Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Constantine — Military Hero and Christian Emperor

At a banquet of the gods on Mount Olympus, the emperors of Rome were called to account to find which of them was the greatest. When Constantine’s turn came and he recounted his long string of triumphs, Silenus, the drunken companion of Dionysus, stood and rebuked him:

“Constantine,” he said, “are you not offering us mere gardens of Adonis as exploits?”

“What do you mean,” Constantine asked, “by gardens of Adonis?”

“I mean,” said Silenus, “those that women plant in pots by scraping together a little earth for a garden bed. They bloom for a little space and fade forthwith.”
This scene appears in a satire called The Caesars written by Constantine’s great-nephew, Julian — known to history as the Apostate.

As can be inferred from this excerpt, Julian didn’t think too highly of the accomplishments of his great-uncle. In fact, his purpose in writing The Caesars was to compare Constantine unfavorably with emperors who had gone before him.

Many so-called post-Christian scholars would readily agree with Julian’s assessment. But such scholars are wrong. Constantine’s war-like deeds had a much wider impact than a mere political consolidation of the empire under his sole rule. Without the military victories of Constantine, and the missionary zeal of that emperor in the aftermath of these victories, the ultimate adoption of Christianity by the mass of citizens in the Roman world would certainly have been long postponed.

But these days, Constantine has been thoroughly “Dan-Brown-ized.” His character has been sullied, distorted, and outright falsified by modern slanderers to the point that almost nothing remains of the real man in the popular imagination.

So who was Constantine and what did his accomplishments really mean?

First and foremost, he was the outstanding soldier and general of his era. He was the son of Constantius Chlorus, a tough provincial soldier who rose through the ranks by his own merits during the chaotic 3rd century AD when the empire teetered on the brink of collapse. Constantine’s mother, Helena, was a saint—literally. When the brutal but effective Diocletian came to power, he tapped Constantius Chlorus to rule Gaul and Britain as his “Caesar” or junior emperor.

With his father in a position of power, the young Constantine was sent off to serve in the retinue of Diocletian himself, no doubt to discourage any rebellious behavior on the part of his father. In this capacity, Constantine participated in the senior Augustus’s campaigns in the Balkans and Egypt. He must have also witnessed the steadily ramped up efforts by Diocletian and his protégé, Galerius, to extirpate forever that most hated sect known as Christians.

The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius Pamphilus reported seeing the young Constantine traveling among the company of Diocletian through the city of Caesarea. “No one was comparable to him for grace and beauty of person, or height or stature,” the bishop wrote. “And he so far surpassed his compeers in personal strength as to be a terror to them.”

But if Constantine possessed physical gifts, he also had the courage and right judgment to know when to use them. While still in the east, now serving under Galerius after the retirement of Diocletian, Constantine received news that his father was dying in far off Britain. Galerius refused to let the young man depart to be at his father’s deathbed and rumors flew that the jealous emperor intended to have Constantine disgraced or executed as soon as Constantius was safely dead. Not waiting on the outcome of events, Constantine fled from the east, riding post horses at a break-neck pace and hamstringing those mounts left behind to hamper pursuit.

Constantine arrived at York just in time to embrace his father before the old man breathed his last. He was then declared emperor by his father’s army—the only legitimate Roman emperor ever to be crowned in Britain.

If Constantius had proved himself to be a solid and capable commander, his son would soon outstrip him in every way. Constantine’s first challenge was to defend the provinces his father had bequeathed to him against barbarian invasion. When Germanic raiders crossed the Rhine to test him, the new emperor met and defeated them with little difficulty.

In Italy, meanwhile, a more dangerous threat emerged. A usurper named Maxentius assumed the imperial power at Rome. Two armies were sent from the east to dislodge him, but Maxentius bribed and absorbed the first and utterly defeated the other, sending the arrogant Galerius retreating back to the Balkans in disgrace. Only Constantine, operating from his base in Gaul, was left to grapple with the tyrant.

Descending into Italy with a force of seasoned troops roughly one-third of that commanded by his opponent, Constantine launched a sequence of brilliant campaigns that soon found him encamped before the massive Aurelian walls of Rome with a trail of broken enemy armies in his path. Here, however, he was stymied, for Maxentius, despite his defeats, retained a considerable numerical advantage. Furthermore, a pagan oracle had encouraged Maxentius to remain safely behind the walls of Rome, and Constantine, possessing neither the means nor the numbers to successfully besiege the city, began to despair of victory.

It was at this moment that God quite literally intervened. Constantine himself described the famous vision to his biographer, the bishop Eusebius Pamphilus:
He said that about mid-day, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which happened to be following him on some expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
What happened next is one of the great turning-points in history. Constantine, who had been a worshiper of pagan god Sol Invictus—the unconquerable sun—decided to trust in this new God Who had revealed Himself. He had his men paint the chi-rho on their shields, symbolizing the first two letters of Christ, and he had a standard created, called the Labarum, which featured a cross and the chi-rho. This device would be carried before the army into battle.

Seeing his opponent checked and appreciating his own numerical superiority, Maxentius now sent his troops out of the city to do battle, though he himself remained in Rome in accordance with the oracle to celebrate the Circensian games. Constantine himself led his army to battle and the fight raged for the better part of the day with neither side able to gain the advantage over the other.

The people of Rome were outraged to see Maxentius sitting haughtily in the imperial box at the arena while the army bled on his behalf but a short distance away. They soon began to goad him by shouting, “Constantine can not be conquered!” Fearing an outright revolt, Maxentius caused the Sybilline Books—works of ancient pagan prophecy—to be consulted. Some soothsayer, with a delicious lack of clarity, discovered a line therein which read: “On the same day, the enemy of the Romans should perish.”

Maxentius took this to mean that he would triumph over Constantine, and so bolstered took the field. But as history would demonstrate, the miraculous promise of the Christian God far outweighed the spurious and contradictory oracles of the pagans. The army of Maxentius broke and fled back toward Rome, but in order to reach the city and safety, the routed host had to traverse the Milvian bridge over the Tiber. In the crush to get across, the bridge collapsed and the tyrant and much of his cavalry were drowned.

This sight of Constantine’s army, completely victorious and marching under the standard of the Cross, was a tremendous shock to many pagan Romans. According to Eusebius, “Those who had so lately been deceived by their vain confidence in false deities, acknowledged with unfeigned sincerity the God of Constantine and openly professed their belief in Him as the true and only God.”

This incredible victory also made a deep and abiding impression on Constantine. Though he probably knew something of the faith given that his mother, Helena, was a devout Christian, the young emperor now realized without doubt that his great triumph had been achieved less by his own valor than via the salutary sign of the Cross. As a result, Constantine set his mind to the promotion and propagation of Christian devotion throughout the empire.

His piety was real. His belief in God and the saving power of Jesus Christ was not mere affectation. In an empire that was still about 85% pagan, what did he have to gain by embracing a small and historically despised minority? Rather, Constantine believed to his core that there could be no true happiness, no joy, no hope outside of Christianity. In a later edict, he set out these beliefs in his own words:
To all who entertain just and wise sentiments respecting the character of the Supreme Being, it has long been most clearly evident:…they who faithfully observe His holy laws, and shrink from transgressions of His commandments, are rewarded with abundant blessings, and are endued with well-grounded hope as well as ample power for the accomplishment of their undertakings. On the other hand, they who have cherished impious sentiments have experienced results corresponding to their evil choice.
Lest we assume that Constantine’s belief system was some simplistic notion that God punishes the wicked and rewards the pious in this life, the emperor himself explodes this accusation within the same edict:
Whoever have addressed themselves with integrity of purpose to any course of action, keeping the fear of God continually before their thoughts…such persons, though for a season they may have experienced painful trials, have borne their afflictions lightly, being supported by the belief of greater rewards in store for them.
And Constantine had many painful trials yet in store for him. Following his victory over Maxentius, he divided the empire with Licinius, the successor of the persecuting emperor Galerius who had perished in a spectacularly gruesome way—his insides being devoured by worms. Licinius began his reign as a friend of the Christians and the brother-in-law of Constantine. But the two were quickly at loggerheads, and Licinius’s enmity for Constantine soon also became a visceral hatred for Christianity.

The inevitable war between the two immediately became a religious conflict with Constantine’s legions marching under the Labarum and those of Licinius under unabashedly pagan symbols. Both sides infused their propaganda with blatant religious overtones. Constantine kept a retinue of Christian priests nearby to advise him at all times. Meanwhile, Licinius consulted pagan soothsayers who confidently predicted a total victory for him over Constantine, the despiser of the gods.

The two sides clashed in the Balkans. The climactic Battle of Cibalis was a grinding infantry struggle that the pagan historian Zosimus termed, “one of the most furious that was ever fought.” The battle lasted an entire day and the result was in doubt until Constantine’s right wing—which he himself commanded—broke through and routed Licinius’s forces.

Though defeated, Licinius was still able to muster enough strength to save himself from complete destruction. Constantine, for his part, was willing to give his brother-in-law a second chance. So the two settled down into an uneasy truce which allowed the battered empire a brief respite.

When war broke out afresh eight years later, it was to be a fight to the finish. Between the two of them, Constantine and Licinius mustered nearly 300,000 soldiers, with Licinius holding a slight advantage in overall numbers. The armies faced off at Adrianople in Thrace, where Constantine, by the use of a strategem, was able to hit the Licinian army unexpectedly and precipitate a rout. Constantine pursued Licinius to Byzantium and placed the city under siege. It was here that Constantine appreciated the strategic value of the city which would in no short time become the new capital of the empire—Constantinople.

Meanwhile, Constantine’s fleet gained a victory over the Licinian fleet. Fearing that he would be cut off from his base in the east, Licinius immediately retreated to the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus. In a final gambit, the pagan emperor threw all his available forces at Constantine at Chrysopolis near Chalcedon. The resulting battle was one of the largest and bloodiest of antiquity. Zosimus reported that of the 130,000 men that Licinius flung into battle, barely 30,000 remained to him at the end of the day.

His cause doomed, Licinius fled to Nicomedia where he was captured. He was held under house arrest but was executed a year later while trying to raise yet another army.

With this hard-fought victory, Constantine was now the sole emperor of the Roman world. For the next twelve years until his death in AD 337, he set about restoring peace and stability not only to the empire, but to the Church as well. He immersed himself in those intractable theological disputes that roiled the early Church, calling the Council of Nicaea to deal with the Arian heresy. Though he was ultimately unsuccessful in this endeavor, the Council of Nicaea came to be seen as a benchmark for councils of the universal Church and the creed it produced is still recited to this day.

But more than anything else, Constantine promoted vibrant Christianity to a weary pagan population for whom the old gods had lost the power of consolation and inspiration. He and his mother erected dozens of dazzling new churches across the empire. He issued edicts praising Christianity and condemning pagan superstitions, and he enjoined all his soldiers to recite prayers to God on Sundays.

By the end of his reign, Constantine had pruned back the rotting weeds of paganism and allowed the green shoots of Christianity to sprout up across the empire. Though subsequent Christian emperors would not match Constantine’s military prowess, Christianity would continue to thrive under them unabated from the firm roots set down during his reign.

So Constantine’s exploits were clearly not “gardens of Adonis.” But in fairness, Julian the Apostate could not have known that he himself would be the last pagan emperor of Rome. And while Julian’s vain efforts in the name of pagan revival would wither and fade immediately after his death, those of Constantine which he ridiculed would stand tall and strong through the ages, bearing abundant fruit.

[This article originally appeared in Catholic Men's Quarterly.]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A review of Philothea, or An Introduction to the Devout Life

Having read this book, I can now understand why St. Francis de Sales is a doctor of the Church. Simply put, Philothea, or An Introduction to the Devout Life is a roadmap to Heaven. But unlike many of the theological tracts or mystical tomes which one often finds professing to do the same thing, this book is, very simply, a practical manual for living a devout life in a world that is often antagonistic to Christianity. It is also the closest many will get to having a canonized saint as one's own spiritual director.

The advice offered is excellent, grounded in sacred Scripture and the teachings of the saints, and enlivened with colorful metaphors. (St. Francis obviously had an affinity for bees.) Though St. Francis lived 400 years ago, his guidance easily translates to life in the 21st century. He had a keen insight into the workings of the human mind, the devious yet innocent-seeming temptations presented by the devil, and the challenges faced by the soul seeking to live a pious life amid the petty cares of everyday life. And his insights transcend time and culture.

No one can read this book without finding a section that directly applies to them, whatever their state of life. St. Francis's spiritual exercises, admittedly, are difficult. But who can doubt that following them to the full would have wonderfully efficacious effects on the soul? I have begun instituting a subset of them in my own life and have already reaped benefits. I hope to include more of them as time goes on and my spiritual stamina improves.

St. Francis's advice on correct behavior, attitude, and personal morality is incredibly wise. Those who read and accept these teachings will assuredly live happier, more fulfilling lives, which are more pleasing to God. The several chapters on friendship--specifically true friendship versus worldly friendship--were of particular utility to me. I think many young Catholics would do well to read and ponder St. Francis's words on the subject so as to avoid temptation and the near occasion of sin in their relationships.

In short, this book is a masterpiece of spiritual advice and I can't recommend it highly enough. Best of all, one need not read it cover-to-cover. It may be dipped into for incidental advice based on the reader's own flaws, strengths, state of life, and spiritual needs. If you are looking for a straight-forward, uncomplicated path to Christian devotion, this book is it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: St. Fernando III: A Kingdom for Christ

Did you know that one of the greatest kings in Spanish history, Fernando III, was also a saint? I didn't. But thanks to author James Fitzhenry, I do now. Fitzhenry, who also penned El Cid: God's Own Champion, has written a detailed yet approachable biography of this fascinating and inspiring example of Catholic manhood entitled St. Fernando III: A Kingdom for Christ. Published by Lepanto Press, who have made a name for themselves by producing beautiful, high-quality Catholic books at a reasonable price, St. Fernando III is geared toward Catholic homeschooled kids, probably in the twelve and older age range. But the writing is exceptional and as a mature reader of eight-and-thirty years, the book easily held my attention.

Replete with family turmoil, civil strife, stunning miracles, romance, and dozens upon dozens of skirmishes, pitched battles, and sieges, the tremendous scope of St. Fernando's worldly accomplishments leave the reader dumbfounded. But the heart of this book is St. Fernando's total devotion to Christ and his Blessed Mother. Everything he did, he offered to God without reservation. In his willingness to suffer personal hardships, unfailing mercy toward his enemies, love for his wife and children, and care for the poor and afflicted, St. Fernando was a model of Christian virtue. In his everyday life, and especially when he faced a crisis, he turned to the Virgin and believed to the depths of his soul that she would intercede for him. And based on the magnificent achievements of his life, who can doubt that she did? For at the same time that the Christian states in the Holy Land were failing despite the best efforts of great crusading armies led by the most important crowned heads of Europe, St. Fernando was able to weld together the small kingdoms of Castile and Leon and use their combined might to reconquer almost all of Andalusia from its Muslim overlords.

So in short, this book is a gem. St. Fernando III is a Catholic hero who deserves to be more widely known. Now thanks to James Fitzhenry and his enjoyable book, he will be.

Friday, November 06, 2009

What vocations "crisis"?

There's a vocations "crisis" in Spain. According to a Catholic News Agency article there are only 20 Jesuit novices, 5 Franciscans, and 2 Vincentians in the entire country.

How is it, then, that there are over 135 Poor Clares (average age 35) in a single convent in Lerma with 100 more on the waiting list?

Much of it is thanks to the amazing charism of one remarkable nun: Sister Veronica Berzosal. When Sister Veronica entered the convent at the age of 18, there hadn't been a vocation in 23 years. She became vocations director at the age of 28 and since then, the number of nuns at the convent has quadrupled. The Spanish newspaper El Pais calls her, "the biggest phenomenon in the Church since Teresa of Calcutta." Here's a bit more about her from the CNA article:
Sister Veronica joined the Poor Clares Convent of the Ascension founded in 1604 in Lerma (Spain) at at time when it was going through a vocations crisis. It was January 22, 1984, and Marijose Berzosa - Sr. Veronica's name prior to entering the convent - decided, at age 18, to leave behind a career in medicine, friends, nightlife and basketball.

"Nobody understood me. There were bets that it would not last, but they did not feel the force of the hurricane that drew me in," says Sr. Veronica. "I was a classic teenager looking for a way out ... and I made a decision in just 15 days."
I have always found stories like this one to be so remarkable. Who else but the Holy Spirit could inspire a young person to do something this dramatic?

Thank God for women like Sr. Veronica. God send us more of them!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Literate Octopus


Here's a site that's been put up by a dear family friend who has just gone off to college. The purpose of the site is to be a resource for Catholic parents who are looking for quality reading/viewing/listening material for their kids. Here's what the site's creator says in her own words:
I am a homeschool graduate, a compulsive doodler, an aspiring author, a Catholic, and a lover of nature, literature and science.

I am also a student at an authentically Catholic college and I set up this website to help me actually afford to go! Each time you buy something on this site, I get a commission. I've selected books, movies, and music that I have enjoyed or have some way helped in my spiritual development. I hope you like them too!
So check it out. If you have kids, the stuff she has listed on here is gold--I know, because I've seen and read most of it myself! Plus, you'll be helping to put a very worthy and excellent young woman through a real Catholic college.

And one trick--if you click through one of her links that leads to Amazon.com and buy something there that's not on her list, she still gets a commission on it. So I've made it a point to click through the Literate Octopus every time I buy something on Amazon. It's a really easy way to lend a hand to a very deserving person.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Obama Nation

(This is an article I wrote back in March for the 2009 issue of the Tarpeian Rock literary magazine. Just getting around to posting it now. I'm a little behind schedule...)

This past November, the major news outlets triumphantly reported that Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential elections was due in no small part to the “youth vote”. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that over 68% of voters age 18-29 cast their ballots for Obama.

For many outside that age bracket, this was seen as a disheartening turn of events. Ridiculous optimist that I am, however, I choose to see the glass as 32% full.

Even the more honest Obama supporters will openly admit that their candidate was the recipient of the most massive deluge of media-driven idol worship in American history. Yet, despite this, millions of young Americans were able to slice through the hype and vote against Obama.

Of course, within the first few months of his administration, Barack Obama has turned out to be every bit as divisive and retrograde as his critics warned he would be. His solution to every problem we face is not just big government, but colossal government. What those young voters who came out so strongly for Obama don’t yet realize is that the bill for the trillions upon trillions of dollars in government spending that Obama has already proposed will fall squarely upon them. They effectively voted themselves a gigantic promissory note.

On the issue of life, Obama has already been a catastrophe. During the campaign, he famously pronounced that he wouldn’t want to see his daughters “punished with a baby” and declared that the question of when human life begins was “above his pay grade.” Yet his supporters piously assured us that Obama cared deeply about the unborn and that his policies would actually reduce the numbers of abortions.

Anyone who voted for Obama thinking he was pro-life is eating a big crow sandwich now. Among his first acts as president was a repeal of the Mexico City policy which forbade US taxpayer dollars from funding abortions in poor countries.

Worse, Obama supports FOCA, the ill-named Freedom of Choice Act. If this travesty becomes law, every hard-fought restriction on abortion would be swept away—including the right of parents to be informed when their minor child attempts to procure an abortion and the right of doctors not to perform them.

Abortion has claimed the lives of nearly 50 million “youth voters” since 1973. One would think that outlawing this hideous practice would be a major priority for the fortunate survivors.

Finally, there’s the issue of the recently passed GIVE Act, part of which authorizes the federal government to determine the feasibility of a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people.”

There’s a word for government-imposed “mandatory volunteerism”—serfdom. I don’t think many young people voted for that when they pulled the lever for Obama. An excellent take on Obama’s “youth service corps” was filmed by students at John Paul the Great University entitled “Who do you serve?” I encourage you to check it out on YouTube:



But what do I know? I’m an old guy. Pretty soon, most of these issues won’t even affect me directly anymore. I’ll be too old to worry about procreating. I’ll be collecting government entitlements, while all those Obama-voting youth will be paying massive taxes required to keep said programs afloat. And I’ll be too decrepit to be drafted into some government-run youth slavery program.

If youth voters want real change, you’re not going to get it voting for a guy who has repackaged failed socialist ideas from the mid-20th century and slapped his own personality cult seal of approval on them.

And a politician who gets 100% ratings from the abortion industry isn’t peddling hope, for without life, there is no hope.

Friday, October 02, 2009

On the other hand...

Here's a review of another book which purports to deal with the life and times of Constantine: The Age of Constantine the Great by Jacob Burckhardt.

Don't bother with this one. Burckhardt was a 19th century academic with an ax to grind against Constantine and a mission to rehabilitate the Christian-persecuting Diocletian. He pursues both of those ends with blind and tedious enthusiasm.

The book takes about 240 pages just to get to Constantine at all, as Burckhardt loses his focus amid 60 page digressions on pagan practices in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Perhaps most annoyingly, the modern translator has seen fit to strip out all of Burckhardt's references which makes the book into an unverifiable manifesto as opposed to a serious scholarly work.

There are much better and more accessible works out there on Constantine and his times than this one, such as Constantine and the Christian Empire mentioned below, just to give one example. Or, if you prefer to go straight to the primary source, try: The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine: From AD 306 to 337 (Christian Roman Empire Series, vol. 8).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review of Constantine and the Christian Empire by Charles M. Odahl

I have now read, in whole or in part, about a dozen biographies of Constantine the Great, from the original Vita by Eusebius Pamphilus written over 1,600 years ago, to several penned by excellent modern scholars. Hands down, however, Constantine and the Christian Empire by Charles M. Odahl is the best of them all. Comprehensive but never dry, dense with facts and references but also with relevant illustrations, this book draws the clearest and most compelling portrait of Constantine of any that I have read.

When researching an historical figure whose role remains the subject of intense debate to this day, it can be difficult to sift through the historical bias to find the real man. In the case of Constantine, we have a great majority of ancient sources which laud the man, and an even larger majority of modern commentators who vilify him. Odahl, however, avoids both of these extremes. Though obviously an admirer of Constantine, Odahl presents a balanced portrait which neither excuses the emperor's faults nor ascribes evil motives to even his overtly pious acts.

Specifically, I was impressed that Odahl:
  • Presented Constantine as a human being--not as a saint or, conversely, as a soulless politician.
  • Took the account of the vision of the Cross in the sky seriously, without ascribing it to some bizarre natural phenomenon or claiming that Constantine simply made it up.
  • Didn't make Constantine out to be a false Christian who only embraced the faith based on some political calculation.
  • Gives a very detailed and compelling account of the great tragedy of Constantine's reign--the execution of his son Crispus and his wife Fausta.
  • Dismisses neither the effusive biography of Constantine written by Eusebius of Caesarea nor the vicious attacks of the pagan historian Zosimus, but incorporates both into his narrative.
  • Has such an impressive grasp of the numismatic evidence -- including some illustrations of Constantinian coinage that I had never seen before.
So in short, if you are looking for a readable, accurate, fair, and intriguing biography of Constantine, this is the one. It may be just a tad heavy for a general reader, but for someone with even a passing interest, it will be an enjoyable read. If you're anything like me and like to go to the original sources after reading a book like this, I heartily recommend The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine by Eusebius Pamphilus, bishop of Caesarea.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: For the Love of Literature

I met Maureen Wittmann at a Catholic homeschool curriculum fair and found her to be a delightful lady, full of anecdotes and ideas. Her book, For the Love of Literature, reflects her wisdom and enthusiasm fully--it posits that you can teach practically every subject on the curriculum using good literature.

The book begins with some useful introductory insights on how to use your local library, how to build your home library, and how to design a literature study unit. It also provides a basic introduction to classical education and the Charlotte Mason method--both of which mesh well with Ms. Wittmann's ideas.

The bulk of this book, however, is made up of a literary guide broken down by subject. Areas covered include art and music, math, history, and science. The history section alone covers over 100 pages and is replete with hundreds of excellent suggestions. A kid who worked their way through all of the books listed would have a better grasp of history than 99% of adults.

But of course, this reading list is not intended to be followed from start to finish. Indeed, unless one were a voracious speed-reader, it would be a nearly impossible task. The strength of the book is that it can be used as a handy reference that the homeschooling parent can dip into as needed.

Imagine--rather than teaching the Elizabethan period by a dry recitation of facts and dates, you start your child off reading, Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal; or you begin a study of the crusades by having the child read an exciting tale like The Blue Gonfalon at the First Crusade. Using this method is sure to stimulate interest while helping the child build their reading skills at the same time.

Simply put, if you're a homeschooling parent, this book is a must-have--a gem. I fully endorse this method of teaching because it worked on me as a kid. Even though I was in traditional private Catholic school, I recall clearly how the books that made the greatest impression on me were literary works that put major figures into their historical context. This often inspired in me a desire to do more research on the figure in question or their time period and was the beginning of my love of history in general.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good reading for Catholics--thought provoking for all others

Here is a book on a subject that is perennially interesting to the general public--exorcism. As a Catholic myself, I have never had any doubt about the reality of the demonic. I believe that the Enemy of mankind and his minions are active in the world and it is through the willing acceptance of the Sacraments and the Grace offered by Christ that we are protected from their constant temptations and ultimately brought to salvation.

For this reason, I picked up this book with no little trepidation. Many books of this variety feed people's unhealthy fascination with the demonic and may indeed serve as a gateway to the occult. I am happy to report that The Rite by Matt Baglio is not such a book. It is mainly the story of one American priest, Father Gary Thomas, who went to Rome to train as an exorcist. Over the course of his training, Fr. Thomas got to experience dozens of exorcisms first hand as performed by experienced Italian priests. Many of these as described were fairly mundane with the victims experiencing only fits of coughing during the rite or foaming at the mouth. But a few particularly long-suffering victims had dramatic and violent reactions displaying incredible strength and incidents of the demon actually speaking.

It's hard to read a book like this and not come away with the conclusion that something supernatural is actually going on here. That said, Baglio is careful to point out that most exorcists do not make knee-jerk assumptions that everyone is possessed. In fact, one of the Italian exorcists that Fr. Thomas visited sent most of the people who came to him away with a simple blessing. When Fr. Thomas returned to America to begin his role as exorcist in his California diocese, the policy stated that anyone seeking exorcism must first have a psychiatric evaluation by a practitioner who acknowledged the possibility of possession. That struck me as a sensible way to approach the problem as most exorcists freely admit that many people who worry that they are possessed are actually suffering from a readily identifiable mental illness of one kind or another.

One item that stands out loud and clear in this book is that cases of true possession are on the rise around the world. This is due to the increasing influence of the occult both in Europe and America as many occult practices are direct gateways for demonic entrance into people's lives. Given the suffering displayed by the victims of possession as described in this book, it would be well for people to avoid even seemingly innocent occult practices such as messing with tarot or ouija boards.

The book also makes clear that there exists a dearth of priests available who can properly and licitly perform the rite of exorcism. Indeed, to their shame, many priests don't believe in possession--or the devil, for that matter--at all! Fortunately for the victims, this is a situation that is currently being rectified by the Church.

As a work of literature, The Rite is a quick and easy read. The flow of the narrative is a bit disjointed as the author introduces whole chapters on related tangents throughout the book. But as these subjects are usually interesting in their own right, this was not a major problem.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't Mess with Rolf

Rolf is the only son of Hiarandi the Unlucky. Most of his father's ill luck springs from the fact that he is compassionate and that his neighbor, Einar, covets his land and his spacious hall. The wicked Einar manages to get Hiarandi ensnared in legal difficulties and he is sentenced to spend a year within a bow-shot of his own hall. Not content, Einar sends his henchmen to trick Hiarandi into venturing beyond this perimeter where he will be fair game for slaughter. Hiarandi is killed, but in the process, young Rolf also kills one of Einar's henchmen. Now Rolf is made an outlaw and is forced to flee from Iceland until his sentence is complete. But Rolf will not be content until he can prove that his father was killed within a bowshot of his home--and thus make Einar subject to the law.

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow is a truly enjoyable read. It is a story told in the style of the Icelandic sagas, even including some of the same characters, but the prose is completely approachable for a modern reader. The reading level is about age 12 and up, I'd say, but a precocious 10 year old could handle the content. The book is perfectly suited for parents to read along with their youngsters and there is plenty of fodder here for discussions about important subjects like justice, virtue, greed, the law, corruption, and loyalty.

This book has the look and feel of a "young adult" novel, but I must admit that I enjoyed it very much, even though I'm approaching 40. I read the edition published by Bethelehem Books and was impressed by the production values--it's definitely worth a couple extra dollars. I recommend it heartily to all.

De-Certify Once-Catholic, Now-Dissident Universities

As disgusting and disgraceful as Father Jenkins and the board of Notre Dame have been over the whole Obama commencement speech fiasco, it now seems clear that this invitation is part of a larger trend among dissidents within Catholic academia in America.

Fordham University, a Jesuit institution in New York is hosting pro-abortion mayor Michael Bloomberg.

St. Joseph's University, another Jesuit university in Philadelphia, is hosting pro-abortion media talking-head Chris Matthews.

Yet another Jesuit institution, Georgetown Law School, is honoring pro-abortion vice-president Joe Biden.

What does all this mean? According to the NCR article linked above, it means that American "Catholic" universities:
...have declared in the bluntest terms possible that they, and not the American bishops, are the arbiters of what is acceptable conduct for an institution that calls itself a Catholic university. And as a consequence, the administrations .... don’t appear amenable even to any self-examination of their actions, let alone to any correction undertaken by the Church hierarchy.
I have a one-word term for what these institutions are doing: schism.

There is no other word for it when Catholic institutions fail to obey the clear instructions of their bishops--and by extension, the Pope. The American Catholic bishops have been dancing around this issue for so long that the heads of these Catholic-in-name-only institutions now feel strong enough to come out and issue a challenge in the open. They have thrown down the gauntlet and spit in the faces of the bishops.

I urge the bishops to pick up the gauntlet.

Take up the challenge by immediately stripping the offending universities of their Catholic identities.

Now, more than ever, it is necessary that we have "truth in advertising." The souls of young Catholics are at stake here and we can no longer allow these charlatans to continue educating young Catholics in the materialist liberation theology/Culture of Death heresy in the guise of authentic Catholicism. If they want to continue to preach it--fine. But let them do so outside of the Church!

The dissident left in the Catholic Church knows that it has lost. Time is not on their side. They have no vocations. Indeed, who would give their lives for such a pathetic milquetoast philosophy that attempts to water down and obfuscate the authentic Truth? Practically all the vocations in recent years are of young, orthodox Catholics, inspired by the Pope, who will continue revitalize the Church into the future.

But the aging and discredited dissidents are still in power in many important spheres and in order to solidify their eroding support among believing Catholics, they are hitching themselves to popular political leaders and the 'cultural catholic' support that comes with them. But because politicians are such unreliable allies who are popular one day, despised the next, the bishops should move to accelerate this process by calling their bluff and de-certifying the offending institutions. They don't behave or believe as Catholics anymore so why should they be allowed to maintain their Catholic identity?

Also, in my opinion, the Jesuit order ought to be suppressed--again. This time, for the right reasons. They have become political slaves and partisans of the Culture of Death.

Your Eminence, pick up the gauntlet!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lives of the Most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourished in the First Four Centuries With an Historical Account of the State of Paganism Under the First Christian Emperors By William Cave, Henry Cary

I found this very interesting work on Google and am bookmarking it for future reference.

Lives of the Most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourished in the First Four Centuries With an Historical Account of the State of Paganism Under the First Christian Emperors By William Cave, Henry Cary: "OF THE MOST EMINENT FATHERS OF THE CHURCH THAT FLOURISHED IN THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES AN HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THE STATE OF PAGANISM UNDER THE FIRST CHRISTIAN EMPERORS BY WILLIAM CAVE DD A NEW EDITION CAREFULLY REVISED BY HENRY CARY MA WORCESTER COLLEGE AND PERPETUAL CURATE OF ST PAUL'S OXFORD VOL II LIVES"

Friday, March 13, 2009

A beautiful tale of Ancient Rome and the early Christians

Twelve year old Gretorix is a slave from far off Britain. His master, Justus, has bestowed him upon Diomed, a Roman boy who is paralyzed from the neck down. The only thing keeping young Diomed alive is the hope that someday he'll be cured of his paralysis. When he hears that all Rome is abuzz with the teaching and miracles of the Galilean Simon Peter, Diomed sends his faithful Gretorix to find out all he can about the man and his God, Christus.

But trouble is brewing in the Eternal City. The profligate emperor Nero is at the height of his decadence, and the people are grumbling over the exorbitant taxes he requires to live his lifestyle. When a huge fire breaks out in the city, Nero desperately searches for someplace to pin the blame. With advice from his wicked Praetorian, Tigellenus, Nero falsely accuses the followers of Simon Peter--a shadowy sect known as Christians.

Originally published in 1963, City of the Golden House is a beautifully written novel that blends historical fact, legend, and fiction into a compelling and evocative story. Well suited for children ages 11 and up, the book includes an appendix with some historical data about ancient Rome and early Christian practices. This makes it ideal as a starting point for introducing your kids to this tumultuous period in history.

Highly recommended!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Starbuck nails it

Anyone who's a child of the 1980s like I am knows who Dirk Benedict is. He was Starbuck, the hot-shot Viper pilot on the original Battlestar Galactica. He was also Face, the wisecracking, lady-killing member of the A-Team.

Well, ol' Starbuck has a few things to say about Hollyweird that made me stand up and take notice. He wrote an article called "Lost in Castration" [warning: R-rated content] that appeared recently on Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood site. In the article, he slams the new 'reboot' of Battlestar Galactica as having a completely different--and lame--moral tone from the original series. Benedict writes:
“Re-imagining”, they call it. “Un-imagining” is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith and family is un-imagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume.
This is something I complain about all the time. The fiction, movies, TV shows, etc. that are released today are all morally repellant. Every character is a scoundrel and one's virtue is determined by how "tolerant" he is of someone else's "differences" [assuming, of course, that those "differences" are this week's talking-points memo of acceptable beliefs or behavioral fetishes]. Perhaps that's why I spend most of my TV-hours these days watching Korean historical dramas like The Great King Sejong [This show is vastly superior to anything on American TV, btw. If you can tolerate the subtitles, check it out].

Today, another article has appeared about Benedict, this one written by Mark Hemingway of National Review Online. And man, is this article ever littered with great quotes, among them:
“Hollywood attracts people who want to be famous,” Benedict says. “It attracts people who are insecure in who they are, and their identification comes from pretending to be other people. But it’s really a profession for 14-year-olds in terms of the intellectual demands on an actor — which is why children are so good at it. It’s difficult for adults to grow up and still be a 14-year-old.”
“Even up in Montana I’ve spent the last 20 years defending the right of my boys to throw a frickin’ snowball, to climb a tree, to jump off a little cliff, to go out in the canoe off my dock without a life jacket,” he says. “All the little boys that refused to give into that were put on Ritalin. The future warriors of America are all on Ritalin in the second grade.”
“The only thing I wanted to do was raise my boys. And I’ve done it. They are a joy to behold, and they are my contribution to the world and I can die happy tomorrow because of what I’ve done,” he says. “They understand this culture that they live in. They’re equipped. I’d rather have that than 25 Oscars.”
Go read the article that puts these quotes in context. It's a beauty. I hope Dirk continues to speak out on these issues--now more than ever, voices like his are desperately needed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Boston College -- Where young Catholics go to lose their Faith (assuming they ever had it to begin with)

It's good to know that BC is doing such a bang-up job catechizing the students in its care in the basics of Catholic moral teaching. In a recent article in the BC student newspaper, The Heights, it was reported that 89% of the voters in the recent school-wide elections approved of a "sexual health" referendum. According to an article by Alexi Chi in The Heights, this ballot question was:
added to the ballot by a group called BC Students for Sexual Health and calls for support for affordable sexually transmitted infections testing, the availability of prescription birth control medication, and condoms on campus.
Don't you just love the terminology? "Birth control medication"?

Referenda like this are a clear indictment not only of the so called Catholic identity of Boston College, but also of the cultural Catholic parents of the students who voted. One must assume that if 89% of the student body at BC votes against basic Catholic moral teachings, then:
1.) nearly 9 out of 10 students at BC are no longer functionally Catholic, and
2.) that the university itself is doing an absolutely wretched job of catechizing young people and helping them understand that giddily following the pied piper of pop culture depravity is a sure path to both earthly and eternal misery.
I am an alumnus of Boston College. BC was a moral sewer when I attended over 15 years ago. It's sad to see that little has changed--indeed, it appears that things have gotten even worse.

In years past, few parents knew that "Catholic" schools like BC had rotted from the inside out. Today, it couldn't be more clear--as referenda like this one so stunningly demonstrate. For that reason, none of my children kids will even consider Boston College when the time comes.

If you are one of the 11% of actual Catholics left in the student body at BC, I implore you: get out now. There are several excellent, authentically Catholic universities across the country who'd be happy to have you--Christendom, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Thomas Aquinas, Ave Maria University, Magdalene, and the new John Paul the Great University in San Diego, CA.

Don't waste any more of your time and money at a university that people jokingly refer to as "Jesuit, but not Catholic."

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Frank A. Lupo, Jr. -- 1971-2009

A dear friend of mine, Frank Lupo (center), passed away suddenly last week at age 37. I knew him from my high school days at St. Joseph's Preparatory school in Philadelphia and we had kept in contact over the years. The get-togethers became less frequent once we started having children, but Frank was the kind of guy who would always treat you like his best friend, even if he hadn't seen you in years. I immensely enjoyed getting together with Frank and his family and watching our children play together.

Frank was a true character--the life of any party. You knew when getting together with him that you were going to spend a lot of time laughing. But there was a lot more to Frank than just his sharp wit and his uncanny ability to come up with just the right zinger on any given occasion. Frank was also a blackbelt in Taekwando and could engage in a theoretical or intellectual conversation with the best of them. He was an absolutely voracious reader.

I always thought that we'd have more time to get together with Frank and his family as as our kids got older, but alas, God had a different plan for him. As it is, I will remember the good times we had and pray that I will be worthy to see him again some day in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Frank leaves behind a wonderful wife and three beautiful children under age 7. I ask anyone who reads this blog to:

1.) Pray for the repose of Frank's soul.
2.) Pray that the Holy Spirit comforts his wife and children in their grief.

Here is a link to the obituary.

If you feel moved by God to render assistance to the family during this awful time, contributions may be sent to:

The Lupo Children Fund
c/o Madison Saurman, Trustee
Smith Barney
12 Terry Drive
Newtown, PA 18940

Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review: The Hidden Treasure of Glaston

Young Hugh is the lame son of an English nobleman--and not just any nobleman. Hugh's father was one of the murderers who struck down Archbishop Thomas Becket. Forced to flee the country, Hugh's father leaves his 12-year-old son in the care of the studious monks of Glaston abbey. Hugh soon discovers, however, that prayer, bookbinding, and care for the poor aren't the only things that engage the inhabitants of Glaston. Mystery abounds and Hugh, the oblate Dickon, and the hermit Bleheris, are soon caught up in a quest for a magnificent treasure hidden for hundreds of years.

The Hidden Treasure of Glaston is a lovely little tale, written in pithy, flowing prose that will easily hold the attention of even the most distracted reader. Written by an author who is obviously comfortable in her historical milieu, the story offers abundant positive messages for both young readers and old, chief among them being the importance of forgiveness and the virtue of detachment from material goods.

Well-suited for kids ages 10 and up, the book is also a quick and easy read for adults. It is a good one to read and discuss with your kids and can serve as an introduction to the history of medieval England and the monastic life that dominated Christendom at a time when Europe actually possessed a culture it wasn't ashamed of. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 23, 2009

God bless Alveda King

There's at least one member of MLK's family that got some of the slain civil rights leader's courage.

Alveda King placed 1,400 flowers in front of the White House today, in honor of the estimated 1,400 Black babies that will be slaughtered today thanks to legalized abortion. In a LifeSite News article, King was quoted as saying:
"Over 45 years ago, my Uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from a Birmingham jail cell that ‘[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Today, there is no greater injustice than that suffered by the 4,000 babies, 1,400 of them black, who die on any given day at the hands of abortionists."
Ms. King has put her finger on a issue that many in the major media, and even in the so-called Conservative media, won't touch with a 20-foot pole--the connection between abortion, racism, and the suppression of minority groups.

When it is mentioned at all, this subject is usually presented by abortion advocates in coded language, i.e., "If not for abortion, crime would be way up." But I got to witness the reality of the situation close up yesterday while praying in front of an abortion mill. The clinic, located in a predominantly wealthy White suburb was doing a brisk business. And of the 20 or so cars that I saw entering and leaving the parking lot, only a single one had White people inside it. The rest were piloted by various members of the 'rainbow coalition'--the majority were Black. Does this happen by accident? I don't think so.

The irony that the first Black president is also the most pro-abortion president in history could not be more tragic. His policies will directly encourage more people of his race to destroy their own children. I pray that my Black brothers and sisters in Christ will open their eyes to this hideous fraud.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cyclopædia of Universal History Being an Account of the Principal Events in the Career of the Human Race, from the Beginning of Civilization to the Pr

Cyclopædia of Universal History Being an Account of the Principal Events in the Career of the Human Race, from the Beginning of Civilization to the Present Time ... By John Clark Ridpath: "No Text"

EWTN To Air 2009’s Historic “March for Life/Walk for Life”

The secular media has made an annual tradition of ignoring one of the largest protest rallies in the nation--the March for Life which takes place every January 22. Apparently, 200,000 people marching on the National Mall isn't news if their cause isn't one the elite media agrees with.

That's where media outlets like EWTN are so valuable. They will be broadcasting the March live. Here's an excerpt from their press release:
With President-elect Obama promising his first act in office will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops vowing to aggressively oppose this, the 2009 March for Life could be one of the biggest and most important in history.

EWTN will offer viewers the most complete coverage available on any platform of both Washington, D.C.’s March for Life and San Francisco’s Walk for Life. Coverage of the Jan. 22 events will include live Masses, walking processions, rallies, interviews, panel discussions, and speeches from pro-lifers around the country.

You can also watch or listen to these historic events live on our website at www.ewtn.com/audiovideo). Further resources can be found at www.ewtn.com/prolife. But that’s not all.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Our state-sponsored media

What do you call it when those in the so-called "free press" see their responsibility as primarily to exalt and defend our elected leaders?

Hat tip to Newsbusters for finding this.

Here's what Chris Matthews said back in November in the aftermath of Obama's electoral victory:
Yeah, well, you know what? I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work...My job is to help this country.
Sure, Chris. Just like you wanted to help this country when Bush was president by trashing him every opportunity you got.

Now, we've got Tavis Smiley saying something very similar on Morning Joe: "We're all working for Barack Obama," Smiley said, "we have to help make Obama a great president."

So there you have it. Any pretense of impartiality is out the window. The next four years are going to witness some of the most crass and outrageous regime-inspired propaganda the world has ever seen.

Obama has already shown himself adept at creating strange government offices that never existed before in American history. Given his giddy approval of government take-overs of failing industries, and the precarious financial situation of much of the American media, one wonders how long it will take the Great Obama to nationalize the media and rename it the Ministry of Propaganda.

At this point, that would be a more fitting appellation.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Burying talents in Albany

Yet another northeastern diocese is planning to close and consolidate a large number of Catholic churches. This time, it's Albany which for the past 32 years has been withering under the inept rule of Bishop Howard Hubbard. According to an article in the Times Union, roughly 20% of the parishes in Hubbard's diocese would be closing. Fortunately, the good Bishop has assured everyone that the abandoned churches would be sold and put to good use:
First preference, Hubbard said, would go to religious uses. Second would be nonprofits, and third would be the commercial sector.
"Religious uses"? Like what? I'm sure there are some folks who get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when they think of a lovely old Catholic church serving as a mosque or a Mormon temple, or a church of Scientology--but I'm not one of them.

Who's to blame for this disaster? Well, the Times Union seems to be blaming demographics:
Albany, like other dioceses across the Northeast, is grappling with urban flight and a shortage of priests. Since 1960, the city of Troy has lost 34 percent of its population, Albany declined 27 percent, and Schenectady dropped 25 percent.
There are many reasons for urban flight--high taxes, crime, bad economy, etc. I don't know Bishop Hubbard's record on these issues but there's little he can practically do about them. But I do know for a fact that Hubbard has done an exceptional job driving devout Catholics out of his diocese. And let's face it--if a bishop has been in control of a diocese for over 30 years, he has no one to blame but himself if 1.) vocations are almost nonexistent and 2.) Catholics are leaving the Faith in droves.

In short, Bishop Hubbard's excruciatingly long tenure has been an abject failure by any appreciable measure. And this round of closings is the logical conclusion of his failure to uphold and teach the Catholic Faith.

It's long past time for Catholics to start demanding accountability from their bishops. In my opinion, if a bishop has reigned for 10 years and his diocese is still a mess in terms of the faithful leaving the Church and shortage of vocations, he should be forced to resign.

Bishop Hubbard's efforts have been like those of the servant who buried his talent in the ground, to whom our Lord would say:
Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed...Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away. And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Hubbard should resign immediately before he does any further damage, and his diocese should be given to a prelate who knows how to increase the harvest of souls.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A dog returning to his vomit

The Obama administration is already looking like Clinton redux, so one would expect that among the first things our fearless leaders will do is demand that our armed forces enlist "out and proud" homosexuals. Of course, they won't do it as ham-fistedly as Bill Clinton did in 1992, but if you put your ear to the ground, you can already hear the wardrums beating on this issue.

As our leftist overlords won't be able to resist this opportunity for institutional deconstruction, I'm am taking the moment to post the inevitable outcome of such a move. In a "gay friendly" military, expect many more incidents like this one: Colonel Discharged Over Homosexuality [NY Times, July 27, 1997].

In brief, according to this NY Times article, Lt. Col. Loren S. Loomis, a bronze star recipient then age 50, was dishonorably discharged after his house burned down. The discharge was enforced after firefighters discovered that Col. Loomis had videotapes of himself engaging in sex acts with other men.

Oh, the injustice! Right?

Not exactly. Col. Loomis's house was set on fire by a 19-year-old Army private. Why? Because Loomis had taken nude photos of the private and the young man had burned the house down in an attempt to destroy the pictures in Loomis's possession.

Does this sound like the kind of distraction/fraternization we need in the military? Does anyone doubt that allowing open homosexuals to serve will result in a proliferation of this kind of behavior?

If you do, you might want to refer your opinion to the Catholic Church. Not too long ago, our bishops thought it would be a good idea to allow homosexuals to become priests....