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Soldiering On

Ancient Roman tradition tells us that St. Romanus was a soldier and adult convert to the faith, having been instructed and baptized by the much-beloved deacon St. Lawrence. Romanus was beheaded the day before his famous teacher was put to death.. Then, like St. Lawrence, Romanus was buried in the Catacomb of the Cyriaca on the Via Tiburtina. The grave of St. Romanus apears in the pilgrim Itineraries of the seventh century. Today, August 9, is his memorial.

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In Honor of My Barber

My barber for two full decades now is a good man, a Greek-American named Kiriakos. He has easily cut my weight in my hair, and he has cut it as well as anyone could cut such a Mediterranean mop. I would be remiss if I skipped out on his name day, just because of overwhelming deadlines.

The name is Latinized as Cyriacus, and today’s saint was indeed a Latin. In fact, he was a Roman nobleman who converted to Christianity in adulthood, giving all his wealth to the poor. He lived during the reign of Diocletian, which (as we have seen ) was a dangerous time for Christians. Yet rumors abounded that the emperor’s own wife and daughter were themselves closet Christians. Legend has it that it was Cyriacus who converted them, first by exorcising a demon from the young girl, Artemisia. (The mother, Serena, is venerated as a saint in some places.)

A deacon of the Roman Church, Cyriacus spent much of his time ministering to the Christian slaves who labored to build and run the baths of Diocletian. It’s for that work that he’s best known. In devotion he is “St. Cyriacus of the Baths.”

He himself was washed clean in the blood of martyrdom. In 303, in the persecution of Maximian, he was tortured and killed with St. Largus, St. Smaragdus, and twenty companions whose names are lost. Cyriacus’s beating heart was ripped from his chest before he was beheaded.

Check out his graduation photo here.

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Here’s One for Sixtus the Second

Sixtus II, reigned slightly less than a year as pope. His martyrdom was almost inevitable, as his election came just after the Emperor Valerian had issued an edict of persecution. Valerian’s strategy was to destroy the Church by “decapitation” — executing the clergy, then waiting for the people to lose interest. The method worked well in the suppression of pagan cults, but seemed to have an opposite effect on the Church. “The blood of the martyrs is seed,” said Tertullian, and he was right. Today is Sixtus’s memorial.

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Purple Prose

Roger Pearse, who has done such great work on the Fathers at The Tertullian Project, is now co-blogging at Thoughts on Antiquity. This is cause for celebration.

Roger has already posted quite a bit. One fascinating recent item is on the fragments of the neo-Platonist philosopher Porphyry — one of Christianity’s three greatest intellectual opponents in antiquity (the other two being Celsus and Julian). Roger briefly reviews some of the published editions of Porphyry and then links to his own online collection of the fragments.

I don’t often recommend that Christians spend their leisure hours reading the Church’s enemies — especially when so many volumes of the Fathers go unread. But it is fascinating to see how little the arguments against the faith have changed or developed in 2,000 years. Christianity, meanwhile, has undergone beautiful development. Yet it is still quite recognizable as the Church of the apostles and martyrs, the Church that drew the fury of the persecutors and the best efforts of brilliant men like Porphyry. (His name, by the way, means purple, as in the gemstone.)

Oh, and Roger also reports on the possibility that one of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s lost works may have been found recently in France.

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Canon Fodder

Kevin at Biblicalia has posted many more new translations of St. Jerome’s Vulgate prologues. Most interesting is Jerome’s intro to Tobit, as the crotchety scholar is sometimes invoked by those who reject the Old Testament deuterocanonical books — Wisdom, Tobit, Maccabees, and so on. The Orthodox and Catholic Church has always accepted those books as inspired and canonical. Apparently — and contrary to some claims out there — Jerome was okay with that.

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Transfigure This Out

Please promise me that you’ll read St. Augustine’s homily for today’s Feast of the Transfiguration. You’ll be very glad you did.

The Lord Jesus Himself shone bright as the sun; His garment became white as the snow; and Moses and Elijah talked with Him. Jesus Himself indeed shone as the sun, signifying that He is “the true light that enlightens every man come into the world.” What the sun is to the eyes of the flesh, so He is to the eyes of the heart; and what that is to the flesh of men, that He is to their hearts…

Peter sees this, and as a man savoring the things of men says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” He had been wearied with the multitude. He had now found the mountain’s solitude; there he had Christ the Bread of the soul. What — should he depart once again to labor and suffering now that he had a holy love for God and a holy way of life? He wished well for himself; and so he added, “If you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” To this the Lord made no answer; nevertheless, Peter received an answer. “He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” He wanted three tabernacles; the heavenly answer showed him that we have One, which human judgment desired to divide. Christ, the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word in the Prophets. Why, Peter, do you seek to divide them? Is it not more fitting for you to join them. You seek three; understand that they are but One.

As the cloud overshadowed them, and in a way made one tabernacle for them, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son.'” Moses was there; Elijah was there; yet it was not said, “These are My beloved sons.” For the Only Son is one thing; adopted sons another. He was singled out in whom the Law and the prophets glorified. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” Because you have heard Him in the Prophets, and you have heard Him in the Law. And where have you not heard Him? “When they heard this, they fell” to the earth. See then in the Church is exhibited to us the Kingdom of God. Here is the Lord, here the Law and the Prophets; but the Lord as the Lord. The Law in Moses, Prophecy in Elias — but they are servants and ministers. They are vessels: He is the fountain. Moses and the Prophets spoke and wrote; but when they poured out, they were filled from Him.

But the Lord stretched out His hand and raised them as they lay. And then “they saw no one but Jesus only.” What does this mean? When the Apostle was read, you heard, “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” And “tongues shall cease,” when that which we now hope for and believe shall come. When they fell to the earth, they signified that we die, for it was said to the flesh, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But when the Lord raised them up, He signified the resurrection. After the resurrection, what is the Law to you? what is Prophecy? Therefore neither Moses nor Elias is seen. Only He remains for you, He who “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He remains for you, “that God may be all in all.” Moses will be there; but now no more the Law. We shall see Elijah there, too; but now no more the Prophet. For the Law and the Prophets have only given witness to Christ, that it befit Him to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day, and to enter into His glory.

And in this glory is fulfilled what He has promised to those who love Him: “he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him.” … Great gift! great promise! God holds for you nothing less than Himself. O you covetous one; why isn’t Christ’s promise enough for you? You seem to yourself to be rich; yet if you do not have God, what do you have? Another person is poor, yet if he has God, what does he lack?

Come down, Peter! You wanted to rest on the mount. Come down and “preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Persevere, work hard, bear your measure of torture — so that you might possess what is meant by the white garment of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of an upright labor in charity …Hear and listen, O covetous one: the Apostle explains clearly to you in another place: “Let no man seek his own, but another’s.” He says of himself, “Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” This Peter did not yet understand when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for you, Peter, after death. But for now He says, “Come down, to labor on the earth; on the earth to serve, to be despised, and crucified on the earth. The Life came down, that He might be slain; the Bread came down, that He might hunger; the Way came down, that life might be wearied in the way; the Fountain came down, that He might thirst; and yet you refuse to work? Seek not your own. Have charity, preach the truth; so shall you come to eternity, where you shall find security.”

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Major Look

On the Roman calendar, today is the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, one of the great basilicas in Rome. Pope Liberius started the building project around 360 A.D., to commemorate an apparition of the Blessed Virgin at that site. The vision was accompanied by a miraculous snowfall (in August, in Rome), and the snow marked out what would be the edges of the church. The building as we know it today actually dates from the time of Pope Sixtus III, who built it in 432 to commemorate the great Marian doctrine of the Council of Ephesus. I’m told that the interior artwork (much of it in mosaic) is some of the best preserved from the patristic era. Word is that St. Jerome, one of my heroes, is interred somewhere in the basilica, his bones having been moved there from the Holy Land — but no one knows where, precisely, they’re located.

When I first visited Rome, St. Mary Major was high on my list of “must see” sites, second only to St. Peter’s. But at the appointed time, two of my children got terribly ill, and I had to stay back at the hotel. The next time I was in Rome, I resolved to get there, but was prevented by sudden schedule changes. The third time, I set my jaw, clenched my fists, and steeled myself against any eventuality — except a change in flight times. My fourth trip to Rome was entirely given to meetings.

I’m hoping, hoping, hoping to visit this shrine of Our Lady in 2007, when Scott Hahn and I will lead a Marian pilgrimage to Rome in the very Mary month of May. The details are almost set. We’re still waiting for some last words from the airline and hotel. Perhaps the Blessed Virgin wanted to make this meeting part of my most Marian trip to that city she has loved so long.

I’m very pleased to know that so many visitors to this website are interested in making the trip to Rome with the St. Paul Center. I hope to have the registration info to you in a week or so.

Meanwhile, let’s celebrate the feast by visiting the shrine online.

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Addai Is Cast

Today is, among other remembrances, the memorial of Saints Addai and Mari. Addai played a leading role in one of the legends most popular among the early Christians — the legend of King Abgar of Edessa (modern Urfa in Turkey). Eusebius tells the tale at length in his Church History, testifying that he found all the documentation in the archives of Edessa. It is recorded in other places as well, including the apocryphal Doctrine of Addai.

The story goes that King Abgar contracted leprosy and was desperate for a cure; so he wrote a letter to Jesus of Nazareth, who was then gaining fame as a miracle-worker in distant Judea. Jesus received Abgar’s messenger and sent word back that the king would indeed be healed, but by one of Jesus’ disciples. Abgar heard the news with joy, and waited.

Time passed, and Jesus, through His dying and rising, accomplished our redemption. Then the disciples of Jesus set out to the “ends of the earth,” as the Lord had commanded. St. Thomas sent a disciple named Addai to Edessa, to preach the Gospel and to complete the task of healing the king. Some versions of the story identify Addai with the apostle Jude, also known as Thaddeus. Addai indeed can be a shortened form of Thaddeus.

Addai healed the king, who, in gratitude, gave him freedom to establish the Church in Edessa. Addai chose priests, taught them the liturgy, and ordained them. He continued his missionary activity throughout Mesopotamia, baptizing many people in the land today known as Iraq. One of his disciples, named Mari, would continue the mission long after Addai’s death…

That’s a bit of a hash of the story, compiled from several sources. The details are indistinct in the mists, but are entertainingly told (and gorgeously illustrated) in my son’s book, Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times. It’s perfect for kids middle-school age and younger. (But adults like it, too.)

The spiritual children of Addai and Mari have often been in the news in recent years. Some still live in Iraq, and they still use an ancient Eucharistic Prayer, which they say is based on the one taught by Addai to those first priests of Edessa. It is known as the Liturgy of Addai and Mari, and it was the subject of a remarkable (and very controversial) ruling from the Vatican several years ago. In 2001, Rome permitted intercommunion between Chaldean Catholics and members of the Assyrian Church (also known as the “Church of the East,” descended from the ancient Nestorians). The ruling, which you can find here, allowed Catholics to use the Assyrian Church’s version of the Liturgy of Addai and Mari, which is quite ancient and which lacks the institution narrative (the story of the Last Supper). The great liturgist Robert Taft said that this decision from Rome marked “the most important magisterial teaching since Vatican II.” Three years later, in the Vatican journal Divinitas, theologians hotly debated the wisdom of the decision. (The news story is here; scroll halfway down the page.) But Rome had spoken, and has upheld the decision.

Today’s conditions surely constitute a dire emergency for Christians in the lands of Addai and Mari. Here is the sad story from Catholic News Service this week:

Half of all Iraqi Christians have fled their country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad.

Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad said that before the invasion there were about 1.2 million Christians in the predominantly Shiite Muslim state. Since then the overall number has dropped to about 600,000, he said.

“What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq,” the bishop said. “When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous — dangerous for the future of the church in Iraq.”

The bishop said 75 percent of Christians from Baghdad had fled the capital to escape the almost daily outbreaks of sectarian violence.

Since the beginning of the war, the number of Chaldean Catholics, who make up the country’s most numerous Christian denomination, had dropped below half a million from 800,000, he said. Many sought new lives mostly in the neighboring countries of Syria, Jordan and Turkey, he added.

Bishop Abouna said he thought it was unlikely that many of those who had emigrated would return.

Please pray for these spiritual children of Saints Addai and Mari as they wander from their home. May they remain faithful to their rich Christian heritage, nourished by the blood of many martyrs. And may their patrons bring them the grace of Jesus Christ abundantly on this great day.

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When Isidore a Window?

St. Isidore of Seville, the last of the Western Fathers, is often touted as the patron of the Internet, because of his great interest in building what we might call a “database” of information. Perhaps it was this surge in Isidore’s visibility that led to the publication of his massive work, The Etymologies. It’s out in two volumes, and it’s reviewed in the London Telegraph. The reviewer notes Isidore’s profound influence on subsequent scholarship in several different fields — and she never even gets around to mentioning his most recent technological patronage.

There seems to be a different edition of the Etymologies out in the States, also published in 2006, and available on Amazon here and here.

Hat tip on the Telegraph review: Bread and Circuses.

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Early Christianity and Early Christianities

A new book examines the early apocryphal texts and concludes that “orthodoxy” — a mainstream, “Great Church” — was well established very early on. I have not yet read the book (only this Boston Globe review), but it seems a welcome counterforce to the tsunami of nonsense that hit pop culture with the Gospel of Judas.

Whenever you hear someone speak of early “Christianities,” just reach for your Revolver. (It’s better to listen to the Beatles’ greatest album than to that claptrap.)

Hat tip: Paleojudaica.

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Planning Your Trip to Ravenna?

The old city keeps coming up in our conversations. Now it’s the subject of a medium-sized feature article (2,000 words) in the September issue of The Atlantic, which is now on the newsstands. “The Road from Ravenna,” by Cullen Murphy, is wistful, evocative, and it even includes a sidebar you can use to plan “Highlights of a ‘Fall of Rome’ Tour.” Murphy focuses on the sad case of the Emperor Romulus Augustulus, who reigned 475–476, but also spotlights some of our regular guest stars: Galla Placidia, Theodoric, etc. The story is available online, but I think only for Atlantic subscribers. It’s not worth the price of a subscription — The Atlantic is only intermittently interesting — but certainly worth the price of the issue on the newsstand — if indeed you’re planning that trip to Ravenna. Someday.

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CIA Spies Byzantine Basilica

Picked this up from the Courier-Mail of Brisbane, Australia, via a tip from Archaeology magazine.

Using satellite photographs of Syria taken by the CIA in the 1960s, an Australian team has located a Byzantine basilica, an Early Bronze Age fortified town, Early Islamic pottery factories, a complex of megalithic tombs, and tools from the Palaeolithic period.

The photographs were taken by United States military surveillance satellites operating under the CIA and defence-led Corona program in the late 1960s.

I’ll bet the late Tom Lawler would be pleased. A great patrologist and translator of St. Augustine, Tom earned his daily bread as an executive for the CIA. I wonder how many other convergences of vocation and avocation he was not at liberty to tell us about.