Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

May 10 – St John of Avila, (1499-1569), Doctor of the Church – Inspirer of Saints


-St John of Avila, by El Greco, please click on the image for greater detail

The saints are made saints together…
-originally published in The Catholic Voice of the Archdiocese of Omaha

St. John of Avila is a little-known Spanish saint who helped or influenced many more saints we know much better.

He was born either in 1499 or 1500 in a small town south of Toledo, Spain. The only son of a wealthy family, he was sent off to study law. He left school after a deep conversion and was insistent on becoming a priest. He was ordained in 1526.

With the discovery of the New World still on the minds of many and the rise of new ideas and new technologies changing many lives, young Father John chose to leave his homeland and serve as a missionary priest to the people of New Spain (Mexico). He gave all his inheritance to the poor and, with the permission of his bishop, traveled to Seville, Spain, to await his transport ship to the Americas.

While he waited he preached in the town and caught the eye and ear of the holy Fernando de Contreras. Fernando and the Archbishop of Seville convinced Father John to stay and serve the people of Andalusia, which he did for a number of years. Father John was later brought to Córdoba and eventually to Granada where he finished his university studies.

A scholar of some prowess, Father John was recognized as an intellectually insightful man. He was an inventor, the author of a catechism for adults and children and the founder of several colleges and a university. But it was his love for God, for bringing souls to the Lord, and his deep spiritual insights that brought him wider acclaim.

His preaching was marked by a message of God’s deep and abiding love for us. This caught the attention of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, who sought out Father John hoping he would become one of those first Jesuits. Though he didn’t join, he sent 30 of his best spiritual mentees to the new order. In fact, it was Father John who helped convert St. Francis Borgia, SJ, who succeeded St. Ignatius as head of the Jesuits.

St. John of God, founder of the Hospitilars, was converted to a life of piety by the preaching of Father John. St. Peter Alcántara, reformer of the Franciscan Order, was a friend, as was St. John de Ribera. St. Thomas of Villanova distributed Father John’s catechism throughout his diocese. Finally, both St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, reformers of the Carmelite Order, actively sought out Father John for his spiritual wisdom.

His work “Audi, Filia” or “Listen, Daughter” is considered his spiritual masterpiece. He also corresponded with many lay people and priests to whom he gave spiritual direction. He wrote in one letter, “Open your little heart to that breadth of love by which the Father gave us his Son, and with him gave us himself, and the Holy Spirit, and all things besides.”

After some illness and exhaustion led him to retire from preaching, Father John died on May 10, 1569. He was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 for his tremendous insight and influence on Catholic spirituality during a critical time in church history.

Through St. John of Ávila we are reminded of God’s infinite love for us, to which we need only surrender, for it is that love which transforms us and makes saints of us all.

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas, ST Suppl. 72:1, ad 2 – Can the saints hear our prayers?


-by Karlo Broussard

(Summa Theologiae, by St Thomas Aquinas, OP, Supplement, Question 72, Article 1, objection 2)

“The second objection in the article says the saints don’t know our prayers because such knowledge would undermine their happiness. Here’s one way to put the argument:

P1: If the saints knew our prayers, then they would know our sufferings.

P2: If the saints knew our sufferings, then the saints would be sad.

P3: But the saints in heaven can’t be sad.

C1: Therefore, the saints can’t know our sufferings.

C2: Therefore, the saints can’t know our prayers.

The key premise is the second, to which Aquinas replies that we can’t say the saints in heaven are grieved by knowledge of our troubles in life because they are “so filled with heavenly joy, that sorrow finds no place in them.”

Although I think Aquinas is right here, it seems there needs to be a bit more explanation as to how knowledge of our sufferings wouldn’t undermine the happiness of the blessed. In the Summa, he obliges: “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good” (ST III:1:3, ad 3).

Whether the saints know that good or not doesn’t matter. Simply knowledge that God will direct a permitted evil to a greater good gives the saints reason not to be sad. This is especially true given the saints’ vision of the divine essence, which provides them with an improved perspective on how God perfectly orders things to His glory.

Second, the saints in heaven view the troubles in our lives with an eternal perspective, a perspective that Paul articulates in his letters. For example, in Romans 8:18, Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

If Paul’s knowledge of such glory without the beatific vision could diminish sadness caused by his sufferings, then how much more would the saints’ knowledge of this glory with the beatific vision diminish sadness? Much more! In fact, being in the presence of the heavenly glory excludes sadness altogether.

So, just because the saints in heaven would have knowledge of the troubles in our lives if they knew our prayers, it doesn’t follow they would be sad. They know there are greater goods that God is bringing about through our troubles.

The third objection that Aquinas deals with is similar to an objection often heard today in challenging God’s existence: the problem of evil. It claims the saints can’t possibly know our prayers because if they did, they would respond to our requests for intercession, and we wouldn’t have suffering in our lives.

Behind this objection is the idea that a charitable person always assists his friend and/or neighbor when the latter is suffering. Since the saints in heaven have perfect love, and we’re their friends, it follows that if they knew our requests about what’s going on in our lives, they would help us in our sufferings.

But—the argument goes—they must not be helping us in our sufferings, because we suffer every day. Therefore, they must not know the requests that we make.

This objection is based on a false dichotomy. It supposes either the saints are praying for us, in which case we wouldn’t suffer, or they don’t know our prayers. But there’s a third option.

Perhaps the saints know our prayers and it’s just not God’s will that we be delivered from a particular trial, at least not yet. Like us, they don’t know all of God’s plan, and so even their petitions are subject to what the Lord wills (James 4:15). Alternately, if—in a particular case—they do know that God wills to allow a source of suffering, they certainly would not pray for it to be removed. Aquinas explains,

The souls of the saints have their will fully conformed to the Divine will even as regards the things willed; and consequently, although they retain the love of charity towards their neighbor, they do not succor him otherwise than they see to be in conformity with the disposition of divine justice (ST Suppl. 72:1, ad 3).

So, if we ask the saints to pray that we be delivered from a particular difficulty in our lives, and it doesn’t come to pass, it’s because it wasn’t God’s will. It’s not because the saints aren’t aware of our prayers.

Furthermore, if God doesn’t will to deliver us from a trial, the saints can still help us by praying we have the strength to persevere in faith and not lose hope in the midst of our suffering. Such prayers also would be fruits of perfect love.

Even if we don’t hear these arguments raised today, they’re interesting to consider. And if by chance a Protestant does happen to use one or both of them, a Catholic will be able to show why they don’t succeed.”

Love, all ye holy men and women, pray for us!!
Matthew

Go ask your Father: the Early Church was Catholic


-by Marcus Grodi

“For the first forty years of my life, it never crossed my mind that I needed anything else but the Bible to know what I needed to believe to be a faithful Christian. When I was in seminary and preparing to become a Protestant pastor I studied the history of Christianity, but with a certain slant that skirted any acknowledgment of the historical importance of the Catholic Church. For me, as well as most of my fellow seminarians, the important history essentially ended with the closure of the New Testament and picked up again with the sixteenth century Protestant reformation.

I certainly knew of some significant Christian figures and events from those “lost” fifteen hundred years, but for me and the congregations I pastored, all that was important was the Bible—which had been “saved” from the clutches of the “Whore of Babylon” through the courage of the Reformers. The few references I had read from the writings of the early Christian writers (I don’t remember referring to them as early Church “Fathers”) were selectively chosen to demonstrate that the early Church was more like Protestantism than Catholicism.

Then, by God’s grace, my eyes were opened to the problems of Protestantism. Without question, it was my discovery of the witness of the early Church Fathers that most opened my heart and mind toward the Catholic faith. Fortunately, God provided helpers to assist me in finding and working my way through the few available collections of the Fathers, most of which were out of print and some badly skewed by anti-Catholic translators. Through their witness, the Catholicism of the early Church became so obvious that my family and I knew that if we were to follow the truth then we had no option but to become Catholic.

A large majority of Christians today believe that all one needs to know about the early Church can be gleaned from the book of Acts, and that beyond that, the essence of early Church structure, liturgy, and praxis is somehow a prototype of what they experience in their modern-day Protestant churches.

But if the inspired words of the New Testament do not contain all that the Apostles taught the early Christians, then how does one discover the rest of what these early Christians believed? The answer to this—at least for hundreds of modern Protestant ministers who have surprisingly found their way home to the Catholic Church—is in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

How, though, can we access such a large corpus of writings, especially when they were written in languages that most of us today have not had the patience to learn?

For this, we are particularly blessed by the release of Jimmy Akin’s superbly compiled synopsis of the writings of the early Church Fathers.

There are other collections, which have helped many discover the beauty and importance of what these early writers reveal about the expanding and persecuted early Church. But Akin’s finely selected and categorized collection provides a far more accessible introduction into the full Catholicity of the early Christians. As a convert himself and a well-honed apologist, Jimmy knows the topics that are most crucial for those wanting and needing to know what the early Church believed—especially in those doctrinal areas where Catholics and non-Catholics bump heads.”

ST. AMBROSE OF MILAN

Born around 338; died 397. Bishop of Milan, Italy. One of the four original Doctors of the Church. Originally, he was a government official. After the death of the local bishop, the Catholics and Arians got into a vehement conflict about who should be the new bishop.

Ambrose was trying to keep the peace and settle the two groups down when someone—allegedly a small boy—began chanting “Ambrose, bishop!” Soon the two groups began chanting together that Ambrose should be the new bishop. (The Arians, apparently, felt that although Ambrose was Catholic in belief he would be a kinder bishop than they otherwise would likely get.) Yet, Ambrose was not even baptized yet!

Culturally well-educated but at the same time ignorant of the Scriptures, the new Bishop briskly began to study them. From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the “Alexandrian School”, he learned to know and to comment on the Bible. Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina. The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose’s preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God.

The future St Augustine, converted to Christianity by St Ambrose, meanwhile, had come to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric; he was a sceptic and not Christian. He was seeking the Christian truth but was not capable of truly finding it.

What moved the heart of the young African rhetorician, sceptic and downhearted, and what impelled him to definitive conversion was not above all Ambrose’s splendid homilies, although he deeply appreciated them. It was rather the testimony of the Bishop and his Milanese Church that prayed and sang as one intact body. It was a Church that could resist the tyrannical ploys of the Emperor and his mother, who in early 386 again demanded a church building for the Arians’ celebrations.

In the building that was to be requisitioned, Augustine relates, “the devout people watched, ready to die with their Bishop”.   This testimony of the Confessions is precious because it points out that something was moving in Augustine, who continues: “We too, although spiritually tepid, shared in the excitement of the whole people.” (Confessions 9, 7).  St Monica, the tearful Christian mother of her wayward son Augustine, followed her son to Milan.  The customs for worship in Thagaste, Northern Africa, where they were from, were different than in Milan and Rome.  When she asked Ambrose what to do, he replied, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”  Very practical advice.

ST. ANTHONY OF EGYPT

Born around 250 at Herakleopolis Magna; died 356. A layman who lived in a variety of places in Egypt. Though hailed as “the Father of Monasticism,” he was not the first monk, but he was one of the first (if not the first) ascetics known to retire to the desert. A biography of him by St. Athanasius of Alexandria helped spread his style of monasticism.

ST. ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA

Born around 295; died 373. A Doctor of the Church. As a deacon he accompanied St. Alexander of Alexandria to the Council of Nicaea I. He succeeded Alexander as patriarch of Alexandria and was a tireless defender of Trinitarianism and foe of the Arians. His time as bishop was stormy, and he was expelled from his see five times but regained it each time.

ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

Born 354; died 430. One of the four original Doctors of the Church. Of Berber descent, he was born to a pagan father (Patricius) and Christian mother (St. Monica), in Thagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria). He spent some time as a Manichean before becoming a Christian. He was baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan. Before becoming Christian, St. Augustine fathered a son (Adeodatus) by a concubine. After baptism, he became bishop of Hippo Regius, Numidia (now Annaba, Algeria). The most prolific of the Church Fathers, and one of the most important theologians in history.

POPE ST. CLEMENT I

Probably wrote in early 70. Various ancient sources place him as the first, second, or third successor of St. Peter. (Most commonly, he is held to be the third, after Linus and Cletus.) He was the author of a single surviving Letter to the Corinthians, which is often dated around 95, but this is too late a date.

William Jurgens points to internal evidence that places it no later than 80 or so (the date he favors) and possibly up to ten years earlier. John A. T. Robinson shows internal evidence that places it in the first part of the year 70. Specifically, Clement refers to sacrifices still being offered at the temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in July of 70. Clement also refers to the repeated crises that have prevented him from writing to the Corinthians until now, which is a likely reference to the violent “year of four emperors” in 69, a time of civil war that followed the forced suicide of Nero in 68. In it Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were successively acclaimed emperor and then killed or forced to commit suicide before Vespasian finally took office.

The epistle may or may not have been written before Clement was pope. He was, in any event, a major figure of the period, as demonstrated by the fact that a number of later works were attributed to him or written about him. Also referred to as “Clement of Rome.”

CONSTANTINE I

Born around 272; died 337. The first Christian emperor—an office he shared with Licinius from 306 until 324, when he became sole emperor. His conversion was prompted by a private revelation in which he was told to conquer in the sign of the cross. He moved the capital of the empire to Byzantium, which was rebuilt as Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). In 313 he and his co-emperor issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed religious toleration. He did not, however, make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 325 he convoked the Council of Nicaea I to deal with the Arian crisis. Though the council endorsed Trinitarianism, it did not stop the controversy. Constantine was eventually baptized by the Arian bishop of Nicomedia, the city in which he lay dying. Sometimes called “Constantine the Great.”

ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE

Born around 205; died 258. He was bishop of Carthage (now a suburb of Tunis, Tunisia). He presided at the Council of Carthage of 256. He got along well with Pope St. Cornelius I but had a falling out with Pope St. Stephen I over whether baptisms performed by heretics were valid (Cyprian wrongly held that they were not). For a time he had to shepherd his flock while in hiding due to persecution. Eventually he was martyred by beheading.

ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA

Died 444. A Doctor of the Church. Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril was a harsh man who dealt cruelly with his enemies, including Jews, Novatians, St. John Chrysostom, and Nestorius. A mob of his followers brutally murdered the female pagan philosopher Hypatia, though there is no evidence that they did so at his direction. Despite his flaws, he was an important theologian and papal legate to the Council of Ephesus.

POPE ST. GREGORY I

Reigned from 590 to 604. One of the four original Doctors of the Church. Though born to a wealthy family, he sold his possessions and established monasteries, one of which he dwelled in. He practiced asceticism to the point that he damaged his health. Reluctantly, he was drawn from the monastery into the service of the pope. Eventually, he was elected pope himself, though for a time he sought to avoid the office. He guided the Church during a crucial period of transition between antiquity and the Middle Ages. Commonly referred to as “Gregory the Great.”

ST. HILARY OF POITIERS

Born around 315; died around 367. A Doctor of the Church. He converted from paganism and, though he was married, he was also elected bishop of Poitiers in what is now France. A strong opponent of the Arians, he is sometimes referred to as “the Athanasius of the West.” Like St. Athanasius of Alexandria, he was for a time exiled, but he regained his see.

ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH

Died around 110. He was the third bishop of Antioch (near the current city of Antakya, Turkey). He heard the apostle John. In the reign of the Emperor Trajan, he was taken to Rome and martyred. On the way he wrote six letters to various churches and one to St. Polycarp of Smyrna. These letters are an invaluable resource concerning early Christianity. They also exist in a long form that includes interpolations of the fourth century, and there is an abridgement of them in Syriac.

ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS

Born around 140; died around 202. Originally from modern Turkey, where he heard St. Polycarp of Smyrna, he ended up becoming the second bishop of Lyons (now Lyon; then called Lugdunum), in what is now France. He intervened in a dispute between Pope St. Victor I and Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus on the date on which Easter should be celebrated. He also wrote against Gnosticism in his masterwork, Against Heresies.

ST. JEROME

Born around 347; died around 419. One of the four original Doctors of the Church. Originally from Dalmatia (located mostly in modern Croatia), he was educated in Rome and traveled extensively. He attended the Council of Rome in 382 and became the secretary of Pope Damasus, who instigated Jerome’s most famous work—the translation of the Bible in Latin known as the Vulgate. This gradually replaced previous Latin translations of Scripture. After the death of Damasus he moved to Bethlehem, where he continued his translation work. Jerome made many enemies as a result of his explosive temper and his ability to hold grudges even after the death of his opponents.

At one point Jerome needed additional priestly help with the monasteries he ran, and to supply the need St. Epiphanius of Salamis ordained Jerome’s own brother—a monk named Paulinian—forcibly and against his will. (At this point Jerome was at odds with his own bishop, John of Jerusalem—a split which Epiphanius fostered.)

To keep Paulinian from objecting, he was first gagged and then ordained a deacon. A Mass was held, with Paulinian serving the deacon’s part. Then he was grabbed, tied up and gagged again, and ordained a priest.

ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

Born around 359; died 407. A Doctor of the Church. Originally from Antioch in Syria (now Antakya, Turkey), he eventually and reluctantly became the patriarch of Constantinople. An extraordinary preacher, he was nicknamed Chrusostomos (Greek for “golden-mouthed”). A reformer at Constantinople, he was in conflict both with other churchmen and with the royal court, which twice had him exiled. Though the first time he was quickly brought back (the next day, in fact), the second time he died en route to his place of exile. One of his most famous works, and one that helped earn him his nickname, was a series of sermons he preached on “the incident of the statues.” When he was a newly ordained priest, a mob of tax protestors went on a rampage in Antioch and, in addition to vandalizing the city and the local prefect’s palace, they tore down the statues of the Emperor Theodosius and the late Empress Flacilla and dragged them through the streets. When the riot was over and reality set in, the city was terrified of what would happen next. A series of executions began, and the rumor went round that Theodosius was so enraged that he was contemplating the total destruction of the city, which many began to flee. The local bishop, Flavian, went to appeal directly to the emperor, and while he was gone John preached a famous series of sermons to comfort the population, offer them hope, and prepare them for the afterlife, should Flavian’s mission fail. All ended well when Flavian returned and announced that Theodosius had wept upon hearing his appeal on behalf of the city and that he had decided to spare it. It is suspected that John may have written the eloquent speech Flavian delivered to the emperor.

ST. POLYCARP OF SMYRNA (my parents had friends, who, as a cruel joke on their children, made each one take the Confirmation name “Polycarp”. Catholic love; not always so sweet and tender. 🙂

Born around 68; died around 155. Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). He was a hearer of the apostle John. One of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters is addressed to him, and he himself wrote to the Philippians. An account of his martyrdom—The Martyrdom of Polycarp—is an important work of hagiography.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 27 – Tears of St Monica


-“The angel appears to St Monica”, by Pietro Maggi, [1714], painting in Saint Augustine chapel, in the right hand transept of san Marco church in Milan (Italy), please click on the image for greater detail.

Thus you gave another answer through your priest, a certain bishop nurtured in the Church and trained in your books. When that woman implored him to consider speaking with me, to refute my errors, un-teach me evil, and teach me good…he refused her, quite prudently, as I understood later. He responded that I was as yet indocile, that I was inflated with my heresy’s novelty… “but let him be. Only pray for him to the Lord: he will discover by reading what his error is…” She would not acquiesce to what he said but continued imploring… “Go away,” he said, “while you live, the son of these tears of yours shall not perish!” (The Confessions of St. Augustine III, 12)


-by Br Nicholas Hartmann, OP

With these words St. Augustine narrates the exchange between his mother St. Monica and an unnamed bishop. Monica weeps to the saintly bishop, urging him to purge her son of his errant thinking. Because of his intelligence and his studies in rhetoric, Augustine enjoyed worldly success, but his moral profligacy made his inner life tumultuous. He likely hoped Manichaeism—the errors referred to in the above passage—could acquit him of intemperance within the inner court of his conscience.

Monica knew better, or at least she knew that this heresy kept Augustine withdrawn from the true faith. Augustine’s successful career advanced him to Rome and then Milan, but it failed to placate her vexations about his well-being. Monica’s personal piety and progress in Christian virtue informed her to see through that veneer into the rot of his inner life. Indeed, Augustine lived in great spiritual danger, nurturing disordered loves and rejecting the truth of the gospel. He covered over his deep-seated unhappiness and moral fragility with theories of reality he imagined would exonerate him of any moral responsibility.

Monica shed tears over genuine evil. These were not worldly tears of self-pity brooding over failures in her maternal character. Neither did Monica blame the harshness of the world for her son’s character. Monica’s were profitable tears, and she sought a remedy in prayer and through a holy bishop. In her grief she sought to move Augustine to repentance.

The bishop, in his spiritual prudence, knew the best course: his intervention at that time would be inopportune and an impediment to the prodigal Augustine’s future conversion. That her tears did not move the saintly bishop to action does not imply they were in vain. On the contrary, they became a powerful intercessory prayer God was most disposed to answer—and he did. He was disposed to answer not because he needed any convincing, but because it is good for us to seek aid from God and receive it. In this case, Monica sought aid not only for herself, but for another.

Such was the prophecy of the bishop. Because of Monica’s tearful prayers to God for her son, Augustine would not be lost. God is disposed to answer our prayers, especially when we seek virtue for ourselves or others. St. Dominic himself was known to weep while praying: “what will become of sinners!” God is so disposed because it is good for us to seek from him what is truly good for ourselves and others. By doing so we depend on God, the giver of every good thing.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)”

Love, tears of joy,
Matthew

Sep 29 – Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

-from a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope, Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, for September 29th.

“You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily by known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they come among us. Thus, Michael means ‘Who is like God?’; Gabriel is ‘The Strength of God’; and, Raphael is ‘God’s Remedy.’

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by His superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One Who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 14 – “Thy dear Love can slay”


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“There is a story about how St. John of the Cross celebrated Christmas: “On Christmas day . . . St. John of the Cross, while at ease with his brethren at recreation, took the image of the Holy Infant from the Crib and danced round the room, singing all the while: “Mi dulce y tierno Jesús/‘My sweet and tender Jesus,/ If Thy dear love can slay,/ It is today’”. The austere Carmelite mystic of the sixteenth century, known for his spiritual writings and his reform of the Carmelite Order, burst out in song and dance like David before the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence sometimes makes great men childlike, even giddy.

Saint John of the Cross, however, as his name suggests, knew something of the brutality of life as well. Some of his Carmelite brethren went so far as to imprison him and publicly punish him out of opposition to his reforms. And through the sufferings, St. John held fast to Christ. As he exclaims in Counsels of Light and Love, “Thou wilt not take from me, my God, that which once thou gavest me in Thine only Son Jesus Christ, in Whom Thou gavest me all that I desire; wherefore I shall rejoice that Thou wilt not tarry if I wait for Thee” (71–2). The Incarnation fulfills all our desires—if only we will ponder the manger in wonder. The baby Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us—if only we will wait patiently for His greatness to be manifest in our lives.

In watching and waiting in Advent, we wonder at how small the beginnings of our redemption seem. Even now redemption can seem far from our world: “O sweetest love of God that art so little known” (Counsels, 68). The reign of God burst into the world in the meekest of ways: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” Now we prepare to see the babe in the manger, the silent work of God. We know that the Incarnation happened, that our “redemption is drawing near” -Lk 21:28

In the sure promise of redemption, the austerity and the name of St. John of the Cross begins to make sense. In the quiet of Bethlehem, God prepares for the crowds of Jerusalem. We begin with Him at the manger in Bethlehem and follow Him to the hill of Golgotha. God purifies our worldly desires as we take up the cross and follow Him. What begins in love, remains in love, and ends in love: ‘My sweet and tender Jesus,/ If Thy dear love can slay,/ It is today.'”

Love, and the victory of Love,
Matthew

Dec 7 – Veni Redemptor Gentium – St Ambrose of Milan, (337-397 AD), Father & Doctor of the Church

Veni, Redemptor gentium;
Ostende partum virginis;
Miretur omne saeculum.
Talis decet partus Deo.

Non ex virili semine,
Sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei tactum est caro,
Fructusque ventris floruit.

Alvus tumescit virginis.
Claustrum pudoris permanet;
Vexilla virtutum micant,
Versatur in templo Deus.

Procedit e thalamo suo,
Pudoris aulo regia,
Geminae gigans substantiae
Alacris ut currat viam.

Egressus eius a Patre,
Regressus eius ad Patrem ;
Excursus usque ad inferos
Recursus ad sedem Dei.

Aequalis aeterno Patri,
Carnis tropaeo accingere,
Infirma nostri corporis
Virtute firmans perpeti.

Praesepe iam fulget tuum,
Lumenque nox spirat novum,
Quad nulla nox interpolet
Fideque iugi luceat.

Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui natus es de virgine,
Cum Patre et saneto Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula.

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
Come manifest thy virgin birth:
All lands admire, all times applaud:
Such is the birth that fits our God.

Forth from his chamber goeth he,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now his course to run.

The Virgin’s womb that glory gained,
Its virgin honor is still unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.

From God the Father he proceeds,
To God the Father back he speeds;
Runs out his course to death and hell,
Returns on God’s high throne to dwell.

O Equal to thy Father, thou!
Gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.

All laud, eternal Son, to Thee
Whose advent sets Thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.


-by Br Raymond LaGrange, OP

Non ex virili semine,

sed mystico spiramine

Verbum Dei factum est caro

fructusque ventris floruit.

Literally, this means: “Not from man’s seed / But by the mystic spirit / The Word of God was made man / And the fruit of the womb sprung forth.” Spiramine, “spirit” also means “breath.” The breath of life once breathed into Adam is now breathed upon Mary. The Holy Spirit creates (On the Mysteries, 2.5). Unlike everyone else, Jesus is conceived by an act of God without bodily contact (On Virginity, II.2.7), just as the world was created without pre-existing matter. The incarnation is a sort of re-creation in the world, so that fallen nature may be redeemed. In the original creation, God made man in His own image. In the fullness of time, He created a body for Himself. This meeting of heaven and earth, God’s complete gift of Himself, happens in the womb of Mary.

The Holy Spirit is also the revealer. Ambrose tells us that the same cloud which led the Hebrews out of Egypt came to rest finally upon the Virgin Mary, in whom He conceived His Son. (On the Mysteries, 3.13) This cloud that led the Hebrews over the Red Sea brought them to rest at Mount Sinai, where the law was revealed to Moses. This law was the fullest revelation of God up to that point in history. This is fulfilled in the Word of God, Who is the New Law, conceived in Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit reveals God to us in history through Mary.

Mary participates in a very special way in both creation and revelation by agreeing to bear the Son of God. Before Mary conceived the God-man in her womb, however, she beheld Him in prayer. In his work, On Virginity, Ambrose presents her as a model for consecrated virgins:

“She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind…humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue.” (On Virginity, II.2.7)

Her soul was given entirely to prayer. When the Angel Gabriel came to announce to her the birth of Jesus, he found her alone, with nothing distracting her from her contemplation (On Virginity, II.2.10). Her contemplation continues after she gives birth. As Luke tells us, “Mary kept all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:19, On Virginity, II.2.13)

We can learn from Mary’s habit of contemplation. We, too, are called to ponder in our hearts the mysteries revealed to us. During this season of Advent, as we prepare to commemorate the coming of the Redeemer of nations, it is opportune to take on small penances and remove distractions from our lives so that we can give ourselves especially over to prayer. But our contemplation must not only look backward. It prepares us for death, and our entry into our heavenly homeland, where together with Mary and Ambrose and all the angels and saints, we will contemplate the Holy Trinity for eternity.”

Love & Advent,
Matthew

Modern Thomism

…we will come under the final judgment of God and are subject to the constraints and possibilities of that judgment. We’re invited to avoid hell and find heaven, a view that isn’t typically welcome among our secular contemporaries, but which has implications for them as well as us. The “gentlemen’s agreement” of secular liberalism is that we ought not attempt to find public consensus upon questions of life after death or the dogmatic truth content of revealed religion. In some ways dogma is considered impolite in a secular context because it could be seen as politically or socially divisive. Although the opposite is true in some real sense because dogma tends to outlive many passing cultures and is a force of unity, vitality, and the renewal of intellectual life. Thinking through traditional dogmas invites us as modern people to think about the longstanding vitality of those doctrines—why they’re pertinent to persons throughout time and history and a stimulus for the intellectual life. Knowledge of what was profound wisdom in a forgone era is typically the best source of illumination for anyone who wishes to re-articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. The temptation in our own age is to think the opposite, as if we need to be in some kind of radical rupture with the past in order to articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. This is a pattern you find in Descartes or in the opening pages of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or in Nietzsche in a more radical way. But you have people who tend to be both novel and preserve the past; I think this is true of Plato. Plato was very radical, but he also wanted to preserve the heritage of the past Greek religious traditions that came before him. Aristotle, too, is typically very careful in the first book of most of his works to show the insights that come before him and then he introduces a new order of learning and thinking. In general the great medievals like Bonaventure and Aquinas show how the past has contributed to the ongoing project of what they’re undertaking. In our own era Alasdair MacIntyre has been exemplary in showing how this kind of recovery and articulation of principles allows renewed engagement with the contemporary world around oneself.

I think Thomism functions best as an identification of principles and an engagement with contemporary intellectual questions.

I may be optimistic, but I think there are many modern questions Thomism addresses and answers. Thomism helps provide a realistic philosophy of nature, what it means that there are changing substances around us that have identifiable properties by which we can provide taxonomies for the natures of things and understand the ways in which they act upon each other. Aquinas is a phenomenal student of human nature, so he takes very seriously man’s physicality and animality, but also shows his emergent rational properties and freedom in their distinctiveness. He shows there are immaterial features to human knowledge and freedom that denote the presence of an immaterial form or spiritual soul. There’s also the whole architecture of virtue ethics Aquinas provides that is increasingly having an influence in the circles of analytical ethics. His study of the cardinal virtues—justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude—provides terrific insight into the nature of a person. We’re longing for that in a culture in which there’s a great deal of intellectual instability and nostalgia for consensus. Often people want to impose consensus artificially through politics, which is a very superficial way to gain unity. That politics pervades the university, which is in crisis because there is deep absence of consensus about reality. Aquinas’s general anthropology and moral theory can give us the basis for a much deeper agreement about what human beings are and the structure of moral life than can any identity politics.

Religion doesn’t go away when you banish it from the university. It comes back in other forms, some of which are perfectly innocuous, but others of which are very dangerous. Aquinas is very realistic about the possibilities of pathological religious behavior; he calls it superstitio, the vice of disordered religion. The human being can become, very easily, irrationally religious, as, for example, in the cases of a banal religious emotivism or religiously motivated terrorism. The great conflicts we have between religionists and secularists, it seems to me, are very helpfully addressed by the harmony of reason and revelation in Aquinas, which allows the soul to flourish because the soul is meant for transcendence. Modern secular culture is asphyxiating. The soul needs to be open to the transcendent mystery of God to really experience the full freedom of its own intellectual life, its own voluntary life, its aspiration to the good, and its deepest desires for transcendence and meaning. A culture without an intellectual religious horizon is a truncated culture, but a culture that’s religious at the expense of the intellectual life is also a very unhealthy culture—so how do you get that right? I think Aquinas really helps us understand our natural religious aspirations in a balanced way.

-George, Robert P.. “Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome” (Kindle Location 1115-1153). TAN Books. Kindle Edition.

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP, (1193-1280), Doctor of the Church – Maligned & Misunderstood


-please click on the image for greater detail

The first parish Kelly, Mara, & I attended in Wisconsin is named St Albert the Great. I am still fond.


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“On March 7, 1274, Saint Thomas Aquinas died. His teacher Saint Albert the Great was around 80 years old at the time. Tradition tells us that St. Albert was profoundly affected by St. Thomas’ death, as seems natural for men whose intellectual relationship and relationship in the Order was so close. In fact, according to the process of canonization of St. Thomas, Br. Antonius de Brixia reports that St. Albert received supernatural knowledge of St. Thomas’ death the very hour he died. Saint Albert’s words relating this death to the brethren in Cologne were as follows: “I tell to you all grave news, for Br. Thomas Aquinas, my son in Christ, who was the light of the Church has died, and this has been revealed to me by God.” Saint Albert was, in many ways, the intellectual father of St. Thomas, who received his teaching and carried it forward. Saint Albert, therefore, must have been proud of all that St. Thomas had accomplished in the short span of years he had been allotted.

Soon after St. Thomas’ death, the bishops Stephen Tempier of Paris and Robert Kilwardby of Canterbury, himself a Dominican, began to issue condemnations that, while not mentioning St. Thomas by name, censured several positions held by him. Through these condemnations, St. Thomas was associated with the Averroism of Siger of Brabant, the primary target of Tempier’s condemnations. Given that Siger contradicted both St. Thomas and St. Albert and that St. Thomas wrote explicitly against Siger, St. Albert was understandably outraged by this association. To add insult to injury, the condemnation issued by Stephen Tempier was promulgated on March 7, 1277, the anniversary of the death of St. Thomas. Seeing the good name of his student at risk, the old teacher made the long journey from Cologne to Paris. The distance between the two cities is between 250 and 300 miles. Saint Albert made this journey in the middle of winter on foot—the early constitutions forbade travel on horseback—at the age of 84.


-Ernest Board, Albertus Magnus expounding his doctrines of physical science in the streets of Paris ca. 1245. Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0).

The great humility and love of St. Albert is clearly displayed in the care he had for the work and memory of St. Thomas. Saint Albert bears the title of “the Great” not only because of his incomparable learning and mastery of every subject but also for this humility. Having already been shown a humble man by retiring from the episcopacy, he crowned that humility in spreading the works of his student. In the normal course of affairs, it is the student who hands on the teachings of his master: only the fullness of the virtue of humility could recognize and accept that the student had surpassed the master. Furthermore, in accepting so fully the achievement of his student that even in his old age he should deny the natural desire to complete unfinished endeavors and instead focus on the elevation of his student’s work, St. Albert demonstrated a supernatural humility. Such humility aided St. Albert in showing forth the love he had for his student and son St. Thomas.”

Love,
Matthew

Palm Sunday, 3/31/1146 – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Mellifluous, preaches the Second Crusade


-“St. Bernard Preaching the Second Crusade in Vezelay”, 1840 (oil on canvas), Signol, Emile (1804-1892)

Now is a time for holiness and saints within the Church. Would that we had a Bernard now to preach a Crusade of Holiness. It has often been the case, when the Church has faced its greatest crises, its greatest saints have arisen.

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” -Joel 2:13

-by Hugh O’Reilly

“Born in 1091, died in 1153, made Abbot of Clairvaux in 1115, St. Bernard exercised strong influence on 12th century Europe. When the Crusader State of Edessa fell in 1144, Pope Eugene III, who himself had been a monk in Clairvaux, called on his spiritual father to preach a Second Crusade to bring succor for the distressed condition of the Holy Land.

Abbot Bernard girded on the sword of the Divine Word and inspired many for the overseas Crusade.

This is one of his most famous speeches, preached at Vezelay, a little city of Burgundy, on Palm Sunday, March 31, 1146. The orator of the Crusade preached on a large tribune on the side of a hill outside the gates of the city. With King Louis VII of France in his royal robes present, St. Bernard first read the letters of the Sovereign Pontiff calling for a Crusade, then made this plea to arms to the large crowd that had gathered there to hear his words:

“How can you not know that we live in a period of chastisement and ruin? The enemy of mankind has caused the breath of corruption to fly over all regions; we behold nothing but unpunished wickedness. Neither the laws of men nor the laws of religion have sufficient power to check the depravity of customs and the triumph of the wicked. The demon of heresy has taken possession of the chair of truth, and God has sent forth His malediction upon His sanctuary.

“Oh, ye who listen to me, hasten then to appease the anger of Heaven. But no longer implore His goodness by vain complaints; clothe not yourselves in sackcloth, but cover yourselves with your impenetrable bucklers. The din of arms, the dangers, the labors, the fatigues of war are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the infidels, and let the deliverance of holy places be the reward of your repentance.

“If it were announced to you that the enemy had invaded your cities, your castles, your lands; had ravished your wives and your daughters and profaned your temples – who among you would not fly to arms? Well, then, all these calamities, and calamities still greater, have fallen upon your brethren, upon the family of Jesus Christ, which is yours. Why do you hesitate to repair so many evils; to revenge so many outrages? Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed on Christian people?

“Remember that their triumph will be a subject for grief to all ages and an eternal opprobrium upon the generation that has endured it. Yes, the living God has charged me to announce to you that He will punish them who shall not have defended Him against His enemies.

“Fly then to arms! Let a holy ire animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the prophet, ‘Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!’ “If the Lord calls you to the defense of His heritage think not that His hand has lost its power. Could He not send twelve Legions of Angels or breathe one word and all His enemies would crumble away into dust? But God has considered the sons of men, to open for them the road to His mercy. His goodness has caused to dawn for you a day of safety by calling on you to avenge His glory and His name.

“Christian warriors, He Who gave His life for you, today demands yours in return. These are combats worthy of you, combats in which it is glorious to conquer and advantageous to die. Illustrious knights, generous defenders of the Cross, remember the example of your fathers, who conquered Jerusalem, and whose names are inscribed in Heaven. Abandon then the things that perish, to gather unfading palms and conquer a Kingdom that has no end.”

All the barons and knights applauded the eloquence of St. Bernard and were persuaded that he uttered the will of God. Louis VII, deeply moved by the words he had heard, cast himself at the feet of St. Bernard and demanded the Cross. Then, clothed with this sign, he exhorted all those present to follow his example.

The hill upon which this vast multitude was assembled resounded for a long period of time with the cries of Deus vult! Deus vult! (God wills it). Then, many counts and a crowd of barons and knights followed the example of the King. Several Bishops threw themselves at the feet of St. Bernard, taking the oath to fight against the infidels.

The crosses that the Abbot of Clairvaux had brought were not sufficient for the great number who asked for them. He tore his vestments to make more.

To preserve the memory of this day, Pons, abbot of Vèzelay, founded upon the hill where the knights and barons had assembled a Church that he dedicated to the Holy Cross. The tribune upon which St. Bernard had preached the Crusade remained there a long time, the object of the veneration of the faithful.”

Today, a cross marks the spot on the hill in Vèzelay where Bernard preached.

“O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him, all ye people.

For His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.” -Psalm 117

Love,
Matthew