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Craig’s Take on Take 5

Craig Maier, Ph.D., wrote a kind review of my new book, Take 5: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius, for the Pittsburgh Catholic. Here’s a slice:

For those of us who work in the real world of office politics, bitter competition, and muddy ethical waters, Mike Aquilina and Fr. Kris Stubna’s Take Five offers both inspiration and guidance. Drawn from the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, it offers 74 daily meditations connecting the rich heritage of Ignatian spirituality to working life.

At first blush, Saint Ignatius, whose life spanned the turbulent beginnings of the Reformation, can seem a distant figure, whose exploits and faith would have little to do with our bustling lives. But his spirituality isn’t for hermits sealed off in contemplative prayer but for people, like Ignatius himself, who are involved in the active life of the world.

“Most Christians spend a large part of their waking hours in activity related to their professional work,” say Aquilina, a prominent local Catholic writer, and Fr. Stubna, who works as the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s secretary for education. “Yet so many sermons and books on the spiritual life seem to pass over these matters that are important—methods of mediation, volunteer work, almsgiving—but that hold a marginal place of the ordinary lives of ordinary people.”

For Aquilina and Stubna, Saint Ignatius isn’t just a spiritual teacher but also a model of someone who was able to bring Christ into his working life in real, profound—and often highly effective—ways. His success as a spiritual teacher and an organizational leader was not accidental. In fact, he saw the Society of Jesus as filling what he believed to be a desperate need in the church: A community of priests who would work in the world at the service of Christ, helping laity to fulfill their role in Christ’s plan of redemption.

Saint Ignatius’s vision required a prodigious amount of work, and he threw himself into his task. During his lifetime, Aquilina and Stubna write, the saint oversaw the formation and ordination of thousands of priests, the establishment of what would become the “Jesuit tradition” of higher education, and the development of missions worldwide.

During this immensely productive time, he wrote almost seven thousand letters giving advice, making plans, and providing spiritual direction. “He found very practical ways to bring Christ into the workday, and he shared his methods with others,” Aquilina and Stubna observe.

“He wrote letters full of good advice about getting work done, and doing it with care, yet not wearying yourself; about getting along with co-workers; about dealing with office politics; and about the challenge of keeping your eye on the goal, which is not worldly success but godly glory.”

These letters form the backbone of the book’s meditations, which include a passage from Saint Ignatius, questions to ponder, a verse of scripture, and a thought to memorize and take with you throughout the day. For those who don’t currently have a daily devotional practice, the exercises, which can be read over breakfast, can be the beginning of a deepening encounter with God.

For those accustomed to seeing spirituality as something disconnected with the world or as a set of impractical platitudes, Aquilina and Stubna show how faith can flow into even the most mundane things: setting goals, meeting deadlines, dealing with office gossip, putting people before paychecks, and even asking for a raise.

Throughout, the meditations cultivate a way of seeing working life through Christian eyes, offering both encouragement and, at times, correction. Yet, as Saint Ignatius urged, we should not fear loving correction but should in fact encourage it as an act of charity. “It is with this solid love and honest desire that I speak, write, and advise you just as I should honestly wish and desire you to advise, urge, and correct me,” he wrote his brother Martin.

In a business world where looking out for “Number One” has become the mantra, Saint Ignatius offers solid spiritual footing. Across the centuries, he gives us the inspiration to live the faith in the working world and the courage to “blow the whistle”—on ourselves.

Order copies for all your co-workers: Take Five: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius.

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“Oldest Church” Discovered in Jordan?

Some of the interpretation seems to be wishful thinking, but this could nevertheless be an important discovery.

AMMAN, June 9 (Xinhua) — Jordan has discovered a cave underneath the Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab, Mafraq, in northern Jordan, which is described as the oldest Christian church, local daily Jordan Times reported on Monday.

“We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from AD 33 to AD 70,” said Archaeologist Abdul Qader Hussan, head of the Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies.

The discovery was “amazing,” said the scholar, adding that “we have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians: the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ.”

The early Christians, described in the mosaic inscription on St. Georgeous floor as “the 70 beloved by God and Divine,” are said to flee from Jerusalem during the persecution of Christians to the northern part of Jordan, particularly to Rihab, he added.

Bishop Deputy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Archimandrite Nektarious described the discovery of the cave as an “important milestone for Christians all around the world.”

“The only other cave in the world similar in shape and purpose is in Thessalonika, Greece,” the bishop said in an interview in Amman.

Citing historical sources, Hussan said the 70 lived and practiced their rituals in secrecy in this underground church.

“We believe that they did not leave the cave and lived until the Christian religion was embraced by Roman rulers. It was then when St. Georgeous was built,” said the expert.

Saint Georgeous is believed to be the oldest “proper” church in the world, built in AD 230. This status is only challenged by a church unearthed in Aqaba, Jordan, in 1998, also dating back to the 3rd century.

The findings in the graveyard near the cave offer valuable clues, according to Hussan. “We found pottery items that date back from the 3rd to 7th century.”

The findings show that the first Christians and their offshoot continued living in the area till the late Roman rule, he said.

The cave also embraces the living place of the first Christians. There is also a deep tunnel, which is believed to have led the 70 Christians to their source of water, the archaeologist added.

Rihab is rich in unique archaeological sites and so far 30 churches have been discovered.

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.

UPDATES: More details here and here.

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Cell with a View … of Sand

Reuters gives us a bit of history in Modernity Meets Monasticism in Egypt’s Desert, a visit to St. Anthony’s Monastery, “considered by many to be the world’s oldest active Christian monastery.” Founded in 356 A.D., St. Anthony’s “has survived Bedouin raids, the Islamic conquest of Egypt, and wars between Egypt and Israel that turned the area into a combat zone. It welcomes those seeking God in silence.”

Described as the earliest Christian monk, St. Anthony set off into the desert around the year 280 A.D. and settled in the mountain caves around this desert oasis.

He is considered to be one of the first Christians to withdraw completely from society, living in the desert with only animals for company.

… At the monastery, bearded monks in black robes lead visitors through narrow paths between stone churches, monk cells, an ancient refectory monks say was built by the Roman emperor, Justinian, and a library containing over 1,700 manuscripts.

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The Strength of Stele

The Assyrian International News Agency reports on China’s famous eighth-century Christian monument.

In a country that has displayed a positive obsession with recording its history on plaques and standing stones over thousands of years, China’s so-called Nestorian Monument is still its best-known inscribed tablet in the West. Unearthed in Xian in 1625, it’s dated 781 and pays tribute, in 1,800 Chinese characters and passages written in Syriac, to a “luminous religion” and its propagation in the Middle Kingdom. It bears a cruciform design above its title and describes a belief system that had come to China from afar and included a three-in-one god, a virgin birth, an evil force called Sadan, and ministers who traveled the earth and, making no distinction between rich and poor, brought the good news to all and sundry.

This has always been understood as referring to the Nestorian Church, a branch of Christianity that held a dissenting view of the dual nature (both man and god) of Jesus, and was widely active in Asia during the first millennium. Genghis Khan’s mother was a Nestorian Christian, and the church used Syriac for its liturgy. A notably tolerant attitude to imported religions held sway under several emperors during the Tang Dynasty, but suddenly all foreign religious sects were proscribed in China in the years 842 to 845, and the inscribed stone was probably buried then in order to hide it.

All this is lead-up to a review of Michael Keevak’s book The Story of a Stele: China’s Nestorian Monument and Its Reception in the West, 1625-1916.

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Greatness Times Two

Teresa Benedetta translated Pope Benedict’s second audience talk on St. Gregory the Great.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In our Wednesday encounter today, I will return to the extraordinary figure of Pope Gregory the Great to draw more light from his rich teachings.

Notwithstanding the multiple commitments connected to his office as Bishop of Rome, he has left us many works, which the Church in the following centuries has drawn from fully.

Besides his conspicuous epistolary – the Registry that I referred to in the previous lecture has more than 800 letters – he has left us, above all, writings of an exegetic character, among the most distinctive being his Moral Commentary on (the Book of) Job(known by its Latin title Moralia in Iob), his Homilies on Ezekiel, and his Homilies on the Gospel.

Then there is an important book of a hagiographic character, the Dialogues, written by Gregory for the edification of the Lungobard Queen Theodolinda.

But his main and doubtless most famous work is The Pastoral Rule, which the Pope published at the start of his Pontificate with a clearly programmatic purpose.

In making a rapid review of these works, we should note above all that, in his writings, Gregory was never concerned with delineating ‘his’ doctrine, or his originality. Rather, he meant to echo the traditional teaching of the Church – he wanted simply to be the mouthpiece of Christ and his Church about the path that must be followed in order to reach God.

His exegetical comments are exemplary in this respect. He was a passionate reader of the Bible which he approached with intentions that were not simply speculative. From Sacred Scripture, he thought, the Christian should draw not so much theoretical knowledge but rather daily nourishment for his soul, for his life as a man in this world.

In the Homilies on Ezekiel, for example, he insists strongly on this function of sacred text. To approach Scripture simply to satisfy one’s own desire for knowledge means yielding to the temptation of pride and thus exposing oneself to the risk of slipping into heresy.

Intellectual humility is the primary rule for whoever seeks to penetrate the supranatural realities, starting with the sacred Book. Humility obviously does not exclude serious study, but to make it spiritually profitable, allowing one to truly enter into the profundity of the text, humility is indispensable. Only with this interior attitude can one listen and finally perceive the voice of God.

On the other hand, when it comes to the Word of God, understanding means nothing unless it leads to action. In the Homilies on Ezekiel can also be found that beautiful statement according to which “the preacher should dip his quill into the blood of his heart; this way, he will be able to reach the ear of his neighbor.”

Reading his homilies, one can see that Gregory truly wrote with the blood of his heart and therefore speaks to us even today.

Gregory develops this discourse even in his Moral Commentary on Job. Following Patristic tradition, he examines the sacred text in the three dimensions of its meaning: the literal dimension, the allegorical dimension and the moral, which are the dimensions of the single meaning of Sacred Scripture.

Gregory nonetheless attributes a clear prevalence to the moral sense. In this perspective, he proposes his thinking through some significant ‘binomials’ – knowing and doing, speaking and living, understanding and acting – in which he evokes the aspects of human life that should be complementary but often end up being antithetical.

The moral ideal, he comments, always consists in realizing a harmonious integration between word and action, thought and commitment, prayer and dedication to the obligations of one’s status – this is the way to realize that synthesis thanks to which the divine comes down to man, and man is elevated towards identification with God.

The great Pope thus traces for the authentic believer a complete plan for life – that is why the Moral Commentary on Job constituted in the Middle Ages a sort of Summa of Christian morality.

His homilies on the Gospel are of remarkably outstanding and beautiful. The first was held at St. Peter’s Basilica at Advent in 590, a few months after he was elected to the Papacy; the last was delivered in the Basilica of St. Lawrence on the second Sunday after Pentecost in 593.

The Pope preached to the people in the churches where the Roman ‘stations’ were celebrated – these being particular prayer ceremonies during the high points of the liturgical year or on the feast days of the titular martyrs [to which each Church is dedicated].

The principal inspiration that links the various discourses can be summarized in the word “praedicator”: Not only the minister of God, but even every Christian, has the task of making himself the ‘preacher’ of whatever he has experienced intimately in following the example of Christ who became man in order to bring the good news of salvation to all.

The horizon of such a commitment is eschatological: the expectation of the fulfillment of Christ in all things is a constant thought in Gregory the Great and ends up as the inspiring motive for his every thought and action. This, his incessant calls for vigilance and for commitment to good works.

Perhaps the most organic text of Gregory the Great is his Pastoral Rule written during the early years of his Pontificate. In it, Gregory proposes to draw the figure of the ideal bishop – teacher and leader of his flock. To such end, he illustrates the weight of the office of pastor of the Church and the obligations it carries: thus, those who are not called to such a task should not go after it superficially, while those who have assumed it without the necessary reflection should feel a dutiful trepidation begin within their spirit.

Taking up a favorite theme, he affirms that the Bishop is, above all, the ‘preacher’ par excellence: As such, he must first be an example for others, so that his behavior may constitute a point of reference for everyone.

Effective pastoral action also requires that the bishop knows who it is addressed to and adapt his interventions to every particular situation. Gregory takes time to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and timely observations, which could well justify those who also see this work as a treatise on psychology. One thus understands that he truly knew his flock and that he spoke about everything with the people of his time and of his city.

The great Pontiff, nonetheless, insists on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own poverty, so that pride may not render in vain, in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, the good that he has done.

Thus, the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased at having achieved many virtues, it is good to reflect on one’s insufficiencies and be humble: instead of considering the good one has achieved, one must consider that which one failed to achieve.”

All these valuable instructions demonstrate the very high concept that St. Gregory has about the care of souls, defined by him as ‘ars artium’, the art of arts. The Rule had great fortune to the point that – something rather rare in those days – it was quickly translated to Greek and to Anglo-Saxon.

Equally significant is the other work, the Dialogues, in which, to his friend and deacon Peter – who was convinced that customs had been so corrupted that they could no longer allow the emergence of saints as in the past – Gregory demonstrated otherwise: that saintliness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the lives of contemporary persons or those who had recently passed away, who could well be considered saints even if not canonized. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections which make the book a singular hagiographic text which is able to fascinate whole generations of readers.

The material is drawn from the living traditions of the people and has the purpose of edification and formation, calling the attention of the reader to a series of questions such as the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scriptures, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the afterlife – all topics that required timely clarifications.

Book II is entirely dedicated to the figure of St. Benedict of Norcia, and is the only account from antiquity on the life of the sainted monk whose spiritual beauty is shown in full evidence.

In the theological design that Gregory develops through his works, past, present and future are relativized. That which counts for him more than anything is the entire span of the story of salvation, which continues to extend itself through the obscure meanderings of time.

In this perspective, it is significant that he inserts the announcement of the conversion of the Angles right in the middle of his Moral Commentary on Job: in his eyes, the event constituted an advancement of the Kingdom of God that Scripture speaks of – and therefore, it could be mentioned in the comment on a sacred book.

According to him, the leaders of the Christian community should commit themselves to reread events in the light of God’s Word: in this sense, the great Pontiff felt the duty to orient pastors and faithful into the spiritual itinerary of an enlightened and concrete lectio divina situated in the context of one’s own life.

Before concluding, it is necessary to say a word on the relations that Pope Gregory cultivated with the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople itself. He was always concerned with acknowledging and respecting their rights, guarding against any interference that would limit their respective autonomies.

And although Gregory, in the context of his historic situation, opposed the title ‘ecumenical’ on the part of the Patriarch of Constantinople, he did not do so to limit or deny a legitimate authority, but because he was concerned with the fraternal unity of the universal Church.

He opposed it, above all, because of his profound conviction that humility should be the fundamental virtue of every bishop, and more so, of a Patriarch. Gregory had always remained a simple monk at heart and therefore was decisively opposed to grand titles. He wanted to be – and this was his expression – servus servorum Dei, servant of the servants of God.

This expression, which was coined by him, was not just a pious formula from his lips, but the true manifestation of the way he lived and acted. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ, made himself our servant, who bathed us and washed our dirty feet. Thus he was convinced that a bishop, first of all, must imitate this humility of God and thus follow Christ.

His desire was really to live as a monk in permanent conversation with the Word of God, but for the love of God, he made himself the servant of everyone in a time full of tribulations and sufferings – he knew how to be the ‘servant of the servants of God’. And because he was this, he is great and shows us the true measure of greatness.

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None Left to Tell the Tale

AT SOME point between AD575 and 600, at least 33 men, women and children entered a cave near modern Andritsa, southwest of Argolid, in the eastern Peloponnese. They carried a Christian cross, some money and food supplies, perhaps intending to hide from some temporary threat. They were never to see the light of day again. One by one, they died from starvation, unable or unwilling to escape the cave. Fourteen centuries later, Greek archaeologists discovered the remains of this early Byzantine community and its tragic and mysterious end…

Read on.

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So self-absorbed was I last week that I missed the Holy Father’s Wednesday Audience on Gregory the Great. (He continued with Gregory today, but I haven’t seen a translation yet.) Teresa Benedetta translated last week’s.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Last Wednesday I spoke of a Father of The Church who is little known int eh West, Romanus the Melodist. Today, I wish to present the figure of one of the greatest Fathers in the history of the Church, one of the four Doctors of the West, Pope St. Gregory, who was Bishop of Rome from 590-604, and who has earned the traditional title of Magnus or Great.

Gregory was truly a great Pope and a great Doctor of the Church. Born in Rome around 540 to a rich patrician family of the Anicia clan, which had distinguished itself not only by noble blood, but also for its dedication to the Christian faith and for services rendered to the Apostolic See.

The family also gave the Church two other Popes, Felix III (483-492), great great grand-uncle of Gregory, and Agapitus (535-536.

The house where Gregory grew was on the Clivus Scauri, surrounded by solemn edifices that testified to the grandeur of ancient Rome and the spiritual force of Christianity.

Inspiring him to elevated Christian sentiments were the examples of his parents Gordianus and Silvia, both of them also venerated as saints, and those of his two paternal aunts, Emiliana and Tarsilia, who lived at home as consecrated virgins in a life of prayer and asceticism.

Gregory entered early into an administrative career, following his father, and culminating in becoming Prefect of Rome in 572. This office, complicated by the sadness of the times, allowed him to apply himself to a vast range of administrative problems, bringing light to them for his future tasks.

In particular, a profound sense of order and discipline remained with him. As Pope, he suggested to the bishops to model themselves in the management of church affairs after the diligence and respect for law shown by civilian functionaries.

But this life must not have satisfied him, because much later, he decided to leave every civilian responsibility to retire and start a monastic life, transforming the family home into the monastery of St. Andrew in Celio.

This period of monastic life, a life of permanent dialog with the Lord and listening to his Word, left him with a perennial nostalgia which always and ever more became apparent in his homilies. In the middle of nagging pastoral worries and concerns, he would recall it many times in his writings as a happy time spent in contemplation of God, dedicated to prayer and serene immersion in study. That is how he was able to acquire a profound knowledge of Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church which served him later in his own works.

But Gregory’s cloistered retreat did not last long. The invaluable experience that matured in civilian administration during a time of serious problems, the relationships he had developed with the Byzantine world while in office, the universal esteem that he had earned, led Pope Pelagius to name him a deacon and send him to Constantinople as his ‘apocrisarius’ [ambassador to the imperial court], which we would call Apostolic Nuncio today, in order to help over come the last after-effects of the monophysite controversy [controversy between the Church of Alexandria and the Church of Antioch, each of which tended to emphasize only one aspect of Christ’s nature – either the divine or the human], and above all, to get the Byzantine emperor’s support in Roman efforts to contain the pressure from Longobard (Lombard) invaders. [The Longobards were a Germanic people originally from Northern Europe who settled in the valley of the Danube and from there invaded Byzantine Italy in 568.]

His stay in Constantinople, where he resumed the monastic life with a group of monks, was most important for Gregory, because it gave him direct experience in the Byzantine world, as well as with facing the Longobard problem, which would later severely test his ability and energies during his Pontificate.

After several years, he was recalled to Rome by the Pope, who named him his secretary. Those were difficult years: continuous rains, flooding and famine afflicted many areas of Italy and Rome itself. Towards the end, there was an eruption of plague which took numerous victims, among them Pope Pelagius II himself.

The clergy, the people and the Senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory himself to be his successor on Peter’s Chair. He tried to resist this, even attempting to flee, but he had no choice: In the end, he had to yield. It was the year 590.

Recognizing that this was the will of God, the new Pope immediately set to work apace. From the beginning, he showed a singularly lucid vision of the reality against which he had to measure himself, an extraordinary capacity for work in both ecclesiastical and civilian affairs, a constant equilibrium in the decisions, often courageous, that the office imposed on him.

There exists ample documentation of his governance, thanks to a registry of his letters (almost 800), in which he reflected on his daily confrontation with the complex questions that came to his desk – questions that came from bishops, abbots, priests, and even civilian authorities of every order and rank.

Among the problems that afflicted Italy and Rome in those days was one which was particularly outstanding in both the civilian and ecclesiastical fields: the Lombard question, to which the Pope dedicated every possible energy towards a truly peacemaking solution.

In contrast to the Byzantine Emperor who started from the premise that the Longobards were simply crude predators to be defeated or exterminated, St. Gregory saw them with the eyes of a good pastor, concerned with announcing to them the word of salvation and establishing fraternal relationships with them for a future peace founded on reciprocal respect and peaceful coexistence among Italians, the subjects of empire and the Lombards themselves.

He concerned himself with the conversion of the new peoples in Italy and the new civilian order in Europe. The Visigoths in Spain, the Franks, the Saxons, the immigrants to Britain and the Lombards were the priority objects of his evangelizing mission.

Yesterday, we observed the liturgical commemoration of St. Augustine of Canterbury, the head of a group of monks tasked by Gregory to go to Britain to evangelize that land.

To obtain peace from the barbarian incursions in Rome and Italy, the Pope committed himself thoroughly – he was a true peacemaker – undertaking detailed negotiations with the Lombard king Agilulfo. These negotiations led to a truce that lasted three years (598-601), after which it became possible to stipulate a more stable armistice in 603.

This positive outcome was also helped by parallel contacts which, in the meantime, the Pope had with Queen Theodolinda, a Bavarian princess, who unlike the heads of other Germanic peoples [who invaded Italy] , was Catholic, profoundly Catholic. A series of letters of Pope Gregory to that queen has been conserved, which reveals his esteem and friendship for her. Theodolinda managed gradually to lead the king himself to Catholicism, thus paving the way for peace.

The Pope also took upon himself to send the queen relics for the Basilica of St. John the Baptist which she had ordered built in Monza [northern Italy, near Milan, capital of what became the Lombardy region], and he did not fail to send his best wishes and precious gifts for this Basilica on the occasion of the birth and baptism of Theodolinda’s son Adaloaldo. The episode of Queen Theodolinda constitutes a beautiful testimony of the importance of women in the history of the Church.

Basically, the three objectives that Pope Gregory aimed for constantly were: to contain the expansion of the Lombards in Italy; to take away Theodolinda from the influence of schismatics and to reinforce her Catholic faith; and to mediate between the Lombards and the Byzantines towards an agreement that would guarantee peace in the Italian peninsula and at the same time allow evangelical activity to be undertaken among the Lombards.

Therefore, he had a constant two-sided orientation in these complex events: to promote his objectives on the he political and diplomatic levels; and to to spread the proclamation of the true faith among the people.

Besides his spiritual and pastoral activities, Pope Gregory was also an active protagonist in many forms of social work. With the income from the conspicuous patrimony that the Roman See possessed in Italy, especially in Sicily, he bought and distributed grains, assisted those who were in need, helped priests, monks and nuns who lived in indigence, ransomed citizens who were captured by the Lombards, negotiated armistices and truces.

Besides this, he carried out in Rome and other parts of Italy a careful administrative reorganization, with precise instructions that the goods of the Church necessary for its subsistence and evangelizing work should be managed with absolute rectitude and according to the rules of justice and mercy.

He demanded that the people be protected from the deceptions of the concessionaires of Church properties, and that in case of fraud, they should be promptly restituted so that the face of Christ’s Bride would not be smirched by dishonest profits.

Gregory carried out these intense activities despite ill health which often forced him to stay in bed for many days. The fasts he observed during his monastic years had resulted in serious disturbances to his digestive system. His voice was so weakened that he often had to entrust his deacon with reading his homilies so that the faithful in the Roman basilicas could hear them.

But he did everything possible to celebrate the Missarum sollemnia, the Solemn Mass, himself on religious feast days, during which he personally encountered the People of God, for whom he felt great affection, because he saw them as the authoritative reference point from which to draw certitude. There is reason he was soon being called consul Dei.

Notwithstanding the most difficult circumstances in which he had to operate, he succeeded – thanks to the sanctity of his life and his rich humanity – in winning the confidence of the faithful, achieving for his time and for the future results that were truly grandiose.

He was a man immersed in god. The desire for God was always very vivid in him, and because of this, he was very close to his fellowmen, to the needs of the people of his time.

In a disastrous and desperate time, he knew how to create peace and hope. This man of God shows us where the true springs of peace are, from where true hope comes, and is thus a leader and guide even for us today.

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Lombard Bombardier

The London Telegraph tells of a 1,400-year-old Lombard warrior skeleton discovered, buried with his horse, in Italy.

In my book of historical sketches, The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, and the Hope for Tomorrow, I speak at length about the Lombards, who were a thorn in the side of Pope St. Gregory the Great. It’s quite possible that this equestrian corpse was one of those very thorns. The years match up.

Here’s a snippet of my telling:

When Gregory heard that he had been elected, he was dismayed. It would be hard to imagine a more difficult time to become Pope. The savage and heretical Lombards were doing their best to turn Italy into a wasteland, and the Emperor’s exarch (the Greek term for a governor) at Ravenna had thrown up his hands and admitted that he could do nothing to protect Rome. The river Tiber had overflowed into the granaries and ruined Rome’s food supply. The unsanitary conditions after the flood bred the epidemic that had killed Pope Pelagius. With all these disasters facing them at once, the people of Rome expected more than leadership from their new pope. They expected miracles. No wonder Gregory tried to run away! …

These Lombards were a particularly vicious sort of barbarian, at least to their enemies. They massacred everyone in their path, except for the few who might be useful as slaves. The Lombards who weren’t pagans were Arians, so they had no qualms about plundering the orthodox churches and slaughtering the clergy. Cities emptied as they approached, and soon Rome and Ravenna were the only substantial cities left in the northern half of Italy…

Biting your nails? Find out how the story ends. Order the book now and read the rest (and feed my children).

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Just Give Me Mani

An Iranian news service gives us a good, well illustrated intro to the religion of the Manichees — the new agers of the patristic era. Mani’s doctrine gave the Fathers’ heartburn. Augustine flirted with it through his young-adulthood. (I review Augustine’s later anti-Manichean writings here.)

The Iranian website is slow. (Maybe that’s the CIA recording our visits.) Give it time.

Manichaeism, presumably an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, was not only an inspiration for various heretical movements in Christianity but also dominated the religious life of Central and Eastern Asia for centuries.

Through the four centuries of Sassanid rule over Persia (224-651 CE) Zoroastrianism was the official state religion. Historians, however, have spoken of several heretical sects. One such cult was that of the Manicheans, founded by Mani at the beginning of the Sassanid era.

The founder of the new religion believed to have been the culmination of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism was born in 216 CE in southern Babylonia of noble Persian stock.

He grew up under the careful guidance of his father who was a religious leader of a Jewish-Christian baptizing sect. At the age of twelve, Mani claimed that an angel named The Twin had instructed him in a vision to withdraw from the sect and purify himself through asceticism. The Angel later returned to young Mani, this time calling upon him to preach a new religion.

… Mani proclaimed a new syncretic religion which combined Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism along with elements of Greek philosophy and Indian Jainism, at the court of the Persian monarch Shapur I in 242 CE. He was not well received and was forced to flee the country.

He traveled through modern-day Uzbekistan, India and Western China, making converts wherever he went. Because he intended his creed to be the first world-religion, Mani consciously adapted his teachings to accommodate local beliefs and customs. This greatly helped the rapid spread of his creed throughout Central Asia.

During his years in exile, Mani gave final shape to his teachings and committed them to writing. Between 244 and 261 CE, he sent a mission to Egypt which met with considerable success.

Apart from the extensive body of anti-Manichaean literature, there are numerous Latin, Greek, Coptic, Middle Iranian, Uighur, and Chinese documents, found in the 20th century, on the Manichean doctrine and practices…

Mani’s main teaching concerned the struggle between Good and Evil. The Manichean doctrine, ‘The Teaching of Light’, says that the Universe was primordially divided between the two eternal and irreconcilable principles of Light and Darkness. Light was Spirit and hence ‘good’ while Darkness was Matter and consequently ‘evil’…

Mani taught that salvation lies in the release of goodness (Spirit or Light) from Matter, and that a soul may be incarnated several times before its release through perfected virtue…

The Manichaean community was divided into two groups: the “Elect,” who formed the core of the Church and adhered to a rigid asceticism, and the “Hearers,” who learned from the Elect, served them and could hope for salvation only after re-incarnation as one of them.

The church hierarchy was recruited only from the Elect, who were obligated to abstain from meat and wine, lying, work, carnal relations, hurting animals and plants, polluting water, and owning worldly possessions. Women could become Elect but not officers.

The Elect lived in monasteries and were ‘sealed’ with the three seals of mouth, hands and breast, symbolising the virtues of speech, act, and feeling. They were required to fast, meditate, and study and translate religious texts.

Hearers were bound to monogamy and were cautioned against lying, worshiping idols, practicing magic, killing animals, theft and neglecting their duty of caring for the Elect.

Before his conversion to Christianity, Saint Augustine was a Manichaean Hearer for nine years.

There’s lots more. Hat tip: PaleoJudaica.