Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Martyrs Neither Ignoble Nor Few" ~ The death of Hypatia and mob violence against Christians during the reign of Julian the Apostate

Detail from Triumph of Faith by Eugene Thirion.
There is a longstanding romantic attachment to the story of Hypatia, a learned pagan woman who was lamentably murdered and torn to pieces by a Christian mob in Alexandria in the early 5th century AD. Thanks in large part to the animus of Edward Gibbon toward Christianity, Hypatia has morphed in modern times into a rationalist martyr who died for the advance of science, reason and feminism against bloody, fundamentalist mouth-breathers seeking to install a perpetual dark-age patriarchy on all of humanity. If this narrative sounds like a naked attempt to co-opt an ancient event to promote a modern ideology, that's because it is.

As usual, the truth is considerably more complicated than the modern myth-builders would allow you believe. Cherry-picking stories like the murder of Hypatia without acknowledging the historical context only succeeds in setting up a false narrative that is both historically shallow and overtly disingenuous.

Let's start off in Alexandria. According to the historical accounts, Hypatia was killed in AD 415. But what was life like in that city during her days and the those immediately preceding them? Was it Christianity that drove the Alexandrians so wild with bloodlust that they would commit such an atrocity? Writing in the mid-5th century, the ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus says: "The Alexandrian public is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed."

But don't just take his word for it. The pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus, writing about 50 years earlier, describes the great metropolis of Roman Egypt, Alexandria, as "a city which from its own impulses, and without any special cause, is continually agitated by seditious tumults." This is Ammianus's prelude to an act every bit as violent and gruesome as the death of Hypatia, but without the modern cult of admirers, myth-builders and movie-makers.

Following is Ammianus's account of the murder of of George, the Arian Archbishop of Alexandria in AD 361. George was a figure unloved by both pagans and orthodox Christians. He was also a functionary of the Arian emperor Constantius II to whom he owed his office. Apparently, when George suggested that a specific pagan temple be torn down (perhaps the tomb of Alexander the Great himself), the pagans had had enough:
On hearing this, many were struck as if by a thunderbolt, and fearing that he might try to overthrow even that building, they devised secret plots to destroy him in whatever way they could. And lo! on the sudden arrival of the glad news that told of the death of Artemius [the Roman dux of Egypt], all the populace, transported by this unlooked-for joy, grinding their teeth and uttering fearful outcries, made for Georgius and seized him, maltreating him in divers ways and trampling upon him; then they dragged him about spread-eagle fashion, and killed him. And with him Dracontius, superintendent of the mint, and one Diodorus, who had the honorary rank of count, were dragged about with ropes fastened to their legs and both killed....Not content with this, the inhuman mob loaded the mutilated bodies of the slain men upon camels and carried them to the shore; there they burned them on a fire and threw the ashes into the sea, fearing (as they shouted) that their relics might be collected and a church built for them, as for others who, when urged to abandon their religion, endured terrible tortures, even going so far as to meet a glorious death with unsullied faith; whence they are now called martyrs." [Taken from Roman Antiquities by Ammianus Marcellinus, Book XXII, Chapter XI.]
Unlike the murder of Hypatia, however, the killing of George, Dracontius and Diodorus was not a singular event. With the death of Constantius II and the advent of Julian the Apostate, the pagan population in numerous cities assumed that a return to the gory glory days of persecuting the Christians was at hand. Though Julian had strategically taken a less overtly hostile position regarding Christianity, some of the more militant pagans decided to take the Apis bull by the horns.

Here are two accounts from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, an orthodox Christian historian of the mid-5th century, detailing the brutal killings of several Christians by pagans in the early days of the reign of Julian:
I deem it right to relate some particulars concerning the death of the three brethren, Eusebius, Nestabus, and Zeno. The inhabitants of Gaza, being inflamed with rage against them, dragged them from their house, in which they had concealed themselves and cast them into prison, and beat them. They then assembled in the theater, and cried out loudly against them, declaring that they had committed sacrilege in their temple, and had used the past opportunity for the injury and insult of paganism. By these shouts and by instigating one another to the murder of the brethren, they were filled with fury; and when they had been mutually incited, as a crowd in revolt is wont to do, they rushed to the prison. They handled the men very cruelly; sometimes with the face and sometimes with the back upon the ground, the victims were dragged along, and were dashed to pieces by the pavement. I have been told that even women quitted their distaffs and pierced them with the weaving-spindles, and that the cooks in the markets snatched from their stands the boiling pots foaming with hot water and poured it over the victims, or perforated them with spits. When they had torn the flesh from them and crushed in their skulls, so that the brain ran out on the ground, their bodies were dragged out of the city and flung on the spot generally used as a receptacle for the carcasses of beasts; then a large fire was lighted, and they burned the bodies; the remnant of the bones not consumed by the fire was mixed with those of camels and asses, that they might not be found easily. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter IX]
Next, we move onto Heliopolis in Lebanon where an act of unbelievable barbarity is recorded:
The inhabitants of Gaza and of Alexandria were not the only citizens who exercised such atrocities against the Christians as those I have described. The inhabitants of Heliopolis, near Mount Libanus, and of Arethusa in Syria, seem to have surpassed them in excess of cruelty. The former were guilty of an act of barbarity which could scarcely be credited, had it not been corroborated by the testimony of those who witnessed it. They stripped the holy virgins, who had never been looked upon by the multitude, of their garments, and exposed them in a state of nudity as a public spectacle and objects of insult. After numerous other inflictions they at last shaved them, ripped them open, and concealed in their viscera the food usually given to pigs; and since the swine could not distinguish, but were impelled by the need of their customary food, they also tore in pieces the human flesh. I am convinced that the citizens of Heliopolis perpetrated this barbarity against the holy virgins on account of the prohibition of the ancient custom of yielding up virgins to prostitution with any chance comer before being united in marriage to their betrothed. This custom was prohibited by a law enacted by Constantine, after he had destroyed the temple of Venus at Heliopolis, and erected a church upon its ruins. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter X]
Detail from the Brescia casket, late 4th century AD.
And finally, we find the brutal torture of the aged Mark, bishop of Arethusa in Syria. The pagans of that town held a longstanding grudge against Mark because he had demolished a "sacred and magnificent temple" during the reign of Constantine. With the accession of Julian as emperor, an edict was sent out requiring those bishops who had demolished pagan temples to rebuild them at their own expense. Faced with this intolerable mandate, Mark fled. However, the Christians remaining in Arethusa were put to persecution and upon hearing this, Mark returned. Sozomen describes what happened to him:
The entire people, instead of admiring him the more as having manifested a deed befitting a philosopher, conceived that he was actuated by contempt towards them, and rushed upon him, dragged him through the streets, pressing and plucking and beating whatever member each one happened upon. People of each sex and of all ages joined with alacrity and fury in this atrocious proceeding. His ears were severed by fine ropes; the boys who frequented the schools made game of him by tossing him aloft and rolling him over and over, sending him forward, catching him up, and unsparingly piercing him with their styles. 
When his whole body was covered with wounds, and he nevertheless was still breathing, they anointed him with honey and a certain mixture, and placing him in a fish-basket made of woven rushes, raised him up on an eminence. It is said that while he was in this position, and the wasps and bees lit upon him and consumed his flesh, he told the inhabitants of Arethusa that he was raised up above them, and could look down upon them below him, and that this reminded him of the difference that would exist between them in the life to come. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter X]
According to a parallel account in the history of Theodoret, the pagans of Arethusa were so impressed with Mark's constancy and fortitude that they eventually released him and absolved him of the demand to rebuild the temple.

Though obviously sympathetic toward Christianity, Sozomen is an even-handed source who didn't flinch from criticizing his coreligionists when they deserved it. After describing several additional examples of brutal mob-martyrdom of Christians by pagans, Sozomen is quick to point out that Julian did not order these killings, even if he was subsequently lax in punishing the perpetrators. He wraps up this section saying:
"Even if these cruelties were perpetrated contrary to the will of the emperor, yet they serve to prove that his reign was signalized by martyrs neither ignoble nor few." [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter XI]
When put into this context, the dreadful murder of Hypatia does not seem at all out of keeping with the brutal mob vengeance that was meted out in a typical Roman city, particularly in the east. What makes it shocking nonetheless is that the murder was perpetrated by those who professed to be Christians and it is likely that the event was recorded by Christian historians for precisely this reason. Furthermore, this crime was roundly condemned by other Christians, including the Church historian, Socrates Scholasticus, who writing some 20 years after the event, said:
"This affair brought opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort." [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus Book VII, Chapter XV]
Thus, the murder of Hypatia seems to be less the rule than the exception for the Christian population—a case where the Alexandrian church cast off its Christian garments and reverted to their pagan lust for mob justice.

For a more detailed examination of the extant sources on Hypatia, visit this post: Hypatia -- What Do We Really Know?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20 ~ Martyrdom of Pope Saint Fabian, victim of the persecution of Decius

On this day in Roman history - January 20 - Pope Fabian, the bishop of Rome, was martyred.

In AD 250, the Roman emperor Decius decided that the disasters afflicting the empire were the result of impiety to the gods by the people. To address this issue, Decius decreed that all Romans should publicly offer obeisance to the gods. Any who resisted this command were to be severely punished.

Since Christians steadfastly refused to be bound by this imperial mandate, Decius struck their leaders first. One of the first victims of this persecution was Fabian, the Pope of Rome. It is thought that he perished a martyr while in prison, though a tradition exists that he was beheaded. The Liberian Catalog records that he was martyred on January 20, 250.

Following is Pope Fabian's record from the Liber Pontificalis, first compiled in the 4th century:
Fabianus, by nationality a Roman, son of Fabius, occupied the see 14 years, 1 month and 10 days. He was crowned with martyrdom.
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He was bishop in the time of Maximus and Africanus (AD 236) until the year when Decius was consul the 2nd time and Quadratus was his colleague (AD 250), and he suffered January 29.
He divided the districts among the deacons and created 7 subdeacons to be associated with the 7 notaries, that they might faithfully compile the acts of the martyrs, omitting nothing. And he commanded many buildings to be erected throughout the cemeteries.
And after his passion, Moyses and Maximus, priests, and Nicostratus, a deacon, were seized and committed to prison. At that time, Novatus arrived from Africa and drew away from the church Novatian and certain confessors. Afterwards, Moyses died in prison, when he had been there 11 months, and therefore many Christians fled to divers places.
He held 5 ordinations in the month of December, 22 priests, 7 deacons, 11 bishops in divers places. He also was buried in the cemetery of Calistus on the Via Appia, January 20. And the bishopric was empty 7 days. 
The persecution under Decius was one of the severest trials the Catholic Church had experienced up to that point. It is thought that thousands were killed, and thousands more publicly renounced their faith to avoid death.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Ho! What's-your-name, I am Pior, your brother." ~ Saint Pior of Scetis in the Egyptian Desert

Saint Anthony the Abbot and Saint Paul the Hermit (by Velazquez, ca. 1634)
Besides being the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, January 17 is also the feast of one of the lesser-known desert fathers, Saint Pior.

As almost no one outside of patristic scholarly circles has ever heard of Saint Pior, here is his brief biography, as taken from the roughly contemporary Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen (penned in the mid 5th century AD):
Pior determined, from his youth, to devote himself to a life of philosophy, and with this view, quitted his father's house after having made a vow that he would never again look upon any of his relations. 
After fifty years had expired, one of his sisters heard that he was still alive, and she was so transported with joy at this unexpected intelligence, that she could not rest till she had seen him. The bishop of the place where she resided was so affected by the groans and tears of the aged woman, that he wrote to the leaders of the monks in the desert of Scetis, desiring them to send Pior to him. The superiors accordingly directed him to repair to the city of his birth, and he could not say nay, for disobedience was regarded as unlawful by the monks of Egypt, and I think also by other monks.
He went with another monk to the door of his father's house, and caused himself to be announced. When he heard the door being opened, he closed his eyes, and calling his sister by name, he said to her, "I am Pior, your brother. Look at me as much as you please." [In the slightly more picturesque version of this story recorded by Palladius in his Lausiac History, Pior opens with, "Ho! What's-your-name, I am Pior, your brother. I am he."] 
His sister was delighted beyond measure at again beholding him, and returned thanks to God. He prayed at the door where he stood, and then returned to the place where he lived.
There he dug a well, and found that the water was bitter, but he persevered in the use of it till his death. Then the height to which he had carried his self-denial was known, for after he died, several attempted to practice philosophy in the place where he had dwelt, but found it impossible to remain there.
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I am convinced that, had it not been for the principles of philosophy which he had espoused, he could easily have changed the water to a sweet taste by prayer, for he caused water to flow in a spot where none had existed previously. It is said that some monks, under the guidance of Moses, undertook to dig a well, but the expected vein did not appear, nor did any depth yield the water, and they were about to abandon the task, when, about midday, Pior joined them. He first embraced them, and then rebuked their want of faith and littleness of soul. He then descended into the pit they had excavated, and, after engaging in prayer, struck the ground thrice with a rod. A spring of water soon after rose to the surface, and filled the whole excavation. After prayer, Pior departed, and though the monks urged him to break his fast with them, he refused, alleging that he had not been sent to them for that purpose, but merely in order to perform the act he had effected. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 29].

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Saint Anthony the Great ~ "A time is coming when men will go mad..."

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“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when
they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him,
saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

~Saint Anthony the Great
January 17 is the feast day of Saint Anthony the Great, the founder of monasticism. He is reputed to have lived over 100 years, dying in ca. AD 356 after having lived most of his life in the harsh Egyptian desert. Today, he is known by a variety of names, including, among others:
  • Saint Anthony the Abbot 
  • Saint Anthony the Hermit 
  • Saint Anthony of the Desert 
  • Saint Anthony of Egypt
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The quote above is taken from a work known as Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Desert Fathers as translated into English by Benedicta Ward. I have seen bits and pieces of this work all over the internet, but I still need to acquire a copy for myself.

Here are some other samples of quotes from Saint Anthony the Great from the same work:
"God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much." [My God, what would he say about our own age?]
"Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain."
"I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, "What can get through from such snares?" Then I heard a voice saying to me, 'Humility.'" 
"Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Without temptations no one can be saved."
These quotes were picked up from a more extensive list here.

An ancient biography of Saint Anthony was written by his near-contemporary, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, and is available online at Here is how Saint Athanasius describes the upbringing of Saint Anthony and his call to the ascetic life in about AD 270:
Antony you must know was by descent an Egyptian: his parents were of good family and possessed considerable wealth, and as they were Christians he also was reared in the same Faith. In infancy he was brought up with his parents, knowing nought else but them and his home. But when he was grown and arrived at boyhood, and was advancing in years, he could not endure to learn letters, not caring to associate with other boys; but all his desire was, as it is written of Jacob, to live a plain man at home [Genesis 25:27].
With his parents he used to attend the Lord's House, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise them; but was both obedient to his father and mother and attentive to what was read, keeping in his heart what was profitable in what he heard. And though as a child brought up in moderate affluence, he did not trouble his parents for varied or luxurious fare, nor was this a source of pleasure to him; but was content simply with what he found nor sought anything further.
After the death of his father and mother he was left alone with one little sister: his age was about eighteen or twenty, and on him the care both of home and sister rested. Now it was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom into the Lord's House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Savior; and how they in the Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles' feet for distribution to the needy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven.
Pondering over these things he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go and sell that you have and give to the poor; and come follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven.' Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers — they were three hundred acres, productive and very fair — that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little however for his sister's sake.
From Athanasius's work may also be found the explanation of the strange painting of Saint Anthony featured above (by Bernardino Parenzano, ca. AD 1494) as he is beset by all variety of demonic forces while he lived alone in the ruins of an abandoned fort:
"But those of his acquaintances who came, since he did not permit them to enter, often used to spend days and nights outside, and heard as it were crowds within clamoring, dinning, sending forth piteous voices and crying, '"Go from what is ours. What do you even in the desert? You can not abide our attack."
"So at first those outside thought there were some men fighting with him, and that they had entered by ladders, but when stooping down they saw through a hole there was nobody, they were afraid, accounting them to be demons, and they called on Antony. Them he quickly heard, though he had not given a thought to the demons, and coming to the door he besought them to depart and not to be afraid, "For thus," said he, "the demons make their seeming onslaughts against those who are cowardly. Sign yourselves therefore with the cross, and depart boldly, and let these make sport for themselves."
"So they departed fortified with the sign of the Cross. But he remained in no wise harmed by the evil spirits, nor was he wearied with the contest, for there came to his aid visions from above, and the weakness of the foe relieved him of much trouble and armed him with greater zeal. For his acquaintances used often to come expecting to find him dead, and would hear him singing, "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, let them also that hate Him flee before His face. As smoke vanishes, let them vanish; as wax melts before the face of fire, so let the sinners perish from the face of God." And again, "All nations compassed me about, and in the name of the Lord I requited them."
Saint Anthony the Great's vividly described torments and temptations have been the subject of numerous magnificent and disturbing works of art down through the centuries, by artists from Giotto and Michaelangelo to Bosch and Dali.

Despite secluding himself in the desert, Anthony became known across the world. Athanasius expounds upon his renown, saying:
His fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God's love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God. That this was the gift of God no one will deny. For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who abode hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes His own known everywhere, who also promised this to Antony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all...

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

"The fire marvelous strangely turned back" ~ Saint Marcellinus of Ancona

Terracotta statue of
St. Marcellinus of Ancona,
dated to the early 1300s.
The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great contain numerous picturesque accounts of late antiquity, all framed within his stories of virtuous men and women of Italy. In many cases, these accounts amount to the only written record of the individuals described that have come down to us from ancient times.

One of these is the curious tale of Saint Marcellinus of Ancona whose feast day is today, January 9. Here is the brief account offered by Pope Saint Gregory to his interlocutor, Peter, of a great miracle wrought by Saint Marcellinus:
GREGORY: "Marcellinus, also a man of holy life, was Bishop of the same city of Ancona [as described in the previous story of St. Constantius], who was so sore troubled with the gout, that being not able to go, his servants were enforced to carry him in their hands. Upon a day, by negligence, the city was set on fire, and though many labored by throwing on of water to quench it, yet did it so increase and go forward that the whole city was in great danger, for it had laid hold of all the houses that were next it, and consumed already a great part of the town, none being able to help or withstand it.
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"In so pitiful a necessity and great danger, the Bishop, carried by his servants, came thither, and commanded himself to be set down right against those furious flames, and in that very place whither the force of the fire did seem most to bend: which being done, the fire marvelous strangely turned back into itself, and as it were cried out, that it could not pass the Bishop. And by this means was it stopped from going forward, [and] went out of itself, not being able to touch any other buildings. By which, Peter, you see what an argument of great holiness it was, for a sick man to sit still, and by his prayers to quench those raging flames." 
PETER: "I do both see it and much wonder at so notable a miracle."
For this reason, the intercession of Saint Marcellinus has been invoked against fire by pious Catholics for centuries.

It is said in secondary sources that Marcellinus was bishop of Ancona from AD 550 through AD 566. I could not find confirmation of these dates in any of the ancient sources I am able to access, but I suppose it is based on his association with the Gospels of Saint Marcellinus, a mid-sixth century manuscript that is preserved in the Museo Diocesano di Ancona to this day.

A fragment of the 6th century Gospel manuscript associated with St. Marcellinus.
If true, it means that the fire at Ancona and St. Marcellinus's subsequent miraculous intervention, took place during Gregory's own lifetime. While he clearly heard this tale second-hand—probably from the same friends who related to him the stories of Saint Constantius of Ancona—his witness is nonetheless contemporary and therefore especially noteworthy.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

“If I am Jonah, cast me into the sea!” ~ Saint Germanus of Constantinople is deposed by Emperor Leo III

Painting of Saint Germanus, borrowed from the Mystagogy
Resource Center's Synaxarion of St. Germanos
Today is the anniversary of an act of great bravery and saintly virtue. On January 7 in the year AD 730, an important bishop resigned his office rather than sign on to the heretical demands of the secular authority. In this case, we are talking about Saint Germanus I, archbishop of Constantinople who stood up to the emperor Leo III when the latter forbade the veneration of holy icons. This was the beginning of the so-called “Iconoclast” period of Byzantine history which was to last over a hundred years until the middle of the 9th century AD.

Here is an excerpt from the near-contemporary Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor recording the event:
In the same year, the lawbreaking Emperor Leo raged against the true faith. He brought in the blessed Germanos and began to entice him with coaxing words. The blessed chief prelate told him, “We have heard there will be a condemnation of the holy and revered icons, but not during your reign.” When the Emperor forced him to say during whose reign he said, “During the reign of Konon.”

The Emperor said, “In fact, my baptismal name is Konon.”

The patriarch said, “Heaven forbid, my lord, that this evil should come to pass through your rule. For he who does it is the forerunner of the Antichrist and the overthrower of the incarnate and divine dispensation.”

Because of this, the tyrant became angry. He put heavy pressure on the blessed man, just as Herod once had on John the Baptist. But the patriarch reminded him of his agreements before he became Emperor: he had given Germanos a pledge secured by God that he would in no way disturb God’s church from its apostolic laws, which God had handed down. But the wretch was not ashamed at this. He watched Germanos and contended with him, and put forth statements to the effect that if he found Germanos opposing his rule, he would condemn the holder of the [patriarchal] throne like a conspirator and not like a confessor.” 
Later, in the same chapter, Theophanes describes how Leo III’s decrees were received in Rome, and the final confrontation between Leo and Germanus:
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“In Byzantium, the champion of pious doctrines—the holy and marvelous priest Germanos—was in his prime, fighting against the wild beast who bore the name Leo and against his henchmen. In the elder Rome, Gregory, a holy and apostolic man who held the same throne as had the prince Peter, caused Rome, Italy, and all the west to secede from both political and ecclesiastical obedience to Leo and his Empire...

But since Germanos was under his control, Leo expelled him from his throne. Through letters, Gregory openly accused Leo of what was known to many...

On January 7, of the thirteenth indiction—a Saturday—the impious Leo convened a silentium against the holy and revered icons at the tribunal of the nineteen Akkubita [a meeting hall in the imperial palace]. But in no way would the noble servant of Christ obey Leo’s abominable, wicked doctrine. He rightly taught the true doctrine, but bade farewell to his position as chief prelate. He gave up his surplice and, after many instructive words said, “ If I am Jonah, cast me into the sea. For, Emperor, I cannot make innovations in the faith without an ecumenical conference.”

He went off to the Platanaion and went into seclusion at his ancestral home, having been patriarch for fourteen years, five months, and seven days.”
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The above passages are taken from Turtledove’s translation of Theophanes which may be purchased here. This book should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in Late Antiquity.

Leo III appointed the much more malleable Anastasius as the new patriarch. Things did not end well for him, however. After Leo’s son Constantine V was deposed by Artabasdos, Anastasius changed his opinion on icons and now opposed iconoclasm, declaring Constantine a heretic. However, once Constantine’s forces defeated the usurper and restored him to the throne, Anastasius was deposed as patriarch and severely punished, being blinded and paraded on an ass through the Hippodrome. Later, he changed his position again to favor iconoclasm, begged Constantine’s pardon, and was restored as patriarch.

Now, as we reflect upon these events from nearly 1,300 years ago, it is well to consider whether our modern Catholic leaders more resemble Saint Germanus or the weaselly Anastasius in their dealings with secular authorities.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Sound advice for parents from Saint John Neumann of Philadelphia

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January 5 is the feast day of Philadelphia's own Saint John Neumann. If you have ever been to his shrine at Fifth Street and Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, then you know that his remains are on public display in the lower church of Saint Peter the Apostle parish. Though there are some claims that his body is incorrupt, I do not believe that's the case. In any event, his face is covered by a wax mask which is visible in the photo below.
This photo taken from here.
The biography of Saint John is available in numerous places and is familiar to many Philadelphia-area Catholics. A good brief summary of his life and works may be found by clicking here.

But to get a real sense of what Saint John Neumann was about, it's helpful to delve into some of his writings. Please enjoy the following excerpt from one of his pastoral letters. Here we see the powerful, challenging words of a Catholic prelate who took the teaching role of the bishop seriously. He spoke not words that tickled the ears or made folks comfortable in their sins. Rather, he fearlessly reminded Catholic parents of their grave responsibility to put their own wants and needs second, and to focus on nurturing goodness and piety in their children:
"Frequent the church and not the taverns.
"Banish from your homes dangerous books, the bane of purity in every age, the scourge of modern society.
"Watch over the children whom God hath confided to you, if you would not set the seal to your own condemnation. For Christ's sake who said -"Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14) -- bring them to Him by your good life and holy conversation. Allow them not to grow up in ignorance and vice. Teach them to pray: to pray for all men; benefactors, friends and enemies; to love their homes, their native land, and never to be ashamed of their Religion; rather to be always ready to reply in the spirit of the noble St. Hilary to the Emperor Constantius, "I am a Catholic, I am a Christian; I will not be a Heretic."
Taken from his pastoral letter of November 4, 1854. Click here to read the full letter. 

Would to God that more Catholics, past and present, had listened to this sound advice and taken it to heart. How many of our current societal ills may have been ameliorated?