For Catholics, the bodily assumption of Mary is a historical event. The falling asleep of Blessed Mary and her assumption are just as historical as, say, the fact that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated or the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series. One day Mary’s body lay in a tomb. The next day it did not. When did this happen? Which year?
This lesson is part of our Curriculum in Church History and the Church Fathers:
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Most of us are very wealthy. A person making $30,000 in the United States has a higher quality of living than a European monarch in the 1800s. And King Nebuchanezer would have sold half of his Babylonian kingdom just to purchase your magical iPhone 5 with a cracked screen.
And yet we are often so unhaaaapy. Why?
I’ve been re-reading the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (attributed to King Solomon as a testimony of his repentance), and I was struck with one of the most powerful passages in the entire Bible. It’s the last three verses of Ecclesiastes chapter 5.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and to be fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life which God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Every man also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
He grants in verse 19 that God has given some people wealth and possessions. But that’s not enough. He adds “and the power to enjoy them and accept his lot.”
That’s it folks. Getting the best or next [iPhone, spouse, house, retirement account, car, jet, diamond, child, etc.] is never enough. It takes a supernatural superadded gift of being able to enjoy it. Solomon says, “this is the gift of God.”
Ultimately salvation and access to the Beatific Vision of the Holy Trinity (that is, Heaven) is our final goal and purpose for this life. But along the way in this life, we should also pray for the “the gift of God” which is the “power to enjoy them and to accept [your] lot and find enjoyment in this life.”
So add this to you prayers daily: “God give me the Ecclesiastes gift to enjoy whatever you have given and me and whatever you will give me.”
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 monasticcommitment. 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.
Father Al Kimel has a post up on the Christology of Saint Irenaeus. Irenaeus, he notes, does not see God the Son as something needed to “protect” the transcendence of God from creation. That is, Christ is not a demiurge insulating God from the muddiness of creation.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal.
So where is Irenaeus getting his Christology?
Irenaeus heard the teaching of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. Perhaps Irenaeus was originally from Smyrna. Regardless, it’s universally agreed that Irenaeus was from Asia Minor.
The Christology of Smyrna (and Asia Minor) is that the canonical Apocalypse which repeatedly depicts Jesus Christ as “Yahweh” who repeats the words and actions of “Yahweh” from the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. This is why there is no subordinationism of the Son below the Father and the Spirit below the Son in Irenaeus.
The historical Jesus is Yahweh for the seven churches and seven angels/bishops of the Apocalypse.
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:
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.
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.”
Will you know everything in Heaven? This question is best answered by exploring the spiritual gift of “counsel.”
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “counsel.”
What is counsel? Thomas Aquinas defines counsel in this way:
Again, it is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action, and this research is called counsel. (STh II-II, q. 52, a. 1).
So counsel is research led by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thomas also explains how it relates to the virtue of prudence – making right decisions.
It might be asked whether this gift of counsel remains in Heaven. Do the saints in Heaven need counsel? Do the angels need counsel?
Thomas says that counsel remains in the blessed and in the angels. Why?
Because the human saints and the angels in Heaven do not know everything. Contrary to what you may have learned in Sunday school, God doesn’t reveal everything to us in Heaven. There will remain mysteries.
The Blessed Virgin Mary knows more than the angels and saints, but she is still limited in our celestial knowledge. Only the Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) know all things. Only the three person of the Holy Trinity are omniscient.
Because humans and angels in Heaven are not omniscient, we will continue to seek spiritual counsel. Angels are guided into helping those on earth. Even humans are guided by counsel from the Holy Spirit in aiding those on earth. Yes, Holy Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and your guardian angel continue to exercise that spiritual gift of “counsel.”
And we on earth especially need spiritual counsel. How do we gain it:
by not clouding our minds with venial or mortal sin.
by checking in with the Holy Spirit frequently throughout the day “Am I living your will for my life?”
by reading the documents written by the Holy Spirit – Sacred Scripture. Here we find explicit teaching and advice for our lives.
by explicitly asking the Holy Spirit to give us counsel on difficult problems in our lives.
Is Saint Christopher still a saint? It’s said that his feast day (July 25) was removed from the universal calendar, but was it? Actually it was not. It was removed from the General Roman Calendar of 1969. Saint Christopher is still liturgically celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Churches and by those churches celebrating the Latin Mass, which follow the General Roman Calendar of 1960.
Saint Christopher is an unnamed martyr who died for Christ either under the Roman Emperor Decius (249–251) or under the Roman Emperor Maximinus II Dacian (308–313). My research leads me to believe that the latter date is accurate.
The Legend of the Christophoros:
The legend is that an evil and gigantic Canaanite man named Reprobus (“reporobate”) was asked by a child to carry him across a river. As Reprobus carried the child, the child became heavier and heavier and nearly drowned the giant Reprobus.
The child revealed Himself as the Christ Child who bore the weight of all the sins of the world, especially those of Reprobus. The evil man repented and was baptized by Christ in that same river. His baptismal name became Christo-Phoros (Christ-bearer) since he ferried the Christ Child across the river.
Christopher is sometimes depicted with the head of a dog, since he was a Canaanite. But the term Canaanite was confused for “canine” meaning “dog.”
Saint Menas is venerated in Egypt and is also said to have carried the Christ Child. He was a Roman solider (like Saint George) who later abandoned the military to live a solitary life of a hermit. The association of Saint Menas with Egypt fits the Roman tradition of “Saint Christopher belonging to the Egyptian “Third Valerian Cohort of the Marmantae.”
Additionally, Christopher and Menas received martyrdom in Antioch, further linking their identity.
My hypothesis is that Menas (from Egypt) was martyred to the north in Antioch. The local Christians were not familiar with him but honored him simply as “he who bore Christ” or “Christophoros” and thus the Antiochian Christians called him “Saint Christopher,” and the Egyptian Christians called him by his actual name: “Saint Menas.”
Saint Christopher in Catholic Novel Format:
I tease out all these traditions in my historical-fiction trilogy Sword and Serpent. In the third novel (Book III: Storm of Fire and Blood; due Christmas 2017), while Saint George and Saint Christopher are in Britain, I have the pagan inhabitants mistaking Saint Christopher for the god Woden for reasons that will be entertaining and apparent if you read the Book II: Tenth Region of the Night.
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.
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:
He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m sorry that I have not been posting articles for the last two weeks. I’ve been teaching a class in Rome to Seminarians called “The History and Theology of Rome” (based on The Eternal City) and it has been a rich blessing.
Since I have not been posting theology articles, I’ve been posting a stream of photos and videos. For example, here is a video of the bishops and cardinals processing with the Holy Eucharist for the feast of Corpus Christi: