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Bacteria in the Cubicula

The Roman Catacombs are back in the news

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2008) — Life has been discovered in the barren depths of Rome’s ancient tombs, proving catacombs are not just a resting place for the dead. The two new species of bacteria found growing on the walls of the Roman tombs may help protect our cultural heritage monuments, according to research published in the September issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

The Catacombs of Saint Callistus are part of a massive graveyard that covers 15 hectares, equivalent to more than 20 football pitches. The underground tombs were built at the end of the 2nd Century AD and were named after Pope Saint Callistus I. More than 30 popes and martyrs are buried in the catacombs.

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Scuba Scholarship

Bryn Mawr Classical review has posted a review of a new book, Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700, edited by Roger Bagnall.

If you want to see Byzantine Egypt up close, though, you’ll have to go underwater. The modern Alexandrians are, according to Al Ahram, constructing an “underwater plexi-glass tunnel providing a unique window on the sunken capital of the Ptolemies” — not to mention Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril.

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Augustine Lost and Found

The Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ran an interesting piece (Sept. 3) on the recent discovery of several lost works of Augustine.

Augustinian find proved authentic

By Dorothea Weber and Clemens Weidmann

Every new discovery of a text by a Father of the Church causes a sensation. In fact, this current find completes our image of a very exciting epoch, that of the shift from pagan antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages.

Two important discoveries of collections of texts in the 20th century have given rise to a number of new ideas about the life of Augustine. Bishop of Hippo Regius (Hippo; today Annaba. Algeria): in 1974, in France, Johannes Divjak found 29 unpublished letters; in 1990, in Mainz, François Dolbeau discovered 26 sermons. The latter discovery, however, is only a link in the chain of finds in Germany: during the past century about 60 sermons came to light in various German libraries which research has shown to be authentic.

At Erfurt — in the context of a vast project of the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften which plans to catalogue accurately all of Augustine’s writings — Isabella Schiller came across an unpublished 12th century manuscript containing a number of Latin sermons, some of which were unpublished.

The authors of this article were able to prove that six of these texts are by Augustine: a sermon on the martyrdom in Carthage of Perpetua and Felicity, one on the resurrection of the dead. another on Cyprian, the Carthaginian Bishop-Martyr, and three on various aspects of almsgiving.

The parchment manuscript’s 264 pages are no bigger than 115 x 95 millimetres and contain about 60 sermons, most of which are already known. They are sermons by Caesarius and the Pseudo John Chrysostom, written for the Lenten Season and for several celebrations in the month of September, and an extraordinary collection of 28 sermons which can be attributed to Augustine. In addition to the abundantly documented texts, there are others that are rare and some until now completely unknown.

Following the chronological order of the calendar of Saints, these writings are dedicated to a series of liturgical memorials, from that of Vincent (22 January) to that of Cyprian (14 September) and the solemnities of the liturgical year, from Lent to Pentecost.

To Southern Italy then England

Since the sermons on the Saints concern especially the martyrs venerated in Africa in Augustine’s time, one may conclude that the collection was assembled in the fifth century precisely in Roman Africa and from there was moved to safety in Southern Italy, as was Augustine’s entire library.

In all likelihood — following the missionary activity started by Gregory the Great — the corpus was taken to England, where it was transcribed in the 12th century. The Erfurt Code derives from this or from another similar copy. Not only is the handwriting in British style but the parallel production of certain texts and textual sequences, such as the famous Worcester Homily, also seem to be of direct or indirect English provenance.

In about the year 1400, Amplonius Rating, the erudite doctor, came into possession of the small manuscript and donated it to the Amplonianum of Erfurt which he had founded. Today his library forms part of the Erfurt University Library.

Three of the six new texts are to be published in the coming weeks.

So far, only the first part and the conclusions of the sermon on the Carthaginian martyrs Perpetua and Felicity have been known to us and no doubts as to its completeness have been raised. In the new, central part, Augustine provides a theologically complex explanation of two scenes of the martyrdom: the vision of Perpetua — in male attire the Saint wrestles with a dark-skinned man — came about in her martyrdom in which she defeated the devil in courageous combat and entered into the Body of Christ.

Whereas Felicity — who was pregnant — by her confession to the tribunal gave birth to the heavenly man, Christ, even before actually giving birth to her child. This sermon, which can henceforth be considered complete, is thus the original of two pseudo-Augustinian texts that borrowed its concept.

New life follows death

The main topic of the sermon entitled De resurrectione mortuorum is faith in future events: from prophecies that are already accomplished the Christian believer draws the certainty that the eschatological prophecies also merit trust.

The fact that in nature too new life follows death contributes to belief in the Second Coming of Christ, in the Last Judgement and in the physical welcome of believers into the Kingdom of Heaven. By his victory over death, Christ himself demonstrated that belief in the Resurrection is justified.

The title of the sermon In natali Marcellini martyris suggests the date of 2 June. This date appears to be unauthentic; since individual passages refer to the Baptism of some of the faithful and since just before the sermon’s end the remission of sins in Baptism is mentioned it was probably given during the Easter Season. In the early Church this was the only time during the liturgical year that Baptism was administered.

The last Augustinian sermon of this collection is dedicated to Cyprian. Bishop of Carthage, who suffered martyrdom in 258. We only have the beginning of it and the end. In the first part Augustine briefly describes the exemplary behaviour of Cyprian the martyr and doctor of the Church. In the second part. he criticizes the custom of celebrating ecclesial feasts with an abundance of food and drink. In spite of the missing section, which may be presumed to have been considerable, this sermon is the only one among those that came to light which can be given a place and a date. It would seem to have been delivered in Carthage in the year 401 or a little earlier.

Unpublished texts — especially those in medieval codices that have been attributed to an author as well known as Augustine — often turn out later to be medieval texts that erroneously bear his name or attempts by a writer to make his own writings look like those of the famous Father of the Church.

So what are the criteria that enable us with certainty to attribute the sermons we found to Augustine? In the first place, their style is certainly an important proof of authenticity: with the abundance of rhetorical figures (anaphora, rhymes, parallelism, word play), the style coincides with the characteristic style of writings that we are certain are by Augustine, especially the sermons.

The same is true regarding the construction of the sentence and the style of the phraseology. In the new texts, for example, there are comparisons which in Latin literature are only to be found in Augustine.

Another argument refers to the biblical citations: the text is different from that of the Vulgate, that is, from Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, and largely coincides with the one that Augustine uses elsewhere.

Definitive proof is then offered to us by an external factor: three of the sermons bear titles which exactly correspond to the titles present in the list of Augustine’s works. This list exactly dates back to the time of the Bishop of Hippo; it was inserted by Possidius — a close friend of the Father of the Church — into his biography of Augustine. Until now it had been impossible to identify them.

These three sermons address works of love for one’s neighbour and the relationship between spiritual and material almsgiving. They will be studied and published by the Viennese group in 2009.

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Yet Another Great Conference

The 2008 Letter & Spirit Conference
St. Paul: Mission and Mystery

Sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology
Nov. 14-15, 2008, St. Paul Seminary, Crafton, PA

Friday, November 14
Keynote Address:
“St. Paul: Mission and Mystery”
Dr. Scott Hahn, Founder and President, St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Saturday, November 15
“The Biblical Basis for Bishops in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles”
Dr. Mike Sirilla, Associate Professor of Theology
Franciscan University of Steubenville

“The Mystery of Marriage in Paul”
Dr. John Bergsma, Associate Professor of Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“The Mystery of Christ in Ephesians”
Dr. William Bales, Professor of Sacred Scripture, Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary

“The Mystery of the Spirit in First Corinthians”
Dr. Mary Healy, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Panel Discussion
All scholars

Holy Mass
Celebrant & Homilist: Bishop David A. Zubik, Diocese of Pittsburgh

4th Annual Father Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap,
Memorial Lecture:
Sex, Marriage & Original Sin:
A Defense of Augustine’s Reading of St. Paul
Dr. John Cavadini, Chairperson of the Department of Theology
University of Notre Dame

REGISTER NOW! I hope to see you there…

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Portrait of the Artist

If you’ve seen the reviews of my book Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, you know by now that it’s abundantly and beautifully illustrated by Lea Marie Ravotti.

Raised in an atheist home in communist Czechoslovakia, Lea studied in Prague and began her career there. She has had shows on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m proud to have my name associated with hers.

Lea is herself a sign and mystery — quiet and self-effacing — though she reveals a bit in an interview in the October 5 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. Content’s only visible to those who subscribe — so start your subscription with this issue! Lea talks about her conversion from atheism, her art, and the techniques of the early Christian artists. Contrasting ancient Christian art with medieval illumination, she says …

In contrast, the paintings in the catacombs seem to be hastily painted, modest, sketchy and lacking details. You don’t have the perfect execution or range of colors that people expect from artwork. But do not be mistaken. There is something more. Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive, reaching beneath reality’s surface. The poor quality contrasts with the richness of the content, giving vibrancy to the early Christian artwork. Early Christian artists may [have drawn] simply, but they leave profound messages accompanied by symbols. They rejected the ideals of artistic perfection and sophisticated beauty. Communication is valued above artistic refinement.

Her conversion story is quite moving. So subscribe now. And while you’re at OSV, pay a visit to the awesome multimedia tour of our book.

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Magical Mysteries Tour

Sarah Hayes, of my beloved publisher Our Sunday Visitor, has produced an awesome multimedia tour of my book, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols. The presentation includes a sample chapter, sample illustrations by Lea Marie Ravotti, and several short interviews with Yours Truly. If you choose to read our bios, you can make Lea or me get bigger or smaller just by moving the mouse over our photos. When you’re listening to the interviews you’ll have a big advantage over my wife, as you at least can enjoy the luxury of an off switch.

Meantime, Julie the Happy Catholic has continued her meditations on the wonders encountered in Signs and Mysteries. To God the glory. To our ancient ancestors the honor that is their due.

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Up to Code

Christian Book Reviews has posted an analysis of my book The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence. Five stars out of five.

In telling the tales of not only the legends of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail (and how these two diverse traditions became intertwined) but also the evolution of how these tales were presented, Aquilina and Bailey delve into the stylistic devices authors have employed to add their own twists to these venerable legends and how these gradual accretions reflect the spiritual state of their audiences. In times of spiritual decay, the tales would take on views of love totally at odds with the Christian vision; in times of renewal, the quest would not be fulfilled in adventure but in the most sublime of the Christian mysteries.

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Last Call for Holy Land Pilgrims

I’m told that there are just a few seats left on the Year of St. Paul pilgrimage I’m making with Dr. Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn and Steve and Janet Ray. It takes place May 16-25, 2009.

We’ll be celebrating the Year of St. Paul and visiting the sites of Jesus: the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Transfiguration, Capernaum, Peter’s House, the Church of the Visitation, the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem, the Church of the Dormition, the Church of the Nativity, the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa … and many more unforgettable places. We’ll also have optional side trips to Qumran, Masada, Jericho, and the Dead Sea for swimming.

See here for more details. Hope you can make the trip with us!

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Some Pious Old Folks in Salonika…

It’s quite possible that the protagonists of the ancient limerick are buried here…

Archaeologists in Greece have unearthed more than 1,400 ancient graves and tombs during excavation work for a new metro in the northern city of Salonika, the culture ministry said on Thursday. The graves and tombs spanned an 800-year period from the fourth century BC to Roman times in the fourth century AD. The finds range from humble pits and altar tombs of stone to marble sarcophagi, the ministry said. One in five burial sites were found to contain offerings including Roman-era gold coins from Persia, jewellery made of gold, silver and copper, clay vessels and glass perfume-holders. Founded in the fourth century BC by King Cassander of Macedon, Salonika was a major metropolis through Hellenistic and Roman times and possesses a rich archaeological heritage, some still undiscovered. As in the case the Athens Metro a decade ago, ongoing work on the Salonika underground has already brought other archaeological treasures to light. In June, archaeologists found four gold wreaths and a pair of gold earrings in the grave of a woman who lived in the city over 2,000 years ago. The metro also runs beneath the city’s historic Jewish cemetery, which was one of the largest in Europe and is believed to hold more than 300,000 graves. The 9.6-kilometre (six-mile) network is expected to be completed in 2012.

Hat tip: Rogue Classicism.

UPDATE: Another ancient cemetery turned up in England. Given the period of both, it’s possible they’ll produce some Christian artifacts. In any event, they’ll certainly shed more light on the world of the Fathers.