There are four main persons treated in the first lesson. They are Abraham, Moses and David in the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ, Who, as the natural Son of God made man, brought the New and Eternal Testament into the world.
Salvation history began remotely with the creation of the world, and proximately with the formation of Adam and Eve. In other words, the world was made for Adam and Eve and the family of man, while Adam and Eve and their progeny were made for Christ and Mary. No sooner had Adam and Eve sinned than God promised them and their descendants a Redeemer, His Incarnate Son for Whom the whole universe had been originally made. With this in mind, we begin to understand that salvation not only means being lifted to the order of grace in view of the merits of the Incarnate Word; it also means being freed from sin. In this last sense, salvation history as redemptive began after the Fall of Adam and Eve. (See Colossians 1:11-20 for a summary statement of the basis of this teaching on the primary and secondary motives of the Incarnation.)
Saint Luke traces the ancestry of the Savior back to Adam (cf. Luke 3:23 - 38). However, because God wanted mankind to be saved through a specially chosen people who descended from Abraham, Saint Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham (cf. Matthew 1:2 - 16). Jesus Christ is truly the long-awaited Savior, the Messiah of the Chosen People. Furthermore, as we shall learn, the Catholic Church is the Messianic Kingdom foretold by the Prophets.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
Reviewing the following Catechism references will further clarify the central ideas of this lesson:
59, 62, 128-130, 200, 205, 215, 245, 410-412, 430, 436, 458, 495, 496, 546, 695, 752, 766, 771, 774, 780, 815, 816, 824,827, 832, 846, 1114, 1115, 1117, 1150, 1210, 1334, 1813, 2056, 2466, 2573, 2759-2865.
Reviewing the following terms in your Modern Catholic Dictionary will help you to understand the riches of the Faith regarding Salvation History.
Genealogy of Jesus Christ
Abraham and his descendants are the people through whom God chose to reveal Himself to man, and through whom the work of the salvation of all humanity was to be accomplished. The descendants of Abraham were called the Chosen People, Hebrews, Israelites and Jews.
Salvation History is the history of mankind’s elevation to the supernatural order of grace, and the deliverance from its fall from grace into sin through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It begins with the formation of Adam and Eve as types or figures of Jesus and Mary (the New Adam and the New Eve). It continues with God’s promise of a Savior-Redeemer after the Fall of our First Parents, and comes to a definitive conclusion with theSecond Coming of Jesus Christ in glory. “Then after their fall [God’s] promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved and from that time on He ceaselessly kept the human race in His care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation” (Dei Verbum 3). Salvation History is God’s plan to save mankind from sin and lift the human family to the glory of Heaven. This plan unfolds through Abraham, Moses and David, and comes to its fulfillment through Our Savior Jesus Christ. It then continues through the work of the Church until Christ comes again.
We begin our study of the Catholic religion by asking ourselves how it all came about. What religions were there before Christianity began? How did the Catholic Church begin? By whom was She founded? From what religion did Christianity come into existence? What was the background of Christianity’s ancestor, Judaism? We will not be able to answer all of these questions in detail. But some information about what is called Salvation History will help us to understand better the origins of our Catholic Faith. We will look at Abraham, Moses and David, at Christ our Savior, and at the Messianic Kingdom Christ gave us. This will help us to better appreciate what we believe and, as a result, it will help us to be more faithful in living up to its sometimes heavy demands on our weak human nature. Salvation history is human history, for nothing happens to mankind outside of God’s Providence.
I. Abraham, the Father of all Believers
Evidence shows that people have believed in some form of God or Supreme Being from the dawn of human history. The oldest religions for which we have extensive records are those of the Near East— the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. Of these, the most ancient and detailed records are the Pyramid Texts which are engraved on the walls of the halls and rooms of the pyramids of Egypt. These Pyramid Texts date from about 2,800 years before Christ. Two things stand out in the engravings: that the Egyptians believed in many gods, and that they believed these gods had to be invoked by prayers and sacrifices as a condition for the granting of blessings to the living and the dead. Among the ancient people of the Near East, some believed in one God, a belief known as monotheism. In fact, our First Parents were monotheists. Such also was Abram who was born about the twentieth century before Christ in Ur of the Chaldeans on the Euphrates River. His father, Terah, moved the family to Haran, where Terah died (cf. Genesis 11:31-32). Abram received a special message from God telling him to go, with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their followers to Canaan (cf. Genesis12:1). When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God made a covenant with him, changing his name to Abraham and promising to make him the father of a multitude of nations. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:6-7).
Abraham has been called the founder of the Hebrew religion and our Father in Faith. He is the first of the Hebrew Patriarchs and the father of all believers in the one true God. Abraham was totally dedicated to the will of God. He was told by the Lord to take his son, Isaac, to the land of Moriah, which later became the place where the temple of Jerusalem was built. There he was ordered to kill his son as a burnt offering to God. Abraham did not hesitate to obey, and God spared Isaac at the last moment (cf. Genesis 22). In his final days, Abraham arranged to have Isaac marry Rebekah, one of his kinsfolk; he left Isaac all his possessions before dying at the age of one hundred seventy-five (cf. Genesis 24-25). Isaac is the second of the Hebrew Patriarchs. Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, became the third of the Hebrew Patriarchs. The story of his being renamed “Israel” by God explains how his name came to be the name of the Chosen People as well (cf. Genesis 35:9-11).
Altogether, Jacob had twelve sons, each of whom became the head of one of the tribes of Israel (cf. Genesis 29-30). His fourth son was Judah, from whose line came David and, finally, Jesus (cf. Luke 3:23-33). One of the best-known stories in the Old Testament is the account of the adventures of Joseph, the second youngest of Jacob’s sons, and his favorite. Sold by his jealous brothers into slavery, Joseph later became governor of Egypt. During a great famine, Joseph’s family came to Egypt where they were all reunited; Jacob was overjoyed to regain his son. The family moved to Goshen in the land of Egypt, where Jacob spent his remaining years under Joseph’s protection. As Jacob neared death, he gave his blessing to each of his twelve sons. Because Jacob foresaw the greatness of Judah, the blessing given to Judah was the most impressive (cf.Genesis 49). This is not surprising since it was of the family of Judah that the Messiah was born. Jacob was buried in Canaan, in the cave “which Abraham bought...as a burying place” (Genesis 50:13), and in which Abraham and Isaac had also been buried (cf. Genesis 49:31). We will now learn how, after the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God rescued the Chosen People from their Egyptian captivity, gave them the Ten Commandments, and brought them to the Promised Land.
II. Moses and the Ten Commandments
The greatest figure of the Old Testament was Moses. We get some idea of his importance for Christianity from the fact that he is mentioned no less than eighty times in the New Testament, more than any other Old Testament figure. Indeed, Moses stands as a “type” of Christ; he prefigures Jesus. It follows that, if we are to understand Jesus, we must come to know Moses as well.
Moses was born of the tribe of Levi in Egypt during the persecution when all the male Hebrew infants were ordered to be killed. The second chapter of Exodus describes how he was hidden amongst the reeds of the Nile River in a basket made of reeds, and how he was eventually rescued by a daughter of Pharaoh and educated at the Egyptian court.
God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to deliver his people with the help of Aaron. Moses demanded of Pharaoh that the Hebrews be freed, sending a series of plagues upon the Egyptians to manifest God’s displeasure. The plagues did not dispose Pharaoh to free the Jews until, finally, the death of every firstborn Egyptian caused him to comply with the demands of Moses. Moses then led the Israelites through a forty-year exodus to the Promised Land. It was during this time that the Chosen People were fed with manna in the desert. It was also during the Exodus that God gave the Ten Commandments, inscribed on two tablets of stone, to Moses on Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 4:13).
Christ is to the New Israel (the Church) what Moses was to the Israel of old, namely, its founder, mediator, and teacher. The miraculous passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea was a baptism into Moses (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:2) which prefigured the Christian’s “Baptism into Christ.” Moses gave the law, while Jesus gives grace and truth (cf. John 1:17). Through Moses, the Father fed the Chosen People manna in the desert during their journey to the Promised Land, while He feeds us the true Bread of Life, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, on our journey to eternal life (cf. John 6:32 - 33). Moses lifted up the serpent to heal the bodies of those who looked at it, while Jesus is Himself lifted high on the Cross to save from everlasting death those who trust in Him (cf. John 3:14). Moses sealed the Old Covenant with the blood of animals, while Jesus sealed the New Covenant by the shedding of His own blood (cf. Hebrews 9:11 - 22).
Thus, the Mosaic litany, as it may be called, runs through Sacred Scripture. At every turn, Moses, the divinely-appointed leader of the Chosen People, prefigures Jesus Christ, Who established the New and Eternal Covenant. Yet, the priesthood and the covenant of Jesus far surpass the priesthood and covenant of Moses (cf. Hebrews 8:5-7).
III. David, the Ancestor of the Messianic King
For all his greatness in the history of Israel, Moses was not one of the direct ancestors of the Messiah. As noted in the Focus of this lesson, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is traced by Saint Luke from Adam, and by Saint Matthew from Abraham. In both ancestries, the crowning predecessor of Jesus is King David, who was of the line of Judah.
The figure of David is the key to understanding Christianity. He is the ruler from whom was descended Christ the King. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is regularly described as the “Son of David,” or as the “seed of David.” These are fitting titles, as Jesus is the Son of Joseph, though not of the flesh, from whom He received legal title to the Davidic lineage. He is also the Son of Mary from whom He received both His human nature and His human flesh, and consequently, His biological descent in the line of David. Saint Paul clearly identifies David as the one from whom the Savior was descended as man. He speaks of “the gospel concerning [God’s] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3 - 4).
At the Annunciation to Mary, her Child was declared by the Archangel Gabriel to be of royal descent: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). The promise to David that a son of his would inherit an eternal kingdom, whose fulfillment is here recorded by Saint Luke, is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12 ff. The prophecy that this son would be the Lord of David, i.e., divine, may be read in Psalm 109, as explained by Jesus Himself (cf. Matthew 22: 41 ff.).
IV. The Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom
The great hope of the Chosen People, a hope encouraged by the Prophets since the time of Abraham, was the coming of a great leader. The Israelites called this great leader the Anointed One — the Messiah in Hebrew; the Christ in Greek. With the coming of Jesus Christ, all the prophecies about the long-awaited Messiah were fulfilled. And just as David was the head of a visible kingdom on earth in his day, Jesus Christ is the Head of a visible Kingdom. Unlike the kingdom of David, however, the Kingdom of Christ will last forever. His Kingdom will extend to all nations, races and classes of people.
Not only was the Messiah foretold by the Prophets, but the Messianic Kingdom was foretold by the Prophets as well. Membership in this Messianic Kingdom carried the promise of order and peace in this world and of final happiness in the world to come. Unlike that of the Jewish nation, the Kingdom of the Messiah would be served by priests and teachers from all nations. They would dispense an abundance of divine knowledge and love for things of the spirit. There would be one sacrifice, a pure and perfect oblation offered throughout the world to the one true God. Those who belonged to this Kingdom were promised the remission of their sins, holiness of life, justice among people and among nations, and an outpouring of the Spirit of God.
During His visible stay on earth, Christ seldom used the word “Church” to describe the society of believers He was founding. Rather, He spoke of His Kingdom, from the beginning of His public life, when He proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark1:15), to His dying profession before Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36).
The invitation given by Jesus to enter His Kingdom takes the form, above all, of a literary genre known as the parable. Jesus’ parables, unrivaled literary masterpieces, not only invite His listeners to the feast of the Kingdom, but confront us with a radical choice: to gain the Kingdom, one must give up everything. Deeds as well as words are required. The parables are mirrors in which man is reflected: will he be hard soil or good earth for the Word? And the talents he has received: what use has he made of these? At the heart of the parables are Jesus and the presence of His Kingdom. We must enter this Kingdom; we must become disciples of Jesus if we wish to enjoy the treasure of Heaven. For those who refuse to enter, the parables remain a riddle.
All the parables of the Savior have the Kingdom as their fundamental theme. Yet immediately we should point out that Our Lord spoke of two kinds of Kingdom: one earthly, and one heavenly. When He compared the Kingdom to a grain of mustard seed that a man sowed in his field which grew to become a large tree (cf. Matthew 13:31), Jesus was referring to an earthly Kingdom that grows and develops in numbers and influence throughout the world. When He said that the Kingdom is like a net cast into the sea which gathers in fish of every kind, the good and bad, this cannot mean the Kingdom after death. The parable illustrates what will happen at the end of the world when angels will separate the wicked from the just and cast the wicked into Hell. On the other hand, Jesus also spoke of a Kingdom that is not of this world, of the joy that awaits those who are poor in spirit, and of the reward He will give on the Last Day to those who, during their earthly sojourn, feed the hungry and clothe the naked in His name. These two Kingdoms are mutually dependent. The heavenly Kingdom is the goal of earthly society, and the earthly Kingdom is a means and condition for attaining the heavenly.
The Church is Born
No one who calls himself a Christian doubts that Christ preached a heavenly Kingdom that will never end; this is the Kingdom which God has in store for those who love Him. Yet, Christ also found ed an earthly society to carry on His saving mission until the end of time.
“As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (CCC 766). The moment Christ died, the Church was born, for by His death, Christ gained for us all the graces we need to be saved. Furthermore, He willed that these graces should be conferred through the Church, of which He remains the invisible Head. “For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 5).
In his Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Venerable Pope Pius XII attests to the birth and empowerment of the Church through Christ’s death on the cross: “But if our Savior, by His death, became, in the full and complete sense of the word, the Head of the Church, it was likewise through His blood that the Church was enriched with the fullest communication of the Holy Spirit, through which, from the time when the Son of Man was lifted upand glorified on the Cross by His sufferings, she is divinely illumined . . . [A]t the hour of His precious death He willed that His Church should be enriched with the abundant gifts of the Paraclete in order that in dispensing the divine fruits of the Redemption, she might be, for the Incarnate Word, a powerful instrument that would never fail. For both the juridical mission of the Church, and the power to teach, govern and administer the Sacramen ts, derive their supernatural efficacy and force for the building up of the Body of Christ from the fact that Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of those divine gifts, which prevent Her from ever teaching false doctrin e and enable her to rule them for the salvation of their souls through divinely enlightened pastors and to bestow on them an abundance of heavenly graces” (Mystici Corporis Christi 31).
The Church: Communicator of Christ’s Grace and Truth to All Men
The promise of eternal salvation has a history, as we have already seen. This Salvation History continues today through Christ’s Church.
What are we saying? We are saying that the Church instituted by Christ is the means through which the truth and through which the grace and mercy won for us on Calvary are now imparted to the human race. This means that “the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms, He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium 14).
V. Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life
Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6). From Him, we may obtain all that we need to be saved.
Christ is our Way because He shows us, by word and example, how we are to live. Since the first century of the Christian era, the Church has recognized the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes as the foundation of the moral code by which we are to live. In addition, through the Apostles and their successors, Christ gives to His Church the authority to govern and guide the People of God in their earthly pilgrimage.
Christ is our Truth because it is from His teaching of the mysteries hidden since before the foundation of the world that we learn what God wants us to know to reach Heaven. He entrusted to His Church the preservation of these mysteries to safeguard them from error and explain their meaning to the faithful. Since earliest times, the Church has provided a summary of the basic truths of our faith in what is called the Apostles’ Creed.
Finally, Christ is our Life because He instituted the seven Sacraments by which we can share in His own divine life, thus glorifying, with Him, the God for Whom we were made. The Savior entrusted to His Church the care and administration of the Sacraments, the channels of grace for every stage of our earthly pilgrimage, from birth to death and into eternity. Through the Sacraments, we are reborn into a life which is “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Prayer is our fitting response to Christ’s gift of salvation, for it is through prayer that we grow in holiness.
It is through prayer that we draw ever closer to our Savior and remain properly disposed to receive His abundant grace. Jesus said, “learn from me” (Matthew 11:29), and He taught us how to pray when He gave us the Our Father, the model and most perfect of Christian prayers. As we imitate Jesus by lifting our hearts and minds to God the Father in prayer, we become more and more like Him. Cultivate the habit of using often the name “Jesus” in silent prayer. Upon arising in the morning and upon retiring at night, invoke His holy name. During the day, learn to associate whatever you are doing with a moment’s prayerful aspiration, pronouncing the name, “Jesus,” often. Doing this will nurture the virtue of faith in Jesus, Who is indeed God become man. Those who turn frequently to Our Lord in prayer avail themselves of the spiritual strength that is available to all who call upon Him in faith.