Archive for the ‘Origen’ Tag

Feast of Sts. Jerome, Paula of Rome, Eustochium, Blaesilla, Marcella, and Lea of Rome (January 27)   7 comments

francisco_de_zurbaran_043

Above:  St. Jerome with Sts. Paula and Eustochium

Artist = Francisco de Zurbaran

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT JEROME (347-419)

Translator of the Vulgate

His feast transferred from September 30

friend of

SAINT PAULA OF ROME (MAY 5, 347-404)

Abbess at Bethlehem

Her feast transferred from January 26

mother of 

SAINT EUSTOCHIUM (CIRCA 369-CIRCA 419)

Abbess at Bethlehem

Her feast transferred from September 28

sister of

SAINT BLAESILLA (CIRCA 363-383)

Widow

Her feast transferred from January 22

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SAINT MARCELLA (325-AUGUST 410)

Martyr

Her feast transferred from January 31

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SAINT LEA OF ROME (DIED IN 384)

Widow

Her feast transferred from March 22

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Among my purposes in the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences.  Hence I have created this post, in which I tell the stories of six saints with overlapping stories.

St. Jerome, born Eusebius Hieronymus Sophrinus, at Strido, Dalmatia, in 347, came from a wealthy pagan family.  He studied in Rome and became an attorney.  The saint, baptized in 385, had an actual conversion experience during his subsequent study of theology.  St. Jerome became a monk and lived as a hermit in the Syrian desert.  Eventually he became a priest.  Then he studied under St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (330-390).  Starting in 382, St. Jerome served as the secretary of Pope St. Damasus I (reigned 366-384), who commissioned him to translate the Bible into Latin.

In Rome St. Jerome formed some consequential friendships.  Among his friends was St. Paula of Rome (May 5, 347-404), of Roman noble origin.  She was the widow (from 379, at the age of 32 years) of Senator Toxotius.  She was also the mother of five children, including St. Eustochium (circa 369-circa 419) and Blaesilla (circa 363-383).  St. Paula devoted her fortune and the rest of her life to helping the poor spiritually and physically.  St. Blaesilla, married for a mere seven months before becoming a widow, consecrated the rest of her brief life to God.  She studied the Hebrew language and died of a fever at the age of 20 years in 383.  St. Eustochium became a student of St. Jerome in 382.  She took a vow of perpetual virginity.  She also spoke Greek and Latin and read Hebrew.

In Rome St. Jerome also befriended St. Marcella (325-August 410), of Roman noble origin.  She, married for only seven months before becoming a widow, chose to remain single for the rest of her life.  (In her society a single woman had more freedom than a married widow; Elaine Pagels taught me that in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent.)  St. Marcella organized a group of Christian women at her mansion on the Aventine Hill; they served the poor.  Among the members of this group was St. Lea of Rome (died in 384), a widow from a noble Roman family.  She lived as an ascetic, a choice of which St. Jerome approved.   He wrote favorably of her, in fact.  St. Jerome was the spiritual director of the group.  St. Marcella disagreed with St. Jerome from time to time and held her own ground.  He was a frequently irascible man prone to speaking and writing invectives.  As the biography of him in A Great Cloud of Witnesses:   A Calendar of Commemorations (2016) concludes,

A militant champion of orthodoxy, an indefatigable worker, and a stylist of rare gifts, Jerome was seldom pleasant, but at least he was never dull.

He also retained close friendships, held high ideals, and condemned Arianism, Origenism, and Pelagianism.

St. Jerome’s friendships with Sts. Paula and Eustochium prompted much malicious gossip.  After the death of Pope St. Damasus I he relocated to Bethlehem.  There St. Jerome spent his final 34 years, completing the translation of the Vulgate, translating other works (including those of Origen), and composing original works.  He also taught Greek and Latin to children.  St. Paula, author of his biography, arrived in  396.  She encouraged St. Jerome and build churches, a hospice, a monastery, and a convent.  She also served as the first abbess of that convent.  Her daughter, St. Eustochium, helped St. Jerome translate the Vulgate, worked as his housekeeper, and read and wrote for him when his eyesight began to fail.  St. Paula died in 404.  St. Eustochium succeeded her as abbess.  She died circa 419, the same year St. Jerome died.

St. Marcella, who spent much time reading, praying, and visiting the shrines of martyrs, became a martyr herself.  In 410, when the Visigoths, led by Alaric, attacked Rome, they captured and tortured her.  They sought to force her to surrender her treasures, but were angered and disappointed to learn that she had given all her treasures to the poor. She died of the injuries the Visigoths had inflicted upon her.

The combination of these saints’ stories into a unified whole makes at least one point, which is that all kinds of people can be saints and glorify God with their lives.  An irascible man can give the world an influential translation of the Bible.  A widow can dedicate herself to the service of God in the poor and encourage others in their sacred vocations.  A woman who has chosen never to marry can help translate the Bible.

Lesbia Scott (1898-1986) wrote “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” in 1929.  The unaltered final stanza read:

They lived not only in ages past,

There are hundreds of thousands still,

The world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

In a church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

For the saints of God are just folk like me,

And I mean to be one too.

The saints of God glorify and enjoy God as they struggle with their sinful nature.  They persevere; that is what separates them from others.  I intend to be a saint too.  What about you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 24, 2016 COMMON ERA

THANKSGIVING DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW DUNG-LAC AND PETER THI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN VIETNAM

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Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth:

Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer,

and know your power and mercy.

We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit,

and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7-11

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Matthew 25:1-13

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 726

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Feast of St. Macrina the Elder, Her Family, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (January 14)   6 comments

holy-family

Above:  A Family Tree

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER (CIRCA 270-CIRCA 340)

Bridge of Faith

Her feast = January 14

mother of

SAINT BASIL THE ELDER (300S)

Attorney and Teacher of Rhetoric

His feast transferred from May 30

husband of

SAINT EMILIA OF CAESAREA (DIED MAY 30, 375)

Abbess

Also known as Saint Emmelia of Caesarea and Saint Emily of Caesara

Her feast transferred from January 11, May 8, and May 30

mother of

SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 327-379)

Abbess and Theologian

Her feast transferred from July 19

sister of

SAINT NAUCRATIUS (300S)

Hermit

brother of

SAINT PETER OF SEBASTE (CIRCA 340-391)

Bishop of Sebaste and Theologian 

His feast transferred from January 9

brother of 

SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA (CIRCA 335-CIRCA 395)

Bishop of Nyssa and Theologian

His feast transferred from March 9

brother of 

SAINT BASIL THE GREAT (CIRCA 330-JANUARY 1, 379)

Bishop of Caesarea and Theologian

Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism

His feast transferred from January 2 and June 14

friend of

SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 329-389)

Archbishop of Constantinople and Theologian

His feast transferred from January 25

Alternative feast date on this calendar = February 25

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A HISTORY OF FAITH, FAMILY, AND FRIENDSHIP

In this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I transfer feast days frequently.  The most common reason for doing so is to facilitate the telling of narratives of holy men and women who have influenced each other and worked together.  Retaining ecclesiastically approved feast days obstructs that purpose sometimes.  With this post I move some feast days write about nine saints, with an emphasis on intergenerational influences.

For the purposes of this post I choose to begin with St. Macrina the Elder, although I could easily back up a few generations before her.  That, however, would create a post quite difficult to follow.  Focusing on three generations of one family and adding one friend, who came from a holy family also suffices.

I have covered St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger in the context of his family is a separate post.

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Our story begins in Neocaesarea, Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey.

For nearly 30 years the bishop there was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (circa 213-268), whose relics St. Macrina the Elder (circa 270-circa 340) kept.  She and her husband had converted from paganism to Christianity in that city, where the late bishop had kept the flame of Christian faith alive in his small flock during times of pestilence and persecution.  St. Macrina the Elder and her husband, whose name has not survived the ravages of the passage of time, endured many hardships for their faith.  Galerius, Caesar of the East (293-305) and Maximinus II Daia, Caesar of the East (305-310) and Augustus of the East (310-313), persecuted Christianity severely.  During this time St. Macrina the Elder and her husband had to live in the woods and forage for seven years.  The couple returned to Neocaesarea after the death of Maximinus II Daia, but the local authorities seized their property and forced them to beg on the streets of the city.  Eventually circumstances improved for the couple, who had a son, St. Basil the Elder.  His father died when he was young, so St. Macrina the Elder, a widow and a single mother, had to raise him.

St. Basil the Elder became an attorney and a respected teacher of rhetoric, a prominent position in that culture.  He, educated at Caesarea and Athens, settled down at Caesarea and declined an opportunity to teach in his hometown.  He married St. Emilia (a.k.a. Emmelia or Emily) of Caesarea (died in 375), who came from a wealthy family.  Her father was also a martyr.  St. Basil the Elder and Emilia had ten children, nine of whom lived to adulthood and five of whom became canonized saints.  The sainted children were:

  1. St. Macrina the Younger (circa 327-379),
  2. St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379),
  3. St. Gregory of Nyssa (circa 335-circa 395),
  4. St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391), and
  5. St. Naucratius.

Sts. Basil the Elder and Emilia raised their family in luxury.  Some of their children developed an unhealthy relationship with wealth, but the eldest child, St. Macrina the Younger, seemed not to have done so.  While St. Basil the Elder instructed his sons in rhetoric St. Emilia made sure that her eldest child received a fine education.  For St. Macrina the Younger, with her cultivated mind made possible by money, wealth was a tool, not an idol; she was willing use that tool for the glory of God while she lived ascetically.  She paid close attention to the education of her brothers, whom she encouraged to pursue religious vocations, urged to live ascetically, and influenced theologically.  St. Macrina the Younger also encouraged her widowed mother to help her found to abbeys–a convent and a monastery–on the family estate.  St. Emilia served as the first abbess of the convent.  St. Macrina the Younger succeeded her in 375.

Of the canonized children the least famous was St. Naucratius.  At the age of 21 years he turned his back on his legal career to become a hermit living near his family.  He cared actively for the poor and helped to take care of his mother, who had to bury him after he died suddenly at the age of 27 years.

St. Macrina the Younger professed monastic life and preceded her brothers in it.  When she was 12 years old St. Basil the Elder had arranged a marriage for her, but the intended groom died before the wedding date.  St. Macrina the Younger decided to renounce marriage, remain by her mother’s side, live simply, and help the poor.  She followed that path faithfully.  In 379, the same year her brother St. Basil the Great died, she also died.  Another brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, rushed to her bedside, her bed being two boards.  He wrote:

She was uplifted as she discoursed to us on the nature of the soul and explained the reason of life in the flesh, and why man was made, and how he was mortal, and the origin of death and nature of the journey from death to life again….All of this seemed to me more than human.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 308

The Cappadocian Fathers were Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger.  Two of the three were brothers.  St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379) became the Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism, for he wrote the Rule of St. Basil (358-364).  First, however, he studied at Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens.  At Athens, he met and befriended St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (circa 329-389), who also came from a holy family.  These two saints became theological colleagues.

St. Basil the Great became a Doctor of the Church.  He, influenced by the example of his mother and sister, visited the chief monasteries in the East circa 357.  Then, in 358, he became a monk at the monastery on his family’s estate.  There he remained for five years.  St. Basil, ordained a priest in 364, was largely responsible for the administration of the Diocese of Caesarea from 365 to 370.  Then, in 370, he became the Bishop of Caesarea.  St. Basil resisted the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens (reigned 364-378), an Arian who persecuted orthodox Christianity.  The saint, holding his own as he confronted an astonished prefect fearlessly, said,

Perhaps you have never before had to deal with a proper bishop.

Valens, who feared St. Basil the Great, divided the Diocese of Caesarea in an effort to reduce the proper bishop’s influence.  So, circa 371, St. Basil ordained St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, as the Bishop of Nyssa.  St. Gregory did not want the job, for which he knew he was not suited.  The incident created a rift between the brothers.  In time, however, St. Gregory grew into the position.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (329-389), son of St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder, Bishop of Nazianzus, also became a bishop against his will.  The Younger met St. Basil the Great Athens, where they were classmates.  He and St. Basil the Great collaborated on a major work, a selection of writings by Origen (185-254).  The Younger’s true calling was to be a monk spending his life in contemplation, but people kept placing him in leadership roles.  In 362 his father ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Basil the Great, in a move related to the politics of Valens and the consecration of St. Gregory of Nyssa, forced the Younger to become the Bishop of Sasima.  This created tension in the relationship between the two friends.  The Younger even refused to serve as the Bishop of Sasima, for, he considered Sasima to be

a detestable little place without water or grass or any mark of civilization.

The incident caused the Younger to feel like

a bone flung to the dogs.

He went to Nazianzus and assisted his father instead.  After a few years the Younger became a monk in Seleucia.  By the time St. Basil the Great died the Younger had made peace with his old friend, at whose funeral he presided in 379.  Later that year he relocated to Constantinople, where he preached against Arianism.  Then, in 381, the Younger served as Archbishop of Constantinople for a few weeks before returning to his family estate.  There he spent the rest of his life in contemplation.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger, a Doctor of the Church, helped the Church to formulate its rebuttal of Arianism, the proposition that the Second Person of the Trinity is a created being.  His partners in this work included the other two Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa.  The Younger also argued against the Apollinarian heresy, the idea that Jesus was fully divine and partially human.

St. Basil the Great and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, knew who they were, for good and for ill.  Both of them were sometimes tactless men who created and contributed to their problems.  As St. Basil wrote confessionally,

For my sins, I seem to fail in everything.

Sometimes this tendency to make enemies needlessly frustrated attempts to argue against heresies, as when St. Basil antagonized Pope St. Damasus I (reigned 366-384), his fellow opponent of Arianism.

Nevertheless, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, some of whose writings survive, cared deeply about the poor and acted to help them.  St. Basil condemned the wealthy who did not do all they could to help the less fortunate:

You refuse to give on the pretext that you haven’t enough for your own needs.  But while your tongue makes excuses, your hand convicts you–that ring shining on your finger silently declares you to be a liar.  How many debtors could be released from prison with one of those rings?

–Quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), page 260

St. Basil acted on his convictions.  On the outskirts of Caesarea he organized a new community and social services complex.  There the poor found health care and travelers and the poor found lodging.  They also had a church building in which to worship.  He lived in the community, for which he provided in his will.

St. Basil, a Doctor of the Church, fought the good fight.  He opposed simony, contributed to or wrote the influential Liturgy of St. Basil, and shaped the course of Christian theology.  He was also an outlier regarding classical pagan literature; he advised his nephews to use it as a tool for deepening their Christian faith.  This opinion put him in line with St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215).

St. Basil died on January 1, 379.  As he lay dying a crown waited outside.  When they heard that he had died, they proclaimed him a saint immediately.

St. Gregory of Nyssa followed in his father’s footsteps at first; he married and taught rhetoric.  (His wife was Theosebeia.)  Then he pursued a religious vocation.  As I have written in this post, St. Basil the Great ordained the Bishop of Nyssa circa 371.  St. Gregory did not seek this office.  In fact, he knew himself to be unsuited for it; he had difficulties being tactful and did not know the value of money.  False accusations of embezzlement provided a cover story for Arians to depose St. Gregory in 376.  He returned two years later, after the death of Valens.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, a mystic and an ascetic, came into his own and grew into his office after the death of St. Basil the Great in 379.  St. Gregory became a leading opponent of Arianism and, according to the First Council of Constantinople (381), a “pillar of orthodoxy.”  He died in 395.

St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391) also defended Nicene doctrine.  He, like St. Gregory of Nyssa, had been an academic, but St. Macrina the Younger convinced him to pursue a religious vocation.  The youngest child of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emilia of Caesarea became a solitary ascetic.  Then, in 370, St. Basil the Great ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Peter became the Bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia.  Although he did not write theological treatises, he did encourage St. Gregory of Nyssa to do so.

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I realize that you, O reader, have had to follow the proverbial bouncing ball.  I have led you on a journey through three generations that included two Macrinas, two Basils, and three Gregories.  Yet, given the frequent overlapping of the saints’ lives, I have decided that combining their stories into one post was the preferable method of writing about them.

This post is the successor to five posts, which I deleted shortly prior to taking notes for what you have read.  All of this has been part of an effort to renovate the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, starting with posts for January 1 and working all the way through to posts for December 31.  My progress so far has been encouraging, but, as you, O reader, can tell, January 14 is closer to January 1 than to December 31.  The possibilities of what await me have caused me to anticipate the intellectual and spiritual journey that will take me to the end of the renovation project.

I hope that you, O reader, will find reading about saints–in this case, the nine for this post–at least as edifying as the process of creating this post has been for me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church.

Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace.

Where it is corrupt, purify it;

where it is in error, direct it;

where in anything it is amiss, reform it.

Where it is right, strengthen it;

where it is in want, provide for it;

where it is divided, reunite it;

for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:1-6, 20-22

Psalm 12:1-7

Acts 22:30-23:10

Matthew 21:12-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 735

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Feast of Sts. Callixtus I, Anterus, Pontian, and Hippolytus (October 14)   1 comment

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith and J. G. Bartholomew

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith and J. G. Bartholomew

Above:  Map of the Roman Empire in the Third Century

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT CALLIXTUS I (DIED IN 222)

Bishop of Rome

Also known as St. Callistus I

His feast day = October 14

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SAINT ANTERUS (DIED JANUARY 3, 236)

Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from January 3

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SAINT PONTIAN (DIED CIRCA 236)

Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from August 13

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SAINT HIPPOLYTUS (DIED CIRCA 236)

Antipope

Feast transferred from August 13

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INTRODUCTION

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This is a story of theft, self-righteousness, schism, false witness, forgiveness, repentance, and martyrdom.  Repentance, as I tire of having to explain, is far more than saying that one is sorry.  No, repentance is turning around or changing one’s mind.  To repent is literally to turn one’s back on sin.  That definition applies well to Sts. Callixtus I and Hippolytus.

Roman Catholic writer Thomas J. Craughwell notes the value of being honest about the dark episodes in the lives of the saints.  He states:

The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world.  Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true–that is, himself.

Saints Behaving Badly:  The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 2006), page xii

Some of the most forgiving people have been those who have known of their need of much mercy and received it.  They, having received forgiveness in abundance, have become practitioners of forgiveness–sometimes to the consternation of others, many of whom have thought of themselves as pious and orthodox, as pure.  That summary applied well to St. Hippolytus for much of his life.

Roman Catholic tradition tells the stories of two of these men–Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus–together, for they share the same feast day, August 13.  I have found that I cannot tell their stores properly without recounting that of St. Callixtus I and, in passing, what little we know of St. Anterus.  Each of these two saints has his own feast day on the Roman Catholic calendar.  I, for the sake of convenience, have moved three of the four saints to the date for the feast of St. Callixtus I.  After all, the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is my project; I answer to nobody else with regard to it.

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SAINT CALLIXTUS I

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St. Callixtus I was a slave, a bad investor, an embezzler, and an inciter of needless violence before be became a deacon, a pope, and a martyr.  As a young man he was the slave of one Carpophorus, a Christian of Rome.  Circa 190 Carpophorus founded a bank for the Christians of Rome and made St. Callixtus, who had experience managing money, the administrator thereof.  Many of the depositors were of modest means and there was no ancient equivalent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (F.D.I.C.).  St. Callixtus proved to be a bad investor and an eager embezzler, so the bank failed, much to the financial detriment of many of the depositors.  The perfidious slave fled Rome and got as far as Portus, where his master captured him.  Back in Rome, Carpophorus sentenced St. Callixtus to the hard labor of turning a large stone wheel at a grist mill daily.  Nevertheless, some of the defrauded depositors were merciful.  They convinced Carpophorus to liberate St. Callixtus, on the condition that the slave try to recover some of the lost funds.

St. Callixtus remained a troublesome character.  He attempted to recover some of the lost funds by interrupting a Jewish worship service, demanding money from investors present, and thereby starting a brawl.  Legal charges of disturbing the peace and desecrating a holy place ensued.  Carpophorus lied in court when he denied that St. Callixtus, a baptized person, was a Christian.  (Christianity was not yet legal in the Roman Empire.)  The prefect sentenced St. Callixtus to scourging then to hard labor in the salt mines of Sardinia.  That was effectively a death sentence.

Marcia, a Christian and the mistress of the Emperor Commodus (reigned 180-192), used her influence to aid her coreligionists.  She asked Pope St. Victor I (reigned 189-198; feast day = July 28) for a list of Christians sent to Sardinia.  He gave her that list, minus St. Callixtus, whose name he omitted on purpose.  Marcia interceded with the governor of Sardinia, who freed all the listed prisoners plus St. Callixtus, who begged his way into freedom.  St. Victor, not convinced that St. Callixtus had ceased to be a scoundrel, sent him to live outside the walls of Rome and gave him an allowance.  Eventually the pontiff concluded that St. Callixtus, who had remained out of trouble for some time, had indeed repented.  St. Victor permitted him to assist St. Zephyrinus, the priest who managed the assignments of priests and deacons in Rome.

St. Zephyrinus became the mentor to St. Callixtus.  St. Victor died in 198; St. Zephyrinus succeeded him as pontiff.  The new pope ordained St. Callixtus to the diaconate and placed him in charge of the Christian cemetery (now the Catacomb of St. Callixtus) on the Appian Way.  St. Callixtus became a powerful figure in the Roman Catholic Church during the papacy of his mentor.  Predictably, he succeeded St. Zephyrinus as the Pope upon the death of the latter in 217.

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SAINTS CALLIXTUS I AND SAINT HIPPOLYTUS

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The election of St. Callixtus displeased St. Hippolytus, a priest, theologian, and author of treatises and Biblical commentaries.  St. Hippolytus, born before 170, practiced a rigorous form of Roman Catholicism.  Pope St. Zephyrinus, he was convinced, held heretical views regarding the Holy Trinity.  (Ironically, in the context of the Council of Nicaea, 325 C.E., St. Hippolytus was heretic avant le lettre regarding the Holy Trinity, for he held to a subordinationist position.)  St. Hippolytus not only spoke out but did something; he became the antipope first to St. Callixtus I (reigned 217-222) then to St. Urban I (reigned 222-230) then to St. Pontian (reigned 230-235) then to St. Anterus (reigned 235-236) and possibly then briefly to St. Fabian (reigned 236-250).  St. Hippolytus led a schismatic group as he condemned St. Callixtus for everything from his past crimes to this eagerness to forgive sinners.  The latter indicated doctrinal laxity, the antipope argued.  St. Hippolytus fumed whenever St. Callixtus forgave an errant and penitent bishop who had committed fornication, for example.  The antipope complained whenever St. Callixtus welcomed former members of schismatic sects back into the fold of Holy Mother Church enthusiastically and without requiring any sign of penance.  Furthermore, St. Hippolytus falsely accused St. Callixtus of being a modalist.

Modalism is a heresy pertaining to the Holy Trinity.  It is, actually, a form of Unitarianism whose proponents argue that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not persons but are really modes of God’s being.  God, in modalist thought, is united and indivisible.  As Praxeas argued circa 210 C.E., God the Father entered the womb of St. Mary of Nazareth, suffered, died, and rose again.  This is false doctrine, as Tertullian (circa 155-225) knew well.  He retorted that Praxeas had

put to flight the Holy Spirit and crucified the Father.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought–Revised and Expanded Edition (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1995), page 58

St. Callixtus was no modalist.  In fact, he excommunicated Sabellius, a prominent modalist.  St. Hippolytus replied that the Pope had done that to cover up his own modalism, however.

The life and papacy of St. Callixtus ended in 222, when a pagan mob murdered him.  Members of that mob then threw his corpse down a well in Rome.

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SUBSEQUENT POPES AND SAINT HIPPOLYTUS

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The persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire was not continuous.  Certain emperors engaged in the practice; others did not.  Few persecutions were empire-wide; most were regional and sporadic.  For most of the tenure of Pope St. Pontian (July 21, 230-September 28, 235) imperial persecution was not a problem.  Other issues dominated the reign of the son of Calpurnius.  St. Pontian presided over the synod that ratified the decision of St. Demetrius of Alexandria (126-231) to banish Origen (185-254), to refuse to recognize his priestly ordination, and to excommunicate him.  (Nevertheless, Origen found refuge with sympathetic bishops and persuaded heretics to turn to orthodoxy.)  In March 235 Maximinus I became emperor.  He ended his predecessor’s policy of toleration of Christianity and targeted leaders of the faith first.  Authorities arrested Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus, convicted them, and sent them to die in the salt mines of Sardinia.  St. Pontian, recognizing the need of continuous leadership of the church, became the first pope to resign.  He stepped down on September 28, 235.

The next pope, St. Anterus, of whom we know little, much like his predecessor once removed, St. Urban I (reigned 222-230), took office on November 21, 235.  Contrary to the tradition that he died a martyr, St. Anterus seems to have died of natural causes.  His pontificate was brief, ending on January 3, 236.

Pope St. Fabian (reigned January 10, 236-January 20, 250) had a longer pontificate.  He became one of the first victims of the Decian persecution, one of those empire-wide persecutions of Christianity.

Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus died on Sardinia circa 236–the latter of the hard labor and the former by means of a beating by guards.  The antipope renounced schism, reconciled with the Church, and urged his followers to do the same while in prison in Rome or on Sardinia.  (The available sources disagree on that point.)  In 236 or 237 Pope St. Fabian interred the remains of these two men in Rome.  Holy Mother Church forgave him and recognized him as a saint.  To paraphrase Thomas J. Craughwell, writing in Saints Behaving Badly, the Church was more like St. Callixtus I than St. Hippolytus.

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CONCLUSION

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St. Hippolytus, prior to his repentance, thought of the Church as the assembly of saints, not as the hospital for sinners.  He was not the last person to hold that opinion and to start a schismatic movement based on that premise.  For example, just a few decades later, in the wake of the Decian persecution, Donatism (in its narrow definition) arose and persisted for centuries, dividing the Church in northern Africa.  Donatism, in its broad definition, has never ceased.  It has, in fact, led to many ecclesiastical schisms.  My studies of church history have revealed that most ecclesiastical schisms have occurred to the right and most ecclesiastical mergers (unions and reunions) have occurred to the left.  The self-identified pure of theology have long argued not only with those in the institutions from which they departed but also among themselves.  Thus schisms have frequently begat schisms.  (I can recall examples of this generalization easily.  I think for example, of the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936, of the subsequent split in that body almost immediately, and of the rending asunder the group that broke away from it.)  In that process of bickering and breaking away one casualty has frequently been forgiveness.

I spent the most recent Good Friday in Americus, Georgia, away from home.  While in that town I attended the Noontime service at Calvary Episcopal Church.  The Rector said in the homily that we Christians stand in the need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ.  Nevertheless, many non-Christians perceive us as standing in the place of judgment, much like Pontius Pilate.  That statement was sadly accurate.  I have concluded that the main cause of the perception that we are judgmental is the fact that many of us are indeed judgmental, that many of us seem not to know that we really stand in the need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ.

St. Callixtus I knew where he stood.  St. Hippolytus eventually learned where he stood.  St. Pontian knew where he stood and extended mercy to the antipope.  All three men died as martyrs.

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Holy God, in whom judgment and mercy exist in balance,

thank you for the lived example of Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior and Lord.

May we know that we stand not in the place of judgment

but in need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ,

and, by grace, nurture the habit of forgiveness of others and ourselves.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 30:15-26

Psalm 130

Romans 12:1-21

Luke 17:1-4

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Monica of Hippo, and St. Augustine of Hippo (August 28)   17 comments

Basilica of St. Ambrose, Milan

Above:  Basilica of St. Ambrose, Milan, Italy, Between 1860 and 1890

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT AMBROSE OF MILAN (337-APRIL 4, 397)

Roman Catholic Bishop of Milan

His feast transferred from December 7

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SAINT MONICA OF HIPPO (331-387)

Mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Her feast transferred from May 4 and August 27

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SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (NOVEMBER 13, 354-AUGUST 28, 430)

Roman Catholic Bishop of Hippo Regius

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The Donatists in North Africa upheld the ancient image of the church as a gathered elite, a foreign body in the midst of a secular society and an apostate church.  Defenders of the orthodoxy agreed at the Council of Nicaea (325) sometimes denounced emperors such as Constantius II as heretics, and repudiated the authority of secular rulers over the church.  Others, like Ambrose, bishop of the imperial city of Milan (d. 397), were determined to subject the exercise of imperial power to the spiritual authority of bishops.  But until Augustine’s City of God (413-427) most Christians unquestioningly accepted the Roman political and social order as the earthly form of the Christian society.

–Robert A. Markus in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (1990), edited by John McManners, page 71

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INTRODUCTION

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The three saints on which I focus in this post have separate commemorations on ecclesiastical calendars.  Nevertheless, I have chosen to combine those commemorations here at this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  Their three stories flow into one easily, after all.  Furthermore, recounting their lives this way functions to argue a point, which is that rugged individualism plays no part in a healthy Christian spiritual journey.  Each of us needs, at different times, encouragement or prodding on the part of others to pursue the proper path and to remain on it.

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SAINTS MONICA AND AUGUSTINE

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Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Above:  Saints Augustine and Monica, by Ary Scheffer

Image in the Public Domain

In the beginning of this composite story there were Patricius and Monica (sometimes called Monnica), of Tagaste, Numidia, Roman Empire.  (Tagaste has become Souk Ahras, Algeria.)  Patricius was a pagan and a municipal official.  His wife, St. Monica, was a Christian.  The couple had three children.  Navigius and his sister Perpetua grew up as Christians and entered the religious life.  St. Augustine, however, had a winding road of a spiritual pilgrimage.

St. Monica sought to bring her husband and her errant son to Christ.  She succeeded, but only after much prayer and effort.  Patricius converted shortly before he died in 370.  St. Augustine underwent baptism 17 years later.  The fact that he made the transition from apostate to Christian had much to do with his faithful and persistent mother, who had taught him religion and theology when he was a child.  St. Augustine, born at Tagaste on November 13, 354, began his studies in other topics in that city.  The schoolmaster beat him severely, though, and the young saint, having learned to dislike Greek, never mastered it.

St. Augustine became an apostate.  At age 11 or 12 (365 or 366) St. Augustine went to study at Madauros, about 25 kilometers from Tagaste.  Madauros was a center or pagan thought.  There he soaked up the pagan milieu and learned Latin literature.  In 370 St. Augustine moved to Carthage.  There he took a mistress, whose name he did not reveal in his writings.  They had a son, Adeodatus (372-388).  At Carthage St. Augustine also converted to Manicheism, a dualistic religion.  He taught grammar at Tagaste starting in 373.  Then, for seven years, he taught rhetoric at Carthage, where he lost his Manichean faith and became an agnostic.  In 383, over St. Monica’s strong objections, he moved to Rome.  Then, in the following year, St. Augustine accepted a position teaching rhetoric at Milan.  Along the way he regained his Manichean faith.

St. Monica had followed her errant son around for years, so she could influence him positively and locally.  She had managed to find a young woman who would, in time be of age to marry St. Augustine and be a suitable wife.  He dismissed his longtime mistress, who returned to northern Africa and joined a religious community.   As St. Augustine struggled with his sexuality he famously prayed,

Give me chastity, but not yet!

Then he took a second mistress.  At Milan St. Monica found the right man to help end her son’s time of spiritual rebellion.  She persuaded St. Augustine to listen to and meet St. Ambrose, the bishop there.

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SAINT AMBROSE OF MILAN (I)

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St. Ambrose

Above:  St. Ambrosius, by Francisco de Zurbaran

Image in the Public Domain

St. Ambrose of Milan (born in 337) traveled an interesting spiritual path to his destiny.  The native of Treves (now Trier, Germany) was a son of a Roman prefect and a pious and educated mother.  He grew up a Christian.  His widowed mother raised him in Rome, where he received a liberal arts education.  St. Ambrose became a lawyer.  In 371, at age 34, he received an appointment as governor of the province of Liguria and Aemilia, a job he performed well.  In 374 the governor presided over the election of the next Bishop of Milan.  He became not only a candidate but the favored one, much to his shock and displeasure.  St. Ambrose, who was neither baptized nor trained in theology, did not think himself qualified for the post.  Nevertheless, even going into hiding did not change destiny.  In one week in December 374 St. Ambrose became a baptized Christian, a priest, and the Bishop of Milan within a week, his consecration taking place on December 7.

St. Ambrose took his responsibilities seriously.  He donated his lands to the Church, gave his possessions to the poor, fasted daily, took communion daily, and spent much time studying, writing, and meditating.  Among his theological influences was Origen (185-254), who favored the allegorical reading of Scripture.  St. Ambrose also argued forcefully against the Arian heresy, which stated that God the Son was a created being.

[Aside:  Unfortunately, Arianism continues to thrive, especially among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.]

The Arian-Orthodox Christian controversy divided the Church and became a factor in imperial politics.  Some emperors were Orthodox.  Members of the faction out of imperial favor frequently suffered, for the concept of the separation of church and state was centuries of away from becoming commonplace and widely accepted.  The Emperor Gratian (reigned 375-383) was Orthodox.  Magnus Maximus (reigned 383-388), the usurper who murdered him, was an Arian.  While Magnus Maximusreigned in the western portion of the Roman Empire, Valentinian II, Gratian’s half-brother, theoretically ruled in the East.  Actually, however, Valentinian II’s mother, Justina, served as his regent from 383 to 388.  She and her son were Arians.  In 383 Justina asked St. Ambrose to intercede with Magnus Maximus.  The bishop traveled to Treves, where he remained to meet with the murderous usurper and with local priests responsible for the execution of Priscillian heretics, but he did succeed in distracting the usurper, to the benefit of forces of Valentinian II, who seized the alpine pass.  The grateful emperor honored St. Ambrose’s request that he not restore the pagan altar of Victory in the Senate.  Justina, also grateful, promised not to use her position to advance the cause of Arianism.

She either lied or changed her mind.  In 385 Justina demanded that St. Ambrose hand over a church building in Milan for use by Arians.  He refused.  She sent troops to enforce her demand, but had to back down after a crowd (including St. Monica) filled the cathedral, with the soldiers surrounded.  The following year the imperial government issued a decree favoring Arian worship and condemning to death those who objected.  St. Ambrose refused to keep silent, of course.  Justina sent soldiers again, but had to back down again.

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SAINTS AMBROSE, MONICA, AND AUGUSTINE

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St. Ambrose, who encouraged women to become nuns (rather than to marry), also advocated for missionary work, wrote hymns (such as Veni Redemptor Gentium, or “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth“), and confronted imperial authorities, found time to mentor St. Augustine.  From St. Ambrose St. Augustine learned, among other things, aspects of Neo-Platonism, as well as Origen’s allegorical exegesis of Scripture, both of which aided him in his spiritual journey.  Next St. Augustine read the Pauline Epistles and studied the Desert Fathers.  He resigned as teacher of rhetoric and focused on preparation for baptism.  On Holy Saturday 387, at the Easter Vigil, St. Augustine and his son accepted baptism and joined the Roman Catholic Church.  St. Monica was present.

Later that year St. Monica died at the port of Ostia, Italy.  She and her family were planning to return to northern Africa.  She was about 56 years old when she died.

St. Monica is the patron saint of Christian wives and mothers and of victims of abuse.  She has two feast days, May 4 being the traditional date and August 27 being the date on the revised Roman Catholic calendar.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Anglican Church in Canada (in The Book of Common Prayer of 1962), and The Episcopal Church, among others, celebrate her life on May 4.  The Anglican Church in Canada (in the Book of Alternative Services of 1985); The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; The Church of England; and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, among others, do so on August 27.

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SAINT AMBROSE OF MILAN (II)

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The traditions of the Scriptures are his [Christ’s] body; the Church is his body.

–St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose, who defended claims that St. Mary of Nazareth is the Mother of God, continued to defy imperial authority, even to assert his power over it.  Emperor Theodosius I “the Great” (reigned 379-395), the sole emperor from 392 to 395, made Christianity (already legal) the official religion.  He also suppressed Arianism and paganism.  In 388 St. Ambrose confronted Theodosius I over an order to spend state funds to build a structure for non-Christian worship, forcing the Emperor to back down.  Two years later, in Thessalonica, a popular charioteer attempted to rape a male servant of Butheric, the Roman master of soldiers in the region.  Butheric ordered the charioteer arrested, an action to which a mob objected.  Butheric and some other officers died during ensuing riots.  The angry Theodosius I ordered soldiers to surround the amphitheater in Thessalonica and to slaughter the spectators at a chariot race.  Whether any person killed was innocent was not an issue for the Emperor.  He reversed the order, but not before about 7000 people died.  St. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius I, lifting the discipline after the Emperor had done several months of penance and issued a proclamation stating that no execution would occur less than 30 days after the issuing of the death sentence.

St. Ambrose died at Milan on April 4, 397.  He was about 60 years old.

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SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

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Perhaps St. Augustine of Hippo was the greatest legacy of St. Ambrose of Milan.  Certainly aspects of the teacher’s philosophy echoed in that of the attentive pupil.

St. Augustine eventually made his way back to Tagaste, where he remained for a few years.  After spending a year in Rome he arrived in his hometown.  There he sold his inheritance, gave the money to the poor, and retained a house, which he converted into a monastery in 388.  St. Augustine might have spent the rest of his life thusly, but, in 391, St. Valerius, the Bishop of Hippo Regius, ordained him to the priesthood at Hippo Regius.  Four years later our saint became the bishop coadjutor, with the right of succession.  In 396 he succeeded as the Bishop of Hippo Regius, a minor port in northern Africa.

There St. Augustine remained.  More than 400 sermons and 200 letters, have survived.  By 427, according to his count, he had written 237 books and 93 other literary works, not counting sermons and letters.  Many of these volumes of St. Augustine’s oeuvre have survived, fortunately.

Theological controversies defined St. Augustine’s output.  He lived, thought, argued, and wrote during a time of theological formation.  He helped to define the tradition upon which we Christians of 2016 stand and became one of the greatest and most influential theologians of Western Christianity.  Nevertheless, even the Roman Catholic Church, which has no difficulty recognizing him as a saint, has not accepted all of his theology as worthy of inclusion in the catechism.  St. Augustine came from a particular time and a certain place, the circumstances of which defined his context.  In that context, in the judgment of Holy Mother Church, he went too far on occasion.  That did not detract from his influence, however.

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Against Heresies

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Manicheism

Opposing Manicheism, Donatism, and Pelagianism occupied much of St. Augustine’s time.  He had, of course, been a Manichean, leaving that religion twice.  The founder of the religion was Mani (215/216-276/277), of Babylonian origin.  He taught dualism.  Manicheism meshed easily with Gnosticism, with which many early Christian leaders had to content.  Manicheism spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire from 280 to 330, attracting adherents from gnostic sects and people of haute culture and the intelligentsia.  The religion, with its dualistic and gnostic elements, rejected the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  It also made a strong case for human free will, offered an optimistic ethos of human freedom and agency.

Donatism

Donatism (300s-700s) defined the Church as the assembled spiritual elite–the self-identified pure of heart and orthopraxy who separated themselves from the cosmos and the corrupt, old ecclesiastical structure.  (The spirit of Donatism has never ceased to exist, unfortunately.)  During the Diocletian persecution (303-305) many Christians in northern Africa had committed apostasy.  Afterward many of them expressed remorse and requested readmission to the Church.  The Roman Catholic Church, being willing to forgive, agreed, so long as the remorse was genuine.  The election of the successor of Mensurius, the Bishop of Carthage, who died in 311, functioned as the flash point of the Donatist schism.  Mensurius had been conciliatory toward remorseful apostates.  Two men contended to succeed him.  Caecilian was conciliatory; Majorinus, who died in 315, was a Donatist.  Donatus Magnus, from whose name the word “Donatist” came, succeeded as Bishop of Carthage in 315.

Donatism divided the Church in northern Africa for centuries.  Donatism defined the Church as the society of holy people and stated the holiness of the Church depended upon the exclusion of those who had committed mortal sin.  In contrast Roman Catholicism argued that the holiness of the Church depended upon the Holy Spirit and the communication of divine grace via priests.

St. Augustine was a staunch Roman Catholic.  The four marks of the Church, he wrote, were oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.  Furthermore, our saint insisted, there is and can be only one Church.  St. Augustine, echoing St. Paul the Apostle and St. Ambrose of Milan, defined the Church as the Body of Christ.  The Church, the Bishop of Hippo Regius wrote, is the unity of faith and love, and schism and heresy are antithetical to unity, the principle of which is the Holy Spirit.  Our saint argued that the Church will contain impure elements until the end times, when God will remove them.  Meanwhile, the members of the Church were spiritual pilgrims in constant need of reform.

Furthermore, St. Augustine wrote, Christ exists in three modes–the eternal Word, the God-man, and the Church.  The emphasis on organic unity mattered to the bishop, who supported Papal primacy.  Donatists and other schismatics hampered the goal of unity.

Pelagianism

St. Augustine also objected to Pelagianism, named after Pelagius (c. 360-c. 420), a Roman British theologian.  Pelagianism, which the Roman Catholic Church declared heretical quickly, argued for the inherent moral neutrality of people at birth, thereby repudiating the doctrine of original sin.  Pelagianism therefore contended for the complete freedom of human will to choose good or evil–to save or to condemn oneself.  This heresy eliminated grace from salvation.  St. Augustine refuted Pelagianism without teaching salvation by faith alone.

Augustine’s doctrine of grace led to deep issues that are still a matter of dispute in Western Christian tradition.  He insisted with Paul that we are justified by faith, but does not each the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.  For Augustine, our journey to God, our salvation really is like a journey along a road.  When we’ve converted to the faith, that’s like getting on the right road.  What moves us along the road is love for God.  But Christian faith is just the beginning of the journey, and is not sufficient to bring us home.

Augustine insists on the necessity of grace if we are to do any good work, but does not teach the Protestant doctrine that we are saved by grace alone, because when our wills co-operate with grace our works of love have merit.  By grace we come to love God, though we never do so perfectly in this life.  Because believers pray for grace and forgiveness, their sins are not imputed to them.  Gifts of grace, called “co-operative grace,” work together with our good will to produce meritorious works of love.  Although all our good works are outgrowths of grace, our salvation requires merit as well as grace.  This is possible because the initial gift of grace, called “operative grace,” works a change in our hearts, turning our wills toward the end.

Augustine taught that grace and free will were compatible, but not everyone agrees that his doctrine of grace really is compatible with an adequate concept of free will.  He insists that this is not coercion, for it does not mean overcoming the unwilling but inwardly causing the unwilling to become willing.  Hence on Augustine’s view, God can cause us to will freely in a different way than we had before.  This view of free will is deemed inadequate in its own control.

–Phillip Cary, The History of Christian Theology Course Guidebook (Chantilly, VA:  The Great Courses, 2008), pages 40-41

For St. Augustine grace was essential and original sin was real.  He linked original sin with sexuality, agreeing with St. Paul the Apostle (in 1 Corinthians 7) that virginity is superior to marriage and that being married is better than committing sin.  St. Augustine agreed that sexual desire resulted from the fall of the human race at Eden and that the act of procreation was therefore impure.  Thus infants entered into the world already tainted by original sin and therefore deserving of damnation, hence infant baptism for the baptism of sins.  Not surprisingly, St. Augustine favored the mandatory celibacy of the clergy.

St. Augustine, in refuting Pelagianism, argued for Double Predestination, the idea that God predestines everyone–some to Heaven and others to Hell.  The official position of the Roman Catholic Church since the Council of Orange (529), guided by St. Caesarius of Arles (468/470-543), has been Semi-Pelagianism.

Simply put, this is the semi-Pelagian position:  We are all unworthy, undeserving sinners.  We not only leave undone many things we ought to have done; even the good we do is corrupted by sinful motives, desires, and goals.  We are totally dependent on the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ for our salvation.  But although it is true that we are not free and able to save ourselves by our good works, we are free and able to do one thing.  We can acknowledge our need for God’s grace and turn to God to ask for the deep, abiding faith, hope, and love we cannot achieve for ourselves.  We can confess Christ as Lord and Savior and show our willingness to receive the salvation made available to us in him.  We can allow the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit to come into our hearts.  We can go to church in order to express our desire for the help and salvation we know comes only from God.  We cannot save ourselves, but we can do that much if we really want to.  And if we choose God and turn to God in this way, God will choose us, love, help, and save us.  If some do not receive this saving grace, it is not because God has rejected them; it is because they have rejected God.  Salvation is by God’s grace alone, available to all who sincerely ask for it and want it.

–Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), pages 127-128

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Other Matters Theological

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St. Augustine became an influential theologian.  God occupied the center of Augustinian thought.  The saint argued that one can discern the existence of God, the preferred name for whom is Truth, via reason.  He also wrote that the image of God is evident in the soul, which is immortal and imperishable, not an aspect of the body.  Furthermore, St. Augustine contended, the human powers of memory, understanding, and will reflect the Holy Trinity.  He also affirmed transubstantiation while making a distinction between the sign or sacrament and the thing of which the sacrament was a sign, or between what one sees and what one understands, or what between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ.  He argued that the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ are identical after the prayer of consecration, for they become substantially the same.

St. Augustine argued that, although not all wars are just, some of them are.  He established four standards for a just war:

  • lawful authority,
  • a just cause,
  • a right intention, and
  • war as the last resort.

With regard to sin and evil, St. Augustine understood evil to be not only the result of free will but the lack of good and sin to be disordered love, the turning away from things eternal.

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The End of Saint Augustine and the Western Roman Empire

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St. Augustine spent his final years mourning the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire.  (The Eastern Roman Empire survived until 1453.)  Among the traditional justifications for persecuting Christians had been the idea that Gentiles needed to honor pagan deities as a patriotic duty.  If too many Gentiles neglected this duty, the reasoning went, the gods would abandon the Roman Empire.  In 410, at the end of the reign (395-423) of the Emperor Honorius, Rome fell to the Visigoth chief Alaric (c. 370-410).  The Western Roman Empire limped along (at least de jure, until September 476, when Flavius Odoacer (Odovacer), an army officer of German origin, deposed Romulus Augustus, the last emperor in the west.  Actually, though, that event was a formality.  The Western Roman Empire did not fall; it faded away.  St. Augustine wrote The City of God to, among other things, argue against the blaming of Christians for the sorry state of the Western Roman Empire.  He died at Hippo Regius on August 28, 430, during the siege of that city by the Vandals.  Our saint was 75 years old.

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CONCLUSION

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One need not agree completely with someone entirely to acknowledge his or her sanctity and greatness.  Indeed, collegiality is a virtue in relation to both the living and the dead.  If I were to make total agreement with someone a requirement for inclusion on the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, the Ecumenical Calendar would not exist.

These saints were spiritual giants upon whose figurative shoulders my fellow Christians and I stand.  Their biographies remind us that we have an obligation to influence one another positively, for the glory of God and the benefit of each other.  The issues with which we must contend might differ from theirs, but the call of Christ to follow him remains constant.  Fidelity to Christ will look different from one person to another, depending on who, where, and when one is.  May we who follow Christ honor that diversity of discipleship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY, SR., EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MISSISSIPPI

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH HASSE, GERMAN-BRITISH COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY OF OSTIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT, CARDINAL, AND LEGATE; AND DOMINIC OF THE CAUSEWAY, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Loving God, we praise you and give thanks to you for the examples of your servants

St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Monica of Hippo, and St. Augustine of Hippo,

who, in the late Western Roman period, contended for the faith courageously.

May we who follow you support each other in our spiritual pilgrimages,

be one with you and each other, and leave a legacy that honors you and

brings glory to you; in the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

–Kenneth Randolph Taylor, May 10, 2016 Common Era

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7-11, 16-18

Psalm 87

Galatians 7:11-17

John 16:20-24

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), pages 107, 359, and 545

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Feast of George Berkeley and Joseph Butler (June 16)   1 comment

British Flag 1707-1801

Above:  The British Flag, 1707-1801

Image in the Public Domain

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GEORGE BERKELEY (MARCH 12, 1685-JANUARY 14, 1753)

Irish Anglican Bishop and Philosopher

and

JOSEPH BUTLER (MAY 18, 1692-JUNE 16, 1752)

Anglican Bishop and Theologian

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

INTRODUCTION

These two men come to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via The Church of England and The Episcopal Church.  Common Worship:  Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000) lists June 16 as the feast day for Joseph Butler.  Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010) sets aside June 16 to commemorate the lives of Joseph Butler and George Berkeley.  Celebrating these two saints on the same day makes sense.  Yes, they had some major differences, but they had much more in common than not.  I, after taking notes on both men, have noted the following similarities, among others:

  1. They were contemporaries;
  2. They were great intellectuals;
  3. They, like John Locke, were empiricists;
  4. They criticized aspects of Locke’s philosophy;
  5. They influenced major subsequent philosophers;
  6. They were philosophers and theologians;
  7. They defended the truth of Christianity against assumptions of Deism;
  8. They were published authors;
  9. They were Anglican bishops; and
  10. They rejected speculative philosophy and theology in favor of practical theology.

The God of Deism was a non-interventionist figure.  He was like a watchmaker, for he, to follow the analogy, created the watch, wound it up, then left it alone.  The God of Deism was not the God to whom Psalmists in distress called out for help.  Deism was a theological system grounded in reason, not in reason and revelation or in revelation.  Its existence and prominence in the 1600s and 1700s fed a long-running debate in which our saints participated.  Another debater was the composer George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), whose Messiah (1742) argued against Deism.

I respond favorably to Christian intellectuals.  Christianity has an ancient and venerable tradition of reconciling science, reason, and philosophy with theology.

  1. One might consider, for example, St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215), the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” who melded pagan Platonism with Christianity.  Truth is truth, St. Clement, insisted, regardless of its origin.  His star pupil, Origenes Adamantius (185-254), Origen, for short, carried on the good work.
  2. Pope Sylvester II (lived circa 945-1003; reigned 999-1003), unlike some of his contemporaries, did not fear technology (such as the abacus and the telescope) or classics of Greco-Roman literature and philosophy.  He did not care if valid knowledge and useful technology came from Muslims or ancient pagans.  For this reason many in the anti-intellectual wing of the Roman Catholic Church accused him of being in league with Satan.
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274), who reconciled faith with reason, and Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity.
  4. St. Albert the Great (1200-1280), a Dominican priest and Roman Catholic Bishop, was also a scientist.
  5. The birth of modern science in the 1500s overlapped with the Protestant Reformation, the proper context in which to consider the Church’s shameful treatment of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), a faithful Catholic who preferred good science to bad theology.
  6. The Society of Jesus has a mixed record regarding science, for many Jesuit priests have been scientists yet one of their greatest members, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), labored under a Vatican-imposed gag order because of his synthesis of theology, reason, philosophy, and evolutionary science.
  7. The Roman Catholic Church has, fortunately, been more accepting of science since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), than it was during the period immediately Vatican II.

Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism persists in much of Christianity.  According to an old joke, a fundamentalist says to a liberal,

I will agree to call you a Christian if you agree to call me a scholar.

That witticism is, due to its genre, necessarily an exaggeration, but it contains such truth.  Although some of the greatest Christian scholars have been Evangelicals, Calvinist (with ties to the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Evangelical Presbyterian ChurchMark A. Noll, who has joined the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, found ample material to research and write The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994).  And Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009, is an Evangelical Protestant who has led the Human Genome Project.  He wrote The Language of God (2006), in which he criticized Intelligent Design as failing to hold its own under scientific scrutiny.  He as received much condemnation for that last point.

I recall an awkward lunch I ate at home some years ago.  My father was pastor of Warwick United Methodist Church, Warwick, Georgia, U.S.A., in the borderlands of rural Worth and Crisp Counties.  One day I accompanied him to have lunch with two of his parishioners.  One of our hosts, a man I would never mistake for an intellectual, made a much too-broad comment about educational attainment and piety.  Well-educated people, he insisted, had a different (and implicitly inferior) type of faith than did others.  Both my father and I, aside from being well-educated, were also tactful in the moment.  Nobody created an unfortunate scene.

Now, without further ado, I proceed to summarize then lives and part of the thought of two saints who belied that man’s stereotype more than my father and I did.

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Bishop George Berkeley

Above:  Bishop George Berkeley, by John Smybert

Image in the Public Domain

GEORGE BERKELEY (MARCH 12, 1685-JANUARY 14, 1753)

Berkeley, a native of County Kilkenny, Ireland, was an empiricist and a metaphysical philosopher.  Our saint, of English ancestry, studied at Kilkenny school then at Trinity College, Dublin (1700-1704), from which he graduated.  He maintained an association with his alma mater until 1724, serving as a fellow (lecturing in the subjects of Greek, Hebrew, and theology) from 1707 to 1724.  He took some leaves of absence during that time, touring in Europe in 1713-1714 and 1716-1720, as well as spending time in London, where he associated with Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Alexander Pope, and Joseph Addison.

Berkeley, a clergyman since 1709, served as the Dean of Dromore in 1721-1722.   In 1724 he resigned his fellowship at Trinity College, Dublin, to become the Dean of Derry, a post he held until 1733.  He sought unsuccessfully to found a college for colonists and Native Americans in Bermuda.  He married Anne Forster in 1728 then moved to Newport, Rhode Island.  There he encouraged higher education in North America until he left for Ireland in 1731.  He donated his library to Yale College (now University), New Haven, Connecticut, hence Berkeley College and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University.  Another namesake is the city of Berkeley, California.

In 1734 Berkeley became the Bishop of Cloyne.  He retired in late 1752 and retired to Oxford, England.  There he died a few months later, on January 14, 1753, shortly after securing the admission of his son, George, as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford.

Berkeley was a man of his time, responding to issues contemporary to him.  One issue was materialism, meaning not the accumulation of material goods but matter, that is, the stuff of which physical reality consists.  As a student at Trinity College, Dublin, Berkeley had studied the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), by John Locke (1632-1704).  Locke argued for the following propositions:

Ideas originate in one’s brain because of the influence of the universe, a material system in which the universe’s “bodies” act mechanically, that is, by “impulse,” upon each other and upon human senses.

  1. Ideas are the only things of which people can be directly aware.
  2. Ideas of “primary qualities” represent accurately the real character of material things.
  3. Ideas of “secondary qualities” do not represent accurately the real character of material things.
  4. We humans mistakenly “attribute reality” to smell, taste, sound, and color.
  5. There are also “immaterial substances,” but Locke admitted that he did not know how to prove this point.
  6. Consciousness might be nothing more than a property of matter, one rooted in memory.

Berkeley argued against these points, preferring immaterialism.  He countered that the physical world exists only in experiences of it.  He found no good reason to accept the existence of matter, as Locke understood it.  Rather, the principle of

Esse is percipi,

or

to be is to be perceived,

held sway in Berkeley’s thought.  Ergo:

For the mind of God is present always and everywhere; all ideas are always in the mind of God, and it is by direct communion with His mind that human beings are supplied with the ideas that make up their experience.  It is literally true that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”  Thus, the reality of the everyday world is secured by being made directly dependent upon the mind of God, and the notion of “matter,” the very foundation of the scientific world view, is simply rejected.

Encyclopedia Americana (1962), Volume 3, Page 554

Berkeley, true to his Anglicanism, rejected abstract speculations in favor of practical theology.  He affirmed one of the core principles of the Law of Moses–complete human dependence upon God.  As for Berkeley’s rejection of the basis of modern science, that point is up for debate.  (I favor science and theology.)

Berkeley’s philosophical theory of immaterialism became influential after he died.  Thomas Reid (1710-1796) criticized it in Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764).  The theory influenced subsequent philosophers such as David Hume (1711-1776), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).  Another critic was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Berkeley was a varied thinker and an excellent literary stylist.  Major works included the following:

  1. Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and its counterpart for the mass audience, Three Dialogues Between Hyles and Philonus (1713);
  2. An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), a work of psychology;
  3. De Motu (1721), a work in Latin on the philosophy of science;
  4. Aleiphron, or the Minute Philosopher (1732), a defense of morality and religion against Deism;
  5. The Analyst (1734), a critique of Isaac Newton’s differential calculus;
  6. The Querist (1735-1737), regarding economic problems in Ireland; and
  7. Sirus (1744), regarding science and philosophy.

The author of the article about Berkeley in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1968), Volume 3, on page 508:

The most patent features of his style are precision, economy and a seemingly inevitable grace; with here and there salty satire and teasing wit; the roots of it are a natural logicality, a rare purity of sentiment and a deep philanthropy.

Archive.org provides copies of Berkeley’s works.  Examples include the following:

  1. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Late Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland; To Which is Added, an Account of His Life; and Several of His Letters to Thomas Prior, Esq., Dean Gervais, Mr. Pope, Etc. (1820)–Volumes I and II;
  2. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Formerly Bishop of Cloyne; Including Many of His Writings Hitherto Unpublished; With Prefaces, Annotations, His Life and Letters, and an account of His Philosophy (1871), by Alexander Campbell Fraser–Volumes I, II, III, and IV; and
  3. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne (1897), edited by George Sampson–Volumes I, II, and III.

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Joseph Butler

Above:  Bishop Butler

Image in the Public Domain

JOSEPH BUTLER (MAY 18, 1692-JUNE 16, 1752)

Butler, a native of Wantage, Berkshire, England, was an empiricist thinker.  He differed from Berkeley by accepting science.  Butler’s rational orthodoxy stood in contrast to the Methodist enthusiasm of John Wesley (1703-1791), his fellow Anglican.  Our saint understood correctly that we humans act based on probabilities.  He also grasped that actions, not certainties, are the bases of religion.  Thus he rejected the quest for certainty, that idol of fundamentalism, and defended Christianity as a “rational probability.”

Butler, who came from a Presbyterian family, became a great Anglican theologian.  He was the youngest of eight children of a wealthy linen and woolen draper.  Our saint, educated at Gloucester then Tewkesbury, had once intended to become a Presbyterian minister, but he came to prefer Anglicanism instead.  He converted in 1714 and matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, the following year.  He studied philosophy, one of his favorite subjects, if not his favorite subject.  Our saint found himself disenchanted with the conservatism of the course of study, for he noticed defenses of Aristotelian thought against Newtonian physics and the thought of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and John Locke.  Butler complained:

Our people have never had any doubt in their lives concerning a received opinion.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), page 48

Butler graduated with his B.A. degree in 1718.  Subsequent degrees from the same institution were Bachelor of Law (1721) and Doctor of Law (1733).

Our saint, ordained in 1719, found his niche in The Church of England.  From 1719 to 1725 he preached at Rolls Chapel, London.  He became the Rector of Stanhoppe in 1725 and maintained that title and received its income for 15 years.  From 1733 to 1736 Butler doubled as the Chaplain to Lord Chancellor Charles Talbot.  In 1736 he became the Clerk of the Closet to Queen Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), consort of King George II (reigned 1727-1760).  Butler and Queen Caroline became friends and engaged in theological discussions.  She spoke highly of him to King George II and recommended Butler for promotion.  (The monarch was the titular head of The Church of England.)  In 1738 Butler became the Bishop of Bristol, in charge of a poor see.  He remained as Rector of Stanhoppe until 1740, when be began to double as the Dean of St. Paul’s, London.  From 1746 to 1750 he did triple duty as the Clerk of the Closet to King George II.

As the Bishop of Bristol (1738-1750) Butler locked horns with John Wesley.  The founder of Methodism was preaching without authorization to miners in the Diocese of Bristol.  Wesley was not canonically resident in the Diocese of Bristol.  Butler ordered Wesley to go home and stated that he (Wesley) should cease to pretend to have received special revelations from the Holy Spirit.

Butler refused an offer to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1747.  According to an apocryphal story, he said,

It is too late for me to try to support a falling Church.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), page 50

Our saint had complained about the “decay of religion” in England.  Certainly part of that decay was the influence of Deism.  His preferred method of supporting the “falling Church” in his final years was ritualism.  Thus Butler foreshadowed the Oxford Movement of the 1800s.  Critics accused him of having succumbed to Papism, an allegation tantamount to accusing one of being bound for Hell.

Butler, translated to the wealthy Diocese of Durham in 1750, died of stomach and intestinal disorders at Bath, Somerset, England, on June 16, 1752.  He never married, thus he lived in a manner consistent with his opposition to the marriage of the clergy.  He also lived simply and gave away the vast majority of his money.

Ernest Campbell Mossner, author of Bishop Butler and the Age of Reason:  A Study in the History of Thought (1936), wrote:

In the history of eighteenth century English culture, what Locke is to philosophy, what Newton is to physics, what Burke is to politics, Butler is to theology…And the spokesman is by no means unworthy of his distinguished associates.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), pages 47-48

Butler affirmed science, reason, and orthodox Christianity.  He shared many yet by no means all of the points of Deism, for he argued against that system.  Our saint affirmed among other things, miracles, human sinfulness, the Incarnation of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Atonement.  He also accepted scientific developments and knowledge, and had a high opinion of human reason.  Scripture, tradition, and reason–Richard Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool–defined Butler’s theology.

Butler rejected speculative thought in favor of practical theology.  He insisted that religion is a matter of practice, not certainty.  In his theology probability, not certainty, is the grounding of human knowledge and actions.  Furthermore, Butler wrote, nature contains much mystery, perplexity, and obscurity; reason and order do not rule supreme there.  Via experience one can discern facts upon which to infer probable truth.  Ergo, theological and natural forms of knowledge are equally indispensable and probable.  Simply put, the grounding of Christianity is divine revelation, not nature.  One can access much of truth via science and reason, but one cannot perceive other aspects of truth by those methods.  There is more than one way to perceive truth correctly.

Butler also thought deeply about psychology.  He criticized John Locke’s theory of psychological continuity, based in memories.  Our saint opposed blind obedience to “received wisdom,” but he also evaluated alternatives critically, as he should have done.

Butler also critiqued the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who argued that self-love directs all human actions.  That is simplistic, our saint thought.  He countered that benevolence is a second influence, benevolence, is also at work in human nature and in harmony with self-love.  Related to benevolence, Butler wrote, is conscience, which he understood to mean the voice of God inside one’s head.  According to Butler, therefore, the conscience is sovereign, to follow one’s conscience is to behave virtuously, and to obey the will of God, and conscience is consistent with reason.

Lee W. Gibbs wrote of Butler, who, like Berkeley, influenced David Hume and Immanuel Kant, that;

In short, the life and work of Bishop Joseph Butler was thoroughly representative of the middle way.  He exemplified that perennial Anglican openness to the changing historical circumstances of his day, while maintaining at the same time that continuous body of traditional beliefs held to be essential to the Christian faith.

The Middle Way (1991), pages 58-59

Archive.org makes available works by and about Butler.  They include the following:

  1. The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God Joseph Butler, D.C.L., Late Bishop of Durham; To Which is Prefixed, an Account of the Character and Writings of the Author, by Samuel Halifax, D.D. Late Lord Bishop of Gloucester (1828)–Volumes I and II;
  2. The Whole Works of Joseph Butler, LL.D., Late Lord Bishop of Durham (1852);
  3. The Works of Joseph Butler (1897), edited by William Ewart Gladstone (Prime Minister, 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, and 1892-1894)–Volumes I, II, and III;
  4. Bishop Butler (1901), by William Archibald Spooner; and
  5. Bishop Joseph Butler (1923), by Albert Edward Baker.

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CONCLUSION

My Ecumenical Calendar of Saint’s Days and Holy Days recognizes a wide range of saints.  I imagine that, if by means of a time machine, I could gather all of them in one place and, via a universal translator, they could all understand each other, some fascinating discussions–even arguments–would occur.  I would, in such a fanciful and hypothetical situation, engage in some arguments.  If agreeing with me across the board were a criterion for inclusion on my Ecumenical Calendar, it would not exist.

I admit that I disagree with Berkeley and Butler on certain points.  That is fine, for they disagreed with each other.  They also share the same commemoration on the calendar of saints of The Episcopal Church.  Anglican collegiality permits such unity in the midst of differences.

I also admit that despite my attempts to understand that, despite my attempts to understand some of the philosophical arguments of Butler, I remain uncertain regarding the objective definition of what he wrote sometimes.  For example, the contents of his critique of Locke’s theory of personality and consciousness remain a mystery to me.  That is fine, for that fact has no bearing on my opinion of Butler as a saint and a seeker of God.  I still recognize him as one who engaged his intellect vigorously, thought deeply, and did so for the glory of God.  Butler, true to his convictions, avoided the opposite errors of idolizing “received wisdom” on one hand and more recent developments in science and technology on the other hand.  I respect that.

The process of taking notes, processing them, and drafting this post has taken parts of several days and constituted a workout for my intellect and my right hand, for the draft is lengthy.  Typing this post has given my fingers a workout also.  I am better informed for the process of creating this post.  May you, O reader, be better informed after reading it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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Holy God, source of all wisdom:

We give thanks for your servants George Berkeley and Joseph Butler,

who by their life and work strengthened your Church and illumined your world.

Help us, following their examples, to place our hearts and minds in your service,

for the sake of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 6:6-10

Psalm 119:89-96

Acts 13:38-44

John 3:11-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 431

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Feast of Sts. Gregory Thaumaturgus and Alexander of Comana “the Charcoal Burner” (August 11)   2 comments

Above:  Pontus and Syria in the Roman Empire, 150 Common Era

SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS (CIRCA 213-268)

Also known as Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea and Saint Gregory the Wonder-Worker

Roman Catholic Bishop of Neocaesarea

His feast transferred from November 17

ordained

SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER” (DIED CIRCA 251)

Roman Catholic Martyr and Bishop of Comana, Pontus

His feast = August 11

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (circa 213-268) was born at Neocaesarea, Pontus, Asia Minor, where he studied law.  About 233 the saint, his brother, his sister, and her husband were en route to Beirut when they stopped at Caesarea, Syria.  There they met Origen, who converted them to Christianity.  They remained there for years instead of going on to Beirut.  And they became disciples of Origen.

About 238 St. Gregory returned to Neocaesarea, where he intended to practice law.  But all seventeen Christians there named him their bishop instead.  He tended to the flock for three decades, helping his parishioners survive a plague, a siege, and the Decian persecution.  And, when the saint died, he still had only seventeen members in his flock.

St. Gregory earned his great reputation.  He was allegedly a wonder-worker, hence his surname.  But he did argue against two heresies.  The first was Tritheism, which was, as the term indicates, three deities instead of one one in the Trinity.  The other heresy was Sabellianism, which argued that God the Father projected Himself as God the Spirit on some occasions and as God the Son on others.  This understanding of the Holy Trinity contradicted the unchanging, stable divine transcendence upon which Origen insisted.  (Origen favored the Son and the Spirit as being generated eternally from the Father.)  Speaking of Origen, St. Gregory defended his controversial teacher against strong criticisms.

St. Gregory needed to appoint a Bishop of Comana, Pontus (not to be confused with Comana, Cappadocia), some time prior to 251.  He interviewed various candidates and found none of them acceptable.  Then someone suggested sarcastically that the Bishop of Neocaesarea speak to St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner.  St. Gregory did and behold, he found that St. Alexander was a wise and holy man suited to serve as bishop.  St. Alexander died for his faith circa 251, during the Decian persecution.

Sometimes we labor hard for God and do not see spectacular results.  How often might St. Gregory have become discouraged because of the lack of church growth, other than to replace people who died, moved away, or fell way?  But, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.  Today churches around the world bear the name “St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker.”  Perhaps keeping the faith was his greatest wonder.  Certainly his legacy has endured.

And, as for St. Alexander, I propose him as the patron of all with unexpected vocations, of everyone whom others underestimate and scorn unjustly.  Each of us has a variety of spiritual gifts and vocations, some of them not obvious even to us.  The man who suggested sarcastically that St. Gregory interview that charcoal burner had no idea what he setting in motion.

Wherever we are, whomever we are, regardless of the challenges we face, may we find our vocations in God.  The may we live into them, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 29, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Heavenly Father, shepherd of our people,

we thank you for your holy servants

Saints Gregory Thaumaturgus and Saint Alexander of Comana “the Charcoal Burner,”

who were faithful in the care and nurture of your flock.

We pray that, following their example and the teaching of their holy lives,

may by your grace attain our full maturity in Christ,

through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

Feast of Sts. Plutarch, Marcella, Potanominaena, and Basilides of Alexandria (June 28)   Leave a comment

Above:  Roman Egypt, 150 Common Era

MARTYRS AT ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (202)

St. Plutarch of Alexandria was the brother of Heraclas of Alexandria (circa 180-247), also a saint on the Roman Catholic calendar.  Yet I refuse to admit Heraclas to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  For my reason, keep reading, O reader.  Both Heraclas and St. Plutarch came to Christ via Origen, who taught them at the great catechetical school of Alexandria.  Heraclas became Origen’s assistant then successor as head of the school.  Later,in 231,  Heraclas succeeded St. Demetrius as Bishop of Alexandria.  And Heraclas excommunicated Origen and forced him out of that city.  The contents of the previous sentence explains why I do not call him St. Heraclas.  I like Origen, who, like the rest of us, was right about a great deal and mistaken about other matters.  And excommunicating him was the wrong thing to do.

St. Plutarch and Sts. Marcella and Potanominaena, mother and daughter students at the catechetical school, faced criminal charges of being Christian during the reign (193-211) of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus.  Needless to say, all of them died.   Also executed was St. Basilides, who led the daughter to her death yet, as the story goes, converted after a vision of the daughter.  However the conversion came, it came.  And he died because of it–a classic case of what the Roman Catholic catechism calls Baptism of Blood.

Sometimes I feel like a very repetitive person, but that is necessary on certain occasions.  So here I go again.  One cannot end a religion by martyring people.  In fact, the blood of the martyrs does indeed water the church.  I read about martyrs and wonder how I would have responded under their circumstances.  I can speak only for myself just as only you, O reader, can speak for yourself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELIOT, PURITAN MISSIONARY AMONG THE ALGONQIN

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AUGUSTUS BENNETT, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF AOTEAROA

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 Almighty God, who gave your servants

Saints Plutarch, Marcella, Potanominaena, and Basilides of Alexandria

boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world,

and courage to die for this faith:

Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us,

and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Esdras 2:42-48

Psalm 126 or 121

1 Peter 3:14-18, 22

Matthew 10:16-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 713