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Which Byzantine Ruler Are You?

Following upon the success of our psychometric test “Which Church Father Are You?” … we offer a follow-up, for those who are more ambitious in worldly terms. Take your place, for at least a moment, as emperor or empress in Constantinople. Hey, if you last that brief, shining moment, it’ll be longer than some actual emperors ruled. For each question, choose ONE answer that best describes your position.

You’re willing to share power with …
a. a weak but pious spouse and scheming eunuchs.
b. the code of law
c. people who despise the saints’ relics.
d. your infant son
e. share? You like images…
a. of yourself
b. well done, over an open fire
c. front and center, in church
d. simple, like a cross in the sky
e. to be legal, meaning Christian, not pagan

Your motto:
a. live and let live.
b. copros happens.
c. when I want your opinion, I’ll legislate it.
d. I think icon, I think icon
e. don’t I look good in silver?

What do you think of John Chyrsostom?:
a. Nice guy. Just don’t show me his image..
b. o %*#$@os @$%^& *&$%!@ !!!.
c. He’s not born yet.
d. He was the victim of confusing laws.
e. He looks great on the iconostasis.

When life presents insuperable problems, you…
a. consult the law
b. go shopping for makeup and clothing.
c. pray before an icon.
d. destroy an icon.
e. have a vision and hear a voice.

Your theme song:
a. You’re So Vain
b. You Oughta Be in Pictures
c. Live and Let Die.
d. I Brought the Law, and the Law Won.
e. I Put Your Picture Away.

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This Canon’s on a Roll

Ben C. Smith comes through with Part 8 in his series on the canonical lists of the ancient Church. It’s time for The Canon of Athanasius. Athanasius plays an important role in any discussion of the canon, because his “New Testament portion completely matches in number and contents (but not in sequence) the 27 books printed in most modern Bibles.”

Ben also has interesting posts on Eusebius and Jerome on Theophilus of Antioch and what the ancients have to say about The Physical Appearance of Jesus.

Visitors interested in matters canonical should look into Gary G. Michuta’s new book on the development of the canon, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible. (Some background here.)

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Praying the Bible

A couple of years ago, my friend Karl Schultz wrote an excellent introduction to the Bible, The How-to Book of the Bible: Everything You Need to Know But No One Ever Taught You. Well, now he’s ready to take us to the next level, and help us to steep ourselves in the Scriptures prayerfully, the way the Church Fathers did. His new book is How to Pray With the Bible: The Ancient Prayer Form of Lectio Divina Made Simple.

Drawing from a variety of sources — from Origen of Alexandria to Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini — the author guides neophytes through techniques of reading Scripture that were developed in the monasteries of the ancient Church. The book is practical and winsome, easy to follow, yet quite ambitious and deep. The author sketches how lectio evolved, from its “Pre-Christian Roots and Universal Nature” through “Jewish Origins” and into the era of the Fathers. He considers several approaches to meditation. Schultz also examines the role of memory and the senses and touches upon related issues such as praying with icons. And he tackles the most common problems: impatience, distraction, the lack of discipline, and so on. An especially helpful chapter deals with “Reading Plans for Praying with the Bible.” Schultz is keenly sensitive to the Bible’s traditional home, which is the common worship of the Church, the liturgy.

The book’s a steal at less than ten bucks!

Our friend Kevin made his own pitch for lectio this week.

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The Man for Pittsburgh, Bishop David Zubik

Thought you’d like to see a photo (courtesy CNS)…


“Yea, and it becometh you also not to presume upon the youth of your bishop, but according to the power of God the Father to render unto him all reverence, even as I have learned that the holy presbyters also have not taken advantage of his outwardly youthful estate, but give place to him as to one prudent in God; yet not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, even to the Bishop of all.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Magnesians)

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Gaudete et Laetare

With all the people of the land where I live, I rejoice to hear the news that Pope Benedict has

– Appointed Bishop David A. Zubik of Green Bay, U.S.A., as bishop of Pittsburgh (area 9,722, population 1,956,597, Catholics 781,811, priests 531, permanent deacons 37, religious 1,455), U.S.A.

I worked with this great-hearted man for three years. It’s good to see him come home to Pittsburgh to “preside in the place of God,” as Ignatius said to the Magnesians.

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Servant Spirit

Jason Adkins, an attorney from St. Paul, Minnesota, interviewed me for The Catholic Servant newspaper. Here’s his article, titled “Always Timely Witnesses: Pope Benedict Highlights the Church Fathers.”

By dedicating his recent Wednesday audiences to the Apostles and the Church Fathers, Pope Benedict XVI has indicated to the Church that sometimes the “who” of the Faith is just as important to the “what” of the Faith.

The Holy Father regularly returns to the theme that Christianity is an event—an encounter with the person of Christ. It seems rather appropriate then that the Church and her members often come to know the person of Christ through other persons, particularly His “co-workers of the truth”—the Apostles and their successors. (Incidentally, this is the papal motto.)

In singling out the Church Fathers for deeper reflection, the Holy Father is encouraging the Church to re-encounter these great teachers that we may come to know our Lord in deeper friendship, and enter into the Trinitarian life of God.

For a closer look at the Church Fathers, The Catholic Servant turned to noted apologist Mike Aquilina. Aquilina is vice-president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and has hosted six television series on EWTN. He is author or editor of more than a dozen books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion including The Fathers of the Church (Our Sunday Visitor, 2006) and The Resilient Church (Word Among Us, 2007).

The Catholic Servant: Pope Benedict has dedicated his recent Wednesday audiences to the Church fathers. Who are the Church fathers, and why is the pope pointing us in their direction?

Aquilina: The Fathers are the important teachers of the earliest centuries of Christianity—from the time of the Apostles until about a century after the rise of Islam. Most of the Fathers are venerated as saints.

Hans Urs von Balthasar noted a certain youthfulness and freshness in their works. The pope certainly recognizes those qualities, and he surely hopes we’ll all catch the spirit.

Pope Benedict is also an experienced teacher, and he knows that the ancient world casts a spell on modern minds. People are fascinated by Christian antiquity. That’s why there’s so much interest in The Da Vinci Code, and the Gospel of Judas, and the alleged tomb of Jesus’ family.

Antiquity is attractive, appealing, and it always has been. Savvy marketers know that, and so do savvy teachers like the pope.

The Catholic Servant: On what aspects of the Church fathers has the pope particularly focused?

Aquilina: In general, he seems most interested in their biblical interpretation and spiritual counsel, especially regarding prayer. He also highlights each Father’s contribution to the development of doctrine and theology. But it’s not all heady stuff. He’s careful to tease out what is distinctive and attractive in the personality of each man.

The Catholic Servant: Are the Church Fathers notable as great theologians and significant historical figures, or are they in some way authoritative as well?

Aquilina: Yes, the Fathers are important theologians, historical figures and even great intercessors. But the works of the Fathers, unlike the books of the Bible, are neither inspired nor inerrant; and, unlike the popes, the Fathers do not teach infallibly.

In fact, they often disagree with one another, and some of them didn’t get along very well. St. Jerome argued against St. John Chrysostom; St. Jerome argued with St. Augustine; St. Jerome accused St. Ambrose of plagiarism. In fact, St. Jerome had disagreements with almost everyone he met.

But the Council of Trent declared that, when there is a “consensus of the Fathers” on a particular doctrine or interpretation of Scripture, then the position of the Fathers must be held as true.

Cardinal Newman described the Fathers as “honest informants” who bear authority, but not a sufficient authority in themselves. Their words bear testimony to something that precedes them, something greater than them, a patrimony that they wanted to safeguard for the next generation.

For the earliest Fathers, like Polycarp, that inheritance was the living voice of the Apostles. Polycarp heard the Gospel from John the Evangelist and passed it directly to Irenaeus, who passed it to Hippolytus, and so it has come down to us.

The Fathers witness to a living, teaching Church — the magisterium that they recognized then, we do today.

The Catholic Servant: What is the connection between the Church fathers and Sacred Tradition?

Aquilina: The Catechism (n. 688) describes the Fathers as “always timely witnesses” to Tradition. We don’t say that their writings “are” the Tradition. Their writings witness to the Gospel that is unwritten, but passed down in the Church. They’re witnesses in the court of history.

For example, we want to be faithful and to worship in the way that Christians have always worshipped. Well, how do we know anything about ancient Christian worship? And how do we know that it was anything like our worship today? We know because the Fathers bear witness to it.

The same goes for the way we divide up labor and recognize authority within the Church. We want to be faithful and live as our ancestors did, going all the way back to the apostles.

So how do we know that they had bishops, priests, deacons, and a pope? Because the Fathers, from the very first generations, bear witness to the Church’s hierarchical order. St. Clement of Rome wrote it up in some detail before the year 96 A.D. St. Ignatius confirmed it in 107 A.D. And the same teaching recurs in every generation afterward.

The later Fathers—many of whom were bishops themselves—often made appeals to the Pope. Athanasius did, and so did Basil, Chyrsostom, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.

Tradition isn’t merely a collection of antiques. The faith of our Fathers is living still. The Fathers bear witness to it, just as we bear witness for future generations.

The Catholic Servant: What can the Church fathers teach us about the task of the theologian?

Aquilina: To desire always to teach what the Catholic Church teaches. Some of the Fathers were speculative theologians, and some of them—especially early in history—stated important doctrines imprecisely or even erroneously.

Origen is a prime example. This prolific author was among the first to employ the terms of Greek philosophy in his reflection on the truth of revelation. His work was full of trial and occasional error.

But he repeatedly emphasized his desire to teach only what the Catholic Church taught, and he urged his students and readers to look first to the Church. Origen labored through a long life. In his old age, he was tortured for the faith, and he died from the injuries.

Some later Fathers considered him an arch-heretic, and councils even condemned some propositions attributed to him. But other Fathers—especially the Cappadocians Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen—revered Origen’s teaching. Christian thinkers continued to find inspiration in his work, and his memory was somewhat rehabilitated in the last century. Recent popes have taken to quoting him.

I think it is significant that Pope Benedict dedicated not one, but two of his Wednesday audiences to the life and work of Origen; and in doing so he uttered not a single critical word, but rather held him up as an intellectual and spiritual master. How can that be? Because Origen wanted only to think in the Church, and think with the Church.

Theologians may speculate, but they must also be held accountable. If they’re teachers or writers, they should, like Origen, make clear distinctions between the Church’s teachings and their own opinions.

The Catholic Servant: Which Church fathers have been particularly influential on Pope Benedict and why?

Aquilina: The Holy Father is a biblical theologian, and he often returns to the great biblical interpreters and preachers. His doctoral dissertation was on Augustine, and he has never strayed far from the bishop of Hippo.

But he also shows eclectic interests in other figures from antiquity: Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian and Gregory of Nyssa. He has a profound knowledge of the ancient liturgies and the commentators on the liturgy. He has even written rather movingly of the Church’s enemies, such as Julian the Apostate.

For Pope Benedict, the ancient Fathers are teachers and, in a very real sense, contemporaries. Now he’s helping us to acquire that same sense of the Fathers.

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Well, Well, Well

Breaking news from This Is Cornwall:

The discovery of an ancient well on a Cornish estate has led to speculation that it is the legendary well of St Petroc.

The discovery was made by amateur archaeologist Jonathan Clemes while searching for a secret tunnel in the grounds of Prideaux Place, an Elizabethan manor house at Padstow.

Mr Clemes regularly works with TV’s Time Team and carries out a lot of excavations on the Prideaux estate.

He said: “I knew I was on to something when I found a papal bulla in the field close by. It’s a type of lead seal which was always a good indicator of a holy well being in the area. So we started excavating and found this ancient well and we feel there is a good chance that this could be St Petroc’s well.”

St Petroc arrived in Padstow in the 6th Century, having travelled by coracle from Wales. According to legend, he found reapers at work on a chapel for St Samson. The reapers answered St Petroc’s greeting rudely, saying he could best serve their needs by providing water, whereupon he struck a rock and “so gushed forth a fountain”.

Padstow vicar Chris Malkinson said: “It’s very exciting if it does turn out to be a holy well and I’ll be thrilled to bits if they call it St Petroc’s well. The name has a strong association with both the Anglican and the Catholic communities here.”

Local historian Barry Kinsmen said: “Holy wells are not that unusual here – the difficulty will be proving that this is indeed St Petroc’s well.”

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Epiphanius the Enabler

He said: “The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.”

I’m not making this up just to justify my expenses to my wife. It’s in this wonderful book, on page 58.

Thanks to Gretchen the book addict, who sent me off in search of that quote.

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Review the Reviews

Touchstone magazine has archived a number of my book reviews, some related to the Fathers, some not. (Just search on “Aquilina.” I’m the only Aquilina in the database.) There’s…

my review of Fr. Mark Gruber’s Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers;

my review of J.A. McGuckin’s St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts;

my review of Fr. Robert Taft’s Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It;

my double-decker review of Adrian Murdoch’s The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World and The Last Roman: Romulus Augustulus and the Decline of the West;

and my triple-decker review of J. Budziszewski’s Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students, John Waiss’s Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage, and Sexuality and Father Thomas Morrow’s Christian Courtship In An Oversexed World.

Touchstone runs several of my short reviews every month and usually one of my long reviews as well. They don’t even post half of them on the website. So please consider a subscription!

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Peter Rival tagged me for a meme: Those tagged will share five things they “love” about Jesus. So here goes…

1. In him, we are called children of God (and so we are!) — partakers of the divine nature (1 John 3:1; 2 Peter 1:4)

2. He took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

3. He said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)

4. He said, “I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

5. “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

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Wedding Bell Schmooze

Today’s my twenty-second wedding anniversary. What follows are the words of St. John Chrysostom that I used to dedicate my book The Fathers of the Church to my wife Terri. I published them here on Valentine’s Day, but I never tire of repeating some things.

An intelligent, discreet, and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Tell her that you love her more than your own life, because this present life is nothing, and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that, in the world to come, you will be united in perfect love.