism (and I am a former Catholic) has to do with the nature of the gospel. I agree with P. John Piper who said if he had two minutes with the new Pope he’d ask him about justification.

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That was and is the historic reason for the Protestant Reformation and in the scheme of things the issue of eternal value.

I wish the Catholic Church well in the culture war but also wish they would refute The Council of Trent’s response to the Reformation. The new Pope is a Jesuit so I find it extremely unlikely.

Preserving a Dusty Dictator

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The story is Hugo Chavez’s body will be preserved and put on display like his hero Vladimir Lenin. This article from the UK’s Telegraph says that Ho Chi Minh’s and Mao Tse-tung’s bodies are also preserved. Must be the cool thing to do with Marxist dictators.

Vladimir Lenin, pickled for posterity. Chavez is next.

Vladimir Lenin, pickled for posterity. Chavez is next.

I’ve always found the practice odd, no weird, no creepy, no, odd, weird and creepy. And yes I know the Catholic Church has venerated relics from the bodies of some their saints but that was because the Catholic Church found aspects of the saint’s life worth emulating.

This by-the-way should not be confused with “incorruptibility.” Incorruptibility has to do with a person dying and their body not decomposing. That is different from mummifying a body or using modern means to preserve a corpse. This link goes to the top ten Catholic Saints on display whose bodies have not been corrupted. As far as I know there is no explanation for incorruptibility or why some Catholic saints decompose and others do not.

One thing seems certain though. Those that would preserve Chavez and those that preserved Mao and Lenin wanted to make sure they appeared incorruptible.

I guess the reason some Russians would want to preserve Vladimir, some Chinese to preserve Mao, some Vietnamese to preserve Ho and some Venezuelans to preserve Hugo would be to preserve something of their legacy, supposed accomplishments and as a reminder of the “good old days” when Vladimir, Mao, Ho and Hugo were the boss men.

Stalin was preserved too, right next to Lenin but he fell out of favor and was removed.

Stalin was preserved too, right next to Lenin but he fell out of favor and was removed.

I suppose had the Germans, Italians and Japanese won the Second World War some of their folks would have wanted to preserve the bodies of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo to preserve something of their legacy, supposed accomplishments and as a reminder of the “good old days.”

It seems that some dictators have the opportunity to be venerated by their followers while others not.

Whether it is the body of an incorruptible Catholic saint or the body of Marxist dictator the fact is what people are looking at is dust. It’s dust, nothing more, nothing less. It seems odd to venerate dust. But then again, if people do not venerate the Creator nor give thanks to him they will venerate something else (Rom. 1:18-25) that is corruptible, regardless of efforts to preserve the illusion it is not.

When sin entered the world (Adam) there were consequences and one of the consequences is that our bodies will return to the dust our bodies were made from.

By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:19 ESV)

Preserved dust does not offer hope from the curse of our sin problem. Only Jesus Christ offers genuine hope. He rose from the dead and those that have trusted in Him alone for salvation will rise as the material (physical) is reunited with the immaterial (the soul).

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV)

For the Christian, the first death ought not be feared. For those that refuse Christ there will be something worse than merely returning to dust.

Goodbye, Faith in Humanity – The Gospel Coalition Blog

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Best take-away line for me is “only the Christian story makes sense.”

Goodbye, Faith in Humanity – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

via Goodbye, Faith in Humanity – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

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