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Capuchins Welcome Here

I just had the great pleasure and privilege of spending several days as moderator for the annual convocation of the Capuchin Franciscans of St. Augustine Province. These guys have preserved a healthy family spirit and a vigorous and manly piety through a trying time — a time when many communities let these things slip through their fingers. I came to know the Caps through one of my dearest friends, the great ethicist and theologian Father Ronald Lawler. You probably know this Province through one or more of its “celebrity” members: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Father Angelus Shaughnessy of EWTN, or the U.S. bishops’ main doctrine man, Father Thomas Weinandy. But celebrity status counts for nothing when these men are gathered as a family, and you come to see that the “least” little brothers are often the most esteemed and loved in the family. I was blown away by my days with the Capuchins of St. Augustine Province — who are right now experiencing a sustained vocations boom. If you know men who are discerning a vocation to religious life, point them to a community rich in fraternity, holiness, and service, the Capuchins of St. Augustine Province.

To the Capuchins who asked for a paper copy of my Wednesday talk: I’ve sent my notes to Father Don Lippert, who will make them available to you. Those who want more detail on the topics I discussed can visit these posts on this blog:

The Stark Truth.

More Stark Raving.

Youth When the Church Was Young.

Roman Cruelty, Christian Purity.

Diognetus, Don’t Ya Get Us?

A Culture Exposed.

You’ll also find some related audio files here.

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Youth When the Church Was Young

The Church Fathers had a distinctive approach to youth ministry.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions. I haven’t uncovered any evidence that St. Ambrose led teens on ski trips in the nearby Alps. Nor is there anything to suggest that St. Basil sponsored junior-high dances in Pontus. (There’s not even a hint of a pizza party.) In fact, if you check all the documentary evidence from all the ancient patriarchates of the East and the West, you won’t find a single bulletin announcement for a single parish youth group.

Yet the Fathers had enormous success in youth and young-adult ministry. Many of the early martyrs were teens, as were many of the Christians who took to the desert for the solitary life. There’s ample evidence that a disproportionate number of conversions, too, came from the young and youngish age groups.

How did the Fathers do it?

They made wild promises.

They promised young people great things, like persecution, lower social status, public ridicule, severely limited employment opportunities, frequent fasting, a high risk of jail and torture, and maybe, just maybe, an early, violent death at the hands of their pagan rulers.

The Fathers looked young people in the eye and called them to live purely in the midst of a pornographic culture. They looked at some young men and women and boldly told them they had a calling to virginity. And it worked. Even the pagans noticed how well it worked.

The brightest young man in the empire’s brightest city — a teenager named Origen of Alexandria — promised himself entirely to God in virginity. And, as he watched his father taken away to be killed, Origen would have gone along himself, turned himself in, if his mother hadn’t hidden all his clothes …

Search all the volumes on the ancient liturgies, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a scrap of a Mass we’d call “relevant” today. We know of no special Youth Masses. Yet there was an overwhelming eucharistic faith among the young people of the Church.

Tarcisius was a boy of third-century Rome. His virtue and devotion were so strong that the clergy trusted him to bring the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. Once, while carrying a pyx, he was recognized and set upon by a pagan mob. They flung themselves upon him, trying to pry the pyx from his hands. They wanted more than anything to profane the Sacrament. Tarcisius’ biographer, the fourth-century Pope Damasus, compared them to a pack of rabid dogs. Tarcisius “preferred to give up his life rather than yield up the Body of Christ.”

Even at such an early age, Tarcisius was aware of the stakes. Jesus had died for love of Tarcisius. Tarcisius did not hesitate to die for love of Jesus.

What made the Church attractive in the third century can make it just as attractive in the twenty-first. In the ancient world and in ours, young people want a challenge. They want to love with their whole being. They’re willing to do things the hard way — if people they respect look them in the eye and make the big demands. These are distinguishing marks of youth. You don’t find too many middle-aged men petitioning the Marines for a long stay at Parris Island. It’s young men who beg for that kind of rigor.

No young man or woman really wants to give his life away cheaply. Tarcisius knew better. So do the kids in our parishes.

If you’re interested in tracing the footsteps of St. Tarcisius and visiting the tomb of Damasus, consider joining me and my colleagues from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology as we lead a pilgrimage to Rome in May of 2007. I’ll be there with Scott and Kimberly Hahn and others. We’ll have guided tours, classes and talks, daily Mass, and lots of slack-jawed, awestruck moments in the city of the martyrs and popes — a city of eternal youth. If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a note with your contact information, and I’ll inform you as soon as our plans firm up.

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Clement Complete

Kevin at Biblicalia has posted his complete, fresh translation of St. Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians. It’s magnificent, it’s free, it’s the most readable rendering I can imagine. In a concluding note, Kevin advocates an early dating for the letter, pre-70 A.D. (as I did in these pages), echoing the argument of Robinson, Ratzinger, and Herron. But don’t just sit there reading my words. As the angelic children said to Augustine: Tolle, lege — take up and read!

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Footsteps of the Fathers

The great Roman archeologist Margherita Guarducci wrote a book some years back titled The Primacy of the Church of Rome: Documents, Reflections, Proofs. In it she details Rome’s many primacies. The most famous, of course, is its status as first among the Christian patriarchates. She goes on to note many lesser “primacies”: the Eternal City possesses the oldest portrait of Jesus, the oldest portrait of Mary, the oldest Christian basilica, the oldest Christian statue.

She describes Rome as “the ancient destination of Christian travelers.” Who made the arduous pilgrimage to the first city? From Asia and Africa came Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Abercius, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Origen. Even the heretics felt for Rome what Frank Sinatra would one day sing about New York, New York: “If I make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.” So they took their perverted message to the capital — Marcion, Valentinus, and a gaggle of others.

Those Christians who couldn’t make the trip to Rome at least sent letters, many of which have survived: Dionysius of Corinth, Melito of Sardis …

One and all, these pre-Nicene Christians drew their ecclesiastical maps based on the New Testament, and all roads led to one city. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the center of Christian activity shifting from Jerusalem to Rome. The capital of the empire was the ultimate earthly destination of the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. Ancient traditions are unanimous in recording that both Peter and Paul died there. The earliest Christians made pilgrimages to the apostles’ tombs and left pious graffiti along the way. Visitors to Rome can still view these scrawled messages today.

Simon Peter had received authority when Jesus pronounced him the “Rock” on which the Church would be built. In the years after Pentecost, Peter served as the chief spokesman, supreme judge, authoritative teacher, principal preacher, and most powerful healer in the community. This authority remained with him until his death, and it transferred to the men who succeeded him as Bishop of Rome.

Before the end of the first century, we see Pope St. Clement of Rome writing fatherly letters of reproval and instruction to the Christians in distant Corinth. The letter was read in the liturgy at Corinth for at least a century afterward, treated like canonical Scripture.

Just a few years after Clement’s passing, we find St. Ignatius, who succeeded Peter as Bishop of Antioch, writing letters of instruction to many churches, but deferring only to one church: the Church of Rome.

At the end of the 100s, St. Irenaeus confirmed the primacy of Rome and the papacy. The Bishop of Lyons cited “that tradition derived from the Apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul … which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority — that is, the faithful everywhere inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by faithful men everywhere.” Irenaeus also supplied a complete list of popes, from Peter to his own day.

Saints Peter and Paul have always shared a single feast day. On that feast day in 441, Pope St. Leo the Great preached a homily rejoicing that he could trace his own lineage in an unbroken line to the greatest of the apostles. Modern Popes can make the same claim.

“These are the men,” said Leo, “through whom the light of Christ’s gospel shone on you, O Rome, and through whom you, who were the teacher of error, were made the disciple of Truth. These are your holy Fathers and true shepherds, who gave you claim to be numbered among the heavenly kingdoms … They promoted you to such glory … the head of the world through St. Peter’s Holy See.”

Rome remains “the ancient destination of Christian travelers” even in our own day. For it is ever ancient and ever new. With my colleagues at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology — Scott and Kimberly Hahn and others — I’ll be leading a pilgrimage there in May of 2007. We’ll have guided tours, classes and talks, daily Mass, and lots of slack-jawed, awestruck moments in the city of so many great Fathers. If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a note with your contact information, and I’ll inform you as soon as our plans firm up.

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Optatus the Optimist (or, Dunkin’ Donatists)

Yesterday, June 4, was the memorial of St. Optatus, a man whose life and writing deeply influenced St. Augustine. Optatus’s memorial this year was eclipsed by the great feast of Pentecost. But we shouldn’t let him slip by unnoticed. He’s an important voice and intercessor for some of our current vexations.

Optatus was the advance guard in the apologetic battle against the Donatist schism, which claimed great successes in North Africa throughout the fourth century. Donatism first emerged in 311, when some Christians refused to recognize the new bishop of Carthage. Why? Because he had been consecrated by another bishop who had once, during a purge, handed over the Scriptures to pagan Roman officials. According to the Donatists, this sin nullified Felix’s sacramental powers. So the disaffected Christians elected their own bishop and set in motion their own succession. They maintained that their sect was the only true and pure church, and that all the sacraments of others were invalid.

We don’t know much about the life of Optatus, though he is praised by many contemporaries, including Augustine and Jerome. Augustine says that Optatus was a convert from paganism. He was, at mid-century, the bishop of Milevis in Numidia, North Africa (now the eastern part of Algeria’s coast). Optatus opposed Donatism — firmly, but irenically — writing six treatises against the heresy and arguing persuasively that the validity of the sacraments did not depend upon the worthiness of the minister. Optatus’s favorite themes would re-emerge fully developed, in the next generation, in the writings of Augustine, who would end the Donatist schism once and for all. Augustine would sum up the argument in a memorable slogan: When Peter baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes. When Judas baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes.

Donatists and Catholics agreed as to the necessary unity of the Church. The question was: where is this One Church?

Optatus argues that it cannot be only in a corner of Africa; it must be “The Catholic” — in Latin, “Catholica,” used as a noun — for “The Catholic” is throughout the world. A Donatist theologian had listed six properties of the true Church, of which Optatus accepted five. Optatus argued, however, that the first property, the episcopal chair, belonged to the Catholics, who therefore possessed all the others.

The Donatist schism had first arisen from the quarrel about episcopal succession at Carthage. So we might expect Optatus to claim that first property, the episcopal chair, by pointing out the legitimacy of Catholic succession in Carthage. But he doesn’t. Instead, he replies: “We must examine who sat first in the chair, and where … You cannot deny knowing that in the city of Rome the bishop’s chair was conferred first upon Peter, the head of all the Apostles … In that one chair unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles should each stand up for his own chair. Anyone who sets up another chair against this one chair is, then, a schismatic and a sinner. For in that one chair … Peter first sat, to whom succeeded Linus …”

Then Optatus traced the papal lineage, in unbroken succession, up to his own day.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia praises Optatus for his rhetorical style, calling it “vigorous and animated. He aims as terseness and effect … and this in spite of the gentleness and charity which is so admirable in his polemics against his ‘brethren,’ as he insists on calling the Donatist bishops.”

You’ll find Optatus’s work online at The Tertullian Project. The same works are still in print.

The life of St. Optatus should inspire us to prayer, today most especially! St. Optatus, pray for us who live in another time of scandal and division. Help us to draw together in unity and charity and hope, confident that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the one true Church, the Catholica, her ministers (even those who sin grievously), or her sacraments, for behind them stands Christ as their surety — and ours!

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Free Greek for Starters

Some weeks back, I posted a link to some great, FREE materials for learning Greek. I’d like to add a link to that: Teknia, the site of Bill Mounce, an evangelical seminary professor who’s really a master teacher. I used his book, tape series, and workbook to teach myself the basics of biblical (and patristic) Greek. I ran the tapes while I was driving the kids to and from swim lessons and while I was walking on the treadmill. Mounce’s system works for people like me — people who are busy and who operate at relatively low wattage. Now I see that he’s posted much of the foundational material — including some awesome software and fonts — for FREE on his website. This will get you through the basics: alphabet, pronunciation, some minimal vocabulary. Check it out.

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The Fire Falls

Pentecost is the feast that recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection (see Acts 2). The event took place on the Jewish festival called the “feast of weeks” or Pentecost (see Ex 34:22; Dt 16:10).

Writing about 198 A.D., Tertullian testified that Pentecost was one of the great feasts of the Christian year. It was, after Easter, the time most appropriate for baptism.

At the end of the fourth century, the pilgrim Egeria tells us in great detail how the Church of Jerusalem kept the feast, perhaps when St. Cyril was bishop. The celebration lasted all day, from the first glimmer of dawn till way past bedtime, and the great throng of Christians proceeded in stations to all the holy places of Jerusalem. Round midnight, Egeria said, on Mount Zion, “suitable lessons are read, psalms and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house … Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis [Church of the Holy Sepulchre] from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration lasts so long that it is midnight when everyone returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Zion.”

Next time you hear kids ask, “Is Mass almost over?” you can tell them how it was in great-great-great-great-(etc.)-grandpa’s day.

In fact, the Apostolic Constitutions (probably fourth century) indicate that the celebration of Pentecost should last a week (Sunday to Sunday, what we in the West call an “octave”).

So when it comes to your celebration of Pentecost, don’t baby it. Why did God become man? So that we might receive the Holy Spirit! So that we might ourselves be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4)! We have reason to celebrate.

If you don’t believe me, check in with Saints Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine. I, for my part, am partial to Pope St. Leo the Great:

Every Catholic knows, dearly beloved, that today’s solemnity should be counted among the principal feasts. No one questions the respect due to the day the Spirit made holy by the miraculous gift of Himself …

Pentecost holds great mysteries in itself, mysteries new and old. By them it is clear that grace was foretold through the old law, and the old law was fulfilled through grace. When the Hebrew people were freed from the Egyptians, the law was given on Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day after the sacrifice of the lambs. So, after the suffering of Christ — the true Lamb of God, who was slain — and on the fiftieth day from His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles and the crowd of believers. The true Christian can easily see how the beginnings of the Old Testament prepared for the beginnings of the gospel, and that the second covenant was founded by the same Spirit who had set up the first …

Oh, how swift are the words of wisdom! How quickly the lesson is learned when God is the Teacher! No interpretation is needed for understanding, no practice for using, no time for studying. The Spirit of Truth blows where He wills (see Jn 3:8), and the languages of each nation become common property in the mouth of the Church. So, from that day, the Gospel preaching has resounded like a trumpet. From that day, the showers of gracious gifts, the rivers of blessings, have watered every desert and all the dry land. To “renew the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30), the Spirit of God “was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2); and to drive away the old darkness, flashes of new light shone forth. By the blaze of those busy tongues, the Lord’s bright Word kindled speech into fire — fire to arouse the understanding and to consume sin. Fire has the power to enlighten and the power to burn.

God’s word has authority, and it is ablaze with these and countless other proofs. Let us, all together, wake up to celebrate Pentecost. Let’s rejoice in honor of the Holy Spirit, through whom the whole Catholic Church is made holy, and every rational soul comes alive. He is the Inspirer of Faith, the Teacher of Knowledge, the Fountain of Love, the Seal of Chastity, and the Source of all Power.

Let the spirits of the faithful rejoice. Let one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be praised throughout the world, by the confession of all languages. And may that sign of His presence, the likeness of fire, burn perpetually in His work and gift.

The Spirit of Truth makes the house of His glory shine with the brightness of His light, and He wants nothing in His temple to be dark or lukewarm.

You’ll find a fuller text of Leo’s sermon in Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians, which I co-authored with my good friend Scott Hahn.

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‘Lectrifying MP3s: The Reviews Are In

We’ve received the first reviews (via email) of the free audio books of the Fathers offered by Maria Lectrix. Everyone’s very happy with the experience. A surgeon tells us he listens to the MP3 files on his commute to and from work each day: “I’ve listened to all of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters. Wow!” He goes on to marvel at how utterly familiar he found the Church of 105 A.D., with its bishops and priests and deacons, its care for the poor, and its love of the liturgy. Doc’s experience might be more authentic than those of us who’ve read Ignatius’s words on the page. The letters were written, after all, to be read aloud in the assembly, like the Book of Revelation and so much of St. Paul. Faith comes by hearing, and it’s a delightful experience. (As long as he doesn’t wear his iPod in the O.R.)

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A Man, A Plan

Our prodigious patristic translator, Kevin at Biblicalia has set some lofty goals for himself — and we’re all the beneficiaries. He’s been translating St. Clement of Rome’s First Letter to the Corinthians as a septuagintian pace, and he’s already posted chapters 1-32. Where does he go from here? He has a plan:

I’m intending to alternate translation work, one Greek, one Hebrew, one Latin, continually now.

The Latin I have in mind is a work that I started on years ago and never finished due to the messy textual issues: St Victorinus of Petavium’s commentary to the Apocalypse. Jerome “edited” the work, rewriting substantial portions, eliminating all chiliasm or hints thereof. Fortunately we have both his reworked edition and the original … I’ll present translations of both, a first in English, so far as I know.

The next Greek will be, at long last, the Apostolic Constitutions. The Hebrew will of course be the Old Testament, but I intend to adapt it to reflect the Septuagint, and include all the various apocrypha.

Please visit Kevin’s blog, read the text, and let him know what you think. He’ll be posting his translations, chapter by chapter, free of charge and open to comment, as he produces them. As he put it: “It really makes it much more fun to do all this knowing that someone is actually reading them and appreciating them.”

UPDATE: Kevin’s now up to chapter 58.

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Kingdom for a Haas

Brad Haas is a rather remarkable guy. Just twenty-one years old and seriously Catholic, he has a particular interest in the Church Fathers. He’s especially keen on examining the way Mormons have lately come to employ certain patristic texts. But he’s hardly a one-trick pony. Brad is also working on a large database of patristic texts indexed with doctrinal tags, a very useful tool for apologists, historians, and anyone else who might have reason to range across the field of Fathers. (It’s a longterm project.) Brad hosts a blog at his website, Defensor Veritatis, and he has recently posted a review of one of my favorite books, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken. Check it out. And if you haven’t read the Wilken book, please do. It’s tops on my list of recommended books about the Fathers.

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For Pete’s Sake, and Marcellinus’s

Today is also the optional memorial of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, martyrs of the last great Roman persecution.

Marcellinus was a priest, and Peter an exorcist, both of the clergy of Rome, and eminent for their zeal and piety. In the persecution of Dioclesian, about the year 304, they were condemned to die for their faith.

You’ll find the rest of their story at EWTN.

UPDATE: Jeff Ziegler of the Ziegler A List also provides this link:
The Catacomb of SS. Marcellinus and Peter.