Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels...

I recently came across an article from the Associated Press written by Peter James Spielman that is fascinating for one reason. Please read the first few paragraphs which I am pasting here so that it's not lost in case the AP pulls the original down at some point:
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed [deleted text].

Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ″eco- refugees," threatening political chaos, said Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP.

He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.

As the warming melts polar icecaps, ocean levels will rise by up to three feet, enough to cover the Maldives and other flat island nations, Brown told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.
Read the full article at this link: U.N. Predicts Disaster if Global Warming Not Checked

The article is intriguing because of the [deleted text] above. Can you guess what goes there?

Here it is: "by the year 2000." This article was written in 1989.

It seems to me that articles exactly like this have been written hundreds if not thousands of times in the thirty years since this story first appeared. Now ask yourself—how many entire nations have been wiped off the face of the earth? How many of these predictions of three foot sea level rises, new dust-bowls in the Midwest, the Maldives underwater, etc. have come to pass? Answer? None.

It seems to me that one of the basic tenets of science is that when you are habitually wrong when posing outlandish hypotheses, you lose credibility as a scientist. And yet, the climate change catastrophists have continued to push this same theory that was first trotted out in the 1970s and 80s, the only difference being the terminology (climate change vs. global warming) and the volume level which is now amplified about 1000%.

Honestly, I can't take them seriously anymore. They've been singing the same tune for going on 40 years now and with the same, unsurprising solution -- transfer of wealth from ordinary people to national and supra-national organizations who are the only ones who can "save us."

It's long past time for people of good sense to stop listening to them.

“These are the triumphs of the Goths and Sarmatians.” ~ The Destruction of the Great Church at Nicomedia in AD 303

Diocletian and Maximian embracing from relief found in Nicomedia in 2018.
Image borrowed from: A New Tetrarchic Relief from Nicomedia.
In AD 303 on February 23, the Christian church of Nicomedia in Roman Bithynia was utterly destroyed. In this case, by “church” I am referring to the physical building as opposed to the human beings of Nicomedia who professed the Christian faith. Their destruction would come later.

The pulling down of the church of Nicomedia marked the beginning of a violent, Roman Empire-wide repression of Christianity known to future generations as the Great Persecution. This state-sponsored attack would be the most violent, wide-ranging, and longest-lasting effort of the Roman government to wipe out the hated Christian sect. It would also be the last. The campaign was sparked by the emperor Diocletian, who was himself instigated by his Caesar (or junior emperor), Galerius.

We have two ancient accounts of this event. The first is a brief notice in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius:
"It was the nineteenth year of Diocletian's reign [AD 303] and the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, and the festival of the Savior's Passion was approaching, when an imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering the churches to be razed to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire, and giving notice that those in places of honor would lose their places, and domestic staff, if they continued to profess Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty. Such was the first edict against us. Soon afterwards other decrees arrived in rapid succession, ordering that the presidents of the churches in every place should all be first committed to prison and then coerced by every possible means into offering sacrifice." [Eccelsiastical History of Eusebius, Book VIII, Chapter 2]
The second source is a much more detailed account from a very well educated Latin-speaking Roman named Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius. Known to later history simply as Lactantius, he was summoned to Nicomedia, which served as Diocletian’s capital, in the 290s to teach rhetoric. Whether he had already converted to Christianity when he arrived in Nicomedia is unknown. Certainly, by the time the Great Persecution began in AD 303, he had already become a Christian. He likely resigned his post when it became clear that Christians would no longer be tolerated in such positions.

Lactantius was in a very good position, however, to witness and later record the events which led up to the Great Persecution. According to his work, On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Lactantius indicates that the wrath of Diocletian was first incited against the Christians by pagan priests who claimed that the presence of Christians among the emperor’s retinue was inhibiting their efforts to tell the future:
Diocletian, as being of a timorous disposition, was a searcher into futurity, and during his abode in the East he began to slay victims, that from their livers he might obtain a prognostic of events; and while he sacrificed, some attendants of his who were Christians, stood by, and they put the immortal sign on their foreheads [the sign of the cross]. At this the demons were chased away, and the holy rites interrupted. The soothsayers trembled, unable to investigate the wonted marks on the entrails of the victims. They frequently repeated the sacrifices, as if the former had been unpropitious; but the victims, slain from time to time, afforded no tokens for divination. At length Tages, the chief of the soothsayers, either from guess or from his own observation, said, “There are profane persons here, who obstruct the rites.” Then Diocletian, in furious passion, ordered not only all who were assisting at the holy ceremonies, but also all who resided within the palace, to sacrifice, and, in case of their refusal, to be scourged. And further, by letters to the commanding officers, he enjoined that all soldiers should be forced to the like impiety, under pain of being dismissed the service. [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 10]
This was only the first step, however. Diocletian would subsequently be bought to a more severe position with regard to the Christians by his corrupt, gluttonous and brutal junior emperor, Galerius. According to Lactantius, Diocletian “attempted to observe such moderation as to command the business to be carried through without bloodshed; whereas Galerius would have had all persons burnt alive who refused to sacrifice." [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 11]

And so the two would plan what they hoped would be a complete and final extirpation of Christianity from the Roman Empire. Their first target was the Christian church of Nicomedia, a building which was apparently very prominent in the city—indeed, it was within view of the imperial palace itself. Lactantius continues:
A fit and auspicious day was sought out for the accomplishment of this undertaking; and the festival of the god Terminus, celebrated on the sevens of the kalends of March [February 23], was chosen, in preference to all others, to terminate, as it were, the Christian religion.

That day, the harbinger of death, arose,
First cause of ill, and long enduring woes;

of woes which befell not only the Christians, but the whole earth. When that day dawned, in the eighth consulship of Diocletian and seventh of Maximian, suddenly, while it was yet hardly light, the prefect, together with chief commanders, tribunes, and officers of the treasury, came to the church in Nicomedia, and the gates having been forced open, they searched everywhere for an image of the Divinity. The books of the Holy Scriptures were found, and they were committed to the flames; the utensils and furniture of the church were abandoned to pillage: all was rapine, confusion, tumult. That church, situated on rising ground, was within view of the palace; and Diocletian and Galerius stood, as if on a watchtower, disputing long whether it ought to be set on fire. The sentiment of Diocletian prevailed, who dreaded lest, so great a fire being once kindled, some part of the city might he burnt; for there were many and large buildings that surrounded the church. Then the Praetorian Guards came in battle array, with axes and other iron instruments, and having been let loose everywhere, they in a few hours levelled that very lofty edifice with the ground. [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 12]
The next day, February 24, AD 303, Diocletian and Galerius made their attack on the Christians a matter of law. They published an edict “depriving the Christians of all honors and dignities; ordaining also that, without any distinction of rank or degree, they should be subjected to tortures, and that every suit at law should be received against them; while, on the other hand, they were debarred from being plaintiffs in questions of wrong, adultery, or theft; and, finally, that they should neither be capable of freedom, nor have right of suffrage.” [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 13]

Apparently, not all the Christians were cowed by this edict. Lactantius records that one man, incensed by the actions of the emperors, tore down the public document and shredded it to pieces saying “These are the triumphs of the Goths and Sarmatians.” Unfortunately for him, he was apprehended by the imperial authorities, tortured and burned to death. In this way, Diocletian and Galerius made it clear that they would enforce their anti-Christian edict to the full and tolerate no opposition.

Relief from the Arch of Galerius in Thessalonika showing the imperial family
offering sacrifice. 
A short time thereafter, the imperial palace in Nicomedia caught fire. Hearkening back to the original persecution 250 years before under Nero, Galerius blamed this fire upon the Christians and declared them public enemies. He convinced Diocletian to put his own domestics to torture to discover who the perpetrators were. Dioceltian did so without result. Lactantius hints that Diocletian may have found the evidence he sought if he had tortured Galerius’s domestics as these were the ones who had started the fire at their master’s command. [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 14]

After a second fire broke out in the palace, Galerius fled the city saying that he didn’t want to be burned alive. At this point, Diocletian flew into an unbridled rage. Lactantius details what happened next, hinting that even members of Diocletian's immediate family may have been Christians:
[Diocletian] began by forcing his daughter Valeria and his wife Prisca to be polluted by sacrificing. Eunuchs, once the most powerful, and who had chief authority at court and with the emperor, were slain. Presbyters and other officers of the Church were seized, without evidence by witnesses or confession, condemned, and together with their families led to execution. In burning alive, no distinction of sex or age was regarded. And because of their great multitude, they were not burnt one after another, but a herd of them were encircled with the same fire; and servants, having millstones tied about their necks, were cast into the sea. Nor was the persecution less grievous on the rest of the people of God, for the judges, dispersed through all the temples, sought to compel every one to sacrifice. The prisons were crowded; tortures, hitherto unheard of, were invented; and lest justice should be inadvertently administered to a Christian, altars were placed in the courts of justice hard by the tribunal, that every litigant might offer incense before his cause could be heard. [On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 15]
Click for more info.
From this point forward, the persecution spread throughout the Empire, burning with greater or lesser intensity depending on who was in charge of a given region. In the dioceses of Gaul and Britain, the edict was enforced only upon buildings as opposed to people, thanks to the comparative clemency of the junior emperor of the West, Constantius Chlorus. His son, Constantine, would later put a final end to the age of persecution, and Lactantius would, in his old age, be assigned as tutor to Constantine’s son, Crispus. He would later be included among Saint Jerome's 5th century catalog of great Christians known as On Illustrious Men.

The rest of Lactantius’s work, On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died is a singularly important historical source which contains a multitude of facts recorded nowhere else. As such, it makes for excellent reading if you are interested in this period.

Click for more info.
Also of interest with regard to the Great Persecution is the recently published work, I Am a Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources which is a collection of some of the best ancient sources on the persecution of the early Church. This book includes numerous ancient martyrdom accounts drawn from the Great Persecution, including a few which have been detailed on this blog such as the following:

Friday, February 15, 2019

"A Bursting, Rending, and Crashing Roar of Immense Volume" ~ Captain Sigsbee's account of the destruction of the USS Maine

Painting of the USS Maine from the US Naval Academy Museum collection.
On February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, touching off the Spanish-American War shortly thereafter. Here is an account written by Charles D. Sigsbee, the captain of the Maine who survived the destruction of his ship and later went on to become an Admiral in the United States Navy.
About an hour before the explosion I had completed a report called for by Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, on the advisability of continuing to place torpedo-tubes on board cruisers and battleships. I then wrote a letter home, in which I struggled to apologize for having carried in my pocket for ten months a letter to my wife from one of her friends of longstanding. The cabin mess-attendant, James Pinckney, had brought me, about an hour before, a civilian's thin coat, because of the prevailing heat. I had taken off my blouse, and was wearing this coat for the only time during the cruise.

In the pocket I had found the unopened and undelivered letter. Pinckney, a light-hearted colored man, who spent much of his spare time in singing, playing the banjo, and dancing jigs, was for some reason in an especially happy frame of mind that night. Poor fellow! He was killed, as was also good old John R. Bell, the colored cabin steward, who had been in the navy, in various ratings, for twenty-seven years.

At taps ("turn in and keep quiet"), ten minutes after nine o'clock, I laid down my pen to listen to the notes of the bugle, which were singularly beautiful in the oppressive stillness of the night. The marine bugler, Newton, who was rather given to fanciful effects, was evidently doing his best. During his pauses the echoes floated back to the ship with singular distinctness, repeating the strains of the bugle fully and exactly. A half-hour later, Newton was dead.

I was inclosing my letter in its envelop when the explosion came. The impression made on different people on board the Maine varied somewhat. To me, in my position, well aft, and within the superstructure, it was a bursting, rending, and crashing sound or roar of immense volume, largely metallic in character. It was followed by a succession of heavy, ominous, metallic sounds, probably caused by the overturning of the central superstructure and by falling debris. There was a trembling and lurching motion of the vessel, a list to port, and a movement of subsidence. The electric lights, of which there were eight in the cabin where I was sitting, went out. Then there was intense blackness and smoke.
The USS Maine explodes in Havana Harbor in this period illustration.
The situation could not be mistaken: the Maine was blown up and sinking. For a moment the instinct of self-preservation took charge of me, but this was immediately dominated by the habit of command. I went up the inclined deck into the starboard cabin, toward the starboard air ports, which were faintly relieved against the background of the sky. The sashes were out, and the openings were large. My first intention was to escape through an air-port, but this was abandoned in favor of the more dignified way of making an exit through the passageway leading forward through the superstructure. I groped my way through the cabin into the passage, and along the passage to the outer door. The passage turned to the right, or starboard, near the forward part of the superstructure.

At the turning, someone ran into me violently. I asked who it was. It was Private William Anthony, the orderly at the cabin door. He said something apologetic, and reported that the ship had been blown up and was sinking. He was directed to go out on the quarter-deck, and I followed him. Anthony has been pictured as making an exceedingly formal salute on that occasion. The dramatic effect of a salute cannot add to his heroism. If he had made a salute it could not have been seen in the blackness of that compartment Anthony did his whole duty, at great personal risk, at a time when he might have evaded the danger without question, and deserved all the commendation that he received for his act. He hung near me with unflagging zeal and watchfulness that night until the ship was abandoned.

I stood for a moment on the starboard side of the main-deck, forward of the after-superstructure, looking toward the immense dark mass that loomed up amidships, but could see nothing distinctly. There I remained for a few seconds in an effort to grasp the situation, and then asked Anthony for the exact time. He replied: "The explosion took place at nine-forty, sir."

It was soon necessary to retire from the main-deck, for the after-part of the ship was sinking rapidly. I then went up on the poop-deck. By this time Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright and others were near me. Everybody was impressed by the solemnity of the disaster, but there was no excitement apparent; perfect discipline prevailed.
The question of what destroyed the Maine — whether it was an external mine or sabotage by the Spanish, or a accidental internal explosion — has been a matter of debate for over a century with researchers reaching different conclusions. Here is Captain Sigsbee's view:
The question has been asked many times if I believed then that the Maine was blown up from the outside. My answer to this has been that my first order on reaching the deck was to post sentries about the ship. I knew that the Maine had been blown up, and believed that she had been blown up from the outside. Therefore I ordered a measure which was intended to guard against attack. There was no need for the order, but I am writing of first impressions. There was the sound of many voices from the shore, suggestive of cheers....
When trying to organize damage-control, Sigsbee soon understood that his ship was lost and that many of his men had perished in the blast:
...We then began to realize more clearly the full extent of the damage. One of the smoke-stacks was lying in the water on the starboard side. Although it was almost directly under me, I had not at first identified it. As my eyes became more accustomed to the darkness, I could see, dimly, white forms on the water, and hear faint cries for help. Realizing that the white forms were our own men, boats were lowered at once and sent to the assistance of the injured and drowning men. Orders were given, but they were hardly necessary: the resourceful intelligence of the officers suggested correct measures in the emergency....
...Those of us who were left on board remained quietly on the poop-deck. Nothing further could be done; the ship was settling rapidly. There was one wounded man on the poop; he had been hauled from under a ventilator on the main-deck by Lieutenants Hood and Blandin just as the water was rising over him. Other boats, too, were rescuing the wounded and drowning men. Chief among them were the boats from the Alfonso XII, and from the steamer City of Washington. The visiting boats had arrived promptly, and were unsparing of effort in saving the wounded. The Spanish officers and crew did all that humanity and gallantry could compass.
A model of the USS Maine from the collection of the US Naval Academy Museum.
Realizing that nothing further could be done to save his stricken vessel, Captain Sigsbee reluctantly abandoned his ship.
It was a hard blow to be obliged to leave the Maine; none of us desired to leave while any part of her poop remained above water. We waited until satisfied that she was resting on the bottom of the harbor. Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright then whispered to me that he thought the forward ten-inch magazine had been thrown up into the burning material amidships and might explode at any time, with further disastrous effects. He was then directed to get everybody into the boats, which was done....I suggested the propriety of my being the last to leave, and requested them to precede me, which they did....

...The fine conduct of those who came under my observation that night was conspicuous and touching. The heroism of the wounded men I did not see at the time, but afterward good reports of their behavior were very common. The patient way in which they bore themselves left no doubt that they added new honors to the service when the Maine went down. [Taken from, The Maine: An Account of Her Destruction in Havana Harbor by Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, pages 62-73]
The destruction of the Maine was seized upon in the the American press as a cause célèbre provoking the nation toward a war with Spain. Signals soon went out to US forces overseas, encouraging them to be on high alert. Here is an excerpt from Three Years Behind the Guns, the memoir of John Tisdale, a sailor aboard USS Olympia, flagship of the US Asiatic Fleet. In it, Tisdale relates the reaction of the crew when news of the destruction of the Maine was received:
Click for more info.
What a change! Two weeks after writing the above, weary of waiting for the Baltimore, we were returning to Kau-lung to make ready for our home-going. No sooner were we sighted at Hong Kong than every flag in Victoria dropped to half-mast. A signal was given us and we read in consternation: ''United States Battleship 'Maine' was blown up in Havana Harbor on February 15, and 266 men killed."

Before we were at full anchor the American consul was aboard, and the general belief is that the destruction of the Maine was the result of Spanish treachery. Nothing authentic nor authoritative has been given out, but I noticed the governor of Hong Kong waived the salute, and that we are not doing any target practice; in other words, we appear to be husbanding our ammunition.

The little commodore [that is, George Dewey] has taken matters in hand; he has called all of our squadron to meet here in Hong-Kong. He has also bought two ships, which he has provisioned and coaled. As fast as they come in, our ships are run on to the docks and made ready. Should war be declared between the United States and Spain, England, China, and Japan will be neutral, which means we shall be without a berth, our nearest being San Francisco, unless we should go out and capture the Hawaiian Islands, a trick which even for our little Petrel would be "like taking candy from the baby."
Olympia would then sail for Manila Bay and into history. For accounts of what happened next, see:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Glittering with the Indescribable Brightness of the Sun" ~ Saint Polyeuctus and his magnificent temple in Byzantium

The execution of St. Polyeuctus of Melitene, taken from the Menologion
of Basil II, ca. AD 1000.
February 13 is the feast day of yet another victim of the persecution of Decius, Saint Polyeuctus of Melitene in Roman Armenia. Though practically unknown today, Polyeuctus was renowned in antiquity as a soldier-martyr. An epitome of his acts was recorded by Symeon Metaphrastes in the 10th century, though it is likely that Symeon was working from a much older tradition. Indeed, Polyeuctus was revered in antiquity from at least the time of the Empress Eudocia (mid 5th century AD) who built a shrine dedicated to him in Constantinople.

Here is an English translation of Metaphrastes’s acts of Saint Polyeuctos taken from The Lives of the Saints by Sabine Baring-Gould (1878) who claims that they are based on the original by Nearchus “who took his body to burial after his death”:
Whilst the Christians, especially those in the East, were suffering persecution under the Emperors Decius and Valerian, there were two men very friendly, Polyeuctus and Nearchus by name. Now Nearchus was a Christian, but Polyeuctus was a heathen. But when Decius and Valerian could not be satiated with the blood of the saints, they issued an edict that those Christians who would sacrifice to the gods, should be favored by the majesty of the empire, but that those who refused should be cruelly punished. Which things being heard, Nearchus, who desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ, lamented because his comrade, whom he loved as a second self, would be left in peril of eternal damnation.

Going therefore to his friend, Polyeuctus, he announced to him that on the morrow their friendship must come to an end. And when he answered that death alone could terminate this, Nearchus said, "You speak the truth, we are about to be separated by death." And he showed him the imperial edict. Then Polyeuctus narrated to Nearchus how Christ had appeared to him in vision, and had taken off his dirty vestment, together with his military harness, and had thrown over him a gorgeous silk robe, linking it at his shoulder with a golden brooch, and had mounted him on a winged horse. Hearing this, Nearchus was glad, and having expounded the vision, and instructed Polyeuctus more fully in the faith, his friend believed perfectly, and began to thirst for martyrdom.

Now when Polyeuctus declared himself openly to be a Christian, and rebuked idolatry, being tried by the persecutors, he was for a long time tortured. And when he had been a long while scourged with rods, the tormentors were weary, and endeavored to persuade him with bland speeches and promises, to return to the worship of the gods. But he, remaining immovable in the confession of the Lord, and deriding them, was more furiously beaten.

Then came his wife and only son, and she filled the place with her cries, and held out to him his son, alleging his marriage ties, with many tears and sighs, and labored to call the saint from martyrdom, by the thoughts of his son, of his wealth, and of his friends. But he, divinely inspired, could not be separated from Christ by any temptations, but all the more exhorted his wife to desert her idols and believe in Christ.

Now when the governors saw that the constancy of the martyr was not to be shaken, they pronounced capital sentence against him. And when the martyr heard this, he gave thanks, and praising God, was led to the place of execution, confirming the faithful with his holy exhortations, so that not a few of the unbelievers were converted. Then, turning to the Blessed Nearchus, he announced to him that he should follow him according to mutual agreement; and bidding him farewell, died a glorious death.
As mentioned above, the Empress Eudocia built a shrine to Polyeuctus in Constantinople. This would be eclipsed a few decades later by a truly monumental church raised in Constantinople to Saint Polyeuctus by the wealthy noblewoman Anicia Juliana during the 520s AD. Indeed, at the time of its completion, the great Church of Saint Polyeuctos would be the largest and most magnificent ecclesiastical edifice in the city—and possibly the world. An epigram exists celebrating the works of Anicia, a descendant of Constantine and Theodosius, which describes the interior of this church. Here is an excerpt from the epigram rendered into English by Mary Whitby:
Miniature of Anicia Juliana flanked
by personifications of Wisdom and
Magnanimity from a copy of De
Materia Medica
dedicated to her
in the early 6th century, AD.
What choir is sufficient to sing the contests of Juliana who, after Constantine, embellisher of his Rome, after the holy all-golden light of Theodosius, and after royal descent from so many forebears, accomplished a work worthy of her family, and more than worthy in a few years? She alone has overpowered time and surpassed the wisdom of the celebrated Solomon, raising a temple to receive God, the richly wrought and gracious splendor of which a great epoch cannot celebrate.

How it stands forth on deep-rooted foundations, springing up from below and pursuing the stars of heaven, and how too it extends from the west, stretching to the east, glittering with the indescribable brightness of the sun on this side and on that! On either side of the central nave, columns standing upon sturdy columns support the rays of the golden-roofed covering. On both sides recesses hollowed out in arches have given birth to the ever-revolving light of the moon. The walls, opposite each other in measureless paths, have put on marvelous meadows of marble, which nature caused to flower in the very depths of the rock, concealing their brightness and guarding Juliana’s gift for the halls of God, so that she might accomplish divine works, laboring at these things in the immaculate promptings of her heart. What singer of wisdom, moving swiftly on the breath of the west wind and trusting in a hundred eyes, will pinpoint on each side the manifold counsels of art, seeing the shining house, one ambulatory upon another?
The epigram, which was apparently inscribed in stone upon the walls of the church, also describes glorious images from the life of Constantine, perhaps rendered in mosaic upon the interior of the dome:
Thence, it is possible to see above the rim of the hall a great marvel of sacred depiction, the wise Constantine, how escaping the idols he overcame the God-fighting fury, and found the light of the Trinity by purifying his limbs in water. [Taken from Whitby: The Saint Polyeuktos Epigram: A Literary Perspective]
Foundations of the Church of St. Polyeuctus in Istanbul.
Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas.
It is said that the low-born emperor Justinian viewed Juliana as a rival and her great church as a direct challenge to him. In the 6th century work entitled The Glory of the Martyrs by Gregory of Tours, an anecdote is related in which Justinian demanded that Juliana remit a portion of her wealth to the imperial treasury. In response, Juliana did the following:
Julinana gathered some craftsmen and secretly gave them whatever gold she could find in her storerooms. She said: “Go, construct plates to fit the measure of the beams, and decorate the ceiling [of the church] of the blessed martyr Polyeuctus with this gold, so that the hand of the greedy emperor cannot touch these things.”
When Justinian came to collect the wealth of Juliana, she invited him to pray with her in the great church of Saint Polyeuctus which was next to her home. Upon entering, she said:
“Most glorious Augustus, I ask you to look at the ceiling of this church and realize that my poorness is kept there in this craftsmanship. But you now do what you wish. I will not oppose you.”
Justinian, realizing he was defeated, left the church and accepted from Juliana only a gold ring set with an emerald as a token of the wealth he had hoped to receive into the imperial fisc.

The so-called Pillars of Acre at Saint Mark's Cathedral,
Venice, now known to have come from St. Polyeuctus.
The above excerpts were taken from Gregory of Tours Glory of the Martyrs, translated with an introduction by Raymond van Dam. The entire story of the above incident is well worth reading.

It is speculated that Justinian built his gigantic new Hagia Sophia, completed in AD 537, specifically to outshine Juliana's Church of St. Polyeuctus.

The Church of St. Polyeuctus seems to have survived into the 11th century when it fell to ruin. Pieces of it were recycled and used for other buildings--some even finding their way to Venice in the aftermath of the 4th Crusade. Whatever remained was leveled by the time of the Ottoman conquest, to be rediscovered by archaeological excavations in the 1960s.

As a final note, there have been some recent interpolations of lives of Saints Polyeuctos and Nearchus which attempt to reinvent them as homosexual lovers, despite the clear mention of Polyeuctos’s wife and child in the acts. Let it suffice to say that such attempts have no basis in fact and are largely the product of modern fantasy which can not comprehend strong male friendships without a sexual overlay. Such interpolations may be safely ignored.

Friday, February 08, 2019

"They seized her and knocked out all her teeth" ~ The martyrdom of Saint Apollonia and the persecution of Decius in Alexandria

The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia, taken from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
Apollonia was an elderly matron who lived in Roman Alexandria. She is remembered nearly 1, 800 years after her death because she was one of the victims of mob attacks on Christians in Alexandria which immediately preceded the empire-wide persecution under the emperor Decius in AD 250. Her memory is commemorated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians on her feast day—February 9.

The Roman Emperor Decius reigned for two years from AD 249 through 251. A would-be reformer, Decius attempted to reinstitute pagan piety throughout the empire as a means of restoring political order and unity. To accomplish this, Decius issued an edict that enjoined all citizens of the empire to offer sacrifice to the pagan pantheon. Once a citizen had offered this obligatory sacrifice, they would be issued a document known as a libellus to certify that they had done so.

A marble bust of Decius.
Examples of libelli from this period have survived antiquity. Following is one from Roman Egypt:
To the commissioners of the village of Alexandrou-Nesos, elected to superintend the sacrifices. From Aurelius Diogenes, son of Satabos, of the village of Alexandrou-Nesos, aged seventy-two years, with a scar on his right eyebrow.

I have at all times offered sacrifices to the gods, and now again in accordance with the edict in your presence I have again made sacrifice and libations and partaken of the sacred offerings, and I request you certify this statement. May you prosper. I, Aurelius Diogenes, have presented this application.

I, Aurelius Syros, have witnessed your sacrifice.

The first year of the Emperor Cæsar Gaius Messius Quintus Trajanus Decius, pious and prosperous, Augustus, on the second of the month Epiphi.
Clearly, a Christian could not do what was necessary to receive such a certificate. The result was the outbreak of the first empire-wide persecution of Christians. This persecution was apparently prosecuted with great vigor in Alexandria, a city with a long history of moral corruption as Saint Clement of Alexandria opined in a previous post. Alexandria was also well known in antiquity for outbreaks of political and religious violence, as per the observations of Ammianus Marcellinus, Socrates Scholasticus and Hermias Sozomen.

For the Decian persecution as it relates to Alexandria, we have an amazing first-hand account from Saint Dionysius, patriarch of Alexandria (AD 248-264) in the form of a letter to his colleague Fabian, bishop of Antioch, saved for posterity by Eusebius Pamphilus in his Ecclesiastical History. It is within this account that we find a brief notice of the martyrdom of Saint Apollonia.

Engraving of St. Dionysius
of Alexandria.
Dionysius’s description begins with a note indicating that attacks against the Christians actually anticipated the arrival of the imperial edict:
The persecution did not begin amongst us with the Imperial edict, for it anticipated that by a whole year. And the prophet and poet of evil to this city, whoever he was, was beforehand in moving and exciting the heathen crowds against us, rekindling their zeal for the national superstitions. So they being aroused by him and availing themselves of all lawful authority for their unholy doings conceived that the only piety, the proper worship of their gods was this—to thirst for our blood.
Dionysius then goes on to record a litany of outrages committed against Christians whose only crime was refusing to deny Christ and worship the pagan gods:
First, then they carried off an old man, Metras, and bade him utter impious words, and when he refused they beat his body with sticks and stabbed his face and eyes with sharp bulrushes as they led him into the outskirts of the city and there stoned him.

Then they led a believer named Quinta to the idol-house and tried to make her kneel down, and when she turned away in disgust, they bound her by the feet and hauled her right through the city over the rough pavement, the big stones bruising her poor body, and at the same time beat her till they reached the same spot, and there stoned her.

Thereupon they all with one consent made a rush on the houses of the believers, and falling each upon those whom they recognized as neighbors, plundered, harried and despoiled them, setting aside the more valuable of their possessions and casting out into the streets and burning the cheaper things and such as were made of wood, till they produced the appearance of a city devastated by the enemy.
We then get to the case of Saint Apollonia. The events of her martyrdom would later be embellished with legendary elements, but given that Dionysius is a contemporary, we may trust that his account represents the bare facts:
Another notable case was that of the aged virgin Apollonia, whom they seized and knocked out all her teeth, striking her on the jaws. Then they made a pyre before the city and threatened to burn her alive if she would not join them in uttering blasphemies. But she asked for a brief respite, and being let go, suddenly leapt into the fire and was devoured by the flames.
Subsequent political unrest in the city caused the Christian community to be forgotten for a short time. However, when the imperial edict of Decius finally arrived, the persecution broke out again in Alexandria with renewed ferocity. The imperial imprimatur on the actions of the persecutors apparently convinced numerous Christians to become apostate. Dionysius continues:
The edict arrived, which was itself almost to be compared with that foretold by the Lord, well-nigh the most terrible of all, so as to cause, if possible, even the elect to stumble. Nevertheless all were panic-stricken, and numbers at once of those who were in higher positions, some came forward in fear, and some who held public posts were led by their official duties. Others, again, were brought in by those about them and when their names were called, approached the impure and unholy sacrifices, pale and trembling in some cases as if they were not going to sacrifice but themselves become sacrifices and victims to the idols, so that they incurred ridicule from the large crowd that stood by and proved themselves to be utter cowards both in regard to death and in regard to sacrificing, whilst others ran readily up to the altar, making it plain by their forwardness that they had not been Christians even before.
However, there were still plenty of stout souls who resisted the imperial will with admirable fortitude. Here Dionysius offers another litany of those who suffered martyrdom, including the following:
But the steadfast and blessed pillars of the Lord, being strengthened by Him and receiving due and proportionate power and endurance for the mighty Faith that was in them, proved themselves admirable witnesses of His Kingdom. Foremost among them was Julian, a sufferer from gout, unable to stand or walk. He was brought up with two others who carried him, of whom the one straightway denied the Faith. The other, Cronion by name, but surnamed Eunous (well-disposed) and the old man Julian himself confessed the Lord and were conveyed on camel’s back and scourged as they rode right through the city—big though it be, as ye know—and at last were burnt with fire unquenchable, whilst all the people stood round. And a soldier who stood by as they were carried along and protested against those who insulted them was denounced and brought up, to wit God’s brave warrior Besas, and after heroic conduct in the great war of piety, was beheaded.

And yet another, a Libyan by race, who rightly and happily was named Mauar (happy), though the judge urged him strongly to renounce the Faith, would not give in and so was burnt alive. After them Epimachus and Alexander, when they had remained a long time in bonds and had endured endless tortures from the “claws” and scourges, were also consumed with fire unquenchable. And with them four women: Ammonarion, a holy virgin, though the judge tortured her vigorously for a long time because she had declared beforehand that she would say nothing that he bade her, kept true to her promise and was led off to punishment. And of the rest there was the aged and reverend Mercuria and Dionysia who, though she had many children, did not love them above the Lord. These the Prefect was ashamed to go on torturing in vain and be beaten by women, and so they died by the sword without further tortures, for the brave Ammonarion had exhausted all their devices.
Dionysius goes on to describe several more martyrdoms in similar detail. Finishing up his account, he makes it clear that these are only a fraction of those who perished in Alexandria during the persecution:
And these things I have described at length, brother, not without purpose, but in order that thou mightest know how many terrible things have taken place amongst us, of which those who have had more experience will know of more cases than I do.
Dionysius himself was pursued by the prefect Sabinus. He was eventually captured, imprisoned and sent into exile. He would later be released from captivity by the emperor Gallienus who came to the throne in AD 253.

As for Decius, his short and violent reign came to a fitting end as he was defeated and slain by the Goths at the Battle of Abritus in AD 251. Writing about 60 years later, the Christian apologist Lactantius describes Decius’s death in his work entitled, On the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died:
Click for more info.
[Decius] was suddenly surrounded by the barbarians and slain, together with a great part of his army. Nor could he be honored with the rites of sepulture, but stripped and naked, he lay to be devoured by wild beasts and birds—a fit end for the enemy of God.”
All of the above excerpts (including the libellus, excerpts from Dionysius and Lactantius) were taken from I Am a Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources which is a collection of some of the best ancient sources on the persecution of the early Church. This book includes additional details from the letter of Dionysius as well as other accounts related to the persecution of Decius, and is well worth reading if you are interested in the early Christian martyrs.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

The Desert Bishop and the Saracen Queen ~ The Roman-Arab War of AD 371

Christian bishops, emperors and saints as portrayed in an 11th century fresco
in the Monastery of Mar Musa in Syria. 
February 7 is the feast day of Saint Moses, bishop of Arabia. Not to be confused with Saint Moses the Black who was his near contemporary, this Moses was a desert hermit of the late-Fourth century AD who is mentioned by several of the ancient Christian Roman historians including Rufinus, Socrates and Sozomen, in connection with Mavia, warrior-queen of the Arabs.

Following the death of her husband the king, Mavia made war on the Roman Empire, invading Phonecia and Palestine around the year AD 371. The Magister Militum of the East—possibly Julius, who would be memorialized by Ammianus Marcellinus for having all of the Gothic troops in the eastern provinces treacherously killed after the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378—at first, considered this incursion to be a minor one that would be easily dealt with. Sozomen describes what happened next:
This war was by no means a contemptible one, although conducted by a woman. The Romans, it is said, considered it so arduous and so perilous, that the general of the Phœnician troops applied for assistance to the general of the cavalry and infantry of the East. This latter ridiculed the summons and undertook to give battle alone. He accordingly attacked Mavia, who commanded her own troops in person, and he met with so signal a defeat, that it was with difficulty he saved his life.
This rescue was solely effected by the intervention of the general of the troops of Palestine and Phœnicia. Perceiving the extremity of the danger, this general deemed it unnecessary to obey the orders he had received to keep aloof from the combat. He therefore rushed upon the barbarians and then, while retreating, discharged volleys of arrows upon them, in order to enable the Romans to make good their escape. This occurrence is still held in remembrance among the people of the country and is celebrated in songs by the Saracens.
Following this battle, the Romans made peace overtures to Mavia. She, however, had one very specific demand in mind which may indicate why she went on the warpath to begin with. It is here that our Saint Moses makes his appearance. Sozomen continues:
As the war was still pursued with vigor, the Romans found it necessary to send an embassy to Mavia to solicit peace. It is said that she refused to comply with the request of the embassy, unless consent were given for the ordination of a certain man named Moses, who dwelt in solitude in a neighboring desert, as bishop over her subjects. This Moses was a man of virtuous life and capable of performing the most wonderful miracles. On these conditions being announced to the emperor, the chiefs of the army were commanded to seize Moses and conduct him to Lucius.
For the record, the Lucius mentioned here was the Arian Patriarch of Alexandria. During the reign of the eastern emperor Valens, Arianism was in the ascendancy while orthodoxy was actively suppressed and persecuted. As an orthodox monk, Moses wanted no dealings with Lucius, least of all to be consecrated bishop by him. Sozomen describes the scene as follows:
The monk exclaimed, in the presence of the rulers and the assembled people, “I am not worthy of the honor of bearing the name of bishop. But if, notwithstanding my unworthiness, God destines me to this office, I take him to witness who created the heavens and the earth, that I will not be ordained by the imposition of the hands of Lucius, which are defiled with the blood of the saints.”

Lucius immediately rejoined, “If you are unacquainted with the nature of my creed, you do wrong in judging me before you are in possession of all the circumstances of the case. If you have been prejudiced by the calumnies that have been circulated against me, at least allow me to declare to you what are my sentiments, and do you be the judge of them.”

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“Your creed is already well known to me,” replied Moses, “and its nature is testified by bishops, priests, and deacons, of whom some have been sent into exile and others condemned to the mines. It is clear that your sentiments are opposed to the faith of Christ, and to all orthodox doctrines concerning the Godhead.”

Having again protested, upon oath that he would not receive ordination at the hands of Lucius, the Roman rulers conducted him to the bishops who were then in exile. After receiving ordination from them, he went to exercise the functions of his office among the Saracens. He concluded a peace with the Romans and converted many of the Saracens to the faith.
Sozomen then proceeds to give a brief history of the Arabs drawn largely from the Old Testament accounts of their origins. Given that Sozomen himself was a native of Bethelia, a small town near Gaza, it is likely that he had personal interactions with local Arabs which helped to inform this passage. He completes his account of Saracen history with their acceptance of Christianity near his own time, likely drawn from his own knowledge as this tale does not appear among other contemporary historians:
Some of the Saracens were converted to Christianity not long before the accession of Valens. Their conversion appears to have been the result of their intercourse with the priests who dwelt among them and with the monks who dwelt in the neighboring deserts and who were distinguished by their purity of life and by their miraculous gifts. It is said that a whole tribe and Zocomus their chief, were converted to Christianity and baptized about this period, under the following circumstances: 
Zocomus was childless and went to a certain monk of great celebrity to complain to him of this calamity, for among the Saracens and, I believe, other barbarian nations, it was accounted of great importance to have children. The monk desired Zocomus to be of good cheer, engaged in prayer on his behalf, and sent him away with the promise that if he would believe in Christ, he would have a son. When this promise was accomplished by God and when a son was born to him, Zocomus was baptized and all his subjects with him. From that period this tribe was peculiarly fortunate and became strong in point of number, and formidable to the Persians as well as to the other Saracens.
The above excerpts are all taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 38.

It seems that after the conclusion of Mavia’s war, a contingent of Saracen troops was recruited into the Roman army and accompanied the emperor Valens while he was in Antioch. This contingent would render signal service during the Gothic raid into Thrace preceding the Battle of Adrianople. The pagan historian Zosimus, writing in the early 6th century AD, describes how these Saracens stymied and terrified the Goths:
As the fleetness of their horses, and the force of their spears, caused the Scythians [that is, Goths] to suppose it difficult to overcome these Saracens, they attempted to circumvent them by stratagem. They planted in several places ambuscades of three Scythians to one Saracen; but their design was rendered abortive, as the Saracens by means of the swiftness of their horses could easily escape whenever they perceived any considerable number approaching. The Saracens with their spears committed such ravage among the Scythians, that at length despairing of success, they preferred passing the Ister and surrendering themselves to the Huns, than being destroyed by the Saracens. [Zosimus, New History, Book 4]

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

"Divine Providence has found an arbiter of our age." ~ Avitus of Vienne on the Baptism of Clovis, King of the Franks, AD 496

Ivory carving of the Baptism of Clovis, ca. AD 870.
On February 5 is commemorated the life of Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, known more commonly to posterity as Saint Avitus of Vienne. Avitus was bishop of Vienne in southeastern France during the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD, a time of tremendous upheaval and transition as formerly Roman provinces became incorporated into the newly constituted barbarian kingdoms of the Franks and the Burgundians.

Saint Avitus left considerable writings which have come down to us from antiquity, including letters, poetry and a few homilies. Many of these may be found in the book Avitus of Vienne by Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood. In this book, we find correspondence between Avitus and bishops and popes, senators and kings. His most compelling surviving literary work, however, is a letter he sent to the Frankish king Clovis celebrating the latter’s epochal baptism into the Catholic Church. Following is an excerpt:
Bishop Avitus to King Clovis (ca. AD 496)
The followers of error have in vain, by a cloud of contradictory and untrue opinions, sought to conceal from your extreme subtlety the glory of the Christian name. While we committed these questions to eternity and trusted that the truth of each man’s belief would appear at the Future Judgement, the ray of truth had shown forth even among the present shadows. Divine Providence has found an arbiter of our age. Your choice is a general sentence. Your faith is our victory….

What should be said of the glorious solemnity of your regeneration? If I could not assist in person among the ministers (of the rite), I shared in its joy. Thanks to God, our land took part in the thanksgiving for, before your baptism, a messenger of Your Most Subtle Humility informed us that you were “competens”. Therefore the sacred night (of Christmas) found us sure of what you would do. We saw (with the eyes of the spirit) that great site, when a crowd of bishops around you, in the ardor of their holy ministry, poured over your Royal limbs the water of life; when that head, feared by the masses, bowed down before the servants of God; when your royal locks, hidden under a helmet, were steeped in holy oil; when your breast relieved of its cuirass, shone with the same whiteness as your baptismal robes. Do not doubt, most flourishing of kings, that this soft clothing will give more force to your arms; whatever Fortune has given up to now, this sanctity will bestow.
These excerpts are taken from Clovis, King of the Franks – Toward a new Chronology, by Dane R. Pestano. Check out this article to read the entire letter and for a very interesting discussion on the dating of the baptism of Clovis.