Archive for July, 2011

The 7th of Tammuz: The Yahrzeit of Manuel Lacunza (5561)

 

by Geert ter Horst

There are not many Roman Catholic theologians who could make a legitimate claim of being worthy of having their Yahrzeit remembered by Messianic Jews and their co-religionists. And one would certainly not expect a priest of the Jesuit order to be an exception to this. However, if there is a Roman clergyman deserving to be an exception it is Manuel Lacunza (1731-1801), who can be regarded as the founder of modern Christian Zionism and Millenarianism. [1]

Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz was born in Santiago (Chile) as the son of Charles and Josefa Diaz. His father was a wealthy merchant in colonial trade between Lima and Chile. Manuel entered the religious life and joined the Jesuit order in 1747. He was ordained a priest in 1766. His daily profession was being a teacher in grammar at a school in Santiago. He seems to have enjoyed some fame as a pulpit preacher.

In 1767 Lacunza had to face the misfortune of the expulsion of the Jesuit order from the Spanish Americas by king Charles III. The specific reasons for this expulsion are still shrouded in an air of mystery. All we know with certainty is that the European monarchs felt threatened by Jesuit political power and were under the influence of Enlightenment secularism. The expulsion from Latin America was not an isolated phenomenon. In 1759 the Jesuits had been expelled from Portugal, and in 1762 from France.

The expulsion forced Lacunza and his fellow Jesuits into exile in Europe, first to Cadiz in Andalusia, and later to Imola, within the surroundings of Bologna. When in 1799 the Spanish Crown lifted the restrictions against the Jesuits, Lacunza did not return to Chile. He lived in Imola until his death in 1801. [2]

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV for political reasons dissolved the Jesuit order altogether. Against his will, and without any possibility of appeal, Lacunza thus found himself secularized by papal decree.

These events seem to have caused severe spiritual blows to Lacunza, who, to regain his peace of mind and to find consolation in the midst of the troubles of life, devoted himself to religious studies, especially of holy Scripture. He became gradually fascinated by the subject of prophecy. The main result of his studies was a book in three volumes, entitled La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad — which later (in 1826 or 27) was published in a two volume English translation by the Rev. Edward Irving (1792-1834) as: The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty. [3]

Lacunza’s work was completed in 1790 but the first Spanish edition was not printed until 1810 or 1811, about ten years after his death. The remarkable thing about the book is that it defends the idea of a future glorious restoration of the Jewish nation in a millennial Kingdom Age to be inaugurated by the return of Messiah Yeshua. It contains a fundamental criticism of the traditional doctrine of the Church on the Jewish people.

One of the famous passages deserving our attention is the following (Vol I, p. 326 of Irving’s edition):

The Jews may be considered in three states infinitely different: the first, is that which they were in before Messiah; the second, is that which they have held, and still hold, since the death of Messiah, in consequence of having  rejected him, and much more, of having obstinately persisted in their unbelief; the third is yet future, nor is it known when it shall be. In these three states are they frequently regarded and spoken of in scripture; and in each it regards them under four principal aspects.

In the first state, before Messiah, the scriptures regard them; First, as the owners and legitimate masters of all that portion of the earth which God himself gave to their fathers in solemn and perpetual gift: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” Gen. xv. 18. and xiii. 15. Secondly; it considers them as the only people of God, or which is the same as his church. Thirdly; as a true and lawful spouse of God himself, whose espousals were solemnly celebrated in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, Exod. xix. and Ezek. xxiii. Fourthly; it considers them as endued with another kind of life infinitely more valuable than natural life.

In the second state, after Messiah, it considers them; First, as disinherited of their native land, scattered to every wind, and abandoned to the contempt and derision, and hatred, and barbarity of all nations. Secondly; as deprived of the honour and dignity of the people of God, as if God himself were no longer their God. Thirdly; as a faithless and most ungrateful spouse, ignominiously cast forth from the house  of her husband, despoiled of all her attire and precious jewels, which had been heaped upon her with such profusion, and enduring the greatest hardships and miseries in her solitude, in her dishonour, in her total abandonment of heaven and earth. Fourthly; it regards them as deprived of that life which so highly distinguished them from all the living.

In the third state still future, but infallibly believed and expected, Divine Scripture regards them; First, as gathered again, by  the omnipotent arm of the living God, from among all the peoples and nations of the world, as restored to their own land, and reestablished in it, not to be removed for ever. “And I will plant them and not pluck them up,” Jer. xxiv. 6. “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them,” Amos ix. 15. Secondly; it regards them as restored with the highest honour, and with the greatest advantages, to the dignity of the people of God, yea, even under another and an everlasting covenant. “And I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God…And I will make an everlasting covenant with them,” Jer. xxxii. 37,38,40. Thirdly; it considers them as a spouse  of God, so much beloved in other times, whose desolation, trouble, affliction, and lamentation, do at length move the heart of her husband; who, forgetting his wrongs and reconciled, recalls her to  her ancient dignity, receives her with the warmest welcome, forgets all the past, restores her to all her honours, and, opening his treasures, heaps upon her new and greater gifts; clothes her with new attire, adorns her with new and inestimable jewels, incomparably more precious than those which she had lost; Isa. xl. 49. Hos. ii. 18. Micah vii. Fourthly and finally; the scriptures consider them as resuscitated and reanimated with that spirit of life, of which, for so many ages, they have been deprived. These three estates of the Jews perfectly correspond to the three states of the life of holy Job, which we may regard as a figure, or as a history written in cypher of the three mighty revolutions of the people of God.

Lacunza adopted the Jewish pen-name Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, and posed himself in the work as a Jew converted to Christianity.  This was a tactical move to raise the curiosity of the Jews and to get the book accepted and read by them. [4]

In the Dedication of the work — which is “To the Messiah Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Son of David, and Son of Abraham” (ibid., p. 135) — Lacunza mentions three motives for its composition. First, he says that he wanted the Roman priesthood “to shake off the dust from their Bibles, inviting them to a new study and examination, a new and more attentive consideration of that Divine Book” (ibid.). Second, he wanted to prevent as many people as he could reach from slipping “towards the horrible gulf of infidelity” (ibid, p. 136). His third motive is that he wanted give the Jews “knowledge of their true Messiah whom they love, and for whom they sigh night and day without knowing Him” (ibid.).

I understand the first motive to mean that in the midst of the perils and revolutionary upheavels of his times Lacunza wanted improve the level of knowledge of the holy Scriptures of the priesthood in general and more specifically about the subject of biblical prophecy, with the purpose of strengthening the Church. This at least seems to be implied by the following passage: “What advantages might we not expect from this new study, were it possible to re-establish it among the priests, in themselves qualified, and by the church set apart for masters and teachers of the christian community!” (ibid., p. 136).

The second motive is tightly connected to the first. It seems that Lacunza thought that a genuine knowledge of biblical prophecy would give Catholic Christians a perspective that would be able to strenghten their faith and give them the consolation that the tumultuous course of world history was not something outside the scope of the divine purpose — or irrelevant to it — but was part of the very process by which the destination of all things in Messiah’s Kingdom was to realized. By knowing the outline of biblical prophecy, Lacunza hoped, Catholics would be withheld from adopting secular views and from the dangers of apostasy. Essentially, Lacunza thus held his work to be an answer to the devastating influences of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The third motive is again tightly connected to the first and the second, and is essentially to give the Jewish people an opportunity to proper and scriptural knowledge of their Messiah, in preparation for the Second Coming.

Although these motives were in Lacunza’s mind related to efforts to maintain the Roman Church system, it is not difficult to discover in them a latent criticism of Catholicism. In fact his interpretation of biblical prophecy can be called the remote starting point of a dispensational type of eschatology. With some caution Lacunza can be considered as the father of modern dispensationalist millennialism. He offered an explanation for the recently diminished authority of the Church to traditional Christians and equipped them for the apocalyptic events which were to happen sooner or later and would lead to the return of Jesus Christ. The messianic kingdom couldn’t come without a temporary rise of evil, culminating in an anti-Christian regime, which in its turn would be destroyed by Christ at his Second Advent.

Despite its latent — and at times not so latent — criticism of Catholicism, Lacunza’s work was received by the Church’s authorities with a certain benevolency. Although it didn’t reflect the traditional Catholic teachings about the Second Coming and the end of the world, Rome found nothing wrong or heretical with Lacunza’s approach, as Ovid E. Need remarks in his Death of the Church Victorious (p. 48). [5] And it must be admitted that in a manner Lacunza continued and expanded an existing Catholic and Jesuit tradition of interpretation. When the Reformers accused the Papacy to be the Antichrist, and began to interpret the Book of the Apocalypse accordingly, the theologians of the Counter Reformation, particularly the Jesuits, tried to answer the Protestant charges by adopting futurist interpretations. It was a Jesuit, Francisco Ribiera (1537-1591), who took the position that the events described in John’s Revelation had nothing to do with the course of Church history but belonged to the distant future and were to happen immediately before the end of the world.

The new element in Lacunza’s interpretations was that he combined a futurist prophetic model with a literal interpretation of the texts of Scripture, and in this way he was led to the idea of a future restoration of the Jewish nation. He not only expanded the dynamics of the futurist interpretation model, but he also shattered the limits imposed upon it by the inherent constraints of Roman Catholicism.

The person who was asked to inspect Lacunza’s book and give advice to the ecclesiastical censor was a certain Fr. Paul, who gave his judgment not until after a long period of study and meditation. He confessed his great admiration for the author and his work:

[…] every time that I have read it over, my admiration has been redoubled in witnessing the profound study which the author had made of the Holy Scriptures; the method, order, and exactness which adorn his work; and, above all, the light which it casts upon the most deep mysteries and obscure passages of the sacred books.

The truth, the abundance, and  natural application of the  passages which he adduces from the sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testaments, incline me in such a way to the understanding and reception of his system, that I dare take upon me to affirm, that, if what he says be false, never has falsehood  presented itself so attired in the simple and beautiful garb of truth, as this author hath set it forth in:  for the tone of ingenuousness and candour, the very simplicity of the style, the invitation which he always gives to read the whole of the chapter, or chapters he quotes from, as well as those which precede and follow the quotation, the exact correspondence, not only with the quotations, but with that sense of the sacred text which first strikes the mind; all this, I say, gives such strong presumption of truth, that it seems impossible to refuse one’s assent, unless through obstinate prepossession in favour of the contrary system. (Vol I, p.131)

Fr. Paul added that Lacunza’s system of interpreting prophecy was not new, but had firm roots in the ancient Church. He uttered only a single reservation:

Nevertheless, when I take into consideration the number of ages which have elapsed in the church, without even the mention of this system, otherwise than as a fabulous opinion; and advert to certain fathers and doctors, as Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and to all the theologians since their day, who treat it with aversion, and some of them as positive error; I cannot help quaking and trembling, under the impression that there is less risk in erring with so many learned and very holy masters, than in venturing to aim at the mark by one’s own inclination and judgment. (ibid.)

His final conclusion was favourable, and he recommended the work should receive a permission to be printed:

[…] my judgement is; That in this work there is not contained any thing repugnant to our holy faith, but that it may be of good service in making known, and publishing abroad, many truths, whereof the knowledge, though not absolutely necessary in the first ages of the church, is become indispensable in the times in which we now live.

And with respect to customs, not only does it contain nothing contrary thereto, but on the other hand tends much to reform them by the motives which it brings forward; as will appear from what I shall slightly point out, First; by the magnificent idea which he gives of our Lord Jesus Christ, clothed with glory and majesty, and of his immense empire and power, he stimulates the soul to that fear and love of him, which is the fountain of all righteousness. He infuses, moreover, into the mind a profound feeling of the truth of the holy scriptures, and draws to the perusal of them all believers, and especially the priests, to whom above others belong the exact understanding and explanation of them. The hearts of true christians he fills with fear and trembling, by showing them how they themselves through the looseness of discipline, are threatened with that most fearful calamity which the Jews endure at present, of being cast out from the marriage chamber, which is the holy church, into the outer darkness of infidelity in which they shall perish, for ever lost to Christ Jesus the Saviour. Before the unbelievers and ungodly, who have renounced the profession of their faith, he sets forth with energy and truth, the horrible  lot to which they are reserved, if they renounce not with detestation their blasphemies and errors, and cease not to fight against the Lord, and his Christ. To all classes of men it may be profitable; because it turns their eyes inwards upon themselves, and leads them to consider their eternal destiny, and so to shun their own ruin, and the desolation of the whole earth, when, as God hath told us by the mouth of his prophet, “desolations, &c”. (ibid., pp. 133-134)

This verdict did not prevent the later prohibition of Lacunza’s book by the Roman Holy Office in 1824. The prohibition was repeated in a condemnation of Lacunza’s type of Millennialism in 1941. [6]

Meanwhile Lacunza’s work had drawn wider attention, and already in 1816 it appeared in London. Irving was so impressed by it that he translated it into English. His translation was published in 1827, with a critical introduction of more than a hundred pages, since Irving’s opinions differed in important respects from Lacunza’s. Although Irving believed in a future Millennium, he took a historicist position in many issues of prophetic hermeneutics. However, Irving was a preacher who was famous for his rhetorical skills and he enjoyed great popularity among the higher classes. The fact that his name was attached to Lacunza’s book did its work and within no time The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty obtained the status of a Christian cult book. [7] Prophetic conferences were organized to study and discuss its implications.[8]

The founder of the Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed Lacunza’s thought definitely into the direction of a systematic dispensationalist theology. Darby separated the Church and Israel through the introduction of the (unbiblical) doctrine of a Secret, pre-tribulational Rapture of the Church. [9]

Notwithstanding Darby’s additions — or even perhaps because of them — it was through the enormous influence of the Brethren movement that large parts of orthodox Christianity, in particular in the US, were converted to Millennialism and accepted the idea of a restoration of the Jewish nation in a future messianic Kingdom.

We cannot agree to the theoretical framework and the presuppositions of Darby’s dispensationalist theology with its opposition between Law and Grace and its separation between Israel and the Assembly of Messiah, and certainly not to his introduction of a Secret Rapture. Yet we must acknowledge that it was through Darby and his followers that the idea of a future restoration of Israel, which is fundamental for all branches of Messianic Judaism, has spread over all the earth.

One of the implications of this idea, once it is detached from its dispensationalist limitations and errors and brought back to the framework of a covenantal theology, is nothing less than the necessity of a return to a Torah observant lifestyle for the whole Body of Messiah. There are thus enough reasons to honour the memory of an important initiator of it, Manuel Lacunza.

Lacunza was a great and creative theological thinker and a person of great spirituality, as is confirmed by his admirers and his opponents. He did not fall into despair because of the humiliations of his exile and his undeserved secularization. He led a life of prayer and study and served his Lord day and night. He saw his suffering as a means of sharing in the suffering of Messiah.

We may perhaps add that Lacunza’s sufferings have contributed to return to a biblical perspective on that time when Yeshua shall arrive “in glory and majesty” to accept his reign as the King-Messiah of all Israel.

During his exile in Italy Lacunza used to undertake solitary walks during which he thought and meditated. It is assumed that he died of natural causes during one of these. On June 18, 1801, he was found dead in a pit beside a road not far from Imola. On the Jewish calendar this was the 7th of Tammuz of the year 5561. Upcoming Shabbat is his 210th Yahrzeit. May his memory continue to be a blessing.

I think it is proper for messianic congregations and individuals to keep in remembrance Manuel Lacunza and to pay attention to his Yahrzeit, especially those with historical roots in Catholicism, the Plymouth Brethren, or the Irvingites.

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed virgin Miryam; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Remark:

In case one wants to burn a Yahrzeit light during Shabbat care should be taken to kindle the Yahrzeit light before the Shabbat candles are lit. After Shabbat the Yahrzeit light can be used to kindle the Havdalah candle.

______________

[1] For an historical study of XIXth century Millennarianism, Christian Zionism, and Prophetic Futurism view: Sandeen, Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism. British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930, The University of Chicago Press — Chicago & London 1970.

[2] For some biographical facts on Lacunza, view the Wikipedia article about him, at: Wikipedia: Manuel Lacunza. There is also a good article on Lacunza on an Adventist website, which gives a basic summary of his book, by Sergio Olivares, “Manuel Lacunza: The Adventist Connection”, at: College and University Dialogue.

[3] Ben-Ezra, Juan Josafat, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, translated from the Spanish, with a preliminary discourse by the Rev. Edward Irving, A.M. Published by L.B. Seeley & Son, Fleet Street — London 1827 (J.G. Tillin, England 2000). This edition is in two volumes and is currently available as a web publication at the Birthpangs website: Volume I & Volume II.

[4] Others say that Lacunza adopted this pseudonym to hide himself before the authorities. Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive.  Sandeen remarks (p. 17-18): “His treatise, completed about 1791, was not published during his lifetime for fear of condemnation by the authorities, but manuscript copies circulated and some printed editions appeared in Spain and Latin America beginning about 1812. Shortly before Irving’s translation appeared, the work was placed on the Index, which was not surprising since Lacunza had concluded that the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood were the Antichrist”. Sandeen is not entirely correct here. Lacunza’s position was that the Catholic hierarchy would in the prophetic future develop into an anti-Christian power. Notwithstanding this nuance, there was obviously enough reason to fear the Inquisition.

[5] Need, Ovid E., Death of the Church Victorious. Tracing the Roots and Implications of Modern Dispensationalism, Sovereign Grace Publishers — Lafayette, Indiana 2002.

[6] For some details and for references to official Church documents on this condemnation, view Denzigers Enchiridion: The Lacunza case can be found under Denz. no. 3839 (ed. XXXVI).

[7] According to Sandeen (p. 17) “Irving spent the whole of the summer of 1826 on leave from his parish duties, translating a millenarian treatise by a Chilean Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty was a ponderous two-volume work, seldom cited by later British millenarians; in fact, many of Lacunza’s positions were rejected by the British school and by Irving himself. Yet the aura of mystery and providential intervention surrounding the book drew Irving into the labor of translation and seems to have stimulated a short period of popularity for its name if not for its substance”. The “providential intervention” mentioned by Sandeen refers to the coincidence that Irving had just learned Spanish when he received the work (ibid., p. 18): “Irving had not known any Spanish until a few months before he was sent a copy of Lacunza’s book. That he had begun learning Spanish (while trying to assist some Spanish refugees) just at the moment this startling work from the Catholic “underground” appeared at his door convinced him that he was being providentially prepared to present the work to the British public. Even though Lacunza’s prophetic interpretations often varied from the customary British views, he did make a strong case for the premillennial advent of Christ, and this was the aspect of his work that Irving and the British millenarians emphasized. Lacunza might have been confused on some points (so the defense ran), but notice the manner in which testimony from this Roman Catholic scholar reinforces our heralding of the imminent return of Christ”. Sandeen’s account suggests that Irving already held millenarian views before he got acquainted with Lacunza’s work. This is controversial. There are many voices insisting that Lacunza was influenced by Ribiera, Irving by Lacunza, and Darby by Irving. It is difficult, however, to find reliable sources about the actual historic development of movements like Millenarianism and Dispensationalism. According to Mark Patterson and Andrew Walker (p. 107) “the influence of Lacunza (and fellow Jesuits Alcazar and Reberia) upon nineteenth century millennianism may prove profound” [Mark Patterson & Andrew Walker, “‘Our Unspeakable Comfort’ Irving, Albury, and the Origins of the Pre-tribulation Rapture” In: Stephen Hunt (ed.), Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, Indiana University Press — Bloomington and Indianapolis 2001.]

[8] For example the Albury and Powerscourt conferences. Cf. Sandeen, pp. 18-22 & 34-38.

[9] It is disputed whether Darby can be called the originator of the concept of the Secret Rapture, or that others had preceded him. In any case, Darby systematized it by adopting a consequent dispensationalist hermeneutics, and in this form the concept became a part of the highly influential theology of the Plymouth Brethren.