One of our New Saint Thomas Institute students named Jana from Slovakia had a question about the translation of “descended into Hell” from the Apostles’ Creed:
I am from from Slovakia and in our language we do not use the word “hell” in the Creed, rather we use “he descended to those who died / departed”. We use “hell” only in the meaning of gehenna. Therefore I was a bit confused at first when I saw the title of this lesson: “he descended into hell” – I immediately associated hell with gehenna, but now I understand that hell is more like a collective term.
Jana, it’s so great to have members from Slovakia!
In English, we usually recite the Apostles’ Creed with the translation “He descended into hell.” To get to the bottom of this, let’s look at both the Greek and Latin versions of the Apostles’ Creed.
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. In this first part of six, we examine the Gnostic heretic Valentinius and his false system of divine emanations from the Father/Bythos as in the image below. Click on the player below the image to begin listening:
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The glorious catalogue of the martyrs of Christ retell their macabre deaths as being roasted, boiled, decapitated, crucified, starved, strangled, and hung-draw-quartered.
Today’s saints received the crown of martyrdom through the pain of ice. Dante places punishment by cold and ice at the bottom of hell. He perceived it as the worst punishment, and he even describes Satan as frozen at the waist inside a block of ice, as in the illustration below:
The earliest account of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste is found in a sermon by Saint Basil of Caesarea (370–379). They were 40 Roman soldiers in AD 320 who refused to renounce Christ. They were stripped naked and tied down to a frozen lake near Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey). They were instructed that if they renounced Christ, they would be freed and taken to a hot bath nearby in order to recover.
Consider for a moment, the feeling of your skin and body being overtaken by frost bite. All you need to say is, “I reject and renounce Jesus Christ,” and you’d be sitting in a warm hot tub.
The 40 soldiers persevered until one man relented. He renounced Christ and was taken to the hot baths to warm up, leaving 39 soldiers on the ice. However, one of the guards watching the 39 was allowed to see the supernatural glory resting on these 39 confessors of Christ. Desiring to receive that same glory, he stripped naked and joined them on the ice, thereby restoring the number to 40.
The traditional icon of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste always shows the apostate running away into warm bathhouse, while another man removes his clothes to join the 39. See the icon image below:
In the morning, the stiff bodies (some were still alive) were cast into fires and their bodies burned. The faithful collected their ashes as relics.
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste were popular in the East and they symbolized for monastics the tight bond of brothers in co-suffering for Christ.
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste Today: Iron Sharpening Iron
Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” These men were each blessed to know at least 30 friends who were willing to die for Christ. Every Christian suffers. How much sweeter it would be if we had friends with which to suffer. Pray for faithful and holy friends. Nobody goes to heaven alone. Nobody goes to hell alone. We travel as pilgrims in a collection. If you need advice or help on finding solid Catholic friends, please consider listening to this podcast I recorded: Finding Friends Like Samwise Gamgee.
On March 7 1274, the greatest Catholic mind died from brain trauma. Here’s a timeline of what happened brought you to by the New Saint Thomas Institute:
Sometime in 1273: The sacristan Domenic of Caserta observes Thomas Aquinas to be levitating in prayer with tears before an icon of the crucified Christ. Christ said to Thomas, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.”
Dec 6 1273: While celebrating the Mass of Saint Nicholas, Thomas went into ecstasy. Thomas’ friend and secretary Reginald later asks him: “Master, will you not return to your work?” Thomas Aquinas replied: “I can write no more. All that I have written seems like straw.” Thomas no longer works on the Summa theologiae.
Pope Gregory X asks Saint Thomas Aquinas to reconcile the Greek Orthodox bishops at the Second Council of Lyon in France to be held on 1 May 1274.
Early 1274, Thomas strikes his head on a tree branch along the Appian way near Monte Cassino. It’s not clear whether this happened while he was riding a horse or whether the branch or log was already on the ground.
Thomas recovers and continues his journey to the port. His health fails again and he is taken to the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova. While he was conscious, he gave a commentary on the Song of Songs, as had Saint Bernard.
March 7, 1274: His brain continued to swell. He received Last Rites and his last words were: “I receive Thee, ransom of my soul. For love of Thee have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached and taught….” and then he was received into Heaven by Jesus Christ.
From this timeline, you can perceive the deep mysticism of Thomas Aquinas. Many wrongly assume that Thomas was an aloof college professor or academician. Far from it. He was a mystic full in love with Christ and driven to preach in teach in the parish churches and in the universities.
I’d like to share two FREE resources for you to help you fall more in love with Saint Thomas Aquinas:
Here is a free book titled Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages. It is currently the most popular introduction to Thomas Aquinas available on amazon.com. You can have it free by clicking here.
If you’d like to try taking online classes on Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Mariology, Apologetics, Church History, and/or Medieval Theology, please explore the New Saint Thomas Institute: newsaintthomas.com.
I had the best Fish Friday of my entire life on the first Friday of Lent this year. I was blessed to lead a retreat for the Bishop’s Servers of the Diocese of Shreveport, and the bishop and I caught a couple of catfish whoppers (see pic below).
Fishing with a bishop (successor of the apostolic fishermen) and landing monster catfish: Thank you Lord!
But Louisiana catfish are not necessary for a great Fish Friday. Here are some great ideas on how to keep “meatless Fridays” in Lent, and how NOT to do meatless Fridays:
Before creating an intentional plan for “Friday fare” or “fish Fridays,” Joy and I would just sort of wing it: “Oh it’s Friday. Shucks. Mmmm. I guess we’ll have to order some cheese pizzas.” Even worse, we’d remember after the fact. I’d order a chicken sandwich at lunch and then suddenly remember.
This is playing defense. You want to plan offense. Defense reacts. Offense creates a clear strategy. You need to make a plan. Write it down and post it on the fridge.
Today’s post focuses on the practical aspect. How do you and/or your family keep meatless Fridays?
It seems like such a chore. However, with some creativity, it can become an act of penance and a family tradition. And when your conference of bishops restores the custom, you’ll already be accustomed to the laudable and ancient practice. I’ve listed some suggestions below.
Originally, cardinals were simply clergy “incardinated” within the Diocese of Rome. In the 6th century, the cardinals of Rome included the pastor presbyters of the titular churchs and the seven deacons of Rome so that there were “cardinal priests” and “cardinal deacons.” By the 8th century, the title was extended to the seven bishops of the seven “suburbicarian dioceses” surrounding Rome and thus there were also “cardinal bishops.”
This collection of cardinal deacons, cardinal priests, and the cardinal bishops established the “College of Cardinals” that elected the Bishop of Rome from amongst themselves.
Before the 1900s, it was possible for a man in minor orders to become a “lay” cardinal in the order of cardinal deacons.
For example, in the 16th century, the Englishman Reginald Pole was a cardinal for 18 years before he was ordained a priest.
In 1917 it was established that all cardinals, even cardinal deacons, had to be ordained priests.
In 1962, Pope John XXIII ruled that all cardinals must be ordained as bishops unless given a papal dispensation to remain as a priest. One might recall that John Henry Cardinal Newman (d. 1890) was a cardinal while being a priest and not a bishop.
For example, His Eminence Albert Cardinal Vanhoye is a cardinal who has not been ordained as a bishop.
A cardinal who is not a bishop does wear the pontificalia associated with the bishop (mitre, crozier, zucchetto, pectoral cross, ring).
Here’s the amazing thing about cardinals: even if not ordained as a bishop, any cardinal possesses ecclesial and liturgical precedence above a bishop, and even above an Archbishop or a Patriarch!
This is why Eastern Patriarchs are now usually made Cardinals.
In order to prepare for Lent, I was looking at the Lenten sermons of Pope Saint Leo the Great (died AD 461).
In his Sermon 46 on Lent, he exhorts the faithful to fast from food and luxury and vain thoughts. And then he goes further and exhorts them to give up heresy for Lent:
For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation.
What’s the historical background here? Pope Saint Leo the Great was battling a heresy called Monophystism in the Eastern Church that falsely taught that Christ’s human nature was absorbed or mixed into His divine nature so that Christ only had a single (mono) divine nature (physis). The human nature was no longer there. This essentially means that Christ is no longer human but only divine.
These heretics were backed by the Emperor, the political strongholds of the time, and by the Patriarch of Alexandria. It was a time of schism, infighting amongst bishops, and confusion among the laity. The temptation for Pope Leo and others was to compromise the Catholic Faith in order to keep the Empire and the Church united under a false theology. This Pope Leo refused to do. He called a council (Chalcedon in AD 451) and issued his orthodox “Tome of Leo” which explained how Christ’s divine nature and human nature were united in His one divine Person or in Greek, His divine hypostasis.
Pope Saint Leo labored to defend and explain the Truth because the truth sets us free from sadness, error, and sin. In order to live right, we need right morals and right thinking (which is one reason why the Catholic Tradition is rich in education and in the establishment of schools and universities.)
Christ our Lord and Savior taught that it was not food or drink entering the mouth that justifies or condemns a man, but rather the thoughts and words that come from his mouth (Matthew 15:16-20). We need to habituate right thinking.
The Greek word for “orthodox” is ὀρθοδοξία (orthodoxia) and it literally means “straight thoughts.” Similarly, an orthodontist provides you with “straight teeth,” and an orthopedic doctors are those that originally made sure that children (pedi-) developed straight (ortho-) bodies. Let’s go to the Doctors of the Church and acquire “straight thoughts” regarding God, salvation, and morality.
Giving Up Sinful Thoughts Against Morals and Against Faith
We often think of sinful thoughts as angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, and covetous thoughts. These are the kind of thoughts that we so often confess in the confessional. These are our thoughts against Catholic morals.
However, we might also serious thoughts against Catholic faith. We may even be repeatedly tempted to entertain these thoughts. This is what Pope Saint Leo warns us about in particular in his Sermon 46.
How do we combat these thoughts against faith and doctrine? Saint Leo provides the answer by exhorting us “to understand the mysteries of its salvation.” We must labor to understand the beautiful mysteries that Christ left for us within His Church.
Here are three ways that we can begin to grow in “understand[ing] the mysteries of salvation.”
Read the New Testament daily:
Read 1-3 chapter(s) every morning. The Catholic Church holds that Sacred Scripture is “the very soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum 24). Moreover, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Saint Jereome). And Pope Benedict XVI taught that “the normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture.” And if you’ve never read the New Testament, it’s time to read the whole thing. Lent is a perfect time to establish this goal. Right theology begins with a knowledge of the New Testament.
Read books by the Saints:
People ask me all the time about the best and latest books on theology. My rule of thumb is if you haven’t read the top ten classic works of Catholic Patristic Theology and the Summa theologiae, you probably shouldn’t be reading new theology. Build a foundation first. Here are some recommendations (most these books are under 200 pages):
St Augustine Confessions
St Athanasius On the Incarnation
St Basil On the Holy Spirit
St John Damascus Three Books on the Divine Images
St Ignatius of Antioch Epistles
St John Chrysostom On Marriage and Family Life
St Cyril of Alexandria On the Unity of Christ
St John Chrysostom On the Priesthood
St Gregory Nazianzus Sermons and Letters
St Leo the Great Letters and Sermons
Take a theology class or course:
Enroll in a theological class at your parish, at a trusted university, or somewhere else. Here’s a sample class from the New Saint Thomas Institute on Pope Saint Leo the Great in 10 Points. I hope you will be encouraged and filled with hope as you discover the Pope to be given the title “the Great.” We all need to foster a devotion to this great theologian and Pope: Saint Leo the Great.You’re always invited to watch video lessons on Philosophy, Historical Theology, etc:
The 5 Luminous Mysteries do not find their origin with Saint John Paul II in 2002 with is Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, but rather with Saint George Preca in the 1950s.
In 1950s, Saint George Preca prayerfully discerned that the Church needed to focus on the public and sacramental ministry of Christ within the context of the Holy Rosary. He began praying a set of 5 new mysteries in the context of the Rosary, which he called “Mysteries of Light.” These were published by him in a leaflet in 1973.
St George Preca of Malta
Saint George Preca was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on June 3, 2007.
There’s a historical twist to this story. Saint George Preca was a priest of the island of Malta!
You may have heard that the two bishops of the island of Malta have ruled that the divorced and remarried that have not received annulments and continue to live in a sexual relationship can receive the Holy Eucharist after a period of discernment and following their conscience in the pursuit of peace. The debate centers of baptism, matrimony, the teaching of Christ, and the Eucharist (4 of the 5 Luminous Mysteries). There has also been some confusion about the Knights of Malta with regard to the distribution of contraceptive devices. Why Malta?
Could it be that Jesus and Mary’s Luminous Mysteries AND the presence at the “Wedding at Cana” was especially planted on the island of Malta by Christ through his sainted priest George Preca?
All the Luminous Mysteries speak to our time and our personal difficulties:
Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan
His manifestation at the wedding at Cana
His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion
His transfiguration before the Apostles on Mount Tabor
His institution of the Eucharist
These are profound meditations for our current vocation within the Catholic Church to become saints:
Baptism: Our baptismal dignity and call to be holy as He is holy.
Matrimony: Our call to transform water into wine: to transform the natural creation ordinance of matrimony into a supernatural grace-filled union of sanctity. And to sanctify family life in the context of matrimony.
The perfect teaching of Christ: Evangelizing our hearts and inviting others by turning the Truth of Christ as preserved by His Catholic Church.
Transfiguration: Stress on the Divinity of Christ and His power in our lives to transform us.
Eucharist: The sacrosanct nature of the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is Christ Himself.
I have no doubt that Our Lady desires for us to come to Jesus Christ by meditating on these Mysteries of Light. As Father Calloway says, new battles require us to renew our weapons. The Rosary has been modified over time (listen to the interview to learn more) and it seems that two saints for our time: Pope Saint John Paul II and the Maltese Saint George Preca may have been guided by Heaven to guide our prayers during this time of Darkness with Mysteries of Light.
Post tenebras lux,
Taylor Marshall, PhD
PS: On the island of Malta, a viper bit Saint Paul. But he remained uninjured as by a miracle. The fangs of the serpent did the Apostle no harm:
After we had escaped, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, when a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They waited, expecting him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead; but when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28)
What is “the Vatican” and how does it work? Most Catholics are partially ignorant about what “the Vatican” is and how it works. The Vatican City State is a sovereign nation, but it is also the collection of dicasteries that oversee legal cases, liturgy, money, abuse, doctrine, religious orders, appointment of bishops…basically all the newsworthy and controversial elements of Catholicism.
Over the last couple years I’ve been able to spend time in Rome and even some time with priests, bishops, and cardinals working within the Vatican. What was once a knotted mystery has become more clear to me and I wanted to share a basic outline so that you can also better understand how the Vatican works:
Understanding the Roman Curia as Dicasteries:
“The Vatican” is literally the geographic location of Saint Peter’s burial at the foot of the “Vatican Hill” outside the ancient boundaries of the city of Rome (See my book The Eternal City for thorough details about the geography and tradition of Peter’s burial). But a more accurate term for what most people mean by “the Vatican” is the “Roman Curia,” which is a collection of “dicasteries” or departments working for and under the Pope.
The word dicastery comes from the Greek word δικαστήριον meaning “place of justice.”
The Church is not a nation, but to use an analogy, you might think of the heads of each “dicasteries” as the “cabinent” of the United States President. I know, I know. It breaks down. You don’t need to leave a comment to me about how the Pope is not like a President. I’m only making an analogy.
So the Pope appoints leaders or prefects (usually cardinals) to each of the dicasteries to aid His Holiness in the governance of the Church:
List of the Vatican Dicasteries:
Here are the Vatican dicasteries organized into their six various species:
The Secretariat of State (most powerful dicastery – headed by Cardinal Secretary of State)
The Secretariat for the Economy (created by Pope Francis to oversee financials)
The Secretariat for Communications (Vatican Radio, Osservatore Romano, Vatican Press, etc.)
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (one might say this is the second most powerful dicastery, after the Secretary of State)
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches
The Congregation for Divine Worship (liturgy and sacraments)
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the process of canonizing saints)
The Congregation for Bishops (researches and selects bishops for dioceses)
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly named Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith)
The Congregation for the Clergy (priests, deacons, seminaries)
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (religious life)
The Congregation for Catholic Education (Catholic universities, but not seminaries)
The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life (created by Pope Francis)
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (created by Pope Francis)
Legal Tribunals (operate like courts):
The Apostolic Penitentiary (excommunications, dispensations, indulgences)
The Tribunal of the Roman Rota (highest appellate tribunal; usually handles contested marriage annulments)
The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Supreme court seeing appealed cases from Roman Rota and conflicts between Congregations)
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (handles ecumenical relations with non-Catholic Christians, and notably Jewish relations)
The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (interpreting canon law)
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (handles relations with non-Christian religions)
The Pontifical Council for Culture
The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (for re-evangelizing the West)
Offices of the Holy See:
The Apostolic Camera (the Papal Treasury)
The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (modified by Pope Francis; see Secretariat for the Economy above; oversees property of the Holy See)
The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See (oversees finances)
*Note: The tendency of Pope Francis has been to close and collapse “Pontifical Councils” into what he calls “Dicasteries.” Pope Francis has closed down four “Pontifical Councils” and erected two new “Dicasteries” listed above.
My opinion is that a reduction in the number of dicasteries is a positive reform of the Church.
Each dicastery works at the pleasure of the Holy Father. The Pope appoints all offices and he can close and open new dicasteries according to his pleasure.
Other Departments in the Vatican
You also have other departments in the Vatican that are not technically dicasteries such as:
The Pontifical Swiss Guard
Approximately 130 soldiers that where colorful uniforms while protecting the Pope and providing border security for Vatican City.
Fun fact: the Swiss Guard makes use of the Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 .
The Vatican Bank (Official Name is: Institute for the Works of Religion – I’ll do a future post on this.)
The Pontifical Commissions (3 of which fall under the CDF):
Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church (art, books, archives)
Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
Oversees 1962 Extraordinary Form of Mass.
Answers to and is located within CDF.
Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
Pontifical Biblical Commission (publishes articles on biblical studies; answers to CDF)
International Theological Commission (publishes theological articles; answers to CDF)
Pontifical Commission for Latin America (answers to Congregation for Bishops)
Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (instituted by Pope Francis in 2014; headed by Cardinal O’Malley of Boston)
Temporary or Interdicasterial Commissions (temporary commissions for tasks, such as producing a Catechism of the Catholic Church)
How to Be Better Educated about the Catholic Church:
As the Church faces new issues, new dicasteries are created and some are closed. There is nothing of divine right with the Roman Curia. The Pope can open and close dicasteries to help him govern the Church. Technically speaking, he could close all the offices.
It’s worth following the current issues in the Catholic Church and having an understanding of how these issues flow into and out of the “Vatican” through the various dicasteries.
It’s also worth printing out on a piece of paper the dicasteries of the Catholic Church.
Print them out and place them in your Bible so that you can pray for their leaders and for their work. It’s worth following which Cardinals head which dicasteries.
Here are the current leaders/prefects of some of the important dicasteries:
The Secretariat of State: Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin
The Secretariat for the Economy: Australian Cardinal George Pell
The Secretariat for Communications: Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
The Congregation for Divine Worship: Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints: Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato
The Congregation for Bishops: Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni
The Congregation for the Clergy: Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz
The Congregation for Catholic Education: Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi
The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life: American Cardinal Kevin Farrell
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson
All the Cardinals that lead dicasteries are usually seen as papabile – unspoken candidates for the next papacy.
Holy Apostles, pray for the Cardinals.
Question: Do you have questions or comments about the Roman Curia? You can leave a comment by clicking here.