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).

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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

How did Christ ride a Donkey AND a Colt (at the same time?)

The Mystical Sign of Christ riding a Donkey and a Colt

For years I was confused by Saint Matthew’s description about Palm Sunday: we read that Christ rode a female donkey and her baby colt.

However, in Mark, Luke, and John, we read that Christ rode a donkey without any mention of the her colt. For some reason, I had imagined that Christ rode the she-donkey and the little colt at the same time – wide straddling both. This seems ridiculous, but I didn’t know how else to visualize what Matthew was describing.

jesus-christ-riding-into-jerusalem-for-passover

I finally found clarity while reading Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary on the passage. According to Lapide, Christ first rode the ass up and down the mount and then transferred and rode the colt into the city.

There is a practical reason for this. The she-ass would be stronger and more able to go up and down the terrain. Next, the colt would be able to bring him into the city easily.

Yet there is a mystical signification is this as well. The she-ass and her colt signify “the two sorts of people of which the world is made up—the Jews, accustomed to the yoke of the Mosaic law, who were represented by the ass; and the Gentiles, living up to this time without the Law of God, and who were denoted by the colt.”

The she-ass represents Mother Israel who has been burdened with the Law of Moses. Saint Peter our first Pope described the Mosaic Law as “a yoke…which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10, D-R).

The young colt represents the new and untrained Gentiles – the wild olive branch that the Apostle describes as the Gentiles.

Christ our Lord rode both to signify that both the Jews and the Gentiles were called to be Christophoroi – Christ-bearers.

Question: Now it’s your turn:

How did we carry “Christ to the world” in our age. What is the humble donkey or colt in our lives that communicates Christ’s Gospel to others? Please leave a comment. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here’s Thomas Aquinas on why Christ rode a donkey on Palm Sunday. 

Get Dr. Marshall’s book Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages for free by clicking here.

The Horrific Dream of the Wife of Pontius Pilate (about the Nicene Creed)

Let’s examine at the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife and the horrific dream that she had in Matthew 27 and how it relates to the Apostles and Nicene Creed.

St Claudia Pontius Pilate

In our New Saint Thomas Institute Catholic Church History series on the Arian Heresy Controversy and the Council of Constantinople, our student Alicia asks:

Is there a reason why the name of Pontius Pilate was included in the second creed?

Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history. If you interested in the redemptive meaning of Rome, the Roman Pontius Pilate, and the Roman cross of execution in the redemption of man by a Jewish Messiah, please see my book The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholicism. 

There is a “tradition” that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting “sub Pontio Pilato” over and over and over.

What she was hearing was the billions of Christians who recite “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

Most woman would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the remote efficient cause of Christ’s crucifixion.

The dream of “Claudia” is referred to in Matthew 27:19:

While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”

If the tradition is true, she dreamed of the countless recitations and liturgical chants of “under Pontius Pilate.”

Origen is the first to mention that she converted to Christianity. She is a saint. In art, she is depicted as whispering into the ear of Pontius. Mel Gibson’s Passion depicts Claudia giving linens to the Blessed Mother to collect the Blood of Christ from the scourging.

St Claudia cloths to Mary

Saint Claudia, pray for us.

If you’d like to take our courses on Historical Theology, the Creeds, the Councils, and Catholic Tradition, please sign up with us at newsaintthomas.com.

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9 Facts about Saint Joseph (Plus Old vs Young Joseph Debate)

Happy feast day of Saint Joseph. Here are 9 Facts about Saint Joseph for our edification:
St Joseph

  1. The name “Joseph” in Hebrew means “he increases.” We get it from the Greek form of Ιωσηφ (Ioseph), which comes from the Hebrew name יוֹסֵף (Yoseph). Saint Bernard of Clairvaux taught Joseph was rightly named, because God “increased” the gifts and graces that were in the world through Saint Joseph (Hom. 2 super Missus est).
  2. Saint Joseph is not mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, but he features in Matthew and Luke. He is only briefly mentioned by Saint John when he writes: “Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know” (John 6:41-51).
  3. Saint Joseph is described in Greek as a τέκτων or “tekton,” which is translated as “carpenter,” but it is better translated as “artisan.” A tekton is anyone involved in physical construction and repair. Joseph may have worked with stone, wood, metal, cement, clay, and other substances. The words “technology” and “architecture” are related to the Indo-European root for tekton.
  4. Joseph, while of the House of David in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, which is only a 40 mile (65km) walk to Jerusalem. Nazareth was a suburb of the town of Sepphoris described as:”Rich, cosmopolitan, deeply influenced by Greek culture, and surrounded by a panoply of races and religions, the Jews of Sepphoris were the product of the Herodian social revolution – the nouveaux riches who rose to prominence after Herod’s massacre of the old priestly aristocracy.” (Aslan, Reza. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, 44)This places Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the proximity of a wealthy, Gentile culture. Most craftsmen in this region would likely have learned Greek and perhaps Latin to serve the economy of Sepphoris. This is why some speculated that Christ our Lord knew Hebrew (as a student of Scripture), Aramaic (as a native of Nazareth), Greek (Gentile language of politics and commerce), and Latin (language of Roman occupants).
  5. History testifies to two traditions of Saint Joseph – the Old Joseph (widower) and the Young Joseph (virgin) traditions. I personally follow the Young Joseph tradition as I think it’s more historical and more biblical. I’ve detailed the debate here: ARTICLE the Old Joseph (widower) and the Young Joseph (virgin).
  6. Saint Joseph was truly married to the Blessed Virgin. This was debated and settled in the early Church. Some people wrongly state that Mary was an “unwed mother” and this is blasphemy. See my article: “Thomas Aquinas 12 Reasons Why Joseph was Married to Mary.”
  7. It is speculated that Saint Joseph never sinned (confirmed in grace) and that he was sanctified before birth – but not at conception like the Blessed Virgin. Francisco Suarez, Jean Gerson, and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri each teach that Saint Joseph was sanctified and regenerated in his mother’s womb prior to birth. Sacred Scripture teaches us that the Prophet Jeremiah and Saint John the Baptist received this honor of sanctification in the womb. The eminent theologians above, notably Saint Alphonsus – a doctor of the Holy Church, extend this privilege to Saint Joseph. They even teach that Saint Joseph was confirmed in the grace, which means that he was so filled with grace that he never committed a mortal sin or a deliberate venial sin.
  8. Some also speculate that since there are no relics of Saint Joseph, he was assumed bodily into Heaven. Francis Suarez maintained St. Joseph was taken up into heaven bodily. St. Bernardino of Siena, Gerson, and St. Vincent Ferrer held the same. St. Francis de Sales points out the fact that nobody claims the tomb of St. Joseph and that there are no relics of this saint. Then he continues in Les Vrais Entretiens Spirituels:Surely, when Our Lord went down into Limbo, St. Joseph addressed Him in this wise: “Be pleased to remember, Lord, that when you came down from Heaven to earth I received you into my house and family, that I took you into my arms from the moment you were born. Now you are going back to Heaven, take me with you (body and soul). I received you into my family, receive me into yours; I took you in my arms; take me into yours; I looked after you and fed you and guided you during your life on earth; stretch forth your hand and lead me into life everlasting.”Some have speculated that Saint Joseph was among the “saints” who were resurrected shortly after the death of Christ on Good Friday: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt 27:51-53).
  9. It’s common practice to bury a statue of Saint Joseph to sell one’s home. This comes from a condemned divination practiced called “Deprecation of the Saints,” whereby a person places a sack on a saint’s statue head or hides a statue in the closet or otherwise treats a saint statue disrespectfully until a request is granted. This is why folklore states that you’re supposed to dig up the Saint Joseph statue after the sale of the home to “reward” him for granting a request. It’s probably not a wholesome practice. Perhaps its better to place Saint Joseph’s statue in a place of honor in the home for intercession through Saint Joseph to our Lord Jesus Christ for the sale of one’s home. (Though feel free to debate this the comments box.)

Have a happy and holy Feast of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph pray for us.

Question: Do you think of Saint Joseph as an older widower or as a young guardian? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Dr. Taylor Marshall