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Train Your Monocle on the Noncanonical

But back to Jim Davila for a moment. Jim, who blogs at PaleoJudaica, was in Ottawa this weekend to present a paper titled More Christian Apocrypha. The paper’s worth your perusal. He’s cataloging the efforts by scholars around the world to translate the noncanonical ancient texts attributed to the apostles, prophets, and other biblical characters. These texts are not inspired, of course, not inerrant, and not what we call “Scripture,” but they tell us much about the early Church, its concerns and, sometimes, its lunatic fringes. With all the current scholarly activity Jim describes, we have a lot of fascinating reading to look forward to.

(But what would Jerome say?)

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Doctor Cantankerous

It’s not officially St. Jerome’s feast day until you’ve read this poem aloud to someone you love.

St. Jerome is one of my favorite characters from all of history. Everything you read in that poem is true. Jerome quarreled with or complained about (or at least growled at) an amazing array of his fellow Fathers: Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Rufinus, and, of course, Origen (to name just a few).

If you want the proof — and all the gory details — read J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies. It’s a treat. A historian I much admire admitted to me that Kelly’s Jerome is one of the very few books he wishes he had written himself.

Junior posted audio of my KVSS interview, for your listening pleasure. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

One of the stops on our May 2007 Rome pilgrimage is the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where Jerome’s relics repose. Consider joining us for the trip!

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Angels in the Scrolls

Kevin at Biblicalia is doing great work for the Republic. Today he posted two beautiful translations from the Hebrew. Kevin’s Eastern Orthodox; but to help his Western friends celebrate the feast of the archangels, he translated one of the Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice from the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s a liturgy of angelic worship and earthly worship, perfect for the day. He also posted a Grace After Meals found in the Qumran library. This prayer is significant because of its similarity to one of the eucharistic prayers of the Didache. Kevin’s discussion of the Didache’s Jewish resonances is illuminating. Don’t miss these posts. And don’t forget to thank Kevin for making these translations. He’s promised us something good from the Greek, coming up soon.

If you’re interested in the ritual fragments found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see the book Liturgical Works in Eerdmans’ series of Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author is James Davila, whose blog PaleoJudaica you should know by now.

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The Fathers and the Angels

Today is the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael — the three we know from Scripture. If you’re really zealous for the doctrine of the Fathers, you’ll want to spend the day cloistered somewhere pondering the ancient Church’s great work of angelology, The Celestial Hierarchy, attributed to St. Dionysius the Areopagite. That text exercised a profound influence on the later Fathers (like St. Maximus Confessor and St. Gregory the Great) as well as the greatest of the Schoolmen (St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure). If you manage to read it prayerfully in the course of the feast day, you’ll probably need to make a retreat for the rest of the weekend, if only to adjust to the heightened intensity of your awareness of angelic help and presence.

Those of you who demand paper copy should invest a pittance in the book: The Celestial Hierarchy or, better, The Complete Works of Pseudo-Dionysius (the latter volume has a fine introduction by Jaroslav Pelikan). For Amazon’s prices, you can buy the books new, shred them, line your hamster cage with the confetti, and still get your money’s worth. But imagine getting a glimpse of heaven, too — Aquinas’s favorite view of heaven, at that!

If all you have is a couple of minutes to spend on angelology, do drop by Dymphna’s Well, to get a quick and useful doctrinal-devotional summary.

And, in your kindness, remember me to the celestial hierarchy today. It’s my name day, and I do take St. Michael’s patronage very seriously. One of my quirks is my habit of celebrating his feast twice every year. I’m as Latin as can be, but his feast falls on my birthday in the Byzantine calendar. So how can I resist?

Scott Hahn and I will be visiting the world’s most famous site of a St. Michael apparition during our Rome pilgrimage in May 2007. That’s Castel Sant’Angelo, where he appeared to Pope Gregory the Great. I hope you’ll join us.

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Jerome Rides the Airwaves

Saturday’s the feast of St. Jerome, the great name-caller, but Friday I’ll be talking about him with Bruce and Kris McGregor at Spirit Radio. You can tune in 7:20 to 8 a.m. (Central Time) at KVSS’s website. Just click the “listen live” button. I hope to have the interview posted on the blog in time for Jerome’s big day.

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Jerusalem’s Buried Treasure?

Rogue Classicism tells us that yesterday was (by one way of reckoning) the anniversary of the day the Roman armies breached the walls of the upper city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Now Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica tells us of Sean Kingsley, a British archeologist who believes he has traced the whereabouts of the treasures of the Jerusalem Temple. Their route takes several twists and turns through the patristic era, as they move from Jerusalem to Rome to Constantinople to North Africa before settling back in Judea. Kingsley believes the treasures, including the sacred Menorah, are buried beneath an ancient monastery in the wilderness. You can piece the story together by reading this and this.

One of my favorite photos from last year’s St. Paul Center pilgrimage to Rome is of Scott Hahn telling the sad story of Jerusalem’s fall, while all the pilgrims gazed upon the Arch of Titus. The Arch’s sculptured walls vividly illustrate Jerusalem’s tragedy in terms of the pagan Romans’ triumph.

We’ll be back to tell the tale in May of 2007, God willing. Please consider joining us!

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Meet You at the Bridge

In our May 2007 pilgrimage to Rome, we’ll be staying fairly close to the Milvian Bridge. I hope you’ll be able to join us, because great things happen there.

A little background … In the early years of the fourth century, Maximin, the ruler of the Eastern regions of the empire, had renewed the persecution against the Christians with bloody enthusiasm. He was as superstitious as Maxentius, who ruled the west, but superstitious on a more regular plan. He squandered the public treasury building new temples, restoring old ones, and setting up a regular state-supported system of pagan priests. Every fake and charlatan who could produce an authentic-looking pagan miracle was promoted to a high-paying government job. Maximin was also a raving drunk, and in his ravings he often issued lunatic orders that he could hardly remember the next day.

Eventually, Maxentius found himself facing just one contender in the West — the young Constantine — and popular feeling was on Constantine’s side. But Maxentius still held Rome and the Italian peninsula. The battle lines were drawn, and Italy prepared for another of those destructive but ultimately meaningless battles between rival emperors that litter the history of the Empire. But this time something different happened. On the eve of the battle, Constantine made a decision that changed the Empire forever.

On October 28, 312, the battle lines were drawn, when suddenly Constantine had a vision. Eusebius, who heard it from the lips of Constantine himself, tells it this way: “About midday, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription CONQUER BY THIS. He himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also.”

Did Constantine really see that vision? Some modern historians doubt it; they think Constantine made up the story to justify his decision. Really, they said, he saw which way the wind was blowing, and realized that Christians were by far the largest religious group in the Empire. If he had their support, he had an advantage that none of the other Augusti had. And it’s interesting that Eusebius doesn’t mention the vision at all in his History of the Church, written shortly after Constantine’s victory. Only years later, when he was writing his Life of Constantine, did Eusebius tell that famous story.

But it’s quite possible that Constantine did see that vision. Certainly most of the Church has believed the story for most of history. Either way, his decision to fight under the sign of Christ changed the history of the world. Constantine won the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and freed Rome from the tyrannical grip of the madman Maxentius.

In fact, Constantine had approached the problem of religion like a pagan Roman. He had invested in the god he thought might do him the most good, and his investment paid big dividends. But he at least lived up to his agreement with God, and he began to show special favor to the Christians right away. He immediately had a statue of himself with the cross set up in the center of Rome, where everyone would see it, and this inscription was written under it in large letters: “By this saving sign, the true proof of courage, I saved your city from the yoke of the tyrant and set her free; furthermore I freed the Senate and People of Rome and restored them to their ancient renown and splendor.”

When Constantine met Licinius at Milan in 313, the two Augusti issued an edict proclaiming freedom of religion for everyone. For the first time in human history, absolute freedom of religion was the official policy of a great world power. The Edict of Milan was something truly new in the world, and it was really Constantine’s idea—Licinius just went along with it because it seemed best to do what Constantine said.

The drunken pagan Maximin still ruled part of the East, but he was afraid enough of the combined power of Constantine and Licinius that he grudgingly accepted the decree. Anyway, it wasn’t long before Licinius had eliminated him; and when Licinius (who never really liked Christians) found an excuse to begin persecuting the Christians in the East in 320, Constantine eliminated him in turn. By 324 Constantine was sole Emperor of the whole Roman Empire, and the Christian Church was free everywhere to come out into the open.

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Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song

David Solomon, editor of the Gregory of Nyssa Homepage, has posted A Comparative Study of the Commentaries on the Song of Songs by three great men: Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Bernard of Clairvaux. You won’t find better company for reading the Bible’s most lovely and loverly book.

If you’d rather read Origen’s commentary in its entirety (and on paper), you’ll find it in the Ancient Christian Writers series. A tantalizing recent study is Origen on the Song of Songs As the Spirit of Scripture: The Bridegroom’s Perfect Marriage-Song.

An excellent companion volume to Gregory’s portion is From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings by Jean Danielou and Herbert Musurillo.

Hat tip: St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

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Belatedly Cyprian

Last week, while I was in the woods, the Church marked the memorial of Saints Cyprian and Cornelius. Even from my sylvan outpost, though, I managed to do a KVSS interview on the great third-century African bishop, and I herewith direct you to the audio file (scroll way down the page). Cyprian is important for many reasons — you’ll learn all that from the interview — but not least for the fact that he wrote a great treatise on the Eucharist, the earliest that has survived to our day. Blogger Maria Lectrix has posted audio of St. Cyprian’s treatise On the Lapsed, along with some wonderful background material. I may have missed the feast day, but Cyprian’s work is a feast always in season.

Cyprian’s Letters are available in three volumes in the excellent Ancient Christian Writers series. His little treatise on the Lord’s Prayer is included in this volume in St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Popular Patristics Series.

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An Armchair Pilgrimage with Pope Benedict

One of the great things about having Benedict XVI as pope is that we now have a steady stream of Joseph Ratzinger books to enjoy. We have the pleasure of catching up with a long and prolific theological life — and one steeped in the Fathers. I’m presently enjoying Images of Hope: Meditations on Major Feasts. It’s the perfect remote preparation for the St. Paul Center’s pilgrimage to Rome in 2007. Key essays in the book are then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s guided tours of the ancient Roman catacombs and the patristic-era basilicas of St. Mary Major, St. Peter (twice), St. Paul, and St. Clement. And the Fathers are with him always, for every feast, in every holy site. “When we read the Church Fathers,” he says, “something important is added.” And: “we must return once again with the Church Fathers to the first Christmas.” This is a little book (just over a hundred pages), but beautiful, gorgeously illustrated with full-color artwork, packed with wisdom, insight, and even information — the fine details of history. If you can’t make an overseas pilgrimage to Rome, make one in your armchair with this lovely book from Ignatius Press.

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Dion: Roots Rock and Religion

Dion: He’s one of those Italians — like Madonna and Fabian — whose listening public knows him on a first-name basis. But, if you must know, his full name is Dion DiMucci. He’s from the Bronx. And he was baptized Francis because his parish priest wasn’t sure that the name his parents had chosen — Dion — was a saint’s name.

He was still in his mid-teens when he cut his first million-selling record, and he would cut many more in the years to come: “Teenager in Love,” “Runaround Sue,” “Ruby, Ruby,” “The Wanderer,” “I Wonder Why,” and “Abraham, Martin, and John” (to name just a few).

So what’s he doing on a blog about the Church Fathers?

He’s here because he’s probably the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame’s resident expert on patristics. Dion’s still recording original music to critical acclaim. Back in 2000, the New York Times featured his latest release, and quoted fulsome praise from Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, and other notables. But the Times’ reporter fixated not so much on the songs as on the books Dion carried with him when they met: St. Augustine’s Confessions and the Navarre Bible volume for St. Matthew’s Gospel (the Navarre commentaries go heavy on the Fathers).

Later the same year, my friend David Scott gave the backstory. Dion’s fame had soared through his teen years. He got heavily into heroin and booze, and his life and career bottomed out. Then he found his way back to faith through the influence of his wife and father-in-law. He attended a number of storefront churches, looking for the truth. One Sunday he heard a sermon that startled him.

One of his pastors quoted St. Augustine, the fifth-century North African bishop who was a spiritual and intellectual giant of the early Church. So, Dion began reading Augustine. He was amazed to discover that Augustine had been instrumental in drawing up the list of books to be included in the Bible that Protestants now relied on solely as “the inerrant Word of God.”

More eye-opening, he says, was the fact that Augustine had “Catholic beliefs” — including the belief that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church and guarantees the truth of its teachings.

When he confronted his pastor and friends with his findings, “they all just tossed it off,” Dion says. “They told me it’s all according to the way you see truth. I said, ‘Exactly! You it hit it right on the head!’ And I started to see truth differently.”

For a couple of years he continued what he describes as “reading myself back into the Church.” He read the writings of the so-called early Church fathers, the first and second generation of Church leaders, some of whom had been disciples of Jesus’s original 12 apostles.

Dion’s most recent disk, like his spiritual journey, has brought him back to his roots. Now he’s doing pre-rock blues — and the critics, once again, love it. Yet even the blues, for Dion, is a religious experience. In January of this year, the Times asked him about his first exposure to bluesman Robert Johnson. Way back in the 1950s, rock impresario John Hammond gave Dion a copy of Johnson’s posthumously released recordings: “I listened to it and it got me excited, too. Some of the guys I played it for couldn’t hear it, but I heard it. It’s the naked cry of the human heart apart from God, wanting to feel at home.”

Dion, the Wanderer, found his way home — thanks be to God, and to the Fathers.

Last year, Dion joined the St. Paul Center’s pilgrimage to Rome. We saw St. Peter’s together, St. John Lateran, the catacombs. He was clearly in his element. So was I. I even got him to sign my 45-rpm record of “Abraham, Martin, and John.” If you’re interested in following in the footsteps of the Fathers and martyrs — and the more recent footsteps of Dion DiMucci — check into next year’s pilgrimage, before it fills up!