St. Stephen on interreligious dialogue

The liturgical calendar itself is a valuable safeguard of orthodoxy. As we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr today, we should read and reflect on his speech to the Jews (“proselytism”, anyone?), as recorded in the book of Acts, which he delivered before being stoned to death. But first, let’s recall that the Second Vatican Council, along with the teachings of every pope in the post-conciliar period, present a message very much contrary to that of the divinely inspired words of St. Stephen. The most aggressive and least nuanced of such statements can be found in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.”

“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences. The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.”

Let us turn now, in stark contrast, to holy Stephen’s severe reprimand of the Jews for their turning to idols, their rejection of the prophets, and especially their betrayal and murder of the “Just One”:

“And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.  And God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven, as it is written in the books of the prophets: Did you offer victims and sacrifices to me for forty years, in the desert, O house of Israel? And you took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Rempham, figures which you made to adore them. And I will carry you away beyond Babylon. The tabernacle of the testimony was with our fathers in the desert, as God ordained for them, speaking to Moses, that he should make it according to the form which he had seen. Which also our fathers receiving, brought in with Jesus, into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David.

Who found grace before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him a house. Yet the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands, as the prophet saith: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What house will you build me? saith the Lord; or what is the place of my resting? Hath not my hand made all these things?

You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”

Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.

Apparently, St. Stephen wasn’t a big fan of interreligious dialogue or non-judgmentalism. Perhaps if he had tried dialogue instead of proselytizing, things would have been more comfortable for him. But the Second Vatican Council came too late for poor Stephen!

It has been said that revolutionaries always work to attack historical memory. History contains lessons that impede revolutionary “progress”. And if history cannot be forgotten by everyone, then it must be revised and re-interpreted. And so, when a Modernist commends the celebration of St. Stephen, he will “re-interpret” the saint in various creative ways more in tune with the times, perhaps like this:

“That the Church remembers Saint Stephen today is no accident.  Strip away the sentimentality that obscures the story of Christ’s Nativity and one realizes that Christ came into this world, and from the first instant he showed his infant face, he was opposed.  Recall yesterday’s excerpt from the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John which testifies that Christ came to his own (us) and his own (again, that means us) ‘knew him not.’

But worse than this- we refused him.”

Whoa! No, Fr. Grunow, “his own” in the context of John 1:11 does not mean “us” – it means principally the Jews, and to a lesser extent it may refer to unbelieving Gentiles. It absolutely does not refer to Christians. Likewise, St. Stephen’s reprimand condemns the unbelieving Jews, not Christians. It still amazes me that teachers like Fr. Grunow and Pope Francis, while referring to sacred Scripture, just assume they will not be called out on their sleight-of-hand! I say “sleight-of-hand” reluctantly, but I have to believe that these learned men know well the Scriptures and the fathers, and are certainly familiar with the Church’s traditional understanding, but have nevertheless chosen to hide the truth from everyone.


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