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Smut in the Ruins

When I first published my short essay Roman Cruelty, Christian Purity, people asked me if Roman culture was really all that smutty. Or was I maybe exaggerating just a little?

If anything, I understated the evidence, because it’s best not to go there. But you can see plenty of examples of ancient preoccupations by visiting the websites of antiquities dealers, who do a brisk trade in “erotic-themed” lamps and amulets. And there is no shortage of academic studies of the matter.

Now comes historian Jacqui Murray to vindicate my claim. In an essay titled Ancient Lives Uncensored, published in in the Brisbane (Australia) Courier-Mail, she says pretty much what I said: “For centuries the public’s view of Roman life has been sanitised by royal rulers, governments, archaeologists and some historians.” Though Dr. Murray is more sanguine (or at least neutral) on the proclivities of the ancients, her claims echo my own.

ANYONE looking for lessons in the history of censorship and propaganda need look no further than Pompeii.

For the past 200 years the real story of this ancient town, destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, has been kept from public view.
Our image of Roman life has been censored, sanitised and sanctified.

For anyone raised on the white marble and white toga version of Rome, the latest offerings on Roman life will come as a shock.

The idealised world passed on to us by the great writers of classical Latin was largely restricted to the very small minority that represented Rome’s scholarly elite.

Forget all those stories about Caligula and his horse, Nero, in Capri’s Blue Grotto and the goings-on by other degenerate members of Roman imperial families.

The reality was that plenty of ordinary Roman folk were up to, or at least had no inhibitions about, what gave rise to the term “pornography”.

These misunderstandings have arisen because many of Pompeii’s artefacts have been spirited, or locked, away for centuries.

I’ll spare you the detail, but it’s there.

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Have a Mary Epiphany

Danny Garland’s made another splash, this time with an essay titled The Church Fathers’ Marian Interpretation of the Old Testament. It’s worth your time.

While you’re on the subject, check the progress on Suburban Banshee’s gradual transcription of Thomas Livius’s great work The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries. (Said Banshee has also returned to her translation of Prudentius. Gaudete et laetare.)

There’s much good work appearing on the Fathers’ Marian doctrine. The best place to begin is Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought. An interesting second stop is Stephen J. Shoemaker’s The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption, which analyzes documentary and archeological material — and provides abundant documentation.

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She Oughta Be in Pictures

The esteemed Julie of Happy Catholic announces a new venture, Catholic Media Review.

We’re ordinary people who happen to have a particularly Catholic and Christian outlook on life. We will bring that sensibility to our reviews.

Our hope is that there also will be some discussion about what makes a good movie. We’ll be looking not only at which movies might have a positive impact on society (The Passion of the Christ, Amazing Grace, Into Great Silence, Bella) but also highlighting when secular mainstream films have underlying themes that support Christian values in general or those of the Catholic Church in particular. For example, Waitress and Juno have had their pro-life messages touted widely but few people are talking about the Christian themes underlying I Am Legend or Sweeney Todd.

Although movies are the reason the blog was begun, we’ll also be looking at other art (media) because we’re as passionate about those as we are about our faith and movies. Music, podcasts, books, television, and more will all be reviewed and reflected upon at Catholic Media Review.

Stop by Catholic Media Review for a visit – there are some exciting movie reviews up already. Some of the reviews already posted include: National Treasure, Juno, I Am Legend, Bella, Enchanted, and The Water House – Legend of the Deep.

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Personal Patristics

For the Love of Literature is a book about reading by my dear friend and homeschooling guru Maureen Wittmann. It’s a book for book-lovers, full of lists that provide pathways for curiosity through many fields of study, many lands, many periods of history. I love the fact that it includes the generally accepted Great Books, but also the fiercely loved Cool Books — dime novels, potboilers, and such. I’m grateful for the fact that such a lovely volume begins with a foreword by Yours Truly. In it I talk about my grandfather, my father, myself, and how the love of books passed through our generations.

And, yes, the book includes reading lists on early Christianity. And, yes, they include both Great Books and Cool Books — not to mention my books!

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Fathers Training Fathers

New papa Danny Garland (see baby photos) gives serious and extended consideration to a very important topic: The Necessity of the Study of the Fathers of the Church for Priests in light of the Second Vatican Council’s Optatam Totius. Danny’s paper examines

article 16 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Training of Priests in which it states that “students should be shown what the Fathers of the Church, both of the East and West, have contributed towards the faithful transmission and elucidation of each of the revealed truths.” I will show how the Church Fathers are exemplars of the formation that this document sets out for priests by virtue of the holiness of their lives, their loyalty to the Church, their immersion in Scripture, and the way they did theology.

Read it all.

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Sun vs. Son

Carl Sommer, author of We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians, emailed me a few more bits on the dating of Christmas.

You’ll find a couple of interesting articles relating to the December 25 dating of Christmas here and here. I should probably make my interest in this subject clear. I do not believe it is possible to establish the precise date of Jesus’ birth; and, in
many ways, the exact date is probably unimportant. I am, however, interested in refuting the notion that Christmas is some kind of a “pagan” holiday. December 25 was chosen by Christians for Christian reasons, not as a concession to pagan culture. I have no doubt that by the middle of the fourth century December 25 received a new prominence because of the need to counter Sol Invictus, but Christian usage of December 25 clearly predates that time.

Carl’s right. It’s very clear — from Hippolytus, Julius Africanus, and Clement of Alexandria — that some Christians celebrated December 25 from very early times. Nevertheless, it seems there was a strong push at the end of the fourth century to establish the holiday universally and promote its celebration. It’s possible that this push was the Church’s way of addressing a lingering attachment to Sol Invictus. That’s perfectly compatible, of course, with Carl’s contention that Christmas predates Sol Invictus. Carl responded that he and I are in perfect agreement.

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Basil Pesto

Today’s the memorial of Saints Basil and Gregory, the great Cappadocian Fathers. I’ve posted audio here, other links here. Pope Benedict has dedicated four audience talks to these two men, beginning with this one. Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter, Patres Ecclesiae, on St. Basil alone — but it hasn’t been translated into English yet. Any takers?

UPDATE: Jeff Ziegler gives us these links:
St. Basil (d. 379), traditionally reckoned among the four greatest Eastern Fathers.
St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 389 or 390).
Links to their works.
— Pope Benedict devoted four of his 2007 general audiences to SS. Basil and Gregory (see July and August).
Cardinal Newman on SS. Basil and Gregory (from his The Church of the Fathers, written in 1833, during his Anglican period).

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Mother of God

Today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a feast that enshrines the doctrine of the Council of Ephesus. (For a bit of the dramatic story of that council, see my posts here and here.) Catholic Encyclopedia tells us…

Mary’s Divine motherhood is based on the teaching of the Gospels, on the writings of the Fathers, and on the express definition of the Church. St. Matthew (1:25) testifies that Mary “brought forth her first-born son” and that He was called Jesus. According to St. John (1:15) Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Word Who assumed human nature in the womb of Mary. As Mary was truly the mother of Jesus, and as Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception, Mary is truly the mother of God. Even the earliest Fathers did not hesitate to draw this conclusion as may be seen in the writings of St. Ignatius [Ephes 7], St. Irenaeus [Adv Haer 3.19], and Tertullian [Adv Prax 27]. The contention of Nestorius denying to Mary the title “Mother of God” [Serm 1.6.7] was followed by the teaching of the Council of Ephesus proclaiming Mary to be Theotokos in the true sense of the word. [Cf. Ambr., in Luc. II, 25, P.L., XV, 1521; St. Cyril of Alex., Apol. pro XII cap.; c. Julian., VIII; ep. ad Acac., 14; P.G., LXXVI, 320, 901; LXXVII, 97; John of Antioch, ep. ad Nestor., 4, P.G., LXXVII, 1456; Theodoret, haer. fab., IV, 2, P.G., LXXXIII, 436; St. Gregory Nazianzen, ep. ad Cledon., I, P.G., XXXVII, 177; Proclus, hom. de Matre Dei, P.G., LXV, 680; etc.]