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California Dreamin’

The treasures of St. Catherine’s have come down from Mount Sinai and crossed over to L.A. The International Herald Tribune reports on a long-running exhibit of St. Catherine’s icons at the Getty Museum. Patrologists of the Left Coast, make time for this. (Hat tip: PhDiva.)

Mount Sinai in Egypt is perhaps best known as the site where Moses encountered the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments.

But also in this desolate desert landscape, Justinian, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, in the middle of the sixth century ordered the construction of a monastery, St. Catherine’s, that has become the oldest continuously operating Christian monastic community. Over the 1,400 years of its existence, St. Catherine’s has accumulated one of the finest and most extensive collections of religious icons in the world.

Now, many sacred treasures from the Greek Orthodox monastery are to be shown for the first time abroad. The exhibition “Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai” will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles from Nov. 14 to March 4…

The exhibition will feature approximately 43 icons – holy images regarded as sacred in the Eastern Orthodox church – including some of the oldest surviving Byzantine examples, as well as illuminated manuscripts and liturgical objects…

The highlight of the exhibition is a sixth-century icon of the apostle Peter, notable for both its antiquity and its realistic portrait style. A wave of iconoclastic zeal in the eighth and ninth centuries led to the destruction by the Byzantine emperors and their forces of almost all icons in Constantinople, and few examples predating that period have survived. But because of its remote location, St. Catherine’s was unaffected by the upheaval.

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Liturgical Language

Interesting piece from The Daily Star (Egypt) on the survival of the ancient Coptic language in Christian culture. (If you want to hear it in the liturgies, visit here. If you want to buy recordings, click here.)

Considered an extinct language, the Coptic language is believed to exist only in the liturgical language of the Coptic Church in Egypt. The ancient language that lost in prominence thanks largely to the Arab incursion into Egypt over 1300 years ago remains the spoken language of the church and only two families in Egypt.

Coptic is a combination of the ancient Egyptian languages Demotic, Hieroglyphic and Hieratic, and was the language used by the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt following the spread of Greek culture throughout much of the Near East. In essence, it is the language of the ancient Egyptians themselves.

Mona Zaki is one of only a handful of people that continue to use the language in everyday conversation. She speaks a colloquial form of Coptic with her parents and a few relatives …

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Phil of the Future

Weary of the recent unpleasantness in the Anglican world, Phil has decided to blog full-time on the Fathers. This is very good news. He’s currently trying to compile a list of patristiblogs, and he’s talking about maybe starting up a patristics carnival. These efforts are to be encouraged. Please do your part, and send him names, ranks, serial numbers of all your favorite Church-fatherly weblogs.

Also: make sure to congratulate Phil, as his first child is due on the feast of St. Ambrose — the birthday of my third child.

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The Patristibook Challenge

Through this month of October, Father Z has been running a series of profound meditations from the Fathers on the mysteries of the Rosary. He calls it The Patristic Rosary Project. His most recent number is the second Sorrowful Mystery, Scourging of Our Lord, and for this he calls to witness Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyril of Jerusalem. Please don’t miss this outstanding work.

I hereby risk my standing as a patristiblogger — since Father Z himself coined the term! — by issuing the positively retrograde, pre-blogospheric challenge for him to move these meditations into book form.

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Site for Sore Eyes

Macalester University is digging up Kenchreai (Cenchrae), a New Testament site (see Acts 18:18 and Romans 16:1). It was in this port city, near Corinth, that Paul cut his hair to fulfill a vow. It was a deaconess of this city, Phoebe, whom Paul commended to the Romans. In the Byzantine period, the basilica church stood as the center of Kenchreai’s city life.

The archeological team posted photos of some lovely artifacts. The vine motif you see on the lamps may represent Jesus Christ, the true vine, as this was a favorite image of Him in the primitive Church (see Jn 15:5). I once saw an exquisite lamp (probably fifth century) ringed by vines that emanated from a central cross. That says it all.

There are times, however, when a vine is merely a vine; and that may be the case on these lamps. Even so, they can inspire us to prayer. All the world is charged with God’s grandeur.

Hat tip on the archeological digs: Mediterranean Archaeology.

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Hip to Be Square

Run, don’t walk, to your newsstand to pick up the November edition of First Things. Its lead essay is “The Return of the Fathers, by R.R. Reno. Gosh, he makes it sound cool and even postmodern to do patristic studies. Read it and see if it’s your patriotic (and patrologic) duty to pursue that doctorate.

More on this as I give the essay the closer study it deserves (possibly early November).

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You Can Luke It Up

For the feast of St. Luke, Evangelist: Jerome, from his work On Illustrious Men.

Luke, a physician of Antioch as his writings indicate, was not unskilled in the Greek language. An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel, concerning which the same Paul says, “We send with him a brother whose praise in the gospel is among all the churches,” and to the Colossians, “Luke the beloved physician salutes you,” and to Timothy, “Luke only is with me.” He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles, a history which extends to the second year of Paul’s sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero, from which we learn that the book was composed in that same city. Therefore the Acts of Paul and Thecla and all the fable about the lion baptized by him we reckon among the apocryphal writings, for how is it possible that the inseparable companion of the apostle in his other affairs, alone should have been ignorant of this thing. Moreover Tertullian who lived near those times, mentions a certain presbyter in Asia, an adherent of the apostle Paul, who was convicted by John of having been the author of the book, and who, confessing that he did this for love of Paul, resigned his office of presbyter. Some suppose that whenever Paul in his epistle says “according to my gospel” he means the book of Luke and that Luke not only was taught the gospel history by the apostle Paul who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by other apostles. This he too at the beginning of his work declares, saying, “Even as they delivered unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” So he wrote the gospel as he had heard it, but composed the Acts of the Apostles as he himself had seen. He was buried at Constantinople to which city, in the twentieth year of Constantius, his bones together with the remains of Andrew the apostle were transferred.

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The Origen of the Canon

Ben C. Smith continues his series on the early Christian canons with a second entry on The Origenic Canon. This one’s particularly interesting, as he must assemble Origen’s “list” from several different sources. Ben considers Origen’s treatment of much pseudepigrapha, the Gnostic and other fringey gospels, and the works of the Apostolic Fathers. If you haven’t been following this series, go back and read the whole thing.

I’m just now in the middle of Darrell Bock’s The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities — and I’m loving it. It’s (so far) a concise, readable, orthodox, and sane introduction to the Gnostic gospels. I hope to post my own review in November. Such a book is long overdue.

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Ambrose Again

Adrian Murdoch finds it hard to warm to Ambrose of Milan, or at least to Ambrose’s writings. And he calls Jerome to witness.

Ambrose does come across as stodgy in his addresses, but a little bit warmer in his letters and his mystagogical sermons (which were probably taken down by a scribe). Nowhere, though, is he as approachable as in Augustine’s various reminiscences and in the biography written by his secretary Paulinus. The spiritual direction Ambrose gave to Augustine and Monica is some of the best we’ll find this side of purgatory — for example, the advice usually summarized as “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” That line is usually attributed to Augustine, and it is indeed a summary of his famous Letter to Januarius. But the Bishop of Hippo was merely passing on the advice Ambrose had given to Augustine’s scrupulous mother.

Adrian’s right in saying that Ambrose was a politician — and maybe even an operator. (So was Cyril of Alexandria, to name just one other shrewd saint of the patristic era.) But it’s arguable that we needed a politically savvy bishop in that key city at that time. Ambrose had been governor of Liguria and Aemilia before he was bishop. He knew how to work with the mighty, and he knew how to work them. In his Milanese standoffs with the emperors, Ambrose set the West’s agenda for throne-altar relations. And it’s served us fairly well, preserving us, at least to some degree, from manipulation by the state. Yes, our record has been far from spotless; but not every episcopal operator is a saint, like Ambrose.

Look for more Ambrosian material at Bread and Circuses in the coming weeks, as Adrian continues his research on Gratian.

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Iggy Pop

Today’s the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who died around 107 A.D. On his way to martyrdom in Rome, he wrote seven letters that have survived for us, thanks to the good offices of his friend St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John). St. Ignatius is an early and eloquent witness to traditional Christian doctrines of the divinity of Christ and His humanity, baptism and the Eucharist, the hieararchy (bishop, priest, deacon), and Roman primacy. His letters preserve the earliest recorded use of the term “the Catholic Church.” 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 tonight. Maria Lectrix has podcasted audio of all of Ignatius’s letters. And they’re available in text in lots of translations. (For those of you who prefer a good, solid book, see here.)