Tuesday, October 03, 2017

“Wretch! Is this the way you have governed the empire?” ~ The fall of Phocas the Tyrant, AD 610

The captured tyrant, Phocas, is delivered to Heraclius, AD 610.
On this date in late Roman history, the general Heraclius landed with his army a few miles outside the land walls of Constantinople. His mission—to topple the ghastly and corrupt regime of the usurper, Phocas.

For eight years, Phocas had mismanaged the empire’s affairs, having taken the crown in AD 602 after leading a successful soldiers’ rebellion against the Emperor Maurice. Now, with the frontiers collapsing and the people of Constantinople living in fear of the tyrant’s rapine tax collectors and murderous officials, Heraclius and his father, Heraclius the Elder, launched an insurrection from their base in Roman north Africa. It took their expedition two years to reach Constantinople, pacifying Egypt along the way.

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When the armies under Heraclius reached Constantinople on October 3, AD 610, the resistance of the forces loyal to Phocas was quickly suppressed. John of Nikiu, writing about 70 years later, picks up the narrative:
“When Phocas and Leontius the chamberlain became aware that they were sought with evil intent to slay them as they had slain the depraved Bonosus, the two arose and seized all the money that was in the imperial treasury which had been amassed by Maurice, and likewise that which had been amassed by (Phocas) himself from the Roman nobles whom he had put to death, and whose property he had confiscated, and likewise the money of Bonosus, and they cast it into the waves of the sea, and so thoroughly impoverished the Roman empire.” [page 177]
This spiteful act would cause much hardship in the coming years as Heraclius struggled to fight wars on two fronts with an empty treasury. But such an action was in keeping with the base, unscrupulous character of Phocas whose rule was marked by such avarice, lust and brutality that he was completely reviled even by the Green faction who had helped put him on the throne. According to the Chronicle of Theophanes, during the last year of his reign, the Greens mocked Phocas in the Hippodrome, chanting: “You are drunk again, and long ago lost your mind.” In response, Phocas set his soldiers upon them. The soldiers killed some, mutilated others and “hung their members in the sphendone” – the semi-circular end of the Hippodrome.

As a result of such atrocities, the people and nobility of Constantinople all nursed a grudge against Phocas which burst forth with the arrival of Heraclius. John of Nikiu continues:
“And thereupon, the senators and officers and soldiers went and seized Phocas, and took the imperial crown from his head, and (they seized) Leontius the chamberlain likewise, and conducted them in chains to Heraclius to the Church of S. Thomas the Apostle…”
At this point, a tradition exists that is not from any of the contemporary sources but is nonetheless recorded in every modern source. A dramatic scene unfolded aboard ship, as depicted in the image above. Looking with disgust upon the fallen tyrant, Heraclius rebuked him:
“Wretch! Is this the way you have governed the empire?”

Phocas replied: “And will you do better?” 
In a fury at this sarcastic response, Heraclius condemned Phocas and Leontius to immediate death:
“And they put both of them to death in his presence. And they cut off the privy parts of Phocas, and tore off his skin right down to his legs because of the dishonor and shame he had brought on the wife of [Photius] because she was consecrated to the service of God, for he had taken her by force and violated her, although she was of an illustrious family. And next, they took the bodies of Phocas and Leontius and Bonosus and they conveyed them to the city of Constantinople, and they burnt them with fire, and scattered the ashes of their bodies to the winds; for they were detested by all men.”
Thus the triumphant and tragic reign of Heraclius began with the bloody overthrow of a vicious tyrant. The execution of Phocas occurred on October 5, AD 610, and Heraclius himself was crowned emperor on the same day.

John of Nikiu’s Chronicle is an excellent source for this eventful period, particularly considering the paucity of primary sources for this era more generally. More details of this gruesome event may be found in the Chronicon Paschale and in Walter Kaegi’s superb scholarly biography, Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Saint Peter Claver: Someone for Whom Black Lives Really Mattered ~ A homily by Fr. John Perricone

Posting with permission, here is the text of a brilliant homily by Fr. John Perricone, given on September 10, 2017, the day after the feast of Saint Peter Claver.

The homily needs no introduction as it is beyond my power to improve upon Fr. Perricone's gifts when it comes to teaching Catholic history, applying it to current issues, and issuing a strong spiritual challenge. Thanks to Nora Brower, Jim Morlino, and Dan Marengo for calling this homily to my attention and getting the permission to disseminate. Enjoy!
A homily by Father John Perricone, delivered September 10, 2017

Hollywood award shows used to be de rigeur viewing for most Americans. No more. Perhaps because a kind of collective delirium has set upon the artist class. Take the Emmy’s this past Sunday, for instance. One of the celebrity winners, Donald Glover – a black man – snidely remarked, “I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list.” Not only was the remark counterfactual, but sheer madness. No wonder Americans are fleeing from award shows, becoming, as they have, events like a Nazi Nuremburg rally with all its deadly fascist hysteria. Americans prefer listening to sane voices like Shelby Steele, the black intellectual, who recently analyzed this circumstance in the Wall Street Journal:

“Today Americans know that active racism is no longer the greatest barrier to black and minority advancement. Since the 1960’s other pathologies, even if originally generated by racism, have supplanted it. White racism did not shoot more than 4,000 people last year in Chicago. To the contrary, America for decades now – with much genuine remorse – has been recoiling from the practice of racism and has gained a firm intolerance for what it once indulged.”
One of the editors of the same Journal, Jason Riley, also a black man, wrote within a few days of Mr. Steele: Between 1890 and 1940, for example, black marriages rates in the U.S. were higher than white marriage rates. In the 1940’s and '50s, black labor participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970 – that is, during Jim Crow and prior to the era of affirmative action – the number of blacks in the middle class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were narrowing. Steady progress was being made. Blacks today hear plenty about what they can’t achieve due to the legacy of slavery and not enough about what they did in fact achieve notwithstanding hundreds of years in bondage followed by decades of legal segregation.”

So much for blacks occupying “the most oppressed list.” Facts are inconvenient things, the bane of fevered zealots. But what might a true champion of the black people look like? Well, like St. Peter Claver; who cared less for zealotry, and more for charity.

While Claver was born in Verdu, Spain in 1580, he was ordained a priest in Cartagena, Columbia in 1616. Deeply impressed by the mistreatment of African slaves he requested his Jesuit superiors that he be assigned to them to teach the Faith and administer the sacraments. They consented.

For some 100 years prior to St. Peter’s arrival in Columbia the Spanish government had dealt in the inhuman and barbaric slave trade. By the early seventeenth century Spanish entrepreneurs were importing over 10,000 slaves to Columbia every month. All in open defiance of the condemnations of both Pope Paul III and Urban VIII, culminating in Blessed Pius IX’s declaration that slavery was a “supreme villainy”.

With an impassioned priestly soul, St. Peter would daily find a spot at the Cartagena’s bustling harbor to await the tortured human cargo. Impatient with the docking protocols, the saint would convince sailors to procure a small boat to take him to the anchored ships. Climbing aboard he hurriedly made his way down into the bowels of the ship where the slaves were stacked like cattle, mere inches separating one from another. Within such suffocating confinement the slaves ate, drank and evacuated themselves. During the long transatlantic voyage, the men had hands and legs shackled, causing excruciating open ulcerations. Along with the ravages of dysentery, the floors of the deck were coated with mucus and blood. The stench was so overpowering that not even seasoned sailors could bear it for more than several minutes at a time. This was Hell. Until St. Peter Claver arrived.

Without a slightest hesitation the Saint rushed to the chained slaves as though they were long lost friends. Their captors treated these slaves like animals; Claver handled them like rare jewels. Shocked surprise shone on their faces as Saint Peter fed them, washed their wounds, carried those too weak to walk. But then the saint did something that went beyond food or drink or relief from suffering. He kissed them. Only an ordinary kiss, but far beyond ordinary to these prisoners. It swept these unfortunates into a different world, one shimmering with a transcendence few men ever know. St. Bonaventure comes to mind when he related a similar event in St. Francis’ life. A leper approached Il Poverello begging his blessing. The saint bent over him and kissed his oozing pustules. They miraculously disappeared. Bonaventure remarked: “Oh, that marvelous cure! But even more marvelous, that kiss!”

On land, St. Peter followed the slaves to their new places of bondage. There he instructed them in the Catechism, baptized them, administered Holy Communion, and heard their Confessions. In his preaching the Saint would show them a large gold medal, with the images of Jesus and Mary, then spend hours standing as the slaves queued to kiss the holy medal. The Saint set up his humble quarters near where most of the slaves were housed. Some suffered wounds from their labors, and for lack of treatment, became infected, producing a nauseating odor. Other slaves would refuse to live near them. Saint Peter would take the infected slaves and give them his quarters, while he slept on the floor.

By the time the Saint died, he had spent 33 years among the Columbian slaves, having baptized 300,000 of them. To a modern world weary of religion, but boasting a fashionable sensitivity to the plight of the suffering, St. Peter teaches the only answer to human misery is supernatural love. He never turned to political solutions, cries of injustice or rebellious demonstrations, he gave them only the consolations of the sacrament of Penance, and the nourishment of Christ’s Body in the Holy Mass. Claver never removed his simple black cassock, even as he endured the heavy labors of caring for the souls of his charges. He would have found strange the modern excuse that the cassock separates the priest from his people. On the contrary, he knew that the cassock unites the priest to his people. Like glue. Clothed in the cassock, the people don’t see the man, but Christ. But perhaps therein lies the contemporary neuralgia to the classic habit of the priest.

St. Peter Claver can never be called a humanitarian. Humanitarians are moved by their feelings; saints are moved by their love of Christ. Humanitarians see only victims, saints see souls for whom Christ shed His Precious Blood. Outside the orbit of Christ’s Cross, men become mere pawns on a chess board or props to score political points. The current vogue for Third World adoptions is perfect illustration. Most of it grandstanding for political effect, whilst simultaneously telegraphing their loathing for all things redolent of Western Civilization. No less than the Leftist Columbia professor Dr. Mark Lilla admits as much is his latest work, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. where he writes:

"One strand in the New Manichaeism descends from the French structuralists’ understanding of the Other, a phrase they associated with all that was marginal in Western societies. But they had little interest in bringing the excluded ones into a fuller participation in Western society and instead developed a romantic infatuation with the exoticism of Otherness. With updated Orientalist condescension, the Manichaean intellectuals went into ecstasies over the colorful manners and primitive virtues of the non-Western stranger, whom they identify as closely with the good as they did his Western counterpart with cancerous evil. Overlooking the thuggishness of any number of non-Western regimes, they portray Western democracy in diabolical terms as the real home of tyranny – the tyranny of capital, of imperialism, of bourgeois conformity even as they insisted that what was most humane in the Western traditions – his rights, his freedoms, his laws and liberal pluralisms – were so many structures of oppression, a cover for the West’s ethnocentrism, colonialism, and genocide.”

Humanitarians would never do what Peter Claver did, only saints could.

Debilitating sickness riddled the body of the Saint in his waning years. An African slave was assigned to care for him, in fact, one of those who had been the recipient of Claver’s transformative priestly ministrations. For the remaining months of the saint’s life, Claver’s caretaker mistreated him, often refusing to feed him, frequently even beating him. Claver finally died alone, not one of the 300,000 near him to bring some sweetness as he lay taking his last breaths. His solitary accompaniments were the ungrateful brutalities of one whom Claver had poured the goodness of his priestly heart. Never did the Saint utter a word of complaint, excusable considering the context and circumstance. But a saint sees all as possibilities of merciful closeness with the Crucified.

Understanding of this sublime mystery comes from quite an unexpected quarter, the acclaimed historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch. He wrote about the proper trajectory of religion in a perceptive essay: “Moderns find it difficult…to reconcile expectations of worldly success and happiness, so often undone by events, with the idea of a just, loving, and all-powerful Creator. Unable to conceive of a God who does not regard human happiness as the be-all and end-all of creation, they cannot accept the central paradox of religious faith: that the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy.”

St. John of the Cross comes to mind in a letter to St. Teresa, “Outside of God, everything is narrow.”

St. Peter Claver never restricted his priestly attention to only the African slaves. He was available to every soul in need of Christ’s salvific power. Once he ministered to a wealthy Spanish official who was in prison, awaiting execution for a capital crime. St. Peter found his way to the high ranking Spaniard, and gave him a prayer book, encouraging him to pray from it every day. He did. Every day until his death, and before his execution he received Last Rites from the saint. When his family recovered his belongings they were surprised to find a prayer book among this bon vivant’s possessions. Upon opening it, they found an inscription written in the hand of the deceased, “This book was owned by the happiest man in the world.”

Only one thing would make a man happier than being cared for by a saint. Becoming a saint himself."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' ~ On national unity and national discord

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I do not pledge allegiance to a sports team. I do not pledge allegiance to a political ideology. I do not pledge allegiance to a political party. I do not pledge allegiance to the pop-culture media’s narrative of the moment.

I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.
I pledge allegiance to my family.
I pledge allegiance to my friends and neighbors.
I pledge allegiance to my country.

Does our country have flaws? Yes, deep and abiding ones. But we do not unify around our flaws.

Instead, we unify around those things about our country that are good and beautiful, virtuous and honorable:
  • Our love of God and family; 
  • Our mandate to lift up the suffering; 
  • Our urge to see wrongs righted; 
  • Our need to honor self-sacrifice; 
  • Our history and our national heroes; 
  • Our shared traditions and cultural celebrations.
One does not unify people by holding in contempt the very symbols of national unity like the US flag and the National Anthem. Such actions only generate anger, sow discord, create division.

The words of our National Anthem are particularly poignant to me as a Catholic. They convey a snapshot of a time when the nation was weak and being assaulted by a superior foe. And yet, through trust in Almighty God and the valor and sacrifices of a few strong men, the fledgling nation was ultimately preserved from conquest.

Most modern-day Catholics can easily sympathize with the feeling of being under siege, with the bombs and rockets of the Enemy’s culture being flung without pity against our crumbling battlements. With that thought in mind, read the entire poem—all four verses. Did you know there were four verses?

Are these sentiments not something all Americans can rally around?
The Star Spangled Banner
By Francis Scott Key, 1814 
O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? 
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
If someone wants to call attention to the country’s flaws, disparaging the symbols of national unity is the absolute worst way to do it—unless the true intent is a rejection of the country and a demand to be separate from it. That's the message many people take away from such vulgar displays before national audiences.

Post script: The flag shown in the image above was recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.

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.