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Fantasy Baseball

Darrell Pursiful at Disert Paths has posted his list for the “League of Extraordinary Christians” (pre-1054), a takeoff on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s an entertaining read, complete with a Rogue, a Muscle guy, a Mastermind, and a Guy with a Boat. Many of our faves make at least cameo appearances.

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Sid Virtuous

Following upon Saturday’s virtual tour of the Roman Forum … today’s the feast of a bishop whose statue once stood in that very place. That was long before he became a bishop, though, when he was merely the son-in-law of the emperor. Sidonius Apollinaris was a convert, and a poet, too. The following is boiled down from the old Catholic Encyclopedia.

Sidonius Apollinaris was a Christian author and bishop, born at Lyons about 430; died at Clermont, about August, 480. He was of noble descent, his father and grandfather being Christians and prefects of the pretorium of the Gauls. About 452 he married Papianilla, daughter of Avitus, who was proclaimed emperor at the end of 455, and who set up in the Forum of Trajan a statue of his son-in-law. Sidonius wrote a panegyric in honor of his father who had become consul on 1 Jan., 456. A year had elapsed before Avitus was overthrown by Ricimer and Majorian. Sidonius at first resisted, then yielded and wrote a second panegyric on the occasion of Majorian’s journey to Lyons (458). After the fall of Majorian, Sidonius supported Theodoric II, King of the Visigoths, and after Theodoric’s assassination hoped to see the empire arise anew during the consulate of Anthemius. He went to Rome, where he eulogized the second consulate of Anthemius (1 Jan., 468) in a panegyric, and became prefect of the city. About 470 he returned to Gaul, where contrary to his wishes he was elected Bishop of the Arveni (Clermont in Auvergne). He had been chosen as the only one capable of maintaining the Roman power against the attacks of Euric, Theodoric’s successor. With the general Ecdicius, he resisted the barbarian army up to the time when Clermont fell, abandoned by Rome (474). He was for some time a prisoner of Euric, and was later exposed to the attacks of two priests of his diocese. He finally returned to Clermont, where he died.

His works form two groups, poems and letters After his conversion to Christianity, Sidonius ceased to write profane poetry. Sidonius wished to unite the service of Christ and that of the Empire. He is the last representative of the ancient culture in Gaul. By his works as well as by his career, he strove to perpetuate it under the aegis of Rome; eventually he had to be content with saving its last vestiges under a barbarian prince.

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Quote Meme (Non-Patristic)

My great blog patroness, Julie at Happy Catholic, tagged me on a Quote Meme. The idea is to go here, to the random quotes generator, and look through random quotes until you find five that you think (a) reflect who you are or (b) what you believe. I’m not sure what these represent, but they rang true and made me smile:

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)

The days of the digital watch are numbered.
Tom Stoppard (1937 – )

We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.
W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

All power corrupts, but we need the electricity.

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More Safe Travel

No one will question you about the liquid in your flask. So drink up. No one will subject you to humiliating searches. You can even take your toenail clippers on board if you like. Heck, you’re welcome to use them.

Fly to MuGeum for a virtual tour of the Roman Forum, with good photography and aerial views, courtesy of Google Earth.

The audio guide is a bit melodramatic (framed by tympany). And we encourage you to raise doubts about his interpretation of history. Thus, in these important respects, virtual Rome is much like actual Rome.

You can’t beat the price of your ticket. It’s free.

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Sad News

PaleoJudaica and Thoughts on Antiquity report that bombing in Iraq may have destroyed ancient Syriac inscriptions. This follows upon news of damage to archeological sites in Lebanon and Israel.

Christians everywhere should mourn the loss of so many lives in the Middle East and beg heaven for the gift of peace. Recall the words of the Prophets as they saw and foresaw so much blood and rubble: “How long, Lord? How long?” So many have died. So many are leaving the region. With the further destruction of their cultural heritage will come an incalculable loss of religious memory, tradition, and identity. This is a deep and painful wound to the Church, the world, and each and every one of these suffering persons. It won’t show up on the newsreels. But it’s real collateral damage. Pray heaven for peace.

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Heck of a Helena

If you’ve visited this site even once, you already know I’m an archeology nerd. This is a good season for archeology nerds. Archaeology magazine’s cover story heralds a new golden age in the field, and I’m willing to believe it. Even the mainstream media have picked up on it, with intense reportage on the Gospel of Judas this year.

My particular nerdiness (as you can guess from the title of the blog) hovers around archeological sites related to the patristic era. These don’t attract the media the way classical and biblical digs do. So I’ve got to do my own digging to find the news for you — like the astonishing recent discovery of third-century Christian inscriptions in the Basque region, and the Coptic apocrypha found in an ancient trash heap in Egypt.

Well, today gives me (and my ilk) yet another reason to celebrate with chocolate. It’s the memorial of St. Helena, the patroness and perhaps the foundress of the field of archeology. A few months back, I reviewed Evelyn Waugh’s novel on her life, Helena, a book by turns touching and hilarious. Waugh makes full use of his artistic license, as there are big blank spots in the historical record of Helena’s life.

We probably have a good idea of what she looked like, from coins honoring her. The face on the coin at Wikipedia fits the confident, determined, wry woman we meet in the pages of Waugh’s novel. Waugh manages to make her sexy, too, which gives Helena perhaps a unique status in the lists of novelistic treatments of the canonized. Pious authors usually have these subjects embalmed, or miraculously incorrupt anyway, by page five.

Here’s a summary of what our friend the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about Helena:

The mother of Constantine the Great, born about the middle of the third century, died about 330. She was of humble parentage; St. Ambrose referred to her as a stabularia, or inn-keeper. Nevertheless, she became the lawful wife of Constantius Chlorus. Her first and only son, Constantine, was born in 274.

In the year 292 Constantius, having become co-Regent of the West, gave himself up to considerations of a political nature and forsook Helena in order to marry Theodora, the stepdaughter of Emperor Maximianus Herculius, his patron. But her son remained faithful and loyal to her. On the death of Constantius Chlorus, in 308, Constantine, who succeeded him, summoned his mother to the imperial court, conferred on her the title of Augusta, ordered that all honor should be paid her as the mother of the sovereign, and had coins struck bearing her effigy. Her son’s influence caused her to embrace Christianity after his victory over Maxentius. This is directly attested by Eusebius: “She became under his influence such a devout servant of God, that one might believe her to have been from her very childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.”

Tradition links her name with the building of Christian churches in the cities of the West, where the imperial court resided, notably at Rome and Trier. Despite her advanced age she undertook a journey to Palestine when Constantine, through his victory over Licinius, had become sole master of the Roman Empire, subsequently, therefore, to the year 324. She explored Palestine with remarkable discernment and “visited it with the care and solicitude of the emperor himself.” Then, when she “had shown due veneration to the footsteps of the Savior,” she had two churches erected for the worship of God: one was raised in Bethlehem near the Grotto of the Nativity, the other on the Mount of the Ascension, near Jerusalem. She also embellished the sacred grotto with rich ornaments. It is Rufinus who first relates the story that she directed the excavation of the True Cross and Jesus’ tomb.

Her memory in Rome is chiefly identified with the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross in Jerusalem), which was built on soil imported from the Holy Land (thus the name “in Jerusalem”). Pilgrims to this church receive the indulgence assigned to a pilgrimage to the sacred sites.

Constantine was with his mother when she died, at eighty or so, around 330 (the date on the last coins known to have been stamped with her name). Her body was brought to Constantinople and laid to rest in the imperial vault of the church of the Apostles. Her remains were transferred in 849 to the Abbey of Hautvillers, in the French Archdiocese of Reims.

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The Golden Rule

Bread and Circuses gives us a rare close-up of a golden bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who reigned 161-180. Marcus was a stoic philosopher and the last of the so-called “Five Good Emperors.” While other pagan philosophers admired the fortitude of the Christian martyrs, Marcus held Christianity, and especially its martyrs, in contempt. In his Meditations, he mentions Christianity only once, disdainfully.

How blessed and happy is the soul that is always ready, even right now (if need be), to be separated from the body, whether by way of extinction, or dispersion, or continuation in another place and state. But its readiness must proceed, not from an obstinate and peremptory resolution of the mind, violently and passionately set upon opposition, as we find in Christians; but from a peculiar judgment, with discretion and gravity, so that others may be persuaded also and drawn to follow the example, without any noise and passionate exclamations.

Marcus was a persecutor of the Church. And, though he issued his executive orders in cold blood, his attitude inspired the non-stoic rabble to form murderous anti-Christian mobs. Between the executions and the riots, it was a difficult time for believers. Christian victims of Marcus’s reign include Justin Martyr, Blandina and Pothinus, and possibly Polycarp. But the same hostile climate also produced a great flowering of Christian apologetic literature, some of it directed at Marcus himself, from great Fathers such as Melito of Sardis. The sociologist Rodney Stark holds that the Church grew at an alarming pace during this period, at least 40% per decade. Further proof of The Tertullian Principle: The blood of the martyrs is seed.

Visit Bread and Circuses and behold the persecutor who inadvertently brought about such blessings in the Church. In spite of Marcus’s contempt for Christians, Christians have harbored a fondness for him. Witness the judgment of the old Catholic Encyclopedia: “Marcus Aurelius was one of the best men of heathen antiquity.”

I own a biography of the American martyr Father Marquette that concludes with a line not from Jesus Christ, but from Marcus Aurelius: “Take pleasure in one thing and rest in it, in passing from one act to another, thinking of God.”

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The Martyrs du Jour

Today’s martyr actually perished after the age of the martyrs, but still within the age of the Fathers. He was a Catholic martyr under King Hunneric, the Arian ruler of Carthage in North Africa.

In the seventh year of his reign, Hunneric decreed that all the monasteries of the Catholics should be leveled. Liberatus was abbot of one of the condemned monasteries. The officials first tried bribes and then torture to get Liberatus and his six monks to renounce the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. Cast into a dungeon, the monks continued to receive visitors, whom they instructed and blessed. Hunneric, upon hearing of this, ordered that the tortures be increased.

They faced an odd sort of martyrdom. First they were condemned to be bound to an old ship, which would be set on fire at sea. The project was begun, but the executioners were unable to get a good blaze going. So the king commanded that their brains should be dashed out with oars and their bodies cast into the sea. When the corpses washed ashore, they were buried in a monastery at Bigua. All this took place in the year 483. Their memorial is August 17.

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8 Books on Ancient Christian Art

A friend asked me to recommend titles on pre-Constantinian Christian art, to prepare for a trip to Europe. I thought I’d share the list with you. I focused on books that are readily available. Some of the best titles, alas, are out of print, with not a single used copy available on the Web. If you know of other titles, let me know. These are in no particular order. (UPDATE in 2010: a few more recent titles here)

Antonio Baruffa. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus. Decent illustrations and intelligent but non-technical interpretation. This book is unabashedly Christian — theological, and even devotional.

Jean Daniélou. Primitive Christian Symbols. Awesome — erudite essays, but minimal illustration.

Robin Margaret Jensen. Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity. Beautiful in every way. And you can’t beat the price.

Robin Margaret Jensen. Understanding Early Christian Art. See above. This scholar’s got the goods.

Orazio Marucchi. Manual of Christian Archeology. This is the classic textbook. Still in print. Still useful.

Herbert Musurillo. Symbolism and the Christian Imagination. An extremely rare, but wonderful book.

Erwin Goodenough [ed. Jacob Neusner]. Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period. This is a one-volume abridgement of the 12-volume set. Some of the best Christian material ended up on the cutting-room floor, and what’s left you really have to sift. Goodenough goes a little overboard on the Freudian and Jungian stuff. But it’s useful for placing Christian art in its cultural contexts, both Jewish and pagan.

John Lowden. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. Gorgeous plates, but uninspiring text.

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Prologues by the Dozen

I was going to post links to all the new Prologues of St. Jerome that are up on Biblicalia. But every time I pause long enough to sip from my water glass, Kevin posts two more. I give up. Go check out his Psalms (both Septuagint and Hebrew), Job, all the books of Solomon, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah…

You might also check out the comments field for my post on the feast of Saints Pontian and Hippolytus. Kevin successfully persuades me to be nicer to Tertullian.