Showing posts with label January. Show all posts
Showing posts with label January. Show all posts

Thursday, January 25, 2018

From the martyrology: Conversion of St Paul; St Poppo OSB (Jan 25)


1467 Polish

Today in the Extraordinary Form, Ordinary Form and traditional Benedictine Office we celebrate the famous conversion of St Paul:

"The conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, which occurred in the second year after the Ascension of our Lord."

Bamberg, Church of SS Peter and George

The martyrology also mentions, however, St Poppo, an eleventh century monastic reformer:

"At Marchiennes in France, St. Poppo, priest and abbot, renowned for his miracles."

St Poppo had a colourful life, as the Catholic Encyclopedia chronicles:

"Abbot, born 977; died at Marchiennes, 25 January, 1048. He belonged to a noble family of Flanders; his parents were Tizekinus and Adalwif. About the year 1000 he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with two others of his countrymen. Soon after this he also went on a pilgrimage to Rome. He was about to marry a lady of noble family, when an impressive experience led him to seek another mode of life. As he was journeying late at night a flame burst forth over his head and his lance radiated a brilliant light. He believed this to be an illumination of the Holy Spirit, and soon after, 1005, he entered the monastery of St. Thierry at Reims."

He was appointed to head a number of monasteries to aid their reform in the spirit of Cluny, working under the guidance of St Richard of Saint-Vannes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

SS Timothy and Suranus, Abbot (Jan 24)



Today in the Office we celebrate in the Office the feast of St Timothy, of whom the martyrology says:

"At Ephesus, St. Timothy, disciple of the apostle St. Paul, who ordained him bishop of that city.  After many labours for Christ, he was stoned for rebuking those who offered sacrifices to Diana, and shortly after went peacefully to his rest in the Lord."

But also mentioned is St Suranus:

"Also, blessed Suranus, abbot, who lived in the time of the Lombards."

The saint is mentioned in Book I of St Gregory's Dialogues:

"At such time as I yet lived in the Monastery, I understood by the relation of certain religious men, that in the time of the Lombards, in this very province called Sura and not far off, there was an holy Abbot called Suranus, who bestowed upon certain prisoners, which had escaped their hands, all such things as he had in his Monastery: and when he had given away in alms all his own apparel, and whatsoever he could find either in the monks' cells or in the yards, and nothing was left: suddenly the Lombards came thither, took him prisoner, and demanded where his gold was: and when he told them that he had nothing, they carried him to an hill hard by, where there was a mighty great wood in which a certain prisoner that ran away from them had hid himself in an hollow tree. There one of the Lombards, drawing out his sword, slew the foresaid venerable Abbot, whose body as it fell to the ground, suddenly all the hill together with the wood did shake, as though the earth by that trembling had said, that it could not bear the weight of his holiness and virtue."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

St Agnes (January 21)



Zenobi Strozzi, c1448-9
From the 1962 Roman Martyrology:

"At Rome, the passion of St. Agnes, virgin, who under Symphronius, governor of the city, was thrown into the fire, but after it was extinguished by her prayers, she was slain with the sword.  Of her, St. Jerome writes: "Agnes is praised in the writings and by the tongues of all nations, especially in the churches.  She overcame the weakness of her age, conquered the cruelty of the tyrant, and consecrated her chastity by martyrdom."

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

SS Julian and Basilissa (January 9)


Basilissa Julian.jpg
Christ with Saints Julian and Basilissa, Celsus and Marcionilla,
Pompeo Batoni, 1736-8.

Today the martyrology recalls the martyrdom of St Julian and his wife Basilissa:
At Antioch, in the reign of Diocletian and Maximian, the birthday of the Saints Julian, martyr, and Basilissa, his virgin wife. Having lived in a state of virginity with her husband, she reached the end of her days in peace. But after the death by fire of a multitude of priests and ministers of the Church of Christ, who had taken refuge in his house from the severity of the persecution, Julian was ordered by the president Marcian to be tormented in many ways and executed. With him suffered Anthony, a priest, and Anastasius, whom Julian raised from the dead, and made partaker of the grace of Christ; also, Celsus, a boy, with his mother Marcionilla, seven brothers, and many others. 
The feast will be of particular interest to Benedictines, because St Benedict drew heavily on their Passio in constructing chapter 4 of his Rule, on the Tools of Good Works. 

The Passio Juliani et Basilissae is one of those martyrdom accounts that scholars have, in the past, tended to dismiss as more pious fiction than fact, but there almost certainly is at least some historical basis to it.  Regardless, their cult was widespread quite early on, and well established by the sixth century.

The basic storyline of the Passio is that Julian was forced by his family to marry, however reached an agreement with his wife, Basilissa, that they should both preserve their virginity.  They proceeded to convert their home into a hospital, and she founded a convent for women (of which she became the superior), while he undertook the direction of a large group of monks. 

One of the reasons generally for dismissing the account is the early date claimed for the establishment of cenobitic monasticism.  But we know that monasticism did in fact predate St Antony (St Athanaius' propaganda notwithstanding, pre-existing monasteries are actually mentioned in the Life), though it was probably not quite as formalised as the fourth or fifth century Passio suggests.

In any case, according to the Passio, Basilissa and her maidens died a holy death in advance of the Great Persecution of Diocletian, but Julian was martyred - though not before performing several miracles and converting his prosecutor's son and wife.  The Passio relates that Julian predicted he would survive the initial attempt to put him to death, and when questioned on how he achieved this, proceeds to give the catechesis that the Rule draws on.

Monday, January 8, 2018

St Wulsin, bishop of Sherborne (died c1002)

Today (January 8) is the feast of St Wulsin, who was appointed superior of the restored abbey of Westminster circa 960.

St Wulsin originally became a monk at Glastonbury, under St Dunstan, and went on to become part of the tenth century English Benedictine reform movement.

The saint was subsequently appointed as bishop of Sherborne (circa 960) and introduced a monastic chapter within his see.

He was famous for his austere life, modesty and humility, particularly reflected in his very modest pontifical regalia, which remained on display a century after his death.

You can read more about him here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

St Alban Roe OSB (Jan 31)



Today a number of monasteries of the English Congregation of Benedictines celebrate the feast of St Alban Roe, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and in 1642 at Tyburn.

His perhaps particularly a saint for those who tend to rub people up the wrong way, and follow a difficult path to fulfilling their vocation, at least as the account on Wikipedia tells it:

"...Details of Fr.Roe’s life are scanty. He was not typically monastic, but of an explosive and unpredictable temperament. Yet in spite of all this the outstanding characteristic of his life was cheerfulness and tenacity, and his sanctity is unquestionable.

Bartholomew Roe was born in 1583, in Suffolk. He was brought up a Protestant and with his brother James converted to Catholicism; both became Benedictine monks.

...His conversion experience was unusual: he tried to convert an imprisoned Catholic to Protestantism, but found himself defeated in argument. From this time, according to Challoner, “Mr. Roe was very uneasy in mind upon the score of religion; nor did this uneasiness cease till by reading and confessing with Catholic Priests he was thoroughly convinced of his errors and determined to embrace the ancient faith. Having found the treasure of God’s truth himself, he was very desirous to impart the same to the souls of his neighbours.” Consequently in 1607 he entered the English College at Douai (France) to study for the priesthood.

He had a very interesting attitude: he wasn’t only content to rub people up the wrong way, but to make sure they noticed. When the Prior had some cupboards removed from near to his bed, Roe declared: “There is more trouble with a few fools than with all the wise; if you pull down, I will build up; if you destroy, I will rebuild.”

He was expelled in 1610 due his temperament, ‘we consider the said Bartholomew Roe is not at all fitted for the purposes of this College on account of his contempt for the discipline and for his superiors and of his misleading certain youths living in the College and also of the great danger of his still leading others astray, and therefore we adjudge that he must be dismissed from the College’.

Roe didn’t leave quietly, but used his considerable skills to organise a campaign against the authorities. A significant body of monks seem to have seen him as some sort of hero and backed his appeal to the President. This allowed him later in 1613 to join the English Benedictine Community of St. Lawrence at Dieulouard in Lorraine, being ordained in 1615. There is no record of him being at all troublesome at Dieulouard. He became a founder member of the new English Benedictine Community at St.Edmund, Paris, hence his religious name Fr.Alban of St. Edmund.

He was professed in 1612 and after ordination (1615) joined the missions and worked in London, being arrested and deported shortly after his arrival.

He returned in 1618 and was imprisoned until 1623, whereby his release and re-exile was organised by the Spanish Ambassador, Gondomar. He returned two years later and was incarcerated for 17 years in the Fleet prison. Conditions in the Fleet were relaxed and he was able to minister to souls during the day provided he was back in his cell at night. He was zealous for the conversion of souls and lacking a church could be found in ale houses playing cards with the customers. This was permitted under the Constitutions of the English Benedictine Congregation at the time; the stakes were not monetary, but short prayers. Of course, this behaviour scandalised the Puritans, but as he was already a prisoner, there was little more they could do against him. He was also allowed to receive visitors in prison where in addition to strengthening his resolve through private prayer he taught visitors prayers and made many converts. Richard Challoner notes him translating “several pious tracts into English, some of which he caused to be published in print, others he left behind him in manuscript.”

In 1641 he was transferred to close confinement within the strict Newgate prison. In his trial in 1642 he was found guilty of treason under the statute 27 Eliz c.2 for being a priest.

Challoner details his initial refusal to enter a plea. It then transpired that the chief witness against him was a fallen Catholic who he had formerly helped. Thinking he could win him round again, he pleaded not guilty, but objected to being tried by “twelve ignorant jurymen”, who were unconcerned about the shedding of his innocent blood. Clearly the judge was a little bit intimidated by Roe making a mockery of the proceedings so they had a private chat. This didn’t go well, Roe declaring “My Saviour has suffered far more for me than all that; and I am willing to suffer the worst of torments for his sake.” The judge sent him back to prison where he was advised by who Challoner describes as “some grave and learned priests” to follow the example of those before him and consent to being tried by the court. The jury took about a minute to find him guilty. He then (with a bit of mockery) bowed low to the judge and the whole bench for granting him this great favour which he greatly desired.

The judge was so put out he suspended the sentence and sent him back to prison for a few days. This didn’t work either because as a celebrity he had a constant stream of visitors, one of whom smuggled in the necessary for him to say mass in his cell.

At Tyburn he preached in a jovial fashion to the crowd about the meaning of his death. He was still playing to the crowd, holding up the proceedings by asking the Sheriff whether he could save his life by turning Protestant. The Sheriff agreed. Roe then turned to the crowd declaring “see then what the crime is for which I am to die and whether religion be not my only treason?”

His remark to one of his former gaolers was “My friend, I find that thou art a prophet; thou hast told me often I should be hanged.”

He created quite an impression by his death and when his remains were quartered there was a scramble to dip handkerchiefs into his blood and pick up straws covered in his blood as relics. The speech he made is rumoured to have been sent to Parliament and stored in their archives.

He was declared venerable on December 1921 by Pope Pius XI and beatified one week later on December 15. Blessed Alban Roe was canonized nearly 49 years later on October 25, 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales with a common feast day of October 25. His feast day is also celebrated on January 21, the day of his martyrdom."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29: St Frances de Sales, Memorial

Saint Francis de Sales, August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622 was Bishop of Geneva and is a doctor of the Church. He is best known for his writings, particularly Introduction to the Devout Life.

A useful article on Salesian spirituality by Mgr Francis Vincent argues that the starting point of St Frances' theology is optimism.  He quotes from a sermon by the saint:

"When sinners become so hardened in their sins that they live as if there were no God, no heaven, no hell, then it is that the Lord makes known to them His pity and the sweetness of His mercy."

He stressed the need for interior reform, and the desire for love, as the basis for spiritual progress.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI gave one of his splendid General Audiences on the saint:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“God is God of the human heart” (The Treatise on the Love of God, I, XV). These apparently simple words give us an impression of the spirituality of a great teacher of whom I would like to speak to you today: St Francis de Sales, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

Born in 1567, in a French border region, he was the son of the Lord of Boisy, an ancient and noble family of Savoy. His life straddled two centuries, the 16th and 17th, and he summed up in himself the best of the teachings and cultural achievements of the century drawing to a close, reconciling the heritage of humanism striving for the Absolute that is proper to mystical currents.

He received a very careful education; he undertook higher studies in Paris, where he dedicated himself to theology, and at the University of Padua, where he studied jurisprudence, complying with his father’s wishes and graduating brilliantly with degrees in utroque iure, in canon law and in civil law.

In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could barely eat or sleep.

At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me... you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord.... I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise.... O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.

Overcoming his father’s resistance, Francis followed the Lord’s call and was ordained a priest on 18 December 1593. In 1602, he became Bishop of Geneva, in a period in which the city was the stronghold of Calvinism so that his episcopal see was transferred, “in exile” to Annecy.

As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).

Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.

Yet above all St Francis de Sales was a director: from his encounter with a young woman, Madame de Charmoisy, he was to draw the inspiration to write one of the most widely read books of the modern age, The Introduction to a Devout Life.

A new religious family was to come into being from his profound spiritual communion with an exceptional figure, St Jane Frances de Chantal: The Foundation of the Visitation, as the Saint wished, was characterized by total consecration to God lived in simplicity and humility, in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well: “I want my Daughters”, he wrote, not to have any other ideal than that of glorifying [Our Lord] with their humility” (Letter to Bishop de Marquemond, June 1615). He died in 1622, at the age of 55, after a life marked by the hardness of the times and by his apostolic effort.

The life of St Francis de Sales was a relatively short life but was lived with great intensity. The figure of this Saint radiates an impression of rare fullness, demonstrated in the serenity of his intellectual research, but also in the riches of his affection and the “sweetness” of his teachings, which had an important influence on the Christian conscience.

He embodied the different meanings of the word “humanity” which this term can assume today, as it could in the past: culture and courtesy, freedom and tenderness, nobility and solidarity. His appearance reflected something of the majesty of the landscape in which he lived and preserved its simplicity and naturalness. Moreover the words of the past and the images he used resonate unexpectedly in the ears of men and women today, as a native and familiar language.

To Philotea, the ideal person to whom he dedicated his Introduction to a Devout Life (1607), Francis de Sales addressed an invitation that might well have seemed revolutionary at the time. It is the invitation to belong completely to God, while living to the full her presence in the world and the tasks proper to her state. “My intention is to teach those who are living in towns, in the conjugal state, at court” (Preface to The Introduction to a Devout Life). The Document with which Pope Leo xiii, more than two centuries later, was to proclaim him a Doctor of the Church, would insist on this expansion of the call to perfection, to holiness.

It says: “[true piety] shone its light everywhere and gained entrance to the thrones of kings, the tents of generals, the courts of judges, custom houses, workshops, and even the huts of herdsmen” (cf. Brief, Dives in Misericordia, 16 November 1877).

Thus came into being the appeal to lay people and the care for the consecration of temporal things and for the sanctification of daily life on which the Second Vatican Council and the spirituality of our time were to insist.

The ideal of a reconciled humanity was expressed in the harmony between prayer and action in the world, between the search for perfection and the secular condition, with the help of God’s grace that permeates the human being and, without destroying him, purifies him, raising him to divine heights. To Theotimus, the spiritually mature Christian adult to whom a few years later he addressed his Treatise on the Love of God, St Francis de Sales offered a more complex lesson.

At the beginning it presents a precise vision of the human being, an anthropology: human “reason”, indeed “our soul in so far as it is reasonable”, is seen there as harmonious architecture, a temple, divided into various courts around a centre, which, together with the great mystics he calls the “extremity and summit of our soul, this highest point of our spirit”.

This is the point where reason, having ascended all its steps, “closes its eyes” and knowledge becomes one with love (cf. Book I, chapter XII). The fact that love in its theological and divine dimension, may be the raison d’être of all things, on an ascending ladder that does not seem to experience breaks or abysses, St Francis de Sales summed up in a famous sentence: “man is the perfection of the universe; the spirit is the perfection of man; love, that of the spirit; and charity, that of love” (ibid., Book X, chap. 1).

In an intensely flourishing season of mysticism The Treatise on the Love of God was a true and proper summa and at the same time a fascinating literary work. St Francis’ description of the journey towards God starts from recognition of the “natural inclination” (ibid., Book 1, chapter XVI), planted in man’s heart — although he is a sinner — to love God above all things.

According to the model of Sacred Scripture, St Francis de Sales speaks of the union between God and man, developing a whole series of images and interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, husband and friend, who has the characteristics of mother and of wet-nurse and is the sun of which even the night is a mysterious revelation. Such a God draws man to himself with bonds of love, namely, true freedom for: “love has neither convicts nor slaves, but brings all things under its obedience with a force so delightful, that as nothing is so strong as love nothing also is so sweet as its strength” (ibid., Book 1, chapter VI).

In our Saint’s Treatise we find a profound meditation on the human will and the description of its flowing, passing and dying in order to live (cf. ibid. Book IX, chapter XIII) in complete surrender not only to God’s will but also to what pleases him, to his “bon plaisir”, his good pleasure (cf. ibid., Book IX, chapter I).

As well as by raptures of contemplative ecstasy, union with God is crowned by that reappearance of charitable action that is attentive to all the needs of others and which he calls “the ecstasy of action and life” (ibid., Book VII, chapter VI).

In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “... this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).

It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.


St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 28: St Cyril of Alexandria, Memorial


Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 - 444), bishop and doctor of the Church, played a central role in the first Council of Ephesus, but he remains controversial character in several respects, perhaps the reason he did not make it into the Roman calendar until 1882 (when he was declared a doctor of the Church).

Patron of unity with the East?

Two twentieth century Popes, Pius XI &XII wrote encyclicals on him, seeing him as a possible patron of Christian unity given his strongly pro-Roman primacy stance.  In Orientalis Ecclesiae, Pius XII wrote:
"St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, glory of the Eastern Church and celebrated champion of the Virgin Mother of God, has always been held by the Church in the highest esteem, and We welcome the opportunity of recalling his merits in this brief Letter, now that fifteen centuries have passed since he happily exchanged this earthly exile for his heavenly home.

Our Predecessor St. Celestine I hailed him as 'good defender of the Catholic faith,' as 'excellent priest,' as 'apostolic man.' The ecumenical Council of Chalcedon not only used his doctrine for the detecting and refuting of the latest errors, but went so far as to compare it with the learning of St. Leo the Great; and in fact the latter praised and commended the writings of this great Doctor because of their perfect agreement with the faith of the holy Fathers. The fifth ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople, treated St. Cyril's authority with similar reverence and many years later, during the controversy about the two wills in Christ, his teaching was rightly and triumphantly vindicated, both in the first Lateran Council and in the sixth ecumenical Council, against the false charge of being tainted with the error of Monothelitism. He was, as Our saintly Predecessor Agatho proclaimed, 'a defender of the truth' and 'a consistent teacher of the orthodox faith.'

We therefore think it proper in this Letter to give some account of his spotless life, faith, and virtue; and this for the benefit of all, but especially of those who belong to the Eastern Church and therefore have good reason to be proud of this luminary of Christian wisdom, this valiant hero of the apostolate."

Politics and the mob?

St Cyril might, however, also be a possible patron for those given to forthrightness in the pursuit of truth, and direct in their action to pursue its triumph.  Fr Rengers, in his 'The 33 Doctors of the Church', describes him as an extremely forceful character.  Norman Russell, in Cyril of Alexandria, describes him as "a man of iron will and a consummate ecclesiastical politician."  Secular historians are less generous.

Certainly politics in Alexandria at the time were highly volatile, and Cyril was an active player to various degrees in several nasty conflicts, using at times mobs of rioting desert monks and other vigorous means to advance his agenda in conflict with the secular authorities, Jewish population, heretics, pagans and the Church of Constantinople (his predecessor uncle played a lead role in the deposition of St John Chrysostom, and Bishop Cyril had a series on going quarrels with the See, even before he played the central role in the deposition of bishop Nestorius, see below) .  One lynch mob of monks was responsible for the death of the philosopher Hypatia, though there seems to be no evidence whatsoever of Cyril's direct involvement in this.

St Cyril is most remembered however for his role in the Council of Ephesus in 431, convened to deal with the Nestorian heresy, the view that Our Lady was not Mother of God, being propagated by the bishop of Constantinople.  St Cyril managed to get the right outcome from the Council in part by starting and finishing the Council before Nestorius and his followers (or for that matter, the Papal legates) had arrived.  He then proceeded to communicate the outcome to Nestorius, writing:

"To Nestorius, the new Judas.  Know that by reason of your impious preachings and disobedience to the canons on the 22nd of this month of June, in conformity with the rules of the Church, you have been deposed by the Holy Synod, and you now no longer have any rank in the Church."

Needless to say, the matter was not  resolved, as Nestorius faction convened a counter "Robber Council of Ephesus", sparking a schism that, despite the subsequent efforts of St Cyril to conciliate the situation, was only finally resolved at Chalcedon in 451.

Nonetheless, St Cyril was an important theologian of the first rank, who made significant contributions on the nature of Christ, in fighting for the title of Our Lady as Theotokos (Mother of God), and in defending the faith in his patriarchy.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the saint on 3 October 2007 which helps put his life into perspective.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26: St Polycarp


St Polycarp (69 – 155 AD) was a 2nd century bishop of Smyrna, martyred for refusing to burn incense to the Emperor.  The account of his martyrdom is one of the earliest surviving of such accounts.  And his Epistle to the Philippians is similarly important as one of the earliest documents of the Fathers.

He is particularly important as a documented link in the apostolic succession: his pupil St Irenaeus relates that he heard the account of Polycarp's discussion with "John the Presbyter" (St John the Evangelist) and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus.

He also featured in an early play of the controversy of the date for Easter, favouring what has become the Orthodox tradition, and attributing the dating to St John.  He travelled to Rome to discuss the issue with the Pope of the time, however, and St Irenaeus reported that they agreed to each do their own thing on the matter:

"When the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John, the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he associated.... Neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25: Conversion of St Paul, Class III


Pope Benedict XVI devoted a General Audience to the subject of St Paul's conversion, on 3 September 2008:

"Today's Catechesis is dedicated to the experience that Paul had on his way to Damascus, and therefore on what is commonly known as his conversion. It was precisely on the road to Damascus, at the beginning of the 30s in the first century and after a period in which he had persecuted the Church that the decisive moment in Paul's life occurred. Much has been written about it and naturally from different points of view. It is certain that he reached a turning point there, indeed a reversal of perspective. And so he began, unexpectedly, to consider as "loss" and "refuse" all that had earlier constituted his greatest ideal, as it were the raison d'être of his life (cf. Phil 3: 7-8). What had happened?

In this regard we have two types of source. The first kind, the best known, consists of the accounts we owe to the pen of Luke, who tells of the event at least three times in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 9: 1-19; 22: 3-21; 26: 4-23). The average reader may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive "yes" to Christ in Baptism restores his sight and makes him really see.

In the ancient Church Baptism was also called "illumination", because this Sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see. In Paul what is pointed out theologically was also brought about physically: healed of his inner blindness, he sees clearly. Thus St Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul's life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion. This encounter is the centre St Luke's account for which it is very probable that he used an account that may well have originated in the community of Damascus. This is suggested by the local colour, provided by Ananias' presence and by the names, of both the street and the owner of the house in which Paul stayed (Acts 9: 11).

The second type of source concerning the conversion consists in St Paul's actual Letters. He never spoke of this event in detail, I think because he presumed that everyone knew the essentials of his story: everyone knew that from being a persecutor he had been transformed into a fervent apostle of Christ. And this had not happened after his own reflection, but after a powerful event, an encounter with the Risen One. Even without speaking in detail, he speaks on various occasions of this most important event, that, in other words he too is a witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, the revelation of which he received directly from Jesus, together with his apostolic mission. The clearest text found is in his narrative of what constitutes the centre of salvation history: the death and Resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to witnesses (cf. 1 Cor 15). In the words of the ancient tradition, which he too received from the Church of Jerusalem, he says that Jesus died on the Cross, was buried and after the Resurrection appeared risen first to Cephas, that is Peter, then to the Twelve, then to 500 brethren, most of whom were still alive at Paul's time, then to James and then to all the Apostles. And to this account handed down by tradition he adds, "Last of all... he appeared also to me" (1 Cor 15: 8). Thus he makes it clear that this is the foundation of his apostolate and of his new life. There are also other texts in which the same thing appears: "Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship" (cf. Rm 1: 4-5); and further: "Have I not seen Jesus Our Lord?" (1 Cor 9: 1), words with which he alludes to something that everyone knows. And lastly, the most widely known text is read in Galatians: "But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus" (1: 15-17). In this "self-apology" he definitely stresses that he is a true witness of the Risen One, that he has received his own mission directly from the Risen One.

Thus we can see that the two sources, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul, converge and agree on the fundamental point: the Risen One spoke to Paul, called him to the apostolate and made him a true Apostle, a witness of the Resurrection, with the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the Greco-Roman world. And at the same time, Paul learned that despite the immediacy of his relationship with the Risen One, he had to enter into communion with the Church, he himself had to be baptized, he had to live in harmony with the other Apostles. Only in such communion with everyone could he have been a true apostle, as he wrote explicitly in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (15: 11). There is only one proclamation of the Risen One, because Christ is only one.

As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his "ego", but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become "refuse" for him; it was no longer "gain" but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.

Nevertheless we must not think that Paul was thus closed in a blind event. The contrary is true because the Risen Christ is the light of truth, the light of God himself. This expanded his heart and made it open to all. At this moment he did not lose all that was good and true in his life, in his heritage, but he understood wisdom, truth, the depth of the law and of the prophets in a new way and in a new way made them his own. At the same time, his reasoning was open to pagan wisdom. Being open to Christ with all his heart, he had become capable of an ample dialogue with everyone, he had become capable of making himself everything to everyone. Thus he could truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Turning now to ourselves, let us ask what this means for us. It means that for us too Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ's wisdom opens as do all the riches of truth.

Therefore let us pray the Lord to illumine us, to grant us an encounter with his presence in our world, and thus to grant us a lively faith, an open heart and great love for all, which is capable of renewing the world."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24: St Timothy, Memorial


St Timothy is most famous as the recipient of two of the letters of St Paul.  He accompanied St Paul on several of his journeys, and was consecrated as bishop of Ephesus by him in 65 AD.  He was martyred in the year 80 AD when he tried to stop a pagan procession through the streets.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on him (and St Titus) back in 2006 which is well worth reading:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Having spoken at length on the great Apostle Paul, today let us look at his two closest collaborators: Timothy and Titus. Three Letters traditionally attributed to Paul are addressed to them, two to Timothy and one to Titus.

Timothy is a Greek name which means "one who honours God". Whereas Luke mentions him six times in the Acts, Paul in his Letters refers to him at least 17 times (and his name occurs once in the Letter to the Hebrews).

One may deduce from this that Paul held him in high esteem, even if Luke did not consider it worth telling us all about him.

Indeed, the Apostle entrusted Timothy with important missions and saw him almost as an alter ego, as is evident from his great praise of him in his Letter to the Philippians. "I have no one like him (isópsychon) who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare" (2:20).

Timothy was born at Lystra (about 200 kilometres northwest of Tarsus) of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (cf. Acts 16:1).

The fact that his mother had contracted a mixed-marriage and did not have her son circumcised suggests that Timothy grew up in a family that was not strictly observant, although it was said that he was acquainted with the Scriptures from childhood (cf. II Tm 3:15). The name of his mother, Eunice, has been handed down to us, as well as that of his grandmother, Lois (cf. II Tm 1:5).

Chosen for his good reputation

When Paul was passing through Lystra at the beginning of his second missionary journey, he chose Timothy to be his companion because "he was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2), but he had him circumcised "because of the Jews that were in those places" (Acts 16:3).

Together with Paul and Silas, Timothy crossed Asia Minor as far as Troy, from where he entered Macedonia. We are informed further that at Philippi, where Paul and Silas were falsely accused of disturbing public order and thrown into prison for having exposed the exploitation of a young girl who was a soothsayer by several unscrupulous individuals (cf. Acts 16:16-40), Timothy was spared.

When Paul was then obliged to proceed to Athens, Timothy joined him in that city and from it was sent out to the young Church of Thessalonica to obtain news about her and to strengthen her in the faith (cf. I Thes 3:1-2). He then met up with the Apostle in Corinth, bringing him good news about the Thessalonians and working with him to evangelize that city (cf. II Cor 1:19).

We find Timothy at Ephesus during Paul's third missionary journey. It was probably from there that the Apostle wrote to Philemon and to the Philippians; he sent both Letters jointly with Timothy (cf. Phlm 1; Phil 1:1).

From Ephesus, Paul sent Timothy to Macedonia, together with a certain Erastus (cf. Acts 19:22), and then also to Corinth with the mission of taking a letter to the Corinthians, in which he recommended that they welcome him warmly (cf. I Cor 4:17; 16:10-11).

We encounter him again as the joint sender of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, and when Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans from Corinth he added Timothy's greetings as well as the greetings of the others (cf. Rom 16:21).

From Corinth, the disciple left for Troy on the Asian coast of the Aegean See and there awaited the Apostle who was bound for Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey (cf. Acts 20:4).

From that moment in Timothy's biography, the ancient sources mention nothing further to us, except for a reference in the Letter to the Hebrews which says: "You should understand that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon" (13:23).

To conclude, we can say that the figure of Timothy stands out as a very important pastor. According to the later Storia Ecclesiastica by Eusebius, Timothy was the first Bishop of Ephesus (cf. 3, 4). Some of his relics, brought from Constantinople, were found in Italy in 1239 in the Cathedral of Termoli in the Molise.

Monday, January 23, 2017

From the martyrology: SS Emerentiana and Martyrius (Jan 23)


St Agnes cup, c14th

In the Office today we celebrate the feast of St Emerentiana, of whom the martyrology says:

"At Rome, the holy virgin and martyr, St. Emerentiana.  Being yet a catechumen, she was stoned to death by the heathens while praying at the tomb of St. Agnes, her foster sister."

The martyrology also mentions St. Martyrius, a monk, mentioned by St Gregory the Great in his Dialogues, Book I:

"A certain man lived in that province, called Martirius, who was a very devout servant of almighty God, and gave this testimony of his virtuous life. For, upon a certain day, the other monks, his brethren, made a hearth-cake, forgetting to make upon it the sign of the cross: for in that country they use to make a cross upon their loaves, dividing them so into four parts: when the servant of God came, they told him that it was not marked: who, seeing it covered with ashes and coals, asked why they did not sign it, and speaking so, he made the sign of the cross with his hand against the coals: which thing whiles he was in doing, the cake gave a great crack, as though the pan had been broken with the fire: after it was baked and taken out, they found it marked with the sign of the cross, which yet not any corporal touching, but the faith of Martirius had imprinted."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22: St Vincent, Martyr, Memorial

St Vincent of Sarragossa (aka Vincent of Huesca or Vincent the Deacon) was martyred under Diocletian in 304 at Valencia in Spain.

He was born at Saragossa, and was ordained deacon and commissioned to do the preaching in the diocese, the bishop Valerius having an impediment of speech. By order of the Governor Dacian he and his bishop were dragged in chains to Valencia and kept in prison for a long time. Then Valerius was banished, but Vincent was subjected to many cruel torments, the rack, the gridiron, and scourgings. He was again imprisoned, in a cell strewn with potsherds. He was next placed in a soft and luxurious bed, to shake his constancy, but here he expired.

His body was thrown to be devoured by vultures, but it was defended by a raven. Dacian had the body cast into the sea, but it came to shore and was buried by a pious widow.

St Vincent of Saragossa (Jan 22); St Anastasius, monk of Persia


From the martyrology for January 22:

"At Valencia in Spain, while the wicked Dacian was governor, St. Vincent, deacon and martyr, who, after suffering imprisonment, hunger, the rack, and the disjointing of his limbs, was burned with plates of heated metal and on the gridiron, and tormented in other ways, then took his flight to heaven, there to receive the reward of martyrdom.  His noble triumph over his sufferings has been skillfully set forth in verse by Prudentius, and also was eulogized by St. Augustine and Pope St. Leo."

You can read more about him here.

Also in the martyrology today, St Anastasius, a convert martyred in 628:

"At Bethsaloen in Assyria, St. Anastasius, a Persian monk, who after suffering much at Caesarea in Palestine from imprisonment, stripes, and fetters, had to bear many afflictions from Chosroes, king of Persia, who caused him to be beheaded.  He had sent before him to martyrdom seventy of his companions, who were drowned in a river.  His head was brought to Rome, at Aquae Salviae, together with his revered image, by the sight of which demons are expelled, and diseases cured, as is attested by the Acts of the second Council of Nicea."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 21 : St Meinrad OSB (in some places)


Saint Meinrad (died 861) was born into the family of the Counts of Hohenzollern and was educated at the abbey school of Reichenau, an island in Lake Constance, under his kinsmen Abbots Hatto and Erlebald. There he became a monk and was ordained.

After some years at Reichenau, the dependent priory of Bollingen and on Lake Zurich, he embraced an eremitical life and established his hermitage on the slopes of Etzel (mountain), taking with him a wonder-working statue of the Virgin Mary which he had been given by the Abbess Hildegarde of Zurich.

He was killed in 861 by the thieves Richard and Peter who wanted the treasures which pilgrims left at the shrine.

The location subsequently became Einsiedeln Abbey, from which the several houses of the Swiss-American Congregation in the US trace their origin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17: St Anthony, abbot, Class III


St Anthony (c. 251–356) was not the first monk, but his Life, by St Athanasius, did much to promote the spread of monasticism, particularly in the West.

The Life is an extremely important source for ascetic spirituality.  Here are a few extracts:
"Antony you must know was by descent an Egyptian: his parents were of good family and possessed considerable wealth, and as they were Christians he also was reared in the same Faith. In infancy he was brought up with his parents, knowing nought else but them and his home. But when he was grown and arrived at boyhood, and was advancing in years, he could not endure to learn letters, not caring to associate with other boys; but all his desire was, as it is written of Jacob, to live a plain man at home. With his parents he used to attend the Lord's House, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise them; but was both obedient to his father and mother and attentive to what was read, keeping in his heart what was profitable in what he heard. And though as a child brought up in moderate affluence, he did not trouble his parents for varied or luxurious fare, nor was this a source of pleasure to him; but was content simply with what he found nor sought anything further.
After the death of his father and mother he was left alone with one little sister: his age was about eighteen or twenty, and on him the care both of home and sister rested. Now it was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom into the Lord's House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Saviour; and how they in the Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles' feet for distribution to then eedy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven. Pondering over these things he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, 'If thou wouldest be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor; and come follow Me and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.' Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers--they were three hundred acres, productive and very fair --that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little however for his sister's sake.
And again as he went into the church, hearing the Lord say in the Gospel, ' be not anxious for the morrow,' he could stay no longer, but went out and gave those things also to the poor. Having committed his sister to known and faithful virgins, and put her into a convent to be brought up, he henceforth devoted himself outside his house to discipline, taking heed to himself and training himself with patience. For there were not yet so many monasteries in Egypt, and no monk at all knew of the distant desert; but all who wished to give heed to themselves practised the discipline in solitude near their own village. Now there was then in the next village an old man who had lived the life of a hermit from his youth up. Antony, after he had seen this man, imitated him in piety. And at first he began to abide in places out side the village: then if he heard of a good man anywhere, like the prudent bee, he went forth and sought him, nor turned back to his own palace until he had seen him; and he returned, having got from the good man as it were supplies for his journey in the way of virtue. So dwelling there at first, he confirmed his purpose not to return to the abode of his fathers nor to the remembrance of his kinsfolk; but to keep all his desire and energy for perfecting his discipline. He worked, however. with his hands, having heard, 'he who is idle let him not eat,' and part he spent on bread and part he gave to the needy. And he was constant in prayer, knowing that a man ought to pray in secret unceasingly. For he had given such heed to what was read that none of the things that were written fell from him to the ground, but he remembered all, and afterwards his memory served him for books."

Monday, January 16, 2017

St Honorius of Fondi, January 16

Image result for sant'onorato
SS Honoratus and Benedict,
1499


The martyrology records the feast of St Honoratus of Fondi 'of whom blessed pope Gregory makes mention' as January 16, but in the town of Fondi, of which he is patron, the feast is celebrated on October 10.

St Gregory's mention of the saint comes in the first chapter of Book I of the Dialogues:
In times past one Venantius, a noble man, had a living in the country of  Samnium; the farmer whereof had a son called Honoratus, who from his very childhood by the virtue of abstinence did thirst after the joys of heaven: and as in other things he led an holy life, and refrained from all idle talk, so did he much, as I said before, subdue his body by means of abstinence. 
His parents, upon a certain day, had invited their neighbours to a banquet which consisted altogether of flesh, whereof because for the love of mortification he refused to eat, his father and mother began to laugh at him, willing him to fall to that which they had: "For can we," quoth they, "get you any fish here in these mountains?" (for in that place they used sometimes to hear of fish, but seldom to see any.) 
But whiles they were thus jesting, and mocking at their son, suddenly they lacked water: whereupon a servant with a wooden bucket (as the manner is there) went to the well to fetch some: into which, as he was a drawing, a fish entered in, which upon his return, together with the water, he poured forth before them all. And the fish was so great, that it served Honoratus very well for all that day. At this strange chance all were stroken in admiration, and his parents abstained now from further scoffing at his virtue, and began to have him in reverence for his abstinence, whom before for that very cause they did mock and scorn: and by this means, the fish, brought miraculously from the well, discharged God's servant from that shame, which he had endured through their uncivil jesting. 
Honoratus, proceeding forward in virtue, at length was made free by the foresaid Lord Venantius: and afterward, in that place which is called Funda, he built an Abbey, wherein he was the father almost of two hundred monks: and he lived in so great holiness that he gave good example to all the country round about. Upon a certain day, it fell so out, that a stone of an huge greatness, which was digged out of the mountain that hung over the top of his Abbey, tumbled down by the side of the hill, threatening both the ruin of the house and the death of all the monks within: which danger the holy man seeing ready to come upon them, called often upon the name of Christ, and, putting forth his right hand, made against it the sign of the cross, and by that means did he stay it, and pin it fast to the side of that steep hill: which thing Lawrence, a religious man, affirmed to be most true. And because it found not there any place upon which it might rest, it hangeth at this time in such sort, that all which now look upon it do verily think that it would continually fall.
PETER. I suppose so notable a man as he was, and who afterward became master to so many scholars, had himself some excellent teacher of whom he was instructed. 
GREGORY. I never heard that he was scholar to any: but the grace of the Holy Ghost is not tied to any law. 
The usual custom of virtuous men is, that none should take upon him to rule, who first hath not learned to obey: nor to command that obedience to his subjects, which before he hath not given to his own superiors. Yet some there be which are so inwardly taught by the doctrine of God's holy spirit, that although they have no man to instruct them outwardly, yet do they not want the direction of an inward teacher: which liberty of life notwithstanding is not to be taken for an example by such as be weak and infirm, lest, whiles each one doth in like manner presume to be full of the Holy Ghost, and contemn to learn of any, they become themselves erroneous masters. 
But that soul which is full of God's holy spirit, hath for proof thereof most evident signs, to wit, the other virtues, and especially humility, both which if they do perfectly meet in one soul, apparent it is that they be testimonies of the presence of heavenly grace. And so we read not that John Baptist had any master, nor yet that Christ, who by his corporal presence taught his Apostles, took him in amongst the number of his other disciples, but vouchsafed to instruct him inwardly, and left him, as it were, in the sight of the world to his own liberty. So Moses, likewise, was taught in the wilderness, and learned by the Angel what God gave him in charge, which by means of any mortal man he knew not: but these things, as before hath been said, are of weaklings to be reverenced, and not by any means to be followed.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 14: St Hilary, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Memorial


Hilary of Poitiers (c310 –368) was Bishop of Poitiers.  He has a particular importance to the Western monastic tradition for his patronage and encouragement of St Martin of Tours. 

From Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience on the saint:

"Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, St Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

We have no reliable information on most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life. Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew's Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Béziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work: De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection. In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, St Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection" (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church. Hilary met St Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

"Obtain, O Lord", St Hilary recites with inspiration, "that I may keep ever faithful to what I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son... Amen" (De Trinitate 12, 57). "

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 12: St Benedict Biscop OSB


Today, the Roman Martyrology (and the Ordo of the English Congregation of Benedictines) mentions St Benedict Biscop, a seventh century Anglo-Saxon abbot, and he is really one of those saints who deserve to be better known as one of those responsible for the preservation of Western civilization in the 'dark ages'.

As a monk he had a reputation as being pious, ascetic, learned and holy. He is particularly honoured as the founder of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth whose Church still stands and Jarrow, where he was St Bede the Venerable's first abbot.

But his particular interest is the way his fascinating career illustrates the cross-fertilization of cultural currents at the time, and his work in importing books and skills to England where they were preserved and re-exported back to the Continent a century later.

Some modern historians, have argued that Benedict Biscop and his monastery were not in reality 'true' Benedictines.  Don't believe a word of it!  St Bede's Life of the saint opens by painting him as a true son of St Benedict of Nursia:
THE pious servant of Christ, Biscop, called Benedict, with the assistance of the Divine grace, built a monastery in honour of the most holy of the apostles, St. Peter, near the mouth of the river Were, on the north side. The venerable and devout king of that nation, Egfrid, contributed the land; and Biscop, for the space of sixteen years, amid innumerable perils in journeying and in illness, ruled this monastery with the same piety which stirred him up to build it. 
If I may use the words of the blessed Pope Gregory, in which he glorifies the life of the abbot of the same name, he was a man of a venerable life, blessed (Benedictus) both in grace and in name; having the mind of an adult even from his childhood, surpassing his age by his manners, and with a soul addicted to no false pleasures.... 
This opening section of the Life also makes a fairly clear allusion to the use of the Benedict Rule:
He spurned the ownership of transient things so that he could acquire eternal ones, and shunned earthly military service with the perishable reward, so that he might be worthy to fight for the true king and to have an everlasting kingdom [cf Prologue, RB 2, 61] in the city that is above...
 Near the end, he exhorts his monks to follow the Rule in electing his successor.  And another contemporary life defends his long absences from the monastery by pointing to St Benedict's Abbot-President type role at Subiaco.

To Rome and Lerins

Biscop (aka Benedict Barducing) was a noble who at the age of 25, in 653, left his promising career as a minister at court and headed off in pilgrimage to Rome, returning filled with fervour for the Church. Twelve years later, he did a second trip to Rome, this time ending up at the famous monastery of Lerins in the south of France (which had adopted the Rule of St Benedict by this time) where he became a monk and stayed for two years to learn what he could.

He returned to England on the instructions of the Pope, in order to act as interpreter and native guide for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek monk who had been living in Italy as a refugee from the monothelite heresy then raging in the East. St Benedict then spent two years as abbot of the monastery at Canterbury before that role was taken over by Archbishop Theodore's companion Abbot Hadrian.

England at the time was still in the process of healing the breach between the Irish adherents of St Columba and the Anglo-Saxons, and St Benedict Biscop was firmly in the Roman party as a friend of the inimitable St Wilfrid (look him up!). In all, Abbot Benedict made six trips to Rome, each time bringing back many books (which he instructed his monks to carefully protect and retain!), relics, statues, icons, fabulous silks, and skilled workers.

Liturgy and Gregorian chant

On one of last of these trips, around 680 AD, for example he brought back a monk, Abbot John, to teach the chant for the liturgical year as it was done at Rome (and probably also do a bit of politicking on behalf of the Pope), teaching the locals "the theory and practice of singing and reading aloud, and he put into writing all that was necessary for the proper observance of festivals throughout the year."  It is worth noting that Constant Mews of Monash University has found some evidence that St Peter's at that time was essentially using the Benedictine Office.

In any case, chant workshops were as popular then as they are now it seems - 'proficient singers from nearly all the monasteries of the province' came to hear him; he received many invitations to teach elsewhere; and Abbot John's document detailing the proper observances for various feasts was, according to St Bede, copied for many other places.

Books

This St Benedict was keenly aware of the tradition of learning in the Order (possibly encouraged by his time at Lerins, which had always been something of a theological school producing many bishops). The library (and scriptorium) he assembled at Wearmouth was one of the largest then around, with over three hundred books, including many manuscripts rescued from Cassiodorus' fifth century attempt to preserve classical culture at the Vivarium (not least the Bible 'pandect' produced their, which in turn formed the basis for the Codex Amiatinus, probably the earliest surviving complete Bible).

Sacred art and architecture

Similarly, when Abbot Benedict built his own monastery at the invitation of King Egfrith of Northumbria, no effort was spared. St Bede wrote:

"After the interval of a year, Benedict crossed the sea into Gaul, and no sooner asked than he obtained and carried back with him some masons to build him a church in the Roman style, which he had always admired. ...When the work was drawing to completion, he sent messengers to Gaul to fetch makers of glass, (more properly artificers,) who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, with the cloisters and dining-rooms. This was done, and they came, and not only finished the work required, but taught the English nation their handicraft, which was well adapted for enclosing the lanterns of the church, and for the vessels required for various uses.

All other things necessary for the service of the church and the altar, the sacred vessels, and the vestments, because they could not be procured in England, he took especial care to buy and bring home from foreign parts.

Some decorations and muniments there were which could not be procured even in Gaul, and these the pious founder determined to fetch from Rome..."

A holy death

St Benedict Biscop spent the last three years of his life paralysed by an illness:

"..yet he never lost his cheerfulness, nor ceased to praise God and exhort the brethren. He was often troubled by sleepless nights, when, to alleviate his weariness, he would call one of his monks and desire to have read to him the story of the patience of Job, or some other passage of scripture by which a sick man might be comforted, or one bent down by infirmities might be more spiritually raised to heavenly things.

Nor did he neglect the regular hours of prayer, but as he was unable to rise from his bed to prayer and could scarcely raise his voice in praise, he would call some of the brethren to him that they might sing the psalms in two choirs, he himself joining with them to the best of his ability."

He died early on this day in 689, surrounded by his brethren, and was buried in the Church he had founded, surrounded by the treasures that he had collected.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 10: St Paul the First Hermit, Memorial


St Paul of Thebes (died circa 341) fled to the desert during the persecution of Decius and Valerianus around 250 AD.  St Jerome's life of the saint relates that he lived in the mountains of this desert in a cave near a clear spring and a palm tree, the leaves of which provided him with raiment and the fruit of which provided him with his only source of food till he was 43 years old, when a raven started bringing him half a loaf of bread daily.

St Jerome also tells the story of the meeting of St Anthony the Great and St Paul, when the latter was aged 113. They conversed with each other for one day and one night. When St Anthony next visited him, Paul was dead. Anthony clothed him in a tunic which was a present from St Athanasius of Alexandria and buried him, with two lions helping to dig the grave.

He is remembered as the first Christian hermit.

You can read St Jerome's Life of the saint here.