From the Rising of the Sun to Its Setting
Tuesday June 20th 2006, 7:47 am
Filed under: Patristics

True to his word, Kevin has moved on in his cycle of translations. From the Greek of St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians he’s proceeded to the Hebrew of the biblical Prophet Malachi. In doing so, he tripped a wire in this office.

I’ve long been fascinated by the ways in which the early Fathers used the oracle of Malachi 1:11: “For from the rising of the sun and to its setting, great is My name among the nations, and in every place incense is brought for My name, … has said THE LORD of Hosts.” Catholics will recognize the line from the third eucharistic prayer, which was composed in the generation after the Second Vatican Council: “so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of Your name.” But its liturgical pedigree goes back to the origins of Christianity. The oracle appears in the rites of the Didache (dating perhaps from 48 A.D.) and in several other early liturgies. The Fathers consistently apply the prophecy to the sacrifice of the Mass, which would already, in their day, be offered “from the rising of the sun to its setting” — a phrase that evokes both time and space, always and everywhere.

The eucharistic interpretation of Malachi 1:11 appears in the works of Justin, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Augustine, and John Chrysostom. If memory serves, Justin Martyr cites the passage three times in his Dialogue with Trypho (also translated on Biblicalia). Justin’s use leads me to believe that the eucharistic interpretation of Malachi’s oracle was very important to the earliest Christians — and hotly disputed by the early rabbis. I bring up these issues in my book The Mass of the Early Christians, which I hope you’ll buy and enjoy.

I must end this post by tipping my hat to Julie at Happy Catholic, who triggered these thoughts with her post on the new revisions of the Mass translations. Immediately after I read Julie’s post, Kevin wondered (in an email to me) what he might translate next for Biblicalia. Without hesitation, I suggested Malachi. Without hesitation, Kevin complied. Thank God for the blogosphere. From the rising of the sun to its setting, indeed!



Share and Share Alike
Tuesday June 20th 2006, 5:20 am
Filed under: Patristics

St. John Chrysostom shows the insight of an economist on the interdependence of all people: producers, consumers, merchants, tradesmen, rich, and poor. This comes from his homilies on 1 Corinthians

In regard to wealth: If you enjoy it alone, you too have lost it. For you will not reap its reward. But if you possess it jointly with the rest, then will it be more your own, and then will you reap the benefit of it.

Don’t you see that the hands minister, and the mouth softens, and the stomach receives? Does the stomach say, “Since I have received I ought to keep it all?” Then don’t you, I pray, use this language in regard to riches. For it belongs to the receiver to give. Just as it is a vice in the stomach to retain the food and not to distribute it (for it is injurious to the whole body), so it is a vice in those that are rich to keep to themselves what they have. For this destroys both themselves and others. Again, the eye receives all the light, but it does not itself alone retain it, but enlightens the entire body. Again, the nostrils are sensible of perfume, but they do not keep it all to themselves, but transmit it to the brain and affect the stomach with a sweet savor, and by their means refresh the entire man. The feet alone walk, but they move not away themselves only, but transfer also the whole body. In like manner you should do, whatsoever you have been entrusted with, keep it not to yourself alone, since you are doing harm to the whole and to yourself more than all.

And not only in the case of the limbs may one see this occurring, for the smith also, if he chose to impart his craft to no one, ruins both himself and all other crafts. Likewise the cordwainer, the husbandman, the baker and everyone of those who pursue any necessary calling, if he chose not to train anyone in his art, will ruin not the others only but himself also with them.

And why do I say “the rich”? For the poor too, if they followed after the wickedness of you who are covetous and rich, would injure you very greatly and soon make you poor. Rather they would quite destroy you, were they, in your need, unwilling to give you of their own: the tiller of the ground, of the labor of his hands the sailor of the gain from his voyages, the soldier of his distinction won in the wars.

If nothing else, let this at least put you to shame that you may imitate their benevolence. Do you give none of your wealth to anyone? Then you should not receive anything from another, in which case the world will be turned upside down. For in everything to give and receive is the principle of numerous blessings — in seeds, in scholars, in arts. For if anyone wishes to keep his art to himself, he subverts both himself and the whole course of things. And the husbandman, if he bury and keep the seeds in his house, will bring about a grievous famine. So also the rich man, if he act thus in regard of his wealth, will destroy himself before the poor, heaping up the fire of hell more grievously upon his own head.



Make My Scene Nicene
Monday June 19th 2006, 8:03 am
Filed under: Site News

Rogue Classicism alerts us to the fact that today is the anniversary of Hosius’ announcement of the Nicene Creed during the first Council of Nicea (325 A.D.).

One of the great things about being Catholic is that you never have to ponder long before finding a reason to celebrate with chocolate.



Ambrose Had No Altar Ego
Monday June 19th 2006, 5:21 am
Filed under: Patristics
Saints Gervasius and Protasius were martyrs of the second century. Today, June 19, we mark their feast because it is the day that St. Ambrose moved their relics into the great basilica he had built in Milan. The events were attended by many miracles, which are recorded by eyewitnesses such as St. Augustine (in his Confessions) and St. Ambrose himself. The old Catholic Encyclopedia gives us the condensed version of the drama:

St. Ambrose, in 386, had built a magnificent basilica at Milan. Asked by the people to consecrate it in the same solemn manner as was done in Rome, he promised to do so if he could obtain the necessary relics. In a dream he was shown the place in which such could be found. He ordered excavations to be made in the cemetery church of Sts. Nabor and Felix, outside the city, and there found the relics of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. He had them removed to the church of St. Fausta, and on the next day into the basilica, which later received the name San Ambrogio Maggiore.

St. Ambrose counted these events among the greatest blessings of his much-graced life. He had the martyrs’ remains transferred to the basilica with great ceremony, and he rested the bones in the place he had reserved for his own tomb — immediately under the main altar of the grand new church. The bishop wrote a breathless letter to his sister Marcellina telling the matter in great detail. The letter gives us a stunning example of the early Christian tendency to speak of martyrdom in eucharistic terms: “Let the triumphant victims enter the place where Christ is the Sacrifice. but He upon the altar, who suffered for all; they under the altar, who were redeemed by His passion. This place I had destined for myself. For it is meet that a priest should rest there, where he was wont to offer. But I yield up the right side to the holy victims, that place was due to martyrs.”

The acts of the two martyrs are of questionable historical value, but it’s rarely a good idea to dismiss these documents out of hand. They tell us that Gervasius and Protasius were twins from a noble family, children of martyrs. The sons are said to have been scourged and then beheaded.

They are the patrons of the city of Milan and of haymakers. So go make some hay, while the sun shines.



The Great Name-Caller
Sunday June 18th 2006, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Father Z gives us an entertaining profile of one of my favorite fathers, St. Jerome. After reading Father Z, please proceed to Mark Shea’s archive to chuckle through Phyllis McGinley’s poetic tribute to “The Thunderer.” (For the latter, you have to scroll to the bottom of the page.)



The Kneed of Your Heart
Sunday June 18th 2006, 8:48 am
Filed under: Site News

Do as the Fathers did — “Bend the knee of your heart” — as you pray Kevin’s new translation of the Prayer of Manasseh at Biblicalia. Kevin also gives us some history of the Fathers’ use and interpretation of the biblical prayer. It goes all the way back to St. Clement of Rome, possibly as early as 69 A.D.



Happy Fathers’ Day
Sunday June 18th 2006, 7:46 am
Filed under: Patristics

Since I blog about the men the Church calls “Fathers,” I should, for the sake of full disclosure, tell you a thing or two about my own early experience of fatherhood.

I grew up the seventh child in a busy Catholic household. Our family was close. We had to be, since the nine of us lived in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment. And we were noisy. My parents never had a child they could call “the quiet one.” We had schoolyard nicknames like “motormouth.” In the middle of the mix was my oldest brother Charlie, who celebrated the mid-1960s by purchasing an electric guitar and a large amplifier.

One of the great mercies God showed my father was that Pop started to go deaf when he was very young. By the time I was born, he couldn’t hear much more than he needed to hear, in order to play Tonka Trucks with me on the floor. So he was able to smile through much of my childhood and adolescence.

People were always telling him: “You should get a hearing aid. You don’t know what you’re missing!” And my dad would just smile and thank them … and go back to reading his newspaper, or playing trucks with us on the floor. I suspect he knew what he was missing.

Pop was a man of great virtue and great love, but very few words; he was an almost silent man. When he spoke, you knew it meant something. But he almost never spoke about himself.

So we kids grew up loving him, respecting him, and even revering him. But we didn’t really know much about his history, his own childhood.

Then, one brilliant summer day, when I was almost thirty and Pop was almost eighty, I had a chance to spend a long day out on an errand with him. Amazingly, he was talkative that day, and, as he drove along, he told me many stories — about his childhood, about his father’s early death from tuberculosis, my Uncle Leo’s paternal care for the family after Grandfather died. These were stories I had never heard in our three decades of casual conversation at home.

I took in every word — and when we got back to the house, I wrote down all I could recall, as near to Pop’s own words as my memory would allow.

Years went by, and my father died. And suddenly all his children felt the loss, and the corresponding need to feel our roots. Within two weeks of my father’s death, my brothers and sisters, one by one, called to ask if I still had those notes about Pop’s childhood lying around, and could I pass a copy their way.

The words of our natural fathers are precious to us. Our fathers are key to a mystery we spend a lifetime trying to solve: ourselves. Their past is our own, given to us in so many silent ways as they guide our childhood steps. The paths we walk are paths to which they led us, or drove us. Their words and deeds are critical details in the story of our own lives.

And if all that is true of our natural fathers, how much more is it true of our fathers in Christian faith — the Fathers of the Church that gave us new life in baptism?

Why do I blog the Fathers, and why do you visit me here? Primarily because we are the Church and the Church Fathers are our true fathers in our everyday life of faith. We want to seize on those rare words of theirs that have been preserved for us. We want to learn from their sainted example. We want to count on their intercession for us in heaven. Visit them today, in their writings and in your prayer. They’re truly fatherly. They’ll listen to you. Where they are — where I trust my Pop is with them — no one needs a hearing aid.



Merlin, as Promised
Saturday June 17th 2006, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Chris Bailey has, at long last, fully awoken the historical Merlin from his sleep. Chris covers the evidence in a fascinating post.



More from the African Fathers
Saturday June 17th 2006, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Patristics

We bloggers of the Fathers (patristibloggers, to use the proper neologism) must have the fillings in our teeth tuned to the same station. As I was posting about the African Fathers, Father John Zuhlsdorf was putting the same Fathers to work in his analysis of certain prayers of the Mass.

Update: Great stuff on Ambrose, too.



Corpus Christi
Saturday June 17th 2006, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Patristics

In the United States, Sunday, June 18, is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is one of the Church’s two great feasts of the Holy Eucharist. On Holy Thursday, we remember the institution of the sacrament at the Last Supper. On Corpus Christi we celebrate and adore Jesus’ abiding presence in the sacrament. He remains with us in all the tabernacles of the world, everywhere the sacrament is reserved. That is the meaning of the red vigil lamp that burns before the altar of repose. The Word was made flesh, and He has made His dwelling among us. What remains at the end of the liturgy is no longer bread, no longer wine, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not vanish with the dismissal. He lives, He abides.

The feast day is medieval in origin, but the Church observed the reality from its earliest days. Around 150 A.D., St. Justin noted that the deacons took the reserved sacrament to the sick and homebound immediately after Mass. A century later in Alexandria, St. Dionysius the Great attests to the same practice of visiting the sick with the sacrament.

In those early centuries, which were times of on-and-off persecution, many Christians received Communion daily. This was the Fathers’ common interpretation of the “daily bread” Jesus instructed us to request in the Lord’s Prayer. But it seems that most Communions were received not in the context of the Mass, but rather in the home, taken from the sacrament reserved from the community’s last Mass. Around 200, Tertullian gives cautious counsel for administering self-Communion and for reserving the sacrament in the home. St. Hippolytus, in the Apostolic Tradition, adds a homey touch, advising the use of a secure container that will keep mice out. It’s easy to see why the Church eventually phased out practices such as private reservation and self-Communion, as they lend themselves easily to profanation and abuse.

We do not know much more about the methods the early Church used to reserve the body of Christ, but the fact of reservation is quite clear. Nowhere do the Fathers instruct Christians to bake fresh bread for the purpose of administering Communion to themselves. Only the consecrated elements will do.

The earliest repositories for the sacrament were called “pastophoria” in Greek. Thus, in the Apostolic Constitutions we read: “After all the faithful of both sexes have received Communion the deacons gather what is left over and carry it to the Pastophorion.” The great biblical scholar St. Jerome wrote: “The sacred place, where the body of Christ is kept, who is the true bridegroom of the Church and of our soul, is called Thalamus or Pastophorion.” What did these early tabernacles look like? The trend back then was to fashion them in the shape of a dove.

In a biography of St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in the latter part of the fourth century, we read that he ordered a dove to be made of pure gold, and in it deposited a part of the body of the Lord, and suspended it above the sacred table, i. e. above the altar. In the lives of several of the early popes contained in the Liber Pontificalis, compiled in the sixth century, mention is made of the manufacture of such doves and of their presentation to several churches in Rome. In the life of Pope Silvester I (314-335) we read that the emperor Constantine (306-337) donated a dove made of pure gold to the basilica of St. Peter.

By the time we get to St. Paulinus in the early fifth century, we find descriptions of niches built into the church to hold the sacrament. There is an oral tradition in Milan that St. Ambrose required new converts to spend the days before their baptism in constant vigil before the reserved Blessed Sacrament. In Spain it is said that Christians have kept vigil before the sacrament for well over a millennium, to make reparation for the fourth-century Priscillian heresy.

I pulled these descriptions from the good online history of eucharistic reservation at Catholic Culture. The Anglican monk Gregory Dix wrote a fascinating book on the subject, A Detection of Aumbries, but it’s long out of print and very hard to find. Fr. Benedict Groeschel and James Monti wrote an excellent history of eucharistic devotion, In the Presence of Our Lord: The History, Theology, and Psychology of Eucharistic Devotion. If you haven’t already read it, you should do so immediately. I wrote a book on the origins of Corpus Christi called Praying In The Presence of Our Lord with St. Thomas Aquinas. If you’d like some background on the Fathers’ teaching on the real presence, check the archives of this blog, especially this little number. My book The Mass of the Early Christians gives you a superabundance of detail, from the very documents of the ancient Church.

Now, go and enjoy the day. My ancestors in Sicily celebrate Corpus Christi with rich desserts. Lots of chocolate. I believe that pleases Our Lord.



Notes from Underground
Friday June 16th 2006, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Patristics

My little sister Susie passed through town about a month ago. It’s nice for me to be able to call her my “little sister,” even though I’m the youngest sibling in the family. Susie’s one of the few people in my orbit who are actually shorter than I am. She also looks twenty years younger than the least of her brothers.

Now retired from teaching, she and husband Jim globetrot a bit. Susie announced during this visit that she would, that very week, have a one-day layover in Rome, with a little time for browsing ruins. She had seen St. Peter’s and a few other places. What site would provide the best experience in just a few hours?

Without hesitation, I said “The catacombs.” She took up my suggestion to visit those ancient burial chambers “near the mines.” And I hear through her son, my neighbor-nephew Mark, that she and Jim loved the place.

You will, too, even if all you can take is a virtual tour.

The Vatican website hosts some fine pages from the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology. The text is informative — dealing with themes in the development of doctrine as well as art history. Unfortunately, it’s almost all in Italian. Still, the photos are worth the trip, and they speak a universal — that is, catholic — Christian language. See here and here.

For great information and still more great photos, visit “The Christian Catacombs of Rome,” run by the Salesian Institute San Callisto. The site is multilingual, and it includes wonderful essays on the spirituality of the catacombs and on life in the big city circa 250 A.D. — not to mention primary texts from the age of the martyrs, and recent papal statements on Christian archeology. There’s another nice synopsis here.

In April, the Vatican and the University of Bordeaux announced the discovery of a remarkably intact underground mass grave. Last month, the London Telegraph provided further reporting on the find:

The Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology is overseeing the dig. Its chief inspector of catacombs, Raffaella Giuliani, said: “This is the earliest example of such a mass burial. Usually two or three bodies at the most were put into holes dug out of the rock in the catacombs, but in these case we have several rooms filled with skeletons.

“They are placed one on top of the other and not in a disorderly fashion. They have been carefully buried, with dignity, but the puzzle is why so many at a time?”

The skeletons were dressed in fine robes, many containing gold thread, and wrapped in sheets covered with lime, as was common in early Christian burials.

The discovery was made at the Catacomb of SS Peter and Marcellinus on the ancient Via Labicana in south-east Rome.

But none of this is news, really. The Fathers themselves already showed a deep devotion to the catacombs. There they stood on holy ground. Here’s Jerome’s take: “Countless are the graves of saints I have seen in the city of Romulus … You ask for the inscriptions cut on their tombs, and their individual names, but it is hard for me to be able to repeat them. Such great multitudes of the righteous did ungodly rage devour while Trojan Rome still worshipped the gods of her fathers. Many a grave is lettered and tells the martyr’s name or bears some epitaph, but there are mute marbles too, which shut up the tombs in silence and only indicate the number; you may learn what masses of men’s bodies lie gathered together in heaps, but read the name of none of them. I remember finding that the remains of sixty persons were buried there under one massive stone, whose names Christ alone knows, since he has added them to the company of his friends.”

And Prudentius: “Not far outside the wall, near the belt of cultivation just beyond it, yawns a cave which goes deep down in dark pits. Into its hidden depths a downward path shows the way by turning, winding steps, with the help of light from a source unseen; for the light of day enters the first approach as far as the top of the cleft and illumines the entrance; then as you go forward easily you see the dark night of the place fill the mysterious cavern with blackness, but you find openings let into the roof far above, so as to throw bright rays down into the chasm. However doubtful you may feel of this fabric of narrow halls running back on either side in darksome galleries, still through the holes pierced in the vault many a gleam of light makes its way down to the hollow interior of the disembowelled mount, and thus underground it is granted to see the brightness of a sun which is not there, and have the benefit of its light. Such is the place of concealment to which the body of Hippolytus was committed and by it has been set an altar dedicated to God.”

I got the patristic texts here.

And if ever you get to Rome, do drop in. My colleagues at the St. Paul Center and I will likely be taking a group to Rome next May. I’ll be speaking, and so will Scott and Kimberly Hahn, among others. If you’re interested in joining us, please drop me a note with your contact information, and I’ll keep you posted as we complete our plans.



The Other Barney
Thursday June 15th 2006, 6:38 am
Filed under: Patristics
If it hadn’t fallen on a Sunday — and what a Sunday — June 11 would have been the feast of St. Barnabas. Barnabas (originally Joseph) is called an Apostle in Scripture and ranked by the Church with the Twelve, though not one of them. With the exception of St. Paul and some of the Twelve, Barnabas appears to have been the most esteemed man of the first Christian generation. St. Luke, breaking his habit of reserve, speaks of him with affection, “for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”    

Barnabas was born of Jewish parents in Cyprus about the beginning of the Christian Era. A Levite, he naturally spent much time in Jerusalem, and appears to have settled there where his relatives, the family of Mark the Evangelist, likewise had their homes — Acts 12:12; 4:36-37). Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius say that he was one of the 70 Disciples; but Acts (4:36-37) favors the opinion that he was converted to Christianity shortly after Pentecost (about A.D. 29 or 30).

When Saul the persecutor (later Paul the Apostle) made his first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, the Church there was understandably suspicious. Barnabas stood up for him and introduced him to the Apostles (Acts 9:27). Barnabas later rejoined Saul in Antioch, where the men worked together for the conversion of the Gentiles.

From Antioch, the two men set out on a missionary journey — to Cyprus, Perge in Pamphylia, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and other cities. At every step they met misunderstanding, opposition, and even persecution. At Lystra, after Paul cured a lame man, a mob proclaimed the Apostles to be the pagan gods Hermes and Jupiter. They wanted to sacrifice a bull to Paul and Baranabas, but, mob-like, they soon turned on them and almost succeeded in killing them. In any event, Paul and Barnabas made many converts on this journey and returned by the same route to Perge, organizing churches, ordaining priests and placing them over the faithful. When they got back to Antioch in Syria, they felt God had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:13-14:27).

Some time afterward, they faced an intra-Church problem. Men came from Jerusalem preaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation, even for the Gentiles. The Apostles went up to Jerusalem to fight back; the older Apostles received them kindly and, at what is called the Council of Jerusalem (c. 50 A.D.), ruled in their favor (Acts 14:27-15:30). The problem arose again when Peter visited Antioch (Gal 2:11-15), and Barnabas joined the Prince of Apostles in holding aloof from the Gentiles. But Paul prevailed and the mission to the Gentiles continued, respecting the Gentiles as Gentiles. Shortly afterward, Paul and Barnabas decided to revisit their missions. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along, but on account of a previous defection Paul objected. A sharp contention arose, and the Apostles agreed to separate. Barnabas sailed with John Mark to Cyprus.

Little is known of the subsequent career of Barnabas. He was still working as an Apostle in 56 or 57, when Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians (9:5-6). St. Barnabas is credited by Tertullian (probably falsely) with the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the so-called Epistle of Barnabas is ascribed to him by many Fathers. His authorship of that letter, too, is doubtful.

The Epistle of Barnabas - usually included among the works of the “Apostolic Fathers” - is certainly one of the earliest Christian texts, apart from the New Testament, to have survived to our day. Dating estimates range from 70 A.D. to 200 A.D. The document itself, however, contains no clue about its author or its intended audience. Its aim is to give readers the perfect and exact knowledge (gnosis) of the economy of salvation. It’s made up of two parts. The first part (chapters 1-5) is an exhortation; the end of the world and the judgment are now at hand, so the faithful, freed from the bonds of the Jewish ceremonial law, should practice the virtues and flee from sin. The second part (chapters 5-17) is more speculative, although it tends to draw sharp contrasts between Christianity and the religion of the Old Testament. The author argues that the ordinances of the Law refer allegorically to the Christian virtues and institutions, and he goes on to explain how the Old Testament prefigures Christ, His Passion, His Church, etc. Before concluding (chapter 21) the author incorporates from another document (the Didache or its source) the description of the “two ways,” the way of light and that of darkness (18-20). The epistle is characterized by the extreme use of allegory.

It’s on the web in several translations here. This little profile of the person and the Letter of Barnabas is drawn from the Catholic Encyclopedia, updated with other sources.



Out of Africa
Wednesday June 14th 2006, 5:17 am
Filed under: Patristics

Carthage, the cosmopolitan port city of ancient North Africa, had a thriving economy, a lively culture, and no small influence in world affairs. Christianity reached the Roman province of “New Africa” no later than the mid-second century, and possibly much earlier. From that time through the rest of the age of the Fathers, African Christians play prominent roles in Church history. We need mention only a few to make our case: Tertullian, Perpetua and Felicity, Cyprian, the Martyrs of Abitina, Monnica, and Augustine.

Before his conversion, Tertullian had been a prominent citizen, a lawyer and legal scholar. He appears on any short list of the greatest writers of his time (and on the agnostic H.L. Mencken’s list of the best writers of all time). His thought is memorable, quotable, and always provocative. It’s also plentiful, as many of his works have survived the centuries. And in his enormous literary legacy Tertullian left us a vivid record of civic and Church life in second- and third-century Africa. Here’s the summary from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

In his “Apology”, written at Carthage about 197, Tertullian states that although but of yesterday the Christians “have filled every place among you [the Gentiles] — cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods”. If the Christians should be in a body desert the cities of Africa, the governing authorities would be “horror-stricken at the solitude” in which they would find themselves, “at a silence so all pervading”, a stupor as of a dead world. Fifteen years later the same author asks the Proconsul Scapula: “What will you make of so many thousands, of such a multitude of men and women, persons of every age, sex and rank, when they present themselves before you? How many fires, how many swords will be required?” And with regard to the Christians of the African capital he inquires: “What will be the anguish of Carthage itself, which you will have to decimate, as each one recognizes there is relatives and companions; as he sees there, it may be, men of your own order, and noble ladies, and all the leading persons of the city, and either kinsmen or friends of those in your own circle? Spare thyself, if not us poor Christians. Spare Carthage, if not thyself.” It is clear from this that the Christian religion at the beginning of the third century must have had numerous adherents in all ranks of Carthaginian society.

It is impossible to be steeped in the Fathers unless we come to know the particular character of North African Christians. They practiced a tough piety. They tried to keep “standing hours” of prayer throughout the day — and they even arose in the middle of the night to pray some more. They showed an eager willingness to suffer as confessors and die as martyrs. When they fell into heresy, they tended toward the rigorist, unforgiving kind, which would make no room in the Church for mortal sinners, especially repeat offenders. The African sectarians became Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, and (alas!) Tertullianists, when our hotheaded lawyer himself went off the rails. It took the political and religious genius of an Augustine to restore unity to Christian Africa and snuff out these heresies once and for all.

If all Africa did for the rest of the Church was to give us Augustine, it would be enough to keep us in debt forever. But there’s so much more.

Africa gave us the first Latin-speaking pope, St. Victor I (189-198). A contemporary of St. Irenaeus and fellow kicker of gnostic butt, Victor also managed to establish diplomatic relations between the Church and the imperial household.

Africa gave us the first full-scale treatise on the Eucharist (early third century). African synods put an official stamp on the limits of the New Testament canon (late fourth century). Africa gave us Perpetua and Felicity, who are remembered forever in the Roman Canon of the Mass. Africa gave us Augustine’s mother, St. Monnica, who taught Christians ever afterward to persevere in prayer for their wayward children.

In 429-430, as Augustine lay dying, Carthage was besieged and then taken by the Vandals, who favored the heretical strains of African Christianity. The emperor Justinian briefly restored order. But the final catastrophe came when Carthage fell to Muslim invaders in 698.

You’ll find abundant online resources for the study of African Christianity in the age of the Fathers. The Tertullian Project is a knockout of a site, with all of the master’s works, most available in English translation as well as the original Latin, along with a truckload of secondary scholarship.

At this site, you can walk with an enthusiastic scholar as he retraces the footsteps of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.

Old Tertullian famously asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Bypass the question altogether, as you spend a few days in ancient Carthage.



Arthur at a Glance
Tuesday June 13th 2006, 9:11 am
Filed under: Site News

Chris at GrailCode.com has posted a helpful summary review of all the historical data he’s presented so far. It’s all hyperlinked, so you can use it to browse the evidence of Arthur in history. And, of course, you’re always welcome to skip ahead and just buy the book that he and I co-authored: The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence.



Happy Anniversary, Baby
Tuesday June 13th 2006, 7:25 am
Filed under: Patristics

Rogue Classicism, a site that observes the old (really, really old) Roman calendar, informs us that today is the anniversary of the imperial Decree of Toleration in 313 A.D. Free at last, free at last — we’re free to serve Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight. Find a good way to celebrate!