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The Gift of Tongues

Roger Pearse is working with some ancient texts in Old Nubian. I’ll let him explain:

The Nubian kingdom occupied the northern end of what is today the Sudan, and the blacks living there were a constant feature in the history of Ancient Egypt, even leading to two dynasties of black pharaohs, and a civilisation based at Meroe, complete with imitation pyramids. They were converted to Christianity at the end of Antiquity, and continued to be so down to the Middle Ages, and material in Old Nubian is the literature of that kingdom. The Nubian kingdom eventually broke up under incessant Moslem attacks, and had ceased to exist by the time the first European travellers reached the area. Today Christianity is only a memory in that unhappy land. Excavations at the ancient Egyptian fortress at Qasr Ibrim (now mainly submerged by the Aswan High Dam) revealed quantities of Old Nubian texts.

It’s an intriguing stack of books: “The Matyrdom of St. Menas,” a lectionary, books of both testaments of the Bible, and works by Chrysostom.

Roger’s also dabbling in Classical Armenian. If this guy weren’t so kind, he’d sure be intimidating.

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B16 Goes to Gus

Pope Benedict paid his respects at the tomb of St. Augustine. CNS reports:

PAVIA, Italy (CNS) — Paying homage to one of the most important figures of the church, Pope Benedict XVI prayed at the tomb of St. Augustine and called him a “model of conversion” for Christians of all ages.

Although conditioned by the passions of youth and the habits of his time, St. Augustine sought the truth — and that led him inevitably to faith, the pope said at a Mass April 22 in the northern Italian city of Pavia.

The pope’s two-day visit to Pavia and Vigevano, south of Milan, was packed with events: outdoor Masses in both cities, brief encounters with young people, a visit to a hospital and medical center, a university address and a prayer service in the church where the relics of St. Augustine are preserved.

It was Pope Benedict’s most extensive pastoral visit in Italy, and tens of thousands jammed the streets in each of the small cities to catch their first in-person glimpse of the German pontiff.

For the pope, it was above all a personal pilgrimage to the final resting place of a theologian who inspired his own thinking. As a young priest in 1953, the pope wrote his doctoral thesis on St. Augustine’s teachings.

More recently, he has cited St. Augustine frequently in papal discourses and documents, and a key theme of his pontificate — the need to appreciate and return God’s love — reflects St. Augustine’s statement that Christ came “mainly so that man might learn how much God loves him.”

In a homily to some 15,000 people gathered at a riverside park in Pavia, the pope explained why he found the saint so inspiring and such a good example for modern people. Born in North Africa in the fourth century, St. Augustine for many years ignored the counsel of his Christian mother and led a hedonistic lifestyle before converting and being baptized in Milan at the age of 33.

The pope said St. Augustine’s spiritual awakening was not an overnight event but a continual process, which was ultimately successful because he never stopped trying to find out “where we come from, where we are going and how we can find the true life.”

The pope said a second stage of his conversion came when, after his ordination as a priest, St. Augustine was called upon to preach publicly — a development that required him to translate his “sublime thoughts” into the language of the simple people.

A third phase of the conversion came even later when, as a bishop, St. Augustine revised and corrected his previous works, a sign of his own humility, the pope said.

At an evening liturgy in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, the pope stood in prayer before a crystal urn that holds the 226 bone fragments of St. Augustine. Then he lit a new votive lamp for the tomb.

In a sermon, the pope said St. Augustine had his eyes opened by an awareness of God’s love, which is “the heart of the Gospel, the central nucleus of Christianity.” It was also the theme of his own encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), which owes much to the thought of St. Augustine, the pope said.

Serving Christ, the pope said, is essentially a question of returning God’s love through acts of charity, with special attention to the material and spiritual needs of others.

He said the church exists to educate people in love and bring them to spiritual maturity.

“The church is not a simple organization of collective events nor, on the contrary, the sum of individuals who live a private religiosity,” he said.

“The church is a community of people who believe in the God of Jesus Christ and who commit themselves to implement in the world the commandment of charity which he left them,” he said.

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Conn. Men

I have some big news to report this week, but no time to pull it together right now. I’m just getting back to town after delivering the More-Fisher lecture at St. John Fisher Seminary of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. What an impressive place! The rector is a priest I much admire. The sems are a young bunch, and they have many virtues, not least hospitality, refinement, and culture. As I arrived, they were just returning from a private tour of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they gave me an impressive report over appropriately strong coffee at breakfast.

Friday night I had an Italian dinner — just like Mama’s — on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. The food was outstanding, but the conversation was heavenly. I was joined by Judy DeFelice of the seminary staff and her husband, Felice DeFelice. “Phil” is one of the premiere liturgical artists in the United States. I’ve had the privilege of worshiping at several altars he carved — though I never knew they were his. Such is the work of such a man. His work is featured online by the Institute for Sacred Architecture and here, here, and here on the site of noted architect Henry Menzies. Beauty is making a strong comeback, thanks be to God — and thanks to artists like Phil.

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Son of David, Have Mercy

You gotta love any contemporary musician who quotes Melito of Sardis — at length — on his blog. But I admit I loved Matthew Christopher Davidson for his music long before I discovered his patristics. Listen to his stuff, for heaven’s sake. As of this week, he’s even giving us free downloads. He’s got two locations on MySpace: Matthew Christopher Davidson and St. Matthew. Even Junior approves.

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Alexandria, “the Symbolic City”

Pope Benedict spoke yesterday of Clement of Alexandria. (Clement is a key witness in our discussion of “Breastfeeding and the Theology of the Body” in the newly published Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family Life.) Here’s the pope (translation by Zenit):

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After a time of holidays, we return to our normal catechesis, despite the fact that the square is still visibly decorated for the feasts. With these catecheses, we return, as I said, to the theme previously begun. We have spoken about the Twelve Apostles, then the disciples of the apostles, and now we turn to the great personalities of the nascent Church, of the ancient Church.

Last time, we had spoken about St. Irenaeus of Lyons and today we will speak of Clement of Alexandria, a great theologian who was probably born in Athens, sometime around the turn of the second century. In Athens, he picked up a keen interest in philosophy that would make him one of the great promoters of dialogue between faith and reason in the Christian tradition.

While still a youth, he moved to Alexandria, the “symbolic city” of this fruitful nexus between cultures which characterized the Hellenistic age. He was a disciple of Pantaenus and even succeeded him in directing the catechetical school. Numerous sources say he was ordained a priest. During the persecution from 202-203, he fled Alexandria and took refuge in Caesarea, in Cappadocia, where he died in the year 215.

The most important of his works which still exist are the “Exhortation,” the “Instructor” and the “Stromata.” Although it seems that it was not the author’s original intention, these works make for a real trilogy, adequate for efficiently accompanying the spiritual maturation of a Christian.

“The Exhortation,” as the title itself implies, exhorts one who is beginning and searching for the path of faith. Moreover, “The Exhortation” coincides with a person: the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is an “exhorter” of those who decidedly begin the journey toward Truth.

Christ himself later becomes the “educator,” that is, the “instructor” of those who, by virtue of baptism, have become sons and daughters of God. Christ himself, finally, is also “Didascalo,” that is, the “Teacher,” who proposes the deepest teachings. These are collected in Clement’s third work, “The Stromata,” a Greek word meaning “miscellanies.” It is a composition that is not systematic, but rather deals with various arguments, and is the direct fruit of the ordinary teaching of Clement.

Taken together, Clement’s catecheses accompany the catechumen and the baptized step by step, because, with the two “wings” of faith and reason, they lead to knowing the Truth, which is Christ, the Word of God. “Authentic gnosis” — the Greek expression which means “knowledge” or “intelligence” — can only be found in knowing the person of the truth. This is the edifice built by reason under the impulse of the supernatural principle. Therefore, the authentic “gnosis” is a development of the faith, drawn forth by Christ in the souls of those united to him. Clement later defines two levels of Christian life.

The first level: believing Christians who live the faith in an ordinary way, although with their horizons always open toward sanctity. The second level: the “gnostics,” that is, those who lead a life of spiritual perfection. In any case, the Christian has to begin with the common base of the faith and by way of a path of searching, he should allow himself to be led by Christ and thus arrive to the knowledge of the Truth and the truths that make up the content of the faith.

This knowledge, Clement tells us, becomes for the soul a lived reality: It is not just a theory. Rather, it is a life force, a union with a transforming love. The knowledge of Christ is not just a thought, but a love that opens the eyes, transforms the person and creates communion with the “Logos,” the divine Word that is truth and life. In this communion, which is the perfect knowledge and is love, the perfect Christian reaches contemplation and union with God.

Clement finally takes up doctrine, according to which the final end of the person consists in being like God. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, but this is also a challenge, a journey; in fact, the objective of life, the final destiny of the person consists in making himself like God. This is possible thanks to a connaturality with him, which the person has received at the moment of his creation, by which he is already the image of God. This connaturality enables him to know divine realities to which the person adheres above all by faith, and through the living of the faith, the practice of the virtues, can grow until he reaches the contemplation of God.

In this way, on the journey to perfection, Clement gives the same importance to moral requirements as to the intellectual ones. The two go together because it is not possible to know the truth without living it, nor to live the truth without knowing it. It is not possible to make oneself like God and contemplate him simply with a rational knowledge: In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to live according to the “Logos,” a life according to truth. And, therefore, good works have to accompany intellectual knowledge, as the shadow accompanies the body.

There are two virtues which particularly adorn the soul of the “authentic gnostic.” The first is freedom from passions (“apátheia”); the second is love, the true passion, which ensures intimate union with God. Love gives perfect peace, and enables the “authentic gnostic” to confront the greatest sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice in the following of Christ, and brings him to rise to the level of living virtue. In this way, the ethical ideal of ancient philosophy, that is, the freedom from passions, is redefined by Clement and complemented by love, in the unending process which leads to being like God.

In this way, the thinker from Alexandria fosters the second great opportunity for dialogue between the Christian message and Greek philosophy. We know that St. Paul, in the Areopagus in Athens, where Clement was born, had made the first attempt at dialogue with Greek philosophy and for the most part, had failed, given that his listeners said, “We will listen to you at another time.” Now Clement, takes up again this dialogue, and supremely ennobles it in the tradition of Greek philosophy.

As my venerable predecessor, John Paul II, wrote in his encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” Clement of Alexandria arrived to an interpretation of philosophy as “instruction which prepared for Christian faith” (No. 38). And, in fact, Clement even affirmed that God had given philosophy to the Greeks “as their own Testament” (“Stromata,” 6, 8, 67, 1).

For him, the tradition of Greek philosophy, almost like the Law for the Jews, is the context for “revelation.” They are two currents that definitively direct toward the very “Logos.” Clement decisively continues along the path of those who want to “give reason” for their faith in Jesus Christ.

He can serve as an example for Christians, for catechists and theologians of our time, who John Paul II exhorted in that same encyclical to “recover and express to the full the metaphysical dimension of truth in order to enter into a demanding critical dialogue with […] contemporary philosophical thought.”

We conclude with one of the expressions from the famous “Prayer to Christ, ‘Logos'” with which Clement concludes the “Instructor.” His prayer reads: “Show favor to your children … grant us to live in peace, to arrive to your city, pass through the currents of sin without sinking into them, be transported with serenity by the Holy Spirit, by ineffable Wisdom: we, who by day and by night, until the last day, raise to you a hymn of thanksgiving to the one Father … the Son, Instructor and Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit, Amen!” (“Instructor,” 3, 12, 101).

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Its Name Is Legion

Adrian Murdoch, rather glumly, informs us that the movie The Last Legion is a dog. If it’s indeed as bad as the reviews suggest, you should just stay home and cozy up with a copy of Adrian’s biography of the movie’s subject, The Last Roman: Romulus Augustulus and the Decline of the West.

This is not to be confused with The Last Pagan, Adrian’s biography of Julian the Apostate, which I recommended a couple of days ago.

As I said back then, I’ve reviewed both for an upcoming issue of Touchstone.

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Keeping Abreast

I just got word that Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family Life is now in the warehouse. My wife Terri and I contributed a chapter I think you’ll enjoy. It’s titled “Milk and Mystery: On Breastfeeding and the Theology of the Body.” We linger long, of course, over Scripture and the Fathers, calling to witness Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem, Irenaeus, Augustine, and the apocryphal “Odes of Solomon.” The volume is co-edited by two of my good friends and sometime co-authors, Scott Hahn and Regis Flaherty. This is a book you’ll want to latch on to. It’s also a perfect Mother’s Day gift (along with this one), a gift for newlyweds, expectant parents, and even the more seasoned sort who like to ponder their vocation to marriage and parenting.

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Return of the Oxford Movement

My friend Rod Bennett is wondering if there’s another Oxford Movement afoot — like the first one, starting with Evangelicals.

The Oxford Movement, remember, began when Evangelicals like Newman and Keble, horrified at the rapid liberal collapse happening to the Church of England in the 1830s, looked around for new weapons with which to defend her–and chanced upon the writings of the Church Fathers. (Something very similar was happening to Scotch Presbyterians in America around the same time: the “Restoration Movement” of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell.) Now, thanks to the current “Post-Evangelical” phenom (in which the disgruntled kids of Reaganite moms are struggling to make Evangelicalism safe for abortion and gay marriage) the crisis is becoming acute again–and traditional “Bible-only” safeguards are proving impotent to the task. Thank God the writings of the Church Fathers are still available, with their shining vision of apostolic tradition, of One, Holy, Catholic Church.

Read the rest. If the new movement is anything like the last, we can look forward to masterpieces like The Church of the Fathers. We may hope anyway.

And if you haven’t read Rod’s lovely book on the early Fathers — what are you waiting for?

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The Trinity That’ll Never Play in Peoria

I continue my reading of Robert Louis Wilken’s Remembering the Christian Past. I love this book for its clarity, simplicity, and richness. Like most of Wilken’s work, Remembering is deep enough for scholars, yet always accessible to amateurs (like Yours Truly). It also showcases his beautiful, understated sense of humor, as when he relates — as straight as can be — Eunomius’s fourth-century proposal to rename the Trinity: so that the Father became “Supreme and absolute Being”; the Son, “another existing through it, but after it”; and the Holy Spirit, “a third ranking with neither of these two.” Apparently, the heretics never tested their theses on focus groups. But, then again, it sounds strikingly similar to some recent attempts to reformulate the Trinity.

Also: Wilken is the rare modern scholar who will dare to identify an ancient text as one “that could only be written by someone who loved God.”

I will tempt you further by showing you the table of contents, lifted from the Library of Congress database:

Who will speak for the religious traditions? — Religious pluralism and early Christian thought — No other Gods — Not a solitary God: the Triune God of the Bible — In novissimis diebus: Biblical promises, Jewish hopes, and early Christian exegesis — Lives of the saints and the pursuit of virtue — Loving God with a holy passion — Memory and the Christian intellectual life.

Oh, give in already. You want to. And, besides, I need at least another person in my life to share this delight. When you read Wilken’s essay on the Trinity, you’ll know why.