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Letters from the Thessalonians

While digging tunnels for Thessaloniki’s metro rail system, workers have uncovered many early Christian artifacts and even extensive sites, including an early Christian cemetery and a monastery. The archeologists are now in charge. So far, only a few details have been made public. See here.

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Chrys Mass in July

We keep coming back to Ravenna, don’t we? Today’s saint, named Peter, became archbishop of the fair city in 433. His preaching earned him the name he bears to this day: Chysologus, “golden word.”

Peter held a prestige position in the Church and the empire, because of his wisdom and because Ravenna was the Byzantines’ nerve center in the West. Peter was a friend of Pope St. Leo the Great and of the Empress Galla Placidia (under whose patronage art and architecture flourished in Ravenna). Many of his homilies have survived. They are deeply biblical and often Eucharistic and Marian — sometimes all at once: “[Jesus Christ] is the Bread sown in the virgin, leavened in the Flesh, molded in His Passion, baked in the furnace of the Sepulchre, placed in the Churches, and set upon the Altars, which daily supplies Heavenly Food to the faithful.” Peter also explores the creed and the incarnation. And he weighs in on heresies past and present, including Arianism and Monophysitism.

You’ll find the goods on him here.

His sermons will blow your mind. The Fathers of the Church series, published by Catholic University of America, has them out in three volumes. Check them out.

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Evangelizing the Ancient Burbs

Here’s an interesting study of how Christianity gradually took over the suburbs of Rome, beginning in the third century. “During the mid-Imperial period this area was characterized by a complex system of roads, residential districts, farms, and funerary monuments. Starting from the late second century, it was increasingly devoted to the creation of ‘Christian spaces,’ first in the form of surface and subterranean funerary complexes, and later with churches and monuments associated with the presence of the martyrs’ tombs. In the fourth and early fifth century, the presence of Christian cemeteries, between the Aurelian Wall and the third milestone, contributed also to the growth of secondary access roads to the funerary complexes.”

I guess you could call that urban renewal.

The article, “The Christianization of Space along the Via Appia: Changing Landscape in the Suburbs of Rome,” is by Roman archeologist Lucrezia Spera, and it appeared (well illustrated) in the American Journal of Archaeology. You can download it for free right here.

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The One Book Meme

OK, Kevin at Biblicalia made me do it.

1. One book that changed your life.
Furrow, St. Josemaria Escriva

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Bible

4. One book that made you laugh:
Helena, Evelyn Waugh

5. One book that made you cry:
A brief memoir written by my dad, found by my sister after he died

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Acts of the Apostles in India, by a Luke-like companion of St. Thomas

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
BabyWise, Gary Ezzo et al.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
The Theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation, ed. Thomas Weinandy and Daniel Keating

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century, Robert Louis Wilken

10. Now tag five people:
Penn Jacobs, Rod Bennett, Maureen Wittmann, Chris Bailey [Yes, I can count. My son removed his name from the list!]

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Can You Dig Those Martyrs?

The fourth century was a time of intense antiquarian interest. The Church had emerged from underground. Great historians traveled the known world to research Christian origins and the stories of the martyrs. St. Helena supervised archeological excavations in the holy land. Pilgrims made their journeys to the celebrated sites of New Testament and Old, as well as the graves of the martyrs. There they collected oil from the lamps at the tombs. The wealthy sought relics. The poor bought trinkets.

Some bishops, too, took a passionate interest in their Christian forebears. St. Ambrose was model in this regard. He researched the stories of the martyrs of Milan and tried to retrace their steps and track down their burial sites. Not too long ago, we discussed his most famous excavation. Today, July 28, is the feast of another pair of martyrs who were exhumed by Ambrose: Saints Nazarius and Celsus.

As a matter of fact, all we really know for sure about these two martyrs is that their bodies were discovered by St. Ambrose. Paulinus tells us that the good bishop, at some time during the last three years of his life, after the death of the Emperor Theodosius (d. 395), discovered in a garden outside the walls of Milan the body of St. Nazarius, with severed head and still stained with blood, and that he ordered its removal to the Basilica of the Apostles. He found the body of St. Celsus in the same garden and had it taken to the same basilica. A richly decorated silver reliquary, dating from the fourth century, was found in the church of San Nazaro in Milan.

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St. Pantaleon, Revert and Martyr

Pantaleon lived in the late third and early fourth century. He was the son of a wealthy family, a pagan father and Christian mother. His mother instructed him in the faith, but eventually he fell away. Pursuing a career in medicine, he became physician to the Emperor Maximianus. Pantaleon returned to the faith under the influence of a holy priest. When his father died, he inherited the family fortune. This was right around the time of Diocletian’s persecution, and envious neighbors denounced him as a Christian. The emperor himself urged Pantaleon to commit apostasy. But the good doctor refused, and even healed a paralytic to show forth Christ’s power. This display added the practice of “magic” to the charges against him. According to legend, Pantaleon’s flesh was first burned with torches, then bathed in liquid lead, then thrown into the sea, then exposed to wild beasts — and on and on through many failed attempts at execution. It was not until he himself desired it that it was possible to behead him. The lives containing these legendary features are all late in date and of little historical value. But the fact of Pantaleon’s martyrdom is attested very early on, in Theodoret, Procopius of Caesarea, and the so-called “Martyrologium Hieronymianum.” His feast day is today, July 27. May he intercede for the return of all those who have fallen away from the faith (as he himself did) and for all physicians.

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Grandparents of the Redeemer

Joachim and Anne were, according to ancient tradition, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All our information concerning them comes from apocryphal literature, mostl pseudonymous gospels — the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Protoevangelium of James. Though the Protoevangelium is very ancient — going back to about A.D. 150 — its contents are fanciful, and the Fathers of the Church were divided on the question of its value. Some thought the apocryphal gospels encouraged piety. Others deemed them dangerous. In some parts of the East the Protoevangelium was read publicly on Marian feasts. Truth or fantasy, here’s the story in summary form, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In Nazareth there lived a rich and pious couple, Joachim and Hannah. They were childless. When on a feast day Joachim presented himself to offer sacrifice in the temple, he was repulsed by a certain Ruben, under the pretext that men without offspring were unworthy to be admitted. Whereupon Joachim, bowed down with grief, did not return home, but went into the mountains to make his plaint to God in solitude. Also Hannah, having learned the reason of the prolonged absence of her husband, cried to the Lord to take away from her the curse of sterility, promising to dedicate her child to the service of God. Their prayers were heard; an angel came to Hannah and said: “Hannah, the Lord has looked upon thy tears; thou shalt conceive and give birth and the fruit of thy womb shall be blessed by all the world”. The angel made the same promise to Joachim, who returned to his wife. Hannah gave birth to a daughter whom she called Miriam (Mary).

In the East the cult of St. Anne can be traced to the fourth century. St. Ephiphanius records that heretics of that time taught, erroneously, that St. Anne conceived without the action of man. The emperor Justinian I (d. 565) had a church dedicated to her. Some parts of the Greek Office of St. Anne are ascribed to Anatolius of Byzantium, who flourished in the fifth century.

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St. James Day Roundup

Lots of good new material on the good old days…

KEVIN AT BIBLICALIA has begun translating, from the Latin, all the prologues contained in the Vulgate, which were written mostly by St. Jerome. Kevin has posted the prologue on the Pentateuch.

FATHER Z gives us St. John Chrysostom on St. James.

PhDIVA tell us that today is the 1,700th anniversary of elevation of Constantine.

MARIA LECTRIX has been posting awesome audio of St. Cyprian and St. Irenaeus.

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The Greater They Are, the Harder Their Call

Today is the feast of St. James the Greater — the son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of John, and an apostle of Jesus Christ. James is called “the Greater” to distinguish him from the a second apostle named James, who may have been shorter or younger or just less accomplished than the James whose feast we mark today. St. James was a member of the “inner circle” of the apostles. A fuller biography is available, of course, in the online Catholic Encyclopedia. Here are some highlights.

The two sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew with whom they were in partnership (Luke 5:10), were called by the Lord upon the Sea of Galilee, where all four with Zebedee and his hired servants were engaged in their ordinary occupation of fishing. The sons of Zebedee “forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:22), and became “fishers of men”. St. James was afterwards with the other eleven called to the Apostleship (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). In all four lists the names of Peter and Andrew, James and John form the first group, a prominent and chosen group (cf. Mark 13:3); especially Peter, James, and John. These three Apostles alone were admitted to be present at the miracle of the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1; Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28), and the Agony in Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33)…

Several incidents scattered through the Synoptics suggest that James and John had that particular character indicated by the name “Boanerges,” sons of thunder, given to them by the Lord (Mark 3:17) … The two brothers showed their fiery temperament against “a certain man casting out devils” in the name of the Christ; John, answering, said: “We [James is probably meant] forbade him, because he followeth not with us” (Luke 9:49). When the Samaritans refused to receive Christ, James and John said: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” (Luke 9:54; cf. 9:49).

On the last journey to Jerusalem, their mother Salome came to the Lord and said to Him: “Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). And the two brothers, still ignorant of the spiritual nature of the Messianic Kingdom, joined with their mother in this eager ambition (Mark 10:37). And on their assertion that they are willing to drink the chalice that He drinks of, and to be baptized with the baptism of His sufferings, Jesus assured them that they will share His sufferings (Mark 5:38-39).

James won the crown of martyrdom fourteen years after this prophecy, A.D. 44 [as the first victim of Herod Agrippa’s persecution; see Acts 12:1-2].

Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria give additional details about the traditions of James’s martyrdom.

According to tradition (well established by 700 A.D.), St. James preached Christianity in Spain before returning to Judea to die; upon his death, according to this account, his body was miraculously transported back to Spain. Critics battle back and forth about the plausibility of James’s Spanish apostolate; some say that his body made the trip, but only long after his death. Compostela, the traditional resting place of his relics, became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world.

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Spare Tyre

Among the many sad reports coming in from the Middle East is news of the bombing of certain “cultural heritage” areas. In these lands where Christianity first grew that often means the damage or destruction of some portion of our story, our means of self-understanding, the relics of our ancestors, the ancient saints. As the saints of our own time die in the explosions, we lose much of our living memory as well, the Church’s tradition that has been handed down in these lands through millennia. It seems that ancient Tyre, in Lebanon, is especially endangered.

Tyre was the home of Christina, a saint traditionally honored on this day, July 24. Christina lived in the third century and was martyred in the very early years of the fourth century, during the persecution of Diocletian. We have early but sketchy records of her life and cult, including a sixth-century mosaic at Ravenna and a fifth-century papyrus that tells her tale (probably embellished, however).

The story goes that her father, Urbanus, was governor of Tyre and environs, and so was charged with enforcing the empires laws regarding religion. The family was, of course, pagan. When Christina was eleven, she was already very beautiful, and many sought her hand in marriage. She was also very virtuous. Some stories say that young Christina was attracted to Christianity, and this enraged her father; others say that he wished her to become a pagan priestess. But most versions agree that he had her locked up, where her solitude gave time for contemplation, which drew her closer to the true God. She began to convert her attendants one by one.

Finding out about this, Urban beat his daughter and had all her servants put to death. She would not renounce the faith. Nor would she recant when she was brought to trial, and then put to torture by fire and thrown into the sea — all of which she survived. Returned to prison, she was something of a celebrity, attracting crowds of gawkers and genuine seekers. To all she preached Christ. Her father was replaced by a new governor, and then he was replaced by another, who ordered Christina thrown into a furnace, another ordeal she survived. She was then taken to the arena, where the torturers cut out her tongue, so that she might no longer speak of Jesus Christ. And there, in God’s time, she was executed by arrows or by sword — again depending on which version of the story we read.

We know little (or nothing) with certainty about the life of St. Christina or the lives of many of her fellow martyrs in Lebanon. But we know that they are intercessors now before the throne of the Lamb, and that they cry out, “How long?” (Rev 6:10).

St. Christina and all you martyrs of the Middle East, pray peace for your lands today!

And as for you, gentle reader: You might consider reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain. It’s a moving (though far from perfect) account of his travels among the vanishing Christian peoples of the Middle East.