Friday, September 15, 2017

"That the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops"

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"This event [the death of (anti) Pope Felix] was, no doubt, ordained by God, that the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops; for such an arrangement is a sign of discord, and is foreign to ecclesiastical law." 
 ~Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, ca. AD 440
This quote is taken from a curious bit of history when the Church was torn by the Arian heresy.

After the death of Constantine the Great in AD 337, sole rule of the empire eventually devolved upon his son, Constantius II. While Constantius was just as devoted to achieving unity within the Church as was his father before him, he unfortunately lacked his father’s patience and light touch when dealing with ecclesiastical affairs. In AD 355, Constantius was so fixated on unifying the Nicean orthodox, semi-Arian and Arian parties, that he deposed and exiled Pope Liberius when the latter refused to sign a condemnation of Saint Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy who steadfastly opposed the heresy of Arius.

While Liberius was in exile, the Roman clergy elected a new pope—Felix II. Felix reigned for a little over a year, but it seems that the people of Rome never accepted him. In fact, they agitated loudly for the recall of Pope Liberius. In AD 357, Constantius gave in and ended the exile of Liberius. Why this happened is a matter of vigorous scholarly debate even to this day, and the ancient sources are quite confused. Did Liberius give in and sign documents assenting to a semi-Arian formula and condemning St. Athanasius? Did he recant upon his return to Rome? Or did he remain steadfast until the emperor simply ended his exile to appease the people of Rome?

These questions are probably not answerable, but once Constantius allowed Liberius to return to Rome, a curious thing happened, according to the 5th century ecclesiastical historian, Sozomen:
The bishops who were then convened at [a synod in] Sirmium wrote to Felix, who governed the Roman church, and to the other bishops, desiring them to receive Liberius. They directed that both should share the throne and discharge the priestly duties in common, with harmony of mind; and that whatever illegalities might have occurred in the ordination of Felix, or the banishment of Liberius, might be buried in oblivion.
Having two popes at the same time was a radical, unworkable solution to the problem. For the people of 4th century Rome, the idea of two popes was a complete non-starter. They welcomed Liberius back like a conquering hero. Felix, in the meantime, was chased out of the city, but it seems he never renounced the papal office. Sozomen concludes this episode, saying:
The people of Rome regarded Liberius as a very excellent man, and esteemed him highly on account of the courage he had evinced in opposing the emperor, so that they had even excited seditions on his account, and had gone so far as to shed blood. Felix survived but a short time; and Liberius found himself in sole possession of the church. This event was, no doubt, ordained by God, that the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops; for such an arrangement is a sign of discord, and is foreign to ecclesiastical law.
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To read the entire passage from Sozomen in context, visit here. You can also read it in book form in the forthcoming new edition of The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen which should be published within the next month or so.

Interestingly, Liberius is the first pope in the 350 year history of the Church to that point who was not considered a saint of the Latin Church, though he is revered as such in the East. Felix II, however, was considered a saint, at least for a time.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Parenting advice from Saint John Chrysostom, late 4th century AD

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"Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure."
~Saint John Chrysostom
The above quote is taken from Saint John Chrysostom's Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up Their Children.

Saint John was Patriarch of Constantinople at the end of the 4th century AD and was well known as a powerful speaker who did not shrink from condemning the actions of the rich and powerful. This tendency earned him the enmity of the Empress Eudoxia. His courage eventually led to his banishment from Constantinople. He died in exile.

Here is the above quote in context:
66. Let us pass to the despotic part of the soul, spirit. We must not eliminate it utterly from the youth nor yet allow him to use it all the time. Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure. 
67. How shall we attain this? If they practice themselves among their own slaves and are patient when slighted and refrain from anger when they are disobeyed, but narrowly examine the faults that they themselves have committed against others. The father is arbiter at all times in such matters. If the laws are transgressed, he will be stern and unyielding; if they are observed, he will be gracious and kind and will bestow many rewards on the boy. Even so God rules the world with the fear of Hell and the promise of His Kingdom. So must we too rule our children. 
68. And let there be many on all sides to spur the boy on, so that he may be exercised and practiced in controlling his passions among the members of the household. And, just as athletes in the wrestling school train with their friends before the contest, so that when they have succeeded against these they may be invincible against their opponents, even so the boy must be trained in the home. Let his father or brother oftentimes play the chief part in treating him with despite. And let them all strive their hardest to overcome him. Or let someone in wrestling stand up to him and defend himself so that the boy may try his strength against him. So, too, let the slaves provoke him often rightly or wrongly, so that he may learn on every occasion to control his passion. If his father provoke him, it is no great test; for the name of father, taking first possession of his soul, does not permit him to rebel. But let his companions in age, whether slave or free, do this, that he may learn equability amongst them. 
To read the entire address, click this link which will open a PDF file.

Saint John Chrysostom's feast day on the modern calendar is September 13. Today, September 14, is the anniversary of his death in exile in AD 407. Read more about his eventful life in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Irreversible reform" and "Local Liturgical Translations" ~ A Quick Review of Sacrosanctum Concilium

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Recently, the Holy Father has made pronouncements regarding the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, as well as who the proper governing bodies are when it comes to the translation of liturgical texts.

It's pointless for us moderns to discuss these issues without first looking more carefully at what "liturgical reforms" were actually called for by the Second Vatican Council. For the record, here's what Sacrosanctum Concilium, the primary document from Vatican II regarding the liturgy, had to say on certain key points. First, here are the stated goals of the document:
This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. [SC, 1]
Keep these goals in mind as you read further. In the document's introduction, it is also stated clearly that: faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition. [SC, 4]
As regards the language of the liturgy, SC says the following:
Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. [SC, 36.1]
With reference to the use of the vernacular, SC says:
...since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. [SC, 36.2]
Did you notice that? Use of the vernacular "may be extended." Nowhere does it say Latin must be abolished or that the vernacular should be mandated. Later, the instruction is reiterated, showing more clearly which parts of the Mass were to allow vernacular usage, and which parts should be retained in Latin:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution. Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. [SC, 54]
Regarding sacred music, SC uses some surprisingly superlative terminology:
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. [SC, 112]
Given this, the document goes on to say:
The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. [SC, 114]
As if that were not clear enough, SC is even more specific about what types of music are to be preferred:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action... [SC, 116]
Has this been faithfully followed in most dioceses and parishes? Outside of an Extraordinary Form Mass, have you ever heard Gregorian chant or polyphony used? How often? Think about what we hear in most parishes on a weekly basis. Is this anything close to what is intended by SC?

With reference works of art to be used in the liturgical setting, SC exhorts as follows:
Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense. [SC, 124]
Having visited numerous parishes around the US during my travels, I can say that "depraved forms" lacking in artistic worth may be found in many if not most Catholic churches and basilicas. Closely following this, SC warns that:
Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed. [SC, 126]
All one need do is visit an antique or thrift shop and you find countless examples of pre-Vatican II sacred furnishings that were disposed of and dispersed.

I would encourage you to read the entire document which is quite revelatory about what the Council intended to happen, versus what actually did happen. For even more on this topic, see Fr. Fessio's essay entitled, The Mass of Vatican II.

Now, based on the above excerpts, ask yourself a few questions:
  1. Have our bishops faithfully followed these instructions over the past fifty years?
  2. Have the liturgical reforms successfully imparted "an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful"?
  3. Have the reforms fostered "whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ"?
  4. Have the reforms helped to "call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church"?
  5. What have been the fruits of the efforts at liturgical reform over the same period? In other words, where do you see the growth, dynamism, and green shoots in the Church today? Where are things decaying, dying and crumbling into dust?
Given the lack of fruit and, let's face it, bad fruit produced by the Church in America over the past 50 years, isn't it time for our leaders to humbly admit their abject failure to live up to the high expectations laid out in Sacrosanctam Consiliam? Isn't it time for them to admit that the places where the traditional liturgy, art, and music are used most avidly, the Faith is alive and well, while in places where traditional practices are actively spurned, the Faith is in free-fall?

Finally, isn't it time for our bishops to apologize most sincerely to younger Catholics born after 1970 for the tragic loss of our liturgical, artistic and musical patrimony—a treasure of inestimable value—and is replacement with mediocre, depraved forms lacking in artistic worth and which are repugnant to faith and morals?

If you want to bring the younger generations back into the Church, this is the place to start. Don't give them a Mass that attempts to mimic the grotesque popular culture, but rather draw upon our magnificent heritage to create a renaissance of authentic Catholic liturgy.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

"With the authority of the blessed Peter" ~ Gregory the Great's Rebuke of the Bishops of Dalmatia

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"Your manners have been so perverted by secular concerns, that, forgetting the whole path of the sacerdotal dignity that is yours, and all sense of heavenly fear, you study to accomplish what may please yourselves and not God."
~Pope Saint Gregory the Great, to the bishops of Dalmatia 
Today being the feast day of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (ca. AD 540 - 604) whose papacy began on this date in AD 590, this quote seems a fitting reminder of this outstanding occupant of the cathedra of Rome. He was truly one of the greatest popes.

Gregory is often viewed as one of the last of the patristic Church fathers, and one of the first popes to exercise political power in central Italy the absence of Roman power in the region. He did not hesitate to use his authority as successor of St. Peter to enforce discipline on his brother bishops, as the quote above demonstrates. While this stern letter was written specifically for the bishops in the province of Dalmatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (modern Croatia), Gregory's exhortation against undue attention to worldly concerns is perfectly valid advice for modern prelates, clergy and the laity as well.

Here is the quote in the context of the full letter:
Gregory to all the bishops through Dalmatia.
It behooved your Fraternity, having the eyes of the flesh closed out of regard to Divine judgment, to have omitted nothing that appertains to God and to a right inclination of mind, nor to have preferred the countenance of any man whatever to the uprightness of justice. But now that your manners have been so perverted by secular concerns, that, forgetting the whole path of the sacerdotal dignity that is yours, and all sense of heavenly fear, you study to accomplish what may please yourselves and not God, we have held it necessary to send you these specially strict written orders, whereby, with the authority of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, we enjoin that you presume not to lay hands on any one whatever in the city of Salona, so far as regards ordination to episcopacy, without our consent and permission; nor to ordain any one in the same city otherwise than as we have said.

But if, either of your own accord, or under compulsion from any one whatever, you should presume or attempt to do anything contrary to this injunction, we shall decree you to be deprived of participation of the Lord's body and blood, that so your very handling of the business, or your very inclination to transgress our order, may cut you off from the sacred mysteries, and no one may be accounted a bishop whom you may ordain. For we wish no one to be rashly ordained whose life can be found fault with. And so, if the deacon Honoratus is shown to be unworthy, we desire that a report may be sent us of the life and manners of him who may be elected, that whatever is to be done in this matter we may allow to be carried out salubriously with our consent.

For we trust in Almighty God that, as far as in us lies, we may never suffer to be done what may damage our soul; never what may damage your Church. But, if the voluntary consent of all should so fix on one person that by the favor of God he may be proved worthy, and there should be no one to dissent from his being ordained, we wish him to be consecrated by you in this same church of Salona under the license granted in this present epistle; excepting notwithstanding the person of Maximus, about whom many evil reports have reached us: and, unless he desists from coveting the higher order, it remains, as I think, that after full enquiry, he should be deprived also of the very office which he now holds. 
Taken from: The Epistles of Pope Gregory the Great, Book IV, Letter 10.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

"I beseech you to pray unto our Lord for me" ~ Ancient Roots of the Doctrine of Purgatory, Part II

Detail from Crespi's St. Gregory Delivers a Soul from Purgatory, 1617. 
In part one of this post, I looked at the vision of Perpetua—one of the earliest authentic Christian documents to describe directly a Purgatory-like state and to highlight the efficacy of prayer petitions for the dead.

Others writing during the patristic age also expounded upon this idea in more or less detail, among them St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Caesarius of Arles. One of the most clear references to Purgatory appears in a late 4th century work by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, entitled: “On the Soul and the Resurrection”. St. Gregory writes:
“For [God], the one goal is this: the perfection of the universe through each man individually, the fulfillment of our nature. Some of us are purged of evil in this life, and some are cured of it through fire in the after-life, some have not had the experience of good and evil in life here….The different degrees of virtue or vice in our life will be revealed in our participating more quickly or more slowly in the blessedness we hope for. The extent of the healing with depend on the amount of evil present in each person. The healing of the soul will be purification from evil and this cannot be accomplished without suffering…”
Building upon this notion about 200 years later, another Gregory—Pope Saint Gregory the Great—was the first to set forth the notion of Purgatory as Catholics now understand it. As part of his famous Dialogues, he wrote:
“…It is plain that in such state as a man departs out of this life, in the same he is presented in judgment before God. But yet we must believe that before the day of judgment there is a Purgatory fire for certain small sins: because our Savior says, “That he which speaketh blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, that it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come [Matthew 12:32].”
Here we see Gregory offering a scriptural proof for Purgatory, out of the mouth of Jesus Himself. He elaborates on this point, citing Saint Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 3:
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“Out of which sentence we learn, that some sins are forgiven in this world, and some other may be pardoned in the next: for that which is denied concerning one sin, is consequently understood to be granted touching some other. But yet this, as I said, we have not to believe but only concerning little and very small sins, as, for example, daily idle talk, immoderate laughter, negligence in the care of our family (which kind of offenses scarce can they avoid, that know in what sort sin is to be shunned), ignorant errors in matters of no great weight: all which sins be punished after death, if men procured not pardon and remission for them in their lifetime: for when St. Paul said, that “Christ is the foundation:” and by and by added: “And if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: the work of every one, of what kind it is, the fire shall try. If any man's work abide which he built thereupon, he shall receive reward; if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer detriment, but himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”
Gregory then goes on to explain St. Paul’s meaning, drawing a distinction between what we would later call mortal and venial sins:
“For although these words may be understood of the fire of tribulation, which men suffer in this world: yet if any will interpret them of the fire of Purgatory, which shall be in the next life: then must he carefully consider, that the Apostle said not that he may be saved by fire, that buildeth upon this foundation iron, brass, or lead, that is, the greater sort of sins, and therefore more hard, and consequently not remissible in that place: but wood, hay, stubble, that is, little and very light sins, which the fire doth easily consume. Yet we have here further to consider, that none can be there purged, no, not for the least sins that be, unless in his lifetime he deserved by virtuous works to find such favor in that place.” [Dialogues, Book 4:39]
To buttress his teaching, Gregory offers the following anecdote. This is interesting because, while confirming the efficacy of prayers for the dead, it seems to indicate that even the very holy can end up in Purgatory:
...When I was yet in my younger years, and lived a secular life, I heard from the mouth of mine elders, who knew it to be true: how that Paschasius, a Deacon of this Roman church (whose sound and eloquent books of the Holy Ghost be extant amongst us), was a man of a wonderful holy life, a marvelous giver of alms, a lover of the poor, and one that contemned himself. This man, in that contention which, through the exceeding hot emulation of the clergy, fell out betwixt Symmachus and Lawrence, made choice of Lawrence to be Bishop of Rome: and though he was afterward by common consent overcome, yet did he continue in his former opinion till his dying day: loving and preferring him, whom the Church, by the judgment of Bishops, refused for her governor. This Deacon ending his life in the time of Symmachus, Bishop of the Apostolic see, a man possessed with a devil came and touched his dalmatic as it lay upon the bier, and was forthwith delivered from that vexation. 
Long time after, Germanus, Bishop of Capua, by the counsel of physicians for the recovery of his health went to the baths, into which after he was entered, he found there standing in those hot waters the [ghost of the] foresaid Paschasius, ready to do him service. At which sight being much afraid, [Germanus] demanded what so worthy a man as he was did in that place, to whom Paschasius returned this answer: "For no other cause," quoth he, "am I appointed to this place of punishment, but for that I took part with Lawrence against Symmachus. And therefore I beseech you to pray unto our Lord for me, and by this token shall you know that your prayers be heard, if at your coming again, you find me not here." 
Upon this, the holy man Germanus betook himself to his devotions, and after a few days he went again to the same baths, but found not Paschasius there: for seeing his fault proceeded not of malice, but of ignorance, he might after death be purged from that sin. And yet we must withal think that the plentiful alms which he bestowed in this life, obtained favor at God's hands, that he might then deserve pardon, when he could work nothing at all for himself. [Dialogues, Book 4:40]
So it can be said that Paschasius's sin was a venial one as it proceeded from ignorance rather than from an actual wicked intention. Also, interestingly, Gregory speculates that God favored Paschasius because of his multitude of charitable works and thus gave him an opportunity for the remission of his sins after his death.

Detail from Crespi's St. Gregory Delivers a Soul from Purgatory, 1617.
Finally, Gregory relates another episode that he experienced himself, regarding a monk at his own monastery three years before. This anecdote is the inspiration behind the beautiful paintings by Giovanni Battista Crespi which I have used to accompany this post:
If the sins after death be pardonable, then the sacred oblation of the holy Host is used to help men's souls: for which cause the souls sometime, of them that be dead, do desire the same...
A certain monk there was called Justus, one very cunning in medicine, and while I remained in the Abbey, served me very diligently, attending upon me in my often infirmities and sickness. This man himself at length fell sore sick, so that in very deed he was brought to the last cast. A brother he had, called Copiosus, that had care of him, who yet lives. Justus perceiving himself past all hope of life, told this brother of his where he had secretly laid up three crowns of gold...
Which thing so soon as I understood, very much grieved I was, and could not quietly digest so great a sin at his hands, that lived with us in community, because the rule of my Monastery was that all the monks thereof should so live in common, that none in particular might possess anything proper to himself....
At length I sent for Pretiosus, Prior of the Monastery, and gave him this charge: "See," quoth I, "that none of our monks do so much as visit Justus in this his extremity, neither let any give him any comfort at all: and when his last hour draws nigh, and he doth desire the presence of his spiritual brethren, let his carnal brother tell him that they do all detest him for the three crowns which he had hidden: that, at least before his death, sorrow may wound his heart, and purge it from the sin committed And when he is dead, let not his body be buried amongst the rest of the monks, but make a grave for him in some one dunghill or other, and there cast it in, together with the three crowns which he left behind him, crying out all with joint voice: 'Thy money be with thee unto perdition;' and so put earth upon him."
In either of which things my mind and desire was, both to help him that was leaving the world, and also to edify the monks yet remaining behind...both which, by God's goodness, fell out accordingly....His brother Copiosus told him for what cause they had all given him over: at which words he straightways sighed for his sin, and in that sorrow gave up the ghost....
Thirty days after his departure, I began to take compassion upon him, and with great grief to think of his punishment, and what means there was to help him: whereupon I called again for Pretiosus, Prior of my Monastery, and with an heavy heart spake thus unto him: "It is now a good while since that our brother which is departed remains in the torments of fire, and therefore we must show him some charity, and labor what we may to procure his delivery: wherefore go your way, and see that for thirty days following sacrifice be offered for him, so that no one day pass in which, for his absolution and discharge, the healthful sacrifice be not offered:" who forthwith departed, and put my commandment in execution.
In the mean time, my mind being busied about other affairs, so that I took no heed to the days how they passed: upon a certain night the same monk that was dead, appeared to his brother Copiosus, who seeing him, enquired of his state in this manner: "What is the matter, brother? And how is it with you?"
To whom he answered thus: "Hitherto have I been in bad case, but now I am well. For this day have I received the communion:" with which news Copiosus straightways coming to the Monastery, told the monks, and they diligently counting the days, found it to be that in which the thirtieth sacrifice was offered for his soul...and so the sacrifice and vision agreeing together, apparent it was that the dead monk was by the holy sacrifice delivered from his pains. [Dialogues, Book 4:55]
Thus we see that Gregory's love for his brother monk, Justus, was exceedingly tough, but ultimately effective in winning his salvation.

Read more of Pope St. Gregory the Great's teachings on eschatology (death, judgment, Heaven and Hell), in the Dialogues.

For a much more thorough and erudite explanation of Purgatory from a very holy man, see Fr. Hardon’s essay entitled, The Doctrine of Purgatory.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"I knew my brother was suffering." ~ Ancient Roots of the Doctrine of Purgatory, Part I

Detail from The Deliverance of
Souls from Purgatory
by Rubens, 1635.
The idea of Purgatory as an intermediary state between Heaven and Hell is one of the most misunderstood and occasionally ridiculed aspects of Catholic doctrine. Though it is common for protestants and even some Catholics to assume that Purgatory has no foundation in Sacred Scripture, that claim is actually false. The need for Purgatory developed from a close reading of Scripture by the fathers of the Church, and the concept has a provenance stretching back to the earliest days of the Church. Furthermore, it has come to my attention recently that the Orthodox have a similar understanding of the need for purification before entering Heaven, even if their understanding of that purgation is not the same as that of the Catholic Church.

See Part II of this post here.

One of the earliest accounts of a Purgatory-like place comes from an unexpected source. Dating from about AD 203, the authentic account of the Passion of Saint Perpetua details a poignant vision which Perpetua experienced immediately prior to her martyrdom. The words of this early Christian martyr, as written in Latin in her prison diary, speak for themselves: 
After a few days, while we were all praying, on a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates. And I was amazed that that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy, and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. 
Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age who died miserably with disease—his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. And moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy, and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayers would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birthday of Geta C├Žsar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.
Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright, and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar, and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water. And Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.
While mysterious and certainly not covering all of the Catholic Church's criteria for Purgatory, Perpetua's vision seems to confirm the belief that the souls of the dead benefit from the prayers of the living, particularly those about to endure martyrdom for the sake of Christ.

Check out the complete Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas for additional context.

Some additional sources on the origin of Purgatory, including a large excerpt from Pope Saint Gregory the Great who formalized much of what we believe about Purgatory today, will be included in a subsequent post. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Moses the Strong ~ Powerful in Body, More Powerful in God's Grace

Modern icon of Saint Moses
looking particularly fierce.
August 28 is best known as the feast day of Saint Augustine, the great theologian and apologist of Hippo Regius in Roman north Africa. However, it is also the feast of another African saint—one of the great desert fathers, St. Moses the Strong. He is known by numerous alternate epithets, including Moses the Black, Moses the Ethiopian, Moses of Scete, Moses of Abyssinia and Moses the Robber. He was an anchorite in the Egyptian desert and lived in the generation immediately after Saint Anthony the Abbot, that is, from about AD 330-400.

If you've never heard of Saint Moses before, read on. He is one of those tremendous heroic figures from antiquity who could conquer any man in single combat but struggled most mightily to conquer himself and the temptations that plagued him. However, unlike Hercules from Greco-Roman mythology whose sins ultimately led to his undoing, Moses found strength from a power more mighty than himself. Via the grace of Almighty God and the strict ascetic practices of the desert fathers, Moses was able to master the demons which tormented him.

Here is a biography of Saint Moses as written by Palladius of Galatia in his so-called Lausiac History, set down around the year AD 420--about 20 years after Moses's death.
A certain Moses--this was his name--an Ethiopian by race and black, was house-servant to a government official. His own master drove him out because of his immorality and brigandage. For he was said to go even the length of murder. I am compelled to tell his wicked acts in order to show the virtue of his repentance.

They said that Moses was leader of a robber-band, and among his acts of brigandage one stood out specially: that once he plotted vengeance against a shepherd who had one night with his dogs impeded him in a project. Desirous to kill him, he looked about to find the place where the shepherd kept his sheep. And he was informed that it was on the opposite bank of the Nile. And, since the river was in flood and about a mile in extent, he grasped his sword in his mouth and put his shirt on his head and so got over, swimming the river. While he was swimming over, the shepherd was able to escape him by burying himself in the sand. So, having killed the four best rams and tied them together with a cord, he swam back again. Having come to a little homestead he flayed the sheep, and having eaten the best of the flesh and sold the skins in exchange for wine, he drank a quart, and went off fifty miles further to where he had his band.

In the end this abandoned man, conscience-stricken as a result of one of his adventures, gave himself up to a monastery and to such practicing of asceticism that he brought publicly to the knowledge of Christ even his accomplice in crime from his youth, the demon who had sinned with him. Among other tales this is told of him. One day robbers attacked him as he sat in his cell, not knowing who it was. They were four in number. He tied them all together and, putting them on his back like a truss of straw, brought them to the church of the brethren, saying: "Since I am not allowed to hurt anyone, what do you bid me do with these?" Then these robbers, having confessed their sins and recognized that it was Moses the erstwhile renowned and far-famed robber, themselves also glorified God and renounced the world because of his conversion, saying to themselves: "If he who was so great and powerful in brigandage has feared God, why should we defer our salvation?"

This Moses was attacked by demons, who tried to plunge him into his old habit of sexual incontinence. He was tempted so greatly, as he himself testified, that he almost relinquished his purpose. So, having come to the great Isidore, the one who lived in Scete, he told him about his conflict. And he said to him: "Do not be grieved. These are the beginnings, and therefore they have attacked you the more vehemently, seeking out your old habit. For just as a dog in a butcher's shop owing to his habits cannot tear himself away, but if the shop is closed and no one gives him anything, he no longer comes near it. So also with you; if you endure, the demon gets discouraged and has to leave you."

So he returned and from that hour practiced asceticism more vehemently, and especially refrained from food, taking nothing except dry bread to the extent of twelve ounces, accomplishing a great deal of work and completing fifty prayers (a day). Thus he mortified his body, but he still continued to burn and be troubled by dreams. Again he went to another one of the saints and said to him: "What am I to do, seeing that the dreams of my soul darken my reason, by reason of my sinful habits?"

More traditional icon
of Saint Moses
He said to him: "Because you have not withdrawn your mind from imagining these things, that is why you endure this. Give yourself to watching and pray with fasting and you will quickly be delivered from them."

Listening to this advice also he went away to his cell and gave his word that he would not sleep all night nor bend his knees. So he remained in his cell for six years and every night he stood in the middle of the cell praying and not closing his eyes. And he could not master the thing. So he suggested to himself yet another plan, and going out by night he would visit the cells of the older and more ascetic (monks), and taking their water-pots secretly would fill them with water. For they fetch their water from a distance, some from two miles off, some five miles, others half a mile. So one night the demon watched for him, having lost his patience, and as he stooped down at the well gave him a blow with a cudgel across the loins and left him (apparently) dead, with no perception of what he had suffered or from whom. So the next day a man came to draw water and found him lying there, and told the great Isidore, the priest of Scete. He therefore picked him up and brought him to the church, and for a year he was so ill that with difficulty did his body and soul recover strength. So the great Isidore said to him: "Moses, stop struggling with the demons, and do not provoke them."

But he said to him: "I will never cease until the appearance of the demons ceases."

So he said to him: "In the name of Jesus Christ your dreams have ceased. Come to Communion then with confidence, for, that you should not boast of having overcome passion, this is why you have been oppressed, for your good." And he went away again to his cell.

Afterwards when asked by Isidore, some two months later, he said that he no longer suffered anything. Indeed, he was counted worthy of such a gift (of power) over demons that we fear these flies more than he feared demons.

This was the manner of life of Moses the Ethiopian; he too was numbered among the great ones of the fathers. So he died in Scete seventy-five years old, having become a priest and he left seventy disciples.
Another translation of this biography offers the following final sentence:
When he was a thief, he had [as followers] seventy men and these now became his disciples, and they were perfect in the fear of God.
Moses the Strong is numbered among the saints by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Churches.

Friday, August 25, 2017

St. Louis IX ~ "We should not fight against God with his own gifts."

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"If God sends you adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to our Savior. Think that you have deserved it, and that He will make it turn to your advantage. If He sends you prosperity, then thank Him humbly so that you do not become worse from pride or any other cause....For we should not fight against God with His own gifts."
Tomb of St. Louis IX in Sicily.
August 25 is the feast day of Saint Louis IX, king of France. This day also marks the anniversary of his death, which took place outside of Tunis while on crusade in AD 1270. After Louis perished of dysentery, the crusade quickly broke up. His remains were transported back to France and Sicily where they became objects of veneration among the faithful.

During the French Revolution, all of the relics of Saint Louis in France were destroyed by anti-Catholic vandals. His heart and viscera remain interred in the Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo, Sicily to this day.

The words above are taken from St. Louis's last instructions to his eldest son as recorded by Jean de Joinville, a courtier of the king who wrote his biography in AD 1309.

Here is the complete quote with some additional context:
Then he [Louis] called my Lord Philip, his son, and commanded him, as if by testament, to observe all the teachings he had left him, which are hereinafter set down in French, and were, so it is said, written with the king's own saintly hand:

"Fair son, the first thing I would teach thee is to set thine heart to love God; for unless he love God none can be saved. Keep thyself from doing aught that is displeasing to God, that is to say, from mortal sin. Contrariwise thou shouldst suffer every manner of torment rather than commit a mortal sin.

"If God send thee adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to our Saviour and bethink thee that thou hast deserved it, and that He will make it turn to thine advantage. If He send thee prosperity, then thank Him humbly, so that thou becomest not worse from pride or any other cause, when thou oughtest to be better. For we should not fight against God with his own gifts.

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"Confess thyself often and choose for thy confessor a right worthy man who knows how to teach thee what to do, and what not to do; and bear thyself in such sort that thy confessor and thy friends shall dare to reprove thee for thy misdoings. Listen to the services of Holy Church devoutly, and without chattering; and pray to God with thy heart and with thy lips, and especially at Mass when the consecration takes place. Let thy heart be tender and full of pity toward those who are poor, miserable, and afflicted, and comfort and help them to the utmost of thy power.

"Maintain the good customs of thy realm and abolish the bad. Be not covetous against thy people and do not burden them with taxes and imposts save when thou art in great need.

"If thou hast any great burden weighing upon thy heart, tell it to thy confessor or to some right worthy man who is not full of vain words. Thou shalt be able to bear it more easily...."
An excellent brief biography of Saint Louis IX may be found on the EWTN website.

If you're up for the original source, check out Chronicles of the Crusades which provides the works of both Joinville and Geoffrey de Villehardouin. These are excellent, if sobering, reads about the later crusades.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gen. James Longstreet: "Brave soldier, gallant gentleman, consistent Christian"

Statue of Gen. Longstreet in Gainesville, Georgia.
One of the advantages of the present media-driven furor to remove or demolish monuments to the Confederacy is that it is forcing numerous Americans, myself included, to dig deep into the history of the Civil War. And what a strange, convoluted period of history it is! The primary sources are plentiful, rich and deep which makes for endlessly fascinating reading. If the aim of the iconoclasts was to push this period of history even further from the national consciousness, or gloss over it with cherry-picked anecdotes allowing for knee-jerk verdicts, they have failed miserably.

For my own part, I have started looking into the lives and characters of the generals of the Confederacy—and a more intriguing group of characters is seldom to be found. Having done some research into the Cherokee Confederate general, Stand Watie, I next moved on to another atypical rebel officer, General James Longstreet. As I was doing so, CNN published an article asking the question: “Where are the monuments to Confederate Gen. James Longstreet?” It's an interesting question. In truth, there are two that I was able to find. One at Gettysburg, and another in Gainesville, Georgia. Given his bio, however, the man deserves more recognition.

Most people’s familiarity with Longstreet stems from his role as Lee’s second-in-command at Gettysburg, and thus his prominent place in popular historical entertainment such as the movie Gettysburg and Michael Shaara’s novel, The Killer Angels upon which the movie was based. Longstreet’s virtues and flaws as a military leader have long been the subject of spirited debate. But his career on the battlefield is not primarily what interests me here. Longstreet’s life after the war is, if possible, even more interesting than his deeds as Lee’s lieutenant.

During Reconstruction, Longstreet became a pariah to his southern compatriots. In the election of 1868, Longstreet endorsed his old friend from West Point, Ulysses S. Grant, and became a Republican. After winning the election, Grant appointed Longstreet to a customs position in New Orleans, and he was subsequently made a general in charge of the Louisiana state militia. As a result, he was ostracized by many in the South, who considered him a scalawag and a collaborator with carpet-bagging Union profiteers.

It was in his role as head of the Louisiana militia that Longstreet participated in an action that caused his name to be blackened even further within former-Confederate circles. Following a contested election in 1874, a Democrat mob known as the White League attempted to remove the Republican administration from New Orleans by force. Descending on the city in numbers greater than 5,000, they were confronted by a smaller number of largely Black police and militia headed by General Longstreet. As the two sides lined up for battle, Longstreet rode out to meet the rioters in an attempt to quell the matter before the sides came to blows. One White League leader later claimed that it was only with the greatest difficulty that he restrained his men from shooting Longstreet dead on the spot. Instead, they pulled him from his horse and took him prisoner. In the resulting fight, known to history as the Battle of Liberty Place, the White League caused Longstreet’s men to retreat, with about 100 dead and injured on both sides.

Federal troops were later called in to suppress the White League, free Longstreet and restore order. But Longstreet’s days as a military officer were now over, and his role in the affair attracted even more vituperation from those still attached to the Lost Cause. This rancor from his countrymen wounded him. In 1877, he had a religious awakening, as recorded in the book, Lee and Longstreet at High Tide (1904), by his wife, Helen Dortch Longstreet:
“General Longstreet was a most devout churchman. In early life he was an Episcopalian, and he regularly attended that church in New Orleans until the political differences developed between himself and his friends. After that he noticed that even his church associates avoided him. They would not sit in the same pew with him. Cut to the quick by such treatment, he began to wonder if there was any church broad enough to withstand the differences caused by political and sectional feeling. He discovered that the Roman Catholic priests extended him the treatment he longed for. He began to attend that church, and has said that its atmosphere from the first appealed to him as the church of the sorrow-laden of earth. He was converted under the ministration of Father Ryan. After accepting the faith of the Catholic Church he followed it with beautiful devotion. He regarded it as the compensation sent him by the Almighty for doing his duty as he saw it. He clung to it as the best consolation there was in life. He went to his duties as devoutly as any priest of the church, and was on his knees night and morning, with the simple, loving faith of a little child.” [Lee and Longstreet at High Tide, page 118] 
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Longstreet passed away of cancer in 1904 at the age of 82. He was buried in Gainesville, Georgia where the impressive statue shown above may be found today. By the time of his death, any animosity his Confederate comrades had felt for him was gone. Newspaper reports of the funeral service mentioned vast throngs of mourners arriving to pay their last respects. Lavish tributes to Longstreet poured in from all corners of the country. Following the funeral Mass, an oration was given by Bishop Joseph Keily of Savannah, Georgia who had fought under Longstreet during the Civil War. In that eulogy, Bishop Keily gave the man a fitting tribute, saying:
“Having passed the span which Providence ordinarily allots as the term of human life, General James Longstreet has answered the roll-call of the great God. What a brilliant page in history is filled with his grand career….When the Southern States withdrew from the Union by reason of attacks on their reserved rights which were guaranteed by the Constitution, and were forced into the war between the States, James Longstreet offered his services and sword to the cause of self-government. No history of the war may be written which does not bear emblazoned on every page the story of his deeds…

“It is my duty as a priest of God to call your attention to the obvious lesson of this occasion—the vanity of mere earthly greatness and the certainty of death and the necessity of preparation for it. James Longstreet was a brave soldier, a gallant gentleman, but better still—a consistent Christian. After the war between the States, he became a member of the Catholic Church, and to his dying day remained faithful to her teaching and loyal to her creed…” [Lee and Longstreet at High Tide, page 219] 
This seemed to sum up Longstreet in a nutshell. He was a man disappointed by political creeds offered to ephemeral temporal powers, who found fulfillment in loyalty to an eternal creed professed to an everlasting power.

By way of a postscript, I will mention the two extraordinary women in General Longstreet’s life. His first wife, Maria Louisa Garland Longstreet, passed away in 1890 after 40 years of marriage and 10 children. Surprisingly, he married again in 1897 at the age of 76 to Helen Dortch Longstreet. It was Helen who recorded many anecdotes about the general in the abovementioned book, Lee and Longstreet at High Tide. Interestingly, Helen lived to be nearly 100 years old, surviving until 1962 – a full century after her husband’s famous exploits during the Civil War.

These are truly amazing people worthy of remembrance.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Will the Left tear down Stand Watie's monument?

It’s wrong to pre-judge a human being based on their racial characteristics. Beyond that, it’s stupid. Any marginally intelligent person knows this. A Christian, certainly, has no excuse for treating someone badly simply because they are of a different racial category. For a Catholic, it's a sin to do so.

At the same time, as we watch political agitators wantonly destroying symbols of our country’s history in vigilante mobs, one can not help but be struck by their profound ignorance of said history. For these simpletons, the Confederacy equals racism, and everything having to do with it equals racism, and anyone who casts a wistful glance at the sacrifices of their ancestors in support of the Confederacy is, de facto, a racist. But one doesn’t have to dig too deeply into the history to find that the situation was often far more complicated than this snap judgment will afford.

Stand Watie in 1862 before going off to war.
Take, for example, the case of Confederate brigadier general Stand Watie. Of course, you’ve never heard of him because your schooling in American history, like mine, was deeply defective. Stand Watie was a chief of the Cherokee Nation. Born in 1806, he had been among the Cherokees who were forced off their native lands in Georgia to “Indian Territory” in present day Oklahoma. Watie moved in 1835, three years before the rest of the tribe were forcibly relocated as part of the Trail of Tears.

When the Civil War erupted, it is perhaps not surprising that Watie and many of the Cherokees were drawn to the Confederate cause. They had no love for the federal government in Washington, and besides that, slavery was practiced by many American Indian tribes from before contact with Europeans. Watie himself owned slaves. Though divided, the Cherokee eventually threw their lot with the rebels and Stand Watie soon became a colonel in the Confederate army, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general. Well into his 50s, he was an active fighter in the western theater, taking part in battles throughout the Indian Territories. He would become famous as the last Confederate general to surrender, which he did on June 23, 1865.

The war had been hard on the Cherokee. They lost nearly a third of their number and their territory had been devastated by Union soldiers. After the war, Stand Watie tried to rebuild his home and his fortunes. He died six years later, predeceased by all of his three sons. His two daughters died shortly after him, leaving his widowed wife, Sarah, to carry on until 1883.

Stand Watie was not a paragon of virtue. He had many faults. His cause was wrong and his methods in combat could be unorthodox. He did not always have control of his men, who sometimes reverted to the old Indian practice of scalping their enemies. But was he racist? Our friends on the Left tell us that oppressed minorities can not be racist by definition—that only Whites can be racist. So where does that leave someone like Stand Watie in their postmodern hierarchy of sins?

Stand Watie's Memorial in Tahlequah, OK.
Before you judge Stand Watie, however, at least give a read to this excerpt from a letter he wrote to his wife in 1864 where he examines his conscience:
Sometimes I examine myself thoroughly and I will always come to the conclusion that I am not such a bad man at last as I am looked upon. God will give me justice. If I am to be punished for the opinions of other people, who do not know my heart I can’t help it. If I commit an error I do it without bad intention. My great crime in the world is blunder. I will get into scrapes without intention or any bad motive. I call upon God to judge me, he knows that I love my friends and above all others, my wife and children, the opinion of the world to contrary notwithstanding. [Taken from Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, page 47.]
You can read more of his correspondence at the above source. It's a fascinating look into the mind of a man in the process of losing a war, despite his best efforts, who was deeply affected by the slanders spread about him by his enemies.

As a Pennsylvania boy born and raised, I have little sympathy for the Confederate cause. But I do recognize that people fought in the Civil War for a variety of reasons that often had little to do with defending or destroying the hideous institution of slavery. Many of those who fought on the wrong side were brave men who sacrificed all. In the not-too-distant past, men could fight one day, be reconciled the next, and be best friends the day after. They could also honor each other years later—call it courtesy, nostalgia, chivalry or what have you. That sense of chivalry seems to be something our society has been sadly lacking for some time now.

Photo from the last reunion of Gettysburg veterans, 1938.
Our modern arbiters of morality in media and the mask-wearing mob insist on judging our ancestors based on their own ill-informed, hyper-politicized 21st century views. These same folks vehemently deny anyone else the privilege of judging them or their actions. But their day will come. I am confident that future generations will judge the lives of men like Stand Watie a good deal more sympathetically than those of the cowardly rioters who pull down the effigies of brave men.

If they eventually deem Stand Watie unfit for a memorial of this kind, they should probably also find and burn all copies of the 1976 movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales, as it includes a character called "Lone Watie" played brilliantly by Chief Dan George. If you've never seen the film, Lone Watie is a likable character and his backstory will sound awfully familiar if you have read this post. In this clip, he explains his rationale for declaring war on the Union.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The deeds of Saint Helena, as described by Eusebius a few years after her death

Today, August 18, is the feast of Saint Helena Augusta, mother of Constantine the Great. A long lived and active woman, even in her old age, Saint Helena died ca. AD 330 and was greatly mourned by her son.

Please enjoy this short video taken from The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, written about the year AD 340 by the bishop Eusebius Pamphilus, detailing some of the works of Saint Helena. It also includes some lovely images of Helena and her son from antiquity and later art.

If you prefer reading to watching, here’s the text of the video:
For this empress, having resolved to discharge the duties of pious devotion to the Supreme God, and feeling it incumbent on her to render thanksgivings with prayers on behalf both of her own son, now so mighty an emperor, and of his sons, her own grandchildren, the divinely favored Caesars, with youthful alacrity (though now advanced in years, yet gifted with no common degree of wisdom), had hastened to survey this venerable land; and at the same time to visit the eastern provinces, cities, and people, with a truly imperial solicitude. As soon, then, as she had rendered due reverence to the ground which the Savior’s feet had trodden, according to the prophetic word which says “Let us worship at the place whereon His feet have stood,” she immediately bequeathed the fruit of her piety to future generations.

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For without delay she dedicated two churches to the God whom she adored, one at the grotto which had been the scene of the Savior’s birth; the other on the mount of His ascension. For He who was “God with us” had submitted to be born even in a cave of the earth, and the place of His nativity was called Bethlehem by the Hebrews. Accordingly the pious empress honored with rare memorials the scene of her travail who bore this heavenly child, and beautified the sacred cave with all possible splendor. The emperor himself soon after testified his reverence for the spot by princely offerings, and added to his mother’s magnificence by costly presents of silver and gold, and embroidered curtains. Once more, his imperial mother raised a stately structure on the Mount of Olives also, in memory of His ascent to heaven who is the Savior of mankind, erecting a sacred church or temple on the very summit of the mount. And indeed authentic history informs us that in a cave on this very spot the Savior imparted mysterious and secret revelations to His disciples. And here also the emperor testified his reverence for the King of kings, by diverse and costly offerings. Thus did Helena Augusta, the pious mother of a pious emperor, erect these two noble and beautiful monuments of devotion, worthy of everlasting remembrance, to the honor of God her Savior, and as proofs of her holy zeal: and thus did she receive from her son the countenance and aid of his imperial power. Nor was it long ere this aged lady reaped the due reward of her labors. After passing the whole period of her life, even to declining age, in the greatest prosperity, and exhibiting both in word and deed abundant fruits of obedience to the divine precepts, and having enjoyed in consequence an easy and tranquil existence, with unimpaired powers of body and mind, at length she obtained from God, an end befitting her pious course, and a recompense of her good deeds even in this present life.

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For on the occasion of a circuit which she made of the eastern provinces, with circumstances of royal splendor, she bestowed abundant proofs of her liberality as well on the inhabitants of the several cities collectively, as on individuals who approached her, at the same time that she scattered largesses among the soldiery with a liberal hand. But especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and friendless poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing: she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile to their native land.

While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds as I have described, she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshippers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct.

And when at length, at the close of a long life, she was called to inherit a happier lot, having arrived at the eightieth year of her age, and being very near the time of her departure, she prepared and executed her last will in favor of her only son, the emperor and sole monarch of the world, and her grand-children, the Caesars his sons, to whom severally she bequeathed whatever property she possessed in any part of the world. Having thus disposed of her earthly affairs, this thrice blessed woman breathed her last in the presence of her illustrious son, who was in attendance at her side, and clasped her hands: so that, to those who rightly discerned the truth, she seemed to experience a real change and transition from an earthly to a heavenly existence, since her soul, remolded as it were into an incorruptible and angelic essence, was received up into her Savior’s presence.

Her body, too, was honored with special tokens of respect, being escorted on its way to the imperial city by a vast train of guards, and there deposited in a royal tomb. Such were the last days of our emperor’s mother, a person worthy of being had in perpetual remembrance, both for her own practical piety, and because she had given birth to so extraordinary and admirable an offspring. And well may his character be styled blessed, for his filial piety as well as on other grounds. He rendered her through his influence so devout a worshipper of God (though not previously so), that she seemed to have been instructed from the first by the Savior of mankind: and besides this, he had honored her so fully with imperial dignities, that in every province, and in the very ranks of the soldiery, she was spoken of under the titles of Augusta, and empress, and her likeness was impressed on golden coins. He had even granted her authority over the imperial treasures, to use and dispense them according to her own will and discretion in every case; for this enviable distinction also she received at the hands of her son. Hence it is that among the qualities which shed a lustre on his memory, we may rightly include that surpassing degree of filial affection whereby he rendered full obedience to the Divine precepts which enjoin due honor from children to their parents. In this manner, then, the emperor executed in Palestine the noble works I have above described: and indeed in every province he raised new churches on a far more imposing scale than those which had existed before his time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"For even though her God-bearing body tasted death, it did not undergo corruption"

The Dormition of Mary, 13th century mosaic from Santa Maria
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August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into Heaven, body and soul. Though the Assumption was dogmatically defined in 1950 by Venerable Pope Pius XII in his apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, the traditional belief in the Assumption of Mary goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Originally, the feast was called the "Dormition" or falling asleep of Mary, and is still referred to as such by our Eastern Orthodox brethren.

Here are some passages from ancient sources that indicate that this belief existed from antiquity and was widespread. The first is taken from a homily preached by Theoteknos, Bishop of Livias in Palestine in the late 6th century AD:
"For Christ took His immaculate flesh from the immaculate flesh of Mary, and if He had prepared a place in heaven for the Apostles, how much more for His mother; if Enoch had been translated and Elijah had gone to heaven, how much more Mary, who like the moon in the midst of the stars shines forth and excels among the prophets and Apostles? For even though her God-bearing body tasted death, it did not undergo corruption, but was preserved incorrupt and undefiled and taken up into heaven with its pure and spotless soul."
Second is a passage from Saint John Damascene, written in the 8th century AD, describing the history of the belief:
"St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven."
Second, is a passage from Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, written in the late 7th century AD:
"You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life."
There is a wealth of additional literature on this topic for those who wish to dig deeper. Check out the following for further reading:

Monday, August 14, 2017

"I am a Catholic priest and I want to take his place" ~ August 14 ~ Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe

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"Hatred is not a creative force. Only love is creative." 
~Saint Maximilian Kolbe,
Feast Day, August 14

It should go without saying that any Catholic who identifies and sympathizes with the German National Socialist Party is profoundly ignorant of history. Here is some of that history: an account of the events leading up to St. Maximilian Kolbe's martyrdom in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz:
Finally, after the evening roll call, Colonel Fritsch, accompanied by Palitsch, the recording officer, and a group of well-armed guards approached the line up of men of Block 14. When Fritsch pointed to a man, Palitsch wrote down the victim’s number and he was dragged roughly out of the ranks. When Fritsch pointed out one of the men, tears trickled down the prisoner’s hollow cheeks as he cried out, "Oh…my wife…my poor children….I will never see them again." Fritsch ignored the pleas of the helpless victim.

Suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. The unexpected, the unbelievable happened. A small, frail prisoner had broken ranks and stepped forward confronting Fritsch. So stunned were the guards at this infringement of the usual protocol that Fritsch himself reached for his pistol.

"Halt!" he gasped. "What do you want?"

Fr. Maximilian looked serenely into the face of Fritsch as the guards moved in. "Please, Herr Commandant, I would like to take the place of that man. I would like to die in his place."

Fritsch demanded, "Who is this man? What is it all about?"

Fr. Kolbe replied, "I am a Catholic priest and I want to take his place. He has a wife and family."

"Are you crazy?" snapped Fritsch.

"I would like to die in his place," the priest repeated. "I’m old, and sick….I can barely work. I’m of no use to anyone anymore. This man is young and strong, and he has a wife and family….I have no one."

Read more about Fr. Kolbe at the Militia of the Immaculata website.

It should be recalled that Fr. Kolbe originally founded his Militia of the Immaculata to battle communism and freemasonry in Europe. That he died at the hands of German National Socialists should not surprise us. Far from being at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Nazism and Communism are extreme materialist movements which are strongly anti-Catholic and anti-theistic. All of them should be rejected.

I found the quote used in the above meme as part of a general audience given by Pope Benedict XVI on August 13, 2008.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (AD 258) as described by Pope Leo (ca. AD 450)

St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor, by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, 1581.
August 10 is the feast of Saint Lawrence (Laurentius), a Deacon of the Roman Church, who was executed for the crime of professing Christ during the persecution of the emperor Valerian in AD 258. Lawrence went on to become one of the most celebrated martyrs of the early Church, and is commemorated by name in the traditional Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass.

Here is an early description of his martyrdom taken from a homily given by Pope Saint Leo the Great on the occasion of his feast day in the mid-5th century AD:
How gloriously strong in this most excellent manner of doctrine the blessed martyr Laurentius is, by whose sufferings today is marked, even his persecutors were able to feel, when they found that his wondrous courage, born principally of love for Christ, not only did not yield itself, but also strengthened others by the example of his endurance. 
For when the fury of the gentile potentates was raging against Christ's most chosen members, and attacked those especially who were of priestly rank, the wicked persecutor's wrath was vented on Laurentius the deacon, who was pre-eminent not only in the performance of the sacred rites, but also in the management of the church's property, promising himself double spoil from one man's capture: for if he forced him to surrender the sacred treasures, he would also drive him out of the pale of true religion. And so this man, so greedy of money and such a foe to the truth, arms himself with double weapon: with avarice to plunder the gold; with impiety to carry off Christ. He demands of the guileless guardian of the sanctuary that the church wealth on which his greedy mind was set should be brought to him. But the holy deacon showed him where he had them stored, by pointing to the many troops of poor saints, in the feeding and clothing of whom he had a store of riches which he could not lose, and which were the more entirely safe that the money had been spent on so holy a cause.
The baffled plunderer, therefore, frets, and blazing out into hatred of a religion, which had put riches to such a use, determines to pillage a still greater treasure by carrying off that sacred deposit, wherewith he was enriched, as he could find no solid hoard of money in his possession. He orders Laurentius to renounce Christ, and prepares to ply the deacon's stout courage with frightful tortures: and, when the first elicit nothing, fiercer follow. His limbs, torn and mangled by many cutting blows, are commanded to be broiled upon the fire in an iron framework, which was of itself already hot enough to burn him, and on which his limbs were turned from time to time, to make the torment fiercer, and the death more lingering.
You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Laurentius departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. [Taken from: Homilies of Pope Saint Leo the Great, Homily 85]
Saint Lawrence goes to his death. 5th century mosaic,
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy.