Friday, September 30, 2016

"The scars of others should teach us caution." ~Saint Jerome

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“The scars of others should teach us caution.” 
~St. Jerome’s Letter to Furia, AD 394
September 30 is the feast day of Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (AD 347-420), otherwise known as Saint Jerome. Born in Roman Dalmatia, Jerome went on to become one of the most prodigious writers among the Church fathers, best known for his translation of the Sacred Scriptures into Latin, known to posterity as The Vulgate. He is a saint and doctor of the Church.

Among the extant writings of St. Jerome are over one hundred letters, many of these to women who sought his advice. Furia was a young widow who had written to St. Jerome for counsel on how to live after the death of her husband. In response, the saint wrote Furia a long missive full of advice.

Here is the quote above in its original context:
"Avoid the company of young men. Let long baited youths dandified and wanton never be seen under your roof. Repel a singer as you would some bane. Hurry from your housewomen who live by playing and singing, the devil's choir whose songs are the fatal ones of sirens. Do not arrogate to yourself a widow's license and appear in public preceded by a host of eunuchs. It is a most mischievous thing for those who are weak owing to their sex and youth to misuse their own discretion and to suppose that things are lawful because they are pleasant. All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. No frizzled steward nor shapely foster brother nor fair and ruddy footman must dangle at your heels. Sometimes the tone of the mistress is inferred from the dress of the maid.

Seek the society of holy virgins and widows; and, if need arises for holding converse with men, do not shun having witnesses, and let your conversation be marked with such confidence that the entry of a third person shall neither startle you nor make you blush. The face is the mirror of the mind and a woman's eyes without a word betray the secrets of her heart. I have lately seen a most miserable scandal traverse the entire East. The lady's age and style, her dress and mien, the indiscriminate company she kept, her dainty table and her regal appointments bespoke her the bride of a Nero or of a Sardanapallus. The scars of others should teach us caution. 'When he that causes trouble is scourged the fool will be wiser.' A holy love knows no impatience. A false rumor is quickly crushed and the after life passes judgment on that which has gone before. It is not indeed possible that any one should come to the end of life's race without suffering from calumny; the wicked find it a consolation to carp at the good, supposing the guilt of sin to be less, in proportion as the number of those who commit it is greater. Still a fire of straw quickly dies out and a spreading flame soon expires if fuel to it be wanting. Whether the report which prevailed a year ago was true or false, when once the sin ceases, the scandal also will cease.

I do not say this because I fear anything wrong in your case but because, owing to my deep affection for you, there is no safety that I do not fear. Oh! That you could see your sister and that it might be yours to hear the eloquence of her holy lips and to behold the mighty spirit which animates her diminutive frame. You might hear the whole contents of the old and new testaments come bubbling up out of her heart. Fasting is her sport, and prayer she makes her pastime. Like Miriam after the drowning Pharaoh she takes up her timbrel and sings to the virgin choir, Let us sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea. She teaches her companions to be music girls but music girls for Christ, to be luteplayers but luteplayers for the Savior. In this occupation she passes both day and night and with oil ready to put in the lamps she waits the coming of the Bridegroom. Do you therefore imitate your kinswoman. Let Rome have in you what a grander city than Rome, I mean Bethlehem, has in her."
Click here to read the entirety of this letter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Saint Isaac Jogues and the sign of the cross

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"The sign of the cross is adorable and could not do anything but good to those who should use it. I have no intention of giving it up."
~Saint Isaac Jogues
This quote is taken from an account in the Jesuit Relations.

Following their capture and torture by the Mohawks, Jogues's companion, René Goupil, was murdered by his captors. Jogues did not know why Goupil had been murdered, nor had he been allowed to collect the remains.

Here is the rest of the story, as recorded in the Relations:
"The following Spring, some children reporting that they had seen the Frenchman in a brook, the Father betakes himself thither without saying a word, withdraws those sacred remains, kisses them with respect, and hides them in the hollow of a tree, in order to remove them with himself, if it so happen that they would set him at liberty.
"He did not yet know the cause of his companion's death; but the old man who had caused him to be slain having invited him, some days later, to his cabin, and giving him food, when the Father came to offer the blessing and express the sign of the Cross, that Barbarian said to him: "Do not do that; the Dutch tell us that that act is of no account. Know that I have had thy companion killed for having made it upon my grandson; the like shall be done to thee, if thou continue.''
"The Father answered him that this sign was adorable; that it could not do anything but good to those who should use it; that he had no intention of giving it up. That man dissimulated, for the time, and the Father employed no reserve in this devotion—asking nothing better than to die for having expressed the mark and sign of the Christian." 
Read the account in context here.

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Father Jogues managed to survive his brutal captivity with the Mohawks. With the help of Dutch settlers at Fort Orange (now Albany, New York), he was able to escape back to France. Incredibly, this living martyr volunteered to go back to New France after a short period of recovery. A few years later, he found himself on a diplomatic mission to the very Mohawks who had tortured and enslaved him before. This time, however, he would not survive. The treaty with the French broke down while Jogues was still in Iroquois country. He was killed by a warrior who clove his skull with a tomahawk and then dumped his body into the Mohawk River.

Read more about the wars between the Iroquois, the French and their allies in Iroquois Wars I and Iroquois Wars II.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September 18, AD 324 -- Constantine defeats Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis

Today is the 1692nd anniversary of the Battle of Chrysopolis in Asia Minor. This was the last major battle between Constantine and Licinius for supremacy within the Roman Empire. With nearly 300,000 combined troops participating in the battle, it was one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the ancient world.

Here is a brief account of the battle given by the 5th century pagan historian, Zosimus, in his Historia Nova:
While Licinius was thus occupied, Constantine, who had a great number of transports as well as warlike vessels, and was desirous to make use of them in crossing over and possessing himself of the opposite shore, fearing that the Bithynian coast might be inaccessible to ships of burden, immediately constructed some small vessels, with which he sailed to the sacred promontory, which lies at the entrance of the Pontus, two hundred stadia from Chalcedon. He there landed his army, which, having done, he drew them up upon some adjacent hills. Licinius, though he then saw that Bithynia was already in the hands of his enemy, was rendered so desperate by danger, that he sent for Martinianus from Lampsacus, and in order to encourage his men to fight, told them that he himself would lead them. Having said what he thought necessary to encourage them, he drew them up in order of battle, and marching out of the city, met the enemy, who were prepared for him. A sharp engagement taking place between Chalcedon and the sacred promontory, Constantine had the superiority; for he fell on the enemy with such resolution, that of a hundred and thirty thousand men, scarcely thirty thousand escaped. When the Byzantines heard of this, they immediately threw open their gates to Constantine, as did the Chalcedonians also. Licinius after this defeat went to Nicomedia with what horse were left him, and a few thousands of foot. [Read more here.]
And here is another account given by Eusebius in his Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine.
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And inasmuch as he who had lately fled before him now dissembled his real sentiments, and again petitioned for a renewal of friendship and alliance, the emperor [Constantine] thought fit, on certain conditions, to grant his request, in the hope that such a measure might be expedient, and generally advantageous to the community. Licinius, however, while he pretended a ready submission to the terms prescribed, and attested his sincerity by oaths, at this very time was secretly engaged in collecting a military force, and again meditated war and strife, inviting even the barbarians to join his standard, and he began also to look about him for other gods, having been deceived by those in whom he had hitherto trusted. And, without bestowing a thought on what he had himself publicly spoken on the subject of false deities, or choosing to acknowledge that God who had fought on the side of Constantine, he made himself ridiculous by seeking for a multitude of new gods. Having now learned by experience the Divine and mysterious power which resided in the salutary trophy, by means of which Constantine’s army had become habituated to victory, he admonished his soldiers never to direct their attack against this standard, nor even incautiously to allow their eyes to rest upon it; assuring them that it possessed a terrible power, and was especially hostile to him; so that they would do well carefully to avoid any collision with it. And now, having given these directions, he prepared for a decisive conflict with him whose humanity prompted him still to hesitate, and to postpone the fate which he foresaw awaited his adversary. The enemy, however, confident in the aid of a multitude of gods, advanced to the attack with a powerful array of military force, preceded by certain images of the dead, and lifeless statues, as their defense. On the other side, the emperor, secure in the armor of godliness, opposed to the numbers of the enemy the salutary and life-giving sign, as at once a terror to the foe, and a protection from every harm. And for a while he paused, and preserved at first the attitude of forbearance, from respect to the treaty of peace to which he had given his sanction, that he might not be the first to commence the contest. But as soon as he perceived that his adversaries persisted in their resolution, and were already drawing their swords, he gave free scope to his indignation, and by a single charge overthrew in a moment the entire body of the enemy, thus triumphing at once over them and their gods. [Read more here.]

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fun with animated gifs.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you can take off on a whim and go to the beach for a day.
Another advantage is that you have a built in crew of accomplices who enjoy plans like that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On this day in history, September 13 -- The Battle of Ad Decimum

A 16th century drawing of reliefs on the Column of Arcadius
in Constantinople showing 5th century Roman Soldiers.
On September 13 in the year of Our Lord 533 -- 1483 years ago today -- was fought the Battle of Ad Decimum, wherein the Roman general Belisarius and his army defeated the formidable Vandalic host of King Gelimer. This battle paved the way for the Roman reconquest of the rich provinces of north Africa which had been lost to the Vandals some 80 years before.

We are fortunate in that the primary historian for this event was also an eyewitness. Here is how Procopius of Caesarea describes the run-up to the battle:
On that day, Gelimer commanded his nephew Gibamundus with two thousand of the Vandals to go ahead of the rest of the army on the left side, in order that Ammatas coming from Carthage, Gelimer himself from the rear, and Gibamundus from the country to the left, might unite and accomplish the task of encircling the enemy with less difficulty and exertion. 
But as for me, during this struggle I was moved to wonder at the ways of Heaven and of men, noting how God, who sees from afar what will come to pass, traces out the manner in which it seems best to him that things should come to pass, while men, whether they are deceived or counsel aright, know not that they have failed, should that be the issue, or that they have succeeded, God's purpose being that a path shall be made for Fortune, who presses on inevitably toward that which has been foreordained. For if Belisarius had not thus arranged his forces, commanding the men under John to take the lead, and the Massagetae to march on the left of the army, we should never have been able to escape the Vandals. And even with this planned so by Belisarius, if Ammatas had observed the opportune time, and had not anticipated this by about the fourth part of a day, never would the cause of the Vandals have fallen as it did. 
But as it was, Ammatas came to Decimum about midday, in advance of the time, while both we and the Vandal army were far away, erring not only in that he did not arrive at the fitting time, but also in leaving at Carthage the host of the Vandals, commanding them to come to Decimum as quickly as possible, while he with a few men and not even the pick of the army came into conflict with John's men... [Procopius: History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter 18]. 
Here is an excerpt from my novel, Belisarius: Glory of the Romans, which is an elaboration of the initial action of this battle, where a scout force under the heroic Roman general John of Armenia inflicts a catastrophic loss upon the Vandals. For this scene, I made use not only of the primary historical source, but also of the Strategicon of the Emperor Maurice to fill in some of the tactics.
Riding at the head of his small scouting column, Armenian John knew immediately how vulnerable he was in the narrow valley of Decimum. For that reason, he ordered his men to draw their bows and advance at a gallop, and so they traversed the defile armed and with speed. When they emerged, John immediately spotted something that took his breath away—an armed contingent of Vandals about equal in strength to his own force. 
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What John did not discern was that this small squad was commanded by Ammatas himself who had ventured out of Carthage to scout the lay of the land ahead of his main army. He had commanded the rest of the troops to follow along behind him as soon as they could. Once they arrived, he would line them up in ranks at the mouth of the valley, dig a ditch, and thus act as an impassible obstacle to the Romans on their way to Carthage. As it was, the bulk of the Vandal army of Carthage now advanced haphazardly along the road toward Deciumum with no great urgency in disordered bands of fifty or less.

As soon as Ammatas spied the Romans emerging from the valley, he moved his men to reconnoiter. Realizing that they formed a party no greater than his own, his heart became inflamed with the desire to spill their blood. "Vandals, behold! The invaders are at hand who would take all that is rightfully yours away from you!" he cried to his men. "Let us kill them all and make them regret their mad desire to challenge us!"

Wild with bloodlust, the Vandals gave a fearsome battlecry and followed their commander who charged ahead at full speed. 
When John saw the enemy surging toward him, the imminent danger of battle awoke in him a strange and urgent desire to retreat. Eudocia! his heart screamed. If I am killed here... 
But the instant this weakness arose, he crushed it. Belisarius would not retreat from an equal fight, his mind rejoined. He would show courage and meet the enemy head-on, trusting in God's help. Furthermore, John knew that he could not safely withdraw without causing his troops to panic and rout. For better or worse, battle was at hand and John decided to engage at once and try the enemy's strength. "Arrows!" he shouted, pulling his helm down securely on his head. "Behind me, to the flank, by fours! Eyes on the standard!"

John's superbly trained horse archers fell in behind him and all were soon galloping toward the Vandals, but at an oblique angle. Once the enemy was in range, John drew his bow and loosed. Every man behind him followed his lead. 
The volley hit the Vandal line with devastating results, slaying twenty men outright and toppling another forty from their mounts. The carnage only served to further madden Ammatas, who pressed home his attack, wheeling his column about to smash into the center of the Roman line. 
"Swords!" John cried. "Change front to the left!" His bandifer waved the signal and his men immediately complied. 
Ammatas hit them in a frenzy, he himself spearing one of John's best fighters with his lance on the first rush. But to the Vandals' surprise, the Romans held their ground and fought back with equal vigor. Ammatas had expected the Romans to flee as soon as the first blows were struck and his anger grew white hot as he realized that the enemy were dropping many of his men to the ground. 
"Will you let these worthless Greeklings stand forth against us, O Vandals?" the prince bellowed. "It would be a disgrace to our invincible heritage, for the wretched Romans have never defeated us in battle!"

His men cheered lustily, and with the added impetus, huge Ammatas slew another five Romans in rapid succession with his two-handed greatsword. "Come and taste death!" he screamed, his mount's heaving flanks now stained with the blood of his enemies. Two more Romans fought their way toward him, but before they could even aim a blow, Ammatas had slain them both. 
"The men are wavering!" Boriades shouted breathlessly to John who was beside him at the end of the battle line. "Their commander cuts through us like an all-slaughtering Achilles. Behold, another three have fallen before him." 
John could not respond immediately as he was engaged with a Vandal rider. With deft swordplay, he quickly unhorsed the man, and turned his attention to the center of the battle where Ammatas and his henchmen were killing all who dared challenge them. "You recall how Achilles was slain?" he asked. 
Boriades nodded and both men drew their bows. With anxious energy, Boriades loosed his shaft first and though it flew with power, it clanged harmlessly off the barding of a Vandal horse 
John carefully selected a straight shaft with undamaged fletching. O God, he prayed as he notched it on the string, if it be Your will, let this arrow fly true and seek out him most deserving of justice. He pulled the bowstring back behind his ear and let fly. The dart hissed through the air and thudded home in Ammatas's chest, penetrating armor, flesh and bone. 
At first, the powerful Vandal chieftan was unaware he had been hit. He decapitated yet another Roman, though with the stroke, his right arm tingled and felt weak. His head began to spin and he became aware of a terrible burning pain in his chest. 
"O Prince!" one of his henchmen groaned, his face white. "A dart..." 
Ammatas couldn't respond. His sword now seemed too heavy to lift and he felt himself drifting, sagging, falling. The next thing he knew, his face was in the dust—after that, only darkness 
A tremendous cheer went up from the Romans and a simultaneous cry of dread shattered the Vandals. With their commander slain—the king's own brother—none of them thought about fighting a moment longer. All immediately disengaged and began to flee back toward Carthage. 
"After them!" John cried, throwing caution to the wind. "Let none escape!"
Read the description of the whole battle of Ad Decimum in Belisarius, Book II, Glory of the Romans.

Or, read the account of Procopius in the History of the Wars here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Trier Ivory - A 5th century(?) procession bringing relics to Constantinople

Here is a high-resolution photo of the Trier Ivory which is housed at the treasury of Saint Peter's Cathedral in Trier, Germany. Click the image to see more detail.

It shows a sacred procession bringing relics of a saint to a church in Constantinople. The Roman emperor and empress may be seen meeting the procession at the doors of the church, surrounded by a crowd of nobles, ecclesiastics, and common people. The style of the artwork as well as the dress of the subjects seems to indicate a 5th-6th century AD date of origin, though this is the subject of debate by scholars. It is felt that the empress portrayed here could anyone from Helen, the mother of Constantine (d. AD 330) to Irene (d. AD 803).

I had never seen this particular late Roman artifact prior to yesterday. I find it to be a beautiful and evocative piece. It's a shame we have so little context for it.

Friday, September 09, 2016