Going Patristic on Us
Friday November 09th 2007, 3:06 am
Filed under: Patristics

Continuing his celebration of my birthweek, Pope Benedict XVI made public the text of a letter marking the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. John Chrysostom. So far, the Vatican has posted it only in Italian. Catholic News Service has quoted generously, however, in its news story, which follows.

(UPDATE: Here’s Zenit’s even longer story.)

Pope says saint preferred people live by, not applaud, his homilies

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — St. John Chrysostom, a popular and eloquent preacher, preferred that his parishioners follow his teachings and not just applaud his homilies, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope said it was very important to this fourth-century doctor of the church that the applause his inspiring homilies generated did not mask the fact that the Gospel, not he, was the source of his stirring talks.

The pope made his comments on the occasion of the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. John Chrysostom, former patriarch of Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey.

The pope’s remarks, drafted in a letter dated Aug. 10, were made public Nov. 8 for the opening of a Nov. 8-10 international congress on the saint in Rome. The Vatican released to journalists a copy of the letter Nov. 8.

The pope wrote that St. John Chrysostom “lamented sometimes because, too often, the same assembly that applauded his homilies ignored the very exhortations (he made) to live the Christian life authentically.”

The one thing the saint tirelessly called on his people to do, the pope wrote, was to rectify the gross divide that existed between “the extravagant waste of the rich and the needs of the poor” — even asking affluent citizens to welcome those without shelter into their homes.

“He saw Christ in the poor and, therefore, invited his listeners to do nothing other than act accordingly” and treat the impoverished as they would treat Christ himself, Pope Benedict wrote.

The “moral consequences” of receiving the Eucharist include an obligation “to offer material assistance to the poor and hungry,” the pope wrote. “The table of the Lord is the place where the faithful recognize and welcome the poor and the needy whom they perhaps had ignored before.”

St. John Chrysostom urged Christians to recognize that by giving to those in need, Christians would be “offering on Christ’s altar a sacrifice pleasing to God,” the pope wrote. He wrote that the saint also underlined the absolute importance of repenting before receiving Communion.

The faithful must be worthy and approach the Eucharist “not lightly … or out of habit,” but with a sincere and pure spirit, the pope said, citing the saint.



Muy BN
Thursday November 08th 2007, 3:07 am
Filed under: Patristics

Had a great time with the folks from St. Louise de Marillac School last Saturday. Zee Poerio, classics enthusiast, arranged a daylong event at Barnes and Noble. She’s posted photos, too. I was just about last on the program. So, if you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see me pointing to slides of ancient Christian symbols — and hawking my books, of course.



Michaelmas East
Thursday November 08th 2007, 3:02 am
Filed under: Patristics

On the Byzantine calendar, today’s the feast of St. Michael the Archangel and the Angelic hosts. Devotion to my heavenly namesake was very well developed, very early in the Church’s history. Before Constantine’s peace, there were churches dedicated to St. Michael in Rome and in Egypt. And he appears often in early Coptic art. For the goods, see this book — and prepare to be wowed.

In your kindness, pray today for all bloggers named Michael who happened to be born on Byzantine St. Michael’s day.



Rockin’ the Square
Wednesday November 07th 2007, 7:23 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Yesterday the pope turned his attention to St. Jerome. I’m sure he meant this as an early 44th birthday present for Yours Truly. If you, in keeping with this papal trend, want to treat yourself on my birthday, please go directly to iTunes and grab yourself a copy of the just-released song about St. Jerome, by Rock n Roll Hall-of-Famer Dion. (It’s called “The Thunderer.”) Better yet, buy the whole album. Though Amazon probably can’t deliver it to you before my birthday’s over, you’ll probably get it well within the octave.

Dear brothers and sisters!

We will turn our attention today to St. Jerome, a Father of the Church who placed the Bible at the center of his life: he translated it into Latin, he commented on it in his writings, and above all, he committed to live it concretely in his long earthly existence, despite his naturally difficult and fiery character, which he was known for.

Jerome was born in Stridon around 347 to a Christian family that educated him well, and sent him to Rome to complete his studies. Being young, he felt attracted to worldly living (cf. Ep. 22,7), but his desire for and interest in the Christian religion prevailed.

After his baptism around 366, he was drawn to the ascetic life, and upon moving to Aquileia, he joined a group of fervent Christians, whom he described as a type of “choir of the blessed” (Chron. Ad ann., 374), who were united around the bishop Valerian.

He then left for the East and lived as a hermit in the desert of Calcide, south of Aleppo (cf. Ep. 14,10), dedicating himself to serious study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began to study Hebrew (cf. Ep. 125,12), transcribed patristic codices and works (cf. Ep. 5,2). The meditation, the solitude, the contact with the word of God matured his Christian sensibility.

He felt intensely the weight of his youthful past (cf. Ep. 22, 7), and became vividly aware of the contrast between the pagan and Christian mentalities: a contrast made famous by the dramatic and vivid “vision” which he left to us. In this vision he saw himself being flagellated in the presence of God because he was a “Ciceronian and not a Christian” (cf. Ep. 22,30).

In 382, he moved to Rome where Pope Damasus, recognizing his fame as an ascetic and his competence as a scholar, took him on as secretary and adviser. He encouraged him to undertake a new Latin translation of Biblical texts for pastoral and cultural reasons.

Some members of the Roman aristocracy, above all noblewomen like Paola, Marcella, Asella, Lea and others, desired to commit themselves to the way of Christian perfection and to deepen their knowledge of the Word of God, and they chose him to be their spiritual guide and teacher in the method to read sacred texts. These women also learned Greek and Hebrew themselves.

After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and undertook a pilgrimage, first to the Holy Land, silent witness to the earthly life of Christ, then to Egypt, a destination chosen by many monks (cf. “Contra Rufinum,” 3,22; Ep. 108,6-14).

In 386, he decided to stay in Bethlehem, where, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paola, a monastery for men was built, and another for women, as well as a hospice for pilgrims to the Holy Land “in memory of Mary and Joseph who found no shelter” (Ep. 108,14).

He remained in Bethlehem until his death, carrying on his intense activity. He commented on the Gospels; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he exhorted monks to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young pupils; he welcomed pilgrims to the Holy Land like a pastor. He died in his cell near the Grotto of the Nativity on Sept. 30, 419/420.

His literary preparation and vast erudition allowed Jerome to revise and translate many Biblical texts: an invaluable service for the Latin Church and for Western culture. Beginning with the original texts in Greek and Hebrew, and comparing them to earlier translations, he revised the translation of the four Gospels in Latin, then the Psalms and a good part of the Old Testament.

Taking into account the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Septuagint, the classic Greek version of the Old Testament that dates back to pre-Christian times, and the earlier Latin translations, Jerome and his collaborators were able to offer a better translation. This is what we call the “Vulgate,” considered the “official” text of the Latin Church, which was recognized as such by the Council of Trent. Despite the recent revision of the text, it continues to be the “official” text of the Church in the Latin language.

It is interesting to highlight the criteria that the great Biblical scholar used in his work as a translator. He revealed them himself when he stated that he respected even the order of words in Sacred Scripture, because “even the order of the words is a mystery,” that is, a revelation.

He also reiterated the need to turn to the original texts: “Whenever a question is raised among the Latins regarding the New Testament due to discordant readings of the texts, we must turn to the original, that is, the Greek text in which the New Testament was first written. Likewise for the Old Testament, if there are divergences between the Greek and Latin texts, let us turn to the original text in Hebrew. In this way, “we will be able to find in the rivulets everything that flows from the spring” (Ep. 106,2).

Jerome also commented on several Biblical texts. He said commentaries should offer many opinions so that “the astute reader, after reading different explanations and getting to know different opinions — to accept or to reject — may judge which one is most reliable, and like a currency expert, reject the counterfeit” (“Contra Rufinum” 1,16).

With energy and liveliness, he refuted the heretics who contested the tradition and faith of the Church. He also showed the importance and validity of Christian literature, which had by then come into its own, and deemed worthy to confront classical literature. He did this in “De viris illustribus,” a work in which he presented the biographies of more than 100 Christian authors.

He also wrote biographies of monks, expounding the monastic ideal alongside other spiritual itineraries, and translated various works by Greek authors. Lastly, in the important Epistolary, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerges characterized as a man of culture, an ascetic and a spiritual guide.

What can we learn from St. Jerome? Above all I think it is this: to love the word of God in sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said, “To ignore Scripture is to ignore Christ.” That is why it is important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the word of God, given to us in sacred Scripture.

This dialogue should be of two dimensions. On one hand, it should be truly personal, because God speaks to each of us through sacred Scripture and has a message for each of us. We shouldn’t read sacred Scripture as a word from the past, but rather as the word of God addressed even to us, and we must try to understand what the Lord is telling us.

And so we don’t fall into individualism, we must also keep in mind that the word of God is given to us in order to build communion, to unite us in the truth along our way to God. Therefore, despite the fact that it is always a personal word, it is also a word that builds community, and that builds the Church itself. Therefore, we should read it in communion with the living Church.

The privileged place for reading and listening to the word of God is in the liturgy. By celebrating the word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the sacrament, we bring the word into our life and make it alive and present among us.

We should never forget that the word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go; what is very modern today will be old tomorrow. But the word of God is the word of eternal life, it carries within itself eternity, which is always valuable. Carrying within ourselves the word of God, we also carry eternal life.

I conclude with a something St. Jerome had said to St. Paulinus of Nola, in which the great exegete expressed the reality that in the word of God we receive eternity, life eternal. St. Jerome said: “Let us seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in heaven” (Ep. 53,10).



One Step Forward, One Step Back
Wednesday November 07th 2007, 3:05 am
Filed under: Archeology

Scientists have succeeded in running DNA tests to determine what once filled the amphoras found in ancient shipwrecks and tombs.

Watch out for barbarians! Rome’s Aurelian Wall is finally coming down.



Augustine’s Greatest Hits
Tuesday November 06th 2007, 3:09 am
Filed under: Patristics

In today’s mail: Saint Augustine: Essential Sermons. It’s a fine collection, with thematic variety. There are exegetical sermons (on puzzling biblical texts), mystagogical sermons (on the sacraments), sermons on the saints, and some on moral concerns. The index is bafflingly incomplete, but searching around is a joy.



Twain Shall Meet
Monday November 05th 2007, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Just a few weeks ago, I spoke in Youngstown, Ohio, to mark the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. John Chrysostom. I was one of two guest speakers invited by the Society of St. John Chrysostom.

The next speaker up is fellow blogger Father Gregory Jensen, a psychologist and Orthodox priest. He’ll address “What’s Wrong With Us? Thoughts on Why East/West Christian Relationships Are Difficult.” The program is Tuesday, November 13, 2007, at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church, 7782 Glenwood Ave., Boardman, Ohio. Admission’s free, and everybody’s welcome.

The Society of St. John Chrysostom is an ecumenical organization of Catholic and Orthodox clergy and laity, working to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline, and theology of Eastern Christendom, and for the fullness of unity desired by Jesus Christ.

Needless to say, they’re big on the Fathers.

For information, call 330-755-5635.



The Lourdes of the Ancient World
Monday November 05th 2007, 3:01 am
Filed under: Patristics

The shrine of St. Menas was the Lourdes of the patristic era.

Situated near the Nile delta in Egypt, “Abu Mena” — as it’s known by the Copts — flourished as a destination for pilgrims, beginning in the early fourth century. People traveled there to bathe in its healing waters, or to fill flasks to carry home for ailing friends and family members. The flasks have turned up throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Who was St. Menas? It’s difficult to say for sure. He was almost certainly a martyr. Some ancient accounts say he succumbed during the persecution of the Emperor Decius, in the mid-third century. The majority, however, place his martyrdom during the Big One, the persecution of Diocletian, at the end of that century. He is almost always portrayed as a soldier in the Roman army, exposed as a Christian and beheaded for his faith. His comrades then bore his body back home to Egypt. According to legend, the camels stopped at a certain point and refused to go on. And there Menas was laid to rest.

Soon pilgrims appeared, churches sprang up, and a veritable city arose around the burial place of St. Menas. Once the empire was officially Christian, the Emperor Arcadius had a basilica built there. The shrine flourished till Muslim rule in the seventh century. Then the place fell into disuse. Its ruins were excavated in the early twentieth century, turning up thousands of St. Menas pilgrim flasks. There has been some restoration at the site, though the ruins are now threatened by dampness from irrigation.

The pilgrim flasks still turn up everywhere — even on the Web. Mass-produced as souvenirs, they usually show the saint between two camels — the very camels who sited his shrine. Around the image you’ll usually find inscribed, in Coptic or Greek, “Blessings of St. Menas.” There’s one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There’s another in the Louvre (you’ll have to go there and search under Menas, because I can’t get the links to work). Here’s a page full of flasks, and another, and another. You’ll even find several flasks for sale in New Jersey.

Some kind folks have posted English translations of the various lives of St. Menas. (His name is also rendered Mena and Mina. Some modern scholars believe he is none other than man we westerners venerate as St. Christopher of the dashboard.)

Amazon’s offering a new documentary on the pilgrim site: Abu Mena: A Christian Monument Egypt. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s on my wish list.

May the good saint intercede for us who remember him, and may he once again bring healing to his homeland.

(Thanks to Nader — my Coptic catechist, correspondent, and sometime commenter — who helped me as I was rooting around for details on St. Menas.)



Another Book of Daniel
Sunday November 04th 2007, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Patristics

A few months back I posted a review of The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria, by Daniel A. Keating. Last week, at the St. Paul Center‘s Letter & Spirit Conference, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Keating speak. Afterward I rushed out to buy a copy of his more recent book, Deification and Grace. I’m reading it now and having a hard time putting it down. I’ll post a review here or in Touchstone. But I thought you’d appreciate the way he approaches this doctrinal issue:

[T]he testimony of the Church Fathers will be the center of gravity of this study … I will rely most heavily on the testimony of the Fathers of the Church. The doctrine of deification emerged in the patristic period as the Fathers wrestled with the Scriptures to understand rightly the doctrine of salvation in Christ. It is to our benefit to have that testimony made more readily available.

He follows through with testimony from everyone you’d want to read in the book: Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus, Ephrem, Evagrius, three different Gregorys, Hilary, Irenaeus — and, gosh, that doesn’t even get you halfway through the index!

Last time this title came up in the commboxes, people complained that the book wasn’t available on Amazon. But it’s there now.



Avast!
Saturday November 03rd 2007, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Roger Pearse tells the fascinating story of how Americans “pirated” the 19th-century Edinburgh edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Give us yer patristics — or walk the plank!



All Souls
Friday November 02nd 2007, 3:08 am
Filed under: Patristics

Today is the Feast of All Souls, when Christians traditionally pray for the dead, that they may have eternal rest.

The early Church, in both its literary and archeological remains, testifies to belief in purgatory. Many Christians commissioned gravestones with epitaphs begging prayers for their souls. The apocrypha sketch out the doctrine, and the Fathers expound it. The existence of purgatory is implicit in both the Old Testament and the New (including the Gospels). The early Church kept many graveside traditions that, in effect, made a habit of prayer for the dead. It was customary to mark the anniversary of a dead person’s passing (three days, one week, one year) with the celebration of the Mass. In the fourth century, St. Monica urged her priest-son Augustine to remember her soul in prayer when he said Mass. And, like a good boy, he did. “If we had no care for the dead,” Augustine said, “we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” Augustine held that there are “temporary punishments after death.” There is remedial pain as the soul undergoes its purification and preparation for heaven. St. Gregory the Great emphasized that this doctrine was not optional.

The earliest records in the paper trail are not to be missed, for they’re the most poetic. And you’ll find a sampling online here.

The best book on the subject is, without a doubt, Purgatory, by Michael Taylor, S.J. It presents the scriptural, patristic, and theological evidence in an accessible readable form. It’s a friendly treatment, good for handing to a skeptical friend.

“He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:43-45). “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46, Vulgate).



Maximizing the Audience
Thursday November 01st 2007, 11:23 am
Filed under: Patristics

Yesterday our patristic pope turned his attention to St. Maximus of Turin. Here’s the unofficial Zenit translation:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Between the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, another Father of the Church — after St. Ambrose of Milan — contributed decisively to the spread and consolidation of Christianity in northern Italy: He is St. Maximus, who was the bishop of Turin in 398, one year after the death of Ambrose. There is very little information about him; but, we do have a collection of about 90 Sermons. In these the intimate and vital union of the bishop with his city emerges, which bears witness to an evident point of contact between the episcopal ministry of Ambrose and that of Maximus.

At that time, serious tensions upset civil coexistence. In this context, Maximus succeeded in uniting the Christian population around him as pastor and teacher. The city was threatened by scattered groups of barbarians who, having entered through the eastern passes, were advancing toward the western Alps. For this reason Turin was permanently surrounded by military garrisons, which became, during critical moments, a refuge for the people fleeing the countryside and the unprotected urban centers.

The interventions of Maximus in the face of this situation bears witness to his commitment to do something about civil degradation and disaggregation. Even though it is difficult to determine the social composition of the people that his Sermons addressed, it appears that his preaching, to overcome the risk of being generic, was addressed specifically to a select nucleus of the Christian community of Turin, comprised of rich landowners who owned land in the countryside and a home in the city. It was a lucid pastoral decision of the bishop, who envisaged this kind of preaching as the most effective path to maintain and reinforce his ties with the people.

To illustrate Maximus’ ministry in Turin from this perspective, I wish to refer to Sermons 17 and 18 as examples. They are dedicated to a theme that is always current, that of wealth and poverty in Christian communities. Sharp tensions ran through the city on account of this topic. Wealth was accumulated and hidden. “One does not think of the needs of others,” the bishop said bitterly in Sermon 17.

“In fact, not only do many Christians not distribute what they have, but they also plunder the possessions of others. Not only do they fail to bring to the feet of the apostles the money they collect, but they even drive away from the feet of the priests their brethren who seek help.” And he concludes: “Many guests and pilgrims come to our city. Do what you promised” in good faith, “so that what was said of Ananias may not be said of you: ‘You have not lied to men, but to God’” (Sermon 17, 2-3).

In the next Sermon, No. 18, Maximus criticizes the common forms of profiting from the misfortunes of others. “Tell me, Christian,” the bishop asked his faithful, “tell me: Why have you taken the loot abandoned by the plunderers? Why have you brought to your house a savage and contaminated so-called profit?” “But,” he continued, “perhaps you say you bought it, and in this way think you can avoid being accused of avarice. But this is no way to establish a buyer-seller relationship. Buying is something good, but in times of peace, when one sells freely, and not when one sells what has been looted in plunder. … Therefore, act like Christians and like citizens who buy back things in order to return them” (Sermon 18,3).

Maximus preached of an intimate relationship between the duties of a Christian and those of a citizen. For him, to live a Christian life also meant taking on civic commitments. And on the other hand, the Christian who, “despite the fact that he could live on the fruits of his own labor, takes someone else’s loot with the fierceness of beasts,” or who “ambushes his neighbor, attempting day by day to claw at his neighbor’s fence and take possession of his crops,” isn’t even similar to a fox who beheads chickens, but rather a wolf who preys on pigs (Sermon 41,4).

Compared to the prudent defensive attitude taken by Ambrose to justify his famous initiative of rescuing prisoners of war, the historical changes that have since taken place in the relationship between a bishop and civic institutions can clearly be seen. Supported in his time by a law that urged Christians to redeem prisoners of war, Maximus, facing the collapse of the civil authority of the Roman Empire, felt fully authorized to exercise a true and proper power of control over the city.

This power would become broader and more effective to the point of substituting for the absence of magistrates and civic institutions. Maximus not only dedicated himself to reigniting in the faithful a traditional love for their native city, but also proclaimed that it was their duty to take on fiscal responsibilities, as serious and unpleasant as they may be (Sermon 26, 2).

In short, the tone and substance of his Sermons assume a mature and growing awareness of the political responsibility of a bishop in specific historical circumstances. He was the city’s “watchtower.” Are not the watchtowers, Maximus asked in Sermon 92, “the blessed bishops who, being raised, so to speak, on an elevated rock of wisdom to defend the people, see from afar the evils that are approaching?”

In Sermon 89, the bishop of Turin illustrates to the faithful his task, availing himself of a singular comparison between the bishop’s function and that of bees: “Like the bee,” he said, the bishops “observe corporal chastity, offer the food of celestial life, use the sting of the law. They are pure in order to sanctify, gentle in order to comfort and severe in order to punish.” That is how St. Maximus described the mission of a bishop in his time.

Definitively, historical and literary analysis demonstrates his growing awareness of the political responsibility of ecclesiastical authorities, in a context in which he was in fact substituting for civil authority. This is the development of the bishop’s ministry in northern Italy, beginning with Eusebius, who lived in Vercelli “like a monk,” to Maximus, who “like a sentinel” was situated on the highest rock in the city.

Obviously, the historical, cultural and social context today is profoundly different. The context today is that which my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II, described in his postsynodal exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa,” in which he offers a detailed analysis of the challenges and signs of hope for Europe today (6-22). In any case, independent of changed conditions, the duties of the believer toward his city and homeland remain valid. The intimate relationship between the “honest citizen” and the “good Christian” continues to stand.

In conclusion, I wish to recall what the pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes” says to clarify one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life: the consistency between faith and behavior, between Gospel and culture. The Council exhorts the faithful “to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation” (No. 43).

Following the magisterium of St. Maximus and many other Fathers of the Church, let us make the Council’s hope ours as well, that the faithful may ever more “exercise all their earthly activities and their humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are harmonized unto God’s glory” (ibid.), and in this way for the good of mankind.



All Saints
Thursday November 01st 2007, 9:51 am
Filed under: Patristics

Last year I groused that David Bercot’s Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs was deficient in its treatment of the cult of the saints in Christian antiquity. In fact, the only entries under “Should Christians pray to the dead?” are condemnations of necromancy by Tertullian and Lactantius! In an otherwise fine volume, this section grossly misrepresents the literary and archeological record of the early Church. For the early Christians practiced a lively and deep devotion to the saints.

Not to worry, though, because other books make up for the bit that is lacking in Bercot, and there’s always more room on the bookshelf. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press offers a nice anthology in its popular patristics series: The Cult of the Saints includes St. John Chrysostom’s homilies and letters related to the great men whom St. Paul refers to as the “saints in light” (Col 1:12). When you have Fathers praising Fathers — in this case, Chrysostom praising Ignatius (and many others) — you’ve got to listen up.

In his standard work on Early Christian Doctrines, J.N.D. Kelly notes how the earliest Christians reverently preserved the relics of the martyrs and every year celebrated their “birthdays” (into heaven, that is). Origen and Cyprian attest to the custom of seeking the intercession of the saints. And their literary remains find echo in graffiti throughout the ancient world. The ancient liturgies invoke the saints of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the martyrs. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose, St. Epiphanius, St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzen exhort their flocks to seek the help of the saints. And it’s a multimedia testimony. We can still look upon those early images of saints, painted on the walls of the catacombs, engraved on tombstones, and etched into the sides of pilgrim flasks and oil lamps. Everywhere the Gospel reached, the strain re-echoed: “Pray for us!”

There’s more evidence in Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (The Haskell Lectures on History of Religions). Though Brown does not write from a perspective of faith — perhaps because he doesn’t — he is a reliable witness. He has no dog in the Protestant-Catholic fight over the intercession of the saints. But Catholics will recognize a familiar devotion in some of their ancient forebears, as they appear in Brown’s book. I like his description of the Mediterranean region after the rise of Christianity: “while it may not have become markedly more ‘otherworldly,’ it was most emphatically ‘upperworldly.’”

Orthodox and Catholic Christianity still is. We profess belief in “life everlasting. We believe also that we live amid a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). We believe that Christians must “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). We believe that the dead cry out before the altar in heaven, pleading with God to right the wrongs upon earth (Rev 6:9-10).

In short, we believe in the faith of our Fathers. There’s good patristic material online at Catholic Answers and in the Catholic Encyclopedia. So celebrate the day with gusto. Celebrate with all the saints in heaven and on earth!