Thursday, December 20, 2018

"At the season of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, masses should be celebrated during the night" ~ The ancient origin of Midnight Mass at Christmas

Fresco from the subterranean basilica of Saint Clement in Rome, showing
Pope Saint Clement (1st century AD) saying Mass. The fresco was likely
 done in the 8th or 9th century, though possibly based on much earlier work.  
As Christmas approaches, it is well to remember that many of the traditional Nativity practices of the Church were instituted deep in antiquity. One such is the celebration of Mass at midnight on Christmas eve. There is evidence that this tradition began as early as about AD 130 and was instituted by Pope Saint Telesphoros. We find the following passage in the Liber Pontificalis which was likely first compiled in the 5th or 6th century:
"[Telesphoros] appointed that at the season of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, masses should be celebrated during the night, for in general no one presumed to celebrate mass before tierce, the hour when Our Lord ascended the cross. And that at the opening of the sacrifice, the angelic hymn should be repeated, namely: 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' etc. but only upon the night of the Lord's nativity." [Taken from Loomis: Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes), p. 12]
In her notes, Loomis says that this passage is the earliest mention of midnight Mass at Christmas in the extant literature, though she remains skeptical about the passage's accuracy.

As for the institution of the Gloria, it should be kept in mind that the earliest language of the Roman Church was likely Greek, and that the Liber identifies Telesphoros himself as Greek by birth and an anchorite. Therefore, the Gloria was probably incorporated into the Christmas Liturgy in its Greek form. According to tradition, the hymn was not translated into Latin until the time of Saint Hilary of Poitiers around AD 350. But the provenance is confused. A good attempt at clarification may be found here.

In a further note, Loomis says that the Gloria would later be incorporated into Pontifical Masses, and until the Middle Ages, none but the Pope were permitted to include it.

According to the Liber, and confirmed by Irenaeus and Eusebius, Pope Telesphoros died a martyr during the reign of either Hadrian or Antoninus Pius. His feast day is January 5.

For a related post on the earliest sources for the dating of Christmas, see:

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Belisarius Routs the Vandalic host at Tricamarum, reclaiming Africa for the Roman Empire ~ December 15, AD 533

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"Not by numbers of men nor by measure of body, but by valor of soul is war wont to be decided."
—Belisarius, Magister Militum of the Roman Empire before the Battle of Tricamarum, AD 533
At the Battle of Ad Decimum, the great eastern Roman general, Belisarius, routed but did not destroy the vaunted army of the Vandal kingdom. To complete the conquest of Africa as commanded by the emperor Justinian, Belisarius needed to decisively defeat the cream of the Vandalic host and capture their king, Gelimer. He got his chance at Tricamarum, a town about 30 miles west of Carthage. The traditional date of the battle is given as December 15, AD 533, though Procopius, in concluding remarks about the battle, simply says that it occurred: "at about the middle of the last month which the Romans call December."

The battle, however, would not be an easy one. Gelimer had recently been reinforced by the army of Tzazon, his brother, which had just returned from successfully quelling a rebellion in Sardinia. The combined force outnumbered the army which Belisarius could muster by at least two-to-one. Worse, Gelimer had managed to entice Belisarius's Hun federates with bribes, and the feared horsemen became uncertain allies, wavering between sides.

In his histories, Procopius gives a very detailed account of the Vandalic campaign in general and the battle of Tricamarum in particular, which he may have witnessed first hand. In any event, he seems to have been present in Africa during the time of the battle serving as Belisarius's secretary. Click here to read his account of the battle.

The Battle of Tricamarum forms a big chunk of my second novel, Belisarius: Glory of the Romans. Here's an excerpt detailing the run-up to the battle, including a mysterious prodigy which is taken straight from the account of Procopius:
The position of the Vandals was not difficult to discern, for as soon as word went out that the Romans were on the march, Gelimer moved to intercept them. He had gathered all the remaining Vandalic strength in Africa and his army, now reinforced with Tzazon’s elite warriors, again numbered over 20,000—more than enough, he reckoned, to crush the smaller Roman force in open combat. Eager for the fight, the Vandals advertised their presence outside the town of Tricamarum, some 140 stades from Carthage and dared Belisarius to come and fight them there.
     For his part, Belisarius was anxious to accommodate them. Leaving his footmen to march along slowly behind them, Belisarius hurried his cavalry moiras ahead at a rapid trot. Arriving in the vicinity of Tricamarum, he made camp on a well-suited spot and studied the topography. What he saw pleased him greatly.
      “Our enemy believes that his previous defeat was a mere quirk of fate,” he opined to his chief officers who had gathered in the command tent. “The field he has selected says as much, for it is well suited for a clash of heavy horse and offers him little in the way of strategic advantage. However, it is even better suited for Hunnic cavalry tactics.”
      “Huns!” growled Barbatus, the surly dux who commanded a moira of imperial horse. “The name of that nation burns in my ears, Magister. Have you heard? They are disgruntled again. They say that we have played foul with them; that they were promised they could return to their own country long ago.”
      “They rage, O Magister,” Aigan added in his Hunnic accent. “They call me traitor to people because I stand with your guardsmen and do not join them in their anger against the Romans. And it come to my ear that certain Vandals have crept among them, offering gold in return for treachery.”
      “Aye, it’s true,” Belisarius admitted. “I have tried to assuage them, but I fear they may not be counted on during the coming battle. But we must not allow their delinquency to hinder or delay us. And I was not referring to them when I spoke of tactics. My guardsmen are as proficient as any Hun in the art of hit-and-withdraw. Since our enemy has no mounted bowmen, but rather depends on the sword and the spear when on horseback, we will not permit him to close with us until it suits us to do so.”
      Belisarius looked gravely into the faces of his officers. “I want every man ready for battle first thing tomorrow morning. We will line up with John and my guardsmen in the center. Barbatus and Pappas will hold the right. Martinus and Valerian will hold the left. I have told the Huns to station themselves in readiness on the far left flank to charge the enemy at an opportune moment.” Remembering the treachery of Arethas and his Arabs at Callinicus, Belisarius turned his eyes upon Pharas. “I want your Heruls beside the Huns. Should they show any sign of treason, destroy them.”
      “Aye,” Pharas said fiercely, showing his yellow teeth.
      “But Magister, what of the infantry?” Uliaris objected. “At the rate they march, they will not arrive until tomorrow evening.”
      “We will engage the Vandals without the infantry,” Belisarius said bluntly.
      “Magister, is that wise? Our scouts say there are nearly three Vandals to every one of us!” Barbatus added. “If we are bested, where shall we find safety? At least wait for the infantry to come up and build a proper fortified camp.”
      Belisarius frowned. “We will not be bested,” he said, meeting the eyes of each man. “Remove from your minds any thoughts of defeat. If we remain in good order, remember our training, and trust in God the Almighty, we can not be defeated by this foe.”
      The officers reluctantly grunted their concurrence with anxious nods and downcast eyes.
      “And we must make sure this victory is decisive,” John added. “We see before us the entire Vandal camp, containing their families, possessions and all. If we can but capture it, this war will be over. And I for one, am ready for it to be over.”
      “For it to end, we must be sure to capture the king as well,” Pharas interjected.
      “Ideally, yes,” John smiled. “But a king without subjects and a kingdom is no longer a king—merely a vagrant.”
      “This is our moment,” Belisarius declared, standing. “God has placed the enemy before us and his situation is well-suited to our advantage. Let us not postpone this fight for another time, seeking an even greater advantage later. For if we allow this fortunate moment to run past us, we may waste all our breath trying to catch it again.”
      “Aye!” the men responded with bellicose fervor, some slamming their fists on the wooden table. The meeting adjourned, and the cavalry commanders filed out of the tent into the smoky darkness of the Roman camp. The certainty of impending battle sent a wave of electricity through the air. Every man among them felt it. And a select few saw it. For standing upright in bound bundles outside the men’s tents, the javelins of the Roman horsemen glowed bright red, as if their tips had been heated in fire. “What strange prodigy is this?” Belisarius asked, his eyes wide in wonder.
      “I don’t know,” gaped his cousin Rufinus, who had been standing guard. “It began just as you and the others came out.”
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      Belisarius advanced to touch one of the burning spears, but as soon as he got near, the strange vision evaporated and was seen no more.
      “What do you suppose that was about?” John whispered to Uliaris.
      “A good omen, if you ask me,” Uliaris replied aloud, a toothy grin splitting his wide face. “Our weapons have been purified by the hand of God for the daunting task we face on the morrow.”
      “Not bad, you great oaf,” John nodded, surprised by his friend’s unusually inspired insight. He pounded Uliaris heartily on his meaty back. “We may make a philosopher of you yet!”
To read the rest, you'll have to purchase the book, which is available here as well as in all the expected places.

Of course, Belisarius won the battle through superior generalship and again put the Vandal host to flight. However, he was unsuccessful in capturing Gelimer and would be forced to spend several more months attempting to corral the Vandal king and complete the re-conquest of Africa.

Here are some links to other posts about Belisarius from this blog:

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Isis, Apollo, Venus, all are nothing; Maximian, too, is nothing." ~ The Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia of Mérida, Spain

Saint Eulalia rebukes the Roman Praetor in this 19th century engraving
from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
December 10 is the feast day of the sadly unremembered Saint Eulalia, a martyr of Mérida, Spain who was put to death during the Great Persecution of AD 303 under Maximian. Saint Eulalia deserves to be better known, however, because her martyrdom was commemorated in a poem written by the late Roman poet, Prudentius in his Peristephanon (or Martyr's Garland).

Following is a translation of Prudentius's poem celebrating the martyrdom of Saint Eulalia translated into English in 1910. Also a native of Spain, Prudentius saved some of his most eloquent poetry to commemorate his countrywoman, Eulalia. The translator of the poem below says in his introduction: "Never did this prince of Christian poets write finer verses than these."

It should also be pointed out that Prudentius's hymn is the oldest extant account of Saint Eulalia's passion and martyrdom, having been set down in the early 5th century AD—about a century after Eulalia's death.
The Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia by Prudentius

Eulalia, noble by birth, but still nobler by her death, was born at Merida; and this city the holy virgin adorns with her relics, and cherishes with her loving protection.

Where the sun sets, there lies the birth-place of this splendid heroine: it is a powerful and populous city, but its proudest title to fame is that there the Saint shed her blood, and there rests her shrine.

But thrice four winters had passed over Eulalia, when she craved the fierce tortures of fire, and made her executioners tremble by her courage, suffering as though it were sweet to suffer.

Already had she proved to men that she would have no spouse but God, and that earthly nuptials were too poor for her. Though but a girl, she despised the toys and sports of children.

Perfumes and wreaths of roses, and golden trinkets, all were beneath her. Her look demure, her gait modest, her whole conduct, even at that tender age, as though the gravity of old age were upon it.

But when a rabid persecution began to threaten the servants of God, and the Christians were commanded to burn incense and the flesh of victims before the dead gods of the pagans.

Oh! then did Eulalia's soul chafe within her, and her high spirit thirst for the battle! She, a girl, defies the threats of men that talk of war, for her heart pants after God.

But her fond mother trembles for her courageous child, and insists on her keeping at home. She takes her into the country, as far as may be from the city, lest the dauntless child, that longed to die for Christ, should seek to purchase that glory at the price of her blood.

She ill brooks this quiet, this shelter which seems to her so unchristian: the night comes on; she is alone; she forces open the doors, and escaping from her inclosure, she tends she knows not whither.

The paths are rugged, and thorns prick her feet at every step. Yet on she goes, with angels in her company. All is silent in the dark grim night; but she has light which leads her.

As our fathers, that brave Hebrew band, had of old a pillar of light, which piercing the murky gloom of night, led them on by its bright blaze, and turned darkness into day;

So this holy maid; in her midnight journey, God gave her light; and as she fled from the land of Egypt, to enter into that of heaven, she was not hindered by the darkness.

Many a mile had she walked with her hasty step, before the day-dawn broke upon the world. And scarce had morn begun, when there stood before the tribunal, amidst the ensigns of the empire, the fearless Virgin.

"What madness is this," she cried, "which makes you lose your unthinking souls? Wasting away your love in adoring these chiseled lumps of stone, whilst you deny God the Father of all?

"O wretched men! you are in search of the Christians: lo! I am one: I hate your worship of devils: I trample on your idols; and with heart and mouth I acknowledge but one God.

“Isis, Apollo, Venus, all are nothing; Maximian, too, is nothing; they, because they are idols; he, because he worships idols; both are vain, both are nothing.

“Maximian calls himself lord, and yet he makes himself a slave of stones, ready to give his very head to such gods. And why does he persecute them that have nobler hearts?

“This good Emperor, this most upright Judge, feeds on the blood of the innocent. He gluts himself on the bodies of the saints, embowelling those temples of purity, and cruelly insulting their holy faith.

“Do thy worst, thou cruel butcher; burn, cut, tear asunder these clay-made bodies. It is no hard thing to break a fragile vase like this. But all thy tortures cannot reach the soul.”

At these words the Praetor, maddening with rage, cried out: “Away, Lictor, with this senseless prattler, and punish her in every way thou canst. Teach her that our country’s gods are gods, and that our sovereign’s words are not to be slighted.

“Yet stay, rash girl! Would I could persuade thee to recall thy impious words before it is too late! Think on all the joys thou thus wilt obtain; think on that noble marriage which we will procure thee.

“Thy family is in search of thee, and thy noble house weeps and grieves after thee, their tender floweret so near its prime, yet so resolved to wither.

“What! are nuptials like these I offer not enough to move thee? Wilt thou send the grey hairs of thy parents into the tomb by thy rash disobedience? Tremble at least at all these fearful instruments of torture and death.

“There is a sword which will sever thy head; there are wild beasts to tear thee to pieces; there are fires on which to burn thee, leaving to thy family but thy ashes to weep over.

“And what do we ask of thee in order that thou mayest escape these tortures? Do, I beseech thee, Eulalia, touch but with the tip of thy finger these grains of salt and incense, and not a hair of thy head shall be hurt.”

The Martyr answered him not: but full of indignation, spat in the tyrant’s face; then, with her foot, upsets idols, cakes, and incense.

Scarce had she done it, two executioners seize her: they tear her youthful breast, and, one on each side, cut off her innocent flesh even to the very ribs. Eulalia counts each gash, and says:

“See, dear Jesus, they write the on my flesh! Beautiful letters, that tell of thy victory! O, how I love to read them! So, this red stream of my blood speaks thy holy name!”

Thus sang the joyous and intrepid virgin; not a tear, not a moan. The sharp tortures reach not her soul. Her body is all stained with the fresh blood, and the warm stream trickles down the snow-white skin.

But this was not the end. It was not enough to plough and harrow up her flesh: it was time to burn: torches, then, are applied to her sides and breast.

Her beauteous locks dishevelled fell, veiling her from worse than all their butchery, the stare of these wretches.

The crackling flame mounts to her face, and, running through her hair, surrounds and blazes over her head. The virgin, thirsting for death, opens her mouth and drinks it in.

Suddenly is seen a snow-white dove coming from the martyr’s mouth, and flying up to heaven. It was Eulalia’s spirit, spotless, eager, innocent.

Her soul is fled: her head droops, the fire dies out: her lifeless body sleeps in peace, while her glad spirit keeps feast in its ethereal home, and this sweet dove rests in the house of her most High God.

The executioners, too, see the dove issuing from the martyr’s mouth: astonished and trembling they flee from the spot. The lictor, too, is seized with fear and takes to flight.

‘Tis winter, and the snow in thick flakes falls on the forum, covering the tender corpse of Eulalia, which lay stiffening in the cold, with its fair pall of crystal.

Ye men that mourn at funerals, weeping and sobbing out your love for the dead, ye are not needed here: give place. God bids his elements, O Eulalia, do the honors of thy exequies.

Her tomb is now at Merida, illustrious city of Vettonia, whose beautiful walls are washed by the swift green waters of Ana, that celebrated stream.

‘Tis there, in a temple rich with its polished marbles, both of Spain and foreign lands, that repose in a venerable tomb the holy relics of the martyr.

The roof, above, glitters with its golden pendents; and the pavement, with its mosaics, looks like a meadow strewed with the gayest flowers.

Cull the purple violet, and the golden crocus, which even winter spares us, and with its hours of sunshine lets our fields yield plentifully enough to deck our Eulalia’s altar.

Twine them into your green garlands, and these be your offering, dear children! Mine shall be these verses for our choir; poor I know they are and savoring of the dullness of my own old age; still, they suit a feast.

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Thus will we venerate Eulalia’s relics and Eulalia’s altar: she, standing before the throne of God, will be pleased with our offerings, and hearing our hymns and prayers will protect her devoted people.
This translation of The Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia was taken from The Liturgical Year: Advent by Abbot Gueranger and translated into English by Dom Laurence Shepherd. An excerpt of this poem, plus several more of Prudentius's works from the Peristephanon may be found in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources.

Friday, December 07, 2018

"Stand back! A man defiled by sin is not worthy to enter within these sacred precincts." ~ Saint Ambrose of Milan defies Theodosius the Great

Ancient mosaic portrait of Saint Ambrose which may, in fact, represent
his appearance in life. From the Basilica of St. Ambrose, Milan.
December 7 is the feast day of Aurelius Ambrosius, known to history as Saint Ambrose of Milan. He was born in Trier to a wealthy Roman family—his father, also named Ambrose, was Praetorian Prefect of Gaul according to Ambrose's ancient biographer, Paulinus of Milan. Paulinus relates a miracle associated with Ambrose's youth that seemed to presage a great future for the child:
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When he, as an infant placed in a cradle within the courtyard of the governor's residence, was sleeping with open mouth, suddenly a swarm of bees came and covered his face and lips in such a way that they kept entering and coming forth from his mouth alternately. The father, who was walking nearby with his wife and daughter, fearing lest the bees might be driven away by the servant who had undertaken the task of feeding the baby, kept her back—for she was alarmed lest they injure the child—and with fatherly affection waited to see with what end this miracle would terminate. And sometime later, flying out, they rose to such a height in the air that they could not be seen at all by human eyes. Terrified by this event, the father said: "If this little child shall live he shall be something great." [Kaniecka, Paulinus of Milan, Vita Sancti Ambrosii, Chapter II]
Though Ambrose would indeed go on to become one of the most remarkable saints of the Church, as well as the spiritual father of even greater saints, he had a most unusual entrance into Christianity. In the early 370s AD, Ambrose served as governor of Liguria in northern Italy. He was not even baptized when he was named bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. Here's the story as told by the mid-5th century historian, Hermias Sozomen:
The clergy of the West, having thus anticipated the designs of those who sought to introduce innovations among them, carefully continued to preserve the inviolability of the faith which had from the beginning been handed down to them. With the solitary exception of Auxentius [Arian bishop of Milan] and his partisans, there were no individuals among them who entertained heterodox opinions. Auxentius, however, did not live long after this period.

At his death, a sedition arose among the people of Milan concerning the appointment of a successor, and the city seemed in danger of a general insurrection. Those who had aspired to the bishopric and been defeated in their expectations, were loud in their menaces, as is usual on such occasions. Ambrose, who was then the governor of the province, being fearful lest further tumult should arise, went to the church and exhorted the people to cease from contention, to re-establish peace and concord, and to respect the laws. Before he had ceased speaking, all his auditors suppressed the angry feelings by which they had been mutually agitated against each other and declared that he who was exhorting them to concord should be their bishop, and receive the rite of baptism, for he had never been baptized.

After Ambrose had repeatedly refused the proffered dignity and even quitted the place that it might not be forced upon him, the people still persisted in their choice and declared that the disputes would never be appeased unless he would accede to their wishes, and at length intelligence of these transactions was conveyed to court. It is said that the emperor Valentinian [I] prayed and returned thanks to God that the very man whom he had appointed governor, had been chosen to fill a priestly office. When he was informed of the earnest desires of the people and the refusal of Ambrose, he inferred that events had been so ordered by God for the purpose of restoring peace to the church of Milan and commanded that Ambrose should be ordained as quickly as possible.

He was baptized and ordained at the same time, and forthwith proceeded to bring the church under his sway to unanimity of opinion concerning the Divine nature. For while under the guidance of Auxentius, it had been long rent by dissensions on this subject. We shall hereafter have occasion to speak of the conduct of Ambrose after his ordination, and of the admirable and holy manner in which he discharged the functions of the priesthood. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter XXIV]
Ambrose would go on to become a staunch opponent of the Arians, incurring the displeasure of the empress-mother Justina and her son, Valentinian II. Later when Theodosius the Great entered Italy after putting down the revolt of Eugenius and Arbogast, Ambrose declared the victorious emperor excommunicated from the Church for his massacre of 30,000 people in Thessalonika four years before. Sozomen picks up the story:
After the death of Eugenius, the emperor went to Milan and repaired toward the church to pray within its walls. When he drew near the gates of the edifice, he was met by Ambrose, the bishop of the city, who took hold of him by his purple robe and said to him in the presence of the multitude, “Stand back! A man defiled by sin and with hands imbrued in blood unjustly shed is not worthy, without repentance, to enter within these sacred precincts or partake of the holy mysteries.”
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The emperor, struck with admiration at the boldness of the bishop, began to reflect on his own conduct, and with much contrition retraced his steps...Theodosius publicly confessed his sin in the church, and during the time set apart for penance, refrained from wearing his imperial ornaments as being inconsistent with a season of mourning. He also enacted a law prohibiting the officers entrusted with the execution of the imperial mandates from inflicting the punishment of death till thirty days after the mandate had been issued, in order that the wrath of the emperor might have time to be appeased and that room might be made for the exercise of mercy and repentance. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter XXV]
Theodosius the Great perished a year later, and Ambrose outlived the emperor by only a couple years, passing to his eternal reward in AD 397. He would later be recognized as a Doctor of the Church thanks to his voluminous writing and is remembered for introducing antiphons and hymnody into the church of Milan which later spread throughout the West.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

"Luxury has deranged all things" ~ Saint Clement of Alexandria on living as a Christian in a decadent culture

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“The man who would be beautiful must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man—his mind—which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness. He should pluck out not hairs, but lusts.” 
~Saint Clement of Alexandria

Today, December 4, is the feast of Saint Clement of Alexandria who, though little remembered today, was lauded in antiquity for his combination of erudition and sanctity. Theodoret, the Christian historian of the mid-5th century, deemed Clement a man who, "surpassed all others and was a holy man." Saint Jerome included Clement in his work, On Illustrious Men, saying, "he is the author of notable volumes, full of eloquence and learning, both in sacred Scripture and in secular literature."

The life of Clement, whose full name was Titus Flavius Clemens, straddled the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. He was a pagan philosopher in his younger days, but like his near contemporary, Justin Martyr, he converted to Christianity and was soon recognized for his brilliance. He became the head of the Christian school in Alexandria where several of his pupils would go on to have noteworthy careers as churchmen and Christian apologists. Origen is, perhaps, the foremost among Clement's students. For more detail on Clement's life and his writings, click here.

The above quote comes from one of the surviving works of Saint Clement of Alexandria entitled The Paedagogus (otherwise, The Tutor). In this work, Clement provides a manual for the newly converted on how to live a proper Christian life in the morally squalid culture of the Roman-Egyptian east. Here is the quote, which comes from a chapter entitled, "On men who embellish themselves," with some additional context:
"No one who entertains right sentiments would wish to appear a fornicator, were he not the victim of that vice, and study to defame the beauty of his form. No one would, I say, voluntarily choose to do this. For if God foreknew those who are called, according to His purpose, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for whose sake, according to the blessed apostle, 'He has appointed Him to be the first-born among many brethren,' [Romans 8:28-29] are they not godless who treat with indignity the body which is of like form with the Lord?

"The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs, but lusts. I pity the boys possessed by the slave-dealers, that are decked for dishonor. But they are not treated with ignominy by themselves, but by command the wretches are adorned for base gain. But how disgusting are those who willingly practice the things to which, if compelled, they would if they were men die rather than do?

"But life has reached this pitch of licentiousness through the wantonness of wickedness, and lasciviousness is diffused over the cities, having become law. Beside them women stand in the stews, offering their own flesh for hire for lewd pleasure, and boys, taught to deny their sex, act the part of women.

"Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything, coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature. Women are at once wives and husbands: no passage is closed against libidinousness, and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated. O miserable spectacle! Horrible conduct! Such are the trophies of your social licentiousness which are exhibited: the evidence of these deeds are the prostitutes. Alas for such wickedness! Besides, the wretches know not how many tragedies the uncertainty of intercourse produces. For fathers, unmindful of children of theirs that have been exposed, often without their knowledge, have intercourse with a son that has debauched himself, and daughters that are prostitutes; and licence in lust shows them to be the men that have begotten them.

"These things your wise laws allow. People may sin legally, and the execrable indulgence in pleasure they call a thing indifferent. They who commit adultery against nature think themselves free from adultery. Avenging justice follows their audacious deeds, and, dragging on themselves inevitable calamity, they purchase death for a small sum of money. The miserable dealers in these wares sail, bringing a cargo of fornication, like wine or oil. And others, far more wretched, traffic in pleasures as they do in bread and sauce, not heeding the words of Moses, 'Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a whore, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.'" [Leviticus 19:29]
Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, Book III, Chapter III: On Men Who Embellish Themselves
For the non-religiously-inclined reader, Clement's words provide a window into the type of society that existed in Alexandria, the great Greco-Roman metropolis of Egypt, in the early third century AD. But such a reader should not ascribe Clement's fulmination against what he sees as the moral degeneracy of society to purely ignorant religious bigotry. Far from it.

Recall that Clement is not merely a fundamentalist Christian providing a prudish, exaggerated polemic against perceived moral evils. As a brilliantly-educated convert from paganism, and a man who had traveled all over the Roman Empire, Clement was qualified beyond most others to make such observations. In Clement's words we see clearly the zeal of the converted. We may even hear the ringing denunciation of a repentant man for his former life of wickedness.

To read The Paedagogus in full, visit

Monday, December 03, 2018

"You can not covet popular approbation without betraying your ministry." ~ Feast day of Saint Francis Xavier

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"Show no degree of irresolution as though you wavered betwixt the world and Christ. Remember that you can not covet popular approbation without betraying your ministry."
~Saint Francis Xavier
December 3 is the feast of the great missionary, Saint Francis Xavier, one of the earliest members of the Society of Jesus and a companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He is best remembered for his mission to India in the 1540s and later visits to southeast Asia, China and Japan where he scattered fruitful missions in his wake. He died in AD 1552 and his partially incorrupt relics may be seen to this day in Goa, India.

Click here to read a short biography of Saint Francis Xavier from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The above quote from St. Francis Xavier may be found in a letter of advice to one of his fellow missionaries. Here is the quote with additional context:
Always treat those with whom you are concerned with mildness and respect. Let not the least roughness, or haughty carriage appear in you, unless your moderation and humility should be turned to contempt: for on such occasions, have nothing in your intentions but the good of your inferiors, and not making the contempt of your authority the object of your vengeance, you are to make the guilty somewhat sensible of your power. Nothing more encourages the untractable and haughty to rebellion, than the softness and fearful spirit of a governor. And it is not credible how assuming, proud and peremptory a certain sort of people will grow, when once they find the reins slackened, and that their pusillanimous superior is afraid of punishing their want of due respect. Impunity hardens the in their insolence; or rather makes them more and more audacious; which disturbs the peace of religious bodies. Let therefore no consideration, or regard of persons, or any other thing, hinder you from the performance of your duty.
The faithful in Goa, India, venerating the relics of St. Francis Xavier in 2014.
In the visits which are made you, endeavor to find out the bottom and end of their design who come to see you. For some there are the least part of whose business is to be instructed in spirituals—it is only temporal interest which brings them to you. There will even be some, who will come to make known the state of their soul, for no other motive than to acquaint you with the necessities of their families. The best counsel I can give you, is to stand upon your guard with such and to be rid of them. Let them know from the very first, that you can neither furnish them with money, nor procure them any favor from other men. Be warned to have as little discourse with this sort of people as you possibly can: for most commonly they are great talkers, and if you trouble yourself with giving them the hearing, you are almost certain to lose your time.
For what remains, disquiet not yourself with what they think or say of you. Let them murmur on: You are to show no degree of irresolution, as though you wavered betwixt the world and Christ. Remember that you cannot covet the popular approbation without betraying your ministry or becoming a deserter of your sacred colors, in going back from that evangelical perfection which you are obliged to follow with an unrelenting ardor.
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Taken from: The Life and Missionary Labors of that Holy Man, Francis Xavier, Commonly Called The Apostle of the Indies, 1814.

In the 1950s, Louis de Wohl wrote a fine novelization of the life of Saint Francis Xavier in his book, Set All Afire, published in a modern edition by Ignatius Press. I read this book some years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. It reads like one of the great epics biblical movies of the same era, but with greater depth and more intimate, historically accurate portrayals of the principal characters.

If you're looking for a gift for a serious Catholic, I heartily recommend it. As with other of de Wohl's works, Set All Afire is particularly appropriate for young Catholics ages 14 and up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"I know that your gods are demons" ~ The Martyrdom of Saint Saturninus of Toulouse

Saint Saturninus is dragged to his death by a bull. A 19th century engraving
from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
If you’ve never heard of Saint Saturninus of Toulouse, you may be forgiven. Though obscure today, he was among the most illustrious early martyrs of the Church in France. His feast day is November 29. Saturninus is certainly worth knowing about, however, because the account of his death represents one of the most ancient extant Christian works to originate from the Roman province of Gaul.

Saturninus was bishop of Tolosa — Toulouse in modern-day France. He was martyred either during the the persecution of Christians initiated by Decius (AD 250) or Valerian (AD 258). Saturninus is mentioned by the 6th century historian Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks as one of the seven bishops sent out by Pope Fabian to preach to the Gauls:
“These bishops were sent: bishop Catianus to Tours; bishop Trophimus to Arles; bishop Paul to Narbonne; bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; bishop Dionisius to Paris; bishop Stremonius to Clermont, bishop Martial to Limoges.” [Taken from A History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours
In this same passage, Gregory mentions and indeed quotes from the martyrdom account of Saint Saturninus, thus providing a confirmation of the account's antiquity.

Here are some excerpts from the original account as translated into English by Andrew Eastbourne
During the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as the faithful report tells, the city of Toulouse had received Saturninus as its first and supreme priest of Christ. By his faith and virtue, the oracles of those demons who were worshipped in this same city began to cease. Their fabrications were laid bare, their machinations uncovered, all their power among the pagans, all their deceit, began to decrease as the faith of the Christians increased. Since the aforementioned bishop in his going to and from the church which was quite small at that time, often went past the Capitol, which was between his house and the house of God, the deceitful crowd of demons was not able to stand the holy man’s presence, and the statues (mute as they were), overshadowed by no apparitions, remained in silence [as their only response] to the impious worship and the customary prayers of those who came to consult them.
All the priests of impious superstition, disturbed by the novelty of such a great thing, began to ask themselves whence this muteness (not usual for such a long time) had suddenly come upon their gods, and who had shut their ever-babbling mouths so that they, not moved by the prayers of those who called upon them nor charmed by the shed blood of bulls and so many sacrifices, refused to give any response to those who consulted them—[were they] angry or absent? They heard from a certain enemy of our religion that some sect hostile to pagan superstition had arisen which was called Christian, and that it was striving to destroy their gods. Also, the bishop of this faith was Saturninus, who passed by the Capitol frequently. It was at the sight of this man that the mouths of their gods were terrified and fell silent. They could not easily be re-opened unless an accelerated death took that bishop away…. 
A group of pagans assembled near the Capitol and puzzled over what to do next. They had prepared a bull for sacrifice in order to propitiate their gods when Saturninus, happened to walk by. He was recognized by someone in the crowd who shouted:
“Look! the adversary of our worship himself, the standard-bearer of the new religion, who preaches the destruction of temples, who despises our gods by calling them demons, whose constant presence, finally, prevents us from obtaining oracles! And so, since the end he deserves has presented the very man to us at the opportune time, let us take vengeance for the injury to ourselves and to our gods at the same time! And now, through our compulsion, may he either be pleasing to them by sacrificing, or make them joyful by dying!”
With the urging of such an impious voice, the whole crowd of lunatics surrounded the holy man and, once a priest and two deacons who had accompanied him had fallen away in flight, he was brought alone to the Capitol. As they were trying to force him to sacrifice to the demons, he bore witness in a clear voice:
“I know only one God, the true God. I will offer to Him the sacrifice of praise. I know that your gods are demons, and you honor them (in vain) not so much by the sacrifice of cattle as by the deaths of your own souls. Now, how is it that you want me to fear those by whom, as I hear, you say I am feared?”
At these words of the holy bishop, the whole boisterous, impious multitude was inflamed and used that bull which had been prepared as a sacrificial victim in the service of their savagery, tying a rope around its flanks and leaving it loose in back. They bound the holy man’s feet with the end of the rope that was hanging down behind the bull and drove the bull with rather sharp blows to rush down from the upper part of the Capitol onto the plain. Without delay, during the first part of the descent of that slope, his head having been dashed [against the rocks], his brain having been scattered, and his body having been mangled in every part, his soul, worthy of God, was received by Christ so that after the victory He [i.e., Christ] might crown with His own laurels [the soul] that pagan fury had wrenched out with torments while he was fighting faithfully for Christ’s name. 
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The remainder of the account details how Saturninus’s body was buried and guarded after his martyrdom. The pen of a later editor seems to have added additional details about how the saint’s relics were disinterred and transferred to a basilica by the bishops Silvius and Exuperius once the Christian era had commenced.

The complete account of the martyrdom and subsequent history of the relics of Saint Saturninus may be found at the incredibly useful website, as well as in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. This book contains numerous similar accounts of martyrs from the earliest centuries of the Christian era and is well worth reading if this sort of thing interests you.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Useless USCCB

I wrote the following message on Facebook a few months ago, but given the miserable failure that the USCCB meeting in Baltimore is proving to be, it seems even more appropriate now.
To the USCCB ~
You fellows had your chance to clean things out in 2002. The fact that one of the leaders of this effort back then, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, has now been revealed as an abuser himself and a harasser of seminarians has demonstrated that the whole process was a sham. 
As former governor Frank Keating said recently: "Judas Iscariot is walking the earth, and is among the council of bishops." For those who don't remember, Gov. Keating was the leader of the ill-fated National Review Board charged with investigating the scandal in 2002. He quit when he realized that you weren't serious. Hear more from Gov. Keating here: 
Now, the trust is gone. Many of you need to resign, and soon, for the good of the Church.    
See this website for more information about bishops who should have done something about Cardinal McCarrick but failed:
Needless to say, there have been no resignations from this group. Only stonewalling, excuse-making, and pitiful attempts to apologize. There need to be consequences, however.

Whatever moral authority our Catholic bishops once had, it's quickly slipping away and this is a disaster for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I pray that God will cleanse His Church and send us saintly men to be our shepherds. The current group seems to be capable of nothing but sowing confusion, frustration and discord.

Thank God for Archbishop Viganò who wrote the following brief letter to the USCCB. He is perhaps the only man in this whole sordid affair who actually speaks like a believing Catholic:
I am writing to remind you of the sacred mandate you were given on the day of your episcopal ordination: to lead the flock to Christ. Meditate on Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom! 
Do not behave like frightened sheep, but as courageous shepherds. Do not be afraid of standing up and doing the right thing for the victims, for the faithful and for your own salvation. The Lord will render to every one of us according to our actions and omissions.
I am fasting and praying for you,

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Incorrupt Body of Justinian the Great

19th century print showing soldiers of the 4th Crusade
discovering the incorrupt body of Justinian I in AD 1204.
On November 14, AD 565, the Roman Emperor Justinian passed to his eternal reward after a long and extraordinarily eventful reign of 38 years. But this post is not about Justinian's legendary works or even the circumstances surrounding his death. It is, instead, about an event that happened a full 639 years after his death.

On the fateful day of April 13, AD 1204, the knights of the Fourth Crusade, driven mad by thoughts of vengeance and visions of tremendous wealth, successfully breached the massive sea-walls of Constantinople. Once the city had fallen and most resistance had been quelled, the disgraced crusaders began a systematic search for loot of all kinds. In this effort, they did not spare even the wondrous churches of Constantinople, and one of their targets was the Church of the Holy Apostles which had served as an imperial tomb for centuries. The Byzantine historian, Nicetas Choniates, an eye-witness to the siege writing only a few years after the event, picks up the tale from here:
Exhibiting from the very outset, as they say, their innate love of gold, the plunderers of the queen city conceived a novel way to enrich themselves while escaping everyone’s notice. They broke open the sepulchers of the emperors which were located within the Heroon erected next to the great temple of the Disciples of Christ [Holy Apostles] and plundered them all in the night, taking with utter lawlessness whatever gold ornaments, or round pearls, or radiant, precious, and incorruptible gems that were still preserved within.
Here's where things get really interesting, however. When the disgraced crusaders violated the tomb of the emperor Justinian the Great, they received a severe but momentary shock. Choniates continues:
Finding the corpse of Emperor Justinian had not decomposed through the long centuries, they looked upon the spectacle as a miracle, but this in no way prevented them from keeping their hands off the tomb’s valuables. In other words, the Western nations spared neither the living nor the dead, but beginning with God and his servants, they displayed complete indifference and irreverence to all. [Taken from Magoulias: O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniatēs
Most Catholics are familiar with incorruptibility as the remains of some of the best known saints -- from Saint Cecilia in antiquity, to Saint Bernadette in the 19th century, to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in modern times, have displayed the phenomenon. The origins of incorruptibility are mysterious and it is normally considered a sign of extraordinary sanctity, though clearly some of the saints' bodies considered among the incorrupt have been embalmed, coated with wax, or otherwise preserved through some very non-spiritual means.

While Orthodox Christians have considered Justinian a saint for centuries, he is not considered such by Catholics. It is a shame that no Western ecclesiastic or historian saw fit to record the remarkable occurrence of his exhumation. Equally sad is that no remnant of the emperor's relics or the accouterments seem to have survived the desecration of his tomb.

It is interesting to note, however, that within a year of his death in AD 565, Justinian seems to have adopted a heretical position known as Aphthartodocetism. A semi-Monophysite heresy, Aphthartodocetism held that the body of Christ was incorruptible, impassible and that the incarnation was real only in appearance. Given the central tenet of this heresy, it is interesting to speculate on the state of Justinian's corpse when discovered by the fallen crusaders and the message, if any, worldly or divine, it was meant to send.

If there was a message there, however, the disgraced crusaders were too busy worshiping Mammon to catch it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

"You Shall Not Commit Pederasty" ~ Straight from the Didache, A Catechism from the Apostolic Age

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With Holy Mother Church embroiled in a very public cycle of moral corruption, abuse, cover-up, discord, and hypocrisy, it is worth reflecting on the teaching of the ancient Church when it comes to those issues which some modern prelates seem hell-bent on changing. Specifically, I’m talking about moral teachings on sexuality which are at the core of the current crisis.

One doesn’t have to delve too deeply into Sacred Scripture and Patristic literature to discover unequivocal statements on the matter. They are present in the Gospels (here and here, for example), they abound in the Letters of Saint Paul (here, here, and here, for example). They are also present in the works of the early Fathers of the Church. Perhaps the most clear example may be found in the Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

The Didache is an ancient Christian catechism which was most likely written during the Apostolic Age—that is, during the time when some of the Apostles were still alive. This brief document offers a litany of serious sins which includes the following:
“You shall not commit adultery. 
You shall not commit pederasty.
You shall not commit fornication.” 
For the record, fornication is any sex act outside of marriage. And, in this confused age, it is sadly necessary to point out that Jesus Himself defined marriage as a man and a woman becoming one flesh, and is an institution ordained by God. (See Mark 10:6-9). The Didache goes on to say:
“My child, be not a lustful one; for lust leads the way to fornication. Neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye; for out of all these adulteries are engendered.” 
As an aside, the Didache also contains strong censures of abortion and infanticide.

This is the behavior that is expected of Christians and it is in complete agreement with the teachings found in Sacred Scripture. Anyone who says otherwise is not transmitting the true Faith as taught by the Apostles. Churchmen who can not or will not uphold and teach these things are, therefore, failing in their mission, ordained by Christ, to help make sinners holy and are instead keeping them chained to their sins. As Blessed Bishop Oscar Romero said: “A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they can become entrenched in their sinful state, betrays the Gospel’s call.” (Source)

I recommend reading the entire Didache which may be found here. It is a fascinating ancient document, and Church Fathers such as Saint Athanasius the Great recommended it as a work which was: “appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of goodness.” (source)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When the Jesuits were Catholic

A stained-glass window showing Fr. Brebeuf and a Huron elder from the
Martyrs' Shrine, Midland, Ontario, Canada.
In this scandal-plagued, retrograde age of the Catholic Church, we see the Faith dominated by members of the semi-heretical Society of Jesus, whose superior recently declared himself a baptized Buddhist, who said that the devil is merely a symbol, and suggested that we don't know what Jesus actually meant with regard to the indissolubility of marriage. This order, once so famous for its staunch defenders of the Faith, sturdy apostles to the wilderness nations, and glorious martyrs of superhuman courage and fidelity, has now reached the point where they are little more than a parody of Catholicism. Their institutions are soulless, savorless ruins of what they once were. The quip that a college is “Jesuit, not Catholic,” is commonly heard.

But rather than dwell on the depressing spectacle of the modern Jesuit order which often seems more concerned with normalizing deviant sexual practices than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let us remember that it wasn’t always like this. As much as our present day Jesuits are often villains who subvert the Gospel and encourage vice among the youth, the Jesuits of 400 years ago who evangelized the North American wilderness were heroes in every sense of the word. These were men who entered a country where practically every sort of vice existed unrestrained—from war, to torture, to slavery; from polygamy, to cannibalism, to demon-worship—and dared to teach the unvarnished Gospel of Jesus Christ without dumbing it down to make it more palatable to those they hoped to convert.

Interestingly enough, the Jesuit missionaries in New France were advised by some of those Indians who were sympathetic to them, not to insist that their converts follow Christian moral laws. Writing in 1637, Father François le Mercier describes an encounter between Saint Jean de Brebeuf (called Echon by the Hurons) and the chiefs of the Huron village of Ihonatiria. Fr. Brebeuf, speaking fluent Huron, explained what the Hurons must do in order to be considered good Christians, namely: to believe in God and keep His commandments. He specifically enumerated the commandments as they applied to the customs of the Hurons, saying that they should:
  • Give up their belief in dreams;
  • Have only one wife, and her for life;
  • Live in conjugal chastity;
  • Not engage in vomiting feasts;
  • Give up “shameless assemblies of men and women;”
  • Stop eating human flesh;
  • Abandon holding feasts to appease a demon known as Aoutaerohi
The Hurons were shocked to hear about these stipulations and their chiefs responded to Fr. Brebeuf in no uncertain terms. One chief named Onaconchiaronk said:
“My nephew, we have been greatly deceived. We thought God was to be satisfied with a Chapel, but according to what I see He asks a great deal more.”
Another named Aenons, went even farther, saying:
"Echon, I must speak to you frankly. I believe that your proposition is impossible. The people of Ihonatiria said last year that they believed in order to get tobacco. But all that did not please me. For my part, I cannot dissemble, I express my sentiments frankly: I consider that what you propose will prove to be only a stumbling-block. Besides, we have our own ways of doing things, and you yours, as well as other nations. When you speak to us about obeying and acknowledging as our master Him whom you say has made Heaven and earth, I imagine you are talking of overthrowing the country. Your ancestors assembled in earlier times, and held a council, where they resolved to take as their God Him whom you honor, and ordained all the ceremonies that you observe. As for us, we have learned others from our own Fathers."
Father Brebeuf, however, was undeterred:
The Father rejoined that he was altogether mistaken in his opinion—that it was not through a mere choice that we had taken God for our God, that nature herself taught us to acknowledge as God Him who has given us being and life: that, as for what concerns our ceremonies, they are not a human invention, but divine; that God himself had prescribed them to us, and that they were strictly observed all over the earth.

As for our ways of doing things, he said that it was quite true they were altogether different from theirs—that we had this in common with all nations; that, in fact, there were as many different customs as there were different peoples upon the earth; that the manner of living, of dressing, and of building houses was entirely different in France from what it was here, and in other countries of the world, and that this was not what we found wrong. But, as to what concerned God, all nations ought to have the same sentiments; that the reality of a God was one, and so clear that it was only necessary to open the eyes to see it written in large characters upon the faces of all creatures.
The Father made them a fine and rather long speech upon this subject, from which he drew this conclusion, that to please God it was not enough to build a Chapel in His honor, as they claimed, but that the chief thing was to keep His commandments and give up their superstitions.
Onaconchiaronk admitted that the father was right, and did his utmost in exhorting the whole company to overcome all these difficulties. But, as each one hung his head and turned a deaf ear, the matter was deferred until the next day.
The aged Onaconchiaronk took further thought on the matter, and with sage understanding responded the next day to Fr. Brebeuf, saying that:
For his part, he considered [the points Fr. Brebeuf had made] very reasonable, but indeed he saw clearly that the young people would find great difficulties therein. However, all things well considered, he concluded that it was better to take a little trouble, and live, than to die miserably like those who had been already carried off by the disease. He spoke in so excellent fashion, and urged them so strongly, that no one dared to contradict him, and all agreed to what the father had required.
A short time later, the entire Huron village of Ossosané took a vow to accept Christianity and to live like Christians. To ratify this decision, a certain Huron named Okhiarenta, formerly a medicine man, proclaimed the terms throughout the village:
He went about crying in a loud voice that the inhabitants of Ossosané took God as their Lord and their master; that they renounced all their errors—that henceforth they would no longer pay attention to their dreams, that they would make no more feasts to the demon Aoutaerohi, that their marriages should be binding, that they would not eat human flesh—and that they bound themselves to build in the spring a cabin in [God’s] honor, in case it pleased Him to stop the progress of the disease. What a consolation it was to see God publicly glorified through the mouth of a barbarian and one of the tools of satan! Never had such a thing been seen among the Hurons.
In further accounts in the Jesuit Relations, we see how the Hurons and other native tribes struggled to live up to these vows, often with success, but just often falling back on their old ways. Writing five years later in 1642, Fr. Jerome Lalemant describes how a Christian Huron girl endured living among a nation which was largely still in the thrall of their pagan vices:
A Christian girl was asked whether in the license which the young men here assume, she had not lent an ear to some improper discourse. "No one speaks to me," she said, "except that I am often told that I am too melancholy. But to this I answer nothing. I only pray to GOD in my heart so that He may keep me safe, because I fear to commit sin. They do not know my thoughts," she added. "I manifest my joy only in my cabin, when I am with my sisters and my parents. When I go anywhere, I alter my appearance. I keep my eyes cast down, and my forehead wrinkled, and I try to look sad so that no one is encouraged to accost me."
Reading this, I can’t help but recall the young women one can often see walking downtown or taking public transit in Philadelphia or any large American city. That look—with eyes downcast and forehead wrinkled, often with the modern addition of earbuds—is a common one meant to ward off rakes and scoundrels. And though such young women are generally not assuming this look for the exact same reason as the Huron girl described above, it is clear that both are doing their best to navigate a pagan culture in which men view them as pleasure objects and little more.

Fr. Lalemant concludes:
It is only GOD who can inspire such desires for purity in hearts and in a Country where impurity is viewed only with honor. But when Faith is in a heart it effects wonderful changes therein.
This observation can be just as easily applied to our post-Christian world as it could to the savage days of the pre-Christian Hurons. It is with sadness that we observe our modern Jesuits acting less after the fashion of their fearless and zealous Blackrobe ancestors and more like the cunning medicine men of the barbaric pagan nations who sought to keep their people enslaved to satan.

For other articles on this blog concerning the Jesuits of the glorious past and the scandalous present, see:

Monday, September 17, 2018

"A good purpose, which has known God, cannot be changed" ~ The Martyrdom of Saint Cyprian of Carthage

Saint Cyprian as taken from an engraving in Pictorial
Lives of the Saints
Saint Cyprian of Carthage is little remembered today, and that is a shame. For those familiar with the traditional Canon of the Roman Mass, Cyprian’s name is there, preserved for posterity in between Cornelius and Lawrence, two other martyrs of the mid-3rd century. But if the words and deeds of many of the saints from that era are obscure to us today, the life of Cyprian can not be classified as such. He wrote voluminously and many of his works have come down to us from antiquity—enough to fill the 600 page tome known as The Complete Works of Saint Cyprian. Here, the curious reader will find a firsthand account of the life of a Christian bishop residing in Roman north Africa during a time of aggressive persecution of Christians by the Roman state.

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Indeed, Cyprian lived through two separate empire-wide persecutions—that of Decius in AD 250 and that of Valerian in AD 258. During the first, he was able to escape the ferocity of the storm—an action for which he was later criticized by some. Many of his writings concern the aftermath of this persecution and how the Church should (or shouldn’t) accept back those who had denounced the faith under duress.

When the persecution of Valerian erupted in AD 257, Cyprian was apprehended by the Roman authorities. We have two ancient accounts of the last days of his life, thanks to a biography written by his deacon Pontius, and the Acta Proconsularis – a work which likely incorporates the actual transcript of the legal proceedings against Cyprian. Here is a translation of this text taken from the new book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources:
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In the fourth consulship of the emperor Valerian and the third of Gallienus, on the third before the Kalends of September, in the council chamber of Carthage, Paternus, the proconsul, said to Bishop Cyprian: “The most sacred emperors, Valerian and Gallienus have thought fit to give me a letter according to which they have ordered that those who do not practice the Roman religion should recognize the Roman rites. I have asked, therefore, concerning your name. What do you answer me?”

Bishop Cyprian said: “I am a Christian and a bishop. I have known no other gods except the true and only God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. To this God we Christians yield ourselves. To Him we pray by day and night for you, for all men, and for the safety of the emperors themselves.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Do you, then, persist in this purpose?”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “A good purpose, which has known God, cannot be changed.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Will you be able to depart into exile, then, to the city of Curubitana (Curubis) according to the decree of Valerian and Gallienus?

Bishop Cyprian said: “I depart.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They have thought fit to write to me not only concerning bishops, but also presbyters. I wish, therefore, to learn from you who the presbyters are who abide in the city.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “By your laws you have rightfully and profitably decreed that there should be no informers, and hence they cannot be betrayed and denounced by me. But in their own cities they will be found.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Today, in this place, I am going to seek them.”

Cyprian said: “Since custom forbids that any one offer himself voluntarily, and this is displeasing to your judgment, they cannot give themselves up, but if you seek them, you will find them.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They will be found by me.” And added: “It has also been ordered that they should not hold assemblies in any place or enter the cemeteries. If any one does not observe this so wholesome ordinance he is to be beheaded.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do as you are ordered.”

Then Paternus, the proconsul, ordered the blessed bishop Cyprian to be led into exile. When he had remained there for a long time, the proconsul Galerius Maximus succeeded the proconsul Aspasius Paternus and ordered the holy bishop Cyprian to be recalled from exile and brought before him. When the holy martyr Cyprian, chosen by God, had returned from the city of Curubitaua where he had been sent into exile by the order of Aspasius Paternus, the proconsul at that time, he remained in his gardens according to holy injunction, and thence daily hoped that it would happen to him as had been revealed.

While he was waiting here, there suddenly came to him on the Ides of September in the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus, two men of high rank: one the curator of the official Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, who had succeeded Aspasius Paternus, and the other the groom from the guards of this same official. And they put him between them and brought him to Sexti, where Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, had retired for the sake of recovering his health. And so the proconsul Galerius Maximus ordered Cyprian to be reserved for him until the next day. And at the same time the blessed Cyprian retired, led away to the chief and curator of this same official, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, a most illustrious man, and he stayed with this man, enjoying his hospitality in the village called Saturui, which is between Venerea and Salutaria. Thither the whole company of brethren came and, when the holy Cyprian learned this, he ordered the maidens to be protected, since all had remained in the village before the gate of the hospitable officer.

And thus on the next day, the eighteenth before the Kalends of October, early in the morning, a great crowd came to Sexti according to the order of Galerius Maximus, the proconsul. And accordingly Galerius Maximus the proconsul ordered Cyprian to be brought before him that day while he was sitting in the Sauciolian court.

And when he had been brought, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said to bishop Cyprian: “You are Thascius Cyprian?”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “I am.”

Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said: “The most sacred emperors have commanded you to sacrifice.”

Bishop Cyprian said: “I will not.”

Galerius Maximus said: “Reflect on it.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do what you are ordered to do. In such a just case there is no need of reflection.”

Galerius Maximus, having spoken with the council, pronounced the sentence weakly and reluctantly in the following words: “For a long time you have lived in sacrilege, you have gathered about you many associates in your impious conspiracy, you have put yourself in hostility to the Roman gods and to the sacred rites, nor could the pious and most sacred princes, Valerian and Gallienus, emperors, and Valerian, the most noble Cæsar, bring you back to the practice of their worship. And therefore, since you are found to be the author of the vilest crimes and the standard bearer, you shall be a warning to those whom you have gathered about you in your crime. By your blood, discipline shall be established.”

And having said this he read out the decree from his tablet: “We command that Thascius Cyprian be executed by the sword.”

Bishop Cyprian said: “Thank God.”

After this sentence the crowd of brethren kept saying: “And we will be beheaded with him.” On account of this, a commotion arose among the brethren and a great crowd followed him.

And thus Cyprian was brought to the country about Sexti. Here he laid aside his red cloak, kneeled on the ground, and prostrated himself before the Lord in prayer. And when he had laid aside his priestly robe and given it to the deacons, he stood in his linen under-garments, and waited for the executioner. Moreover, when the executioner had come, he ordered his followers to give this executioner twenty-five pieces of gold. Indeed linen cloths and handkerchiefs were being sent before him by the brethren. After this the blessed Cyprian covered his eyes with his hand. When he could not bind the handkerchiefs to himself, Julian the presbyter, and Julian the subdeacon, bound them.

Thus the blessed Cyprian died, and his body was placed near at hand on account of the curiosity of the heathen. Hence, being borne away in the night with tapers and torches, it was brought with prayers and great triumph to the courts of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus, which are on the Via Mappaliensis, near the fish ponds.

Moreover, after a few days, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, died.
Cyprian’s death took place on September 14, AD 258. He is commemorated in the western Church on September 16. I posted some of Pontius the Deacon's account of Cyprian's death here: Who was Saint Pontius the Deacon?

Similar transcriptions of Roman trials may be found in previous posts on this blog about the burning of Christian books, the martyrdom of Chionia, Agape and Irene, the trial of Saint Crispina, the Passion of Saint Perpetua and others.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"Again, Herodias Seeks the Head of John in a Basin" ~ The exile and death of Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom exiled by the Empress Eudoxia
by Benjamin Constant, late 19th century.
September 14 is the anniversary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom, the great patriarch of Constantinople. St. John perished while on his way to a more distant exile on the shores of the Black Sea in AD 407.

Though an outstanding orator and one of the greatest theologians of the early Church, John became embroiled in the religious and political factions in Constantinople. He was particularly known for railing against the excesses of the imperial court, drawing the ire of the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, who felt that John’s invectives against immodest and gaudy female dress were directed particularly at her. The animosity between the empress and St. John waxed hot and cold over the span of several years, coming to a head in AD 403. Hermias Sozomen, in his History, describes the events that immediately precipitated his banishment as follows:
Not long after these occurrences, the silver statue of the empress which is still to be seen to the south of the church opposite the grand council-chamber, was placed upon a column of porphyry on a high platform, and the event was celebrated there with applause and popular spectacles of dances and mimes, as was then customary on the erection of the statues of the emperors. In a public discourse to the people John charged that these proceedings reflected dishonor on the Church. This remark recalled former grievances to the recollection of the empress, and irritated her so exceedingly at the insult that she determined to convene another council. He did not yield, but added fuel to her indignation by still more openly declaiming against her in the church; and it was at this period that he pronounced the memorable discourse commencing with the words, “Herodias is again enraged; again she dances; again she seeks to have the head of John in a basin.” [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 20]
A council was then convened in the suburbs of Constantinople which deposed John as patriarch on various technicalities and ordered him banished. Chaos ensued in the city as the partisans of the empress, backed by soldiers, attacked those of John and expelled them from the churches. The situation soon devolved into riot, as described by Sozomen:
A messenger having conveyed to him a mandate from the emperor enjoining his immediate departure, John obeyed, and escaped from the city, unnoticed by those who had been appointed to guard him. He made no other censure than that, in being sent into banishment without a legal trial or any of the forms of the law, he was treated more severely than murderers, sorcerers, and adulterers. He was conveyed in a little bark to Bithynia, and thence immediately continued his journey. Some of his enemies were apprehensive lest the people, on hearing of his departure, should pursue him, and bring him back by force, and therefore commanded the gates of the church to be closed.

When the people who were in the public places of the city heard of what had occurred, great confusion ensued; for some ran to the seashore as if they would follow him, and others fled hither and there, and were in great terror since the wrath of the emperor was expected to visit them for creating so much disturbance and tumult. Those who were within the church barred the exits still further by rushing together upon them, and by pressing upon one another. With difficulty they forced the doors open by the use of great violence; one party shattered them with stones, another was pulling them toward themselves, and was thus forcing the crowd backward into the building. Meanwhile the church was suddenly consumed on all sides with fire. The flames extended in all directions, and the grand house of the senatorial council, adjacent to the church on the south, was doomed. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 22]
This structure was the “Great Church” of Constantinople as built by Constantius II on the site which would later be occupied by Hagia Sophia.

The exile of John was considered a great injustice, particularly in the West. Pope Innocent I was “extremely indignant” and “condemned the whole proceedings”. He attempted to secure John’s return to his bishopric, but without success. In his history, Sozomen includes two letters from Innocent—one to John, and one to the clergy of Constantinople—which he includes “precisely as I found them, translated from the Latin into Greek.” [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 25]

Innocent’s efforts, however, came to naught and created acrimony between the eastern and western courts. Meanwhile, the enemies of John were able to have even stricter sanctions imposed upon him which lead to his death. Sozomen describes:
[Pope Innocent] sent five bishops and two presbyters of the Roman church, with the bishops who had been delegated as ambassadors to him from the East, to the emperors Honorius and Arcadius, to request the convocation of a council, and solicit them to name time and place. The enemies of John at Constantinople framed a charge as though these things were done to insult the Eastern emperor, and caused the ambassadors to be ignominiously dismissed as if they had invaded a foreign government.

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John was at the same time condemned by an imperial edict to a remoter place of banishment, and soldiers were sent to conduct him to Pityus; the soldiers were soon on hand, and effected the removal. It is said that during this journey, Basiliscus, the martyr, appeared to him at Comani, in Armenia, and apprised him of the day of his death. Being attacked with pain in the head, and being unable to bear the heat of the sun, he could not prosecute his journey, but closed his life in that town. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 28]
The entire seventh book of Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History deals to a large extent with Saint John and his tumultuous reign as patriarch in Constantinople. We are fortunate that many of his homilies have survived antiquity—enough for him to be considered a Doctor of the Church. Reading them, one is able to get a good sense of why he was given the epithet “Chrysostom” which means: Golden-Mouthed. I have posted snippets from a few of them previously on this blog at the following links: