Q. In the Gospel for the feast of the Epiphany, Matthew indicates that the Magi visited with King Herod in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth and that apparently very soon after their visit, the Holy Family fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod and stayed there until Herod had died.
But on Feb. 2, we heard Luke’s account of the Christ Child’s presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem just a few weeks after his birth, and Luke indicates that the Holy Family returned then to Nazareth in Galilee. How are we to reconcile these different accounts? (Circleville, Ohio)
A. Some Scripture scholars have pointed out what you see as a conflict between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. (The late renowned New Testament expert Father Raymond Brown once declared that the two accounts “are contrary to each other.”)
Other biblical authorities, however, have no problem with reconciling the two narratives. The key, they explain, is to understand that the four Gospel authors wrote for different audiences, and thus each of them did not feel compelled to detail every aspect of the life of Jesus.
Luke, for example, says nothing about the flight into Egypt while Matthew doesn’t mention the Temple observance of the presentation. In addition, the Gospel writers sometimes used the word “then” to introduce a particular passage as though the events happened in quick succession, while that may not have been true.
Luke does not say that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth “immediately” after the presentation in the Temple; he simply indicates that Mary and Joseph settled afterward in Nazareth, without specifying how much time had elapsed. So it is quite possible that Luke’s narrative allows for a period of time for a flight into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, followed by an eventual return to Nazareth.
Q. I was surprised to read in the Catholic press an article criticizing Pope Francis’ agreement to allow the Communist government to nominate candidates for bishops in China. So my question is this: Are those under the pope’s authority allowed to question publicly such an arrangement made by the Holy Father? (Newark, Ohio)
A. The answer to your question is “Yes,” but first some important background.
The provisional agreement that you reference was made in September 2018 after years of careful negotiation. Previous to that, in a dispute going back for more than half a century, mainland China’s some 12 million Catholics were more or less equally divided between an underground organization that recognized the pope’s authority to name bishops and a state-supported Patriotic Association that named its own bishops.
Under the 2018 agreement, the excommunication of seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval was lifted, and new bishops are now proposed to the Vatican by the Chinese government after it receives input from the Chinese bishops’ conference and Catholics from the areas involved. Then the pope makes the final decision as to whom to appoint, essentially giving the pontiff veto power.
As a result of the new agreement, all of the Catholic bishops in the world’s most populous country are now in communion with Rome, and Catholics will have more autonomy in the exercise of their beliefs. The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said at the time that the agreement helps to give the church “a greater freedom” so that it can dedicate itself to “the mission of announcing the Gospel.”
The church’s decision to enter the agreement was a prudential and pastoral one with which anyone is free to disagree. In fact, one of the strongest critics when the agreement was being considered was Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.