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The Audacity of Pope

Now that the United States has elected its first African-American president, Archbishop Wilton Gregory and others have wondered aloud whether we might some day see an African pope. I find future-pope speculation distasteful — like wondering aloud whom Mom might marry should Dad ever get around to kicking off. But I’m grateful to the London Times‘ Richard Owen for noting that

three early Popes came from North Africa, at a time when it formed part of the Roman Empire: Pope Victor, who reigned from 189-198; Pope Melchiades, or Militiades (311-314); and Pope Gelasius (492-496). All three are saints.

Pope Victor was born in Africa and served as pontiff during the reign of the Emperors Commodus and Septimus Severus (who was also an African), persuading them to release persecuted Christians, including a future pope, Calistus I.

Pope Militiades was the first Pope to benefit from greater tolerance of Christianity under the Emperor Maxentius, regaining confiscated holy properties. He was given the first official papal residence, later to become the Lateran Palace. Pope Gelasius, born in Rome to African parents, revised the rules for the clergy, permitting the use of wine at the Holy Communion.

He covered the issue in greater detail three years ago, in Africans Led Church During Roman Empire.

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Mar-mar-mar Marmaris

Here’s an update on a major underwater recovery, the first Byzantine port of Constantinople, on the Sea of Marmaris.

So far, 32 wooden ships, Stone Age skeletons, coins, amphorae and even a basket full of ancient cherries have been uncovered … Dating from the time of the Roman emperor Theodosius I, in the fourth century AD, the finds are an unprecedented glimpse into the ancient trade and maritime life of one of the world’s longest-inhabited cities…

They include a woman’s shoe with an ancient Greek inscription: “Use it in health, lady, be in beauty and happiness and wear it.”

I can’t help but think of the Empress Eudoxia. Perhaps it was a gift from St. John Chrysostom? If so, we can be sure it’s a sensible shoe.

The site also bears relics of continued Byzantine presence after the harbour had been filled in. A Byzantine tannery and charnel house were discovered at the western end of the excavation, as well as human skulls – perhaps those of executed criminals – thrown into a well.

Lots of candidates for those. Too many to list.

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E.T., Write Home (Pseudonymously)

Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica just shot a blast from my childhood. Anybody else remember Rod Serling hosting In Seach of Ancient Astronauts? It was an NBC-TV documentary purporting that many ancient mysteries (Stonehenge, Easter Island, etc.) could only be explained as the work of extra-terrestrials. The genius behind the explanations was Erich von Däniken.

Now, Jim tells us, von Däniken has turned his attention to the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, where he sees abundant evidence of the patriarchs and prophets cavorting with aliens.

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Take My Life. Please.

In today’s mail came a press release from the Fraternity of St Genesius, which unites “members of the faithful in prayer and support for those involved in the theatrical and cinematic arts.” The organization was founded in Ireland in 2007 and now has hundreds of members. Late last month, its founder, Father John Hogan, received a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI.

I congratulate Father Hogan. And I can’t pass up an opportunity to celebrate St. Genesius the Comedian, a martyr whose life I told in an earlier post titled “Take My Life, Please.”

Genesius (d. 286 or 303) was the leader of a theatrical troupe in Rome, performing one day before the Emperor Diocletian The script called for these wise guys to make fun of the Christian rites, and Genesius was supposed to pretend to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. But a funny thing happened on the way to the punch line: When the water had been poured out on him, he proclaimed himself a Christian. Diocletian at first thought it was all part of the joke. But gradually it became clear that Genesius meant it. Suddenly, the emperor was not amused. For spoiling the party, Diocletian ordered the comedian to be tortured and then beheaded. Genesius must have had quite a following, though. We know that he was venerated at Rome as early as the fourth century: a church was built in his honor, and was repaired and beautified centuries later by Gregory III in 741.

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Return to Michaelmas

On the Byzantine calendar, today’s the feast of St. Michael the Archangel and the Angelic Hosts. Devotion to my heavenly namesake was very well developed, very early in the Church’s history. Before Constantine’s peace, there were churches dedicated to St. Michael in Rome and in Egypt. And he appears often in early Coptic art. For the goods, see this book — and prepare to be wowed.

St. Michael is the patron of my ancestral city of Caltanissetta, Sicily.

In your kindness, pray today for all bloggers named Michael who happened to be born on Byzantine St. Michael’s day.

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Temple and Contemplation

“I must boast … Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth” (2 Cor 12:1, 6).

I love working with the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. If you don’t know our work, I’ll sum it up: we promote biblical literacy for the laity and biblical fluency for clergy and teachers. We sponsor conferences throughout the year. We publish a monthly guide to the lectionary readings (with homily helps). We do weekly radio spots, in English and Spanish, with cool people like Archbishop Jose Gomez and our own president Scott Hahn. We publish occasional monographs and sponsor research.

We also publish an academic journal, titled Letter and Spirit, which makes the best of current scholarly research available to a wider audience. Our authors have included Cardinals Avery Dulles and Christoph Schonborn and many renowned theologians and exegetes — Robert Louis Wilken, Romanus Cessario, O.P., Sofia Cavalletti, James Swetnam, S.J., John Cavadini, Gary Anderson, and many other luminaries.

Our most recent issue has just appeared, and it’s dazzling (if I do say so myself). Here’s a partial table of contents. (I’ll hot-link the authors’ names to their patristic works that readers of this blog should know.):

Towards a Theology of the Tabernacle and its Furniture — Gary A. Anderson

Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood–Brant Pitre

The Rejected Stone and the Living Stones: Psalm 118:22–23 and New Testament Christology and Ecclesiology–Michael Giesler

Temple, Sign, and Sacrament: Towards a New Perspective on the Gospel of John–Scott W. Hahn

Temple, Holiness, and the Liturgy of Life in Corinthians–Raymond Corriveau, C.Ss.R.

The Indwelling of Divine Love: The Revelation of God’s Abiding Presence in the Human Heart–Thomas Dubay, S. M.

Living Stones in the House of God: The Temple and the Renewal of Church Architecture–Denis R. McNamara

“The Mystery of His Will”: Contemplating the Divine Plan in Ephesians–William A. Bales

“You Are Gods, Sons of the Most High”: Deification and Divine Filiation in St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Early Fathers–Daniel A. Keating

Scripture, Doctrine, and Proclamation: The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Renewal of Homiletics–John C. Cavadini


The Sign of the Temple: A Meditation–Jean Cardinal Daniélou

Church, Kingdom, and the Eschatological Temple–Yves M.-J. Cardinal Congar

And there’s more. My hat’s off to my esteemed colleagues, David Scott and Scott Hahn, for editing this stunning volume.

If I boast, it’s because I’m allowed to keep such company!

Folks who attend our conference in Pittsburgh next week will get a free copy of Letter and Spirit, Vol. 4: Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart.

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Feast of Weeks

We at the St. Paul Center were pleased to see that Zenit posted a nice article on last week’s conference. Now we’re preparing for next week’s conference. I hope you can join us …

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


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Working the Knight Shift


The Knights of Columbus have published a new little book by Yours Truly. It’s called “The Early Church,” and it’s a series of small chapters on its stated subject, with small profiles of a few Church Fathers. It’s about 10,000 words — more than a booklet, but less than a book. It’s made for the rack in the back of the vestibule, but it’s too much to read while standing there. You can order multiple copies or even read most of “The Early Church” online as a PDF.

Thanks to blogger Paul A. Zalonski, who commissioned me for the project back when he was working for the Knights.

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Get Carded

If you haven’t ordered your Christmas cards yet, stop by Tom Craughwell’s site. Tom’s also added a new page, Custom Orders, in response to rising demand for commemorative cards for newly ordained priests, memorial cards for families, and prayer cards for parishes. There you can choose from some apostolic- and patristic-era faves, like St. Agnes, who is dear to my heart.

I reviewed Tom’s saints book here.

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Does This Register?

Mark Sullivan of National Catholic Register interviewed me about this blog and other works. It’s posted at the newspaper’s website, but available only to subscribers. Here’s a snippet:

Q: Pope Benedict has indeed been talking about the Fathers of the Church recently. Do you see this as a trend back towards the Fathers?

A: Christians have been trending this way for a couple of centuries now. A hundred years ago, it was mostly an academic thing. The patristics movement worked to recover the study of the Fathers, and the liturgical movement turned attention to the ancient texts of the Mass and the other sacraments. Both movements were very influential at the Second Vatican Council.

But the Fathers aren’t just for scholars or elites in the Church. They’re for everybody, and that’s what my blog is all about. The Fathers were preachers and pastors above all. Very few of them had academic careers. They wanted to reach people like you and me and the folks next door. They were brilliant. They were tough. They knew how to argue. They knew how to deliver a joke. What’s very cool is that they still have the power to reach us, across the millennia.

Pope Benedict realizes all this. He has made the study of the Fathers a family matter. He is re-introducing them as true Fathers in God’s family.

Q: What is it that attracts people to the Fathers?

A: There’s a natural fascination with ancient things. Go to any museum and watch the crowds in the Egypt rooms. Well, that fascination has a supernatural dimension as well. Christians want to see the tides of divine grace in history. People are curious, too, about their own origins and genealogy. Christians want to know about their ancestors in the faith. They want to find the lineage that takes them back to the Apostles, back to Jesus. It’s there in the Fathers. They give us an unbroken paper trail on all the doctrines and practices we hold today. The Catechism says they are “always timely witnesses” to the Church’s tradition.