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Barnes Nobility

I’ll be speaking this Saturday, Nov. 3, at St. Louise de Marillac School’s Book Fair at Barnes and Noble in South Hills Village, Pittsburgh. Latinist Zee Ann Poerio has me booked among her events for folks interested in numismatics and classics. Zee is director of Ancient Coins for Education (ACE), a member of the Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild’s Education and Youth Programs Task Force, and chair of the Excellence Through Classics levels K-9 for the American Classical League.

Saturday’s event will feature her traveling exhibit, the Ancient Coin Museum. From 1:30 to 3 p.m., St. Louise School’s Latin Club members will act as museum docents and show connections between ancient coins and classics — pointing out the mythological creatures, emperors, empresses, and other fauna. Also included are small artifacts from the first to third century, including oil lamps, iron nails, and a child’s ring. At 2 p.m., James R. Clifford, Jr., author of Double Daggers, will be there to discuss coins of the Roman Republic. His book is historical fiction and involves the EID MAR Denarius coin that commemorates the assassination of Julius Caesar.

At 2:30, yours truly will discuss Christian symbols on ancient coins and other artifacts.

Both Mr. Clifford and I will be available to sign books. There will be free materials for children from the U.S. Mint (while supplies last). Those attending the event may enter a free drawing to win ancient coins donated by Ancient Coins for Education, the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists, and the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. You’re all invited!

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Turn, Turn, Turn

In an interview titled A Turn to the Fathers, Father Robert Dodaro, director of the Augustinian Patristic Institute at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, sees cause for optimism about his chosen field.

Q: What are the difficulties limiting the number of students at the Augustinian Institute?
Father Dodaro: The greatest problem is the insufficient knowledge of Greek and Latin, and the lack of familiarity with classical studies. To prepare the students to take on the texts of the Fathers in their original languages, we began a prerequisite course of intensive Latin and Greek three years ago.
This year there are also supplementary classes on ancient Roman history, classical literature and ancient philosophy. As you can imagine, students do not study these subjects adequately in institutes and universities. Thus, the low levels in classical studies are for us the greatest challenge.

Q: What do you think about the relationship between patristic and modern theology?
Father Dodaro: During Vatican II it was decided that the updating of theology and Church praxis demanded a turning toward the wise patrimony of the Fathers of the Church. For this reason, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI wanted an institute of patristic studies in Rome. But today’s theology seems to have set out on another path distinct from the ever-more-distant gate of tradition and, therefore, while the scholars of the Church Fathers investigate the historical context of the theology of the Fathers, today’s theology withdraws from its origins. The Church today needs to confront the question of the relationship between patristic and dogmatic theology.

Q: Perhaps the Fathers existed too long ago?
Father Dodaro: No, the Fathers are very current. Theirs is a beautiful spirituality, and a liturgical and theological fashion. The general public is fascinated with it, and sales of the patristics — even with translated texts — are high. There is a living interest. The problem is that the theologians are unconvinced about the Fathers’ teachings.

Q: You confirm that, among readers, there is an interest in the Church’s origins and especially in the patristic era, although many of these works are academic and little known. The challenge is, perhaps, maintaining a high academic level while making the content of the Fathers accessible?
Father Dodaro: This is another of the challenges to which we are trying to respond. The question is how we can offer the treasure of Patristic theology and spirituality to Catholics. From this point of view, I feel proud when I see many of our graduates dedicated to translating, even after earning licentiates and doctorates.

These students and alumni work with publishing houses well-known for these types of works. I’m also surprised at the blooming of patristic studies in Italy. Today, Italy is on the forefront in researching, studying and disseminating the patristic authors not only because we find in Rome the Patristic Institute, but also because there is widespread interest among the state universities, where we have friends and collaborators.
For example, Italy’s Città Nuova publishes a collection of patristic books, something that doesn’t exist in all Western countries, although the trend is spreading throughout the world. Some alumni are dedicated to translating patristic texts even into Korean. I think the spread of these works can help local Churches respond to pastoral demands.

Therefore, we need texts translated into the many languages so people can study and deepen their knowledge of the Fathers. Then, courses are needed in the various spirituality and theology institutes. Bishops should challenge seminarians and young priests to study the Fathers of the Church.

Q: If you had to persuade youth to study the Fathers, what argument would you use?
Father Dodaro: I would speak about St. Augustine. But apart from that example, I would say: Take the 10 greatest and most difficult problems in today’s Church, choose whichever ones you want, and then try to compare them to those the Church Fathers develop. In the classic patristics, you will find the roots and responses to whatever controversy the Church must confront today. This is the importance of the Church Fathers.

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The Listening Heart

I’m very pleased to learn that The Listening Heart: Vocation And the Crisis of Modern Culture, by the Baptist theologian A.J. Conyers, has been named one of the “Top Ten Religion Books of the Year” by the American Library Association’s BOOKLIST.

Earlier this year I posted two excerpts from the book (here and here). Conyers drew riches from the Church Fathers as he recovered the traditional (but long-lost) Christian sense of vocation — of each person’s “calling” from God.

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Another Milano Moment

Are we getting continuing-education units for these?

Yesterday the Holy Father continued his lectures on the Fathers, with one of the most beautiful of all (you can read that “beautiful” as modifying “lectures” or “Fathers”). What follows is the unofficial Zenit translation of his address on St. Ambrose of Milan.

Dear brothers and sisters:

The saintly Bishop Ambrose, of whom I will speak to you today, died during the night in Milan between April 3-4, 397. It was the dawn of Holy Saturday. The day before, toward 5 p.m., he began to pray as he was lying in bed with his arms open in the form of the cross. That is how he participated in the solemn Easter triduum, in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. “We saw him moving his lips,” testified Paulinus, the faithful deacon who was invited by Augustine to write Ambrose’s biography entitled “Vita,” “but his voice could not be heard.”

Suddenly, the situation seemed to come to an end. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli, who helped Ambrose and who slept upstairs from him, was awakened by a voice that repeated: “Get up, quick! Ambrose is approaching death.” Honoratus immediately went downstairs, Paulinus recounted, “and offered the saint the Body of the Lord. After having taken it, Ambrose surrendered his spirit, carrying with him viaticum. Thus, his soul, strengthened by virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of angels” (“Vita,” 47).

On that Good Friday of 397, the open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. This was his last catechesis: Without speaking a word, he spoke with the testimony of life.

Ambrose was not old when he died. He was not even 60, for he was born around 340 in Trier, where his father was prefect of the Gauls. The family was Christian. When his father died, and he was still a boy, his mother brought him to Rome to prepare him for a civil career, giving him a solid rhetorical and juridical education. Around 370, he was sent to govern the provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there where the struggle between orthodox Christians and Arians was seething, especially after the death of Auxentius, the Arian bishop. Ambrose intervened to pacify those of both factions, and his authority was such that, despite the fact that he was nothing more than a simple catechumen, he was acclaimed by the people as bishop of Milan.

Until that moment, Ambrose had been the highest magistrate of the Roman Empire in northern Italy. Highly prepared culturally, but deficient in knowledge of Scriptures, the new bishop began to study them energetically. He learned to study and comment on the Bible from the works of Origen, the undisputed master of the school of Alexandria. In this way, Ambrose brought to the Latin environment the practice of meditating on Scriptures initiated by Origen, beginning the practice of “lectio divina” in the West.

The method of “lectio” soon guided the preaching and writing of Ambrose, which emerged precisely from prayerful listening to the word of God. A famous opening from one Ambrosian catechesis distinctly demonstrates how the holy bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: “When we read the histories of the patriarchs and the maxims of Proverbs, we come face to face with morality,” the bishop of Milan told his catechumens and neophytes, “in order that, educated by these, you can then accustom yourselves to enter into the life of the fathers and to follow the path of obedience to the divine precepts” (“I misteri,” 1,1).

In other words, neophytes and catechumens, in the opinion of the bishop, after having learned the art of living morally, could then consider themselves prepared for the great mysteries of Christ. In this way, the preaching of Ambrose, which represents the heart of his prodigious literary work, originates from the reading of sacred books (“The Patriarchs,” the historical books, and “Proverbs,” the sapiential books), to live in conformity with divine revelation.

It is evident that the personal testimony of the preacher, and the exemplarity of the Christian community, conditions the efficacy of any preaching. From this point of view a passage from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” is significant. Augustine had come to Milan as a professor of rhetoric; he was a skeptic, not a Christian. He was looking, but he wasn’t able to truly encounter the Christian truth. For the young African rhetorician, skeptical and desperate, it was not the beautiful homilies of Ambrose that converted him — despite the fact that he appreciated them immensely. Rather, it was the testimony of the bishop and the Church in Milan, which prayed and sang, united as a single body. It was a Church capable of resisting the bullying of the emperor and his mother, who had demanded again the expropriation of a Church building for Arian ceremonies in early 386.

In the building that was to be expropriated, Augustine wrote, “the devout people of Milan stayed put, ready to die with their own bishop.” This testimony in the “Confessions” is invaluable, because it shows that something was moving deep within Augustine. He continued, “Despite the fact that we were still spiritually lukewarm, we participated as well in the fervor of the entire population” (“Confessions” 9, 7).

From the life and example of Bishop Ambrose, Augustine learned to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which deserved to be cited many centuries later in No. 25 of the dogmatic constitution “Dei Verbum”: “All the clergy must hold fast to the sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become,” and here is where Augustine is quoted, “‘an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.'” He had learned precisely from Ambrose this “to listen inwardly,” this diligence in reading sacred Scripture in a prayerful attitude, in order to truly receive it in one’s heart, and to assimilate the word of God.

Dear brothers and sisters: I would like to present to you a type of “patristic icon” that, seen in the light of what we have just said, effectively represents the heart of Ambrosian doctrine. In the same book of “Confessions,” Augustine recounts his meeting with Ambrose, certainly a meeting of great importance for the history of the Church. He writes in the text that when he came to see the bishop of Milan, the latter was always surrounded by hordes of people with problems, whom he tried to help. There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose, looking for comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people — and this only happened for short periods of time — he was either filling his body with the food necessary to live, or filling his spirit with reading. In this respect Augustine praises Ambrose, because Ambrose read Scriptures with his mouth closed, and only with his eyes (cf. “Confessions,” 6,3).

In the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scripture was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding, even for the one who was reading it. The fact that Ambrose could read through the pages only with his eyes was for Augustine a singular capacity for reading and being familiar with Scripture. In this reading — in which the heart seeks to understand the word of God — this is the “icon” we are talking about. Here one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: Scripture itself, profoundly assimilated, suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts.

Thus, according to the teachings of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of life. The catechist may also avail himself of what I wrote in “Introduction to Christianity” about theologians. Educators of the faith cannot run the risk of looking like some sort of clown, who is simply playing a role. Rather, using an image from Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master’s heart and there learned how to think, speak and act. In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective manner.

Like John the Apostle, Bishop Ambrose, who never tired of repeating “Omnia Christus est nobis!” — Christ is everything for us! — remained an authentic witness for the Lord. With these same words, full of love for Jesus, we will conclude our catechesis: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you want to heal a wound, he is the physician; is you burn with fever, he is the fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you need help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you are in darkness, he is the light. … Taste and see how good the Lord is. Blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (“De virginitate,” 16,99). We also hope in Christ. In this way we will be blessed and will live in peace.

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Syriac Spirit

We continue our sampling of the new, just-released third volume of Letter & Spirit, the St. Paul Center‘s annual academic journal. Last week I baited the hook with Cardinal Avery Dulles’s study of the Church and the kingdom and Gary Anderson’s discussion of the “treasury of merit” in the ancient rabbis and Church Fathers. Today we turn eastward as we consider Carmelite Father Emmanuel Kaniyamparampil’s of “feminine-maternal images of the Holy Spirit” in the Syriac Fathers. Here’s Scott Hahn’s summary, in the volume’s general introduction:

In our Tradition & Traditions section, we retrieve an important theological motif from the early Christian tradition. Emmanuel Kaniyamparampil looks at feminine-maternal images of the Holy Spirit in Syriac Christianity, a tradition with close linguistic and historic roots to the first Jewish Christians. This is a careful study that shows the biblical roots of this metaphor and its possibilities for fruitful reflection on the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer.

Scott Hahn has covered some of the same ground in an essay posted online.

Father Kaniyamparampil is a patristics scholar and seminary professor based in Bangalore, India. He received his doctorate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of Paris. He is a longtime correspondent of mine and a great promoter of The Fathers of the Church in India.

Remember: the third volume of Letter & Spirit is part of the registration package for each and every person who attends our Letter & Spirit conference — this very weekend. Please consider going. You’ll hear some of the Fathers’ greatest living interpreters, and you really can’t beat the price! Hope to see you there!

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In Yesterday’s Mail

While I was out, two DVDs arrived from Ignatius Press:

Apostolic Fathers: Handing on the Faith — Steve Ray spotlights the lives of Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Justin. The documentary was shot entirely on location in Israel, Turkey, France, and Italy.

Lost Gospels or False Gospels? — This documentary examines the New Testament apocrypha and features interviews with excellent scholars like Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Amy-Jill Levine, Ted Sri, Tim Gray, and many others.

These look promising. I’ll let you know more as soon as I have a few moments to watch.

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Not Knots for Naught

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m pretty excited about the arrival of the third volume of Letter & Spirit, our annual academic journal from the St. Paul Center. This issue includes rich studies of the Fathers. Yesterday I mentioned Gary Anderson’s use of the Syriac Fathers to explain the idea of the “treasury of merit” in early Judaism and Christianity. Earlier in the same volume we find an important argument from the celebrated Cardinal-theologian Avery Dulles. Here’s Scott Hahn’s take:

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., explores one of the knottiest questions in exegesis and biblical theology—the meaning of “the kingdom of God” in the preaching of Christ. “The Church and the Kingdom: A Study of their Relationship in Scripture, Tradition, and Evangelization,” is a fine study of this question in light of the “great tradition,” exploring the biblical, patristic, scholastic, dogmatic, and magisterial record. Indeed, he shows that serious distortions arise when the question is considered apart from the tradition. This article has implications not only for theology and exegesis, but also for ecumenical dialogue and for understanding the Church’s evangelical mission in a pluralistic world.

To those of you who are reading aloud to your friends and co-workers: please note that the essay addresses one of the “knottiest questions” and not the naughtiest. In fact, Augustine applied a good deal of his remarkably pure intellect to the question. Cardinal Dulles ponders Augustine’s reflections, as well as those of Origen, Cyprian, and Gregory the Great.

The third volume of Letter & Spirit is part of the veritable kingdom inherited by each and every person who attends our Letter & Spirit conference next week. Every registered attendee gets a copy. Hope to see you there!

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The Other Eusebius

All the news services have, understandably, been starstruck by the announcement of the new cardinals-to-be, including Pittsburgh’s beloved Daniel DiNardo. (Take a breath, Galveston-Houston. He was ours before he was yours.) So, as of early this morning, none of my regulars had gotten around to translating Pope Benedict’s audience on Eusebius of Vercelli. Teresa Benedetta, however, was there, her station keeping, for which we’re grateful. Her translation follows.

Dear brothers and sisters,

This morning, I invite you to reflect on Saint Eusebius of Vercelli, the first bishop of northern Italy about whom we have definite information.

Born in Sardinia at the start of the fourth century, he moved to Rome with his family at a young age. Later, he became a lector, thus becoming part of the clergy of Rome at a time when the Church was sorely tried by the Arian heresy.

The great respect which grew around Eusebius explains his election in 345 to the episcopal seat of Vercelli. The new bishop immediately began an intense work of evangelization in a territory that was still largely pagan, especially in the rural areas.

Inspired by Saint Athanasius – who had written the ‘Life of St. Anthony Abbot’, founder of eastern monasticism – he founded in Vercelli a priestly community that was similar to a monastic one.

This monastery gave the clergy of northern Italy a significant imprint of apostolic sanctity, and gave rise to important bishop figures, like Limenius and Honoratus, his successors in Vercelli; Gaundentius in NOvara, Esuperantius in Tortona, Eustasius in Aosta, Eulogius in Ivrea, Maximus in Turin – all venerated by the Church as saints.

Solidly educated in the Nicene faith, Eusebius defended with all his strength the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene creed as ‘of the same substance’ as the Father. To this end, he allied himself with the great Fathers of the 4th century – especially with St. Athanasius, the leading advocate of Nicene orthodoxy – against the Arian politics of the Roman emperor.

For the emperor, the simpler Arian belief appeared politically more useful as the ideology of the empire. For him, the truth did not matter, but rather, political opportunity – he wanted to use religion as a tool for unifying the empire. But the great Fathers resisted, defending truth from domination by politics.

For this reason, Eusebius was condemned to exile like so many other bishops in both East and West – St. Athanasius himself, St. Hilary of Poitiers, whom we talked about last week; Osius of Cordova.

At Scitopolis in Palestine, to where he was exiled in 355-360, Eusebius wrote an amazing page of his life. Even here, he founded a monastery with a small group of disciples, and from here, he carried on a correspondence with his faithful in Piedmont, demonstrated best by the second of the three Eusebian letters that have been recognized to be authentic.

After 360, he was further exiled to Cappadocia and in the Thebaide, where he underwent severe physical maltreatment. In 361, Emperor Constance II died and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, known as the Apostate, who was not interested in Christianity as the religion of empire, but simply wanted to restore paganism.

He put an end to the exile of bishops and even conceded that Eusebius could take back his seat in Vercelli. In 362, Eusebius was invited by Athanasius to take part in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon Arian bishops provided they reverted to the lay state.

Eusebius was able to exercise the episcopal ministry for another decade at least, until he died, establishing with his city an exemplary relationship which did not fail to inspire the pastoral service of other bishops of northern Italy, whom we shall talk about in subsequent catecheses, like St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximus of Turin.

The relationship between the Bishop of Vercelli and his city is made clear above all by two epistolary proofs. The first is in the letter we already referred to, which Eusebius wrote from exile in Scitopolis “to my most beloved brothers and priests, as well as to the holy peoples keeping firm faith in Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea and Tortona” (Ep. secunda, CCL 9, p. 104).

This greeting, which indicated the emotion of the good shepherd when speaking of his flock, has a counterpart at the end of the letter, in the warm greetings of the father to each and everyone of his sons in Vercelli, with expressions overflowing with affection and love.

One must note the explicit relationship between the bishop to the sanctae plebes (holy people) not only of Vercellae/Vercelli – the first, and for many more years, the oly diocese of Piedmont – but also of Novaria/Novara, Eporedia/Ivrea e Dertona/Tortona, those Christian communities within his diocese that had reached a certain consistency and autonomy.

Another interesting element is the farewell with which he concludes the letter: Eusebius asks his sons and daughters to greet “even those who are outside the Church who have sentiments of love for us:
etiam hos, qui foris sunt et nos dignantur diligere”. Evident sign that the bishop’s relations with his city was not limited to the Christian population, but extended also to those who, from outside the Church, recognized his spiritual authority in some way and loved him as an exemplary man.

The second proof of the singular relationship the bishop had with his city comes from the letter that St. Ambrose of Milan wrote to the people of Vercelli around 394, more than 20 years after Eusebius’s death (Ep. extra collectionem 14: Maur. 63).

The Church of Vercelli was going through a difficult time: it was divided and without a bishop. With frankness, Ambrose said he hesitated to acknowledge in them “the descendants of the holy fathers who approved of Eusebius [elected him bishop of Vercelli] as soon as they saw him even without having known him beforehand, to the extent of passing over their own townmates.”

In the same letter, the Bishop of Milan attested in the clearest way his esteem for Eusebius: “A man as great as he,” he wrote definitively, “truly merits being elected by the whole Church.”

Ambrose’s admiration for Eusebius was based above all on the fact that Eusebius governed his diocese with the witness of his own life: “He governed the Church with the austerity of fasting.”

In fact, Ambrose himself was fascinated – as he himself admitted – by the monastic ideal of contemplating God which Eusebius had pursued in the footsteps of the prophet Elia.

To begin with, Ambrose has noted, the Bishop of Vercelli gathered his own priests into community life and edicated them “in the observance of monastic rules even while living in a city”.

The bishopa and his priests had to share the problems of their fellow citizens, and they did this credibly by cultivating at the same time a different citizenship, that of Heaven (cfr Heb 13,14). Thus they truly constructed a genuine citizenship in true solidarity with the citizens of Vercelli.

And so Eusebius, while he took up the cause of the ‘sancta plebs’ of Vercelli, lived in the midst of the city like a monk, opening his city to God. This trait did not take anything away from his exemplary pastoral dynamism.

It seems, among other things, that he set up parish churches to render stable and systematic church services and that he promoted Marian sanctuaries for the coversion of pagan rural areas. So his monastic ‘trait’ conferred a particular dimension on the relationship of the bishop with his city.

Like the Apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, the pastors and the faithful of the Church ‘are in the world’ (Jn 17,11)but not ‘of the world.’ Therefore, the pastors, Eusebius reminds us, should exhort the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling, but to seek the future city, the definitive Jerusalem in heaven.

This ‘eschatological reservation’ allows the pastors and the faithful to keep an authentic scale of values, without ever yielding to the fashion of the moment and to the unjust demands of prevailing political power.

The authentic scale of values, Eusebius’s whole life seems to tell us, does not come from the emperors of yesterday or today, but from Jesus Christ, the perfect man, equal to the Fahter in divinity, but a man like us.

Referring to this scale of values, Eusebius does not tire of “warmly recommending” to his faithful “to guard the faith with every care, to maintain concord, and to be assiduous in prayer” (Ep. secunda, cit.).

Dear friends, I too recommend to you with all my heart these perennial values, while I greet and bless you with the words which St. Eusebius used to conclude his second letter: “I address you all, my brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, the faithful of both sexes and every age … so that you may bring our greetings even to those who are outside the Church but who deign to nourish sentiments of love for us” (ibid.).

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You Can Luke It Up

Today is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. Jerome remembered him thusly:

Luke a physician of Antioch, as his writings indicate, was not unskilled in the Greek language. An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel, concerning which the same Paul says, “We send with him a brother whose praise in the gospel is among all the churches” and to the Colossians “Luke the beloved physician salutes you,” and to Timothy “Luke only is with me.” He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles, a history which extends to the second year of Paul’s sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero, from which we learn that the book was composed in that same city. Therefore the Acts of Paul and Thecla and all the fable about the lion baptized by him we reckon among the apocryphal writings, for how is it possible that the inseparable companion of the apostle in his other affairs, alone should have been ignorant of this thing. Moreover Tertullian who lived near those times, mentions a certain presbyter in Asia, an adherent of the apostle Paul, who was convicted by John of having been the author of the book, and who, confessing that he did this for love of Paul, resigned his office of presbyter. Some suppose that whenever Paul in his epistle says “according to my gospel” he means the book of Luke and that Luke not only was taught the gospel history by the apostle Paul who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by other apostles. This he too at the beginning of his work declares, saying “Even as they delivered unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” So he wrote the gospel as he had heard it, but composed the Acts of the apostles as he himself had seen. He was buried at Constantinople to which city, in the twentieth year of Constantius, his bones together with the remains of Andrew the apostle were transferred.

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Merit? Share It!

The much-anticipated third volume of Letter & Spirit has rolled off the presses and into the warehouse. In fact, I’m holding a copy in my hands. It features fascinating studies by the best and brightest: Cardinals Avery Dulles and Christoph Schonborn, Michael Waldstein, Romanus Cessario, David Fagerberg, and Scott Hahn. One of my favorite essays is by Gary Anderson of Notre Dame. Here’s how my friend Scott Hahn sums it up in the volume’s opening editorial:

“Redeem Your Sins by the Giving of Alms: Sin, Debt, and the ‘Treasury of Merit’ in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition,” the contribution by Gary A. Anderson, also has important ecumenical implications. This ambitious article explores the roots of the complex spiritual and theological tradition that became a flashpoint in the Reformation—“the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.”

The idea of sin as a kind of debt owed to God is seen in the Our Father (Matt. 6:12). Likewise, the notion that charity covers a multitude of sins is clear enough from the New Testament record (1 Pet. 4:8). But Anderson locates the roots of this tradition much deeper in the Jewish scriptural and interpretative tradition. He then traces the nuances of its development through the New Testament, the rabbis, and the witness of early Syriac Christianity. This is serious exegesis and theology with significant implications for apologetics and ecumenical dialogue, as Anderson concludes with not a little understatement: “I think it is fair to say that the practice of issuing an indulgence is not as unbiblical as one might have imagined.”

For those who are keeping a patristic scorecard, Dr. Anderson calls to the witness stand the Didache, Clement of Alexandria, the Letter to Diognetus, Augustine, and most especially St. Ephrem. All these follow after an all-star team of ancient rabbis. This is a blockbuster article. It, um, merits your immediate attention.

The third volume of Letter & Spirit is part of the great treasury of merit that will be dispensed to each and every person who attends our Letter & Spirit conference next week. Hope to see you there!

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Cardinal Virtue

Pope Benedict named a gaggle of new cardinals today. Two are from the United States, and one of those men, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (Texas), is a patrologist. He earned his license in patristics at the Pontifical University Augustinianum in Rome. I know no other preacher who produces quotations from the Fathers so readily, from memory. (Back in the day when he was a pastor, I saw him do this at baptisms, funerals, ordinary Sunday Masses, and gatherings of Catholic school teachers.) He is, as you can probably guess, a Pittsburgh priest.

UPDATE: A great quote from Pittsburgh’s Bishop David Zubik, who was a seminary classmate of Cardinal-designate DiNardo: “You can take the priest out of Pittsburgh, but not Pittsburgh out of the priest, and Cardinal-designate DiNardo has been home many times in the last 10 years,” Bishop Zubik said. “I pray that he will be able to continue to come to see us in the years ahead, and we can assure him of a warm Pittsburgh welcome.”