The Pandemic is Over

Eamonn Clark, STL

I have held off for a long, long time on writing about Covid. It has been a difficult exercise in restraint for me. Hopefully, readers will therefore appreciate that the points I am about to make are not “shooting from the hip” or any such thing.

Because I initially committed not to writing on this at all, as it is rather boring and unhelpful to spit in the ocean, this will likely be my only real post on SARS-CoV-2, unless we are still dealing with this issue as a world in another “15 days”…

All lives matter, therefore all deaths matter. I find it awful that anyone would contract a respiratory illness and succumb to it. But this does not negate the following important points.

  1. Covid has a rather low mortality rate, especially among the young and healthy. The average healthy child (under 18) is more likely to be struck by lightning than to die from Covid, and the average driver/rider of average cars is FAR more likely to die from a car crash than from Covid (about 1/1,100 people). The average age for death from Covid in many places is either approximately the same or even above the average age of death from any cause. Also, everyone is going to die – the point of life is not simply staying alive, it is virtue, flourishing, preparing for and striving for Heaven.
  2. Extraordinary means, including extraordinary expenses, are generally not obligatory to save any particular person’s life, even when those means are certain to be effective. We are not so certain that much of what has been done in a rash attempt to save individually unidentifiable people has been particularly effective, and it has certainly caused much collateral damage in terms of psychological, social, economic, and even medical harm. Rightly ordered love comes only after the acquisition of knowledge.
  3. Those who claim the mantle of “Science” are often engaged in pseudoscience in the strictest sense, and often this seems to be done in the service of personal and professional gain. “If they had only locked down more/worn more masks/took more vaccines, they would have done better.” The question is begged. That’s not science, it’s irrational dogma parading as science, as is the choking of discussion about treatment options and demonizing those who dare disagree with “The Science” who are plenty qualified to write prescriptions, run clinical trials, and evaluate such things.
  4. Masks don’t really work, and neither do lockdowns – unless you are doing something really extraordinary with either. Hand sanitizer is also practically useless for Covid, which if I recall, has been known by people as unqualified as myself since late spring of 2020. (The lines and arrows on the ground… well, I guess we are still waiting on those numbers.) The typical stuff which we are now used to is just not effective to any noticeable degree. (Here is a great game to play which helps to prove the point.) I don’t know how this can even continue to be a debate at this stage. In fact, the recommendations about masks in particular were made by certain three-letter organizations back when they embarrassingly insisted that they were right and others were wrong about how Covid spread – until they realized they were actually wrong and quietly changed their position on the issue, without changing their public policy recommendations so as not to draw too much attention to their ineptitude.
  5. Even if the more perverse policies were effective, this does not answer the question of whether they are worth it. Real empirical science gives us data but does not tell us how to value goods based on that data – only “The Science” does that.
  6. It has become unreasonable to say that vaccines prevent infection or transmission in the long-term. One must wonder if this was part of a “repeat business” strategy on the part of companies standing to make hundreds of billions of dollars, a constant stream of income from taxes and newly printed currency. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe “Trump’s Vaccine” which was evil and super-scary before has become so good because people stand to benefit financially from switching teams.
  7. Perverse financial incentives plague the Covid system from top to bottom, and at this point one must really be blind not to see this. It is not for health and safety that to travel one needs a test here, another test there, a self-funded quarantine, and then another test. As Qoheleth says, “Money answers all questions.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) One must also wonder in certain countries about coordinated efforts by organized crime and by socialist parties to bring about the end of a large private sector which they do not have a death grip on through backrooms. Desperate small businesses either close during lockdowns, or they get loans from unsavory characters…
  8. It is reasonable to have reservations about adverse reactions from the vaccines, both in the short-term and in the very unknown long-term.
  9. The emaciation of intermediary associations like clubs, guilds, unions, etc. is one of the gravest social evils of our time. Social media is no replacement for directed, organized associations with particular aims that draw people together for the sake of lobbying for those aims. Major, non-violent, credible threats “from below” are almost impossible to make in the developed world right now.
  10. The vaccines are not intrinsically evil to take or to administer, despite their distant immoral origins in abortion. However, that does not mean they are moral to take in every case, such as one being convinced of a serious danger for their own health, or having a prudential concern about supporting the destruction of the principle of autonomy, both of which derive from Catholic moral theology quite directly and could thus be appealed to reasonably in addition to one’s disgust and concern about the use of illicitly obtained cell-lines which could also be grounds for objection in view of one’s own unnecessary act of supporting an illicit industry and practice, vis-à-vis one’s own actual individual estimation of the benefit of defense against Covid. Furthermore, a conscience objection could also have the motivation that one feels compelled to speak against a particular system or program and this is the best way to do it. These considerations were almost totally missed in all of the discussions about conscience objections in the Catholic world.
  11. In my professional estimation as a moralist, it is generally mortal sin for a pastor or bishop to meaningfully exceed the demands imposed by civil authority in limiting access to the sacraments and regular worship due to public health concerns like Covid.
  12. In St. Alphonsus Liguori’s much more professional estimation as patron saint of moralists, parish priests (pastors) are specially bound to administer the sacraments to the dying during time of plague when nobody else is available when the need for the sacraments is extreme or even only grave, even if such assistance is likely or even certain to be fatal for the priest. (See Theologia Moralis, Book IV, #358 – a topic which ought to be more explored these days.)
  13. This is probably only the beginning of a long battle over social credit. If you do not know what an algocracy is, educate yourself. We are poised to begin creating one… the “Green Pass” system can now be used to include, for example, one’s carbon footprint, one’s purchases, other medical information, and so on. If you have been a “good citizen,” doing “correct things,” you will be able to do more for less money. And simply trying to avoid conflict over this kind of thing will not only mean losing the conflict which one is trying to avoid, it means inviting more conflict later on with more serious consequences. It was just supposed to be 15 days, remember…
  14. A lot of “crazies” are actually really smart. Like the so-called “Brostradamus” (video from September of 2020). I am reminded of the parable told by Kierkegaard about a clown crying out in a village that the circus is on fire and that everyone needs to hurry to protect themselves. They laugh and cheer him on, he becomes more animated, they laugh and cheer more, and then the town burns to the ground. Those who are dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” are sometimes very well-read in history and medicine etc. but are just bad at self-branding and presentation.
  15. Most of the “narratives” are partly true. There is indeed a cabal of globalist billionaires who want to control the world, but this is not sufficient to explain everything; nor is a bunch of health experts with nothing but good will sufficient to explain what is going on. The real narrative is complex.
  16. Why people disagree so fiercely over Covid and how to respond to it is a function of several factors, including the intellectual laziness of preferring a simple narrative to a complex but more accurate one. Tribalism is unhealthy for the truth-seeker, and truth-seeking is necessary for good-seeking (knowledge, then love). Of course, many serious goods are on the line and are set up as being opposed to each other as alternatives – protecting biological life and health vs. principles of liberty which are ordered toward living a good common life… so it is understandable and actually good that people are angry about the issue, as injustices against life or liberty are very bad injustices indeed. This is compounded by various exposures to differently organized data sets, and different values which interpret data sets in light of a predisposition to or away from collectivism, and all this is augmented by people’s varying temperaments.
  17. The prevalence of the daughters of lust have dumbed down public discourse in general and led many people into despair of the goods of the next world such that they are apt to fixate on biological health to the neglect of social and spiritual health.
  18. Many comparisons have been made to Nazi Germany. Most of them have been overblown. However, the 1930’s came from the 1920’s. Most interestingly, the Jews were the object of fear in Italy, but the object of disgust in Germany. Disgust is often a more powerful incentive to repulsion/suppression/aversion. Now, we have the confluence of these two forces in the “unclean” people who have not done what the regime has indicated will make them “clean.” Simply not having reached a certain point in public policy does not mean it will not or cannot come… as history shows, the future comes after the past. It is important to make sure our future is not the way the 1930’s were to the 1920’s.
  19. It is obvious that there is a pseudo-religion present in the Covid “structure.” There is a sacramental system, special clothing, prophetic and priestly castes, a protology, an eschatology, a moral system, and special language. Heretics are not tolerated publicly. This is Covidism. In this case, I encourage people to be “spiritual” but not “religious.”
  20. Ideology develops its own interior life and logic. Havel describes this in great detail in his must-read book “The Power of the Powerless.” Many who do not believe in Covidism are too afraid to “live within the truth” to ignore the social pressure to conform to a system of rules and regulations which one does not believe in. To take Havel’s example, the greengrocer who takes down the Communist sign in his shop window becomes a massive threat to the post-totalitarian regime by making others aware that they can do this too – and that is very scary indeed. Even those who seem like they have real control are often only servants of the ideology and will be dispensed with if and when they deviate, including being dispensed with by other people who do not agree with the ideology but are afraid of being dispensed with themselves…

Well, there you have it. My 2 cents. I could say more, especially about the knowledge-love paradigm (and how central planning is such a bad idea because of this dynamic being ruined), but this is probably enough for now… see you in another “15 days,” perhaps… In the meantime, the pandemic is over – it is now a worldwide endemic. Covid is here to stay forever in constantly changing forms, and there is really nothing we can do about it. So relax, go for a walk, and live your life – in the truth.

The Oratorio – Opening Speech, 2021

Below is this year’s opening speech for my men’s group which I run here in Rome, the Oratorio, which I delivered some weeks ago. Enjoy!

The Catacomb Option

Cancel culture. Safe spaces. Hate speech. Green passes. It’s enough to make one’s head spin, and that’s just a little bit of what has come in the past few years.

Just as God sows seeds, and the Evil One rips them up, as the Parable of the Sower tells us, so too it seems that the inverse holds true: the Evil One sows seeds, and God rips them up. If we are to take at face value the alleged prophecy given to Leo XIII about the 20th century being the Devil’s “free reign” or playground to do as much damage as he liked – a kind of “new Job” – then we should consider that evil not only wounds those who are its object in the moment, but it leaves poisonous traces and echoes; it plants seeds which eventually become trees that bear rotten fruit if not torn up. So, on this All Hallows’ Eve, let’s look at some demonic seeds that have been sown, and then look at how they might be ripped up – or how the trees might be cut down.

From 1900 to 2000 we find a small number of evil orchards being planted. While the obvious candidates are the world wars, I suggest that these, while terrible indeed, are a smoke screen for the “long game.” We are not to fear those who can kill the body and do no more, and wars in and of themselves take lives, not souls. Just as with possession and other extraordinary diabolical phenomena, the real point of the Enemy is to turn souls to sin. It is easy to say the Devil was in the wars, just as it is easy to say he is in a body that speaks strange languages or floats around or any number of phenomena which mimic the extraordinary actions of the Holy Spirit. It is much more difficult, for the uninitiated, to identify the Devil’s presence in sin, and even more difficult to see him in occasions to sin.

But the Devil always shows his feet, as the saying goes. Just as the proud Odysseus couldn’t help but taunt the blinded Cyclops by shouting his real name, bringing down the wrath of Poseidon upon him and his ship, so too is the Devil proud. He can never have a truly silent victory – he wants the credit, after all.

I propose that many of our troubles can be traced one year in particular: 1968. It was this year that perhaps best symbolizes the beginning in earnest of the “sexual revolution” and the onset of cultural Marxism and the habitual extension of adolescence – also known as “hippiedom.”

These are three particularly bad seeds, the final fruits of which we are now seeing before us in today’s Western world. We take them in order.

I doubt I need to convince anyone here of the grotesqueness of the sexual revolution, but perhaps it is helpful to drive the point home by sharply distinguishing natural sexual vice and unnatural sexual vice. The former consists fundamentally in extra-marital relations of various kinds, modified by the object or mode of action. It’s true that some species take in other sins which are not sexual, such as violence or sacrilege which greatly aggravate the offensiveness of the sin, but insofar as such acts are sexual, they remain of a lesser kind of disorder than those which are part of unnatural vice. Whereas the category of natural vice is immoral principally because it hurts kids, namely, those which could be conceived out of the safety of wedlock and thus be exposed to many kinds of dangers in their upbringing, unnatural vice is immoral because it hijacks the sexual faculty away from the design of God for the propagation of the human race, for which the sexual faculty chiefly exists for in the first place, and reorders it towards something at odds with that plan; in short, unnatural vice is wrong because it hurts the human race. Just as a single act of fornication might not actually result in the harm of a child, especially if no child is conceived, a single act of self-abuse or sodomy might not result in the harm of the future of humanity, especially if it is not encouraged, imitated, celebrated. And yet many children are conceived out of wedlock, and unnatural acts are now not only tolerated but glorified in the western world. It is much less evil to allow some individual children to grow up without fathers than it is to have the entire principle of human sexuality undermined by a positive campaign of encouragement, imitation, and celebration. The former leads to the search for replacements for fathers, usually meaning the creation of gangs in the case of boys and brothels in the case of girls and a self-serving welfare state with economically atrophied populations dependent upon hand-outs which over time they feel increasingly entitled to. The latter leads almost directly to spiritual sins. The former leads to its own problems with the Second Tablet – lies, promiscuity, violence, and disobedience towards and dishonoring of civil society. The latter leads to problems with the First Tablet – a complete collapse of the virtue of religion. The former is obviously and viscerally evil to the careless onlooker, just like a war would seem. But the Devil is more present in the latter.

Unnatural vice, including the use of contraceptives, which became so popular in 1968 that the Pope intervened with the encyclical Humanae Vitae, is a greater sexual disorder than natural vice. The daughters of lust, or the effects of lust on the individual sinner, are therefore more quickly and more strongly rooted in those taken in by self-abuse, contraception, and homosexual acts than in those who simply sleep around. The daughters are eight, four affecting the intellect, four affecting the will. They are: blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world, and despair of the next world. It would be difficult to summarize better the current state of western civilization in as few words as these. Even for those who are not themselves mired in sexual vice, the overall long-term effect of the proliferation of sexual sins since 1968 has contributed to a general dumbing down of discourse, especially spiritual discourse, and an overall de-spiritualization to our understanding and practice of the virtue of religion, especially in the liturgy, and to our understanding of how to relate with other human beings in the communal search for goodness and truth. Unnatural vice in particular creates a kind of lack of fortitude, such that Thomas calls self-abuse “effeminacy.” If we gather all these data – the daughters of lust in general having become the social milieu in the west, together with the propagation of vices which especially lead to or characterize “softness,” or a lack of fortitude, we can understand a good deal about the state of things in our world right now, including, I suggest, how and why a mild respiratory illness coupled with a bit of media hype can cause mass psychosis.

With all of this intellectual darkness and weakness of will, the western youth need protection – not just from mild respiratory illnesses – and certainly not from China or from unchecked immigrants from Latin America or the Middle East – but from ideas which cause them discomfort by suggesting they are individually responsible for their own actions, that they are not owed anything just for existing but must actually earn a living by real work, that they cannot be whatever they want to be, and that “their truth” does not exist. Because of the emaciation of the intellect and will and their right interaction, or, as C. S. Lewis would put it, “men without chests,” unwelcome speech has become physical violence – because I am unable to think and process an unwelcome thought which causes me physical discomfort, “hate speech” is actually physically violent, thus it can justify physical violence in return. So goes the logic. Of course, the weak are still empowered by sufficient grace to do God’s will, so they are not therefore excused from sin on account of weakness.

Just as the welfare state serves itself by creating more patrons who are increasingly dependent, so too does “cancel culture” serve itself by taking hostage the intellect and will which are mired in the daughters of lust. The more “intersectional” one is, the more one ought to be protected and favored – race, sexuality and gender, nationality, creed, even health and bodyweight, could all remove individual responsibility. This is what “social justice” has become, a once solid neothomistic idea serving as a foil to subsidiarity which is now the method of cultural Marxism. The minorities are always oppressed, simply in virtue of being the minority, so they ought to be allowed to dominate over the majority and thus be liberated. We owe this unhappy thought to Herbert Marcuse, who was the intellectual father-figure of the radicalized youth of 1968.

The student revolt in Paris in May of that year – which became so bad that not only were sections of the University of Paris shut down, but President Charles de Gaulle actually fled France for a short time – was a reaction against what was perceived as an unjust bureaucracy plagued by “consumerism,” a system that needed reform, revolution, reconstruction by the newly allied Socialists and Communists of France, in view of a creative utopia There is perhaps some truth to there having been a depressing, machine-like malaise of 1960’s bureaucracy – let alone French bureaucracy – but an overbearing system which generally works for the right values still ought to be respected, just like an overbearing parent with right intentions. We expect little kids and teenagers to act like spoiled brats and throw a fit when they don’t get their way. We now expect college students to do the same, instead of having their minds opened to classic literature, honing professional skills, and so on. And then they complain that their loans should be paid off with tax dollars. “Jouissez sans entraves,” went one slogan of the Parisian students – enjoy without hindrance. Indeed.

And so the cycle of dependence and sin and the daughters of lust continues, on and on. Perhaps – or even probably – the deeper roots of all of this are found in nominalism and voluntarism, but we will leave aside such an analysis today.

What is the solution? Is there one, other than grace, or the end of the world? What can we sane people do to protect themselves from the cultural onslaught, and perhaps soon, espionage and even physical threats?

Ten years after 1968, a lengthy essay was written by one Václav Havel, later to become the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel had been a major figure on the right side of Czechoslovakia’s own troubles in ’68, with the Prague Spring which was shut down by the Warsaw Pact troops from Germany and the USSR. Reflecting on all of this, in “The Power of the Powerless,” Havel describes the dynamic of ideology and dissent from ideology. A bad idea with just a little truth to it can overtake a population and a bureaucracy to such a degree that even those who seem to have power do not – they are beholden to the ideology, which has its own inner life. All are afraid of being held accountable to the ideology, including by others who do not believe in it. The greengrocer who puts up a pro-Communist sign in his window is not really a Communist, he is just “not-not Communist,” and he wants everyone to know that he is doing what he has been told so he can avoid conflict. This should sound especially familiar these days, as we endure the ideology of “Covidism,” but it holds true as well for discussing frankly in open fora the moral and religious values which we hold as Catholics, some of which we have just been exploring and would most certainly be cancelled for.

Havel’s thesis is something in between a program and a prediction. Human beings want to live in the truth, according to pre-political commitments and values. We want to be authentic, true to ourselves. We want the freedom to speak, to write, to disagree, to create art, even if it is bad art. Interestingly, Havel notes that one of the main tipping points in Czechoslovakia in the post-totalitarian regime which he is describing was not some famous dissident like himself publishing an essay like the one he was currently writing, but it was the public trial of a mediocre punk-rock group for not staying in line with the status quo. The trial woke people up to the reality of their situation, and Charter 77, one of the most significant moments in Czechoslovakian political history, came as a result, eventually leading to the Velvet Revolution, Havel’s own presidency, and finally the dissolution of the country. Havel notes how odd it is that this would come from the persecution of an underground rock band. It helps to demonstrate his thesis that the natural quest to live within the truth is the most threatening thing to the power of ideology – it declares that the emperor has no clothes, and it thus frees others to do the same.

While I doubt most of us are interested in playing punk-rock, we are interested in other activities and ideas which are increasingly viewed with suspicion and even outright hostility by those who tend the Devil’s rotten orchard. Rod Dreher’s book “The Benedict Option” presents a vision which ought to provoke deep personal and communal reflection. Is western civilization not worth trying to save anymore through traditional means? Probably not. But heading for the hills is not exactly possible, nor is imitating the life of Benedict advisable for most people. While this is not precisely the suggestion of Dreher or others who follow him, there is a group which we are well-familiar with which provides us with a model for Catholic life today. It is the same group whose old neighborhood we are now presently in, the Suburra, the original “sub-urb”; it is the early Christians of Rome.

May I present to you the Catacomb Option. The first thing to know is that Christians never lived in catacombs – anyone who has visited should be able to tell you that the air is toxic and thus is not a place to stay for too long. Instead, the catacombs, which were originally mines that were turned into burial grounds, were essentially the “side-streets of the side-streets.” Just as police in major cities know that criminals are on such streets plying their trades, as long as they are not on the main roads they are often more or less left alone. It is just too much effort to go chasing down every single lowlife down every single alley. It was likewise with our brothers and sisters in the first centuries here in the City up until Constantine. Everyone knew what was going on in the catacombs, but it was not the Forum and not even the Suburra. It was out in the graveyards by the farms. “Who cares? Just leave them alone, we will keep an eye on them.” So went the thought of most emperors. Well, as we can see, the quiet and patient pursuit of holiness in a “parallel society,” literally underground, without much energy spent trying to convert the City eventually bore fruit over and against the wild paganism of ancient Rome. They prayed, they celebrated the sacraments, they improved themselves, they kept quiet and out of sight, and God came down to help. Perhaps there is a lesson here.

Most of us cannot head out into the mountains to form monasteries like Benedict, or even form real intentional and cohesive communities of families, given the way life is today, though both of these endeavors are good. The path, then, is something a bit different. We need to be creating spaces for free exchanges of ideas, and groups which can function as intermediary associations when appropriate to keep the “system” at bay. The system needs to be bypassed, because we can’t simply face it on our own. We are worse off than Havel’s greengrocer. We need groups and clubs and networks with negotiating power, we need ways to communicate, we need space to be ourselves and to live within the truth as we wait for God’s extraordinary help in reconverting the West, if He wants to do so. We can’t rip up the Devil’s seeds, but God can and eventually will, even if this is simply by leading structures of sin to self-destruction, not so unlike the Midianite camp in the face of sudden threat from Gideon’s small but terrifying army. (Judges 7:17-22)

That is one of the goals of this group. The Oratorio is here for such things – less for intermediation, more for communication and authentic self-expression, in prayer, recreation, and fraternity. This is a “safe space” for Catholic lay men, to share ideas, to engage in masculine vulnerability, to aspire to the Greatest Good. There’s nothing toxic about such masculinity! Welcome, brothers, and I look forward to praying and playing with you.

Friday Fathers #7: Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistle to the Romans

Today we read the powerful letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans, one of several such epistles he wrote while on his way to Rome to be killed. I recently read St. Alphonsus Liguori’s brief biography of St. Ignatius – it is well worth a read too.

St. Ignatius helps to remind us of the potential heights – and costs – of discipleship. He was eventually martyred, as he describes his intense longing for in this letter. Where is his pain now? Gone. Instead, he is in glory.

St. Ignatius was a friend of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and the mentor of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, whom we read from recently.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if you spare me.

For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also you please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will you, if you shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if you are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared; that, being gathered together in love, you may sing praise to the Father, through Christ Jesus, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west. It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise again to Him.

You have never envied any one; you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions you enjoin [on others]. Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world. Nothing visible is eternal. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; yet am I not thereby justified. (1 Corinthians 4:4) May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world. Let not envy find a dwelling-place among you; nor even should I, when present with you, exhort you to it, be persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to those things which I now write to you. For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if you consent. Be willing, then, that you also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that you shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, you have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, you have hated me.

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]. But as for me, I am ashamed to be counted one of them; for indeed I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9) But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God. My spirit salutes you, and the love of the Churches that have received me in the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a mere passer-by. For even those Churches which were not near to me in the way, I mean according to the flesh, have gone before me, city by city, [to meet me.]

Now I write these things to you from Smyrna by the Ephesians, who are deservedly most happy. There is also with me, along with many others, Crocus, one dearly beloved by me. As to those who have gone before me from Syria to Rome for the glory of God, I believe that you are acquainted with them; to whom, [then,] make known that I am at hand. For they are all worthy, both of God and of you; and it is becoming that you should refresh them in all things. I have written these things unto you, on the day before the ninth of the Kalends of September (that is, on the twenty-third day of August). Fare well to the end, in the patience of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday Fathers #7: Ambrose on Christology

Today we read a small portion of St. Ambrose’s “On the Christian Faith.” He is defending and articulating the humanity of Christ and attacking the Arian doctrine in the following chapters (15 and 16), in Book I.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

95. To no purpose, then, is the heretics’ customary citation of the Scripture, that God made Him both Lord and Christ. Let these ignorant persons read the whole passage, and understand it. For thus it is written. God made this Jesus, Whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. It was not the Godhead, but the flesh, that was crucified. This, indeed, was possible, because the flesh allowed of being crucified. It follows not, then, that the Son of God is a created being.

96. Let us dispatch, then, that passage also, which they do use to misrepresent — let them learn what is the sense of the words, The Lord created Me. It is not the Father created, but the Lord created Me. The flesh acknowledges its Lord, praise declares the Father: our created nature confesses the first, loves, knows the latter. Who, then, cannot but perceive that these words announce the Incarnation? Thus the Son speaks of Himself as created in respect of that wherein he witnesses to Himself as being man, when He says, Why do you seek to kill Me, a man, Who have told you the truth? He speaks of His Manhood, wherein He was crucified, and died, and was buried.

97. Furthermore, there is no doubt but that the writer set down as past that which was to come; for this is the usage of prophecy, that things to come are spoken of as though they were already present or past. For example, in the twenty-first psalm you have read: Fat bulls (of Bashan) have beset me, and again: They parted My garments among them. This the Evangelist shows to have been spoken prophetically of the time of the Passion, for to God the things that are to come are present, and for Him Who foreknows all things, they are as though they were past and over; as it is written, Who has made the things that are to be.

98. It is no wonder that He should declare His place to have been set fast before all worlds, seeing that the Scripture tells us that He was foreordained before the times and ages. The following passage discovers how the words in question present themselves as a true prophecy of the Incarnation: Wisdom has built her a house, and set up seven pillars to support it, and she has slain her victims. She has mingled her wine in the bowl, and made ready her table, and sent her servants, calling men together with a mighty voice of proclamation, saying: ‘He who is simple, let him turn in to me.’ Do we not see, in the Gospel, that all these things were fulfilled after the Incarnation, in that Christ disclosed the mysteries of the Holy Supper, sent forth His apostles, and cried with a loud voice, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. John 7:37 That which follows, then, answers to that which went before, and we behold the whole story of the Incarnation set forth in brief by prophecy.

99. Many other passages might readily be seen to be prophecies of this sort concerning the Incarnation, but I will not delay over books, lest the treatise appear too wordy

100. Now will I enquire particularly of the Arians, whether they think that begotten and created are one and the same. If they call them the same, then is there no difference between generation and creation. It follows, then, that forasmuch as we also are created, there is between us and Christ and the elements no difference. Thus much, however, great as their madness is, they will not venture to say.

101. Furthermore — to concede that which is no truth, to their folly — I ask them, if there is, as they think, no difference in the words, why do they not call upon Him Whom they worship by the better title? Why do they not avail themselves of the Father’s word? Why do they reject the title of honour, and use a dishonouring name?

102. If, however, there is — as I think there is — a distinction between created and begotten, then, when we have read that He is begotten, we shall surely not understand the same by the terms begotten and created. Let them therefore confess Him to be begotten of the Father, born of the Virgin, or let them say how the Son of God can be both begotten and created. A single nature, above all, the Divine Being, rejects strife (within itself).

103. But in any case let our private judgment pass: let us enquire of Paul, who, filled with the Spirit of God, and so foreseeing these questionings, has given sentence against pagans in general and Arians in particular, saying that they were by God’s judgment condemned, who served the creature rather than the Creator. Thus, in fact, you may read: God gave them over to the lusts of their own heart, that they might one with another dishonour their bodies, they who changed God’s truth into a lie, and worshipped and served the thing created rather than the Creator, Who is God, blessed forever. Romans 1:24-25

104. Thus Paul forbids me to worship a creature, and admonishes me of my duty to serve Christ. It follows, then, that Christ is not a created being. The Apostle calls himself Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, Romans 1:1 and this good servant, who acknowledges his Lord, will likewise have us not worship that which is created. How, then, could he have been himself a servant of Christ, if he thought that Christ was a created person? Let these heretics, then, cease either to worship Him Whom they call a created being, or to call Him a creature, Whom they feign to worship, lest under color of being worshippers they fall into worse impiety. For a domestic is worse than a foreign foe, and that these men should use the Name of Christ to Christ’s dishonour increases their guilt.

105. What better expounder of the Scriptures do we indeed look for than that teacher of the Gentiles, that chosen vessel — chosen from the number of the persecutors? He who had been the persecutor of Christ confesses Him. He had read Solomon more, in any case, than Arius has, and he was well learned in the Law, and so, because he had read, he said not that Christ was created, but that He was begotten. For he had read, He spoke, and they were made: He commanded, and they were created. Was Christ, I ask, made at a word? Was He created at a command?

106. Moreover, how can there be any created nature in God? In truth, God is of an uncompounded nature; nothing can be added to Him, and that alone which is Divine has He in His nature; filling all things, yet nowhere Himself confounded with anything; penetrating all things, yet Himself nowhere to be penetrated; present in all His fullness at one and the same moment, in heaven, in earth, in the deepest depth of the sea, to sight invisible, by speech not to be declared, by feeling not to be measured; to be followed by faith, to be adored with devotion; so that whatsoever title excels in depth of spiritual import, in setting forth glory and honour, in exalting power, this you may know to belong of right to God.

107. Since, then, the Father is well pleased in the Son; believe that the Son is worthy of the Father, that He came out from God, as He Himself bears witness, saying: I went out from God, and have come; John 8:42 and again: I went out from God. John 16:27 He Who proceeded and came forth from God can have no attributes but such as are proper to God.

Friday Fathers #5 – St. Justin Martyr on the Sacraments

Today we take a look at the famous (but still not sufficiently well-known) passage from St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ch. 65-67) which describes the basics of the Christian liturgical system in brief as it stood in the mid-second century, especially in Rome. Especially noteworthy is the proclamation of the universal acceptance of the doctrine of Christ’s substantial (or real) presence in the Euncharist.

The First Apology was written to the Roman Emperor Tatian as an explanation and defense (apologia) of Christian doctrine. Justin had converted to the Faith at the age of about 30. As his name implies, Justin was later put to death for his witness and fidelity to Christian faith, in about 165.

St. Justin Martyr, pray for us!

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, (Luke 22:19) this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Friday Fathers #4 – St. Athanasius on St. Anthony’s early life

Today we read from the mesmerizing biography of St. Anthony of the Desert written by St. Athanasius. We are not all called to the eremetical life, for sure – but we are indeed called to admire it and aspire to its delights one day in Heaven. St. Athanasius and St. Anthony of the Desert, pray for us!

8. Thus tightening his hold upon himself, Antony departed to the tombs, which happened to be at a distance from the village; and having bid one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at intervals of many days, he entered one of the tombs, and the other having shut the door on him, he remained within alone. And when the enemy could not endure it, but was even fearful that in a short time Antony would fill the desert with the discipline, coming one night with a multitude of demons, he so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain. For he affirmed that the torture had been so excessive that no blows inflicted by man could ever have caused him such torment. But by the Providence of God — for the Lord never overlooks them that hope in Him — the next day his acquaintance came bringing him the loaves. And having opened the door and seeing him lying on the ground as though dead, he lifted him up and carried him to the church in the village, and laid him upon the ground. And many of his kinsfolk and the villagers sat around Antony as round a corpse. But about midnight he came to himself and arose, and when he saw them all asleep and his comrade alone watching, he motioned with his head for him to approach, and asked him to carry him again to the tombs without waking anybody.

9. He was carried therefore by the man, and as he was wont, when the door was shut he was within alone. And he could not stand up on account of the blows, but he prayed as he lay. And after he had prayed, he said with a shout, Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more nothing shall separate me Romans 8:35 from the love of Christ. And then he sang, ‘though a camp be set against me, my heart shall not be afraid.’ These were the thoughts and words of this ascetic. But the enemy, who hates good, marvelling that after the blows he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, ‘You see,’ said he, ‘that neither by the spirit of lust nor by blows did we stay the man, but that he braves us, let us attack him in another fashion.’ But changes of form for evil are easy for the devil, so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, and each of them was moving according to his nature. The lion was roaring, wishing to attack, the bull seeming to toss with its horns, the serpent writhing but unable to approach, and the wolf as it rushed on was restrained; altogether the noises of the apparitions, with their angry ragings, were dreadful. But Antony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains severer still. He lay watching, however, with unshaken soul, groaning from bodily anguish; but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ And again with boldness he said, ‘If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.’ So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.

10. Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, ‘Where were thou? Why did you not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?’ And a voice came to him, ‘Antony, I was here, but I waited to see your fight; wherefore since you have endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to you, and will make your name known everywhere.’ Having heard this, Antony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly. And he was then about thirty-five years old.

11. And on the day following he went forth still more eagerly bent on the service of God and having fallen in with the old man he had met previously, he asked him to dwell with him in the desert. But when the other declined on account of his great age, and because as yet there was no such custom, Antony himself set off immediately to the mountain. And yet again the enemy seeing his zeal and wishing to hinder it, cast in his way what seemed to be a great silver dish. But Antony, seeing the guile of the Evil One, stood, and having looked on the dish, he put the devil in it to shame, saying, ‘Whence comes a dish in the desert? This road is not well-worn, nor is there here a trace of any wayfarer; it could not have fallen without being missed on account of its size; and he who had lost it having turned back, to seek it, would have found it, for it is a desert place. This is some wile of the devil. O thou Evil One, not with this shall you hinder my purpose; let it go with you to destruction. Acts 8:20 ‘ And when Antony had said this it vanished like smoke from the face of fire.

12. Then again as he went on he saw what was this time not visionary, but real gold scattered in the way. But whether the devil showed it, or some better power to try the athlete and show the Evil One that Antony truly cared nought for money, neither he told nor do we know. But it is certain that that which appeared was gold. And Antony marvelled at the quantity, but passed it by as though he were going over fire; so he did not even turn, but hurried on at a run to lose sight of the place. More and more confirmed in his purpose, he hurried to the mountain, and having found a fort, so long deserted that it was full of creeping things, on the other side of the river; he crossed over to it and dwelt there. The reptiles, as though some one were chasing them, immediately left the place. But he built up the entrance completely, having stored up loaves for six months — this is a custom of the Thebans, and the loaves often remain fresh a whole year — and as he found water within, he descended as into a shrine, and abode within by himself, never going forth nor looking at any one who came. Thus he employed a long time training himself, and received loaves, let down from above, twice in the year.

13. But those of his acquaintances who came, since he did not permit them to enter, often used to spend days and nights outside, and heard as it were crowds within clamouring, dinning, sending forth piteous voices and crying, ‘Go from what is ours. What do you even in the desert? You can not abide our attack.’ So at first those outside thought there were some men fighting with him, and that they had entered by ladders; but when stooping down they saw through a hole there was nobody, they were afraid, accounting them to be demons, and they called on Antony. Them he quickly heard, though he had not given a thought to the demons, and coming to the door he besought them to depart and not to be afraid, ‘for thus,’ said he, ‘the demons make their seeming onslaughts against those who are cowardly. Sign yourselves therefore with the cross , and depart boldly, and let these make sport for themselves.’ So they departed fortified with the sign of the Cross. But he remained in no wise harmed by the evil spirits, nor was he wearied with the contest, for there came to his aid visions from above, and the weakness of the foe relieved him of much trouble and armed him with greater zeal. For his acquaintances used often to come expecting to find him dead, and would hear him singing , ‘Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, let them also that hate Him flee before His face. As smoke vanishes, let them vanish; as wax melts before the face of fire, so let the sinners perish from the face of God;’ and again, ‘All nations compassed me about, and in the name of the Lord I requited them. ‘

14. And so for nearly twenty years he continued training himself in solitude, never going forth, and but seldom seen by any. After this, when many were eager and wishful to imitate his discipline, and his acquaintances came and began to cast down and wrench off the door by force, Antony, as from a shrine, came forth initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God. Then for the first time he was seen outside the fort by those who came to see him. And they, when they saw him, wondered at the sight, for he had the same habit of body as before, and was neither fat, like a man without exercise, nor lean from fasting and striving with the demons, but he was just the same as they had known him before his retirement. And again his soul was free from blemish, for it was neither contracted as if by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor possessed by laughter or dejection, for he was not troubled when he beheld the crowd, nor overjoyed at being saluted by so many. But he was altogether even as being guided by reason, and abiding in a natural state. Through him the Lord healed the bodily ailments of many present, and cleansed others from evil spirits. And He gave grace to Antony in speaking, so that he consoled many that were sorrowful, and set those at variance at one, exhorting all to prefer the love of Christ before all that is in the world. And while he exhorted and advised them to remember the good things to come, and the loving-kindness of God towards us, ‘Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all Romans 8:32,’ he persuaded many to embrace the solitary life. And thus it happened in the end that cells arose even in the mountains, and the desert was colonised by monks, who came forth from their own people, and enrolled themselves for the citizenship in the heavens.

15. But when he was obliged to cross the Arsenoitic Canal — and the occasion of it was the visitation of the brethren — the canal was full of crocodiles. And by simply praying, he entered it, and all they with him, and passed over in safety. And having returned to his cell, he applied himself to the same noble and valiant exercises; and by frequent conversation he increased the eagerness of those already monks, stirred up in most of the rest the love of the discipline, and speedily by the attraction of his words cells multiplied, and he directed them all as a father.

Friday Fathers #3 – St. Eusebius of Caesarea on Peter and Paul

Today we look at St. Eusebius of Caesarea’s important work “Church History.” In Book II, Eusebius follows the history of the early Church and the aftermath of the public ministry of Christ, including giving us some interesting details about Jerusalem, Rome, and all sorts of things. The work is valuable for its vast descriptions of the goings-on of the entire Mediterranean and the lives of the Apostles and their first successors, but since I return to Rome Sunday, today we are lasering in on Peter and Paul, with chapters 14, 15, 22, and 25 from Book II.

Chapter 14

1. The evil power, who hates all that is good and plots against the salvation of men, constituted Simon at that time the father and author of such wickedness, as if to make him a mighty antagonist of the great, inspired apostles of our Saviour.

2. For that divine and celestial grace which co-operates with its ministers, by their appearance and presence, quickly extinguished the kindled flame of evil, and humbled and cast down through them every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. Wherefore neither the conspiracy of Simon nor that of any of the others who arose at that period could accomplish anything in those apostolic times. For everything was conquered and subdued by the splendors of the truth and by the divine word itself which had but lately begun to shine from heaven upon men, and which was then flourishing upon earth, and dwelling in the apostles themselves.

4. Immediately the above-mentioned impostor was smitten in the eyes of his mind by a divine and miraculous flash, and after the evil deeds done by him had been first detected by the apostle Peter in Judea, he fled and made a great journey across the sea from the East to the West, thinking that only thus could he live according to his mind.

5. And coming to the city of Rome, by the mighty co-operation of that power which was lying in wait there, he was in a short time so successful in his undertaking that those who dwelt there honored him as a god by the erection of a statue.

6. But this did not last long. For immediately, during the reign of Claudius, the all-good and gracious Providence, which watches over all things, led Peter, that strongest and greatest of the apostles, and the one who on account of his virtue was the speaker for all the others, to Rome against this great corrupter of life. Clad in divine armor like a noble commander of God, He carried the costly merchandise of the light of the understanding from the East to those who dwelt in the West, proclaiming the light itself, and the word which brings salvation to souls, and preaching the kingdom of heaven.

Chapter 15

1. And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark.

2. And they say that Peter — when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done — was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias. And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)

Chapter 22

1. Festus was sent by Nero to be Felix’s successor. Under him Paul, having made his defense, was sent bound to Rome. Aristarchus was with him, whom he also somewhere in his epistles quite naturally calls his fellow-prisoner. (Colossians 4:10) And Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, brought his history to a close at this point, after stating that Paul spent two whole years at Rome as a prisoner at large, and preached the word of God without restraint.

2. Thus after he had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom. In this imprisonment he wrote his second epistle to Timothy, in which he mentions his first defense and his impending death.

3. But hear his testimony on these matters: At my first answer, he says, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

4. He plainly indicates in these words that on the former occasion, in order that the preaching might be fulfilled by him, he was rescued from the mouth of the lion, referring, in this expression, to Nero, as is probable on account of the latter’s cruelty. He did not therefore afterward add the similar statement, He will rescue me from the mouth of the lion; for he saw in the spirit that his end would not be long delayed.

5. Wherefore he adds to the words, And he delivered me from the mouth of the lion, this sentence: The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, (2 Timothy 4:18) indicating his speedy martyrdom; which he also foretells still more clearly in the same epistle, when he writes, For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

6. In his second epistle to Timothy, moreover, he indicates that Luke was with him when he wrote, but at his first defense not even he. Whence it is probable that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles at that time, continuing his history down to the period when he was with Paul.

7. But these things have been adduced by us to show that Paul’s martyrdom did not take place at the time of that Roman sojourn which Luke records.

8. It is probable indeed that as Nero was more disposed to mildness in the beginning, Paul’s defense of his doctrine was more easily received; but that when he had advanced to the commission of lawless deeds of daring, he made the apostles as well as others the subjects of his attacks.

Chapter 25

1. When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe.

2. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths.

3. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.

4. The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.

5. Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

6. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid:

7. But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.

8. And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time. I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.

Scandal and Folly, Rabbis and Bishops

Eamonn Clark, STL

Of the many odd and troubling things going on in Rome right now, one thing in particular has recently caught my eye. It’s not some gay clique pulling power levers. It’s not embezzlement or fraud. It’s not even the suppression of traditional liturgy, though that, too, is of course heavy on my mind.

It’s the quasi-Judaizing.

No, Cardinal Koch is not calling for circumcision as a requirement for baptism, and to me he actually seems like a decent enough man. But here he is certainly implying that “Judaism” is its own way to eternal life, which seems a rather problematic position.

For context, the Pope gave a rather benign audience some weeks ago on Galatians, saying that following the Torah “does not give life,” rather, following Christ does. One could hardly imagine a less controversial take – and yet it is controversial because several high-profile Jews took offense.

Well, it is a scandal indeed. It’s a scandal precisely because Paul calls Christ crucified a “scandal to the Jews.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) And we see how the Lord was confronted by the Jews – Jews in flesh and name, but not in heart and mind… they killed and rejected Him, and some who believed in His resurrection would still not convert to Him. (Matthew 28:11-15) They continue, like Dives, to appeal to Abraham despite missing the meaning of Moses and the Prophets, but Lazarus will go on ahead of them. They do not recognize that the Father with Whom they have been dwelling, through His Incarnate Son, is the true inheritance, as the younger brother, the Prodigal Son discovered by mercy and experience – the seed of Esau has come home again, while the seed of Jacob has grown entitled, and they still fight over food and Isaac’s blessing. They do not see the justice of the workers late to the vineyard getting the same pay. They do not understand that they were only ever special to point to the coming of the very Christ Whom they do not accept. And now, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and to those who seem to have something, more will be given, and to those who have nothing, even what they seem to have will be taken away.

No amount of nuance and handwaving and dialogue can honestly escape the overwhelming thrust of both the Gospels and certainly the direct teaching of St. Paul on the matter of the real meaning of the Old Law and true Judaism. (And I do know that there is much written against “supersessionism.” In my view, it’s wrong. Feel free to make the opposite case in the comments – we can talk all about the precise meaning of Nostra Aetate if you want.) The Old Law, as St. Thomas explains at length and in detail (see qq. 98-105, 107; especially q. 100 a. 12), was a pedagogue to dispose to the reception of grace (“life”) and a sign of righteousness, but it did not give grace of itself; grace has always and only been obtained through the universal and invisible covenant of faith, made visible and particular in Christ on the Cross and in the Eucharist. Read Romans and Hebrews, for goodness’ sake.

Of all the good work done in interreligious dialogue – and I think there is plenty, lest I be accused of hyper-cynicism – I struggle to see how the work done with the Jews would not rank near the bottom. Surely, we can come to agreements about anti-Semitism, but beyond that, what is there to talk about other than what is precisely at issue in the Holy Father’s address, and to insist on it without any apology of any kind? Our Lord set the clearest example of how to preach to Jews, as did the Apostles. Gentiles, with their “unknown god” in the areopagus, can present more complicated problems (managing “folly” instead of managing “scandal” – cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we, as Christians, are more truly Jewish than those who vainly cling to traditions which only point to what they themselves reject, who long for the Temple to be rebuilt, rather than embracing the living rebuilt temple which is the Risen Christ, in fulfillment of the Scriptures they read Sabbath after Sabbath; they are seeing and not perceiving, hearing and not understanding (Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:12)… And we are supposed to accept that they are walking the straight and narrow (and parallel) path to salvation because a few rabbis wrote some angry letters? It’s one thing for a sincere Jew never to have heard the Good News of Jesus preached; this – well, this is something different.

The list of scriptural passages and principles indicating the dynamic of the Jews in view of the end of their own specialness in favor of the universal covenant in Christ Jesus goes on and on and on. It’s almost like a main theme of the New Covenant… Hmm. The Cross stands outside Jerusalem, as a doorpost and lintel with the Blood of the true Lamb upon it, open enough for the whole world to fit through. Jonah’s plant has withered, but the Cross remains. One must walk through, and one must walk through freely, and enter into the protection of the house of life, the Church. Otherwise, the Angel of Death awaits for those unbelievers dwelling unconcerned down in Egypt. (Exodus 11:1-12:30)

One wonders how today’s Vatican “handlers” would have counseled St. Paul, for example, at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52). Without blunt speeches like this (and how many such examples are there in the New Testament?), it is true there would have been less controversy. How nice… But I do not remember the Lord saying He had come to bring peace – quite the opposite. (Matthew 10:34-36)

I say let Stephen give his speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), even though he will be stoned. Maybe there is a Saul out there who consents to such things now but who will later come to his senses and be converted… and we will then welcome him as the brother he is and rejoice on his account. Let’s be clear then that it is not an issue of race – it is an issue of legal and cultural attachment over and against the reception of the Incarnate Son of God Who is hailed by the very fonts of the same law and culture. Welcome to the beginning of the ironies delivered to us in Sacred Scripture. Just wait until you learn what the Pharisees wore on their foreheads while arguing about righteousness with the Second Person of the Trinity.

We read in the same Galatians how St. Peter (Cephas) withdrew to eat alone with the Jewish converts for fear of offending them, and we read how St. Paul reacted:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14

If St. Paul stood up to St. Peter for his folly of being afraid of offending Jewish converts, we should stand up to the counselors of St. Peter’s successors for their folly of being afraid of offending Jews themselves, no?

Well, at least we can blog about it.

Ss. Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Friday Fathers #2 – St. Ambrose on Modesty

Today we continue our weekly series in patristics with a blunt, interesting, and helpful set of chapters (18-20) from Book II of St. Ambrose of Milan’s work “On the Duties of the Clergy.” In this text, he not only lays out what clerics should aspire to in their moral life and ministry, but he gives a thorough treatment of the virtues in general, applicable to anyone. However, in this section the Saint is concerned primarily with some special aspects of temperance, namely, modesty, including in view of chastity and prudence.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

Chapter 18

67. Lovely, then, is the virtue of modesty, and sweet is its grace! It is seen not only in actions, but even in our words, so that we may not go beyond due measure in speech, and that our words may not have an unbecoming sound. The mirror of our mind often enough reflects its image in our words. Sobriety weighs out the sound even of our voice, for fear that too loud a voice should offend the ear of any one. Nay, in singing itself the first rule is modesty, and the same is true in every kind of speech, too, so that a man may gradually learn to praise God, or to sing songs, or even to speak, in that the principles of modesty grace his advance.

68. Silence, again, wherein all the other virtues rest, is the chief act of modesty. Only, if it is supposed to be a sign of a childish or proud spirit, it is accounted a reproach; if a sign of modesty, it is reckoned for praise. Susanna was silent in danger, and thought the loss of modesty was worse than loss of life. She did not consider that her safety should be guarded at the risk of her chastity. To God alone she spoke, to Whom she could speak out in true modesty. She avoided looking on the face of men. For there is also modesty in the glance of the eye, which makes a woman unwilling to look upon men, or to be seen by them.

69. Let no one suppose that this praise belongs to chastity alone. For modesty is the companion of purity, in company with which chastity itself is safer. Shame, again, is good as a companion and guide of chastity, inasmuch as it does not suffer purity to be defiled in approaching even the outskirts of danger. This it is that, at the very outset of her recognition, commends the Mother of the Lord to those who read the Scriptures, and, as a credible witness, declares her worthy to be chosen to such an office. For when in her chamber, alone, she is saluted by the angel, she is silent, and is disturbed at his entrance, and the Virgin’s face is troubled at the strange appearance of a man’s form. And so, though she was humble, yet it was not because of this, but on account of her modesty, that she did not return his salutation, nor give him any answer, except to ask, when she had learned that she should conceive the Lord, how this should be. She certainly did not speak merely for the sake of making a reply.

70. In our very prayers, too, modesty is most pleasing, and gains us much grace from our God. Was it not this that exalted the publican, and commended him, when he dared not raise even his eyes to heaven? (Luke 18:13-14) So he was justified by the judgment of the Lord rather than the Pharisee, whom overweening pride made so hideous. Therefore let us pray in the incorruptibility of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, (1 Peter 3:4) as St. Peter says. A noble thing, then, is modesty, which, though giving up its rights, seizing on nothing for itself, laying claim to nothing, and in some ways somewhat retiring within the sphere of its own powers, yet is rich in the sight of God, in Whose sight no man is rich. Rich is modesty, for it is the portion of God. Paul also bids that prayer be offered up with modesty and sobriety. (1 Timothy 2:9) He desires that this should be first, and, as it were, lead the way of prayers to come, so that the sinner’s prayer may not be boastful, but veiled, as it were, with the blush of shame, may merit a far greater degree of grace, in giving way to modesty at the remembrance of its fault.

71. Modesty must further be guarded in our very movements and gestures and gait. For the condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body. For this reason the hidden man of our heart (our inner self) is considered to be either frivolous, boastful, or boisterous, or, on the other hand, steady, firm, pure, and dependable. Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul.

72. You remember, my children, that a friend of ours who seemed to recommend himself by his assiduity in his duties, yet was not admitted by me into the number of the clergy, because his gestures were too unseemly. Also that I bade one, whom I found already among the clergy, never to go in front of me, because he actually pained me by the seeming arrogance of his gait. That is what I said when he returned to his duty after an offense committed. This alone I would not allow, nor did my mind deceive me. For both have left the Church. What their gait betrayed them to be, such were they proved to be by the faithlessness of their hearts. The one forsook his faith at the time of the Arian troubles; the other, through love of money, denied that he belonged to us, so that he might not have to undergo sentence at the hands of the Church. In their gait was discernible the semblance of fickleness, the appearance, as it were, of wandering buffoons.

73. Some there are who in walking perceptibly copy the gestures of actors, and act as though they were bearers in the processions, and had the motions of nodding statues, to such an extent that they seem to keep a sort of time, as often as they change their step.

74. Nor do I think it becoming to walk hurriedly, except when a case of some danger demands it, or a real necessity. For we often see those who hurry come up panting, and with features distorted. But if there is no reason for the need of such hurry, it gives cause for just offense. I am not, however, talking of those who have to hurry now and then for some particular reason, but of those to whom, by the yoke of constant habit, it has become a second nature. In the case of the former I cannot approve of their slow solemn movements, which remind one of the forms of phantoms. Nor do I care for the others with their headlong speed, for they put one in mind of the ruin of outcasts.

75. A suitable gait is that wherein there is an appearance of authority and weight and dignity, and which has a calm collected bearing. But it must be of such a character that all effort and conceit may be wanting, and that it be simple and plain. Nothing counterfeit is pleasing. Let nature train our movements. If indeed there is any fault in our nature, let us mend it with diligence. And, that artifice may be wanting, let not amendment be wanting.

76. But if we pay so much attention to things like these, how much more careful ought we to be to let nothing shameful proceed out of our mouth, for that defiles a man terribly. It is not food that defiles, but unjust disparagement of others and foul words. These things are openly shameful. In our office indeed must no word be let fall at all unseemly, nor one that may give offense to modesty. But not only ought we to say nothing unbecoming to ourselves, but we ought not even to lend our ears to words of this sort. Thus Joseph fled and left his garment, that he might hear nothing inconsistent with his modesty. (Genesis 39:12) For he who delights to listen, urges the other on to speak.

77. To have full knowledge of what is foul is in the highest degree shameful. To see anything of this sort, if by chance it should happen, how dreadful that is! What, therefore, is displeasing to us in others, can that be pleasing in ourselves? Is not nature herself our teacher, who has formed to perfection every part of our body, so as to provide for what is necessary and to beautify and grace its form? However she has left plain and open to the sight those parts which are beautiful to look upon; among which, the head, set as it were above all, and the pleasant lines of the figure, and the appearance of the face are prominent, while their usefulness for work is ready to hand. But those parts in which there is a compliance with the necessities of nature, she has partly put away and hidden in the body itself, lest they should present a disgusting appearance, and partly, too, she has taught and persuaded us to cover them.

78. Is not nature herself then a teacher of modesty? Following her example, the modesty of men, which I suppose is so called from the mode of knowing what is seemly, has covered and veiled what it has found hid in the frame of our body; like that door which Noah was bidden to make in the side of the ark; (Genesis 6:16) wherein we find a figure of the Church, and also of the human body, for through that door the remnants of food were cast out. Thus the Maker of our nature so thought of our modesty, and so guarded what was seemly and virtuous in our body, as to place what is unseemly behind, and to put it out of the sight of our eyes. Of this the Apostle says well: Those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. (1 Corinthians 12:22-23) Truly, by following the guidance of nature, diligent care has added to the grace of the body. In another place I have gone more fully into this subject, and said that not only do we hide those parts which have been given us to hide, but also that we think it unseemly to mention by name their description, and the use of those members.

79. And if these parts are exposed to view by chance, modesty is violated; but if on purpose, it is reckoned as utter shamelessness. Wherefore Ham, Noah’s son, brought disgrace upon himself; for he laughed when he saw his father naked, but they who covered their father received the gift of a blessing. (Genesis 9:22) For which cause, also, it was an ancient custom in Rome, and in many other states as well, that grown-up sons should not bathe with their parents, or sons-in-law with their fathers-in-law, in order that the great duty of reverence for parents should not be weakened. Many, however, cover themselves so far as they can in the baths, so that, where the whole body is bare, that part of it at least may be covered.

80. The priests, also, under the old law, as we read in Exodus, wore breeches, as it was told Moses by the Lord: And you shall make them linen breeches to cover their shame: from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach, and Aaron and his sons shall wear them, when they enter into the tabernacle of witness, and when they come unto the altar of the holy place to offer sacrifice, that they lay not sin upon themselves and die. (Exodus 28:42-43) Some of us are said still to observe this, but most explain it spiritually, and suppose it was said with a view to guarding modesty and preserving chastity.

Chapter 19

81. It has given me pleasure to dwell somewhat at length on the various functions of modesty; for I speak to you who either can recognize the good that is in it in your own cases, or at least do not know its loss. Fitted as it is for all ages, persons, times, and places, yet it most beseems youthful and childish years.

82. But at every age we must take care that all we do is seemly and becoming, and that the course of our life forms one harmonious and complete whole. Wherefore Cicero thinks that a certain order ought to be observed in what is seemly. He says that this lies in beauty, order, and in appointment fitted for action. This, as he says, it is difficult to explain in words, yet it can be quite sufficiently understood.

83. Why Cicero should have introduced beauty, I do not quite understand; though it is true he also speaks in praise of the powers of the body. We certainly do not locate virtue in the beauty of the body, though, on the other hand, we do recognize a certain grace, as when modesty is wont to cover the face with a blush of shame, and to make it more pleasing. For as a workman is wont to work better the more suitable his materials are, so modesty is more conspicuous in the comeliness of the body. Only the comeliness of the body should not be assumed; it should be natural and artless, unstudied rather than elaborated, not heightened by costly and glistening garments, but just clad in ordinary clothing. One must see that nothing is wanting that one’s credit or necessity demands, while nothing must be added for the sake of splendor.

84. The voice, too, should not be languid, nor feeble, nor womanish in its tone — such a tone of voice as many are in the habit of using, under the idea of seeming important. It should preserve a certain quality, and rhythm, and a manly vigor. For all to do what is best suited to their character and sex, that is to attain to beauty of life. This is the best order for movements, this the employment fitted for every action. But as I cannot approve of a soft or weak tone of voice, or an effeminate gesture of the body, so also I cannot approve of what is boorish and rustic. Let us follow nature. The imitation of her provides us with a principle of training, and gives us a pattern of virtue.

Chapter 20

85. Modesty has indeed its rocks — not any that she brings with her, but those, I mean, which she often runs against, as when we associate with profligate men, who, under the form of pleasantry, administer poison to the good. And the latter, if they are very constant in their attendance at banquets and games, and often join in jests, enervate that manly gravity of theirs. Let us then take heed that, in wishing to relax our minds, we do not destroy all harmony, the blending as it were of all good works. For habit quickly bends nature in another direction.

86. For this reason I think that what ye wisely do is befitting to the duties of clerics, and especially to those of the priesthood— namely, that you avoid the banquets of strangers, but so that you are still hospitable to travelers, and give no occasion for reproach by reason of your great care in the matter. Banquets with strangers engross one’s attention, and soon produce a love for feasting. Tales, also, of the world and its pleasures often creep in. One cannot shut one’s ears; and to forbid them is looked on as a sign of haughtiness. One’s glass, too, even against one’s will, is filled time after time. It is better surely to excuse oneself once for all at one’s own home, than often at another’s. When one rises sober, at any rate one’s presence need not be condemned by the insolence of another.

87. There is no need for the younger clergy to go to the houses of widows or virgins, except for the sake of a definite visit, and in that case only with the elder clergy, that is, with the bishop, or, if the matter be somewhat important, with the priests. Why should we give room to the world to revile? What need is there for those frequent visits to give ground for rumours? What if one of those women should by chance fall? Why should you undergo the reproach of another’s fall? How many even strong men have been led away by their passions? How many are there who have not indeed yielded to sin, but have given ground for suspicion?

88. Why do you not spend the time which you have free from your duties in the church in reading? Why do you not go back again to see Christ? Why do you not address Him, and hear His voice? We address Him when we pray, we hear Him when we read the sacred oracles of God. What have we to do with strange houses? There is one house which holds all. They who need us can come to us. What have we to do with tales and fables? An office to minister at the altar of Christ is what we have received; no duty to make ourselves agreeable to men has been laid upon us.

89. We ought to be humble, gentle, mild, serious, patient. We must keep the mean in all things, so that a calm countenance and quiet speech may show that there is no vice in our lives.

Friday Fathers #1 – St. Gregory of Nazianzen’s Farewell Homily

Eamonn Clark, STL

In this new weekly series, I am presenting particularly famous, controversial, helpful, or otherwise interesting homilies and writings of the Fathers. Normally, it will be small, digestible sections – but we may as well start with a full piece.

The following is a homily preached in the summer of 381 before 150 bishops and many other faithful by St. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers. It was his last time addressing his own see of Constantinople. He had been presiding over the First Council of Constantinople, after the Council confirmed his own appointment as the city’s Patriarch (against his rival Maximus the Cynic, who had been secretly consecrated at night in the cathedral). Gregory was only Patriarch of Constantinople for a few weeks before resigning due both to bad health and because of the wake of controversy surrounding his appointment, though he had long been engaged in the theological conflicts at issue at the Council. (He would later be forced by necessity to take up another diocese, before finally being able to retire to his hometown in relative peace.) This homily (Oration 42) was his farewell – it is at once a history, an exposition of faith, a personal defense, and, of course, a good-bye. It has some lessons for us.

Constantinople had recently been the center of immense political and religious upheaval due to Eastern attempts to save Arianism through “semi-Arianism,” and, of course, it was then presently the host of the second Ecumenical Council, which had been called by the Emperor Theodosius at the request of Pope Damasus I. Constantinople was pervaded by the Arian spirit… To have one of the champions of Nicene faith become patriarch and preside over the council in Constantinople in those days would be like having Putin become governor of Mississippi.

Despite elevating Gregory being the first on the “to do” list, a large group of bishops (Egyptians and Macedonians who had arrived late) thought Gregory’s ascension to the patriarchate was illegitimate, due to Nicaea’s prohibition on bishops changing dioceses. He had been opposed by Rome (Damasus was of a similar mind on bishops moving), and he was also opposed by the Alexandrian faction, due to his Antiochene character. It is in this dramatic context that the frail saint rose up to preach one last time in the Church of Hagia Irene (pictured above).

A study of times like this help us to appreciate that our own days are not as crazy (or at least uniquely crazy) as we might think they are. (See Ecclesiastes 7:10…) As the reality of the “anti-Nicene party” of semi-Arians and even the bitter division between the “pro-Nicene parties” of Antioch and Alexandria at First Constantinople shows us, getting riled up about the significance, status, and meaning of “the Council” is pretty much par for the course, whether “the Council” refers to Nicaea I or Vatican II or pretty much anything in between.

I leave the rest to St. Gregory.

1. What do you think of our affairs, dear shepherds and fellow-shepherds: whose feet are beautiful, for you bring glad tidings of peace and of the good things with which you have come; beautiful again in our eyes, to whom you have come in season, not to convert a wandering sheep, (Matthew 18:12) but to converse with a pilgrim shepherd? What do you think of this our pilgrimage? And of its fruit, or rather of that of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) within us, (2 Timothy 1:14) by Whom we are ever moved, (Acts 17:28) and specially have now been moved, desiring to have, and perhaps having, nothing of our own? Do you of yourselves understand and perceive — and are you kindly critics of our actions? Or must we, like those from whom a reckoning is demanded as to their military command, or civil government, or administration of the exchequer, publicly and in person submit to you the accounts of our administration? Not indeed that we are ashamed of being judged, for we are ourselves judges in turn, and both with the same charity. But the law is an ancient one: for even Paul communicated to the Apostles his Gospel: (Galatians 2:2) not for the sake of ostentation, for the Spirit is far removed from all ostentation, but in order to establish his success and correct his failure, if indeed there were any such in his words or actions, as he declares when writing of himself. Since even the Spirits of the Prophets are subject to the prophets, (1 Corinthians 14:32) according to the order of the Spirit who regulates and divides all things well. And do not wonder that, while he rendered his account privately and to some, I do so publicly, and to all. For my need is greater than his, of being aided by the freedom of my censors, if I am proved to have failed in my duty, lest I should run, or have run, in vain. (Galatians 2:2) And the only possible mode of self-defense is speech in the presence of men who know the facts.

2. What then is my defense? (1 Corinthians 9:3) If it be false, you must convict me, but if true, you on behalf of whom and in whose presence I speak, must bear witness to it. For you are my defense, my witnesses, and my crown of rejoicing, (1 Thessalonians 2:19) if I also may venture to boast myself a little in the Apostle’s language. This flock was, when it was small and poor, as far as appearances went, nay, not even a flock, but a slight trace and relic of a flock, without order, or shepherd, or bounds, with neither right to pasturage, nor the defense of a fold, wandering upon the mountains and in caves and dens of the earth, (Hebrews 11:38) scattered and dispersed here and there as each one could find shelter or pasture, or could gratefully secure its own safety; like that flock which was harassed by lions, dispersed by tempest, or scattered in darkness, the lamentation of prophets who compared it to the misfortunes of Israel, (Ezekiel 31:2) given up to the Gentiles; over which we also lamented, so long as our lot was worthy of lamentation. For in very deed we also were thrust out and cast off, and scattered upon every mountain and hill, from the need of a shepherd: and a dreadful storm fell upon the Church, and fearful beasts assailed her, who do not even now, after the calm, spare us, but without being ashamed of themselves, wield a greater power than the time should allow; while a gloomy darkness, far more oppressive than the ninth plague of Egypt, the darkness which might be felt, (Exodus 10:21) enveloped and concealed everything, so that we could scarcely even see one another.

3. To speak in a more feeling strain, trusting in Him Who then forsook me, as in a Father, Abraham has been ignorant of us, Israel has acknowledged us not, but You are our Father, and unto You do we look; (Isaiah 63:16) beside You we know none else, we make mention of Your name. Therefore, says Jeremiah, I will plead with You, I will reason the cause with You. (Jeremiah 12:1) We have become as at the beginning, when Thou barest not rule (Isaiah 63:19) over us, and You have forgotten Your holy covenant, and shut up Your mercies from us. Therefore we, the worshippers of the Trinity, the perfect suppliants of the perfect Deity, became a reproach to Your Beloved, neither daring to bring down to our own level any of the things above us, nor in such wise to rise up against the godless tongues which fought against God, as to make His Majesty a fellow servant with ourselves; but, as is plain, we were delivered up on account of our other sins, and because our conduct had been unworthy of Your commandments, and we had walked after our own evil mind. For what other reason can there be for our being delivered up to the most unrighteous and wicked men of all the dwellers upon the earth? First Nebuchadnezzar afflicted us, (Jeremiah 51:34) possessed during the Christian era with an anti-Christian rage, hating Christ just because he had through Him gained salvation, and having bartered the sacred books for sacrifices to those who are no gods. He devoured me, he tore me in pieces, a slight darkness enveloped me, if I may even in my lamentation keep to the language of Scripture. If the Lord had not helped me, and righteously delivered him to the hands of the lawless, by casting him off (such are the judgments of God) to the Persians, by whom his blood was righteously shed for his unholy sheddings of blood, since in this case alone justice could not afford even to be longsuffering, my soul had shortly dwelt in the grave. The second no more kindly, if he were not even more grievous still, for while he bore the name of Christ, he was a false Christ, and at once a burden and a reproach to the Christians, for, while to obey him was ungodly, to suffer at his hands was inglorious, since they did not even seem to be wronged, nor to gain by their sufferings the glorious title of martyr, inasmuch as the truth was in this case perverted, for while they suffered as Christians, they were supposed to be punished as heretics. Alas! How rich we were in misfortunes, for the fire consumed the beauties of the world. (Joel 1:19) That which the palmerworm left did the locust eat, and that which the locust left did the caterpillar eat: then came the cankerworm, then, what next I know not, one evil springing up after another. But for what purpose should I give a tragic description of the evils of the time, and of the penalty exacted from us, or, if I must rather call it so, the testing and refining we endured? At any rate, we went through fire and water, and have attained a place of refreshment by the good pleasure of God our Saviour.

4. To return to my original starting point. This was my field, when it was small and poor, unworthy not only of God, Who has been, and is cultivating the whole world with the fair seeds and doctrines of piety, but, apparently, even of any poor and needy man of slender means. Nay it did not deserve to be called a field, requiring neither barn nor threshing-floor, and not even worthy of the sickle; with neither heap nor sheaves, or small and untimely sheaves, like those on the housetop, which do not fill the hand of the reaper, nor call forth a blessing from them which go by. Such was my field, such my harvest; great and well-eared and fat in the eyes of Him Who beholds hidden things, and becoming such a husbandman, its abundance springing from the valleys of souls well tilled with the Word: unrecognized however in public, and not collected together, but gathered in fragments, as an ear gleaned in the stubble, as gleaning-grapes in the vintage, where there is no cluster left. I think I may add, only too appropriately, I found Israel like a fig tree in the wilderness, and like one or two ripe grapes in an unripe cluster, preserved as a blessing from the Lord, (Isaiah 65:8) and a consecrated first-fruit, though small as yet and scanty, and not filling the mouth of the eater: and as an ensign on a hill, and as a beacon on a mountain, or any other solitary thing visible only to few. Such was its former poverty and dejection.

5. But since God, Who makes poor and makes rich, Who kills and makes alive; Who makes and transforms all things; Who turns night into day, (Amos 5:8) winter into spring, storm into calm, drought into abundance of rain; and often for the sake of the prayers (1 Kings 18:42) of one righteous man (James 5:16-17) sorely persecuted; Who lifts up the meek on high, and brings the ungodly down to the ground; since God said to Himself, I have surely seen the affliction of Israel; (Exodus 3:7) and they shall no longer be further vexed with clay and brick-making; and when He spoke He visited, and in His visitation He saved, and led forth His people with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, His chosen — what is the result, and what wonders have been wrought? Those which books and monuments contain. For besides all the wonders by the way, and that mighty roar, to speak most concisely, Joseph came into Egypt alone, (Genesis 37:28) and soon after six hundred thousand depart from Egypt. (Exodus 12:37) What more marvelous than this? What greater proof of the generosity of God, when from men without means He wills to supply the means for public affairs? And the land of promise is distributed through one who was hated, and he who was sold (Genesis 49:22) dispossesses nations, and is himself made a great nation, and that small offshoot becomes a luxuriant vine, (Hosea 10:1) so great that it reaches to the river, and is stretched out to the sea, and spreads from border to border, and hides the mountains with the height of its glory and is exalted above the cedars, even the cedars of God, whatever we are to take these mountains and cedars to be.

6. Such then was once this flock, and such it is now, so healthy and well grown, and if it be not yet in perfection, it is advancing towards it by constant increase, and I prophesy that it will advance. This is foretold me by the Holy Spirit, if I have any prophetic instinct and insight into the future. And from what has preceded I am able to be confident, and recognize this by reasoning, being the nursling of reason. For it was much more improbable that, from that condition, it should reach its present development, than that, as it now is, it should attain to the height of renown. For ever since it began to be gathered together, by Him Who quickens the dead, (Romans 4:17) bone to its bone, joint to joint, and the Spirit of life and regeneration was given to it in their dryness, (Ezekiel 37:7, 10) its entire resurrection has been, I know well, sure to be fulfilled: so that the rebellious should not exalt themselves, and that those who grasp at a shadow, or at a dream when one awakes, or at the dispersing breezes, or at the traces of a ship in the water, should not think that they have anything. Howl, firtree, for the cedar is fallen! (Zechariah 11:2) Let them be instructed by the misfortunes of others, and learn that the poor shall not always be forgotten, and that the Deity will not refrain, as Habakkuk says, from striking through the heads of the mighty ones (Habakkuk 3:13) in His fury — the Deity, Who has been struck through and impiously divided into Ruler and Ruled, in order to insult the Deity in the highest degree by degrading It, and oppress a creature by equality with Deity.

7. I seem indeed to hear that voice, from Him Who gathers together those who are broken, and welcomes the oppressed: Enlarge your cords, break forth on the right hand and on the left, drive in your stakes, spare not your curtains. (Isaiah 54:2) I have given you up, and I will help you. In a little wrath I smote you, but with everlasting mercy I will glorify you. The measure of His kindness exceeds the measure of His discipline. The former things were owing to our wickedness, the present things to the adorable Trinity: the former for our cleansing, the present for My glory, Who will glorify them that glorify Me, (1 Samuel 2:30) and I will move to jealousy them that move Me to jealousy. Behold this is sealed up with Me, and this is the indissoluble law of recompense. But you surrounded yourself with walls and tablets and richly set stones, and long porticos and galleries, and shone and sparkled with gold, which you did, in part pour forth like water, in part treasure up like sand; not knowing that better is faith, with no other roof but the sky to cover it, than impiety rolling in wealth, and that three gathered together in the Name of the Lord (Matthew 18:20) count for more with God than tens of thousands of those who deny the Godhead. Would you prefer the whole of the Canaanites to Abraham alone? or the men of Sodom to Lot? or the Midianites to Moses, (Exodus 2:15) when each of these was a pilgrim and a stranger? How do the three hundred men with Gideon, who bravely lapped, (Judges 7:5) compare with the thousands who were put to flight? Or the servants of Abraham, who scarcely exceeded them in number, with the many kings and the army of tens of thousands whom, few as they were, they overtook and defeated? (Genesis 14:14) Or how do you understand the passage that though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved? And again, I have left me seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal? This is not the case; it is not? God has not taken pleasure in numbers.

8. You count tens of thousands, God counts those who are in a state of salvation; you count the dust which is without number, I the vessels of election. For nothing is so magnificent in God’s sight as pure doctrine, and a soul perfect in all the dogmas of the truth.— For there is nothing worthy of Him Who made all things, of Him by Whom are all things, and for Whom are all things, (1 Corinthians 8:6) so that it can be given or offered to God: not merely the handiwork or means of any individual, but even if we wished to honor Him, by uniting together all the property and handiwork of all mankind. Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24) says the Lord! And what house will you build Me? Or what is the place of My rest? (Isaiah 66:1) But, since man must needs fall short of what is worthy, I ask of you, as approaching it most nearly, piety, the wealth which is common to all and equal in My eyes, wherein the poorest may, if he be noble minded, surpass the most illustrious. For this kind of glory depends upon purpose, not upon affluence. These things be well assured, I will accept at your hands. To tread My courts you shall not proceed, but the feet of the meek shall tread them, who have duly and sincerely acknowledged Me, and My only-begotten Word, and the Holy Spirit. How long will you inherit My holy Mountain? How long shall My ark be among the heathen? (1 Samuel 6:1) Now for a little longer you indulge yourselves in that which belongs to others, and gratify your desires. For as you have devised to reject Me, so will I also reject you, (Hosea 4:6) says the Lord Almighty.

9. This I seemed to hear Him say, and to see Him do, and besides, to hear Him shouting to His people, which once were few and scattered and miserable, and have now become many, and compact enough and enviable, Go through My gates Isaiah 62:10 and be enlarged. Must you always be in trouble and dwell in tents, while those who vex you rejoice exceedingly? And to the presiding Angels, for I believe, as John teaches me in his Revelation, that each Church has its guardian, Revelation 2:1 Prepare the way of My people, and cast away the stones from the way, Isaiah 62:10 that there may be no stumbling block or hindrance for the people in the divine road and entrance, now, to the temples made with hands, Acts 7:48 but soon after, to Jerusalem above, Galatians 4:26 and the Holy of holies there, which will, I know, be the end of suffering and struggle to those who here bravely travel on the way. Among whom are you also called to be Saints, Romans 1:6 a people of possession, a royal priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9 the most excellent portion of the Lord, a whole river from a drop, a heavenly lamp from a spark, a tree from a grain of mustard seed, Matthew 13:21 on which the birds come and lodge.

10. These we present to you, dear shepherds, these we offer to you, with these we welcome our friends, and guests, and fellow pilgrims. We have nothing fairer or more splendid to offer to you, for we have selected the greatest of all our possessions, that you may see that, strangers as we are, we are not in want, but though poor are making many rich. (2 Corinthians 6:10) If these things are small and unworthy of notice, I would fain learn what is greater and of more account. For, if it be no great thing to have established and strengthened with wholesome doctrines a city which is the eye of the universe, in its exceeding strength by sea and land, which is, as it were, the link between the Eastern and Western shores, in which the extremities of the world from every side meet together, and from which, as the common mart of the faith, they take their rise, a city borne here and there on the eddying currents of so many tongues, it will be long ere anything be considered great or worthy of esteem. But if it be indeed a subject for praise, allow to us some glory on this account, since we have contributed in some portion to these results which you see.

11. Lift up your eyes round about, and see, (Isaiah 60:4) thou critic of my words! See the crown which has been platted in return for the hirelings of Ephraim and the crown of insolence; see the assembly of the presbyters, honored for years and wisdom, the fair order of the deacons, who are not far from the same Spirit, the good conduct of the readers, the people’s eagerness for teaching, both of men and women, who are equally renowned for virtue: the men, whether philosophers or simple folk, being alike wise in divine things, whether rulers or ruled, being all in this respect duly under rule; whether soldiers or nobles, students or men of letters, being all soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3) of God, though in all other respects meek, ready to fight for the Spirit, all reverencing the assembly above, to which we obtain an entrance, not by the mere letter, but by the quickening Spirit, all in very deed being men of reason, and worshippers of Him Who is in truth the Word: the women, if married, being united by a Divine rather than by a carnal bond; if unwedded and free, being entirely dedicated to God; whether young or old, some honorably advancing towards old age, others eagerly striving to remain immortal, being renewed by the best of hopes.

12. To those who platted this crown — that which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, (2 Corinthians 11:17) nevertheless I will say it — I also have given assistance. Some of them are the result of my words, not of those which we have uttered at random, but of those which we have loved — nor again of those which are meretricious, though the language and manners of the harlot have been slanderously attributed to me, but of those which are most grave. Some of them are the offspring and fruit of my Spirit, as the Spirit can beget those who rise superior to the body. To this I have no doubt that those who are kindly among you, nay all of you, will testify, since I have been the husbandman of all: and my sole reward is your confession. For we neither have, nor have had, any other object. For virtue, that it may remain virtue, is without reward, its eyes fixed alone on that which is good.

13. Would you have me say something still more venturesome? Do you see the tongues of the enemy made gentle, and those who made war upon the Godhead against me tranquillized? This also is the result of our Spirit, of our husbandry. For we are not undisciplined in our exercise of discipline, nor do we hurl insults, as many do, who assail not the argument but the speaker, and sometimes strive by their invective to hide the weakness of their reasoning; as the cuttlefish are said to cast forth ink before them, in order to escape from their pursuers, or themselves to hunt others when unperceived. But we show that our warfare is in behalf of Christ by fighting as Christ, the peaceable and meek, (Matthew 11:29) Who has borne our infirmities, fought. Though peaceable, we do not injure the word of truth, by yielding a jot, to gain a reputation for reasonableness; for we do not pursue that which is good by means of ill: and we are peaceable by the legitimate character of our warfare, confined as it is to our own limits, and the rules of the Spirit. Upon these points, this is my decision, and I lay down the law for all stewards of souls and dispensers of the Word: neither to exasperate others by their harshness, nor to render them arrogant by submissiveness: but to be of good words in treating of the Word, and in neither direction to overstep the mean.

14. But you are perhaps longing for me to give an exposition of the faith, in so far as I am able. For I shall myself be sanctified by the effort of memory, and the people also will be benefited, by its special delight in such discussions, and you will fully acknowledge it — unless we are the objects of groundless envy, as the rivals, in the manifestation of the truth, of those whom we do not excel. For as, of deep waters, some in the depths are utterly hidden, some foam against any obstruction, and hesitate a while before breaking (as they promise to our ears), some do actually break; so also, of those who are professors of the Divine philosophy— setting aside the utterly misguided — some keep their piety entirely secret and hidden within themselves, some are not far from the birth pangs, avoiding impiety, yet not speaking out their piety, either from cautious reserve in their teaching, or under pressure of fear, being themselves sound, as they say, in mind, but not making sound their people, as if they had been entrusted with the government of their own souls, but not of those of others; while there are some who make public their treasure, unable to restrain themselves from giving birth to their piety, and not considering that to be salvation which saves themselves alone, without bestowing upon others the overflow of their blessings. Among these would I range myself, and all who by my side have nobly dared to confess the truth.

15. One concise proclamation of our teaching, an inscription intelligible to all, is this people, which so sincerely worships the Trinity, that it would sooner sever anyone from this life, than sever one of the three from the Godhead: of one mind, of equal zeal, and united to one another, to us and to the Trinity by unity of doctrine. Briefly to run over its details: That which is without beginning, and is the beginning, and is with the beginning, is one God. For the nature of that which is without beginning does not consist in being without beginning or being unbegotten, for the nature of anything lies, not in what it is not but in what it is. It is the assertion of what is, not the denial of what is not. And the Beginning is not, because it is a beginning, separated from that which has no beginning. For its beginning is not its nature, any more than the being without beginning is the nature of the other. For these are the accompaniments of the nature, not the nature itself. That again which is with that which has no beginning, and with the beginning, is not anything else than what they are. Now, the name of that which has no beginning is the Father, and of the Beginning the Son, and of that which is with the Beginning, the Holy Ghost, and the three have one Nature — God. And the union is the Father from Whom and to Whom the order of Persons runs its course, not so as to be confounded, but so as to be possessed, without distinction of time, of will, or of power. For these things in our case produce a plurality of individuals, since each of them is separate both from every other quality, and from every other individual possession of the same quality. But to Those who have a simple nature, and whose essence is the same, the term One belongs in its highest sense.

16. Let us then bid farewell to all contentious shiftings and balancings of the truth on either side, neither, like the Sabellians, assailing the Trinity in the interest of the Unity, and so destroying the distinction by a wicked confusion; nor, like the Arians, assailing the Unity in the interest of the Trinity, and by an impious distinction overthrowing the Oneness. For our object is not to exchange one evil for another, but to ensure our attainment of that which is good. These are the playthings of the Wicked One, who is ever swaying our fortunes towards the evil. But we, walking along the royal road which lies between the two extremes, which is the seat of the virtues, as the authorities say, believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, of one Substance and glory; in Whom also baptism has its perfection, both nominally and really you know who hast been initiated!; being a denial of atheism and a confession of Godhead; and thus we are regenerated, acknowledging the Unity in the Essence and in the undivided worship, and the Trinity in the Hypostases or Persons (which term some prefer.) And let not those who are contentious on these points utter their scandalous taunts, as if our faith depended on terms and not on realities. For what do you mean who assert the three Hypostases? Do you imply three Essences by the term? I am assured that you would loudly shout against those who do so. For you teach that the Essence of the Three is One and the same. What do you mean, who assert the Three Persons? Do you imagine a single compound sort of being, with three faces, or of an entirely human form? Perish the thought! You too will loudly reply that he who thinks thus, will never see the face of God, whatever it may be. What is the meaning of the Hypostases of the one party, of the Persons of the other, to ask this further question? That They are three, Who are distinguished not by natures, but by properties. Excellent. How could men agree and harmonize better than you do, even if there be a difference between the syllables you use? You see what a reconciler I am, bringing you back from the letter to the sense, as we do with the Old and New Testaments.

17. But, to resume: let us speak of the Unbegotten, the Begotten, and the Proceeding, if anyone likes to create names: for we shall have no fear of bodily conceptions attaching to Those who are not embodied, as the calumniators of the Godhead think. For the creature must be called God’s, and this is for us a great thing, but God never. Otherwise I shall admit that God is a creature, if I become God, in the strict sense of the term. For this is the truth. If God, He is not a creature; for the creature ranks with us who are not Gods. And if a creature, he is not God, for he had a beginning in time. And there was a time when he who had a beginning was not. And that of which non-existence was its prior condition, has not being in the strict sense of the term. And how can that, which strictly has not being, be God? Not one single one, then, of the Three is a creature, nor, what is worse, came into being for my sake; for in that case he would be not only a creature, but inferior in honor to us. For, if I am for the glory of God, and he is for my sake, as the tongs for the waggon, the saw for the door, I am his superior in causality. For in whatever degree God is superior to creatures, in the same degree is he, who came into being for my sake, inferior to me who exist for God’s sake.

18. Moreover, the Moabites and Ammonites must not even be allowed to enter (Deuteronomy 23:3) into the Church of God, I mean those sophistical, mischievous arguments which enquire curiously into the generation and inexpressible procession of God, and rashly set themselves in array against the Godhead: as if it were necessary that those things which it is beyond the power of language to set forth, must either be accessible to them alone, or else have no existence because they have not comprehended them. We however, following the Divine Scriptures, and removing out of the way of the blind the stumbling blocks contained in them, will cling to salvation, daring any and every thing rather than arrogance against God. As for the evidences, we leave them to others, since they have been set forth by many, and by ourselves also with no little care. And indeed, it would be a very shameful thing for me at this time to be gathering together proofs for what has all along been believed. For it is not the best order of things, first to teach and then to learn, even in matters which are small and of no consequence, and much more in those which are Divine and of such great importance. Nor, again, is it proper to the present occasion to explain and disentangle the difficulties of Scripture, a task requiring fuller and more careful consideration than our present purpose will allow. Such then, to sum up, is our teaching. I have entered into these details, with no intention of contending against the adversaries: for I have already often, even if it be imperfectly, fought out the question with them: but in order that I might exhibit to you the character of my teaching, that you might see whether I have not a share in the defense of your own, and do not take my stand on the same side, and opposed to the same enemies as yourselves.

19. You have now, my friends, heard the defense of my presence here: if it be deserving of praise, thanks are due for it to God, and to you who called me; if it has fallen below your expectation, I give thanks even on this behalf. For I am assured that it has not been altogether deserving of censure, and am confident that you also admit this. Have we at all made a gain 2 Corinthians 12:17 of this people? Have we consulted at all our own interests, as I see is most often the case? Have we caused any vexation to the Church? To others possibly, with whose idea that they had gained judgment against us by default, we have joined issue in our argument; but in no wise, as far as I am aware, to you. I have taken no ox of yours, 1 Kings 12:2 says the great Samuel, in his contention against Israel on the subject of the king, nor any propitiation for your souls, the Lord is witness among you, nor this, nor that, proceeding at greater length, that I may not count up every particular; but I have kept the priesthood pure and unalloyed. And if I have loved power, or the height of a throne, or to tread kings’ courts, may I never possess any distinction, or if I gain it, may I be hurled from it.

20. What then do I mean? I am no proficient in virtue without reward, having not attained to so high a degree of virtue. Give me the reward of my labors. What reward? Not that which some, prone to any suspicion would suppose, but that which it is safe for me to seek. Give me a respite from my long labors; give honor to my foreign service; elect another in my place, the one who is being eagerly sought on your behalf, someone who is clean of hands, someone who is not unskilled in voice, someone who is able to gratify you on all points, and share with you the ecclesiastical cares; for this is especially the time for such. But behold, I pray you, the condition of this body, so drained by time, by disease, by toil. What need have you of a timid and unmanly old man, who is, so to speak, dying day by day, not only in body, but even in powers of mind, who finds it difficult to enter into these details before you? Disobey not the voice of your teacher: for indeed you have never yet disobeyed it. I am weary of being charged with my gentleness. I am weary of being assailed in words and in envy by enemies, and by our own. Some aim at my breast, and are less successful in their effort, for an open enemy can be guarded against. Others lie in wait for my back, and give greater pain, for the unsuspected blow is the more fatal. If again I have been a pilot, I have been one of the most skillful; the sea has been boisterous around us, boiling about the ship, and there has been considerable uproar among the passengers, who have always been fighting about something or another, and roaring against one another and the waves. What a struggle I have had, seated at the helm, contending alike with the sea and the passengers, to bring the vessel safe to land through this double storm. Had they in every way supported me, safety would have been hardly won, and when they were opposed to me, how has it been possible to avoid making shipwreck?

21. What more need be said? But how can I bear this holy war? For there has been said to be a holy, as well as a Persian, war. How shall I unite and join together the hostile occupants of sees, and hostile pastors, and the people broken up along with, and opposed to them, as if by some chasms caused by earthquakes between neighboring and adjoining places; or as, in pestilential diseases, befalls servants and members of the family, when the sickness readily attacks in succession one after another; and besides the very quarters of the world are affected by the spirit of faction, so that East and West are arrayed on opposite sides, and bid fair to be severed in opinion no less than in position. How long are parties to be mine and yours, the old and the new, the more rational and the more spiritual, the more noble and the more ignoble, the more and the less numerous? I am ashamed of my old age, when, after being saved by Christ, I am called by the name of others.

22. I cannot bear your horse races and theatres, and this rage for rivalry in expense and party spirit. We unharness, and harness ourselves on the other side, we neigh against each other, we almost beat the air, as they do, and fling the dust towards heaven, like those which are excited; and under other masks satisfy our own rivalry, and become evil arbiters of emulation, and senseless judges of affairs. Today sharing the same thrones and opinions, if our leaders thus carry us along; tomorrow hostile alike in position and opinion, if the wind blows in the contrary direction. Amid the variations of friendship and hatred, our names also vary: and what is most terrible, we are not ashamed to set forth contrary doctrines to the same audience; nor are we constant to the same objects, being rendered different at different times by our contentiousness. They are like the ebb and flow of some narrow strait. For as when the children are at play in the midst of the market place, it would be most disgraceful and unbecoming for us to leave our household business, and join them; for children’s toys are not becoming for old age: so, when others are contending, even if I am better informed than the majority, I could not allow myself to be one of them, rather than, as I now do, enjoy the freedom of obscurity. For, besides all this, my feeling is that I do not, on most points, agree with the majority, and cannot bear to walk in the same way. Rash and stupid though it may be, such is my feeling. That which is pleasant to others causes pain to me, and I am pleased with what is painful to others. So that I should not be surprised if I were even imprisoned as a disagreeable man, and thought by most men to be out of my senses, as is said to have been the case with one of the Greek philosophers, whose moderation exposed him to the charge of madness, because he laughed at everything, since he saw that the objects of the eager pursuit of the majority were ridiculous; or even be thought full of new wine as were in later days the disciples of Christ, because they spoke with tongues, (Acts 2:4) since men knew not that it was the power of the Spirit, and not a distraction of mind.

23. Now, consider the charges laid against us. You have been ruler of the church, it is said, for so long, and favored by the course of time, and the influence of the sovereign, a most important matter. What change have we been able to notice? How many men have in days gone by used us outrageously? What sufferings have we failed to undergo? Ill-usage? Threats? Banishment? Plunder? Confiscation? The burning of priests at sea? The desecration of temples by the blood of the saints, till, instead of temples, they became charnel-houses? The public slaughter of aged Bishops, to speak more accurately, of Patriarchs? The denial of access to every place in the case of the godly alone? In fact any kind of suffering which could be mentioned? And for which of these have we requited the wrongdoers? For the wheel of fortune gave us the power of rightly treating those who so treated us, and our persecutors ought to have received a lesson. Apart from all other things, speaking only of our experiences, not to mention your own, have we not been persecuted, maltreated, driven from churches, houses, and, most terrible of all, even from the deserts? Have we not had to endure an enraged people, insolent governors, the disregard of Emperors and their decrees? What was the result? We became stronger, and our persecutors took to flight. That was actually the case. The power to requite them seemed to me a sufficient vengeance on those who had wronged us. These men thought otherwise; for they are exceedingly exact and just in requiting: and accordingly they demand what the state of things permits. What governor, they say, has been fined? What populace chastised? What ringleaders of the populace? What fear of ourselves have we been able to inspire for the future?

24. Perhaps we may be reproached, as we have been before, with the exquisite character of our table, the splendour of our apparel, the officers who precede us, our haughtiness to those who meet us. I was not aware that we ought to rival the consuls, the governors, the most illustrious generals, who have no opportunity of lavishing their incomes; or that our belly ought to hunger for the enjoyment of the goods of the poor, and to expend their necessaries on superfluities, and belch forth over the altars. I did not know that we ought to ride on splendid horses, and drive in magnificent carriages, and be preceded by a procession and surrounded by applause, and have everyone make way for us, as if we were wild beasts, and open out a passage so that our approach might be seen afar. If these sufferings have been endured, they have now passed away: Forgive me this wrong. (2 Corinthians 12:13) Elect another who will please the majority: and give me my desert, my country life, and my God, Whom alone I may have to please, and shall please by my simple life. It is a painful thing to be deprived of speeches and conferences, and public gatherings, and applause like that which now lends wings to my thoughts, and relatives, and friends and honors, and the beauty and grandeur of the city, and its brilliancy which dazzles those who look at the surface without investigating the inner nature of things; but yet not so painful as being clamored against and besmirched amid public disturbances and agitations, which trim their sails to the popular breeze. For they seek not for priests, but for orators, not for stewards of souls, but for treasurers of money, not for pure offerers of the sacrifice, but for powerful patrons. I will say a word in their defense: we have thus trained them, by becoming all things to all men, (1 Corinthians 9:22) whether to save or destroy all, I know not.

25. What say you? Are you persuaded, have you been overcome by my words? Or must I use stronger terms in order to persuade you? Yea by the Trinity Itself, Whom you and I alike worship, by our common hope, and for the sake of the unity of this people, grant me this favor; dismiss me with your prayers; let this be the proclamation of my contest; give me my certificate of retirement, as sovereigns do to their soldiers; and, if you will, with a favorable testimony, that I may enjoy the honor of it; if not, just as you please; this will make no difference to me, until God sees what my case really is. What successor then shall we elect? God will provide Himself (Genesis 22:8) a shepherd for the office, as He once provided a lamb for a burnt-offering. I only make this further request, — let him be one who is the object of envy, not the object of pity; not one who yields everything to all, but one who can on some points offer resistance for the sake of what is best: for though the one is most pleasant, the other is most profitable. So do you prepare for me your addresses of dismissal: I will now bid you farewell.

26. Farewell my Anastasia, whose name is redolent of piety: for you have raised up for us the doctrine which was in contempt: farewell, scene of our common victory, modern Shiloh, (Joshua 18:1) where the tabernacle was first fixed, after being carried about in its wanderings for forty years in the wilderness. Farewell likewise, grand and renowned temple, our new inheritance, whose greatness is now due to the Word, which once wast a Jebus, (1 Chronicles 11:4) and hast now been made by us a Jerusalem. Farewell, all you others, inferior only to this in beauty, scattered through the various parts of the city, like so many links, uniting together each your own neighborhood, which have been filled with worshippers of whose existence we had despaired, not by me, in my weakness, but by the grace which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10) Farewell, you Apostles, noble settlers here, my masters in the strife; if I have not often kept festival with you, it has been possibly due to the Satan which I, like St. Paul, (2 Corinthians 12:7) who was one of you, carry about in my body for my own profit, and which is the cause of my now leaving you. Farewell, my throne, envied and perilous height; farewell assembly of high priests, honored by the dignity and age of its priests, and all you other ministers of God round the holy table, drawing near to the God Who draws near to you. (James 4:8) Farewell, choirs of Nazarites, harmonies of the Psalter, night-long stations, venerable virgins, decorous matrons, gatherings of widows and orphans, and you eyes of the poor, turned towards God and towards me. Farewell, hospitable and Christ-loved dwellings, helpers of my infirmity. Farewell, you lovers of my discourses, in your eagerness and concourse, you pencils seen and unseen, and thou balustrade, pressed upon by those who thrust themselves forward to hear the word. Farewell, Emperors, and palace, and ministers and household of the Emperor, whether faithful or not to him, I know not, but for the most part, unfaithful to God. Clap your hands, shout aloud, extol your orator to the skies. This pestilent and garrulous tongue has ceased to speak to you. Though it will not utterly cease to speak: for it will fight with hand and ink: but for the present we have ceased to speak.

27. Farewell, mighty Christ-loving city. I will testify to the truth, though your zeal be not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2) Our separation renders us more kindly. Approach the truth: be converted at this late hour. Honor God more than you have been wont to do. It is no disgrace to change, while it is fatal to cling to evil. Farewell, East and West, for whom and against whom I have had to fight; He is witness, Who will give you peace, if but a few would imitate my retirement. For those who resign their thrones will not also lose God, but will have the seat on high, which is far more exalted and secure. Last of all, and most of all, I will cry — farewell ye Angels, guardians of this church, and of my presence and pilgrimage, since our affairs are in the hands of God. Farewell, O Trinity, my meditation, and my glory. May You be preserved by those who are here, and preserve them, my people: for they are mine, even if I have my place assigned elsewhere; and may I learn that You are ever extolled and glorified in word and conduct. My children, keep, I pray you, that which is committed to your trust. (1 Timothy 6:20) Remember my stonings. (Colossians 4:18) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

St. Gregory of Nazianzen, pray for us!

Featured image: the reconstructed Church of Hagia Irene (by Dosseman, Wikimedia Commons)