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Codex Moments

I haven’t checked this out, but a friend points us to ABC’s audio files on “The Story of Codex Sinaiticus, the Book from Sinai.” It’s posted as part 1 and part 2. The fourth-century codex is the earliest complete copy of the Bible to survive till our day, and one of the earliest examples we have of a book — copied by hand onto parchment leaves and bound. Narrator is Dr. Scot McKendrick, head of western manuscripts at the British Library and curator of the codex. The book resided at the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in Sinai from the sixth century till the nineteenth. Here’s an account, appropriately in book form, of its rediscovery.

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There’s Fatherhood, and There’s Fatherhood

Most of us who hang around this blog aspire to read the Fathers with some kind of discipline.

The truly foolhardy males, like Stephen Gabriel, want to do more. They want To Be a Father. That’s the title of Steve’s new book on fatherhood. His first book, A Father’s Covenant, had a profound influence on my own parenting. It’s a deceptively simple book, made up, according to the subtitle, of “Promises That Will Transform You, Your Marriage, And Your Family.” One line that I’ve spent ten years pondering — and trying to live out — is Gabriel’s heartfelt pledge: “I will play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm.” There are metric tons of supernatural freight in that line.

Anyone who has read my book The Fathers of the Church knows that my own interest in the Fathers grew out of my desire to understand the meaning of my vocation to fatherhood — and my desire to understand the role of my dad in my life. The Fathers are true fathers (as I demonstrate in that book), and they can be good models for parenting in difficult times.

So can Stephen Gabriel. If you’re a dad, I hope you’ll read the book. If you know a dad — or an aspiring dad — I hope you’ll buy him a copy of To Be a Father: 200 Promises That Will Transform You, Your Marriage, And Your Family.

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Copts on the Beat

Study up, this weekend, on the Christianity of ancient Egypt.

Al Ahram reports on the neglect of Coptic monuments in Egypt.

Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, gives us a trove of Coptic links, including ancient texts, lives of the saints, archeological updates, everything!

More links, though not well maintenanced, from the St. Shenouda Coptic Society.

This one’s beautiful, the fruit of eighteen years of research on Coptic paintings.

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It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

The so-called pythoness of Delphi was, for many centuries, the world’s most renowned oracle. Generals and statesmen and ordinary folks traveled to Greece to gain her counsel — or, rather, the counsel of the god Apollo, who spoke through her. She guided the course of conquests and commerce, marriage and monarchy. She presided at the Temple of Apollo, which was adorned by two famous inscriptions: “Know Thyself” and “Nothing Too Much” — sound enough advice, echoed often by the saints.

St. Athanasius tells us that, upon the coming of Jesus Christ, the oracle at Delphi fell permanently silent. Indeed, the Pythia does seem to have clammed up around the beginning of the Common Era. The pagans, however, gave the credit to the Emperor Hadrian, who put a plug in the place after 117 A.D. The oracle had assisted him in his accession to the purple. He wanted to make sure no one followed too closely in his soothseeking footsteps.

The prophetess may have fallen silent, but perhaps it was from a longish case of laryngitis, because we know that at least one late emperor consulted her, and with calamitous effect. In 303 A.D., Diocletian asked her why the utterances had declined, and she replied that it was the fault of the Christians. Historians say this was one of the precipitating causes of Diocletian’s ruthless persecution. Much later in the fourth century, the emperor Julian (“the Apostate”) restored the shrine and its oracle as part of his program of re-paganizing the Roman world. But, by then, the old oracle just sounded tired: “Tell the King,” she said, “that the curiously built temple has fallen to the ground, that bright Apollo no longer has a roof over his head, or prophetic laurel, or babbling spring. Yes, even the murmuring water has dried up.” The Christian Emperor Theodosius shut the place down for good in the 393.

Now scientific research adds insult to injury. Researchers now claim that the oracle got her enlightenment from inhaling gases that seeped upward from the bowels of the earth. Methane, ethylene, and carbon dioxide are contenders.

It’s kind of sad to think that Rome’s final, brutal persecution of the Church resulted from the same process that produced the lyrics of Donovan, Pink Floyd, and Yes. But, whatever.

If only the Pythia could speak to us today, what might she say?

“Dude, did you ever think about your hand? I mean, really think about your hand?”

Maybe the stoners were on to something. Knowing thyself might as well begin with, like, really knowing thy hand. But, even then, one shouldn’t let one’s self-contemplation get out of hand. Nothing too much, after all.

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Happy Catholic tagged me for this All Saints/Halloween Meme.

If you were invited to a Halloween/ All Saints Day Costume Party, which saint would you dress up as and why? (The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is not an option.)
Well, since the BVM is out, I guess I’d choose Anthony of Egypt, because then I could just stay home.

Which saint or other person would accompany you to the party?
Assuming I was — as Anthony was, on occasion — dragged into the city despite my preference for staying home, I’d probably take Jerome. That way, we’d get thrown out of the party together, shortly after my companion’s first conversation.

What famous quote would help others identify you?
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.'”

Describe your costume.
Whatever skins I could pull off road-kill, as clean as possible, stitched together in an orderly way. Abundant beard and hair.

Which movie or film best depicts the life of this saint?
Lots of paintings, but no movie that I know of.

What is your favorite book written about this saint or that he or she has written?
It’s a tie. Athanasius: The Life of Anthony and The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

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It’s an Italian Thing

Anyone who’s ever driven through an Italian neighborhood in an American city has seen household shrines of the Blessed Virgin. The “bathtub Madonna” is proverbial kitsch. What’s cool is that there’s nothing new about it. The archeological record shows that Christians in every age and place have cobbled together odd items to build shrines to Mother of God and her Divine Child. The oldest Roman and the oldest Coptic images of the Virgin show her nursing the baby Jesus. (You’ll find both here.)

As in the age of Constantine, so today. Marian shrines are as ubiquitous on the streets of Italy as they are in the Italian-American neighborhood where I grew up. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, even as it crossed the ocean.

Now, a new book of photographs by Steven Rothfeld and text by Frances Mayes takes us to that ur-source — the streetside shrines built into nooks of buildings in Italy. It’s appropriately titled Shrines: Images of Italian Worship. The photos dominate; the commentary is spare and poetic. The shrines photographed range from gorgeous Della Robbias to cloying plaster mass-productions. All bespeak a piety that is warm, homey, integral to everyday life. Mayes is the bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy and many other books.

We’ll see these shrines aplenty on our on our May 2007 pilgrimage to Rome. Consider joining us for the trip!

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Mark Your Calendars Now!

Last week, blogger Huw Raphael at Sarx noted the proximity of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Roman calendar (October 7) and the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God in the Byzantine calendar. An Orthodox believer who blogs for mutual understanding, Huw came up with an ingenious idea, which I heartily endorse:

These two feast seem to be to be analogues. And coming within a week of each other they form a seemingly logical period of prayer and intercession for Christians — of all denominations — who stand in need of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession. Go from 29 September, with the Feast of Michaelmas, including the feast of the the Holy Guardian Angels on the 2nd, and we’ve got a right handy ready-meade novena for protection.

Granted, this is irrelevant until next year. Maybe we can breathe with both lungs.

Auxilium Christianorum, O.P.N.!

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Vatican Reveals Ancient Cemetery

This one’s pagan, contemporaneous with the earliest years of the Church.

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) — Visitors to the Vatican will be able to view its museums’ latest addition: a 2,000-year-old pagan burial ground filled with mausoleums, scattered bones and headstones, including one that belonged to one of Nero’s slaves.

The cemetery almost never saw the light of day in modern times. The Vatican announced its discovery almost four years ago after a truck was spotted hauling tombstones with Latin inscriptions on the construction site for a parking lot.

“It’s not easy to dig with all the wonderful things that are underground,” said Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, head of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, in an interview.

The 500 square meters (5,380 square feet) of mostly pagan crypts will be opened to the public on Oct. 13 as part of the Vatican Museums’ 500th anniversary. The necropolis is part of three other sections that in their entirety consist of about 1,000 square meters of graves.

A correspondent points us to lots of photos here.

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Catechists, Take Note

Maria Lectrix has has now podcasted all of St. Augustine’s treatise “On the Catechizing of the Unlearned.” (Not that today’s catechists ever have to deal with unlearned Christians.) It’s the next best thing to hearing Augustine himself. In fact, it’s even better, since he preached in Latin. ML has also posted plenty of Irenaeus, Gregory, and others for your listening pleasure.

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It’s All Greek — and All Online!

Reader JR alerts us to Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, now entirely available for free downloading!

If you’ve been putting off those Greek lessons, now’s the time to start. I highly recommend William D. Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar and the accompanying Workbook. I took the extra step of ordering tapes of Professor Mounce’s classes. I found them abundantly helpful. His tapes, CDs, and software (some of it free for downloading) are available from his own family-run business, Teknia.

You’ll find pointers to free Greek-learning resources in this post, from a few months back.