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Slow-Churned Butler

Butler’s Lives of the Saints, all the original volumes in the late 1800s editions, are available from the Internet Archive, here.

A regular visitor, who wishes to remain anonymous, put them up. Here are the details:

(The archive can sometimes be finicky or slow, so if you get an error, just try again later.)

The four volumes are labelled there as volume 1, volume 2, volume 7, and volume 10. Volume 1 is Jan-Mar; Vol. 2 is Apr-Jun; Vol. 3 is Jul-Sep; and Vol. 4 is Oct-Dec. I think the source of the numbering confusion is that these volumes were produced just by binding the individual months’ volumes three at a time, so bound Vol. 3 begins with original Vol. 7.

Anyhow, they’re there. They’re huge and painfully slow to read because they’re all stored as graphic images. I am continuing to work on OCRing and proofing them to produce more usable versions, but I must admit I’m not working very fast. You can see from the page images why it takes so long–the print quality is abysmal, the pages are huge, and the extensive footnotes are in very tiny type!

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Digging Deep

Several archeological sites of interest:

On Malta, where St. Paul was shipwrecked, there are tours of the remains of a first-century Hellenistic Jewish community: “ancient Jewish tombs … carry religious symbols and other engraved decorations, such as crosses, palm fronds, or doves with olive branches – or, in some cases, the Jewish seven-branched candlestick (menorah).”

In Egypt archeologists have found another underwater early Christian church: “Forty metres beneath the surface the divers discovered a complete portico of the temple of Khnum; two huge, unidentified columns; and four pollards from the Coptic era. Hawass said these pieces would remain on the river bed as they were too heavy to be lifted out the water. Early studies show that the pollards may be part of a Christian church that may have once been located in the area but for unknown reasons was demolished or destroyed.”

Jim Davila reports on digs related to the messianic claimant Shimon bar Kokhba. SBK was an anti-Roman Jewish rebel whose story is told by several of the Fathers. According to his contemporary Justin Martyr, Simon ordered Christians “to be led away to terrible punishment” unless they joined his cause and cursed Jesus of Nazareth (First Apology 31.6).

And how often did the pagan Romans beat their wives? New books dig into the literary and archeological evidence, which Rodney Stark also discussed in The Rise of Christianity.

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Gashwin clarifies that Cardinal Newman isn’t quite on his way to beatification yet.

Perhaps the Alleluias were a bit premature … Basically, what’s happened is that the miracle has been officially recognized by the panel of medical experts. Or rather, they have determined that there is no natural explanation for the healing seen in this case.

There are still a few more steps before the Beatification can be officially proclaimed.

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Holy Patrologist, Batman!

Gashwin Gomes brings us tidings of great joy: Cardinal Newman will soon be beatified.

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2008 / 03:12 am (CNA).- The Vatican has approved the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the English convert and theologian who has had immense influence upon English-speaking Catholicism, the Birmingham Mail reports.

John Henry Newman was born in 1801. As an Anglican priest, he led the Oxford Movement that sought to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots. His conversion to Catholicism in 1845 rocked Victorian England. After becoming an Oratorian priest, he was involved in the establishment of the Birmingham Oratory.

He died in 1890 and is buried at the oratory country house Rednall Hill.

The Catholic Church has accepted as miraculous the cure of an American deacon’s crippling spinal disorder. The deacon, Jack Sullivan of Marshfield, Massachusetts, prayed for John Henry Newman’s intercession.

At his beatification ceremony later this year, John Henry Newman will receive the title “Blessed.” He will need one more recognized miracle to be canonized.

The case of a 17-year-old New Hampshire boy who survived serious head injuries from a car crash is being investigated as a possible second miracle.

Two of the fundamental texts in patrology, imho, are Newman’s Essay On Development Of Christian Doctrine and The Church of the Fathers. (Others would add The Arians Of The Fourth Century. But I’m tempted to add his collected works as well.)

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He Is Kind and Pursiful

New Testament scholar Darrell Pursiful has posted a very generous review of my book The Fathers of the Church (Expanded Edition).

The Fathers of the Church by Mike Aquilina (Our Sunday Visitor, 2006) is an excellent reader for those wanting exposure to the writings of the early church. Aquilina writes well, but the benefit of most volumes of this nature is when the writer says as little as possible so as to let the primary sources speak for themselves. This is also something Aquilina does well. The book begins with a somewhat lengthy introductory essay dealing with the place of the early church fathers and their overall importance in the church’s theology, worship, and witness. Next comes over 200 pages of primary source material, prefaced by sufficient biographical information for each father to help the reader get her bearings but not so much as to be a distraction.

I’m honored. Read on.

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Shake It Up, Baby

Sorry for my absence. While Papa Benedetto was charming the people of the Eastern States (and a huge TV audience), I was away from all media on a father-son trip (planned long ago) to the Gettysburg Battlefield. I returned to looming, threatening, dark stormclouds of deadlines.

But there’s so much I’ve wanted to send your way.

Discovery Network has posted an interesting piece on earthquake archeology. Natural disasters may not interest you much, but they will if you’ve read Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity (and its helpful sequel Cities of God). In a long discussion of natural disasters in antiquity, Stark notes that Antioch alone suffered from hundreds of significant earthquakes during the centuries when Christianity was just emerging. These caused the population to plummet, but the Church’s numbers to rise. Why? Christianity provided the most satisfying explanation for the “Why?” of natural disasters. What’s more, the Christian ethic of self-giving created a community that increased survival rates for those who were under Christian care. And if pagans survived thanks to Christian care, they were likely to convert.

The cultural effects were seismic, causing major tectonic shifts.

Anyway, the Discovery Network article does mention some early Christian centers. Use your imagination.

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Patristics in History and Theology

Sister Macrina continues her conversation on matters patristic, focusing now on “the way the Fathers often appear to be dealt with in western academic circles.”

…for patristics appears to be viewed largely in historical terms – if it appears in academic programmes then this is often together with Church History. Now I certainly have nothing against Church History. But my own interest in the Fathers is not simply to understand them in their historical context, important as this is. My interest in the Fathers is theological, but this is not simply an abstract interest in which they can be used as source material for building elaborate theological artifices or an armoury for defending particular positions. It is rather concerned with their life-giving role in passing on a living Tradition which is able to feed and sustain, but also challenge and transform.

Now this does not mean that we don’t need historical knowledge, nor does it deny that the Fathers are indeed a rich resource into which we can tap. And it also doesn’t exclude critical study, an appreciation of different traditions and our posing of awkward questions. But when such a critical approach loses its rootedness in the Fathers’ own commitment to ascesis, conversion and prayer, to being taken up in and transfigured into the Mystery of Christ, then it doesn’t seem to have much point.

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Phil It Up

Patristic-era finds at Philippi:

Excavations conducted at … Philippi since 1988 have unearthed new findings… Many Christian ruins, especially of the 5th-6th century AD, are spread over the site. St. Paul had preached the gospel to Christian converts there. Private residences and an agora in successive residential phases through the centuries have been discovered in the region of Philippi as new excavations brought to light up to three layers of settlements, one built on top of the other during different time periods. Among the findings of the new university-sponsored excavation, to be presented during the 21st meeting assessing the 2007 archaeological work, which was launched Thursday at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, is a 4th century AD mosaic floor of impressive technique featuring geometrical design. The recently unearthed floor was discovered beneath findings that were built earlier, dated in the times of Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD).

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.

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Did What?

New Testament scholar Darrell Pursiful alerts us to a new Yahoo group to discuss the Didache. He says:

The Didache is an ancient Christian document, often described as a “church order.” It is very old; in fact, many believe it is contemporary with the New Testament era (I would be one of those). There are even theories out there that make it a possible influence on some of the NT documents.

Darrell has been blogging much and well on the development of the ancient liturgies.

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A Plague Upon the Fathers

Archeologists have found a mass grave from the plague that hit during the reign of Justinian.

Justinian’s Plague was “a pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people around the world during a 50-year period in the 6th century A.D.”

It spread through Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland… The plague swept across the Mediterranean during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the early 540s and according to some historians changed the course of European history because the empire then entered a period of decline.

Carried by rats and parasites, the disease spread rapidly because families at the time lived in close quarters in poor hygienic conditions…

Modern scholars believe that the plague killed up to 5,000 people per day in Constantinople … and later went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.

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Now to Vow

You should visit A Vow of Conversation. Sister Macrina reads deeply in the Fathers and blogs eloquently. For some time, she’s been pondering Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology. She posted an excerpt, The Fathers on Theologia, that you should read.

It illuminates this paragraph from the Catechism:

236 The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). “Theology” refers to the mystery of God’s inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and “economy” to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God’s works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

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Columnar Coloring Book

Discovery News tells the fascinating story of Rome’s plans to colorize the Trajan Column with light beams.

The Trajan Column, one of Rome’s most famous monuments, will be shown next year under a totally new light. Italian researchers announced they plan to restore the column’s original bright colors by “painting” it with light beams.

Erected in 113 A.D. in honor of the Emperor Trajan (53-117 A.D.), the huge marble column stands almost 100 feet in height. It is decorated with a spiral relief sculpture, winding 23 times around and depicting the story of Trajan’s triumphant campaigns in Dacia, now part of Romania.

One of the best preserved of all Roman artworks, the monument has however lost what might have been it most distinctive feature — color.

“The column, like many other statues of antiquity, was a carnival of color. The knights, the shields, the horses, the rivers, the sky were all painted,” Maurizio Anastasi, head of the technical office of Rome Superintendency for Archaeology told Discovery News.

Anastasi plans to return the column to its full polychrome glory using an innovative, fully reversible technology… (Read More)

Trajan’s memorials are many and beautiful. I know of no greater tribute to them than the (imagined) dialogue between the emperor Constantine and a fourth-century avant-garde sculptor in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena. The two men are discussing the just-unveiled Arch of Constantine.

“So you are responsible for those monstrosities I saw yesterday. Perhaps you can explain what they are meant to represent?”

“I will try, sir. The arch, as conceived by my friend Professor Emolphus here, is, as you see, on traditional lines, modified to suit modern convention. It is, as you might say, a broad mass broken by apertures. Now this mass involves certain surfaces which Professor Emolphus conceived had about them a certain monotony. The eye was not held, if you understand me. Accordingly he suggested that I relieve them with the decorative features you mention. I thought the result rather happy myself. Did you find the shadows too pronounced? They detract from the static quality of the design? I have heard that criticism.”

Constantine’s patience had been strained by these words. Now he asked icily: “And have you heard this criticism? Your figures are lifeless and expressionless as dummies. Your horses look like children’s toys. There is no grace or movement in the whole thing. I’ve seen better work done by savages. Why, damn it, there’s something there that looks like a doll that’s supposed to be Me.”

“I was not aiming at exact portraiture, sir.”

“And why not, pray?”

“It was not the function of the feature.”

Constantine turned to his left, “You say this man is the best sculptor in Rome?”

“Everyone says so,” said Fausta.

“Are you the best sculptor in Rome?”

Carpicius gave a little shrug. There was a silence. Then Professor Emolphus rather bravely intervened. “Perhaps if your Majesty would give us some idea of what exactly you had in mind, the design might be adapted.”

“I’ll tell you what I had in mind. Do you know the arch of Trajan?”

“Of course.”

“What do you think of it?”

“Good of its period,” said the Professor, “quite good. Not perhaps the best. I prefer the arch at Benevento on many grounds. But the arch of Trajan is definitely attractive.”

“I have the arch of Trajan in mind,” said Constantine. “I have never seen the arch at Benevento. I’m not the least interested in the arch at Benevento.”

“Your Majesty should really give it your attention. The architrave…”

“I am interested in the arch of Trajan. I want an arch like that.”

“But that was—how long—more than two hundred years ago,” said Fausta. “You can’t expect one like that today.”

“Why not?” said Constantine. “Tell me, why not? The Empire’s bigger and more prosperous and more peaceful than it’s ever been. I’m always being told so in every public address I hear. But when I ask for a little thing like the arch of Trajan, you say it can’t be done. Why not? Could you,” he said, turning again on Carpicius, “make me sculpture like that?”

Carpicius looked at him without the least awe. Two forms of pride were here irreconcilably opposed; two prigs stood face to face. “One might, I suppose, contrive some sort of pastiche,” he said. “It would not be the least significant.”

“Damn significance,” said Constantine. “Can you do it or can’t you?”

“Precisely like that? It is a type of representational work which required a technical virtuosity which you may or may not find attractive—personally, I rather do—but the modern artist…”

“Can you do it?”


Few books have made me laugh so hard as Waugh’s Helena. Once, while reading it in Rome with Rob Corzine, I feared the laughter was going to send me into the Italian medical system. The book is in print in an affordable edition from Loyola Press, publisher of my book The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence. It’s in the Loyola Classics series, which also includes Hilda Prescott’s brilliant romance Son of Dust, set in eleventh-century Normandy. Someone you know wrote the introduction to that book.

Thanks to my friend and great benefactor Jim Manney for bringing all these pleasant thoughts to my mind.