Jan 12 – St Tatiana of Rome (d. 226), Virgin & Martyr, “Armies of Angels” -Mt 26:53

The Holy Virgin Martyr Tatiana was born into an illustrious Roman family, and her father was elected consul three times. He was secretly a Christian and raised his daughter to be devoted to God and the Church. When she reached the age of maturity, Tatiana decided to remain a virgin, betrothing herself to Christ. Disdaining earthly riches, she sought instead the imperishable wealth of Heaven. She was made a deaconess in one of the Roman churches and served God in fasting and prayer, tending the sick and helping the needy.

Tatiana was the daughter of a civil servant who was secretly a Christian and privately brought her up in the Faith. However, being a deaconess and ministering to the poor and sick in that capacity attracted the attention of Ulpian, the jurist who effectively yielded power in Rome while the emperor, Alexander Severus, was underage.

Ulpian was considered one of the great legal minds of his age, an expert systematizer, codifier, and commentator of the law (about a third of Justinian’s Digest comes from him, including the first ever actuarial life table). He was known for making sagely remarks, like the descriptive phrase “juris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere” (“the precepts of justice are: to live honestly, to not harm others, and to render each his due”).

Yet, for all this, he was also a rabid anti-Christian, who codified anti-Christian legislation to make it easier for judges to apply it against believers. Even the intelligentsia can be enemies of the Faith.

When Rome was ruled by the sixteen-year-old Alexander Severus (222-235), all power was concentrated in the hands of the regent Ulpian, an evil enemy and persecutor of Christians. Christian blood flowed like water. Tatiana was also arrested, and they brought her into the temple of Apollo to force her to offer sacrifice to the idol. The saint began praying, and suddenly there was an earthquake. The idol was smashed into pieces, and part of the temple collapsed and fell down on the pagan priests and many pagans. The demon inhabiting the idol fled screeching from that place. Those present saw its shadow flying through the air.

Then they tore holy virgin’s eyes out with hooks, but she bravely endured everything, praying for her tormentors that the Lord would open their spiritual eyes. And the Lord heard the prayer of His servant. The executioners saw four angels encircle the saint and beat her tormentors. A voice was heard from the heavens speaking to the holy virgin. Eight men believed in Christ and fell on their knees before Saint Tatiana, begging them to forgive them their sin against her. For confessing themselves Christians they were tortured and executed, receiving Baptism by blood.

The next day Saint Tatiana was brought before the wicked judge. Seeing her completely healed of all her wounds, they stripped her and beat her, and slashed her body with razors. A wondrous fragrance then filled the air. Then she was stretched out on the ground and beaten for so long that the servants had to be replaced several times. The torturers became exhausted and said that an invisible power was beating them with iron rods. Indeed, the angels warded off the blows directed at her and turned them upon the tormentors, causing nine of them to fall dead. They then threw the saint in prison, where she prayed all night and sang praises to the Lord with the angels.

A new morning began, and they took Saint Tatiana to the tribunal once more. The torturers beheld with astonishment that after such terrible torments she appeared completely healthy and even more radiant and beautiful than before. They began to urge her to offer sacrifice to the goddess Diana. The saint seemed agreeable, and they took her to the heathen temple. Saint Tatiana made the Sign of the Cross and began to pray. Suddenly, there was a crash of deafening thunder, and lightning struck the idol, the sacrificial offerings and the pagan priests.

Once again, the martyr was fiercely tortured. She was hung up and scraped with iron claws, and her breasts were cut off. That night, angels appeared to her in prison and healed her wounds as before. On the following day, they took Saint Tatiana to the circus and loosed a hungry lion on her. The beast did not harm the saint, but meekly licked her feet.

As they were taking the lion back to its cage, it killed one of the torturers. They threw Tatiana into a fire, but the fire did not harm the martyr. The pagans, thinking that she was a sorceress, cut her hair to take away her magical powers, then locked her up in the temple of Zeus.

On the third day, pagan priests came to the temple intending to offer sacrifice to Zeus. They beheld the idol on the floor, shattered to pieces, and the holy martyr Tatiana joyously praising the Lord Jesus Christ. The judge then condemned the valiant sufferer to be beheaded with a sword. Her father was also executed with her, because he had raised her to love Christ.  The meaning of her father being executed along with her is we should all ask God to bring people into our lives who will teach and model for us how to live the Faith. Maybe, like Tatiana, having those kinds of teachers will help us to become saints.

This isn’t to suggest that beheading “worked” where no other methods did, like beheading had some magic the other techniques didn’t. The point is that God was making it clear that His saints only lose their life because He chooses to let it happen. If He had wanted to, He could have had His angels break the sword the moment it touched her neck.

What all those dramatic interventions before she finally died were effectively saying was: “You can’t take My daughter’s life by force. Her life and death is in My hands, and, if she does die, it’s because I chose to take her, not because you have any power.” Just as Jesus had said, if God wants, He can send armies of angels to protect us — and He probably does this a lot more often than we realize. Such misfortunes as seem to befall us are only allowed because of His loving plan for us. In that way, a strange story like Tatiana’s is a kind of theodicy.

The Relics of Saint Tatiana in Craiova

The honorable head of the Holy Martyr Tatiana was first brought to Romania in 1204, when members of the ruling family (Asanestan dynasty) placed it in a church in Tarnovo (Bulgaria) and then in Bucovat Monastery (near Craiova). Later, however, in 1393, the head of the Saint was taken to a church in the town of Nicaea (where the First Ecumenical Synod met), and then to Constantinople, and placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles.

In 1453, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, during the reign of Neagoe Basarab, the Craioveşti boyars brought the head of the holy Martyr Tatiana to Russia, as well as the entire body of Saint Gregory the Decapolite (November 20), which they placed in the church of Bistriţa Monastery. From that monastery, the relics of Saint Tatiana were taken by Saint Neagoe Basarab (September 15) and brought to the royal church at Curtea de Argeș. Later, with the reorganization of the Metropolitan Church of Oltenia (1950-1955), the honorable skull of Saint Tatiana was taken from Curtea de Argeș and brought to the Episcopal Cathedral of Râmnicu Vâlcea in 1955. Finally, the honored relics were permanently enshrined in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Craiova.

Today, the holy relics of Saint Tatiana are kept, with great honor, in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios in Craiova, in the same reliquary with the relics of Saint Niphon of Constantinople (August 11), and the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus (October 7).

Troparion — Tone 4
Your lamb Tatiana, / calls out to You, O Jesus, in a loud voice: / “I love You, my Bridegroom, / and in seeking You, I endure suffering. / In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in You, / and I died so that I might live with You. / Accept me as a pure sacrifice, / for I have offered myself in love.” / Through her prayers save our souls, since You are merciful.

Kontakion — Tone 4
In your sufferings you shone brightly / in the royal purple of your blood, / and like a beautiful dove you flew to heaven, / passion-bearer Tatiana. / Therefore, always pray for those who honor you.

The empress Elisabeth of Russia opened that nation’s first university in 1755 on Tatiana’s feast day, she is also the patron saint of students, and her feast day is commemorated as Students’ Day in Russia and her former colonies. So, if you’re trying to study and you feel like your eyes are failing you or you no longer wish to look upon your studies, you may want to ask Tatiana for her intercession.

Love,
Matthew

The Catholic Church, which Christ founded, determines the canon of the Bible


Devin Rose

“I have found that the canon of Scripture is the single most fruitful topic to discuss with Protestant friends. The canon is the set of books that make up the Bible—Scripture’s “table of contents”—and it is one of the most important issues between Catholics and Protestants for two reasons: first, because the Catholic and Protestant canons differ (Catholics have seventy-three books in their canon and Protestants have sixty-six); second, because Protestants believe in a doctrine called sola scriptura or “the Bible alone.”

Sola scriptura means that only the Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith and the sole source of public revelation given by God to man. Under this doctrine, Scripture is the first, best, and ultimate depository for divine truth, as well as the only one that is without error, having been inspired by God himself, who cannot lie.

But for sola scriptura to be true, we must first be able to know which books, exactly, make up Scripture (i.e., the biblical canon). We must also know this biblical canon with a certainty strong enough to bind our consciences. After all, if we believe that God inspired books to be written such that they are without error but we don’t know which books those are, we are left in the unacceptable position of not knowing whether a given book is inspired (and therefore inerrant) or whether it is just another book written from the mind of a human being.

Martin Luther was not afraid to challenge the canon of Scripture. He relegated four New Testament books to an appendix, denying that they were divinely inspired. Though this alteration of the New Testament wasn’t adopted by the Protestant movements, his alteration of the Old Testament was, and by the end of the Reformation Protestantism had removed seven books (the deuterocanonicals) from the Old Testament canon.

This means if Protestantism is true, God allowed the early Church to put seven books in the Bible that didn’t belong there.

Why Protestants changed their canon

The Protestants rejected the books for several reasons, two of which we will focus on here. The first was a “problematic” passage in 2 Maccabees, and the second was their desire to go “back to the sources”—ad fontes—which to them meant using the same books that the Jews had decided upon.

2 Maccabees included a laudatory reference to prayers for the dead, a practice that the Catholic Church had encouraged for assisting the souls in purgatory. Recall Luther’s protest of the sale of indulgences to remove the temporal punishment due for already forgiven sins—punishment that must be paid before a soul would be fit to enter heaven. Luther and the Reformers rejected purgatory, so all that was connected with it also had to go: indulgences, prayers for the dead, and the communion of saints (which includes those both living and asleep in Christ).

The Reformers pointed out that these seven books were not included in the Jewish Hebrew Bible. For that reason, they argued, the books should not be accepted by Christians. Some Protestant apologists seek to bolster this claim by mentioning the theory that, around A.D. 90, a council of Jews at Jamnia explicitly rejected these books. (The consensus among modern scholars is that the Jews closed their canon closer to the end of the second century A.D.)

Others like to point out that some Church Fathers rejected one or more of these books. They strengthen this argument with the testimony of Josephus and Philo—two Jews from the first century—who also did not accept them.

Why the deuterocanonicals are inspired

Because Catholicism is true, the church Christ founded, and not the Jews, possessed the authority and divine guidance to discern the Old Testament canon.

A little historical background is needed here. The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, used during Jesus’ time, was called the Septuagint. It was an evolving set of books that was added to from the third century B.C. until the time of Christ. It remains the most ancient translation of the Old Testament that we have today and so is used to correct the errors that crept into the Hebrew (Masoretic) text, the oldest extant manuscripts of which date only from the ninth century.

The Septuagint was used extensively in the Near East by rabbis, and in the first century the apostles quoted prophecies from it in the books that became the New Testament. It was accepted as authoritative by the Jews of Alexandria and then by all Jews in Greek-speaking countries.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint contained the deuterocanonical books. The majority of Old Testament quotes made by the New Testament authors come from the Septuagint. In fact, the early Church used the Septuagint as its primary Old Testament source until the fifth century. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Historical evidence also shows that there were multiple, conflicting Jewish canons at the time of Christ. Protestants claim that the Hebrew canon was closed at the time of Christ. But let’s stop and think about that: How could the Jews close their canon when they were still awaiting the advent of the new Elijah (John the Baptist) and the new Moses (Jesus)?

Recall that Malachi 4:5 tells us that God would send a new Elijah the prophet: “Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” We know from John 1:19-25 that the Jews were eagerly awaiting this new Elijah, as well as the new Moses.

Since many prophets in the Old Covenant had been inspired by God to write books, it only makes sense that the Jews would expect these two great prophets to write books as well. Closing the Hebrew canon before the prophets’ advent, then, would have been unthinkable.

Timothy Michael Law, in his new book When God Spoke Greek, has demonstrated that the Jews did not close their canon until the second century A.D. This fact renders the (alleged) Jewish council’s decision at Jamnia moot. It should be noted that most scholars today doubt that any such council ever took place.

But even if it did, would Jewish leaders possess the authority to make a decision binding upon the Christian Church? Those Jews who had accepted Christ had already become Christians. The remainder had no authority to decide anything about divine truth, as that authority had passed to those filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e., the apostles). The same goes for the opinions of Josephus and Philo. The Jews did not have the authority to decide the canon. The Church did.

Law also shows that the Greek Septuagint is a witness to an, at times, even more ancient textual stream of the Hebrew scriptures when compared with the Masoretic text. Ironically, this meant that the Reformers goofed when they relied upon the Masoretic text and the (truncated) Hebrew canon in their attempt to go “back to the original sources.” They should have used the Septuagint translation and included the seven deuterocanonical books! Thus the argument that Christians should base their Old Testament off of the Hebrew Bible rather than the Greek Septuagint is dubious.

Regarding Church Fathers doubting the deuterocanonical books, it is true that several rejected one or more of them or put them on a level lower than the rest of Scripture. But many, including those with doubts, quoted them as Scripture with no distinction from the rest of the Bible.

The broader fact is that the testimony of the Fathers was not unanimous on the Old Testament canon. Even Jerome, the great biblical scholar, early in his career favored the Hebrew canon but then changed his mind and submitted his opinion to the wisdom of the Church, accepting the deuterocanonicals as Scripture (ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.vi.xii.ii.xxvii.html).

Finally, it should be pointed out that Protestants seeking to defend their canon based on historical evidence—even if they are convinced they have found sufficient proof—run into an insurmountable problem: Nowhere in Scripture does it say that this is the way to know which books belong in the canon. Such a criterion for choosing the canon in fact contradicts sola scriptura, because it is an extra-biblical principle.

A consistent Protestant argument for selecting the canon of Scripture, then, must itself come from Scripture, which would create a circular argument. Unfortunately—but providentially—no such instructions from God exist. No table of contents is found in any biblical book. No scroll with a table of contents is considered inspired by Protestants (or by Catholics).

The self-authenticating canon

Most Protestant apologists realize that all their stalwart arguments have iron-clad rebuttals. And so many have abandoned those arguments and cling to their last remaining bastion: They claim that the inspired books authenticate themselves. This idea is so widely used that it is worthy of a lengthy explanation.

The self-authenticating canon means that a true Christian can read a given book and easily tell whether it is inspired by God or not. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the Christian would witness to the book’s inspiration. This theory did away with the need for trusting the corrupted early Church or for tracing the messy history of the canon’s development. Instead, you as a faithful Christian simply picked up your Bible, read the books, and listened for the inner witness of the Spirit telling you that the books were inspired by God.

Similarly, you could theoretically pick up a non-canonical epistle or Gospel from the first or second century, read it, and note the absence of the Spirit’s confirmation of its inspiration. As Calvin described it:

It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church and that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to Scripture, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. . . . As to their question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste. . . . those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, vii.1, 2, 5).

Calvin makes two claims here. First, that the Church does not give authority to Scripture but rather Scripture has authority by the fact that God inspired it; second, that a Christian can know the canon from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him, not by trusting a decision of the Church.

Calvin’s first claim has never been contested by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, or any Christian. It is a straw man: The Church teaches that it received inspired texts from God (through human authors) and that God guided it in discerning which among many texts were truly inspired. The Church is thus the servant of written revelation and not its master.

Calvin’s second claim has become the common answer from Protestants who can’t concede that a corrupt Church selected the canon. There’s an element of truth to it: Surely the Holy Spirit does witness to our souls when we read the Bible. But Calvin sets up a false dichotomy here: Either the Church, by discerning the canon, imagines itself in authority over Scripture, or the canon is self-evident to any Christian. Calvin replaces the belief that God guided the Church in selecting the canon with the belief that God guides me or you in selecting it. He forces his readers to choose between these options, but in fact they are both false.

History contradicts Calvin’s claim

There is no principled reason, in Scripture or elsewhere, to believe that God would guide me or you in this discernment but not the Church. Moreover, Calvin’s subjective criterion for discerning the canon is surely impractical and unrealistic. How would a person seeking truth but not yet indwelt by the Holy Spirit know which books to read to find truth? What about a new Christian who had not learned to distinguish the inner voice of the Spirit from his own? At what point after his conversion would a Christian be considered ready to help define the canon? If two Christians disagreed, whose inner judgment would be used to arbitrate their dispute and identify the real canon?

Another problem with Calvin’s claim is that the facts of history contradict it. As we have seen, the selection of the canon was not an easy, debate-free process that ended with the close of written revelation in the early second century. Rather, the canon emerged slowly through a laborious process, with differing canons being proposed by different Church Fathers during these centuries.

If the canon were obvious and self-evident, the Holy Spirit would have led each of them to the same canon. Yet even these faithful, Spirit-filled men, so close to the time of the apostles and Christ himself, proposed different canons. It was not until almost A.D. 400 that the canon was settled, and it contained the seventy-three books of the Catholic Bible. When, more than 1,100 years later, the Reformers changed the canon by rejecting the seven deuterocanonical books (and Luther unsuccessfully tried to discard others), it was another example of intelligent and well-meaning Christians disagreeing about the “self-authenticated” canon.

The books of the canon are not obvious merely from reading them. Martin Luther should prove that to Protestants, since he was the founder of the Protestant Reformation, and yet he tried to jettison four books from the New Testament.

The Church discerns the Old Testament

This means that neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament is self-authenticating. And so we come full circle back to the question of the deuterocanonicals. Weighing this evidence, any open Protestant should be able to admit that the only thing keeping him back from considering these books as inspired by God is the Protestant tradition that rejected them. Is that tradition from God or from men?

The Church’s careful discernment of the canon settled on including the deuterocanonical books. And, with some occasional doubts, the books were consistently included in the canon from the 300s through the 1400s. In fact, the ecumenical council of Florence in the mid-1400s reaffirmed their inclusion in the Old Testament canon. This was long before Martin Luther and the first Protestants and lends further evidence that the Church accepted these books as inspired and did not “add” them to the canon in response to the Reformation, as many Protestants claim.

If Protestantism is true, then for more than a thousand years all of Christianity used an Old Testament that contained seven fully disposable, possibly deceptive books that God did not inspire. He did, however, allow the early Church to designate these books as Sacred Scripture and derive false teachings such as purgatory from their contents. Eventually, God’s chosen Reformer, Martin Luther, was able to straighten out this tragic error, even though his similar abridgment of the New Testament was a mistake.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura 2


-by Jimmy Akin

“One of the stickiest points in Catholic-Protestant debates is what is meant by the Protestant term sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone.”

Protestant apologists assert the doctrine but are often reluctant to offer a precise definition of it. Most will say that it does not mean certain things and will make a general stab at saying what it does mean, but I do not know of a Protestant apologist who has offered a complete and precise definition.

Thus, Catholic apologists are left in the unenviable position of critiquing an imprecise assertion. They commonly critique what they perceive most Protestants to mean by sola scriptura, which brings on nigh-inevitable charges of misrepresenting “the Protestant position.”

The problem is that there is no single Protestant position on sola scriptura. The term is used different ways, the details of which vary. But there seem to be two major ways the idea is interpreted.

Two Definitions

At times the phrase is taken to mean that we must be able to derive from Scripture alone all of the theological truths that God wished to reveal to mankind—and even all of the religious practices in which Christians should engage (i.e., that Scripture is “sufficient for faith and practice”).

Other times a more restricted claim is made: that we can derive from Scripture alone all of the truths that are needed for salvation.

When the doctrine of sola scriptura is not under cross-examination, though, a more robust understanding is employed, and Evangelical Christians are trained to ask reflexively for a biblical basis whenever any theological idea or religious practice is proposed. Thus when Evangelicals talk with Catholics, they identify a particular Catholic doctrine or practice they disapprove of and then ask, “Where’s that in the Bible?” For example, an Evangelical may select a topic such as purgatory (a theological belief) or praying to saints (a practice) and demand a biblical basis for it.

Necessary for Salvation

Note that, strictly speaking, neither of these appears to involve a truth that is necessary for salvation: God exists; God is a Trinity; Jesus is God the Son; Jesus died on a cross for our sins; and we need to repent, believe, and be baptized to be saved—in other words, truths connected directly with the gospel.

Purgatory is not connected with the gospel in that way. Neither is praying to saints. A Protestant asking for biblical bases for these would seem to be using a more expansive understanding of sola scriptura than just the idea that Scripture states or implies all truths necessary for salvation. He seems to be expecting Scripture to contain bases for all theological truths and religious practices.

If the same individual retreats, when sola scriptura is being questioned, to the more modest understanding of it, then it is fair for the Catholic to note the inconsistency and ask him to choose one understanding of the doctrine and stick with it.

If he chooses the more expansive understanding, then he endorses a position that is much more difficult to defend. As many works of Catholic apologetics have shown, nobody in the pages of Scripture itself operated on the principle that all belief and practice should be derivable from Scripture alone. It’s hard to find passages that could be construed as teaching this idea, and it is easy to find passages that indicate the contrary, such as Paul’s exhortation to his readers to heed all of the traditions they had received, whether they were written in his letters or conveyed orally (2 Thess. 2:15).

If, though, the Evangelical chooses the more modest interpretation of sola scriptura, then he will have to let go of many common Protestant objections to Catholicism. If only truths necessary for salvation have to be given a biblical basis, then he would not be able to object to purgatory or praying to saints or Marian doctrines or other Catholic beliefs and practices that have been criticized since the Reformation. He might still disagree with Catholics on these, but he would not be able to fault a Catholic for not providing a biblical basis for them.

Infallible Teachings

An Evangelical might say, “Wait a minute: If a Catholic denies the existence of purgatory, which the Church has taught infallibly, that would be a grave sin. If he did it with adequate knowledge and consent, his grave sin would become mortal, and he would lose his salvation. Thus, for a Catholic, things such as purgatory are necessary for salvation.”

It’s true that a Catholic would commit a mortal sin under the circumstances just named, but that does not make purgatory a truth “needed” for salvation. If you have mere moments to evangelize a dying man, there are certain things that he needs to be told for the sake of his salvation: the truths mentioned above about God, Jesus, and how to respond to God’s offer of salvation.

Purgatory is not one of those. Purgatory may be an imminent reality for the dying man, but it is not necessary for him to know about it in order to accept God’s offer of salvation. If he has a while to live, he should be taught the fullness of the faith, including purgatory. But if he is in danger of death, he most needs the core facts of the gospel.

Ya Gotta Have Faith

Purgatory and similar beliefs are related to salvation in a different way: The reason it would be sinful to deny them is that it involves a rejection of the virtue of faith. God has taught them and empowered the Church to propose them infallibly to the faithful. Because that has happened, our faith in the working of God demands that we give assent to them. To refuse to do so, with adequate knowledge and consent, is to reject faith in God. One might still believe in the existence of God—and any number of other individual teachings of the faith—but the virtue of faith that unites us to God is extinguished if we reject his authority to teach us in the manner of his choosing.

A parallel can be proposed in an Evangelical context: The Bible clearly teaches many things that are not directly required for salvation. For example, it teaches the existence of angels. The reality of angels is not itself something that you need to know to get into heaven.

If you have a short time to evangelize a dying man who, by some fluke, has never heard of angels, you don’t have to take time away from telling him about God to make sure he knows about angels. Angels may be about to escort him to the pearly gates, but he doesn’t need to know about them in advance. The existence of angels is thus something that Scripture teaches, but it is not a truth necessary for salvation.

But suppose the dying man knows that the Bible teaches the existence of angels but refuses to believe it. Suppose he also knows that God is the author of the Bible and that God teaches the existence of angels, yet he still refuses to believe it. Does that man have faith in God? He may acknowledge God’s existence, he may want to be saved by God, but classical Protestant theologians would not say that a man who acknowledges God’s existence but refuses to accept what he knows to be God’s word has faith in God—certainly not saving faith.

Modest Interpretation

The question for the Evangelical thus remains whether such beliefs require a biblical basis. If they do require one, then we arrive back at a hard-to-defend interpretation of sola scriptura whereby everything we are expected to believe must have a biblical basis.

But what if the Evangelical really were willing to stick with the more modest interpretation? Suppose he said, “Okay, I don’t agree with Catholics on teachings such as purgatory, but I recognize that they are not necessary for salvation, so I won’t demand that Catholics produce a biblical basis for them.”

He might also say, “In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul makes it clear that a person can sin by violating his conscience even when he mistakenly believes he is required by God to do or not do something. Paul even speaks as if such individuals may not be saved. So I can acknowledge that a person who believes the Catholic Church has been authorized to teach infallibly for God would sin and jeopardize his salvation if he rejected the ‘infallible’ teachings of the Church, even if they are not necessary in themselves for salvation.

“I just want to maintain,” he might conclude, “that there must be a biblical basis for every teaching that is in itself necessary for salvation. That’s all I mean when I talk about sola scriptura. What would a Catholic say about that?”

A Catholic Perspective

I don’t know any Evangelicals who are this startlingly consistent in advocating the modest interpretation of sola scriptura.

A Catholic would not use the term sola scriptura—which is historically contentious and highly prone to misunderstanding—but he certainly can agree that the basic facts of the gospel and how to respond to it can be derived from Scripture. A Catholic would add that these facts need to be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition and that the Church’s intervention may be necessary to make sure they are understood correctly.

Indeed, Peter warns that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:21) and says of Paul’s writings that “there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (3:16). But despite these qualifications, the basic facts necessary for salvation can be given a biblical basis.

It would be interesting to know how far such an Evangelical would be willing to rethink matters: If he’s willing to confine sola scriptura to just the basic facts needed for salvation, then what principles are to be employed in determining the rest of his theology?

The Catholic Church has a few he might want to consider.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Anti-Catholic science fiction


Clerical Catholic Scientists/Engineers
Lay Catholic Scientists/Engineers
St Albert the Great, OP
Msgr Georges Lemaitre, Father of the Big Bang Theory
Rev Gregor Mendel, Father of Modern Genetics
Pope to scientists: faith does not hurt science, it leads to greater truth


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“This past September, Apple TV+ launched an ambitious science fiction television series described as “based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov” that “chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire.”

The show takes its name, Foundation, from the first of three Asimov novels originally published as short stories from 1942 to 1950. Asimov received the prestigious Hugo Award for best all-time science fiction series in 1966 for the novels. Decades later, he added several prequels and sequels to the body of work. The books were considered notoriously difficult to adapt to film, as efforts by studios in the late 1990s and mid-2000s failed to achieve results. However, Apple TV acquired the rights in 2018 and ordered a ten-episode season. Released to mostly positive critical reviews, Apple ordered a second season last month.

Foundation purports to tell the story of the coming end of the Galactic Empire, ruled by three clones of the emperor, Cleon I. Imperial power rests with the seemingly consistent cloned rulers, who enforce galactic peace through extreme violence. However, trouble erupts when Hari Seldon, a university professor of mathematics, develops the theory of “psychohistory” (“a predictive model designed to forecast the behavior of very large populations”) that he claims foretells the fall of the empire. Arrested and tried for treason, Seldon confronts the cloned emperors and predicts the impending collapse of peace, security, and order in the galaxy. The TV show chronicles the adventures of the imperial clones, Seldon’s band of exiled followers, and the impending collapse of galactic society.

No book can be understood without reference to its author and what influenced him. Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was born in Russia, but his family moved to the United States when he was a boy. He earned advanced degrees in chemistry, which led to a position as a professor in biochemistry at Boston University. Asimov enjoyed creative writing from an early age and was drawn to science fiction. Although raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Asimov rejected his family’s faith, became an atheist, and embraced the Enlightenment ideals of humanism and rationalism. He was named “Humanist of the Year” in 1984 by the American Humanist Association, an organization dedicated to establishing a “progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life,” and served as its president from 1985 to 1992. Asimov continued to write and speak on scientific topics until his death in 1992.

Asimov found inspiration for his Foundation narrative after reading Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon (1737-1794) was an English Enlightenment scholar who was raised Anglican, converted to the Catholic Faith at Oxford while a student, and then reverted to Protestantism when his outraged father sent him to Calvinist Switzerland to regain the “true” faith. Later, after meeting Voltaire, the French skeptic and enemy of the Church, Gibbon embraced skepticism and rationalism. In his famous work on the Roman Empire, Gibbon posited the theory that the Church enfeebled the once mighty imperial structure. He speculated that the Church’s objection to Roman immorality and its failure to embrace the Roman way of life disrupted the unity of the empire.

According to Gibbon, the teachings of the Catholic Church produced a “servile and effeminate age,” where Roman imperial society was undermined by the clergy and its insistence on living Christian virtues. He argued that the political life of the empire was radically changed by the adoption of the Christian faith as the official (and only) religion in the empire in the late fourth century. Emperors, Gibbon opined, were distracted by worthless and ridiculous religious disagreements, which hampered their ability to deal with the rising political and military situation on the imperial borders.

Gibbon’s theory on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire became the standard narrative in the English-speaking world and found favor with Enlightenment thinkers with an animus against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. Enlightenment intellectuals believed that the Church was a negative influence in the world and that the collapse of the Roman Empire produced a thousand-year “triumph of barbarism and religion” that was finally broken with the return of the classical knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome during the Renaissance. The Frenchman Denis Diderot (1713-1784), an Enlightenment leader, summed it all up when he famously quipped, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

The influence of Enlightenment intellectuals, and especially Gibbon’s work, is clearly seen in the first episode of Foundation, when Hari Seldon stands in the docket during his treason trial. Seldon predicts the collapse of imperial civilization within five centuries (Rome collapsed at the end of the fifth century) followed by a dark age of barbarism and violence consisting of 30,000 years, which Seldon argues can be reduced to a thousand years with the creation of an Encyclopedia Galactica, a compilation of human knowledge that can be used by future generations climbing out of the post-imperial dark ages as a “foundation” for the re-establishment of civilization. After rebels detonate suicide bombs, initiating events that may lead to the empire’s demise, the emperors decide to spare Seldon’s life and send him along with his followers into exile on a remote planet, where they will compile their Encyclopedia Galactica to ride out the impending dark ages.

Now it’s time to set the record straight. Although the Foundation Apple TV+ series is a well written show containing majestic set pieces, beautiful cinematography, stunning computer-generated graphics, and a cast of fascinating characters brilliantly acted, its foundation (pun intended) rests on a tired anti-Catholic historical myth about the role of religion and the Church in the collapse of ancient civilization.

Contra the show’s writers—and Isaac Asimov, and Edward Gibbon—embracing the Catholic faith did not cause the collapse of the Roman Empire. The early Church did not desire the downfall of the established political order and in fact supported the Roman state, spiritually through prayer and materially by individual Christians joining the army, working as imperial officials, and paying their taxes.

The empire persecuted the Church and tried to eradicate it for numerous political, religious, and social reasons. The Church’s moral teachings certainly placed it at odds with Roman culture, and there is no doubt that these were a cause of Roman animosity against the Church. Ten general persecutions exploded against the Church in its first four centuries of existence. The Great Persecution under Diocletian in the early fourth century was undertaken at a time of relative peace and stability in the empire and certainly did not distract the emperor from more important affairs of state, as Gibbon claimed. By the time of the western imperial collapse in the late fifth century, Rome had made peace with the Church and embraced its teachings for over a hundred and fifty years.

So if the Church was not responsible for the “fall” of Rome, who or what was? The key to understanding the question of why Rome collapsed is found in the Roman army, which underwent a series of transformations that doomed the longevity of the empire. The Roman army of the early empire comprised Roman citizens who saw military service as a central piece of citizenship. The army, totaling 300,000 men, focused on a perimeter defense on the borders of the empire to protect the 60 million imperial inhabitants. But by the third century, the Roman army had become a professional entity with recruitment primarily drawn not from citizens, but from slaves and poor free men. Recruiting became difficult, so imperial bureaucrats developed the idea of offering the Germanic tribes on the imperial borders entrance into the empire in exchange for military service. By the fifth century, the Roman army in its vital components was staffed by ethnically German warriors, raised in the empire and self-identifying as Roman but not beholden to the wealthy Roman nobility nor the imperial bureaucracy.

The empire collapsed in the West in the late fifth century because it was exhausted from five hundred years of imperial rule. Romans lost confidence in their society. Central bureaucratic control from Rome collapsed in the West in the late fifth century, and power fell into the hands of the local Roman military commanders—again, ethnic Germans. These local chieftains were forced to forge a new identity and societal structure when the last Western emperor was overthrown in the late fifth century. Contrary to what the Enlightenment thinkers claimed—and the line of thought that provides the grist for Foundation—the Church, with its bishops and dioceses (organized according to the imperial governmental structure), provided the Romans a chance at unity in belief, practice, and life.

No one needs to be convinced that Foundation is a work of fiction. But unfortunately, in our age, rife as it is with animosity against the Catholic Church, what does need spelling out is that Foundation is based on fiction, too—not true history, but the tendentious work of bitter philosophers and historians with an axe to grind against the one institution mandated by God to produce hope and light in a chaotic world.”

It was the Catholic Church that saved and preserved Western civilization despite the collapse the what was left of the western Roman Empire beneath it.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Praying to saints

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Fra Angelico, 1423-4, The National Gallery, London, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“We as Catholics often take great pride in what we believe—rightly so, since it is the truth. But that pride sometimes can be challenged when we dabble a bit in theology, reflecting further upon those beliefs only to discover that some of them seemingly conflict with each other.

Here is an example: Catholics believe that the saints in heaven have wills that are perfectly conformed to God’s will. We also believe that the saints intercede for us, praying to God for help on our behalf. But if the saints’ wills are perfectly conformed to God’s will, then what difference does it make whether they intercede for us? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this apparent incompatibility in the Supplement to his Summa Theologiae (72:3, ad 5). Here’s one way of showing the tension:

P1: The saints conform their wills perfectly to the will of God.

C1: Therefore, the saints will only what they know God to will.

P2: Prayer necessarily involves what someone wills.

C2: Therefore, the saints pray for only what they know God to will.

P3: What God wills can be done without the saints praying for it.

C3: Therefore, the saints’ prayers are not efficacious for obtaining anything.

Aquinas accepts every step of the argument except at the end, where it jumps from premise three to conclusion three. Just because God can bring about some effect without the saints praying for it, that doesn’t automatically mean that the saints’ prayers aren’t efficacious to obtain anything.

His reason is that God could will that the prayers of the saints be the means by which he brings about an effect. In other words, God could will the saints’ prayers to be secondary causes of goodness and of help in our lives.

Aquinas appeals to Augustine as his authority on this point. Referring to the saints, he writes:

Nor is their prayer fruitless, since as Augustine says (De Praed. Sanct. [De Dono Persever. xxii]): “The prayers of the saints profit the predestinate, because it is perhaps pre-ordained that they shall be saved through the prayers of those who intercede for them”: and consequently God also wills that what the saints see him to will shall be fulfilled through their prayers.

To put it simply, God may will that some blessing not be given except through a saint’s intercessory prayer.

Perhaps we can shed further light on this by understanding that God’s providence involves willing not only certain effects to take place, but also the causes from which those effects will be brought about. That is to say, God wills a pattern of cause-effect relationships.

Now, the eternal decree that determines which causes will bring about which effects includes human acts. These actions are an essential part of God’s plan. In the words of Aquinas, they “achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition” (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).

Consider an example. God decreed from all eternity that I would have a fried egg for breakfast this morning. This eternal decree included the egg being produced in a way that involved my wife’s act of love to cook it for me (she’s so sweet), along with all the other ways in which a fried egg comes about: the egg is cracked, put into the frying pan, and cooked by the frying pan through the gas stove. My wife’s help, along with all the other natural processes of cooking an egg, was willed by God to be a part of the cause-effect pattern.

The same is true with intercessory prayer, whether we’re talking about the prayers of Christians on earth or in heaven. Intercessory prayer is simply one human action among many (e.g., my wife cooking the egg) that God wills to be a cause of certain effects in his divine plan.

Intercessory prayer requests from God what he has willed from eternity, to be bestowed by that intercession. As philosopher Brian Davies explains, “God may will from eternity that things should come about as things prayed for by us”—or, for our purposes, the saints.

In other words, it’s possible that God wills some events to occur only as a result of the saints’ intercession. For example, God may have eternally decreed to heal the cancer of a loved one, but only on the condition that persistent requests for a miracle be made through the intercession of a particular saint.

It doesn’t matter whether we know that the effect is conditioned by the request. The point is, it’s possible, so we make the request, hoping God wills the saints’ intercession to be a cause of the effect. If it turns out that he did not will it so, then we trust that God has good reasons for his choice. This is why Christians pray, “Thy will be done.”

But if God wills the saint’s intercession to be the cause of the desired effect, then it would be true to say the saint’s prayer made a real difference. It would have made a difference by being an essential part of the cause-effect pattern God has eternally decreed.

The real causal power that the saints’ prayers have in God’s eternal plan is not at all different from the real causal power my wife’s actions had in producing a fried egg this morning. Her help was essential for the fried egg because that is how God arranged it to be from all eternity. God has created a world in which fried eggs come to be in a specific way.

Similarly, with regard to the saints’ intercession, some events will occur only as a result of their help through intercessory prayer, because that is the specific way God has arranged things. God has created a world in such a way that our actions, including prayer, serve as real game-changers in the history of the world.

The bottom line is this: there is nothing in the saints’ conformity to the divine will that makes it incompatible with the saints’ intercessory prayer being an effective help in our lives. Their petitions are arranged by God to be part and parcel of his divine plan—a great honor God bestows upon them as real causes of good for others. And that’s a belief that we can rejoice in!”

Love,
Matthew

Merit in Heaven? Merit from Heaven? The Treasury of Merit


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“Sometimes, when we dabble in theology, we discover that some of our beliefs seemingly conflict with each other, challenging the pride we have in our beliefs. One example of a possible contradiction involves the intercession of the saints and their conformity to God’s will. You can find that one here.

The saints’ conformity to God’s will is not the only apparent obstacle to belief in the intercession of the saints. The saints’ inability to merit anything in heaven is another. St. Thomas Aquinas presents the objection this way:

Whosoever obtains something by prayer merits it in a sense. But the saints in heaven are not in the state of meriting. Therefore they cannot obtain anything for us from God by their prayers (Summa Theologiae Suppl. 72:3 obj 4).

The standard view in Catholic theology is that in order for a person to merit something, he must still be in this life, so departed human souls—including the saints—can no longer merit.

Here are some biblical passages that theologians have traditionally appealed to for support of this teaching:

  • Hebrews 4:10: “For whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.”
  • Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

Now, St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 3:8 that the wages we receive are proportioned to our labor. He writes, “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.”

So, if the Bible teaches that our labors cease when we die in the Lord, and our wages are proportioned to our labors, then it follows that our wages for our labors are fixed upon death. And since “wages” here traditionally has been viewed to include the gift of charity, we can conclude that our degree of charity is fixed upon death, and thus we can no longer merit because charity is the principle of merit.

There are a few different possible answers to this objection that Aquinas identifies.

First, as he writes, “although the saints are not in a state to merit for themselves, when once they are in heaven, they are in a state to merit for others” (ST Suppl. 72:2 ad 4). In other words, rather than their charity benefiting themselves, it’s beneficial for others.

A second possibility is that the saints in heaven can assist others by virtue of the merit they acquired while here on earth. Aquinas writes, “For while living they merited that their prayers should be heard after their death.”

This is consistent with what the Bible says about how the value of our charitable works remains with us as we enter heaven. Remember Revelation 14:13 above. The value of the good works of those who die in grace continues to exist as they exist in heaven.

Catholic teaching on the treasury of the Church is rooted in this biblical teaching. In paragraphs 1475-1477, the Catechism explains the Church’s treasury as follows:

In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. . . . We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury. . . . The “treasury of the Church” is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. . . . This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints.

So Catholic teaching on the treasury of the Church provides us with an answer to this objection, and Aquinas’s thought runs parallel to it.

A third possible response is that the objection assumes that prayer obtains things only by way of merit. But, Aquinas argues, this is not true. Prayer can also obtain things by way of impetration, which simply means “by request or entreaty.”

Prayer is meritorious when there is a certain proportion between our prayer and that which we seek to obtain through the prayer, such that the thing we seek through the prayer is given as a reward. For example, Paul teaches in Romans 2:6-7 that eternal life will be given to those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.” The reason why eternal life is a proportionate reward for our good works is that, according to Philippians 2:13, it is God who is at work in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Or, as Paul puts it in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The supernatural reward of heaven has a proper proportion to the supernatural value that God gives our good works by acting in and through us.

Obtaining something through prayer considered merely as a request (impetration), on the other hand, depends not on a proportion between the value of the request and that which is sought, but rather on the liberality of the person from whom we’re requesting something. In other words, whatever is sought by the request is not in any way due to the person who’s making the request. Whether the thing sought is obtained is entirely up to the person of whom the request is made.

So we can conclude with Aquinas that although the saints in heaven might not be able to obtain some good for us through meritorious prayer, they can still do so through prayers of impetration—prayers by way of request or entreaty.

The apparent conflict, therefore, between the intercession of the saints and their inability to merit in heaven is just that: apparent. A healthy Catholic pride in this belief can remain.

Jun 23 – 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (d. 302 AD)


-from the Menologion of Basil II, 985 AD, among the martyrs were Glycerius, Zeno, Theophilus, Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius, Indes, Gorgonius, Peter, Euthymius, and the virgins Agape, Domna, and Theophila, please click on the image for greater detail

This event took place when the emperor Maximian (284-305) returned with victory over Ethiopians in 304 AD. The Christians of Nicomedia refused to sacrifice to Roman pagan idols during Christmas Mass in order to thank false pagan gods for the victory the Emperor had acquired. Later Maximian and his soldiers entered the church and told the Christians they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. The Christian priest Glycerius answered that the Christians would never “renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture”. Maximian ordered him to be burned to death. Those who had not been burned in the church were captured and tortured to death. The bishop Anthimos who had escaped burning in the church was captured and beheaded.

In the Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church, there are separate entries for groups of martyrs of Nicomedia. The martyrdom of Anthimus of Nicomedia and companions is commemorated on 24 April and “the commemoration of many holy martyrs of Nicomedia” on June 23.

At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Maximian (284-305 AD) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was Saint Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court were also secret Christians.

The pagan priestess Domna was living in the palace at that time. Providentially, she obtained a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Saint Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about the Christian teaching. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna went secretly to Bishop Anthimus (Cyril’s successor) with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. Saint Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.

Domna began to help the poor: she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, found out that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but they received support from an angel and did not suffer. Saint Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. Abbess Agatha quickly dressed her in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.

During this time the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers sent for this purpose found the monastery and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison, subjected to torture and abuse, but not one of them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, Saint Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.

At this time the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his rantings a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to retreat to the palace for his own safety.

Later Maximian went to the church with soldiers and told them they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The Christian presbyter Glycerius told him that Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor exited the church, and a short time later commanded the presbyter Glycerius be arrested for trial. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force Saint Glycerius stop confessing Christ, Maximian ordered him to be burned to death.

On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the year 302, when about 20,000 Christians had assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia, the emperor sent a herald into the church. He told the Christians that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that anyone who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to worship the idols.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus, baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 of those praying died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and Saint Theophila who had been saved from the den of iniquity by a miracle. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape the fire.

Maximian thought that he had exterminated all the Christians of Nicomedia. He soon learned that there were many more, and that they would confess their faith and were prepared to die for Christ. The emperor wondered how to deal with them. At his command they arrested the regimental commander Zeno, who was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded. They jailed the eunuch Indes, formerly a priest of the idols, for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.

The persecution against Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius the deacon and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus encouraged them by sending letters to them. One of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They subjected him to torture, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding. The holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. Then they executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letter. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their crowns from God.

For weeks, Saint Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept for a long time at the ruins of the church, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went the sea shore. At that moment fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.

Saint Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left her the bodies of the martyrs. With reverence she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.

After giving them an honorable burial, she did not depart from these graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead the youth. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.

Apolytikion of 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
Second Tone
Blessed is the earth that drank your blood, O prizewinners of the Lord, and holy are the tabernacles that received your spirit; for in the stadium ye triumphed over the enemy, and ye proclaimed Christ with boldness. Beseech Him, we pray, since He is good, to save our souls.

Kontakion of 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
First Tone
A twenty-thousand numbered battalion of Martyrs ariseth like an unwaning star great with brightness, enlight’ning by faith the hearts and the minds of all godly folk. For, enkindled with divine love unto the Master, this courageous host received a sanctified ending when eagerly burned with fire.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 25 – St Anastasia of Smirmium, Serbia (281-304 AD) – Martyr, Deliverer of Potions, the Healer, “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”


-please click on the image for greater detail

“To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in Your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with Your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all Your Saints.”
-from the Roman Canon of the Mass

Prior to Vatican II, the commemoration Mass for the feast of Saint Anastasia takes place at the second Mass of Christmas, the Mass at Dawn (Introit Lux fulgebit). One might think: This is Christmas, one of the principal feasts of the liturgical year — no time for thinking about saints! And yet, we have here a gentle, persistent reminder that if our Lord Jesus Christ is “the light [that] shall shine upon us this day,” the saints are the garment of light He wears about Him, the radiant beams that shine from His holy face. We are reminded, too, that we are members of a family in which our Lord is the firstborn of many brethren, and that we need our older brothers and sisters to pray for us as we approach so bright and burning a light.


-please click on the image for greater detail


-scale model of Smirmium, Pannonia Secunda (Serbia), late 3rd century AD, please click on the image for greater detail


-Great Martyr Anastasia, the Deliverer from Potions (Byzantine icon, 14th-15th century, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia), please click on the image for greater detail

The basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino in Rome was built in the late 3rd century – early 4th century, possibly by a Roman woman named Anastasia. Later the church was entitled to the martyr with the same name, Anastasia of Sirmium. Anastasia is called the deliverer of potions and healer due to her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances.

In the 5th century, the relics of St Anastasia were transferred to Constantinople, where a church was built and dedicated to her. Later, the relics, including her skull, were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmokolitria, Chalkidiki of Greece, near Mount Athos. In 2012, the relics were stolen and have not been recovered.

St. Anastasia, also known as Anastasia of Sirmium and Anastasia the Pharmakolytria or “Deliverer from Potions,” is a Christian saint and martyr who suffered for Christ during the time of Diocletian’s Christian persecutions. She is one of the seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.  She is called deliverer of potions since she traveled from city to city caring for Christian prisoners which is how she came to Smirmium.

Anastasia was from Rome and belonged to a wealthy family. Her father Praepextatus was a Pagan but her mother Fausta, was Christian. Anastasia was born around 280 AD. She was known to be beautiful and virtuous in every way. Without the knowledge of her father, her mother baptized her, when she was an infant. Fausta secretly educated Anastasia to follow the path of Christianity and was raised with Christian values.

When her mother passed away, Anastasia’s father got her married to Publius Patricius, who was also a pagan. Publius was a loving husband to Anastasia until he discovered that she believed in Christ. During the persecutions of Diocletian, the husband tortured her and confined her to the house as a slave. Even though she was tormented, she was delighted that she could suffer in the name of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, she had to tolerate these abuses for only a short period of time, as Publius soon drowned to his death.

Anastasia became a young widow after Publius’s death and she never remarried. She distributed her property to those less fortunate and suffering. Anastasia spent her time traveling from city to city helping the poor, treating the sick and provided the prisoners with whatever they needed every day. She would clean the wounds of injured people and would provide solace to those who were in agony. She was so gifted that she could heal and save many from the ill-effects of potions, evil spells, poisons and other dangerous elements through her interventions and prayers. She was given the title “Deliverer from Potions,” because she would often heal many from the effects of poisons and potions.

Anastasia was arrested in Illyricum and taken to the prefect of the district for being Christian. He tried to persuade her to deny her faith and threatened her with torture. Anastasia could not be swayed, so she was given to the pagan priest Ulpian in Rome. He presented her with the choice between riches or suffering, luxuries or torture devices. She chose torture.

He gave her three days to reconsider. Enamored by her beauty, Ulpian decided he would defile her purity. However, once he went to touch her he was struck blind and his head burst into extreme pain. On his way to his pagan temple, he fell and died.


-please click on the image for greater detail

St. Anastasia, now free, set out to care for imprisoned Christians, along with Theodota, a pious young widow and faithful helper. The news of her good deeds and the miracles that she performed spread far and wide. She became so reputed in such short time that she was arrested under the persecutions of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor. After her companion, Theodota was martyred, Anastasia was ordered death by starvation and was starved for 60 days. But she was not harmed. It is said the martyred Theodota visited her and fed her during this time.

The judge then decided the prisoners, including Anastasia and Eutychianus, would be killed by drowning. They all entered a boat with holes in the base, but St. Theodota appeared to them and steered the boat to shore. Once they landed, Anastasia and Eutychianus baptized 120 men.

Following yet another escape, Anastasia was taken to the island of Palmaria. She was staked to the ground with her arms and legs stretched out and burned alive. She died in 304 AD.  “Anastasis” is Greek for Resurrection.

O holy saint Anastasia, healer and minister to captives, who did suffer greatly as a martyr while relieving the suffering of the poor and the sick, pray for us who are ill in soul and in body. Relieve us by your intercessions from the illnesses of our minds, from all evil temptation that seeks to disturb us, and from the suffering of our many afflictions. We ask these things boldly of you as you boldly approach the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ Who alone is the Healer and Lover of Mankind. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Christmas Midnight Mass Sermon by St Francis de Sales


-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail

“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.

These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.

The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.

The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.

But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.

St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.

Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.

So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.

We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.

But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.

If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.

Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.

Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 [36]), for we should have one.

For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.

Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.

The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.

This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.

Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.

Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.

The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.

Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.

We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.

Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.

He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.

On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.

The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.

This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.

In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.

Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.

In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).

Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.

As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.

It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.

Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.

In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.

Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.

At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).

This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.

Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.

Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.

But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.

It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).

I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, pp. 82–86.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 23 – Sts Victoria, Anatolia & Audax (d. 250 AD) – Virgins, Roman Soldier & Martyrs


-Victoria and Anatolia are portrayed amongst the mosaic Procession of Virgins in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 22 martyrs shown offering their crowns of martyrdom to the Christ, between Saints Paulina and Christina.. Originally a heretical Arian church, erected by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested to in the Liber Pontificalis). This Arian church was originally dedicated in 504 AD to “Christ the Redeemer”. It was reconsecrated in 561 AD, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, under the new name “Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo” (“Saint Martin in Golden Heaven”). Suppressing the Arian church, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism.The basilica was renamed again in 856 AD when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Christian noblewoman from Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajanus Decius, Anatolia together with her sister, Victoria, were forced into arranged marriages with two pagan noblemen. Wishing to devote herself entirely to Christ, Anatolia refused to marry her suitor, Titus Aurelius. Aurelius asked her sister, Victoria, to plead his case. Saint Victoria was initially content with marrying the pagan as she hope that she would be able to convert him. But Victoria was converted to her sister’s Christian views on virginity and broke off her engagement to her fiancé, Eugenius.

The two suitors then seized the girls and attempted to starve them into submission in order to break their faith and convince them to marry. Instead of weakening, their faith in Christ became more resolute. While under house arrest they sold all of their belongings, gave their money to the poor, and converted the servants and guards who attended them to Christianity. Finally, they were denounced as Christians.

Anatolia was killed at “Thora” (identified with present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose). Her legend states that she was at first locked up with a poisonous snake. The snake refused to bite her, and a soldier named Audax was sent into her cell to kill her. The snake attacked him instead, but Anatolia saved him from the snake. Impressed by her example, he converted to Christianity and was martyred by the sword with her.

Saint Victoria’s suitor get’s word of what happened and therefore continues to try his best to convince Saint Victoria to change her mind. He goes through periods of great kindness towards her followed with periods of extreme ill-treatment for years. Finally frustrated, St. Victoria was stabbed through the heart at the request of her rejected suitor, Eugenius, at Trebula Mutuesca (today Monteleone Sabino).  It is recorded elsewhere, it was Egenius himself who was her executioner.  Her executioner was immediately struck with leprosy and died six days later and was eaten by worms.  Iconography in medallions honoring St Victoria often show a knife recalling the method of her martyrdom.

Due to the translation of their relics, their cult spread across Italy. Some relics of Saint Victoria were transferred in 827 AD by Abbot Peter of Farfa from the Abbey to Mount Matenano in the Picene area (roughly the south of Le Marche) because the Abbey was besieged by Saracens. The town of Santa Vittoria in Matenano is named after her. Ratfredus, a later Abbot of Farfa, brought the body from Farfa to Santa Vittoria in Matenano on 20 June 931 AD.


-the Abbey at Farfa, please click on the image for greater detail

The bodies of Anatolia and Audax were transferred by Abbot Leo to Subiaco around 950. At an unknown date, a scapula of Anatolia was translated to the present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose and an arm of the saint was translated to the present-day Esanatoglia. The bodies of Anatolia and Audax still rest at Subiaco in the basilica of Santa Scholastica, under the altar of the sacrament. A simulacrum and other relics of Saint Victoria are currently on display at the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland also claims to hold St Victoria’s body, preserved in wax, along with a chalice containing some of her blood. These were sent to Kilkenny in 1845 by Pope Gregory XVI.

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP