Category Archives: Fathers of the Church

Sep 16 – Will the real St Cyprian (~200-258AD), Bishop & Martyr, please stand up!


-by Fr Ray Ryland (1921-2014), for Catholic Answers, was an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 1963. Married and a father of five, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 under the pastoral provision granted by the Vatican for the admittance of married Anglican priests to the Catholic priesthood.

“For centuries, Eastern Orthodox theologians have tried to put their brand on Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. They have hailed him as chief exponent of the Eastern theory of national churches totally independent of Roman control. From the twelfth century onward, Byzantine writers opposing Catholic ecclesiology “found their strongest argument in the ecclesiology of Cyprian.”

Cyprian is also a favorite of Anglican apologists in their arguments against the papacy. One of them has said that defenders of the Church of England’s break with Rome can base their entire case on the writings of Cyprian. To a Catholic it seems risky, at best, for Anglicans to base their whole apologetic on one interpretation of a few passages from the writings of one saint—especially since, as we shall see, Cyprian always submitted to papal authority.

Both Orthodox and Anglicans contend that Cyprian was a non-papal Catholic, a third-century “episcopalian.” Cyprian held that each bishop is completely in charge of his own diocese and with all other bishops shares responsibility for the unity of the Church. Thus far he was on solid Catholic ground. But then he entered on less solid ground. Cyprian claimed that the unity of the Church is to be preserved by all the bishops unanimously holding the true faith. He never told us what is to be done when bishops disagree over doctrine. He did say that when bishops disagree in matters not involving doctrine, they must simply agree to disagree.

Where did Cyprian fit the pope into the picture? He laid great emphasis on Matthew 16: the naming of Peter as “rock,” the promise to build the Church on Peter, the gift to Peter of the keys of the kingdom. He taught that the Church was founded on Peter and also on the other apostles, insofar as they constitute a body under the headship of Peter. Scholars (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are divided over the connection Cyprian saw between the Church’s episcopate and the successors of Peter.

Cyprian was headstrong. He apparently did not see the anarchical consequences of his theory of the independence of bishops. His favorite and almost only teacher was Tertullian, who died a heretic. The lack of clarity in Cyprian’s writings may also be due to his having been rushed from baptism into the episcopate in only two years, with little theological preparation.

Cyprian’s position has offered scope for the arguments of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who argue that the authority of the pope did not exist in the early centuries, but was a later development not based on any divine authority.

Nicolas Afanassieff assures us that the first Christians had no idea “that there could be a power over the local churches” and certainly no idea that such power might belong to an individual (the bishop of Rome). He solemnly recalls as “historical fact” that at least in the first three centuries every local church (diocese) was totally independent of any other church or any other bishop. In earlier articles I have shown this claim to be erroneous. In the first century, Pope Clement exercised authority in the name of Jesus Christ to settle a schism in the church at Corinth. No one questioned the Pope’s exercise of authority. Indeed, the Corinthians welcomed it. For many decades in their liturgy the Corinthians read from Clement’s letter to them. In the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate large sections of the Church in the East if they did not observe Easter according to the practice of Rome. Though some decried the wisdom of his declared intention, no one questioned his authority. Eventually his will prevailed throughout the Church.

Now we turn to Cyprian himself—mainstay, we are told, of the anti-papal ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy. To determine what Cyprian really believed about universal papal jurisdiction, we have to move beyond the ambiguities of his writings and examine his dealings with the papacy. His actions not only speak more loudly than his words; they also speak much more clearly.

MARTYR’S CERTIFICATES

In his own diocese Cyprian had to deal with a widespread threat to the Church’s discipline. Confessors (those being punished by the state for not renouncing the faith) and martyrs awaiting execution were usurping the authority of the bishop.

Under intense persecution by the Roman government, many Christians had lapsed or apostatized, thereby coming under the Church’s ban. After the persecution abated, the lapsed who repented would obtain from the martyrs and confessors certificates requesting the bishop to reduce or cancel the punishment due them. It was the bishop’s responsibility to evaluate the sincerity of the penitents. The bishop also had to decide what effect the confessors’ and martyrs’ certificates should have on the penance of the lapsed.

(Note this fact. What the Catholic Church teaches today about “indulgences” she was teaching and practicing in Cyprian’s time. The granting of indulgences is made possible by the solidarity of the Mystical Body of Christ. By virtue of that solidarity, the sufferings of some members of the Body have the power to lessen the punishment of other members of the Body. This is precisely what the martyrs’ and confessors’ certificates were intended to do.)

Imprudent confessors were ignoring the bishop and, on their own authority, freeing the lapsed from the prescribed penance. Cyprian believed, rightly, that this irregular procedure threatened the whole of the Church’s discipline. He wrote letters to several persons about this problem and sent copies of all the letters to Rome, asking the Roman clergy to consider what he had written.

He addressed the Roman clergy rather than the pope because there had been no incumbent in the see of Peter for a couple of years: After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian (250), active government persecution had prevented the election of his successor. Yet Cyprian showed deference to the see of Peter even when it was vacant. He would take no final action with regard to reconciling the lapsed and apostates without consulting with Rome.

During the persecution, Cyprian himself had gone into hiding. Some of his people criticized his action and sent their complaint to the Roman clergy. (Why would Carthaginians take this matter to Rome, if the local churches were absolutely independent, as Eastern apologists assert?) The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian and asked for an explanation. Did Cyprian indignantly reject their request and assert his complete independence as a bishop? No. On the contrary, he sent the Roman clergy a defense of his conduct.

Still another action on the part of the Roman clergy, when the see of Peter was vacant, reflects the primacy of Rome. In a letter to Cyprian’s archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian, bishop of the diocese), the Roman clergy told the Carthaginian clergy how they should deal with the lapsed. Did Cyprian condemn this action as interference infringing on his autonomous jurisdiction? Not at all. He wrote the Roman clergy that he had read their letter and in practice would uphold their opinion.

Schismatics from Carthage went to Rome to join the schism of Novatian there. Cyprian denounced the wickedness of the Novatians in Rome and spoke scornfully of the Carthaginian schismatics who had gone to Rome, “the chair of Peter and to the principal [or ruling] church, whence episcopal unity has taken its rise.”

Obviously Cyprian did not regard his own see, Carthage, as “the” or “a” chair of Peter. He said the schismatics who went to Rome were going to “the chair of Peter.”

“SOVEREIGN RULING”

This “chair of Peter,” said Cyprian, is “the principal Church.” Irenaeus had used these same words about Rome. Tertullian had defined the phrase to mean “that which is over anything, as the soul presides over and rules the body.” Cyprian called Tertullian his “master” and read his writings every day. We can assume that he followed his master in using “principal” to mean “sovereign ruling.”

Speaking of the schismatics who had gone to Rome, Cyprian said, in effect, “They are wasting their time!” Not only is Rome the source of the Church’s unity (“whence episcopal unity has taken its rise”), the schismatics are wasting their time because the Romans—the “chair of Peter,” the pope—are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.” This is an astonishing statement—astonishing, that is, outside the context of papal infallibility. But we must assume that Cyprian meant what he said.

In practice Cyprian contradicted his own teaching about the independence of each bishop. When Marcion, bishop of Arles, left the Church’s communion and joined the schismatic Novatians, the bishops of the province wrote to the pope asking him to take action. (If they were independent of Rome, why did they not take action themselves?) The action required was for the pope to excommunicate Marcion and appoint a replacement. For unknown reasons, the pope delayed his response. Faustinus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Cyprian about the matter, seeking his advice.

Cyprian thereupon wrote to the pope, urging him to take action. His letter implies that the pope was the one—the only one—to set matters straight in Arles. He urged the pope to write “letters of plenary authority [literally ‘most full letters’] by means of which, Marcion being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place.”

Regardless of what Cyprian may have written about the independence of each bishop, here he clearly recognized the authority of the pope to remove and install bishops (for good cause) anywhere in the world.

BAPTISM BY HERETICS

It was Cyprian’s struggle with Pope Stephen over the subject of baptism by heretics which has most endeared Cyprian to Eastern Orthodox and Anglican apologists. It is also that.aspect of Cyprian’s career that caused the Donatists (fourth-century heretics) to claim him as patron saint of their position. Repeatedly to their chief opponent, Augustine, the Donatists quoted Cyprian. Augustine acknowledged Cyprian’s error, but emphasized Cyprian’s refusal to break with Rome.

In his conflict with the schismatic Novatians, Cyprian drew the erroneous conclusion that baptism by heretics is invalid, contrary to the Church’s teaching. By the force of his personality and of at least three African councils that he dominated, Cyprian lined up the bishops of Africa behind his position. Rejection of heretical baptism was an innovation that found wide support in the East.

On this issue, as on others, Cyprian’s thinking was confused. On the one hand he insisted that each bishop was perfectly free to decide whether to accept or reject baptism by heretics, since the issue was not doctrinal. At the same time, in vehemently expounding his position he invoked weighty dogmatic considerations. Cyprian sent Pope Stephen a report of the African synods, explaining that he and the synods had not laid down any law binding all the African bishops. He sent the report because he believed that the Pope should be consulted, even though this was not a doctrinal issue

The issue was whether persons outside the Church’s unity could baptize validly. Stephen ruled that they could, if they used the proper form. Persons who were baptized by heretics and who repented and returned to the Church were to be received by the laying-on of hands. Stephen’s answer to Cyprian makes it plain that his ruling is not a definition of faith, yet Stephen forbade rebaptism of those who had received heretical baptism and decreed excommunication for those who performed rebaptisms.

In his reply to Cyprian’s report, Stephen reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) was successor of Peter, whom Cyprian had extolled in his writing on unity and on whom Jesus Christ had founded his Church. Stephen further reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) held the chair of Peter, about which Cyprian had written enthusiastically. Finally, Stephen called for Cyprian’s obedience.

Immediately upon receiving Stephen’s reply, Cyprian dispatched legates to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to change his ruling. It was a most inopportune time for Cyprian to do this. The Pope was then contending with schismatic Novatians who were rebaptizing Catholics who joined them. The African legates would probably have been identified in people’s minds with the Novatians. This would have lent the eminent name of Cyprian to a heretical group.

So, for the good of the Church and of Cyprian, Stephen refused to receive the legates, ordering them not to spend a single night in Rome. When the legates returned to Carthage, Cyprian sent messengers to the East to enlist support for his cause of rebaptism. He wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia and partisan of Cyprian’s cause. Firmilian responded to Cyprian’s letter, and Stephen’s ruling, in a letter filled with indignation and bitterness. Yet Firmilian’s letter itself implicitly recognized the Pope’s authority. Firmilian expressed no indignation over Stephen’s emphasizing his role as Peter’s successor and his claim to what we call universal jurisdiction.

If Stephen’s claim had not been universally accepted, Firmilian’s ultimate weapon against the despised ruling would have been to deny and reject papal authority. That weapon was not available to him, so all he could do was fulminate in bitterest terms.

There is no evidence that either Cyprian or Firmilian was excommunicated. Did Cyprian accept Stephen’s decision and stop rebaptizing those who had received baptism from heretical hands? Jerome says the African bishops corrected their decision to rebaptize and “issued a new decree.” Augustine says the Easterners followed the Pope’s directive: “they rescinded their judgment, by which they had decided that it was right to agree with Cyprian and that African council.” In another place he writes that the Easterners “corrected” their judgment about rebaptism.

Anti-papal apologist John Meyendorff asserts that this event was simply a regional reaction against incipient Roman centralization. There was nothing “incipient” about what Meyendorff calls Roman centralization, but which Catholics call papal universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction had been exercised since the first century, as has been shown. Furthermore, the controversy was not about centralization at all, but about sacramental and ecclesiological issues of the deepest import.

Eastern and Anglican apologists who rely on Cyprian’s controversy with Pope Stephen to support their case for independent national churches forget or ignore the key fact: Cyprian never even questioned, much less denied, the Pope’s authority to make his ruling and its penalty for non-observance. He only opposed the content of the ruling. Cyprian’s insistence on rebaptism was attractive to many minds. It seemed to safeguard Catholic truth by drawing a sharp line between orthodoxy and heresy. But papal universal jurisdiction and papal teaching authority made all the difference.

In this controversy, “it needs only a few lines from the pen of the Pope to overthrow all that scaffolding of texts and syllogisms. The partisans of innovation may resist as they please, write letter after letter, assemble councils; five lines from the sovereign Pontiff will become the rule of conduct for the universal Church. Eastern and African bishops, all those who at first had rallied round the contrary opinion, will retrace their steps, and the whole Catholic world will follow the decision of the Bishop of Rome.”

Eastern opponents of the papacy are mistaken in their reliance on Cyprian as the mainstay of their apologetic. Cyprian repeatedly deferred to the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome. In at least one instance he begged for the exercise of that authority. With regard to heretical baptism, he opposed a pope’s ruling but never questioned papal authority. The Eastern churches today recognize that Cyprian’s teaching was wrong and that the pope—as usual—was right.”

Love,
Matthew

1. John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 12.

2. St. Cyprian, The Lapsed: The Unity of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), chapters 4 and 5.

3. Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter (Leighton Buzzad, Bedfordshire: Faith Press, 1973), 83, 73.

4. Quoted by Luke Rivington, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (London: Longmans, Green, 1894), 58.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 71.

7. John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 221.

8. Rivington, 115f.

Sep 16 – Sts Cornelius (d. 253 AD), Pope & Cyprian (~200-258 AD), Father of the Church, Bishops & Martyrs – The Difficult Way of Mercy



(inset)
-SS. Cornelius and Cyprian from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves; on Pierpont Morgan Library. The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440, 7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm). Cornelius, holding a horn (cornus in Latin—a pun on his name), and Cyprian, with the sword of his martyrdom, share a feast. Birdcages, executed in silver and gold, comprise the delightful border. They may allude to Cornelius as patron saint of pets or to an interest of Catherine.

Suffrages

Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for intercession with the Lord for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help.  Please click on the images for greater detail.


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“Sacrifice or I’ll make you sacrifice.” Such was the choice that the Emperor Decius enjoined upon third century Christians. In response, some Christians refused, suffering torture or martyrdom. Others fled, losing their property. Far more, however, offered sacrifice to Roman idols or bought documents that said they did. These Christians “lapsed” (lapsi, the lapsi): their actions broke the first commandment and denied Christ, who said, “whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33).

After 18 months, the Decian persecution ended, and many of the lapsed wanted to return to the Church. Today’s martyrs, Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, responded to them with compassion. St. Cyprian preached, “My heart bleeds with each one of you, I share the weight of your sorrow and distress … when my brethren fell, my heart was struck and I fell at their side” (The Lapsed). He saw the persecution as a trial for the Church. The lapsed had failed this trial, and they needed healing in order to regain communion with God. Cornelius and Cyprian desired the reconciliation of the lapsed, but two different forces impeded that goal.

The laxist party raised the first obstacle. They immediately permitted all the lapsed to receive the Eucharist. This admittance, however, achieved no reconciliation. Jesus gives us a remedy—penance—for the festering wound of mortal sin, and the Eucharist cannot help those with that wound. Cyprian comments that laxist indulgence “does not mean the granting of reconciliation but its frustration, it does not restore men to communion but bars them from it and from salvation.” As Saint Paul teaches, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor 10:21). “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

The laxists substituted their own standards of mercy for God’s standard of mercy, revealed to us through scripture. Despite their well-meaning intention, their approach nonetheless exalted their judgment over God’s judgment. Cyprian knew that the Eucharist is neither a mere reward for good behavior nor a mark of elite status. It is communion with Jesus. Grave sin in the soul thwarts this communion, and Cyprian saw the reason for the necessity of penance: it provides an opportunity for glory. “He who has made such satisfaction to God, he who by his repentance and shame for his sin, draws from the bitterness of his fall a fresh fund of valor and loyalty, shall by the help he has won from the Lord, rejoice the heart of the Church whom he has so lately pained; he will earn not merely God’s forgiveness, but His crown.”

The other threat to reconciliation arose from Novatian, who set himself up as anti-Pope against Cornelius and led many into schism. Novatian and his followers also replaced God’s standards of mercy for their own. They were rigorists and refused to absolve the lapsed. Novatian “did what the Lord did not even grant to the apostles”: he endeavored “to separate the chaff from the wheat” (St. Cyprian, Letter 51). Even Saint Peter lapsed when he denied Christ three times, yet he made a threefold reparation and Jesus forgave him. God is a merciful Father. He desires all to be saved and reconciled to himself, and all who stand in the way of that reconciliation betray him.

In these conflicts, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were faithful to their call to be merciful shepherds. They testify to true mercy, mercy which neither ignores the damage sin causes nor despairs of its healing. By reconciling people to the Eucharist, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian cultivated communion in the Church. By their life and martyrdom, they now live in the fullest communion with God. We share that communion with them at every Mass.

God our Father,
in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
you have given your people an inspiring example
of dedication to the pastoral ministry
and constant witness to Christ in their suffering.
May their prayers and faith give us courage
to work for the unity of your Church.
Amen.”

Love, Lord have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

Sep 16 – St Cyprian of Carthage (200/210-258 AD)- Bishop, Martyr, Father of the Church


-Head Reliquary (has his actual head, or parts of it inside) of Saint Cyprian in the St. Kornelius chapel of the abbey church of Kornelimünster Abbey in Kornelimünster

Cyprian is important in the development of Christian thought and practice in the third century, especially in northern Africa.

Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus, was born into a rich pagan family of Carthage sometime during the early third century. His father was a senator.  His original name was Thascius; he took the additional name Caecilius in memory of the priest to whom he owed his conversion. Before his conversion, he was a leading member of a legal fraternity in Carthage, an orator, a “pleader in the courts”, and a teacher of rhetoric. After a “dissipated youth”, Cyprian was baptized when he was thirty-five years old, c. 245 AD. After his baptism, he gave away a portion of his wealth to the poor of Carthage, as befitted a man of his status.

Highly educated, a famous orator, he became a Christian as an adult. He distributed his goods to the poor, and amazed his fellow citizens by making a vow of chastity before his baptism. Within two years he had been ordained a priest and was chosen, against his will, as Bishop of Carthage.

In the early days of his conversion he wrote an Epistola ad Donatum de gratia Dei and the Testimoniorum Libri III that adhere closely to the models of Tertullian, who influenced his style and thinking. Cyprian described his own conversion and baptism in the following words:

“When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me… I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins… But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly.”

Contested election as bishop of Carthage

Not long after his baptism he was ordained a deacon, and soon afterwards a priest. Some time between July 248 and April 249 he was elected bishop of Carthage, a popular choice among the poor who remembered his patronage as demonstrating good equestrian style. However his rapid rise did not meet with the approval of senior members of the clergy in Carthage, an opposition which did not disappear during his episcopate.

Not long afterward, the entire community was put to an unwanted test. Christians in North Africa had not suffered persecution for many years; the Church was assured and lax. Early in 250 the “Decian persecution” began. The Emperor Decius issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. Cyprian chose to go into hiding rather than face potential execution. While some clergy saw this decision as a sign of cowardice, Cyprian defended himself saying he had fled in order not to leave the faithful without a shepherd during the persecution, and that his decision to continue to lead them, although from a distance, was in accordance with divine will. Moreover, he pointed to the actions of the Apostles and Jesus Himself: “And therefore the Lord commanded us in the persecution to depart and to flee; and both taught that this should be done, and Himself did it. For as the crown is given by the condescension of God, and cannot be received unless the hour comes for accepting it, whoever abiding in Christ departs for a while does not deny his faith, but waits for the time…”

Lapsi

Cyprian complained that the peace the Church had enjoyed had weakened the spirit of many Christians and had opened the door to converts who did not have the true spirit of faith. When the Decian persecution began, many Christians easily abandoned the Church. It was their reinstatement that caused the great controversies of the third century, and helped the Church progress in its understanding of the Sacrament of Penance.

The persecution was especially severe at Carthage, according to Church sources. Many Christians fell away, and were thereafter referred to as “Lapsi” (the fallen).  The majority had obtained signed statements (libelli) certifying that they had sacrificed to the Roman gods in order to avoid persecution or confiscation of property. In some cases Christians had actually sacrificed, whether under torture or otherwise. Cyprian found these libellatici especially cowardly, and demanded that they and the rest of the lapsi undergo public penance before being re-admitted to the Church.

Novatus, a priest who had opposed Cyprian’s election, set himself up in Cyprian’s absence (he had fled to a hiding place from which to direct the Church—bringing criticism on himself) and received back all apostates without imposing any canonical penance. Ultimately he was condemned. Cyprian held a middle course, holding that those who had actually sacrificed to idols could receive Communion only at death, whereas those who had only bought certificates saying they had sacrificed could be admitted after a more or less lengthy period of penance. Even this was relaxed during a new persecution.

However, in Cyprian’s absence, some priests disregarded his wishes by readmitting the lapsed to communion with little or no public penance. Some of the lapsi presented a second libellus purported to bear the signature of some martyr or confessor who, it was held, had the spiritual prestige to reaffirm individual Christians. This system was not limited to Carthage, but on a wider front by its charismatic nature it clearly constituted a challenge to institutional authority in the Church, in particular to that of the bishop. Hundreds or even thousands of lapsi were re-admitted this way, against the express wishes of Cyprian and the majority of the Carthaginian clergy, who insisted upon earnest repentance.

A schism then broke out in Carthage, as the laxist party, led largely by the priests who had opposed Cyprian’s election, attempted to block measures taken by him during his period of absence. After fourteen months, Cyprian returned to the diocese and in letters addressed to the other North African bishops defended having left his post. After issuing a tract, “De lapsis,” (On the Fallen) he convoked a council of North African bishops at Carthage to consider the treatment of the lapsed, and the apparent schism of Felicissimus (251 AD). Cyprian took a middle course between the followers of Novatus of Carthage who were in favor of welcoming back all with little or no penance, and Novatian of Rome who would not allow any of those who had lapsed to be reconciled. The council in the main sided with Cyprian and condemned Felicissimus, though no acts of this council survive.

The schism continued as the laxists elected a certain Fortunatus as bishop in opposition to Cyprian. At the same time, the rigorist party in Rome, who refused reconciliation to any of the lapsed, elected Novatian as bishop of Rome, in opposition to Pope Cornelius. The Novatianists also secured the election of a certain Maximus as a rival bishop of their own at Carthage. Cyprian now found himself wedged between laxists and rigorists, but the polarization highlighted the firm but moderate position adopted by Cyprian and strengthened his influence, wearing down the numbers of his opponents. Moreover, his dedication during the time of a great plague and famine gained him still further popular support.

Cyprian comforted his brethren by writing his De mortalitate, and in his De eleemosynis exhorted them to active charity towards the poor, setting a personal example. He defended Christianity and the Christians in the apologia Ad Demetrianum, directed against a certain Demetrius, in which he countered pagan claims that Christians were the cause of the public calamities.

Persecution under Valerian

During a plague in Carthage, Cyprian urged Christians to help everyone, including their enemies and persecutors.

A friend of Pope Cornelius, Cyprian opposed the following pope, Stephen. He and the other African bishops would not recognize the validity of baptism conferred by heretics and schismatics. This was not the universal view of the Church, but Cyprian was not intimidated even by Stephen’s threat of excommunication.

He was exiled by the emperor and then recalled for trial. He refused to leave the city, insisting that his people should have the witness of his martyrdom.

At the end of 256 AD a new persecution of the Christians broke out under Emperor Valerian, and Pope Sixtus II was executed in Rome.

In Africa, Cyprian prepared his people for the expected edict of persecution by his De exhortatione martyrii, and himself set an example when he was brought before the Roman proconsul Aspasius Paternus (August 30, 257). He refused to sacrifice to the pagan deities and firmly professed Christ.

The proconsul banished him to Curubis, modern Korba, whence, to the best of his ability, he comforted his flock and his banished clergy. In a vision he believed he saw his approaching fate. When a year had passed he was recalled and kept practically a prisoner in his own villa, in expectation of severe measures after a new and more stringent imperial edict arrived, in which Christian writers subsequently claimed it demanded the execution of all Christian clerics.

On September 13, 258, Cyprian was imprisoned on the orders of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The public examination of Cyprian by Galerius Maximus, on 14 September 258 has been preserved:

“Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprianus?” Cyprian: “I am.” Galerius: “The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites.” Cyprian: “I refuse.” Galerius: “Take heed for yourself.” Cyprian: “Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed.” Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: “You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors … have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood.” He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: “It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword.” Cyprian: “Thanks be to God.””

The execution was carried out at once in an open place near the city. A vast multitude followed Cyprian on his last journey. He removed his garments without assistance, knelt down, and prayed. After he blindfolded himself, he was beheaded by the sword. The body was interred by Christians near the place of execution.

Cyprian was a mixture of kindness and courage, vigor and steadiness. He was cheerful and serious, so that people did not know whether to love or respect him more. He waxed warm during the baptismal controversy; his feelings must have concerned him, for it was at this time that he wrote his treatise on patience. Saint Augustine remarks that Cyprian atoned for his anger by his glorious martyrdom.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 19 – St Macrina the Younger (330-19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzus

Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiancé died before the wedding. After having been betrothed to her fiancé, Macrina did not believe it was appropriate to marry another man, but saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom.  Instead, she devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.

When all her siblings had grown, including Sts Basil the Great & St Gregory Nazianzus, and left the parental home, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.

After the death of her mother, Saint Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. Saint Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to Saint Gregory of Nyssa after the death of Saint Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.

Macrina had a profound influence upon her brothers and her mother with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Her brother Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Macrina lived a chaste and humble life, devoting her time to prayer and the spiritual education of her younger brother, Peter. Gregory presents her as one who consciously rejected all Classical education, choosing instead devoted study of Scripture and other sacred writings.

In 379, Macrina died at her family’s estate in Pontus, which with the help of her younger brother Peter she had turned into a monastery and convent. Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina, in which Gregory purports to describe the conversation he had with Macrina on her deathbed, in a literary form modelled on Plato’s Phaedo. Even on her deathbed, Macrina continued to live a life of sanctity, as she refused a bed, and instead chose to lie on the ground.

Saint Macrina is significant in that her brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was able to set standards for being a holy Early Christian woman. He believed that virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”

Universalism

Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and J. W. Hanson, claim Macrina as a Universalist in her teachings, citing works which they believe demonstrate Macrina’s belief that the wicked would all eventually confess Christ.

Troparion — Tone 8

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother, / For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. / By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away, / But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. / Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Macrina, rejoices with the Angels!

Love & faith,
Matthew

Hopeful Universalism? – St Macrina the Younger (330 – 19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa & Basil the Great

-by Rt. Rev., Matthew Gunter, 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Episcopal Church in Northeast WI

“Today is the feast day of Macrina (330-379), older sister and theological/spiritual mentor of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most formative theologians and leaders of the early Church. Both of these great theologians pointed to their sister as their mentor in the faith. She was the theologian behind the theologians. Another brother, Peter of Sebaste, also became a bishop and saint.

In his book, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Gregory recounts a dialogue with Macrina in which he asks his sister and teacher a series of questions about the nature of the soul and the resurrection and related things. It might be that Gregory uses Macrina as a literary device to convey his own thoughts similar to the way Plato sometimes uses Socrates in his dialogues. Or maybe this really conveys things he learned directly from Macrina. In any event his respect for her is clear. Towards the end of On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina says this:

“To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.

He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.

This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.”
– On the Soul and the Resurrection, pp. 115-116

Note that Macrina and Gregory are not soft on the reality of death and judgment – this cannot accomplished without pain. We will be judged. There is reason to bear in mind the “Time of Scrutiny” (Sirach 18:20). There is still good reason to take our own piety with utmost seriousness and to invite others to participate now in “the blessedness which we hope for.”

They do seem, however, to understand The Judgment as having more to do with purgation and healing than final eternal punishment and torture. It is unclear whether or not they believed it is possible that some souls might hold out eternally against blessedness. But, they seem convinced that God, in His relentless love, will never give up on anyone – even beyond death and forever.

This hopeful universalism is quite different from an “all-y, all-y in come free” complacent universalism. Macrina and Gregory are not alone in expressing some version of this. One could add Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Frederick Denison Maurice (19th century), C. S. Lewis (20th century), Karl Barth (20th century), Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th century), and many others…”

Love & faith,
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

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

Oct 17 – Enthusiasm for Martyrdom!!! :)


-fresco of St. Ignatius from Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” -Acts 5:41

Catholics are NOT NOT NOT to actively seek martyrdom!!!! That would make them Marcionites, who did, and NOT Catholics!!!!!! Catholics are to accept it if unavoidable. Enthusiasm, however….

I have two dear friends who are sisters. They are practically giddy protesting/dissuading/resisting outside abortion clinics. While there they may sit in a car together to rest or respite from the elements. Their giddiness stems not only from their holy action, but from the dream of martyrdom while so engaged. They also dream of the rocketing of their causes for beatification to the top of the list!!!! I imagine an attacker with a shotgun taking them both out while they sit in the front seats of the car together. Only Catholics!!!!

I have decided the color (and here) for our current martyrdom of reputation is black, as in “to blacken the name”.


-by Elijah Dubek, OP

“The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD) were some of the first writings of Church Fathers I ever read. One of my friends bought me a copy of The Apostolic Fathers, and the summer before I entered seminary, I read through them. Saint Ignatius’ excitement, even enthusiasm, for martyrdom, was striking and memorable:

Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ! (St Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans 5:3)

This martyr begs the Roman Christians not to interfere with his impending martyrdom, but if they must, they should coax the beasts to devour him completely, that his body may not be left behind as a burden for anyone.

When I first encountered these words, the enthusiasm was contagious. As I return to them, it is their courage that strikes me. Here is a saint who knows that the only way to follow Jesus Christ is to take up one’s cross, which led St. Ignatius to his own death. His fear, however, is not of the wild beasts that will tear him apart and cause him pain. No, he worries that fellow Christians, well-intentioned perhaps, will “save” him from this cross. “For I am afraid of your love, in that it may do me wrong….I implore you: do not be unseasonably kind to me” (1.2, 4.1).

Violent martyrdom of this kind, especially enthusiasm for such, is often hard for us to swallow. It is not that we don’t hear the words of the Gospel: “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Perhaps we have the same difficulty that Peter and the disciples had when Jesus first began predicting for them his coming Passion—Peter himself even tried to rebuke our Lord! We are happy to follow our Lord, but we fear the cross.

Saint Peter, of course, comes to understand, even enduring martyrdom himself, and perhaps it was St. Peter’s preaching that St. Ignatius heard in Antioch decades before his own martyrdom in Rome. So why are they no longer afraid of the cross, even eager to embrace it? Like St. Paul, they know that “the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). Despite his enthusiasm, St. Ignatius is certainly not excited for mutilation, mangling, wrenching, and hacking for their own sake. No. He says, “Let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ!” The sufferings of the present are bearable because of the promise of Jesus, because through them, Jesus brings us to Himself.”

We MUST imitate Him in ALL things!!!!

Love & Martyrdom!!!!
Matthew

Aug 15 – Sermon on the Assumption by St John Damascene (675-749 AD), Doctor of the Church & the Assumption


-Assumption of the Virgin, oil on canvas, Height: 237 cm (93.3 in); Width: 169 cm (66.5 in), by Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1660, Prado National Museum, Spain. Please click on the image for greater detail.

-by St John Damascene

“Thy blessed soul is naturally parted from thy blissful and undefiled body, and the body is delivered to the grave, yet it does not endure in death, nor is it the prey of corruption. The body of her, whose virginity remained unspotted in childbirth, was preserved in its incorruption and was taken to a better, diviner place, where death is not, but eternal life. …Therefore I will not call thy sacred transformation death, but rest or going home, and it is more truly a going home … thou dwellest in a happier state.

Angels with archangels bear thee up. Impure spirits trembled at thy departure. The air raises a hymn of praise at thy passage, and the atmosphere is purified. Heaven rejoices thy soul with joy. The heavenly powers greet thee with sacred canticles and with joyous praise saying:

‘Who is this most pure creature ascending, shining as the dawn, beautiful as the moon, conspicuous as the sun? [cf Revelation 12, Song of Songs 6:10] How sweet and beautiful thou art, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns [cf Song of Songs 1:16, 2:1,2]; therefore the young maidens loved thee [cf Song of Songs 1:3]. We are drawn after the odor of thy ointments [cf Song of Songs 1:3-4]. The King introduced thee into His chamber [cf Song of Songs 2:4]. There Powers protect thee, Principalities praise thee, Thrones proclaim thee, Cherubim are hushed in joy, and Seraphim magnify the true Mother by nature and by grace of their very Lord. Thou wert not taken into heaven as Elias [Elijah] was, nor didst thou penetrate to the third heaven with Paul, but thou didst reach the royal throne itself of thy Son, seeing it with thine own eyes, standing by it in joy and unspeakable familiarity. O gladness of angels and of all heavenly powers, sweetness of patriarchs and of the just, perpetual exultation of prophets, rejoicing the world…refreshment of the weary, comfort of the sorrowful…health of the sick, harbour of the storm-tossed, lasting strength of mourners, and perpetual succour of all who invoke thee…’

We, too, approach thee today, O Queen; and again, I say, O Queen, O Virgin Mother of God, staying our souls with our trust in thee, as with a strong anchor. Lifting up mind, soul, and body, and all ourselves to thee, rejoicing in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, we reach through thee One who is beyond our reach on account of His Majesty. If, as the divine Word made flesh taught us, honor shown to servants is honor shown to our…Lord, how can honor shown to thee, His Mother, be slighted? How is it not most desirable?…those who think of Thee should recall the memory of Thy most precious gift as the cause of our lasting joy. How it fills us with gladness! How the mind that dwells on this holy treasury of Thy grace enriches itself.

Watch over us, O Queen, the dwelling-place of our Lord. Lead and govern all our ways as thou wilt…Lead us into the calm harbor of the divine will. Make us worthy of future happiness through the sweet and face-to-face vision of the Word made flesh through thee. With Him, glory, praise, power, and majesty be to the Father and to the holy and life-giving Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 28 – St Ireneaus of Lyons, (130-202 AD), Bishop & Martyr, Father of the Church

The writings of St. Irenaeus entitle him to a high place among the fathers of the Church, for they not only laid the foundations of Christian theology but, by exposing and refuting the errors  of the gnostics, they delivered the Catholic Faith from the real danger of the doctrines of those heretics.   It was Irenaeus who first proposed the four Gospels we revere today be accepted as canonical, and the doctrine of apostolic succession.

He was probably born about the year 125, in one of those maritime provinces of Asia Minor where the memory of the apostles was still cherished and where Christians were numerous. He was most influenced by St. Polycarp who had known the apostles or their immediate disciples

Many Asian priests and missionaries brought the gospel to the pagan Gauls and founded a local church. To this church of Lugdunum (Lyon), Irenaeus came to serve as a priest under its first bishop, St. Pothinus, an oriental like himself.

During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161–180, the  clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent him in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning the heresy of Montanism and that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits.

This mission explains how it was that he was not called upon to share in the martyrdom of St Pothinus during the terrible persecution in Lyons. When he returned to Lyons it was to occupy the vacant bishopric. By this time, the persecution was over. It was the spread of gnosticism in Gaul, and the ravages it was making among the Christians of his diocese, that inspired him to undertake the task of exposing its errors. He produced a treatise in five books in which he sets forth fully the inner doctrines of the various sects, and afterwards contrasts them with the teaching of the Apostles and the text of the Holy Scripture. His work, written in Greek but quickly translated to Latin, was widely circulated and succeeded in dealing a death-blow to gnosticism. At any rate, from that time onwards, it ceased to offer a serious menace to the Catholic faith.

The date of death of St. Irenaeus is not known, but it is believed to be in the year 202. The bodily remains of St. Irenaeus were buried in a crypt under the altar of what was then called the church of St. John, but was later known by the name of St. Irenaeus himself. This tomb or shrine was destroyed by the Calvinists (Huegenots) in 1562, and all trace of his relics seems to have perished.

St. Irenaeus, was a pupil of Polycarp, and in a letter to Florinus, he recounts learning from his teacher:

“I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. . . . I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the “Word of life” (1 John 1:1), Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures.”. (-Eusebius, Church History, V.20)

St. Irenaeus had the great gift of sitting at the feet of a theologian and bishop trained by the Theologian—the one Apostle who was with Mary at the Crucifixion of our Lord! And what a great gift we have in the writings of Irenaeus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, and many other early Fathers of the Church.

We learn another important fact from St. Irenaeus: these Fathers were not just Christian intellectuals, leaders, or martyrs; they were successors of the Twelve.

“It is within the power of all . . . who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times. (-Against Heresies, III.3.1)

Already in the second century, St. Irenaeus was encountering a great number of people who were distorting the Scriptures and the Gospel message.

It is not thou that shapest God
it is God that shapest thee.
If thou art the work of God
await the hand of the artist
Who does all things in due season.
Offer Him thy heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned thee.
Let thy clay be moist,
lest thou grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.
-St Ireneaus

“Irenaeus did not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always enlivened from within by the Holy Spirit, Who makes it live anew, causes it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church.” —Pope Benedict XVI

Prayer

O God, who called the Bishop Saint Irenaeus
to confirm true doctrine and the peace of the Church,
grant, we pray, through his intercession,
that, being renewed in faith and charity,
we may always be intent on fostering unity and concord.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-from The Roman Missal

Love,
Matthew