Sympathy for a Devil (or, Julian Fries)
Friday May 26th 2006, 4:16 am
Filed under: Patristics

Constantius knew that envy was the leading cause of death among Roman emperors. His father, Constantine the Great, had killed both a wife and a son whom the old man suspected of scheming after the throne. And Constantine had succeeded marvelously, managing to die serenely in his bed, quite soon after baptism, at the end of a long and prosperous reign.

Constantius decided to do one better. He would strike pre-emptively and eliminate everyone in the family who might reasonably wish for the purple robe. The closer the kinship, the greater the temptation to grab for succession. Constantius murdered nine family members, including his father’s half-brother and most of the man’s children. Two small boys were spared, one of whom was a precocious child not yet six. His name was Julian.

Constantius and his brothers were not up to the standard of their illustrious father, and they soon fell into the old habit of battering each other across the Empire. Eventually Constantius emerged as the sole Emperor. Unlike his father, he was not willing to trust the consciences of his subjects. “This accursed tolerance shall cease,” he proclaimed, and he began to issue edicts against the pagans every bit as harsh as Diocletian’s had been against the Christians. In 353, he ordered all the pagan temples closed.

Instead of destroying paganism, the edicts united the remaining pagans in their implacable hatred of Christianity. The pagan philosophers, in particular, used all their arts to make the new religion seem ridiculous to their students. One of those students was young Julian, the survivor of the imperial family’s purge.

Julian was a brilliant young man. He studied at Athens, where he was a classmate of two Fathers of the Church, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. Julian entered military and civil service, where he soon established himself as a superb general and a keener intellectual than his famous uncle. The soldiers respected him, and when, in 360, Constantius ordered all Julian’s best troops to head east to fight the unpopular Persian war, the soldiers revolted and proclaimed Julian emperor.

Julian set out at once to defeat Constantius, but while Julian was on his way Constantius conveniently died. Julian had been raised a Christian, but his pagan teachers had infected his mind with a romantic notion of the glories of the pagan past. And to all those legends of ancient honor and glory he could compare the rank behavior of his Christian cousin — his father’s murderer — Constantius.

Immediately upon taking the throne, Julian proclaimed the return of paganism as the official religion of the Empire. By turning from Christianity back to paganism, Julian earned himself the nickname “Julian the Apostate.”

It was a strange new kind of paganism, though. At first Julian contented himself with ordering the pagan temples to be reopened. But soon he began to build a pagan church modeled on the Christian Church, with its own pagan liturgy, its own philanthropic charities, and its own church administration. The true religion had so far eclipsed the false that even a confirmed pagan could not imagine returning to the old ways unaltered. He even tried to send out pagan missionaries to infuse the Empire with an enthusiasm for paganism. They only succeeded in converting the sycophants and hangers-on who wanted to get ahead at court. Still, Julian did his level best, himself composing a polemical book against the religion of “the Galileans.” It became one of the more effective anti-Christian tracts of antiquity.

At first Julian seems to have intended merely to re-enact the universal tolerance of the Edict of Milan, although with a strong official preference for paganism. But bit by bit he slid down the slope into persecution. First he prohibited the Christians from teaching classical literature — the foundation of every Roman’s education — in their schools. If the Christians didn’t believe in the gods of Homer and Virgil, he reasoned, what right did they have to teach those authors? Then he ordered the Christians to return the pagan properties that had been given to them by previous emperors. Inevitably Christians began to rebel against his administration, and inevitably he was forced to take action against them. Soon he found himself a persecutor.

Meanwhile, the Persian war continued. Julian was remarkably successful as a military leader, but the Persians had good generals too. After a number of victories, Julian suffered a humiliating defeat in 363. As his army was retreating, Julian was wounded in a cavalry battle. He looked and saw that the wound was mortal, and at that moment he must have realized that pagan Rome could not outlive him. The Christians would have the last word.

“You win, Galilean,” he said as he fell from his horse.



Rocking the Credal
Thursday May 25th 2006, 12:40 pm
Filed under: Patristics

David Mills, the editor at Touchstone magazine, published a brilliant essay in the most recent issue on our need for the creed. I’ve said it before: Touchstone is one of the few magazines that treat the Fathers as newsworthy. If you don’t already get it, you should subscribe today. (The most recent issue carries my co-author Chris Bailey’s “leak” of the top-secret sequel to The Da Vinci Code.) David is also a frequent contributor to Mere Comments, Touchstone’s blog. Here’s just a snippet of good Mr. Mills on the relevance of the Fathers and the creed.

Binding themselves to the Creed is not only what Christians do but what Christians have done, and do now in part because our fathers did so and we trust that they set the right pattern for us to follow.

The Israelites tried hard (in their better moments) to keep themselves from taking up the beliefs of the pagans around them, and when they failed God punished their heresy with exile into slavery. “The Lord thy God is one God” (Deuteronomy 6:4) is a short creed, and it does not allow the additions “among others” or “though you may worship Ba’al if you find it helpful.”

The Apostles were just as dogmatic. The first recorded Christian creed was that blurted out by St. Peter, and approved by our Lord: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). You cannot replace any “the” in that creed with an “a” without radically changing the story it tells.

St. Paul fought desperately for the truth of “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and his complex arguments show us how detailed and subtle he thought this faith to be. He thinks error very bad, telling Titus that a bishop must “by sound doctrine both exhort and convince the gain-sayers” and telling Timothy that those who rejected the Faith he “delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:19-20).

St. John, sometimes depicted as the “spiritual,” which is to say undogmatic, apostle, insists that getting the details right is essential to holiness and our relation to God. Those who change the story rebel against God. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God,” he writes. “And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist. . . “ (I John 4:2-3).

The Fathers, to whom many of us look as models, tolerated error no more than the Apostles, though at various times saying the Creed as it had developed so far could get them tortured to death. People who believed in “one God, the Father almighty” refused the ceremonial worship of Caesar, marked by offering a inch of incense in his honor, a refusal taken as treason. Most readers will know the famous story of St. Polycarp meeting the heretic Marcion in the street and calling him “the firstborn of Satan.”

These are the founders and the earliest heroes of our family. And so, faithful to the Apostles and the Fathers, we hold the Creed because the Church has believed since the New Testament that truth matters and that in the events recorded in the Bible God revealed himself and his will for the world; that this revelation has been reliably distilled into propositions (called doctrines); and these propositions have been provided for us in a compact statement called the Creed, which Christians should say with joy though the cross or the stake await them.

There’s something wonderful about the line: “Most readers will know the famous story of St. Polycarp…” Only in Touchstone can an author say that sort of thing. Don’t forget: subscribe today.



The Signs of Leo
Thursday May 25th 2006, 8:27 am
Filed under: Patristics

For the great feast of the Ascension, Pontifications gives us St. Leo the Great’s famous homily (which provides a key statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church): “And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments.”

The translation in the CCC (n. 1115), by the way, is slightly different (and more precise): “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.”



Indiana Wants Me
Wednesday May 24th 2006, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Jeremy at Living Among Mysteries posted an appreciative review of my new book, The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence. Jeremy is a Hoosier, a gentleman and a scholar, so you should feel confident basing your book-buying decisions on his judgments. (He also claims the charism of infallibility, which may be a first for Missouri Synod Lutherans.)

My co-author, Chris Bailey, has lots of new material at GrailCode.com. Chris has moved from the historical Arthur to the historical Merlin and now to the historical Nennius. And he had this to say upon the release of the Canadian French edition of our book.

Well, we haven’t quite caught up to Dan Brown—not yet, anyway—but in June, The Grail Code will be available in a Canadian French edition from Novalis.

“Ce livre,” says the Novalis site, “ne se présente pas comme une nouvelle critique du livre de Dan Brown. Il propose plutôt de comprendre ce qui fascine les hommes dans la quête du Graal.” In other (more English) words, “This book doesn’t offer a new critique of Dan Brown’s book. Instead, it sets out to understand what fascinates people in the quest for the Grail.”

And there you have a measurement of the immensity of the Da Vinci Code industry. You can’t offer a book about the Holy Grail without telling people where it stands in relation to Dan Brown’s book. I’d hardly be human if I didn’t envy Dan Brown’s billion-dollar success once in a while, but I’m happy that Mike and I have more to offer than just another study guide to a popular novel.

Our book is, of course, the best way to counter the historical bloomers in The Da Vinci Code, but we hope readers will still enjoy our book when all the Dan Brown hype has died down. The world of the great Grail romances is much more interesting than the world of paranoid conspiracy theories.

I hear rumors that more languages are on the way. Today, Montreal—tomorrow, the world! (You may imagine a few seconds of unhinged maniacal laughter if you like.)



The Skinny on St. Vinnie
Wednesday May 24th 2006, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Patristics

St. Vincent of Lerins was an early patrologist. In fact, he laid the ground rules for the study of the Fathers. And he himself was a Church Father, so he had a leg up on the rest of us. The ever-timely Fr. John Zuhlsdorf gives us this on his blog of many wonders:

Today is the feast of St. Vincent of Lérins (5th c.).
He is the fellow who gave us a famous rule for distinguishing true Catholic teaching from heresy. In a work called the Commonitorium, written ostensibly to help us remember the ideas, he underscored the importance of Holy Scripture as a rule of faith. The first thing we do is submit our questions or doubts to Scripture. However, since people disagree about what Scripture means, we must take into consideration the interpretation of Scripture which has been held since antiquity, by the whole Church (universality) and most agreed upon by those who have the authority to interpret.
You might have heard this put in Latin as Magnopere curandum est ut id teneatur quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

Or you might not have. But you should read St. Vincent and ask his intercession today.



Unconditional Saranda
Wednesday May 24th 2006, 4:37 am
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

Rabbinic Judaism and orthodox Christianity emerged from the same culture, and for a few centuries their houses of worship were strikingly similar in design and decoration. The iconography was mostly symbolic, though with occasional narrative scenes. Jews and Christians even tended to favor the same symbols (fish, peacock, dove) and the same biblical narratives (Abraham and Isaac, Noah and the Ark). The two groups often lived in close proximity, and influence ran both ways across the street. It’s only in later centuries that synagogues tended to be strictly and almost universally aniconic (forbidding images).

With all that in mind, you might want to visit this excavation of a synagogue in Albania, from the pages of Archaeology magazine:

Colorful mosaic pavements and the fifth- or sixth-century A.D. synagogue that housed them were unearthed in the Albanian coastal town of Saranda, opposite the Greek island of Corfu. It is the first time such remains have been found from this region and time period.

Albanian archaeologists first discovered remnants of a house of worship 20 years ago during an initial excavation of the site, when Communist prohibition of religion made a more thorough survey difficult. Because the structure had undergone multiple uses throughout the centuries–most recently as a Christian church–the synagogue remained well hidden for years. When further excavations uncovered evidence of the structure’s Jewish past, the Archaeology Institute of the Albanian Academy of Sciences teamed up in 2003 with archaeologists from the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology for a joint excavation.

The first mosaic pavement depicts items associated with Jewish holidays: a menorah, a citron tree, and a ram’s horn. The other, located in the basilica of the synagogue, includes trees, animals, and the facade of a structure that may be a Torah shrine. Future excavations will venture beneath adjacent streets and buildings, where parts of the synagogue remain.

You’ll find a lovely (copyrighted) selection of photos from Saranda here, with close-ups of some of the mosaics.

For more on Jewish-Christian mutual influence in antiquity, see Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.



Well, What Do You Gno?
Tuesday May 23rd 2006, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Patristics

My favorite review of the so-called Gospel of Judas was written by a nonbeliever, Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker. I read it in print when the apocrypha hit the fan last month, and I should have shared it with you then, but I assumed it was pay-per-view. I just found out that it’s not. Please read “Jesus Laughed.” It’s a profoundly moving testimony to the attractiveness of the Real Jesus — even for a man without faith — and Gopnik also manages to capture all the creepiness of the sneering gnostic impostor.



Gallery of Christian Art
Tuesday May 23rd 2006, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Patristics

I’m happy to learn that there’s now a website promoting the work of my favorite contemporary artist, Lea Marie Ravotti. A native of the Czech Republic and a convert to Christianity, Lea apprenticed herself to the great traditions of Christian art, learning the techniques, the styles, and the deep devotion of the artists and movements. She has become something of an expert on ancient Christian art. Often when I point visitors to new Web resources on paleo-Christian archeology, I’m merely reporting my last exchange with Lea Ravotti. Visit her site today.



Back to the Future?
Tuesday May 23rd 2006, 12:17 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Christianity Today just published an interesting piece on the Didache, “What the Teaching Can Teach Us,” by an evangelical scholar, William Varner. Hat tip: Boar’s Head Tavern.



The Time Capsule
Tuesday May 23rd 2006, 5:20 am
Filed under: Patristics

It’s a commonplace notion of the Catholic faith that revelation closed with the death of the last apostle. To us, it’s commonplace. But to the early Christians, it was a most urgent matter.

As the apostles went to their martyrdom, one by one, the flock they left behind saw vanishing the only eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teaching — the only guarantors of Christian orthodoxy.

It was then, in the first century, that the Christian community produced what we might call its first “catechism,” a book that bears the title “The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles Through the Twelve Apostles” — or, in Greek, simply the “Didache,” the teaching.

The Didache (pronounced DID-uh-kay) is actually more than a catechism. It’s a “church order” (to use the technical term), a book that combines doctrinal summary with liturgical instruction and a little bit of moral exhortation. It’s like a missal, a manual, and a catechism rolled into one. We possess several church orders from Christian antiquity, but the Didache is almost certainly the oldest, and most of the later ones depend upon the Didache.

How old is the Didache? Most scholars place its composition between A.D. 60 and 110. However, one of the top scholars alive, Enrico Mazza, argues very persuasively that the liturgical portions of the document were composed no later than 48 A.D. If he’s correct, that means that our oldest liturgical texts pre-date most of the books of the New Testament.

The Didache, which was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century, reads like a time capsule from the apostolic generation.

Twenty-first century Christians tend to romanticize those founding years of the Church as a golden age of unity, when believers absorbed sound doctrine by osmosis, and when Christians couldn’t help but love one another, and bless their persecutors, and feed the poor.

But that’s not how it was. Early on, the Church faced serious threats from self-proclaimed Christians who denied, for example, that the eternal Word truly became flesh (see 1 Jn 4:2 and 2 Jn 1:7). They also denied the reality of the Eucharist and the necessity of the Church. Quite early in the game, there were even some teachers who held that revelation was a private affair between God and the individual believer. They spun wildly creative religious systems (see 1 Tim 1:4) and gave a green-light to unbridled lust (see Jd 7). To legitimize their “revelations,” such heretics often attributed oracles to the apostles (see Gal 1:7 and 2 Thess 2:2).

Amid this confusion came order and orthodoxy in the Didache. It is, perhaps, the earliest ancestor of today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church. And, indeed, the new Catechism quotes that first one several times (details below).

Many scholars believe that the Didache was compiled, from various oral and written sources, in Antioch of Syria, the place where the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Tradition holds that St. Peter, the first pope, was the founding bishop of Antioch, and one of the earliest titles given to the Didache was “The Judgments of Peter.”

The document is small, just 16 brief chapters, but it manages to cover a wide area, from morals to sacraments, from prophecy to liturgy. The opening sections (chapters 1-7) offer an exposition of Christian life, emphasizing Christianity’s distinctiveness from pagan ways.

“Two ways there are, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” the Didache begins. “Now the way of life is this: first, love the God who made you; secondly, love your neighbor as yourself.”

What follows, then, is a remarkable synopsis of Jesus’ teachings in a series of quotations and paraphrases. Strung together in a continuous narrative are the Golden Rule, excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, and commentary on the Ten Commandments. Then, in contrast, the way of death appears as a catalog of vices.

The second section (chapters 7-9) is stunning in its picture of Catholic life. It begins with detailed instructions on baptism: the sacrament should be conferred in running water, it says, and by immersion, if possible. But the Didache also makes allowance for our current custom of pouring water over the head of the candidate.

The early Church, like the Church in recent years, fasted on Fridays, but also on Wednesdays. The traditional day for celebration of the Eucharist was Sunday. Christians, counsels the Didache, should pray the Our Father three times every day.

Three chapters of the Didache deal specifically with the liturgy, advising the faithful how to prepare and conduct themselves, and prescribing prayers for the clergy. The unknown author makes clear that, even at this early date, the Church reserved Holy Communion only for those who were baptized and free of any grave sin. “Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist unless they have been baptized … If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent.” Repentance normally involved confession of one’s sins: “receive the Eucharist after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

The Eucharistic Prayer of the Didache emphasizes the Mass’s power to unify the Church: “We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your servant; to You be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”

After Communion, those early Christians were urged to give thanks in this way: “We thank You, holy Father, for Your holy name which You caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your servant; to You be the glory forever. Almighty Master, You created all things for Your name’s sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your servant. Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the glory forever. Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which you have prepared for it; for Yours is the power and the glory forever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.”

The text appears to be published as canonical, “official” rites, but with room for inspired charismatic expression: “Permit the prophets to give thanks as much as they desire.”

The modern Catholic will see much that is familiar in the Didache and little that is alien to his or her experience. Perhaps the most striking differences are in attitude. The first Christians lived with a strong sense of the imminence of Jesus’ return – as He is really present in the Eucharist. “Let grace come, and let this world pass away … Maranatha.” Some scholars believe that “Maranatha” was the primitive Church’s prayer of consecration in the liturgy.

The Didache shows that, in structure, the early Chruch resembled the modern in many ways, with bishops and deacons set apart for ministry to the rest of the community. Those who held teaching offices taught with authority, and we can see that their teaching has remained constantly with the Church. Thus the Didache shows that, from the beginning, the apostles condemned abortion: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion, and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

Since the Didache was considered to have originated with the apostles, tis authority was mighty throughout the first millennium of the Church. Many of the early Church Fathers quote the document, and some counted it as part of the New Testament.

But while the quotations remained on the record, the documents itself faded from view by the end of the era of the Fathers. Scholars until recently could only speculate about its composition, piecing it together from the various quotations.

Then, in 1873, an orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Philotheos Bryennios, discovered a manuscript of the Didache in a library in Constantinople. It was published immediately, to much notice among Christians.

Now, 2,000 years after it was written, this ancient catechism has become an important part of the Church’s most modern one. And today’s Catholics can look into the life and teaching of their first-century forebears, as if in a mirror.

Online resources on the Didache are plentiful. Here are just a few.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 1696 (on the “two ways,” 2271 (on abortion), 2760 and 2767 (on the Our Father), 1331 (on the Eucharist) and 1403 (on the Maranatha).

Kevin at Biblicalia offers an interesting discussion of the “two ways” teaching. He’s also posted a growing supply of ancient church orders.

You’ll find the Didache in the original Greek at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, along with several English translations.

The “Early Christian Writings” site has conveniently placed several English translations in one handy package.

An evangelical blogger, Rick Brannan, is hosting an ongoing online discussion of the Didache here.

Enrico Mazza’s most fascinating work on the Didache will be found here and here.



Submarine Prophecies
Monday May 22nd 2006, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

Since posting the story about Alexandria’s underwater ruins this morning, I’ve been haunted by these lines from Der Spiegel: “These are all relics of a city full of deep contradictions. Alexandria produced some of the most advanced technology of its day … But as advanced as it was in some respects, life in this ancient city, spoiled and given to the pleasures of the flesh, lacked inner strength.”

Is there a city in Europe or North America that can escape this judgment?



Good Thing in a Small Package
Monday May 22nd 2006, 10:18 am
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Know someone who could use a remedial course in Church history? I know an excellent book, hot off the presses. Diane Moczar’s Don’t Know Much About Catholic History: From the Catacombs to the Reformation is a small book (167 pages) that fits easily in your jacket pocket, your car’s glove compartment, or your purse. (Full disclosure: I live in constant, irrational terror that I will be caught waiting somewhere with nothing good to read. Just as the poet Theodore Roethke used to stash spare drinks behind furniture at cocktail parties, so I stash books in odd corners of my car and clothing.)

Dr. Moczar provides vivid summary treatments of all the major periods, chockfull of memorable stories and characters. She ends each chapter with points to ponder and suggestions for future reading. She ends the book with two helpful and very practical essays on learning history and on evaluating history texts. Anyone who reads this book is well on the way from cluelessness to a lifelong love of learning. And the price is hard to beat, so you should probably buy copies for several friends, and for the back of the church, and for the town library, and …



Up from Alexandria
Monday May 22nd 2006, 7:30 am
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

Until recently, much of the glory that had been Alexandria lay deep beneath coffee-colored seawater off the Egyptian coast. Once the intellectual capital of the world — and one of the most powerful and influential patriarchates in the Church — Alexandria produced giants of Christian thought: Pantaenus, Clement, Origen, Alexander, Athanasius, Cyril. Eroding banks, rising seas, and seismic activity left some of its Christian locales invisible beneath the sea — till recent exploration by archeological teams whose equipment could see through coffee. Since so little of ancient Alexandria remains above ground and water, these explorers have given us an extremely rare and precious glimpse of the lives and setting of some of our favorite Fathers.

Many of the artifacts are now temporarily on display in Germany, and were covered by Der Spiegel:

Goddio’s divers recovered most of their finds in Herakleion, a nearby temple city, where they also found Christian artifacts. Alexandria, of all places, was also the birthplace of a new morality. By as early as the Third Century A.D., Herakleion was home to monks living on monastery-like estates. Goddio found 1,500-year-old crosses on the ocean floor, some made of gold, others of lead. The foundation of a church his team excavated in Herakleion is one of the world’s earliest.

These are all relics of a city full of deep contradictions. Alexandria produced some of the most advanced technology of its day. Horizontal looms — a hint of industrial production — rattled away in its factories. But as advanced as it was in some respects, life in this ancient city, spoiled and given to the pleasures of the flesh, lacked inner strength.

But most of all Alexandria was the kind of place New York is today — the center of a globalized world.

Read the rest.



The Office of Bishop
Sunday May 21st 2006, 7:38 pm
Filed under: Patristics

As my good bishop packs his bags for his new archepiscopal see 250 miles to the south and east, I’m thinking much on his office, which is the office of an apostle.

I’ve been blessed with good bishops all my life. But, as I bounce through the blogosphere, I see that some other folks have had their patience tried by their bishops — and sometimes their patience has been found wanting. Still, it’s a Catholic thing, a sacramental thing, to put faith in the apostolic reality, even when we don’t care much for the bishop’s decisions. It’s likely that Peter would have rubbed many of us the wrong way. He had his idiosyncracies; and, from the gospels to the apocrypha, the ancients testify that he spent a lifetime trying to overcome them. No doubt, he was borne up by the prayers of his flock. In my family we pray for the bishop with every Rosary: “For the bishop of this diocese, Donald, and his intentions.” Once, my angelic daughter Gracie providentially mispronounced the line: “For the bishop of this diocese, Donald, and his tensions!” Since I knew a little bit about the difficulties of the episcopal state, I didn’t correct her. We just kept praying.

Love for the bishop. Respect for the bishop. Reverence for the bishop. These are commonplaces of the patristic era, a time when there was no shortage of bad episcopal example. Some historians believe that a majority of the world’s prelates at the time of Nicea were Arian. Our ancient chroniclers keep an infamous and long roster of bishop-heresiarchs, bishop-schismatics, and bishops involved in sexual and financial misdeeds. God only knows how many were merely inept, insensitive, dimwitted, lazy, or obnoxious.

Yet the refrain of the Fathers is constant. Ignatius said: “Let a man respect the bishop … For, whoever is sent by the Master to run His house, we ought to receive him as we would receive the Master Himself. It is obvious, therefore, that we ought to regard the bishop as we would the Lord Himself.” And again: “Be obedient to your bishop … as Jesus Christ in His human nature was subject to the Father.” And still more Ignatius: “Whatever has [the bishop's] approval is pleasing to God.” He wrote those words around 107 A.D. Some centuries later, Jerome offered the same advice: “Be obedient to your bishop and welcome him as the father of your soul.”

I’ve known only upright bishops, but the Fathers made no qualifications. Neither do their faithful children. I found a lovely echo of this patristic teaching in the blog of Father John T. Zuhlsdorf, a priest in Rome. Father Zuhlsdorf is a patristic scholar with a license from the Augustinianum …

…the differences I might have with [a certain bishop's] positions do not permit me to offer him public disrespect. His offices and state of life as a successor of the Apostles merit courtesy. We accomplish nothing by harsh words or lack of decorum in public discourse. This has been a fault of both traditionalists and progressivists alike.

In these columns from time to time I indulge in some gentle ribbing of those with whom I disagree, but I am dedicated to maintaining overall a tone of respect in these columns as befits a Catholic gentleman. You will never change the mind of an opponent holding lofty position by showing him impertinence. Gentlemen ought to be able to disagree without allowing rancor to distract from pursuit of the truth. If His Excellency should ever choose to respond in any way, his contribution would be treated fairly and civilly.



A History Course — in 18 Holes
Sunday May 21st 2006, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Eric Scheske of The Daily Eudemon has launched the most amazing crash course in, well, all of history. Eric takes us from the dawn of civilization to the papacy of Pope John Paul II in “18 holes” — and they’re quick holes, just like miniature golf. Hit the links now. He’s just about to arrive at the Patristic Era. If you get really good at doing history this way, we’ll call you “Tiger.” Here’s Eric:

I’m repeatedly shocked at the lack of historical knowledge, especially among Catholics who should have at least a fundamental grasp of the subject in order to appreciate their religion. I earlier started a booket with the working title, “18 Holes to Knowledge.” It revolved around 18 events, spanning the dawn of history to JPII, and was intended to help people develop a Catholic historical sense without much effort. I couldn’t find a publisher for the booklet, so I abandoned it, but two people told me that they found the “holes” from the dawn of history to Christ helpful. As a “public service,” I have cut-and-pasted them below…

Read the rest. And spend some time glorying in the archives of The Daily Eudemon. If Chesterton and Mencken were alive today, TDE is just the kind of blog they’d give us.