Mike Aquilina

Still Grace-y After All These Years

Thursday November 22nd 2007, 3:07 am

Dangerous Danny Garland alerts us to recent miracles involving the relics of St. John Chrysostom, which are currently in Nicosia, Cyprus. He leads us to a news report.

Two miraculous cures have been reported in Cyprus as a result of contact with the skull of St. John Chrysostom, according to the Associated Press.

Father Paraskevas Agathonos claimed the visiting relic, which normally resides in a monastery in northern Greece, had healed a partially paralyzed teenager and a woman with a broken leg.

“The pain left, she got rid of the crutches and took off the cast,” he said of a 42-year-old woman who allegedly recovered after visiting the relic Saturday.

The other cure is said to have involved 16-year old Panayiotis Panayiotou, who had been paralyzed in his right arm and the right side of his face following a brain hemorrhage. He reportedly regained full mobility after venerating the skull.
Panayiotou told private TV station Sigma that “the numbness was gone…yes, it was a miracle.”

Some things never change (see 2 Kings 13:21; Acts 19:12).

And, Danny, we’re all watching the blog for baby news.

Cecilia, I’m Down on My Knees

Thursday November 22nd 2007, 3:06 am

It’s not just Thanksgiving. It’s the feast of St. Cecilia, the patroness of sacred music. And that’s something to sing about. If you’ve had the privilege to visit the Roman catacombs of San Callisto or the city Church of St. Cecilia, you know the story. You’ve seen the famous statue of her body as it lay in martyrdom — and as it was found, incorrupt, more than a millennium later! You can see the sculpture at Catholic Culture‘s page for the feast day, whence cometh this information.

Cecilia was so highly venerated by the ancient Roman Church that her name was placed in the Canon of the Mass. Already in the fourth century there was a church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, erected on the site where her home had stood. Her martyrdom probably occurred during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus, about the year 230. In 1599 her grave was opened and her body found in a coffin of cypress wood. It lay incorrupt, as if she had just breathed forth her soul. Stephen Maderna, who often saw the body, chiseled a statue that resembled the body as closely as possible. Since the Middle Ages, Cecilia has been honored as patroness of Church music, a practice having its source in a false application of a passage from the Office (cantantibus organis). Apart from the fact of her martyrdom, we know practically nothing about her that is historically genuine.

An offbeat addendum: Paul Simon dedicated his excellent album The Rhythm of the Saints to “St. Cecilia, patroness of music.” I’m told (but I have not confirmed) that Simon has always considered St. Cecilia to be his muse, and that the Simon & Garfunkel song Cecilia is actually an allegory of his writer’s block — his sense that the muse had abandoned him and given all the good tunes to other songwriters.

May she intercede for him, and for all of us, on this her memorial.

‘Hat’s Off to His Holiness

Wednesday November 21st 2007, 12:36 pm

I knew the Pope would get around to Aphrahat. I wondered a bit when he pulled ahead of the Persian Sage chronologically. But apparently he did so in order to make connections between neighbording Fathers in successive weeks (e.g., Ambrose and Maximus of Turin). In his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope returns often to the work of the great contemporary Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner, who published an appreciative study of Aphrahat and Judaism. Perhaps we’ll once again see the influence of Neusner on Ratzinger as His Holiness discusses this Father “on the frontier between Judaism and the Greek world.”

Aphrahat also figures prominently in the expanded edition of my book The Fathers of the Church.

I’ll post full text as soon as it emerges.

UPDATE: Amy has posted an unofficial translation.

Marshalling an Argument

Tuesday November 20th 2007, 3:01 am

Taylor Marshall has an interesting post on The Christian Origin of Neo-Platonism. It’s worth your time, since you’ll often read that the influence ran the other way — and that patristic theology is just Plato dressed up in the vestments of Nicea. But, as Marshall points out, it was the Christian Ammonius (third century) who taught Plato to Plotinus, and Plotinus who taught him to the anti-Christian Porphyry. By the time Neo-Platonism got to Augustine, it was no longer Neo and was considered a pagan thing.

A recent book, The Mysticism of Saint Augustine by John Peter Kenney, argues that Augustine’s Confessions is an artful apologetic against the pagan Neo-Platonism that Augustine had known and loved. In the culminating scene, Augustine portrays his unlettered mother, Monica, in an intellectual ecstasy — the sort of contemplation that Plotinus had sought all his life, but reached only rarely, with great difficulty, and for fleeting moments. (Did Plotinus himself have a Christian phase in his past? Readers ancient and modern have suspected so, with all his talk of a divine triad. Some graces die hard.)

Earlier this year I posted an excerpt of R.L. Wilken’s review of Kenney’s book. Give it a read.

And as long as you’re on your Neo-Platonist kick, read Andrew Louth’s The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys.

But do start your binge with Taylor Marshall.

Fort Worthy of Attention

Monday November 19th 2007, 3:02 am

Fellow Penn Stater Walter Shandruk alerts us to a very promising exhibit at Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, a landmark exhibition of the earliest works of art illustrating the Old and New Testaments … will be on view from November 18, 2007, to March 30, 2008. … This highly important exhibition draws upon recent research and new discoveries to tell the story of how the earliest Christians first gave visual expression to their religious beliefs.

Shandruk observes: “Among the pieces of art are some of the earliest Christian and ‘magical’ gems depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus, … for the first time brought together in a single exhibit.”

For those of us unlikely to make it to Fort Worth, here’s good news: an exhibit catalogue from Yale University Press — Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art — co-edited by Robin Margaret Jensen, whose other books I have praised fulsomely and often.

Maureen on the Maunitor

Saturday November 17th 2007, 6:20 pm

Maureen has some really goodies up in audio: Origen on prayer and Irenaeus on heresies (she’s closing in on the end of Book 5, really, she is).

Kevin Konsiders the Kanon

Saturday November 17th 2007, 6:18 pm

Mine, Ours, and Theirs.

On This Rock

Friday November 16th 2007, 9:22 am

It’s always great when the rock-music critics stay in lockstep with the Pope. His Holiness has spent the better hours of the last two weeks talking about St. Jerome. And as my friend Dion DiMucci, of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, rakes in the reviews of his new album, Son Of Skip James, he’s gratified to know that the critics are loving his musical tribute to Jerome, titled “The Thunderer.”

Ken Barnes in USA Today said:

If your image of Dion DiMucci is flash-frozen as a finger-snapping doo-wopper, the idea of a blues album from the singer (his second, following last year’s fine Bronx in Blue) may seem incongruous. But throughout a half-century’s career, Dion has shown he can sing anything, and the mostly acoustic blues standards and originals (plus a little Berry and Dylan) are masterfully delivered via nimble guitar and rich, resonant, nuanced vocals — not far removed from the voice that turned The Drifters’ Ruby Baby and Drip Drop into bluesy classics. And where else are you going to hear a Christian blues number that professes, “I’m a lover, not a fighter/But I could kick your a**”?

The Times of Trenton said:

Of all the rockers left from the 1950s, there is no one still singing with the fire, intensity and passion of the pride of New York, Dion DiMucci. The man who brought us “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Abraham, Martin and John,” has still got it going on as we can hear on the new blues-based “Son of Skip James.”
Dion recorded several blues-based albums in the past, but this return to the genre is a mighty one, filled with scorching versions of classics like Chuck Berry’s “Nadine,” Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues,” and a distinctive re-working of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.” The big surprise though is that Dion, who released several outstanding faith-based albums in the past, occasionally returns here to themes of religious devotion, especially on one of the set’s major standouts, “The Thunderer,” which focuses on the life of one of his idols, St. Jerome.

We can forgive the word “idols” since the review’s so good. But if anyone wants to help the reviewer to understand the difference between dullia and latreia, go ahead and send him a copy of St. John of Damascus’s Three Treatises on the Divine Images. I’m sure Dion will approve.

And if you haven’t heard “The Thunderer” … get with the papal program!

The Original North Pole

Friday November 16th 2007, 3:07 am

As we mark the days till the feast of St. Nicholas, the Turkish Daily News reports:

The Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry has allocated YTL 40,000 for restoration works in the church of St. Nicholas in Antalya’s Demre district [ancient Myra] … The urgent works include the repairing of the roof, building a path to protect the marbles at the entrance, repairing the pumps that remove the rainwater and protecting the paintings from sunlight and humidity.

Last year I raised some eyebrows when I raised the claim that old St. Nick was a brawler, who (according to one not-so-reliable chronicler) punched the heretic Arius in the nose and brought forth a profusion of blood.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos has asked the Turkish government for permission to pray at St. Nick’s church on the feast day, Dec. 6. May it be so!

The Turkish Daily News takes great pride in having Father Christmas as a native son. Turkey’s English daily reports that, in 1955, the country issued a postage stamp to honor Santa Claus, and since 1981 international symposia have been organized on his life by the Ministry of Tourism. In Demre, “There are shops selling authentic local souvenirs, cafeterias and restaurants in the area where the remains [of the Byzantine city] are found.”

Blessed Are They

Thursday November 15th 2007, 3:54 pm

I couldn’t make this up.

Archeologists in Israel have found a Roman road from the first century. See details below. Maybe Monty Python was right?

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a second century terraced street and bath house which provide vital clues about the layout of Roman Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said the 30-metre (90-foot) alley was used by the Romans to link the central Cardo thoroughfare with a bath house and with a bridge to the Temple Mount, once the site of Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish temple….

Seligman said the newly-discovered alley once led to an important bridge over a ravine known during the time of Jesus as the Valley of the Cheesemakers.

Jerome in Rome

Thursday November 15th 2007, 3:07 am

Here’s the unofficial Zenit translation of yesterday’s papal audience on St. Jerome.

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today we continue with the presentation of Saint Jerome. As we said last Wednesday, he devoted his life to the study of the Bible, for which he was acknowledged as “eminent doctor in the interpretation of sacred Scripture” by one of my predecessors, Pope Benedict XV.

Jerome underlined the joy and importance of familiarizing oneself with the biblical texts: “Don’t you feel, here on Earth, that you are already in the kingdom of heaven, just by living in these texts, meditating on them, and not seeking anything else?” (Ep. 53,10).

In truth, to converse with God and with his word means to be in heaven’s presence, that is to say in God’s presence. To draw close to the biblical texts, above all to the New Testament, is essential for the believer, because “ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” This is his famous sentence, also quoted by the Second Vatican Council in the constitution “Dei Verbum” (No. 25).

Truly “enchanted” by the Word of God, Jerome asked himself: “How could we live without the science of Scriptures, through which we learn how to know Christ himself, who is the life of the believer?” (Ep. 30,7). Hence the Bible, the instrument “with which God speaks to the faithful every day” (Ep. 133,13), becomes catalyst and source of Christian life for all situations and for everyone.

To read Scripture is to converse with God: “If you are praying,” he writes to a noble young lady from Rome, “you are speaking with the Groom; if you are reading, it is He who is speaking to you” (Ep. 22,25). The study and meditation of Scripture makes man wise and at peace (cf. In Eph., prol.). Certainly, to penetrate more deeply the word of God, a constant and increasing practice is necessary. This is what Jerome recommended to the priest Nepoziano: “Read the divine Scriptures with much regularity; let the Holy Book never be laid down by your hands. Learn there what you ought to teach (Ep. 52,7).”

To the Roman matron Leta he gave the following advice for the Christian education of her daughter: “Make sure that every day she studies some passages of Scripture. … That she ensues from reading to praying and from praying to reading. … Instead of loving jewelry and silk garments, may she rather love the divine books” (Ep. 107,9.12). With the meditation and the science of the Scriptures one “maintains the balance of the soul” (Ad Eph., prol.). Only through a deep spirit of prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to understand the Bible: “For the interpretation of sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit” (In Mich. 1,1,10,15).

A passionate love for Scripture pervaded all of Jerome’s life, a love that he sought to also awaken in the faithful. To a spiritual daughter he recommended: “Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honor it and you shall receive its caresses. Let it mean to you as much as your necklaces and your earrings mean to you” (Ep. 130,20). And again: “Love the science of Scripture, and you shall not love the vices of the flesh” (Ep. 125,11).

A fundamental criterion Jerome used to interpret Scripture was to be in tune with the magisterium of the Church. Alone we are not able to read Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us.

For him an authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. This is not an external requirement imposed on the book. The book itself is the voice of the people of God in pilgrimage, and only in the faith of these people we find the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture. Hence Jerome warned: “Stay firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that has been taught to you, so that you can preach according to the right doctrine and refute those who contradict it” (Ep. 52,7).

In particular, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, he concluded that every Christian has to be in communion “with the chair of St. Peter. I know that on this stone the Church is built” (Ep. 15,2). Consequently, he declared: “I am with whoever is united to the chair of St. Peter” (Ep. 16).

Jerome obviously does not neglect the ethical side. Rather often he recalls the duty of reconciling life with the divine word, and that only by living it we manage to understand it. Such coherence is necessary for every Christian, especially for the preacher, to ensure that his actions are not a source of embarrassment when conflicting with his speech. So he urges the priest Nepoziano: “Let not your actions deny your words, so that when you preach in church someone won’t be able to say: ‘Why don’t you act this way?’ Easy is the teacher who, with full belly, preaches about fasting — even a thief can condemn greed — but for the priest of Christ the mind and word have to match” (Ep. 52,7).

In another letter Jerome confirms: “Even when mastering a wonderful doctrine, he who is condemned by his own conscience will be shamed” (Ep. 127,4). Always in terms of coherence, he observes, the Gospel has to translate into attitudes of true charity, because in every human being Christ is present. For instance, when addressing Paolino (who became bishop of Nola and then a saint), Jerome advises: “The true temple of Christ is the soul of the faithful: adorn this sanctuary, embellish it, put your offers in it and receive Christ. To what purpose do you adorn walls with precious stones, if Christ starves in the person of the poor?” (Ep. 58,7).

Jerome continues: It is necessary “to dress Christ among the poor, to visit him among the suffering, to nourish him among the starving, to host him among the homeless” (Ep. 130,14). The love for Christ, fed with study and meditation, makes us overcome any difficulty: “We love Jesus Christ, we always search the union with him: then all that is difficult will seem easy” (Ep. 22,40).

Jerome, defined as “a model of conduct and a master of the human kind” by Prosper of Aquitaine (“Carmen de Ingratis,” 57), also left us a rich teaching on Christian asceticism. He reminds us that a courageous engagement toward perfection requires a constant alertness, frequent mortifications, even if with moderation and caution, an assiduous intellectual or manual work to avoid idleness (cf Epp. 125.11 and 130,15), and above all obedience to God: “Nothing … pleases God as much as obedience. … That is the most outstanding and the sole virtue” (Hom. De oboedientia: CCL 78,552).

The practice of pilgrimages can be included in the ascetic path. In particular, Jerome gave impulse to pilgrimages to the Holy Land, where pilgrims were welcomed and accommodated in the buildings built near Bethlehem’s monastery, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paola, Jerome’s spiritual daughter (cf Ep. 108,14).

Finally, we have to mention Jerome’s contribution to Christian pedagogy (cf Epp. 107 and 128). He proposes to form “a soul that has to become the temple of the Lord ” (Ep. 107,4), a “most precious gem” to the eyes of God (Ep. 107,13). With deep intuition he suggests to protect the soul from evil and from sinful events, to exclude equivocal or wasteful friendships (cf Ep. 107.4 and 8-9; cf also Ep. 128,3-4).

Above all he urges the parents to create an environment of serenity and joy around the children, to encourage them to study and work, also through praise and emulation (cf Epp. 107,4 and 128,1), to encourage them to overcome difficulties, to nurture in them good habits and protect them from bad ones because — here he quotes a phrase that Publilius Sirus had heard as a schoolboy — “you will barely succeed to correct those things that you are getting used to do” (Ep. 107,8).

Parents are the primary educators for children, their first life teachers. By addressing to the mother of a girl and then to her father, with much clarity Jerome warns, as to express a fundamental requirement of every human creature that is brought to existence: “May she find in you her teacher, and may her inexperienced childhood look at you with wonder. May she never see, neither in you nor in her father, any actions that, if imitated, could lead her to sin. Remember that … you can educate her more with the example than with the word” (Ep. 107,9).

Among Jerome’s main intuitions as a pedagogue we must underline the importance attributed to a healthy and complete education since infancy, as well as the special responsibility acknowledged to parents, the urgency of a serious moral and religious education, and the need of study for a more complete human formation.

Moreover, a vital aspect retained by the author but disregarded in ancient times is the promotion of the woman, to whom he acknowledges the right to a complete education: human, academic, religious, professional. We actually see today that the true condition to any progress, peace, reconciliation and exclusion of violence is the education of the person in its entirety and the education in responsibility before God and before man. Sacred Scripture offers us the guidance of education and of true humanism.

We cannot conclude these rapid notes on the great Father of the Church without mentioning his effective contribution to the safeguard of the positive and valid elements of ancient Israeli, Greek and Roman cultures in the rising Christian civilization. Jerome recognized and assimilated the artistic values, the rich feelings and harmonic images of the classics, which educate heart and fantasy to noble feelings.

Above all, he put the word of God at the center of his life and actions, a word that shows to man the paths of life and discloses the secrets of holiness. Today we can’t be but deeply grateful to Jerome for all this.

And remember that rocker Dion’s new album includes a musical tribute to St. Jerome, called “The Thunderer.” Don’t miss your chance to hear The Wanderer, to hear The Wanderer, Jerome around, around, around, around…

Jerome, Take 2

Wednesday November 14th 2007, 1:57 pm

The Pope returned to Jerome today. Here’s a news report from CNS. I’ll post full text as soon as I find a translation.

Pope, at audience, encourages Christians to read Bible

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To know God and to know how to live their lives, Christians must read the Bible, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Drawing close to the biblical texts, especially the New Testament, is essential for believers because ‘ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,'” the pope said, quoting St. Jerome.

At his Nov. 14 weekly general audience, the pope continued a talk begun the week before about the importance of the teaching of St. Jerome, the fourth-century doctor of the church.

Reading the Bible teaches believers the way they are to live their lives, the pope said, but the Scriptures must be read in a spirit of prayer and must be understood the way the church understands them.

“For Jerome, a fundamental criterion for the interpretation of Scriptures was harmony with the magisterium of the church,” he said.

Pope Benedict said the books of the Bible “were written by the people of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” so “only in harmony with the faith of this people can we understand the sacred Scripture.”

The pope said St. Jerome also emphasized the importance of “a healthy, integrated education” in religion, morality and culture for all Christians, including women, which was unusual in ancient times.

St. Jerome, he said, recognized the “right of women to have a complete human, scholastic, religious and professional formation.”

Education, the pope said, especially regarding one’s “responsibilities before God and other human beings, is the real prerequisite for true progress, peace, reconciliation and the exclusion of all violence.”

“The sacred Scriptures offer us guidance for education and, therefore, for true humanism,” the pope said.

Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Martin?

Wednesday November 14th 2007, 3:04 am

On Sunday the Pope threw us all a curveball and covered one of the Fathers during his weekly Angelus address. (Till now he’s been doing them on Wednesdays. Tricky guy. Keeps us on our toes.) Phil will be happy to hear it’s St. Martin of Tours. The unofficial Zenit translation follows.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today, Nov. 11, the Church remembers St. Martin, bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated saints in Europe. Born around 316 to pagan parents in Pannonia, present-day Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career.

When he was still an adolescent, Martin encountered Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he registered among the catechumens to prepare himself for baptism. He received the sacrament around the age of 20 but still had to remain for some time in the military, where he gave testimony to his new way of life: Respectful and understanding toward all, he treated his servant as a brother and he avoided vulgar entertainments.

Leaving military service, he went to stay with the holy Bishop Hilary at Poitiers in France. Ordained deacon and priest by Hilary, Martin began a monastery at Liguge with some disciples. Martin’s is the oldest known monastic foundation in Europe. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, being without a pastor, acclaimed Martin bishop. From that point on, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy.

Although many miracles are attributed to him, St. Martin is famous above all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man along the road who was frozen and trembling from the cold. Martin took his own cloak and cutting it with his sword, gave half of it to the man. That night Jesus appeared to Martin in a dream, smiling and wrapped in the cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Martin’s charitable gesture inscribes itself in the same logic that moved Jesus to multiply the loaves of bread for the famished crowds, but above all to leave himself in food for humanity in the Eucharist, supreme sign of God’s love, “sacramentum caritatis.” It is in the logic of sharing that the love of neighbor is concretely expressed. May St. Martin help us to understand that it is only through a common commitment to sharing that it is possible to respond to the great challenge of our time: that of building up a world of peace and justice in which every man can live with dignity. This can happen if a global model of authentic solidarity prevails, one that is able to assure all the inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medicines, and also work and energy resources, as well as cultural goods and scientific and technological knowledge.

We turn now to the Virgin Mary to implore that she help all Christians to be, like St. Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of charity and tireless builders of solidary sharing.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Tuesday November 13th 2007, 3:02 am

Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer, has posted a fascinating solid-gold Byzantine wedding ring for sale. They’re estimating it’s fifth or sixth century. Go look at the picture. “The square bezel of the ring is engraved with a cross between the face busts of a groom and a bride. The couple is blessed by the bust of Christ above them and the Greek inscription ‘concord in God’ (ӨEOY OMONOIA).” If they’re right about the date, this may testify to a transitional period in wedding customs. In the olden days, “Roman marrigae contracts were signed before the Emperor’s image.” On this ring and in other fifth-century items, the image of Christ has replaced the emperor.

While you’re at Phoenix, check out this bronze weight depicting an archangel and a bagfull of Christian symbols (sixth or seventh century). It’s only $28,500. I don’t know if that price includes postage.

As for the solid-gold ring, they don’t bother posting a price. If you have to ask …

Caught in the Fathers’ Web

Monday November 12th 2007, 10:38 am

• Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviews a new volume of The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Longtime, truly obsessed visitors to this site will recall past posts on St. Isidore. You can start here and follow links back.

• Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica points us to some new patristic titles and translations of apocrypha.

• And Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy — a patrologist whose praise I have often hymned on this site — now has a website. Can blogging be far off? Proably, yeah, very far off. Father Tom has published excellent work on Cyril and is prepping a book on Athanasius to appear in the next year or so. More on that as it develops.