Novitiate Movie: Were 1950s Teaching Nuns a Bad Idea?

Your grandparents have memories of getting their knuckles rapped by nuns such as Sister Theodora and Sister Dolores. We tradition-minded (younger) Catholics look back with reverent nostalgia. So many beautiful nuns in glorious habits that bordered on the glamorous:

Nuns in habits are like visible leaven for society. They lift it up.

But, as we know, it came crashing down in the 1960s. The world began to see this instead:

A new film titled Novitiate seeks to explore (in an insidiously Hollywood way) this shift from the 1950s self-flagellating wimple nuns to the 1960s hippie V2 nuns. Here’s the trailer:

I’m sure the film will be a theological disaster, but it touches on something questionable. If the 1950s convent was a spiritual Shangri-La, why did half the nuns leave and why did the remaining majority pick up acoustic guitars and cheer on the white-washing of their convents and churches?

Here’s my theory: The 1950s nuns were being asked to transform their monastic vocation into “outside the convent Activism” and it obscured their vocation. And yes, I’m especially (and controversially) referring to their ubiquitous role as school teachers.

As a father of 8 children, I would love to have free private Catholic school education for my children. Today’s private Catholic tuition rates are between $4,000 and $18,000 per child per year. Using the lower number, it could cost $416,000 to educate all of them. Using the upper number, it would cost almost $1.9 million dollars.

So yes, habited nuns staffing Catholic private schools (for free) would be awesome. I’m sure every layman (especially wage-earning fathers) and every bishop in the 1940s thought this was a brilliant idea.

Yet as a student of Catholic Church History, I have to admit that “nuns teaching children” just isn’t a traditional model of female religious life. Historically, nuns prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, fasted, prayed, and labored: crops, beehives, baskets, weaving lace and fabric, etc. One can hardly imagine the Desert Mothers teaching school. Similarly, in the Eastern Christian tradition, you do not observe consecrated nuns leaving their cells to open up grammar schools.

And speaking of children and education, consider your Catholic mother today. These mothers have anywhere from 12 to 1 children at home. Some homeschool their children, because the public school situation is not consonant with their values and educational goals. These mothers are exhausted.

Now consider the nuns of 1950. They were overseeing and teaching and feeding and cleaning up after 30+ kids per day. These were not their own children. I’m sure these kids were cute, but that wears off after awhile.

At 6pm, a husband doesn’t open the garage door and give her a hug and kiss and say, “Wow, dinner smells great.” She doesn’t have the comfort of sexual intimacy or the hope of seeing her children bear grandchildren and attend to her in old age. Almost all the kids in the convent schools will move on and go away.

It’s a very difficult vocation. I have no doubt that God has this vocation for special women. Teaching orders have been, are, and will be part of the Catholic Church.

But a gargantuan problem had already entered the female orders. Some have said that young women entered orders in order to pursue studies and work that society would not yet allow them to do. Once that began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, they left.

A further problem is that the nunneries were no longer centers of monasticism. Teaching kids for no pay isn’t too fun, I imagine. The only thing to keep you on task would be monastic commitment. And monasticism was already slipping away.

These convents very rapidly exchanged the outward norms of Catholic devotion for Freudian psychology and new age spirituality. Why? The monastic element was not there. Teaching was had become a form of activism.

“I want to join a convent and teach mathematics and the catechism to cute children.”

Is that a vocation to the religious life? Which is prior? This is who I want to be? This is what I want to do?

I imagine that I may get flamed in the comments section for even suggesting that pre-Vatican II religious life was not healthy. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if you think so, provide evidence. And to all the faithful sisters who have persevered through things that we could never comprehend, thank you and may Christ reward you.

I recall meeting an 80 year old nun in a convent full of nuns that wore street cloths and went by their civilian names. I remember her name as Sister Dolores. She spoke clearly and devoutly about Christ her Spouse. She was full of faith – and I could tell that she had endured suffering. There are jewels out there. I’m not question that obvious fact. I’m questioning the “out of the convent” activism that obscured the identity of women religious in the 20th century.

Question: I look forward to your thoughts and comments. I’d especially like to hear about the experience of those who were children in these schools. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Bad Popes and the Saeculum Obscurum

We have heard of the Dark Ages and most people wrongly label the Medieval Era (ca. AD 600-1500) as the Dark Ages.

There is, however, an age that is unanimously classified as the Saeculum Obscurum or “Dark Age.” It’s the 60 years from election of Pope Sergius III in 904 until the death of Pope John XII in 964.

This dark age is also called the Pornocracy because the Popes were intertwined with the powerful Theophylact I, who was Count of Tusculum and de facto ruler of Rome.

Theophylact and his wife Theodora effectively whored out their 15 year old daughter Marozia to be the concubine of Pope Sergius III (904–911). Popes cannot enter into valid marriage alliances, but they can share a bed. By doing so Theophylact united his own political power to the pillow of the Pope of Rome.

As if that were not enough, Theophylact was cuckolded by his own wife Theodora when she became the lover of Pope John X (914–928). Moreover, Pope John X is said to have been a lover both of Theodora (mother) and her daughter Marozia. And Pope John XI (931–935) was the illegitimate son of their daughter Marozia (perhaps the son of Sergius III). Marozia managed for her son Pope John XI to be elected at age 21.

Altogether, a bastard son, two grandsons, two great grandsons, and one great great grandson of Marozia became Popes!!! She even had a descendent who became an anti-Pope. Oh, and Pope John XIII was her nephew, the son of her sister Theodora.

It’s no wonder that this era is called the Reign of the Harlots. Theodora and Marozia (mother and daughter) used their sexual skills to control the Popes while Theophylact benefited politically from his wife and daughter’s pursuits. This papal corruption endured for six decades.

If you get discouraged by sexual scandals in the Church or by politics in Rome, we can be reminded that Christ allows it for some good reason that we do not yet understand. 

Several valid high priests of the Old Testament and several valid Popes of the New Testament have operated in ways that are selfish, dishonest, immoral, and abusive. The high priests after the Maccabees were especially cruel, lustful, and murderous. And Catholic Popes have been equally cruel, lustful, and murderous.

Christ Himself indicated this possibility in His teaching to us:

Matthew 24:
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant [Pope], whom his master [Jesus Christ] has set over his household [Catholic Church], to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant [Pope] whom his master [Christ] when he comes will find so doing. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, 50 the master [Christ] of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, 51 and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

As Saint Gregory the Great taught, Popes are “servants of the servants of God” set over the household while the Master Christ is away. We are required by filial charity to pray for our Pope’s protection and intentions daily. Salvation is through the Master, not through the Servant. And yet, Christ has appointed a Servant so we have teachings built on the Rock.

Even during the Dark Age of 904-964, Christ saved souls, worked in the local parishes, effected the sacraments, and lifted up great saints. Poland, Hungary, and Russia were being effectively evangelized. While Popes were whoring it up in Rome, Good King Wenceslaus (d. 935) was bringing holiness to Bohemia. And Saint Odo was carrying out the Cluniac Reforms.

Our Lord Jesus Christ may be “away,” but He is still present and working among us in every age, even in the darkest age.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

PS: If you’d like to study Medieval Catholic History, please join us online. The New Saint Thomas Institute is now offering three Certificates in Church History: Patristics, Medieval, and Reformation and Modern. Click here to enroll and begin learning about Christian History from the Fathers, Saints, and Popes: New Saint Thomas Institute.

Popes during the Saeculum Obscurum (AD 904-964)
Pope Sergius III (904–911) lover of Marozia
Pope Anastasius III (911–913)
Pope Lando (913–914)
Pope John X (914–928) lover of Theodora (the mother) and Marozia (daughter).
Pope Leo VI (928–928)
Pope Stephen VII (928–931)
Pope John XI (931–935) son of Marozia, son of Pope Sergius III.
Pope Leo VII (936–939)
Pope Stephen VIII (939–942)
Pope Marinus II (942–946)
Pope Agapetus II (946–955)
Pope John XII (955–964) grandson of Marozia, by her son Alberic II of Spoleto. He is often rated as “Worst Pope Ever.”

Dividing Eastern and Western Christianity is Not Patristic

Today we Christians often think of Christianity as “Eastern or Western” and assume that it’s always been that way. Nope. Not really.

In the first 900 years of Christianity, over 50 Popes were Greek. Greeks and Latins criss-crossed freely. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (modern France) was Greek. Saint Theodore of Canterbury (England) was Greek.

After Gregory the Great (d. 604), every single Pope for the next 200 years was Greek. These were native Greek speaking Popes celebrating Latin liturgy in Rome.

Even the Pope that crowned Charlemagne (Saint Leo III) was Greek.

Art, hagiography, architecture, liturgy, chant, music, monasticism – all of it was criss-crossing back and forth between East and West. Christianity was Christianity.

It wasn’t until the 1000s and then especially in the 1200s that the cross-pollination ceased.

If the Eastern Orthodox returned to full union with Rome, I would suspect that after many decades, there could be Greek Popes again and that art, theology, liturgy, etc. would continue to cross-pollinate. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy for Christians everywhere.

In a future post, I will explore the tradition of loooong interregnums between Popes.

11 Unusual Facts about Constantine the First Christian Roman Emperor

Constantine gets a bad rap. He’s Saint Constantine in the Eastern Churches, but just plain ol’ “Constantine” in the West. Is he an apostolic saint or an opportunistic sinner?

In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Constantine. I’ve taught a course three times in Rome called “History and Theology of Rome,” which touches on Constantine and his legacy. I’ve written a book The Eternal City which also explores his impact on Christianity (I was much more pessimistic about him in the book than I am now). Moreover, Constantine is a major literary character in my historical fiction Trilogy: Sword and Serpent: Trilogy.

[PS: Book III in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is now complete and in the final editing stages – and young Constantine heavily present in the final novel.]

Since we live in times of political and ecclesiastical ambiguity, here are 11 facts about Constantine to help you see that God can use imperfect politicians (and imperfect bishops) to bring about great good:

  1. He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
  2. Constantine killed his second wife. In AD 326, he had his first son Crispus (from his first marriage) killed. He also had his second wife Fausta killed. Both names were removed from public documentation. After Constantine had his second wife killed, he never married again until his death at age 65. (It was rumored that his son Crispus had an affair with his stepmother Fausta and that this revelation and their ordered deaths haunted Constantine to the grave.)
  3. During his early life, the Roman Empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four emperors: two senior emperors with the title “Augustus” and two junior emperors with the title “Caesar.” Constantine’s father Constantius was the “junior emperor” or “Caesar” of the Western half of the Empire.
  4. Constantine spent his early life held captive in the East (away from his father in the West) by the senior emperor Augustus Diocletian (a great persecutor of Christians). Constantine escaped the Eastern emperors by night and fled to his father. It is said that he hamstrung every horse along the way so that he would not be caught! Constantine joined his father Constantius in York in Britain. His father died in 306 and his son Constantine was acclaimed “Augustus” or senior emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his soldiers.
  5. But Constantine needed to prove his title. Before defeating Maxentius in AD 312, Constantine saw the cross in the sky above the sun with the words “in touto nika” or,  “In this sign, conquer.” Lactantius (who tutored his sons) says Constantine was instructed to conquer under the sign of the cross during a dream. Eusebius records that it happened during the day at noon and that all the troops saw it. Either way, Constantine is said to have placed the sign of the cross or a Chi Rho on the shields of his men. Scholar Peter Weiss suggests the public “sun miracle” happened in Gaul in AD 310 and the dream happened in AD 312 before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. That in AD 310, Constantine began to shift to monotheism based on “Sol Invictus” and that by AD 312, this monotheism had become (or was becoming) Christian monotheism.
  6. Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, but he began to remove pagan symbols from imperial coins beginning around the year AD 318. He gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome in AD 324. His conversion seems gradual and is in full display after about 10-12 years of rule.
  7. Constantine didn’t likely convert for political reasons as most high school history teachers will tell you. The demographics were against him. It is estimated that in AD 312, Christians composed only 10-15% of the Roman Empire’s population and fell into the lowest levels of education, wealth, and political power. The influence, wealth, and political power were still held by those checking the box labeled: “Jupiter, et al. Give me that old school Roman religion.”
  8. In AD 325, he called the first Catholic and Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the heresy of Arius falsely teaching that the Son of God was created and not eternally begotten of the Father.
  9. Constantine left three living sons (each born from Fausta):
    Constantine II (Catholic and anti-Arian). The first born.
    Constantius II (Semi-Arian). The most powerful and through his influence, Semi-Arian theology spread.
    Constans (Catholic and anti-Arian and anti-Donatist). Constans was rumored to be a man of unnatural vices.
  10. Constantine did not divide the Roman Empire into “East and West.” That had already been accomplished fully by Diocletian. Constantine, in a sense, re-united the entire Roman Empire under himself as one household or oecoumenos.
  11. Constantine fell ill and personally selected the Semi-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to baptize him just days before his death. He died on Pentecost AD 337.

Whatever your opinion of Constantine, it’s a historical fact that Christianity was spread to more souls by Constantine than by Saint Paul himself. This is why the Eastern Churches hail him as the “Thirteenth Apostle.” I’ll admit that this title is overly ambitious, but my opinion is that he was genuinely apostolic despite him being obviously imperfect.

Depending on your perspective: pray for Constantine’s soul or ask him to pray for you!

The Catholic and Liturgical Origin of Pizza

I am in Rome teaching a course to Seminarians: “The History and Theology of Rome” for the Rome Experience.

While enjoying some pizza near Piazza Navona, my son asked: “Dad, where does pizza come from?”

So I looked it up. The earliest reference to “pizza” is from AD 997 in a Latin text from the Italian town of Gaeta:

The text states that there were to be delivered to the bishop of Gaeta should receive duodecim pizze (twelve pizzas) every Christmas day and another duodecim pizze (twelve pizzas) every Easter Sunday. Here we have the earliest reference to “pizza” and it includes pizza delivery.

Since the town of Gaeta at that time belonged to the Byzantine Empire, the Latinized word “pizze” is likely a corruption of the Greek “pitta” or “πίττα” – a reference to “flatbread.”

So the first recorded pizza parties (12 pizzas!) goes back to the Bishop of Gaeta.

I came to Christ in a round about way from a Major League Baseball signature referencing Romans 10:9 on a Dominos Pizza gift from Thomas Monahan to my father (a long story), so I rather like this origin of pizza.

Godspeed,
Taylor

Why Did President Trump and Melania wear black in presence of Pope?

There are some interesting coming from the recent visit of President Trump to Pope Francis of Rome. Many are commenting on First Lady Melania and Ivanka wearing black and black veils in the presence of the Holy Father as in this photo:

Why are Melania and Ivanka wearing black?

In Catholic symbolism (and human symbolism!) black garments signifies humility and the desire to not be noticed. During a papal audience, it is traditional protocol for men to dress simply (President Trump has a black and white tie) and for women to wear long black dresses that cover the knee, are high collar (no cleavage for the pope, please), and long sleeves. Melania and Ivanka provide a nice example of how it’s supposed to look.

But there is an exception for a few Catholic princesses and queens: Le privilège du blanc!

Le privilège du blanc for Royal Women

Le privilège du blanc or “the privilege of the white” in the presence of the Pope is granted to royal women so long as they remain in good standing with the Catholic Church. Heresy or a non-sacramental marriage would lead to the Pope “declining the privilege.” The following royal ladies have the privilège du blanc:

  1. Queen of Belgium
  2. Queen of Spain
  3. Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
  4. Princess of Naples
  5. Princess of Monaco

Charlene of Monaco (photo to the right) used theprivilège du blanc on 18 January 2016 when visiting Pope Francis as part of an official state visit to the Vatican with her husband, Albert II, Prince of Monaco. Queen Sofía of Spain also used the privilege in 2016.

Cherie Blair (wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) was highly criticized for wearing white while visiting Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

My goal this week is to introduce to 6 of the world’s greatest heretics and how we can avoid their heresies and errors for our time. Today we study Nestorius – the man who denied the unity of Christ and denied that Mary is the Mother of God. Join Dr Marshall for this fascinating episode of heresy in Catholic history:

The image above depicts Nestorius. Note the x on his mitre – this signifies that he is a heretical bishop.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

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Did Christ Appear First to His Mother after Resurrection?

All the Gospel writers specifically describe Christ appearing first to Saint Mary Magdalene on the morning of His resurrection from the dead: “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.39.50 PM

There is however a [late] Christian tradition that Christ first appeared to His Mother Mary and then afterwards appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene as depicted in the Gospel accounts. This would explain why the Blessed Mother felt no need to go to the tomb of Christ. She already knew and believed that He had risen from the dead early Sunday morning.

It also explains why Christ is not at the tomb Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene arrives. He is somewhere else and then arrives to speak with her. Where was He at that moment? Well, some say Christ was visiting His mother on the third day – just as she also discovered Christ again “in His Father’s house” when she had lost Him at age twelve in the Temple after three days.

So did Christ appear first to His Mother Mary?

We find Saint Anselm as the first Catholic Doctor of the Church to teach that Christ secretly appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene. This is the opinion of Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila.

The visionary Blessed Maria of Agreda also received a vision showing that Christ first appeared to the Blessed Mother before visiting Saint Mary Magdalene. Even Saint John Paul II affirmed the possibility that Christ secretly appeared to His Mother first of all:

“It is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.” (Saint John Paul II, May 21, 1997)

We already explored the idea that Mary was not at the tomb Sunday morning because Christ had already appeared to her and she was confirmed already in her belief in the resurrection. However, one might assert that the Mother of God’s faith was already so strong that she had not need to see the resurrected Christ. She already believed without proof.

My own opinion (which carries no weight) is that Mary’s soul was so united to that of Christ at His death and even to His soul’s descent to the dead that she was aware of His ministry to the dead (including her husband Saint Joseph and her kinfoll such as Saint John the Baptist, Saint Zechariah, and Saint Elizabeth, Saint Anna, et al.), that she knew the precise moment of His resurrection and saw it in her soul. Whether Christ appeared outwardly to her physical eyes or only in her heart – her perception of Christ by Faith was more than any saint will have when they “see” Jesus Christ.

Christos anesti,

Dr. Taylor Marshall

Vader and ShenFu: The Surprising Titles of Priests in Other Languages

This week a priest from Holland named Father Johannes van Voorst liked an Easter photo that I posted on Instagram (drtaylormarshall).

I clicked on his profile and saw that his title is Vader Johannes. Vader. You know, as in Darth Vader.

Vader in Church Procession

I have long known that Vader means “father.” That’s the hook in The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader is the “dark father” of Luke.

Yet somehow it never registered with me that those black cassock-wearing priests in Holland would be affectionately called “Vader” by the faithful. Super cool.

So here are some various titles for priest in various languages. I do this to celebrate the 46th nation now represented in the New Saint Thomas Institute for theological studies:

Titles for Catholic Clergy in Various Languages:

Shénfù. Mandarin Chinese refers to Catholic priests with the title “Spirit Father” or shénfù (神父). I was a (Protestant) missionary for a summer in college and I love learning more about Christianity in China. One name for “Catholicism” in Chinese is gongjiào (公教) meaning “universal teaching.”

Shinpu. The Japanese title for a priest. Similar to Chinese. It also means “spirit father.”

Abouna. Syriac or Aramaic for “our father,” as used by Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian Christians (and the Maronites).

Bathyushka. The Russian title for Orthodox priests, meaning “father.” Incidentally, the wives of Russian Orthodox priests also have a title: Matushka, meaning “mother.”

Cha. Vietnamese for “Father.”

Dom. This is actually a shortened version of the Latin Dominus meaning “Lord.”  Dom is an honorific prefixed to the given name. It derives from the Latin Dominus. It’s used for Benedictines, Carthusians, and Canons Regular in English and French (eg. Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B.). For Portuguese, it signifies a bishop.

Don. Italian and Spanish version “Dom.” Don can be used in writing and in direct address (e.g. Don Bosco). You see this among monastics, but Opus Dei (Spanish in origin) also often refers to their Prelate as Don Avlaro or Don Javier. It’s not by any means restricted to clergy. Don is an honorific in all Spanish cultures. Don Juan of Austria is a notable example.

 

Sagart or Sacart. Irish or Old Gaeilge corruption of the Latin word for priest: sacerdos.

Athair. Irish address for “Father.”

Monsignore. Italian for “my lord.” The final “e” is often dropped. In Romance languages, it’s used to denote bishops, but in English it is restricted to presbyteral Prelates or Chaplains to His Holiness.

Otets. Ukrainian priest is usually addressed as “otets'” (отець), father, and his wife- dobro`dyjka, literally, “one who is doing good deeds” or “benefactress.”

Ojciec. Polish. When addressing a priest (vocative), it is Ojcze.

Padre. Corruption of Latin Pater. Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian for “Father.” It Italy, “Padre” is for mendicant religious priests (e.g. Padre Pio) and “Don” is for diocesan priests (e.g. Don Bosco).

Pappa. In Greek towns, priests are called Pappa, which means “daddy.” Our Latin Papa or Pope is the same word. I suppose each Greek Orthodox priest is papal in his own town.

Părinte. Romanian for “parent” or “begetter.” Corruption of the Latin Parens. There is a Romanian word for “Father” but Părinte is used instead. Romanian Christians address their priests with: “Sfinția Voastră” or “Your holiness” (“Your” in Romanian actually being a “pluralis majestatis”). Sfinția coming from the Latin word sanctitas meaning “holiness.”

Père. French corruption of the Latin Pater meaning “father.”

Abbé. A member of the French secular clergy in major or minor orders. It derives from the Aramaic “Abba” meaning “father.”

Romo. Indonesian for “Father.”

Vader. Dutch for “Father.”

Vater. German for “Father.”

 

Question: Do you know of more priest titles in other languages. Please leave a comment below and I’ll add them to the list. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

Scripture and Science: Historical Day of Christ’s Death in AD 33

In our Church History Certificate in the New Saint Thomas Institute, we looked at the biblical and scientific data for determining the exact date of Christ’s death on the cross. Please join us for this sample video from our Church History Module 2: Christ and the Covenants:

“Good Friday – Finding the Historical Date” from Church History Module 2: Christ and the Covenants

If you don’t see the video in your browser or email, please click here to watch it.

[If you’d like to begin online Catholic classes and earn your Certificate(s) in: Catholic Church History Church Fathers or in Medieval History and Theology, you can begin this Easter with Spring Enrollment. The New Saint Thomas Institute is currently having $1 tuition discount for Easter. Click here to learn more.]

Here’s a preview of our New Saint Thomas Institute Certificate in Church History. Please explore and sign up if it’s a good fit:

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A blessed Good Friday to you,

Taylor Marshall