Shea repeats blasphemous thesis of “Pope” Francis…
Did St. John the Baptist doubt that Jesus Christ was the Messiah? A Refutation of Mark Shea
One of Francis’ most industrious disciples is the infamous Novus Ordo apologist Mark P. Shea. A long-time contributor to EWTN and the National Catholic Register, Shea was fired in 2016 after numerous controversies about “his writings and engagement on other forums” (source). He quickly found a new home, however, at The Catholic Weekly, a Novus Ordo newspaper based in Sydney, Australia, and this is where he now does his spiritual damage.
One of the recurring themes in Francis’ pseudo-pontificate is the idea that while he was in prison for having told King Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife (see Mk 6:17-18), St. John the Baptist doubted whether Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Messiah. We had blasted the Jesuit apostate for this in the past, but now Mark Shea has spouted the same nonsense.
Writing for The Catholic Weekly on Mar. 23, Shea published a piece entitled “The Doubt of John the Baptist”, in which he echoes the blasphemous Bergoglian thesis. After recalling the great gifts and privileges with which the Baptist had been favored, including being a witness to God’s own declaration that Jesus of Nazareth is “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17), Shea writes:
But then everything went south. Instead of the Kingdom of God or any rewards for his faithful witness, he got the inside of a dank, rat-infested cell. After that, nothing. Nobody, either human or angelic, rescued him. Jesus was out there, doing whatever it was he was doing, but the kingdom never seemed to come.
So John, being only flesh and blood, started to doubt:
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Mt 11:2–3)
I have always found this story very consoling because it shows John having exactly the sorts of questions that we have when things do not go according to the plan we lay out for God. Had I been John I would have easily assumed, given all that had gone before, that such a life of faithful service in which so much had been sacrificed … would be rewarded in this life.
But the reward was just prison and, as far as he could tell, nothing else. Did God simply throw away his instruments once their purpose was fulfilled? Or had it all been a mistake? Did the bright visions of his youth just amount to a pipe dream? What was Jesus doing?
(Mark Shea, “The Doubt of John the Baptist”, The Catholic Weekly, Mar. 23, 2018)
The flippant way in which Shea treats the great figure of John the Baptist — the greatest of all men of the Old Covenant (see Mt 11:11; Lk 7:28) — is quite irreverent.
Are we really to imagine that the Baptist, the greatest of prophets, who cared not for the things of this world (cf. Mt 3:4; Mt 11:7-9; Lk 7:24-25), was so obtuse, foolish, or sinful as to seek reward and consolation in this life and, failing to receive it, doubted the testimony of God Himself? Are we to think this of the forerunner of Christ who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30)? Are we really to believe that John, highly-privileged cousin of Christ, was this ignorant of the mysteries for which he had been sent to prepare the people, even as God’s “angel” (Mal 3:1; Mk 1:2; cf. Jn 1:23; Lk 3:4; Is 40:3), and for which he himself had been fasting in the desert (cf. Mt 3:4; Mk 2:18; Lk 7:33)? Should this be said of the man whom our Lord Himself identified as “more than a prophet” (Mt 11:9)? Should St. John, who had been cleansed from sin in the womb by the Savior Himself (see Lk 1:41) and was precisely not a “reed shaken with the wind” (Mt 11:7), have succumbed to such a temptation to incredulity?! What good is a man whose entire mission in life is to point out the Messiah, if he himself isn’t sure about the Messiah’s identity (cf. Mt 5:13)?! No, he had already testified to the Truth beyond the shadow of a doubt: “And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34).
Shea paints the Baptist, when all is said and done, as a man really no different from the rest of us miserable sinners. By contrast, consider what the great preacher Fr. Francis Hunolt (1691-1746), sometimes nicknamed “the German St. Alphonsus”, had to say about our Lord’s cousin:
And it is also a certain truth, confirmed by the Fathers, that during the whole course of his life John never committed any sin against God, neither mortal sin deserving of hell nor the least venial sin, and that he lived more like an angel in the flesh than a mortal man: “For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send My angel before Thy face.” Whereupon de Lyra says: “I send My angel: because he led an angelic life.” “His life was not human, but angelic,” says St. Thomas; “he was indeed a man like us; but he seems to me to have had nothing of a man but the color and form; all his thoughts, wishes, desires, and actions were angelic;” that is, pure, as if he were an angel. Nay, as far as a spotless life is concerned, St. Bernard places him among the seraphim: “He obtained such a high place in the angelic choirs that he is among the highest of the seraphim.” See how great was his innocence, how wonderful his holiness and unspotted sanctity!
(Fr. Franz Hunolt, S.J., Sermons on Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and on the Saints, vol. 2, trans. by Rev. J. Allen [New York, NY: Benziger Brothers, 1897], pp. 23-24)
And yet, for St. John to doubt whether Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Christ — when he had witnessed the Holy Ghost descend upon Him and the Father declare Him to be His Beloved Son, when he himself had been conceived miraculously (see Lk 1:13-25,36-37) and his Divine Cousin even more so (see Is 7:14; Mt 1:18-20; Mt 1:23; Lk 1:26-35) — would certainly have been a mortal sin; at the very least, it would have been a venial sin. It would have made him no better than Moses, who disbelieved God in the desert, for which he was punished with not being allowed to enter the Promised Land (see Num 20:7-12); or Zachary, who did not believe the angel’s announcement that his barren wife would conceive in her old age, for which he was made mute for a number of months (see Lk 1:11-20,64).
What, then, do we make of the Gospel passage which Mark Shea comments on? If the Baptist was sure about the identity of Jesus as the Christ, to what purpose then did he send forth emissaries to inquire of the Lord if He was truly the Messiah?
To answer this question, let’s begin by reviewing the pericope in question:
Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another? And Jesus making answer said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.
(Mt 11:2-6; parallel passage in Lk 7:18-23)
The Gospel tells us that St. John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus of Nazareth to ask Him whether He be the Messiah. That much is clear. However, what we are not told is the reason why the Baptist had his disciples go to Christ. That it was because he was uncertain and doubted Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, is an inference drawn by Shea (and by “Pope” Francis) — an inference which, however, it is not permissible to draw, as we have seen, and which it is also by no means necessary to draw, as we will now show.
A traditional Catholic commentary on the Bible is a beautiful thing. It allows us to understand the sacred text in accordance with the mind of the Church and ensures that we are not led into pernicious errors or deceived by dangerous opinions. Instead of rashly disseminating his own ignorant and impious distortion of the holy Gospel to the unsuspecting “Catholic” masses, Shea should have simply consulted some traditional Catholic commentaries on this Scripture passage. That would have been the right and responsible thing to do, instead of poisoning souls with the idea of an oh-so-sinful-like-me Baptist. But Shea is a convert from Protestantism, and in that religion, private interpretation of the Bible reigns supreme, even against the very testimony of Scripture itself (see 2 Pet 1:20; 2 Pet 3:16; cf. 2 Esd [Neh] 8:8-9; Acts 8:30-31; Eph 4:11-14).
Let’s go ahead now and turn to a few Scriptural commentaries to ensure we get a proper understanding of the passage in question. We will look at the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide, the Commentary of Fr. George Leo Haydock, the succinct Practical Commentary of Bp. Frederick Knecht, the Catholic Commentary of the Benedictine Fr. Bernard Orchard, and the incredibly beautiful Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Abp. Alban Goodier.
We’ll begin with the work mentioned last, that of the British Jesuit Alban Goodier (1869-1939), who was Archbishop of Bombay, India, from 1919 until 1926. His Grace explains:
Since [John the Baptist] had been held in prison his disciples had still clung to him, and from time to time he had contrived to bring them under the Master’s influence; in this at least there was still work to do.
Nevertheless these disciples continued to hesitate. They brought him news of the wonders being done in Galilee, but they could not so easily set aside their devotion and reverence for John. John had taught them, John had trained them, the vision of God which they had learnt, the newness of life which had come to them, were all due to John. What then was he to do? As plainly as he could he had told them the truth [about Jesus]; to do more, to dismiss them abruptly, might end in injury. He could only encourage them again and again to learn of Jesus first-hand that in the end they might be convinced. His own end, he knew, could not be far off; before that end came it was essential that their future should be secured. He would send them on a formal embassy; he would allow the Master Himself to speak, and so use His personal influence upon them. That they respected Him they knew; their doubt was whether Jesus was in fact ‘He that was to come’, or whether He was only a successor of John, further carrying on the work of preparation.
(Most Rev. Alban Goodier, S. J., The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, vol. 1 [Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, n.d.], p. 251)
And so we find that the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was truly the Christ, not because he doubted it but because they did. The two emissaries were to ask Christ directly for their sake, not for the sake of the Baptist, who knew that his life was coming to an end, and whose entire mission had been to direct people to the true Messiah.
Lest anyone should say — as is very popular in our days — that this is “only Abp. Goodier’s opinion” and no better or worse than that of Mark Shea or anyone else, let’s look at some more commentaries, all of which basically tell the same story, drawing on the Church’s rich hermeneutical tradition found in the Church Fathers and Doctors and the most reliable authorities on Holy Scripture.
The Most Rev. Frederick J. Knecht (1839-1921) was auxiliary bishop of Freiburg, Germany, when he published his truly Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture. His exposition of the Baptist sending messengers to Christ also makes clear that there was no doubt on the part of our Lord’s forerunner: “John, being now in prison, and having no other desire than that all should believe in Jesus and follow Him, sent two of his disciples, in order that with their own eyes they might see the miracles wrought by Jesus, and with their own ears hear His admirable teaching” (p. 493). In two footnotes, Bp. Knecht adds:
 Sent two of his disciples. John himself had no doubt whatever, that Jesus was the Messias and Son of God; for this was the burden of his preaching on the banks of the Jordan. But it was different with many of his disciples, especially those who had not seen but only heard of the works of our Lord. In order to confirm their faith, John sends them to Jesus to ask Him directly whether He was the Messias. Our Lord answers them indirectly by referring them to his works. This would confirm the Baptist’s own testimony of Jesus.
 Who is to come. Namely the promised Redeemer. This question shows plainly what it was that John wanted. He asked for no proof, no sign from Jesus, only a brief assertion as to who He was, which would confirm his own testimony of Him. This inquiry of the Baptist is, as it were, his final testimony that Jesus was the Messias, for he thereby declared to the whole world that one simple assertion on our Lord’s part was sufficient to command unconditional belief in Him.
(Most Rev. Frederick Justus Knecht, Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture, 3rd ed. [London: B. Herder, 1910], p. 493, fnn. 2,3; italics given.)
We see, then, that far from entertaining any doubts, St. John the Baptist dispatched emissaries to Christ to give a final testimony to the Son of God, thus loyally fulfilling his mission to the very end.
In his Catena Aurea (“Golden Chain”), St. Thomas Aquinas compiled the commentaries of the Church Fathers on the Gospels. For Mt 11:2-6, the only Church Father Aquinas quotes who speaks about some doubt on the part of the Baptist at all, is St. Ambrose — yet the doubt he ascribes to the Baptist is not about the identity of the Messiah but only about whether the Messiah should suffer death — and this being a doubt not deriving from incredulity but from piety:
Ambrose, Ambros., in Luc 7:19: Some understand it thus; That it was a great thing that John should be so far a prophet, as to acknowledge Christ, and to preach remission of sin; but that like a pious prophet; he could not think that He whom he had believed to be He that should come, was to suffer death; he doubted therefore though not in faith, yet in love. So Peter also doubted, saying, “This be far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee.” [Matt 16:22]
(Quoted in Catena Aurea, Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 11)
But this interpretation St. John Chrysostom does not find tenable:
Chrys.: But this seems hardly reasonable. For John was not in ignorance of His death, but was the first to preach it, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh. away the sins of the world.” For thus calling Him the Lamb, he plainly shews forth the Cross; and no otherwise than by the Cross did He take away the sins of the world. Also how is he a greater prophet than these, if he knew not those things which all the prophets knew; for Isaiah says, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.” [Isa 53:7]
Other Church Fathers quoted by St. Thomas on this pericope also include St. Jerome and St. Hilary of Poitiers:
Hilary: It is indeed certain, that he who as forerunner proclaimed Christ’s coming, as prophet knew Him when He stood before him, and worshipped Him as Confessor when He came to him, could not fall into error from such abundant knowledge. Nor can it be believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit failed him when thrown into prison, seeing He should hereafter minister the light of His power to the Apostles when they were in prison.
Jerome: Therefore he does not ask as being himself ignorant. But as the Saviour asks where Lazarus is buried, [margin note John 11:23] in order that they who shewed Him the sepulchre might be so far prepared for faith, and believe that the dead was verily raised again—so John, about to be put to death by Herod, sends his disciples to Christ, [p. 406] that by this opportunity of seeing His signs and wonders they might believe on Him, and so might learn through their master’s enquiry. But John’s disciples had somewhat of bitterness and jealousy towards the Lord, as their former enquiry shewed, “Why do thee and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
Hilary: John then is providing not for his own, but his disciples’ ignorance; that they might know that it was no other whom he had proclaimed, he sent them to see His works, that the works might establish what John had spoken; and that they should not look for any other Christ, than Him to whom His works had borne testimony.
The Scripture scholar Fr. George Leo Haydock, editor of the famous Haydock Bible, summarizes the exegeses of various commentators on Mt 11:3 as follows:
Ver. 3. Art thou he that is to come? (Greek, who cometh?) i.e. the Messias. John the Baptist had already, on several occasions, declared that Jesus was the Messias. (John i). He could not then doubt of it himself, but sent his disciples to take away their doubt. (Witham) — St. John the Baptist sent his disciples not to satisfy his own doubts, but for the sake of his disciples, who, blinded by the love they bore their Master, and by some emulation, would not acknowledge Christ to be the Messias. (St. Chrysostom in Baradius) — This expression of St. John is much taken notice of, as conveying with it a very particular question. “Tell me, says St. John, now that I am departing out of this world, whether thou art coming to redeem the patriarchs and holy fathers; or wilt thou send another?” (St. Thomas Aquinas) — And St. Chrysostom also explains it thus, Art thou he that art to come to limbo? but the Baptist omitting this last word, sufficiently indicated to our Saviour what was the purport of this question. St. Jerome and St. Gregory say, that by his death, he was going to preach to the holy fathers that Christ, the Messias, was come. John does not here propose this question as ignorant of the real case, but in the same manner as Christ asked where Lazarus was laid. So John sends his disciples to Jesus, that seeing the signs and miracles he performed, they might believe in him. As long, therefore, as John remained with his disciples, he constantly exhorted them to follow Jesus; but now that he is going to leave them, he is more earnest for their belief in him. (St. Thomas Aquinas)
(Rev. George L. Haydock, Commentary on Matthew 11:3, Haydock’s Catholic Family Bible and Commentary [New York, NY: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859]; italics given.)
No different in essence is the commentary provided by Dom Bernard Orchard, O.S.B., who instructs the reader on the Gospel passage in question thusly:
…the Baptist had already referred, [in Mt] 3:11, to Christ as ‘the one coming after me’ and had indicated him as the Messias. He certainly does not begin to doubt this now — he is no ‘reed shaken by the wind’; nor, evidently, is he suspecting for the first time that Jesus may be the Messias. It remains either that the Baptist is hinting at the need for more incisive Messianic action (as, for instance, the outspoken denunciations of Mt 23) in accordance with John’s own zealous Messianism (cf. [Mt] 3:10-12) or that, himself content with our Lord’s gentle method, he sends his disciples for their own instruction. …The Messias is in their midst; there is no room for John’s disciples to doubt it nor for the Baptist to urge a more explicit Messianic declaration.
(Dom Bernard Orchard, O.S.B., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture [London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953], n. 694b,c, p. 871; italics given.)
Finally, we turn to the renowned Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide, who also draws heavily on the Church Fathers and other sources to present a truly Catholic exposition of the sacred text:
John then, a little before his martyrdom, sent these disciples to Christ in the thirty-second year of Christ’s age, which was the second year of His preaching, when He was becoming famous by His doctrine and miracles, that they might learn from Himself that He was the very Messiah, or Christ, that when John was dead they might go to Him. For otherwise they might have made a schism from Christ, and preferred John as their master to Christ. For that they thought more highly of John than of Christ is plain from Matt. ix. 14. As therefore the runners in the Stadium hand on the lamp to the runner who succeeds them in the course, so did John — when he had fulfilled his office and ministry, resign it to Christ. And, as the dayspring dies away into the rising sun, so did John pale before Christ. For John was the morning star of the sun of righteousness. Wherefore, not only did he not envy Christ His rising glory when his own was setting, but rejoiced at it. Yea, he desired to set, that Christ might arise, for he was ambitious not of his own glory, but of God’s and Christ’s glory. Wherefore he said, “It behoveth Him to increase, but me to decrease” [Jn 3:30].
From these words of John [in Mt 11:4: “Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen…”], Tertullian (De Baptism, c. 10) and Justin (Quest. 38 ad Orthodox) think that John doubted concerning Jesus whether He were the Christ or not, but falsely [i.e. they are wrong], for John had already seen the Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove, and had heard the Father’s voice saying, This is my beloved Son. And John had already given the clearest testimony to Him, when he said, Behold the Lamb of God.
Others think that John did not doubt whether Jesus were the Christ, but only asked whether, after death, He would come into Limbus [the Limbo of the Fathers], and visit and deliver the Fathers who were detained there. …But this opinion is little apposite or probable.
I say, therefore, that John sends his disciples, and asks Jesus whether He be the Coming One, i.e., the Messias, not as doubting about Him, but because, being near death, he wished his hesitating disciples to be instructed concerning Him, that they might be led to Christ. So SS. Hil., Chrys., Cyril. Observe, too, the prudence of S. John. He in his own name asks Jesus if He be the Christ, because his disciples would not, of themselves, have dared to propose such a question. For he is the best physician who, to cure a sick man, acts as though he were sick himself, and takes nauseous medicine. So S. Paul says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” [2 Cor 11:29].
(The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide: S. Matthew’s Gospel – Chaps. X to XXI, trans. by Thomas W. Mossman, 4th ed. [Edinburgh: John Grant, 1908], pp. 50-51; italics given.)
The only thing to add here is that although Cornelius a Lapide does say that St. Justin Martyr believed the Baptist doubted whether Christ be the Messiah, as of the early twentieth century, the authorship of that document is disputed, and the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that it is “not without probability” that its real author was not the second-century St. Justin Martyr but the fourth-century Diodorus of Tarsus.
We have now copiously documented, and thereby amply demonstated, the Catholic understanding of the reason for St. John the Baptist’s sending of two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether He is the One who is to come. On what does Mark Shea base his impious claim about St. John’s “doubt”? He does not tell us, but we can see it wasn’t the Sacred Tradition of Holy Mother Church. The fact that Shea is the author of numerous “Catholic” books, incl. one on Sacred Scripture and biblical interpretation, is frightening, but given the state of Novus Ordoism in the United States, it is not really surprising.
Why anyone cares what Mark Shea has to say about religion is one of the great mysteries of our time. In 2014, Shea proclaimed in an interview with the Jesuit rag America that with Francis now being in charge, he had real hope for the future of the Vatican II Sect: “It’s almost inarticulate, but I have nothing but love for the guy. I think he’s the absolute real deal and I feel tremendous hope for the church.”
We’ll just leave that uncommented.
The same year, Shea also expressed his conviction that because of Francis’ stellar Christian witness, the British pop singer and notorious sodomite Elton John was now “revisiting what the gospel has to say”. Over three years later, we’re not sure how far along Sir Elton is in his Gospel discernment process but it looks like he hasn’t gotten too far past the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1: As of a few days ago, he was happily celebrating his 71st birthday together with his “husband” David Furnish and the two little boys they purchased some time ago and call “their” children. But perhaps Elton has already converted at least to using energy-saving lightbulbs in accordance with the Bergoglian eco-magisterium. Baby steps, you know.
And now: Exit Mark Shea.
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