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Gifts and Blessings

I keep the visitors to this blog, like the readers of my books, in my regular rounds of prayer. May God’s blessings abound for you this Easter season.

In your kindness, please consider making an Easter gift to the St. Paul Center, the apostolate very near to my heart. (You get a free CD!)

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History’s Stations

The Way of the Cross is the inevitable way of a Christian’s heart.

Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine the Catholic Church without the devotion that goes by that name.

It goes by other names, too: “The Stations of the Cross,” “Via Crucis,” “Via Dolorosa” — or just “the stations.”

The practice has settled, for several centuries now, into brief meditations on 14 scenes from the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Why are Christians drawn so strongly to this devotion? Because Jesus wanted us to be. “Then He said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Lk 9:23).

When Jesus speaks the words “if” or “unless,” Christians listen carefully. For then Our Lord is laying down the conditions of our discipleship — the prerequisites of heaven.

• • • •

The Way of the Cross developed gradually in the life of the Church. In the Roman world, the cross was a “stumbling block” (Gal 5:11). Crucifixion was a most humiliating form of execution: a man was stripped naked and suspended in a public place; he was pelted with rocks and trash and left to suffocate slowly while passersby mocked his agony.

Crucifixion was still a common occurrence during the first three centuries of Christianity, so it was not easy for believers, like St. Paul, to “boast” (Gal 6:14) of the cross. For people who had seen criminals crucified, the cross could not have been an easy thing to love.

Yet love it they did. Devotion to the cross pervades the earliest Christian writings. And the earliest records of pilgrimage show us that Christians endured great hardships — traveling thousands of miles, from France and Spain to Jerusalem — so that they could walk the streets of Jesus’ suffering: the Way of the Cross.

The Jerusalem liturgy of Holy Week memorialized the events of Jesus’ Passion. On Holy Thursday, the bishop led the procession from the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary. The fourth-century practice is well attested by St. Cyril of Jerusalem and by Egeria, the Bordeaux Pilgrim.

After Christianity was legalized in 313 A.D., pilgrims regularly thronged Jerusalem. The Way of the Cross became one of the standard routes for pilgrims and tourists … READ MORE.

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Throop Movements

While I was in Rome, I got the following query from Ryan McDermott, “Medievalist-in-training.” Can anyone help him?

I just received the two volumes of Priscilla Throop’s translation of Isidore’s Etymologies. From a brief once-over, it looks like a very impressive piece of scholarship. I’ll still probably have to quote from the recent Cambridge translation, since that will probably take on the status of definitive edition, but for a reading copy, this is great. And I actually think only copies affordable to grad students should be the standard works to quote from–provided, of course, the editing and translation are up to snuff.

Here’s a question for the blogosphere: who is Priscilla Throop? Who would engage in a labor of love like this, with no hope of profit, and without the usual academic incentives for such thankless tasks? And who is the handsome man in the small picture on the back cover of the Isidore translations? It’s definitely not Isidore! (Could it be Patrick Stewart??)

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Nave in the Cave

An ancient church may be caving in …

ANTIOCH, Turkey, MARCH 12, 2008 ( – The Cave Church of St. Peter, considered the first Christian church in Antioch, has been closed due to structural concerns.

Capuchin Father Egidio Picucci, noted historian of Turkey and the Early Church, confirmed Sunday to L’Osservatore Romano that Turkish authorities closed the church March 1 due to risks that the structure could cave in.

Also known as St. Peter’s Grotto, the church is a natural cave on the western face of Mount Stauris, which towers over Antioch.

After the collapse of large sections, said Father Picucci, “the possibility that further collapses could constitute a serious danger for the security of visitors led the museum directors — for the Turkish government St. Peter’s Grotto is only a museum — to take these measures.”

It is widely believed that St. Peter himself dug the cave as a place for the first community of Christians in Antioch to gather.

Father Picucci explained that St. Peter’s Grotto, although it is “full of ancient Christian symbols […] is a place dear to all inhabitants of Antioch, including Muslims.”

“On the feast of St. Peter,” he said, “everyone comes to get blessed bread and to drink water,” which is considered “miraculous,” and is brought home by residents and to the sick.

The stone church, he added, is “particularly dear to the Catholic and Orthodox communities,” who always celebrate Christmas and Easter together in the grotto.

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Desert Fodder

Egypt’s Al Ahram reports on a Coptology conference that drew scholars from all over the world. Attendees discussed Pachomius, Shenouda, and many others, including Pisenthios of Coptos, “a hermit who hated vainglory and was sad when his meditations became known; he was in contact with saints like the prophet Elijah, caught fish for a sick monk, caused water to rise in a well, and ‘his fingers burned like lamps during prayer’.” Read more about The Spirit of Monasticism in Upper Egypt.

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Why Are We Here?

Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, the chief theologian to the U.S. bishops, has published an excellent apologia for studying patristics: “Why Ask the Fathers? The Dynamics of a Living Tradition.” It appeared in the debut issue of American Theological Inquiry, an ecumenical journal. (You can download the whole issue as a PDF here.) A few nuggets from a rich vein:

[I]f one wants to take theology seriously, it is absolutely essential to possess a good grasp of the Fathers of the Church, particularly the manner in which they undertook the theological enterprise, the issues that they confronted and clarified, and the answers they provided … [O]nly if one has some sense of the patristic tradition … can one truly and fully appreciate the truth of the Gospel and the wealth of wisdom and life it contains. To be ignorant of the Fathers is to be ignorant of one’s own Christian and Catholic patrimony …

[T]heology is more than an abstract intellectual business. True theology can only be done properly by a mind and heart steeped in prayer … The Fathers often made reference to the principle that like is known only by like. Thus, for the Fathers, a true theologian must be a saint, for only a saint is truly in communion with the mysteries he is seeking to understand.

Father Tom is a true theologian and a national treasure. He’s author of great studies of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. To hear his lecture on “St. Athanasius and the Divinity of the Holy Spirit,” go here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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Pall to the Thessalonians

A find of some importance….

ATHENS, Greece – Greek workers discovered around 1,000 graves, some filled with ancient treasures, while excavating for a subway system in the historic city of Thessaloniki, the state archaeological authority said Monday.

Some of the graves, which dated from the first century B.C. to the 5th century A.D., contained jewelry, coins and various pieces of art, the Greek archaeological service said in a statement.

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A Ray of Light on Antiquity

Ignatius Insight interviews Steve Ray on the subject of “Traveling With the Apostolic Fathers.”

Author and apologist Steve Ray, along with his wife Janet, entered the Catholic Church in 1994, a journey from the Baptist tradition to Catholicism described in Ray’s first book, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church. Since then he has been busy with writing more books, giving numerous talks, and producing an award-winning video series for Ignatius Press called The Footprints of God: The Story of Salvation from Abraham to Augustine.

Ray’s other books are Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, and St. John\’s Gospel: A Bible Study Guide and Commentary. Steve recently finished producing the seventh video in the Footprints of God series, titled Apostolic Fathers: Handing on the Faith, now available from Ignatius Press.

Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, recently caught up to Steve (who was between trips abroad) and talked to him about the new DVD and the unique challenges and adventures that accompany his work….

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Daley Dose

Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviews Father Brian Daley’s Gregory of Nazianzus (in the Routledge Early Church Fathers Series).

This volume on Gregory of Nazianzus by Brian E. Daley, S.J., contains a well-balanced combination of scholarly reflections on Gregory’s life and works along with original translations that give the reader a direct appreciation of Gregory’s writings within the context of the man of faith behind them. Some readers may be familiar with Daley’s previous works such as The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Cambridge University Press, 1991; Hendrickson, 2003) and On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), or his studies on ancient Christology, Trinitarian theology and eschatology. Daley is a life-long patristic scholar whose knowledge of this field results in an insightful and clear study of an important early Christian figure. Readers who want an introduction to Gregory will find this book very useful and those looking for more detail will appreciate the many references provided. The sections complement each other very well and progress smoothly from one to the other. They are also organized in such a way as to be able to be read individually. This book appears in Routledge’s “The Early Church Fathers” series and follows its format, providing both an introduction and translations of the original texts. It is divided into five parts: 1) Introduction, 2) Orations, 3) Poems, 4) Letters, and 5) Gregory’s Will….

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.