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Digging Polycarp

Archeologists are excavating the agora of the ancient city of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). The Church of Smyrna plays a leading role in the biblical Book of Revelation; and, of course, it was the see of St. Polycarp, disciple of St. John and master of St. Irenaeus.

Author Carl Sommer spent time in Smyrna while researching his book We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians. I asked him what these new digs might mean for patristics nerds. He said…

I’ve been to Smyrna (modern day Izmir), and it is a fascinating place. It’s almost certain that Polycarp spent time in the very agora mentioned in the article, and may even have preached and taught there. The agora was one of the great cultural institutions of the Greco-Roman world. Typically, it would be a rectangular market, with an open area in the middle. The outer perimeter would be lined with a double row of columns, with a roof on top. The area between the columns, under the roof, was called the stoa, or porch. There were two types of agoras, commercial or political (in some cities, like Ephesus, there were two separate agoras, in others, one agora would fill both functions). In the commercial agora, one would find small shops, where you could buy anything from fruits and vegetables, spices, clothing, etc. Sort of like a modern day mall. In the political agora, one would find the public business of the city being conducted. In this type of agora, one would be more likely to encounter philosophers teaching their students in the stoas. St. Paul utilized the agoras to great effect in his public ministry, because everyone visited them, and everyone expected a free flow of ideas to occur there. (See Acts 17:17-18.)

Polycarp was not as free as Paul, since in his day Christianity was proscribed by the Empire, but it seems likely that he at least spent some time in the agora, and, during those periods when the authorities were not particularly interested in persecuting Christians, he may have done some discreet evangelizing there.

Carl’s book is chock-full of that kind of stuff. Highly recommended.

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Little Brother, Big Father

The pope’s audience yesterday focused on Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and the greater theologian of the two. Catholic World News, CNS, and Zenit. What follows is the Zenit translation:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the last few catecheses I spoke about two great doctors of the Church of the fourth century, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. Today we add a third, Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who showed himself to be a man of meditative character, with a great capacity for reflection, and a vivacious intellect, open to the culture of his time. He showed himself in this way to be an original and deep thinker in Christian history.

Born in 335, his Christian formation was carried out largely by his brother Basil — whom he defined as “father and teacher” (Ep 13,4: SC 363, 198) — and by his sister Macrina. He completed his studies, with a particular appreciation for philosophy and rhetoric. At the beginning, he dedicated himself to teaching and got married. Then he too, like his brother and sister, dedicated himself entirely to the aesthetic life. Later he was elected bishop of Nyssa, and showed himself to be a zealous pastor, earning the esteem of the community. Accused of economic embezzlements by heretical adversaries, he had to abandon his episcopal see for a brief time, but then made a triumphant return (cf. Ep. 6: SC 363, 164-170), and continued to commit himself to the defense of the true faith.

Especially after Basil’s death, almost garnering his spiritual legacy, Gregory cooperated in the triumph of orthodoxy. He participated in various synods; he tried to settle divisions between the Churches; he took an active part in the Church’s reorganization; and, as “a pillar of orthodoxy,” he was a protagonist at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He received various official appointments from Emperor Theodosius, he gave important homilies and eulogies, and dedicated himself to writing various theological works. In 394, he participated yet again in a synod held in Constantinople. The date of his death is unknown.

Gregory expresses with clarity the scope of his studies, the supreme goal for which he aims in his theological work: to not engage one’s life in vane pursuits, but to find the light that enables one to discern that which is truly useful (cf. “In Ecclesiasten Hom” 1: SC 416, 106-146).

He found this supreme good in Christianity, thanks to which “imitation of the divine nature” is possible (“De Professione Christiana”: PG 46, 244C). With his acute intelligence and his vast knowledge of philosophy and theology, he defended the Christian faith against heretics, who negated the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (like Eunomios and the Macedonians), or negated Christ’s perfect humanity (like Apollinaris).

He commented on sacred Scripture, concentrating on the creation of man. For him the essential theme was creation. He saw the reflection of the Creator in the creature and therein found the path to God. But he also wrote an important book on the life of Moses, which shows him as a man on the path toward God. This hill leading to Mt. Sinai becomes for him an image of our own hill in human life toward true life, toward the meeting with God. He also interpreted the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, and the beatitudes. In his “Great Catechetical Discourse” (“Oratio Catechetica Magna”) he laid out the fundamental points of theology, not for an academic theology closed in on itself, but to offer catechists a system of reference to keep in mind in their teaching, a sort of framework within which a pedagogic interpretation of the faith could move.

Gregory is also outstanding because of his spiritual doctrine. His theology was not an academic reflection, but an expression of a spiritual life, of a lived life of faith. His reputation as a “father of mysticism” can be seen in various treatises — like “De Professione Christiana” and “De Perfectione Christiana” — the path that Christians must take to reach true life, perfection. He exalted consecrated virginity (“De Virginitate”), and likewise offered his sister Macrina as an outstanding model of life, who remained a guide for him always, an example (cf. “Vita Macrinae”).

He gave various discourses and homilies, and wrote numerous letters. In commenting on the creation of man, Gregory highlights the fact that God, “the best artist, forges our nature so as to make it suitable for the exercise of royalty. Through the superiority given by the soul, and through the very make-up of the body, he arranges things in such a way that man is truly fit for regal power” (“De Hominis Opificio” 4: PG 44, 136B).

But we see how man, in the web of sins, often abusive of creation, does not act in a regal fashion. For this reason, in fact, in order to obtain true responsibility toward creatures, he must be penetrated by God and live in his light. Man is a reflection of that original beauty which is God: “Everything created by God was very good,” writes the holy bishop.

And he adds: “The story of creation witnesses to it (cf. Genesis 1:31). Man was also listed among those very good things, adorned with a beauty far superior to all of the good things. In fact, what else could be good, on par with one who was similar to pure and incorruptible beauty? … Reflection and image of eternal life, he was truly good, no he was very good, with the shining sign of life on his face” (“Homilia in Canticum” 12: PG 44, 1020C).

Man was honored by God and placed above every other creature: “The sky was not made in God’s image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things that appear in creation. Only you (human soul) were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of the true light, that when you look upon it you become that which he his, because through the reflected ray coming from your purity you imitate he who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness” (“Homilia in Canticum” 2: PG 44,805D).

Let us meditate on this praise of man. We see how man has been debased by sin. And let us try to return to that original greatness: Only if God is present will man arrive at this his true greatness.

Man, therefore, recognized within him the reflection of the divine light. Purifying his heart, he returns to being, as he was in the beginning, a clear image of God, beauty itself (cf. “Oratio Catechetica” 6: SC 453, 174). In this way man, purifying himself, can see God, as do the pure in heart (cf. Matthew 5:8): “If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you will wash away the bad things that have deposited upon your heart, the divine beauty will shine in you. … Contemplating yourself, you will see within you he who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed” (“De Beatitudinibus,” 6: PG 44,1272AB). Therefore, one must wash away the bad things that have deposited upon our heart and find again God’s light within us.

Man has as his end the contemplation of God. Only in him can he find his fulfillment. To somehow anticipate this objective already in this life, he must work incessantly toward a spiritual life, a life in dialogue with God. In other words — and this is the most important lesson that St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us — man’s total fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived with God, that, in this way, becomes luminous for others and for the world.

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You Go, Gus

Pope Pius XI said that, “of all those who have lived since the beginning of the human race until today … almost no one, or certainly very few, can be compared” to Augustine. Apart from the biblical writers, he is the author most frequently cited in the teachings of the Catholic Church. His ideas on governance shaped the political development of the West through the Middle Ages. Literary scholars say he practically invented the genre of autobiography. He established the foundations of western monasticism, which Benedict would later build upon. He can even be seen as one of the early practitioners of what today we call scientific method. He conducted experiments on peacock flesh to see if it was truly resistant to decay, as common wisdom had it.

But it was all for the sake of souls. He told his congregations that he didn’t want to be saved without them. And he worked and prayed so that, if they somehow avoided salvation, they couldn’t blame any lack of effort on Augustine’s part. He preached constantly. (He even preached about his experiments with peacock flesh!) He wrote letters prodigiously. He composed massive theological works that are, still today, the standard equipment in any true theological education: “On the Trinity” (De Trinitate), “City of God” (De Civitate Dei), “On Christian Doctrine” (De Doctrina Christiana).

And I haven’t even mentioned his books on philosophy, scriptural interpretation, and morals. His surviving works fill many volumes and even entire library shelves. And long-lost pieces still turn up occasionally — sermons, letters, and such.

Nevertheless, no one gets to be such a giant without having critics; and Augustine has had his share in every age. To modern secularists, he seems a fideist, a simp who would stop an argument in its tracks just because Rome said so. On the other hand, some Eastern Christians (a vocal minority) have accused him of rationalism. Augustine revered both faith and reason as gifts from God, each having its place in Christian life, each complementing and strengthening the other. To intellectuals who were struggling with faith, Augustine would say: Believe, that you may know. To fideists who denigrated philosophy he would say: Know, that you may believe.

(I should emphasize, again, that the Orthodox opposition to Augustine is a minority. This comes through very well in Dr. William Tighe’s coverage of a recent Fordham University conference on “Orthodox Readings of Augustine.” It’s in this month’s Touchstone. You really should subscribe, and not just for my monthly book reviews.)

Last year, I gabbed about St. Augustine on KVSS Radio’s “Spirit Morning Show” with Bruce and Kris McGregor. The conversation is at the KVSS Aquilina page and my own audio page.

There’s lots of Augustine to read online, in every language. And he is readable. He’s the guy who said: “I prefer to be criticized by the grammarians rather than not to be understood by the people.” You can find good pictures for screen-savers here.

There’s also a slide show of the archeological remains in Hippo — and lots of cultural and historical material on Christianity in Roman Africa.

Darrell Pursiful (Dr. Platypus) is celebrating his blogiversary today, and he’s promising some Augustinian fun and games. Do drop in and wish him well!

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Monica the Mom

Regular visitors to this blog know that, early in life, St. Monica was fond of visiting the graves of the saints and celebrating their feast days there. Since today’s her memorial, isn’t it the least we can do for her? She’s entombed at the church named for her more famous son, St. Augustine, not far from Piazza Navona in Rome.

Listen, if we can’t make it to Rome by midnight, let’s at least meet at Fr. Z’s place, where he’s posted wonderful photos and information about this great and holy lady. When I’m in Rome, her church is the place where I habitually go to pray. I probably picked up the habit just because I was staying next door. But there are no accidents, and it’s a habit I’ve made no effort to shake. I have six kids. If I could learn parenting from anyone, it would be St. Monica.

Though she was probably only minimally literate, Monica appears in Augustine’s autobiographical works (Confessions and Dialogues) as a teacher of theologians. The lady prayed. Over the course of decades, she prayed her wayward son back into the Church. She went to Mass daily, and she attended funeral Masses of strangers, again almost daily, just so she could hear the Word of God proclaimed once more. No one better exemplifies the maxim of Evagrius: A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian. I count her farewell to Augustine in the Confessions among the most beautiful passages in world literature. At the trinket shop in the back of Sant’Agostino, I bought my wife a sturdy image of the scene, as it reminded me of my own lovely lady and our son, our firstborn. (The painting’s titled “Ecstasy at Ostia.”)

Greater men than I have concluded that that farewell scene is a pivotal moment in the history of mystical theology — and written books to make their case.

Pope Benedict, of course, has had his say.

Another way to celebrate St. Monica’s feast: The Novena to the Great Lady at St. Monica Institute for Patristic Studies.

UPDATE: Links from Jeff Ziegler:

— Today is the memorial of St. Monica (d. 387).
— Today’s readings at Mass: 1 Thes. 1:1-5, 8b-10; Ps. 149:1-6, 9;
Mt. 23:13-22.
— Where the memorial is kept with special devotion, Sir. 26:1-4,13-
16 and Lk. 7:11-17 may instead be read.
— Among Cardinal Newman’s sermons is “Intellect, the Instrument of
Religious Training,” preached on the Feast of St. Monica in 1856, in
which he compares a Catholic university to St. Monica, and students
to Augustines.
— Antonio Vivarini, “Marriage of St. Monica” (1441).

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Jesus and the Mysteries

Hey, what are the chances you can make it to Pittsburgh Friday and Saturday, October 26-27?

I ask because I know of a conference you won’t want to miss. It’s the annual Letter & Spirit Conference, sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (of which I am vice-president). The theme, as I stated so baldly in my title, is “Jesus and the Mysteries.” And it’s no mystery why you’ll want to be there.

As always, we’re hosting some excellent scholars, who will deliver the biblical-patristic goods on themes that matter to you and me. For instance:

Dr. Scott Hahn, “What Do We Mean By Mysteries?”

Dr. R.R. Reno, “Sonship, Testing, and the Fear of the Lord”

Dr. Brant Pitre, “Jesus and the Mystery of the Temple”

Dr. Daniel Keating, “Sonship and Salvation”

Father Robert Barron, “Banquet, Sacrifice, and Real Presence: A Biblical Perspective on the Eucharist”

Father Francis Martin, “Jesus and the Jewish Festivals” (the third annual Lawler Lecture)

In addition, there will be a panel discussion featuring all the speakers. Holy Mass will be celebrated by His Excellency, Bishop David Zubik. All events take place on the lovely grounds of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, Pa. (just outside the city of Pittsburgh).

Now, what (you might ask) is the admission price for such an event?

Brace yourself: just $79. And if you’re a full-time student, it’s only $35. Meals are included, too. You won’t find a better bargain in the entire field of patristics!

Get your registration info online here. Don’t delay in making your reservation. This is our third conference, and the first two were filled to capacity. (Nevertheless, please help us spread the word!)

I’m looking forward to this chance to break bread with you.

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Capping the Cappadocian

Yesterday, Aug. 22, the Holy Father continued his reflection on Gregory Nazianzen. Here’s the Zenit translation:

During the last reflection on the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church of this catechesis, I spoke about St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of the fourth century, and today I would like to continue with the portrait of this great teacher. Today we will summarize some of his teachings.

Reflecting on the mission that God had confided in him, St. Gregory Nazianzen concludes: “I have been created to ascend to God with my actions” (Oratio, 14,6 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,865). In fact, he put his talent as a writer and orator at the service of God and the Church. He wrote numerous discourses, homilies and panegyrics, many letters and poetic works (nearly 18,000 verses!): a truly prodigious level of activity.

He understood what the mission was that God had confided in him: “Servant of the word, I adhere to the ministry of the word, which never allows me to neglect this good. I appreciate and enjoy this vocation, it gives me more joy than everything else” (Oratio 6,5: SC 405,134; cf. Oratio 4,10).

The Nazianzen was a meek man, and in his life he always worked to promote peace in the Church of his time, torn by discord and heresy. With evangelical audacity he endeavored to overcome his shyness to proclaim the truth of the faith. He deeply felt the desire to draw near to God, to unite himself to him. He expresses this in his poetry, in which he writes: “great waves of the ocean of life, tossed here and there by the impetuous winds … there was only one thing that I wanted, my only treasure, consolation and oblivion of weariness, the light of the Holy Trinity” (“Carmina [historical]” 2,1,15: PG 37, 1250ss.)

Gregory made the light of the Trinity glow, defending the faith proclaimed in the Council of Nicea: one God in three equal and distinct Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — “triple light that unites in one single splendor” (“Himno vespertino: Carmina [histórica]” 2,1,32: PG 37,512). In this way, Gregory, following St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6), affirms: “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are; one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit, in whom all things are” (Oratio 39, 12: SC 358,172).

Gregory brings Christ’s full humanity to the forefront: To redeem man in his totality of body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the components of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.

Against the heresy of Apollinaris, who assured that Jesus Christ had not assumed a rational soul, Gregory confronts the problem in the light of the mystery of salvation: “What had not been assumed had not been cured” (Epistle 101, 32: SC 208,50), and if Christ had not had a “rational intellect, how could he have been a man?”

Precisely our intellect, our reason, was in need of a relationship, an encounter with God in Christ. Upon becoming man, Christ gave us the possibility to become like him. The Nazianzen exhorts: “We try to be like Christ, well Christ also made himself like us; to be like gods through him, well he made himself man for us. He carried the worst to give us the best” (Oratio 1,5: SC 247,78).

Mary, who gave human nature to Christ, is truly the Mother of God (“Theotókos”: cf. Epistle 101, 16: SC 208,42), and with a view to her lofty mission was “prepurified” (Oratio 38,13: SC 358,132, presenting a type of distant prelude to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). He proposes Mary as a model for Christians, above all for virgins, and as an aid that should be invoked in need (cf. Oratio 24, 11: SC 282,60-64).

Gregory reminds us that, as human persons, we need to be in solidarity with one another. He writes: “‘We, though many, are one body in Christ.’ (cf. Romans 12:5), rich and poor, slaves and freemen, healthy and sick; and there is one head from which everything originates: Jesus Christ. And as happens with the members of a single body, each one takes care of each one, and everybody of everybody.”

Later, referring to the sick and those suffering hardship, he concludes: “This is the only salvation for our flesh and our soul: Charity toward others” (Oratio 14,8 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,868ab).

Gregory underlines that man must imitate the goodness and love of God, and for that he recommends: “If you are healthy and rich, alleviate the need of the one who is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, help the one who has fallen and lives in suffering; if you are happy, console the one who is sad; if you are fortunate, help the one who has been bitten by misfortune.

“Show God your gratitude, for you are one that can do good, and not the one that has to be helped. … Don’t be merely rich in wealth, but also in piety; not only in gold, but also in virtue, or better yet, only in this. Surpass the fame of your neighbor by being better than everybody; be God for the unfortunate, imitating the mercy of God” (Oratio 14, 26 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,892bc).

Gregory teaches us, before all, the importance and necessity of prayer. He affirms that “it is necessary to remind oneself of God more frequently than one breathes” (Oratio 27,4: PG 250,78), since prayer is the encounter of the thirst of God with our thirst. God thirsts that we thirst for him (cf. Oratio 40,27: SC 358,260).

In prayer, we have to direct our heart to God to surrender ourselves to him as an offering that should be purified and transformed. In prayer, we see everything in the light of Christ, we let down our guard and we submerge ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, nurturing the fire of our love.

In a poem, that at the same time is a meditation on the meaning of life and an implicit supplication to God, Gregory writes: “My soul, you have a task — if you want — a great task. Thoughtfully scrutinize your interior, your being, your destiny; where do you come from and where are you going, try to know if it is life that you live, or if it is something more.

“My soul, you have a task then, purify your life: Consider, please, God and his mysteries, investigate what you were before this universe, and what it is for you, where you came from and what will be your destiny. This is your task then, dear soul, purify your life” (“Carmina [historical] 2,” 1,78: PG 37,1425-1426).

The holy bishop continually asks Christ for help to raise himself up and to begin again: “I have been disappointed, dear Christ, by my considerable presumption: From the heights I have fallen very low. But, I raise myself up again now, because I see that I have deceived myself; if I rely on myself too much once more, I will immediately fall again, and the fall will be fatal” (“Carmina [historical] 2,” 1,67: PG 37,1408).

Gregory, therefore, felt the need to draw near to God to overcome the weariness of his own being. He experienced the urging of the soul, the vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of fleeting happiness. For him, in the drama of a life in which the awareness of his weakness and misery weighed heavily, the experience of the love of God was always stronger.

You have a task — St. Gregory says to us as well — the task to find the true light, to find the true measure of your life. And your life consists in encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.

Here’s the official Vatican summary and CNS coverage.

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Diving for Didaskalion

It’s a little-known fact that many of the Egyptian streets once strolled by Clement, Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril were briefly considered as sets for Disney’s Finding Nemo.

OK, I made that up. But it’s true that the streets of Alexandria — the Roman Empire’s “City That Never Sleeps” — have long since been sleeping with the fishes. Now the Egyptians are pondering ways to take classics and patristics nerds like you on the grand underwater tour. And at times it does indeed sound like a job for Disney. This from Bloomberg:

After 15 years of hauling priceless relics from in and around its harbor, Alexandria municipal officials and Egyptian antiquity authorities are trying to figure out how to make thousands of artifacts still at the bottom accessible for viewing by the public.

Municipal officials want to create an underwater archaeological park. Proposals under consideration include construction of an underwater bubble auditorium, conversion of the harbor into a giant pool with filters to remove silt and pollution and a submarine on rails to ferry visitors around.

The goal is to push the city into the major league of antique tourist attractions, a club in Egypt long dominated by Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Alexandria has a Roman amphitheater, a Greco-Roman museum, a combination Pharaonic-Greek-Roman National Museum and assorted columns scattered around town, yet it has never made the splash that, say, Luxor makes with its temples and tombs, much less Cairo, with the pyramids.

Alexandria’s potential surfaced, literally, in the early 1990s when European underwater archaeologists began to pull up stones, statues, pottery and jewelry. Egyptians knew the jumble of relics lay there — the first explorations took place in 1868 — but they thought of the colossal items as part of the environment, like reefs…

Alexander the Great founded the city in 331 B.C. Three hundred years later, Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, conquered it while pursuing Antony, a rival after the assassination of Julius Caesar …

Beginning in the fourth century A.D., earthquakes threw the city’s temples and palaces into the sea. Alexandria is now part of Egypt’s effort to attract more visitors.

Pope Benedict recently spoke of ancient Alexandria as “the symbolic city.” This blog has no shortage of material on Christian Alexandria. Click here and here for starters. Or just search on “Alexandria.”

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Mere Cat

The world’s foremost scholar of John Henry Newman has now written a beautiful introduction to doctrine and practice of the Catholic faith. It’s Mere Catholicism, by Ian Ker. As the title suggests, it is written very much in the spirit of C.S. Lewis, with comparable grace, clarity, and wit. Both a pastor and an Oxford don, Father Ker is a virtuoso in the use of analogy. He speaks of the sacraments as “the Church’s body language.” He discusses sin in terms of addiction. Unlike Lewis, perhaps, he is willing to tackle the vexed and divisive issues, such as sexual morality, which he treats in a masterly way in a chapter titled “Does My Body Belong to Me?” This is an excellent book for serious inquirers as well as those non-Catholics who simply want to understand their Catholic friends or family members.

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Intro, Part 4: What About the Mothers?

Here’s another sidebar to my recent “introduction to the Fathers” article published in Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. I’ve posted the main body of the article in halves, Part 1 and Part 2, plus the first sidebar. I have more to say about the “Mothers of the Church” in the expanded edition of my book The Fathers of the Church.

Were there “Mothers of the Church”? Well, yes and no.

We possess very few writings by women from the ancient world. Christian women are probably slightly better represented than their pagan counterparts. The many collections of Sayings of the Desert Fathers actually include proverbs by women ascetics, who are called “Amma,” or “Mother.”

St. John Chrysostom (fifth century) carried on extensive correspondence with an abbess named Olympias, but her letters have not survived. His contemporary St. Jerome corresponded with many holy and scholarly women; but, again, we have mostly Jerome’s end of the conversation. Tertullian has preserved the words of the martyrs Perpetua and Felicity. In the late fourth century, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a profoundly moving biography of his sister St. Macrina. Around the same time, Egeria, a nun from Gaul, took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wrote it up for her convent back home.

Their contemporaries honored these women as maternal figures. The Church has always honored them as saints. There is no custom of calling them “Mothers of the Church,” but there is no reason why individual Christians might not revere them as such.

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Aug du lieber!

On the feast of the Assumption, the Pope spoke from the heart — and from St. Augustine, says CNS.

Giving his homily without using a text or notes, the pope said that according to St. Augustine, human history has been driven by a struggle between two kinds of love: love for God in which one “loses oneself and gives oneself” totally to him and loving oneself to “the point of disparaging God and hating others.”

Pope Benedict said this selfish love versus true love can be seen in the two images present in the feast day’s first reading from the Book of Revelation, an account of the encounter between the powerful dragon and the defenseless woman.

The dragon, he said, represents “power without mercy, without love, of absolute selfishness, terror, violence” as well as all “materialistic dictatorships” throughout history, including the Nazi and Stalinist regimes.

“Even today the dragon exists in new and different ways,” he said.

It is present in the form of materialistic ideologies that consider God as something expendable or pointless and that maintain life is all about “consumption, selfishness, amusement” and “taking all there is to get in this brief lifetime,” the pope said.

“Once again it seems absurd, impossible to defy this dominant mentality,” especially with the support it gets in the media, he said.

But, “nonetheless, we know that in the end the defenseless woman won” the battle against the dragon, signaling the victory of God’s love, he said.

The woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet represents the Mary “living totally in God … penetrated by the light of God” and conquering death, said the pope.

“She tells us: ‘Have courage. In the end love wins,'” he said, adding that this love entailed living her life as a servant of God and giving herself totally to God and others.

The feast of the Assumption “is an invitation to have faith in God, to imitate Mary” and “to give our lives, not seize life,” Pope Benedict said.

Love is stronger than hatred, he said, and the seemingly weak God, who came to the world as a baby, is strong. Though faith in God may seem weak against all earthly powers, it “is the true power in the world,” said the pope.