Category Archives: Fathers of the Church

Dec 4 – St John Damascene (645-749 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christian Art, Doctor of the Assumption

What Aquinas is for the Latin or Western Church, John of Damascus is for the Eastern Church.  Saint John of Damascus was born about the year 680 at Damascus, Syria into a Christian family. His father, Sergius Mansur, was a treasurer at the court of the Caliph. John had also a foster brother, the orphaned child Cosmas (October 14), whom Sergius had taken into his own home. When the children were growing up, Sergius saw that they received a good education. At the Damascus slave market he ransomed the learned monk Cosmas of Calabria from captivity and entrusted to him the teaching of his children. The boys displayed uncommon ability and readily mastered their courses of the secular and spiritual sciences. After the death of his father, John occupied ministerial posts at court and became the city prefect.

In Constantinople at that time, the heresy of Iconoclasm had arisen and quickly spread, supported by the emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741). Rising up in defense of the veneration of icons [Iconodoulia], Saint John wrote three treatises entitled, “Against Those who Revile the Holy Icons.” The wise and God-inspired writings of Saint John enraged the emperor. But since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him. The emperor then resorted to slander. A forged letter to the emperor was produced, supposedly from John, in which the Damascus official was supposed to have offered his help to Leo in conquering the Syrian capital.

This letter and another hypocritically flattering note were sent to the Saracen Caliph by Leo the Isaurian. The Caliph immediately ordered that Saint John be removed from his post, that his right hand be cut off, and that he be led through the city in chains.

That same evening, they returned the severed hand to Saint John. The saint pressed it to his wrist and prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos to heal him so that he could defend the  Faith and write once again in praise of the Most Pure Virgin and Her Son. After a time, he fell asleep before the icon of the Mother of God. He heard Her voice telling him that he had been healed, and commanding him to toil unceasingly with his restored hand. Upon awakening, he found that his hand had been attached to his arm once more. Only a small red mark around his wrist remained as a sign of the miracle.

Later, in thanksgiving for being healed, Saint John had a silver model of his hand attached to the icon, which became known as “Of the Three Hands.” Some unlearned painters have given the Mother of God three hands instead of depicting the silver model of Saint John’s hand. The Icon “Of the Three Hands” is commemorated on June 28 and July 12.

When he learned of the miracle, which demonstrated John’s innocence, the Caliph asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint refused. He gave away his riches to the poor, and went to Jerusalem with his stepbrother and fellow-student, Cosmas. There he entered the monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified as a simple novice.

It was not easy for him to find a spiritual guide, because all the monks were daunted by his great learning and by his former rank. Only one very experienced Elder, who had the skill to foster the spirit of obedience and humility in a student, would consent to do this. The Elder forbade John to do anything at all according to his own will. He also instructed him to offer to God all his labors and supplications as a perfect sacrifice, and to shed tears which would wash away the sins of his former life.

Once, he sent the novice to Damascus to sell baskets made at the monastery, and commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, far above their actual value. He undertook the long journey under the searing sun, dressed in rags. No one in the city recognized the former official of Damascus, for his appearance had been changed by prolonged fasting and ascetic labors. However, Saint John was recognized by his former house steward, who bought all the baskets at the asking price, showing compassion on him for his apparent poverty.

One of the monks happened to die, and his brother begged Saint John to compose something consoling for the burial service. Saint John refused for a long time, but out of pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken monk, and wrote his renowned funeral troparia (“What earthly delight,” “All human vanity,” and others). For this disobedience the Elder banished him from his cell. John fell at his feet and asked to be forgiven, but the Elder remained unyielding. All the monks began to plead for him to allow John to return, but he refused. Then one of the monks asked the Elder to impose a penance on John, and to forgive him if he fulfilled it. The Elder said, “If John wishes to be forgiven, let him wash out all the chamber pots in the lavra, and clean the monastery latrines with his bare hands.”

John rejoiced and eagerly ran to accomplish his shameful task. After a certain while, the Elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and Most Holy Theotokos to allow Saint John to write again. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem heard of Saint John, he ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But St John soon returned to the Lavra of Saint Sava, where he spent the rest of his life writing spiritual books and church hymns. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture, but he endured everything, and through the mercy of God he remained alive. He died in about the year 780, more than 100 years old.

Saint John of Damascus was a theologian and a zealous defender of the Faith. His most important book is the Fount of Knowledge. The third section of this work, “On the Orthodox Faith,” is a summary of Christian doctrine and a refutation of heresy. Since he was known as a hymnographer, we pray to Saint John for help in the study of church singing.

“Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption. Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages.” -St John Damascene, First Homily on the Dormition (of Mary)

Troparion — Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship, / the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs: / all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things. / Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Let us sing praises to John, worthy of great honor, / the composer of hymns, the star and teacher of the Church, the defender of her doctrines: / through the might of the Lord’s Cross he overcame heretical error / and as a fervent intercessor before God / he entreats that forgiveness of sins may be granted to all.

Prayer Of St. John Damascene

“Having confidence in you, O Mother of God, I shall be saved. Being under you protection, I shall fear nothing. With your help I shall give battle to my enemies and put them to flight for devotion to you is an arm of Salvation. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

The Creed: Credo in unum Deum & St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-395 AD), Father of the Church

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“This Creed is the treasure of our soul.” –St. Ambrose

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
factorem cœli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Creator of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen.
Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father;
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God;
genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
begotten, not made, one in being with the Father,
per quem omnia facta sunt.
through Him all things were made;
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de cœlis.
For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man:
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est,
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  suffered, died, and was buried:
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
And rose again on the third day:
et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos,
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead:
cuius regni non erit finis;
His Kingdom will have no end;
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem,
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur;
Who, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified;
qui locutus est per prophetas.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
I look forward to the Resurrection of the Dead,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

“Gregory of Nyssa, both brilliant and holy, was recognized by his contemporaries and peers as a man who most perfectly embodied the Council of Constantinople—the council that produced the creed we call “Nicene” and recite every Sunday. The Emperor Theodosius decreed that communion with Gregory was a necessary condition of orthodoxy. As the council ended, the Fathers appointed Gregory to travel extensively promoting the formulas of the creed in places where controversies had arisen.

While in Constantinople, he complained about the condition of the city’s faith. It’s not that the people weren’t interested, he noted. In fact, they pursued their interest in theology with impressive ardor. Everyone seemed to know the Scriptures, and everyone seemed eager to interpret them. But their interpretations veered wildly because the people held themselves accountable to no authority. Gregory complained:

“Mere youths and tradesmen are off-hand dogmatists in theology. Servants, too, and slaves that have been flogged. . . are solemn with us and philosophical about things incomprehensible. . . . If you ask for change, someone philosophizes to you on the begotten and the unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you’re told the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you ask if the bath is ready, someone answers that the Son was created from nothing.”

Gregory’s mission was to remedy this situation. His method was the creed.

His mission was needed and essential. If Jesus had wandered into the market and asked his haunting question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), He would have received many different answers. Most, it seems, would seem quite flattering if applied to mere mortals like you and me, but they would be wrong if applied to God incarnate. And wrong answers about Jesus all come with terrible implications: errors about God, about salvation, and about every dimension of human nature. Christ, after all, is the only One Who, the Second Vatican Council taught, “fully reveals man to man.”

Our times are not all that different from Gregory’s. If we go to the market, we may encounter many opinions about Jesus—one from the apocalyptic preacher on the street corner, and another from the leaflets left in the laundry, and still another from the tabloids on sale at the checkout line. Popular books treat Jesus as a guru, psychologist, Republican, Democrat.

In such a climate, what are we, in our turn, to do? Perhaps we should do the same as St. Gregory did, all those years ago. We should go forward, fortified by the creed.

If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get Him right, we don’t get anything right.”

—from Scott Hahn’s new book, “The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages”

Love,
Matthew

Mar 18 – St Cyril of Jerusalem, (313-386 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church, Patron of Faithfulness to the Church

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“God is loving to man, and loving in no small measure. For say not, I have committed fornication and adultery: I have done dreadful things, and not once only, but often: will He forgive? Will He grant pardon? Hear what the Psalmist says: How great is the multitude of Your goodness, O Lord! (Ps 31:19)

Your accumulated offenses surpass not the multitude of God’s mercies: your wounds surpass not the great Physician’s skill. Only give yourself up in faith: tell the Physician your ailment: say thou also, like David: I said, I will confess me my sin unto the Lord: and the same shall be done in your case, which he says immediately: And you forgave the wickedness of my heart”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 2.6

On March 18, the Roman Catholic Church honors St. Cyril of Jerusalem, a fourth-century bishop and Doctor of the Church whose writings are still regarded as masterful expressions of Christian faith.

St. Cyril is also remembered for his exhaustive Biblical knowledge, and his endurance in the face of misunderstanding and opposition. Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, who likewise celebrate him as a saint on March 18, also remember him on May 7 – the date of a miraculous apparition said to have occurred soon after his consecration as a bishop.

What we know of Cyril’s life is gathered from information concerning him from his younger contemporaries, Epiphanius, Jerome, and Rufinus, as well as from the fifth-century historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret.

Cyril was most likely born in Jerusalem around the year 315, shortly after the legalization of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.

Although that legalization put a stop to many of the persecutions that threatened the Church for two centuries, it indirectly gave rise to a number of internal controversies – both in regard to theology, and the jurisdiction of bishops – in which Cyril would find himself involved.

Cyril received an excellent education in classical Greek literature as well as the Bible. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Maximus of Jerusalem, and succeeded him as bishop in 348.

During his early years as a bishop, most likely around 350, he delivered a series of lectures to new initiates of the Catholic Church. Twenty-four of the lectures have survived and are studied today. In a 2007 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI praised the saint for providing an “integral” form of Christian instruction, “involving body, soul, and spirit.” St. Cyril’s teaching, the Pope said, “remains emblematic for the catechetical formation of Christians today.

In 351, three years after Cyril became the Bishop of Jerusalem, a large cross-shaped light appeared for several hours in the sky over the city – an event that many interpreted as a sign of the Church’s triumph over heresy. It could also, however, be understood as a sign of the suffering the new bishop would undergo in leading his flock.

Unlike many other Eastern bishops and priests of the fourth century, Cyril did not allow his classical learning to lead him away from believing in the full humanity and divinity of Christ.

However, the man who consecrated Cyril as a bishop, Archbishop Acacius of Caesarea, was an ally of the Arians – who claimed that Jesus was a creature and not God. Because of his connection to the archbishop, Cyril himself was unjustly suspected of heresy by many of his brother bishops.

But he also found himself at odds with Archbishop Acacius, who claimed to have jurisdiction over the birthplace of the Church. Altogether, these disputes led to Cyril being exiled from Jerusalem three times in the course of 20 years. Cyril first took refuge with Silvanus, Bishop of Taraus. He appeared at the Council of Seleucia in 359, in which the semi-Arian party was triumphant. Acacius was deposed and St. Cyril seems to have returned to his see. But the emperor was displeased at the turn of events, and, in 360, Cyril and other moderates were again driven out, and only returned at the accession of Julian in 361. In 367, a decree of Valens banished all the bishops who had been restored by Julian, and Cyril remained in exile until the death of the persecutor in 378. In 380, St. Gregory of Nyssa came to Jerusalem on the recommendation of a council held at Antioch in the preceding year. He found the Faith in accord with the truth and expressed admiration of his pastoral efforst, but the city was a prey to parties and corrupt in morals.

In 381, St. Cyril participated in the Second Ecumenical Council, which condemned two different forms of Arianism and added statements about the Holy Spirit to the Nicene Creed of 325. St. Cyril of Jerusalem died in 387, and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

“Make your fold with the sheep; flee from the wolves: depart not from the Church,” Cyril admonished catechumens surrounded by heresy. These were prophetic words for Cyril was to be hounded by enemies and heretics for most of his life, and although they could exile him from his diocese he never left his beloved Church.

Cyril’s life began a few years before Arianism (the heresy that Jesus was not divine or one in being with the Father) and he lived to see its suppression and condemnation at the end of his life. In between he was the victim of many of the power struggles that took place.

We know little about Cyril’s early life. Historians estimate he was born about 315 and that he was brought up in Jerusalem. He speaks about the appearance of the sites of the Nativity and Holy Sepulchre before they were “improved” by human hands as if he were a witness. All we know of his family were that his parents were probably Christians and he seemed to care for them a great deal. He exhorted catechumens to honor parents “for however much we may repay them, yet we can never be to them what they as parents have been to us.” We know he also had a sister and a nephew, Gelasius, who became a bishop and a saint.

He speaks as one who belonged to a group called the Solitaries. These were men who lived in their own houses in the cities but practiced a life of complete chastity, ascetism, and service.

After being ordained a deacon and then a priest, his bishop Saint Maximus respected him enough to put him in charge of the instruction of catechumens. We still have these catechetical lectures of Cyril’s that were written down by someone in the congregation. When speaking of so many mysteries, Cyril anticipated the question, “But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon it enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry?.. I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying God worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.”

When Maximus died, Cyril was consecrated as bishop of Jerusalem. Because he was supported by the Arian bishop of Caesarea, Acacius, the orthodox criticized the appointment and the Arians thought they had a friend. Both factions were wrong, but Cyril wound up in the middle.

When a famine hit Jerusalem, the poor turned to Cyril for help. Cyril, seeing the poor starving to death and having no money, sold some of the goods of the churches. This was something that other saints including Ambrose and Augustine had done and it probably saved many lives. There were rumors, however, that some of the vestments wound up as clothing for actors.

Actually, the initial cause of the falling out between Acacius and Cyril was territory not beliefs. As bishop of Caesarea, Acacia had authority over all the bishops of Palestine. Cyril argued that his authority did not include Jerusalem because Jerusalem was an “apostolic see” — one of the original sees set up by the apostles. When Cyril did not appear at councils that Acacius called, Acacius accused him of selling church goods to raise money and had him banished.

Cyril stayed in Tarsus while waiting for an appeal. Constantius called a council where the appeal was supposed to take place. The council consisted of orthodox, Arians, and semi-Arian bishops. When Acacius and his faction saw that Cyril and other exiled orthodox bishops were attending, they demanded that the persecuted bishops leave. Acacius walked out when the demand was not met. The other bishops prevailed on Cyril and the others to give in to this point because they didn’t want Acacius to have reason to deny the validity of the council. Acacius returned but left again for good when his creed was rejected — and refused to come back even to give testimony against his enemy Cyril. The result of the council was the Acacius and the other Arian bishops were condemned. There’s no final judgment on Cyril’s case but it was probably thrown out when Acacius refused to testify and Cyril returned to Jerusalem.

This was not the end of Cyril’s troubles because Acacius carried his story to the emperor — embellishing it with details that it was a gift of the emperor’s that was sold to a dancer who died wearing the robe. This brought about a new synod run by Acacius who now had him banished again on the basis of what some bishops of Tarsus had done while Cyril was there.

This exile lasted until Julian became emperor and recalled all exiled bishops, orthodox or Arian. Some said this was to exacerbate tension in the Church and increase his imperial power. So Cyril returned to Jerusalem. When Acacius died, each faction nominated their own replacement for Caesarea. Cyril appointed his nephew Gelasius — which may seem like nepotism, except that all orthodox sources spoke of Gelasius’ holiness. A year later both Cyril and Gelasius were driven out of Palestine again as the new emperor’s consul reversed Julian’s ruling.

Eleven years later, Cyril was allowed to go back to find a Jerusalem destroyed by heresy and strife. He was never able to put things completely right. He did attend the Council at Constantinople in 381 where the Nicene Creed and orthodoxy triumphed and Arianism was finally condemned. Cyril received justice at the same Council who cleared him of all previous rumors and commended him for fighting “a good fight in various places against the Arians.”

Cyril had eight years of peace in Jerusalem before he died in 386, at about seventy years old.”

St Cyril of Jerusalem, faithful always to Holy Mother Church, help us too, always remain ever faithful to her!!! Ora pro nobis!!!

Love,
Matthew

“Labor while it is yet day.” -St Ambrose, (340-397 AD), Doctor & Father of the Church

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“Give thanks, Brethren, to the Divine Mercy which has brought you safely halfway through the season of Lent. For this favor they give praise to God, thankfully and with devotion, who in these days have striven to live in the manner which they were instructed at the beginning of Lent; that is, those who, coming with eagerness to the Church, have sought with sighs and tears, in daily fasting and alms deeds, to obtain the forgiveness of their sins.

They, however, who have neglected this duty, that is to say, those who have not fasted daily, or given alms, or those who were indifferent or unmoved in prayer, they have no reason to rejoice, but rather, unhappy that they are, for mourning. Yet let them not mourn as if they had no hope; for He Who could give back sight to the blind from birth (cf. Jn 9), can likewise change those who now are lukewarm and indifferent into souls fervent and zealous in His service, if with their whole heart they desire to be converted unto Him. Let such persons acknowledge their own blindness of heart, and let them draw near to the Divine Physician that they may be restored to sight.

Would that you might seek the medicine of the soul when you have sinned, as you seek that of the body when you are ill in the flesh. Who now in this so great assembly were he condemned, not to be put to death, but to be deprived of his sight only, would not give all he possessed to escape the danger? And if you so fear the death of the flesh, what do you not fear more than the death of the spirit, especially since the pains of death, that is, of the body, are but of an hour, whilst the death of the soul, that is, its punishment and its grieving, has no end? And if you love the eyes of your body, that you soon will lose in death, why do you not love those eyes of the soul by which you may see your Lord and your God forever?

Labor therefore, Beloved Children in the Lord, labor while it is yet day; for as Christ Our Lord says, The night cometh, when no man can work (Jn 9:4) Daytime is this present life; night is death, and the time that follows death. If after this life there is no more freedom to work, as the Truth tells us, why then does every man not labor while he yet lives in this world?

Be fearful, Brethren, of this death, of which the Savior says: The night cometh, when no man can work. All those who now work evil are without fear of this death, and because of this, when they depart from this life they shall encounter everlasting death. Labor while yet ye live, and particularly in these days; fasting from delicate fare, withholding yourselves at all time from evil works. For those that abstain from food, but do not withhold themselves from wickedness, are like to the devil, who while he eats not, yet never ceases from evildoing. And lastly, you must know that what you deny yourself in fasting, you must give to heaven in the poor.

Fulfill in work, Brethren, the lesson of this day . . . lest there come upon you the chastisement of the Jews. For they said to the blind man: Be thou his disciple (Jn 9:28). What does being a disciple of Christ mean if not to be an imitator of His compassion, and a follower of His truth and humility? But they said this meaning to curse the man. Instead it is a truly great blessing, to which may you also attain, by His grace Who liveth and reigneth unto ages of ages. Amen.”

St. Ambrose, Sermon on Lent

Love,
Matthew

Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come!!!

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-from a homily by Saint Cyprian

“Our obligation is to do God’s will, and not our own. We must remember this if the prayer that our Lord commanded us to say daily is to have any meaning on our lips. How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when He calls us from this world! Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity. And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by Him to Whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ?

The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, Who loves you and has redeemed you? John is most urgent in his epistle when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live for ever. Our part, my dear brothers, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be. Banish the fear of death and think of the everlasting life that follows it. That will show people that we really live our faith.”

—Saint Cyprian, bishop & martyr
Office of Readings, November 26

Love,
Matthew

“We are saved by those we despise.” -Pope St Gregory the Great

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-by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, PhD

Saint Gregory the Great taught that God uses the people we despise to save us. This does not necessarily mean people that we hate, but people we think little of or that we see as impure. Those who we see as steeped in sin today often surpass us in holiness tomorrow. His example of such a person was St. Paul, who participated in the brutal murder of St. Stephen before becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the Forty Gospel Homilies, Gregory preached that God places these people in the Church so that we are forced to recognize our own imperfection. They highlight the contrast between the richness of God’s mercy and the littleness of our own judgments.

Humble Christians, who have a sense of their imperfection, are able to be sympathetic to the struggles of sinners. Humility breaks through the walls of the self and allows the Christian to love others. For Gregory, love always involves an extension or gift of self to another, which is not really possible for people who feel self-satisfied and self-sufficient. This type of love, which he called the bond of charity, can only be learned in a community and can only be achieved through humility.

The bond of charity is central to Gregory’s spirituality and his understanding of the Church. He believed Christ’s perfect and solid uprightness (soliditas standi) is not given to His followers through the grace of redemption; instead, Christians are justified through the firmness of love (soliditas caritatis) found in the Church. Since God only accepts the humble and contrite heart, and since God rejects the proud, the effort to extend ourselves to those we despise is an integral part of the process of sanctification. In fact, the Church purifies us by demanding this extension of patience, love, and mercy to those we despise.

This dynamic is also why there are so many irritating people in the Church. We need people who are irritating, offensive, and even wicked, in order to exercise patience, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church brings us all together so that we can learn to be like God. It is a mixed community: good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats, wheat and tares. If I am irritating you, I might be serving as an opportunity to grow in holiness. You’re welcome.

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The fact that God frequently moves the people we may see as sinful to great holiness also inspires hope. It shows us that we should not ever give up on anyone. If your son or daughter, aunt or uncle, mother or father, friend or spouse has fallen away and seems steeped in sin, realize that they may yet excel in holiness.

Because we are saved by those we despise, we must welcome people to our communion and avoid attitudes and actions that discourage them from entering or returning to our community, which is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing. The challenge, of course, is to stop despising anyone, which I must confess I have not quite mastered.

If you are comfortable with despising people and wish to exclude the impure, you may have fallen into the sin of Donatism, a heresy that seeks a pure Church on Earth. The new Donatism is growing increasingly evident.

Lord, save & protect us, help us love one another, especially when that is most inconceivable. We shall receive mercy from You in proportion as we offer it to those we despise. Help us love one another, for our own sake. Be merciful to us, Lord, for we have done what is evil in Your sight.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 2 – Sts Basil & Gregory, An Appeal to Protestants

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Talk about FAITH!!!!!  RCIA participants have INFINITELY MORE FAITH, holiness, and humility than I EVER could dream to have.  Do you realize what those who convert to Catholicism sacrifice???  Go through???  May we always be a Church worthy of such living saints!!!!  They humble me by their witness, constantly.  I tremble before the strength & the power & the witness of such FAITH!!!!  I doubt, sincerely, I would ever have the courage to consider their courage and the price they have paid.  Deo Gratias!!!


-by A. David Anders, PhD

A reflection on the importance of friendship in ecumenical dialogue in honor of the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two early Church Fathers with a deep and life-long friendship.

St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Basil of Caesarea

The Catholic Church on 2 January celebrates the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two fourth century Church Fathers known for their deep theological reflections and devoted adherence to Orthodoxy as bishops in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, is considered an early important influence in the development of monasticism, the liturgy, and the doctrine of the Trinity. St. Gregory Nazianzus, called “The Theologian” by the Orthodox Church, was the Bishop of Constantinople, and is known for his strong opposition to the Arian heresy, and his “prodigious” scholarly output, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. 1 The two men’s lives crossed several times, including while studying in Caesarea in Cappadocia (also present-day Turkey), and later in Athens. They enjoyed an intimate life-long friendship, so much so that Gregory wrote of Basil,

Then not only did I feel full veneration for my great Basil because of the seriousness of his morals and the maturity and wisdom of his speeches, but he induced others who did not yet know him to be like him… The same eagerness for knowledge motivated us…. This was our competition: not who was first but who allowed the other to be first. It seemed as if we had one soul in two bodies.“2

Their mutual love of Christ, and mutual passion for seeking the truth, provided them the substance of this profoundly important friendship. In 371, Basil even urged Gregory to work with him, side-by-side, as Bishop of Sasima, a position the contemplative Gregory was disinclined to take. Reflecting not only on the theological significance of their lives but also their mutual relationship is an occasion to consider how friendship and the pursuit of truth can be connected, sometimes in mutual harmony, other times with deep and difficult disagreement and division. It is in light of Basil and Gregory that I wish to share a story from my own life that exemplifies how friendship and the pursuit of truth can present great challenges to a friendship, but ultimately can be an occasion for sanctification and deeper relational intimacy, as, ideally, it should.3

Five years ago I spent three cold, long, hard months in Afghanistan for work. A little over a month after arriving, several of my co-workers were killed in a terrorist attack. Also unnerving were the Taliban fighters who had snuck into Kabul to launch frequent rocket attacks towards the downtown area where most Westerners lived and worked, several landing within 100 meters of my living quarters. Compounding the ever-present uncertainty of when the next 107mm would strike, the Taliban stormed a nearby building and engaged in a day-long firefight with Afghan police while we waited it out in a bunker; stray bullets from the battle even hit buildings on my compound. To add insult to injury, in my personal life, my long-distance relationship with a girlfriend of the time was falling apart.

In the midst of all this, I clung hard to my Reformed faith, listening to the sermons of my PCA pastor back in the States. I found time for the White Horse Inn podcast while I did laundry on Saturdays. I even gave out old copies of Modern Reformation to military chaplains and evangelical coworkers. I suppose in a way I thought my peculiar form of Christianity was being tested in the refiner’s fire. Sure, Reformed theology sounded Biblically and intellectually compelling, but would it hold up in the foxhole? I was anxious to prove that it did.

One day during that interminably long winter I called my best friend, Barrett Turner, a student in his last year at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. We joked and caught up on the latest news. Then, his mood turned a bit serious, as if he knew that what he was going to tell me would probably hurt or upset me. He said that he and his wife, after long and prayerful reflection, had decided to enter the Catholic Church at the upcoming Easter vigil. ”Just great”, I thought, ”with all the other crap in my life, now this!” Not that this was a total shock; we had been engaged in a lengthy theological back-and-forth on many of his frustrations and dilemmas with the Reformed faith and subsequent interest in Catholicism. Some of these conversations had even involved the pastors at my PCA church, whom I consulted with a variety of my friend’s questions and concerns.

All the same, to hear that my worst fears had come to fruition was deeply painful and discouraging. This was my best friend. We had both explored and ultimately accepted Reformed Christianity while in college. We had lived together, studied together, sought to evangelize together. We had dressed up as ninjas and raided a Christian girls’ sorority party together, pilfering a number of their desserts (I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle on our way out the door; but it was worth it). I was the best man at his wedding, where the presiding minister was our favorite PCA pastor. We had both gone off to seminary after college, he to Covenant and I to Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Yet his studies had been for a prospective career as a pastor or professor, mine were part-time with the objective of deepening my own theological knowledge and keeping my options open for possible later ministry or service in the PCA. Now this man that I had admired so much had seemingly gone of the theological deep-end, which, I was concerned, might have grave implications for his soul and those of his wife and son.

I confess there was a lot of rationalizations and psychologizing in the weeks and months that followed as I tried to make sense of my friend’s decision. Why didn’t he consult me before deciding to swim the Tiber? Isn’t our friendship worth that much?, I thought. I know he said he was doing this for sincere theological, philosophical, and historical reasons, but I figured there must be some other explanation. I mean, he was wrong, wasn’t he? All of my explanations were less than charitable and quite stupid (I’m not afraid to say “stupid,” since they were my own). It’s probably because he went to Covenant instead of a better, more intellectually serious and faithfully-Reformed seminary, like Westminster, I thought. He needed better theological training and answers to his questions, and he didn’t get them. Or maybe he was under the undue influence of his wife Beth, who I had always suspected was a little too sympathetic to Catholicism. She always used to talk about that “Female Saints” class she took at UVA. (Holla!!!  Wahoo-wa!!!!) Why should I care what St. Teresa of such-and-such thinks about God? Isn’t the Bible enough? They probably didn’t even understand Catholicism, anyway. I grew up Catholic and had left the Church as a child with my parents. I had grown up spending hours and hours hearing and talking about the problems with Catholicism, especially given much of my extended family was still Catholic. My friends don’t know the first thing about being Catholic, I remember thinking; they didn’t grow up in it like I did. They don’t really understand.

In retrospect I see how deeply prideful and unsympathetic these thoughts were. So often my desire was not so much to see God glorified, but to prove myself right. Presupposing not that I needed to humbly listen and learn, but that I already had the answers. Looking so hard for the supposed “thorn” in the Catholic converts’ eye, yet so oblivious to my own. Yet couldn’t anyone have said the same thing about me and my Protestantism, that I had become an evangelical or Reformed not for motives of truth and God’s glory, but for any number of deep-seated psychological or emotional needs? In truth, Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, a calling that requires us to exemplify a love that is eager not so much to prove ourselves right, or win an argument, but that seeks to presuppose the best, rather than the worst motives in others. We, like Christ, must be long-suffering with others, (Ed. as I pray they will be, and obviously NEED, to have long-suffering patience with me!  🙂 ) especially with those we are keen to unfairly caricature. Alas, like St. Paul, I needed the film removed from my self-righteous eyes, a process that would take time and require the work of the Holy Spirit, and the patient, prayerful companionship of those who loved me.

I came home to Virginia, and not too long after, got word from my friend that he would be moving to Virginia with his family to pursue a graduate degree at Catholic University. I confess I had mixed emotions – it would be good to see them more often, but now there was this great obstacle to our friendship. Maybe this will be my opportunity to straighten him and his wife out, I thought. They arrived that summer and immediately started developing friendships with people in the Catholic community in Washington, D.C., but they certainly didn’t ignore me. I’d see them for meals, and Barrett and I spent time together bike riding, grabbing a beer, and the like. It was a bit unnerving though, having to spend all this time around Catholics just to be with my friend and his family. Even little things really bothered me. Once at their house Beth told some anecdote that involved her going to confession. Oh brother, I thought. Can’t they just tone down the Catholic stuff while I’m here? Don’t even get me started on how praying before meals now involved crossing themselves at the dinner table.  (Mara was a little Orthodox there for a while at the beginning, still have to watch for that, but I think we have proper Latin rite established now.  Deo Gratias.  🙂 )

I suppose what surprised me was how deeply my friend and his wife still loved me and valued our friendship. They knew something now stood between us, but they tried so hard to make me welcome in their lives. I was also surprised at how they seemed to be growing in holiness and virtue. I thought that since they were embracing a false faith with dangerous beliefs that they’d start regressing, especially with all the less emphasis on the Bible and Jesus (so I thought). The opposite seemed true, the more I spent time with them. It wasn’t long before we started having the theological conversations. I asked for the explanations behind why all of this had happened, the extended version. I started pressing with questions, particularly those as a Reformed Christian that had been most compelling to me in contemplating the problems with Catholicism. Hasn’t the Church modified it’s supposed inerrant teaching, especially with the changing moods and cultures of the times? Doesn’t all this emphasis on the saints and Mary detract from the glory of God? What about all the corruption, the immorality, the wickedness done in the name of the Catholic Church? Aren’t so many of the Catholic Church’s teachings not founded on the Bible? And so on.

Yet my friends asked the same questions when they were contemplating Catholicism, and their answers, though not always immediately compelling, were at least reasonable and worthy of further reflection. They countered with questions of their own, going after some of the most fundamental tenets of Reformed Christianity, and even general Protestant principles: the premise of the “Bible alone” or sola scriptura, the formulation and contents of the Biblical canon, Luther’s call for “faith alone” or sola fide. Was the “Bible alone” even a Biblical idea? (2 Tim 3:16, calls it good.  It is.  Luther insisted on the ALONE in each of his principles.  ALONE is unscriptural.  Read Romans correctly, in context, it was written to a JEWISH community, for whom the Law was all.  Of course, Paul would write what he wrote to a JEWISH community.  Were they Gentiles, would he have written similarly?  Not happenin’.  🙂 )On what authority do we even accept the contents of the Biblical canon as truly from God?  (“I would not believed in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.”-St Augustine of Hippo, Bishop, “Against the letter of Mani, 5,6,” 397 A.D.)  Was “faith alone,” and Luther’s rejection of what he styled a “salvation by works” truly faithful to Jesus and the Apostle Paul? I had heard criticisms of these beliefs before, but never so sophisticatedly presented or deeply troubling for my evangelical faith. I realized I was a bit in over my head. My friend had graduated with the highest honors at seminary, and had a strong command of Greek, Hebrew, Biblical exegesis, and Christian history. I was starting to feel, much to my annoyance, like a bit of a theological novice. Wasn’t I the one in college who knew more than him about history and religion?

But more than all this, I still deeply valued my friendship with both of them. At that time, we had been friends for almost ten years, and had been through a lot together. I loved them. If they had made a terrible decision by becoming Catholic, it was a duty, an obligation of our friendship, that I urge them to get out before they did real damage to their lives or souls. As Proverbs 18:24 observers, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (ESV). Through our conversations, I realized I really hadn’t taken the time to listen, to understand, to appreciate my friends’ perspectives. I needed to start thinking at a much more sophisticated level, praying with a deeper earnestness and urgency. I had pridefully thought myself an expert on Protestantism and Catholicism. I wasn’t sure now I was proficient in either. It was time to eat some humble pie, hit the books, and consult all my mentors in the Reformed faith. Like St. Gregory’s observation of St. Basil, Barrett and his wife Beth’s pursuit of wisdom and truth proved infectious. Thus proceeded a Summer and Fall of intense reading, praying, reflecting, and conversing, both with Protestants and Catholics. I don’t need to re-tell all the details, many of which can be found here. Needless to say, the Protestant position was becoming less and less compelling, and more and more problematic as I studied the centuries-old debates.

Friendship was what initiated this opportunity for a deeper and more honest examination of Truth. Once I was able to stop the polemics, the psychologizing, the uncharitable and prideful ways of thinking and communicating that had so often defined my interactions with Catholics, I was able to start listening to my friends. Indeed, this is what is required of all of us if we want to get to the Truth, which is so often communicated not just through books and articles, but in personal and intimate interactions between people who care about one another. Indeed Truth, according to our Christian faith, is much more than an abstract concept; it is a person, Jesus Christ, who is Truth incarnate (John 14:6). As John writes in his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV).

Theological, historical, and logical arguments are all important, and in many ways drive and provoke the necessary reflections and conversations for ecumenical dialogue. But just as important is a willingness to see our interlocutors not solely as “sparring partners,” but as real people, (Ed. SINCERE!!!) with real convictions, and real stories that need to be heard and appreciated. This is equally true of Protestants and Catholics. Yet if we believe those people whom we deeply love and care about have made decisions that will endanger their lives, their futures, and possibly their souls, we have an obligation to reach out, in love, and mutually pursue Truth together. Furthermore, it is often through friendship that the most difficult and painful truths are often communicated – things we do not want to hear, that challenge us, that complicate what we thought to be simple and straightforward, that frustrate our plans or intentions. (Ed. It is the people who LOVE US that will make the effort, take the risk of truth, the least of which is theological, the most of which is about our unchallenged, damaging behaviors/habits.)  Yet when (Ed. dangerous, dangerous) truth is involved, wouldn’t we rather hear it than not, especially from those whom we know truly love us and have our interests at heart, who are willing to risk even friendship to communicate hard truths? As Christ himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13, ESV).

TurnerChalk
The Turner and Chalk families at Turner boy #4’s baptism, officiated by Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler (center back)

I hope that this feast day commemorating a wonderful deep friendship in Christian history – that of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus — would be an occasion for renewed attempts at understanding and contemplating, at a truly thoughtful and charitable level, why so many of us have turned to the Catholic Church. We of course, in turn, will need to try our best to listen to and appreciate our Protestant brothers and sisters, who have many questions, as well as many sincere and valuable insights and beliefs of their own. May God spur a renewed desire for ecumenical dialogue amongst friends, and may we pursue the Truth, as it leads to God, no matter what sacrifices it requires, all for the glory of God.

St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who exemplified true Christian friendship in your mutual love of Christ and pursuit of truth, pray for us!

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, The Fathers, (Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana) p. 73-90.
  2. St. Basil, Orationes 43: 16, 20; SC 384: 154-156, 164.
  3. This is not to suggest that any of my friendships bear more than a very weak and vague resemblance to Basil and Gregory’s in either depth of relational intimacy or theological or spiritual sophistication!”

Love,
Matthew

Oct 17 – The Heresy of Gnosticism

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Even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” ~2 Peter 2:1

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between ‘material’ (Ed: “in reality, as a ‘matter’ of real fact”) and ‘formal’ heresy. Material heresy means in effect “holding erroneous doctrines through no fault of one´s own” as occurs with people brought up in non-Catholic communities, i.e. through ignorance, or accident of birth, and “is neither a crime nor a sin”.

The material heretic is ready and willing to be corrected, and assent, were the truth made plain to them.  BIG EXAMPLE:  ignorant, or less than perfectly trained, catechists, i.e. yours truly.  There are many scholarly types on the distribution for this blog for just this reason!  🙂 I rely on them to keep me, a) humble, and b) on the straight and narrow! We ignorants mean well, but we just don’t know better when the Internet is feeding us nonsense.  🙂  Thank goodness for copy/paste, or is it the work of the devil?  🙂  Thank you, auditors!!!!

Formal (Ed: knowing the truth, that it is held to be the truth by the Church, as a formal matter of dogma, and willfully rejecting it) heresy is “the willful and persistent adherence to an error in matters of faith”.   The formal heretic refuses to be corrected.  One must be baptized in order to be a heretic.  Those unbaptized are under the category “other”.

The Church holds that since God created Creation and deemed it “good” (Gen 1:31), it cannot, intrinsically, be evil, as some heresies have held.  For Catholics, the “glass is half-full”.  Heresies go by many names, through many ages.  They persist even into our modern world under guise.  It is said, “there are no new heresies”.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  Some have suggested  modern forms of Gnosticism are Scientology and Freemasonry.

-by Br Isaac Augustine Morales, OP (Br Isaac received a doctorate in New Testament from Duke University and taught in the Department of Theology at Marquette University for four years before joining the Order.)

“From the earliest days, the Church has faced the perennial temptation to deny the goodness of material creation in general and of the human body in particular. The Platonic notion of the body as a “prison” from which the soul must escape has cropped up repeatedly throughout the Church’s history, only to be condemned every time someone proposed it.

We see one particular form of this error, the denial that Jesus really took on flesh and blood, reflected in the New Testament, and it is condemned in no uncertain terms: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7). What is it that drives this temptation? And what makes the idea derived from it so pernicious that St. John calls those who embrace it “antichrist”?

The answer to the first question stems from two factors: the majesty of God and the messiness of creation. In the early centuries, God was seen as totally other than creation, in the words of 1 Timothy, “immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). God transcends the world and, unlike us, is not subject to change, to corruption, to pain and suffering, to anything that belongs to this world. Contrast this picture of an ineffable God with creation, particularly after the fall: we are born, we grow old, we suffer, we die. To many it seemed unfitting for God to experience birth and to have His diapers changed, much less to endure the shame and torture of one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised by men. This is one aspect of the scandal of the Incarnation: that the God who transcends creation has joined Himself so fully to it that he knows first-hand our challenges and our trials.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom the Church commemorates today, meditated on this mystery as he was being led to Rome for his own execution, and he condemns the denial of Christ’s real flesh and blood as forcefully as the Second Letter of John. In one of his letters Ignatius explains the importance of Christ’s actual flesh and blood:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?

There are at least two dangers in this denial of Christ’s real humanity and suffering: it empties Christian suffering of its purpose, and it implies deception on God’s part. To take the latter point first, if Jesus only appeared to be human and to suffer – if his looks are deceiving – then the Gospels lie to us. Jesus has nothing in common with us, and His life was a mere show – and a fraudulent One at that.

Closer to home for Ignatius, Jesus’ actual suffering in the flesh was closely bound up with his own impending martyrdom. In some mysterious way, Christ’s suffering takes up and incorporates the suffering of the members of his body:

By [the cross] He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Savior] Himself, having promised their union.

In His suffering and death, Christ manifests His solidarity with the human race, showing Himself to be a God who knows our trials not in some distant, indifferent way, but personally and experientially.

If the sole purpose of the Incarnation were Christ’s solidarity with us in our suffering, then Christianity would be little more than divinely sanctioned masochism. But for Ignatius, suffering – both Christ’s and ours – is not an end in itself, but rather a bridge to eternal life. It is by our suffering that we participate in Christ’s own sacrifice and through it come to the glory of His Resurrection. This is why one can rightly call a death at the jaws of lions a happy and peaceful one. The peace comes from the sure hope that death does not have the final victory – Christ has conquered it through the Resurrection.

Most of us are probably not ready to offer our bodies to the lions as Ignatius did, but we must remember that it was not on the basis of his own strength that he faced his death. He drew strength from feeding on Christ’s own Eucharistic flesh and blood, which he called the “medicine of immortality.” By feeding on this medicine we too can be strengthened to face our own trials and, God willing, pass through a happy death to the glory of the Resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

Oct 17 – St Ignatius of Antioch, (35-107 AD), Bishop, Martyr, Father of the Church

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-painting of the martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD).  In 637 AD, his relics were transferred to the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.

My parents had friends who “made”, very Catholic, no democracy here, no popular opinion sought, each of their several children take the Confirmation name “Polycarp”!  Funny!  🙂

I can just imagine going down the line of the Confirmation class of eighth graders, every year or so, to the offspring of this family, and the next “victim” mumbling, as softly as possible, “polycarp”, and then the ensuing snorts and guffaws of their immature peers.  Awesome!  Growing up Catholic!  You can see/hear the character building in the crimson face!  Intentional, loving humiliation toughens us up for life!  We’ll need it!  We are unsure to this day whether my parents’ friends were cruel or had an unusual sense of humor?  St Polycarp was a friend of St Ignatius of Antioch.  Both are understood to have been disciples of The Apostle St John.  The writings of Ignatius of Antioch attest to the sacramental and hierarchical nature of the Church.

In a 2007 general audience on St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pope Benedict XVI observed that “no Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius.” In his letters, the Pope said, “one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.”

Born in Syria in the middle of the first century A.D., Ignatius is said to have been personally instructed – along with another future martyr, Saint Polycarp – by the Apostle Saint John. When Ignatius became the Bishop of Antioch around the year 70, he assumed leadership of a local church that was, according to tradition, first led by Saint Peter before his move to Rome.

Although St. Peter transmitted his Papal primacy to the bishops of Rome rather than Antioch, the city played an important role in the life of the early Church. Located in present-day Turkey, it was a chief city of the Roman Empire, and was also the location where the believers in Jesus’ teachings and his resurrection were first called “Christians.”

Ignatius led the Christians of Antioch during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, the first of the emperors to proclaim his divinity by adopting the title “Lord and God.” Subjects who would not give worship to the emperor under this title could be punished with death. As the leader of a major Catholic diocese during this period, Ignatius showed courage and worked to inspire it in others.

After Domitian’s murder in the year 96, his successor Nerva reigned only briefly, and was soon followed by the Emperor Trajan. Under his rule, Christians were once again liable to death for denying the pagan state religion and refusing to participate in its rites. It was during his reign that Ignatius was convicted for his Christian testimony and sent from Syria to Rome to be put to death.

Escorted by a team of military guards, Ignatius nonetheless managed to compose seven letters: six to various local churches throughout the empire (including the Church of Rome), and one to his fellow bishop Polycarp who would give his own life for Christ several decades later.

Ignatius’ letters passionately stressed the importance of Church unity, the dangers of heresy, and the surpassing importance of the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality.” These writings contain the first surviving written description of the Church as “Catholic,” from the Greek word indicating both universality and fullness.

One of the most striking features of Ignatius’ letters, is his enthusiastic embrace of martyrdom as a means to union with God and eternal life. “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing,” he wrote to the Church of Rome. “It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth.”

“Now I begin to be a disciple,” the bishop declared. “Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch bore witness to Christ publicly for the last time in Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater, where he was mauled to death by lions. “I am the wheat of the Lord,” he had declared, before facing them. “I must be ground by the teeth of these beasts to be made the pure bread of Christ.” His memory was honored, and his bones venerated, soon after his death around the year 107.

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“Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest.” — Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.” —Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 7, shorter version, Roberts-Donaldson translation

He stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it a “medicine of immortality” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2). The very strong desire for bloody martyrdom in the arena, which Ignatius expresses rather graphically in places, may seem quite odd to the modern reader. An examination of his theology of soteriology shows that he regarded salvation as one being free from the powerful fear of death and thus to bravely face martyrdom.

“Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless. For if even unto this day we live after the manner of Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace … If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny … how shall we be able to live apart from Him? … It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” — Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:1, 9:1-2, 10:3, Lightfoot translation.

He is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal”, “complete” and “whole” to describe the church, writing:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.” — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.

It is from the word katholikos (“according to the whole”) that the word catholic comes. When Ignatius wrote the Letter to the Smyrnaeans in about the year 107 and used the word catholic, he used it as if it were a word already in use to describe the Church. This has led many scholars to conclude that the appellation Catholic Church with its ecclesial connotation may have been in use as early as the last quarter of the 1st century. On the Eucharist, he wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1

Saint Ignatius’s most famous quotation, however, comes from his letter to the Romans:

“I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” — Letter to the Romans

“I greet you in the blood of Jesus Christ, which is eternal and abiding joy.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch

“No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.” –St. Ignatius of Antioch

Prayer for the Deceased

“Receive in tranquility and peace, O Lord, the souls of your servants who have departed this present life to come to You. Grant them rest and place them in the habitations of light, the abodes of blessed spirits. Give them the life that will not age, good things that will not pass away, delights that have no end, through Jesus.  Amen.                      –St Ignatius of Antioch

Love,
Matthew

Dec 7 – St Ambrose, (340-397 AD) – Governor of Milan, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor, & Father of the Church, “The Honey-tongued Doctor”

St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose’s life testifies to the fact that everything can change in a moment’s notice, and that God has greater plans for us than we could ever fathom for ourselves. Aurelius Ambrosius was born into Roman nobility and proceeded to receive an excellent education. By the age of 33 Ambrose was living the life every Roman dreamed of.  He was a successful lawyer and the governor of Milan. Suddenly and without warning everything would change.

In about 374 A.D. the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, died. This was a major problem because at this time Milan was full of Catholics and Arians.  Arianism was a terrible heresy which swept the early Church.  Arius (250-336 AD) was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. He developed an exegesis of Proverbs 8:22-31 et seq, the passage beginning “The Lord created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old.” The passage is referring to Wisdom. Arius derived from this the notion that Christ, who is often identified as Wisdom in Proverbs, is a created creature. This is the same belief held by modern Arians, whom we know as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Arius was apparently quite a charismatic character, although his description does not quite match up to the trouble that he caused. He was born in Libya, but raised in Antioch. A contemporary, Epyphonius, described him as tall and grave, with a winning personality. He always walked about barefoot, and led an ascetic life. Despite what appears to be an unassuming personality, Arius fervently marketed his teaching. Throughout the controversy, the world was treated to Arians singing popular ditties relating their theology. One writer of the period complained that it was impossible to go to the market without having to listen to such songs, and engaging in theological dispute with the butcher, the fruit vendor and the bath attendant.  St Jerome, of prior note, lamented “The whole world woke and groaned to find itself Arian.”

The dispute tore the Christian world apart, especially in the East. In reaction, the Emperor Constantine the Great (who was born in England by the way) in 325 AD convened a great council of bishops to address the controversy. Meeting in Nicaea, 318 bishops deliberated and debated the issue. Among them was the bishop of Alexandria, named Alexander, and his young deacon, Athanasius (St Athanasius, of prior note). This council would later be recognized as the first Ecumenical Council, one of seven which would produce the dogmatic statements that are so important in Holy Tradition. The bishops produced what we now know as the Nicene Creed.

From this simple, albeit misguided, exegesis, the entire world was thrown into upheaval, which lasted for most of the fourth century.  If, as the logic goes, Christ is a creature, then He is not Divine.  Careful what you misinterpret in Scripture.  Therefore, the Incarnation did not happen and we are NOT saved.  Arians believed that Christ was not divine, and the former bishop of Milan was an Arian.

After the bishop’s death, a huge riot proceeded in the cathedral of Milan and it seemed that bloodshed was imminent. Ambrose came on the scene and gave a powerful speech for peace which resulted in the crowd’s decision that Ambrose, a catechumen who was yet to be baptized, ought to be the new bishop. St. Amborse resisted as much as he could, but he eventually gave up because he knew that he had to accept in order to keep the peace. St. Ambrose was then baptized and ordained all in the same day.

St. Ambrose then began his career as a bishop, preacher, and negotiator. Saint Ambrose sold all of his possessions and gave them to the poor and the church. He preached passionately against the Arian heresy and was educated in theology by St. Simplician. When the emperor died, the Empress Justina, an Arian, became regent for her four year old son. Maximus, a former Roman soldier, realized the emperor’s death might weaken the empire enough for his army to conquer it. Justina begged Ambrose to negotiate with him. In spite of the fact that she was his enemy, Ambrose went on a diplomatic mission that convinced Maximus not to invade.  Ambrose convinced Maximus and his armies not to invade on numerous occasions.

Here is a favorite St. Ambrose quote which certainly points to the kind of man he was:  “It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He Who sent forth His apostles without gold had not need of gold to form His Church. The Church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad and come to the aid of the unfortunate.”  “That which cannot be bought with gold, does not take its value from gold.”

In thanks?, Empress Justina demanded Ambrose to surrender one of the Churches of Milan to the Arians, Ambrose declared, “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.”  Imperial soldiers surrounded the basilica.  In the face of arms and soldiers, Ambrose said, “My only arms are my tears. I will never depart willingly but I won’t resist by force.”

In order to calm the frightened people, Ambrose taught them to sing hymns he had composed. He split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. This is our first record of communal singing in church.  The music of praise and prayer seeped out through the walls of the basilica and into the hearts of the soldiers. Soon the soldiers outside joined in the singing. They did enter the church, but to pray.  The siege ended.  Ambrose’s preaching also brought eastern Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

Ambrose was careful never to say or do anything to start violence. When Catholics seized an Arian priest and were going to put him to death, Ambrose intervened in the name of peace and prayed God suffer no blood to be shed. He sent out priests and deacons to rescue his Arian enemy.

Saint Ambrose was unsurprisingly famous for selling gold vessels of the Church in order to tend to the poor and free captives of neighboring barbarians. St. Ambrose also baptized and preached to Saint Augustine of Hippo, of prior note.

The title “Honey-tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

st. Ambrose body

-the remains of St Ambrose (in white vestments), Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan, Italy.

emperor-theodosius-forbidden-by-st-ambrose-to-enter-milan-cathedral-1620.jpg!Blog

-detail from the painting ‘Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by Saint Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral’, Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1619-20, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, England, 149 cm x 113 cm

saint-ambrose-of-milan-01

-painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan, Vatican Museum

“No one heals himself by wounding another.” – Saint Ambrose

“Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.” – Saint Ambrose

“Know, O beautiful soul, that you are the image of God. Know that you are the glory of God.” -St. Ambrose of Milan

“But if these beings, angels, guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers.” – Saint Ambrose

“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.

There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.

He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others. So Scripture says: “If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.”

Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that you may charm the ears of people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership. Solomon says: “The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise”; and in another place he says: “Let your lips be bound with wisdom.” That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.” – from a letter by Saint Ambrose

“To avoid dissensions we should be ever on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous. Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them.” – Saint Ambrose, Offices

“O God, I who presume to invoke Thy Holy Name, stand in the presence of Thy Divine Majesty: have mercy upon me, a man: a sinner smeared by the foulness of inherent impurity; forgive the unworthy priest in whose hand this oblation is seen offered: Spare O Lord one polluted by sins: in faults the foremost, in comparison to all others, and do not enter into judgment with Thy servant, for no one living is justified in Thy sight. It is true that we are weighed down in the faults and desires of our flesh: remember, O Lord, that we are flesh and there is no other source of help than Thee. Yeah, in Thy sight not even those in Heaven are much more cleansed than we earthly humans, of whom, as the Prophet said of all our righteous acts: we are in comparison as unworthy as a menstrual rag. O Jesus Christ, let us live. O Thou Who dost not will the death of a sinner: grant forgiveness unto us whom Thou hast established in flesh, so that by penitential acts we may come to enjoy eternal life in the Heavens, through our Lord Jesus Christ Who reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages of ages. Amen. ”
-From the Lorrha (“Stowe”) Missal used by Churches of Ireland, Scotland, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy.  Translated and Rubricated by Priest Kristopher Dowling, S.S.B.

“Lord, teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me when I seek You. For I cannot seek You unless You first teach me, nor find You unless You first reveal Yourself to me. Let me seek You in longing and long for You in seeking. Let me find You in love, and love You in finding.”
-St Ambrose of Milan, Bishop, Writer, Doctor of the Church

“Lord Jesus Christ, I approach Your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth but only on Your goodness and mercy. I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words.

Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek Your protection, I look for Your healing. Poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to You, the fountain of all mercy. I cannot bear Your judgment, but I trust in Your salvation. Lord, I show my wounds to You and uncover my shame before You. I know my sins are many and great, and they fill me with fear, but I hope in Your mercies, for they cannot be numbered.

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal king, God and man, crucified for mankind, look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer, for I trust in You. Have mercy on me, full of sorrow and sin, for the depth of Your compassion never ends.

Praise to You, saving sacrifice, offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. Praise to the noble and precious blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, Lord, Your creature, whom You have redeemed with Your blood. I repent my sins, and I long to put right what I have done. Merciful Father, take away all my offenses and sins; purify me in body and soul, and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies.

May Your body and blood, which I intend to receive, although I am unworthy, be for me the remission of my sins, the washing away of my guilt, the end of my evil thoughts, and the rebirth of my better instincts. May it incite me to do the works pleasing to You and profitable to my health in body and soul, and be a firm defense against the wiles of my enemies.”
-Saint Ambrose of Milan, Prayer before Holy Communion

Love,
Matthew