feast of saint anthony, abbot
Wisdom, Chapter 18, Verse 25
To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared; for this sole trial of anger sufficed.
The destroyer angel fears nothing, but the name of God inscribed on the doorposts of the Jews written in the blood of the lamb. At this does he stop his destruction, at this name the angel turns aside; at the name of He that is the angel of death yields.
The Destroying Angel
The particular term "destroying angel" (malakh ha-mashhit) occurs twice in the Bible, in II Samuel 24:16 and its parallel, I Chronicles 21:15. Other allusions to this "destroyer" (mashhit), can be found in Exodus 12:23 and Isaiah 54:16. In the cultures of the ancient Near East, gods were believed to be responsible for death and destruction. The Bible, however, does not portray such a configuration. Instead, the destructive agents act according to God's instruction: they are His messengers and it is the Lord who initiates death and destruction. We will see that the Bible refers to the angelic forces of destruction in a way that negates the ideas of neighboring cultures.
The Plagues of Egypt
The destroying angel seems to be alluded to in the Bible's description of the slaying of the firstborn, where he is called ha-mashhit: for the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home (Ex. 12:23). While is stated explicitly that the Lord passed through Egypt to smite the firstborn (Ex. 12:12–13), and the text of the Passover Haggadah expounds this to mean, "I and not an angel," verse 23 attests that the Lord was accompanied by the destroying angel, whose nature is to strike down all whom he encounters, unless – as here – the Lord restrains him. This seems to be the intention of the Mekhilta's comment on verse 22, None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning: "This indicates that when the destroying angel is given permission to do harm, he does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked." The Psalmist's account of the plagues of Egypt (Ps. 78:49) indicates that the plagues were inflicted by mishlahat malakhei ra'im – a band of deadly [lit. evil] angels. The talmudic sages used the term mishlahat to describe a band of destructive creatures, specifically a wolf pack. Kraus believes that this "band of evil angels" does not refer to the "destroying angel" (mashhit) associated with the last plague (Ex. 12:23), but to the demonic powers that the Lord dispatches with every affliction. It seems, then, that we must distinguish the "destroying angel," ha-mashhit, from the messengers of death who come to punish individuals only. By contrast, the Destroyer is sent by the Lord to kill multitudes through a plague. Unlike the deadly messengers, who bring both natural and premature death, the Destroyer inflicts only a premature, painful death. Still, this mashhit is controlled by God.
Another implicit allusion to the destroying angel can be found in For wrath [ketzef] has gone forth from the Lord: the plague has begun (Num. 17:11 [RSV 16:46]). Milgrom sees this wrath or anger as an independent entity, similar to the Destroyer that acts on behalf of the Lord. There are indeed several references to it in the Bible. Thus (Num. 1:53), The Levites, however, shall camp around the Tabernacle of the Pact, that the wrath [ketzef] may not strike the Israelite community. Similarly, the mandate continues, No outsider shall intrude upon you as you discharge the duties connected with the Shrine and the altar, that wrath [ketzef] may not again strike the Israelites (Num. 18:5). According to Rashi, this plague is spread by the Angel of Death, who is also known as "the Anger before the Lord with the authority to kill." In the Talmud, the Angel of Death (malakh ha-mavet) has assistants, one of whom is actually named Ketzef: "Rav Hisda said: 'They are: Fury, Anger and Wrath [Ketzef], Destroyer and Breaker and Annihilator'". Elsewhere, Ketzef is the name of an angel of destruction (Targum Yerushalmi, Numbers 17:11). He is also specifically noted as acting on behalf of God, not as an independent entity: Wrath [ketzef] has gone forth from the Lord (Num. 17:11). The Sages regarded the Destroyer as an amoral force that could be overcome only through sacrificial blood, incense, or some other ritual. However, these rituals were directed to God, not to the Destroyer himself. In the ancient Near East, incense was burned for the gods to placate them and still their anger. Egyptian reliefs depict Canaanite priests standing on a high place and offering incense to Pharaoh, who is massacring the inhabitants of a city. In both of the biblical stories about the Destroyer (the Tenth Plague and the threshing floor of Araunah), the plague is halted by a ritual act (placing blood on the doorpost, building an altar, burning incense), but it is God, not His messenger, who responds.
The destroying angel is explicitly mentioned twice in the Bible (II Sam. 24:16; I Chron. 21:15). In addition, there are several other passages in the Bible and rabbinic literature that refer to destructive supernatural forces. The idea of the destroying angel as an independent force, acting of its own accord, is foreign to the Hebrew Bible, which emphasizes that God is in control of these destructive forces so as to negate polytheistic beliefs. The angel can do nothing on its own initiative and must only act in compliance with the will of God. It is He alone who deals death and gives life.
Catholic Recipe: Saint Antony of the Desert Soup
Saint Antony, called the Great, lived in Egypt between A.D. 251 and 356. At age 18, the gospel text "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and then follow me" so moved him that he left everything behind and retired to an inaccessible place in the wilderness where he dedicated his life to God in manual work and continual prayer. In his old age, he imparted wisdom to his disciples and encouraged them to lead a monastic life. Because he was the first Christian to retire to a monastic life, he is considered to be the first monk and also the father of all monks. His feast is celebrated on January 17. Try this simple, healthy recipe in honor of Saint Antony the hermit.
3 tablespoons oil of choice
1 cup barley
1 carrot, finely grated
2 leeks, sliced
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced
Salt to taste
7 cups water
1 bouillon cube, if desired
Chopped mushrooms, if desired
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot and add the barley, stirring continuously for one minute. Immediately add the carrot, leeks, bay leaf, parsley, salt, and water.
2. Cook the soup over low to medium heat, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes, until the barley is tender. Add more water if needed. For extra taste, add the bouillon and the mushrooms during the last 20 minutes of simmering. Remove the bay leaf. Serve hot.
Recipe Source: From a Monastery Kitchen: The Classic Natural Foods Cookbook by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, Gramercy Books, 1997
Sons of Liberty
Today Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706. As a founding father of this nation; one wonders would he question if Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are Still Self-Evident Rights? Whether it is self-evident or not, it is the philosophical belief in the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that helped make America both great and good. Thomas Jefferson stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson’s argument is not that the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue happiness originate in government, but that these rights have a divine origin. Jefferson argued that the job of all governments was to “secure” rights that God had already granted. In other words, the rights to life and liberty do not come into being with the force of government fiat; life and liberty are pre-political rights already granted by God. Today, we have lost that concept. Almost a quarter-millennia later, these rights are no longer considered self-evident, and neither is a Creator. Once God and the natural law are disassociated from rights—once the idea of justice and goodness are separated from rights—we are left with a political environment in which anything could be considered a right, or nothing could be considered a right.
As Pope John Paul II said in Denver, Colorado at World Youth Day in 1993: When the Founding Fathers of this great nation enshrined certain inalienable rights in the Constitution…they did so because they recognized the existence of a ‘law’ – a series of rights and duties – engraved by the Creator on each person’s heart and conscience. In much of contemporary thinking, any reference to a ‘law’ guaranteed by the Creator is absent. There remains only each individual’s choice of this or that objective as convenient or useful in a given set of circumstances. No longer is anything considered intrinsically "good" and "universally binding". Rights are affirmed but, because they are without any reference to an objective truth, they are deprived of any solid basis. Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong, and are at the mercy of those with the power to "create" opinion and impose it on others. Pope John Paul II saw and foresaw, once rights are viewed as mere arbitrary constructs with no relation or reference to our Creator, rights become a mere matter of whimsy—subject no longer to God, but to the fickle winds of public opinion. Today, we are often told that it is not life and liberty, but their opposites that are self-evident. We are told that the right to abortion and euthanasia are self-evident, and that religious liberties and liberties of conscience have no validation in law. The founding fathers generally recognized that human laws and rights should reflect each other, largely because they have the same origin. Just as human law must come from divine law, so do rights ultimately come from God and from justice. Rights flow from justice, and if a right cannot be traced to justice, it is no right at all. Once a right, however, is traced to justice—the right to life, for instance—it has the “solid basis” about which Pope Saint John Paul II spoke.
Indeed, as Jefferson noted all those July 4th’s ago, men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Whether it is self-evident or not, it is the philosophical belief in the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that helped make America both great and good. Let’s continue to promote and defend all three.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. (Ps. 19:10)
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps. 19:15)