Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Saint Maurus Walks on Water ~ As told by Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Saint Maurus rescues Saint Placidus by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, ca. AD 1485.
In about AD 530, when Italy was ruled by the unstable successors of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric immediately prior to the Byzantine re-conquest, many noblemen of Rome entrusted their young sons to Benedictus, a holy monk who lived in the mountains of nearby Subiaco. One such boy was Maurus who is identified by Saint Gregory the Great as the son of a noble named Evitius. Another was Placidus, who was brought by Tertullius, a senator.

These two were among earliest disciples of a man who would be known to history of St. Benedict of Nursia.

Writing about 60 years after the fact in his Dialogues, Pope Saint Gregory the Great tells us that Maurus, “growing to great virtue, began to be his master's coadjutor.” Maurus is mentioned as part of several episodes in Gregory’s biography of Benedict as contained in the Dialogues. The best known of these anecdotes runs as follows:
On a certain day, as venerable Benedict was, in his cell, the foresaid young Placidus, the holy man's monk, went out to take up water at the lake, and putting down his pail carelessly, fell in himself after it, whom the water forthwith carried away from the land so far as one may shoot an arrow. The man of God, being in his cell, by and by knew this, and called in haste for Maurus, saying: "Brother Maurus, run as fast as you can, for Placidus, that went to the lake to fetch water, is fallen in, and is carried a good way off." 
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A strange thing, and since the time of Peter the Apostle never heard of! Maurus, craving his father's blessing, and departing in all haste at his commandment, ran to that place upon the water, to which the young lad was carried by force thereof, thinking that he had all that while gone upon the land: and taking fast hold of him by the hair of his head, in all haste he returned back again: and so soon as he was at land, coming to himself he looked behind him, and then knew very well that he had before run upon the water: and that which before he durst not have presumed, being now done and past, he both marveled, and was afraid at that which he had done.
Coming back to the father, and telling him what had happened, the venerable man did not attribute this to his own merits, but to the obedience of Maurus: but Maurus on the contrary, said that it was done only upon his commandment, and that he had nothing to do in that miracle, not knowing at that time what he did. But the friendly contention proceeding of mutual humility, the young youth himself that was saved from drowning did determine: for he said that he saw when he was drawn out of the water the Abbot's garment upon his head, affirming that it was he that had delivered him from that great danger. 
Saint Maurus would later become famous in his own right. According to tradition, he was sent by Benedict, in company with several other monks, to found a community in the kingdom of the Franks nearby the Loire River. This became Glanfeuil Abbey and the village which grew up around it became known as Saint-Maur-sur-Loire. In the late 19th century, archaeological excavations were undertaken around the modern abbey, which had been destroyed and rebuilt several times over its history, revealing Gallo-Roman sub-structures.

Sadly, the modern abbey was abandoned in 1901 after the monks were driven out of France. It now seems to be privately owned without much external evidence of what it once was. Alas.

On the traditional calendar, the feast of Saint Maurus is commemorated on January 15 along with that of Saint Placidus. These saints are often confused with others of the same or similar names.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Pope Vigilius Celebrates Christmas by Jumping from a Window to Escape Justinian's Henchmen ~ December 23, AD 551

Scene from the life of Joseph the Patriarch as taken from the mid-6th century
throne of Maximian, bishop of Ravenna. The late-Roman garb of the figures,
particularly the soldiers, is notable.
Two days before Christmas, on 23 December 551 AD, a most curious scene took place which involved a Pope squeezing out of a palace window in the middle of the night, boarding a boat, and fleeing pell-mell across the Bosporus to seek sanctuary from the menaces of the Christian Roman emperor.

In a previous post, I provided a summary of the miserable reign of Pope Vigilius, who reigned from AD 537 to 555. At the time of the abovementioned episode, Vigilius had already been detained in Constantinople by the emperor Justinian for several years. The Pope and the Emperor had been squabbling over the so-called “Three Chapters” controversy—part of a debate over the nature of Christ during which accusations, threats and excommunications had roiled the Church for decades. Elected to the papacy as a pawn of the empress Theodora, Vigilius had been spirited away to Constantinople when he had refused to do the bidding of the Empress and lift the excommunications on her monophysite allies.

Vigilius was no stranger to Justinian’s strong-arm tactics. A few years before, he had been man-handled by the emperor’s guardsmen who attempted to remove him physically from a place of sanctuary at the church of Saint Peter in Constantinople. He was only saved by the reticence of Justinian’s soldiers who felt the duty unseemly and fled, spurred on by an angry mob that had gathered in support of the Pope. Vigilius had later been convinced to emerge and negotiate with the emperor again, taking up residence in the Palace of Placidia after oaths were given ensuring his personal safety. But after additional diplomacy produced no good fruit, Justinian again lost patience. Writing in the late 19th century, Thomas Hodgkin describes the situation of Vigilius, drawn directly from the Pope’s encyclical letter to the Catholic world written a few months after the event:
Notwithstanding all this swearing, the situation of the Pope after his return became daily more intolerable. His servants and ecclesiastics who remained faithful to him were publicly insulted. Every entrance to the palace was blocked by armed men. He had reason to think that a violent attack was about to be made upon his person. After making a vain appeal to the imperial envoys whose plighted oath was thus being violated, he quitted the palace again by night two days before Christmas-day. The shouts of men-at-arms penetrated even to his bed-chamber, and only the urgent terror, as he himself says, could have impelled him to the hardships and dangers of a nocturnal expedition. [Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, p. 599]
According to Hodgkin’s footnote on the above passage, it seems that the Roman Pontiff was forced to squeeze his not inconsiderable person through a small window or hole in order to escape. Once out of the palace, Vigilius boarded a boat and made a perilous night-crossing of the Bosporous, taking refuge at the church of Saint Euphemia in Chalcedon. This was a symbolic move on the Pope’s part – Saint Euphemia was the Church where the Council of Chalcedon had met nearly a century before. It was this Council that Vigilius was defending against attempts by the emperor to water down its authority.

The Pope remained in St. Euphemia for a little over a month before Justinian sent a delegation of the most illustrious Romans to attempt to coax him forth. These included no less than the master of soldiers Belisarius, the Roman senator Cethegus, Peter the Patrician, the emperor’s great-nephew Justin, and the emperor’s secretary Marcellinus.

A few days after this meeting, Pope Vigilius wrote the encyclical letter mentioned above. Here are the Pope’s own words from the introduction of the encyclical, as translated in Fr. Hugo Rahner’s book, Church and State in Early Christianity:
We sought asylum in this church for no financial or personal reasons but solely because of the scandal afflicting the Church, which, because of our sins, is known to all. Therefore, if the controversy rending the Church is resolved, and the peace which our most religious sovereign negotiated in his uncle’s [Justin I] time is restored, then I have no need of oaths—I will leave immediately. But if the controversy is not ended, then oaths are of no avail, for I will never agree to leave the Church of St. Euphemia until the Church is rid of this scandal. [Rahner: Church and State in Early Christianity, p. 175]
The balance of this letter is well worth reading. Regardless of what one thinks of Vigilius and his subsequent knuckling-under to the emperor’s wishes, one is forced to admire his steadfastness here in the face of an irresistible political will and threats of physical compulsion. The letter also gives us an idea of the complexity of the political and religious situation in the Roman Empire at the time—when Christian doctrine could be confected and enforced using the most naked partisan tools including threats, intimidation, bribery, intrigue, forgery and even brute force.

One might also wish that our modern Church leaders would show even a fraction of this type of steadfastness when defending traditional Christian doctrine against diabolical innovations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wishing you a Happy Coup Day

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At this festive time of year, when the Generic Winter Holiday spirit is swelling, and non-cisgendered, positive body image Parent/Guardian of the Season brings carbon-neutral gifts to all the children of the world without judging them, we are proud to offer a new re-educational product from Leftist Banana Republic Games: Coup! 

This new game joyfully celebrates the sad, somber and wholly constitutional attempt to overthrow an elected but deplorable president by a body of non-partisan Democrat heroes, fully supported by an objective, unbiased media. We are fortunate to live in these historic times when those who are critical of the antiquated, racist, living document known as the Constitution, are keen to appeal to it as the motivation behind their noble and completely legal obligation to subvert the Constitution.

So be sure to get a copy of Coup!, one of a series of Partisan Witchhunt Games sponsored by Leftist Banana Republic. It will help bring a solemn, reflective sense of savage political euphoria to the season, whether you be celebrating Festivus, Saturnalia or the Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"He will make me, Damasus, arise from my ashes" ~ The epitaphs of Pope Saint Damasus

Pope Saint Damasus I in the Catacombs, taken from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints. 
“He who stilled the raging waves of the sea by walking thereon, He who makes the dying seeds of the earth to live, He who could loose for Lazarus the chains of death, and give back again to the world above her brother to his sister Martha after three days and nights. He, I believe, will make me, Damasus, arise from my ashes.”
—Epitaph of Pope Saint Damasus, composed by himself and placed on his tomb. 
Pope Saint Damasus I reigned as bishop of Rome for eighteen years from AD 366 through 384. The Liber Pontificalis records that he was a Spaniard and the son of Antonius. Based on the epitaph written for his father by Damasus himself, Antonius was a Church record-keeper, lector and later bishop.

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According to the Liber Pontificalis, Damasus, “searched out many bodies of the saints and found them and marked them with verses.” He further, “built two basilicas, one near the theater to the holy Lawrence, and the other on the Via Ardeatina where he is buried in the catacombs, and he dedicated the marble slab whereon lay the bodies of the apostles, that is, the blessed Peter and Paul, and he beautified it with verses.”

His father’s original profession probably explains Damasus’s passion to restore the tombs of the martyrs and commemorate them in stone as best he could. It should be remembered that sixty years before his reign, the Christian Church in Rome was nearly annihilated during the persecution under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. At that time, it seems that most of the records of the Roman Church, including grave sites, were sought out and obliterated by the persecutors.

To restore as much as he could for posterity, Damasus undertook to mark the graves of his predecessors. Many of his epitaphs (like the one above) have survived to this day. Inscribed in the mid-4th century, these epitaphs represent some of the earliest records of the saints and popes of Rome. Here are a few examples:
Epitaph on a niche which once held the bodies of Saints Peter and Paul in the Catacombs (as mentioned above):

Here, you must know, the saints dwelt aforetime. Their names, if you ask, were Peter and Paul. The East sent the disciples, as we gladly admit. On account of the merit of their blood—and having followed Christ through the stars, they sought the ethereal havens and the realms of the just—Rome rather deserved to defend her citizens. Let Damasus thus recall your praises, ye new constellations.

Epitaph of Pope Sixtus II, martyred during the reign of Valerian in AD 258:

At the time when the sword severed the holy bowels of our mother, I, the ruler, was seated here teaching the Divine laws: those come suddenly who are to seize me on my throne. Then the people gave their necks to the soldiers who were sent, but when the elder knew who wished to bear away the palm, he offered himself and his life of his own accord first of all, lest their impatient frenzy should injure anyone. Christ, who awards the prizes of life, shows the merit of the Shepherd. He Himself keeps the number of the flock.

Epitaph of the martyrs Peter and Marcellinus who are mentioned to this day in the Roman Canon of the Mass:

When I was a boy, your executioner made known to me thy triumphs, O Marcellinus, and thine also, O Peter. The mad butcher gave him this commandment—that he should sever your necks in the midst of the thickets in order that no one should be able to recognize your grave, and he told how you prepared your sepulcher with eager hands. Afterwards you lay hid in a white cave, and then Lucilla was caused to know by your goodness that it pleased you rather to lay your sacred limbs here.
This epitaph is especially interesting because it demonstrates the emphasis placed by the Roman persecutors on preventing Christians from finding and commemorating the bodies of their martyrs. It is also a good indication of how the oral tradition was passed down during the dangerous years before the history could be written again on paper or carved into stone.

Epitaph of Saint Eutychius by Pope St. Damasus I. Read the translation here
Finally, here is an epitaph for Pope Saint Marcellus who advocated tough discipline for those who had apostatized during the Great Persecution and was later banished from Rome by the usurper, Maxentius:
The truth-telling ruler, because he bade the lapsed weep for their crimes, became a bitter enemy to all these unhappy men. Hence followed rage and hate, and discord and strife, sedition and slaughter. The bonds of peace are loosed. On account of the crimes of another, who denied Christ in time of peace, he was driven from the borders of his fatherland by the savagery of the tyrant. Damasus wishes briefly to tell these things which he had found out, that the people might know the merit of Marcellus.
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Other saints whose epitaphs of Damasus survive include: Nereus, Achilleus, Pope Callixtus, Gordianus, Tiburtius, Felicitas, Felix, Philippus, Hippolytus, Pope Cornelius, Tarsacius, Pope Eusebius, Lawrence, and Agnes.

All of these may be found in the book, I Am a Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. These epitaphs, along with explanatory text, are included as an appendix.

As part of his drive to preserve Christian antiquity for all time and transmit it faithfully to the future, Damasus encouraged Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (aka, Saint Jerome) to undertake his monumental Latin Vulgate translation of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, Jerome mentions Pope Damasus by name in his preface on the Gospels.

Damasus died on December 11, AD 384 and his feast is commemorated on that date.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Resolution to Impeach the President

Presenting the actual articles of impeachment to be considered against Mr. Trump by Mr. Nadler's kangaroo court...


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Veni, redemptor gentium! The feast day of Saint Ambrose of Milan ~ December 7

Saint Ambrose absolving Theodosius the Great by French artist
Pierre Subleyras, ca. 1745.
December 7 is the feast day of Saint Ambrose of Milan—one of the most celebrated and brilliant of the early Church fathers. Born around the year AD 340, Ambrose would rise through the ranks of the secular Roman world, only to find himself hailed to the bishopric of Milan by popular acclamation. He would hold that position through the turbulent period at the end of the 4th century until his death in AD 397.

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To help celebrate the feast day of Saint Ambrose this year, you can receive a newly published reprint of The Life of Saint Ambrose—an ancient biography written by Paulinus of Milan—at an additional 20% off. To receive this discount, simply follow this link and enter voucher code AMBROSE19 when ordering from the Arx Publishing site. The discount is valid through December 8, 2019 only!

I have spent a considerable quantity of pixels on Saint Ambrose in the past. In previous posts, we saw a prodigy involving bees that covered him as an infant, the unusual circumstances surrounding his consecration as bishop, his miraculous discovery of the relics of saints Gervasius and Protasius, how he eulogized Valentinian II and his public rebuke of the emperor Theodosius the Great.

For this post, let's take a look at how Ambrose's consecration as bishop of Milan put put him on a collision course with the Empress Justina, mother of Valentian II.

Justina was originally the wife of a man named Magnus Magnentius, who rose to become a western usurper in the mid 4th century. He would be defeated and slain by Constantinus II and Justina, his widow, would go on to marry another powerful man, Valentinian I. While Valentinian I tended to favor orthodoxy Christianity, though without much apparent zeal, Justina was an ardent Arian. After the death of her husband, Justina ruled from behind the throne of her six-year old son, Valentinian II, and was keen to promote Arianism at every turn.

When Ambrose was made bishop at the insistence of the people of Milan, he soon made it clear that he would uphold the orthodox Christian beliefs. As a result, Justina began seeking ways to get rid of him. As recorded by Paulinus:
[Ambrose] returned to Milan and there withstood countless insidious attacks of the above mentioned woman Justina who, by bestowing offices and honors, aroused the people against the holy man. And the weak were deceived by such promises, for she promised tribuneships and various other offices of authority to those who would drag him from the church and lead him into exile.
While many tried this but through the protection of God were not strong enough to accomplish it, one more wretched than the rest, Euthymius by name, was incited to such a pitch of fury that he bought a house for himself near the church and in it placed a wagon in order that he might the more easily seize him and, having placed him in the cart, carry him into exile. But his iniquity came down upon his own head, for a year from that very day on which he planned to seize him, he himself, placed in the same cart, was sent from the same house into exile, reflecting that this had been turned upon him by the just judgment of God, that he was being taken into exile on that very cart which he himself had prepared for the bishop. And the bishop offered him no little consolation by giving him expenses and other things which were necessary.
The failure of Euthymius to seize the bishop did not lessen the desire of the Arian faction to have him removed, however:
...Roused with greater madness, [the Arians] endeavored to break into the Portian Basilica, even an army under arms was sent to guard the doors of the church that no one might dare to enter the Catholic church. But the Lord, who is wont to grant triumphs to His Church over its adversaries, moved the hearts of the soldiers to the defense of His church, so that turning their shields, they guarded the doors of the church, not permitting anyone to go out but also not preventing the Catholic people from entering the church. But not even this could suffice for the soldiers who had been sent, for they too acclaimed the Catholic faith along with the people.
At this time antiphons, hymns, and vigils began first to be practiced in the church of Milan. The devotion to this practice continues even to this very day not only in the same church but almost through all the provinces of the West.
Justina would never manage to lay hands on Ambrose, and would eventually perish after fleeing to Theodosius the Great when the usurper Magnus Maximus took over most of her son's domain.

The last paragraph from Paulinus above refers, of course, to Ambrose's subsequent fame as a hymnodist. Amazingly, some of Ambrose's hymns have survived to this day including this one which is quite fitting for the Advent season:


Here is the text as taken from the preces-latina.org website (see English translation there):
Veni, redemptor gentium,
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.

Non ex virili semine,
sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei factum est caro
fructusque ventris floruit.

Alvus tumescit Virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet,
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo Deus.

Procedat e thalamo suo,
pudoris aula regia,
geminae gigas substantiae
alacris ut currat viam.

Aequalis aeterno Patri,
carnis tropaeo cingere,
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.
Praesepe iam fulget tuum
lumenque nox spirat novum,
quod nulla nox interpolet
fideque iugi luceat.

Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Saint Francis Xavier, Destroyer of Pagan Idols

Saint Francis Xavier Healing and Preaching. An oil painting similar to one
by Peter Paul Rubens, early 17th century. 
On this feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, let us recall in particular his missionary zeal.

In our own age, we too often hear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be adapted to appeal to the modern world. We are told that traditional Christian practices are out of step with reality, and that Christian morality practiced for millennia now impose an impossible burden upon both sophisticated city-dwellers and the simple painted people of the jungle alike.

Saint Francis Xavier, perhaps the greatest Jesuit missionary of them all, had no such qualms. He preached the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ to all men without prejudice. He understood that it wasn’t the Gospel that needed adaptation, but the world that needed to be transformed by the Gospel. He believed that all were entitled to the truth of the Catholic Church without varnish, dumbing-down, or odd pastoral approaches that result in confusion and disunity.

Above all, he certainly did not countenance any sort of idolatry under the pretense of cultural diversity. This is how classical Jesuits behaved and brought millions to Christ—exactly the opposite of how too many of the heirs of this heroic patrimony tend to act in our own time.

Following is an excerpt from one of St. Francis Xavier’s letters explaining his method for bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the villages of 16th century India:
When I have done my instruction, I ask one by one all those who desire baptism if they believe without hesitation in each of the articles of the faith. All immediately, holding their arms in the form of the Cross, declare with one voice that they believe all entirely.

Then at last I baptize them in due form, and I give to each his name written on a ticket. After their baptism the new Christians go back to their houses and bring me their wives and families for baptism. When all are baptized I order all the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken in pieces.

I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols by the very people who but lately adored them. In all the towns and villages I leave the Christian doctrine in writing in the language of the country, and I prescribe at the same time the manner in which it is to be taught in the morning and evening schools. When I have done all this in one place, I pass to another, and so on successively to the rest.

In this way I go all round the country, bringing the natives into the fold of Jesus Christ, and the joy that I feel in this is far too great to be expressed in a letter, or even by word of mouth.
The above is taken from the book entitled The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, Volume 1 by Henry James Coleridge. Click the link above to read more.

In this same book, we read how Francis preached primarily to the lower classes in India, and how in consequence, he was despised by the wealthy Brahmins. But despite the opposition of the wealthy...
He never made any compromise with them, and one of the first steps which he took after baptizing the inhabitants of a village was to destroy the idols and their pagodas. It is natural enough that frequent attempts should have been made on his life. The cottages in which he rested were burnt down, sometimes three or four in one day. Once he was saved, like Charles II, in the thick branches of a tree, around which his enemies were seeking to slay him. He always had a desire for martyrdom, and was almost reckless in exposing himself to danger.” [The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, Volume 1]
One wonders what our present-day Church would make of the missionary zeal of Saint Francis Xavier. Would he be denounced as a “proselytizer”? Would he be urged by his bishop to use a softer pastoral approach which enculturates the idols of his converts into their Christian worship? Would he be condemned as one who imposes impossible moral burdens upon his simple converts that not even the wealthy elites of New York, Madrid, and Rome can live up to?

Probably.

Yet, it is hard to argue with success. Men like Saint Francis Xavier expounded a clear, strong and authentic Christianity to the world and thereby brought millions into the Church of Jesus Christ in lands which had never heard of the Gospel. By contrast, our modern leaders seem intent on creating a confusing, soft, muddy Christianity which is intended to offer easy salvation to all, calling none to conversion, repentance or sacrifice.

Those of us who have been alive since the 1970s have seen the bitter fruit of that latter approach. May the Holy Spirit inspire more souls to imitate the counter-cultural boldness, love, and zeal for Christ of Saint Francis Xavier.