Sign of contradiction is a term in Catholic theology which refers to certain persons who, upon manifesting holiness, are subject to extreme opposition. The term is from the biblical phrase “sign that is spoken against” found in Luke 2:34 and in Acts 28:22, which refer to Jesus Christ and the early Christians. Contradiction comes from the Latin contra, “against” and dicere, “to speak.”
According to Catholic tradition, a sign of contradiction points to the presence of Christ or the presence of the divine due to the union of that person or reality with God. In his book, Sign of Contradiction, John Paul II says that “sign of contradiction” might be “a distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church.”
Luke 2:34 refers to Jesus Christ while he is being presented in the temple by his parents. The words were spoken by Simeon to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, as a prophecy regarding her child and herself.
“Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thought of many hearts may be revealed.” (Italics added; Douay Rheims Bible translates the phrase as “sign that will be contradicted.”)
“Jesus came to bring salvation to all men, yet he will be sign of contradiction because some people will obstinately reject him — for this reason he will be their ruin. But for those who accept him with faith Jesus will be their salvation, freeing them from sin in this life and raising them up to eternal life.”
The commentary also says that Mary will be intimately linked with her Son’s work of salvation. The sword indicates that Mary will have a share in her son’s sufferings. The last words of the prophecy link up with verse 34: uprightness or perversity will be demonstrated by whether one accepts or rejects Christ.
There are three elements then involved in a sign of contradiction, according to Catholic theology: (1) An attack on Christ or people who are said to be “united” with Christ. From this attack, ensues a double-movement: (2) the downfall of those who reject Christ, and (3) the rise of those who accept him.
This double-movement is connected with the division Jesus Christ referred to in Luke 12:51-53, an external division among peoples who either follow him or not, but an internal peace for those who follow him.
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”