Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"The Oblivion of a Silent Age" ~ The effort of Diocletian and Galerius to wipe out Christian literature during the Great Persecution

A later representation of Saints Emeterius and Celedonius in Calahorra Cathedral.
In a previous post entitled The Scriptures Destroyed by Fire ~ An official Roman transcript of the Great Persecution of AD 304, we examined the transcript of an investigation of several Christians in Roman north Africa. The accused were under suspicion of possessing and hiding Christian literature which had been banned by imperial edict. This document gives an idea of how thorough the Roman legal apparatus could be when enforcing the law, even as far from the centers of power as the town of Cirta, situated about 200 miles west of Carthage.

We know that destroying Christian books and literature was a facet of the Great Persecution because it is explicitly mentioned by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History. Aside from the above-mentioned transcript of the investigation in Cirta, there are other ancient sources which back up this aspect of the persecution—that is, the desire of Diocletian and and Galerius to completely extirpate all written knowledge of Christianity from the face of the earth. Here are a few additional examples.

In the authentic acts of Saints Chionia, Agape and Irene who were martyred during the Great Persecution in Thessalonica, there exists another official trial transcript which is believed by most scholars to be genuine. In it we find the following exchange between Dulcetius, governor of the province of Macedonia, and Saint Chionia:
Dulcetius: "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."
Soon after, Chionia and Agape were condemned to death, while Irene was sent back to prison. It seems that a search was done of Irene's home and Christian writings were indeed found there. Dulcetius called Irene before him to face cross-examination regarding this new evidence.
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."

Traditional image of Saints Agape,
Irene and Chionia.
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."

Dulcetius: "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."


Dulcetius: "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."

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."
A hint of how successful the efforts had been to annihilate Christian writings during the Great Persecution may be found in The Peristephanon or Martyr's Garland of the late 4th century Spanish poet, Prudentius. In the poem celebrating the martyrs of Calahorra, Saints Emeterius and Celedonius, written about 80 years after their deaths, we read the following lines:
But oh, the oblivion of a silent age!
     Extinguishing the record of such deeds,
The infidel long since destroyed the page,
     Which else had taught us how a martyr bleeds,

Envying to learned times that they should tell
     That passion’s history for all future years,
The order, time, and way how it befell—
     Sweet words to sound forever in men’s ears.

Yet this alone is what we cannot say,
     Whether, in prison pent, their hair grew long,
Or of their torments reckon the array...
[Taken from: A Hymn of Prudentius, published in The Month, Magazine and Review, 1873]
This provides a reasonable explanation as to why so many accounts of the ancient martyrs are fantastic stories of considerably later provenance, no doubt generated from dubious oral tradition. In many cases, probably little more was known than the name of the saint and the place of his or her martyrdom. It also makes the several authentic accounts that somehow survived the flames—such as that of Chionia, Agape, and Irene—that much more precious.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"Chaplain Ironsides" ~ Naval Chaplain Fr. William Henry Reaney (1863-1915)

Fr. Reaney in 1905.
Those who have died defending the country are worthy of remembrance. Those who died wearing the nation's uniform while at the same time serving Almighty God deserve special notice. Though he did not die in combat but of a stomach ailment, here is one such man who spent his whole life serving God while serving in the US Navy:

Father William Henry "Ironsides" Reaney was born in 1863, the son of a naval commander. He obtained the name "Ironsides" either because he was born aboard a steamer of that name, or because his father served on that ship -- the records are unclear. He was raised in Detroit, but heeding the call of the priesthood, he trained at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1888.

Fr. Reaney's most noteworthy assignment was as chaplain aboard the USS Olympia, Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay. The men aboard ship soon came to love him, as reported in the ship's newspaper, The Bounding Billow:
"The evening concerts inaugurated by Father Reaney of the OLYMPIA are a series of roaring successes (no pun is meant) and are working wonders on passing away the time, making everybody happy and the Father himself more popular if it is possible to do so. He has won the hearts of this crew as well as of all others with whom he has come in contact."
In Three Years Behind the Guns, a memoir of a sailor's life aboard Olympia during those years, John B. Tisdale describes an incident involving Fr. Reaney (whom he mistakenly calls Reamy):
Think of sailors taking a piano and carrying it for three miles after hoisting it over a stone wall! When we had landed it in shipshape at the water's edge, one of our officers came along and said, "Good! We will have it in our ward-room." 
In the ward-room! Not on your life! He was no sooner out of sight than the souvenir battle-axes were were bearing were wielded with a vim that reduced an upright Steinway to a condition that Frank May would have scorned as kindling for the galley-fire....
But back to the piano: its destruction engendered much feeling, but as the real name of its acquisition could only be spelled l-o-o-t, there was no complaint entered by the officer who would have appropriated it, and the sailormen's disappointment was solaced by Chaplain Father Reamy, who bought a piano and presented it to the gun-deck. That priest is truly paving himself a path to heaven by deeds of generosity. Every year he spends more than his pay on amusement for the boys.
Fr. Reaney between Lt. T. D. Griffin and Lt. Jr. Grade W. P. White
aboard USS Charleston ca. 1895.  
But Fr. Reaney wasn't merely a philanthropist or a social worker. He truly knew how to connect with the men, even if that meant occasionally connecting with a right upper-cut:
First and last, Chaplain Reaney was a priest. Therefore he took considerable umbrage when a sailor, Tom Sharkey, created a disturbance while he was saying Mass. After Mass, Father Reaney challenged the man to put on the boxing gloves with him, although he knew that Sharkey, who would have a distinguished career as a boxer, was formidable in the ring. Before a packed audience of sailors, Father Reaney, who was a great amateur boxer, defeated Sharkey. Ever afterwards he was known as “The Fighting Chaplain”, alongside his more regular nickname of Chaplain Ironsides. Throughout his career he organized boxing clubs for the sailors, and among his sparring partners was President Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend of the Chaplain. [Taken from: The Fighting Chaplain.]
Father Reaney served aboard several other ships during his career, including the battleships Utah, Connecticut and Vermont. He was chaplain of the New York Navy Yard when he was rushed to the hospital suddenly in October of 1915. He passed a month later. An excerpt from his obituary, published in the New York Times, is offered below:
How Father Reaney's Diplomacy Served Admiral Dewey Made Known at His Funeral.
Marines and Sailors as Guard of Honor for the Dead Chaplain of the Navy.
Thousands of the personal friends and associates of Rev. Father William Henry Ironsides Reaney, who was the son of the commander of the USS Ironsides, and Chaplain in the navy for twenty years, attended his funeral services yesterday morning in St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were many who could not get into the crowded church, but stood in the throngs of people on Fifth Avenue during the ceremony, where companies of marines and sailors from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with arms draped, were posted as an honor guard.
The Rev. Father Lopez, a cousin of the late Chaplain, was celebrant of the mass, assisted by Rev. Thomas Duffy and the Rev. John J. Brady, Chaplain of the battleship Arkansas. Among the clergymen within the chancel were the rector of the cathedral, Monsignor M. J. Lavelle, Monsignors Mooney, Connolly, and McNichol, and Chaplain Vincent McGean of the Fire Department. A special choir was composed of thirty young priests from the Dunwoodie Seminary. Chaplain John Chidwick of the battleship Maine, in a eulogy of Fr. Reaney, said:
"The public does not know that this man brought together in the Bay of Manila the Commander in Chief of the American fleet, Admiral Dewey, and the Archbishop of Manila at a time when such an occurrence seemed impossible. Nor has the public ever heard the story of the night on the Pacific when, with a typhoon raging, the carpenter of the Charleston went overboard and Fr. Reaney was seen sneaking to the rear of the battleship to plunge into the water to save him from the furious sea. 
"There are some folk who would tear from the soldier or sailor the uniform they wear, who would demolish the statues of heroes, because that is their idea of peace. Those men may not look on Chaplain Reaney as you and I, but can there be anything more glorious, more eloquent, than a man who has two objects in life—one to work for God, and other for his country. For twenty-three years, Father Reaney did that."

Monday, May 21, 2018

Constantine's Execution of Crispus and Fausta

A cameo on the ornate cover of the Ada Gospels believed to show the family
of Constantine. A possible identification is, from left: Fausta, Constantine,
Constantius II, Crispus, Constantine II. [From Pohlsander, p. 95]
As the emperor who brought Christianity out of the catacombs and into the palace, Constantine had many admirers in his own time. However, he had just as many detractors. The same holds true in our own time: for every plaudit Constantine receives from a modern commentator, one can expect to see an equal number of condemnations.

The event most commonly brought up by Constantine’s detractors when attacking his character are the scandalous executions of his second wife, Fausta, and his eldest son, Crispus. It is noteworthy that most of Constantine’s contemporary Christian biographers exclude this incident completely when recounting his life. Constantine’s detractors, however, are not so shy. Here are some examples.

The Arian Christian historian Philostorgius, writing in the early 5th century AD, asserts that “Constantine was induced by the fraudulent artifices of his step-mother to put his son Crispus to death.” [Epitome of Philostorgius's Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 4, ]

Crispus was the product of Constantine’s first marriage to a woman named Minervina about whom little is known. Constantine’s second wife, Fausta, was Crispus’s step-mother. It should also be noted that Fausta was the daughter of the western emperor, Maximian Herculius, and the sister of the Maxentius, self-proclaimed Augustus at Rome. Both Maximian (via suicide following an abortive attempt to reclaim imperial power) and Maxentius (via death in battle) met their ends due to the actions of Constantine.

The early 6th century pagan historian, Zosimus, fills in some more details, “His son Crispus, who had been honored with the rank of Caesar…came under the suspicion of being involved with his stepmother Fausta; Constantine destroyed him without any regard to the laws of nature.” [Zosimus, Historia Nea, 2.29, as translated by Hans A. Pohlsander.]

As a hostile critic of Constantine, one would expect Zosimus to put the scandal in the worst possible light. That said, a Christian chronicler, Zonaras, writing much later in the 12th century, basically corroborates him, adding additional detail either from his own speculation or sources unknown to us: 
“His (Crispus’s) stepmother Fausta was madly in love with him but did not easily get him to go along. She then announced to his father that he (Crispus) loved her and had often attempted to do violence to her. Therefore, Crispus was condemned to death by his father, who believed his wife.” [Zonaras, Epitome, 13.2, as translated by Hans A. Pohlsander.]
Given the above accounts and what we know about the dynastic situation in Constantine’s household, along with the moral legislation put into effect by Constantine at about the same time, it is possible to conjecture what the actual course of events might have looked like.

In AD 324, Constantine was able to vanquish the last of his rivals, Licinius, for complete control of the Roman Empire. During this campaign, the young Crispus played a signal role having defeated the naval forces of the Licinians in two major battles. These victories formed the vital prelude to the climactic Battle of Chrysopolis where Licinius was decisively defeated by Constantine. It is no surprise, then, that following the victories, Crispus—already named a Caesar or junior emperor—was at the height of his power and well-positioned to be Constantine’s heir apparent.

A medallion showing Crispus as Caesar.
Fausta, however, had borne three sons of her own by Constantine. All of them were too young to take up the purple in the year 326, the eldest, Constantine II, being only 10. In order for Fausta’s sons to succeed to the imperial throne and not be subject to their illustrious older brother, something would have to happen to Crispus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, something did. If we combine the claims of Philostorgius, Zosimus and Zonaras, it is relatively straightforward to conclude that Fausta conspired to accuse Crispus of rape. The credibility of the accusation might be enhanced if young Crispus (himself a married man with a child) actually allowed himself to be seduced by the empress.

In April of AD 320, Constantine had promulgated a law with regard to rape and the various parties involved. This new law, "added the voice of imperial authority to the cause of private morality, which was thus translated into the realm of public concern. Adultery and elopement, like rape, were species of theft from husband and father but also offenses against morality which husband and father had no business to ignore, whatever their personal inclinations.” [Dixon: Reading Roman Women, page 52]

The punishment for rape under Constantine was very severe—it was actually softened in AD 349 by Constantius II to capital punishment. According to Judith Evans Grubbs, “The original penalty may have been summum supplicium (‘the supreme penalty’), a particularly atrocious and degrading form of death such as condemnation ad bestias [that is, to be torn apart by wild beasts] or burning.” [Grubbs: Law and Family in Late Antiquity, page 186]

Events came to a head sometime in AD 326. Perhaps Fausta accused Crispus directly to her husband of attempting to rape her. Perhaps Crispus, knowing himself guilty of adultery and incest, could not convincingly refute the charge. In any event, Constantine evidently believed the accusation and found himself forced to inflict the penalty of his own laws upon his beloved son. Anything less would have been supremely un-Roman, hearkening back to stories such as the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquin—an event which led to the overthrow of the last Roman king—and the pitiless but legendary resolution of Manlius Torquatus, who enforced Roman law even to the point of executing his own son.

Compared to an ignominious death by fire or in the arena, Constantine’s supposed mandate of death by poison to his first-born appears almost merciful, though details are lacking.

A gold solidus showing the bust of Fausta on the obverse. The reverse shows
Fausta holding two of her children, probably Constantine II and Constantius II.
What then happened to Fausta is equally mysterious. On April 25, AD 326 at Nicomedia, Constantine amended the historical Julian Law on Adultery. Within this law, is the following statement:
“The husband above all ought to be the avenger of the marriage bed, since to him the former Emperors of olden time granted the right to accuse his wife even on suspicion and not be bound by the bond of inscription within the statutory time limits.” [Pharr: The Theodosian Code, Book IX, Title 7.2]
Whether this law was promulgated before or after Fausta met her fate is unknown. What is known is that Constantine’s mother, Helena, who had herself raised Crispus, severely rebuked her son for his precipitate action. Charles Odahl describes the circumstance as follows:
“When Constantine entered the city [of Rome], Helena approached him in mourning, and reproached him for the death of her grandson. With her imperial resources, she may have been able to gain some damnatory evidence that Fausta had deceived him; or, at the very least, she convinced Constantine that he had acted too swiftly and needed to investigate the case more deeply.” [Odahl: Constantine and the Christian Empire, p. 183]
It seems that Constantine did receive some sort of evidence implicating his wife. But Fausta’s crime had been more than conspiracy, seduction or adultery—it was treason. According to another of Constantine’s laws, “since a person convicted in a case of this kind is not protected by the privilege of any high rank from a very severe inquisition, he also must be subject to torture if he should not be able to prove his accusation by other clear evidence.” [Pharr: The Theodosian Code, Book IX, Title 5.1]  Thus, Fausta would have been subject to torture if credibly accused.

Perhaps the evidence was so strong that Fausta admitted her scheme before torture could be applied. Once convicted, there could be only one possible punishment for such a crime—death by the sword—and as before, Constantine could not exempt even his own wife from the just penalty lest he be accused of holding his own family above the law. Perhaps any desire Constantine had to save his wife dissipated once he recalled that Fausta had previously betrayed both her father and her brother, and had now played him for a fool and had her stepson judicially murdered. As in the case of Crispus, however, it seems that Constantine chose not to expose the mother of his sons to death by beheading. Instead, according to Zosimus, he had Fausta placed in a superheated sauna where she perished of hyperthermia.

But Fausta had achieved her ends. She had very effectively removed Crispus, clearing the path to imperial power for her own sons, while at the same time insulating them from implication in the crime. The names of both Crispus and Fausta were effectively erased from Roman biographies, historical works, coins and inscriptions after AD 326. Rumors were bandied about that the reason Constantine became a Christian was because Christian bishops promised that he could be cleansed from his sins via baptism. Sozomen effectively refutes this gossip as “the invention of persons who desired to vilify the Christian religion.” [Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book I, Chapter 5].

The depth of grief felt by Constantine and Helena at this horrific family tragedy can only be guessed. As Odahl posits, there may be clues in that Helena began her epochal pilgrimage to the Holy Land shortly thereafter, and Constantine himself redoubled his munificence toward building and enhancing Christian shrines and churches throughout the empire after these events.

An excellent brief biography of Crispus may be found in Hans Pohlsander’s article entitled: Crispus: Brilliant Career and Tragic End.

An equally excellent survey of Roman laws on rape may be found in Nghiem L. Nguyen's article, Roman Rape: An Overview of Roman Rape Lawsfrom the Republican Period to Justinian's Reign.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"He excluded from the altar all who had perpetrated crime or formed evil resolutions" — A 5th century account of participation in Holy Communion

Last Communion of St. Mary of Egypt by Sebastiano Ricci, ca. 1695.
There is an interesting passage in the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, written about AD 445, regarding two priest-monks in Egypt. These two, Dioscorus and Eulogius, appear as part of a list of holy men who flourished during the reign of the emperor Valens (AD 364-378) who “devoted themselves to a life of philosophy.” (Note that when Sozomen says, “philosophy”, he means ascetic Christian theology.)

For each holy man on the list, Sozomen provides a brief anecdote detailing his most notable virtue. For Dioscorus, Sozomen says:
Click for more info.
Dioscorus had not more than a hundred disciples. He was a presbyter, and applied himself with great exactness to the duties of his priesthood. He examined and carefully questioned those who presented themselves as candidates for participation in the holy mysteries, so that they might purify their minds and not be without a consciousness of any evil they might have committed.
It is fairly clear that Sozomen is talking here about candidates for Holy Communion, given that those being considered as catechumens would be purified by the waters of Baptism. The reference to the Eucharist is even more obvious in the next passage which follows immediately afterward:
The presbyter Eulogius was still more scrupulous in the dispensation of the Divine mysteries. It is said that, when he was officiating in the priestly office, he could discern what was in the minds of those who came to him, so that he could clearly detect sin, and the secret thoughts of each one of his audience. He excluded from the altar all who had perpetrated crime or formed evil resolutions, and publicly convicted them of sin, but, on their purifying themselves by repentance, he again received them into communion. 
Eulogius seems to possess the mystical charism known as the ability to read hearts. In more modern times, this gift was famously granted to Saint Jean Vianney (aka, the Curé of Ars) and Saint Padre Pio. It is worth noting that both of these great saints also had a deep and abiding love for the Holy Eucharist. Saint Jean Vianney, in his Eucharistic Meditations, warned:
"How many there are who have the temerity to come to the Holy Table with sins unconfessed or disguised in Confession. How many have not the contrition that the good God demands of them, and keep a secret will to commit sin again and not to make every effort to correct themselves. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they could do so, and bring to the Holy Table enmities in their heart! If ever you have been in these dispositions when going to Holy Communion, you have been guilty of sacrilege." [Eucharistic Meditations, page 20]
We moderns would do well to heed these warnings. Indeed, in our time we do not suffer from an abundance of scrupulosity, but quite the opposite. We suffer from an unwillingness to properly form our consciences and a subsequent inability to discern and condemn our own faults.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The 21st Century Parable of the Rigid Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, ca. 1669.
When the Left gets around to re-writing Sacred Scripture in their own image, the parable of the Prodigal Son will probably get a pretty thorough re-boot. I suspect it will end up reading something like this. 

(Note, before you read this, make sure you read the authentic Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Saint Luke which reflects the true teaching and intention of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, rather than the revised gospel which attempts to reconcile His teaching with the demands of the prince of this world. My additions below are in blue.)
A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father: "Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me." And he divided unto them his substance. 
And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.  
And returning to himself, he said: "How many hired servants in my father's house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.'"
And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son."
And the father said to his servants: "Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry."
And then the father gave unto him more money and said to him, "Son, thy lifestyle among the harlots is not chosen but is of an unexplained psychological genesis. Inviteth therefore, the harlots to come and live among us that we may welcome them, learn from them, and allow them to enjoy our table. Continue to do as you please with them and I shall support thee with joy."  
And struck with wonder, the son sayeth unto his father, "Verily? I shall do as you have proposed at once."
Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said to him: "Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe. And he hath also decided that he is incapable of ajudging your brother's lifestyle as wicked, and hath turned over more money to him so that he may continue to live riotously as seems well to him. 
And the elder son was angry, and would not go in. His father therefore coming out began to entreat him.
And he answering, said to his father: "Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And more, thou hast encouraged him to continue enriching the harlots, thinking that it would be judgmental and intolerant to condemn his evil lifestyle choices."
But his father sayth unto him: "Son, thy brother hast formed his conscience and adjudged his situation to be without grave sin even though he hath transgressed moral law on several points and knows it. Clearly, reforming his life would do him greater harm than continuing to live as he does. Who am I to judge? But I can see that thou art a self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagian. Get thee from my house, for thou art rigid and can not abide with thy brother and his new companions whom we are welcoming. Your portion shall be the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
I have always loved the true parable with its focus on repentance and mercy, and am dismayed to see its meaning distorted by too many Catholics, both lay and religious, who ought to know better. One can not separate the Father's mercy from the vital humility and repentance on the part of the son. Though infinitely merciful, the Father is not an enabler of wickedness.

It is also worth noting that in the true parable, the father shows equal understanding and mercy to the virtuous elder son even though he is initially envious, saying to him: "Thou art always with me, and all that I have is thine."

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Did you not see a white-haired man with torn clothing come this way?" Martyrdom of Saint Victor the Moor, May 8

Mosaic of Saint Victor the Moor
from the dome of the Sacello di
San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro. 
Today, May 8, is the feast day of the early Christian martyr, Saint Victor the Moor. He is also known as Saint Victor of Milan and has long been considered one of the patron saints of that city. It is believed that he was martyred there in the 4th century AD after having refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods at the command of the persecuting emperor Maximianus Herculius, the colleague of Diocletian who ruled in the west from AD 285 to about AD 310. His story was well-known in his day and he is the subject of a Latin hymn by Saint Ambrose (along with two soldier-martyr companions) written less than a century after his martyrdom. They hymn is rendered as follows in English by Brian Dunkle in Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan:
Devoted Victor, Nabor, Felix
the martyrs of Milan,
guests on our soil, Moorish born,
and foreigners in our lands,

The scorching sand gave them to us,
Sand that pants from the solar heat,
The farthest limit of the earth
And an exile from our name.

The Po received them as its guests
with the steep price of their blood,
the faith of the church their mother
filled them with the Holy Spirit,

And she crowned herself
By three martyrs’ holy blood,
and consecrated them soldiers to Christ
who were snatched from godless camps.

Their effort helped them in their faith,
Trained in the wartime arms
to give their life for the king,
it befit them to suffer for Christ.

The soldiers of Christ sought
no iron spears nor weapons;
he who claims the true faith
walks about defended by arms.

His faith is a shield for the man
And death is his triumph, whom the tyrant
hostile to us sent as martyrs
to the town of Lodi.

But they have returned our victims;
their bodies borne on chariots,
returned to the gazes of the princes
in the manner of triumphal chariot.
The mosaic portrait of Saint Victor above crowns the interior of the dome of Sachello di San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro, and may be seen to this day in Milan. The mosaic was created in the 6th century, about 200 years after his martyrdom. At about this same time, the Passion of Saint Victor was written, probably with considerable ornament and interpolation. Following is an excerpt from near the end of this work:
Then the emperor Maximianus ordered that [Victor] be led to the Vercelline Gate: and while they awaited the emperor's commands they paused there. Then the soldiers who were guarding Saint Victor fell asleep, and rising Victor fled and hid himself in a stable in front of the theater. Then the soldiers rose and pursued him, and finding a lone woman they questioned her, asking "Did you not see a white-haired man with torn clothing come this way?"
The woman replied, and said, "I did see a white-haired man with torn clothing flee this way."
Then the soldiers continued their pursuit along the road which was named after the stables, and they arrived in front of the theater; and entering the stables they found Saint Victor hidden in front of the horses. Then the soldiers assaulted him and brought him outside. When Maximianus heard that Victor had fled he was furious with his soldiers, and he ordered other soldiers to take them outside the city to a place called the Garden of Philippus. The emperor himself strolled about in the hippodrome of the circus, and sent runners to Victor, saying "Go and tell Victor, 'You have despaired for your life, and you are not willing to offer sacrifice: by the gods, if you do not sacrifice I will sentence you to capital punishment.'"
To these Victor replied, "Go and tell your emperor, 'Do quickly what you are about to do because I want to receive my reward from God, the reward for which I suffer these things, and because it is time: if it should please him who has given me my soul and spirit.'"
Then the emperor Maximianus ordered his servants to be called, and he told them that Victor was to be led to a small wood named The Elms, where he the emperor had a garden, and that he was to be beheaded there. And when Saint Victor was being brought there, he said to the soldiers who were bringing him, "Tell the emperor Maximianus that he will die this year, and that when he is dead no grave will accept him unless his legs are broken." When he had said these things they reached the place, and Victor made a speech, saying, "I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that you have not separated me from your saints, my fellow citizens, Nabor and Felix. I bless and thank you forever. Amen." When the speech was complete his head was cut off by a servant.
The remainder of this Passio may be read here. Though it is believed that several details of this account are fanciful, one can detect bits and pieces that ring authentic. Of particular note is one small item which is mentioned at the very end of the Passio — the burning of the official record of the execution by the court officials:
Then Anolinus the consiliarius ordered all the exceptores in the palace to be seized, and made them swear by their gods that if any of them had any written record no one would conceal it. Then they all swore by the gods and by the safety of the emperor that no one would conceal such, and all the papers were brought forward, and Anolinus had them burned before him by a servant. This greatly pleased the emperor.
The burning of Christian literature and records was, apparently, a common practice during the persecution of Diocletian. For more on this topic, see: "The Scriptures Destroyed by Fire" ~ An official Roman transcript from the Great Persecution of AD 304.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Prelude to the Battle of Manila Bay -- Late April, 1898

Dewey's flagship Olympia in Hong Kong, painted gray and ready for battle.
This week less 120 years, the protected cruiser USS Olympia was in Hong Kong. The crew was on tenterhooks waiting for word that war had been declared between the United States and Spain. Once that happened, England, China and Japan would become neutral, thus denying Olympia and her squadron a friendly port nearer than San Francisco.

As it happened, when war was declared, Olympia would sail for an unfriendly port -- Manila in the Philippines -- which for nearly 400 years had been a colony of Spain. While waiting in Hong Kong, Commodore Dewey wasted no time preparing his ships for the expected order to sail in battle array.

Following is an excerpt from the memoir Three Years Behind the Guns, which gives the sailor's point of view of the impending clash:
The little commodore has kept us jumping, and we are ready for whatever may come, and already the men are shouting, "Remember the Maine!"

One morning I saw the ship s painter come out from the commodore s cabin, carrying a long, three-inch wide board painted in various shades of neutral greens or grays. When I asked him what they were for, his answer was both unsatisfactory and inelegant, but the following morning at breakfast the uniform announced throughout the squadron was "old working clothes" and then the boatswain piped, "A-l-1 h-a-n-d-s paint ship."

That was on the morning of April 19. By noon ships, masts, boats, launches, guns, and everything, had been treated to a coat of "war paint," which, in the United States navy, is dark gray. Unless one has witnessed the painting of a man-of-war it is difficult to imagine how quickly it can be done. There are barrels of paint all mixed and ready before the order is given, and in ten minutes after, the ship is literally manned with painters. The last painting has transformed our beautiful squadron which had gathered together like a flock of white swans wearing red favors, into a flock of ugly ducklings sulking upon the water; everything save our spirits and our flags were the color of lead.

As soon as the Baltimore reaches Yokohama she will hear the news and hasten to us, and then?

She came in early one morning, was rushed through coaling and painting, and at the request of the governor of Hong-Kong, all hands together sailed away while the men on England's war-ships cheered us as we passed them.

We are cut off from everybody, aliens in a foreign country, but it can't last long. There is going to be something doing.

It was past noon on the twenty-seventh [of April] when our fleet, nine ships all in battle array, was sailing to sea under sealed orders, and with nine crews bursting with expectancy. At five o clock the Olympia's crew was piped to quarters, where we listened to the reading of the following:


Proceed at once to Manila; engage and destroy the Spanish fleet, when and where you find them.

WM. McKINLEY, President, United States of America.

Click for more info.
We went mad with joy. The news was signaled from ship to ship, and before we turned in that night a new battle-flag was begun and finished. The placing of the stars proved that we had a representative from each State in the Union. I wrote California and my name on the back of one and sewed it on.

But there was more to do than just the making of flags. Next morning the order: "Clear for action" was given in earnest, and things we never thought we could exist without went over board.

From the Chinese-Japanese war we learned that more men were killed by splinters than by shell, and it was rumored the diddy-box must go, but the little Commodore, with the fate of a nation fluttering in his hand, came to our rescue. He said it would be an outrage to take from a man the only thing the Navy allowed him to hold sacred, and he asked that we be permitted to stow them below the protective decks so, here you go! Good-by, Diddy, until until we meet again.
What happened thereafter may be read here: "Open with all guns!" The Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. If you would prefer a reading of John Tisdale's account from Three Years Behind the Guns, check out this video:

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Shroud of Turin ~ A (theorized) early provenance

A 16th century image showing the Shroud of Turin by Giulio Clovio.
Click here to see the full image.
Today being Good Friday for Christians around the world, it is a fitting time to look at one of the most enigmatic and widely debated relics of history: The Shroud of Turin. While there have been no end of scientific attempts to determine what this fascinating image might be and how it was made, I find the historical attempts to trace its provenance to be more interesting.

The earliest reference to a shroud associated with Jesus may be found in Sacred Scripture. In the Gospel of Saint John we find the following passage:
"Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulcher, and saw the linen cloths lying, And the napkin that had been about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but apart, wrapped up into one place. Then that other disciple also went in, who came first to the sepulcher: and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead." [John 20:6-9]
The question has been: what did the other unnamed disciple (traditionally Saint John himself) see to make him immediately believe? Of course, as evidence of the Shroud of Turin, this passage is cryptic at best.

A 10th century painting of Abgar V
of Edessa receiving the Image.
Some investigators, foremost among them, Ian Wilson in his book The Blood and the Shroud, have attempted to explain what happened to this linen cloth. They link the burial cloth with the fabled Image of Edessa (also called the Mandylion of Edessa), a likeness of Jesus that purportedly protected the city of Edessa from attack for nearly 600 years. As the theory goes, the image was brought to King Abgar V of Edessa who had requested that Jesus come to visit him and cure him of a disease. It was borne by one of the disciples—Addai or Thaddæus—along with a letter from Jesus himself. The account of this visit was recorded in the early 4th century in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History:
“Now, when they were come up, his princes happened to be standing there. And immediately, as he was entering in, a great vision appeared to Abgar on the countenance of Thaddæus the apostle. And, when Abgar saw Thaddæus, he prostrated himself before him. And astonishment seized upon all who were standing there: for they had not themselves seen that vision, which appeared to Abgar alone."
Eusebius's account also includes the supposed letter from Jesus to Abgar which was declared apocryphal by later Church authority. Eusebius claims, however, that he had seen the original documents himself, saying: "There is, however, nothing to prevent our hearing the very letters themselves, which have been taken by us from the archives, and are in words to this effect, translated from Aramaic into Greek." There is, however, in Eusebius's account, no direct mention of the famous image.

In AD 544, Edessa was attacked by the Persians. A generation later, an account of the siege was recorded by the historian Evagrius Scholasticus. His Ecclesiastical History contains the first mention of the Image of Edessa protecting the city from attack. The Persians had built a siege ramp against the walls. In an attempt to collapse the ramp, the Edessenes dug a mine beneath it and filled the cavity with wood and combustibles:
Click for more info.
"The mine was completed; but they failed in attempting to fire the wood, because the fire, having no exit whence it could obtain a supply of air, was unable to take hold of it. In this state of utter perplexity, they bring the divinely wrought image, which the hands of men did not form, but Christ our God sent to Abgarus on his desiring to see Him. Accordingly, having introduced this holy image into the mine, and washed it over with water, they sprinkled some upon the timber; and the divine power forthwith being present to the faith of those who had so done, the result was accomplished which had previously been impossible: for the timber immediately caught the flame, and being in an instant reduced to cinders, communicated with that above, and the fire spread in all directions. [The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, Book IV, Chapter XXVII]
Interestingly, Evagrius links the "divinely wrought image" directly to King Abgar.

A Medieval miniature showing the Image of Edessa arriving in Constantinople. 
Later, so the theory goes, the Image of Edessa was brought to Constantinople. In a sermon commemorating this event in AD 944, the archdeacon of Hagia Sophia, Gregory Referendarius gives a very detailed account of the Image's history. He also gives a description of the image which seems, perhaps not coincidentally, to have a certain affinity to the appearance of the Shroud of Turin:
"For this is not the art of painting, which provides a door for the mind to consider the original and depicts images. This reflection was imprinted from a living original....This reflection...has been imprinted only by the sweat from the face of the originator of life, falling like drops of blood, and by the finger of God. For these are the beauties that have made up the true imprint of Christ, since after the drops fell, it was embellished by drops from his own side. Both are highly instructive – blood and water there, here sweat and image." [The Sermon of Gregory Referendarius, as translated by Mark Guscin]
The image on the Shroud as it exists today.
Finally, in AD 1204, the city of Constantinople was taken and sacked by the rogue armies of the Fourth Crusade. A French knight, Robert of Clari, participated in the sack and later wrote a chronicle. In it, he records what he saw in the ancient Church of Saint Mary in the Blachernae section of Constantinople:
But among the rest, there was also another of the minsters, which was called the Church of my Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, within which was the shroud wherein Our Lord was wrapped. And on every Friday that shroud did raise itself upright, so that the form of Our Lord could clearly be seen. And none knows – neither Greek nor Frank – what became of that shroud when the city was taken. [Robert of Clari's Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade, Chapter 93]
Click for more info.
While these tid-bits do not provide a complete, authentic provenance for the Shroud of Turin stretching back to ancient times, they are nonetheless tantalizing clues for the historian. As many times as skeptics try to bury the shroud as a forgery, the relic continues to raise itself up and provide an endless source of fascination for a modern world which considers the divine distant and the miraculous impossible.

For a much more filled-out version of the above provenance written in a compelling style that draws the reader in like a mystery novel, I highly recommend Ian Wilson's The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real as mentioned above.

Click to see a high-resolution image of the shroud with incredible detail.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Paul, Apostle of Christ ~ Telling part of the story

Click here to view the trailer.
With the idea of supporting religious film-making, I took the family out to see Paul the Apostle last night. Despite the PG-13 rating, I brought the whole crew, including the six year-old. As it turned out, there was really nothing in there that he couldn’t handle. The only scene of frightening violence is when one of the crucified Christians was set ablaze to become one of “Nero’s torches.”

That said, this movie wasn’t made for the six year-old crowd. Compared to most modern major market movie fare, it had a much slower pace, much more artistic use of camera work, particularly the manipulation of light and shadow and the incorporation of frequent hazy, cryptic, slow-motion flashbacks. Indeed, this was a very dark film about a dark time in human history, and I left the theater feeling contemplative but not wholly satisfied.

Here are three lauds and caveats if you are thinking of going to see this film during the Easter season:

  1. Luke. Jim Caviezel, playing the part of Luke, dominates the screen. Indeed, a couple of my kids came out of the theater wondering why the film hadn’t been called “Luke”. Caviezel is at the top of his game in this film and the character of Saint Luke as the writer and physician is very compelling.

  2. The history. The film gets several aspects of the historical situation of Rome during the reign of Nero spot-on. I particularly liked the incorporation of Nero’s Torches. This is a important because it serves to introduce our historically illiterate generation to the famous passage in Tacitus’s Annals:

    “And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night.” [Tacitus, Annals, Book XV, Chapter 44]

    It should be recalled that Tacitus was not a Christian and had no particular sympathy for them. That the film takes place in the immediate aftermath of the great fire of Rome helps to explain some of the grimy condition of the Christian community and the dark, smoky, gritty settings within Rome itself. This was very effective, I thought.

    Nero's Torches by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1876.
  3. The ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but the end tied things up very well for Saint Paul. It also made my wife cry which, admittedly, is not difficult. It was, however, a very poignant scene.
  1. The accents. It’s clear that several of the main actors were not native English speakers. Normally, I find this to be a positive in that it tends to add flavor to the characters. However, in the case of Olivier Martinez, his accent occasionally descended into utter unintelligibility. This was a shame because I thought he was otherwise very engaging as Mauritius, the brutal prefect of the Mamertine prison who eventually comes to see his prisoner, Paul, in a different light.

  2. The poetic license was off. The writers of the film introduced numerous fictional characters into the early Christian community in Rome. While this is not a flaw of itself, it could have been done better. For example, a Roman boy who plays a prominent role is named “Tarquin”. Given that Tarquin was the name of the last hated king of Rome, it’s fairly unlikely that such a name would be used in 1st century Imperial Rome. It would almost be like naming a kid “Adolph” today.

    Another mild problem was the “rebellion” of Cassius, the cousin of Tarquin. Tired of simply knuckling under to the Romans, one of the Christians decides to recruit young men and break into the Mamertine to rescue St. Paul. As far as I know, this incident is made up of whole cloth, and while it helps with the story-telling, it does not really reflect the historical attitude of the Christian community in Rome in the first century AD.

    The inclusion of Aquila and Pricilla as the leaders of the Roman Christian community is also problematic. Though they are historical and appear in St. Paul’s letters, there is no indication anywhere that they were leaders of the Roman church.

  3. The Protestant slant on early Church history. Make no mistake, the story-telling here is a version of history that is not well-informed by the traditions of the Church Fathers. In fact, it’s almost as if the early fathers (and mothers) of the Roman church were specifically disregarded and replaced by the writers’ poetic license as mentioned above. This is evident not so much in what is presented as what is not presented. First, as we know from his Gospel and from later tradition, St. Luke was close with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Yet, the Blessed Virgin’s name is not mentioned once in the film. The other glaring omission is Saint Peter—who is only mentioned in passing twice—and his successors Linus and Clement. These men would have been the leaders of the Roman Christian community. Yet Linus and Clement warrant not even a mention. From the perspective of viewer with any knowledge of the early Church, this seemed bizarre and unnecessary. One is forced to assume that the writers were more comfortable with the idea of a married couple leading the Christian congregation like a pastor and his wife, than the successor to St. Peter. The omission of Linus is especially egregious because he is even mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy as someone who was with Paul in Rome near the end of his life [2 Timothy 4:21] while Aquila and Priscilla were not. 
Keeping these flaws in mind, I would encourage Catholics to support this film. While it is not the second coming of the Passion of the Christ, it is a well-done production with some memorable, poignant moments. It was one of those films that I will have to watch again after some time has passed in order to catch things that I missed the first time around.

That said, to echo another reviewer of this film, this is not the definitive epic about the life and works of Saint Paul that many of us were hoping for. I guess we'll have to wait a bit longer for that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Pulcheria ~ Princess. Empress. Saint. A brief video biography.

The daughter of the Eastern emperor Arcadius, Aelia Pulcheria (AD 398-453) was the granddaughter of Theodosius the Great, the last man to rule the combined Roman Empire.

When her father Arcadius died suddenly in AD 408, Pulcheria was a mere 10 years old. Her brother, Theodosius II, the heir to the throne, was only 8. At the age of 15, Pulcheria became regent for her brother, pledged her virginity to God, and was named Augusta. Perhaps no one had a greater influence on young Theodosius than Pulcheria, as the video excerpt from Sozomen above clearly demonstrates.

Sozomen wrote the brief biography of Pulcheria featured in the above video clip in the mid-440s AD, that is, while Pulcheria was still alive but probably during that period of rivalry with the Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II, when her power was in eclipse. I posted a variation of this text a while back from a different English translation of Sozomen. Here is a little more from Walford's translation of Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History:

Click for more info.
It is said that God on many occasions revealed future events to Pulcheria and conferred on her and on her sisters many special indications of favor. They all pursue the same mode of life. They are sedulous in their attendance in the house of prayer and evince great charity towards strangers and the poor. These sisters generally take their meals and walks together and pass their days and their nights together in singing the praises of God. Like other exemplary women, they employ themselves in weaving and in similar occupations. Although of royal birth and educated in palaces, they avoid idleness as unworthy of the life of virginity to which they have devoted themselves. The favor of God has been, for their sakes, manifested towards their family and the state and the emperor in proportion, as he has grown in years, has increased in power, while all seditions and wars undertaking against him have spontaneously come to nought. [Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book IX, Chapter 3]
Pulcheria was influential at the court of the Eastern Roman Empire for nearly 50 years and played a key role during the reigns of two important emperors—Theodosius II and Marcian. She helped them steer a difficult course during a time when the Empire was under assault from every direction as well as internally. Her devotion to orthodox Christianity and particularly her role at the Council of Chalcedon and her veneration of the Blessed Virgin helped set a solid course for Christianity that is clearly perceptible even to this day, more than 1,500 years after her death.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March 23, AD 536 ~ Mutiny of Justinian's Army in Africa under Solomon the Eunuch

6th century mosaic of Saint Vitalis attired as a gray-haired late Roman soldier.
After his stunning re-conquest of Roman north Africa, and destruction of the Vandalic kingdom, Belisarius returned to Constantinople late in AD 534. He left prematurely because a conspiracy had sprung up accusing him of seeking to usurp the imperial power and set himself up as king of Africa. To defuse suspicion, he packed up his household and returned to the capital, his ships laden with the Vandal royalty as captives and the legendary Vandal treasure.

Once in Constantinople, Belisarius received a traditional Roman triumph. But while the imperial court celebrated, the situation in Africa deteriorated. Belisarius had left his former steward, Solomon, to govern the province and he was effective. However, three aspects of the situation in the region worked dangerously against him. Procopius describes them as follows:
After the Vandals had been defeated in the battle, as I have told previously, the Roman soldiers took their daughters and wives and made them their own by lawful marriage. And each one of these women kept urging her husband to lay claim to the possession of the lands which she had owned previously, saying that it was not right or fitting if, while living with the Vandals, they had enjoyed these lands, but after entering into marriage with the conquerors of the Vandals they were then to be deprived of their possessions. And having these things in mind, the soldiers did not think that they were bound to yield the lands of the Vandals to Solomon...This was one cause of the mutiny.  
And there was a second, concurrent, cause also...It was as follows: In the Roman army there were, as it happened, not less than one thousand soldiers of the Arian faith; and the most of these were barbarians, some of these being of the Erulian nation. Now these men were urged on to the mutiny by the priests of the Vandals with the greatest zeal. For it was not possible for them to worship God in their accustomed way, but they were excluded both from all sacraments and from all sacred rites. For the Emperor Justinian did not allow any Christian who did not espouse the orthodox faith to receive baptism or any other sacrament....
And as if these things were not sufficient for Heaven, in its eagerness to ruin the fortunes of the Romans, it so fell out that still another thing provided an occasion for those who were planning the mutiny. For the Vandals whom Belisarius took to Byzantium were placed by the emperor in five cavalry squadrons, in order that they might be settled permanently in the cities of the East; he also called them the "Vandals of Justinian," and ordered them to betake themselves in ships to the East. Now the majority of these Vandal soldiers reached the East, and, filling up the squadrons to which they had been assigned, they have been fighting against the Persians up to the present time; but the remainder, about four hundred in number, after reaching Lesbos, waiting until the sails were bellied with the wind, forced the sailors to submission and sailed on till they reached the Peloponnesus. And setting sail from there, they came to land in Libya at a desert place, where they abandoned the ships, and, after equipping themselves, went up to Mt. Aurasium and Mauretania. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
These causes combining, the mutiny came to a head during the Easter season in AD 536. Procopius tells us that even the guards and servants of Solomon became embroiled in the conspiracy due to their desire for lands. Despite this, Solomon remained completely in the dark. Easter Sunday, March 23, 536, was set as the day for the uprising. But something went wrong. Procopius continues:
Click for more info.
And when the appointed day had now come, Solomon was sitting in the sanctuary, utterly ignorant of his own misfortune. And those who had decided to kill the man went in, and, urging one another with nods, they put their hands to their swords, but they did nothing nevertheless, either because they were filled with awe of the rites then being performed in the sanctuary, or because the fame of the general caused them to be ashamed, or perhaps also some divine power prevented them. And when the rites on that day had been completely performed and all were betaking themselves homeward, the conspirators began to blame one another with having turned soft-hearted at no fitting time, and they postponed the plot for a second attempt on the following day. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
They tried again the next day, and failed again for the same reasons. At this point, some of them panicked. Worried that they would be discovered, a contingent of the mutineers fled Carthage and began acting as a rebellious army, plundering the countryside and manhandling the common folk.

Recognizing the danger, Solomon begged the soldiers who remained in Carthage to remain loyal to the emperor. He still had little idea of exactly how far the mutiny had progressed among his own men. At first, he seemed to be succeeding. However...
....On the fifth day, when [the soldiers] heard that those who had gone out were secure in their power, they gathered in the hippodrome and insulted Solomon and the other commanders without restraint. And Theodorus, the Cappadocian, being sent there by Solomon, attempted to dissuade them and win them by kind words, but they listened to nothing of what was said. Now this Theodorus had a certain hostility against Solomon and was suspected of plotting against him. For this reason the mutineers straightway elected him general over them by acclamation, and with him they went with all speed to the palace carrying weapons and raising a great tumult. There they killed another Theodorus, who was commander of the guards, a man of the greatest excellence in every respect and an especially capable warrior. And when they had tasted this blood, they began immediately to kill everyone they met, whether Libyan or Roman, if he were known to Solomon or had money in his hands; and then they turned to plundering, going up into the houses which had no soldiers to defend them and seizing all the most valuable things. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
With the revolt now raging in Carthage itself, Solomon and his few loyal guardsmen fled. They made for the harbor and set sail for Syracuse where Belisarius was quartered with his army in preparation for his impending campaign in Italy. Interestingly, Procopius himself was with Solomon, having been an eyewitness to the mutiny he records.

What happened next was but a footnote in the legendary career of Belisarius--but no less amazing than any of his other accomplishments. Here is snippet of the event I wrote for the forthcoming third novel of my Belisarius trilogy, The Final Victory. At this point in the tale, Stozas has taken control of the rebel army outside of Carthage and young Theodorus, to whom Solomon had entrusted the city, has just seen his envoy, Joseph, slain in cold blood:
“He slew Joseph like an animal, Theodorus! We have to surrender or we’re all dead men,” said Philip, a young tribune of barely 24 years. 
The tribune Theodorus sighed as he collapsed onto a waiting chair. A young man himself with hardly two years of seniority on Philip, he felt overwhelmed, overmatched and more than a little fearful. Outnumbered a hundred to one. How long can I hold the city against such odds? But dare I surrender to those butchers?
“Tribune, a dromon has entered the harbor,” a balding dekarch announced. “They are disembarking without permission. Please come.”
“I am coming,” Theodorus replied. “Philip, guard the walls. Let me know immediately if Stotzas makes any moves.” Donning his helmet, he ran from the governor’s palace to the harbor with the dekarch and two bodyguards at his side. As he arrived, a gasp escaped his lips.
“You look as if you’ve seen a vision of Hell, Theodorus,” Belisarius said, clapping the man on the shoulder.
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“Magister! Thank the good Theotokos!” Theodorus replied.
Within minutes a chattering crowd had gathered around Belisarius, and a path had to be cleared for him and his men as they marched into the city toward the palace, followed by three-score stevedores hauling heavy handcarts. As they went, Theodorus became aware of the paucity of Belisarius’s force and his jubilation soon turned back to anxiety.
“Where are the rest of the men?” he whispered to Procopius.
“This is more than enough,” Procopius replied without expression.
“But it’s barely a hundred.”
Procopius shook his head. “Tribune, do you not know that the name Belisarius alone is worth 10,000 men? When we get to the palace, you will see how he can create an army from the winds and sand.”
Book three, tentatively titled, The Final Victory, is still in progress, so you'll have to wait until I'm finished to find out what happened. Or, if you can't wait, check out Procopius's account and read the original source material for yourself!

Monday, March 19, 2018

"An object of dread to the demons" ~ A brief video bio of Saint Moses the Black

Presenting a brief video biography of one of the most fascinating saints of antiquity, Moses the Black, as extracted from the 5th century work, The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen.

Abba Moses is known by numerous other names including Moses the Strong, Moses the Ethiopian, Moses of Scetis, Moses of Abyssinia and Moses the Robber. He was an anchorite of the Egyptian desert and lived in the generation immediately after Saint Anthony the Abbot—that is, from about AD 330-400. He was famous among his peers for his legendary physical strength, and his even more amazing conversion from the depths of vice and wickedness, to the heights of self-denial, humility and sanctity.

Here is the video excerpt in text form:
Click for more info.
"Moses was originally, a slave, but was driven from his master's house on account of his perversity. He joined some robbers, and became leader of the band. After having perpetrated several murders and other crimes, he embraced a life of asceticism, and attained the highest point of philosophical perfection. 
As the healthful and vigorous habit of body which had been induced by his former avocations acted as a stimulus to his imagination and excited a desire for pleasure, he resorted to every possible means of macerating his body. Thus, he subsisted wholly upon bread, subjected himself to severe labor, and prayed fifty times daily. During six years, he spent all his nights in prayer. He prayed standing, without bending his knees or closing his eyes in sleep. He sometimes went, during the night, to the cells of the monks, and secretly filled their pitchers with water, although he had sometimes to go ten, sometimes twenty, and sometimes thirty stadia in quest of the water. Notwithstanding all his efforts to macerate his body, it was long before he could subdue his natural vigor of constitution. 
Four robbers once broke into the dwelling where he lived alone. He bound them, threw them across his shoulders, and bore them to the church, that the monks who were then assembled might deal with them as they thought fit, for he did not consider himself authorized to punish any one. 
So sudden a conversion from vice to virtue was never before witnessed, nor such rapid attainments in monastical philosophy. Hence God rendered him an object of dread to the demons, and he was ordained presbyter over the monks at Scetis. After a life spent in this manner, he died at the age of seventy-five, leaving behind him numerous eminent disciples."
This excerpt from Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History is a simple summary of the eventful life of Abba Moses. More details may be drawn from the Lausiac History of Palladius.

Sozomen's History also includes capsule biographies of numerous other noteworthy monks and holy men and women from that period, particularly those in Egypt and Palestine and is well worth reading for anyone interested in early Church history or Roman history of the 4th and 5th centuries AD.