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Emerald Antiquity

Ioannis Georganas at Mediterranean Archaeology alerts us to free content at the website of the journal Classics Ireland, the journal of the Classical Association of Ireland. The content is indeed free and quite good. I can’t figure out how to link to the articles, but I’m sure you’ll find them (if I did). Of interest:

Evelyn Waugh, Helena and the True Cross (vol. 7, 2000)

In Search of Diocletian (vol. 4, 1997)

The Bones of Saint Peter (vol. 3, 1996)

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Party for Marty

Today’s the feast of St. Martin of Tours, one of the most beloved characters of late antiquity. He’s near to my heart because his image, in living color, dominates the doorway of my favorite Pittsburgh-area Mexican restaurant (Mendoza’s, if you must know).

As I mentioned day before yesterday, you should spend some time listening to the life of St. Martin by Sulpitius Severus (recorded by the the Divine Miss M, Maria Lectrix). You’ll learn that Martin was born into a pagan family and named after Mars, the god of war. As a young child, he was drawn to Christianity, and he enrolled himself as a catechumen. He delayed baptism, though, as was common in the fourth century; and he became a high-ranking military officer, like his father before him.

Do listen, but don’t just listen to his life. There’s also good readable material on the Web. Take a gander at Catholic Community Forum, whence I swiped the lovely image below, and Wikipedia, whence I swiped the following story:

While Martin was still a soldier at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me.”

You can read the story, book length, in Martin of Tours: Soldier, Bishop, Saint and in Early Christian Lives (Penguin Classics).

stm07015.jpgOh, and this is the unforgettable image I see whenever I take the family out for fajitas.

St. Martin, pray for us today! Win us the grace to see Christ wherever He begs our attention.

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I’m Not Lion to You, Hun

Today is the memorial of Pope St. Leo the Great, who reigned 440-461 A.D. Those years were, in the words of the Chinese curse, interesting times.

Within the Church, Leo is best known for his great Tome, the letter that served as a summary of christological doctrine — the final punctuation mark on a century of disputes over Jesus’ person and nature(s). The Tome was accepted and ratified by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. But Leo makes the secular history books because he was able to reach peace with a seemingly implacable military power — and, in doing so, he stanched the flow of blood that had soaked the lands and swelled rivers all across the Europe.

By the year 440, the Empire in the West was a mess. The Emperor might pretend to rule, but except in Italy itself the real rulers were the barbarians who had conquered most of the provinces.

And the city of Rome itself, once mistress of the world, was no longer even mistress of the tattered remnant of the Empire. The capital of the West had moved to Ravenna, a city protected on one side by the sea and on the other sides by swamps. The Emperor could be safe there, even if his people weren’t safe in the rest of Italy. Meanwhile, as Rome and the West decayed into anarchy and poverty, Constantinople and the East continued to prosper.

Where did that leave the pope? When Rome ruled the world, it seemed natural enough that the bishop of Rome should rule the Church. And the see of Rome had been founded by Peter, the chief of the Apostles. But now Rome was a backwater compared to Constantinople, and the bishop of Antioch might fairly point out that Peter had founded his see, too. How could the bishop of Rome claim authority over the whole Church?

Just as the question was beginning to seem most urgent, a pope came along who had exactly the right answer. His name was Leo, and history remembers him as Leo the Great. Leo’s answer was that the pope held his authority as the heir of Peter. Christ had given Peter authority over the other disciples, and the bishop of Rome inherits that authority over the other bishops.

In Roman law, an heir took on all the rights and duties of the deceased. So Peter, the holder of the keys to heaven and the power of binding and loosing, would pass those powers on to his heir, his successor as bishop of Rome; and that successor would pass them on to his heir, and so on down the line. That gave Rome the important edge over Antioch. It was true that Peter had founded both sees. But he had died at Rome, and that made the Bishop of Rome his heir.

Leo was not inventing this inheritance, but explaining it. It is implicit in the appeals of many Fathers to the judgment of the papacy: St. Athanasius, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria … Theodoret of Cyr put it eloquently: “If Paul, the herald of the Truth, the trumpet of the Holy Ghost, had recourse to the great Peter, in order to obtain a decision from him for those at Antioch who were disputing about living by the Law, much more do we small and humble folk run to the Apostolic See to get healing from you for the sores of the churches. For it is fitting that you should in all things have the pre-eminence, seeing that your See possesses many peculiar privileges.”

Now, in the mid-fifth century, during the reign of Peter’s forty-forth successor, a new horde of barbarians had appeared from the east. The Huns were more terrible than any of the tribes who had come before them. Their chief, Attila, was cruel and brilliant, a master of strategy and one of the most successful generals in history. He built an empire that stretched across Asia and into Europe. He had already ransomed and plundered the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire; now he headed for what was left of the West. At least half a million assorted barbarians came with him. The destruction they left was so complete that the Romans started to call Attila the “Scourge of God.”

In 451, the Huns entered Gaul and did their usual pillaging there. But just as Attila was about to take the city of Orleans, an enormous army of Romans and Visigoths fell on him from behind, taking the Huns completely by surprise. For perhaps the first time, Attila was forced to retreat. But the allied army caught up with him in Champagne, and a terrific battle followed in which more than three hundred thousand men died. It was perhaps the greatest clash of armies Europe had ever seen. (Reliable historians say that a small neighboring stream was swelled to a raging river by the blood spilled on the field.) Attila was defeated and forced to abandon the province.

A year later, in 452, Attila was ready for revenge. This time he swept into Italy. It seemed as though nothing could stop him. The marauding Huns completely depopulated whole sections of Italy. Cities were wiped off the earth, their populations dead or enslaved. With terrifying speed the Huns were approaching Rome itself. The useless Emperor Valentinian was about to abandon all Italy to its fate. Could anyone save Rome from total destruction?

It was time for Pope Leo to step in. If armies could not stop the Huns, then only a greater power would do. Trusting in the protection of God, Pope Leo set out without an army to face the Scourge of God.

Everyone was surprised when Attila received the Pope with honor and hospitality. Something about the great Pope Leo impressed even the unstoppable conqueror. By the time the Pope was through conferring with him, Attila had agreed to leave Italy and make peace with the Empire, in return for an annual tribute. Thus Pope Leo, alone and undefended, accomplished what the best Roman generals and their hundreds of thousands of soldiers hadn’t been able to do. Attila turned around and marched back across the Alps, headed back for his own empire.

He never made it. On the way home, he fell violently ill and died. His empire almost immediately fell apart, with his sons and vassals fighting bloody civil wars.

In spite of all the chaos in the Western Empire, the emperors continued to murder each other on a regular schedule caring more for their own fleeting power than for the safety of the Empire. Maximus murdered Valentinian, and Valentinian’s widow was so distraught that she invited the Vandals, who by now had settled in Africa, to come and avenge the murder. The Vandals took the opportunity to pillage Rome in 455. Pope Leo could do nothing to stop them, but he did at least manage to persuade them not to kill the inhabitants and burn down the buildings.

Leo possessed great power when he ruled on earth. Yet he holds greater power today, as he intercedes before the throne of the Almighty. St. Leo, pope and peacemaker, pray for us, who live in interesting times, and violent times.

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Guided Tours

Maria Lectrix has posted audio of all of St. Sulpitius Severus’ life of St. Martin of Tours. She posted it in several installments, which are archived together here. But please do visit her own site, too, to experience Ms. Lectrix’s unexpurgated running commentary. This lady is a national treasure. Somebody, please, send her a million-dollar grant.

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Multiple Michaels Day

On the Byzantine calendar, today is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel and the Angelic hosts. On my mom’s calendar, it’s her youngest child’s forty-third birthday. I was born just days after she turned forty-seven. So — as those whiz-kid math majors among you have already figured out — my mom just passed that milestone ninetieth birthday. (She points out, however, that zeroes don’t count for anything, so she’s only nine. But I digress.)

My family of origin is 100% Latin Rite, so I was not named for the archangel on his Feast in the East. I was named for my dad (God rest his soul). But I was very pleased when I learned of the coincidence of my birthday with the Byzantine memorial. I found out because of the coincidence of landing an apartment a couple of blocks away from St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Canonsburg, Pa. It was that neighborly experience that got me looking Eastward for the first time, and all under the auspices of my heavenly patron.

So, I say, let the festivities begin, even here in the West.

St. Clement of Alexandria gives us good reason. Commenting on Jude 9, he said: “The one who fought with the devil as our guardian angel is here called Michael.” Clement’s countryman St. Anthony of Egypt had a vision that confirmed the continuing role of Michael as a warrior on behalf of humankind. And the sixth-century North African bishop Primasius chimed in that “Michael with his angels fights [present tense] against the devil, because by praying according to the will of God for the Church in this world and by granting her his aid, he is properly understood to be fighting for her. And so the apostle says, ‘Are not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14). Primasius went on to interpret Daniel 10 and 12 in favor of Michael’s continuing role in your life and mine.

I don’t know about you, but I’m very glad to know I have an archangel like Michael on my side.

And Venerable Bede tells us that Michael’s more than a guardian; he’s also a role model. “Here is what we have to learn from this incident: if the archangel Michael refrained from cursing the devil and dealt gently with him, how much more should we mere mortals avoid blaspheming, especially as we might offend the majesty of the Creator by an incautious word.”

OK, so try to be nice to all the candidates who won the election, especially the ones you voted against. If you won’t do it for me on my birthday, do it for St. Michael on his feast.

If you want to read more of the best angelology of the Fathers, I urge you to run off right now and buy Revelation: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, volume XII. The whole series, in fact, is mighty fine, gathering patristic commentary on every verse of Scripture. You can even buy it on searchable CD-ROM.

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What’s New in Nubia

Al Ahram reports on four ancient Nubian cathedrals discovered in the 1960s, with 120 wall paintings in good condition. The excavation was part of an archeological campaign that found several other, smaller churches as well, built in the sixth through ninth centuries. The story is in two parts, here and here.

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Abbrevs. in Lat. Lang.

N.S. Gill has posted a very helpful guide to reading Latin inscriptions. This will be especially useful for those of you who are planning to join Scott Hahn and me in Rome for our May 2007 pilgrimage. In some Roman neighborhoods, it’s hard to turn your head without knocking it against another ancient inscription. Sign up today.

(Thanks to those of you who pointed out the botched URL. It’s fixed now.)

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Dennis the Little

The life of Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little) stretched across the fifth and sixth centuries. He was a monk in a land that is today part of Romania. Dionysius was renowned for his humility, which is where the “Little” moniker comes from, and which is why you probably don’t know his name. But I’ll bet you’ve used his technology, and unless you’re a scholar working in a multi-religious environment you’re probably using it still. (Pluralists favor “C.E.” for “Common Era.”)

Dionysius liked to calculate calendars. He was the go-to guy for figuring out the date of Easter. But he’s best known for inventing the term “Anno Domini” (A.D.) — “The Year of the Lord” — to differentiate the years after the Incarnation from the years before. So you might say he had a big impact on history, for such a little guy.

Roger Pearse points us to the first English translation of Dionysius’ most important work. It’s only partial, but it’s free and posted on a Russian site. Roger’s thinking about finishing the job in his spare time.