Archives for June 2006

Cloud of Witnesses

Yesterday was the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; today is the commemoration of the First Martyrs of the Church at Rome. Unfortunately, most non Catholic/Orthodox Christians, and nowadays even many Catholics, are like, “So what? What’s the big deal?” We live in a world where the past is just that, past and done with, where someone’s clothes or hairstyle is ridiculed with a flippant, “That’s so five minutes ago!” What matters in our fast food, up-to-date technologized, past mocking “culture” (I use that word very loosely here) is how with the latest fad one is…the latest song, clothing style, meditation technique, and on and on. But for Catholics who know what and why they believe the past is not gone and over with for the words and deeds of the Saints form a golden chain of Life that reaches into our own, often silly and frivolous, time.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer collects for the feasts of the Saints and other holy days are often introduced with these or like words, “Almighty God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance…” To remember those who have lived and died for Christ in ages past and now live IN Christ in Eternal Life is to be “made glad”. Glad that we have their examples, glad that their witness kept the Faith alive and continuing, and glad that, by commemorating them before God, we may even NOW, TODAY have participation in their prayers and praises. No fad-followers, they staked their very souls on the Truth of the One who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever”. Following them, remembering them, and asking their intercession, let us do so as well.

O God, You make us glad with the yearly remembrance of Your first martyrs at Rome: Grant that we who hallow their memory may be encouraged by their examples and aided by their prayers and, following them in authentic and holy living, may come at last to the joys of Your Kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Few Welcomes

First, we would like to welcome our friend and contributor Chad into the Catholic Church. Chad will be received and confirmed tonight at 6:30 PM Central Time. Shoot him an email of congratulations. Welcome aboard Chad!

Second, our very own NiceneHobbit has a new blog, Nicene Hobbit’s Hole. Have a visit!

St. Ambrose of Milan on the Sacraments

Below are excerpts from On the Mysteries by St. Ambrose of Milan, the 4th century bishop, teacher, and mentor of St. Augustine.

On Sacraments in General:
Open, then, your ears, inhale the good savour of eternal life which has been breathed upon you by the grace of the sacraments; which was signified to you by us, when, celebrating the mystery of the opening, we said, “Epphatha, which is, Be opened,” that whosoever was coming in quest of peace might know what he was asked, and be bound to remember what he answered…

Baptism:
Upon which, God, willing to restore what was lacking, sent the flood and bade just Noah go up into the ark. And he, after having, as the flood was passing off, sent forth first a raven which did not return, sent forth a dove which is said to have returned with an olive twig.

You see the water, you see the wood [of the ark], you see the dove, and do you hesitate as to the mystery? The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. The wood is that on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when He suffered for us. The dove is that in the form of which the Holy Spirit descended, as you have read in the New Testament, Who inspires in you peace of soul and tranquillity of mind. The raven is the figure of sin, which goes forth and does not return, if, in you, too, inwardly and outwardly righteousness be preserved…

Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: “For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace…

So, then, having obtained everything, let us know that we are born again, but let us not say, “how are we born again?” Have we entered a second time into our mother’s womb and been born again? I do not recognize here the course of nature. But here there is no order of nature, where is the excellence of grace. And again, it is not always the course of nature which brings about conception, for we confess that Christ the Lord was conceived of a Virgin, and reject the order of nature… If, then, the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Virgin wrought the conception, and effected the work of generation, surely we must not doubt but that, coming down upon the Font, or upon those who receive Baptism, He effects the reality of the new birth.

On the Eucharist:
We must now pay attention, lest perchance any one seeing that what is visible (for things which are invisible cannot be seen nor comprehended by human eyes), should say, “God rained down manna and rained down quails upon the Jews,” but for the Church beloved of Him the things which He has prepared are those of which it is said: “That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.” So, lest any one should say this, we will take great pains to prove that the sacraments of the Church are both more ancient than those of the synagogue, and more excellent than the manna…

Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it wholly shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth…

…if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the [bread and wine]? You read concerning the making of the whole world: “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created.” Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: “This is My Body.” Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks…

The Church, beholding so great grace, exhorts her sons and her friends to come together to the sacraments, saying: “Eat, my friends, and drink and be inebriated, my brother.”

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Today, in many parts of the Western world, Catholics celebrate Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body of Christ. It is the celebration of the holy Eucharist and its commemoration. Here are a few Church Fathers quotes on communion, showing the importance of the sacrament of the body and blood, often called in Patristic writings “the medicine of immortality”:

For He says Himself, My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him. As to the verity of the flesh and blood there is no room left for doubt. For now both from the declaration of the Lord Himself and our own faith, it is verily flesh and verily blood. And these when eaten and drunk, bring it to pass that both we are in Christ and Christ in us. Is not this true? Yet they who affirm that Christ Jesus is not truly God are welcome to find it false. He therefore Himself is in us through the flesh and we in Him, whilst together with Him our own selves are in God.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, AD 360

The Word is all to the child, both father and mother and tutor and nurse. “Eat ye my flesh,” He says, “and drink my blood.” Such is the suitable food which the Lord ministers, and He offers His flesh and pours forth His blood, and nothing is wanting for the children’s growth. O amazing mystery.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, AD 200

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.

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, AD 105

Of course, no post on Corpus Christi would be complete without a Eucharistic prayer. The following prayer is an Eastern prayer from the canon of preparation for Holy Communion. This and other Communion prayers may be found at Catholic Communion, Eucharist, and Mass Prayers.

May Thy most precious Body and Blood
be to me as fire and light,
O my Saviour, consuming the substance of sin
and burning the thorns of my passions,
and enlightening the whole of me
to worship the Divinity.

What’s Up With the Charismatic Episcopal Church?

I briefly flirted with the idea of joining the Charismatic Episcopal Church, but quite a few things stood in the way of me joining. One major reason I didn’t join was what was happening in the CEC cathedral a friend of mine attended. The bishop suspended the liturgy when the “Spirit moved” and the behavior seemed more charismatic than Catholic. There are other incidents, not to mention that the CEC suffers from many of the same issues as Anglicanism, but I won’t go into all of this here. I have a few friends who are active in the church, and I think the CEC does many good things. Thus, I still take an interest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. It is not my intention to slander the Charismatic Episcopal church, nor do I want to get a comment war going about their weaknesses.

However, it seems that quite a few dioceses have either pulled out or been kicked out of the CEC. One of these is the archdiocese in which I live, the Great Lakes Archdiocese. Apparently Bishop Fick has pulled our whole region out. Bishop Philip Zampino has done the same thing, a man widely respected in the CEC (His son David Zampino recently became Catholic; I know him through the amazon.com friends and favorites pages, where we both have written many book reviews).

Does anybody know what is exactly going on in the CEC?

[Note: This resulting discussion has been moved to What’s Up in the Charismatic Episcopal Church in our forum]

[Note: Roaring Oasis currently hosts A List of Allegations relating to the Current Charismatic Episcopal Church Crisis, compiled mostly by Ken Follis.]

St. Basil on Relics

Today most people regard the Catholic Church’s cult of relics to be an old, antiquated practice that is the result of ignorance and superstition. Most Catholics themselves are embarassed by it.

But in the age of the Fathers, it was not uncommon for learned men to honor and revere sacred relics. We find, for example, Cyril of Jerusalem making constant references to the True Cross in his Catechetical Lectures. St. Augustine says in opposition to the pagans of his day: “The truth is that even today miracles are being wrought in the name of Christ, sometimes through His sacraments and sometimes through the intercession of the relics of his saints.” (City of God, XXII, 8) He then goes on to recount a miraculous incident in Milan of which he was a witness:

“This, however, was not the case with a miracle that took place in Milan while I was there. A great many people managed to hear of a blind man whose sight was restored because the city is big and, besides, the Emperor was there at the time and an immense multitude of people was gathered to venerate the relics of the martyrs, Protasius and Gervasius, and so witnessed what took place. The relics had been hidden, and no one knew where they were until the hiding place was revealed in a dream to Bishop Ambrose, who thereupon went and found them. It was on that occassion that the long-enduring darkness dropped from the blind man’s eyes and he saw the light of day.” (ibid)

In Basil of Caesarea’s only extant letter to St. Ambrose, we find an excellent testimony to the veneration of relics in the early church. Ambrose and Basil were good friends, although they had never met each other in person. Ambrose was an avid reader of Basil’s works, and his theology therefore bears some unique Cappadocian characteristics.

First a little background. In 355, the Arian Auxentius had been appointed to the Milanese episcopate. St. Dionysius, the rightful holder of that office, was sent into forced exile at Cappadocia by the Emperor Valentianian I, where he died in 374. Auxentius died in 374, and Ambrose was installed as the bishop of Milan later that year. Ambrose then wrote a letter to Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, as a request that the dead body of St. Dionysius be restored to his native city. Basil’s reply is dated to the year 375.

Here is the text of Basil’s letter and my comments:

“The gifts of the Lord are ever great and many; in greatness beyond measure, in number incalculable. To those who are not insensible of His mercy one of the greatest of these gifts is that of which I am now availing myself, the opportunity allowed us, far apart in place though we be, of addressing one another by letter. He grants us two means of becoming acquainted; one by personal intercourse, another by epistolary correspondence. Now I have become acquainted with you through what you have said. I do not mean that my memory is impressed with your outward appearance, but that the beauty of the inner man has been brought home to me by the rich variety of your utterances, for each of us ‘speaketh out of the abundance of the heart.’ “

i) Although Basil has never met Ambrose in person, he has become intimately acquainted with him through their letters.

“I have given glory to God, Who in every generation selects those who are well-pleasing to Him; Who of old indeed chose from the sheepfold a prince for His people; Who through the Spirit gifted Amos the herdman with power and raised him up to be a prophet; Who now has drawn forth for the care of Christ’s flock a man from the imperial city, entrusted with the government of a whole nation, exalted in character, in lineage, in position, in eloquence, in all that this world admires. This same man has flung away all the advantages of the world, counting them all loss that he may gain Christ, and has taken in his hand the helm of the ship, great and famous for its faith in God, the Church of Christ. “

i) Basil refers to Ambrose as “a man from the imperial city, entrusted with the government of a whole nation” because he had previously been a civil magistrate and had lived in Rome. In that case, he would be using hyperbolic language.

ii) It is possible that here Basil is praising the emperor Valentinian II. Valentinian had ratified Ambrose’s election as bishop, and therefore it could be said that Ambrose owed his episcopate to the good will of that emperor. If this interpretation is right, then Basil would here be praising Valentinian for appointing Ambrose to the episcopate. However, it is unlikely because Basil goes on to speak of Ambrose himself as having been transferred “from the judges of the earth to the throne of the Apostles.”

“Come, then, O man of God; not from men have you received or been taught the Gospel of Christ; it is the Lord Himself who has transferred you from the judges of the earth to the throne of the Apostles; fight the good right; heal the infirmity of the people, if any are infected by the disease of Arian madness; renew the ancient footprints of the Fathers. “

i) Auxentius had ruled as bishop of Milan for nearly twenty years, so it was now Ambrose’s job to renew the Catholic faith in the city.

“You have laid the foundation of affection towards me; strive to build upon it by the frequency of your salutations. Thus shall we be able to be near one another in spirit, although our earthly homes are far apart. “

By your earnestness and zeal in the matter of the blessed bishop Dionysius you testify all your love to the Lord, your honour for your predecessors, and your zeal for the fairly. For our disposition towards our faithful fellow-servants is referred to the Lord Whom they have served. Whoever honours men that have contended for the faith proves that he has like zeal for it. One single action is proof of much virtue. “

i) This is a perfect example of the attitude we Catholics are to have in regards to the saints that have gone before us. We do not serve God in a void; we offer worship to God in communion with the entire church of Christ and with a “cloud of witnesses.”

ii) We Christians are required to venerate the saints. To do otherwise would be an insult to Christ himself, because they too are members of Christ. This is in sharp contrast to that type of religion, especailly found in Protestantism, that sees in any such veneration the stench of ‘idolatry.’

“I wish to acquaint your love in Christ that the very zealous brethren who have been commissioned by your reverence to act for you in this good work have won praise for all the clergy by the amiability of their manners; for by their individual modesty and conciliatoriness they have shewn the sound condition of all. Moreover, with all zeal and diligence they have braved an inclement season; and with unbroken perseverance have persuaded the faithful guardians of the blessed body to transmit to them the custody of what they have regarded as the safeguard of their lives. And you must understand that they are men who would never have been forced by any human authority or sovereignty, had not the perseverance of these brethren moved them to compliance. “

i) Basil is alluding to the men that Ambrose has sent to recover St. Dionysius’s relics. He praises their manners, zeal, and perseverance in persuading the guardians of Dionysius’s corpse to yield it to them. These temporal guardians appearently were very reluctant to do so; they “would never have been forced by any human authority or sovereignty” to give it up.

ii) See in what high words Basil describes the relic – the “safeguard of their lives.” How many Catholics today would describe any relic with such high language?

“No doubt a great aid to the attainment of the object desired was the presence of our well beloved and reverend son Therasius the presbyter. He voluntarily undertook all the toil of the journey; he moderated the energy of the faithful on the spot; he persuaded opponents by his arguments; in the presence of priests and deacons, and of many others who fear the Lord, he took up the relics with all becoming reverence, and has aided the brethren in their preservation. These relics do you receive with a joy equivalent to the distress with which their custodians have parted with them and sent them to you. Let none dispute; let none doubt. Here you have that unconquered athlete. These bones, which shared in the conflict with the blessed soul, are known to the Lord. These bones He will crown, together with that soul, in the righteous day of His requital, as it is written, “we must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may give an account of the deeds he has done in the body.” One coffin held that honoured corpse. None other lay by his side. The burial was a noble one; the honours of a martyr were paid him. Christians who had welcomed him as a guest and then with their own hands laid him in the grave, have now disinterred him. They have wept as men bereaved of a father and a champion. But they have sent him to you, for they put your joy before their own consolation. Pious were the hands that gave; scrupulously careful were the hands that received. There has been no room for deceit; no room for guile. I bear witness to this. Let the untainted truth be accepted by you. “

i) Therasius was a Cappadocian presbyter who freely offered to aid the men sent by Ambrose in their task of transporting the relics to Milan.

ii) Basil emphasizes the synergy of the body and the soul in the process of salvation. This principle is completely opposed to all forms of gnostic anti-sacramentalism. “These bones, which shared in the conflict with the blessed soul, are known to the Lord. These bones He will crown, together with that soul, in the righteous day of His requital …” Redemption concerns the entire cosmos, including its physical aspects. This is the basis upon which the Church’s theology of relics is founded.

iii) We can sense the great sadness that many Cappadocians felt when they gave up the relics of St. Dionysius. This is why Basil writes: “These relics do you receive with a joy equivalent to the distress with which their custodians have parted with them and sent them to you”, and “They have wept as men bereaved of a father and a champion.” Yet they possesed the selflessness to give them up to St. Ambrose, for “they put your joy before their own consolation.”

iv) Basil emphasizes that the relics are geniune; they are not spurious. He says, “Let none dispute; let none doubt. Here you have that unconquered athlete…There has been no room for deceit; no room for guile. I bear witness to this. Let the untainted truth be accepted by you.”

Trinity Sunday

Today is The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Trinity Sunday. Now is a time to celebrate and commemorate the reality that all creation looks toward: the Holy Trinity, God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Below is the collect for Trinity Sunday, and the famous icon of the Trinity by Rublev.

Father,
you sent your Word
to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know
the mystery of your life.
Help us to worship you,
one God in three Persons,
by proclaiming and
living our faith in you.
We ask you this,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, true and living,
for ever and ever.

From Prayers to the Trinity and for Trinity Sunday

St. Hilary on Knowing the Trinity

Penetrate into the mystery, plunge into the darkness which shrouds that birth, where you will be alone with God the Unbegotten and God the Only-begotten. Make your start, continue, persevere. I know that you will not reach the goal, but I shall rejoice at your progress. For He who devoutly treads an endless road, though he reach no conclusion, will profit by his exertions. Reason will fail for want of words, but when it comes to a stand it will be the better for the effort made.

St. Hilary of Poitiers, On The Trinity Book II (appropriate as Trinity Sunday approaches)