Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pope Saint Pius V and the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I

"All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics."
~Attributed to Pope St. Pius V, source unknown
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Today is the feast day of one of the great popes, Pius V, now recognized as a saint. Though perhaps best known as the Pope whose call for prayer to all of Christendom helped the Holy League destroy the Turkish fleet at Lepanto, Pius V's short but eventful pontificate (1566-1572) also featured the standardization of the Mass following the Council of Trent (see Quo Primum) and the excommunication of the English queen, Elizabeth I.

The short document setting out the rationale for the excommunication, Regnans in Excelsis, is worth reading. Most Catholics in the US, with our deficient, protestantized Catholic education, have absorbed a positive view of Elizabeth I, not realizing that "Good Queen Bess" was an inveterate persecutor of Catholics, directly responsible for deaths of many martyrs, including saints Edmund Campion and Margaret Clitherow. In Regnans in Excelsis, Pius unleashes some tough language at the so-called "virgin queen" of England:
"...The number of the ungodly has so much grown in power that there is no place left in the world which they have not tried to corrupt with their most wicked doctrines; and among others, Elizabeth, the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime, has assisted in this, with whom as in a sanctuary the most pernicious of all have found refuge. This very woman, having seized the crown and monstrously usurped the place of supreme head of the Church in all England to gather with the chief authority and jurisdiction belonging to it, has once again reduced this same kingdom—which had already been restored to the Catholic faith and to good fruits—to a miserable ruin."
Pius then proceeds to ennumerate her various crimes which compel him, as pastor and guardian of the deposit of faith and of all Christians, to take drastic action:
"Prohibiting with a strong hand the use of the true religion, which after its earlier overthrow by Henry VIII (a deserter therefrom) Mary, the lawful queen of famous memory, had with the help of this See restored, she has:
  • followed and embraced the errors of the heretics;
  • removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics;
  • oppressed the followers of the Catholic faith;
  • instituted false preachers and ministers of impiety; 
  • abolished the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, fasts, choice of meats, celibacy, and Catholic ceremonies;
  • ordered that books of manifestly heretical content be propounded to the whole realm and that impious rites and institutions after the rule of Calvin, entertained and observed by herself, be also observed by her subjects.
  • dared to eject bishops, rectors of churches and other Catholic priests from their churches and benefices, to bestow these and other things ecclesiastical upon heretics, and to determine spiritual causes;
  • has forbidden the prelates, clergy and people to acknowledge the Church of Rome or obey its precepts and canonical sanctions;
  • has forced most of them to come to terms with her wicked laws, to abjure the authority and obedience of the pope of Rome, and to accept her, on oath, as their only lady in matters temporal and spiritual;
  • has imposed penalties and punishments on those who would not agree to this and has exacted then of those who persevered in the unity of the faith and the aforesaid obedience;
  • has thrown the Catholic prelates and parsons into prison where many, worn out by long languishing and sorrow, have miserably ended their lives.
All these matter and manifest and notorious among all the nations; they are so well proven by the weighty witness of many men that there remains no place for excuse, defense or evasion."
Having exhausted the usual means of correction, Pius imposed the penalty of excommunication on Elizabeth I, and not only on her but on any of her courtiers and countrymen who remained bound to her by choice and obeyed her commands. He also absolved her subjects from any obligations to her that they owed due to sworn oaths, and stripped her of her "pretended title to the crown."

Read all of Regnans in Excelsis here.

In our current age, when statements from the Vatican are normally pronounced in obscure language varnished over with layer after layer of incomprehensible nuance, it's refreshing to read a document couched in such clear and emphatic terms.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Late Medieval and Renaissance Art at the Gardner Museum in Boston

During a recent trip to Boston, I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I had been there once over 20 years, and had a vague recollection of the place--enough to remind me that a return trip was necessary.

Though unassuming from the outside, once you enter the Gardner Museum, you are basically stepping into an Italian villa from the 17th century, complete with central courtyard and cloisters. Beyond the gorgeous architecture, the museum houses a first-class collection of artworks from around the world. Frankly, I had forgotten how stunning the collections are, particularly the impressive holdings of Catholic religious works from the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

Here are a few photos I took, representing a tiny fraction of the museum's works on display. Please forgive the quality--I went in the evening, so the lighting wasn't great. While these photos don't convey the full experience of visiting this utterly gorgeous edifice, tucked neatly in among some fairly ordinary-looking buildings less than half a mile from Fenway Park, they should be tantalizing enough to entice a visit, no?

Click to enlarge any of these.

Effigy of a knight, tomb sculpture from Salamanca, Spain, ca. 1500.

French altarpiece showing scenes from the Passion of Jesus, ca. 1425.

German statue of St. George
slaying the dragon, ca. 1500.

Risen Christ. Date unknown
(to me, anyway).

The Virgin and Child by Bernardino Pinturicchio, Italian, 1494.

Flemish tapestry from the story of Abraham,
late 16th century.

Saint Engracia, Bartolomé Bermejo, Cordova,
Spain, 1474.

The Resurrection, German or Austrian, 16th century.

Though not Medieval or Renaissance,
here is Ms. Gardner as portrayed by
John Singer Sargent in 1888. She was
48 years old at the time.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The courage of St. Theodore of Sykeon ~ AD 608

"You must first pray that your inward man may be reformed and grow healthy;
for when that is healed, the outward man, too, will be restored to health."
 ~St. Theodore of Sykeon to the east Roman consul Bonosus, ca. AD 608

April 22 is the feast of St. Theodore of Sykeon, a bishop from central Asia Minor who lived during the reign of the murderous Roman emperor, Phocas.

An extensive biography of St. Theodore written by one of his disciples has come down to us from antiquity which makes for exceptionally good reading for historians and devout Christians alike. St. Theodore had the God-given courage to speak the truth fearlessly to those in power, having humbled the cruel Bonosus and rebuked Phocas himself to his face on another occasion.

Here is the above quote in context, taken from The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon:
About that time the inhuman consul Bonosus was traveling to the eastern parts of the Empire and as he passed near the monastery he heard tell of the inspired man's holiness and felt a reverence for it, violent and cruel though he was. So he sent a messenger in advance to him beseeching him, if he could endure the fatigue, to come down to the oratory of the holy martyr Gemellus near the posting­station in order that he might do reverence to him there and be deemed worthy of his prayers, saying that he himself was unable to go up to the monastery owing to the pressure of urgent affairs. So the Saint went down and received him and whilst he was praying for him the consul stood but did not bend his neck, so the Saint took hold of the hair of his forehead and pulled it and in this way bent his head down (virtue is wont to act thus with courage and not fear human authority 'For the righteous', it is said, 'is bold as a lion.' [ Prov 28:1]) 
We who were present were thunder­struck and terrified at the just man's daring and imagined that the consul would turn insolent and furious, for we knew well by report that his savagery was like that of a wild beast. But he readily accepted the prayer and the rebuke and showed honor to the Saint by kissing his hands, and then putting his hand on his own chest because of a pain which oppressed him he begged the Saint to pray that he might be freed from it. But the Saint gently tapped with his fingers on the consul's chest and said to him, "You must first pray that your inward man may be reformed and grow healthy; for when that is healed, the outward man, too, will be restored to health. Therefore I will pray for you and do you devote yourself to the good and fear God in order that my prayers may be effective. But if I pray and you neglect to amend your ways, my prayers will be unavailing. Be merciful then and pitiful to all Christian people and do not use harshly the authority entrusted to you, but while examining your own consciousness of sins, sympathize with those that go astray and never shed innocent blood. For if there is to be punishment for the mere insult of a spoken word-for calling another a 'fool'—how much more will blood, shed unjustly, be avenged by God?"  
These counsels the Saint gave him like a man sowing seed in unfruitful ground, and the consul fetched out a few coins and offered them to him in token of gratitude. But as the Saint did not deign to accept them, he drew back his hand and took out some 'trimisia' begging the Saint at least to accept those and to give one to every brother in the monastery. But before looking at them Theodore said, "There are only fifty and not sufficient for giving one to each, however, they can be changed into smaller money and then distributed equally."  
But the consul marveled at his discerning words, as being God­-inspired and answered, "Yes, reverend father, by thy holy prayers, there are only fifty as your holy mouth has said; however, I will send as many more at once as are needed to make up the number." This he did, for after being dismissed by the Saint he went to his baggage and sent what he had promised.
Thus the virtue of the righteous knows how to correct the violent and the savage, and by persuasion makes them yield to those who practice it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Quid est veritas?" What is the truth about Pontius Pilate?

Christ before Pilate by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Sienna, 14th century AD.
The weak, vacillating and ultimately cruel and cowardly figure of Pontius Pilate is one of the most enigmatic figures in Sacred Scripture. From the Gospel accounts, he seems to be a man who almost wants to be a hero, to defend the innocent victim, Jesus, against the murderous lynch mob besetting Him. Indeed, Pilate is urged by his wife to "have nothing to do with that just man." In the end, however, he lacks the courage to act virtuously. He condemns Christ to a horrible death, despite knowing with certainty that He is innocent.

But who was Pontius Pilate? Did he even exist? Or is he a figment of the evangelists' imagination, as some modern anti-Christian polemicists claim with anything associated with the historicity of Sacred Scripture?

Interestingly, two of the earliest sources who mention Pontius Pilate are both Jews. Philo of Alexandria, writing in the first half of the first century AD—that is, roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus—offers the following account which is instructive regarding the character of Pilate:
Pilate was one of the emperor's lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He...dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; which had no form nor any other forbidden thing represented on them except some necessary inscription, which mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there, and the person in whose honor they were so placed there.
But when the multitude heard what had been done, and when the circumstance became notorious, then the people...entreated him to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields...
But when he steadfastly refused this petition (for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate), they cried out: "Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honor of the emperor is not identical with dishonor to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a pretence for heaping insult on our nation. Tiberius is not desirous that any of our laws or customs shall be destroyed. And if you yourself say that he is, show us either some command from him, or some letter, or something of the kind, that we, who have been sent to you as ambassadors, may cease to trouble you, and may address our supplications to your master."
But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity. Therefore, being exceedingly angry, and being at all times a man of most ferocious passions, he was in great perplexity, neither venturing to take down what he had once set up, nor wishing to do any thing which could be acceptable to his subjects, and at the same time being sufficiently acquainted with the firmness of Tiberius on these points.
And those who were in power in our nation, seeing this, and perceiving that he was inclined to change his mind as to what he had done, but that he was not willing to be thought to do so, wrote a most supplicatory letter to Tiberius. And he, when he had read it, what did he say of Pilate, and what threats did he utter against him!...Immediately, without putting any thing off till the next day, he wrote a letter, reproaching and reviling him in the most bitter manner for his act of unprecedented audacity and wickedness, and commanding him immediately to take down the shields and to convey them away from the metropolis of Judaea to Caesarea... [Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, XXXVIII, 299]
This anecdote is fascinating because the description of Pilate's character corresponds well with the Pilate who appears in the Gospels: a man of violent passions and stubborn, but only up to the point when his personal power and comfort is threatened. At that point, he becomes craven and fickle.

The Pilate Stone discovered in Caesarea in 1961, containing a 1st century AD
inscription referencing Pontius Pilate. Now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
The great Jewish historian, Josephus, writing in the late first century AD, mentions Pontius Pilate several times. One of his passages which references Pilate is the famous and controversial Testimonium Flavianum as follows:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 3] 
In another interesting passage, Josephus details how Pilate's ten-year term of office in Judea came to an end. An unnamed rabble-rouser had convinced the Samaritans that he knew the location of the mountain where Moses had secreted certain sacred vessels. When they gathered to collect the vessels, Pilate intervened with violence:
So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable, and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain. 
But when this tumult was appeased, the Samaritan senate sent an embassy to Vitellius, a man that had been consul, and who was now president of Syria [later emperor for a short time], and accused Pilate of the murder of those that were killed; for that they did not go to Tirathaba in order to revolt from the Romans, but to escape the violence of Pilate. So Vitellius sent Marcellus, a friend of his, to take care of the affairs of Judea, and ordered Pilate to go to Rome, to answer before the emperor to the accusations of the Jews. So Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he durst not contradict; but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead. [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 4] 
Why Pilate decided to attack the Samaritans here is left unsaid. Josephus also doesn't offer any additional information on the fate of Pilate after he returned to Rome. For this, the most reliable surviving record is that of Eusebius Pamphilus from the early 4th century. Drawing on more ancient sources, he records:
The so-called "Tomb of Pilate" in Vienne.
It is worthy of note that Pilate himself, who was governor in the time of our Savior, is reported to have fallen into such misfortunes under Caius [Caligula], whose times we are recording, that he was forced to become his own murderer and executioner; and thus divine vengeance, as it seems, was not long in overtaking him. This is stated by those Greek historians who have recorded the Olympiads, together with the respective events which have taken place in each period. [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 7]
Interestingly, the Roman pyramid at Vienne in southeastern France was traditionally called the tomb of Pilate. There is, however, very little actual history that supports this identification and the association of Pontius Pilate with this structure is probably a later legendary interpolation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Judas Iscariot and Spy Wednesday


Today is Spy Wednesday, when the Church traditionally remembers the initiation of the betrayal of Jesus by his apostle, Judas Iscariot. It is interesting in the Gospel of Matthew that Judas approaches the chief priests with his proposal of conspiracy immediately after Our Lord rebukes the disciples for false compassion:
And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table. And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. And Jesus knowing it, said to them: "Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her." [Matthew 26:8-13]
In the Gospel of St. John, the evangelist names names, identifying the principle agitator in the scene above:
Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein."John 12:3-6.
Returning to Matthew's account, Judas then immediately goes and seeks out the enemies of Our Lord:
Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, And said to them: "What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him. [Matthew 26:14-16]
Thus, Judas becomes a spy for those seeking to destroy Jesus--hence, Spy Wednesday. Though the term has fallen out of parlance today, Spy Wednesday was used with regularity in English-speaking countries through the 19th century. The Irish Ecclesiastical Record says, in some places, that Spy Wednesday was a day of strict abstinence. It is also one of three days on which the Tenebrae ceremony is celebrated in traditional Catholic practice.

Satan chewing on Judas
by Gustav Doré
For his crime, Judas is considered one of the worst sinners in history. In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts the soul of Judas in the deepest, darkest, most horrifying place in Hell--one of the three mouths of Satan:
In each mouth he mashed up a separate sinner
With his sharp teeth, as if they were a grinder,
And in this way he put the three through torture.

For the one in front, the biting was as nothing
Compared to the clawing, for at times his back
Remained completely stripped bare of its skin.

"That soul up there who suffers the worst pain,"
My master said, "is Judas Iscariot —
His head within, he kicks his legs outside."
For the record, Satan's other two mouths, according to Dante, are occupied by two other famous betrayers, Brutus and Cassius.

Let us pray along with the Tenebrae service for Spy Wednesday, that God may not forsake the Church in our distress and may not allow us to be sent down into darkness:

Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me
   and out of the deep waters.
Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
   neither let the deep swallow me up;
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"City to add twelve foot cops" ~ Some delightfully ambiguous newspaper headlines

Excerpt from Refurbishing our Foundations: Elementary
Linguistics from an Advanced Point of View
A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted a favorite headline:

"Dudley pooh-poohs public pooping in park"

This amusingly alliterative headline brought to mind a book I worked on years ago at John Benjamins entitled, Refurbishing Our Foundations: Elementary Linguistics from an Advanced Point of View by Charles Francis Hockett. This book was memorable to me for one reason--the author's list of headlines cited as examples of ambiguity of language. These headlines were made humorously ambiguous or simply bizarre due to homophones, odd capitalization, missing punctuation or articles, or other linguistic idiosyncrasies in the English language.

For your entertainment, here is the list of headlines:
  • BASEBALL TALKS IN NINTH INNING
  • SMOKING RISKIER THAN THOUGHT 
  • HOT DOG FIRM IN NEW HANDS
  • QUEEN DUCKS RIDE TO U.S. ON CONCORDE 
  • TEXTRON INC. MAKES OFFER TO SCREW COMPANY SHAREHOLDERS 
  • FARMER BILL DIES IN HOUSE 
  • FORD GIVES SWAN SONG 
  • TUNA BITING OFF WASHINGTON COAST 
  • CROWD RUSHING TO SEE POPE TRAMPLE SIX TO DEATH 
  • CITY TO ADD TWELVE FOOT COPS 
  • BUILDINGS SWAY FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO LA 
  • HE FOUND GOD AT THE END OF HIS ROPE 
  • NONSWIMMER DROWNS A HERO
Well, I thought they were funny, anyway.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Onolatry: Did early Christians worship the head of an ass?

Jesus separating the ass (symbolizing
heresy) from the sheep. A 3rd century
fresco from the catacomb
of Prætextatus
.
     Then it flashed on me that they were Christians.
     "Oh nurse, nurse, how can you? How can you? Oh what will become of you and of me?"
     "Become of me?" she said. "Why, by God's goodness, in a few hours I shall be where that poor beggar now is. And there, sweet lamb, I want you to be."
     "Never! Never! Worship an ass's head? Never!"
     “My child,” said the old man, “Some day you will learn, I hope, that we do none of these wicked things that are imputed to us; that we worship none but God, and His only Son, our Lord; with Whom your dear nurse is soon going to live.” 
The above scene is drawn from John Mason Neale's novella, The Daughters of Pola, and it describes the moment when the main character, Agnella, discovers that her beloved dying nurse, Apollonia, is a Christian.

"Alexamenos worships his god."
3rd century graffito from the
Palatine in Rome.
When I first read this passage, I was struck by the accusation that Christians worship the head of an ass. I had heard of the various slanders attributed to early Christians by hostile pagans: that Christians engaged in cannibalism, incest, and drank the blood of infants. But worshiping an ass's head was a new one.

With a little research, I soon discovered that this slander even had a name: onolatry—literally "ass worship." I was aware of the famous Alexamenos graffito (ca. 3rd century AD) which may be seen to this day at the Palatine Museum in Rome (see at right). But I did not know that the onolatry slander has a history which predates Christianity, at least as far back to an accusation leveled against the Jews by the Greco-Egyptian historian, Apion. Though Apion's works have not survived, we have fragments of them from Josephus's response, Against Apion, which was likely written in the early 1st century AD. Josephus writes:
Apion hath the impudence to pretend, that “The Jews placed an asse’s head in their holy place.” And he affirms, that “this was discovered when Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled our temple; and found that asse’s head there made of gold; and worth a great deal of money.” [Against Apion, Book II]
Josephus then goes on to effectively dismantle Apion's claim at some length.

The slander was repeated, along with numerous other half-truths and outright falsehoods, by the Roman historian, Tacitus, at about the same time. In describing the origins of the unusual religious practices of the Jews, Tacitus says that the Jews were expelled from Egypt and cast out into the desert. Here is where their ass-worship began:
Thus a multitude of sufferers was rounded up, herded together, and abandoned in the wilderness. Here the exiles tearfully resigned themselves to their fate. But one of them, who was called Moses, urged his companions not to wait passively for help from god or man, for both had deserted them: they should trust to their own initiative and to whatever guidance first helped them to extricate themselves from their present plight. They agreed, and started off at random into the unknown.
     But exhaustion set in, chiefly through lack of water, and the level plain was already strewn with the bodies of those who had collapsed and were at their last gasp when a herd of wild asses left their pasture and made for the spade of a wooded crag. Moses followed them and was able to bring to light a number of abundant channels of water whose presence he had deduced from a grassy patch of ground....
     In order to secure the allegiance of his people in the future, Moses prescribed for them a novel religion quite different from those of the rest of mankind....In the innermost part of the Temple, they consecrated an image of the animal which had delivered them from their wandering and thirst. [Tacitus, Histories, Book V:2]
That this slander was later applied to Christians, presumably as a sect or offshoot from Judaism, can be seen in the works of two Christian apologists from the third century. The first, Minucius Felix, a Roman from Africa, writes the following to dispute the slander:
Thence arises what you say that you hear, that an ass's head is esteemed among us a divine thing. Who is such a fool as to worship this? Who is so much more foolish as to believe that it is an object of worship? Unless that you even consecrate whole asses in your stables, together with your Epona [pagan goddess, protector of horses, ponies, mules and donkeys], and religiously devour those same asses with Isis. Also you offer up and worship the heads of oxen and of wethers, and you dedicate gods mingled also of a goat and a man, and gods with the faces of dogs and lions. Do you not adore and feed Apis the ox, with the Egyptians? [Minucius Felix, Octavius, Ch. 28]
At about the same time or somewhat later, Tertullian also sought to dispel the attribution of onolatry to Christians. He also turns the tables quite effectively on the pagan critics of Christianity, writing:
We are (said to be) guilty not merely of forsaking the religion of the community, but of introducing a monstrous superstition; for some among you have dreamed that our god is an ass's head—an absurdity which Cornelius Tacitus first suggested....The same Cornelius Tacitus, however—who, to say the truth, is most loquacious in falsehood— forgetting his later statement, relates how Pompey the Great, after conquering the Jews and capturing Jerusalem, entered the temple, but found nothing in the shape of an image, though he examined the place carefully. Where, then, should their God have been found? Nowhere else, of course, than in so memorable a temple which was carefully shut to all but the priests, and into which there could be no fear of a stranger entering. But what apology must I here offer for what I am going to say, when I have no other object at the moment than to make a passing remark or two in a general way which shall be equally applicable to yourselves? Suppose that our God, then, be an asinine person, will you at all events deny that you possess the same characteristics with ourselves in that matter? (Not their heads only, but) entire asses, are, to be sure, objects of adoration to you, along with their tutelar Epona; and all herds, and cattle, and beasts you consecrate, and their stables into the bargain! This, perhaps, is your grievance against us, that, when surrounded by cattle-worshippers of every kind we are simply devoted to asses! [Tertullian, Ad Nationes, Book I.]
Click for more information.
Perhaps the fictional priest Anastasius in The Daughters of Pola would have used a similar line of argument to persuade Agnella that the scandalous tales told about the Christians were nothing more than fables made up by people of ill will. He says:
"At that time, we talked for two hours, and I do not mean to say that all her difficulties, nay, that the half of them, were removed. The fables of the ass’s head and the infants’ blood I think she no longer regards. But her stumblingblock, as of old, is a suffering God."
Here, John Mason Neale gets to the heart of the difficulties faced by early Christians in carrying out Our Lord's great commission to teach the Gospel to all nations. Particularly when dealing with the Romans, early Christians faced a civilization for whom the highest goods were personal glory, victory, comfort, and the pleasures of life. For them, disgrace and suffering were anathema and the greatest evils. Thus, Christians who suffered willingly had to be despicable and it was therefore easy to give credence to any slanders offered against them and their practices. It was easier for Romans to believe that Christians worshiped the head of an ass than a God who suffered an ignominious death on a cross.

For early Christians, forced to defend themselves against the charge of onolatry and all variety of ridiculous lies and calumnies, the prophetic words of Jesus must have been constantly recalled to their minds:
"Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you." [Matthew 5:11-12].

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The coronation of Justinian as Co-Emperor in AD 527

Justinian from the mosaic at San Vitale
in Ravenna.
With his uncle Justin I sick to the point of death in early April, AD 527, Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus, long the heir-apparent to the throne of the eastern Roman empire, was crowned co-emperor. This happened on either April 1 or April 4. We have an idea of what went on that day, thanks to some fragmentary writings of Peter the Patrician, who held the high position of Master of Offices (magister officiorum) under Justinian for over twenty years. These fragments were preserved for posterity in Constantine Porphyrogenitus's work, De Ceremoniis. Peter wrote:
When Justin I was lying seriously ill, upon the advice of the senate, he proclaimed Justinian co-Emperor in the Great Triclinium of the palace. On April 4th, 525 [all other sources say April 1, 527], Justin ordered an audience to be held in the building of the palace called the Delphax, where the scholarians and all the corps of soldiers were assembled. The Bishop was present, offered prayer, and crowned Justinian. [From: Boak: Imperial Coronation Ceremonies of the Fifth and 6th centuries]. 
Peter then reports that everything else took place along the lines of the previously described coronation of Leo II, which wrapped up as follows:
The Bishop departed and the senior Emperor took his seat. The new Emperor saluted the people who hailed him as Augustus. After the Urban Prefect and the senate had made him the usual present of a crown of gold he addressed the soldiers, promising them the customary donative. [As above].
At the news of the donative, which was usually a gift of gold and silver, the soldiers would have rejoiced and offered acclamations like the following, which are based on the shouts recorded in De Ceremoniis at the elevation of the emperor Anastasius I in AD 491:
"Abundance for the world! God will preserve a Christian emperor! These are common prayers! These are the prayers of the world! Lord, help the pious! Holy Lord, uplift the world! The fortune of the Romans conquers! Justin Augustus, you conquer! Justinian Augustus, you conquer! God has given thee, God will keep thee! God be with you!" [Taken from: Brightman: "Byzantine Imperial Coronations" in The Journal of Theological Studies, 1901]
It should be noted that this sort of ceremonial—where an ailing senior emperor crowns a co-emperor—seemed to be more somber affairs. They tended to be shorter and more bare-bones than the full coronation ceremony when a new emperor was crowned in his own right. The full ceremony included additional opportunities for prayer, procession, proclamation and acclamation.
Late Roman soldiers, possibly scholarians, from the Brescia Casket, late 4th century AD.

Monday, April 03, 2017

"I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burnt alive." ~ April 3, AD 303

Saints Chionia, Agape and Irene listen
to the preaching of Saint Demetrios
in a modern painting.
April 3 is the Catholic feast day of three sisters who were executed during the persecution of Diocletian in AD 303: Agape, Chionia and Irene. The three were citizens of the city of Thessalonica in Macedonia which was also the hometown of Diocletian's Caesar, or junior emperor, Galerius. It was Galerius who first instigated Diocletian to commence an empire-wide persecution of Christians, so it is perhaps not surprising to find the attack being pressed so vigorously there.

We are fortunate that the authentic acts of these martyrs have come down to us from antiquity largely intact. The transcript of their trial begins with the Roman authorities making two accusations against the three sisters and four others—three women and a man—namely that they refused to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and that they were suspected of hiding Christian books which, by the decree of the emperors, were to be surrendered for destruction. For more on the burning of Christian literature under Diocletian, click here.
In the year 303, the emperor Diocletian published an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any persons to keep the holy scriptures. These saints concealed many volumes of these sacred books, but were not discovered or apprehended till the year following, when, as their acts relate, Dulcetius, the governor, being seated in his tribunal, Artemesius, the secretary, said: "If you please, I will read an information, given in by the Stationary, concerning several persons here present."

Dulcetius: "Let the information be read."
The solicitor read as follows: "The Pensioner Cassander to Dulcetius, president of Macedonia, greeting. I send to your highness six Christian women, with a man, who have refused to eat meats sacrificed to the gods. They are called Agape, Chionia, Irene, Casia, Philippa, Eutychia, and the man's name is Agatho. Therefore I have caused them to be brought before you."

The president, turning to the women, said: "Wretches, what madness is this of yours, that you will not obey the pious commands of the emperors and Cæsars?" He then said to Agatho: "Why will you not eat of the meats offered to the gods, like other subjects of the empire?"

He answered: "Because I am a Christian."

Dulcetius: "Do you still persist in that resolution?" 
Agatho: "Certainly."

Dulcetius next addressed himself to Agape, saying: "What are your sentiments?"

Agape answered: "I believe in the living God, and will not by an evil action lose all the merit of my past life."

Then the president said: "What say you, Chionia?"

She answered: "I believe in the living God, and for that reason did not obey your orders."
The president, turning to Irene, said: "Why did not you obey the most pious command of our emperors and Cæsars?"
Irene: "For fear of offending God."

President: "But what say you, Casia?"

Casia: "I desire to save my soul."

President: "Will not you partake of the sacred offerings?"

Casia: "By no means."
President: "But you, Philippa, what do you say?" 
She answered: "I say the same thing."
President: "What is that?" 
Philippa: "That I had rather die than eat of your sacrifices."

President: "And you, Eutychia, what do you say?"
Eutychia: "I say the same thing, that I had rather die than do what you command."
President: "Are you married?"
Eutychia: "My husband has been dead almost these seven months."
President: "By whom are you with child?"

Eutychia: "By him whom God gave me for my husband."

President: "I advise you, Eutychia, to leave this folly, and resume a reasonable way of thinking; what do you say? Will you obey the imperial edict?" 
Eutychia: "No: for I am a Christian, and serve the Almighty God." 
President: "Eutychia being big with child, let her be kept in prison." 
Afterwards Dulcetius added: "Agape, what is your resolution? Will you do as we do, who are obedient and dutiful to the emperors?"

Agape: "It is not proper to obey Satan; my soul is not to be overcome by these discourses."

President: "And you, Chionia, what is your final answer?"

Agape: "Nothing can change me."

President: "Have you not some books, papers, or other writings, relating to the religion of the impious Christians?"
Chionia said: "We have none: the emperors now reigning have taken them all from us."

President: "Who drew you into this persuasion?"
She said, "Almighty God."

President: "Who induced you to embrace this folly?"
Chionia repeated again, "Almighty God, and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ."

Dulcetius: "You are all bound to obey our most puissant emperors and Cæsars. But because you have so long obstinately despised their just commands, and so many edicts, admonitions, and threats, and have had the boldness and rashness to despise our orders, retaining the impious name of Christians; and since to this very time you have not obeyed the stationaries and officers who solicited you to renounce Jesus Christ in writing, you shall receive the punishment you deserve." Then he read their sentence, which was worded as follows: "I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burnt alive, for having out of malice and obstinacy acted in contradiction to the divine edicts of our lords the emperors and Cæsars, and who at present profess the rash and false religion of Christians, which all pious persons abhor." He added: "As for the other four, let them be confined in close prison during my pleasure."
One of the Tetrarchs, possibly Galerius, on the
famous statue now at Saint Mark's in Venice. 
After Agape and Chionia were burned to death, Dulcetius brought Irene back for further questioning. It seems that in the interim, he had discovered some sacred books in her possession. Confronting her with this evidence, he hopes to convince her to recant and sacrifice, or failing that, to get her to implicate other Christians, including her own father. Saint Irene, however, is having none of it, and Dulcetius passes a barbaric interim sentence.
Dulcetius: "Your madness to plain, since you have kept to this day so many books, parchments, codicils, and papers of the scriptures of the impious Christians. You were forced to acknowledge them when they were produced before you, though you had before denied you had any. You will not take warning from the punishment of your sisters, neither have you the fear of death before your eyes: your punishment therefore is unavoidable. In the mean time I do not refuse even now to make some condescension in your behalf. Notwithstanding your crime, you may find pardon and be freed from punishment, if you will yet worship the gods. What say you then? Will you obey the orders of the emperors? are you ready to sacrifice to the gods, and eat of the victims?" 
Irene: "By no means: for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are threatened with eternal fire."
Dulcetius: "Who persuaded you to conceal those books and papers so long?" 
Irene: "Almighty God, who has commanded us to love him even unto death; on which account we dare not betray him, but rather choose to be burnt alive, or suffer any thing whatsoever than discover such writings."
President: "Who knew that those writings were in the house?"
Irene: "Nobody, but the Almighty, from whom nothing is hid: for we concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."
President: "Where did you hide yourselves last year, when the pious edict of our emperors was first published?" 
Irene: "Where it pleased God, in the mountains."
President: "With whom did you live?"
Irene: "We were in the open air, sometimes on one mountain, sometimes on another."
President: "Who supplied you with bread?"
Irene: "God, who gives food to all flesh."
President: "Was your father privy to it?"
Irene: "No; he had not the least knowledge of it."
President: "Which of your neighbors knew it?"
Irene: "Inquire in the neighborhood, and make your search."
President: "After you returned from the mountains, as you say, did you read those books to anybody?"
Irene: "They were hid at our own house, and we durst not produce them; and we were in great trouble, because we could not read them night and day, as we had been accustomed to do."
The Rotonda of Galerius, originally part of his palace
complex in Thessalonika, now the Rotonda of St. George. 
Dulcetius: "Your sisters have already suffered the punishments to which they were condemned. As for you, Irene, though you were condemned to death before your flight for having hid these writings, I will not have you die so suddenly; but I order that you be exposed naked in a brothel, and be allowed one loaf a day, to be sent you from the palace; and that the guards do not suffer you to stir out of it one moment, under pain of death to them."
The infamous sentence was rigorously executed; but God protecting her, no man durst approach her, nor say or do any indecency to her. The president caused her to be brought again before him
President: "Do you still persist in your rashness?"
Irene: "Not in rashness, but in piety towards God."
Dulcetius: "You shall suffer the just punishment of your insolence and obstinacy."
And having called for paper, he wrote this sentence: "Since Irene will not obey the emperor's orders and sacrifice to the gods, but, on the contrary, persists still in the religion of the Christians, I order her to be immediately burnt alive, as her sisters have been." 
Dulcetius had no sooner pronounced this sentence but the soldiers seized Irene, and brought her to a rising ground where her sisters had suffered martyrdom, and having lighted a large pile, ordered her to mount thereon. Irene, singing psalms, and celebrating the glory of God, threw herself on the pile, and was there consumed in the ninth consulship of Diocletian, and the eighth of Maximian.
The Roman Martyrology says that the martyrdom of St. Agape and Chionia took place on April 3, with St. Irene following on the 5th of April. The fates of Casia, Eutychia, Philippa and Agatho are unknown.

The above is taken from Butler's Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principle Saints, Volume 1 (1833), which introduces it as: "From their original acts, abridged out of the presidial court registers of Thessalonica, in Surius, Ruinart, p. 421, Tillemont, t. 5, p. 240 and 680. Cellier, t. 3, p. 390.