Friday, June 29, 2018

"The feast ennobled by the blood of Peter and of Paul" ~ One of the oldest accounts of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome

Christ enthroned between St. Paul (left) and St. Peter (right).
4th or 5th century AD, from the Catacomb of Marcellinus in Rome.
June 29 is commemorated as the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, co-founders of the Roman Church. To celebrate this feast, here is a poem written in the late 4th century AD by the Latin poet Prudentius as part of his work, the Peristephanon or Martyr's Garland. The poem follows the way of a pilgrim visiting the shrines in Rome on the very feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and dwells a little on the details of the martyrdoms of the two Apostles.

The poem is significant as one of the earliest accounts of Saint Peter's inverted crucifixion. It also gives an indication of the types of shrines that existed in Rome (or immediately outside) to commemorate Peter and Paul's grave sites during late antiquity.
The Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul
By Aurelius Prudentius Clemens
May, friend, what means this stir today? What summons gathers all
   These happy troops along the streets of Rome?
The feast ennobled by the blood of Peter and of Paul
   Calls forth the worshippers to leave their home. 
The self-same day with interval of one revolving year
   Beheld the pair by death triumphant crowned.
Full well doth Father Tiber know, gliding those marshes near,
   Hallowed with trophies twain that turfy ground. 
Both Cross and Sword he witnessed, twice the ghastly shower saw fall,
   The self-same herb bedewed with martyr’s blood.
A victim first fell Peter, in Nero’s judgment-hall
   Condemned to hang upon the towering wood.  
But he, in fear to emulate his Master, cannot brook
   To court the doom that our salvation earned:
And he claimeth from his murderer one boon, that he may look
   On the Tree’s nether limb with head down-turned. 
So then his hands transfixed below, the top his feet upbore:
   Greater in spirit as more vile in guise,
Remembering “Who abaseth self exalted shall he soar,”
   To give his soul to heaven, he bowed his eyes. 
Soon as the circling seasons brought the swift recurring date,
   And Orient Sun reushered in the day,
The tyrant spat on holy Paul the venom of his hate,
   Christ’s world-worn Teacher resolute to slay.  
He had seen the goal—had written “I am ready to depart
   And be with Christ,” with heaven-inspired pen.
The headsman does his office. Beats no more that noble heart;
   Nor day nor hour has failed his prescient ken.  
On either bank, nigh each to each, their ashes now repose,
   Where winds the stream between the two hallowed graves;
The gilded shrine that on the right doth Peter’s bones enclose
   ’Neath sough of olives sacred Tiber laves. 
Trickling adown the slope from brow of overhanging hill,
   There oozes a perennial source of oil.
That fountain flows through fabric now of costly marble, till
   In gleaming bath its circling eddies boil. 
Below with hollow undertone the rushing streams descend
   From sparkling basin, white as drifted snow;
Art’s many-colored hues above with amber wavelets blend
   Resplendent moss and gold’s green-tinted glow. 
Lo! where with mantling purple overshadowed lies the pool,
   The fretted roof reflected seems to swim.
Christ the true Shepherd there portrayed, to waters clean and cool,
   Is leading on His flock that thirst for Him. 
By Tiber’s current, where the turf on the left bank is grazed,
    And Ostia’s road guardeth the hallowed ground,
Our prince’s favor there to Paul a stately fane upraised,
   And pranked with golden plates the circuit round. 
With branching foil of metal blaze on high the burnished beams,
   The aisles are ruddy as the morning ray;
Of pillars white ’neath gilded vault a fourfold order gleams,
   And arches dyed as green as leas in May.  
The Father gave these pledges to the nation of the gown:
   To be revered for aye twin temples spring;
Two roads lead forth Rome’s worshippers, to feasts one light doth crown,
   To each we hasten, and at each we sing.  
Where Tiber’s spanned by Hadrian’s bridge, we reach the stream’s left side:
   From vigil and from ritual the priest
Thither hies back to offerings fresh. Thus Rome keeps holy tide:
   Now homeward wend and celebrate each feast.
This version in English is taken from Translations from Prudentius by Francis St. John Thackeray, a text that is, sadly, out of print. It will be rendered along with other selections from Prudentius in the forthcoming book entitled, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources pictured at right.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"You have received us with bombs" ~ The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the end of Christian Europe

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It is not too far-fetched to say that Christian Europe officially died on June 28, 1914. On that day, the heir to the imperial throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife were gunned down on the streets of Sarajevo. In modern parlance, we would call the assassin, 19 year-old Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip, a terrorist. His act would lead directly to the outbreak of the Great War a little over a month later.

Following is an article that appeared in The Outlook, an important New York-based political and social journal, from a week after the assassinations. It is notable that the terrible ramifications of the slaying had yet to be recognized—stories regarding the political maneuvering of Theodore Roosevelt and the situation in Mexico were given priority in this issue.
The Assassinations at Sarajevo 
All friends of Austria-Hungary were shocked by the murder on June 28 of the heir to the throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg. Those in exalted stations are never free from some sudden attack by some crazed man, as the cases of Lincoln and Garfield and McKinley, of King Humbert of Italy and King George of Greece, remind us.

In the present instance, murder has removed those who were about to succeed to great power. Franz Ferdinand was not a popular prince. He was reserved, taciturn, moody, opinionated, supposed to be under Jesuit control, a jingo, a militarist—not all together a happy combination. Accident made him, as the nephew of the venerable Austrian Emperor, heir to the throne. The world looked on with misgiving. For of all monarchs the Emperor of Austria-Hungary has best known how to manage the conglomeration of the many different nationalities which make up the Dual Empire. It might well be triple, as Franz Ferdinand himself suggested not long ago, the third part to be Slav.

With bitter irony, the Prince met his death at the hands of a Slav—a Serb. The Archduke and his wife were entering Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, when a bomb was burst immediately behind their motor, shattering the motor which followed it and injuring its occupants. Moved by this circumstance, the Archduke, before replying later to the Mayor’s message of welcome, said: “An amazing indignity has been perpetrated. You have received us with bombs.” With his wife, he then drove towards the hospital to inquire after the condition of the sufferers from the bomb, when a young man sprang out of the crowd and aimed a pistol at the Duchess. Her husband immediately threw himself in front of her to shield her. The weapon used was an automatic pistol. Both occupants of the motor received mortal wounds from which they soon expired…

The tragedy gains deeper pathos because it leaves the venerable head of the house of Hapsburg (Emperor Franz Joseph) so utterly alone. His has been a life overborne by grief. A quarter of a century ago, he lost in a most tragic way, his only son. Sixteen years ago, his wife was murdered. His brother, Maximilian, became Emperor of Mexico, only to be shot there, and Carlotta, Maximilian’s wife, became an inmate of an insane asylum. The Emperor’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Alencon, was burned to death in Paris. The Archduke John, who suddenly renounced his rank and became plain Johann Orth, disappeared. And now comes the loss of another nephew, the heir presumptive.

As the children of Franz Ferdinand’s morganatic marriage are debarred from the throne, the new heir presumptive is Charles Francis Joseph (later Blessed Karl of Austria), the son of the late Archduke Otto, who married Josefa, daughter of the late King of Saxony.

The assassination of the Archduke and his wife was followed by bloody riots at Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina, between Mohammedan Croats and the Serbs. In the attempts of the Croats (aided by Austrians) to drive the Serbs back into their own quarters many serious incendiary fires were started, which at one time threatened the destruction of the city. It was reported that in the street fighting in Mostar, over two hundred Serbs were killed. Rioting also broke out in other towns in Herzegovina.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie destroyed their young family—their three children, Sophie, Maximilian and Ernst were sometimes described as the first orphans of the Great War. The assassination also led directly to the destruction of the last vestiges of Christian Europe. Considering the events that have followed up to the present, and the dark and uncertain future that Europe faces today, it is perhaps not out of place to remember these victims as signs of contradiction to the mess that liberal democracy and socialism have made of the once cultured and prosperous nations of the continent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"You have won, O Galilean!" ~ Who killed Julian the Apostate?

Julian receives the mortal wound as depicted
in this 19th century engraving.
On the 26th of June AD 363, the last pagan Roman Emperor, Flavius Claudius Julianus, known to history as Julian the Apostate, perished from a wound he received while fighting off a Persian ambush. The pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus—a witness to the event and an admirer of Julian—described the scene as follows:
When we marched on from this place, the Persians, since their frequent losses made them dread regular battles with the infantry, laid ambuscades, and secretly attended us, from the high hills on both sides watching our companies as they marched, so that the soldiers, suspicious of this, all day long neither raised a palisade nor fortified themselves with stakes. And while the flanks were strongly protected and the army, as the nature of the ground made necessary, advanced in square formation, but with the battalions in open order, it was reported to the emperor, who even then unarmed had gone forward to reconnoiter, that the rear guard had suddenly been attacked from behind.
Excited by the misfortune, he forgot his coat-of‑mail, and merely caught up a shield in the confusion; but as he was hastening to bring aid to those in the rear, he was recalled by another danger — the news that the van, which he had just left, was just as badly off. While he was hastening to restore order there without regard to his own peril, a Parthian band of mailed cavalry on another side attacked the center companies, and quickly overflowed the left wing, which gave way, since our men could hardly endure the smell and trumpeting of the elephants, they were trying to end the battle with pikes and volleys of arrows.
But while the emperor rushed hither and thither amid the foremost ranks of the combatants, and as the Persians turned in flight, they hacked at their legs and backs, and those of the elephants. Julianus, careless of his own safety, shouting and raising his hands tried to make it clear to his men that the enemy had fled in disorder, and, to rouse them to a still more furious pursuit, rushed boldly into the fight. His guards, who had scattered in their alarm, were crying to him from all sides to get clear of the mass of fugitives, as dangerous as the fall of a badly built roof, when suddenly — no one knows whence — a cavalryman's spear grazed the skin of his arm, pierced his ribs, and lodged in the lower lobe of his liver. While he was trying to pluck this out with his right hand, he felt that the sinews of his fingers were cut through on both sides by the sharp steel. Then he fell from his horse, all present hastened to the spot, he was taken to camp and given medical treatment. [Taken from the Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus, Book XXV, Chapter 3]
Julian's wound was mortal and though he lingered a few days, ultimately died of a hemorrhage.

The identity of Julian's slayer has remained a mystery to this day. As seen above, Marcellinus indicates that no one knew who threw the javelin that pierced Julian. Another of Julian's friends, the pagan philosopher Libanius, was quick to affix blame to those whom Julian hated most. The Christian historian Sozomen, writing about 60-70 years after the event, explains:
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Libanius, the sophist, a native of Syria, the most intimate friend of Julian, expressed himself in the following terms concerning the person who had committed the deed:
"You desire to know by whom the emperor was slain. I know not his name. We have a proof, however, that the murderer was not one of the enemies; for no one came forward to claim the reward, although the king of Persia caused proclamation to be made, by a herald, of the honors to be awarded to him who had performed the deed. We are surely beholden to the enemy for not arrogating to themselves the glory of the action, but for leaving it to us to seek the slayer among ourselves.
"Those who sought his death were those who lived in habitual transgression of the laws, and who had formerly conspired against him, and who therefore perpetrated the deed as soon as they could find an opportunity. They were impelled by the desire of obtaining a greater degree of freedom from all control than they could enjoy under his government; and they were, perhaps, mainly stimulated by their indignation at the attachment of the emperor to the service of the gods, to which they were averse."
In the document above quoted, Libanius clearly states that the emperor fell by the hand of a Christian, and this, probably, was the truth. It is not unlikely that some of the soldiers who then served in the Roman army might have conceived the idea, since Greeks and all men until this day have praised tyrannicides for exposing themselves to death in the cause of liberty, and spiritedly standing by their country, their families, and their friends. [Taken from: The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapters 1-2]
It is notable that Sozomen, though a Christian, is persuaded by Libanius's logic and agrees that the culprit was probably a Christian. Interestingly, Libanius elaborates on the identity of the culprit in a separate tract entitled, Avenging Julian, in which he warned the newly crowned emperor Theodosius I to be wary of assassins. Writing in about AD 380, Libanius says the following:
"Our renowned Julian received that blow in the side as he strove to unite part of his line that had broken, spurring his horse towards them, cheering and threatening. The assailant who inflicted the wound was a Taiene [Saracen], acting in obedience to their leader’s command. This action, indeed, would probably secure for the chief a reward from the people who were keen to have him killed." [Taken from: Selected Works of Libanius: The Julianic Orations as found in the article Killing Julian by Benjamin James Rogaczewski]
Libanius insinuates that this Saracen was in the pay of Christian masters because, as above, no one had come forward among the Persians to claim the reward for having slain the Roman Emperor. Of course, there are numerous problems with this type of logic, for example: the slayer may himself have been killed in the heat of battle; or the javelin may have been a random lucky cast from a Persian, or accidental friendly fire from a Roman. Writing in the early 5th century, the Christian historian Socrates offers a completely different explanation, as follows:
"Some say that a certain Persian hurled the javelin, and then fled; others assert that one of his own men was the author of the deed, which indeed is the best corroborated and most current report. But Callistus, one of his body-guards, who celebrated this emperor's deeds in heroic verse, says in narrating the particulars of this war, that the wound of which he died was inflicted by a demon. This is possibly a mere poetical fiction, or perhaps it was really the fact; for vengeful furies have undoubtedly destroyed many persons." [Taken from The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, Book III, Chapter 21]
Writing later in the 5th century, the Christian historian Theodoret lists the extant theories regarding the slayer, but maintains that ultimately the identity doesn't matter and in the process, provides one of the most memorable vignettes regarding the death of Julian:
"The name of the man who dealt that righteous stroke no one knows to this day. Some say that he was wounded by an invisible being, others by one of the Nomads who were called Ishmaelites [that is, a Saracen]; others by a trooper who could not endure the pains of famine in the wilderness. But whether it were man or angel who plied the steel, without doubt the doer of the deed was the minister of the will of God. It is related that when Julian had received the wound, he filled his hand with blood, flung it into the air and cried, 'You have won, O Galilean.'" [Taken from: The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret, Book III, Chapter 20]
Socrates offers the following summation of both the man Julian and his inglorious death, which strikes me as a pretty accurate assessment:
Be the case however as it may, this is certain, that the ardor of his natural temperament rendered him incautious, his learning made him vain, and his affectation of clemency exposed him to contempt. Thus Julian ended his life in Persia, as we have said, in his fourth consulate, which he bore with Sallust his colleague. This event occurred on the 26th of June, in the third year of his reign, and the seventh from his having been created C├Žsar by Constantius, he being at that time in the thirty-first year of his age. [Taken from The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, Book III, Chapter 21]
For a detailed scholarly analysis of the death of Julian, check out Killing Julian by Benjamin James Rogaczewski.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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

In the authentic acts of Saints Chionia, Agape and Irene who were martyred during the Great Persecution in Thessalonica, there exists another official trial transcript which is believed by most scholars to be genuine. In it we find the following exchange between Dulcetius, governor of the province of Macedonia, and Saint Chionia:
Dulcetius: "Have you not some books, papers, or other writings, relating to the religion of the impious Christians?" 
Chionia said: "We have none: the emperors now reigning have taken them all from us."
Soon after, Chionia and Agape were condemned to death, while Irene was sent back to prison. It seems that a search was done of Irene's home and Christian writings were indeed found there. Dulcetius called Irene before him to face cross-examination regarding this new evidence.
Dulcetius: "Your madness to plain, since you have kept to this day so many books, parchments, codicils, and papers of the scriptures of the impious Christians. You were forced to acknowledge them when they were produced before you, though you had before denied you had any. You will not take warning from the punishment of your sisters, neither have you the fear of death before your eyes: your punishment therefore is unavoidable. In the mean time I do not refuse even now to make some condescension in your behalf. Notwithstanding your crime, you may find pardon and be freed from punishment, if you will yet worship the gods. What say you then? Will you obey the orders of the emperors? are you ready to sacrifice to the gods, and eat of the victims?"

Irene: "By no means: for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are threatened with eternal fire."

Traditional image of Saints Agape,
Irene and Chionia.
Dulcetius: "Who persuaded you to conceal those books and papers so long?"

Irene: "Almighty God, who has commanded us to love him even unto death; on which account we dare not betray him, but rather choose to be burnt alive, or suffer any thing whatsoever than discover such writings."

Dulcetius: "Who knew that those writings were in the house?" 
Irene: "Nobody, but the Almighty, from whom nothing is hid: for we concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."

...

Dulcetius: "After you returned from the mountains, as you say, did you read those books to anybody?" 
Irene: "They were hid at our own house, and we durst not produce them; and we were in great trouble, because we could not read them night and day, as we had been accustomed to do."

Dulcetius: "Your sisters have already suffered the punishments to which they were condemned. As for you, Irene, though you were condemned to death before your flight for having hid these writings, I will not have you die so suddenly; but I order that you be exposed naked in a brothel, and be allowed one loaf a day, to be sent you from the palace; and that the guards do not suffer you to stir out of it one moment, under pain of death to them."
A hint of how successful the efforts had been to annihilate Christian writings during the Great Persecution may be found in The Peristephanon or Martyr's Garland of the late 4th century Latin poet from Spain, Prudentius. In the poem celebrating the martyrs of Calahorra, Saints Emeterius and Celedonius, written about 80 years after their deaths, we read the following lines:
But oh, the oblivion of a silent age!
     Extinguishing the record of such deeds,
The infidel long since destroyed the page,
     Which else had taught us how a martyr bleeds,

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

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

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The complete Passion of Saints Chionia, Agape, and Irene along with the full poem commemorating the martyrs of Calahorra by Prudentius may be found among the accounts related in the book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. Also included in this book is a chapter on the "traditores" and the burning of Christian books, as well as the account of the martyrs of Abitina who also suffered, in part, for hiding Christian literature.