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 promoting sodomy than the Gospel, 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
(1889)
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 Decian 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.
Today, September 14, is the 1,611th 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:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"The Great Siege Had Ended" ~ The year that September 11 brought tidings of victory

The Flight of the Turks by Matteo Perez d' Aleccio, early 17th century.
September 11 is known in our times as the date of a cowardly suicide attack by Islamic radicals which resulted in the massacre of over 3,000 innocents in New York City in 2001.

But on September 11 nearly five hundred years ago, another Islamic attack was coming to its ignominious conclusion for the invaders. For on this date in AD 1565, the Great Siege of Malta was drawing to a close. The Turkish army, under the command of Mustapha Pasha, was making preparation for withdraw after a stunning defeat by the Knights of Saint John after a four month long siege.

Worn down by the ironclad resolve of the Knights whose fortifications he could not take, Mustapha decided to evacuate his still-superior forces upon the arrival of a relief army from Imperial Spain. With the Turks on the defensive, the combined Catholic forces attacked. Here is how the scene is described in Angels in Iron, a brilliant novel by Nicholas C. Prata:
A Knight raised his sword into the sky, his powerful voice carrying over Naxxar.

“Attack!”

With that the mounted Knights thundered down the ridge toward the Turkish infantrymen. Many foot soldiers followed.

De la Corna decided it wiser to harness the emotion than to attempt a recall. He ordered a charge and his men responded with cries of delight. They descended on the Turks even as Don Mesquita’s cavalry arrived from Mdina to worry the Moslem flank.

The Hospitaller horsemen smashed through Mustapha’s lines like hammers through glass. Many Turks, dejected by the endless siege and overmatched by the fresh enemy, broke and fled.

“Saint Elmo!” the Knights cried as they bathed their swords in blood.

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It took only a short while for Mustapha to see that the islands reinvestment was ill-planned and potentially disastrous. He ordered a retreat north toward St. Paul’s Bay and, all that day, conducted a difficult rearguard action. Finally, after untold carnage, the Turks reached St. Paul’s Bay and found Piali waiting. The maddened Knights, who outdistanced their foot soldiers, pushed the Turks into the sea. Moslems were killed on the beach, struck down in the shallows, crushed beneath the hooves of angry warhorses.

“Saint Elmo!” the Knights bellowed.

Not all Mustapha’s army wilted, however. A daring counterattack by Hassem’s Algerians saved the Turks from obliteration. Hassem, eager to redeem his disastrous assault on Senglea, arranged arquebusiers in the hills around the bay and directed heavy shot at the Knights. The Hospitallers, still without their infantry, were obliged to fall back.

The Turks abandoned many wounded in the frantic surge to reach the anchored ships and Piali wasted no time sailing to safety. The fleet was on the move long before the Christians could bring up artillery. Three thousand Turks floated dead in narrow St. Paul’s Bay.

The Great Siege had ended.
Mustapha watched Malta shrink on the horizon. He had said nothing since his flagship had got under oar. A physician tugged his robe. “Lord, Pasha,” he said. “May I dress your injuries?”

Mustapha had been wounded in numerous places. His had been a desperate, valiant effort on the long retreat from Naxxar to St. Paul’s Bay and his old body had paid the price. Two horses had been shot out from beneath him and, when the Knights had killed his bodyguards, only the Janissaries had prevented him from falling into Christian hands.

“Lord Pasha, you’re bleeding,” the physician said.

Mustapha leaned against a rail, regret blurring his vision. “Two years for nothing,” he whispered.

“Pasha?”

Mustapha drew his jeweled scimitar and dropped it into the water. It barely left a ripple as it disappeared into the blue sea. He turned and walked away from the surgeon.
I posted another excerpt from Angels in Iron about the beginning of the siege here.

And here is another one about the surrender of Rhodes which precipitated the siege.

 If you haven’t experienced Angels in Iron yet, do yourself a favor and read it. You'll thank me later.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

"God instantly answered him" ~ The victory of Theodosius the Great at the Battle of the River Frigidus

A silver miliarnse of Eugenius, showing Gloria Romanorum -- "Glory of the
Romans" on the reverse side.
This day, September 6, is the 1,624th anniversary of the climax of the Battle of the Frigidus River where the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great and his barbarian allies defeated the western puppet-emperor Eugenius and the Frankish generalissimo Arbogast. You’ve probably never heard of this battle, but had its outcome been different, the course of Western civilization would have been quite different. This was the last battle in which traditional Roman paganism sought to defeat and overcome Christianity, but in the effort, was itself crushed forever.

The exact location of the battle is not known, but the Frigidus River is today called the Vipava and runs through present-day Slovenia. Writing about 40 years after the event, the ancient historian Sozomen describes the political situation which led to the battle:
A certain man named Eugenius, who was by no means sincere in his professions of Christianity, aspired to sovereignty, and assumed the symbols of imperial power. He was hoping to succeed in the attempt safely, for he was led by the predictions of individuals who professed to foresee the future by the examination of the entrails and livers of animals and the course of the stars. Men of the highest rank among the Romans were addicted to these superstitions. Flavian, then a prætorian prefect, a learned man, and one who appeared to have an aptitude for politics, was noted for being conversant with every means of foretelling the future. He persuaded Eugenius to take up arms by assuring him that he was destined for the throne, that his warlike undertakings would be crowned with victory, and that the Christian religion would be abolished.

Deceived by these flattering representations, Eugenius raised an army and took possession of the gates into Italy, as the Romans call the Julian Alps, an elevated and precipitous range of mountains. These he seized beforehand and fortified, for they had but one path in the narrows, and were shut in on each side by precipices and the loftiest mountains.
Not to be outdone, Theodosius consulted a sooth-sayer of his own, a certain monk from Egypt named John, who predicted that “the war would terminate in favor of Theodosius, and that the tyrant would be slain, but that, after the victory, Theodosius himself would die in Italy.”

What Sozomen does not relate here is that Eugenius was little more than the puppet of Arbogast, the powerful Frankish general who had previously served as magister militum in praesentalis of Valentinian II, the Western emperor. After the suspicious suicide of Valentinian II, Arbogast named Eugenius as emperor. The irregularities of this situation, coupled with the re-establishment of pagan temples throughout the West, soon brought matters to a crisis that required a military solution. Sozomen continues:
[Theodosius] proceeded towards Italy, crossed the Alps and took the first guard-posts. On descending from the heights of these mountains, he perceived a plain before him covered with infantry and cavalry, and became at the same time aware that some of the enemy's troops were lying in ambush behind him among the recesses of the mountains. The advance guard of his army attacked the infantry stationed in the plain, and a desperate and very doubtful conflict ensued. Further, when the army surrounded him, he considered that he had come into the power of men, and could not be saved even by those who would desire to do so, since those who had been posted in his rear were seizing the heights.
The first day of the battle had been nearly catastrophic for Theodosius. According to the New History of Zosimus written about a century after the fact, “the greater part of the allies of Theodosius were slain, with their commander Bacurius, who fought very courageously at their head, while the other commanders escaped very narrowly with the remainder.” Stymied and surrounded by the forces of Eugenius and Arbogast, Theodosius began to despair and sought a divine solution to what would almost certainly be an ignominious defeat the next day. God’s response, however, was not long in coming. Sozomen continues:
He fell prone upon the earth, and prayed with tears, and God instantly answered him. For the officers of the troops stationed in ambush on the height sent to offer him their services as his allies, provided that he would assign them honorable posts in his army. As he had neither paper nor ink within reach, he took up some tablets, and wrote on them the high and befitting appointments he would confer upon them, provided that they would fulfill their promise to him. Under these conditions they advanced to the emperor.

The issue did not yet incline to either side, but the battle was still evenly balanced in the plain, when a tremendous wind descended into the face of the enemy. It was such an one as we have never before recorded, and broke up the ranks of the enemies. The arrows and darts which were sent against the Romans, as if projected by the opposing ranks, were turned upon the bodies of those who had cast them, and their shields were wrenched from their hands and whirled against them with filth and dust. Standing thus exposed in a defenseless condition to the weapons of the Romans, many of them perished while the few who attempted to effect an escape were soon captured.

Eugenius threw himself at the feet of the emperor, and implored him to spare his life. But while in the act of offering up these entreaties, a soldier struck off his head. Arbogastes fled after the battle and fell by his own hands.
A gold solidus of Theodosius I showing the victorious emperor and a bound captive
on the reverse.
Though Frigidus River was a great victory for Theodosius, the battle had pitted the dwindling Imperial armies against each other resulting in heavy losses of veteran Roman soldiers which could not easily be replaced. The result of these losses was an acute manpower shortage that would afflict the empire, especially in the West, and render it largely helpless in the face of large-scale barbarian invasions over the next 20 years.

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As for Theodosius himself, the Battle of Frigidus River allowed him to unify the Roman Empire under a single emperor for what would be the last time. He would descend into Italy and there face the wrath of Saint Ambrose in Milan who excommunicated the emperor for massacring 30,000 citizens in Thessalonika while proceeding from Constantinople to make war in the West. Theodosius would famously repent, but died a little while later in Milan, as predicted by the monk John before the battle.

Read more about these fascinating historical figures in the Ecclesiastical History by Hermias Sozomen.

Friday, August 31, 2018

"The world stands by reason of the intercession of Christians" ~ The Apology of Saint Aristides

A modern Orthodox icon of St. Aristides.
Today is the feast of Saint Aristides of Athens. I’m going to guess, dear reader, that you have never heard of him. If that’s the case, then you are in good company, for I had never heard of him either until today. Aristides was a martyr of the 2nd Century AD. What little is known of his life may best be summarized in this passage from Saint Jerome’s On Illustrious Men:
Aristides, a most eloquent Athenian philosopher, and a disciple of Christ while yet retaining his philosopher's garb, presented a work to Hadrian at the same time that Quadratus presented his. The work contained a systematic statement of our doctrine, that is, an Apology for the Christians, which is still extant and is regarded by philologians as a monument to his genius.
The Eastern Orthodox proclaim Aristides as a martyr, saying that he was hung in Athens on September 13 of AD 134 (or 120), but there doesn’t seem to be any near contemporary documentation supporting this. His Apology was known in antiquity and the early Middle Ages, but was thought lost for a thousand years until it was rediscovered in Armenian and Syriac translations in the 19th century.

Emperor Hadrian.
The Apology of Aristides retains relevance to our own times and is well worth reading in full. In it, the saint offers a comparison of Christianity to the religious beliefs of the barbarians, Greeks, Jews and Egyptians. In the excerpt that follows, Aristides blasts the perverse tales of the Greek pantheon as the source of great wickedness, hinting at the early Christian belief that the pagan gods existed but weren’t actually deities at all, but demons. If the martyrdom accounts of the Orthodox are trustworthy, then it's probably not surprising that Hadrian and his courtiers had an extremely negative reaction to this polemical attack on pagan beliefs and the perverse sexual practices that often accompanied them:
“Because of these stories, O king, much evil has befallen the race of men who are at this present day, since they imitate their gods, and commit adultery, and are defiled with their mothers and sisters, and in sleeping with males: and some of them have dared to kill even their fathers. For if he, who is said to be the head and king of their gods, has done these things, how much more shall his worshipers imitate him! And great is the madness which the Greeks have introduced into their history concerning him: for it is not possible that a god should commit adultery or fornication, or should approach to sleep with males, or that he should be a parricide; otherwise he is much worse than a destructive demon.” 
In contrast, here is how Saint Aristides describes the belief of the Christians:
“…They know and believe in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, in whom are all things and from whom are all things…they do not commit adultery nor fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny a deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honor father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbors, and when they are judges they judge uprightly; and they do not worship idols in the form of man; and whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they do not practice towards any one, and they do not eat of the meats of idol sacrifices, for they are undefiled: and those who grieve them they comfort, and make them their friends; and they do good to their enemies: and their wives, O king, are pure as virgins, and their daughters modest: and their men abstain from all unlawful wedlock and from all impurity, in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world…For truly great and wonderful is their teaching to him that is willing to examine and understand it….And I have no doubt that the world stands by reason of the intercession of Christians.” 
Reading the above, one can not help but be struck by how Aristides's words apply to our own time. Prof. Benjamin Wiker recently made the case that the scandals rocking the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of boys and the softening of teachings on matters of sexual immorality more generally by Church leaders represent nothing short of the repaganization of West. To use Prof. Wiker’s own words in his article, From a Moral-Historical Perspective, This Crisis is Worse Than You Realize:
“The very men most authoritatively charged with the evangelization of all the nations are full-steam ahead bringing about the devangelization of the nations. In doing so, these priests, bishops, and cardinals at the very heart of the Catholic Church are acting as willing agents of repaganization, undoing 2,000 years of Church History.” 
When considered in the light of Saint Aristides’s words above, some 21st century bishops certainly seem to behave more like courtiers of Hadrian than colleagues of the ancient martyrs, and are indeed more enamored with the “great madness” of the Greeks than the “truly great and wonderful” teaching of the Christians. The prayer of Aristides which closes his Apology is also quite relevant to the travails of our time:
“Let the tongues of those now be silenced who talk vanity, and who oppress the Christians, and let them now speak the truth….Let them, therefore, anticipate the dread judgment which is to come by Jesus the Messiah upon the whole race of men.”
To read the whole Apology of Saint Aristides, click here.

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It is thought by some scholars that Saint Aristides is also the author of the ancient Christian work known as the Letter to Diognetus. This is another 2nd Century apologetical work which is otherwise anonymous but which bears certain textual similarities to the Aristides’s Apology.

The Letter to Diognetus is included in the brand new book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources which will soon be available from Arx Publishing. Check it out!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Saint Monica, Patroness of Abuse Victims, Pray for Us!

“Go your way and God bless you, for it is not possible 
that the son of these tears should perish.” 
—An unknown African bishop to Saint Monica
Today is the feast day of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. This noble lady and archetypal Christian mother is the patroness of (among others) abuse victims, alcoholics, difficult marriages, mothers with wayward children, disappointing children, victims of adultery and victims of unfaithfulness.

Thus, she is quite a popular saint in our time and a particularly appropriate saint to commemorate today as the Church continues to be riddled with abusers and enablers of abuse even at the highest levels.

According to Augustine's Confessions (Book III, Chapter XII), Monica shed many tears while she prayed for her son's conversion from the careless and dissolute lifestyle he lived. Here is the above quote in its original context:
"And meanwhile You granted her [Monica] another answer, which I recall; by a priest of Yours, a certain bishop, reared in Your Church and well versed in Your books. He, when this woman had entreated that he would vouchsafe to have some talk with me, refute my errors, unteach me evil things, and teach me good (for this he was in the habit of doing when he found people fitted to receive it), refused, very prudently, as I afterwards came to see. For he answered that I was still unteachable, being inflated with the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already perplexed various inexperienced persons with vexatious questions, as she had informed him. "But leave him alone for a time," says he, "only pray God for him; he will of himself, by reading, discover what that error is, and how great its impiety."
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He disclosed to her at the same time how he himself, when a little one, had, by his misguided mother, been given over to the Manichæans, and had not only read, but even written out almost all their books, and had come to see (without argument or proof from any one) how much that sect was to be shunned, and had shunned it. Which when he had said, and she would not be satisfied, but repeated more earnestly her entreaties, shedding copious tears, that he would see and discourse with me, he, a little vexed at her importunity, exclaimed, "Go your way, and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish." Which answer (as she often mentioned in her conversations with me) she accepted as though it were a voice from heaven."
To read more, click here.

May the faithful shed just as many tears as we pray for the conversion of our dissolute leaders, for peace and healing for their victims, and for renewal of the Church.

Why the Viganò Letter is Credible

Cardinal Gottfried Danneels (second from right) appears on the Loggia with
the newly elected Pope Francis in 2013. Danneels had retired under a cloud
for his audio-recorded badgering of a sex abuse victim.
The testimony written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has set off shockwaves. Not only does Archbishop Viganò name names of bishops and Cardinals who have covered up the sex abuse scandal, he directly implicates Pope Francis and calls on him—and his inner circle of Cardinals—to resign. To quote Archbishop Viganò’s letter directly:
“Pope Francis has repeatedly asked for total transparency in the Church and for bishops and faithful to act with parrhesia [that is, candor and the courage to speak the truth to power -ed.]. The faithful throughout the world also demand this of him in an exemplary manner. He must honestly state when he first learned about the crimes committed by McCarrick, who abused his authority with seminarians and priests."
Archbishop Viganò then provides the answer:
"In any case, the Pope learned about it from me on June 23, 2013 and continued to cover for him [ie, Cardinal McCarrick -ed.]. He did not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him and made him his trusted counselor along with [Cardinal -ed.] Maradiaga." 
These are deeply disturbing allegations and while we don’t yet know for sure whether they are completely true, we do know that they are credible. A very troubling pattern has emerged over the past few years which show that Pope Francis, at the very least, has put his personal imprimatur upon several prelates, including McCarrick, who have been disgraced over their handling of sex abuse cases or who have actively taken the side of the predators over the victims. These include the following:
  1. During the infamous 2015 Synod on the Family, Pope Francis personally appointed retired Belgian Cardinal Gottfried Danneels as one of the Synod fathers. At the time, he was advised to reconsider this appointment because, among other reasons, Cardinal Danneels had tried to cover up a sex abuse and was caught doing so in an audio recording. Also, to say that Danneels was an ineffective teacher of Catholic moral teaching would be a grotesque understatement [warning, the content at the preceding link is utterly vile.] Pope Francis ignored the advice and proceeded to appoint Cardinal Danneels anyway. Danneels also bragged that he had been a leader of the so-called “Saint Gallen’s Mafia”—a group of dissident prelates which had worked to undermine Pope Benedict.

  2. Earlier this year, Pope Francis defended the infamous Bishop Barros of Chile and attacked the bishop’s accusers. He insisted there was “no evidence” against Barros and said, “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will speak. There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is calumny. Is that clear?” However, it later emerged that Pope Francis had been advised by Chilean bishops not to appoint Barros in the first place because of credible accusations, but he had ignored this advice and proceeded to appoint Barros anyway. Francis only backed down afterwards when a firestorm erupted in Chile. He accepted Barros’s resignation in June of 2018.

  3. Cardinal Maradiaga, who is called out specifically in the Viganò letter above, is to this day considered one of Pope Francis’s trusted advisers. He even spoke at the recently concluded World Meeting of Families in Dublin. But earlier this year, Maradiaga evinced the same dismissive attitude toward an unprecedented appeal from seminarians in his native Honduras. A letter, signed by 48 seminarians, claimed that they were being victimized by a predatory homosexual cabal in the seminary. In response, Cardinal Maradiaga attacked the seminarians, calling them “gossipers” who wished to portray their fellows in a bad light. He also apparently attempted to protect one of his underlings, Bishop Juan Jose Pineda, who had been implicated as an abuser. However, in July of 2018, Bishop Juan Jose Pineda was forced to resign after the allegations of the seminarians proved valid beyond any doubt. Despite this, and the fact that Maradiaga has also been implicated in misappropriation of Church funds, he continues to be part of Pope Francis’s inner circle.
So sadly, there is a disturbing pattern of behavior here, and it is against this backdrop that the accusations in the Viganò letter become credible. The Pope’s behavior may simply be caused by a tragic ineptitude, gross naivete or a blind desire to put loyalty to friends ahead of the truth—frankly, I prefer that one of the above be the case. Though these above would be great and possibly disqualifying failings, they at least point to the potential (however distant) for reform emanating from the Vatican. There are, however, alternative explanations that are too horrific to even consider at this point.

We will have to see how events play out. To this point, however, I remain impressed by the words of Archbishop Viganò, who said in his letter:
“My conscience requires me also to reveal facts that I have experienced personally, concerning Pope Francis, that have a dramatic significance, which as Bishop, sharing the collegial responsibility of all the bishops for the universal Church, do not allow me to remain silent, and that I state here, ready to reaffirm them under oath by calling on God as my witness.” 
He, of all the individuals involved in these sordid affairs, at least sounds like a Catholic.

May God Almighty thwart the efforts of the prince of this world to corrupt the Church.

May Jesus Christ, the Just Judge, bring down divine justice upon all of those who bring filth and scandal into the Church.

May the Holy Spirit inspire great saints to rise up and cleanse the Church.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for the faithful and encourage us during this tribulation.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"We live in a period of chastisement" ~ August 20. Feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade at Vezelai in Burgundy.
August 20 is the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), abbot and doctor of the Church, and one of the greatest minds of Medieval Europe. Late in his life in AD 1146, Bernard was called to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. In the course of doing so, he gave a speech every bit as stirring as Pope Urban II's call for the original Crusade in AD 1095. Here is an excerpt from that speech, as recorded in The History of the Crusades by Joseph Francis Michaud:
You can not but know that we live in a period of chastisement and ruin; the enemy of mankind has caused the breath of corruption to fly over all regions; we behold nothing but unpunished wickedness. The laws of men or the laws of religion have no longer sufficient power to check depravity of manners and the triumph of the wicked. The demon of heresy has taken possession of the chair of truth, and God has sent forth His malediction upon His sanctuary.
Oh, ye who listen to me, hasten then to appease the anger of Heaven, but no longer implore His goodness by vain complaints; clothe not yourselves in sackcloth, but cover yourselves with your impenetrable bucklers; the din of arms, the dangers, the labors, the fatigues of war are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the infidels, and let the deliverance of holy places be the reward of your repentance....
Fly then to arms; let a holy rage animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the prophet, “Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!” If the Lord calls you to the defense of His heritage think not that His hand has lost its power. Could He not send twelve legions of angels or breathe one word and all His enemies would crumble away into dust? But God has considered the sons of men, to open for them the road to His mercy. His goodness has caused to dawn for you a day of safety by calling on you to avenge His glory and His name.
Read the rest of Bernard's speech along with additional context here.

Sadly, the Second Crusade ended in disaster as the Christian princes could not cooperate effectively with each other and their discord gave the advantage to the enemy. Bernard bitterly regretted this failure and wrote an apology to Pope Eugenius III in the form of book called On Consideration. In this book, Bernard offers some useful advice for how an ideal pope should behave. Included among his admonitions is the following:
You ought not to be the last to know the faults of your household, which, as we are aware, is the experience of very many. Wherefore, as I have said, let another manage the rest, but do yourself see to the discipline. Trust that to nobody. If in your presence there is any tendency to arrogant conversation, or showy dress, stretch out your hand against such offences; be yourself an avenger of the wrong done to you. Impunity is the mother of audacity, audacity brings forth excess. 
Holiness becomes the house of a bishop, modesty becomes it, good repute becomes it; the guardian of all discipline. The priests of the household are either more highly esteemed than others, or they are the common talk. In the look, dress, gait of the priests about your person you should allow no trace of immodesty or indecency. Let your fellow bishops learn from you not to have about them boys with their hair curled, or effeminate youths. It is surely unbecoming for a bishop to go hither and thither surrounded by fops who wear the turban and use the curling iron.
Given the sad state of Church today, our bishops would do well to heed this good advice.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

"Prepare for Him a Bed of Coals" ~ Prudentius’s 4th Century poem in honor of Saint Lawrence

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence ~ Engraving taken from
Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
Saint Lawrence is one of the most famous early martyrs of the Roman Church. One of the seven deacons of Rome under Pope Sixtus II, Lawrence found himself a primary target during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Valerian in AD 258.

Sadly, none of the close contemporary documentary accounts of the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence survived the subsequent persecutions of the Church, though his story was well enough known that the principal facts were passed on for 100 years or so via oral tradition. His story was again set down on parchment after the time of Constantine, the earliest surviving sources being a mention in On the Duties of the Clergy by Saint Ambrose of Milan in the late 4th century, a very brief epitaph by Pope Damasus from about the same time, and a homily of Pope Leo the Great in the mid-5th century.

However, the most detailed ancient account of the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence comes from a work by the Spanish Latin poet, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, which was written, most likely, in the late 4th century. Though obviously embellished, the key facts of Lawrence's martyrdom are clear through the interpolated speeches. Please enjoy these extended excerpts from the poem which formed part of Prudentius's larger work known as The Peristephanon or The Martyr's Garland. It is from this ancient poem that most of the unique details of Saint Lawrence's martyrdom are drawn.
Hymn in honor of the passion of the blessed martyr Lawrence
Once mother of unholy fanes,
Rome, dedicated now to Christ,
By Lawrence led to victory
You trample on the heathen rites.

Proud kings have bowed before your sword
And conquered peoples felt your sway;
Now pagan gods are made to pass,
Beneath the yoke of your empire.

Though savage tribes had been subdued,
The city of the toga lacked
One glorious title of renown,
The triumph over wanton Jove,

Not by Camillus’s stormy might,
Nor Cossus’ arms or Caesar’s power,
But by the bloody combat waged
By Lawrence in his martyrdom.

Embattled Faith took up the fight,
Of her own blood most prodigal;
For she destroyed death by death
And lost her life to save her life.

The Pontiff Sixtus, from the cross
On which he hung, saw at its foot
His deacon Lawrence weeping sore,
And these prophetic words he spoke:

“Let tears of sorrow cease to flow
At my departure from this life;
My brother, I but lead the way,
And you will follow in three days.”

The holy bishop’s dying words
Sure glory for his friend announced,
For Lawrence on the day foretold,
Victorious, won the martyr’s palm.

. . .

The prefect of imperial Rome,
The agent of an insane prince,
Athirst for money and for blood
Is driven by his greed for gold

To wrest the sacred shrines by force
Suspected riches lurking there,
The talents gathered in vast sums,
And hidden in their secret vaults.

He summons Lawrence to the court
And questions him on coffers filled
With massive ingots of pure gold
And hoarded coins in shining heaps.
The prefect then makes a long speech, enjoining Lawrence to hand over the Church’s treasures. Here’s the gist of it, along with Lawrence's reply:
“This wealth is hid in secret crypts
Of churches where the Christians meet,
And to despoil your dear offspring
Is deemed the highest piety.

“Bring forth the gold you have amassed
By force and evil trickery,
The hoarded treasures you now keep
Enclosed in subterranean vaults.

“The public welfare now demands
That you give up your boundless wealth
To fill the coffers of the state
And pay the armies of your prince.”

. . .

Untroubled, Lawrence made reply
To this perfidious overture,
And as if ready to obey
He gently nodded his assent.

“Our church is very rich,” he said.
“I must confess that it has wealth;
Our treasuries are filled with gold
Not found elsewhere in all the world.

“Not even high Augustus holds
Such wealth within his mighty grasp,
Though every silver coin forged
His image and inscription bears.

“Yet I refuse not to yield up
The riches of our Lord and God;
I shall display for all to see
The treasures that belong to Christ.

“However, one request I make:
Vouchsafe to me a short delay
That I may carry out my pledge
With greater ease and richer gain.

“I need this time to take account
Of all the goods possessed by Christ,
And then to estimate their worth
And reckon up the total sum.”
The prefect, in his greed, grants Lawrence three days to collect the wealth of the Church. Lawrence does this, but the wealth he collects is not exactly what the prefect had in mind.
He hastens through the city streets
And in three days he gathers up
The poor and sick, a mighty throng
Of all in need of kindly alms.
Here, Prudentius gives an account of the various infirmities of the mass of beggars Lawrence has collected. Soon enough, however, he must face the prefect again.
By now the fated day had come:
The cruel judge, insane with greed,
Commanded Lawrence angrily
To bring at once the promised gold.

To him the martyr made reply:
“I pray you come with me and view
The wondrous riches of our God
Displayed for you in the sacred shrines.

. . .

The prefect deigns to follow him;
The sacred portal soon they reach,
Where stands a ghastly multitude
Of poor drawn up in grim array.

The air is rent with cries for alms;
The prefect shudders in dismay,
And turns on Lawrence glaring eyes,
With threats of dreadful punishment.

The saint, undaunted, answers him
“Why do you gnash your teeth in rage
At this unwelcome spectacle?
Do you scorn these as foul and mean?

. . .

“These poor of ours are sick and lame,
But beautiful and whole within.
They bear with them a spirit fair
And free from taint and misery.

“Your followers are strong of frame,
But marred by inward leprosy.
Depravity is halt and lame,
And sightless fraud is blind indeed.”
Lawrence continues in this vein and gives a lengthy speech which is very likely a poetic embellishment added by Prudentius, but perhaps containing a kernel of fact. He finishes as follows:
“These riches are now yours; take them
To beautify your lofty Rome,
To fill the treasury of your prince,
And your own fortunes to augment.”
The prefect responds, enraged:
“Do you imagine, slippery knave,
That this buffoonery you have staged,
This sanctimonious farce, this hoax,
Will go without due punishment?

. . .

“But I will see to it forthwith
That you will quit this earthly life,
Not by the short and easy route
Of sudden death, as you desire.

“I will prolong and stay your life
In pains and anguish without end,
And death in lingering agony
Will bar a merciful release.

“Prepare for him a bed of coals,
Lest raging flames that burn too high
May seize too soon the upstart’s face
And penetrate his inmost heart.”
The executioners do as they are told, and Lawrence is laid upon the fire. Prudentius describes how the odor of the martyr’s burning flesh smelled noxious to the heathens, but sweet to the faithful. Then, the poet records a literal example of gallows humor that has since been one of the traditionally recognized unique markers of Lawrence’s martyrdom.
When slow, consuming heat had seared
The flesh of Lawrence for a space,
He calmly from his gridiron made
This terse proposal to the judge:

“Pray turn my body, on one side
Already broiled sufficiently,
And see how well your Vulcan’s fire
Has wrought its cruel punishment.”

The prefect bade him to be turned.
Then Lawrence spoke: “I am well baked,
And whether better cooked or raw,
Make a trial by a taste of me.”
Lawrence then offers a very historically literate prayer for Rome, that the city in all its past earthly glory, may come to reject its pagan pantheon and accept the heavenly glory of Christ and His redeeming grace. At the end of his prayer, Lawrence offers a prophecy, probably invented or exaggerated by Prudentius who already knew the outcome.
“I see in future times a prince,
Adorer of the one true God,
Who will not suffer Rome to serve
The idols foul of pagan cults.

“The heathen temples he will close,
Wall up their doors of ivory,
And make secure their brazen bolts,
That none may pass their vile thresholds.

“Of bloody sacrifices cleansed,
The marble altars then will gleam,
And statues honored now as gods
Will stand, mere harmless blocks of bronze.”
This future prince is most likely Theodosius the Great who closed the pagan temples of Rome during the time when Prudentius was active. Prudentius then brings his hymn to an end, making the martyrdom of Lawrence the beginning of the end of pagan worship in Rome:
From that day forth the worship paid
To sordid pagan gods grew cold;
The temples unfrequented stood,
While people to Christ’s altars thronged.

. . .

The holy martyr’s valiant death
Of pagan temples was the end;
Then Vesta saw Palladian fires
Untended with impunity.

The Roman people, who were wont
The cup of Numa to adore
Christ’s sanctuaries now frequent
And hymn the holy martyr’s praise.

Illustrious senators themselves,
Once flamins and Lupercal priests,
Now kiss the threshold of the shrines
Where martyrs and apostles rest.

We see patrician families,
The parents, both of noble birth,
Their children dedicate to God,
The dearest pledges of their love.

The pontiff once with chaplet crowned
Is signed now with the cross of Christ,
And, Lawrence, to thy temple comes
The vestal of the Claudian house.
Thus we see how about 130 years after the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, and about 80 years after the last persecution in Rome, the Christian religion now reigns supreme in the city.

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The full poem of Prudentius on the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence is well worth reading. The above excerpts were taken from the English translation of Prudentius's Poems, Volume 1, done by Sister M. Clement Eagan in 1962 which may be found in this excellent edition published by The Catholic University of America Press. I highly recommend purchasing the entire book (if you can find it), filled as it is with Prudentius’s late 4th century poetical take on the ancient martyrs, many of whom are known to us only from his accounts. Other poems from the Peristephanon which have appeared on this blog in the past include the Martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul and an excerpt from the Martyrs of Calahorra.

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More about Saint Lawrence and many other early Christian martyrs may be found in the forthcoming book, I Am a Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. This book is due at the end of August 2018. If you have enjoyed my posts about the saints and martyrs of antiquity and the various persecutions endured by the Church in late Roman times, this book distills a good number of the authentic accounts in one place, beginning with the earliest martyrs and proceeding through the soft persecution of Julian the Apostate. It is history that every Christian ought to know but is sadly neglected in modern education.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Shepherds and millstones

"To execute is inadmissible!" 
The shepherds cry perched on corrupted thrones.
Their declaration's oddly risible
as angry flocks are searching for millstones.

Our Catholic bishops have had nearly 20 years to clean out the rats nests that have grown up in the chancery offices of the various American dioceses. They have failed, and failed miserably.

Indeed, to characterize the nonfeasance (and in some cases, blatant malfeasance) of the American bishops as merely failure seems an understatement. Sixteen years have now passed since the bishops' conference in Dallas during which the problem of homosexual abuse in the parishes, schools, and seminaries was directly addressed. But the bishops have fixed nothing. Instead, some of them have taken a somewhat different tack in recent years, mounting a public relations campaign to help normalize and welcome those who actively engage in homosexual practices which were, are, and always will be acts of "grave depravity" which can never be approved.

Worse, it is now revealed that a Prince of the Church, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick—a man who played a key role in drafting the weak and ineffective Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in Dallas in 2002—is himself an abuser of young men. In this light, it is perhaps not surprising that the bishops exempted themselves from the above guidelines.

Now that McCarrick is formally and publicly disgraced, his brothers in the episcopacy have piously disowned him, claiming that they didn't know of his taste for young men. For some of them, at least, this claim is simply not credible. It seems evident that some or even many of our shepherds may entertain tastes similar to "Uncle Ted." The laity can be forgiven for harboring such thoughts as our bishops have done little by their words and actions to dispel the idea.

Our Lord was very explicit about the fate that awaits those who lead young people to sin and destruction:
"It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones." [source: Luke 17:2]
I am certainly not the only one who sees irony in the fact that the Vatican saw fit to release with fanfare this very week an unprecedented change to the Catechism which declared the death penalty "inadmissible". That this change contradicts millennia of Church teaching is, depressingly, unsurprising. The motto of our present age seems to be: "Tota confunditur Jerusalem." [source: Acts 21:31]

As the corrupt bishops have shown little taste for reform, and no inclination to resign—even when clearly engaged in activities which are sinful and destructive of the Catholic faith—it falls to the laity to act. Will enough answer the call to do battle? The first step, I think, is prayer, lest our actions end up being more destructive than salubrious:
Let the devout cry out to God for justice. May our Lord Jesus Christ, the Just Judge, purge His Church of the abominable corruption that has infected it. May He lance the boil of perversion, heal the wounds of the injured, and drive out the legions of satan who have entrenched themselves in our sacristies. Save your flock, O Christ, from the wolves in shepherd's clothing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saint Benedict Chases the Devil off a Boulder

A Miracle of Saint Benedict by Luca Giordano (ca. 1678).
Today is the feast of one of my all-time favorite saints, Benedict of Nursia. To celebrate, here is a passage from a biography written shortly after Saint Benedict's death in the 6th century AD by none other than Pope Saint Gregory the Great, detailing one of the great hermit's many miracles:
Upon a certain day, when the monks were building up the cells of the same Abbey, there lay a stone which they meant to employ about that business: and when two or three were not able to remove it, they called for more company, but all in vain, for it remained so immovable as though it had grown to the very earth: whereby they plainly perceived that the devil himself did sit upon it, seeing so may men's hands could not so much as once move it: wherefore, finding that their own labors could do nothing, they sent for the man of God, to help them with his prayers against the devil, who hindered the removing of that stone. The holy man came, and after some praying, he gave it his blessing, and then they carried it away so quickly, as though it had been of no weight at all.
This passage is found in The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great which is an excellent read. For another anecdote about Benedict meeting with Totila, king of the Goths, click here.

Here is my own version of this vignette which I have added to the forthcoming third volume of my Belisarius series. Here's a pre-edited excerpt. See what you think:
Arriving at the town of Casinum, Belisarius was surprised to find a thriving community of monks diligently building cells on the hillside high above. Directing the army to bivouac outside the town for the evening, Belisarius and a few of his guardsmen scaled the steep hill to see what information they could glean from these hermits.
“Greetings, good brothers,” Belisarius shouted. “Can you spare a little water for my friends and I?”
Forthcoming. Click here
for info on the previous
volumes in the series.
“Yes, tribune, you are most welcome,” a stout monk replied, throwing down his mattock. “Your arrival provides a timely excuse for us to rest from our labors. We have been trying to move this rock for hours now, yet it will not budge. We have summoned Father Benedictus to help us.”
“Allow us to assist,” Belisarius replied, removing his helm and unbuckling his corselet. “As soldiers, we are used to imposing our will upon the stubborn earth.”
He gratefully accepted a full skin of water from the monk as he appraised the great boulder before them. He perceived that the monks had cleared the earth from its base, yet the stone remained firmly stuck in the ground as if attached to the mountain itself. With help from his biscuit-eaters, Belisarius leaned into the bolder attempting to push it free by main strength. Unigastus swung a pick at its base while Athenodorus used a mattock for a lever. Sweating and straining, the three were unable to move it at all. After an hour of such fruitless labor and two broken picks, the three collapsed at the base of the boulder, worn out.
On a ridge above them, a tall monk with a long brown beard appeared in the company of two others. He had penetrating pale green eyes the color of cut white grapes that seemed to radiate sanctity, and a stern face that reflected the divine authority bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Surveying the obstinate stone, the the tall monk quickly offered a diagnosis: “It is plain that the devil sits upon this rock. Until he is removed, none of you will be able to move it.” Raising his eyes and spirit to heaven, he offered a blessing over the boulder, then turned and departed the way he had come.
Belisarius looked skeptically at Unigastus and Athenodorus. “Dare we try it now?” he said with a laugh. His two men leapt to their feet. To their astonishment, the stone immediately shifted as they put their shoulders to it. With a further push, they dislodged it, then rolled it easily onto a great wheeled oxcart as the long-laboring monks rejoiced.
“Who was he who offered the blessing?” Belisarius demanded. “Was that Father Benedictus of whom you spoke? If so, I would meet with him at once.”
The stout monk smiled, and began to lead Belisarius up the rocky hill, but they were intercepted by one of those who had gone previously to fetch the holy man. “Father Benedictus told us that he will not meet with you, Belisarius. Yes, he knows who you are, and he knows why you are here. You serve the great and the powerful of this world, while he is humble and weak. No, it is better that you don’t speak with him.”
“Why?” Belisarius retorted. “I wish to do him honor. Did we not just help his monks in their labor?”
“But for God, your help would have been in vain. Father Benedictus said that a man of your stature is too tall to hear someone as diminutive as he.”
Stinging from the rebuke, Belisarius felt a hot rage boiling up inside him. A thought entered his mind: Do they think they can shrug me off so easily? I am the emperor’s representative in Italy. If I wish to speak to this hermit, by God, I will speak to him. These haughty monks won’t thwart me.
But his anger subsided as quickly as it had arisen. Unbidden, an image of the Theotokos and her heavenly Child appeared before his mind’s eye, and he recalled his failure to visit the Hodegetria shrine before leaving Constantinople. Now downcast, he picked up his helm and armor, and turned to leave.
“Be of good cheer, though, Belisarius,” the monk said. “Father Benedictus also said that his prayers will go with you to Rome. You are to greet the Holy Father on his behalf.”
I am happy to report that I am now more than halfway through this third book, which has consumed more time than either the previous two. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait!