Category Archives: Fathers of the Church

Jan 2 – St Basil the Great, (329-379 AD), Archbishop, & St Gregory Nazianzus, (330-390 AD), Bishop, Fathers, Doctors of the Church, …& the Holy Spirit!!!!

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“The Mass of Saint Basil” by Pierre Subleyras (1699–1749). An altarpiece painted in 1743, and originally destined for Saint Peter’s in Rome, it is now in The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.


-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“Both St. Basil and St. Gregory were friends, both were born in the early fourth century, and both were schooled at Athens in rhetoric—a skill they taught for pay until they sold everything and entered monastic life in Pontus, Asia Minor. Both became bishops of important sees in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Basil (the Great) was the ecclesial speaker and administrator, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Theologian) was the poet and rhetorical mastermind, writing forty-five orations and over seventeen thousand lines of poetry. Along with many other theological works, both are known for their early and compelling arguments that the Holy Spirit is in fact God.

Fourth-century views on the Holy Spirit were varied. Some pagans aware of Christian doctrine called the Spirit an external mind or activity that ordered the cosmos. Some who professed Christ’s divinity still contended with the Spirit’s divinity, thinking of him as a creature, lesser in honor than the Father and Son, but still worthy of respect. These latter Basil and Gregory called the Spirit-Fighters (pneumatomachoi), against whom they dedicated the weight of their talent by defending and explaining the Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit’s divinity.

In On the Holy Spirit, Basil argues, from the tradition of the Church and the baptismal formulation in Matthew’s Gospel, that the Holy Spirit is rightly counted with the Father and Son as God.

“What makes us Christians? “Our faith,” everyone would answer. How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism. How else could we be? We are confirmed in our understanding that salvation comes through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . If we now reject what we accepted at baptism, we will be found further away from our salvation than when we first believed.” – On the Holy Spirit, 10

Basil’s point is clear: we are saved by the regenerating waters of baptism, whereby we receive grace from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a tradition that comes from Christ himself in his commission to the apostles to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

Gregory of Nazianzus, in his fifth Theological Oration, reinforces Basil’s conclusion. Calling the Holy Spirit anything less than God only leaves us with further questions about our salvation. Man is called to worship the One who elevates and saves him, and this belongs to God alone. Since it is the Spirit in whom we worship and are baptized, failing to call the Spirit divine along with the Father and Son would detract from what belongs to God.

“Were the Spirit not to be worshipped, how could He deify me through baptism? If He is to be worshipped, why not adored? And if to be adored, how can He fail to be God?” – Oration 31.28

Basil and Gregory realized that our worship of the Holy Spirit is tied to His role in creating and saving us. Something can only act from the way it exists. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit acts in our lives as God would do (namely, by creating and saving us), that is because He is God. In fact, any significant function belonging to God is also performed by the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls the Spirit the Sanctifier Who makes us holy, the Comforter Who widens our hearts, and the Advocate sent by the Son from the Father to teach us all things. He is called the “Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of Christ,” the “Spirit of the Lord,” and just simply “Lord,” to name a few titles. These are deeds and names that correspond to a divine Person, that is, one acting according to the same divine nature as that instantiated by the Father and the Son.

To show this, Gregory of Nazianzus refers us to John’s Gospel, which recounts Christ’s telling of the Holy Spirit’s work and mission in the world: “But when the Counselor comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me” (Jn 15:26).

Prior to His death and rising, Christ promised to send us the Spirit of truth from the Father. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ’s saving work, just as Christ’s own divinity and earthly mission are grounded in His being begotten of the Father. Because of His place among the divine Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is One with the Father and the Son in that same divinity. Following the words of Gregory and Basil, may we, in our worship of God, give thanks for our rebirth and re-creation in the Spirit, and may our recognition of this work of the Spirit in our lives cause us rightly to call Him divine.”

Sts Basil, John Gregory

-“The Three Holy Hierarchs” -St Basil, St John Chrysostom, & St Gregory Nazianzus, an icon of 17th cent. from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland

“God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love Him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing  Him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.” – Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Let us not esteem worldly prosperity or adversity as things real or of any moment, but let us live elsewhere, and raise all our attention to Heaven; esteeming sin as the only true evil, and nothing truly good, but virtue which unites us to God.” – Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other; we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper. The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong. Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.” – from a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” – from a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

“He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned water into wine, the destroyer of the bitter taste Who is sweetness and altogether desire.” -St Gregory of Nazianzus

“O sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in all you necessities. Call her to your assistance, for such is the divine Will that she should help in every kind of necessity.” – Saint Basil the Great

“The Lord does not say that the proof of His disciples’ faithfulness will be the working of wondrous miracles…what does He tell them? ‘You shall be known as my disciples if you love one another.'” -St. Basil the Great

“Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” -St. Gregory Nazianzen

“The same Lord who divided the islands from the continent by the sea bound the island Christians to the continental by love.” -St. Basil the Great

“By the command of Your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your saints…by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of Your holy name.” – Liturgy of Saint Basil, 373AD

“The bread which you use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.” – Saint Basil

“Let us raise ourselves from our fall and not give up hope as long as we are free from sin. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. ‘Come, let us adore and prostrate ourselves and weep before him’ (Psalm 95:6). The Word calls us to repentance, crying out: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you’ (Matthew 11:28). There is, then, a way to salvation if we are willing to follow it” – from a letter by Saint Basil the Great

“Envy is a gnawing pain which springs from the success and prosperity of another; and this is the reason why the envious are never exempt from trouble and vexation. If an abundant harvest fills the granaries of a neighbor, if success crowns his efforts, the envious man is chagrined and sad. If one man can boast of prudence, talent, and eloquence; if another is rich, and is very liberal to the poor, if good works are praised by all around, the envious man is shocked and grieved. The envious, however, dare not speak; although envy makes them counterfeit gladness, their hearts are sore within. If you ask him what vexes him, he dare not tell the reason. It is not really the happiness of his friend that annoys him, neither is it his gaiety that makes him sad, nor is he sorry to see his friend prosper; but it is that he is persuaded that the prosperity of others is the cause of his misery. This is what the envious would be forced to acknowledge, if they spoke the truth sincerely; but because they dare not confess so shameful a sin, they, in secret, feed a sore which tortures them and eats away their rest. As the shadow ever accompanies the pedestrian when walking in the sun, so envy throws its shadow on those who are successful in the world.” – Saint Basil, from “De Individia”

“Thy fame has gone forth into all the earth, which has received thy word. Thereby thou hast taught the Faith; thou hast revealed the nature of created things; thou hast made a royal priesthood of the ordered life of men. Righteous Father Basil intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.” – troparion of Saint Basil the Great

“Thou wast an unshaken foundation of the Church and didst give to all mortals an inviolate lordship which thou didst seal with thy doctrine, O righteous Basil, revealer of the mysteries of heaven.” – kontakion of Saint Basil the Great

“O All-Transcendent God (and what other name could describe You?), what words can hymn Your praises? No word does You justice. What mind can probe Your secret? No mind can encompass You. You are alone beyond the power of speech, yet all that we speak stems from You. You are alone beyond the power of thought, yet all that we can conceive springs from You. All things proclaim You, those endowed with reason and those bereft of it. All the expectation and pain of the world coalesces in You. All things utter a prayer to You, a silent hymn composed by You. You sustain everything that exists, and all things move together to Your orders. You are the goal of all that exists. You are one and You are all, yet You are none of the things that exist – neither a part nor the whole. You can avail yourself of any name; how shall I call You, the only unnameable? All-transcendent God!” –St Gregory Nazianzus

“O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation, Who, because of Your clemency and incomparable mercy, did send Your Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and with His venerable Cross did tear asunder the record of our sins, and thereby did conquer the rulers and powers of darkness; receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression, and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us. Nail down our flesh with fear of You, and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with Your love, that ever contemplating You, being enlightened by You, and discerning You, the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to You: The eternal Father, with Thine Only-Begotten Son, and with Thine All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” –St Basil the Great

Love,
Matthew

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

St. Ambrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

st. Ambrose body

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

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

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

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-painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan, Vatican Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In “On the Mysteries” (De Mysteriis) [English], Chapter 2, St. Ambrose wrote,

“After this the Holy of holies was opened to you, you entered the sanctuary of regeneration; recall what you were asked, and remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world with its luxury and pleasures. That utterance of yours is preserved not in the tombs of the dead, but in the book of the living.”

“Post haec reserata tibi sunt sancta sanctorum, ingressus es regenerationis sacrarium: repete quid interrogatus sis, recognosce quid responderis. Renuntiasti diabolo et operibus ejus, mundo et luxuriae ejus ac voluptatibus. Tenetur vox tua, non in tumulo mortuorum, sed in libro viventium.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 27 – St Cyril of Alexandria, (376-444), Patriarch of Alexandria, Father & Doctor of the Church, Pillar & Defender of the Faith, A Man’s Man of Christian Love

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After taking a look at the life of St. Cyril, it’s easy to see him as a man who always came into a situation with both barrels blazing. Seriously, Cyril took no prisoners.

Cyril was born at Alexandria, Egypt. He was nephew of the patriarch of that city, Theophilus. Cyril received a classical and theological education at Alexandria and was ordained by his uncle.  He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch of Alexandria on Theophilus’ death in 412.  Before Cyril became Patriarch, he had to survive a riot that ensued due to a rivalry for the Patriarchy with his rival, Timotheus.  Thus, Cyril followed his uncle in a position that had become powerful and influential, rivaling that of the Roman prefect.

When he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, he “assembled a mob” that plundered and closed the churches of the Novations1. Novations had been persecuting Christians in the area.  Cyril also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since Alexander the Great.  The Jews of Alexandria were also political backers of the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, governor of the Roman Diocese (political, not ecclesiastical) of Egypt. Expulsion from a territory was a secular power that belonged to the pagan Roman Prefect.  But the Jews had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians. Expelling their enemies may have been the only possible defense for the Christians.  The Roman Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, though was very angry at Cyril for usurping power that was his.  Cyril offered Orestes a Bible; a gesture which would mean Orestes’ acquiescence to Cyril’s religious authority and policy, which Orestes rejected.

Yes, you guessed it, a serious brawl ensued as a result of the conflict between Cyril and Orestes. 500 (yes, five hundred) monks came swinging out of the lower deserts of Egypt (Nitria) to defend Cyril. Can you imagine 500 men with big beards and worn-monastic habits storming into a fight against Orestes’ soldiers? One word comes to mind: Fortitude. One of the monks, Ammonius, actually beamed Orestes with a rock during the skirmish. Orestes had Ammonius tortured to death. Cyril actually honored the remains of the rock lobbing monk for a time.

Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, a pagan female astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence. Indeed many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Several Christians thought that Hypatia’s influence had caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital.  A Christian mob, however, led by a lector named Peter, took her from her chariot, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died, finally burning the pieces outside the city walls.  Cyril did not support this action and it caused him much embarrassment and political difficulty after the fact, but since this Peter was only a lector, and not a member of the clergy, Cyril could distance himself from this event.

Cyril, in league with Pope Celestine I, is most known for intellectually duking it out with Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). At one point, the Emperor (Theodosius II) had both Nestorius and Cyril arrested. The emperor, however, cut Cyril loose after Papal Legates showed up on his doorstep saying that Pope Celestine endorsed Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius.

So what was the big deal with Nestorius? Well, he promoted the heresy of Nestorianism, which says that “Mary was not the Mother of God, Theotokos(Θεοτόκος), since Christ was Divine and not human, and consequently she should not have the word theotokos (God-bearer) applied to her.”  Dyophysitism.  (Caution to the reader:  there are LOTS of “physitisms”. Don’t ask.  It gets very long, shades of grey, & complicated!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂  And you thought ecumenism was easy?)

Nestorianism goes, well, “out-of-its-way” to overly emphasize the disunion, or, at best, a very loose union between the human and Divine natures of Jesus, preferring the term Christotokos, in terms of whom Mary gave birth to; arguing that it was only the humanity of Christ which was born at the Incarnation, and not the Deity.  Conversely, the implication, at least, with Theotokos, possibly, Nestorians would argue, was it suggesting the Divine nature was also somehow created at the Incarnation?, which they could not stand.  However, Theotokos, properly understood, contains none of these objected to and objectionable connotations.  Nestorianism is a clear heresy from orthodox Christianity, negating the hypostatic, ὑπόστασις, union.  (How’s that for ten cent words?  Church techno speak! It helps to know a little Greek, Latin, & Hebrew.  It does.    Nicean orthodox Christianity says “True God & True Man”, in which it means:  two unique, full, complete natures, perfectly united in one person.  Dear Reverend Fathers on this distribution, how did I do?  Whew!  Did I pass?    These distinctions are NOT trivial, meaningless, nor unimportant.  Depending on how the Church defines the nature of Christ, it gives a whole new reading, meaning, & coloring to the interpretation of Scripture, tough enough as it is.  Better get it right!  Better!  🙂

Cyril was the bedrock for the third general Council of Ephesus in 431, which declared Nestorianism a heresy. Oddly enough, a group of bishops that sided with Nestorius convened their own council after the one at Ephesus and deposed Cyril (this is the point where Cyril and Nestorius got arrested by the Emperor).

The exegetical works of St. Cyril are very numerous. The seventeen books “On Adoration in Spirit and in Truth” are an exposition of the typical and spiritual nature of the Old Law. The Glaphyra or “brilliant”, Commentaries on Pentateuch are of the same nature. Long explanations of Isaiah and of the minor Prophets give a mystical interpretation, after the Alexandrian manner. Only fragments are extant of other works on the Old Testament, as well as of expositions of Matthew, Luke, and some of the Epistles, but of that of St. Luke much is preserved in a Syriac version. Of St. Cyril’s sermons and letters the most interesting are those which concern the Nestorian controversy. Of a great apologetic work in the twenty books against Julian the Apostate ten books remain. Among his theological treatises we have two large works and one small one on the Holy Trinity, and a number of treatises and tracts belonging to the Nestorian controversy.

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-Cyril, from the 2009 film “Agora”

“By nature, each one of us is enclosed in his own personality, but supernaturally, we are all one. We are made one body in Christ, because we are nourished by One Flesh. As Christ is indivisible, we are all one in Him. Therefore, He asked His Father “that they may all be One as We also are one.” – Saint Cyril of Alexandria

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers. The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves. It is held, therefore, that there is in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: “When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” – from a letter by Saint Cyril of Alexandria

But the biggest reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria is a ‘Trooper’ is his doctrine, which has been quoted by multiple Church councils—Cyril has the title Doctor of the Church. Here is an excerpt from his book on the Divine Motherhood of Mary:

“In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that He is and has always been God, and that for our sake in these latter days He took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”

Prayer in Honor of Mary, Mother of God

“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, venerable treasure of the whole universe, lamp that is never extinguished, crown of virginity, support of the true faith, indestructible temple, dwelling of Him whom no place can contain, O Mother and Virgin! Through you all the holy Gospels call blessed the One whom comes in the name of the Lord.

Hail, Mother of God. You enclosed under your heart the infinite God whom no space can contain. Through you the Most Holy Trinity is adored and glorified, the priceless cross is venerated throughout the universe. Through you the heavens rejoice, and the angels and archangels are filled with gladness. Through you the demons are banished, and the tempter fell from heaven. Through you the fallen human race is admitted to heaven.

Hail, Mother of God. Through you kings rule, and the only-begotten Son of God has become a star of light to those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor

Love,
Matthew

1Novation was born about the year 200. He was a man of considerable learning, apparently educated in literary composition; the first writer to use Latin in the Church. His immediate rival in Rome, Bishop Cornelius, spoke of him sarcastically as ” that maker of dogmas, that champion of ecclesiastical learning”.  During the persecutions of emperor Decius in mid third century, Novatian took the position that those who had stopped practicing Christianity, the “Lapsi”, during the persecutions, to save themselves, could not be accepted back into the Church even if they repented and that the only way to reenter the church would be by re-baptism. Cornelius and Cyprian of Carthage did not believe in the need for re-baptism. Instead they thought that the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back into the church.

During the election of the bishop of Rome in 251, Novatian opposed Cornelius because he was too lax in accepting the return of Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. His party then consecrated him as a rival bishop (antipope) to Cornelius. He announced throughout the empire his election, as had Cornelius, as both parties appointed bishops and priests in cities where the incumbent favored his rival, thus creating a widespread schism in the Church.

By the end of 251, Bishop Cornelius assembled a council of sixty bishops that condemned and excommunicated Novation apparently over the legitimacy of his claim to the ecclesiastical throne of Rome. It was only later that Novation began to be called a heretic and this appeared to be over the question of the Church having the power to grant absolution in certain cases.  Novatian is known for his writing of which only two have survived, the De Cibis Judaicus and De Trintate (On the Trinity), an interpretation of the early church doctrine on the Trinity which is his most important work.  Novationists called themselves καθαροι (“katharoi”/Cathari) or “Puritans” reflecting their desire not to be identified with what they considered the lax practices of a corrupted Catholic Church. They went so far as to re-baptize their own converts. Because Novatianists (including Novatian) did not submit to the bishop of Rome, they were labeled by Rome as schismatics.

Novations were Montanists, another name for a heretical group, who took their name from a priest and Anti-pope, Montanus.  Montanus preached that those who fell from grace were out of the church forever, as opposed to the orthodox position that by sincere contrition and repentance the fallen might be readmitted. In addition they believed that the value of the sacraments depended on the purity and worthiness of the priest administering the rites. In time they merged with the Donatists who sprang up in Carthage, 4th century in a split with Rome over the failure of a their man to win the bishop’s seat.  The Novations also held second marriages were not valid.

Resurrection

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Every Christian must, by necessity, struggle with the belief in Resurrection:  His, our own.  St Gregory replies to the objections of his time…which sound a lot like the ones we imagine, too.

“Because human reason is so weak, there are some who – judging divine power by the limits of our own – insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God.  They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated.  They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor – the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it.  They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the Resurrection – as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of.  Not only does the earth return to the earth, as God’s word says, but air and water also revert to the like element.  Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust – wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world.  And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God’s knowledge is weaker than your own power?  Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God’s hand?”

-On the Making of Man, 26; St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-394 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor & Father of the Church

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday

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“…Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all Your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by Your protecting help.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
-Eucharistic Prayer I, Communicantes

Early Christian persecution had recently spared northern Africa.  But, in 250 AD, the Emperor Decius, began a furious persecution of Christians.  St  Cyprian tells a group of Christian prisoners that their sufferings are earning them greater honors than the proud officials who confine them there will ever have.  They have missed a whole year of changing seasons in the outside world, but their suffering brings them far better rewards in Heaven.

“Forget the judges and governors.  Let them puff themselves up with the symbols of their dignity, which lasts for only a year.  The heavenly dignity in you is already sealed by the brightness of a year’s honor, and its victorious glory continues into another year.

The changing months have passed, and Winter is gone; but you, shut up in prison, suffered the winter of persecution instead of the inclement weather outside.  After Winter came the mildness of Spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but you had roses and flowers from the gardens of paradise, and heavenly garlands wreathed your brows.

Now the Summer bears its fruitful harvest, and the threshing-floor is full of grain; but you sowed glory, and are reaping the fruit of glory.  On the Lord’s threshing-floor, you are seeing the chaff burned with unquenchable fire.  Like grains of wheat, winnowed and precious, purged of chaff and gathered in, you see prison as your granary.

Nor  does Autumn lack spiritual graces for the tasks of the season.  The vintage is pressed outside, and the grape that will soon flow into the cups is pressed.  You, rich bunches from the Lord’s vineyard,  branches with fruit already ripe, pressed by worldly troubles, fill your wine vat in the torments of prison, and shed your blood instead of wine.  Standing up bravely to your suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom.

So the year rolls on for the Lord’s servants.  Thus we celebrate the changing seasons with spiritual honors and heavenly rewards.”

-Letter 15, St Cyrprian of Carthage, (200-258 AD), Bishop, Martyr, Father & Doctor of the Church

Blessed Good Friday!

Love,
Matthew

Jan 13 – St Hilary of Poitiers, (315?-368 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christ’s Divinity, Hammer of the Arians

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I love Pilate’s question.  “What is Truth?” (Jn 18:38), asked by so many in our own day, or not.  I have spent a VERY LONG TIME praying on THAT ONE!!!!  I still do.  I will until breath or thought are no longer mine.

Rather than seek out and admit to Truth, the burden of Which is tremendous in its implications and responsibilities for us, many shrink/cower in fear or laziness and become their own truth, their own god, saying falsely, “There is no God.” Or, “God is Whom I wish Him to be.”  In Gen 3:5, the effects of the deception of the serpent persist.  Not only did Adam & Eve not become like God, we still believe we know, inherently, as a matter of fact, of and from our own reference of ourselves, our own whims, preferences, fashions and passions, a self-idolatry, the difference between Good & Evil.  Untrue.  An intellectual idol if ever there was one, not of silver or gold, but of self-satisfaction and reassurance.  Safe, warm, self-satisfied, self-established, self-proclaimed, self-determined, self-assured, and false.  Heresy.  Psalm 135:15-18.

No.  One of the defining qualities of the True God is He is utterly transcendent.  We do not define Him, in any way, form, or iota, nor, be forewarned and wary, should we ever be tempted to try.  He defines us.  He does not need us.  We need Him, desperately.  Classical catechesis teaches us if God ever stopped thinking about us, we would vanish into nothingness.  All Creation exists because of and holds/remains because of the mindfulness of God.  He loves us, surely, but voluntarily loves us; the only true love, and utterly not out of some necessity.  That would be some sort of co-dependency.  And I am unaware God is co-dependent.

After the Resurrection, and even with the compilation, eventually, of the canon of Scripture, i.e., Council of Carthage, 397 AD, there were still many practical questions those wishing to live the Christian faith reasonably had.  Details, details, details.  Details are important.  If, as the conventional wisdom goes, it is all about relationships, then details matter.  How would your most important relationships fare without the intimate details/”history” those relationships are based upon?  Not so well, I confidently posit.

And so, it goes with God, in that most important Relationship, upon which all depends, details matter.  Don’t get the details right and the Relationship is askew, misdirected, misinformed, misshapen, misunderstood, ineffective, failing or failed.  You don’t “get It!”  The very definition of sin is being out of right Relationship with God, of not “getting it”, not rendering, as justice demands, as a creature of the Creator, just worship and love for the fact of even just being.

While the Church certainly faces its challenges in our own day, the first thousand years of Christianity were plagued by, among others, Arianism.  Arianism was a belief created by Arius, Bishop of Alexandria AD 250–336, in Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, essentially denying the equality in divinity of Jesus to His Father. Arius asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. Arius was condemned as a heretic.

The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by, and is therefore a creature/creation of God the Father. This belief is grounded in the misinterpretation of the Gospel of John passage “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28)  Although condemned, the damage was done. The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.”

Hilary was a gentle and courteous man, devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity, and was like his Master in being labeled a “disturber of the peace.” In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy.  Hilary was born in Poitiers, France, at the beginning of the fourth century. In the early centuries of Christianity, paganism, of course, was prevalent.  Hilary’s family was pagan, as was Hilary, by birth.  He married and raised a family.  His daughter’s name was Apra.

Receiving an excellent education, Hilary, though, was drawn to the study of Scripture.  Hilary learned that, from studying Scripture, a person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life after death. Hilary’s studies also convinced him that there could only be One God Who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the Bible continuously.

When he came to the story of Moses and the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets, too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished, Hilary was completely converted to Christianity, and he asked to be baptized.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was appointed bishop, against his personal wishes. This did not make his life easy because the Roman Emperor was interfering in Church matters. When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of St Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Eventually Hilary was called the “Athanasius of the West.” It was then when Hilary’s great virtues of patience and courage stood out. He accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining the Catholic faith.

While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea, where the true Catholic doctrine of the Trinity was affirmed and defined. Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home, where they hoped he would receive less notoriety.

Since he was becoming famous, Hilary’s enemies asked the emperor to send him back to his home in France. They hoped that people would pay less attention to him there. So Hilary was sent back to Poitiers in 360.  He was received at home with great joy by the people of Poitiers. He continued writing and teaching about the Faith. Hilary died eight years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced the Church right to our own day.

“To those who wish to stand in God’s grace, neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting.” – Saint Hilary, Commentary on the Psalms

Prayer of St Hilary of Poitiers

“I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of You.

In fact, You have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at Your service. It is for making You known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows You not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in You.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of Your help and Your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before You, fill them with the breath of Your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming Your Truth. We have been promised, and He who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But Yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek You and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate Your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to Your teaching and by obedience to the Faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in You to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that You are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of You from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in Truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that He is begotten of You Who are the One God; nor must we assert that He is other than the true God, born of You, who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its Truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about You, the One God the Father, and the One Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny You, to honor You as God, Who is not alone, and to proclaim this as Truth.”  -from a sermon On the Trinity (Lib 1, 37-38: PL 10, 48-49) by Saint Hilary of Poitiers.  This prayer is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

Old English liturgical books have the following Preface for the Liturgy on the feast day of St. Hilary: “… that we should always and in all places give thanks, pay our vows, and consecrate our gifts to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God. Who of old didst choose Thy blessed confessor Hilary for Thyself to be a prelate of sanctified confession, shining brightly with radiance vast, mighty in the meekness of his ways, burning with the fervour of his faith, flowing with the fountain of his speech. For the One in Whom his glory lay, is revealed by the multitudes thronging his sepulchre, the purification of those that hasten to it, the healing of the diseased there, the signs of astonishing miracles…”
-from the complete Old Sarum Rite Missal, (c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press

Prayer

O Lord our God, Who raised up Your servant Hilary to be a champion of the Catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having You for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jun 1 – St Justin Martyr, (100-165 AD)

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All the voices around Justin clamored that they had the truth he sought so desperately. He had listened to them all since he first came to Rome to get his education. They each shouted that they held the one and only answer but he felt no closer to the truth than when he had started his studies. He had left the Stoic master behind but the Stoics valued discipline as truth and thought discussion of God unnecessary. He had rejected the Peripatetic who seemed more interested in money than discussion. The Pythagorean had rejected him because he didn’t know enough music and geometry — the things that would lead him to truth. He had found some joy with the Platonists because the contemplation of ideas gave wings to his mind, but they had promised wisdom would let him see God and so, where was God?

There was one place that Justin always escaped to in order to get away from these shouting, confusing voices and search out the quiet inner voice that led him to truth. This place was a lonely spot, a path that seemed made for him alone in a field by the sea. So sure was he of the isolation of his retreat that he was shocked one day to find an old man following him.

The old man was not searching for truth but for some of his family. Nonetheless they began a discussion in which Justin identified himself as a philologian, a lover of reason. The old man challenged him — why was he not a lover of truth, a lover of deeds. Justin told him that reason led to truth, and philosophy led to happiness. This was certainly an interesting thing for Justin to say since he had not found the truth in the study of reason or happiness in his quest among the philosophers! Perhaps the old man sensed this for he asked for Justin’s definition of philosophy and of happiness.

In the long discussion that followed, Justin spoke eloquently to the old man’s searching questions but even Justin had to admit that philosophers may talk about God but had never seen him, may discuss the soul but didn’t really know it. But if the philosophers whom Justin admired and followed couldn’t, then nobody could, right?

The old man told him about the ancient prophets, the Hebrew prophets, who had talked not of ideas but of what they had seen and heard, what they knew and experienced. And this was God. The old man ended the conversation by telling Justin to pray that the gates of light be opened to him.

Inflamed by this conversation, Justin sought out the Scriptures and came to love them. Christ words “possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn aside from the path of rectitude with awe; while the sweetest rest is afforded those who make a diligent practice of them.”

Why hadn’t Justin known about Christianity before with as much as he had studied? He had heard about it, the way other pagans of second century Rome had, by the rumors and accusations that surrounded the persecution of Christians. The fearlessness of their actions made him doubt the gossip, but he had nothing else to go by. Christians at that time kept their beliefs secret. They were so afraid that outsiders would trample on their sacred faith and desecrate their mysteries that they wouldn’t tell anyone about their beliefs — even to counteract outright lies. To be honest, there was good reason for their fears — many actors for example performed obscene parodies of Christian ritual for pagan audiences, for example.

But Justin believed differently. He had been one of those outsiders — not someone looking for trouble, but someone earnestly searching for the truth. The truth had been hidden from him by this fear of theirs. And he believed there were many others like him. He exhorted them that Christians had an obligation to speak of their faith, to witness to others about their faith and their mysteries.

Justin never ended his quest for religious truth even when he converted to Christianity at the age of thirty after years of studying various pagan philosophies.

As a young man, he was principally attracted to the school of Plato. However, he found that the Christian religion answered the great questions about life and existence better than the philosophers.

Upon his conversion he continued to wear the philosopher’s mantle, and became the first Christian philosopher. He combined the Christian religion with the best elements in Greek philosophy. In his view, philosophy was a pedagogue of Christ, an educator that was to lead one to Christ.

Justin is known as an apologist, not someone who apologizes, but rather someone who defends in writing the Christian religion against the attacks and misunderstandings of the pagans. Two of his so-called apologies have come down to us; they are addressed to the Roman emperor and to the Senate.  He also opened a school of debate in Rome.  Naturally, he came to the attention of the Roman authorities.

Justin was arrested during the persecution of Emperor Marcus Aurelius along with four other Christians:  Chariton, Charites, Paeon, and Liberianus.

“The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect commanded Justin, “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors.”

Justin replied, “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Rusticus said, “What system of teaching do you profess?”

Justin said, “I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?”

Justin said, “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “What sort of teaching is that?”

Justin said, “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Rusticus said, “You are a Christian, then?”

Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”

The prefect said to Justin, “You are called a learned man and think you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?”

Justin said, “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer in that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?”

Justin said, “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.”

Justin said, “No one who is right-thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.”

Justin said, “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved.” In the same way the other martyrs also said, “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Savior.” – from the Acts of the Martyrdom of Saint Justin and his Companions

“We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all.”
―St. Justin Martyr

“By examining the tongue of a patient, physicians find out the diseases of the body, and philosophers the diseases of the mind.”
―St. Justin Martyr

“Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!”
―St. Justin Martyr

“No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety.”
~ Justin Martyr, apologist, Saint; in answer to the Prefect Rusticus who had demanded sacrifice to the Roman gods; from the trial transcript by Tatian (A.D. 165).

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

– Saint Justin Martyr (First Apology, 66, 153-155 AD)

Prayer to St Justin Martyr:
Saint Justin Martyr, pray that in our search for the Truth, God will open the gates of light for us the way He did for you and give us the wisdom no human being can give. Amen

Love,
Matthew

Feb 23 – St Polycarp (69 -155 AD), Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr

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It is a Catholic tradition that when celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, whereby one becomes an adult in the Church and a “Soldier for Christ”, ready to lay one’s life down for the Faith, the old expression goes, one should take a new name, a saint’s name.  Taking a new name is ancient tradition signifying a new identity – kings, prophets, etc.  The idea is that that saint would be a guide and intercessor for the confirmand to strengthen them the rest of their life to live the Faith as faithfully as possible.  This is done more, hopefully still, for young people than for adults entering the Church, although I think the RCIA graduates would benefit just as much.

My parents had friends who made all of their children take the name “Polycarp” as their confirmation name.  Cruel joke some no doubt would say, and I am sure their children’s friends in catechism class had no mercy – so much for Christian virtue among Catholic youth.  Imagine each of these young people muttering “Polycarp” under their breath, as quietly as possible, each time their catechist asked them what name they would take, or the bishop asking, somewhat loudly, what name, or having to wear it on a paper sign around one’s neck – a scarlet letter, no doubt!  Such are the character builders of growing up Catholic!

Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear their stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. Imagine walking with those who had walked with Jesus, seen him, and touched him. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist.

But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation could not teach about. What did you do when those eyewitnesses were gone? How do you carry on the correct teachings of Jesus? How do you answer new questions that never came up before?

With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose over how to celebrate liturgy that Jesus never laid down rules for.

Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer — to be true to the life of Jesus and imitate that life. Saint Ignatius of Antioch told Polycarp “your mind is grounded in God as on an immovable rock.”

When faced with heresy, he showed the “candid face” that Ignatius admired and that imitated Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.  Marcion, the leader of the Marcionites who followed a dualistic heresy – believing their were two gods, a wrathful god of the Hebrew Scriptures and a loving god of the New Testament, confronted Polycarp and demanded respect by saying, “Recognize us, Polycarp.” Polycarp responded, “I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan.”

On the other hand when faced with Christian disagreements he was all forgiveness and respect. One of the controversies of the time came over the celebration of Easter. The East, where Polycarp was from, celebrated the Passover as the Passion of Christ followed by a Eucharist on the following day. The West celebrated Easter on the Sunday of the week following Passover. When Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the difference with Pope Anicetus, they could not agree on this issue. But they found no difference in their Christian beliefs. And Anicetus asked Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own papal chapel.

Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. His own church admired him for following the “gospel model” — not chasing after martyrdom as some did, particularly the Marcionites, but avoiding it until it was God’s will as Jesus did. They considered it “a sign of love to desire not to save oneself alone, but to save also all the Christian brothers and sisters.”

One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, “Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found.” (They considered Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in their pantheon of gods.) Since Polycarp was not only known as a leader but as someone holy “even before his grey hair appeared”, this was a horrible demand.

Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.

As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but the police discovered he was there by torturing two boys. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, “God’s will be done.”

Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, “remembering all who had at any time come his way — small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.

But that didn’t stop them from taking him into the arena on the Sabbath. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, “Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man.”

The proconsul begged the eighty-six-year-old bishop to give in because of his age. “Say ‘Away with the atheists'” the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to the face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, “Away with the atheists.” The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, “If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian.” Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, “Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us.”

Because of Polycarp’s lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive but Polycarp knew that the fire that burned for an hour was better than eternal fire.

When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed, “Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, among those who are in Your presence, as You have prepared and foretold and fulfilled, God Who is faithful and true. For this and for all benefits I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through Whom be to You with Him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen.”

The fire was lit as Polycarp said Amen and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn’t being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.

The proconsul wouldn’t let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: “They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world.” After the body was burned, they stole the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 155.

“Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man.” – Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians

Prayer:
Saint Polycarp, sometimes Christ seems so far away from us. Centuries have passed since He and the apostles walked on the earth. Help us to see that He is close to us always and that we can keep Him near by imitating His life as you did.  Amen

Love,
Matthew