Allegory of Religion, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, 1763-4


Transcription of Audio

Translation of a Lesson from the Second Letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.

Brethren: And such confidence we have, through Christ, towards God. Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God. Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter but in the spirit. For the letter kills: but the spirit quickens. Now if the ministration of death, engraven with letters upon stones, was glorious (so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance), which is made void: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather in glory? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more the ministration of justice abounds in glory.


Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke.

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see the things that you see. For I say to you that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that you see and have not seen them; and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them.” 

And behold a certain lawyer stood up, tempting him and saying, “Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?” But he said to him: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He answering, said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.” And he said to him: “Thou hast answered rightly. This do: and thou shalt live.” But he willing to justify himself, said to Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?”

And Jesus answering, said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who also stripped him and having wounded him went away, leaving him half dead. And it chanced, that a certain priest went down the same way: and seeing him, passed by. In like manner also a Levite, when he was near the place and saw him, passed by. But a certain Samaritan, being on his journey, came near him: and seeing him, was moved with compassion: And coming up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine: and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two pence and gave to the host and said: ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee.’ “Which of these three, in thy opinion, was neighbour to him that fell among the robbers?” But he said: “He that shewed mercy to him.” And Jesus said to him: “Go, and do thou in like manner.”

The saving words of the Gospel.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up tempting him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.


What is it to tempt God? Well, recently, somebody sent me a video in which a militant atheist was driving his car speaking into his own phone, because that’s what you do when you drive I guess, and making a video of himself saying, “I’m going to prove to you that God does not exist.” And he said, “At the count of three, if God exists, there will be lightning and if he doesn’t exist, there won’t be.” And of course, when he counted down from three to one at one, there was a lightning bolt. And this was rather disconcerting for our atheist. I’m not sure what effect that had. He received a grace there. Our Lord, in His humility, responded or in a sense of humor responded, but it’s on that man to do something with that. What did he do as a result of that? It’s up to him. That was his chance. Nonetheless, that’s not something that is recommended for sure. That’s called a sin of irreligion. That’s called testing God.

This word, that behold a certain lawyer stood up tempting him. This word is ἐκπειράζων, ekpeirázon. πειραζων means to tempt, to submit to a test, or to put on trial. So here we have the situation in which a lawyer puts God on trial. This is not recommended for a healthy spiritual life. What does this mean to test God, to tempt him? Obviously, God is not tempted in the way that we are tempted given our disorder and our limitedness. Perhaps we understand better what a sin of irreligion is if we understand what the virtue of religion is in the first place.

The virtue of religion is understood, in varying degrees, by everyone, even pagans, that there is a breach between God and us. This happened in Original Sin. The virtue of religion seeks to bridge this chasm between God and the individual. And this is why you see up until our own days, every culture of every time was religious. Now it’s popular to say “I’m spiritual, not religious.” What does that mean? That’s like saying, “I’m physical, but I don’t take showers.” There’s no merit in recognizing that one has a soul. There’s no merit recognizing that one has a body. Okay, these are not virtues. These are not merits. It’s just a fact. We’re all spiritual because we have a soul. We’re all physical because we have a body. So what? What do I do though? That’s the question. And so, religion addresses this estrangement, this alienation that we have as a result of Original Sin. If you read Cicero’s treaties on superstition and religion, he says some very true profound things that later Thomas is going to allude to. So even this pagan, who was not a recipient of the fullness of revelation, understood, just through human nature, through the use of reason, that the virtue of religion regards something interior and something exterior. 

Thomas says cura et caerimonia. Cura, then, the interior disposition of only wanting God’s will. Therefore, this requires this habitual attitude of aligning my will with the will of God. And this cura, this care for what is divine, then is going to give life and truth to our worship, otherwise the worship becomes a mockery. So the caerimonia, the worship, that’s the exteriorization of this virtue. And this one virtue has many acts.

Devotion, for example, which is the surrender of the will in service to God. Then prayer, which shows reverence through words and affection, subjecting oneself to God, through imploring His grace, asking pardon, praising Him. And then there’s adoration, which has an interior and exterior element. The interior is the devotion of one’s mind and heart oriented towards our Lord. And then the external posture that ought to reflect that. Sacrifice is really at the heart of the virtue of religion. Everyone, even the pagans, understands that we have to sacrifice something for the Almighty. He is the origin and end of all that exists and therefore we have to sacrifice. This regards outward actions as well as interior. There’s the oblation of first fruits recognizing that He is the giver of all bounty and therefore we have to give back the best. Tithing is a physical offering that recognizes He is the source of all spiritual goods. Vows are promises that we make to God about something that we will do. Oaths call upon Him as the Divine witness for what we are about to do or to say. And adjuration, then, is something that, it’s a legal term, where when one is adjured, it means that God’s Holy Name is solemnly invoked in asking you to say or do something. So for example, in a trial, the person is adjured to make an oath and then they make the oath using God’s name promising that they will say the truth. Praise is external in terms of the use of the lips, but it’s meant to inflame one’s heart and mind to bring about greater devotion. 

So if all of these acts make up part of the virtue of religion, we start to understand the richness, the universality, of this religion. In other words, it touches everything, and how at odds with this virtue is this attempt to test God when we are the recipients of His grace. We are the beneficiaries of His Bounty. Father John Hardon tells us to test God it’s an act or omission that tries to test God’s attributes His love, power, wisdom, either explicitly or implicitly. An explicit test then would be something like that video that militant atheists made for example. Implicit doesn’t start with a doubt of God’s attributes, but it tests His attributes, and therefore, superfluously, if that’s a word, with lacking proper respect and need asks our Lord to show His power to manifest some of His attributes when there isn’t a real need. So this then makes us question our prayers. Am I asking for what is truly urgent and necessary or is there something superfluous and is the attitude in this so at the root of it is a lack of respect for His Divinity. At the root of this is also a lack of trust because if I trust Him, I’m not going to demand signs.

This πειραζων (peiratzon) this testing of God that Luke uses here. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, the first time it’s used is in Christ’s testing in the desert, His tempting in the desert. So it begins with Satan, and every time is used, there is five other usages, all have the whiff of Satan, so to say, because Christ is the one who’s tested. It’s interestingly that this verb is not used with regard to the Passion, although the Passion itself is just one drawn-out test. We could even say, go further, that from the moment of the Incarnation, this is all the test that the Father has placed on the Son. Only the Father can test the Son. So who are we to put Him to trial? Who are we to test Him? Who are we to demand that He manifests Himself as if we deserve it; as if He were some sort of performing flea? We sometimes can forget the proper order here that keeps our relationship real.

So how do we sin against this virtue of religion? Common, sadly, common sins against it would be, for example, that explicit sin against religion of that atheist. Sometimes we test our Lord by demanding that He get us out of life’s difficulties, life’s crosses, or we threaten Him with a faith crisis. as if we deserve something from Him. We ask Him for something that’s not necessary or there’s a degree of curiosity and a lack of trust in our petition. Am I approaching Him so that I do His will better or He does my will? This is really a valid question. We ought to ask ourselves in our prayer life, “Whose will do I really want here?” Or, you know, sometimes there’s a subtle mockery of trust in Him by a secret desire that His will lines up with mine. But notice that there’s a primacy of my own will in all of this rather than this absoluteness. Absolute is an interesting word because it means untethered. In other words, I don’t have any conditions. I’m not telling Him what He’s got to do, and I’m not showing Him how, rather I’m asking Him to show me what I’m supposed to do.

Thomas uses the example of somebody who has the improper dispositions in going into prayer. For example, going to attempt to pray without having forgiven everyone that has offended one. In other words, if this hasn’t been resolved, forgiveness of those who have offended us, our prayer becomes something of a mockery it even becomes almost superstitious. What are we doing here? Because I’ve created a wall around my heart and now what do I expect from this exchange? Who’s God in this relationship anyway?

To perjure oneself, is to employ the Holy Name, say that I’m going to say the truth, but then, having used the Holy Name of God, say a lie, under oath. This would be another sin against religion. So, at the root of this then is a lack of respect and a lack of trust. Trust in His love, trust in His power, trust in His providence. So how do I avoid this? How do we avoid offending Him in this area? Simply by going back to those expressions of the virtue of religion and living those out in our prayer, in our sacrifice. When we’re sincere and all of that, beautiful things happen. You don’t necessarily feel it, but it’s real. When we’re sincere and that our Lord knows. And the most important thing that happens is in alignment of our will with His will, and increase of love and trust Him. May that be so for all of us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger