Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Holy Year(s), Holy Door(s), and some musings concerning 1933

I had no recollection of the phrase “holy year” when I came across it yesterday in the pages of a most unlikely source—J. F. Rutherford’s book, Jehovah.

During the last couple of days, I have been researching the use of the nomina sacra found in the early New Testament manuscripts, attempting to understand why early second century Christian scribes adopted their use—not only in the NT manuscripts, but also their Greek copies of the OT—whilst Jewish scribes did not employ them at all. Related to this issue was the use of the Tetragrammaton by Jewish scribes as a substitute for kurios in some copies of the Greek OT they created circa  2nd century B.C. through the 3rd century A.D. (Christian scribes never made use of the Tetragrammaton in any of their copies of the OT).

In this process of trying to understand the differing scribal methods utilized by Christian and Jewish scribes when copying the OT, I began reading a book that I had not read for over four decades—Rutherford’s aforementioned book, Jehovah. Note the following:

The so-called “holy year” has failed to bring the promised peace and prosperity, and that failure should of itself convince the people of good will that God did not authorize the year 1933 to be called a holy year, nor will he hear the prayers of men who try to make it a holy year. Upon earth there is now no peace, and poverty continues to stalk hideously through the land. Jehovah’s witnesses have no controversy with men. Their only purpose is to be obedient to God's commandment to tell the message of truth. (J. F. Rutherford, Jehovah, p. 23 – 1934.)

As mentioned above, I had no recollection of what this 1933 “holy year” entailed. Some online research revealed that the official Vatican website has a page titled, “WHAT IS A HOLY YEAR?” (link). From that contribution we read:

In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Holy Year, or Jubilee is a great religious event. It is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, it is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters. A Jubilee year is above all the year of Christ, who brings life and grace to humanity…

A Jubilee can be "ordinary" if it falls after the set period of years, and "extraordinary" when it is proclaimed for some outstanding event. There have been twenty-five "ordinary" Holy Years so far: the Year 2000 will be the 26th. The custom of calling "extraordinary" Jubilees began in the 16th century and they can vary in length from a few days to a year. There have been two extraordinary jubilees in this century: 1933 proclaimed by Pope Pius XI to mark the 1900th anniversary of Redemption and 1983 proclaimed by Pope John Paul II to mark 1950 years since the Redemption carried out by Christ through his Death and Resurrection in the year 33. In 1987 Pope John Paul II also proclaimed a Marian year.

The mystery of the “Holy Year” was now solved. However, in the same Vatican contribution, I came upon yet another phrase I had no recollection of—“Holy Door”. Note the following:

In 1500 Pope Alexander VI announced that the Doors in the four major basilicas would be opened contemporaneously, and that he himself would open the Holy Door of Saint Peter's.

So, what are these “Doors”; and specifically, “the Holy Door”? The following is from a Wikipedia article:

A Holy Door (Latin: Porta Sancta) is traditionally an entrance portal located within the Papal major basilicas in Rome. The doors are normally sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so that they cannot be opened. They are ceremoniously opened during Jubilee years designated by the Pope, for pilgrims who enter through those doors may piously gain the plenary indulgences attached with the Jubilee year celebrations. (link)

Armed with this new knowledge, two important events during the 1933 “Holy Year” came to mind. The first important event is quite personal, for it was the birth of my father. As for the second event, I can think of no better term to describe it than ‘insidious’, for that was the year Adolf Hitler rose to power, becoming the Chancellor of Germany. I suspect the latter event may have been one of the factors Rutherford had in mind when he penned his assessment of the 1933 “holy year”.

Back to my studies…

Grace and peace,


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