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Martyr by Numbers, 1-2-3

I love the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.

I discuss them in the early chapters of The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, and the Hope for Tomorrow. And I’ve written about them in Touchstone magazine.

I talked about them in Rome, and you can hear that fervorino at my audio page. Scroll way down to the bottom of the page, to “The Roman Martyrs and Their Mass.” For my KVSS interview, scroll about halfway up the page to “The First Marytrs of Rome.”

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Peter, Paul, and Merry

Bruce and Kris at KVSS interviewed me about the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (which is today). The evidence is audible right here.

Today, please remember my beloved co-author, Fr. Kris Stubna. It’s the twenty-second anniversary of his priestly ordination. Fr. Kris and I have a new book coming out in 2008. This makes five we’ve written together, depending on how you count.

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Marketplace of Ideas

In the middle of the fourth century, St. Gregory of Nyssa gave in to a fit of complaint. Ordinary people, he said, were spending entirely too much time talking about theology. “Mere youths and tradesmen, off-hand dogmatists in theology, servants too, and slaves that have been flogged … are solemn with us and philosophical about things incomprehensible … If you ask for change someone philosophizes to you on the begotten and the unbegotten.”

And the problem followed poor Gregory all over the marketplace. If he asked the baker the price of his bread, he got Trinitarian doctrine instead. If he asked whether the bath was ready, he got still more speculation.

Gosh, times have changed. Not too long ago, a friend of mine ordered a Christmas cake to read “Happy birthday, Jesus,” and the baker asked her how that name was spelled.

Today we live with widespread doctrinal ignorance, and reading St. Gregory’s complaint can be irritating — like listening to a friend gripe about having too much money or a spouse who cooks too well.

We live in a time when theology is an esoteric academic discipline practiced by very few Christians and of little interest to the bakers and bankers.

Christians of the fourth century knew better. Their century had begun with the Roman Empire’s most ruthless and systematic persecution of Christians. It was important for ordinary people to know what they believed and why, because they might be called upon to die for that faith.

Yet, just twenty-five years later, the Church, now triumphant in the world, was torn apart over a matter of Trinitarian theology: the Arian controversy. The emperors and even the bishops were divided in their allegiances, calling councils and counter-councils, exiling patriarchs from their sees, and demanding creedal compliance from the people in the pews. But which creed was saving? Sometimes there was just a single letter’s difference between one formula and another, but that little letter made all the difference in the world.

Once again, ordinary Christians needed to understand what they believed and why, because their theology could affect not only their salvation, but also their employment, their place of residence, and even their survival.

And so it went through the century. There were no printing presses, iPods, or EWTN, no searchable CDs or World Wide Web. Yet common people considered themselves duty-bound to study not just basic doctrine, but rather advanced theology. They would not settle for just the sacraments of initiation. They wanted to keep studying till even a saint would find them annoying.

They wanted to be theologians, and so should we. For that, we’ll need to develop a passion for doctrine — not just apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith. Apologetics can ride the adrenaline rush we feel when a co-worker insults us. But theology drives us to discipline our intellects beyond their comfort level. And it demands a disciplined prayer life as well. A friend of St. Gregory, Evagrius Ponticus, put it starkly: “a theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.”

Nowadays, the motivation will have to come from inside, because most modern states prefer to remain neutral on the fine points of Christian doctrine.

Yet it is no small matter to know that God is love, and so must be a coequal, coeternal Trinity. It is no small matter to know that everyone — you and I and all our friends and adversaries — has a guardian angel. It is no small matter to know that we have recourse to these pure and powerful spirits and all their knowledge and strength. It is no small matter for us, whether we’re bakers or bankers, to know the name of Jesus and its saving power.

Theology is not just for the elites. It’s a basic life skill. St. Gregory himself knew this, and that’s why he wrote one of the Church’s first catechisms.

Maybe you know it, too. But do your children and your parents, your neighbors and co-workers? Couldn’t we all work a little harder to make the modern marketplace catch up to the fourth century?

We shouldn’t often strive to do things that irritate the saints, but maybe just just this once…

(This column originally appeared in my regular spot at the back of LayWitness magazine — to which you should subscribe!)

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Eb Tide

How do you tell a Nazorean from an Ebionite?

Very carefully.

In a two-post analysis (here and here), Dr. Platypus digs his duckbill into the evidence of early Jewish-Christian movements and their pre-Christian precursors.

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Full Text of the Cyril Audience

Zenit’s translation of Pope Benedict’s address on St. Cyril of Jerusalem…

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our attention today will be focused on St. Cyril of Jerusalem. His life represents the coming together of two dimensions: on one side, pastoral care and, on the other, involvement in the controversies that weighed upon the Church of the East at that time.

Born in 315 in Jerusalem, or in the surrounding areas, Cyril received a fine literary formation that became the basis of his ecclesiastical knowledge through the study of the Bible.

He was ordained a priest by Bishop Maximus. When Maximus died and was buried, in 348, Cyril was ordained a bishop by Acacius, the influential metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine, a follower of Arius who was convinced he had an ally in Cyril. Hence, Cyril was suspected to have received the episcopal nomination through concessions given to Arianism.

Cyril soon found himself at odds with Acacius for doctrinal as well as juridical reasons, because Cyril reinstated the autonomy of his own see, separating it from that of the metropolitan of Caesarea. During 20 years or so, Cyril suffered three exiles: the first in 357, by decree of a synod of Jerusalem; a second in 360 by Acacius; and a third in 367 — the longest, lasting 11 years — by Emperor Valens, a follower of Arianism. Not until 378, after the death of the emperor, was Cyril able to resume possession of his see, bringing back unity and peace to the faithful.

Despite certain writings from his day that call into question his orthodoxy, others of the same epoch defend it. Among the most authoritative is the synodal letter of 382, after the ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381, in which Cyril had a significant role. In that letter, sent to the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern bishops officially recognize the absolute authority of Cyril, the legitimacy of his episcopal ordination and the merits of his pastoral service, which death brought to an end in 387.

We have 24 of his celebrated catecheses, which he wrote as a bishop around the year 350. Introduced by a “Procatechesis” of welcome, the first 18 are addressed to catechumens or illuminandi (in Greek “photizomenoi”) and were kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

The first five deal with the dispositions required to receive baptism, conversion from pagan customs, the sacrament of baptism and the ten dogmatic truths contained in the creed or symbol of faith.

The following catecheses, Nos. 6-18, make up a “continual catechesis” of the Symbol of Jerusalem, which is anti-Arian. Of the last five, Nos. 19-23, the so-called mystagogical ones, the first two develop a commentary on the rites of baptism, the last three deal with confirmation, the Body and Blood of Christ and the Eucharistic liturgy. There is also an explanation of the Our Father (“Oratio Dominica”), which establishes a path of initiation to prayer that develops parallel to the initiation with the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

The foundation of instruction in the Christian faith developed, although amid controversy against the pagans, Judeo-Christians and followers of Manichaeism. The development of the instruction was based on the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, with a language rich with images. Catechesis was an important moment, inserted into the broad context of the entire life, and especially the liturgical life, of the Christian community. Within this maternal womb, the gestation of the future Christian took place, accompanied by the prayer and witness of the brethren.

Taken together, Cyril’s homilies make up a systematic catechesis on the rebirth of the Christian through baptism. To the catechumen, Cyril says: “You have fallen into the nets of the Church (cfr. Matthew 13:47). Let yourself be taken alive: Do not run away, because it is Jesus who takes you to his love, not to give you death but the resurrection after death. You must die and rise again (cfr. Romans 6:11-14). … Die to sin, and live for justice, starting today” (Pro-Catechesis, No. 5).

From a “doctrinal” point of view, Cyril comments on the symbol of Jerusalem with recourse to the use of typology in the Scriptures, in a “symphonic” relationship between the two Testaments, pointing to Christ, the center of the universe. Typology will later be wisely described by Augustine of Hippo with these words: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New” (“De Catechizandis Rudibus,” 4:8).

His catechesis on morality is anchored in profound unity to the doctrinal one: Dogma slowly descends into souls, which are asked to change their pagan ways to adopt new life in Christ, the gift of baptism. The “mystagogical” catechesis, was the height of instruction that Cyril imparted, no longer to catechumens, but to the newly baptized and neophytes during Easter week. He led them to discover the mysteries still hidden in the baptismal rites of the Easter vigil. Enlightened by the light of a faith, deepened in the strength of baptism, the neophytes were finally able to better understand the mysteries, having just celebrated the rites.

In particular, with the neophytes of Greek origin, Cyril focused on visual aspects, most suited to them. It was the passage from rite to mystery, which availed of the psychological effect of surprise and the experience lived in the Easter vigil. Here is a text explaining the mystery of baptism: “You were immersed in water three times and from each of the three you re-emerged, to symbolize the three days that Christ was in the tomb, imitating, that is, with this rite, our savior, who spent three days and three nights in the womb of the earth (cfr. Matthew 12:40).

“With the first emersion from the water you celebrated the memory of the first day that Christ spent in the tomb, with the first immersion you witnessed to the first night spent in the tomb: As he who in the night is unable to see, and he who in the day enjoys the light, you too experience the same thing. While at first you were immersed in the night and unable to see anything, reemerging, you found the fullness of day. Mystery of death and of birth, this water of salvation was for you a tomb and mother. … For you … the time to die coincides with the time to be born: One is the moment that achieved both events” (“Second Mystagogical Catechesis,” No. 4).

The mystery to behold is God’s design; this is achieved through the salvific actions of Christ in the Church. The mystagogical dimension complements that of symbols, expressing the lived spiritual experience that they cause to “explode.” From St. Cyril’s catechesis, based on the three components described previously — doctrinal, moral and mystagogical — there results a global catechesis in the Spirit. The mystagogical dimension brings about the synthesis of the first two, directing them to the sacramental celebration, in which the salvation of the entire person is realized.

It is an integral catechesis, which — involving the body, soul and spirit — remains emblematic of the catechetical formation of today’s Christians.

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Another Cyril Summary

Vatican Information Service has posted its summary of Pope Benedict’s audience on Cyril of Jerusalem.

VATICAN CITY, JUN 27, 2007 (VIS) – The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis during today’s general audience to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-387), whom he described as a bishop of a great “ecclesiastical culture, centered on the study of the Bible.” The general audience, Benedict XVI’s hundredth, began with his greeting pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica, then continued in the Paul VI Hall. It was attended by around 7,000 people.

Cyril, the Pope explained, was consecrated a bishop in 348 by Acacius, metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine and a supporter of Arianism. However, soon afterwards the two men came into contrast, “not only in the doctrinal field, but also in the area of jurisprudence, because Cyril claimed the autonomy of his see from the metropolitan see of Caesarea.” He was exiled thee times and only in 378, following the death of the emperor Valens, could Cyril return to his see, “restoring unity and peace among the faithful.” Of this saint we have his “Catecheses,” 24 catechetical lectures introduced by a prologue.

“Catechesis,” the Holy Father explained, “was an important moment, inserted into the broad context of the entire life – and especially the liturgical life – of the Christian community” where “the future faithful were gestated, accompanied by the prayer and witness of their brethren. This was a very important moment, it was not just an intellectual catechesis, but a way of learning to live in the Christian community. As a whole, Cyril’s homilies constitute a systematic and pragmatic catechesis on the rebirth of Christians through Baptism.”

From a doctrinal point of view, Cyril uses his work – through “a ‘symphonic’ relationship between the two Testaments” – to reach “Christ, center of the universe.” In his moral catechesis, he invites people “to transform pagan forms of behavior on the basis of the new life in Christ.” In his “mystagogic” catechesis, he brings the newly baptized “to discover the hidden mysteries … contained in the baptismal rites.”

“The mystery to be understood is the design of God which is accomplished through the salvific action of Christ in the Church. The mystagogic dimension is, in turn, accompanied by the dimension of symbols which express the spiritual experience they bring about.”

“This is, then,” the Pope concluded, “an integral catechesis which – involving body, soul and spirit – remains emblematic for the catechetical formation of Christians today. Let us ask the Lord to help us understand a Christianity that truly embraces all of our existence and makes us credible witnesses of Christ, true God and true man.”

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Benedict on Cyril of Jerusalem

Asia News gives a summary as Pope Bendict continues his series of addresses on the Church Fathers. This week: Cyril of Jerusalem …

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “Denying Christ’s divinity”, which was at the centre of Arian heresy, “is still today a temptation for Christians”. In order to counter this “integral catechesis” is needed, through which the faithful can teach Christianity “which truly involves our entire existence and which makes us credible witnesses of Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man”. That was the objective which Saint Cyril of Jerusalem aimed to achieve in the IV century but which is still valid today, and which was also at the heart of the Pope’s reflection during his general audience today, centred on the figures of the early Church and the relevant aspects of their teachings in today’s world.

Cyril of Jerusalem, a fundamental figure above all for his catechesis, was the early father of the Church to whom Benedict XVI dedicated his one hundredth general audience of his pontificate. Encounters which have given him the opportunity to speak directly to 2, 280,100 people.

The over 10 thousand people, who took part in the audience, where spared the June heat and divided between St. Peter’s basilica and the Paul VI audience hall.

The Pope recalled that Cyril bishop of Jerusalem in the IV century, “against his will”, was involved in the “controversies” of the Eastern Church, but the Pope particularly underlined his work as a teacher of the faith, author of 24 catechesis, a true “introduction to Christianity” and “still today model of the journey to being Christian”.

Cyril, unjustly accused of Aryanism, while he was instead “a man full of faith”, met with exile three times before he was allowed to return for good to Jerusalem in 378 “bringing peace and unity once again among the faithful”.

His catechesis was not only intellectual but “a journey of learning how to live in the Christian community” and his teaching is “an integral catechesis which involves the body, soul and spirit, an emblem even for the Christians of today”. In short in his teaching “doctrine and life are not two distinct entities but one existential journey”. The objective which we must attempt to reach even today remains: “learning a Christianity that really involves our entire existence”.

At the end of his audience, greeting the diverse groups present the Pope reaffirmed his stance on the subject of stem cell research: “the position of the church is clear and supported from science and reason – that scientific research is promoted and encouraged, as long as it does not cause the destruction of human beings, whose dignity is inviolable from the first moment of existence”.

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Your Ear’ll Love Cyril

Today’s the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, one of the stars who shine brightly in the new, expanded edition of my book The Fathers of the Church. I discuss his eventful life in this post and, audibly, on KVSS this morning. My radio mentors, Bruce and Kris, have kindly posted the audio file on their “All Aquilina, All the Time” page.

Cyril was such a key figure in the development of Marian dogma. I think you should give your Mom a call on his feast. Pray the Rosary!

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Magnum Opus

Today, June 26, is the memorial of St. Josemaria Escriva, the 20th-century priest who founded Opus Dei, a path to holiness through ordinary work, family life, friendship, and such — the stuff of everyday life. His is a decidedly modern spirit, but he conceived it as a retrieval of the way of the “early Christians” (his preferred term). Opus Dei was, he said, “as old as the Gospel and, like the Gospel, ever new.” He often cited the authority of the Church Fathers. A quick scan of his books online at EscrivaWorks yields many passages from Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Ambrose, Justin Martyr, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Jerome, lots and lots from John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great, and dozens from Augustine.

These early Christians were not mere ornaments on his pet project. His vocation was itself a return to the sources — the pre-Nicene sources of the life and labor of ordinary, faithful Christians. The journalist John L. Allen, in his book-length study of Opus Dei, described just how radical St. Josemaria’s vision was: “The idea of priests and laity, men and women, all part of one organic whole, sharing the same vocation and carrying out the same apostolic tasks, has not been part of the Catholic tradition, at least since the early centuries.”

Back in the 1990s (before St. Josemaria’s canonization), the theologian Domingo Ramos-Lissón wrote an excellent study of the man’s patristic influences. It’s titled “The Example of the Early Christians in Blessed Josemaria’s Teachings,” and it’s available free online at the website of the magazine Romana.

Scott Hahn has written what I consider the finest appreciation of St. Josemaria’s reliance on the Fathers. It’s in his recently released book Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. The whole book is great. You really should own it!