Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The prophecy of the Christ in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue

Marble bust of Publius Virgilius Maro.
In a previous post, I described the messianic prophecy of the Erythræan Sibyl as expounded upon by the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in his Oration to the Assembly of the Saints, delivered in the early 4th century AD. In this same oration, Constantine cites the prophetic nature of one of Virgil's Eclogues to further support his premise that the coming of the Christ was predicted not only by the Hebrew prophets, but by pagan oracles as well.

Calling Virgil the "prince of the Latin poets," Constantine praises the 4th Eclogue, saying:
"We perceive that these words are spoken plainly and at the same time darkly, by way of allegory. Those who search deeply for the import of the words, are able to discern the Divinity of Christ. But lest any of the powerful in the imperial city might be able to accuse the poet of writing anything contrary to the laws of the country, and subverting the religious sentiments which had prevailed from ancient times, he intentionally obscures the truth. For he was acquainted, as I believe, with that blessed mystery which gave to our Lord the name of Savior: but, that he might avoid the severity of cruel men, he drew the thoughts of his hearers to objects with which they were familiar."
Constantine then proceeds to offer a line-by-line parsing of the text, providing his own commentary on the prophetic nature the verses. He lauds Virgil without reservation, pointing out that he remains a poet via his use of lyrical pagan religious language, and engages in prophecy almost accidentally and without presumption:
"Well said, wisest of bards! You have carried the license of a poet precisely to the proper point. For it was not your purpose to assume the functions of a prophet, to which you had no claim. I suppose also he was restrained by a sense of the danger which threatened one who should assail the credit of ancient religious practice. Cautiously, therefore, and securely, as far as possible, he presents the truth to those who have faculties to understand it."
Here is a complete translation of the Fourth Eclogue done by Paul Carus in 1918.

O ye Sicilian Muses,
   let higher our strains be and grander.
Tamarisks do not please all,
   nor a song of the vineyards, the lowly.
Take we our theme from the woods,
   let the woods of the consul be worthy.
Now comes the era described
   in the verse of the Sybil of Cumae,
From the beginning is started again
   the great order of ages,
Now does the virgin return,
   the Saturnian Kingdom appeareth;
Now from the heavens on high
   is descending a new generation.
"Thus" spake in concert the Fates
   addressing their spindles, according
To the eternal decree of the gods:
   "Run on, oh ye ages!
Bless him, the infant with whom
   discontinues the era of iron;
Bless him with whom will arise
   the new race that is gloriously golden,
Bless, chaste Lucina, the boy;
   now reigneth thy brother Apollo.
Now is beginning this wonderful age
   while thou rulest as consul.
Pollio, under thy sway,
   in thy year, the great months are proceeding.
Thou art the leader, and traces of crime
   that are not yet abolished
Will be forever removed,
   and the earth will be free from its terror.
First will the earth without culture,
   dear boy, bring thee gifts for thy childhood,
Vines of green ivy, and ladygloves
   lovely with wonderful fragrance;
Mixed with the cheerful acanthus
   will grow Colocasian lilies.
Yea, at the cradle for thee,
   there shall blossom the sweetest of flowers;
Goats will return by themselves
   to our homesteads with udders distended,
Nor any longer our cattle
   shall fear huge terrible lions.
Then will the serpent die out,
   and the herbs disappear that bear poison,
While the Assyrian spikenard
   will thrive in most bountiful plenty.
But when the age thou attainest
   to read of the deeds of thy fathers,
And of the heroes, and when thou
   beginnest to know what is virtue,
Then will the ripening ears of the fields
   by and by turn to yellow.
Then will be found the luxurious grape
   upon briars and brambles.
And the hard oaks will be dripping
   with honey, like dew in the morning.
But that boy will partake of the life of the gods,
   he will meet them,
Meet all the heroes; and he
   will in turn by the gods be beholden.
Over a pacified world will he rule
   patriarchic in virtue.
Yet some traces remain
   of the ancient insidious vices
Which will induce bold sailors
   the ocean to dare. It will prompt us
Walls round the cities to build
   and to cleave our acres with furrows.
Then will another ship Argo,
   well steered by a helmsman like Tiphys,
Carry new heroes to Colchis
   and other great wars are expected.
Then against Troy will be sent
   for a second time mighty Achilles.
Afterwards when thine own age
   has endowed thee with vigorous manhood,
Sailors no longer will sail on the sea,
   for no ships will be needed
For an exchange of our goods.
   All produce will grow in each country.
Neither the soil will be tilled with the hoe,
   nor the grape vine need pruning;
Even the bullocks will stray
   from the plow set free by the farmer.
Wool will no longer be dyed
   to exhibit the various colors,
For in the meadows the ram will
   himself grow a fleece that is sometimes
Reddish like purple and sometimes
   will turn into yellow like saffron.
Lambs when they feed, of themselves
   will be dizened in hues that are scarlet.
Deign to accept — for the time is fulfilled —
   the illustrious honors,
Thou, O loved offspring of gods,
   O son of great Jove, the Almighty.
See how the world toward thee
   with its ponderous mass is inclining.
See all the countries, the tracts of the sea,
   and the depth of the heaven,
See how they hail the arrival,
   they all, of the age that is coming.
Oh that my life for the future
   would last but sufficiently longer,
Also my spirit, that I thy glory
   might praise in my verses;
Neither should Orpheus the Thracian,
   nor Linus excel me in singing,
E'en though the former were helped
   by his mother, the last by his father.
Son of Calliope, Orpheus,
   and Linus, the son of Apollo,
Even if Pan would contest
   and Arcadians acted as umpires!
Even God Pan (may Arcadians judge!)
   will confess to be beaten.
Show, little boy, by thy smile
   that already thou knowest thy mother
Who for thy sake hath endured
   ten months of solicitous trouble.
Smile, little infant! on Thee
   have not yet been smiling thy parents,
Nor hast thou dined with the gods,
   nor been wedded as yet to a goddess.

In reading this, it is perhaps more clear why Dante chose Virgil as the first among the virtuous pagans and as a worthy guide for his descent down into the Inferno. For a brief history of Virgil's reputation as a crypto-prophet of Christ, see this excellent article by Ella Bourne (1916): The Messianic Prophecy in Vergil's Fourth Eclogue.

Constantine's complete Oration to the Assembly of the Saints may be found here. His commentary on Virgil's Fourth Eclogue may be found in Chapters 19, 20 and 21.

The Erythræan Sibyl's prophecy of the Christ

Michelangelo's Erythræan Sibyl
from the Sistine Chapel.
Most semi-conscious Christians are aware that the coming of Jesus was foretold in the Hebrew sacred books, particularly the prophetic writings of Isaiah. That said, almost no one today realizes that it was a common belief among early Christians that Our Lord’s advent was predicted by pagan oracles as well. It is for this reason that we see the various pagan Sibyls included among the Hebrew prophets in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Though normally possessed by demonic spirits in the form of pagan divinities, it was believed that these prophetesses would occasionally be compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth in order to help prepare the gentile world for the coming of Jesus.

One of the earliest proponents of this theory was, in fact, the emperor Constantine himself. In his Oration to the Assembly of the Saints, transcribed by Eusebius Pamphilius in the early 4th century AD, Constantine presents evidence that the Erythræan Sibyl, writing in Asia Minor hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, predicted both His coming and His judgment upon mankind. Constantine explains:
"The Erythræan Sibyl, then, who herself assures us that she lived in the sixth generation after the flood, was a priestess of Apollo, who wore the sacred fillet in imitation of the God she served, who guarded also the tripod encompassed with the serpent's folds, and returned prophetic answers to those who approached her shrine; having been devoted by the folly of her parents to this service, a service productive of nothing good or noble, but only of indecent fury, such as we find recorded in the case of Daphne. On one occasion, however, having rushed into the sanctuary of her vain superstition, she became really filled with inspiration from above, and declared in prophetic verses the future purposes of God."
He then goes on to cite the Sibyl's verses. A straight reading of the words reveals an eschatological text concerning the world's end and divine judgment using terminology which, though generally Judeo-Christian in tone, does not mention anything specifically Christian. The verses are remarkable, however, because the lines form an acrostic--that is, a poetic form in which a hidden message is related via the first letter of each line. In the Greek, these letters spell out the words: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross. These verses in the original Greek, and in a literal translation into English with explanation, may be found here.

The Erythræan Sibyl from the Duomo in Siena.
"It is evident," Constantine continues, "that the virgin [meaning, the Sibyl] uttered these verses under the influence of Divine inspiration. And I cannot but esteem her blessed, whom the Savior thus selected to unfold his gracious purpose towards us."

The first thought of skeptical moderns when confronted with these verses is that they are forgeries written by a Christian hand after the fact and dropped into the so-called Sibylline literature. Apparently, such arguments were current in Constantine's time as well, for the emperor mentions these types of doubts and has the refutation immediately at hand:
"Many, however, who admit that the Erythræan Sibyl was really a prophetess, yet refuse to credit this prediction, and imagine that someone professing our faith, and not unacquainted with the poetic art, was the composer of these verses. They hold, in short, that they are a forgery, and alleged to be the prophecies of the Sibyl on the ground of their containing useful moral sentiments, tending to restrain licentiousness, and to lead man to a life of sobriety and decorum. Truth, however, in this case is evident, since the diligence of our countrymen has made a careful computation of the times; so that there is no room to suspect that this poem was composed after the advent and condemnation of Christ, or that the general report is false, that the verses were a prediction of the Sibyl in an early age. For it is allowed that Cicero was acquainted with this poem, which he translated into the Latin tongue, and incorporated with his own works. This writer was put to death during the ascendancy of Antony, who in his turn was conquered by Augustus, whose reign lasted fifty-six years. Tiberius succeeded, in whose age it was that the Savior's advent enlightened the world, the mystery of our most holy religion began to prevail, and as it were a new race of men commenced."
Read the full Oration of Constantine (Chapters 18 and 19) here.

This testimony of the Erythræan Sibyl is later cited by Saint Augustine in his magnum opus, The City of God, Book 18, Chapter 23. Augustine provides his own translation of the acrostic verses along with additional information borrowed from the late 3rd century Christian apologist, Lactantius. The writings of Lactantius regarding the Sibylline prophecies and their relationship to Christianity may be found here.

See the second part of this post in which Constantine calls out and parses the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil, written in 40 BC, as another prophecy of the Christ.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Ottoman Turkish practice of Devshirme

Devshirme ~ Click to enlarge.
A particularly nefarious and brutal practice of the Ottoman Turks was known as Devshirme, or "Blood Tax". Devshirme involved the collection of male children from Christian families for service in the Ottoman army and court. In the early days of the empire, the collection took place only in newly conquered territories. As time went on, the practice was expanded throughout the empire, and was executed with particular ferocity in majority Christian regions such as the Balkan peninsula.

The targets of Devshirme were boys between the ages of 10 and 14. These would be forcibly taken from their homes to be circumcised and trained in Istanbul. Conversion to Islam was coerced, and some were made into eunuchs. Most became slave-soldiers in the Janissary corps, elite troops under the direct command of the Sultan. They were expected to forget everything about their previous lives and do the Sultan's bidding, even when it included the conquest and destruction of his Christian enemies.

What is most mystifying in our time is the willingness of some Western scholars to excuse the Devshirme system, or to approach the subject by making it morally equivalent with some of the most infamous practices of Christian princes. Worse, some have attempted to portray this forcible enslavement and gradual genocide as a legitimate and even benevolent means to advancement within the empire because some few of the captives were able to work their way into high positions within the Ottoman government. Personally, I do not understand this attitude. The Devshirme system was a barbaric atrocity that should be universally condemned without qualm or second thought.

To understand the impact of the Devshirme system on the subject Christian populations, here are a few excerpts from primary sources. First, we have a passage from a 1395 AD sermon of Isidore Glabas, bishop of Thessalonika. He offers a vivid description of the blood tribute which had been imposed on his city after its 1387 conquest by the Turks. This passage is taken from an article by Prof. Speros Vryonis Jr. entitled, Isidore Glabas and the Turkish Devshirme (1956):
"What would a man not suffer were he to see a child, whom he had begotten and raised…carried off by the hands of foreigners, suddenly and by force, and forced to change over to alien customs, and to become a vessel of barbaric garb, speech, and piety and other contaminations, all in a moment? … Shall he lament his son because a free child becomes a slave, because being nobly born he is forced to adopt barbaric customs? Because he who is rendered so mild by motherly and fatherly hands is about to be filled with barbaric cruelty? Because he who attended matins in the churches and frequented the sacred teachers is now, alas, taught to pass the night in murdering his own people, and in other such things?"
Here is another passage about the Devshirme during the time of Suleiman the Magnificent (Sultan from AD 1520-1566) from Bartholomew Georgiewitz, a 16th century Hungarian adventurer who spent 13 years as a Turkish slave. This passage is taken from The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule (1990) by Ivo Andric:
"Apart from the other tax burdens which the Christians had to bear under Turkish rule, from time to time their handsomest offspring were seized from them. Separating the children from their parents, the Turks would instruct them in the martial arts. These children, abducted by force, never returned to their parents. Alienated from the Christian religion, little by little they forgot faith, parents, brothers and sisters, and all their blood relatives, so that when they later encountered their parents they no longer even recognized them.

I can find no right words to picture the pain and sorrow, the weeping and wailing of these parents when their children are torn from their bosoms and out of their grasp by those fiends. To parents who had just barely begun to instruct their children in Christian teaching, the hardest thought was that the evildoers would soon succeed in seducing them away from the religion of their forebears and in turning them into dreadful enemies of the Christian religion and Christian people.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 20, AD 1522 ~ The Knights of Saint John surrender the island of Rhodes to the Turks

Grand Master's Palace, Rhodes. Photo by Norbert Nagle, Wikimedia Commons.
Though this event may sound like a minor footnote in history, the surrender of Rhodes by the Knights of Saint John (aka, the Knights Hospitaller) was the prelude to a major historical turning point.

A relic of crusader times, the Knights had been fighting a rear-guard action against the armies of Islam for over 200 years, retreating first from the Holy Land to Cyprus, then from Cyprus to Rhodes. When the 28 year-old Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent arrived on Rhodes with over 100,000 men, he was met by a force of less than 8,000 knights and allied soldiers intent on holding the island. These gallant few held the fortifications of Rhodes for six months. Hopelessly outnumbered, the grand master of the order, Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, finally sought terms of capitulation with the invading Ottomans. The surviving knights and defenders were permitted to leave Rhodes with full military honors on December 20, 1522. The Knights of St. John then settled on the island of Malta, where Suleiman would again find them forty years later when seeking a base for his invasion of Italy.

Here is a description of that gloomy day in 1522 taken from the magnificent historical novel, Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata. This scene comprises Chapter 1, and is a prelude to Prata’s masterful narrative of the Great Siege of Malta of 1565:
Rhodes, island home to the Knights of St. John of the Hospital, had endured an exhausting, relentless Turkish siege for six months. Sultan Suleiman’s vast forces had virtually destroyed the island in an attempt to dislodge the tenacious Knights from their residence of two hundred years. Buildings and walls lay in ruin. Gaping furrows stretched across the earth, testaments to exploded mines and collapsed tunnels. Turkish labor gangs dug in behind earthworks as weary Knights marked their movements from tall battlements.

For the moment, however, all was quiet. No cannon, Christian or Turk, challenged from land or sea. The Order’s Grand Master, Phillipe Villiers de l’Isle Adam, had accepted Suleiman’s invitation to parley, and rumor had it he would accept terms for an honorable withdrawal from Rhodes.

The Hospitaller standard, eight pointed white cross on a red field, drooped above the tower of St. Nicholas…

The winter-chilled battlements of lovely Rhodes, “the garden of the Mediterranean,” smoked behind the grim, armored figure of a towering Provencal knight. Jean Parisot de La Valette waited among his brethren for evacuation onto a galley. De l’Isle Adam had ensured the Order’s survival at the cost of its beloved island. The young sultan, impressed by the Knight’s stout defense and anxious to see them off Rhodes, had offered unusually gracious terms. The Knights would leave with all their arms, belongings and ships. All civilians who wished to leave with them might do so as well.

The Grand Master’s acquiescence, however wise, was unpopular with La Valette and his monastic brothers. But where La Valette, not yet twenty-eight, bore the defeat with mature silence, his comrades voiced their grief. Scion of a family whose sons had graced the crusading army of St. Louis the Pious, he viewed the defeat as an affront to God and a blow to personal honor.

Though the heroic defense of Rhodes would later be immortalized in Europe, and Hospitaller wounds salved with quotes such as “Nothing in the world was ever lost so well as Rhodes,” the Order’s future looked indeed bleak. In an age of dawning nationalism, a sovereign, multi-national religious order with papal allegiance was an unwelcome anachronism. Few European kings viewed the Order’s continued presence as necessary or beneficial.

A powder cask exploded in the Turkish lines and suspicious Knights turned toward the noise. Many feared Suleiman had broken truce after tricking them from their strong positions. A clamor arose over the pier as men reached for their weapons.

La Valette remained motionless. He feared neither treachery nor death after ceding territory to the enemies of Christ. True, the Grand Master had accepted Suleiman’s terms at the behest of the battered Rhodian population, but such considerations did not allay La Valette’s grief.

La Valette dropped a gauntlet and rubbed red eyes which stared from his sternly handsome, soot-encrusted face. He thought:

I find no fault with the Grand Master, but I would have defended this place though all Islam attacked. He leaned upon his sword. To the very last man.

La Valette’s mind wandered. Where would the order relocate? He was overcome by a sudden wave of homesickness, as though already a thousand miles away. This defeat is a bitter pill! He thought of his young sister back in France.

Will my kin see the Turkish crescent raised above our lands? he wondered with shame.

La Valette slid the open-faced salade off his curly head. “God, how we’ve failed,” he sighed.

“Brother Jean?” a Knight said.

La Valette looked at the man, an Italian whom the siege had made closer than family.


The Italian motioned up a gangplank. “It’s our turn.”

It was then the Order struck the colors above the Tower of St. Nicholas. Gazing across the Mandraccio’s calm waters, La Valette watched the Hospitaller cross descend the flagpole and disappear behind Nicholas’ walls.

La Valette felt as though he had been stabbed and silently prayed he might go blind before ever again witnessing such a sight.
You can order a copy of Angels in Iron by clicking here.

For a good summary of the siege of Rhodes, see this multi-part article from The Gates of Vienna blog.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The earliest account of St. Juan Diego's vision at Guadalupe

Codex Escalada ~ The earliest known representation of the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

December 9 is the feast of St. Juan Diego, visionary of Guadalupe whose famous tilma may be seen to this day in the basilica at Tepeyac hill. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the tilma on a visit to Mexico City in 1988, though it was enclosed in a glass case about 15 feet overhead and you had to get on a moving walkway to see it.

Following is the earliest extant history of Juan Diego's story from a Nahuatl document called the Nican Mopohva (Here it is Told). It is thought that this document was composed in the 1560s, about thirty years after the events it describes. This excerpt is taken from Emeritus Professor David K. Jordan's website at UCSD where he has provided a sentence-by-sentence translation. Please visit to read the whole thing and for additional background information.
Here it is told, and set down in order, how a short time ago the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary Mother of God, our Queen, miraculously appeared out at Tepeyac, widely known as Guadalupe. First she caused herself to be seen by an Indian named Juan Diego, poor but worthy of respect; and then her Precious Image appeared before the recently named Bishop, Don Fray Juan de Zumárraga.

Ten years after the City of Mexico was conquered, with the arrows and shields put aside, when there was peace in all the towns, just as it sprouted, faith now grows green, now opens its corolla, the knowledge of the One by whom we all live: the true God.

At that time, the year 1531, a few days into the month of December, it happened that there was a humble but respected Indian, a poor man of the people; his name was Juan Diego; he lived in Cuauhtitlán, as they say. And in all the things of God, he belonged to Tlaltilolco.

And as he drew near the little hill called Tepeyac it was beginning to dawn. He heard singing on the little hill, like the song of many precious birds; when their voices would stop, it was as if the hill were answering them; extremely soft and delightful; their songs exceeded the songs of the coyoltotl and the tzinitzcan and other precious birds.

Juan Diego stopped to look. He said to himself: "By any chance am I worthy, have I deserved what I hear? Perhaps I am only dreaming it? Perhaps I'm only dozing? Where am I? Where do I find myself? Is it possible that I am in the place our ancient ancestors, our grandparents, told about, in the land of the flowers, in the land of corn, of our flesh, of our sustenance, possibly in the land of heaven?"

He was looking up toward the top of the hill, toward the direction the sun rises from, toward where the precious heavenly song was coming from. And then when the singing suddenly stopped, when it could no longer be heard, he heard someone calling him, from the top of the hill, someone was saying to him: "Juan, Dearest Juan Diego."

Then he dared to go to where the voice was coming from, his heart was not disturbed and he felt extremely happy and contented, he started to climb to the top of the little hill to go see where they were calling him from. And when he reached the top of the hill, when a Maiden who was standing there, who spoke to him, who called to him to come close to her. And when he reached where she was, he was filled with admiration for the way her perfect grandeur exceeded all imagination...

He prostrated himself in her presence. He listened to her voice [her breath], her words, which give great, great glory, which were extremely kind, as if she were drawing him toward her and esteemed him highly. She said to him, "Listen, my dearest-and-youngest son, Juan. where are you going?"

And he answered her: "My Lady, my Queen, my Beloved Maiden! I am going as far as your little house in Mexico-Tlatilolco, to follow the things of God (everything that makes God be God) that are given to us, that are taught to us by the ones who are the images of Our Lord: our priests."

Then she talks with him, she reveals her precious will, and she says to him: "Know, be sure, my dearest-and-youngest son, that I am the Prefect Ever Virgin Holy Mary, mother of the one great God of truth who gives us life, the inventor and creator of people. the owner and lord of what is around us and what is touching us or very close to us, the owner and lord of the sky, the owner of the earth. I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which I will show him, I will exalt him on making him manifest; I will give him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassionate gaze, in my help, in my salvation, because I am truly your compassionate mother, yours and of all the people who live together in this land, and of all the other people of different ancestries, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust in me, because there I will listen to their weeping, their sadness, to remedy, to cleanse and nurse all their different troubles, their miseries, their suffering. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful gaze is trying to do, go to the residence of the bishop of Mexico, and you will tell him how I am sending you, so that you may reveal to him that I very much want him to build me a house here, to erect my temple for me on the plain; you will tell him everything, all that you have seen and marveled at, and what you have heard. And know for sure that I will appreciate it very much and reward it, that because of it I will enrich you, I will glorify you; and because of it you will deserve very much the way that I reward your fatigue, your service in going to request the matter that I am sending you for. Now, my dearest son, you have heard my breath, my word: go, do what you are responsible for [in this effort]."

Read more here...
The image included above is of the Codex Escalada, a depiction on deer skin of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego dated tentatively to 1548. For a very interesting discussion of the provenance of this item, see this article by Daniel J. Castellano.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

"Infamy" -- FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech 75 years later

The above video shows the "infamous" speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which took place 75 years ago today. The full text of the speech is below.

Worthy of note, as mentioned by President Roosevelt in this speech, is that the Japanese simultaneously attacked the Philippines (which hosted over 30,000 American soldiers) and Guam, an American territory. They also attacked the British territories of Malaya and Hong Kong, and the American outposts on Wake and Midway islands in the central Pacific. So while the main attack centered on Hawaii on December 7, it was only a part of a greater onslaught across the Pacific which the Japanese strategists had carefully planned months in advance.

Lightly defended Guam fell quickly after token resistance, but the battle for the Philippines raged for five months, ending in the death or capture of 23,000 American soldiers and about 100,000 Filipinos. It was one of the worst defeats in US history. The attacks on Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya resulted in a declaration of war by Britain on Japan on December 8, but these territories also quickly fell to Japan. The British defeat in Malaya and Singapore in February 1942 resulted in the death or capture of over 100,000 British, Indian and Australian troops and was considered by Churchill to be the worst capitulation in British military history.

Also worth noting is President Roosevelt's invocation of the Almighty toward the end of his speech.
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
As we look back on World War II with 75 years of hindsight, we can often be lulled into the idea that Allied victory was a foregone conclusion. Yet, considering the magnitude of the defeats inflicted upon US and British forces by the Japanese during the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, such thoughts would not have occurred to US citizens and military leaders. It took an unprecedented civilizational effort to undo the mischief wrought by the Empire of Japan in the early phase of the war. Our ancestors should be honored for having the unbounded determination to gain the inevitable triumph. God certainly did help them.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

December 6 ~ Saint Nicholas, defender of the innocent, pray for us

Painting done in 1888 by Russian artist Ilya Repin portraying the incident
described in the article below. It is entitled: Saint Nicholas Saves Three
Innocents from Death.

December 6 is the feast of Saint Nicholas of Myra, later of Bari. Though known more commonly in modern times for his connection with “Santa Claus”, Saint Nicholas was considered a great saint in his day and numerous anecdotes relating to his acts of holiness, courage and generosity have come down to us from antiquity.

Here is an excerpt from an anonymous history from the 4th century AD entitled, Praxis de Stratelatis (Act of the Generals). In it, we see Saint Nicholas doing what he does best: using his authority as bishop to rescue the innocent and speak the truth to the secular authority.
…Nicholas urged the soldiers to climb with him to the bishop’s palace. Just then some people came from the city to that most holy man, saying: “Lord, if you had been in the city, three innocents would not have been handed over to death as they were, because Judge Datianus, taking those three men into custody, has ordered them beheaded. The whole city is in a turmoil because Your Sanctity was not to be found there.”
On hearing this, the most holy bishop became downcast. After speaking with the soldiers, he took their leaders and crossed the city. Coming to a plaza named Leonti, he asked those who were coming away from those who had received sentence whether they were still alive. They told him that the men still lived and were directly ahead at a place known as Dioscorus, which they would find at the martyrium of the brother confessors Crescentius and Dioscorus. As they were talking, Nicholas said that the victims ought by now to be coming out. When they got to the gate, some told him that they were in a place called Byrra: that was to be place of the beheading. 
Saint Nicholas, now running, found a great crowd of people before the executioner, who was holding his sword up, anticipating the coming of the holy man. When Nicholas came up to the place of the confessors of Christ, he found the three men with their faces covered with linen cloths. They had been placed in position, with their hands tied behind them. They were bending their knees and bowing their heads, expecting death. 
At that moment Saint Nicholas, according as it is written, “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs xxviii, 1), fearlessly grabbed the sword from the executioner and cast it to the ground. Loosening the men from their chains, he took them with him to the city. 
Walking down to the Pretorium, he thrust open the door and entered the presence of Eustathius the Praeses. The Praeses, hearing from a guard what had been done, now walked up to honor the holy man. 
But the servant of God, Nicholas, turned away from him saying: “Sacrilegious blood shedder! How dare you confront me, apprehended in so many and such evil acts! I will not spare or forgive you, but will let the mighty emperor Constantine know about you—how many and how serious are the sins which you have been discovered in, and in what fashion you administer your princely prefecture.” 
Then Eustathius the Praeses fell to his knees and begged him: “Be not wrathful with thy servant, lord, but speak the truth, that I am not the guilty one, but the heads of state, Eudoxius and Simonides.” 
Nonetheless the holy man answered: “It is not Eudoxius and Simonides who did this, but silver and gold.” For the holy man had learned that the Praeses was to receive more than two hundred pounds of silver to execute the citizens for crime. Yet the most holy man, after the officers of the army had earnestly spoken in behalf of the Praeses, granted him pardon, once the charges which the Praeses had leveled against the three men were cleared....
The story then proceeds to Constantinople where the holy bishop, via an appearance in the dreams of Constantine and the Praetorian Prefect of the East, Ablabius, manages to save from execution three army officers who had been present at the above events in Myra. To read the full account of these events from Praxis de Stratelatis, visit this website sponsored by The Saint Nicholas Center.

This translation was originally done by Charles W. Jones and appeared in his book, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan.

I was privileged to be able to visit the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari back in 2000. As a result of that visit, we named our second son, Nicholas, so I have a particular devotion to this saint.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Saint Crispina, Martyr, AD 304

Saint Crispina among the female martyrs in a 6th century mosaic.

On December 5, in the year AD 304, a wealthy Roman matron named Crispina was executed by beheading for the crime of being a Christian. This act took place during the empire-wide persecutions instigated during the Tetrarchy of Diocletian, Galerius, Maximianus and Constantius. A transcript of Crispina's trial has come down to us, and it is considered authentic owing to the subsequent fame of this martyr who was worthy to be named several times by Saint Augustine in sermons about a century later. She is also featured in the procession of female martyrs in the nave of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna from the mid-6th century AD. The image above is a detail from this mosaic, featuring St. Crispina (center).

Here is the transcript of St. Crispina’s trial. This excerpt featured in the video above and pasted below is taken from St. Alphonsus de Ligouri’s Victories of the Martyrs, originally written in 1776 (English translation by Fr. Eugene Grimm, 1887):
St. Crispina was held in high veneration all through Africa, and is honored by St. Augustine in various parts of his works, in which he speaks of her martyrdom. She was a noble lady, very rich, and the mother of several children. When she found herself in danger of losing her children, her possessions, and her life, in the persecution which was then raging, instead of being intimidated, she was filled with a holy joy, not unworthy of the Christian education which she had received from her most tender years. 
Being arrested in her native city of Thagara by order of the proconsul Anulinus, and brought before his tribunal, he inquired of her whether she was aware of the imperial edicts which commanded that all persons should sacrifice to the gods of the empire. She replied: “I have never sacrificed, nor will I sacrifice to any other than to one God, and to our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who was born and suffered for us.” 
Anulinus then said: “Leave this thy superstition, and adore the gods.”
“Every day,” said Crispina, “I adore my God, and besides him I know of no others.”
“I perceive now,” said the judge, “that thou art obstinate, and dost contemn our gods: thou must be made to experience the rigor of the laws.” 
“I shall suffer most willingly,” replied the saint, “whatever may be exacted as the testimony of my faith.” 
“I will give thee to read,” said the proconsul, “the edict of the emperor, which it behooveth thee to observe.”
The saint replied: “I observe the commands of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
Anulinus: “But thou shalt lose thy head, unless thou wilt observe the commands of the emperor, as they are observed throughout Africa.”
Crispina: “No one shall oblige me to sacrifice to demons: I sacrifice to the Lord only, who made heaven and earth.” 
Here the proconsul began to exhort her to obey the edicts and to avoid the terrible consequences of the emperor’s wrath. 
The saint courageously replied: “I fear not the anger of men. All they can do is nothing: I fear only God who is in heaven; and I should be lost forever were I to offend him by sacrilege.” 
“Thou shalt not,” said the proconsul, “be guilty of that crime by obeying the princes and adoring the gods of the Romans.” 
But Crispina, raising her voice, exclaimed: “Wouldst thou then have me guilty of sacrilege before God, in order not to appear sacrilegious to the eyes of men? It never shall be! God alone is great and omnipotent, the Creator of all things. Men are his creatures. What, therefore, can they do?” 
Anulinus, seeing that the saint continued firm in the faith, after some other invectives and threats, ordered that her head should be shaved, as a token of degradation, adding, that if she continued obstinate he would condemn her to a most cruel death. 
The saint answered: “I care not for the present life, and am only anxious for the life of my soul. I fear eternal torments only.” 
“Instantly obey," exclaimed the proconsul, “or your head shall at once be struck off!” 
The saint meekly answered: “I shall return thanks to my God, for making me worthy of this blessed lot. God is with me, that I may not consent to thy suggestions.”
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Here Anulinus exclaimed: “Why do we any bear with this impious woman?” Then, having caused the process of her trial to be read over, pronounced the final sentence, that Crispina should lose her head, for obstinately refusing to sacrifice to the gods, in obedience to the edicts. 
Crispina, having heard the iniquitous sentence, calmly and with holy joy said: “I return thanks to Jesus Christ, and I bless the Lord who has vouchsafed thus to deliver me from the hands of men.” 
She consummated her martyrdom on the 5th December, about the year 304. 
This account is also featured in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources.

Here is an excerpt from Saint Augustine’s Sermon on Psalm 120 which was given about 100 years after St. Crispina’s martyrdom:
May the Lord guard your soul. Yes, your very soul. May the Lord guard your going in, and your coming out henceforth and for ever. It does not say He will guard your body, for the martyrs were slain as to their bodies; rather may the Lord guard your soul, because as far as their souls were concerned, the martyrs did not yield.
The persecutors turned their rage against Crispina, whose birthday we celebrate today. They unleashed their savagery against a rich woman delicately nurtured; but she was strong, because the Lord was for her a better defense than the hand of her right hand, and He was guarding her.
Is there anyone in Africa who does not know about these events, brothers and sisters? Scarcely, for she was extremely famous, of noble stock and very wealthy. But all these advantages belonged to the left hand and were under her head. The enemy attacked, intent on striking her head, but all that was presented to him was the left hand, which was beneath her head. The head was on top, and Christ’s right hand was embracing her from above. Had the persecutor power to do anything, even against so delicate a woman? She was of the weaker sex, perhaps enfeebled by riches and quite frail in body in consequence of the life to which she had been accustomed. But what did all this signify, compared with the bridegroom whose left hand was beneath her head, whose right hand was embracing her? Was the enemy ever likely to overthrow one so fortified? He struck her, certainly, but only in the body. 
What does the psalm say? May the Lord guard your soul. The soul did not yield, though the body was struck down. And even the body was only slain for a time, for it is destined to rise again at the end. He who graciously willed to be the Church’s head surrendered his own body to be killed, but only for a time. He raised his flesh to life again on the third day, and he will raise ours at the end. The head was raised that the body might wait expectantly and not faint. 
Preached by Saint Augustine on December 5, AD 406 or 407. Read the entire sermon in Expositions of the Psalms 99-120 by Maria Boulding, OSB, beginning on page 510.