It’s Getting Dark?
Thursday March 13th 2008, 3:02 am
Filed under: Patristics

Way cool — the Holy Father yesterday turned to Cassiodorus and Boethius. Teresa Benedetta translated:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, I wish to speak about two ecclesiastical writers, Boethius and Cassiodorus, who lived during some of the most trying years of the Christian West, particularly, of the Italian peninsula.

Odoacre, king of the Eruli, a Germanic tribe, had rebelled, bringiing an end to the Western Roman Empire in 476, but soon he succumbed to the Ostrogoths under Theodoric who would control the Italian peninsula for the next several decades.

Boethius, born around 480 in the noble house of the Anicii, entered public life as a young man, becoming senator by the age of 25. Faithful to his family’s traditions, he entered politics, convinced that the principles of Roman society could be integrated with the values of the new populations.

In that new era of an encounter between cultures, he considered it his mission to reconcile and bring together classic Roman culture with the nascent culture of the Ostrogoths. He became very active in politics, even under Theodoric, who respected him greatly at the start.

Notwithstanding his public activity, Boethius did not ignore his studies, dedicating himself in particular to an examination of philosophical and religious themes. But he also wrote manuals of arithmetic, gemoetry, music and astronomy: all with the intention of passing on to the new generations, in those new times, the great Greco-Roman culture.

In this context, namely, in the promotion of the encounter between cultures, he used the categories of Greek philosophy to propose the Christian faith, even here, in search of a synthesis between the Hellenistic-Roman patrimony and the Gospel message. Because of this, Boethius has been described as the last representative of ancient Roman culture and the first of the medieval intellectuals.

His best-known work is De consolatione philosophiae, which he wrote while in prison to make sense of his unjust detention. He was, in fact, accused of plotting against King Theodoric because he had taken on the defense of a friend, Senator Albinus.

But it was simply a pretext. In fact, Theodoric, Arian and barbarian, suspected that Boethius harbored sympathies for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Boethius was tried, condemned to death, and finally executed on October 23, 524, at the age of 44.

Because of his tragic end, he can speak of his own experience even to contemporary man, and above all, to so many persons who are undergoingg the same fate because of the injustice present in much of ‘human justice’.

In his prison text, he looks for comfort, for light, for wisdom. He writes that he was able to distinguish, precisely in his situation, between apparent ‘good’ – which is absent in jail – and true ‘good’, like authentic friendship, which can be found even in prison.

The highest good is God. Boethius learned – and teaches us – never to yield to fatalism which extinguishes hope. He teaches us that fate does not govern, but Providence, and it has a face. One can speak to Providence, because Providence is God.

That is why even in prison, there is the possibility of prayer, of dialog with him who saves us. At the same time, even in his situation, he kept a sense of the beauty of culture, and recalls the teachings of the great Greek and Roman philosophers – like Plato and Aristolte, whom he had begun to translate into Latin – and Cicero, Seneca, and poets like Tibullus and Virgil.

Philosophy, as the search for true wisdom, is, according to Boethius, the real medicine for the soul (ibid., Book I). On the other hand, man can experience authentic happiness only in his interiority (ibid., Bk II). And so, Boethius could think about his own personal tragedy in the light of a Wisdom text from the Old Testament (Wis 7,30-8,1), which he cites: “Wickedness prevails not over Wisdom; indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well” (Bk III, 12: PL 63, col. 780).

The so-called prosperity of evil ones, moreover, turns out to be false (Bk IV), and proves the providential nature of adverse fortune. The difficulties of life reveal not only how ephemeral the latter is but also that it is eventually useful for identifying and maintaining authentic inter-personal relationships.

Bad fortune, in fact, allows us to distinguish false friends from the true, and makes us understand that nothing is more precious to man than true friendship.

To fatalistically accept a condition of suffering is absolutely dangerous, says the believer Boethius, because “it eliminates at the root the possibility of prayer itself and of theological hope which are the bases of man’s relationship with God” (Bk V, 3: PL 63, COL. 842).

The final peroration of De consolatione philosophiae may be considered s synthesis of Boethius’s entire teaching which he addresses to himself and to all who may find themselves in similar conditions. He writes in prison: “And therefore to fight against the vices, dedicate yourself to a virtuous life oriented by hope which elevates the heart until it reaches heaven with prayers nourished by humility. The impositions you have undergone can change, sometimes refuted as lies, with the enormous advantage that you always have before your eyes the Supreme Judge who sees and knows how things really are” (Bk. V, 6: PL 63, col. 862).

Every detained person, for whatever reason he ends up in jail, knows how onerous this particular human condition is, especially when it is made brutal, as it was with Boethius, by the use of torture. Especially absurd is the condition of those who, like Boethius – whom the city of Pavia honors and celebrates as a martyr to the faith – are tortured to death without any other reason but their political and religious convictions.

Boethius, symbol of countless prisoners unjustly detained through all the ages and in all latitudes, is an objective doorway to contemplating the mystery of the Curcifixion on Golgotha.

A contempoary of Boethius was Marcus Aurelius Cassiodorus, a Calabrian native born in Squillace around 485, who died in the fullness of youth in Vivarium around 580.

He too, born into a high social level, dedicated himself to political life and cultural commitment as few others did in the Western Roman Empire in his time. Perhaps the only ones equal to him in this double commitment were Boethius himself and the future Pope, Gregory the Great (590-604).

Conscious of the need not to allow the human and humanistic patrimony accumulated in the golden age of the Roman empire to vanish into oblivion, Cassiodorus collaborated generously – and at the highest levels of political responsibility – with the new peoples who had entered the confines of the empire and had now settled in Italy.

He too was a model of cultural encounter, dialog and reconciliation. But historical events did not allow him to realize his cultural and political dreams which aimed to creeate a synthesis between Italy’s Roman-Christian tradition and the new Gothic culture.

Those same events convinced him, however, of the providentiality of the monastic movement, which was then affirming itself in Christian lands. He decided to support it, giving over to it all his mateerial wealth and his spiritual forces.

He conceived the idea of entrusting to the monks the task of recovering, conserving and transmitting to posterity the immense cultural patrimony of the ancients so that it would not be lost. For this, he founded Vivarium, a monastery in which everything was organized so that one could appreciate just how invaluable and irrenunciable was the intellectual labor of the monks.

He made sure that even those monks who had no special intellectual training did not only perform material work in agriculture, but also transcribed manuscripts and thus aided in transmitting the great culture of antiquity to future generations.

All this, without minimizing the monks’ monastic and Christian commitment and their charitable activites with the poor.

In his teaching, distributed in various works, but above all in his treatise De anima e nelle Institutiones divinarum litterarum, prayer (cfr PL 69, col. 1108), nourished by Sacred Scripture and the Psalms (cfr PL 69, col. 1149), always has a central place as the nourishment that was needed by everyone.

For example, here is how that most cultured Calabrian introduces his
Expositio in Psalterium: “Having rejected and abandoned in Ravenna all the demands of a political career characterized by the disgusting flavor of worldly concerns, and having benefited with joy from the Psaltery – a book from heaven that is authentic honey to the soul – I plunged avidly like a thirsty man into studying it ceaselessly to allow myself to be permeated by its salutary sweetness after having had enough of the countless bitternesses of active life” (PL 70, col. 10).

The search for God, the impulse to contemplate him, notes Cassiodorus, remains the permanent goal of monastic life (cfr PL 69, col. 1107). But he adds that, with the aid of divine grace (cfr PL 69, col. 1131.1142), one can reach a better fruition of the revealed Word by using the sientific conquests and the ‘profane’ cuultural instruments already possessed by the Greeks and Romans (cfr PL 69, col. 1140).

Personnaly, Cassiodorus dedicated himself to philosophical, theological and exegetical studies without perticular creativity, but he was always attentive to intuitions which he recognized as valid in others. Above all, he read Jerome and Augustine with respect and devotion.

About Augustine, he wrote: “In Augustine, there is such richness that it seems impossible for me to find anything that he has not already treated abundantly” (cfr PL 70, col. 10).

Citing Jerome, he exhorted the monks at Vivarium: “Those who gain the palm of victory are not only those who shed blood or who live in virginity, but all those who, with the help of God, triumph over the vices of the body and keep the right faith. But in order that you may, always with God’s help, more easily defeat the temptations of the world, while being in the world as pilgrims continually on the move, seek above all to guarantee to yourselves the salutary assistance suggested by the first Psalm which recommends meditating night and day on the law of the Lord. Indeed, the enemy will find no breach through which it can attack if all your attention is taken up by Christ” (De Institutione Divinarum Scripturarum, 32: PL 69, col. 1147).

It is an admonition that we can welcome as valid, even for us. In fact, we too live in a time of an encounter of cultures, of the dangers of violence which destroys cultures, and the necessary task of transmitting the great values and teaching the new generations the way of reconciliation and peace.

We find this way by orienting ourselves towards the God with the human face, the God revealed to us in Jesus Chirst.



Hungary for You
Wednesday March 12th 2008, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Books

My book The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence, co-authored with Chris Bailey, is now available in Hungarian translation: A Grál-kód. It’s my first appearance in a language outside the Indo-European family.

I’m always looking for some reason to celebrate (though I’ve given up chocolate for Lent).



Obelisk Goes Back to Axum
Wednesday March 12th 2008, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Archeology

News from “the birthpace of Christianity in Ethiopia”: a patristic-era Christian monument will be restored.

(ANSA) – Addis Ababa, March 6 – A holy monument returned to Ethiopia after years of foot-dragging is to be re-erected later this year after the final technical wrinkles are ironed out, the Italian ambassador to the East African country said Tuesday.

Raffaele de Lutio told ANSA that a concrete slipway leading up to the obelisk’s site has been completed and the base itself has been reinforced to prevent the monument causing damage to a recently discovered necropolis.

He voiced the hope that the official ceremony will take place ”within the first week of September, just before the Ethiopian New Year which falls on September 11”.

A delegation from the United Nations cultural heritage body UNESCO is expected to arrive ”by Easter” to give the go-ahead, the envoy said. The revered obelisk, looted by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist troops, was flown back and re-assembled amid fanfare at the holy city of Axum almost four years ago.

Ethiopians, who consider themselves descendants of the ancient civilisation, clamoured for it to be put up immediately…

As well as being a Coptic (Egyptian Christian) holy place, Axum is a popular tourist venue littered with some 120 stones like the obelisk, some half-standing but most lying on the ground.

Made of dark basalt, the Axum obelisk is actually a funeral stele – a stone tower that was used to mark graves.

Unlike most surviving steles, which are blank, it is decorated with carved designs of windows and doors and topped with a sort of stone crest.

Axum, which dominated the Horn of Africa from the first to the sixth century AD, was reputed one of the four great powers of the time along with Rome, China and Persia, pouring out ivory, animals, textiles, gold, jewels and spices to Roman, Arabian and Indian markets.

It declined as Arab invaders swept in from the north but retained its prestige as the birthpace of Christianity in Ethiopia.

It also enjoys a mythic aura thanks to a legend that Menelik I, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum from Jerusalem, 1,000 years before Christ.

Some believe the Ark – symbol of God’s covenant with the Jews – is still hidden there in a small church built in 1965 by Haile Selassie, last Emperor of Ethiopia and a claimed descendant of Solomon.



Magisterial Analysis
Tuesday March 11th 2008, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Patristics

When I was at last Wednesday’s papal audience, I was surprised by the way Pope Benedict spoke extemporaneously in the midst of his prepared talk on St. Leo the Great. According to Sandro Magister, this is a common occurrence. Magister analyzed the recent addresses (most of them on Augustine) and Benedict’s additions: “The words that the pope added spontaneously, beyond the written text, are underlined. They’re on the themes closest to his heart.” Read the whole thing. (Thanks to Scott for the lead.)



The Other Ignatius
Tuesday March 11th 2008, 3:08 am
Filed under: Books

Take 5: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius

Our Sunday Visitor has just released Take 5: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius, co-authored by Yours Truly and my friend Father Kris Stubna. We’re working with St. Ignatius Loyola, the sixteenth-century spiritual master and founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

I’m way beyond the first millennium with this one; but my co-author is thoroughly Jesuit-trained (licentiate and doctoral degrees from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University).

Last week, by the way, I was a near neighbor to St. Ignatius’s relics, staying at a hotel just blocks from the Gesu in Rome.



Very Bad News
Tuesday March 11th 2008, 3:02 am
Filed under: Archeology

Nubian Christian sites — from the age of the Church Fathers — are imperiled, says the Institute on Religion and Democracy: “In the wake of tragedies in Darfur and Southern Sudan, an ancient civilization in Nubia is about to be swept away by dammed rivers.” It’s part of the “Arabization” project of the Sudan’s National Islamic Front regime.



Pope on Pope
Monday March 10th 2008, 9:43 am
Filed under: Patristics

Pope Benedict spoke on Pope St. Leo the Great last week. This is the only one of the audiences I actually got to see in person. I was surprised by how much he added extemporaneously, especially when he spoke in Italian and German. He seemed to be especially fond of Leo — maybe because Leo successfully persuaded the Germanic tribes to leave Rome, whereas Benedict’s predecessor succeeded at keeping his German friend within the walls. Blogger Gashwin Gomes, who sat next to me at the audience, posted video of the English portion of the program. And Teresa Benedetta, as ever, translated:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Continuing our journey with the Fathers of the Church – true stars who shine from afar – today we come to a Pope who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Benedict XIV in 1754.

We will speak of St. Leo the Great. As indicated by the appellative which was quickly granted him by tradition, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs who ever honored the Seat of Roman, contibuting a great deal to reinforce its authority and prestige.

The first Bishop of Rome to carry the name Leo, which was later taken by 12 other Supreme Pontiffs, he is also the first Pope whose preaching to the people who gathered around him during liturgical celebrations has come down to us.

One thinks spontaneously of him in the context of the present Wednesday general audiences, an appointment which has become for the Bishop of Rome, in the past few decades, a customary form of encounter with the faithful and so many visitors coming from every part of the world.

Leo was a native of Tuscia [historic Italian region that was under the Etruscans - now corresponds to the province of Viterbo, but included Tsucany and parts of Lazio]. He became a deacon in the Church of Rome around 430, and with time, achieved a high profile in that function.

His outstanding performance led Galla Palcidia, who ruled the Wetsern Empire at the time, to send him to Gaul in 440 to repair a difficult situation.

But in the summer of that year, Pope Sixtus III – whose name is linked to the magnificent mosaics at Santa Maria Maggiore – died, and Leo was elected to succeed him, receiving the news while he was on his mission in Gaul.

Returning to Rome, the new Pope was consecrated on September 29, 440. Thus started a Pontificate which lasted more than 21 years and which is undoubtedly one of the most important in the history of the Church.

Upon his death on November 10, 461, the Pope was buried near the tomb of St. Peter. His relics are kept today in one of the altars of the Vatican Basilica.

Pope Leo lived in very difficult times. Repeated barbarian invasions, the progressive weakening of imperial authority in the Western empire, and a long social crisis had imposed on the Bishop of Rome – as it would with even greater effect one and a half centuries later during the pontificate of Gregory the Great – the need to assume a role that was relevant even in civil and political affairs. Obviously, this did not fail to increaase the importance and prestige of the Roman See.

A famous episode in Leo’s life took place in 452, when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met with Attila, leader of the Huns, in Mantua, and persuaded him from continuing with his war of invasion which had already devastated northeastern Italy, thus saving the rest of the peninsula.

img110.imageshack.us/img110/7992/leoattilaraphael2dc32d…
Raphael’s The Meeting between Leo the Great and Attila depicts Leo,
escorted by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, meeting with the Hun king outside Rome

This important event quickly became memorable and continues to be an emblematic sign of the peace activities carried out by the Papacy.

Unfortunately, a similar success was not the outcome of another papal initiative three years later, which is nevertheless the sign of a courage which still amazes us. In the spring of 455, Leo could not, in fact, prevent the Vandals of Genseric, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the defenseless city which was sacked for two weeks.

Nevertheless, the Pope’s gesture – helpless and surrounded by his priests, he went forth to meet the invader and asked him to stop – at least prevented the burning of Rome and resulted in saving the Basilica’s of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John Lateran, in which part of the terrorized population had sought refuge.

We know Pope Leo’s activities quite well, thanks to his beautiful sermons, of which almost a hundred have been preserved, in splendid and clear Latin – and thanks to his letters, almost 150.

In these texts, the Pope appears in all his greatness, in the service of truth in charity, through an assiduous exercise of the word which showed him to be both theologian and pastor at the same time.

Leo the Great, whose attention was constantly solicited by the faithful and the people of Rome, but also by the communion among the different churches and their needs, was a tireless promoter and supporter of the Roman primacy, presenting the Pope as the authentic heir of the Apostle Peter. The bishops, many of them Oriental, who gathered together in the Council of Chalcedon, showed themselves to be well aware of this.

Held in 451, with 350 bishops taking part, this Council was the most important assembly ever celebrated in the history of the Church till then. Chalcedon represented the secure harbor of the Christology established in the three preceding ecumenical councils: Nicaea in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Ephesus in 431.

Already in the 6th century, these four Councils, which synthesized the faith of the early Church, came to be likened to the four Gospels, as Gregory the Great stated in a famous letter (I,24), affirming ‘to accept and venerate, like the four books of the Holy Gospel, the four Councils” because, he explains further, on them “the structure of the holy faith arises as on a keystone.”

The Council of Chalcedon, in denouncing the heresy of Eutiche, who denied the true human nature of the Son of God – affirmed the union, within the one Person of Christ, of the human and divine natures, without confusion and without separation.

This faith in Jesus Christ as true God and true man was affirmed by Pope Leo in an important doctrinal text addressed to tbe Bishop of Constantinople, the so-called ‘Tome to Flavianus’, which, when read at Chalecedon, was received by the bishops present with eloquent acclamation – recorded in the acts of the Council in these words: “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo” – breaking into unanimous applause.

From this intervention above all, but also in others carried out during the Christological controversy of those years, it is evident that the Pope felt the particularly urgent responsibility of the Successor of Peter, whose role is unique in the Church, because “only to one Apostle was entrusted what was communicated to all the apostles”, as Leo said in one of his sermons for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (83,2).

And the Pope knew how to exercise this responsibility in the West as well as in the East, intervening in different circumstances with prudence, firmness and clarity through his writings and through his legates.

He showed in this way how the exercise of Roman primacy was necessary then, as it is today, in order to effectively serve the communion that is charatceristic of the only Church of Christ.

Conscious of the historical moment in which he lived and the transition that it was undergoing – in a period of profound crisis – from pagan Rome to Christian Rome, Leo the Great knew how to be close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral activity and his preaching.

He inspired charity in a Rome that was tried by famine, a refugee influx, injustices and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the activities of Manichaean groups. He linked liturgy to the daily life of Christians by uniting, for example, the practice of fasting to charity and almsgiving, especially during the Four ‘tempora’ which marked the seasonal changes during the year.

In particular, Leo the Great taught the faithful – and even today, his words are valid for us – that Christian liturgy is not a remembrance of past events but the actualization of invisiblle realities that work in the life of every person.

He underscored this in a sermon (64,1-2) on Easter, which, he said, must be celebrated everry day of the year “not as something from the past, but rather as an event of the present”.

All this was part of a precise plan, the Holy Pontiff pointed out: Just as the Creator animated with his breath of rational life the man he had fashioned out of the mud of the earth, so too, after original sin, he sent his Son to the world to restore lost dignity to man and to destroy the power of the devil through a new life in grace.

This is the Christologic mystery to which St. Leo the Great, with his letter to the Council of Chalcedon, gave an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all times, through the Council, what St. Peter said at Caesarea.

With Peter and like Peter, he professed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – thus, God and man together, ‘not alien to the human species, but alien to sin’ (cfr Serm. 64).

With the strength of this Christologic faith, Leo the Great was a great bearer of peace and love. He thus shows us the way: in faith, we learn charity. Let us learn with St. Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true man, and to realize this faith everyday in actions for peace and in love for our neighbor.



Friends, Romans, Countrymen
Sunday March 09th 2008, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Site News

I just got back from a full week in the Eternal City, where I was traveling with my St. Paul Center colleagues Scott Hahn and Rob Corzine. We enjoyed a week packed with meetings in an exhausting number of Vatican dicasteries and pontifical universities and colleges. The conversations were exhilarating and encouraging.

Between meetings we found ourselves in the company of bloggers Gashwin Gomes and Joan in Rome. We even got to attend an inspired talk by Joan at Christendom College’s thirtieth anniversary bash. Among her rapt listeners were Cardinals Arinze and Law, former papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon, Zenit’s Liz Lev, and blogger-TV personality Father John Wauck.

The Fathers were with us everywhere. On our way from meeting to meeting, we dropped in to visit the relics of St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Monica, St. Gregory, plus the Apostles, of course, and the popes. We passed these archeological digs quite often. Rob and I ran through the Forum Romanum — apparently among the last visitors to pass through free of charge! Big news on Italian TV was the exhuming of the body of Padre Pio.

Gashwin blogged (several posts) on our travels together and even added YouTube video of the papal audience on St. Leo the Great. If you listen closely at the end, you can hear us croaking the Our Father in Latin. Gashwin also attended a lecture by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, who was in town to visit his alma mater, the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

Gashwin is delightful company. Our conversations ranged from St. Catherine of Siena to the Bhagavad Gita, from gelato to Brownson and Hecker. Here’s Rob, me, and Gashwin at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. (I don’t know the elephant’s name.)

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And just to show you how hard it is to avoid the ancients in Rome … They’re even on the label of your water bottle.
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Utterly Wonderful
Sunday March 09th 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Utter Muttering has posted a very kind review of my book The Mass of the Early Christians.



Occult Classic
Saturday March 08th 2008, 3:07 am
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Jim Davila points us to an unusual new title, The Occult Sciences in Byzantium, edited by Paul Magdalino and Maria Mavroudi. Its primary focus seems to be alchemy and astrology, as precursors to modern sciences.

This volume represents the first attempt to examine occult sciences as a distinct category of Byzantine intellectual culture. It is concerned with both the reality and the image of the occult sciences in Byzantium, and seeks, above all, to represent them in their social and cultural context as a historical phenomenon. The eleven essays demonstrate that Byzantium was not marginal to the scientific culture of the Middle Ages, and that the occult sciences were not marginal to the learned culture of the medieval Byzantine world.



My First Million
Friday March 07th 2008, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Site News

Today I passed the one-million mark in comments spam. I’m all choked up.



Syriously Marian
Friday March 07th 2008, 3:08 am
Filed under: Patristics

Interesting lecture at Fordham, on St. Ephrem’s Marian poetry:

Women’s Choirs in Late Antiquity Offered More Than Just Hymns, Scholar Says

Though the voices of biblical women were rarely heard, they were prominent and significant, and used as a vehicle of teaching by the Church in late antique Syriac homilies and hymns, according to a scholar at the Orthodoxy in America lecture at Fordham University on Feb. 26.

“The hymns assigned to the women’s choirs in the middle of the fourth century were explicitly liturgical,” Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., a professor of religious studies at Brown University. “The church spoke through these women’s choirs.”

In a lecture titled, “Women’s Voices Bearing Witness: Biblical Memories in Ancient Orthodox Liturgy,” Ashbrook Harvey said Syriac writers, such as Ephrem Syrus, gave women, such as the Virgin Mary and Sarah, a rhetorical voice in the lyrics of Madrashes, stanzaic poems of different meters that dealt with doctrinal matters.

“These voices were often lacking in biblical narratives,” Ashbrook Harvey said. “Ephrem’s Mary embraces her social sufferings as a form of power. She was a figure who embodied challenge … and whose voice is a teaching voice.”

Hat tip: PaleoJudaica.

Read more on the Syriac Fathers:

Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life

Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems
Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition



More on Athens and Jerusalem
Thursday March 06th 2008, 3:04 am
Filed under: Books,Patristics

First published in 1981, Andrew Louth’s The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys has never gone out of print. The author, an Orthodox priest and patristics scholar at the University of Durham, traces certain intellectual currents — purification, illumination, union, etc. — as they develop through the works of Plato, Philo, Plotinus, Origen, Augustine, and others. Though a pagan, Plato emphasized man’s spiritual nature and forged a philosophical vocabulary that the early Fathers would later appropriate for Christian theology. Nevertheless, Louth clearly demonstrates that patristic theology is not baptized Platonism (as some historians of religion assert). Plato, for example, held the soul to be divine by nature, and the mystical ascent to be a return or homecoming. For Christians, the soul is divinized by grace. Man is made in God’s image, but there remains an ontological gulf between creature and creator.

Later chapters examine the works of John of the Cross (16th century) in light of his patristic forebears. While some Eastern Orthodox critics judge John to be deviant from the tradition of the Fathers, Louth sees John’s doctrine as differing in “perspective rather than anything fundamental.” Indeed, Louth concludes that “these different styles [Eastern and Western] draw out different areas of mystical experience … [T]his is but evidence of a tension within a deeper unity, and suggests that East and West have much to learn from one another here.”

The final chapter considers the qualities that make Christian mysticism distinctive, particularly “The Mystical Life” lived within “the Mystical Body.” Louth argues that “Christian mystical theology is ecclesial; it is the fruit of participation in the mystery of Christ, which is inseparable from the mystery of the Church. Within the Platonic tradition the mystic is an individual, or at best the member of an intellectual elite.”

In an important new afterword, the author goes so far as to argue — against some comparative religionists, and against a position he himself had formerly held — that the phenomenon of mysticism is, in truth, something distinctively Christian.



Another Patristic-Era Cemetery Found
Wednesday March 05th 2008, 3:08 am
Filed under: Archeology

This one in Ireland:

Three ringforts were also found at Camblin. One of them included a small cemetery dating to the 6th to 7th Century. Archaeologists say the cemetery would have been in use before the Bishops of Roscrea had formalised human burial into consecrated churchyards.

‘Burials were all in the Christian manner, although some of the bodies seem to have been more casually interred, such as one where the legs were bent to fit into a small grave The burials included people of all ages and it is likely the site was used for several hundred years,’ according to the archaeological report on the motorway route commissioned by the National Roads Authority.

The report said the concentration of ancient sites discovered near the present N62 Templemore Road at Camblin reflected the location of the ancient Roscrea to Cashel routeway.



Games People Played
Tuesday March 04th 2008, 3:02 am
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

Many of the early martyrs died as props in public spectacles. They went unarmed against gladiators. Or they were sewn up in animal skins and sent out against wild beasts. Christians today know the scenes from religious images that impose a certain solemnity on the occasion.

But a recently discovered mosaic in Tunisia gives us a sense of the showbiz of it all — a carnival barker calling us to carnage.

I think it makes books like this one all the more poignant.