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It’s sad to see Mike Davis of Aquinas and More leaving the world of bookselling. He has been an innovative thinker and a force for good.

But what a joy to know where he’s going: “I’m leaving to move to Augusta, Georgia and be part of a new Greek Catholic monastic community. My priest friend and I have been working on this project for nearly five years.”

Mike has set up a blog so we can follow his fledgling community’s progress online.

Please keep him in prayer.

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St. Jerome, the Great Name-Caller

Today’s the memorial of St. Jerome. I’m sure you’ve already made plans to read my post from a few years back, when I dubbed Jerome “Doctor Cantankerous.” And surely when you’re there, you’ll follow the links.

But since Jerome is so awesome, you’ll probably want to do something more.

And I have just the thing.

Dion DiMucci, “the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame’s resident expert on patristics,” wrote an awesome song about St. Jerome, called The Thunderer. Don’t let the feast day end before you’ve spent your ninety-nine cents to buy “The Thunderer” on Amazon. If you’re really cool, you’ll buy the whole album. I’ll bet Jerome would — though he’d probably get one of those rich Roman ladies to pick up the tab.

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Conference on the Fathers in Chicago

Lessons from the Early Church: Listening to the Fathers Today” will take place Friday and Saturday, October 22-23, at St. Lambert Parish in Skokie, Ill.

I’ll be giving two talks, along with Carl Sommer (author of We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians), Rod Bennett (author of Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words), and Father Richard Simon (“Reverend Know-It-All” of Relevant Radio fame).

It’s a great slate of talks, and a beautiful opportunity for conversation. Check it out — and join us! (There’s a Facebook event page, too.)

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A Great Day

Cardinal Newman has been raised to the altars! He was a brilliant patrologist. He served the Fathers as translator, historian, compiler, controversialist, poet, and even journalist. Reading in the Fathers of the Church, he came to desire the Church of the Fathers. May we all follow him in that, and more.

Certain of his books are indispensable, among them:

The Church of the Fathers

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

The Arians of the Fourth Century

Callista: A Sketch of The Third Century

My friend Father Juan Velez and I have compiled a handy, popular devotional way to get to know the new Beatus, our pocket-sized book Take Five: Meditations With John Henry Newman.

Here’s his lovely translation of a few lines by St. Gregory Nazianzen (from The Church of the Fathers):

IN service o’er the Mystic Feast I stand;
I cleanse Thy victim-flock, and bring them near
In holiest wise, and by a bloodless rite.
O fire of Love! O gushing Fount of Light!
(As best I know, who need Thy pitying Hand)
Dread office this, bemired souls to clear
Of their defilement, and again made bright.

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Make This Video Go Viral!

I have not yet held a copy of my book A Year With The Fathers: Patristic Wisdom For Daily Living, but the suspense is killing me. The first Amazon review, from someone who actually pre-ordered the book, is already up — and I want to own the book the reviewer describes!

And then there’s the YouTube trailer. Never before has one of my books had its own trailer.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

In A Year With The Fathers: Patristic Wisdom For Daily Living, Mike Aquilina, popular author on Patristics, gathers the wisest, most practical teachings and exhortations from the Fathers of the Church, and presents them in a format perfect for daily meditation and inspiration. Learn to humbly accept correction from St Clement of Rome. Let Tertullian teach you how to clear your mind before prayer. Read St Gregory the Great and deepen your love of the Eucharist. Do you suffer from pain or illness? St John Chrysostom’s counsels will refresh you. Do you have trouble curbing your appetite for food and other fleshly things? St John Cassian will teach you the true way to moderation and self-control. A Year With The Church Fathers is different from a study guide and more than a collection of pious passages. It is a year long retreat that in just a few minutes every day will lead you on a journey of contemplation, prayer, resolution, and spiritual growth that is guaranteed to bring you closer to God and His Truth.

From what I read in the review, the product is gorgeous and would make a perfect Christmas gift.

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Martyrdom and Eucharist

BMCR reviews a book that looks very interesting: The Great Persecution: The Proceedings of the Fifth Patristic Conference, Maynooth, 2003. Most interesting to me is the reviewer’s summary of one of the contributions:

The final two chapters before the conclusion, “Imitating the mysteries that you celebrate: martyrdom and Eucharist in the early Patristic period,” by Finbarr G. Clancy and “The origin of the cult of St George” by David Woods continue the examination of Christian sources relating to martyrdom. Clancy attempts to “enter into the mind of the persecuted and describe something of the spiritual motivation” that lead to Christian martyrdom (107), with a focus on the earlier martyrs Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Cyprian of Carthage, and concludes with Augustine of Hippo who provided the Church with so much of its theological understanding of martyrdom. As Clancy demonstrates, the martyrs served an important function in the liturgical life of the Church, for “The martyrs were truly fed at the Lord’s table and went forth not only to kiss the face of the earth, but also to water it with their blood” (139).

This is a common theme in the Fathers — the relationship between martyrdom and Eucharist — and so it’s a common theme on this blog. I discuss it in several posts, including one that features Pope Benedict’s long treatment of it in a recent document. It takes up the better part of a chapter in my book The Resilient Church. And it’s the subject of “The Roman Martyrs and Their Mass,” a talk I gave in Rome in 2005, which is on my audio page.

Suitable material for the feast of St. Cyprian, the third-century martyr who composed the first treatise on the Eucharist.

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Medal Machine Music

In the earliest signs of emerging Christian culture, we find beautiful jewelry that bears devotional images: medals, crosses, rings, coins, buckles and clasps, inscribed gems, stamps and seals. Such items are nicely displayed in the book Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (a stunning compilation). You’ll often find such ancient artifacts for sale by antiquities dealers. Archeologists have even unearthed the molds and machinery used to strike these images. Some years ago, a reader gave me a medal that the Emperor Constantine struck in memory of his mother, St. Helena. I treasure it.

The art and the craft have endured with the apostolic faith, and we find them practiced well today. I bring this up because my buddy Paul Fry draws our attention to the pious labors of St. Catherine’s Metalworks in the suburbs of Cleveland. Check it out.

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Free Medieval Immersion!

It’s a little beyond the purview of a patristics blog, but it’s well worth your attention. The esteemed Paul Crawford is organizing a conference titled “Dancing with Death: Warfare, Wounds and Disease in the Middle Ages.” It’s more than an academic conference. It’s going to be great fun — as a conference titled “Dancing with Death” should be — an immersion in medieval culture and warfare, filled with great spectacles. Warhorses! Beowulf! It’s open to the general public. And it’s all FREE. Mark your calendars now: October 20-22, 2010, at California University of Pennsylvania. (Yes, please note that it’s in Pennsylvania!)

Highlights of this series of events include two talks by Cambridge University professor, paleopathologist, and practicing surgeon Piers Mitchell; an overview of medieval military history by the foremost historian of crusade military history, John France (University of Wales-Swansea); a debate over the effectiveness of the medieval longbow by medieval military historians Kelly DeVries (Loyola University-Maryland) and Clifford R. Rogers (US Military Academy, West Point); a talk on trauma to casualties after the battle of Towton (1461) in England, by Anthea Boylston (University of Leeds); a talk on palaeopathology in Asia by Christine Lee (Beijing University), who has just been named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer; and a discussion of violence and trauma in literature by Anthony Adams (Brown University).

In addition, there will be displays of Friesian horses (the closest living representative of the medieval warhorse); demonstrations of historically accurate fencing and combat by John Lennox and Steve Huff, internationally renowned experts in the field whose work has been seen in film and on stage; a book signing; and receptions in which the public can meet and talk to the speakers.

The final event is a performance of the first part of “Beowulf” by internationally-acclaimed early music specialist Benjamin Bagby. Mr. Bagby, who was a co-founder of the early music group Sequentia, will also offer a workshop in “Beowulf.”

All events are free, open to the public, and intended for general audiences.

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St. Gregory the Great, whose feast is today, Sept. 3, was the first monk ever chosen as Pope. He had grown up in one of the few remaining old aristocratic families in Rome. Before taking his vows, he had been an important politician in the city, so he had some experience with administration. Nevertheless, he hadn’t intended to become the most important politician of his age. Things just turned out that way. There was work to be done, and only Gregory could do it.

Rome was in bad shape when Gregory became her bishop. The plague that had killed Pope Pelagius was still raging. The city had been kicked around like a football between Goths and Vandals, with Greeks from the Eastern Roman Empire periodically stepping in to inflict even more damage. Fires and disastrously bad weather added to the catastrophes. And the constant threat of invasion from the north by the horrible Lombards kept the survivors in terror.

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.

In theory, Italy was governed by the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, through his exarch in Ravenna. In practice, the exarch was nearly powerless, and the Eastern Empire had enough problems of its own to worry about. The exarch might be able to hold onto Ravenna, with its naturally impenetrable defenses, but he couldn’t do much about it when the Lombards decided to march on Rome. No one was left to defend the once-proud city but Gregory. It was lucky for Rome that Gregory had both experience in government and a deep and sincere faith. It took both qualities to save the city.

He led the people in prayers to end the plague; thousands joined him in a solemn procession. When they reached Hadrian’s tomb, Gregory and many of the people saw a vision of the Archangel Michael sheathing a flaming sword, indicating that the scourge was over. From that time on, the place has been known as the Castle of the Holy Angel — Castel Sant’Angelo in Italian.

Then there were the Lombards to be taken care of. The useless exarch at Ravenna had declared that negotiating with those people was impossible, but Gregory made peace with them when they had reached the very gates of Rome. In Constantinople, the Emperor Maurice was angry: who did Gregory think he was, acting like an emperor? But Maurice had been perfectly content to let Rome be wiped off the face of the earth — every time Gregory had asked for his help, Maurice had been too busy with other important matters.

Any other pope might have been content with saving Rome from invasion and converting thousands of barbarians. But Gregory was never content. While any part of the Church was imperfect, there was work to be done.

The Mass was one of his most important concerns. Under Gregory it was revised and standardized, and Gregory himself wrote hymns that have become part of our liturgical heritage. The form of music called “Gregorian chant” is probably named for him, because he set the standards for Church music for a thousand years. (Gregory himself taught the chants to church choirs, beating out the time with a stick like a modern conductor.) Even today, much of our worship owes its shape to Gregory’s reformed liturgy.

The finances of the Church also came under Gregory’s eye. The Church by this time owned huge estates; Gregory not only treated the peasants who worked them fairly, but also did his best to make legal guarantees that his successors would have to honor. When the Church spent money, Gregory made sure that everyone knew how it was being spent.

Finally, there was the clergy itself to keep in line. Many of the bishops were talented men from the old upper classes who had entered the Church because no other outlets for their ambition appeared. Some of them thought they could act like irresponsible princes, living immoral lives and using their positions to get rich. Gregory wouldn’t stand for that. He himself lived like a monk, and while he didn’t try to force that life on all the clergy, he did at least insist on their living like Christians.

Gregory set the example for the popes who followed. Although few were as talented as Gregory, they all built on what he had done. By default, they were the secular leaders in the city of Rome and the surrounding country, and they became more and more independent of the Emperor in far-off Constantinople. And Constantinople, for its part, would soon have worries much closer to home.

I’ve talked about St. Gregory on the KVSS “Spirit Morning Show” with Bruce and Kris McGregor. KVSS archives my interviews on its Mike Aquilina page.

I tell his story, in differing ways with different emphases, in my books The Resilient Church and The Fathers of the Church.

Gregory composed his magnum opus, the Moralia in Job (Morals on the Book of Job), while he was the pope’s ambassador at the imperial court in Constantinople. For the monks with whom he stayed, he gave a long series of conferences on the moral sense of this most perplexing and consoling book of the Bible. He held up Job as a model of all the virtues. Gregory’s book soon won fame and remained among the most popular works of scriptural interpretation in the middle ages.

Unfortunately, it’s been unavailable in English for over a century and a half — since Parker and Rivington brought it out in London in 1844. It’s three huge volumes, and I think there’s a set for sale somewhere for about a zillion dollars.

Fear not. Thanks to Lectionary Central’s heroic scanning, we can all draw strength, wisdom, and joy from the pages of Moralia in Job.