Monday, February 26, 2018

"Remain quiet and leave me to act as an emperor" ~ The accession of Valentinian I as Roman Emperor

The "Colossus of Barletta" which may
be a likeness of Valentinian I. 
February 26 in the year AD 364, Valentinian I succeeded the deceased Jovian as Roman Emperor. Valentinian was one of the last truly effective rulers of the Roman Empire in the West.

Jovian had died suddenly after a reign of merely eight months, having successfully extricated the beleaguered army of Julian the Apostate from Persia. Jovian's death was somewhat mysterious--some attributed it to over-eating, others to sleeping a damp room recently plastered with "unslaked lime."

Valentinian was proclaimed emperor by the army. A brief portrait of his life before ascending to the throne may be found in Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History, as follows:
He was a good man and capable of holding the reins of the empire. He had not long returned from banishment, for it is said that Julian, immediately on his accession to the empire, erased the name of Valentinian from the Jovian legions, as they were called, and condemned him to perpetual banishment, under the pretext that he had failed in his duty of leading out the soldiers under his command against the enemy.
The true reason of his condemnation, however, was the following: When Julian was in Gaul, he went one day to a temple to offer incense. Valentinian accompanied him, according to an ancient Roman law, which still prevails, and which enacted that the leader of the Jovians and the Herculeans (that is to say, the legions of soldiers who have received this appellation in honor of Jupiter and of Hercules) should always attend the emperor as his bodyguard. When they were about to enter the temple, the priest, in accordance with the pagan custom, sprinkled water upon them with the branch of a tree. A drop fell upon the robe of Valentinian. He scarcely could restrain himself, for he was a Christian, and he rebuked his asperser. It is even said that he cut off, in view of the emperor, the portion of the garment on which the water had fallen, and flung it from him.  
From that moment Julian entertained inimical feelings against him, and soon after banished him to Melitine in Armenia, under the plea of misconduct in military affairs, for he would not have religion regarded as the cause of the decree, lest Valentinian should be accounted a martyr or a confessor....
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As soon as Jovian succeeded to the throne, Valentinian was recalled from banishment to Nicæa, but the death of the emperor in the meantime took place, and Valentinian, by the unanimous consent of the troops and those who held the chief positions in the government, was appointed his successor. When he was invested with the symbols of imperial power, the soldiers cried out that it was necessary to elect some one to share the burden of government. To this proposition, Valentinian made the following reply:
"It depended on you alone, O soldiers, to proclaim me emperor; but now that you have elected me, it depends not upon you, but upon me, to perform what you demand. Remain quiet, as subjects ought to do, and leave me to act as an emperor in attending to the public affairs."
[Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 6.]
Valentinian would go on to have a successful reign, stabilizing the frontiers in the West, while devolving power in the East upon his brother, Valens. With Valentinian's death in AD 375, things began falling apart very rapidly for both halves of the empire.

Friday, February 09, 2018

"Now, leave if you can" ~ Saint Scholastica and her brother, Saint Benedict

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February 10 is the feast of Saint Scholastica, the lesser-known sister of Saint Benedict of Nursia, the founder of western monasticism.

A famous story is told in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great of the last visit of Benedict to Scholastica before her death. Well, the story used to be famous at least, when educated people living in the west had a firm formation in Church history. As part of his near-contemporary biography of Saint Benedict written in the late 6th century AD and included as part of the Dialogues, Pope Gregory recounts this charming tale as follows:
His sister, named Scholastica, was dedicated from her infancy to our Lord. Once a year she came to visit her brother. The man of God went to her not far from the gate of his monastery, at a place that belonged to the Abbey. It was there he would entertain her. Once upon a time she came to visit according to her custom, and her venerable brother with his monks went there to meet her. 
They spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk, and when it was almost night, they dined together. As they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, it began to get dark. The holy Nun, his sister, entreated him to stay there all night that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven. By no persuasion, however, would he agree to that, saying that he might not by any means stay all night outside of his Abbey. 
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At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, hearing this denial of her brother, joined her hands together, laid them on the table, bowed her head on her hands, and prayed to almighty God.

Lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their heads out of doors. The holy Nun, having rested her head on her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears on the table, that she transformed the clear air to a watery sky.

After the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed; her prayer and the rain so met together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began. So it was that in one and the very same instant that she lifted up her head, she brought down the rain. 
The man of God, seeing that he could not, in the midst of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain to his sister, saying: "God forgive you, what have you done?"
She answered him, "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me; I have desired it of our good Lord, and he has granted my petition. Therefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone." 
But the good father, not being able to leave, tarried there against his will where before he would not have stayed willingly. By that means, they watched all night and with spiritual and heavenly talk mutually comforted one another.
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It is believed that Scholastica died soon after this incident.

Artistic representations of this tale are fairly abundant. The one featured above is from Subiaco where both Benedict and Scholastica had monasteries. I have added the lightning flashes for effect, but nothing catches the viewer's attention so well as the mischievous smirk on Scholastica's face as she prays.

This anecdote it where Luise Rinser's outstanding novel, Leave If You Can, gets its title. The title is significant in that the events in the novel revolve around St. Benedict's ruined abbey of Monte Cassino during World War II and well describe the circumstance of the two young girls who are the main characters.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Saint Ignatius to Trajan: "You are in error when you call the dæmons of the nations gods."

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"Pray without ceasing on behalf of other men...For cannot he that falls rise again?"
~Saint Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch is one of the earliest of the Church fathers who left significant writings behind. Born in the mid-First Century AD, it is believed that he, along with Polycarp, were disciples of Saint John the Evangelist. Ecclesiastical historians of the fourth and fifth centuries mention that Ignatius was consecrated bishop of Antioch by Saint Peter himself. His feast day, on the traditional calendar, is February 1.

Ignatius was martyred during the reign of Trajan, thus sometime between AD 98 and 117. There exists an ancient martyrdom account of questionable provenance, which includes this fascinating dialogue between Ignatius and Trajan while the latter was sojourning in Antioch. We know for certain that Trajan spent time in Antioch because he was present there when the earthquake of AD 115 devastated the city.
When [Ignatius] was set before the Emperor Trajan, [that prince] said to him: "Who are you, you evil demon, who so zealously breaks our commands, and persuades others to do the same, so that they should miserably perish?"
Ignatius replied: "No one ought to call Theophorus evil; for all of the demons have departed from the servants of God. But if, because I am an enemy to these [demons], you call me wicked in respect to them, I quite agree with you; for inasmuch as I have Christ the King of heaven [within me], I destroy all the devices of these [demons].
Trajan answered: "And who is Theophorus?"
Ignatius replied: "He who has Christ within his breast."
Trajan said: "Do we not then seem to you to have the gods in our mind, whose assistance we enjoy in fighting against our enemies?
Ignatius answered: "You are in error when you call the dæmons of the nations gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy. 
Trajan said: "Do you mean Him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?"
Ignatius replied: "I mean Him who crucified my sin, with him who was the inventor of it, and who has condemned [and cast down] all the deceit and malice of the devil under the feet of those who carry Him in their heart."
Trajan said: "Do you then carry within you Him that was crucified?"
Ignatius replied: "Truly so; for it is written, 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them.' [2 Corinthians 6:16]
Then Trajan pronounced sentence as follows: "We command that Ignatius, who affirms that he carries about within him Him that was crucified, be bound by soldiers, and carried to the great [city] Rome, there to be devoured by the beasts, for the gratification of the people."
When the holy martyr heard this sentence, he cried out with joy: "I thank you, O Lord, that You have vouchsafed to honor me with a perfect love towards You, and have made me to be bound with iron chains, like Your Apostle Paul."
Read the rest of the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Antioch at newadvent.org here.

The quote featured in the above meme is taken the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, one of the earliest post-Scriptural Christian writings. Here is the quote in context--a letter in which Saint Ignatius gives advice on the proper behavior for a Christian:
Chapter X: Exhortations to Prayer, Humility, etc. 
And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?) that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but ye may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.

And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. For cannot he that falls arise again, and he that goes astray return? Permit them, then, to be instructed by you. Be ye therefore the ministers of God, and the mouth of Christ. For thus saith the Lord, "If ye take forth the precious from the vile, ye shall be as my mouth." Be ye humble in response to their wrath; oppose to their blasphemies your earnest prayers; while they go astray, stand ye steadfast in the faith. Conquer ye their harsh temper by gentleness, their passion by meekness. For "blessed are the meek;" and Moses was meek above all men; and David was exceeding meek. Wherefore Paul exhorts as follows: "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves."

Do not seek to avenge yourselves on those that injure you, for says [the Scripture], If I have returned evil to those who returned evil to me." Let us make them brethren by our kindness. For say ye to those that hate you, Ye are our brethren, that the name of the Lord may be glorified. And let us imitate the Lord, "who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;" when He was crucified, He answered not; "when He suffered, He threatened not;" but prayed for His enemies, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."

If any one, the more he is injured, displays the more patience, blessed is he. If any one is defrauded, if any one is despised, for the name of the Lord, he truly is the servant of Christ. Take heed that no plant of the devil be found among you, for such a plant is bitter and salt. "Watch ye, and be ye sober," in Christ Jesus.
The text of the full letter may be found at tertullian.org.

The image itself is "The Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch" by Cesare Fracanzano, 17th century.