Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Canonization of St John Bosco

Today is the feast of St John Bosco, who is well known as the founder of the Salesian Order, and as one of the great pioneers in modern Catholic education. Something about him which perhaps many English-speakers are less aware of is that he lived in a period in which the government of the state he came from, the kingdom of Savoy in north-western Italy, was extremely hostile to the Church. As it conquered one part of the Italian peninsula after another over the mid-19th century, (the political movement known as the “Risorgimento”), it would rob the Church in each region blind, suppressing religious orders, and forcing the closure of countless Catholic schools, hospitals, orphanages and cultural institutions, to say nothing of the churches themselves. Finally, in 1870, it conquered and despoiled the Papal state, at which the Popes became, in the phrase of the day, “prisoners in the Vatican”, refusing to cooperate with the robber-state’s illegal occupation of their country by setting foot within it. The Matins lessons for Don Bosco refer to this state of affairs when they say that he “more than once he helped the Roman Pontiff to temper the evils which derived from laws passed against the Church at that time.”

In 1922, the same year that Pius XI was elected, the Italian Fascists led by Benito Mussolini came to power, and although they would do many terrible things over the next 23 years, it cannot be denied that they also did some good things. One of these was to recognize that the state of cold war which existed between the Church and the Italian state was harmful to both, and needed to end. Not long after coming to power, Mussolini agreed to open negotiations to settle the Church’s legal status, and compensate it for the vast theft which Italy had perpetrated against it. The resulting treaties were signed by representatives of the Church and the Italian kingdom on February 11, 1929; they are known as the Lateran Treaties, since the signing ceremony was held in the papal palace next to the Lateran Basilica.

Don Bosco was the very first person to be beatified after the Lateran treaties went into effect, on June 2 of that same year. (This day is, ironically, now the July 4th of the modern Republic of Italy, the anniversary of the constitutional referendum of 1946 that turfed out the Savoiard monarchy, after the king’s appalling performance during World War 2.) Of course, the Lateran treaties did not magically erase all the tension between the Church and state, but this beatification was very much a celebration not only of a great Saint, but of the restoration of some measure of peace to a society long torn by serious internal strife.
Don Bosco was canonized 5 years later, on April 1, Easter Sunday of 1934. Here are two pieces of footage (without commentary) from the time of the canonization, from the archives of the Italian newsreel company Luce. The first shows events surrounding the canonization at St Peter’s in Rome, and the second, a procession in the city of Turin, where he is buried.

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Part 1: Yearning for the City of God

The New Jerusalem, 1645, by Malnazar and Aghap’ir, two Armenian manuscript illuminators working in Persia. 
Lost in Translations #89

The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar consist of Psalm 42 (43), the Confiteor and absolution, several versicles, and two prayers said by the priest as he approaches the altar. The dominant note of these prayers is plaintive yet hopeful, and thus it stands in contrast to the Byzantine Rite, which begins with a glorious proclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and forever.” Where the latter begins with a note of arrival, and makes it immediately clear that sacred liturgy is a participation in Heaven, the traditional Roman Rite begins with a note of alienation and exile, dramatizing a different truth, that we are still pilgrims on earth exiled east of Eden and that the Heavenly liturgy is our only source of true joy.

The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar also stand in contrast to the new Roman Rite, which as we will see in a future essay, begins with an abridged penitential rite that is more cheerful, less plaintive, and less efficacious.
Psalm 42 is striking:
Júdica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo et dolóso érue me.
Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?
Emitte lucem tuam et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt et adduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum et in tabernácula tua.
Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui laetíficat juventútem meam.
Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: quare tristis es, ánima mea, et quare conturbas me?
Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitébor illi: salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus.
Which the Douay Rheims translates as:
Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the unholy nation: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
For Thou, O God, art my strength: why hast Thou cast me off? and why go I sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?
Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, and into Thy tabernacles.
And I will go in unto the altar of God: to God Who giveth joy to my youth.
I will confess to Thee upon the cithara, O God, my God: why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me?
Hope in God, for I will still confess to Him: the salvation of my countenance and my God.
Believed by some to have been written by King David after he had been driven out of Jerusalem by his rebellious son Absalom, the Psalm begins with a plea for a court trial within a political context. [1] (Causa, which the Douay Rheims rightly translates as “cause,” can also refer to a legal case.) The Psalmist is not simply suing or countersuing “the deceitful and unjust man” but the “nation that is not holy.” And if an unholy nation is part of the problem, the solution lies in God’s judgment and in going to His holy place, to His mount and to His tabernacles and to His altar. For there we will be rejuvenated, there we will praise God on a cithara, a musical instrument (in fact the only musical instrument mentioned in the Ordinary of the Mass) that may allegorically refer to a well-tuned heart. [2] To put the lesson of the Psalm in Augustinian terms, if the problem is the earthly city, the solution is the City of God.
David Fleeing from Jerusalem is Cursed by Shimei, by William Hole, 2012
It is noteworthy that the use of Psalm 42 in Mass, which draws such a sharp contrast between the justice of God and the injustice of the political realm, was codified during the age of Christendom. [3] One does not expect to see talk about an “unholy nation” during the days when there was a close alliance between altar and throne, when kings were crowned by popes or bishops and expected to promote the true religion. But this talk alerts us to a profound truth: that not even the rule of Catholic monarchs can compensate for or eradicate the inherent deficiencies of political life, that there are and always have been two mystical “cities,” and that these two cities will exist side-by-side in tension with each other until the end of time. Catholic thought speaks of the “social” kingship of Christ the King, but it does not speak of His “political” kingship to make clear that His reign is not “political” in the sense that it is to be equated with this or that visible polity or constitution. Rather, it should extend to every nation, every culture, every citizen, every law, and all the arts; and this can happen in any number of different regimes, from monarchy to democracy, even though it can never happen in any of them perfectly.
The introductory prayers of the Tridentine rite, therefore, militate against political idolatry on one hand and anti-political irresponsibility on the other.
Maybe, maybe not
Regarding political idolatry, the recitation of Psalm 42 reminds worshippers that the actualization of God’s promises is not to be confused with any one particular political arrangement, not even a Catholic confessional state, and not even the American Founding. Salvation comes from God’s Holy Tabernacles, not from the nation.
On the other hand, Psalm 42 also guards us against an anti-political withdrawal. Christ’s social kingship means that the Catholic religion can never be seen as a purely private matter with no impact on the public forum; it cannot be put under a bushel. [4] Catholics have a duty to improve their country and their government through civic virtue and involvement. Our hope is in God, the joy of our youth, as the Psalmist reminds us (Ps. 42, 4), and with that hope we will try to make the unholy nation in which we live and which we love despite its failings a little less unholy in a prudent and responsible manner.

As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God.
But as helpful as these political reminders are, they do not constitute the main goal of the Psalm, which is to turn our exhaustion and despair into a lively hope. I have described the Psalm as plaintive, and indeed it is. The speaker is in a “bad place,” as we would say, and He even asks God, somewhat testily, why He is casting him off. But once he remembers that he will go to God’s sanctuary, his attitude changes to one of hope. The next and only other time that he asks a question, it is one of self-approach: “Why are you sad, you silly soul? God has your back. Take heart!” Such hope helps us yearn for the City of God over and above the earthly city, and to enter more deeply into that City’s central liturgical act. The priest and ministers and congregation who recite this Psalm are now more ready to go unto the altar of God, the God who gives joy to our youth.
[1] See Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Dogmatically, Liturgically And Ascetically Explained (St. Louis, Missouri: Herder, 1902), 353.
[2] Saint Augustine offers a more elaboration interpretation. According to him, a psalterium is a stringed instrument with a drum or shell on its upper parts while a cithara is a stringed instrument with a sounding-board on its lower part. A psalterium, then, signifies obedience to divine commandments from above while a cithara signifies virtuously suffering tribulations, which come to us from below. (See Enarrationes in Psalmos, Psalm 42, par. 5.
[3] Jungmann avers that although Psalm 42 was definitively fixed in current place by the Missal of Pope St. Pius V in 1570, it first began to appear in the Latin rites of the Church around the tenth century. See Josef Jungmann, The Roman Rite, trans. Francis A. Brunner (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1959), 199-201.
[4] James Likoudis, “Social Reign of Christ the King,” in Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy, 987-88.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

NLM Quiz no. 24: Who Is This Saint?

Can you explain who this Saint is, what has just happened to him, and what makes it interesting? (Click on image to enlarge.) I have a couple of hints to offer. 1. His story is pertinent to the liturgical season which we entered this week. 2. He is not on the general calendar, or in the breviary, but his story is told in the Church’s liturgy, without giving his name.

Please leave your answers in the combox, and feel free to add any details or explanations you think pertinent. It has been quite a while since our last quiz, so as a reminder, to keep it more interesting, please leave your answer before reading the other comments. Special awards are given for Best Wildly Incorrect Answer and Best Humorous Answer as well. Using Google image search is cheating – I may never know, but God will. The answer will be given in a separate post tomorrow.

Vox Psalmistae, Vox Ecclesiae: A Biblical-Liturgical Study of Sunday Vespers (CISM Spring 2024 Lecture)

Join the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music for the first event of our Spring 2024 Public Lecture and Concert Series, available in-person at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, or online via streaming.

Vox Psalmistae, Vox Ecclesiae: A Biblical-Liturgical Study of Sunday Vespers

Lecture by Fr. Joshua Neu, Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture and Director of Sacred Liturgy at St. Patrick’s Seminary

Friday, February 9, 2024, 7 p.m. PST

Free Admission: RSVP here.

Vespers and a reception follow the in-person event. Ample on-site parking is available (320 Middlefield Rd., Menlo Park, California). Please note that streaming of vespers following the lecture is not available.

About the Lecture

The psalms and canticles of the Divine Office represent the voices of ancient Israel from the time of the Exodus through the Second Temple period, more than 1000 years of the Divine encounter with Israel. Each psalm, whether praise or lament, history or instruction, sings of this encounter from its own particular circumstance, but in a way that opens into new readings of the psalms through the unique encounter between God and man in the Incarnation. The Church, whose liturgical prayer is one with the prayer of the Incarnate Son glorifying the Father, suggests fresh readings of the same psalms through the antiphons of the Divine Office, readings that both respect the voice of the original psalmist and simultaneously draw out meanings the psalmist may not have recognized. This study of Sunday Vespers explores the meaning of these important psalms in their original context and the renewed meaning of the same psalms when the voice of the psalmist is taken up into the voice of the Church at prayer.

About the Speaker

Fr. Joshua Neu was ordained a priest in 2015 and completed his licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 2017. He has served in variety of ministries, in parishes, campus ministry, vocations, and faith formation. After spending two years on the faculty at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, LA, he recently began serving at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA, as an Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture and the Director of Liturgy.

About the Series

The Public Lecture & Concert Series of the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music welcomes the general public to St. Patrick's Seminary to hear from preeminent scholars about topics which have a profound impact on the Church and humanity, inviting them especially to consider the Church's wisdom on matters related to the worship of God, the spiritual life, beauty, and works of art.

We invite you to join us for these important and inspiring events.

About the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music

Founded in 2022, the mission of the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music is to draw souls to Jesus Christ through the beauty of sacred music and the liturgy.

The Institute offers a substantial program of accredited, graduate-level coursework designed to help church musicians and clergy better to know and love the Church’s treasury of sacred music and her teachings on sacred music. Our goal is to equip students with the theological, philosophical, and historical knowledge, as well as the practical skills (singing, playing, conducting, composing, organizing, fundraising) necessary to build excellent sacred music programs in parishes and schools. We aim to help others revitalize the faith of Catholics and instill vitality in parish and school life through a vibrant sacred music program.

We are committed to a faithful and generous service of the Church. We cultivate fidelity, resiliency, a healthy sense of creativity, and selflessness within our student body and faculty as characteristics of our service as we labor together in the vineyard of the Lord to bring in a rich harvest.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Schmemann’s Critique of the West (Part 3): Secularism and Liturgy

Our Lady’s Church (13th century), Lissewege, Belgium (source)
Having summarized Schmemann’s objections (Part 1) and begun to respond to them (Part 2), today, in this concluding part, I will take up two questions.

First, did Aquinas “cause secularism,” as it were, with his distinction between first cause and second cause?

There are two extremes and a mean on this question.

At one extreme, the world has its own causality independent of God, which amounts to saying that God mostly does not exercise causality in this world. At the other extreme, there is only God’s causality, because the world has no causality. In the mean, God has causality and the world has causality, but the world’s causality is dependent on God’s. Aquinas in in the mean and secularism is in the first of the two extremes. It is probably true that thinkers before Aquinas could wander into the second of the two extremes at times, and so Aquinas’ move from the second extreme back to the mean can look like a movement toward the first extreme.

Later on, nominalist thinkers did set up a kind of divide between God and the world that led towards secularism. Schmemann’s critique is not entirely without merit, but he has picked the wrong enemy, for Aquinas is not a nominalist or a dualist.

(All the same, as a friend of a friend pointed out, Schmemann had liturgics of the 1950s-1970s in view as he composed his critique. He was right to recognize that Western Christianity since the late Middle Ages seems to have been overtaken by a creeping nominalism, one that seems connected, in turn, to a new concept of absolute Church authority, and which alone made possible a kind of nominalist, rationalist, and positivist liturgical reform that would be unthinkable in the East. Like Geoffrey Hull, Schmemann is asking himself: “How did it come about that this concept of liturgy ‘makes sense’ in Roman Catholicism (and Protestantism), when the same approach would be unthinkable in Orthodoxy?” That remains a valid question.)
Aquinas among the Fathers of the Church (excerpt from a painting by Zurbaran)

Second, does Aquinas differ from the Fathers on the relationship between liturgy and sacrament?

Schmemann is right to point out that there was no place for “liturgy” in the systematic theological treatises of the Middle Ages. There were commentaries on the liturgies, but within the developing system of theology there was not a slot for “liturgy” the way there was for “sacrament.”

However, this was not due to Aquinas’ metaphysics but because the contents of the theological system were at least partially determined by the history of controversies. There were controversies about sacramental validity, etc., but there weren’t controversies about liturgy such as we have today. The absence of a treatise on liturgy is not because Aquinas had divorced sacrament from liturgy but because it had never occurred to anyone divorce the two. It was inconceivable.

One finds a similar lacuna in the medieval system regarding “church”: there is no treatise on the Church, although one finds a brief treatment of Christ as Head of the Mystical Body. This is not at all because Aquinas or his contemporaries did not believe in the Church or did not have thoughts about it, but because controversy had never made it a definite subject as later happened in the Reformation debates.

As regards thinking of “sign” as a participation in the signified, I would point to the book Cur Deus Verba, where Dr. Jeremy Holmes develops Aquinas’ own thought to make this very point. I would also note again that some kind of contrast between “figure”/“type” and “truth” was made throughout Patristic times, and the division between “thing” and “sign” was made by St Augustine, so it seems petty to run down the medievals for making similar distinctions.

I think Fr. Schmemann’s problem is not so much with sign/thing as with the very notion of transubstantiation. To avoid transubstantiation, he says that when we enter into the liturgy we pass from this world into the kingdom of heaven, and in that kingdom the bread is the body of Christ. The bread is not the body of Christ in this world, but only in the kingdom of heaven. Once we have entered the kingdom by entering the liturgy, then there is no need for a particular moment of change in the bread; Schemann says that the action of the Holy Spirit is not to change the bread but to reveal that the bread is the body. This view would exclude, for example, the Western practice of Eucharistic adoration.

Needless to say, the idea that in the realm of liturgy the bread is shown to be always/already the body of Christ is, curiously, to repeat Berengarius’ error in a more subtle manner: the liturgy shows the bread as a sign of the body, but a sign it remains, with no basis for stating that the consecrated bread is, in truth, in reality, objectively, the body of Christ, such that the worship of latreia is rightly given to it (or rather, to Him who is present to us by means of the Eucharist). One wonders if we are not confronted once again with the fundamental error of Platonism, whereby the sensible is (merely?) an image of the idea or the form, “participating” in it, yes—but not the idea or the form really present in our midst. This Platonism has been a far greater temptation in the East, where it has even threatened, at times, to undermine the core mystery of the Incarnation of the Logos in the flesh.

Some broader points need to be made as part of a judicious response.

There is much truth in what Schmemann says, as (in general) is true of the Eastern Orthodox critics of Western rationalism. Those who wish to pursue this line of argument still further should consult Geoffrey Hull’s The Banished Heart, which will make the reader either a Roman traditionalist, a Byzantine Catholic, or an Eastern Orthodox. We might as well candidly admit that there has been a tendency in the West, in theological discourse, to isolate sacraments from liturgy, and then to isolate within sacraments the “matter and form” that makes them valid. This reduction to validity is at the root of all modern Western liturgical woes.

Joseph Ratzinger recognized the same thing, and so (as he points out) did the Liturgical Movement at its best. In the Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, OSB (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), Ratzinger writes:

The author [Alcuin Reid] expressly warns us against the wrong path up which we might be led by a Neoscholastic sacramental theology that is disconnected from the living form of the Liturgy. On that basis, people might reduce the “substance” to the material and form of the sacrament and say: Bread and wine are the matter of the sacrament; the words of institution are its form. Only these two things are really necessary; everything else is changeable. . . . As long as the material gifts are there, and the words of institution are spoken, then everything else is freely disposable. Many priests today, unfortunately, act in accordance with this motto; and the theories of many liturgists are unfortunately moving in the same direction. They want to overcome the limits of the rite, as being something fixed and immovable, and construct the products of their fantasy, which are supposedly “pastoral,” around this remnant, this core that has been spared and that is thus either relegated to the realm of magic or loses any meaning whatever. The Liturgical Movement had in fact been attempting to overcome this reductionism, the product of an abstract sacramental theology, and to teach us to understand the Liturgy as a living network of Tradition that had taken concrete form, that cannot be torn apart into little pieces but has to be seen and experienced as a living whole. Anyone who, like me, was moved by this perception at the time of the Liturgical Movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council can only stand, deeply sorrowing, before the ruins of the very things they were concerned for.
Indeed, the traditionalist movement is premised on not reducing the virtue of religion—the habit of right worship—to mere validity and licitness. This is a point I discuss throughout The Once and Future Roman Rite, a book that responds, to some extent, to the Schmemannian critique (see especially chapters 5, 6, and 10).

That being said, many Eastern Orthodox thinkers suffer from the polemical defect of being able to find little or nothing good to say about the West, which they believe to be in permanent and irreversible decline ever since the “schism” of 1054. Lossky and other Orthodox intellectuals in Paris even made up a lot of stuff about the Eastern tradition to ensure it would stand as far as possible from the Western tradition. Serious scholarship does not support this almost Manichaean picture of “East = good, true, beautiful / West = evil, false, ugly.” St Thomas Aquinas was sensitive to the complex form of the liturgy, as we can see in Question 83 of the Tertia Pars, where he comments in some detail on the shape of the Roman rite as he knew it, and never betrays the slightest inkling that he views all of that as arbitrary scaffolding around a magical transubstantiation. The careful studies of Abbé Franck Quoëx support this reading of Aquinas.

While Orthodox authors captivate with their poetic grandiosity, metaphysically their accounts often fall apart. For example: even if the entire liturgy is “divine” and must be embraced and entered into with reverence, there has to be a moment of consecration, before which the elements are only bread and wine, and after which they are Christ Himself. After all, He is always present “spiritually” or “mystically” in a soul in a state of grace and in the mystical body of the Church, but He is not always and everywhere present in His body, blood, soul, and divinity as He is upon the altar of sacrifice and in Eucharistic communion. This difference is the basis for the exaltation of the Divine Liturgy and of the Eucharist in the Christian life (just have a look at Nicholas Cabasilas). Whatever language we use to point out that difference—as we saw last week, “real” can certainly be defended, especially if it is contrasted not with mystical but with metaphorical or rational, that is, a linguistic or mental entity—the difference must be pointed out.

Some in the East almost seem to make a boast out of their imprecision (“everything is sacramental... everything is Christ... the liturgy is Christ,” etc.), but this can work only if people are content to rest in a hazy cloud of incense and not ask any further questions. “In what sense is everything sacramental? Is Satan sacramental? Is dung? Is an iPhone? In what sense is Christ in all? Is he in the apostates? In the act of sinning or the sinful will?” Any intelligent reply rests on distinctions: “Things are signs of God to the extent that they are good... Christ is present in the nature of the will but not in its voluntary disorder...” The moment any such distinctions are introduced, a person is well on his way to scholasticism of one kind or another: this is just how the human mind works—and it’s a perfection if it is done well.
Need we be separated over the All-Holy Theotokos? (source)
Moreover, Church history reveals many unfortunate cases where a difference in vocabulary need not have been a doctrinal obstacle but ended up becoming one either due to a mistaken apprehension of what each side was saying or, worse, due to a stubborn insistence on a single way of speaking even when argument has shown there can be various ways of expressing a truth. Transubstantiation is an excellent example; the Immaculate Conception yet another. In their passion to condemn everything Western, Eastern writers even manage to contradict, irony of ironies, the witness of the Church Fathers. Have a look at the patristic quotations on behalf of the substantial change in the Eucharistic gifts (whatever one wishes to call it), in Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals (new ed., 405–6).

Another way in which the modern Eastern apologists fictionalize and mythologize their own tradition is by downplaying the quite extensive Byzantine scholasticism and even Byzantine Thomism. Some argue that Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas are not as opposed to each other as customarily assumed. If we take the conventional view of Palamas, how amusing it is that Orthodox thinkers thunder against the West for “driving a wedge” between God and creation by means of a distinction between uncreated and created grace—and then they seem to drive a wedge into the divine nature by means of a distinction between God’s “essence” and His “energies”! The obvious distinction between the infinite, eternal, uncreated cause and the finite, limited, created effect is elided, while a far from obvious distinction that threatens the simplicity of God is produced ad hoc. When challenged, the “mystery card” is played: more clouds of incense.

In any case, for Aquinas, at least, real and mystical are not in opposition to each other, nor does Aquinas have to be pushed in a rationalizing/rationalistic direction. Is there contrary evidence from within the Western tradition—in the rites themselves and in the habits of the faithful—that this rationalism was not normative? Do we have the wherewithal in our own tradition to respond to its besetting temptations and vices?” Every tradition has its own temptations and vices; any honest person will admit it.

All Western traditionalists are characterized by a fundamental agreement that liturgy has intrinsic, immense, and independent value and should not be reduced to sacramental validity; nay, that the proper context for understanding what sacraments are, who their ministers and recipients are, what a proper intention is, etc., is precisely the traditional rites themselves, which are therefore indispensable. All one has to do is participate in a solemn High Mass to see that the West never entirely lost its liturgical-cosmic-sacramental sensibility. It is right there, “baked into” the rich and resplendent rites, which are anything but reductionist or minimalist.

True, we are suffering greatly from the triumph of the Pistoian rationalism and utilitarianism that hijacked the liturgical reform and now infests nearly every aspect of the Church’s life; but we can also see a zealous countermovement, a creative minority, that is poised to fill the pews when the twentieth-century experiment has finally exhausted itself in institutional bankruptcy.

Here are some pieces one could look at, having Schmemann’s objections in mind:

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Septuagesima in the Ambrosian Rite

The pre-Lenten season known as Septuagesima originated not just as a feature of the Roman Rite, but in Rome itself. It is traditionally said to have been instituted by Pope St Gregory the Great in response to the various crises with which the City and central Italy were wracked in the mid-to-late 6th century. I have described elsewhere how these crises help to form both the liturgical texts of the three Masses, and the station churches assigned to them.
The season was later borrowed by the Ambrosian Rite from the Roman, but with a number of interesting differences. The Masses of the season are said in violet vestments, as in the Roman Rite, but nevertheless, Gloria in excelsis is said on all three Sundays. Most notably, Alleluia continues to be said throughout the season in both the Mass and the Divine Office. Before the reform of St. Charles Borromeo, it was even sung on the first Sunday of Lent, and only “dismissed” for the following Monday.

A leaf of an Ambrosian Missal printed in 1499. The left column has the Epistle (2 Corinthians 6, 1-10, as in the Roman Rite), followed by the “versicle in the Alleluia.” In the Borromean reform, the word ‘Alleluia’ was removed, and the versicle retained as a Cantus, the Ambrosian equivalent of a Tract.
The penitential character of the season may seem thereby to be lessened in comparison with the Roman Rite, but in fact, it is just as evident, or even more so, in some of the variable texts of the Mass; many of these are also among the most beautiful parts of the Ambrosian repertoire.

On Septuagesima, the Ingressa (Introit) is the same text as the Roman Introit sung at the end of the liturgical year: “The Lord sayeth: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction. You shall call upon me, and I will hear you, and bring back your captivity from all places.” (Jeremiah 29) These words can almost be taken as a reply to those of the Roman Introit, “The groans of death have surrounded me, the pains of death have surrounded me, and in my tribulation I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice from His holy temple.”

The most interesting piece of this Mass is the Transitorium, the Ambrosian equivalent of the Communion antiphon; this is also the only chant of Septuagesima which is proper to it.
Convertímini omnes simul ad Deum mundo corde et ánimo, in oratióne, jejuniis et vigiliis multis: fúndite preces vestras cum lácrymis, ut deleátis chirógrapha peccatórum vestrórum, priusquam vobis repentínus superveniat intéritus, ántequam vos profundum mortis absórbeat; et cum Creátor noster advénerit, parátos nos inveniat.
Be ye all together converted to God, with pure heart and mind, in prayer, fasting and many vigils; our forth your prayers with tears, that you may cancel the decree of your sins, before there come upon ye sudden destruction, before the depths of death swallow ye up; and so, when our Creator cometh, may He find us ready.
In the following video, it is used as an Offertory at a Mass in the Ordinary Form; the word “jejuniis – fasts” is changed to “precibus – prayers.” Note that it followed by the Creed, which in the Ambrosian Rite is said at the end of the Offertory rite, a position analogous to that which it has in the Byzantine Rite.
The Mass of Sexagesima contains more proper chants, and begins to intensify the period’s penitential theme. The Prophetic reading, Joel, 2, 12-21, is a slightly longer version of the Roman Epistle of Ash Wednesday, and begins by repeating the thought of the Transitorium cited above: “Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, in weeping and in mourning.” The Psalmellus, the Ambrosian version of the Gradual, follows this exhortation with a confession from Psalm 105, “We have sinned along with our fathers, we have acted unjustly, we have done iniquity; have mercy upon us, o Lord.” The Preface of Sexagesima also speaks clearly of the upcoming Lenten fast:
Truly it is fitting and just… eternal God; who not only remit the sins of those that fast, but also by fasting sanctify the sinners; and not only forgive punishment to the guilty, but even grant eternal rewards to them that abstain. (VD: Qui non solum peccáta ieiunantium dimittis, sed ipsos etiam peccatóres ieiunando iustíficas: et reis non tantum poenam relaxas, sed donas abstinéntibus etiam praemia sempiterna.)
The oldest surviving Ambrosian Lectionary, the 7th-century Codex Reginensis 9 (now in the Vatican Library), lists only one pre-Lenten Sunday, which it calls “Sexagesima.” However, the epistle which it assigns to that Sunday, 2 Corinthians 6, 14 – 7, 3, is found in later manuscripts and missals on Quinquagesima; it seems clear that the scribe of Reginensis 9 made a mistake in the title of the Sunday. This indicates the Ambrosian Rite at first added only Quinquagesima, and the other two Sundays at a later stage, it is probably for this reason that the Mass of Quinquagesima has all its own proper chants, prayers and readings, excepting only the Alleluia.

In the Roman Rite, the first four days of Lent are traditionally distinct from the rest of it, and bear a different name. Although the fast began on Ash Wednesday, the next three days are not called “Quadragesima”, but “post Cineres – after the Ashes.” Likewise, in the Divine Office, the Lenten hymns and responsories are not said on those days, but only start on Sunday. The Mass prayers of the first four days make several references to fasting, but the word “quadragesimale – Lenten” first occurs in the Collect of the first Sunday.

The Ambrosian Rite still to this day has no Ash Wednesday; it is therefore Quinquagesima that forms the prelude to Lent, properly so-called, which the Roman Rite has in Ash Wednesday and the ferias “post Cineres”. It is also, of the three pre-Lenten Sunday, the one which lays the clearest emphasis on penance. The Ingressa looks forward to the Gospel of the Mass, and expresses the whole purpose of Lent, and of penance generally.
Jucunda est praesens vita, et transit; terríbile est, Christe, judicium tuum, et pérmanet. Quapropter incertum amórem relinquámus, et de infiníto timóre cogitémus, clamantes, Christe, miserére nobis.
Delightful is the present life, and it passeth away; terrible is Thy judgment, o Christ, and it endureth. Wherefore, let us foresake uncertain love, and think upon fear without end, crying out, “O Christ, have mercy on us.”
The prophetic reading, Zachariah 7, 5 – 8, 3, speaks of the true sense of fasting in terms similar to those of Isaiah 58, which the Roman Rite reads on the Friday and Saturday of this week, and the Ambrosian Rite on the first Sunday of Lent.
“When you fasted, and mourned … did you keep a fast unto me? … And when you did eat and drink, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? ... And the word of the Lord came to Zacharias, saying: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, saying: Judge ye true judgment, and shew ye mercy and compassion every man to his brother. And oppress not the widow, and the fatherless, and the stranger, and the poor: and let not a man devise evil in his heart against his brother.”
The Prophet Zachariah, by Michelangelo, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-12).
The Gospel, Matthew 13, 24-43, contains the parables of the Tares and the Wheat, of the Mustard Seed, and of the Leaven. At the end of these, St. Matthew tells us that the Lord spoke in parables, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.” (Psalm 77, 2) The Gospel continues with Christ’s explanation to the disciples of the Tares and the Wheat, bringing us “from the foundation of the world” to its end, spoken of at the Ingressa.
He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
The preface also looks back to “the foundation of the world”, which the readings from the book of Genesis at Matins in this season also recount.
Truly it is fitting and just…eternal God, illuminator and redeemer of our souls. Who, when we were cast out of Paradise through the first Adam, by the breaking of the law of abstinence, by the remedy of a stronger fast, through grace hast called us back to the blessedness of our ancient fatherland; and by Thy holy instruction, hast taught by what observances we may be delivered. (VD: Aeterne Deus, illuminátor et redemptor animárum nostrárum. Qui nos, per primum Adam abstinentiae lege violáta, Paradíso ejectos, fortióris ieiunii remedio ad antíquae patriae beatitúdinem per gratiam revocasti: nosque pia institutióne docuisti, quibus observatiónibus liberémur.)
Finally, the Transitorium of this Mass concludes the pre-Lenten season with another call to conversion. Here, the Ambrosian liturgy reflects the theme of the Roman Sexagesima, referring the sins of the people to the natural disasters of the time.
Veníte, convertímini ad me, dicit Dóminus. Veníte flentes, fundámus lácrymas ad Deum: quia nos negléximus, et propter nos terra pátitur: nos iniquitátem fécimus, et propter nos fundamenta commóta sunt. Festinémus anteíre ante iram Dei, flentes et dicentes: Qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis.
Come, be converted to me, sayeth the Lord. Come, ye that weep, let us pour forth tears to God, for we have been negligent, and for our sake, the earth suffers. We have wrought iniquity, and for our sake, its foundations are shaken. Let us hasten to come before the wrath of God, weeping and saying: Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
A striking parallel is found on this day between the Ambrosian and the Byzantine Rites, one of many cases where the historical rites of Christendom have independently instituted similar practices. On the last Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent, popularly known as Cheesefare Sunday or Forgiveness Sunday, the Byzantine Rite also commemorates the casting out of Adam from Paradise. Among the Prosomia sung at Vespers of the Saturday preceding, we may particularly note the following, which shares the same ideas as the Ambrosian preface of the Quinquagesima.
The Lord my Creator took me as dust from the earth, and with the breath of life he gave me a soul and made me a living creature. He honoured me as ruler on earth over all things visible and as a companion of the Angels. But Satan the deceiver, using the serpent as his instrument, enticed me by food, separated me from the glory of God and gave me over to the earth and to the lowest depths of death. But as Master and compassionate call me back again.
The Creation of the World, and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, by Giovanni di Paolo, ca. 1445
Also worth noticing is this piece, which recalls the words said in the Roman Rite as the priest places ashes on the heads of the people, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return.”
Adam sat opposite Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept, ‘Woe is me ! By evil deceit was I persuaded and robbed, and exiled far from glory. Woe is me ! Once naked in my simplicity, now I am in want. But, Paradise, no longer shall I enjoy your delight; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken. Merciful and compassionate Lord, I cry to you, ‘Have mercy on me who am fallen’. (In the video below in Church Slavonic.)

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The Feast of St John Chrysostom, and Mozart’s Birthday

Although the Christian names most commonly used in reference to Mozart are “Wolfgang Amadeus”, he was actually baptized as “Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.” The first two of these names were chosen for the feast day on which he was born, that of St John Chrysostom, which was universally kept in the West on January 27th until the calendar reform of 1969. “Wolfgang” was the name of his maternal grandfather, while “Theophilus” was one of the names of his godfather, Johannes Theophilus Pergmayr, a name which is Germanized as “Gottlieb” and Latinized as “Amadeus.” He was baptized the day after his birth in 1756.

The Te Deum
St John Chrysostom died on September 14, 407, at the city of Comana in Pontus, in the north-central part of modern Turkey, while travelling into exile, banished at the behest of the Empress Eudoxia by her husband Arcadius. Over thirty years later, their son Theodosius II, as a gesture of penance for his parents’ injustices against the Saint, had John’s relics translated from their original burial site to the church of Hagia Irene (Holy Peace) in Constantinople. Since he died on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, his feast day was appointed for November 13th, and is still kept on that day in the Byzantine Rite; the Byzantine Calendar also marks the feast of the translation of the relics on January 27th, whence his traditional Roman day. I have a copy of the Hieratikon, a priestly service book for all the main functions of the Byzantine Rite, printed in 1977, an official publication of the Orthodox Church of Greece; in the Calendar, the feast of his Translation is marked as one of a fairly small number of “red letter days,” but the November 13th feast is not.

The Byzantine Rite keeps on January 30th a feast with the imposing title (again, from my copy of the Hieratikon) “Our Fathers among the Saints, the Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian (i.e. Gregory of Nazianzus) and John Chrysostom.” This commemoration arose from a vivid dispute in the 11th century as to which of the three should be regarded as the Church’s greatest theologian and teacher, a dispute in which people formed parties that called themselves “Basilians” (not, of course, in reference to the religious order), “Gregorians,” or “Johannites”. It was resolved when all three Saints appeared to John, bishop of Euchaita (a city fairly close to where Chrysostom died), saying “There are no divisions among us, and no opposition to one another.” The Byzantine Calendar keeps the feasts of St Basil on January 1st, and Gregory Nazianzen on the 25th, the days of their respective deaths; therefore, the principle feasts of all three, as well as their joint commemoration, all occur within the same month. Along with St Athanasius, all three were declared Doctors of the Church by Pope St Pius V in 1568.

A 17th-century icon of the Three Holy Herarchs. (image from wikipedia)
St Basil shares his Byzantine feast day with the Circumcision; the structure of the Byzantine Rite permits the celebration of more than one feast on the same day, without really “reducing” any of them to a mere commemoration, as is historically done in the Roman Rite. This was clearly not an option in the West, which therefore assigned his feast to June 14th, the day of his episcopal ordination. January 25th is the Conversion of St Paul in the Latin Church, and so St Gregory was historically kept on May 9th, a week after St Athanasius, whose mantle he inherited as the greatest theological writer in the controversies over the Trinity and Incarnation. In the beautiful Byzantine custom of giving distinctive epithets to the more important Saints, he shares the title “the Theologian” with St John the Evangelist.

While the tradition of keeping the ;Saints’ feasts on the day of their death is certainly very ancient, and for that reason alone laudable, it was frequently applied with more zeal than wisdom to the Calendar reform of 1969. One could hardly keep St Basil as a mere commemoration on the newly-created Solemnity of the Mother of God, which replaced the Circumcision in the Roman Rite, even if commemorations still existed. He and Gregory were therefore given a joint feast on January 2nd. Chrysostom, on the other hand, was moved from January 27th to September 13th, the day before his death. It is perplexing, to say the least, why any of this was thought necessary, especially in an age purportedly so concerned with ecumenism. The final result of these changes is that none of these Saints keeps his traditional Western day, not even the one shared by the East; none of them moves to his Byzantine feast day; and none of them moves to his death day.

More Liturgical Treasures from Milan Cathedral

At the end of last month, we published some photos by Nicola de’ Grandi of an ivory diptych and a cover for a Gospel book, both preserved in the cathedral museum of Milan. Here are several more of items of liturgical interest from the museum: two more ivory diptychs, some very nice chalices and processional crosses, and a miter painstakingly decorated with hummingbird feathers. (Unfortunately, for several of these items, there is less information available than one would want.)

A pax brede donated by Pope Pius IV (1559-64), a member of the Milanese cadet branch of the Medici family, to his nephew St Charles Borromeo, whom he appointed the see of Milan in 1560; St Charles then donated it to the cathedral. The Cross is surmounted with thirteen set diamonds, and the scene of the Deposition from the Cross is figured in gold beneath it. In the lunette above, a group of angels, and the stem of the Medici.

The Ambrosian Church still to this day uses this form of cylindrical monstrance, which was very common in the late Middle Ages. The lower part, in the form of a tree-trunk, was made in the late 15th century, and is decorated with pearls and green enamel formed to look like leaves; it seems to have originally been a decorative cup created for a secular context, and later donated to the cathedral and reworked, with the upper section added in the 16th century. Two angels are delicately cut into the rock-crystal.

This object is known as “the chalice of the liberal arts”, since the seven liberal arts and the original Four Doctors of the Latin Church are depicted on the ivory cup, which was made in the 14th century. The piece to which the ivory is attached is contemporary, but the base was made about 50 years earlier. This was almost certainly not used as a chalice for the consecration of the Precious Blood, but as a kind of pyx.
This carved ivory bucket for holy water, or “situla”, was commissioned by another archbishop of Milan, Gotofredo (974-80), for the blessing of the Emperor Otto II (967-983), which was supposed to take place in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose. It was probably never used, since the archbishop died before the emperor’s arrival in Milan. An inscription on the upper edge reads “A gift of Gotofredo to thee, holy prophet Ambrose, a vessel to sprinkle blessed water on Caesar when he shall come.” The relief images along the outside are separated from each other by columns supporting arches. The silver handle is made in the form of two winged monsters with reptilian tails and front paws, large, open eyes and feline ears, who hold a small human head in their jaws.

Miter decorated with hummingbird feathers, ca. 1525-75.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Feast of St Polycarp

Among the group of early Christian writers known as the Apostolic Fathers, St Polycarp, whose feast is kept today on the traditional Roman calendar, is the one about whom we know the most. He was a disciple of St John the Evangelist, who appointed him bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, and the teacher of St Irenaeus of Lyon, who wrote the following about him to the Gnostic heretic Florinus.

“I remember the events of those days more clearly than those which happened recently, for what we learn as children grows up with the soul and is united to it, so that I can speak even of the place in which the blessed Polycarp sat and disputed, how he came in and went out, the character of his life, the appearance of his body, the discourses which he made to people, how he reported his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord, how he remembered their words, and what were the things concerning the Lord which he had heard from them, and about their miracles, and about their teaching, and how Polycarp had received them from the eyewitnesses of the word of life, and reported all things in agreement with the Scriptures.”

Ss Polycarp, Vincent of Saragossa, Pancratius and Chrysogonus; from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, 6th century. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
Then, in regard to the absurd teachings of the Gnostics, he says “I can bear witness before God that if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard anything of this kind, he would have cried out, and shut his ears, and said according to his custom, ‘O good God, to what time hast thou preserved me that I should endure this?’ He would have fled even from the place in which he was seated or standing when he heard such words.” (This continues the tradition of St John, who fled from a public bath when he saw the heretic Cerinthus inside, lest the building fall upon them.) Likewise, while in Rome to discuss the dating of Easter with Pope St Anicetus, St Polycarp met the heretic Marcion, who asked him if he knew him, to which the Saint replied “I know the first-born of the devil.”

In addition to these stories preserved in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea (5, 20 & 24; 4, 14), there also exist a letter of St Ignatius of Antioch written to Polycarp, whom he also mentions in two of his other letters, and Polycarp’s own letter to the church of Philippi, which St Jerome records was still read in the churches of Asia in his own time. This letter begins with a commendation of the Philippians for their devotion to the martyrs.

“I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because you have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord.”

Of Polycarp himself, it is also recorded that he met St Ignatius as the latter passed though Smyrna on his way to martyrdom in Rome, and kissed his chains.

The martyrdom of Polycarp is recorded in a letter sent by the church of Smyrna to that of Philomelium and “to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place.” This letter is the first authentic account of an early Christian martyrdom after that of St Stephen’s in the Acts of the Apostles. The Saint was very elderly at the time of his arrest and condemnation, for he himself says when ordered to reproach Christ, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

When he was sentenced to be burned alive, the soldiers were going to nail him to the pyre, at which he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.” He was therefore only bound with ropes, “like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God.” The letter also records his prayer spoken before the pyre was lit.

“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”

However, once the fire was set, it billowed out around Polycarp “in the form of a sail” and although he seemed “like gold or silver glowing in a furnace,” would not consume him. This is one of many famous examples of the refusal by Nature itself to cooperate with the persecutors of God’s Saints, forcing them to take the matter into their own hands, and accept responsibility for the evil which they do. At this, his side was pierced with a dagger, and the flow of blood that came forth was so great that the flames were extinguished.

The official in charge refused to allow the Christians to take the body for burial, but rather had it cremated, the standard pagan practice; this was certainly done in despite of the doctrine of the bodily resurrection. Nevertheless, the Christians of Smyrna “took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.” (Fr Hunwicke has rightly that “the current post-conciliar Roman regulations do not permit the use within altars of such relics as the tiny fragments gathered up by those who loved S Polycarp,” as described in this beautiful passage, a particularly grotesque example of the betrayal of ‘ressourcement.’)

It is an oddity of hagiography that although St Polycarp and his martyrdom are so early and so well-documented, his feast is not an ancient one in the West. It is attested at Rome in the mid-13th century, but missing from printed editions of the Roman Missal and Breviary as late as the 1520s. His place on the calendar was only solidified in the Tridentine liturgical books, which were very much concerned to assert the continuity of Catholic tradition (such as the veneration of relics) with the most ancient days of the Christian faith.

In the post-Conciliar reform, his feast was moved to the day of his death, February 23rd, on which it is also kept in the Eastern Rites. The notes of the Consilium ad exsequendam on the reform of the calendar say that his feast was originally assigned to January 26 in the West by confusion with another saint of the same name, Polycarp of Nicea. I assume that this is stated in good faith and for a good reason, but I can find no evidence for this; no such person is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology or its Byzantine equivalent, the Synaxarion, on any day. (The Bollandists state more cautiously that the reason for the discrepancy is not clear.)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Conversion of St Paul 2024

In those days: Saul, as yet breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues: that if he found any men and women of this way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And he said, “Who art thou, Lord?” And he, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.”

The Conversion of St Paul, ca. 1690, by Luca Giordano. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
And he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” And the Lord said to him, “Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Now the men who accompanied him stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus. And he was there three days, without sight, and he did neither eat nor drink.
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias”. And he said, “Behold I am here, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Arise, and go into the street that is called Strait, and seek in the house of Judas, one named Saul of Tarsus. For behold he prayeth.” (And he saw a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hands upon him, that he might receive his sight.) But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that invoke thy name.” And the Lord said to him, “Go thy way; for this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
Ananias Restoring the Sight of St Paul, ca. 1630, by Pietro da Cortona. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Anthony M., CC BY 2.0)
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house. And laying his hands upon him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus hath sent me, he that appeared to thee in the way as thou camest; that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and rising up, he was baptized. And when he had taken meat, he was strengthened. And he was with the disciples that were at Damascus, for some days. And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. And all that heard him, were astonished, and said, “Is not this he who persecuted in Jerusalem those that called upon this name: and came hither for that intent, that he might carry them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased much more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, affirming that this is the Christ. (Acts 9, 1-22, the Epistle of the Conversion of St Paul.)

A Beautiful Illustration of the Prayer “Anima Christi”

Thanks to the Spanish-language Facebook page Poco y católico for sharing with us this very lovely image of part of the prayer Anima Christi written on Gothic script on scrolls around a cross. I was unable to find any information about the date or source of the image, so if anyone knows where it comes from, please be so kind as to leave a message in the combox.

The “Anima Christi” is traditionally ascribed to St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, and in liturgical books, is printed under the title “Aspirationes Sancti Ignatii ad Sanctissimum Redemptorem – Aspirations of St Ignatius to the Most Holy Redeemer.” It is also traditionally included at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, as seen in the picture below, taken from an edition printed in 1920. However, it is found in manuscripts that predate Ignatius’ birth (1491) by over 100 years, and the true author is unknown.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

St Babylas of Antioch, the First Translated Saint

In the Ambrosian Rite, and on the calendars of many medieval uses of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of St Babylas, the twelfth bishop (after St Peter) of the patriarchal see of Antioch. The feast is recorded on this day already at the beginning of the fifth century, in both a Syriac martyrology, and a Latin one traditionally (but erroneously) attributed to St Jerome. With him are celebrated also three boys whom he had brought to the Faith, and who were martyred along with or shortly after him. One of the earliest Western sources to mentioned them, St Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks (1, 30), calls them Urban, Prilidian and Epolon, but the names appear differently in some other sources.

The basilica of St Babylas in Milan. Its first foundation as a place of Christian worship can be traced to the time of St Ambrose himself (374-97); his third successor, St Marolus (408-23), received some of the relics of Babylas and placed them in the church. The building owes its current appearance to a restoration of the late 19th century; the monumental column in front of it has nothing to do with it. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0).   
St Babylas and the three boys, depicted in the church’s apsidal mosaic, also a work of the 19th century. (Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi.)
In the sixth book of his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius of Caesarea mentions Babylas’ election in passing (29, 5), around the same time as that of Pope St Fabian in 236. Later, at 39, 4, he mentions that the Saint died in prison “after his confession”; and this is all that he has to say about him.

Between these two references to Babylas, in chapter 34, Eusebius tells the story that the emperor Philip the Arab, who reigned from 244-49, attempted to enter a Christian church to celebrate the Easter vigil, but was forbidden entry by the bishop of the place, “until he had made confession and numbered himself among (the public penitents) … on account of the many crimes which he had committed. It is said that he obeyed readily, manifesting in his conduct a genuine and pious fear of God.” He does not say where or when this took place, nor does he specify Philip’s crimes. (There are other references in Eusebius to this emperor’s reputed adherence to the Christian faith, which have given rise to no little scholarly discussion.)
St John Chrysostom was a native of Antioch, born just under a century after Babylas’ death, and served the Church there first as a reader, then deacon, then priest, earning himself a reputation as a great preacher well before he became archbishop of Constantinople in 397. While still a cleric of Antioch, he gave a sermon about Babylas on his feast day, in which he states that the Saint had courageously forbidden an emperor (whom, however, he does not name) from entering a church because he had murdered a hostage, the young son of a defeated enemy.
Portraits of the emperors Gordian III and Philip the Arab on contemporary coins. (Both images from Wikimedia Commons: left, unattributed, CC BY-SA 3.0; right by Numismatica Ars Classica, public domain.)
These accounts were later conflated and elaborated on, so that it becomes Babylas who refuses Philip entry to the church at the Easter vigil, and this, because he had murdered his predecessor, Gordian III. (Gordian was in fact very young, just under twenty, when he died campaigning against the Persians on the Roman Empire’s eastern frontier, but the circumstances of his death are unclear.) The Ambrosian Breviary gives this as the reason for Babylas’ imprisonment and martyrdom, but it does not say exactly which emperor had him killed, nor whom exactly that emperor had himself killed earlier, a clear sign of the editor’s awareness that the conflation is regarded as historically dubious.
What is not doubtful is that Babylas is the first Saint for whom we have attestation of the translation of his relics. In a slightly later sermon about him, Chrysostom reports that the Caesar Constantius Gallus (351-54) had his mortal remains moved from their original burial place in Antioch to a church which he, Gallus, built near a famous temple of Apollo in a suburb of Antioch called Daphne; and furthermore, on their arrival, the oracle fell silent.
A painting of a medieval legend in which Julian the Apostate destroys the bones of St John the Baptist, ca. 1484, by the Netherlandish painter Geertgen tot Sint Jans. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Gallus’ younger half-brother Julian became emperor in 361, and abandoned the Christian faith, whence his historical epithet “the Apostate.” Chrysostom goes on to say that Julian went to Daphne “to weary Apollo, praying, supplicating, entreating, so that the events of the future might be foretold to him.” But the oracle, whom he sarcastically calls “the prophet, the great god of the Greeks”, replied that it could not speak: “The dead prevent me from uttering… but break open the graves, dig up the bones, move the dead.” Julian therefore he had the relics returned to Antioch, but the temple of Apollo was struck by lightning and destroyed the very next day. The contemporary historian Ammianus Marcellinus reports that Julian believed that the Christians had set it on fire, and in retaliation, closed the cathedral of Antioch.
The bishop who ordained St John a deacon, St Meletius, later built a new church in the martyr’s honor, and translated the relics once again into it. (Meletius himself was also eventually buried in this church, which is located in another suburb of Antioch called Kaoussie; it has been discovered and excavated in modern times.) A further translation is reported in the early 12th century, to the Italian city of Cremona, about 50 miles southwest of Milan.
Plan of the martyrion of St Babylas outside Antioch. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
Despite the uncertainties of St Babylas’ history, his cultus clearly attests that the ancient Church did not merely venerate the relics of the Saints, but also held that the places hallowed by them were special focuses of God’s gracious presence in this world. In this regard, it is especially noteworthy how Chrysostom treats the act of moving the relics, depending on who does the moving.
When the oracle of Apollo (which he takes for granted is really a demon) requests that Babylas’ remains be moved away from its shrine, he denounces this as a violation of the very laws of nature. “What could be more impious than these commands? … Who ever heard of the dead being driven forth (from their resting places)? Who ever saw lifeless bodies ordered to be moved as he commanded, overturning from their foundations the common laws of nature, (laws which) neither Greek, barbarian, Scythian, nor if there be any more savage than they, ever changed; but all reverence them, and keep them, and thus they are sacred and venerated by all. But the demon raises his mask, and with bare head, resists the common laws of nature.”
On the contrary, when Gallus moves the relics to Daphne, he did this, according to St John, “because God moved his soul to do it.” And in turn, the very presence of the relics not only silenced the oracle, but also put an end to the lascivious behavior for which Daphne was known. “So great is the power of the Saints, whose mere shadows and garments (the demons) cannot bear to see when they are alive, and at whose urns they tremble when they are dead.”
The relics of St Babylas and companions (inter alios) in the Milanese basilica mentioned above. Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi.
For this reason, it is the common custom of both East and West to keep special feasts to mark the translations of relics, or to keep a Saint’s principal feast on the anniversary of such a translation, when it is not possible to keep it on the anniversary of his death. And indeed, Chrysostom himself is an example of this very custom. He died on September 14th, the Exaltation of the Cross, and is therefore kept in the West on January 27th, the day his relics were brought back to Constantinople from the place where he died in exile.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: