Television Update

Time to get caught up on our Catholic-themed television shows…

Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History
Episode Five: The Wartime Popes (this title is a misnomer because the episode is almost entirely about Pius XII)
CNN, originally aired 4/8/18

This episode focuses on the extremely controversial papacy of Eugenio Pacelli aka Pius XII. Previously the papal nuncio/ambassador to Germany, Pacelli was appointed Cardinal Secretary of State by pope Pius XI in 1930. In that capacity, he negotiated a number of concordats (treaties) with various European and Latin American countries, most of which contained clauses that recognized Catholicism as the state religion and suppressed Protestant churches. Pacelli’s brother, Francesco, had been instrumental in negotiating the Lateran Treaty in 1929 between the Vatican and fascist Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Eugenio Pacelli negotiated the Reichskonkordat with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1933. Eugenio was elected to the papacy in 1939 for his diplomatic experience in the face of increasing international volatility.

Pope Pius XII has been strongly criticized over the last 70 years for his deafening silence in the face of the Nazis’ genocide of European Jewry during the Second World War. His defenders insist the pope chose to work quietly behind the scenes in attempting to help Jews rather than risk additional persecution with a public denunciation. While Hitler’s brutality affected Catholics throughout Europe, the church also acknowledged the German fascist dictator was a bulwark against its most feared and hated enemy, Russian Soviet communism.

Pius XII would later define the doctrine of the physical assumption of Mary into Heaven as dogma in 1950. Admirers have been pressing for Pacelli’s canonization despite his controversial papacy.

Those who aren’t aware of the controversy surrounding Pius XII and the Holocaust will find this episode quite interesting.

Next and final episode: “Courage, Change, & the Modern Papacy,” airs tonight, 4/15/18


 

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Living Biblically
Episode Seven: Let Us Pray
CBS, originally aired 4/9/18

Chip confides to his “god squad” (a priest and rabbi) that he has some difficulties with praying (he mentions the “Hail Mary” prayer as one of his regulars). Priest Gene advises Chip to keep trying and promises prayer will eventually come naturally. Shortly afterwards, Chip is stuck in an elevator with some of his co-workers and his prayer seems to facilitate their rescue. Chip is not happy about his atheist mother-in-law staying with him and his wife for a short time, including her constant jabs at his religion. When she suffers an apparent heart attack, Chip’s prayer for her seems to result in her medical stabilization (the heart attack turned out to be a peptic ulcer).

No Gospel here, folks. It’s all about the religion of Cain.

Next episode, “Show Hospitality,” airing 4/16/18

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“Yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament
By John MacArthur
Crossway, 2018, 224 pages

Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah:53

I remember reading through the Old Testament for the first time and coming upon chapters 52 and 53 of Isaiah. Wow! Here in a book written 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ was a detailed description of the coming Messiah as the “suffering servant.” I was absolutely floored!

In this (mostly) excellent book, John MacArthur breaks down the end of chapter 52 and the entirety of chapter 53 which entail Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah. Chapters are as follows:

  1. The Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament
  2. About Whom Does the Prophet Say This?
  3. Astonishing! (The Jews were expecting the Messiah to be a dynamic religious/political/military leader, not Jesus!)
  4. What if Some Did Not Believe?
  5. The Substituted Servant
  6. The Silent Servant
  7. The Suffering and Exalted Servant
  8. The Sin-Bearing Servant
  9. Here I Am! Send Me
  10. Judah’s Demise

Many call Isaiah 52-53 the “Fifth Gospel” because therein we have the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His death for sins and His resurrection.

I regularly listen to Catholic apologist, David Anders, and one of his pet peeves with evangelical belief is the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. Anders regularly mocks evangelicals for their view of God the Father as a “bloodthirsty tyrant,” but as MacArthur points out, Isaiah 53 presents one of the strongest proofs of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” – Isaiah 53:4,10-11

One of the many interesting facts that MacArthur points out is that Isaiah 53 is NEVER read in Jewish synagogues. Ever. That is not surprising because darkness always runs from the light.

Every believer would benefit by following along with JMac as he breaks down this glorious prophecy of our Savior, verse by verse.

Postscript: In support of his claims regarding the future salvation of Israel, MacArthur appeals to the writings of Thomas Aquinas, whom he cites as “the most influential (and probably the best) of the medieval Roman Catholic theologians” (p. 136). What? Is the evangelical infatuation with Thomism now rubbing off on MacArthur, too? Why would JMac feel the need to appeal to Aquinas on this issue when Aquinas was SO WRONG on SO MANY other theological issues? I don’t get it. JMac previously felt the need to favorably cite Catholic apologist, G.K. Chesterton, in his 2017 book, “The Gospel According to Paul.” See here. What motivates these conservative evangelical leaders, ESPECIALLY someone like John MacArthur, when they commend Roman Catholic sources to their readers? Spiritual forces are at work. It’s sad that I have to write the following in connection with MacArthur, but savor the meat and spit out the bones.

Good Friday? Easter?

Today is “Good Friday,” a day in which many memorialize Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, and I have a few thoughts about that:

I was a member of the Roman Catholic church for twenty-seven years, and like all Catholics, I was heavily steeped in the church’s liturgical calendar. Every day was either a “solemnity,” “feast day,” or “memorial.” The most important days on the Catholic liturgical calendar were obviously Christmas and Easter.

After reading God’s Word for several years, I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile Catholic teaching with Scripture, so I stopped attending mass. After a couple years of personal spiritual turmoil, I finally prayed to Jesus Christ, repented of my sins, and accepted Him as my Savior by faith alone! Thank you, Jesus!

As a new Christian, I found that the calendrical religious celebrations that were a staple of Catholicism no longer appealed to me. In Christ, one day is the same as the next. The formalism and ritualism of these “holidays” were empty substitutes for a personal relationship with Christ that comes only by trusting in Him as Savior by faith alone. My faith in Christ was/is not based on a calendar. There were also a couple of other objections I had to these “holidays.” As the early church became increasingly institutionalized, it (c)hristianized pagan religious celebrations in order to attract and appease new converts. Some of the traditions of these “holidays” are rooted in paganism. Not only that, but in modern times, “holidays” like Christmas and Easter have been increasingly commercialized and secularized and have lost their religious connection in the minds of many/most.

Yet, there are many blood-bought, born-again believers who treasure these calendrical celebrations. Their thinking is different from mine. They see nothing wrong with commemorating the birth and resurrection of Christ. Instead, they see these celebrations as positive affirmations of their faith that they can share with family and friends.

For a few years following my acceptance of Christ as my Savior, I was strongly opposed to celebrating these “holidays,” but I’ve since changed my thinking. While I don’t go out of my way to celebrate these popular “holidays,” I understand many of my brothers and sisters in the Lord see them as a good thing. In Christ, we have the freedom and liberty to view these matters differently. Each individual Christian must follow the Lord’s leading and decide for themselves without condemning others. I personally view these “holidays” as fantastic opportunities to get together with unbelieving family and friends and bring up Jesus and the Gospel. I have done so many times and will again this weekend, Lord willing.

Today is Good Friday, but I’m not thinking about my Lord’s death on the cross for my sins any more than I do any other day. That’s the glorious, indescribable beauty and joy of walking with my Lord, Savior, and Shepherd on a daily, make that hourly, make that heartbeat-to-heartbeat, basis. There’s no need to anticipate religious “holidays” on the calendar when you’re walking hand-in-hand with the Lord every single day. But many of my brothers and sisters in Christ really enjoy these days, so I say, peace, and have at it in the Lord! When you wish me a “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy Easter” with love and goodwill in the Lord, I will reciprocate in kind.

I know there are some believers who feel very strongly about not recognizing these “holidays,” and I get it. But each Christian must determine what is right for them.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” – Romans 14:5-9. See all of Romans 14, a wonderful instruction from the Lord on this issue, here.

IMPORTANT: Most people have heard of Jesus Christ and know that He died on a cross two-thousand years ago, but they don’t understand what that means for them personally. The Bible says we are all sinners and we all deserve eternal punishment, but God loves us so much He sent His Son to this Earth to live a perfect life and die for our sins as our substitute. But He didn’t stay dead. In three days, He rose from the grave, beating sin and death. He now offers the free gift of eternal life to everyone who repents of their sin and trusts in Him as their Savior. Jesus died for you. He was thinking of you when He was hanging on that cross two-thousand years ago. Will you pray to Jesus on this Good Friday and accept Him as your Savior? After you have accepted Jesus, ask Him to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” – John 1:12

Many, many people will attend a church service this Easter Sunday, but only a fraction of them will be trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone. Going to church doesn’t save. Being a good person doesn’t save (because no one is actually good). Believing intellectually about a man who died on a cross two-thousand years ago doesn’t save. Each and every person must come to Jesus Christ in prayer and accept Him as their Savior by faith alone.

Film about Steve McQueen symbolizes Gospel compromise

A short time ago, I reviewed Greg Laurie’s book about actor Steve McQueen’s conversion to Jesus Christ. See here.

I usually catch the last five minutes of Laurie’s radio show every morning as I’m driving into work and lately he’s been pumping the movie follow-up to the book. “Steve McQueen: American Icon” will be playing in selected theaters across the country on Thursday, September 28th only. This is an evangelism tool with Laurie giving an invitation to accept Christ at the end of the film. See the official website here.

I enjoyed Laurie’s book about McQueen and I was even contemplating going to the theater to see the movie. But as one of his pitch points, Laurie mentioned that actor/director/producer, Mel Gibson, is interviewed during the film. Mel Gibson? Again? Laurie featured Gibson on his last TBN-televised Harvest crusade and there’s a quote

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Laurie and Tridentine Catholc, Gibson, kibitzing for the audience at a Harvest crusade

from Gibson recommending “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon” on the book’s dust jacket. But Mel Gibson is an ultra-traditionalist, “Tridentine” Roman Catholic, meaning he believes in salvation by sacramental grace and merit and he also believes the last six popes were imposters because of the changes adopted by the church at the Second Vatican Council. Mel Gibson is certainly not a supporter of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE. So why has he been rubbing shoulders with Laurie so much? Gibson might be a sedevacantist, but he’s also a busine$$man. Evangelicals strongly supported his film, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), and Gibson is pragmatically counting on their support for the sequel, “Resurrection,” which is slated for release in 2019.

Greg Laurie, a TBN regular, does preach the Gospel of grace, but he also troublingly embraces as Christians those who promote a false gospel. A lot. Many evangelical pastors and para-church leaders do the same thing. Is it that Laurie looks the other way and compromises the Gospel for the sake of money and numbers? He’s just following in the footsteps of his hero, Billy Graham. Laurie and Gibson are using each other for their own purposes in an ungodly, symbiotic dance.

No, I won’t be attending “Steve McQueen: American Icon.” Maybe instead I’ll watch McQueen’s 1968 classic action thriller, “Bullitt,” which I bought on Blu-ray several weeks ago. At least there’s no Gospel-compromising shenanigans going on in that movie!

The Mortara Case: When the pope stole a child from his parents

Roman Catholics like to imagine their popes were holy and pious men who were always guided by the Holy Spirit and correctly led the church in all matters of faith and morals, but even casual students of papal history know that the reality was far from this fanciful idealization.

I’m currently reading a book by a Catholic author that mentions one of the more bizarre episodes of papal history, known as the “Mortara Case.” Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti aka pope Pius IX was elected to the papal throne in 1846. In 1857, the church inquisitor for the city of Bologna, then part of the Papal States, heard after-the-fact that a Catholic woman had secretly baptized the infant son of Jewish parents who had employed her as a servant. The laws of the Papal States prohibited the raising of Catholics by members of other faiths, so 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara was taken from his family by the police at the instigation of Pius IX. The boy was brought to the Vatican’s Esquiline Palace and his upbringing was personally managed by the pope. When Edgardo’s frantic parents finally discovered where their son was located, the pope allowed them to occasionally visit, but only under close supervision.

The abduction became a cause célèbre throughout the Western world. The international OUTRAGE was tremendous. But the pope, claiming “the blessed Virgin (was) on (his) side,” refused to return the child to his family. However, the pope soon had even bigger fish to fry. To Pius’ great chagrin, the upstart Kingdom of Italy began annexing territory belonging to the Papal States via military means, beginning in 1859 and ending in 1870 when the city of Rome fell to the “Risorgimento” forces. Public sentiment had turned decidedly against the pope partially due to the indignation over the infamous “Mortara Case.” In reaction to the rebellion, Pius issued his declaration, “Syllabus Errorum” (The Syllabus of Errors), in 1864, which condemned freedom of religion and all forms of democratic government. In 1869, Pius convened the First Vatican Council in order to define the infallible doctrine of papal infallibility.* The defiant “libertines” may have absconded with the 16,000 square miles that comprised the Papal States, but pope Pius IX made sure everyone knew HE still stood supreme in all spiritual matters.

But what of the young Jewish boy stolen from his parents and raised in the Vatican? Edgardo was eventually ordained a priest at the age of 21 and died in Belgium in 1940 at the age of 88. Both Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein are currently developing separate films based on the infamous “Mortara Case.”

But this ex-Catholic saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone has a few questions regarding this sorry chapter in papal history:

  1. Did pope Pius IX do the morally correct thing by abducting the Jewish child as well as encouraging the abductions of other Jewish children in similar cases? Obviously not. I certainly realize the “ex cathedra” clause doesn’t pertain in this example, but can’t we assume that the Holy Spirit would have done a much better job of guiding Pius IX in this scandalous child abduction issue if he actually had been the “Vicar of Christ”?
  2. When Pius IX absolutely condemned freedom of religion and all democratic forms of government in “The Syllabus of Errors,” was he speaking ex cathedra/infallibly or was the declaration his own personal opinion, and who decides?
  3. Pope Pius IX stood up to defiant Italian nationalists by having himself declared infallible in all teachings regarding faith and morals. But it’s puzzling that Pius, like all other popes up until 2016, taught that no remarried divorcees could receive holy communion, while, Francis, the current infallible pope, has declared that remarried divorcees are able to receive communion. Who is right? And if Francis is right, what about all the remarried divorcees who committed mortal sins by receiving communion prior to the publication of “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016 and died? Do they all receive a “Get out of Hell Free” card?

*Catholics boast that only their church is led by an infallible pope, but are hard pressed to cite examples of infallible teaching. Catholic theologians can only agree that the papal declarations on Mary’s immaculate conception (1854), papal infallibility (1870), and Mary’s assumption (1950) are unequivocally infallible.

An evangelical writes to “Your Holiness,” the pope

In yesterday’s Weekend Roundup, I briefly commented that President Trump’s evangelical advisory board had requested an urgent meeting with pope Francis to discuss the recent, Vatican-approved article in the La Civilta Cattolica journal, which had severely criticized the collaboration of right-wing, Trump-supporting “Catholic Integralists” and “Evangelical Fundamentalists” as being an “ecumenism of hate.” The article also made reference to Trump’s religious supporters as Christian “jihadists.”

Yesterday evening, I came across a couple of articles that shed more light on the controversy (see links far below).

Johnnie Moore, the former vice president of communications for Liberty University and former assistant to university president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., penned the letter to Francis on behalf of the other members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board. He begins the letter by addressing the pope as “Your Holiness.” He then tells Francis that evangelicals “have looked upon your appointment with great gratitude to God and with great optimism for the new spirit that you have brought to the Catholic Church.” He further flatters the pope by writing that Francis’ “efforts to build bridges and to spread the doctrine of mercy around the world have been a light and hope to us all.” Moore then gets down to business by requesting a meeting to discuss the troubling article. He ends the letter by claiming “God put it on [his] heart” to write the pope and concludes with the following: “With all the respect in the world and with love for Christ’s Church and every corner of it, I’ll earnestly await your reply.”

Moore’s letter to the pope is a sad commentary on the current state of evangelicalism. The pope heads a 1.2 billion-member religious institution, which propagates a false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit and yet Moore addresses him as a fellow believer and a great Christian leader. Obviously, Moore has no understanding of comparative theology and has no clue what happened during the Reformation. But like many politically-focused, conservative evangelicals, Moore is more concerned with preserving “Judeo-Christian” moral values in this country than with correct doctrine and reaching conservative (and liberal) Catholics with the Gospel.

Commenting on Moore’s letter, Mike Gendron, ex-Catholic and director of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries, a Gospel outreach to Roman Catholics, said:

“Moore’s attempt to unite Evangelicals and Catholics is playing into the pope’s agenda to rebuild the religious tower of Babel. Our sovereign and omnipotent Lord does not need the help of unbelievers to fight the social and cultural wars. There is something much more important at stake and that is the purity and exclusivity of the Gospel. More than ever we need to contend for the faith because divine division in truth is far better than satanic unity in error.”

Accommodation and cooperation with religious error and compromise and betrayal of the Gospel are rampant in the church today.


Former Liberty University VP Raises Concern After Calling for Meeting With ‘Your Holiness’ to Unite Evangelicals, Catholics
https://christiannews.net/2017/08/11/former-liberty-university-vp-raises-concern-after-calling-for-meeting-with-your-holiness-to-unite-evangelicals-catholics/

Dear Pope Francis: An Evangelical Christian’s letter to the Holy Father
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/08/09/dear-pope-francis-evangelical-christians-letter-to-holy-father.html

Taras Bulba – The movie

…and speaking of Polish history! Hats off to brother Wally for motivating me to dig deep into the files for this one.


Taras Bulba
Directed by J. Lee Thompson and featuring Tony Curtis, Yul Brynner, and Christine Kaufmann
United Artists, 1962, 122 minutes

“Taras Bulba” is the entertaining film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s famous 1835 historical novella. The story is loosely based on the revolt of the Zaporozhian Cossacks against their Polish overlords, which began in the early 17th century.

Plot

The Cossacks of the Pontic-Caspian Steppes live under Polish rule but pine for their independence. Cossack leader, Taras Bulba (Brynner), desires that his sons, Andriy (Curtis) and Ostap, receive an education so he sends them to the Polish-controlled city of Kiev where Andriy falls head-over-heels for a beautiful Polish damsel (Kaufmann). The Polish nobility of Kiev don’t appreciate a Cossack peasant making overtures to one of their young ladies and the brothers are forced to flee the city.

Bulba leads a revolt against the Polish magnates, besieging the fortified city of Dubno. When Andriy realizes his love interest is behind the walls, he sneaks into the city and switches his allegiance to the Poles. With all of the city’s food gone and the population facing starvation, the Polish knights stage a last-ditch, desperate sally against the Cossack forces. Bulba confronts his disloyal son and kills him. The Cossacks occupy Dubno and Ukrainian peace and benevolence reign supreme.

Commentary

Yul Brynner is simply outstanding as the Cossack hetman (military and political governor). He was born for the part. Tony Curtis is a bit stiff as the son who turns against his father and his people for a Polish

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Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner help Christine Kaufmann celebrate her 17th birthday on the set of “Taras Bulba.”

damsel. A Ukrainian Cossack with a thick Bronx accent? Ridiculous. German actress, Christine Kaufmann, plays the love interest, Polish noblewoman, Natalia Dubrov. In real life, 37-year-old Curtis divorced his wife, actress Janet Leigh, to marry his 17-year-old co-star. Oy vey!

Director J. Lee Thompson does a decent job on this film, one of those Hollywood blockbuster historical epics of the late-50’s and early 60’s. The scene where Brynner breaks into song is a bit annoying but par for the course for Hollywood films at that time. Another scene, where Curtis and a rival Cossack jump their horses over a narrow chasm in an equestrian duel, is an absolute hoot.

This movie was one of my favorites growing up in the 60’s. I wouldn’t miss it whenever it came on television. But, being Polish-American, I was a bit annoyed that the Poles were cast as the bad guys.

Like most films based on historical events, “Taras Bulba” takes some liberties. The Ukrainian conquerors enter the Polish city of Dubno at the end of the movie promising a reign of magnanimity and liberty for all. However, history records that the Zaporozhian Cossacks slaughtered 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children during the most famous of the revolts, the Chmielnicki (Ukrainian: Khmelnytsky) Uprising (1648-1654). A large number of Jews had worked as agents of the Polish magnates and were deeply resented by the Ukrainian peasantry.

For the Polish perspective on the Chmielnicki Uprising, read “With Fire and Sword” by Henryk Sienkiewicz or see the same-titled 1999 Polish film, available on DVD starring Michal Zebrowski and Izabella Scorupco.

Additional thoughts from a believer

The centuries-old conflict between Poles and Cossacks/Ukrainians was not just about ethnicity and self-determination, it was also about religion. Poles were Roman Catholic while Cossacks were Eastern Orthodox. The Cossacks resented being ruled by Romanists. But just as with the Poles, religion for the Orthodox Ukrainians meant participation in the sacraments and much ritual and ceremony. Their religion did not teach the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Poland: An unconventional nation

Poland: The First Thousand Years
By Patrice M. Dabrowski
Northern Illinois University Press, 2016, 506 pages

After I walked away from the Lord for a long “prodigal” season, I had to fill the vacuum with something so I turned to studying my Polish heritage. I’m 50% Polish from my father’s side and 38% German/12% Irish from my mother. Growing up during the Polish joke era in the late 60s and early 70s, I was frequently the target of “dumb Polak” humor. I quickly reached a point where I wished I could be anything but Polish. People poke fun at political correctness but I’m glad ethnic and racial intolerance are increasingly less acceptable. Anyway, in a complete turnaround, I embraced my Polish ethnicity back around 2002 and read everything I could get my hands on about Polish history and culture for the next twelve years.

When I returned to the Lord in 2014, just about all of my reading material reverted back to Christian topics. But last year I spotted “Poland: The First Thousand Years” at Barnes and Noble and picked it up for old time’s sake and finally got around to reading it.

Poland has a very strange history that most people are not aware of. Sandwiched between two extremely aggressive neighbors, Prussia/Germany and Russia, the country didn’t have much of a chance and in many ways contributed to its own subjugation.

Writing a general national history is a difficult undertaking and Dabrowski does a very good job. She outlines the major historical currents and provides enough human detail to keep the book from becoming just a dry exercise of dates and wars.

Poland began as a nation with the reign of Mieszko I (960-992). His conversion to Catholicism in 966, as in the case of many pagan monarchs, was due more to political expediency than personal conviction. As Poland grew in strength, the Piasts gave way to the Jagiellonian dynasty and an alliance with Lithuania. Poland-Lithuania was the largest state in Europe and, given its diverse population, was remarkably tolerant of all religious beliefs and ethnicities compared to its neighbors. The Reformation gained many converts to Christ among the nobility in Poland, but the Jesuits countered by establishing many schools throughout the country, resulting in the children of Christian parents choosing Catholicism.

The power of the Polish magnates and nobility grew in comparison to the elected monarchs. Every nobleman was empowered with the ability to invoke the liberum veto, the power to block any new law or reform put forward by the king or parliament. Neighboring countries took advantage of Poland’s deepening political impotence. The country was partitioned three times in the late 18th century by Prussia, Russia, and Austria, essentially removing Poland from the map of Europe.

Poles attempted to resurrect their nation by enlisting in Napoleon’s military campaigns and through various insurrections. During these years of complete political subjugation, the Polish Catholic church took on the role of repository of Polish nationalism.

With Russia, Germany, and Austria in complete disarray following World War I, the Western Allies re-established Poland as a nation. The interwar years were difficult for the fledgling country given the international economic depression. During this time, Poland became increasingly intolerant of non-ethnic Poles and non-Catholics.

Nazi Germany invaded Western Poland in 1939 to start World War II, followed by Soviet Russia’s land grab of Eastern Poland. The country was completely partitioned once again. Most of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust perished in Poland at the hands of the Nazi occupiers. The Red Army advanced westward as the Germans retreated, eventually occupying all Polish territory. Arbitrary postwar border shifts and wholesale population resettlements left Poland a largely homogeneous country, both ethnically and religiously.

Poles endured Soviet military and political domination from 1945 through 1989, until escalating strikes and protests over economic conditions and political freedoms forced the Polish communist government to negotiate its own demise. Poland has slowly begun to claim its place among European nations, joining NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Citizens are still extremely wary of their German and Russian neighbors and given their history and the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin, who can blame them? Poland is still one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, meaning most of its citizens have never heard the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Many Americans mix religion with patriotism and nationalism but Poles take it to a whole different level. In the understanding of most, you cannot be a true Pole unless you are Roman Catholic.

I enjoyed this general history very much and I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in an overview of the unconventional history of Poland. No other Western nation experienced the oppression and devastation that Poland endured between the years 1772 and 1989.

A 2000-year-old testimony to God’s truths (now in brilliant virtual color)

Our youngest son, Steve, has served in the Air Force for sixteen-years and has been all over the world. My wife and I had the opportunity to visit him when he was stationed in Aviano, Italy back around 2004. Aviano is about sixty-miles north of Venice in the northern part of the country. After a few days in Aviano/Pordenone, we took a train excursion to Venice and Rome. The highlight of our short stay in Rome was walking through the Colosseum and the nearby Roman Forum. On the east end of the Forum, on the Via Sacra, standing fifty-feet tall, is the Arch of Titus, erected in 81 A.D. to commemorate the military success of the Roman general (later emperor), Titus, during the First Jewish War (66-74 A.D.). Titus had ransacked and completely destroyed the Temple complex in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Historians say the spoils of the Jewish Wars helped finance the construction of the Colosseum, where many of the early Roman Christians were martyred.

There’s a carved relief panel under the Titus arch which depicts Roman soldiers carrying the confiscated treasures of the Temple, including the table of showbread and the lampstand/menorah, through the streets of Rome. Even though I was not walking with the Lord at that time, I was still AWESTRUCK to stand underneath the arch and gaze at this panel, a two-thousand-year-old testimony to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy:

“And He said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.'” – Matthew 24:2

Last night, I was reading the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, which featured the cover story, “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus.” We mistakenly assume ancient Roman buildings originally appeared as plain stone edifices as we see them today, but recent research reveals building and monument exteriors were often decorated with vibrant colors. A team of scientists examined the victory parade panel in the Arch of Titus and discovered traces of yellow pigment on the menorah, indicating the entire panel had been painted. Using computer enhancement, the team was able to digitally restore the panel as it may have originally appeared (see photo). Being somewhat of a history nerd and a Christian, stuff like this absolutely fascinates me.

For the past two millenia, Jewish visitors to the Forum have bitterly resented the Titus Arch and its victory procession panel. When Jews visit the arch, they have been known to proclaim something along the lines of, “Titus, you’re gone, but we’re still here. Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel lives!” Israel was re-established as a nation in 1948, one-thousand, eight-hundred, and sixty-seven years after the death of Titus.

“He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 11:12

The Lord doesn’t hit the people of the world over the head to show them He’s there, but He’s given us remarkable signs if we would pay attention.