Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Some of Them Lived Even to Our Day" ~ The lost Apology of Saint Quadratus

18th century Dutch engraving of St. Quadratus of Athens by Jan Luyken.
May 26 is the feast of the early Church father Saint Quadratus of Athens. He is primarily known as a very early apologist for the faith who presented his arguments directly to the emperor Hadrian while the latter was visiting Athens, sometime between AD 124 and AD 132.

Practically all of what is known of his life may be found in this brief biographical notice in Saint Jerome’s work, On Illustrious Men:
Quadratus, disciple of the apostles, after Publius bishop of Athens had been crowned with martyrdom on account of his faith in Christ, was substituted in his place, and by his faith and industry gathered the church scattered by reason of its great fear. And when Hadrian passed the winter at Athens to witness the Eleusinian mysteries and was initiated into almost all the sacred mysteries of Greece, those who hated the Christians took opportunity without instructions from the Emperor to harass the believers. At this time he presented to Hadrian a work composed in behalf of our religion, indispensable, full of sound argument and faith and worthy of the apostolic teaching. In which, illustrating the antiquity of his period, he says that he has seen many who, oppressed by various ills, were healed by the Lord in Judea as well as some who had been raised from the dead.
Jerome later says that Quadratus presented his Apology to Hadrian at the same time as Aristides of Athens, a Christian philosopher, presented his Apology. Sadly, the apology of Quadratus was subsequently lost. Only a single brief passage was preserved in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius as follows:
But the works of our Savior were always present, for they are genuine: those that were healed and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present. And not merely while the Savior was on earth, but also after His death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day. [Taken from The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius]
Eusebius says that the work “is still in the hands of a great many of the brethren, as also in our own, and furnishes clear proofs of the man’s understanding and of his apostolic orthodoxy.” The Apology of Quadratus was still known at late as the early 7th century AD when it is mentioned in a work by the bishop Eusebius of Thessalonika against the monk, Andrew, who embraced the heresy known as aphthartodocetism. Sadly, this work is also lost, though a summary of it exists in the Bibliotheca of Photius.

Tradition considers Quadratus a confessor, rather than a martyr. Several images of his martyrdom may be found online, though these most likely depict other early martyrs of the same name (eg. Quadratus of Corinth) and were mislabeled.

Click here for more info.
It has been speculated by some modern scholars that Quadratus was also the author of the anonymous Letter to Diognetus, and that his Apology and the Letter may be one in the same. But this theory has been largely disregarded because the Letter does not contain the quote pulled out by Eusebius.

Read the full text of the Letter to Diognetus in: I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Commander of the Union Army: Giuseppe Garibaldi?

Giuseppe Garibaldi as a Union General? Could it have happened?
While sorting through a gigantic pile of my deceased father's old papers, I found a newspaper clipping with the title: How Lincoln tried to enlist Garibaldi.

What?

I had never heard this tale before, so I immediately stopped to read the brief article. It began as follows:
An argument which has raged for more than a century over rumors that a hard-pressed Abraham Lincoln appealed to Giuseppe Garibaldi to save the Union in the American Civil War appears to have been settled after the discovery of documentary proof in Garibaldi's own handwriting.
The article then goes on to say that the proof was a small postcard which was found among the royal papers of the exiled House of Savoy which were donated to the state archives in Turin. The postcard was addressed from Garibaldi to Victor Emmanuel II, King of Piedmont-Sardinia, and later King of the united Italy. In it, Garibaldi sought permission to accept the offer to command the American armies. I did a little digging and found the translated text of the postcard here:
Sire, the President of the United States is offering me the command of that army. I find myself obliged to accept this mission for a country of which I am a citizen. Nevertheless before making my decision I thought it was my duty to inform Your Majesty, and to know if you think that I might have the honor of serving him. I have the honor to say that I am the most devoted servant of your Majesty. [Taken from: Garibaldi: Democracy and Civil Rights, p. 47]
And Victor Emmanuel responded as follows:
Do what you are inspired to do by your conscience, which is always your sole guide in affairs of such grave portent, and whatever decision you take, I am certain that you will not forget the dear Italian patria which is always utmost in your own and my thoughts. [Taken from: Garibaldi: Democracy and Civil Rights, p. 47]
Now, there are numerous things going on here of which I was not aware before I began venturing down this rabbit-hole. It seems that Garibaldi had indeed visited America from July 1850 through April 1851, spending most of his time in New York City and working in a candle factory. He even managed to get himself arrested for violating a local hunting ordinance while there. So he did have at least a brief history in the US.

Whether Garibaldi became a US citizen while visiting New York is a matter of dispute. He certainly did join a Masonic lodge while in the States, which is not surprising given his hostility to the Catholic Church. Also, it seems clear that many Americans looked fondly upon Garibaldi as the liberator of Italy and as an inveterate opponent of "Romanism", given that the nation was in the throes of a violent anti-Catholic movement in the 1850s.

What remains unclear is whether Garibaldi had any serious intention of leading Union armies in battle, or whether he was simply seeking to use the offer as leverage to convince Victor Emmanuel to call him out of retirement.

The story of how Garibaldi came to be considered as leader of the Union army is an involved one, the details of which may be found in this article—"Lincoln's Offer of a Command to Garibaldi" in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, November 1907 issue. In brief, admirers of Garibaldi, when discussing the outbreak of war in America, suggested that his intervention as a military commander might help bring the war to a rapid conclusion. One man, J. W. Quiggle, suggested that Garibaldi might even surpass Lafayette in the annals of American history should he assume such a role.

These ideas, it seems, eventually made their way Washington. Writing immediately after the Union disaster at First Bull Run in July of 1861, Secretary of State William Seward sent a letter to Henry Sanford, American minister in Brussels that read, in part:
I wish to proceed at once and enter into communication with the distinguished soldier of freedom [Garibaldi]. Say to him that this government believes his services in the present contest for the unity and liberty of the American People, would be exceedingly useful, and that, therefore, they are earnestly desired and invited. Tell him that this government believes he will, if possible, accept this call, because it is too certain that the fall of the American Union, if indeed it were possible, would be a disastrous blow to the cause of Human Freedom equally here, in Europe, and throughout the world. 
Tell him that he will receive a Major-General’s commission in the army of the United States, with its appointments, with the hearty welcome of the American People. [Taken from Lincoln's Offer of a Command to Garibaldi]
Negotiations proceeded from this point, and by September 9, 1861, Sanford was dispatched to speak with Garibaldi in person about accepting the commission. Sanford found out that the "distinguished soldier of freedom" had higher expectations than his superiors in Washington had anticipated:
[Garibaldi] said that the only way in which he could render service, as he ardently desired to do, to the cause of the United States was as Commander-in-chief of its forces, that he would only go as such, and with the additional contingent power—to be governed by events—of declaring the abolition of slavery—that he would be of little use without the first, and without the second it would appear like a civil war in which the world at large could have little interest or sympathy. [Taken from Lincoln's Offer of a Command to Garibaldi]
Clearly, Garibaldi had no intention of coming to the United States to serve under men like McDowell, McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, or Pope. He wanted full authority—even executive authority—that may have been possible in rather disorganized places like mid-19th century Italy or South America, but was impossible in the United States, even with a widespread insurrection raging. Whether or not the crafty Garibaldi knew that his terms were a poison pill is a matter for further discussion.

By September 14, Sanford had written to Seward of his failure to enlist General Garibaldi to the Union cause. Thus ended any semi-official negotiations with Washington, though various American ministers in Europe continued to correspond with Garibaldi on the idea for at least another year.

In August 1863, less than a year after the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation, and a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, Garibaldi and other "Italian liberals" wrote a letter to Lincoln that appeared in the New York Times. In this letter, he said:
If in the midst of the danger of your titanic strife, our voices may also mingle, O Lincoln, let us the free Sons of Columbus send a message of augury and of admiration of the great work you have initiated. Heir of the thought of Christ and of [John] Brown, you will pass to posterity with the name of Emancipator—more enviable than any crown or any human treasure. [Taken from: Holzer: Dear Mr. Lincoln, p. 129-130]
It should be pointed out that Catholic historians have quite another view of Garibaldi that throws the entirety of this incident into quite a different light. These writers most often portray Garibaldi as a brigand leading brigands; a double-dealing traitor whose word could not be trusted; a radical who attained his goals by force-of-arms; a reckless anarchist and thoughtless destroyer of art, culture and civilization. In other words, they show him to be a proto-socialist radical of the type which would fill the next century with blood and fire.

Later in his life, Garibaldi would write in support of unifying Freemasons, rationalists, workers' societies, etc. into a socialist block. He called for the abolition of the Papacy. In his biography of Pope Pius IX, Alexius J. M. Mills described Garibaldi as follows:
[A] man who from earliest youth, sworn to the secret societies, has passed through every form of wickedness and every scene of desperation—the very evil genius of his unfortunate countrymen. Our readers will perceive at once that we are referring to Joseph Garibaldi—smuggler, pirate, bandit, and chief tool of modern assassins. [Taken from Mills, The Life of Pope Pius IX, p. 115]
Given all this, it is probably for the best that Lincoln's cabinet members listened to the better angels of their nature and left off attempting to provide such a man with an army corps, let alone with command of the entire Union Army. One can only imagine the chaos such a general might have caused, not to mention the jealously and resentment he would have engendered among the native officers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"One of the most impressive religious ceremonies I have ever witnessed" ~ Father William Corby's general absolution at Gettysburg

Detail from Absolution under Fire by Paul Wood, 1891.
We are studying the Civil War as a family these days, and unlike many other historical events, there is no shortage of good films dealing with the this topic, among them: Glory, Gods and Generals, and Gettysburg.

We watched Gettysburg last night. I hadn’t seen it since it was originally released in 1993 when I saw it on the big screen. Since that time, I have visited the battlefield at least twice. The last time was in 2016 with my oldest daughter on our way back from a homeschool conference in Maryland. It was during that visit that we came across the statue of Father William Corby showing him in the act of giving general absolution on the second day of the battle. I hadn't heard of him before finding his statue, but he has stuck with me ever since. So while watching Gettysburg this time around, I kept my eye out for Fr. Corby.

Lo, and behold...


It seems that Fr. Corby's action had a greater historical import than I had first imagined. Aside from the statue on the battlefield, originally erected in 1910, there are at least two paintings of the event: the one by Paul Wood as seen above, and another by historical artist Bradley Schmehl which may be seen below.

The following account appears in Father Corby's 1893 book, Memoirs of Chaplain's Life:
At about four o’clock the Confederates commenced firing, and about one hundred and twenty cannons from their side belched forth from their fiery throats missiles of death into our lines. The Third Corps were pressed back, and at this critical moment I proposed to give a general absolution to our men, as they had absolutely no chance to practice their religious duties during the past two or three weeks, being constantly on the march. Here I will quote the account of Maj.-Gen. St. Clair Mulholland, then a colonel in the Irish Brigade, a Christian gentleman and as brave a soldier as any in the Army of the Potomac, to which his wounds and army record will testify:

“Now (as the Third Corps is being pressed back), help is called for, and Hancock tells Caldwell to have his men ready. ‘Fall in!’ and the men run to their places. ‘Take arms!’ and the four brigades of Zook, Cross, Brook, and Kelly are ready for the fray. There are yet a few minutes to spare before starting, and the time is occupied by one of the most impressive religious ceremonies I have ever witnessed. The Irish Brigade, which had been commanded formerly by Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, and whose green flag had been unfurled in every batted in which the Army of the Potomac had been engaged from the first Bull Run to Appomattox, and was now commanded by Col. Patrick Kelly of the Eighty-eighth New York, formed a part of his division. The brigade stood in columns of regiments, closed in mass. As a large majority of its members were Catholics, the Chaplain of the brigade, Rev. William Corby, proposed to give a general absolution to all the men before going into the fight.

“While this is customary in the armies of Catholic countries of Europe, it was perhaps the first time it was ever witnessed on this continent, unless, indeed the grim old warrior, Ponce de Leon, as he tramped through the Everglades of Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth, or De Soto, on his march to the Mississippi, indulged in this act of devotion.
As an aside, Gen. Mulholland is likely forgetting the French presence on the continent. Considering the number of battles fought by French armies in America between 1609 and 1754, it is quite likely that general absolution was offered at some point prior to Gettysburg. To continue...
Father Corby stood on a large rock in front of the brigade. Addressing the men, he explained what he was about to do, saying that each one could receive the benefit of absolution by making a sincere Act of Contrition and firmly resolving to embrace the first opportunity of confessing his sins, urging them to do their duty, and reminding them of the high and sacred nature of their trust as soldiers and the noble object for which they fought….The brigade was standing at ‘Order arms!’ As he closed his address, every man, Catholic and non-Catholic, fell on his knees with his head bowed down. Then, stretching his right hand toward the brigade, Fr. Corby pronounced the words of absolution:
‘Dominus noster Iesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego, auctoritate ipsius, vos absolvo ab omni vinculo, excommunicationis interdicti, in quantum possum et vos indigetis deinde ego absolvo vos, a pecatis vestris, in nomini Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.’
“The scene was more than impressive; it was awe-inspiring. Near by stood a brilliant throng of officers who had gathered to witness this very unusual occurrence, and while there was profound silence in the ranks of the Second Corps, yet over to the left, out by the peach orchard and Little Round Top, where Weed and Vincent and Hazlitt were dying, the roar of the battle rose and swelled and re-echoed through the woods, making music more sublime than ever sounded through cathedral aisle.

Absolution at Gettysburg by Bradley Schmehl.
“I do not think there was a man in the brigade who did not offer up a heart-felt prayer. For some it was their last; they knelt there in their grave clothes. In less than half an hour many of them were numbered with the dead of July 2. Who can doubt that their prayers were good? What was wanting in the eloquence of the priest to move them to repentance was supplied in the incidents of the fight. That heart would be incorrigible, indeed, that the scream of a Whitworth bolt, added to Father Corby’s touching appeal, would not move to contrition.”
Here ends General Mulholland's account. Father Corby now picks up the story in his own voice:
In performing this ceremony I faced the army. My eye covered thousands of officers and men. I noticed that all, Catholic and non-Catholic, officers and private soldiers, showed profound respect, wishing at this fatal crisis to receive every benefit of divine grace that could be imparted through the instrumentality of the Church ministry. Even Maj.-Gen. Hancock removed his hat, and, as far as compatible with the situation, bowed in reverential devotion.

That general absolution was intended for all—in quantum possum—not only for our brigade, but for all, North or South, who were susceptible of it and who were about to appear before their Judge. Let us hope that many thousands of souls, purified by hardships, fasting, prayer, and blood, met a favorable sentence on the ever memorable battlefield of Gettysburg….

During a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield, about a year ago, in 1889, Maj.-Gen. Mulholland told me that a soldier of his regiment knelt near him while the general absolution was being given and prayed with more fervor than the General had ever before witnessed. Twenty minutes later that poor soldier was a corpse!...

About a week after the battle, while on the march, a captain, a non-Catholic, rode up to me, and after an introduction by a friend, said: “Chaplain, I would like to know more about your religion. I was present on that awful day, July 2, when you ‘made a prayer,’ and while I have often witnessed ministers make prayers, I never witnessed one so powerful as the one you made that day in front of Hancock’s corps just as the ball opened with one hundred twenty guns blazing at us.”

Just then I found use for my handkerchief to hide a smile which stole to my countenance caused by the, to me, peculiar phraseology in which the good captain expressed his mind. I could not but admire his candid, outspoken manner, though, and I gave him an invitation to call on me in camp, when I would take pleasure on giving him all the information in my power.

Statue of Fr. Corby at Gettysburg.
One good result of the Civil War was the removing of a great amount of prejudice. When men stand in common danger, a fraternal feeling springs up between them and generates a Christian, charitable sentiment that often leads to most excellent results. [Corby, Memoirs of Chaplain Life, pages 181-186].
It is my intention to return to Gettysburg with the whole family this summer. It will be the first visit for most of them and they should be well-prepared in terms of their history lessons. While there, we'll be certain to pay a visit the statue of Fr. Corby to say a prayer for the repose of his soul, and for all those who suffered and died on those fields.

We'll also be sure to find the statue of that other Civil War figure from the Gray side with a strong Catholic connection, General James Longstreet which my daughter and I didn't find last time. Bishop Joseph Keily of Savannah, who served under Longstreet at Gettysburg, eulogized him in 1904 as a "brave soldier, gallant gentleman, consistent Christian."

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"We Forgot about the Salvation of Souls" ~ Archbishop Sheen's heartfelt warning in Philadelphia, December 8, 1977

Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen speaking in Philadelphia on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1977.
On December 8, 1977, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen came to the Philadelphia area to preach to a packed house at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Roxborough. This church is about 10 minutes from where I grew up, and I was seven years old at the time of the event. Though I didn't attend, my aunt and uncle did. This was probably the closest I ever came to Archbishop Sheen during my lifetime. It was his first talk after a six-month hiatus recovering from heart surgery.

I was recently reminded of the event by my aunt who gave me a newspaper clipping that she had saved for over 40 years. The article is a disjointed and fairly bland recounting of what must have been a stark and riveting lecture. One almost gets the sense that the reporter was bored by Sheen's presentation, or struggled to comprehend it. The article feels like it was cobbled together from hastily taken notes.

But now, 42 years later, even read through the filter of uninspired reportage, Archbishop Sheen's words radiate a sense of foreboding—a softly spoken clarion call made by an elderly Cassandra who knew well that his days were numbered.

The article appeared under a banner that read: "We Forgot About the Salvation of Souls". Then, beneath that in large type: "Small, Humble Archbishop Speaks."

Following are some excerpts from the article:
Nearly 2,000 persons silently listen to the voice that was once strong and vibrant and now still goes on bringing the word of Christ. But the voice of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is not reaching as many as he once did when millions were waiting and watching him speak on nation-wide television.... 
"The last sermon I preached was last June," he said. "Then followed a gap." He remarked that he had open heart surgery. He is now 82.
"But I am privileged to be with you on the feast of the Immaculate Conception." He was there to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.  
"Let me tell you about the changes in the Church since this parish began," he said in a soft voice.  
"In the two decades since this church was founded [that is, 1952], we have seen many changes. The Church dies and rises again. Its law is the law of Christ. There is Good Friday, then Easter and the Resurrection. 
"The Church has undergone a great many changes in the past few years. There will be many changes in the years to come. Some sisters thought it would be unbecoming to teach children. The then current word was 'involvement.' Some thought they should not be dedicated to the sanctification of souls. They said they had to be involved in the social and economic world. 
"The only thing that they thought mattered," Archbishop Sheen said, "was the social order."
From this critical opening, the Archbishop pivoted to a bit of recent history:
"In 1974, the Holy Father asked us to preach the Gospel to the people. Evangelization." The little man, a bit pale, pointed his right index finger at the huge assemblage. He said that people had little concern during some of the recent years for the Church. "They were interested in the Panama Canal, the Mideast and India. In the former decade the name of Christ was hardly named." 
"We forgot about the salvation of souls."
Here we see the prescience of Venerable Fulton Sheen on full display. But if he thought things were bad in the Church then, what would he think of our own time when entire orders of teaching sisters have evaporated, and you're more likely to see pant-suited sisters celebrated for riding a bus cross-country in support of the welfare state boondoggle du jour than for teaching children. Of course, modern-day prophet that he was, Sheen no doubt saw what was coming. Perhaps his angel was whispering in his ear.

The article as it was preserved.
At this point, Sheen again pivoted to bring the Blessed Virgin into the conversation, this being especially appropriate given the venue (IHM Parish) and the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
"The Immaculate Heart of Mary gives to us a model on how to live a life for the Church. When you love," the Archbishop warned, "you must be prepared to have your heart wrung and maybe broken. So when you love, you will have your heart broken."
This aphorism is almost word-for-word drawn from The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. Most likely, Sheen cited Lewis as his source during the talk. But he applies the quote directly to the love our Lady had for her Son, Jesus:
"The Virgin Mary is the model. Mary has had her heart broken, but she loved her son and His mission. Oh, how He trained her to be a mother of all children. Oh, how Mary had to have a broken heart. How many times has she pondered those words, 'Mother, what matters is that I am doing my Father's will.'"
And by that, he didn't mean St. Joseph, of course. The article mentions here that Sheen pointed to the roof of the church and said, "There is my Father in heaven." To continue...
"Mary was taught one lesson after another about having her heart wrung. The climax was when it finally happened on the Cross. Mary was heartbroken. She surrendered her Son to the heavenly Father, sacrificed for the redemption of our sins."
"When they rammed that sword into Jesus, they also plunged it into the side of Mary. In the end, there is only one heart."
"This is the kind of love we have to have for the Church."
Did you catch that? By my interpretation, the good Archbishop was artfully interjecting a little of his own travail into the narrative. Here was a man whose heart was even then being wrung because of his love for the Church which he had served since his ordination in 1919. Here was a man who had allowed himself to be used up and burnt out in his unflagging efforts to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet here, at the end of his life, he has caught a glimpse of fell things to come, fell things already in progress within the Church. And his heart, quite literally, is broken.

Sheen continued:
"To remake the Church this is the kind of love we will have to have. We must sacrifice to prove our love. What is the mission of the Church now? Outside is the poor lost sheep. We must find them and bring them to the Lord. But if you love, you must be prepared to love and have your heart broken. I believe that the spirit of love is even descending upon Russia. After years, we have turned a corner: we can leave other things aside. 
"When the good Lord comes, he will show His wounds to the world. 
"The Church has failed in the last ten years.
"Is your heart broken?"
Part of me thinks that the good Archbishop, gifted speaker that he was, left unsaid his own implicit answer to that question: "Mine is."

In his unique, unintentionally prophetic way, Sheen was preparing all of us to have our hearts broken by the grotesque and ongoing failures of the Church that we love, failures that are more evident and horrifying than any that were known in his day. But he was also reminding us to have patience and trust in God: "The Church dies and rises again."

Two years later, on December 9, 1979, Archbishop Sheen would go to his eternal reward. He surely died of a broken heart that the ministrations of mere mortal surgeons could not mend.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Inspired by penitence, he was beheaded." ~ The mysterious last days and death of Pope Saint Marcellinus

Pope Saint Marcellinus from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
April 26 is the feast day of one of the most enigmatic Popes, Saint Marcellinus, who perished at the height of the Great Persecution in AD 304. Because his reign took place during a time when the Church was under extreme duress, the facts surrounding his pontificate are hazy. Similarly hazy is his fate. 

Following is the complete brief biography of Pope Saint Marcellinus as contained in the Liber Pontificalis, that useful if occasionally confused catalog of all the ancient popes prior to Saint Gregory the Great that was compiled in the late 6th century:
Marcellinus, by nationality a Roman, son of Projectus, occupied the see 8 years, 2 months and 25 days (or 9 years, 4 months and 16 days). 
He was bishop in the time of Diocletian and Maximian, from July 1 in the 6th consulship of Diocletian and the 2nd of Constantius (AD 296) until the year when Diocletian was consul for the 9th time and Maximian for the 8th (AD 304). At that time was a great persecution, so that within 30 days 17,000 Christians of both sexes in divers provinces were crowned with martyrdom. 
Click for more info.
For this reason Marcellinus himself was haled to sacrifice, that he might offer incense, and he did it. 
After a few days, inspired by penitence, he was beheaded by the same Diocletian and crowned with martyrdom for the faith of Christ in company with Claudius and Cyrinus and Antoninus, and the blessed Marcellinus on his way to his passion abjured Marcellus, the priest, that he should not fulfill the commands of Diocletian. 
And afterwards the holy bodies lay in the street for an example to the Christians 26 days by order of Diocletian.  
Then the priest Marcellus and the other priests and deacons took up the bodies by night with hymns and buried them on the Via Salaria in the cemetery of Priscilla in a chamber which is well known to this day, as Marcellinus himself had commanded, when in penitence, he was being haled to execution, in the crypt near the body of holy Criscentio, April 25.  
He held 2 ordinations in the month of December, 4 priests, 2 deacons, 5 bishops in divers places. 
From that day the bishopric was empty 7 years, 6 months and 25 days while Diocletian was persecuting the Christians.
In Loomis's edition of the Liber Pontificalis, a further passage is included, drawn from a single manuscript, which refers to a councils of bishops which took place in Italy during the Persecution:
And after a few days, a synod was held in the province of Campania in the city of Sessana [Sinuessa], where with his own lips he professed his penitence in the presence of 180 bishops. He wore a garment of haircloth and ashes upon his head and repented, saying that he had sinned. Then Diocletian was wroth and seized him and bade him sacrifice to images. But he cried out with tears, saying, "It repenteth me sorely for my former ignorance," and he began to utter blasphemy against Diocletian and the images of the demons made with human hands. So, inspired by penitence, he was beheaded.
Needless to say, these passages have inspired controversy ever since. Consensus seems to be that the so-called Synod of Sinuessa where St. Marcellinus professed his guilt before his brother bishops, was a fabrication. This seems likely as it would have been inconceivable for a synod of 180 bishops to be held in southern Italy during the apogee of the Great Persecution. Mentions of Diocletian, the Augustus of the East who ruled from Nicomedia, also seem to lend doubt to these accounts. However, a curious passage in Lactantius's work, On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, may shed some light:
Diocletian, whom prosperity had now abandoned, set out instantly for Rome, there to celebrate the commencement of the twentieth year of his reign. That solemnity was performed on the twelfth of the kalends of December; and suddenly the emperor, unable to bear the Roman freedom of speech, peevishly and impatiently burst away from the city. The kalends of January approached, at which day the consulship, for the ninth time, was to be offered to him; yet, rather than continue thirteen days longer in Rome, he chose that his first appearance as consul should be at Ravenna. [Lactantius, On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 17]
The twentieth year of Diocletian's reign would have been AD 304, so this passage refers to events late in the year 303. This makes it clear that Diocletian was in Italy near the time assigned to the death of Saint Marcellinus, and he was in Rome specifically for about a month. Furthermore, the Augustus was, if not wroth, at least peevish during this his only visit to the Imperial City during his reign. Why Lactantius doesn't mention the acts of the persecutors while in Rome, particularly with regard to Saint Marcellinus, is an interesting question. However, Lactantius is hardly alone in his silence. None of the key ecclesiastical historians of the subsequent generation mention this event, and several of the early compilers of lists of the ancient popes exclude Marcellinus's name all together. One important exception is the Liberian Catalog of AD 354 which lists all of the Popes up to that time, Marcellinus included.

Scholars over the centuries have attributed this lack of information about Saint Marcellinus to the shame associated with his name in antiquity. However, it is equally likely that because the death of Marcellinus coincided with the most intense period of persecution, that the records were lost or purposely destroyed. As we have seen in other posts, the destruction of Christian literature was one of key aspects of Diocletian's effort, leading later Christians like Prudentius to lament the "oblivion of a silent age," and Pope Damasus to seek out assiduously the stories of the persecution by those who had lived through it even decades later. Also telling is that after Marcellinus's death, there was an unprecedented papal interregnum of some seven years during which time the Church in Rome had no visible head.

A century after the death of Marcellinus in the time of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the name of Marcellinus would re-appear as part of his debates with the Donatists. One of his opponents, a Donatist bishop named Petilianus, would invoke Marcellinus among those who offered incense to the pagan gods and handed over the sacred texts to be burnt by the heathens:
Maximian also perished, at whose command that men should burn incense to their gods, burning the sacred volumes, Marcellinus indeed first, but after him also Mensurius of Carthage, and Cæcilianus, escaped death from the sacrilegious flames, surviving like some ashes or cinders from the burning. [Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Book II, Chapter 93:202]
Augustine answered this charge as follows:
For now you go on to make mention of the bishops whom you are wont to accuse of having delivered up the sacred books, concerning whom we on our part are wont to answer: Either you fail in your proof, and so it concerns no one at all; or you succeed and then it still has no concern with us. For they have borne their own burden, whether it be good or bad; and we indeed believe that it was good. But of whatever character it was, yet it was their own; just as your bad men have borne their own burden, and neither you theirs nor they yours. [Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Book II, Chapter 93:208]
This is far from an absolute denial of the accusation, specifically with regard to Marcellinus. Augustine well knew that some Catholic bishops in Africa had indeed surrendered the sacred books, as noted in a previous post. So he had to fall back to a position saying he doesn't believe all of the accusations, but that even if they are true, the sins belong to the men in question, not to the whole Church.

Based on our rather limited knowledge, it seems possible that Marcellinus managed to retain his position during the early days of the Great Persecution perhaps by temporizing, compromising or negotiating with the vacillating figure of Maximianus Herculius who was the Augustus of the West. We know from Lactantius and other sources that Maximian was a rather crass, greedy fellow who was not above having his policies influenced by favors, flattery or an influx of gold. Perhaps Marcellinus was able to achieve a sort of secret coexistence with Maximian that was only broken when Diocletian arrived in Rome late in AD 303 to celebrate his vicenalia. Perhaps one thing that made Diocletian peevish on his visit was the discovery that his colleague, Maximianus, had been less assiduous in his rooting out of the hated Christians than expected.

If Saint Marcellinus had indeed taken some questionable measures to help preserve his flock during the persecution, or even secretly abjured under torture, the sources seem to agree that he later suffered bravely for the Faith, likely having been martyred. The fact that the pontifical seat remained empty after the death of Marcellinus provides mute testimony to status of the Christian population of Rome in AD 304 as they hid in fear of the tempest, not even daring to name a leader for the Church for seven full years.

An even more detailed examination of the possible apostasy and repentance of Pope Marcellinus may be found at the excellent Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog here.

Monday, April 06, 2020

"See what the fear of temporal evils does and how great an increase of eternal woes results" ~ Saint Augustine's last letter

Saint Augustine on his deathbed, by Ottaviano Nelli in the Church of Sant'Augostino
in Gubbio, Itay
 In the year AD 430, Roman north Africa was overrun by a warlike barbarian horde known to history as the Vandals. Under the leadership of their brutal king, Gaiseric, the Vandals were bent on plunder, ruin and conquest to such an extent that the name of their nation lives on as a common noun in the English language with negative connotations reverberating across 15 centuries.

With Roman military resistance collapsing on every front before the overwhelming attack, Saint Augustine found himself trapped in his home city of Hippo Regius, deathly ill and under siege by a Vandalic host.

More about this dreadful period of history may be garnered from the video below, which is taken from The Life of Saint Augustine written shortly after the great saint's death by Possidius of Calama. Possidius was an eye-witness to much of what he records:


Also included in Possidius's Life of Saint Augustine is a fascinating letter which the great Doctor of the Church wrote during his final illness. This letter, written to Augustine's fellow bishop, Honoratus of Thiabe, is of import to our present tribulation, particularly as it relates to the response of our Catholic bishops to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

During this critical time in Roman north Africa, as the Vandals lay waste to all before them, many bishops and priests fled, leaving their people without access to the sacraments in the face of the unprecedented mortal danger. Augustine was asked by other bishops for advice on the best course of action. Was it acceptable for them to run and hide from the danger as Saint Paul had done in Damascus? Augustine's response is simply this: that flight is acceptable when the danger is particular to only one or a few, as in case of Saint Paul. However...
When the danger is common to all, that is, to bishops, clergy and laymen, let those who are in need of others not be abandoned by those of whom they are in need. Accordingly, either let them all withdraw to places of safety or else let not those who have a necessity for remaining be left by those through whom their ecclesiastical needs are supplied, so that they may either live together or suffer together whatever their Father wishes them to endure.... 
We ought not, on account of that which is uncertain, to be guilty of that which is certain, namely, neglect of our ministrations. Without these the ruin of the people is certain, not in the things of this life, but of that other which must be cared for with incomparably greater devotion and anxiety....And if some deserted their people, this is what we say ought not to be done. For such were not led by divine authority, but were deceived by human error or constrained by fear.
Now certainly, the situation of Augustine's time and ours are not exactly comparable. However, I have heard certain people, when making a defense of the harsh restrictions Americans find themselves under, compare the viral onslaught to an armed invasion. While I do not agree with such characterizations, I do think that the situations are quite comparable in that they both represent civilizational crises, grave temporal trials, with dangers that threaten all people alike.

As we continue to read Augustine's words, let us imagine he is speaking not to his colleagues of 5th century Roman Africa, but to us in our own times:
Click for more info.
When these dangers have reached their height and there is no possibility of flight, do we not realize how great a gathering there usually is in the church of both sexes and of every age, some clamoring for baptism, others for reconciliation, still others for acts of penance: all of them seeking consolation and the administration and distribution of the sacraments? If, then, the ministers are not at hand, how terrible is the destruction which overtakes those who depart from this world unregenerated or bound by sin! How great is the grief of their brethren in the faith who shall not have their companionship in the rest in the life eternal! Finally how great the lamentation of all and how great the blasphemy of some because of the absence of the ministers and their ministry! See what the fear of temporal evils does and how great an increase of eternal woes results. But if the ministers are present they are a help to all, according to the strength which the Lord gives them: some are baptized, others are reconciled, none are deprived of the communion of the body of the Lord, all are consoled, edified and exhorted to ask of God, who hath the power to avert all the things they fear—prepared for either issue, so that if that cup may not pass from them, His will may be done who can will no evil.
Apparently, some of his colleagues brought up the case of Saint Athanasius who fled from the Arians during the theological crisis of the previous century. Augustine rejects this argument as well, saying that Athanasius was a uniquely powerful figure against Arianism and that the greater Church perceived how needful his voice would be in the continuing struggle. However...
When the peril is common and it is more to be feared that someone may be thought to do this not from a desire of serving, but from a fear of dying, and when more harm may be done by the example of fleeing than good by the obligation of living, it should under no circumstances be done.
Augustine ends his advice with these strong words that ought to give pause, at least, to our contemporary Church leaders:
Accordingly, whoever flees under such circumstances that the necessary ministry of the Church is not lacking because of his flight, does as the Lord commands or permits. But whoever so flees that he deprives the flock of Christ of that nourishment from which it has its spiritual life, is an hireling who sees the wolf coming and flees because he cares not for the sheep.
Augustine concludes his letter with these words. Again, let us imagine he is saying them to us in our current tribulations:
We can find nothing better to do in these dangers than to pray to the Lord our God that He have mercy upon us. And some wise and holy men, with the help of God, have been enabled to will and to do this much, namely not to desert the churches, and in the face of detraction not to waver in maintaining their purpose. 
We have endured now several decades of a Church led by too many who better resemble the hirelings than the true shepherds. It would be well that we Catholics pay close attention to those leaders of our Church in the United States who are attentively providing their flocks with spiritual nourishment, often at the potential risk of their very lives, and those who have left the sheep to fend for themselves without access to sacramental grace.

Augustine's entire letter may be read here at Tertullian.org. You may also click here to find a print copy of The Life of Saint Augustine by Possidius which is well worth reading as "the rest of the story" on Augustine of Hippo from a reliable, authentic ancient source.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Work of Every Description Ceased" ~ First hand accounts of the Plague of Justinian, 6th century AD


Click above for a video excerpt from The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius
describing a personal encounter with the dreaded Plague of Justinian.

The thought of pandemic troubles many souls these days. It is well to keep in mind that as bad as things may seem with regard to the deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus, we are not even within shouting distance of the type of utter and absolute societal devastation caused by the typical catastrophic historical plague.

One of these epic pestilential events was the so-called Plague of Justinian of the mid-to-late 6th century AD. Erupting in AD 542, the Plague of Justinian is thought to be the first recorded outbreak of a disease which would later be known as the Black Death—Bubonic Plague. While not as well-known as the scourge that wiped out nearly a third of the population of 14th century Europe, Justinian's Plague raged for over 50 years and claimed hundreds-of-thousands if not millions of lives. It was also largely untreatable and the physicians of late antiquity were unable to determine even how it was transmitted. Much later, medical science would discover that the vector was a flea carried by the black rat.

Modern popular histories, like Justinian's Flea, have attempted to make the case that this plague was the direct precursor to the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the near east. But much more interesting to me are the first-person accounts of the plague which have come down to us from antiquity.

The premier source for Justinian's Plague is, of course, Procopius of Caesarea, the great classicizing historian of the 6th century. Procopius was, no doubt, an eyewitness to the awful career of the deadly pathogen. His lengthy account includes the following passage which gives an indication of how the scourge ravaged even the most magnificent city in the world at the time, Constantinople:
...All who had the good fortune to he in health were sitting in their houses, either attending the sick or mourning the dead. And if one did succeed in meeting a man going out, he was carrying one of the dead. And work of every description ceased, and all the trades were abandoned by the artisans, and all other work as well, such as each had in hand. Indeed in a city which was simply abounding in all good things starvation almost absolute was running riot. [Taken from Procopius: History of the Wars, Book II, Chapter xxiii]
Detail of The Plague at Ashdod by Angelo Caroselli, 1631. If you click to
enlarge and look closely at the lower left, you will see the culprit who
helped spread the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century AD.
Presented below is another contemporary account of the Justinianic Plague taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius. This fascinating work was written in the late 6th century AD by Evagrius Scholasticus, a lawyer originating in Syria near Antioch. Though he deals largely with matters impacting the Christian churches of his time, Evagrius also inserts details of more general interest into his histories, including this account of the Plague and how it affected him on a deeply personal level. A video rendering of the Evagrius's account may be found at the beginning of this post. The full text is provided below for convenience:
I will also describe the circumstances of the pestilence which commenced at that period, and has now prevailed and extended over the whole world for fifty-two years; a circumstance such as has never before been recorded. Two years after the capture of Antioch by the Persians, a pestilence broke out, in some respects similar to that described by Thucydides, in others widely different. It took its rise from Aethiopia, as is now reported, and made a circuit of the whole world in succession, leaving, as I suppose, no part of the human race unvisited by the disease.
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Some cities were so severely afflicted as to be altogether depopulated, though in other places the visitation was less violent. It neither commenced according to any fixed period, nor was the time of its cessation uniform, but it seized upon some places at the commencement of winter, others in the course of the spring, others during the summer, and in some cases, when the autumn was advanced. In some instances, having infected a part of a city, it left the remainder untouched; and frequently in an uninfected city one might remark a few households excessively wasted; and in several places, while one or two households utterly perished, the rest of the city remained unvisited: but, as we have learned from careful observation, the uninfected households alone suffered the succeeding year. But the most singular circumstance of all was this; that if it happened that any inhabitants of an infected city were living in a place which the calamity had not visited, these alone were seized with the disorder. This visitation also befell cities and other places in many instances according to the periods called Indictions; and the disease occurred, with the almost utter destruction of human beings, in the second year of each indiction.
Thus it happened in my own case—for I deem it fitting, in due adaptation of circumstances, to insert also in this history matters relating to myself—that at the commencement of this calamity I was seized with what are termed buboes, while still a school-boy, and lost by its recurrence at different times several of my children, my wife, and many of my kin, as well as of my domestic and country servants; the several indictions making, as it were, a distribution of my misfortunes. Thus, not quite two years before my writing this, being now in the fifty-eighth year of my age, on its fourth visit to Antioch, at the expiration of the fourth indiction from its commencement, I lost a daughter and her son, besides those who had died previously.
The plague was a complication of diseases: for, in some cases, commencing in the head, and rendering the eyes bloody and the face swollen, it descended into the throat, and then destroyed the patient. In others, there was a flux of the bowels. In others buboes were formed, followed by violent fever, and the sufferers died at the end of two or three days, equally in possession, with the healthy, of their mental and bodily powers. Others died in a state of delirium, and some by the breaking out of carbuncles. Cases occurred where persons, who had been attacked once and twice and had recovered, died by a subsequent seizure.
The ways in which the disease; was communicated, were various and unaccountable: for some perished by merely living with the infected, others by only touching them, others by having entered their chamber, others by frequenting public places. Some, having fled from the infected cities, escaped themselves, but imparted the disease to the healthy. Some were altogether free from contagion, though they had associated with many who were afflicted, and had touched many not only in their sickness but also when dead. Some, too, who were desirous of death, on account of the utter loss of their children and friends, and with this view placed themselves as much as possible in contact with the diseased, were nevertheless not infected; as if the pestilence struggled against their purpose.
This calamity has prevailed, as I have already said, to the present time, for two and fifty years, exceeding all that have preceded it. For Philostratus expresses wonder that the pestilence which happened in his time, lasted for fifteen years. The sequel is uncertain, since its course will be guided by the good pleasure of God, who knows both the causes of things, and their tendencies. [Taken from: The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, Book IV, Chapter XXIX].
No doubt, this is sobering reading. But we may take some solace in that even in the face of such calamitous losses, the plague eventually subsided, men and women survived, children were raised up, and many turned back to God for comfort in their affliction. We should also give thanks that modern-day medical science is better equipped cope with such pandemic scourges than our ancient forebears who stood practically defenseless in the face of such virulent and deadly contagions.