Mike Aquilina

Contraceptives of Late Antiquity

Tuesday May 29th 2007, 7:43 am

Some months back I posted about ancient forms of contraception, a subject covered well in Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. Now Kevin Knight has pointed me to another online look at the subject. The Fathers consistently condemned the practice, and some of the people who comment on that article show us why.

Memorializing

Monday May 28th 2007, 5:39 pm

From our friend Carl Sommer:

While you’re on the subject of Memorial Day and the ancients, you might want to provide your readers with a link to the funeral oration of Pericles, given on the day the Athenians had chosen to honor those who died in the Peloponesian War. It’s too heavy on praise of Athens for moedern tastes, but it gives insight into the attitude of the pagans toward their dead. Enjoy the holiday!

Memento

Monday May 28th 2007, 3:04 am

I’ve adapted this from last year’s Memorial Day post…

This weekend, in the United States, we mark Memorial Day, an observance that honors the dead, especially those who served and died defending the country in wartime.

How did the ancients keep this holiday? Well, they didn’t, of course, since it’s a nineteenth-century innovation of American origin.

But there’s a sense in which the early Christians kept every day as a “Memorial Day.” They called the Eucharist an anamnesis, a “memorial” of Christ’s death — a God-willed remembrance through which Jesus became really present.

And they marked not only Christ’s death, but also the days of the saints who died in Christ, especially the martyrs. Very early, the Church’s calendar began to teem with feast days honoring the dead, and the living Christians gained some notoriety for their treatment of the deceased.

Cremation had long been the norm in most societies of the pagan Roman Empire. Jews, however, followed the custom of burying their dead. Christians did, too, and looked upon “Christian burial” as an expression of their faith in the resurrection of the body. Such an oddity was this practice that, in many locales, it earned Christians a derogatory nickname: “The Diggers.”

Yet the pagans also honored their dead, often with lavish funeral rites. One common component, in Greek and Roman cultures, was the funeral banquet. The empire had many laws regulating the practice of funerary societies, clubs that would guarantee a decent send-off and a festive memorial for their members. Benign local officials sometimes chose to look upon Christian churches as funerary societies, since they seemed to fulfill the same purpose.

Roman families actually hosted severals banquets to honor their recently deceased: one at the gravesite the day of the funeral; the second at the end of nine days of mourning; others on specified religious holidays; and one major banquet on the birthday of the deceased. (See the excellent discussion of these meals in Dennis E. Smith’s From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World. It’s a fascinating study, in spite of its very low-church conclusions.)

Christians adapted the ancient rites as their own — or saw no reason to abandon them completely after conversion. Like the former pagans themselves, the pagan customs were thoroughly converted — baptized, as it were, purified and rendered a new creation. One major Christian difference was in giving bodies a decent burial. This is abundantly evident in the recently discovered catacombs in Rome, where hundreds of corpses were found well dressed and placed with reverence.

Christians also kept the custom of funerary banquets. In some places they may have taken the form of an “Agape,” or love-feast, as we find recorded in the New Testament Letter of St. Jude. Another possibility is that the funeral Eucharist was observed as part of a fuller banquet, a practice we find in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 11). In some churches the funeral was certainly marked by a Eucharist at the gravesite. We have a very early record of the graveside practice, from the mid-second century, in the apocryphal Acts of John. These funerary banquets or Masses may also be the meals we find depicted on the walls of the catacombs.

By the fourth century, the gravesite celebrations — sometimes called refrigeria, or “refreshments” — had gained a reputation in some quarters as raucous, drunken affairs. This was especially true of the festivals of popular saints, where the temptation was strong to knock one back for every glass poured out as a libation. When St. Monica moved from North Africa to Italy to be near her son Augustine, the Milanese bishop, St. Ambrose, discouraged her from observing the refrigeria at all — even in a pious way.

The great liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann noted that the earliest recorded graveside Masses were offered on the third day after the Christian’s burial. The third day — what a stunning symbolic fulfillment of our life in Christ — how beautiful, how poignant, how utterly incarnational and sacramental! Jungmann sees this custom as the ancestor of our current practice of votive Masses for the dead. And he notes times and places where various churches traditionally observed the seventh day, the ninth, the thirtieth, and the fortieth as well.

Some people see the gorgeous farewell passage in Augustine’s Confessions as a turning point in ancient attitudes. There, Monica, who had once avidly marked the refrigerium, now asks her son to remember her in the Mass. It is, they say, at this moment in history that popular sentiment had begun to turn from the rowdy festival to the solemn Mass. That’s a nice thought, but it seems contradicted by later practice, as Christians continued to mark festive banquets at gravesites throughout the era of the Fathers.

Last year, while researching these customs, I had a “Christmas Carol” moment straight out of Dickens. Googling around, I landed on one of the many lovely sites devoted to the Roman catacombs. There I learned that, in the area called St. Miltiades in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, there is a “Crypt of Refrigerium.” It is very near, the website told me, to the so-called “Cubicle of Aquilina,” which bears the inscription “Aquilina dormit in pace” (Aquilina sleeps in peace). Last week I saw that inscription with my own eyes.

May that inscription one day be true of me, and may it this day be true of my ancestors, whom I remember, as the holiday requires.

Photos from Rome

Sunday May 27th 2007, 6:46 pm

Junior has posted his still photos from last week’s Rome-Assisi pilgrimage. Yes, he has a way of catching me at my least photogenic. Other photographers make me look like Cary Grant; he makes me look like Mr. Lunt from “Veggie Tales.” But, then again, other photographers have PhotoShop, and Junior doesn’t.

Here’s my Charles Dickens moment at the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.

Say hello to St. Gregory the Illuminator, statuesque at St. Peter’s. (I still think that, with a name like that, he should be the title role in a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

And, yes, Junior was that close to the Pope.

Video is still to come.

Athanasius, Call Your Office

Sunday May 27th 2007, 3:01 am

I’m not making this up. An outfit calling itself the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is reviving the Arian heresy and has even canonized “the Venerable Arius of Alexandria, Priest and Martyr.”

I find it lovely that these folks took their name from the Nicene Creed, not the Apostles’ Creed.

Thanks to beloved godson David Mills for passing this on.

While I Was Out …

Saturday May 26th 2007, 3:13 pm

Smithsonian magazine published a much-trimmed version of my letter protesting its recent maltreatment of Christian Alexandria. After I posted a rant, several of you insisted that I should write to the magazine, and I did.

Back from Rome

Saturday May 26th 2007, 6:54 am

I’m sorry if I haven’t been my usual loquacious self these last ten days. I just got back from the tour of Rome and Assisi with a hundred pilgrims. The itinerary kept us very busy, with no internet access. I didn’t even check email. Junior and I are very jet-lagged. We’ll try to post some photos, video, and reports as soon as we wake up a little.

Yes, we were just a few feet from the pope as he blessed us. We’ll be sure to post that video!

Reno on the Fathers

Friday May 25th 2007, 3:05 am

Last time I posted on R.R. Reno’s essay, “The Return of the Fathers,” it wasn’t available online. It is now, at First Things. It’s filled with good news about the world we live in.

One of the most important new facts about Christian theology in North America is the sudden popularity of the theologians and pastors, monks and bishops, martyrs and missionaries, who first fashioned a Christian culture nearly two thousand years ago. The Church Fathers are returning as agents of renewal, guiding us toward the biblical source of a truly Christian culture.

We see the return of the Fathers in unexpected places. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Thomas Oden and published by InterVarsity, has been remarkably successful. Across twenty-eight projected volumes (eighteen or so are now out), the series presents a selection of patristic interpretations, organized around the verses of the Bible. The result is a grand catena, a style of commentary in which the Bible is illuminated by a selection of short passages from such ancient interpreters as Augustine, Origen, Chrysostom, and Basil.

Popular in the centuries following the debates that culminated in the great ecumenical councils and creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries, catenae were used to reinforce and pass on the authoritative interpretations from the age of the Church Fathers. In this way, the imaginations of biblical readers were socialized into the patristic consensus about God, Christ, salvation, the Church, and sacraments. That a twenty-first-century evangelical press has gone forward with a project committed to this mode of retrospective, consensus-building biblical commentary—and that the project has met with striking success—says something important about our time.

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is not unique. Robert Louis Wilken’s account of the great patristic intellectual synthesis, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, is widely read. In The Beauty of the Infinite, David Hart argues for the superiority of patristic metaphysics over the latest postmodern fashions. Graduate students at universities such as Notre Dame, who thirty years ago would have written dissertations on Karl Rahner and transcendental philosophy, are now more likely to focus on the speculative system of Origen or the Christian Platonism of the Cappadocians.

If you haven’t read Reno’s book Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, then get right on it!

I Have Come Not to Be Serb, But to Serbia

Thursday May 24th 2007, 7:48 am

Here’s a great story.

Archaeologists unearth 4th century church in Serbia

BELGRADE — Archaeologists have discovered a 4th century Christian church in southern Serbia, the Blic newspaper reported Tuesday.

“It’s an exceptional discovery,” Gordana Jeremic, the lead archaeologist at the Mediana site near the city of Nis, was quoted as saying.

The ruins were located only several meters (feet) from another church that was discovered in 2000, the paper reported.

The excavation also unearthed more than 600 objects including coins, jewels, utensils, and frescos.

“The discovery of a bronze ring decorated with a cross is particularly important because it proves that Christians lived here,” Jeremic said.

Mediana, once a Roman vacation resort, is located on the outskirts of Nis, the birthplace of Roman emperor Constantine The Great, which at the time was known as Niassus.

Last Rows of Sommer

Wednesday May 23rd 2007, 3:06 am

My conversation continues with Carl Sommer, author of We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians.

You give the Roman world a fair hearing and you recognize nobility in the pagans. Who is your favorite figure from pagan antiquity?

My favorite figure from pagan antiquity is the historian Livy, who understood his world so well, and wrote, “We can endure neither our vices nor the remedies needed to cure them.”

Who is your favorite figure from Christian antiquity, and why?

My favorite figure from Christian antiquity is Justin Martyr. I enjoy the thought of him living in Rome in rented rooms, over a pagan bath, quietly teaching anyone who would come to him, but also able to engage the leading pagan intellectuals of his age on equal footing.

What are the most significant similarities between the Fathers’ world and ours?

The most significant similarities between the pagan world and ours are in the prevailing sexual mores and in the fascination with violent entertainment, which shocks and numbs the soul, and requires increasingly large doses to satisfy the addiction.

What are the most significant differences?

There are more differences than similarities between the Roman world and ours. There are so many variables that no historical era can present more than a rough facsimile of another. We have defeated some evils, like slavery, and horrific forms of capital punishment such as crucifixion. But evil continues to exist, and our technological marvels present new temptations and new pitfalls to avoid. So I think one would be forced to conclude that despite our progress, we haven’t come very far after all.
 
On a philosophical plane, the biggest difference between our world and the Roman world is that the ancients, whether pagan, Jew, or Christian, saw the world as full of spirits, some good, and some malign.  They believed that what we would call “a miracle” could happen at any time. We, of course, understand the scientific laws that govern the behavior of objects in this world. We have no need of spiritual explanations for things. We accept the existence of God, for the most part, but we don’t think we have to do something specific to convince Him to cause the sun to rise tomorrow. In some ways, this change in attitude is good. God is benevolent, and He did create an orderly universe. But we’ve also lost something of poetic wonder. We can’t look at the natural world with quite the same sense of awe.

What book from ancient Christianity has rocked you more than any other, and why?

I would have to say that Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History has rocked me more than any other work, for a variety of reasons. First, we learn more about the persecutions from him than from any other source. But as a historian, reading his brief quotes of lengthy documents that no longer exist has convinced me that we know only a tenth of what we could know about the first few centuries of Christianity. What would we find in, for example, Papias’s lost five volumes, above and beyond what we can learn from the brief passages that have been preserved?

How does living with the Fathers affect the way you live your life?

Living with the Fathers has taught me humility.  I have had every advantage, compared to them, and yet they attained a level of spiritual and intellectual grandeur at which I can only marvel.

How has the teaching of the Fathers — the nearness of the Fathers — influenced the way you pray?

I’m a typical modern American. I grew up assuming that spontaneity was better than repetition, that “creative chaos” was better than order, and that independence was better than submission to authority.  The years have taught me that all these assumptions were mistaken. The Fathers have given me some better assumptions to take their place. Morning and Evening Prayer are beautiful because they sanctify time. The liturgy in itself, without any trappings, is beautiful because Christ Himself is beautiful. And the apostolic authority of the bishops is a great good because it allows all these beauties to pass unchanged from generation to generation. And that is the greatest beauty of all.

Sommer Begins

Tuesday May 22nd 2007, 3:05 am

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been enjoying Carl Sommer’s We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians. It’s a new book, just out from Ignatius Press, and it does for the patristic era what classics like Henri Daniel-Rops’ Daily Life in the Time of Jesus did for the New Testament era.

Carl and I have been going back and forth by email. I asked him if I might interview him for the blog, and he kindly consented. I’ll post our Q&A over the next few days.

So … now perhaps we begin.

Your book is different from other books on Christian antiquity. It’s not a history of theology, nor is it a social history. Nor is it really a work of apologetics. How would you describe your method, and what made you choose it?

There are many books, better than anything I could write, about the developments in theology or the Sacraments in the early Church.  New Testament studies are also quite thick on the ground.  There is nothing wrong with any of these books, but I wanted to try to do something a little bit different.  I wanted to see if I could reconstruct the daily lives of everyday Christians in the first three centuries.  My methodology was fairly simple.  I ransacked the Ante-Nicene fathers and the archaeological records, not for developments in Trinitarian thought, but for references to marital and childrearing practices, daily prayer, care for the poor and sick, life in the military, and other aspects of daily life.

What do you think modern Christians gain by entering imaginatively into the ancient world? Why, for example, should we care about the practice of Roman medicine or the methods of ancient mail carriers?

It’s hard to pinpoint any immediate, practical benefits.  I think, though, that general knowledge about the Roman world can enhance our understanding of the New Testament, and certainly, an appreciation of the difficulties Christians faced during the age of martyrs can inspire us to be better Christians today.  I remember how I felt when I walked out at the end of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.”  The secularists were afraid people would come out wanting to beat up Jews, but the movie had the opposite effect on me.  I came out wanting to be a better person.  I think reading about the daily lives of the early Christians could have the same effect on people.
 
Of course, the specific examples you gave have specific uses.  Understanding the inadequacies of the public postal system helps students of the early Church to understand one aspect of communications between communities, and the importance of personal oral testimony.  Those who carried the letters were more than just mailmen.  They were trusted emissaries who passed their most important messages by mouth, not by letter.  Nineteenth and twentieth century  scholars, members of literate societies that highly prized the written word, have often made the assumption that in the first century, as in the twentieth, anything important would be most likely communicated in writing.  In fact, in the first century, the opposite was true.  The most important messages were transmitted orally first, and by the written word only as a way of confirmation.  Thus, the Catholic notion of an oral tradition is borne out by the actual facts on the ground.  And in fact we find that Papias and others who made inquiries into the origins of Christianity trusted oral tradition over the written word:  “I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice”  (Papias of Hierapolis, Fragments, I).
 
Regarding medical practices, too, many inferences can be drawn. In We Look for a Kingdom, for instance, I have suggested that some of the condemnations of sorcery in the New Testament might actually be condemnations of abortion.  The argument is complicated, but has primarily to do with the meaning of the Greek word pharmakeia.  See We Look for a Kingdom, pp. 312-315, for the entire argument.

In your opinion, what are the most common misconceptions about early Christianity?

The most common misconceptions about the early Christians are that they were egalitarian, and that they were anti or non-liturgical in their worship.  The notion of egalitarianism is easy to dispel.  If one honestly looks at the New Testament data, one quickly realizes that the Twelve had more authority than the body of believers, and that they routinely passed a share of their authority on to others.  That the apostles exercised discipline over the churches is also easy to confirm in Scripture, when one considers passages like this one: “I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them…”  (2 Corinthians 13:2).
 
It is, admittedly, harder to demonstrate the liturgical nature of early Christian worship, because there is no direct description of the Liturgy in the New Testament, but shortly afterward, in the Didache and in Justin Martyr’s First Apology, we find descriptions of Liturgies that look a lot like what we do today.  We can’t simply assume that the first century Church worshipped as Justin did, but it seems reasonable to suppose that very early on, the Christians took existing Synagogue rituals and modified them for Christian usage, all the while with Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me” foremost in their minds.

Even mistaken ideas have consequences. What are the ill effects of these misconceptions?

The ill effects of the first misconception are many.  First and foremost, Christ willed that His body should be one (or so I believe a fair reading of John 17:20 would lead one to conclude), but the belief that individual interpretation of Scripture should somehow override the authoritative teachings of the Bishops has resulted in an almost unbelievable fragmentation of the Body of Christ.  We have paid bitterly for this disunity. 
 
The anti-liturgical bias, which manifests itself outside Catholicism in the more charismatic forms of worship, and within Catholicism in the spirit of experimentation that has prevailed in the past thirty years, has had a more subtle, but nonetheless real, effect.  The assumption that the words of Scripture that we read in the Liturgy of the Word, and the salvific act of Christ that we memorialize in the Liturgy of the Eucharist need somehow to be packaged and marketed have led to a trivialization of the Gospel message itself.  I recently heard Donald Trump assert on TV that “Nothing sells itself.”  That may be true of the products of this world, about which Mr. Trump knows more than I.  But the Gospel can and does sell itself every day.  We need to get out of the way, and let the ancient Liturgy speak for itself.

Stay tuned. I’ll post more from the conversation tomorrow.

If you’d like to read the intro to Carl’s book, see the introduction online. And there’s another interview with Carl at Insight Scoop. If you’re ready to buy the book, go directly to order.

Hindu Traditions of St. Thomas

Monday May 21st 2007, 3:09 am

A visitor named Justine recently made a major contribution to our ongoing discussion of the traditions of St. Thomas the Apostle in India. “I picked up this story travelling through Kerala,” she writes. “I think it is worth researching.” I’m pasting her entire message below. Justine adds: “The credit for writing this article should go to Ms. Paula Gruber, a German tourist who visited India/Kerala in 2005. I was responsible for translating it from German to English.”

THONDACCHAN AND THE FOUR SILVER COINS

The worship of Thondachan, a Hindu family deity, by a particular lineage of Nairs (native martial clan) of Malabar, Kerala, and especially the manner and ritual of this worship is noteworthy. Though a family deity, Thondachan is never worshipped within the Nair household. Nor has this deity been ever given a berth among the pantheon of Hindu gods at any of the Hindu temples presided over by the Brahman priests (called Namboodiris). Thondachan has a special altar built outside the Nair family compound, where non-Brahmin priests perform rituals. While Chaamundi, Vishnumoorthy, Pottan, Rakteshwari and Bhagavathi became the non-Aryan non-Brahmin deities for the village folk of Kolathunaad (an ancient province of North Kerala) along with other primitive spirits and folk-heroes, Thondachan has an even smaller following among a select Nair clan. It is believed, that up to the present day, altars for Thondachan’s worship exists in the Cherukunnu area in Kannur (Cannanore) district, especially in the lands surrounding old tharavad houses (ancestral mansions) of the Nairs.

When Thomachan (the apostle St. Thomas, – achan, signifying ‘father’) came ashore, landing at Maliankara near Moothakunnam village in Paravoor Thaluk in AD 52, (this village located 5 kilometers from Cranganoor (Kodungallur), Muziris, on the coast of Kerala), some of his followers as well as other sailors and merchants were suffering from a severe form of scurvy. Thomachan himself suffered from a sore throat which he chose to ignore, and which grew steadily worse, until no voice emanated from his lips for many days. A local Jew named Matan took the weary travelers to a local Nair tharavad (locally known as Kambiam Vallapil), in the province of Kolathunaad, a territory comprising the present Cannanore District and Badagara Taluk of Kerala State.

It is said that at the time of Thomachan’s arrival at the Nair tharavad, the Nair karnavar (landlord or head of family) lay injured from a grievous wound that had been inflicted upon him in a feudal duel. Upon seeing this, Thomachan sat beside the injured man and meditated, laying his hands on the man’s head, his throat, his chest and his groin. Immediately the karnavar felt relieved from pain, and his healing was hastened. Within a day he was up and about, his wounds nearly healed.

In return, the Nair household offered shelter to the strangers and called upon their family physician to cure the scurvy that the travelers suffered from, as well as Thomachan’s severely infected throat. Nellikaya (Emblic Myrobalan or Indian Gooseberry) based potions prepared by the tharavad was used to cure the sea-worn voyagers. In an act of gratitude, Thomachan is said to have blessed them, and gave them four silver coins saying, ‘May these coins bestow my guru’s blessings upon you and your household, for take heed when I tell you that the money I pay you today is anointed with the blood of my guru’.

This holy man, Thomachan, is believed to have related a curious story to the members of the tharavad, which has been passed down the ages.

Before he set sail from a seaport in the region called ‘Sanai’ somewhere in the western seas, he had witnessed the persecution of his guru, who was tortured and nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. He spoke of how his guru returned from his ordeals three days later, fully cured. His guru handed him the silver coins saying, ‘my body was sold with these, and now they have been returned to me, all thirty pieces. Put them to good use, as I have. Though you shall choose to travel by sea, I shall meet you again in the mountains of the land where you will finally arrive.’

The Nair tharavad later migrated further north to the Cherukunnu area of present day Kannur. They referred to the four silver pieces as ‘rakta velli’ (blood silver) or ‘parindhu velli’ (parindhu for eagle, as one face of all these four ancient coins bear the figure of an eagle). They also decided never to utilize the silver as it was the custom then not to part with the gift of a guest.

Over time, and with the advent of Christianity, the significance of the four silver coins received by the tharavad was understood, but family history is still obscure as to whether Thomachan possessed, or what he did with the remaining twenty-six pieces of silver his guru gave him.

This Nair family never converted to the Christian faith as did many others in that region. Subsequent migrations of Nair clans continued throughout history, but the story of the four rakta velli pieces was passed down the generations, as did their veneration for the holi sanyasi Thomachan, (later called Thondachan, a nickname perhaps coined from the story of his sore throat, -thonda for throat. Another story goes that the name Thondachan was adopted in the early 16th century to avoid persecution by the Portugese). Thus by a curious turn of events, the apostle St. Thomas was transformed into a Hindu deity for an ancient Nair clan of Kerala.

A present day member of this family is still in possession of the four pieces of silver. i have seen the four pieces and have identified them as the Shekels of Tyre, a common coinage of Judea of the time of Christ.

Icons of Mary

Sunday May 20th 2007, 3:01 am

My alma mater, Penn State, has published Icons And Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium. I haven’t read it, but it’s reviewed in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

While we’re on the subject of icons of the Blessed Virgin … Kevin Edgecomb reviewed another volume, Mother of God: Representation of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, which includes a preface by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

Parlez-Vous Franciscan?

Saturday May 19th 2007, 3:05 am

Yours Truly is speaking once again this year at Franciscan University’s Defending the Faith Conference, July 27-29. I’ll be talking about the perennial appeal of the Church Fathers — drawing, at least in part, from my experience with this blog!

I’ll also be signing my books. If all goes well, I’ll go home with some repetitive-motion problem in my signing hand.

As usual, the conference will be preceded by intensive educational opportunities at the Applied Biblical Studies Conference, July 25-27.

Any chance I’ll see you there?

Word on the Word

Friday May 18th 2007, 3:01 am

The Vatican has released the preparatory document (lineamenta) for the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Church. The event will, I think, be of interest to all Christians. Readers of this blog will appreciate the decidedly patristic cast of the document:

In the times of the Church Fathers, the Scriptures were the centre and source of theology, spirituality and the pastoral life. The Fathers are the masters, without equal, of what is called the “spiritual” reading of the Scriptures, which, when done faithfully, does not destroy the “letter,” that is, the concrete, historical sense, but allows a reading of the “letter” in the Spirit.

The Fathers are everywhere in this document. My friend David Scott took the time to pull out every patristic quote and send them my way. Take a look:

“The Lord’s flesh is real food and his blood real drink; this is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with his flesh and to drink his blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink.”
— St. Jerome

“Scripture comes down to our level in using our poor words, so as to allow us gradually to climb, step-by-step, from what is seen near-at-hand to things sublime.”
— St. Gregory the Great

“I considered the Creator-Word, and likened it to the Rock that accompanied the people in the wilderness. It was not from any reservoir of water within the Rock that it poured forth glorious streams for them: there was no water in the Rock, yet oceans sprang forth from it. In like manner, the Word created things out of nothing. Blessed is that person accounted worthy to inherit your Paradise! In his book, Moses described the creation of the natural world, so that both Nature and Scripture might bear witness to the Creator: Nature, through man’s use of it, Scripture, through his reading of it. These are the witnesses which abound everywhere; they are to be found at all times, present at every hour, confuting the unbeliever, who is ungrateful towards the Creator.”
— St. Ephrem

“Christ brought us all that could possibly be new, by bringing himself.”
— St. Irenaeus

“The Word of God, who was in the beginning with God, is not, in his fullness, much talk or a multiplicity of words; but a single Word, which embraces a great number of ideas (theoremata), each of which is a part of the Word in its entirety… and if Christ refers us to the Scriptures in testifying to himself, it is not to one book that he sends us to the exclusion of another, but to all, because all speak of him.”
— Origen

“The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.”
— St. Augustine

“What the Old Testament promised is brought to light in the New Testament; what was proclaimed in a hidden manner in the past, is proclaimed openly as present. Thus, the Old Testament announces the New Testament; and the New Testament is the best commentary on the Old Testament.”
— St. Gregory the Great

The Scriptures are then in the heart and hands of the Church as the “Letter sent by God to humankind.”
— St. Gregory the Great

“Whoever has experienced the spiritual sense of the Scriptures knows that the simplest word of Scripture and the most profound are uniquely one, both having the salvation of humankind as their purpose.”
— St. Peter Damascene

“Your prayer is your word addressed to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray you speak to God.”
— St. Augustine

“Diligently practice prayer and lectio divina. When you pray, you speak with God; when you read, God speaks with you.”
— St. Cyprian

“We should clearly understand that the fulfilment and goal of the Law and all Holy Scripture is the love of an object which is to be enjoyed and the love of an object which we can enjoy in fellowship with others. No one needs to be commanded to love himself. The whole temporal dispensation was framed for our salvation by the Providence of God that we might know this truth and be able to act upon it….Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but interprets them in a way not leading to building up this twofold love of God and neighbor, does not yet understand them as he should.”
— St. Augustine

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ himself.”
— St. Jerome

“The Words of God, if pronounced by rote and not heard, have no resonance in the actions of those who merely speak them. But rather, if they are pronounced and put into action, they have the power to dispel demons and help people build God’s dwelling in their hearts and make progress in works of justice.”
— St. Maximus the Confessor

Dave notes also that Ambrose is paraphrased, saying that when a person begins to read Sacred Scripture, God walks with him in an earthly paradise.

Expect great things from the Synod. Seed time is not too soon to pray for an abundant harvest.