Harboring Fugitives
Tuesday January 24th 2012, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Archeology

A new find in Turkey promises to be as wonderful as Ostia Antica is in Italy. Here’s a bit of the New York Times’ take.

The find is Bathonea, a substantial harbor town dating from the second century B.C. Discovered in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake’s water table, it has been yielding a trove of relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D., a period that parallels Istanbul’s founding and its rise as Constantinople, a seat of power for three successive empires — the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

… Bathonea (pronounced bath-oh-NAY-uh) has the potential to become a “library of Constantinople,” says Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery…

Roman glass and high-end pottery dating as late as the 14th century were found throughout the site. Marble, including a gorgeous milky-blue variety, lined the walls and floors of the church and at least one of the buildings.
Also discovered were hundreds of bricks stamped “Konstans,” which were produced in Constantinople beginning in the fifth century and had mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century architectural marvel and primary cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for almost 900 years, and nearby Rhegion, a fifth-century compound on a hill across the lake from Bathonea, overlooking the Marmara Sea.

Read the rest of the story.



Legacy of Life
Sunday January 22nd 2012, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Patristics

I think the Fathers would recognize America’s moral landscape for what it is. Our world is not so different from the world where they lived — the world they converted and healed.

But who belongs to our world? For the last generation, Americans have tried to place certain classes of humans beyond the protection of the law, outside the definition of personhood. It began with the fetus, the preborn child. Court decisions placed arbitrary limits — at the first trimester, or second, or birth. But does anyone take these seriously? What is it about a day of development — or a week — that changes the baby so radically as to make her a different sort of being? Which is the event that confers personhood?

Again, different ethicists propose different answers: self-consciousness, the ability to feel pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and so on. But these, too, fail. After all, we don’t (yet) kill older children who are blind or deaf. The most honest pro-choice thinkers put the matter baldly: what confers personhood is the will of the mother.

The Church Fathers were familiar with this line of thinking. In pagan Rome, a child did not achieve personhood until recognized by the head of the family, the father. When the mother had given birth, a midwife placed the child on the floor and summoned the father. He examined the child with his criteria of selection in mind.

Was the child his? If the man suspected his wife of adultery — ancient Rome’s favorite pastime — he might reject the child without so much as a glance.

If the child were an “odious daughter” (a common Roman phrase for female offspring), he would likely turn on his heel and leave the room.

If the child were “defective” in any way, he would do the same. As the philosopher Seneca said: “What is good must be set apart from what is good-for-nothing.”

Life or death? It all depended upon the will of a man. Human life began when the child was accepted into society. A man did not “have a child.” He “took a child.” The father “raised up” the child by picking it up from the floor.

Those non-persons who were left on the floor — while their mothers watched from a birthing chair — would be drowned immediately, or exposed to scavenging animals at the town dump.

Against these customs, the Church consistently taught that life begins at conception and should continue till natural death. In such matters, Christianity contradicted pagan mores on almost every point. What were virtuous acts to the Romans and Greeks — contraception, abortion, infanticide, suicide, euthanasia — were abominations to the Christians.

The papyrus trail is especially extensive for abortion, which is condemned by the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Apocalypse of Peter; by Justin, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian. And that partial list takes us only to the middle of the third century.

The earliest extrabiblical document, the Didache, begins with these words: “Two Ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways.” The Fathers converted their world from one Way to the other, and they were judged righteous.

Our last generations have perverted our world from one Way to another, and we too will be judged. But we can still do something, as our earliest Christian ancestors did, and we must.



Keeping Copts in Mind
Monday January 16th 2012, 8:48 pm
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

As Egypt’s Christians face an uncertain future, their most ancient ancestors rise from the sand to remind them of the faith that withstood Decius and Diocletian … and remind us to pray for the Copts. Check out this recent discovery.

A Supreme Council of Antiquities mission has discovered a Coptic city dating back to the fourth century. The city is located in the Ain al-Sabil area of the New Valley Governorate.

In the middle of the city, a basilica church was found, surrounded by buildings that Council Secretary General Mostafa Amin said were service units for the priests.

“We never had an excavation in Ain al-Sabil before,” said Amin. “Maybe we’ll find other antiquities that would add to Egypt’s archaeological treasures.”

Mohsen Ali, the council’s director of Islamic and Coptic antiquities, said the mission also uncovered a house that consists of a big hall, living rooms, a main entrance, a kitchen with a built-in oven and an intact staircase, in addition to ancient bronze coins and clay jugs.

A Coptologist friend of mine writes, in joyful hope: “Where coins are left behind, fourth or third century papyrus may be found in the basilica!”



Tomorrow on EWTN
Sunday January 15th 2012, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Books

Tomorrow — Monday, Jan. 16 — I’m on EWTN’s “Women of Grace” with Johnnette Benkovic, talking about “Suffering, Sorrow, and God’s Plan.” Our conversation focuses on my book Why Me? When Bad Things Happen. The show airs 11 a.m. EST and re-airs that evening at 11:30 EST.

Next day (Tuesday), my songwriting partner, Dion, talks with Johnnette about “The Day the Music Died.” Hope to see you there!



Through the Prayers of the Holy Fathers …
Saturday January 14th 2012, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Site News

A dear reader of A Year with the Church Fathers writes to let me know he completed his 365 days with the book and was beginning again. He sent along a beautiful prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St.John Chrysostom. He offered it for me, and I offer it for you: “through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.”



Curses!
Thursday January 12th 2012, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics

LiveScience reports on a curse tablet found in Antioch (Antakaya), near Turkey’s border with Syria. It calls upon Yahweh to visit his wrath upon a greengrocer named Babylas.

One of Antioch’s great martyr-bishops was named Babylas. His relics were evicted by Julian the Apostate, who worried that they were causing radio interference with the demons who fed the local pagan oracles.

There couldn’t be a connection.

Such cursing is a curious part of late-antique cultures. Some years ago I posted on the Church Fathers and the evil eye. Don’t try this at home. Or anywhere.



Dr. Blosser the Blogger
Wednesday January 11th 2012, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Patristics

The passionate patrologist Dr. Jamie Blosser — who professes Church history, ecclesiology, and New Testament at Benedictine College in Kansas — has blogged a most excellent (and brief) essay on “How the Church Fathers Can Help Us Engage the Culture for Christ.”

As much as anything in the essay I loved his bio at the bottom, which includes this line: “He and his wife Danielle have five boys: Augustine, Ambrose, Cyprian, Basil and Cyril.”

He is, as I said, a passionate patrologist.



Feed Your Reader
Monday January 09th 2012, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Books,Patristics

A new site is hosting dozens of free Catholic books, including works by the Ambrose, Augustine, and other Fathers.



Novena for Healing of Breast Ailments
Sunday January 08th 2012, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Site News

February 5 is the memorial of St. Agatha, patroness of Sicily, the land of my grandparents, and one of the patrons of my parish.

Because of the tortures she endured in martyrdom, St. Agatha is also patron for those living with diseases of the breast. My friend Paul Zalonski has a deep devotion to the third-century martyr. He sent me a prayer card with the saint’s image on front and the novena below on back. Pass it around. Think of it as a deeply traditional version of the pink ribbon.

Paul heads up the religious education programs at St. Catherine of Siena Church in NYC (411 East 68th Street). There, at noon Mass on Feb. 5, people who live with diseases of the breast will receive a special blessing and have the opportunity to receive the Anointing of the Sick. You’re invited to attend and pray for healing of those who have breast cancer. Bring a friend.
Here’s that novena prayer …

O glorious Saint Agatha, through whose intercession in Christ I hope for the restored health of body and soul, hasten to lead me to the true Good, God alone. By your intercession, O blessed Agatha, may I ever enjoy your protection by faithfully witnessing to Christ. You invite all who come to you to enjoy the treasure of of communion with the Holy Trinity. Moreover, if it be for God’s greater glory and the good of my person, please intercede for me with the request of [mention request here].

Saint Agatha, you found favor with God by your chastity and by your courage in suffering death for the gospel. Teach me how to suffer with cheerfulness, uniting myself to Christ crucified with a simplicity and purity of heart. Amen.

Saint Agatha, eloquent confessor of Jesus Christ as Savior, pray for me.

Saint Agatha, the martyr who says to Jesus, “possess all that I am,” pray for me.

Saint Agatha, concerned with the welfare of all God’s children, pray for me.

Saint Agatha, pray for me.

(I’ve found other prayers for breast ailments, to Christ and to Our Lady, in the book Celtic Spiritual Verse: Poems of the Western Highlanders from the Gaelic.)

Agatha’s story is in Butler, of course, and critically dissected and patristically pedigreed in the old Catholic Encyclopedia. Her images abound at Artcyclopedia.



From the Mailbag
Friday January 06th 2012, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Got a nice note yesterday about my book The Fathers of the Church.

I had major abdominal surgery last week and am starting my recovery with Scott Hahn’s St. Matthew commentary and your The Fathers of the Church.

And…wow…wow…that is how I need to start!

Your book is phenomenal, and I am not even to page 50 yet!

So much of my faith and past studies are coming together now!

This is such a gift…I cannot thank you enough for all of your hard work in learning and creating this valuable information on our Church … the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church!

It keeps me typing!



Papapalooza
Thursday January 05th 2012, 11:43 pm
Filed under: Books,Patristics

Among my favorite Christmas presents was a copy of James Papandrea’s The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. It’s my bedtime reading, and I’m loving it. Jim teaches patristics at Garrett (Northwestern) in Chicago, and it shows. This is the most intensely patristic read of the Apocalypse you’ll find.

Now comes word that his new book is out: Novatian of Rome and the Culmination of Pre-Nicene Orthodoxy (a Princeton Theological Monograph). It’s already on my wish list. How about yours?

Dr. Papandrea and I are the lineup for the third annual “Patristipalooza” — an all-day festival of the Fathers at St. Lambert Parish in Skokie, Illinois. Mark your calendar now: Saturday, October 13, 2012. And watch this blog for more details.



Visiting Old Ostia
Wednesday January 04th 2012, 3:54 pm
Filed under: Archeology,Patristics,pilgrimage

I spent a few days in Italy in the first week of December, shooting on-site for a documentary on the life of St. Augustine. It was great fun. By far my favorite part was our day spent in Ostia Antica, where Augustine tended to his mother, St. Monica, during her last illness. Ostia Antica has only recently been excavated, and it’s remarkably intact. In his Confessions, Augustine tells how he felt out of sorts on the day of Monica’s funeral, and so he walked to the baths and then home to take a nap. In Ostia Antica you can kind of retrace his steps, moving from the Christian basilica to the baths and then to a residential neighborhood, where the homes appear to match the saint’s description of the place where he and his friends and family stayed. It’s a powerful experience, giving a pilgrim the opportunity to enter imaginatively (and even physically) into one of the great classic scenes of ancient Christian literature. Another plus: it’s far from the madding crowds of Rome. Nobody goes there, I’m told. So it’s pretty quiet, and you have the ancient streets to yourself — and the saints.

Imagine my delight, on Christmas day, when I saw a feature story on Ostia Antica in the New York Times. (The same paper had run a nice feature when the ruins were first open to the public, a few years back.) Tolle, lege — take up and read!

Here are some glam shots taken by my producer-director, Robert Fernandez, while I was on location.

Me at the amphitheater, Ostia Antica

 

Walking the streets Augustine walked.

 

Monica's-eye view of the sidewalks of Ostia.

Adrian Murdoch’s also been blogging on Ostia. He shows that the ruins can really accommodate all necessities.



Cappadocian Carnival
Monday January 02nd 2012, 10:23 am
Filed under: Patristics

Today’s the memorial of Saints Basil and Gregory, the great Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century. You can listen to me talk with Kris McGregor about St. Basil at Discerning Hearts. I wrote a bit about St. Gregory here. Pope Benedict has dedicated four beautiful audience talks to these two men. Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter, Patres Ecclesiae, on St. Basil alone — but it hasn’t been translated into English yet. (Any takers?)

I wrote the article on St. Basil for volume 3 of the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, which is due out in March from Rowman and Littlefield.

Jeff Ziegler gives us these links:

– St. Basil the Great (379). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02330b.htm
– St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 389).
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07010b.htm
– Selected works of the saints. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/index.html
– Pope Benedict XVI: General audiences on the saints (July and August 2007). http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2007/index_en.htm
– Blessed John Henry Newman’s writings on the saints. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/historical/volume2/fathers/index.html
– Today’s readings at Mass: 1 Jn. 2:22-28; Ps. 98:1-4; Jn. 1:19-28. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010212.cfm
– Francisco de Herrera, St Basil Dictating His Doctrine (c. 1639).
http://www.wga.hu/html/h/herrera/franci_e/st_basil.html



Flying to Her Patronage
Sunday January 01st 2012, 1:25 pm
Filed under: Patristics

We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

That’s one of the Church’s most ancient and most beautiful prayers, summing up so much Christian feeling and dogma. The oldest copy we have is in Greek on papyrus, found in Egypt and dating from the third century. By then, perhaps, it was already an old and familiar prayer — the source of the Marian doctrine we find in Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Over time it became especially popular in the Western churches.

Only God could choose his own birth mother, and he made the most perfectly informed decision. The Word became flesh in her womb. He took flesh, so that even our flesh might share in his divinity (see 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Corinthians 8:9, 3:18; Galatians 4:4-6; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1-2). There is nothing he has not shared with us. In Christ we dare to pray “Our Father” — Abba! We delight as we call upon the patronage of his mother, who has become the mother of every beloved disciple (John 19:26-27).

Today is a great feast, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a feast that enshrines the doctrine of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus. (For a bit of the dramatic story of that council, see my posts here and here.) It’s my hope that this day begins a great Marian year for you and me. I’m lousy at making New Year’s resolutions, but I guess mine would be to live 2012 as a truly Marian year, flying often to the patronage of the Mother of God, living as the neighborly kinsman and playmate of her Holy Child (the patron of my parish in Bridgeville, Pa.).

Think about joining me in making a Marian reading plan for the months ahead. Check out my godson David Mills’s book Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God and Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God – and, of course, Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia has something to say about today’s feast and the dogma it celebrates …

Mary’s Divine motherhood is based on the teaching of the Gospels, on the writings of the Fathers, and on the express definition of the Church. St. Matthew (1:25) testifies that Mary “brought forth her first-born son” and that He was called Jesus. According to St. John (1:15) Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Word Who assumed human nature in the womb of Mary. As Mary was truly the mother of Jesus, and as Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception, Mary is truly the mother of God. Even the earliest Fathers did not hesitate to draw this conclusion as may be seen in the writings of St. Ignatius [Ephes 7], St. Irenaeus [Adv Haer 3.19], and Tertullian [Adv Prax 27]. The contention of Nestorius denying to Mary the title “Mother of God” [Serm 1.6.7] was followed by the teaching of the Council of Ephesus proclaiming Mary to be Theotokos in the true sense of the word. [Cf. Ambr., in Luc. II, 25, P.L., XV, 1521; St. Cyril of Alex., Apol. pro XII cap.; c. Julian., VIII; ep. ad Acac., 14; P.G., LXXVI, 320, 901; LXXVII, 97; John of Antioch, ep. ad Nestor., 4, P.G., LXXVII, 1456; Theodoret, haer. fab., IV, 2, P.G., LXXXIII, 436; St. Gregory Nazianzen, ep. ad Cledon., I, P.G., XXXVII, 177; Proclus, hom. de Matre Dei, P.G., LXV, 680; etc.]