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Father Joe, Rest in Peace

I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of my friend Father Joe Linck, historian and (until recently) rector of St. John Fisher Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut. Father Joe died today after fighting an aggressive cancer for a year and eight months.

I’ve known Father Joe since he was a newly ordained priest serving as a university chaplain here in Pittsburgh. He later went on to teach at St. Vincent Seminary and Franciscan University. He also served in parish ministry in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Father Joe was the author of Fully Instructed and Vehemently Influenced: Catholic Preaching in Anglo-Colonial America.

Those who made the St. Paul Center‘s 2005 pilgrimage to Rome knew Father Joe as an outstanding confessor and preacher. It was heavenly for a bunch of patristics nerds to be with him for a week — in Rome! — for the feasts of Saints Irenaeus, Peter and Paul, Cyril of Alexandria, and the Roman Martyrs. (His master’s thesis was “The Trinitarian Dimension of Eucharistic Communion with God in the Adversus Haereses of Irenaeus of Lyons.” One of his favorite courses to teach was “Patristic Spirituality.”)

Father Joe had a remarkable spirit of service. In fact, I don’t recall that the man never said no to anything I asked of him. He was one of my regular sources on Church history when I was in newspaper work, and I did make a nuisance of myself. But he always made interruptions seem like a pleasure, not at all an inconvenience.

I miss him already. Most of all, I’ll miss his ability to make me laugh myself silly. I could use that today.

Please pray, too, for Fr. Joe’s mom and dad, who are mourning the loss of their only child.

P.S. How could I have forgotten to mention … Father Joe wrote the great foreword to my book The Mass of the Early Christians, and he plunked a very generous blurb on the jacket of The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, & the Hope for Tomorrow.

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Head in the Sand

Archeologists have unearthed a colossal head of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus, who reigned 161-180, was a stoic philosopher and the last of the so-called “Five Good Emperors.” While other stoics admired the fortitude of the Christian martyrs, Marcus held Christianity, and especially its martyrs, in contempt. In his Meditations, he mentions Christianity only once, disdainfully.

How blessed and happy is the soul that is always ready, even right now (if need be), to be separated from the body, whether by way of extinction, or dispersion, or continuation in another place and state. But its readiness must proceed, not from an obstinate and peremptory resolution of the mind, violently and passionately set upon opposition, as we find in Christians; but from a peculiar judgment, with discretion and gravity, so that others may be persuaded also and drawn to follow the example, without any noise and passionate exclamations.

Marcus was a persecutor of the Church. And, though he issued his executive orders in cold blood, his attitude inspired the non-stoic rabble to form murderous anti-Christian mobs. Between the executions and the riots, it was a difficult time for believers. Christian victims of Marcus’s reign include Justin Martyr, Blandina and Pothinus, and possibly Polycarp. But the same hostile climate also produced a great flowering of Christian apologetic literature, some of it directed at Marcus himself, from great Fathers such as Melito of Sardis. The sociologist Rodney Stark holds that the Church grew at an alarming pace during this period, at least 40% per decade. Further proof of The Tertullian Principle: The blood of the martyrs is seed.

In spite of Marcus’s contempt for Christians, Christians have harbored a fondness for him. Witness the judgment of the old Catholic Encyclopedia: “Marcus Aurelius was one of the best men of heathen antiquity.”

I own a biography of the American martyr Father Marquette that concludes with a line not from Jesus Christ, but from Marcus Aurelius: “Take pleasure in one thing and rest in it, in passing from one act to another, thinking of God.”

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Pelosi Z’d

Nancy Pelosi and her minions keep digging the hole deeper, eagerly employing Augustine’s faulty, pre-modern embryology but rejecting Augustine’s moral conclusions, which jibe with the far more permanent Ten Commandments. Father Z has a brilliant ongoing analysis of the matter as it develops.

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Mark Your Calendars

The Youngstown-Warren (Ohio) chapter of the Society of St. John Chrysostom is featuring one of my favorite speakers, preachers, writers, and scholars. It’s Father Mark Gruber, Benedictine monk, anthropologist, and expert on all things Coptic. Father Mark will be speaking on “The Monastic Desert and the Ecumenical Impulse: How Desert Spirituality May Provide a Basis for Deeper Communal Discourse among Apparently Divided Christians.” It takes place Tuesday, September 9, at 7 p.m. at St. Paul Monastery, 9531 Akron-Canfield Road, (Route 224) Canfield, Ohio.

SSJC promotes ecumenical dialogue of the east-west variety. Most members belong to Orthodox or Catholic churches, but everyone’s welcome to the event, and admission is free.

Father Mark is author of Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers and Sacrifice in the Desert: A Study of an Egyptian Minority Through the Prism of Coptic Monasticism, among many other books. My review of Journey Back to Eden is right here.

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Pelosi Prerequisites

Maureen has posted the Pelosi-pertinent passages plucked from Augustine, in Latin with her own translation and excellent analysis.

Tomorrow’s the Memorial of St. Monica, and the day after is Augustine’s own feast day. These people are playing with fire.

Oh, and Friday is the Martyrdom of John the Baptist. Another one of those perennial conflicts between church and state.

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Speaker for Whose House?

Of course, the recognition of the ancient proscription of abortion is not just a Catholic thing. A Methodist wrote the big book on the subject: Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World, by Michael J. Gorman. I have not yet read it, though for the year of St. Paul I’ve been reading his Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters, which is outstanding.

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70 A.D. and All That

By now you know that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a botch of Christian history this week when she discussed abortion in light of her “ardent” Catholic faith. Newsman Tom Brokaw asked her how she would advise Senator Barack Obama regarding the beginnings of human life: “I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months.”

Not since the book 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England have the Fathers been so badly mangled and tangled. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. The early Church left clear paper trails on very, very few issues, but abortion is certainly one of them. It is condemned by the Didache, the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter; by Clement of Alexandria, Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian. And that partial list takes us only to the middle of the third century. Those witnesses emerged from ancient Syria, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Samaria, and North Africa. So, as the Vincentian Canon puts it, abortion was condemned always and everywhere and by all. There is no exception in the ancient Christian record, and this is one of those moral teachings that set Christians distinctly apart from the pagan world. If there were Nancy Pelosis around before the discovery of California, everyone — pagan or Christian — recognized that such advocates for the “choice” of abortion were extra ecclesiam, outside the Catholic Church.

Thinking Catholics are taking the Honorable Ms. Pelosi to task, as well they should. The U.S. bishops cite Tertullian. Archbishop Wuerl goes back further and quotes the first-century Didache — a document he should know, since he hired me for a spell back in the late first century, when the document appeared.

In 1066 And All That the malaprop history was intentional. Alas, I fear that Nancy Pelosi was drawing from the depths of her knowledge of history and Christian doctrine.

Noticing some fair-haired children in the slave market one morning, Pope Gregory, the memorable pope, said (in Latin), ‘What are those?’ and on being told that they were Angels, made the memorable joke – ‘Non Angli, sed Angeli’ (‘not Angels, but Anglicans’) and commanded one of his saints called St Augustine to go and convert the rest.

Do you suppose maybe she picked up 1066 And All That and thought it was the Baltimore Catechism — and repeatedly made the mistake through her childhood years?

I’ve addressed the issue of abortion and the Fathers before. You’ll find an excellent patristic catena here.

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Q&A with the Man from Hippo

In today’s mail came Responses to Miscellaneous Questions, the latest installment in New City Press’s “Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century.”

“This volume contains three of Augustine’s works that show him responding to a large variety of questions posed by different persons. The ‘Miscellany of Eighty-Three Questions’ was compiled over the course of several years and deals with philosophical, theological and exegetical matters that had been raised in the religious community that Augustine founded and headed. Some of these matters are handled very briefly, some at great length. Augustine’s exegesis is particularly interesting. ‘The Miscellany of Questions in Response to Simplician’ was written at the request of the saintly bishop of Milan who followed Ambrose in that role. This work, in the form of two books, is crucially important for understanding Augustine’s theology of grace and how he arrived at his position on this issue, which is certainly his most important contribution to Western theology — but the questions are not limited to a discussion of grace. Finally, the ‘Eight Questions of Dulcitius’ includes responses to questions in which, uniquely, Augustine quotes himself at length.”

I’ve been paging through the book, but so far haven’t found his take on the question “If God’s all-powerful, can He make a rock so big that not even He can lift it?” I’ll let you know if it turns up.

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Hola, Mis Amigos

My book Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life is now available in Spanish.

The publisher of Amor en las pequeñas cosas: relatos de vida familiar is Ediciones Paulinas in Mexico. And they have this to say: “El autor nos relata anécdotas de la vida familiar ordinaria, experimentadas por él mismo, y nos comparte su experiencia acerca de la gran satisfacción de guiar y ser feliz dentro de la familia desde la perspectiva del amor. Dios quiere construir una sucursal de su paraíso en tu familia.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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Signs, Sealed, Delivered

Just getting back into the groove after some days away. With my better-looking colleagues Rob Corzine and Matt Leonard, I made a trip to my beloved publisher, Our Sunday Visitor. I returned home with a freshly printed copy of OSV’s collection of Pope Benedict’s Wednesday audience talks on the Fathers (up to and including Augustine). It’s called, cleverly, The Fathers, and it’s a very sturdy and attractive volume, with a very lowly price tag.

Also out from OSV is John Salza’s The Biblical Basis for the Eucharist, which also includes (like all of John’s book) a handy chapter of patristic bases for the Catholic doctrine.

And then there are two great new products from my bro, Scott Hahn: A Pocket Guide to the Bible and The Bible at a Glance (Faith Charts). These are very handy tools, and very attractive to the eye.

Timely for this jubilee year, from OSV, is Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa’s St. Paul: A Bible Study for Catholics.

OSV was pleased to report that my most recent title, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, is also doing well. While I was there, editor Sarah Hayes interviewed me for a multimedia presentation on that book. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

Meantime, look into Signs and Mysteries. After my children and my wife, it’s the most beautiful thing to bear my name, thanks to plentiful illustrations by my favorite contemporary artist, Lea Marie Ravotti. Like The Fathers, it’s hardcover, beautifully made, and priced very low. You can buy them in bulk to hand out for birthdays and at Christmas.

The folks at OSV are lovely, and it would make them happy.

Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols

Adrian Murdoch, Fellow of the British Royal Historical Society and author of The Last Pagan (inter alia), said: “Mike Aquilina’s Signs and Mysteries provides a popular yet academically rigorous guide to symbols in the early church. The immediately accessible prose — which quotes thoughtfully from the church fathers, classical and Jewish sources — is complemented by generous illustrations. He has not only drawn on the obvious archaeological and epigraphic record, he has also delved into the fascinating world of Christian graffiti. An essential book to keep to hand when visiting early Christian sites.”

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Villa of the Papyri

When Vesuvius erupted August 24, A.D. 79, it left Pompeii and Herculaneum buried under 30 meters of volcanic mud. We’ve learned so much about Roman life from the excavated bakeries and cafes sealed forever in that long-ago moment, with petrified food still on the tables and petrified bread still in the ovens. Most intriguing to nerds is the haul taken out of the Villa of the Papyri. It’s a library of scrolls that were instantly turned to blocks of charcoal. We don’t know what most of them contain. A month or so ago, a few of us were dreaming about the possibilities. Now The Australian is doing the same. “Scholars today, using multi-spectral imaging technology, are able to decipher the otherwise inscrutable surface of black ink on black fabric of the papyrus scrolls. A multinational team has assembled to transcribe the collection.” There’s no news, as the process has been temporarily halted, but there’s plenty of speculation to fuel our fantasies.