Mike Aquilina

Golden Mouth

Wednesday September 13th 2006, 3:01 am

John Chrysostom (349-407) was a talented young man, the son of a government official who died when John was still a baby, leaving his wife a widow and single mother at age twenty. John’s mother made great sacrifices so that her son could study under the world’s most famous professor of rhetoric, the pagan Libanios of Antioch. John became his star pupil.

At eighteen, John discerned a call to dedicate himself entirely to the service of the Church. He placed himself under the tutelage of the renowned Scripture scholar, Diodore of Tarsus. Soon, once again, John was the most brilliant pupil of his master.

He decided, however, that he was interested in contemplation more than career, and so he stepped out of track for clerical orders and, in early adulthood, went off into a mountain cave, where he lived a hermit’s life for two years, till his health gave out.

When John returned to Antioch, his bishop ordained him first a deacon and then a priest. For twelve years, he was the main preacher in the city’s cathedral church. There, he preached the homilies that earned him his fame. He also served as vicar general for the metropolitan see.

It was his fame as a preacher, however, that brought him to the attention of the wider Church, and especially the imperial court. Thus, when the patriarch of Constantinople died, the emperor unexpectedly summoned John from Antioch to the most powerful bishop’s throne in the East. John declined the honor. But the emperor ordered that John be taken by force or subterfuge, if necessary, and so he was.

John’s habitual honesty and integrity did not serve him well, by capital standards. He was a reformer and an ascetic, demanding much of others, but even more of himself. The clergy of Constantinople were not, however, eager to be reformed or to imitate John’s spartan lifestyle. Nor was the imperial family — especially the empress — interested in John’s advice about their use of cosmetics, their lavish expenses, and their self-aggrandizing monuments. John found it outrageous that the rich could relieve themselves in golden toilet bowls while the poor went hungry. He reached the limits of his patience when the empress went beyond the law to seize valuable lands from a widow, after the widow had refused to sell the property. (John did not miss the opportunity to cite relevant Old Testament passages, like 1 Kings 21.)

Ordinary people found inspiration, solace, and — no doubt — entertainment in the great man’s preaching. But the powerful were not amused. They arranged a kangaroo court of bishops to depose John in 403. In fact, a military unit interrupted the liturgy on Easter Vigil, just as John was preparing to baptize a group of catechumens. Historians record that the baptismal waters ran red with blood.

John was sent away to the wild country on the eastern end of the Black Sea. His health was never good, and his guards took advantage of this. In moving him to a new location, they forced him to go on foot. They marched him to death in September 407.

Yet, immediately, he received popular veneration as a saint. Within a generation, a new emperor was welcoming the return of St. John Chrysostom’s relics to Constantinople.

Chrysostom is not a name John received from his parents. It was the name he earned from the congregations who loved him. Chrysostomos means “Golden Mouth” in Greek.

There’s an excellent online clearinghouse of works by an about St. John. I’ve posted some excerpts of his homilies here, here, and here. A good biography of St. John is J.N.D. Kelly’s Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom-Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop.

Scrolling Down the Potomac

Tuesday September 12th 2006, 3:06 am

PaleoJudaica points us to a Washington Post article about an exhibit soon to open in the capital. “In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000″ begins in October at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “The manuscripts on display will include material from the Dead Sea Scrolls, from the Aleppo Codex, from the Cairo Geniza, and from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. And both the Greek and the Coptic manuscripts of the Gospel of Thomas will be included.” All the Good News that fits. The exhibit is scheduled to run October 21 to January 7.

A Garland of Quotes

Monday September 11th 2006, 7:02 am

Had the pleasure last night to meet Danny Garland, grad student in theology and fellow patristiblogger. He and his wife, Laura, stopped by Pittsburgh’s cathedral to hear my co-author Chris Bailey talk about our book, The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence. I awoke today to find much good material from the Fathers on Danny’s blog. It’s mostly on loving the Church.

UPDATE: Danny’s added a ton of patristic material on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.

More Canon Fire

Monday September 11th 2006, 3:01 am

A couple of weeks back, I posted a brief backgrounder on Marcion the heresiarch, all as an appetizer for Ben C. Smith’s launch of a series on biblical canons. Ben’s first posting, at the blog Thoughts on Antiquity, was fascinating. Now the second installment, on the Muratorian Canon, is up. Get to know this fragmentary document from the second century — the oldest surviving list of the New Testament books.

Ben also runs a website that’s dangerously useful for those of us with a Fathers fixation. It includes a clearinghouse of translations of the Apostolic Fathers, along with some secondary literature and, of course, the texts in the original languages. Ben’s own religious opinions are unique and a little idiosyncratic. But, judging by the quality of his work, you won’t find a more dedicated and open-minded seeker after truth. He makes me aware of what a lazy slug I really am. Pay him some mind. Put his work to good use.

On-the-Job Morals

Sunday September 10th 2006, 3:00 am

Gregory the Great’s composed his magnum opus, the Moralia in Job (Morals on the Book of Job), while he was the pope’s ambassador at the imperial court in Constantinople. For the monks with whom he stayed, he gave a long series of conferences on the moral sense of this most perplexing and consoling book of the Bible. He held up Job as a model of all the virtues. Gregory’s book son won fame and remained among the most popular works of scriptural interpretation in the middle ages.

Unfortunately, it’s been unavailable in English for over a century and a half — since Parker and Rivington brought it out in London in 1844. It’s three huge volumes, and I think there’s a set for sale somewhere for $400.

But now Lectionary Central, a site run by tradition-minded Anglicans in Canada, is enabling us all to grow rich. Those good folks in the Great White North are keying the book in, a little at a time, and are now well into volume two. They’re saving the notes for last. (Georgetown provost James J. O’Donnell has posted a small portion with notes.)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Then start reading!

Room with a Spew

Saturday September 09th 2006, 3:01 am

A late Roman villa was recently unearthed in the ancient city of Laodicea. Its rooms were lavishly decorated with expensive mosaics.

You might remember the city from the Book of Revelation (3:14-19), where it is the subject of this oracle: “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘…I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.”

According to archeologists, the site indeed shows signs of tremendous prosperity: “The city was at its most famous and important in the first century B.C., with most of the remains of the city dating from this era … Many monumental buildings were constructed via donations from local residents.”

And then comes the apocalyptic stuff: “Laodicea was eventually almost completely destroyed by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned. Two theaters of different sizes, a stadium and gymnasium … and a large church are the most notable ruins in the ancient city.”

Kind of makes you glad Christians in your town aren’t prosperous or lukewarm, huh?

Source: Turkish Daily News.

Romanos a Clef (Or, Treble in Paradise)

Friday September 08th 2006, 3:05 am

It’s Mary’s birthday. Very early in Christian history, the apocryphal gospels recorded legends of Mary’s birth and childhood. The Church has probably celebrated her birth with a feast day since at least the early fifth century. The feast may have originated in Syria, where there was a great flowering of Marian devotion in the fifth century, after the Council of Ephesus confirmed the orthodoxy of her ancient title “Mother of God” (Theotokos).

Among the Fathers, the earliest witness to the feast day is St. Romanos the Melodist (who flourished 536-556). Romanos is known as “the Pindar of rhythmic poetry,” and his hymns remain liturgical standards in the Byzantine liturgy. Born in Syria, he served as a deacon first in Beirut and later in Constantinople. (I’m pleased to say that my alma mater, Penn State, now houses a world-class scholar of Romanos, Dr. William Petersen, director of the University’s Religious Studies Program.) Romanos wrote several hymns for the feast, drawing heavily from the legends of the apocrypha. We also have, from two centuries later, St. Andrew of Crete’s sermons for the feast. The Church of Rome adopted the day in the seventh century; it is found in the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. Sergius I (687-701) prescribed a litany and procession for Mary’s birth.

I was unable to find online recordings or texts of St. Romanos’s hymns for the occasion. But I found a nice icon of St. Romanos, and two of his other Marian hymns: here and here.

UPDATE: Here’s some nice stuff on Mary’s birthday, including excerpts from those sermons of St. Andrew of Crete. I found the link in a comments field at Father Z’s place.

Fuller Brush with Death

Thursday September 07th 2006, 9:43 am

Today’s the feast of St. Anastasius the Fuller, who was martyred in 304 A.D. Just the facts from Catholic Forum: “Born a wealthy Aquileian noble. After reading Saint Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians that it’s best to work with your hands, he became a fuller at Split, Croatia. Martyred in the persecutions of Diocletian when he painted a cross on his shop door and openly practised his faith.” May he intercede for us who honor his memory today.

Cursed Are the Cheese-Breakers

Thursday September 07th 2006, 3:11 am

A new book, considered in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, examines the links of Montanism (an early Christian heresy) with certain unsavory pagan cults.

And Tertullian preferred Montanist company to the congregations of Catholics? We gotta work on our people skills.

Vera-Elisabeth Hirschmann’s Ph.D. thesis … adduces a series of indications which make it plausible that the pagan religions of Phrygia shaped Montanism at its very origin …

H. interprets the reference to the Phrygian Quintus in the Martyrium Polycarpi, who was very keen to be martyred but defected when faced with the animals in the arena, as a veiled critique of enthusiastic tendencies in Phrygia. Montanism would also be susceptible to those, as she argues later. References to a pagan background of Montanism are found in Eusebius of Caesarea (Church History 5.16), who quoted the work of Apollinarius of Hierapolis. Later sources like Jerome (Epistula 41) can be taken to imply that Montanus was a priest of Cybele, whereas the so-called dialogue between a Montanist and an Orthodox makes him a priest of Apollo … Finally, H. stresses the Phrygian origin of the main actors of Montanism: Montanus, the incarnation of the Paraclet, and the two prophets Maximilla and Priscilla.

The third chapter lists the parallels between Montanism and Phrygian religion. H. tentatively explains the late references to a priesthood of Cybele and Apollo for Montanus by the fact that in Phrygia both deities were sometimes worshipped together (and even more specifically in Phrygian Mysia, Montanus’ place of origin) …

The next section of chapter 3 discusses the character of the Montanist prophecy. The Montanists believed in an additional source of revelation: the ecstatic prophecies of Montanus and his two female followers. H. shows that the Montanist kind of prophecy, characterised by the idea that God inhabits the prophet and uses his body as a tool for his divine revelation, stands in contrast with mainstream Jewish and early Christian prophecy, where prophecy is controlled and the prophet never loses his individuality. Parallels for ecstatic prophecy are rather to be found in a pagan environment.

The female prophets Priscilla and Maximilla are a remarkable feature of Montanism, for which it often was criticised by mainstream Christianity. H. explains this with reference to the role of women in pagan cults, where they indeed could function as prophets. A detail may support this view. Priscilla is described as ‘virgin’ (parthenos), whereas it is likely that she had reached a certain age and had been married. However, the Delphic Pythia was also called ‘virgin’ without really being one. The virginity is in both cases of a ritual nature, indicating a state of purity. And indeed, a fragment from an oracle by Priscilla indicates asceticism as the road to purity.

The fourth-century church father Epiphanius refers to a group of Montanists, the so-called Artotyrites, who celebrated the Eucharist with bread and cheese (Panarion 49.2.6) … Some parallels with pagan cults, like that of Cybele to whom milk was sacrificed, could indicate a pagan background to this rite. Due to lack of evidence, this must remain merely a suggestion.

The final section discusses the organisation of Montanism. Several sources give titles of Montanist functionaries (like epitropos, koinônos, koinônos kata topon). H. proposes that Montanism was organised as a cultic society (a synodos), as were many other cults in Asia Minor. A koinônos is in that case an individual who had bought a property in the interest of the society.

Should Auld Liturgics Be Forgot?

Wednesday September 06th 2006, 3:49 am

When I check the page hits for this blog, it’s clear that the thing that most excites visitors is the great antiquity of the Church’s liturgy — the most ancient forms of worship — the rites I discussed in great detail in my book The Mass of the Early Christians.

I share the fascination of those visitors who home in on the Didache, the Didascalia, the rites of Addai and Mari. But it’s good for us to temper our thrill with the caution of Pope Pius XII, in his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei. While he, too, took great interest in the patristic retrieval at mid-century, he warned Catholics against an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism”:

The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.

62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

63. Clearly … unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

Ticket to Ride

Tuesday September 05th 2006, 3:24 am

Maria Lectrix has now podcasted, in its entirety, St. Cyprian’s third-century treatise “On the Lapsed.” She’s also posted some good background information on the unusual terms used by North Africa’s great martyr-bishop. Cyprian wrote during a time of intense persecution, when men and women could save their lives by renouncing their faith. All it took was a little, itty-bitty sacrifice to the emperor’s genius, and then you walked away with a libellus — a paper, a ticket — that gave you a free pass for the rest of your life. Says Maria Lectrix: “The certificates Cyprian refer to were some kind of signed affidavit that the bearer had made a sacrifice to the Emperor and wasn’t a Christian. Apparently, Cyprian wasn’t enamored of the fake ID method of avoiding persecution.”

Do listen to the audio, and pray courage for yourself and for me. We know neither the day nor the hour when we might be called upon to stand for the faith — or go into free fall. As in the days of the Roman Empire, so now we share our world with people who would force us, under threat of torture and death, to commit apostasy.

You can see one of those ancient certificates for yourself by clicking here. This one added some limited number of days to the lives of a woman and her daughter from the village of Theadelphia in Egypt. (Click on the image to view it in a larger format.)

Performance Review

Monday September 04th 2006, 8:42 am

Danny Garland reveals St. Jerome’s method of measuring success in work.

New Audio Up

Sunday September 03rd 2006, 8:42 pm

Junior has posted two new interviews with Yours Truly, one on St. Augustine and the other on St. Gregory the Great. Both aired first on KVSS radio. The hosts of the show, Bruce and Kris McGregor, are saving pennies to join Scott Hahn and me on our pilgrimage to Rome in May of 2007. The McGregors hope to beam the pilgrimage home to the States, for the listening pleasure of those who can’t make it to the Eternal City. You can help the KVSS apostolate by donating here.

Gregorian Chat

Sunday September 03rd 2006, 5:05 pm

Go directly to Fr. Z’s place, where you’ll see a feast-appropriate image of The Mass of St. Gregory. This painting plays an important role in The Grail Code, the book I co-authored with Christopher Bailey. It’s a book you really should read.

St. Gregory himself plays a pivotal role in the history recounted in The Grail Code. He’s the one who made the development of the Grail legends possible, advising his missionaries to assimilate — and elevate — all that was good in the religious heritage of the pagan barbarians. That, thanks be to God, included the Celtic folk tales.

If you’d rather buy a copy of The Grail Code in Portuguese, check out O Código Graal. If you prefer Canadian French, buy Graal Code: Enquête sur le mystère du Graal. German and other languages are coming soon.

Adore Isidore?

Sunday September 03rd 2006, 1:06 pm

Christians, of course, speak of “adoration” as the honor reserved only to God, while “veneration” describes the respects we pay to our parents and the saints.

But it proved too hard for me to resist the pun in the headline. Isidore, a logophile and etymologist by trade, might forgive me for it — if I were in his confessional and properly penitent.

So the answer to the headline is no. While a rose is a rose, we should praise Isidore in a more proper way, especially today as we unearth his greatest work.

A writer in the London Telegraph opposes the growing movement to make St. Isidore of Seville — the last of the Western Fathers — patron saint of the Internet. And, in the process, he reviews the new edition of Isidore’s work. Some time back, we linked to an earlier review of the same book in the same paper.

They do venerate the Fathers in London, don’t they?

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.