Thursday, September 21, 2017

“You Have Cut Off Your Right Hand with Your Left” ~ The Assassination of Flavius Aetius

Detail from a 5th century Roman consular
diptych possibly showing Flavius Aetius, now
housed in the Musee du Berry, Bourges, France. 
Today, September 21, marks the anniversary of the death of Flavius Aetius, the late Roman magister militum of the West, who was assassinated by the emperor Valentinian III in AD 454.

Aetius is best known his role as generalissimo of the combined Roman and Visigothic army at the epic Battle of the Catalaunian Plains where Attila and his Huns were defeated and the Visigothic king, Theodoric I, was killed.

Called “the last of the Romans” by Gibbon, Aetius spent most of his adult life striving earnestly to keep the sinking Western Roman Empire afloat. To a large extent, he succeeded, building alliances among the Roman elite and with barbarian nations. Indeed, he may have been too successful. The power he wielded excited envy among other generals and high officials at the imperial court at Ravenna. This jealousy eventually ensnared the young Western emperor Valentinian III himself.

As a child emperor, Valentinian had first ruled under the regency of his mother, Galla Placidia. Upon reaching his majority, he assumed the imperial power in his own right, with Aetius acting as his protector to secure his throne after AD 437. Considering the real political and military power was in the hands of Aetius, it is not surprising that Valentinian would eventually feel that he was little more than a figurehead, particularly as he advanced in years and experience.

As the military and economic situation in the western provinces continued to deteriorate, Aetius’s enemies at court complained to the emperor and found a willing ear. With pressure on the frontiers somewhat alleviated following Attila’s death in AD 453, the anti-Aetius cabal at court felt strong enough to engage in a conspiracy and brought the emperor into the plot. The late Roman historian, Priscus, provides the details:
“A certain [Petronius] Maximus, a well-born and powerful man who had served twice as consul, was antagonistic toward Aetius, the general of the legions in Italy, because he knew that Herakleios (he was a eunuch and carried the greatest weight with the emperor) was also hostile to Aetius on the same pretext: both men were attempting to substitute their own power for Aetius’s. The two men entered into a conspiracy and persuaded the emperor that unless he killed Aetius first, and quickly, he would be killed by him.” [Given: The Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 125]
On September 21, AD 454, Aetius entered the palace to present his financial reports—seemingly a very normal part of his duties. From Priscus’s account, it appears that he was completely unaware that an ambush had been planned. As Aetius explained the gloomy revenue projections and tax receipts, the emperor suddenly became irate. Priscus continues:
“Valentinian all at once sprang up from his seat with a cry and said that he would no longer bear being the victim of so many drunken depravities. By holding him responsible for the troubles, he said, Aetius wanted to deprive him of power in the West just as he had deprived him of the Eastern Empire, insinuating that it was Aetius’s fault he did not go and expel Marcian from office.

“As Aetius was marveling at this unexpected outburst and was trying to divert him from his irrational change, Valentinian drew his sword form his sheath and rushed at him with Herakleios, who was also already carrying a knife under his cloak, as he was primicerius of the chambers. Both men repeatedly struck Aetius’s head and killed the man who had accomplished so many manly deeds in both domestic and foreign wars.”
[Given: The Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 126]
Thus a powerful general who had successfully defended the empire for nearly 30 years was ignominiously slain. Priscus offers the following brief panegyric of Aetius’s deeds:
“He had acted as regent for Valentinian’s mother Placidia and for her son when he was young by forming an alliance with the barbarians. He outgeneraled Boniface as he was crossing from Libya with a great force, so that Boniface died from an anxiety-induced disease, and Aetius became master of his wife and his wealth. He also used trickery to kill Felix, with whom he served as general, since he know that Felix was planning his murder at Placidia’s instigation. He also prevailed against the Goths in Western Galatia when they kept intruding onto Roman territory, and he brought to terms the Aimorichiani when they were rebelling against the Romans. To put it briefly, he established such a powerful force that not only emperors but also neighboring nations yielded to his commands.” [Given: The Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 126]
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Valentinian III was proud of himself for so boldly disposing of a man whom he viewed as an impediment to his rule. When he later boasted about how well he had done to one of his counselors, the man replied famously:
“Whether well or not, I do not know. But know that you have cut off your right hand with your left.” [Given: The Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 127]
As it turns out, Valentinian III did not long enjoy the fruits of this coup, as he himself was assassinated six months later.

For a more complete (and thoroughly engrossing) account of this history, go ye and read The Fragmentary History of Priscus. Though it has come down to us only in bits and pieces, this edition assembles the fragments into a coherent narrative, offering some of the best primary source data extant for this gloomy period of Roman history.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"The Primary Duty of Charity Does Not Lie in the Toleration of False Ideas" ~Pope Saint Pius X and Notre Charge Apostolique

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“The primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas.”
~Pope Saint Pius X 
The above quote and those following are taken from the outstanding document, Notre Charge Apostolique, or Our Apostolic Mandate which Pope Saint Pius X issued to the French episcopate on August 25, 1910 to refute the errors of a pseudo-Catholic French political movement known as “The Sillon”.

A syncretist mass political movement started by French Catholics, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Sillon soon adopted socialist/humanistic tones and goals. Pius X recognized the dangers inherent in such a movement, which threatened to usurp the Church's authentic teachings on Christian charity in favor of watered-down slogans more closely allied with Marx and Lenin than Jesus Christ.

If this sounds familiar, it should.

In our day, the toleration of errors and the enabling of sinful acts and behaviors has become practically synonymous with charity. Pope Saint Pius X, however, would have none of it. In context, the quote above is even more stark and directly applicable to the present day when false ideas are not only tolerated, but even celebrated in some Catholic circles:
“The same applies to the notion of Fraternity which they found on the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity, thus embracing with an equal love and tolerance all human beings and their miseries, whether these are intellectual, moral, or physical and temporal. But Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in the theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being. Catholic doctrine further tells us that love for our neighbor flows from our love for God, Who is Father to all, and goal of the whole human family; and in Jesus Christ whose members we are, to the point that in doing good to others we are doing good to Jesus Christ Himself. Any other kind of love is sheer illusion, sterile and fleeting.” 
Following are several additional quotes taken from this outstanding document. In this next one, Pope St. Pius X elaborates on the thoughts above, relating them directly to the teachings of Jesus:

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“Whilst Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them in order to convert them and save them.”
~Pope Saint Pius X 
Here is the above quote in context. The observant reader will quickly recognize that the same types of errors promoted by the Sillon in the early 20th century, are rampant among politicized Catholics today:
We wish to draw your attention, Venerable Brethren, to this distortion of the Gospel and to the sacred character of Our Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, prevailing within the Sillon and elsewhere. As soon as the social question is being approached, it is the fashion in some quarters to first put aside the divinity of Jesus Christ, and then to mention only His unlimited clemency, His compassion for all human miseries, and His pressing exhortations to the love of our neighbor and to the brotherhood of men. 
True, Jesus has loved us with an immense, infinite love, and He came on earth to suffer and die so that, gathered around Him in justice and love, motivated by the same sentiments of mutual charity, all men might live in peace and happiness. But for the realization of this temporal and eternal happiness, He has laid down with supreme authority the condition that we must belong to His Flock, that we must accept His doctrine, that we must practice virtue, and that we must accept the teaching and guidance of Peter and his successors. Further, whilst Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them in order to convert them and save them.
Whilst He called to Himself in order to comfort them, those who toiled and suffered, it was not to preach to them the jealousy of a chimerical equality. Whilst He lifted up the lowly, it was not to instill in them the sentiment of a dignity independent from, and rebellious against, the duty of obedience. Whilst His heart overflowed with gentleness for the souls of good-will, He could also arm Himself with holy indignation against the profaners of the House of God, against the wretched men who scandalized the little ones, against the authorities who crush the people with the weight of heavy burdens without putting out a hand to lift them. He was as strong as he was gentle. He reproved, threatened, chastised, knowing, and teaching us that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that it is sometimes proper for a man to cut off an offending limb to save his body. 
Finally, He did not announce for future society the reign of an ideal happiness from which suffering would be banished; but, by His lessons and by His example, He traced the path of the happiness which is possible on earth and of the perfect happiness in heaven: the royal way of the Cross. These are teachings that it would be wrong to apply only to one's personal life in order to win eternal salvation; these are eminently social teachings, and they show in Our Lord Jesus Christ something quite different from an inconsistent and impotent humanitarianism. 
Can you imagine such a bold and muscular teaching coming from the leaders of the Catholic Church today?

In the next quote, Pope Saint Pius X makes it absolutely clear that all definitions of love and charity outside of Catholic faith are false, blind alleys.

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"Catholic charity alone can lead the people in the march of progress towards the ideal civilization.”
~Pope Saint Pius X
Following is the context from Our Apostolic Mandate. When reading the passage below, one is struck by the prophetic wisdom of the Holy Father in recognizing that solidarity is only obtainable when all are one in Christ. His prediction that democracy would be “a disastrous step backwards” if divorced from the teachings of Jesus should send a shiver down the spine of us Catholics living a century after this document was written:
“Indeed, we have the human experience of pagan and secular societies of ages past to show that concern for common interests or affinities of nature weigh very little against the passions and wild desires of the heart. No, Venerable Brethren, there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity. Through the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ Our Savior, Christian charity embraces all men, comforts all, and leads all to the same faith and same heavenly happiness.
“By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilization. If, as We desire with all Our heart, the highest possible peak of well being for society and its members is to be attained through fraternity or, as it is also called, universal solidarity, all minds must be united in the knowledge of Truth, all wills united in morality, and all hearts in the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ. But this union is attainable only by Catholic charity, and that is why Catholic charity alone can lead the people in the march of progress towards the ideal civilization.” 
Building upon this, Pope Saint Pius X makes the case in the next passage that true civilizational progress can only take place if it is founded upon the Catholic Faith. How can anyone who calls himself a Catholic and a true follower of Jesus Christ not believe that this is true?

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“There is no true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion.”
~Pope Saint Pius X 
Following is the context. In this passage, Pope Saint Pius X explains that there is an essential relationship between civilization, morality and the Catholic faith. Furthermore, he predicted what would happen when Catholics joined together with others in political causes while leaving their Catholicism at the door: their political goals will soon supersede their Catholic identity, virtues and duties.
“Here we have, founded by Catholics, an inter-denominational association that is to work for the reform of civilization, an undertaking which is above all religious in character; for there is no true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion: it is a proven truth, a historical fact. The new Sillonists cannot pretend that they are merely working on “the ground of practical realities” where differences of belief do not matter. Their leader is so conscious of the influence which the convictions of the mind have upon the result of the action, that he invites them, whatever religion they may belong to, “to provide on the ground of practical realities, the proof of the excellence of their personal convictions.” And with good reason: indeed, all practical results reflect the nature of one’s religious convictions, just as the limbs of a man down to his finger-tips, owe their very shape to the principle of life that dwells in his body.
“This being said, what must be thought of the promiscuity in which young Catholics will be caught up with heterodox and unbelieving folk in a work of this nature? Is it not a thousand-fold more dangerous for them than a neutral association? What are we to think of this appeal to all the heterodox, and to all the unbelievers, to prove the excellence of their convictions in the social sphere in a sort of apologetic contest? Has not this contest lasted for nineteen centuries in conditions less dangerous for the faith of Catholics? And was it not all to the credit of the Catholic Church? What are we to think of this respect for all errors, and of this strange invitation made by a Catholic to all the dissidents to strengthen their convictions through study so that they may have more and more abundant sources of fresh forces? What are we to think of an association in which all religions and even Free-Thought may express themselves openly and in complete freedom? For the Sillonists who, in public lectures and elsewhere, proudly proclaim their personal faith, certainly do not intend to silence others nor do they intend to prevent a Protestant from asserting his Protestantism, and the skeptic from affirming his skepticism.
“Finally, what are we to think of a Catholic who, on entering his study group, leaves his Catholicism outside the door so as not to alarm his comrades who, “dreaming of disinterested social action, are not inclined to make it serve the triumph of interests, coteries and even convictions whatever they may be”? Such is the profession of faith of the New Democratic Committee for Social Action which has taken over the main objective of the previous organization and which, they say, “breaking the double meaning which surround the Greater Sillon both in reactionary and anti-clerical circles”, is now open to all men “who respect moral and religious forces and who are convinced that no genuine social emancipation is possible without the leaven of generous idealism.”
“Alas! yes, the double meaning has been broken: the social action of the Sillon is no longer Catholic….
In reading the above, can anyone doubt that Pius X was not only a pope and a saint, but a prophet as well? If you have the wherewithal, read the entirety of Our Apostolic Mandate. It is truly sobering.

I recently attended a Catholic event as a vendor that drew about 4,000 cultural Catholics along with many of the devout. This was far from the typical conservative/traditionalist crowd, so I was unsure how some of my offerings would go over. I made up photo cards for people to take for free featuring tough quotes from various saints, including the images above featuring Pope Saint Pius X. Numerous people picked up the cards, read them, and said words to the effect of: "Wow, is this ever needed today." So hope is not lost, and I truly believe that a powerful reaction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is brewing.

If only the leaders of the Church had the boldness and courage of Pope Saint Pius X. May this great and holy Pontiff pray for his successors and for all of us. We desperately need it!

Friday, September 15, 2017

"That the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops"

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"This event [the death of (anti) Pope Felix] was, no doubt, ordained by God, that the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops; for such an arrangement is a sign of discord, and is foreign to ecclesiastical law." 
 ~Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, ca. AD 440
This quote is taken from a curious bit of history when the Church was torn by the Arian heresy.

After the death of Constantine the Great in AD 337, sole rule of the empire eventually devolved upon his son, Constantius II. While Constantius was just as devoted to achieving unity within the Church as was his father before him, he unfortunately lacked his father’s patience and light touch when dealing with ecclesiastical affairs. In AD 355, Constantius was so fixated on unifying the Nicean orthodox, semi-Arian and Arian parties, that he deposed and exiled Pope Liberius when the latter refused to sign a condemnation of Saint Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy who steadfastly opposed the heresy of Arius.

While Liberius was in exile, the Roman clergy elected a new pope—Felix II. Felix reigned for a little over a year, but it seems that the people of Rome never accepted him. In fact, they agitated loudly for the recall of Pope Liberius. In AD 357, Constantius gave in and ended the exile of Liberius. Why this happened is a matter of vigorous scholarly debate even to this day, and the ancient sources are quite confused. Did Liberius give in and sign documents assenting to a semi-Arian formula and condemning St. Athanasius? Did he recant upon his return to Rome? Or did he remain steadfast until the emperor simply ended his exile to appease the people of Rome?

These questions are probably not answerable, but once Constantius allowed Liberius to return to Rome, a curious thing happened, according to the 5th century ecclesiastical historian, Sozomen:
The bishops who were then convened at [a synod in] Sirmium wrote to Felix, who governed the Roman church, and to the other bishops, desiring them to receive Liberius. They directed that both should share the throne and discharge the priestly duties in common, with harmony of mind; and that whatever illegalities might have occurred in the ordination of Felix, or the banishment of Liberius, might be buried in oblivion.
Having two popes at the same time was a radical, unworkable solution to the problem. For the people of 4th century Rome, the idea of two popes was a complete non-starter. They welcomed Liberius back like a conquering hero. Felix, in the meantime, was chased out of the city, but it seems he never renounced the papal office. Sozomen concludes this episode, saying:
The people of Rome regarded Liberius as a very excellent man, and esteemed him highly on account of the courage he had evinced in opposing the emperor, so that they had even excited seditions on his account, and had gone so far as to shed blood. Felix survived but a short time; and Liberius found himself in sole possession of the church. This event was, no doubt, ordained by God, that the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops; for such an arrangement is a sign of discord, and is foreign to ecclesiastical law.
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To read the entire passage from Sozomen in context, visit NewAdvent.com here. You can also read it in book form in the forthcoming new edition of The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen which should be published within the next month or so.

Interestingly, Liberius is the first pope in the 350 year history of the Church to that point who was not considered a saint of the Latin Church, though he is revered as such in the East. Felix II, however, was considered a saint, at least for a time.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Parenting advice from Saint John Chrysostom, late 4th century AD

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"Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure."
~Saint John Chrysostom
The above quote is taken from Saint John Chrysostom's Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up Their Children.

Saint John was Patriarch of Constantinople at the end of the 4th century AD and was well known as a powerful speaker who did not shrink from condemning the actions of the rich and powerful. This tendency earned him the enmity of the Empress Eudoxia. His courage eventually led to his banishment from Constantinople. He died in exile.

Here is the above quote in context:
66. Let us pass to the despotic part of the soul, spirit. We must not eliminate it utterly from the youth nor yet allow him to use it all the time. Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure. 
67. How shall we attain this? If they practice themselves among their own slaves and are patient when slighted and refrain from anger when they are disobeyed, but narrowly examine the faults that they themselves have committed against others. The father is arbiter at all times in such matters. If the laws are transgressed, he will be stern and unyielding; if they are observed, he will be gracious and kind and will bestow many rewards on the boy. Even so God rules the world with the fear of Hell and the promise of His Kingdom. So must we too rule our children. 
68. And let there be many on all sides to spur the boy on, so that he may be exercised and practiced in controlling his passions among the members of the household. And, just as athletes in the wrestling school train with their friends before the contest, so that when they have succeeded against these they may be invincible against their opponents, even so the boy must be trained in the home. Let his father or brother oftentimes play the chief part in treating him with despite. And let them all strive their hardest to overcome him. Or let someone in wrestling stand up to him and defend himself so that the boy may try his strength against him. So, too, let the slaves provoke him often rightly or wrongly, so that he may learn on every occasion to control his passion. If his father provoke him, it is no great test; for the name of father, taking first possession of his soul, does not permit him to rebel. But let his companions in age, whether slave or free, do this, that he may learn equability amongst them. 
To read the entire address, click this link which will open a PDF file.

Saint John Chrysostom's feast day on the modern calendar is September 13. Today, September 14, is the anniversary of his death in exile in AD 407. Read more about his eventful life in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Irreversible reform" and "Local Liturgical Translations" ~ A Quick Review of Sacrosanctum Concilium

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Recently, the Holy Father has made pronouncements regarding the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, as well as who the proper governing bodies are when it comes to the translation of liturgical texts.

It's pointless for us moderns to discuss these issues without first looking more carefully at what "liturgical reforms" were actually called for by the Second Vatican Council. For the record, here's what Sacrosanctum Concilium, the primary document from Vatican II regarding the liturgy, had to say on certain key points. First, here are the stated goals of the document:
This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. [SC, 1]
Keep these goals in mind as you read further. In the document's introduction, it is also stated clearly that:
...in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition. [SC, 4]
As regards the language of the liturgy, SC says the following:
Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. [SC, 36.1]
With reference to the use of the vernacular, SC says:
...since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. [SC, 36.2]
Did you notice that? Use of the vernacular "may be extended." Nowhere does it say Latin must be abolished or that the vernacular should be mandated. Later, the instruction is reiterated, showing more clearly which parts of the Mass were to allow vernacular usage, and which parts should be retained in Latin:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution. Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. [SC, 54]
Regarding sacred music, SC uses some surprisingly superlative terminology:
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. [SC, 112]
Given this, the document goes on to say:
The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. [SC, 114]
As if that were not clear enough, SC is even more specific about what types of music are to be preferred:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action... [SC, 116]
Has this been faithfully followed in most dioceses and parishes? Outside of an Extraordinary Form Mass, have you ever heard Gregorian chant or polyphony used? How often? Think about what we hear in most parishes on a weekly basis. Is this anything close to what is intended by SC?

With reference works of art to be used in the liturgical setting, SC exhorts as follows:
Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense. [SC, 124]
Having visited numerous parishes around the US during my travels, I can say that "depraved forms" lacking in artistic worth may be found in many if not most Catholic churches and basilicas. Closely following this, SC warns that:
Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed. [SC, 126]
All one need do is visit an antique or thrift shop and you find countless examples of pre-Vatican II sacred furnishings that were disposed of and dispersed.

I would encourage you to read the entire document which is quite revelatory about what the Council intended to happen, versus what actually did happen. For even more on this topic, see Fr. Fessio's essay entitled, The Mass of Vatican II.

Now, based on the above excerpts, ask yourself a few questions:
  1. Have our bishops faithfully followed these instructions over the past fifty years?
  2. Have the liturgical reforms successfully imparted "an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful"?
  3. Have the reforms fostered "whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ"?
  4. Have the reforms helped to "call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church"?
  5. What have been the fruits of the efforts at liturgical reform over the same period? In other words, where do you see the growth, dynamism, and green shoots in the Church today? Where are things decaying, dying and crumbling into dust?
Given the lack of fruit and, let's face it, bad fruit produced by the Church in America over the past 50 years, isn't it time for our leaders to humbly admit their abject failure to live up to the high expectations laid out in Sacrosanctam Consiliam? Isn't it time for them to admit that the places where the traditional liturgy, art, and music are used most avidly, the Faith is alive and well, while in places where traditional practices are actively spurned, the Faith is in free-fall?

Finally, isn't it time for our bishops to apologize most sincerely to younger Catholics born after 1970 for the tragic loss of our liturgical, artistic and musical patrimony—a treasure of inestimable value—and is replacement with mediocre, depraved forms lacking in artistic worth and which are repugnant to faith and morals?

If you want to bring the younger generations back into the Church, this is the place to start. Don't give them a Mass that attempts to mimic the grotesque popular culture, but rather draw upon our magnificent heritage to create a renaissance of authentic Catholic liturgy.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

"With the authority of the blessed Peter" ~ Gregory the Great's Rebuke of the Bishops of Dalmatia

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"Your manners have been so perverted by secular concerns, that, forgetting the whole path of the sacerdotal dignity that is yours, and all sense of heavenly fear, you study to accomplish what may please yourselves and not God."
~Pope Saint Gregory the Great, to the bishops of Dalmatia 
Today being the feast day of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (ca. AD 540 - 604) whose papacy began on this date in AD 590, this quote seems a fitting reminder of this outstanding occupant of the cathedra of Rome. He was truly one of the greatest popes.

Gregory is often viewed as one of the last of the patristic Church fathers, and one of the first popes to exercise political power in central Italy the absence of Roman power in the region. He did not hesitate to use his authority as successor of St. Peter to enforce discipline on his brother bishops, as the quote above demonstrates. While this stern letter was written specifically for the bishops in the province of Dalmatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (modern Croatia), Gregory's exhortation against undue attention to worldly concerns is perfectly valid advice for modern prelates, clergy and the laity as well.

Here is the quote in the context of the full letter:
Gregory to all the bishops through Dalmatia.
It behooved your Fraternity, having the eyes of the flesh closed out of regard to Divine judgment, to have omitted nothing that appertains to God and to a right inclination of mind, nor to have preferred the countenance of any man whatever to the uprightness of justice. But now that your manners have been so perverted by secular concerns, that, forgetting the whole path of the sacerdotal dignity that is yours, and all sense of heavenly fear, you study to accomplish what may please yourselves and not God, we have held it necessary to send you these specially strict written orders, whereby, with the authority of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, we enjoin that you presume not to lay hands on any one whatever in the city of Salona, so far as regards ordination to episcopacy, without our consent and permission; nor to ordain any one in the same city otherwise than as we have said.

But if, either of your own accord, or under compulsion from any one whatever, you should presume or attempt to do anything contrary to this injunction, we shall decree you to be deprived of participation of the Lord's body and blood, that so your very handling of the business, or your very inclination to transgress our order, may cut you off from the sacred mysteries, and no one may be accounted a bishop whom you may ordain. For we wish no one to be rashly ordained whose life can be found fault with. And so, if the deacon Honoratus is shown to be unworthy, we desire that a report may be sent us of the life and manners of him who may be elected, that whatever is to be done in this matter we may allow to be carried out salubriously with our consent.

For we trust in Almighty God that, as far as in us lies, we may never suffer to be done what may damage our soul; never what may damage your Church. But, if the voluntary consent of all should so fix on one person that by the favor of God he may be proved worthy, and there should be no one to dissent from his being ordained, we wish him to be consecrated by you in this same church of Salona under the license granted in this present epistle; excepting notwithstanding the person of Maximus, about whom many evil reports have reached us: and, unless he desists from coveting the higher order, it remains, as I think, that after full enquiry, he should be deprived also of the very office which he now holds. 
Taken from: The Epistles of Pope Gregory the Great, Book IV, Letter 10.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

"I beseech you to pray unto our Lord for me" ~ Ancient Roots of the Doctrine of Purgatory, Part II

Detail from Crespi's St. Gregory Delivers a Soul from Purgatory, 1617. 
In part one of this post, I looked at the vision of Perpetua—one of the earliest authentic Christian documents to describe directly a Purgatory-like state and to highlight the efficacy of prayer petitions for the dead.

Others writing during the patristic age also expounded upon this idea in more or less detail, among them St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Caesarius of Arles. One of the most clear references to Purgatory appears in a late 4th century work by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, entitled: “On the Soul and the Resurrection”. St. Gregory writes:
“For [God], the one goal is this: the perfection of the universe through each man individually, the fulfillment of our nature. Some of us are purged of evil in this life, and some are cured of it through fire in the after-life, some have not had the experience of good and evil in life here….The different degrees of virtue or vice in our life will be revealed in our participating more quickly or more slowly in the blessedness we hope for. The extent of the healing with depend on the amount of evil present in each person. The healing of the soul will be purification from evil and this cannot be accomplished without suffering…”
Building upon this notion about 200 years later, another Gregory—Pope Saint Gregory the Great—was the first to set forth the notion of Purgatory as Catholics now understand it. As part of his famous Dialogues, he wrote:
“…It is plain that in such state as a man departs out of this life, in the same he is presented in judgment before God. But yet we must believe that before the day of judgment there is a Purgatory fire for certain small sins: because our Savior says, “That he which speaketh blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, that it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come [Matthew 12:32].”
Here we see Gregory offering a scriptural proof for Purgatory, out of the mouth of Jesus Himself. He elaborates on this point, citing Saint Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 3:
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“Out of which sentence we learn, that some sins are forgiven in this world, and some other may be pardoned in the next: for that which is denied concerning one sin, is consequently understood to be granted touching some other. But yet this, as I said, we have not to believe but only concerning little and very small sins, as, for example, daily idle talk, immoderate laughter, negligence in the care of our family (which kind of offenses scarce can they avoid, that know in what sort sin is to be shunned), ignorant errors in matters of no great weight: all which sins be punished after death, if men procured not pardon and remission for them in their lifetime: for when St. Paul said, that “Christ is the foundation:” and by and by added: “And if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: the work of every one, of what kind it is, the fire shall try. If any man's work abide which he built thereupon, he shall receive reward; if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer detriment, but himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”
Gregory then goes on to explain St. Paul’s meaning, drawing a distinction between what we would later call mortal and venial sins:
“For although these words may be understood of the fire of tribulation, which men suffer in this world: yet if any will interpret them of the fire of Purgatory, which shall be in the next life: then must he carefully consider, that the Apostle said not that he may be saved by fire, that buildeth upon this foundation iron, brass, or lead, that is, the greater sort of sins, and therefore more hard, and consequently not remissible in that place: but wood, hay, stubble, that is, little and very light sins, which the fire doth easily consume. Yet we have here further to consider, that none can be there purged, no, not for the least sins that be, unless in his lifetime he deserved by virtuous works to find such favor in that place.” [Dialogues, Book 4:39]
To buttress his teaching, Gregory offers the following anecdote. This is interesting because, while confirming the efficacy of prayers for the dead, it seems to indicate that even the very holy can end up in Purgatory:
...When I was yet in my younger years, and lived a secular life, I heard from the mouth of mine elders, who knew it to be true: how that Paschasius, a Deacon of this Roman church (whose sound and eloquent books of the Holy Ghost be extant amongst us), was a man of a wonderful holy life, a marvelous giver of alms, a lover of the poor, and one that contemned himself. This man, in that contention which, through the exceeding hot emulation of the clergy, fell out betwixt Symmachus and Lawrence, made choice of Lawrence to be Bishop of Rome: and though he was afterward by common consent overcome, yet did he continue in his former opinion till his dying day: loving and preferring him, whom the Church, by the judgment of Bishops, refused for her governor. This Deacon ending his life in the time of Symmachus, Bishop of the Apostolic see, a man possessed with a devil came and touched his dalmatic as it lay upon the bier, and was forthwith delivered from that vexation. 
Long time after, Germanus, Bishop of Capua, by the counsel of physicians for the recovery of his health went to the baths, into which after he was entered, he found there standing in those hot waters the [ghost of the] foresaid Paschasius, ready to do him service. At which sight being much afraid, [Germanus] demanded what so worthy a man as he was did in that place, to whom Paschasius returned this answer: "For no other cause," quoth he, "am I appointed to this place of punishment, but for that I took part with Lawrence against Symmachus. And therefore I beseech you to pray unto our Lord for me, and by this token shall you know that your prayers be heard, if at your coming again, you find me not here." 
Upon this, the holy man Germanus betook himself to his devotions, and after a few days he went again to the same baths, but found not Paschasius there: for seeing his fault proceeded not of malice, but of ignorance, he might after death be purged from that sin. And yet we must withal think that the plentiful alms which he bestowed in this life, obtained favor at God's hands, that he might then deserve pardon, when he could work nothing at all for himself. [Dialogues, Book 4:40]
So it can be said that Paschasius's sin was a venial one as it proceeded from ignorance rather than from an actual wicked intention. Also, interestingly, Gregory speculates that God favored Paschasius because of his multitude of charitable works and thus gave him an opportunity for the remission of his sins after his death.

Detail from Crespi's St. Gregory Delivers a Soul from Purgatory, 1617.
Finally, Gregory relates another episode that he experienced himself, regarding a monk at his own monastery three years before. This anecdote is the inspiration behind the beautiful paintings by Giovanni Battista Crespi which I have used to accompany this post:
If the sins after death be pardonable, then the sacred oblation of the holy Host is used to help men's souls: for which cause the souls sometime, of them that be dead, do desire the same...
A certain monk there was called Justus, one very cunning in medicine, and while I remained in the Abbey, served me very diligently, attending upon me in my often infirmities and sickness. This man himself at length fell sore sick, so that in very deed he was brought to the last cast. A brother he had, called Copiosus, that had care of him, who yet lives. Justus perceiving himself past all hope of life, told this brother of his where he had secretly laid up three crowns of gold...
Which thing so soon as I understood, very much grieved I was, and could not quietly digest so great a sin at his hands, that lived with us in community, because the rule of my Monastery was that all the monks thereof should so live in common, that none in particular might possess anything proper to himself....
At length I sent for Pretiosus, Prior of the Monastery, and gave him this charge: "See," quoth I, "that none of our monks do so much as visit Justus in this his extremity, neither let any give him any comfort at all: and when his last hour draws nigh, and he doth desire the presence of his spiritual brethren, let his carnal brother tell him that they do all detest him for the three crowns which he had hidden: that, at least before his death, sorrow may wound his heart, and purge it from the sin committed And when he is dead, let not his body be buried amongst the rest of the monks, but make a grave for him in some one dunghill or other, and there cast it in, together with the three crowns which he left behind him, crying out all with joint voice: 'Thy money be with thee unto perdition;' and so put earth upon him."
In either of which things my mind and desire was, both to help him that was leaving the world, and also to edify the monks yet remaining behind...both which, by God's goodness, fell out accordingly....His brother Copiosus told him for what cause they had all given him over: at which words he straightways sighed for his sin, and in that sorrow gave up the ghost....
Thirty days after his departure, I began to take compassion upon him, and with great grief to think of his punishment, and what means there was to help him: whereupon I called again for Pretiosus, Prior of my Monastery, and with an heavy heart spake thus unto him: "It is now a good while since that our brother which is departed remains in the torments of fire, and therefore we must show him some charity, and labor what we may to procure his delivery: wherefore go your way, and see that for thirty days following sacrifice be offered for him, so that no one day pass in which, for his absolution and discharge, the healthful sacrifice be not offered:" who forthwith departed, and put my commandment in execution.
In the mean time, my mind being busied about other affairs, so that I took no heed to the days how they passed: upon a certain night the same monk that was dead, appeared to his brother Copiosus, who seeing him, enquired of his state in this manner: "What is the matter, brother? And how is it with you?"
To whom he answered thus: "Hitherto have I been in bad case, but now I am well. For this day have I received the communion:" with which news Copiosus straightways coming to the Monastery, told the monks, and they diligently counting the days, found it to be that in which the thirtieth sacrifice was offered for his soul...and so the sacrifice and vision agreeing together, apparent it was that the dead monk was by the holy sacrifice delivered from his pains. [Dialogues, Book 4:55]
Thus we see that Gregory's love for his brother monk, Justus, was exceedingly tough, but ultimately effective in winning his salvation.

Read more of Pope St. Gregory the Great's teachings on eschatology (death, judgment, Heaven and Hell), in the Dialogues.

For a much more thorough and erudite explanation of Purgatory from a very holy man, see Fr. Hardon’s essay entitled, The Doctrine of Purgatory.