Monday, July 08, 2019

Fulton J. Sheen ~ Santo subito?

"We become like that which we love. If we love what is base, 
we become base; but if we love what is noble, we become noble."
—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Deo gratias! The cause of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen appears to be moving forward again after his earthly remains were removed from Babylon-on-Hudson to Peoria, Illinois.

With the renewed interest in Archbishop Sheen, I noticed an up-tick in folks sharing some of my oldest memes on social media, including the one above.

This quote may be found in Sheen’s book entitled, Life is Worth Living, which the same title as his celebrated TV show from the 1950s. The reason for this is not coincidental. The essays in the book were transcribed from the TV show. As Archbishop Sheen wrote in the preface with his typical good humor:
“Let it never be said again that it is difficult to write a book. It is now proven that if a person talks only half and hour a week for twenty-six weeks, he already has enough material for a book.”
Here is the context of the quote, from a section in the book entitled, Knowing and Loving:
The will, when it loves anything above it in dignity, goes out to meet the demands of whatever it loves. When the will loves anything that is below it in dignity, it degrades itself. Suppose the dominant love of man was money. Man would degrade himself by loving what is less worthy than himself. In loving it, he becomes like gold. If a man loves only lust, carnality, and the pleasure of the flesh above all things, he thereby degrades his spirit to the level of sex.

We become like that which we love. If we love what is base, we become base; but if we love what is noble, we become noble. Hence the importance of the right kind of ideals and the right kind of heroes. As Our Lord said, Where your treasure is, there is your heart also. “Hence, the least love of God is worth more than the knowledge of all created things. [Sheen: Life is Worth Living, page 47]
This passage is immediately followed by another that is eminently quotable and to which I previously gave the meme treatment as follows:

Here are a few more Sheen posts from the archives:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"We found two men of stupendous size" ~ The discovery of the relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius by Ambrose of Milan

Detail from Phillipe de Champaigne's painting entitled: The Discovery of
the Relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius
June 19 is the feast of the ancient martyrs Gervasius and Protasius. Though nearly forgotten today, these twin brothers were well known in both the early Church and throughout the Middle Ages. To this day, their names may be found in the Litany of the Saints among those of better remembered early martyrs.

Very little is known for sure about the lives and martyrdoms of Gervasius and Protasius, only that they perished before the lifetime of Saint Ambrose in the late 4th century AD. A very brief account of their martyrdom is given in a letter purported to be written by Saint Ambrose. Though of ancient provenance, this letter is believed by most scholars to be a fabrication written by a hand other than Ambrose's somewhat after his time. But it is interesting nonetheless as it contains the text of a libellus (or booklet) that was supposedly found along with the relics of Gervasius and Protasius when they were discovered in late 4th century Milan. The text of this libellus runs as follows:
I the servant of Christ, Philippus, with my son, stole and buried in my house the bodies of the saints: their mother was called Valeria and their father Vitalis; they begot them as twins in a single birth, and called one Protasius, the other Gervasius.
Vitalis, a soldier, was martyred for the crime of being a Christian. His wife, Valeria, was later beaten to death on the same charge while on her way back to Milan. Upon her death, Gervasius and Protasius are left as orphans. The libellus continues:
Gervasius and Protasius sell the house and all the possessions inherited from their parents, giving the money to the poor. They retire for ten years, reading, praying and fasting, then they are martyred.
The count Astasius comes by Milan as he is going to fight the Marcomanni. Pagans ask him to compel Gervasius and Protasius to sacrifice. He orders them to be arrested and brought to him, and tries to convince them to sacrifice, but Gervasius speaks against worshipping idols. Astasius orders him to be scourged until he dies.
Similarly Protasius refuses to sacrifice, fearing no punishment. Astasius orders him to be beaten and again tries to convince him. Protasius tells him that he hopes that he will be forgiven, as Christ wished forgiveness on those who crucified him, and that he is ready for martyrdom. Astasius orders him to be beheaded.
After that, I, the servant of Christ, Philippus, with my son, took away the holy bodies secretly at night and buried them in my house and in this marble sarcophagus, with God alone as a witness, trusting through their prayers to obtain the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever, Amen.' [Taken from The Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity database]
It is not clear when the martyrdom of these two saints occurred, with some scholars saying during the reign of Nero, others the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and others during the Great Persecution of Diocletian. The connection of Saint Ambrose with these two saints runs deep for it was he who discovered their remains. In the Life of Saint Ambrose written by his secretary, Paulinus, in the early 5th century AD, we find the following passage relating to the discovery:
Click here for info.
At this same time, the holy martyrs Protase and Gervase revealed themselves to the Bishop [that is, Ambrose]. For they had been placed in the basilica in which today are the bodies of the martyrs Nabor and Felix. And the holy martyrs Nabor and Felix were visited very frequently, but just as the names of the holy martyrs Gervase and Protase were unknown, so also were their burial places, so much so that all walked over their graves who wished to come to the grates by which the sepulchers of the holy martyrs Nabor and Felix were protected from injury.
But when the bodies of the holy martyrs were taken out and placed on biers, thereupon the diseases of many were shown to have been cured. Even a blind man, Severus by name, who to the present day devoutly serves in that same basilica which is called Ambrosian and into which the bodies of the martyrs were carried, as soon as he touched the clothing of the martyrs, immediately received his sight. Bodies also possessed by unclean spirits were cured and returned home with the greatest gratitude. And as the faith of the Catholic Church increased by these blessings effected by the martyrs, so did the heresy of the Arians diminish. [Paulinus, Life of Saint Ambrose, Chapter 5]
Amazingly, this passage is corroborated by Saint Ambrose himself in an extant letter to his sister, Saint Marcellina. Here is the relevant passage:
As I am wont to keep your holiness informed of all that goes on here in your absence, I would have you know that we have found the bodies of some holy martyrs. After the consecration of a Church, many began to interrupt me crying with one voice; “Consecrate this as you did the Roman Basilica.” 

“I will do so,” I replied, “if I find any relics of Martyrs,” and immediately my heart burned within me as if prophetically.

In short the Lord lent us aid, though even the very clergy were alarmed. I caused the ground to be opened before the rails of the Church of Saints Felix and Nabor. I found the suitable tokens; and when some persons were brought for us to lay our hands upon, the power of the holy martyrs became so manifest that before I began to speak, one of them, a woman, was seized by an evil spirit and thrown down upon the ground in the place where the martyrs lay.

We found two men of stupendous size, such as belonged to ancient days. All their bones were entire, and there was much blood. The people flocked thither in crowds throughout the whole of those two days. We arranged all the bones in order, and carried them when evening set in, to the Basilica of Fausta; where we kept vigils throughout the night, and some possessed persons received imposition of hands. The following day we transferred them to the Basilica which they call Ambrosian.

During their transportation a blind man was healed. [Taken from: Saint Ambrose to Saint Marcellina, Letter XXII]
This took place in AD 386. Perhaps even more amazingly, this event is also corroborated by Saint Augustine who was present in Milan at the time, a year before his baptism in AD 387. Writing in his City of God, Augustine says:
The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, which had long lain concealed and unknown, but were now made known to the bishop Ambrose in a dream, and discovered by him. By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day. [Augustine, City of God, Book XXII, Chapter 9]
The relics of Saint Ambrose (in white) with Saint Gervasius and Protasius (in red).
[By BáthoryPéter 13:53, 5 October 2008 (UTC) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0]
Saints Gervasius and Protasius became popular intercessors for the next thousand plus years with numerous shrines erected to their honor. Their remains may be seen in Milan to this day, along with those of Saint Ambrose himself, at the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan.

Also in this basilica are 9th century mosaics of saints Ambrose, Gervasius, Protasius, Ambrose's sister Marcellina, Ambrose’s brother Satyrus, and Candida, who is likely the long-time friend of Marcellina mentioned in Paulinus’s Life of Saint Ambrose.

Mosaic from the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan showing Christ flanked
by Saints Gervasius (right) and Protasius (Left). Below in the medallions are
Saint Candida (right), Saint Satyrus (center) and Saint Marcellina (left).
Click to enlarge.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

"The ship was utterly consumed with all on board" ~ The persecutions of the Arian Emperor Valens

Eighty orthodox clerics are burnt to death by the order of the Emperor Valens
in this 18th century etching.
The Roman Emperor Valens is an enigmatic and paradoxical historical figure. Placed on the throne of the Eastern Empire by his brother, Valentinian I in AD 364, Valens was a reasonably effective ruler for much of his reign, but lacked much of the political, military and religious acumen of his elder sibling. In his Ecclesiastical History, Hermias Sozomen compares the religious views of the two brothers as follows:
Valens, when he was baptized, employed Eudoxius as his initiator, and was zealously attached to the doctrines of Arius, and would readily have compelled all mankind by force to yield to them. Valentinian, on the other hand, maintained the faith of the council of Nicæa, and favored those who upheld the same sentiments, without molesting those who entertained other opinions. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 6]
As an Arian and an active persecutor of the orthodox Nicean Christians, Valens occasionally attempted to enforce his will with brutal tactics reminiscent of his pagan predecessors like Diocletian, Decius and Valerian. One such instance occurred after rioting broke out in Constantinople between Arian and orthodox factions over the election of a new bishop for the city. Having been thoroughly beaten and abused by the ascendant Arians, eighty clerics of the orthodox faction approached Valens in Nicomedia with a petition for redress. Sozomen describes Valens reaction as follows:
Click for more info.
Although exceedingly angry, the emperor did not openly manifest any wrath, but secretly commanded the prefect to seize and slay the whole deputation. But the prefect, being apprehensive that a whole popular insurrection would be excited if he were to put so many good and religious men to death without any of the forms of justice, pretended that they were to be sent into exile, and under this pretext compelled them to embark on board a ship, to which they assented with the most perfect resignation. When they had sailed to about the center of the bay, which was called Astacius, the sailors, according to the orders they had received, set fire to the vessel and leaped into the tender. A wind arising, the ship was blown along to Dacibiza, a place on the sea-coast of Bithynia, but no sooner had it neared the shore, than it was utterly consumed with all the men on board. [Eccelsiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 14]
On another occasion, Valens visited the city of Edessa and was infuriated to discover large crowds of orthodox Catholics worshiping in the open air outside the city walls in defiance of his edict which had stripped them of their churches. The emperor’s fury nearly turned into a wholesale slaughter, but his wrath was deflected by the willingness of the Edessenes to suffer martyrdom en masse. Sozomen describes the scene:
[Valens] beheld the members of the Catholic Church assembled for worship in the plain before the walls of the city, for there, too, they had been deprived of their houses of prayer. It is said that the emperor reproached the prefect thoroughly and struck him on the jaw with his fist for having permitted these congregations contrary to his edict. Modestus (for this was the name of the prefect), although he was himself a heretic, secretly warned the people of Edessa not to meet for prayer on the accustomed spot the next day, for he had received orders from the emperor to punish all who should be seized. He uttered such threats with the forethought that none, or at least but a few, would incur danger, and with the desire to appease the wrath of the monarch. But the people of Edessa, totally disregarding the threat, ran together with more than their customary zeal, and filled the usual place of meeting.

Modestus, on being apprised of their proceedings, was undecided as to what measures ought to be adopted, and repaired in embarrassment to the plain with the throng. A woman, leading a child by the hand, and trailing her mantle in a way unbefitting the decency of women, forced her way through the files of the soldiers who were conducted by the prefect, as if bent upon some affair of importance. Modestus remarked her conduct, ordered her to be arrested, and summoned her into his presence, to inquire the cause of her running. She replied that she was hastening to the plain where the members of the Catholic Church were assembled.

"Know you not," replied Modestus, "that the prefect is on his way there for the purpose of condemning to death all who are found on the spot?"

"I have heard so," replied she, "and this is the very reason of my haste, for I am fearful of arriving too late, and thus losing the honor of martyrdom for God."

The governor having asked her why she took her child with her, she replied, "In order that he may share in the common suffering, and participate in the same reward."

Modestus, struck with astonishment at the courage of this woman, went to the emperor, and, acquainting him with what had occurred, persuaded him not to carry out a design which he showed to be disgraceful and disastrous. Thus was the Christian faith confessed by the whole city of Edessa. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VI, Chapter 18]
Valens continued vacillating between persecution and mercy with regard to non-Arians throughout the remainder of his reign. According to Sozomen, his death was predicted by an orthodox monk named Isaac who warned him that victory against the Goths would only be gained if the churches which had been given over to the Arians were returned to the orthodox.

Valens refused.

Shortly thereafter, he was killed by the Goths following the disastrous Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378.

Friday, June 07, 2019

A Pagan Convert Becomes Empress of the Romans ~ Theodosius II marries Aelia Eudocia, June 7, AD 421

A modern mosaic portrait of Empress Eudocia featured on the exterior of
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria.
On June 7, AD 421, the 20 year-old Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II married a beautiful young Greek girl. Though born into a pagan family and given the name Athenais, the young bride had converted to Christianity shortly before her nuptials and took the name Aelia Eudocia. She would go on to become a devout Christian and a controversial figure in the Eastern Roman court dominated by another powerful woman, the empress Pulcheria.

Here is the brief biography of Eudocia provided in the 6th century Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus, written about a century after her death:
Theodosius II espoused Eudocia, who had previously participated in the saving baptism—an Athenian by birth, and distinguished by poetic skill and beauty of person—through the offices of his sister, the princess Pulcheria. By her he had a daughter, Eudoxia, whom when she had reached a marriageable age, the emperor Valentinian afterwards espoused, for which purpose he made a voyage from the elder Rome to the city of Constantine.
Eudocia later went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and made a stop in Antioch on her way. There, she delivered a celebrated speech to the people in which she said, paraphrasing Homer: “It is from your blood I proudly trace my line,” in reference to the Greek colonists who had founded Antioch centuries before. Evagrius continues:
Click for more info.
On this occasion, the sons of the Antiochenes honored her with a skillfully executed statue in brass, which has been preserved even to our times. At her suggestion, Theodosius considerably enlarges the bounds of the city, by extending the circuit of the wall as far as the gate which leads to the suburb of Daphne: of which those who are disposed, may assure themselves by visible proof; for the whole wall may still be traced, since the remains afford a sufficient guidance to the eye. Some, however, say that the elder Theodosius extended the wall. He gave, besides, two hundred pounds' weight of gold for the restoration of the baths of Valens, which had been partially burnt.
Evagrius then tells how Eudocia proceeded to Jerusalem, hinting at the scandals and accusations that had forced her out Constantinople and letting the reader know that he does not believe them to be true. He describes the work she did in the city as follows:
When visiting the holy city of Christ, she did many things for the honor of our Savior God, even so far as to erect holy monasteries, and what are termed laurae.…
Evagrius here goes on a long tangent about the life and practices of the various anchorites near Jerusalem. Getting back to Eudocia, he concludes:
After having conversed with many persons of this description, and founded, as I have already said, many such seats of contemplation, and, besides, restored the walls of Jerusalem, the consort of Theodosius also erected a very large sanctuary, conspicuous for elevation and beauty, in honor of Stephen, the first of deacons and martyrs, distant less than a stadium from Jerusalem. Here her own remains were deposited, when she had departed to the unfading life.
Eudocia’s Church of Saint Stephen would later be destroyed by the Persians in AD 614, restored by Saint Sophronius and destroyed again in the aftermath of the Crusades. It would be rebuilt in the late 19th century by French Dominicans.

The above passages were taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, Book I, Chapters XX through XXII, a work that is well worth reading for those interested in this period.

Later in her life, Eudocia became embroiled in the theological controversies surrounding the Council of Chalcedon. Uncertain of which side to follow, Eudocia wrote a letter seeking advice to one of the most famous saints of the age: Saint Simeon the Stylite. From atop his pillar, 60 feet off the ground, Saint Simeon responded to the Empress, and his letter has been preserved as follows:
Click for more info.
"Know, my child, that the devil, seeing the wealth of your virtues, sought to sift you as wheat; moreover, that corrupter Theodosius, having become the receptacle and instrument of the evil one, both darkened and disturbed your God-beloved soul. But be of good courage, for your faith has not left you. I wonder, however, exceedingly at this, that having the fountain close at hand you do not recognize it, but hasten to draw the water from afar. You have near by the inspired Euthymius; follow his counsels and admonitions, and it will be well with you." [Taken from The Life of Saint Simeon Stylites translated by Frederick Lent]
For the record, Saint Euthymius was a champion of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

Though by most accounts a very devout Christian (and considered a saint in the Eastern Churches to this day), Eudocia retained the classical education imparted to her by her pagan father, Leontius, a teacher of rhetoric at Athens. She wrote poetry, including a lyrical rendering of the legendary passion of the early 4th century martyr saints, Cyprian and Justina. Here is an excerpt from this work which may, in fact, contain elements of Eudocia’s own conversion story:
Followers of Christ!
You who truly cherish in your hearts
the well-praised Savior,
see my streaming tears
and learn whence flows my grief.

And you who are still snared
in the dark illusions of idolatry,
mark what I relate of its lies and deceptions.
For never has one lived
more wholly devoted to false gods than I.

To none but me have the demoniac arts
been so deeply taught.

Yes, I am Cyprian, whom my parents
dedicated to Apollo as a child.

The orgiastic tumults of the festival
of the grey dragon were my lullaby.

At seven, I was presented
to the sun-god Mithras.

I lived in the glorious city of Athens
and as it pleased my parents, became its citizen.

When I had attained the age of ten,
I kindled the torch of Demeter
and immersed myself in Cora’s dirge.
I bore Palla’s serpent
to the citadel as a temple-lad.

Then, to the summit
of wooded mount Olympus
I climbed like the fools
who seek there the radiant habitation
of the holy gods.

I saw the hours and found there
the multitudinous winds,
day’s clamorous chorus,
and all the winged fantasies
in whose illusions life slips away….

Then, for the first time,
the demons’ weakness was revealed to me….
[Taken from: Teetgen: The Life and Times of the Empress Pulcheria, pp. 88-89.]
A more thorough biography of this fascinating late Roman woman, including a detailed look at the scandals that caused her exile from the Capital, may be found at the De Imperatoribus Romanis site here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Purpose of Opinion Polls is to Influence Public Opinion, Not to Measure It.

Click here to share this image on Facebook.
I created the above graphic four years ago as the presidential election cycle was just ramping up. As we approach election year 2020, it is even more critical to make American citizens aware of this. Public opinion polls, especially this far out from an election, are not about gauging your opinion about a particular candidate. Honestly, the pollsters don't much care what you think.

The true purpose of most opinion polls is to influence public opinion, not to measure it. 

This is especially true the farther from the election you are. Why? Because the election is the only real test of how accurate the pollsters are. A poll taken six months, a year, or eighteen months before an election will not be tested for a long time. By the time of the election, such erroneous or fraudulent polls will be long forgotten.

Pollsters seek to create an illusion of viability in some candidates or issues because they know that many low-information voters will simply glom onto whoever the perceived front-runner is as the election approaches. Rather than allowing this sleight-of-hand to influence your opinion, don’t let the polls determine which candidates are viable for you. Rather, do the research and find out which candidates are on record as having views that mirror your own, and vote for that person, particularly in the primaries.

In short, don't be a low-information voter. Ignore the polls completely, not just because they are inaccurate but because they are purposefully manipulative.

If everyone did that, we wouldn’t be stuck with media-approved “lesser of two evils” candidates in every single election.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Noble in person and excellent in royal manners" ~ Baptism of Desire and the suspicious death of Valentinian II

Potrait of Valentinian II from a statue originally found in Aphrodisias. 
On May 15, anno domini 392, the young Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II was found dead in the imperial residence at Vienne in southern Gaul. It is said he was hanged using his own handkerchief.

Son of the great warrior emperor, Valentinian I, the younger Valentinian had been declared emperor when he was only four years old upon the premature death of is father in AD 375, even though his half-brother, Gratian, already ruled as co-emperor in the West. Under the regency of his mother, the forceful Empress Justina, and the protection of the army, Valentinian II came to an uneasy accommodation with his brother, Gratian. An Arian, Justina dominated the early years of her son's reign while he was still a small child, and is most commonly remembered today as a bitter opponent of Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan.

Just as Valentinian II was coming of age, however, a rebellion arose in Britain and the usurper Maximus defeated and killed Gratian. By AD 387, Valentinian II and Justina were forced to flee to the East and seek the protection of the emperor Theodosius in Constantinople. A year later, Theodosius invaded the West and put down the rebellion, re-establishing the now 18 year old Valentinian II on the Western throne and providing him with a powerful guardian — Arbogast.

A Frankish general, Arbogast had little loyalty to Valentinian II and viewed him as an impediment to his own ambitions. The two soon came into conflict and Valentinian, to his chagrin, discovered who truly held the power in the West when his magister militum treated him contemptuously in public and refused to obey orders. The early 6th century pagan historian Zosimus provides a dramatic description of one such incident between the two men:
At length Valentinian, no longer able to submit to his correction, when Arbogastes was approaching him as he sat on the imperial throne, looked sternly upon him, and presented him with a writing, by which he dismissed him from his command. Arbogastes, having read it, replied, "You neither gave me the command, nor can deprive me of it;" and having said this, tore the writing to pieces, threw it down, and retired. From that period their hatred was no longer kept to themselves, but appeared in public. [Zosimus, New History, Book IV]
Such a situation could not long endure without a violent break. Writing about fifty years after the fact, the historian Hermias Sozomen provides the following summary of the events surrounding Valentinian’s death:
Click for more info.
While Theodosius was thus occupied in the wise and peaceful government of his subjects in the East, and in the service of God, intelligence was brought that Valentinian had been strangled. Some say that he was put to death by the eunuchs of the bedchamber, at the solicitation of Arbogastes, a military chief, and of certain courtiers, who were displeased because the young prince had begun to walk in the footsteps of his father, concerning the government, and contrary to the opinions approved by them. Others assert, however, that Valentinian committed the fatal deed with his own hands, because he found himself impeded in attempting deeds which are not lawful in one of his years; and on this account he did not deem it worth while to live; for although an emperor, he was not allowed to do what he wished. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
Socrates Scholasticus, writing at about the same time, provides similar testimony [see Book V, Chapter 25].

Valentinian’s death was deeply lamented by his former opponent, Ambrose, the great champion of orthodoxy at Milan. This was because Valentinian had recently corresponded with the bishop and declared himself willing to throw off Arianism and accept baptism at his hands. Ambrose was preparing to journey to Vienne to accomplish this theological coup when news arrived that Valentinian was dead. Ambrose has left at least two testimonials of his grief in the form of a letter to Theodosius and a funeral oration which he offered in honor of the deceased young emperor. In his letter to the emperor, Ambrose writes:
I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. [Ambrose of Milan, Letter 51]
Sozomen’s account also includes praise of the young emperor’s character as follows:
It is said that the boy was noble in person, and excellent in royal manners; and that, had he lived to the age of manhood, he would have shown himself worthy of holding the reins of empire, and would have surpassed his father in magnanimity and justice. But though endowed with these promising qualities, he died in the manner above related. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
But perhaps most interesting aspect is Ambrose’s funeral oration for Valentinian II and the role it has played over the succeeding centuries in forming Catholic doctrine on the concept known as Baptism of Desire. This notion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, means that those who perish prior to baptism, like Valentinian II, may receive the efficacy of the sacrament if they profess an explicit desire to receive it together with penitence for their sins and charity. In his funeral oration in honor of Valentinian II, Saint Ambrose says:
Click for more info.
But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: What else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: 'By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ (Wisdom 4:7) [Taken from Deferrari: "On Emperor Valentinian" in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose of Milan]
Though accepted as a dogma of the Catholic Church, the concept of Baptism of Desire remains controversial among Christians to this day. Thus we may see the relevance of Valentinian II’s death reflected in theological debates that carry on even to the present time.

Arbogast would eventually get his comeuppance at the hands of Theodosius at the Battle of the River Frigidus a mere two years later.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

"We are to be thrown overboard by the Empire" ~ The short reign of the last western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos

A gold solidus of Julius Nepos minted in Thessalonica.
May 9 is one of several possible dates given for the death of the last Western Roman emperor, Julius Nepos, in the year AD 480.

“Wait,” you say. “I thought the last Western Emperor was Romulus Augustulus who was deposed by Odoacer the Scirian in AD 476.” Well, about that…

Julius Nepos was named Western Emperor by the ailing Eastern Roman emperor Leo in AD 473. Leo did this because he opposed the puppet emperor Glycerius who had been raised by the Burgundian general Gundobad. According to the Chronicle of John of Antioch, this Gundobad had personally beheaded the Western emperor Anthemius the previous year in the service of uncle, the treacherous generalissimo, Ricimer. According to the Fragmentary History of Priscus:
Click for more info.
When the Eastern emperor Leo learned of Glycerius’s accession, he marshaled an army against him under the command of Nepos, who when he captured Rome subdued Glycerius without a fight. He drove him out of the palace and appointed him bishop of Salon [that is, Salona in Dalmatia across the Adriatic]. Glycerius made a mockery of the office for eight months. Nepos was immediately proclaimed emperor and began to rule Rome. [Taken from Given: Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 171]
The contemporary poet Apollinaris Sidonius described Julius Nepos as: “a man whose character, no less than the success of his arms, entitles us to hail him as Supreme Augustus.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 346]

Unfortunately for Nepos, he possessed neither sufficient military strength nor support in Italy to establish a lasting reign. The only accomplishment Nepos could claim during the 14 months he held the imperial authority in Italy was the ceding of practically all of Gaul to Euric, king of the Visigoths in exchange for peace. Sidonius, who had been an early supporter of Nepos, laments this shameful negotiation and the subsequent quitting of his homeland by the Romans, saying: “For all these daring experiments of our devotion our reward, as I hear, is that we are to be thrown overboard by the Empire. Oh! blush, I pray you, for this peace which is neither expedient nor honorable.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 493]

The abandonment of Gaul for a tenuous peace seemed an unpopular move in Italy as well. The history of what happened next is exceedingly hazy, but it appears that the Roman forces under a certain Ecdicius were recalled from Gaul, arrived in Italy, and were subsequently placed under the command of Orestes. This Orestes was a man with a long pedigree of service to the Roman empire, most memorably as an ambassador to Attila in AD 449. Once named Magister Militum, Orestes quickly seized the opportunity to depose Nepos and install his own son as emperor—Romulus Augustulus.

As his support in Italy evaporated, Julius Nepos fled to Dalmatia to join his previous adversary, Glycerius, in exile. There he remained quiet as events unfolded in Italy. The barbarian warlord Odoacer deposed Augustulus and declared himself king of Italy in AD 476. Writing to Constantinople in AD 477, the Roman Senate, no doubt as a mouthpiece for Odoacer, declared that they no longer needed an emperor—that the emperor of the East was sufficient for them with Odoacer as their protector—and they returned the imperial insignia of the west to Zeno.

To this embassy, Zeno replied (as per the near-contemporary historian, Malchus):
The western Romans had received two men from the eastern Empire and had driven one out, Nepos, and killed the other, Anthemius. Now, he said, they knew what ought to be done. While their emperor was still alive, they should hold no other thought than to receive him back on his return. [taken from the De Imperatoribus Romanis website ~ Julius Nepos by Ralph W. Mathisen]
Needless to say, Odoacer had no interest in re-instating Nepos, though he seems to have tolerated his presence in nearby Salona for a few more years. In AD 480, however, things suddenly came to a head. Some of the sources claim that Nepos was in the process of gathering resources for an attempt to retake his throne in Italy when he was suddenly slain by two retainers. One source (Photius, writing a summary of the lost history of Malchus) claims that the assassination of Nepos was instigated by none other than Glycerius himself.

Taking advantage of the situation, Odoacer used the assassination as an excuse to invade Dalmatia, thereby extending his rule over the region and establishing the boundaries of the barbarian kingdom of Italy. Odoacer would rule this kingdom until until AD 493 when he was slain by Theodoric the Ostrogoth.

Meanwhile, in the farther reaches of Gaul, a Roman rump state—the so-called "kingdom" of Soissons, survived until AD 486 under the leadership of the general Syagrius.