Category Archives: Forerunners (33-1226)

Alopen — June 21

The Christian missionary Alopen and the Emperor Taizong, China. The first recoreded Christian missionary to reach China, arriving in 635. Educational card, late 19th or early 20th century.

Bible connection

“I see clearly now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” — The Apostle Peter tells the Gentile Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10: 34-35

“Stele to the Propagation in China of the Luminous Religion of Daqin.” Daqin was what the Chinese called the Roman Empire or Syria in particular.

All about Alopen (c. 635)

Above is The Nestorian Stele on its Tortoise Pedestal (added after its find), in Beilin Museum, Xi’an, China. The monument is a stone slab erected in 781 AD during the Tang dynasty (618-907) documenting about 150 years of Christian history in China. The writing is in Chinese and Syriac. The stele was buried in 845, probably during religious persecution, and unearthed in the late Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) around1623.

Emperor Taizong (or Tai-tsung) of Tang first heard about Jesus Christ from a Persian monk, A-lo-pen (his Chinese name — Chinese: 阿罗本 pinyin: Āluóběn), who walked all the way to the capital of China (today’s Xi’an) to bring the gospel to the Chinese. He was probably sent by Patriarch Ishoyahb II of Baghdad, who also sent missionaries to Iran, Afghanistan, Ubzekistan, and India. Most likely, Alopen had been ordained a bishop because he was able to appoint men to pastor the churches he founded. What little we know about his arrival in China and the history of the work that followed is recorded on the stele.

In 635 Alopen stood before Emperor Taizong and presented him with a New Testament. He is the first missionary we know of who travelled the Silk Road all the way to China.

The stele says:

In the time of the accomplished Emperor Tai-tsung, the illustrious and magnificent founder of the dynasty, among the enlightened and holy men who arrived was the most-virtuous Olopun, from the country of Syria…

Observing the azure clouds, he bore the true sacred books; beholding the direction  of the winds, he braved difficulties and dangers. In the year of our Lord 635 he arrived at Chang-an; the Emperor sent his Prime Minister, Duke Fang Hiuen-ling; who, carrying the official staff to the west border, conducted his guest into the interior; the sacred books were translated in the imperial library, the sovereign investigated the subject in his private apartments; when becoming deeply impressed with the rectitude and truth of the religion, he gave special orders for its dissemination.

In the seventh month of 638 the following imperial proclamation was issued:

Right principles have no invariable name, holy men have no invariable station; instruction is established in accordance with the locality, with the object of benefiting the people at large. The greatly virtuous Olopun, of the kingdom of Syria, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant part, and has presented them at our chief capital. Having examined the principles of this religion, we find them to be purely excellent and natural; investigating its originating source, we find it has taken its rise from the establishment of important truths; its ritual is free from perplexing expressions, its principles will survive when the framework is forgot; it is beneficial to all creatures; it is advantageous to mankind. Let it be published throughout the Empire, and let the proper authority build a Syrian church in the capital in the I-ning May, which shall be governed by twenty-one priests.

The “Nestorian” church

Alopen was of “the Church of the East.” The Syrian church forged a different identity from the Eurocentric church of the Roman Empire. It was called the “Nestorian” Chruch by the Roman Church. So the Christians who went to China were Nestorians — at least by Roman Catholic definition.

Nestorianism was named after the Christian theologian Nestorius (386–450), Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431. Nestorius was rebuked by the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) for his argument about the nature of Jesus as human and divine. His main contention was that Mary should not be called Theotokos (Mother of God), since that undermines the true human nature of Jesus. He argued she should be called Mother of Christ, which he considered more orthodox in that Mary bore a human in whom God dwelled as in a temple. The Councils both affirmed that Jesus, both God and human was born by Mary and his dual natures are inseparable.

They said the natures were inseparable as in “hypostatic union” (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις/hypóstasis, translated “person, subsistence”). This is the technical term in Christian theology that won the Christology battle to describe the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity. His nature is one hypostasis, or individual personhood. The views of Nestorius were a fine point of understanding hypostasis, not an assertion of exclusive natures in one person. It was not his intent to elevate the human nature. But the Councils decided otherwise. He said: The Word, which is eternal, and the Flesh, which is not, came together in a hypostatic union, “Jesus Christ.” Jesus is both fully human and fully God, of two ousia (essences) but of one prosopon (person).

Elements of the break-off church did develop theology that resembled the thinking the Councils condemned. A brief definition of Nestorian Christology could be: “Jesus Christ, who is not identical with the Son but personally united with the Son, who lives in him, is one hypostasis and one nature: human.”(Wiki).  Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism (which says the Human nature of Jesus was subsumed by the divine) were condemned as heretical at the Council of Chalcedon.

Nestorius developed his Christological views as an attempt to understand and explain rationally the incarnation of the divine Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, as the man Jesus. He had studied at the School of Antioch where his mentor had been Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodore and other Antioch theologians had long taught a literalist interpretation of the Bible and stressed the distinctiveness of the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius took his Antiochene leanings with him when he was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by Byzantine emperor Theodosius II in 428.

Nestorious’ role as Patriarch was taken away and he returned to his monastery. His followers, however, applied his name to an Eastern branch of the Christian family tree. The Church of the East first blossomed in Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey) and in the well-known theological school of Nisibis (today’s Nusaybin, Turkey), where the famous poet Ephrem served as deacon. It continued to thrive in what is now eastern Turkey and Iraq.

The Church of the East is often known as the Nestorian Church, even though its connections with Nestorius are tenuous at best. The name is probably due to the fact that this church refused to recognize the 431 Council of Ephesus where Nestorius was condemned for his views on the two natures of Christ. For the most part, however, the reason for their refusal was probably more cultural rather than theological. It was a way to assert the church’s independence from the Byzantine Empire, being part of the upstart Sasanian Empire. While it’s true that Nestorianism spread to the eastern regions, many scholars agree that defining the Church of the East as Nestorian is unfair.

The official language of the Church of the East was Syriac (a form of Aramaic), one of the first languages in which the Scriptures were translated. By the eighth century, this church had spread over much of Asia and Arabia, becoming the most widely spread churches in the world.

More

A reading of the Stele:

Translation of Nestorian Stele [link]

The early Chinese church is further revealed in the Jesus Sutras, discovered in 1900 in the Dunhuang oasis on the Silk Road [link]. The Jingjiao Documents, also known as the Nestorian Documents or the Jesus Sutras, are a collection of Chinese language texts connected with the 7th century mission of Alopen, and the 8th century monk Adam. The manuscripts date from between 635, the year of Alopen’s arrival in China to around 1000, when the cave at Mogao near Dunhuang in which the documents were discovered was sealed. By 2011, four of the manuscripts were known to be in a private collection in Japan, while one was in Paris. Their language and content reflect varying levels of interaction with Chinese culture, including use of Buddhist and Taoist  terminology.

The day Alopen died is unknown. This collection uses offical saints days or death days to honor each member of our cloud of witnesses. We’ve placed Alopen’s day on June 21 to reflect the summer of love between China and the missionaries from Syria.

What do we do with this?

This history of the church is commonly unknown in the United States, mainly because the church and the nation see through a Eurocentric lens. The churches of the Sasanian Empire (Persia) rejected that lens in the 400’s. In welcoming their history, we become part of the true, transhistorical, transnational Body of Christ.

Emperor Taizong was remarkably open. Alopen and his companions were amazingly brave and bold. Whoever made the stele was very skilled and eloquent. The historians who have complied the mysteries of the past and the scholars who keep presenting them are honorable. The whole story of this missionary is full of brilliant, faithful people. Let’s celebrate them and appreciate the gifts each of us brings to the present story of Jesus, too.

Columba — June 9

Bible connection

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
    old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. — Psalm 148:7-13

All about Columba (521-597)

Columba is a “saint” who still appeals to our imaginations almost fifteen hundred years after his death. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. He was not only a great leader, he had a big imagination that resulted in an outbreak of Celtic art we still admire. He also had a big voice and might have sang his own version of today’s psalm, since the Celtic church had a deep respect of God’s presence in creation and Columba, no doubt, met the Lord on his many daring sea voyages and missionary journeys.

He was born in Ireland, on December 7, 521 A.D. to Fedhlimidh and Eithne in Donegal (Northern Ireland). He was of “royal blood,” and might have become High King of Ireland had he not chosen to be a priest.

As a young man, Columba soon took an interest in the church, joined the monastery at Moville, and was ordained a deacon by the famous and influential Finnian. After studying with a bard called Gemman, Columba was ordained a priest, then bishop of Clonfad. Columba entered the monastery of Mobhi Clarainech and trained with the others who became “the twelve apostles of Ireland.” When disease forced the disbanding of that monastery, Columba went north and founded the church of Derry.

Tradition has it that after founding several other monasteries, Columba copied Finnian’s psalter (or was it a precious copy of the Latin Vulgate? Sixth century history was not fastidiously collected). He did this without the permission of Finnian, and thus devalued the book and broke with common decency. When Finnian took the matter to High King Dermott for judgment, Dermott judged in favor of Finnian, stating “to every cow its calf; to every book its copy” (the first copyright law!). Columba refused to hand over the copy, claiming that his converts deserved the scripture. King Dermott forced the issue militarily. Columba’s family and clan defeated Dermott at the battle of Cooldrevny in 561.

Tradition further holds that Molaisi of Devenish, Columba’s spiritual father, ordered Columba to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as penance.

For his theft and the deaths it caused, Columba ended up in exile from Ireland. He settled at the first place where his homeland could no longer be seen across the sea. With twelve companions he started a new life, founding a monastery on the island of Iona in the year 563. They lived as Celtic monks in a community of separate cells. But Columba and his companions combined their contemplative life with extraordinary missionary activity.

Among his many accomplishments, Columba was a splendid sailor. He sailed among the islands of Scotland and traveled deep inland, making converts and founding churches. In Ireland, it is said, he had already founded a hundred churches. In Scotland he is credited with converting the Picts, including a journey to witness to the King during which he thwarted the Loch Ness monster.

Columba and the Loch Ness monster, found in British Library

Of all the Celtic saints in Scotland, Columba’s life is the best documented, because manuscripts of the Life of Columba, written by Adamnan, one of his early successors as abbot of Iona, have survived.

Columba was a poet as well as a man of action. Some of his poems in both Latin and Gaelic have come down to us, and they reveal him to be very sensitive to the beauty of his surroundings, as well as, in Adamnan’s phrase, “gladdened in his inmost heart by the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

He died on June 9 in the year 597.

More

Rod’s Columba the Creative Sufferer [link]

Dramatic video about Columba on Iona [link]

Columba (and others) and the Book of Kells [Part 1 link] [Part 2 link]

What do we do with this?

Columba might have been king if he had not been serious about Jesus. He might have been a powerful church man in Ireland if he hadn’t put himself on the wrong side of the law and started a war!

Maybe you wish you had never followed Jesus. Maybe you wish you had not done those wrong things. Maybe Jesus can use you anyway, starting on whatever little island you find yourself today, despite the desires that threaten to dominate your life. Consider what would happen if your future were in God’s hands (since it is).

Bede — May 26

The Venerable Bede writing. Detail from a 12th century codex

Bible connection

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. — Hebrews 11:13

All about the Venerable Bede (c. 673-735)

“The Venerable Bede” died on this day in 735. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars. When he was seven, Bede was sent to Benedict Biscop at the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth, Northumbria, for his education; when he was nine he moved a short distance to the sister house in Jarrow, where he would live out the rest of his days. Bede became a deacon at age 19 and priest at 30.

Page from History

Eventually, Bede was the first native of the British Isles to be named by the Pope as Doctor of the Church (in 1899). His most famous work, which is a key source for understanding early British history and the arrival of Christianity, is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or The Ecclesiastical History of the English People which was completed in 731 AD. It is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used.

Much of Bede’s observations and writings were focused on the natural world. His scholarship is notably advanced because of his ability to weave together fragments into coherent works with very limited resources.

Here is a bit from his most famous work:

“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

Try on this quote:

“Better a stupid and unlettered brother who, working the good things he knows, merits life in Heaven than one who though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a doctor, lacks the bread of love.”

This is also a good image:

“Jesus opened the tavern of heaven and poured out the wine of the Holy Ghost.”

Bede’s work was so famous and respected that it earned him an honorific addition to his name. The title Venerabilis [Venerable] was associated with the name of Bede within two generations after his death. There is no proof for the legend that an unskilled monk composing an epitaph on Bede was at a loss to complete the line: Hac sunt in fossa Bedae . . . . ossa (in this grave are Bede…bones) and then found the next morning that angels had filled the gap with the word venerabilis [venerable]. The title is used by Alcuin (a Northumbrian teacher who became the lead scholar in Charlemagne’s court), Amalarius of Metz and Paul the Deacon within years of his death. The important Council of Aachen in 835 describes him as venerabilis [venerable] et modernis temporibus doctor admirabilis Beda [venerable and admirable doctor of our time, Bede].

More 

Want to read Bede’s groundbreaking book? [link]

More from English people who love him? [link] 

Additions from Orthodox Wiki: [link]

This Channel 4 story takes less than 2 minutes:

What do we do with this?

Bede was a writer and researcher. He was a preserver of good things and true things. If you are a writer, too, take your art seriously and tell the truth. Maybe you should write a little history of your church, your team, or of a person you admire. Or write your spiritual autobiography! Bede’s work has made a difference for 1300 years!

Brendan — May 16

By Rachel Arbuckle. Click the pic for her store.

Bible connection

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

All about Brendan the Navigator (c. 484 – c. 577) 

Brendan was an Irish monk called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, and “the Bold,” a man who was inspired to walk in extreme vulnerability. His example made him a sturdy leader and winsome evangelist as the Church was built in Ireland.

The story goes like this. Brendan and his companions went on a nautical pilgrimage in the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Island of Paradise. They searched for seven years and had many adventures along the way. The chronicle of Brendan’s journey [Navigatio Brendani] became a medieval blockbuster. Much later, some historians decided that Brendan actually made it to the America’s in his leather bound boat (a “coracle”). Brendan’s outer quest reflected his inner quest to put himself at the mercy of God, which is always the greatest adventure.

Brendan was born in Tralee in southwest of Ireland. His parents were Finnlug and Cara. He was baptized by Saint Erc, and was originally named “Mobhí.” But the signs and portents attending his birth and baptism led to be christened Broen-finn, meaning fair-drop. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita. When he was six he was sent to Saint Jarlath’s monastery school to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”, one of those  tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan was ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founded a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage took him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a community. He also visited Hinba (Argyll), an island off Scotland where he is said to have met Columba. On the same voyage he traveled to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon. From there he set out on his famous seven-year voyage looking for Paradise.

St. Brendan’s Prayer

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

More

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day [link to Development]. Memorial to Brendan [poem]

From St. Brendan’s monastery in Maine [link]

Poem: The Death of St. Brendan by J.R.R. Tolkien. [link]

Frederick Buechner’s Brendan: A Novel.

Revisioning the inspiration for one of the most popular and enduring medieval legends, Frederick Buechner tells the tale of the colorful sixth-century Irish saint Brendan through the eyes of his loyal friend and follower, Finn. This animated vision of Brendan’s dynamic path chronicles the Celtic world of fifteen hundred years ago and contains all the complex moral messages that abound in the best mythology. 

Brendan’s life illustrated by Irish children:

What do we do with this?

May we quest so boldly toward new waters with God. May we face the fears of the deep and unknown so faithfully. See if you can pray Brendan’s prayer for yourself. Maybe you can even envision you and your friends in a coracle, testing your trust on the sea. What kind of “sea” is it for you. How are you called to voyage?

Here is another rendition of his prayer for you to pray:

Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

Athanasius — May 2

Athanasius of Alexandria icon

Bible connection

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. — Colossians 2:8-15

All about Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296 – c. 373)

“Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’
rob God of his Word, like plunderers.”

Athanasius of Alexandria became the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His on-again-off-again service in that role spanned 45 years. Seventeen of those years were served in exile, when four different Roman emperors ordered his replacement. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

Conflict with Arius and Arianism, as well as successive Roman emperors, shaped Athanasius’ career. At the age of 27, he took a leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. Roman emperor Constantine the Great convened the council to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father.

Three years after that council, Athanasius succeeded his mentor as archbishop of Alexandria. In addition to the conflict with the Arians, he struggled against the Emperors Constantine, Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Valens. He was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World). “Black Dwarf” was the tag his enemies gave him — the short, dark-skinned, Egyptian bishop had plenty of enemies. In the end, his theological enemies were “exiled” from orthodoxy, and it is Athanasius’ writings that shaped the future of the church. Within a few years after his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church.”

Most his enemies were earned by his stubborn insistence that Arianism, the reigning “orthodoxy” of the day, was in fact a heresy. The dispute began when Athanasius was the chief deacon in Alexandria. While his mentor, Alexander preached with philosophical exactitude on the Trinity, Arius, a presbyter from Libya announced, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” The argument caught on, but Alexander and Athanasius fought against Arius, arguing that it denied the Trinity. Christ is not of a like substance to God, they argued, but the same substance.

To Athanasius this was not splitting theological hairs. Salvation was at issue. Only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New Testament doctrine of salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ.  Alexander’s encyclical letter, signed by Athanasius (and possibly written by him), attacked the consequences of the Arian heresy. If it were true:

“The Son [then,] is a creature and a work; neither is he like in essence to the Father; neither is he the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is he his true wisdom; but he is one of the things made and created and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms… Wherefore he is by nature subject to change and variation, as are all rational creatures.”

The controversy spread, and all over the empire, Christians could be heard singing a catchy tune that championed the Arian view: “There was a time when the Son was not.” In every city, wrote a historian, “bishop was contending against bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats fighting in the air.”

Word of the dispute made it to the newly converted Emperor Constantine the Great, who was more concerned with seeing church unity than theological truth. “Division in the church,” he told the bishops, “is worse than war.” To settle the matter, he called a council of bishops.

Of the 1,800 bishops invited to Nicea, about 300 came—and argued, fought, and eventually fleshed out an early version of the Nicene Creed. The council, led by Alexander, condemned Arius as a heretic, exiled him, and made it a capital offense to possess his writings. Constantine was pleased that peace had been restored to the church. Athanasius, whose treatise On the Incarnation laid the foundation for the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as “the noble champion of Christ.”

But the Arian heresy did not die out. Within a few months, supporters of Arius talked Constantine into ending Arius’ exile. With a few private additions, Arius even signed the Nicene Creed, and the emperor ordered Athanasius, who had recently succeeded Alexander as bishop, to restore the heretic to fellowship. When Athanasius refused, his enemies spread false charges against him. He was accused of murder, illegal taxation, sorcery, and treason—the last of which led Constantine to exile him to Trier, now a German city near Luxembourg.

Constantine died two years later, and Athanasius returned to Alexandria. But in his absence, Arianism had gained the upper hand. Now church leaders were against him, and they banished him again. Athanasius fled to Pope Julius I in Rome. He returned in 346, but in the mercurial politics of the day, was banished three more times before he came home to stay in 366. By then he was about 70 years old.

While in exile, Athanasius spent most of his time writing, mostly to defend orthodoxy, but he took on pagan and Jewish opposition as well. One of his most lasting contributions is his Life of St. Ant[h]ony, which helped to shape the Christian ideal of monasticism. The book is filled with tales of Antony’s encounters with the devil, yet Athanasius wrote, “Do not be incredulous about what you hear of him… Consider, rather that from them only a few of his feats have been learned.” In fact, the bishop knew the monk personally, and this saint’s biography is one of the most historically reliable. It became an early “bestseller” and made a deep impression on many people, even helping lead pagans to conversion — Augustine of Hippo is the most famous example.

During Athanasius’s first year permanently back in Alexandria, he sent his annual letter to the churches in his diocese, called a festal letter. Such letters were used to fix the dates of festivals such as Lent and Easter, and to discuss matters of general interest. In this letter, Athanasius listed what he believed were the books that should constitute the New Testament: “In these [27 writings] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed,” he wrote. “No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them.” Though other such lists had been and would still be proposed, it is Athanasius’ list that the church eventually adopted, and the writings he listed make up the New Testament.

Quotes:

  • “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
  • “The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth.”
  • “Jesus became what we are that he might make us what he is.”
  • “You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
  • “Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
  • “For, indeed, everything about is marvelous, and wherever a man turns his gaze he sees the Godhead of the Word and is smitten with awe.”
  • “The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”
  • “For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?”
  • “The Greek philosophers have compiled many works with persuasiveness and much skill in words; but what fruit have they to show for this such as has the cross of Christ? Their wise thoughts were persuasive enough until they died.”
  • “Even on the cross he did not hide himself from sight; rather, he made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.”

More

Development of New Testament canon

The Incarnation from the Coptics.

Roman Catholic biography 

Controversy about “deification

What do we do with this?

Athanasius is also known as the “father of orthodoxy.” He helped refine doctrines that set the baseline for true faith and set the final parameters on the New Testament. He was fighting for the church’s life in a time when the government wanted to exploit it and society was absorbing it according to its own image. Nothing is new under the sun.

What do you think the Lord would like you to fight for in this era? What truth is threatened? What necessity is being watered down or lost? If we want to leave a coherent faith for the next generation, what  should we do?

Constantine thought Arius should be reinstated after he “signed” the Nicene Creed. But Athanasius was not ready to love his enemy if the enemy was trying to wiggle his way back into orthodoxy with a few caveats. Even though Athanasius holds the line, Arianism does not die out. It becomes the main designation for the Christianity of the “East.” Some form of it is what Persians, Mongols and Chinese adopt. From the 4th century on, protecting the metaphysics of God is an occupation that divides the church and changes the character of Christian faith, now organized under political goals and power struggles. You probably have an idea of what is “true” in general and what is true about Jesus. Can you summarize it? Dare you investigate it?

Anselm — April 21

Bible connection

Read Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all humankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
The illuminated beginning of an 11th-century manuscript of the Monologion.

All about Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Anselm was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher, and scholar who is recognized for many intellectual accomplishments, including his application of reason for exploring the mysteries of faith and for his definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.”

The brilliance of Anselm’s thinking and writing about the nature of faith and of God has intrigued and influenced scholars since the Middle Ages. His highly respected work, Monologium, rationalizes a proof of God’s existence. His Proslogium, advances the idea that God exists according to the human notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking. Since they were first written, both works have been studied and praised by many of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers. In our set of explanations, we recognize Anselm’s contribution to the meaning of the atonement with his work Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?). In it he suggests a concept of satisfaction that seems to relate to the way feudal society honored their betters (video explanation).

Born near Aosta in Italy in 1033, Anselm began his education under the tutelage of the monks of a local Benedictine monastery. After his mother died, Anselm observed a period of mourning and then traveled throughout Europe. At that time, the spiritual and intellectual reputation of the monk Lanfranc, who belonged to the monastery of Bec in Normandy, was widespread. Anselm was drawn to Lanfranc, and in 1060 he attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey. The community soon recognized Anselm’s unique abilities and assigned him to teach in the abbey school. He was made prior of the monastery in 1063 when he ws only 30 years old.

It was during his days at Bec that Anselm composed his innovative works on the existence and nature of God. Indeed, it was only out of a sense of obligation and submission to the will of the community that he undertook the duties and burdens of administration.

William the II demands Anselm take the Archbishop of Canterbury crozier from his sickbed. By James William Edmund Doyle (1864)

His election to the position of abbot of the community in 1078 speaks to the love and regard in which he was held by his confreres. But Bec was not to be the end of his journey. In 1093 he was summoned to England to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding his master and spiritual director, Lanfranc. Anselm’s years at Canterbury were rife with political controversy. He showed great courage in disputing with William II and Henry I in regard to ecclesiastical abuses visited upon the church by those kings. Twice he was banished while making appeals in Rome. Twice he returned to Canterbury, his abilities as an extraordinary theologian, negotiator, and statesman having added luster and authority to the cause of the church.

Throughout his years, Anselm maintained a strong allegiance to his monastic lifestyle and to his intellectual pursuits. He composed several philosophical and theological treatises, as well as a series of beautiful prayers and meditations in addition to his often inspirational correspondence. Anselm held the position of archbishop until his death in 1109. A biography by his contemporary Eadmer provides many insights into the life of this remarkably saintly and scholarly man.

Anselm quotes:

From the Preface to the Proslogion:

I have written the little work that follows… in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes. [More from Rod on this]

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)

A prayer of Anselm

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you.
And if I may not do so fully in this life
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness …
Let me receive
That which you promised through your truth,
that my joy may be full.

A song of Anselm

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

More

Here is another more detailed bio. [link]

A lecture that tells you everything [link]

What do we do with this?

Anselm did administrative work because he was asked to do it. He would have preferred meditating, studying, writing and mentoring to having conflicts with the kings of England. Doing what he did not prefer did not diminish his influence, however. Living with an attitude of obedience grates on most people we know. We don’t always know what we want, but it is often not what we are supposed to be doing! How are you working that out?

Rest in the Lord for a moment and settle down. What is the best thing you can do today despite distracting or detracting circumstances? For now, you can pray and worship, that is something good we can do no matter who is trying to get us to do something  else.

Joachim of Fiore – March 30

Joachim of Flora, in a 15th-century woodcut

Bible connection

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.  He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” — Revelation 14:6-13

All about Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202)

For most Christians, the New Testament book of Revelation has served as the go-to text for all things eschatological (the study of the end times). This was especially true of Europe in the Middle Ages. The leading authority on the matter was Joachim of Fiore, the legal secretary (notary), monk, abbot, hermit, theologian and prophet from Calabria, the toe of the boot in Southern Italy.

Joachim was a household name in his day for his alleged prophetic powers. He wrote many books, but his most influential was the Expositio in Apocalipsim (Exposition of the Book of Revelation), finished around 1196–1199. In this work he introduces his famous tripartite division of history into the Ages (status) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He taught the fruition of the Age of the Holy Spirit was at hand — an era in which peace and love would prevail, and God’s secrets would finally be revealed to the world.

While Joachim was being educated to follow in his father’s footsteps as a notary in the Norman Kingdom of Naples, he took a trip to the Holy Land and was never the same. Like so many people who made the pilgrimage, he had a deep, spiritual experience that changed his course.

After returning to Italy, he decided to live in a cave, located near Mount Etna in Sicily. He lived as a hermit there for some time, before transferring to a Cistercian monastery. The Cistercians were born out of a restoration movement within the Benedictine observance. In 1098 a group of reformers founded an abbey at Cîteaux, near Dijon, France. The goal was to revert to what they considered the original spirit of St. Benedict’s Rule in three main ways: return to self-sufficiency, simplicity and separation from the world.

Joachim chose the Cistercians to use monastic contemplation as a way to experience God directly. His choice also highlights his enthusiasm for the spiritual revival taking place in Europe at the time, which centered on a widespread preoccupation with the life of the Apostles. From the year 1000, more and more people began to reject what they saw as the degeneration of Christian life which had occurred in the centuries before them and sought to return to the example set by Christ and his first followers. Primarily, that meant living in poverty (as in Mark 6: 8-10), engaging in the communal sharing of goods (as in Acts 2:44), and itinerant preaching (as in Luke 10). Francis of Assisi may be the best known convert.

After spending time as a Cistercian monk, Fiore took up the life of a wandering preacher. In 1171, he was elected as the abbot of another Cistercian monastery in Corazzo, back home in Calabria. He was now in his late thirties. It was during this time he began to write (17 works are extant!).

Joachim was particularly interested in discovering the hidden meanings behind scripture. For Fiore and his contemporaries, the Bible was not merely a collection of works, to be read in light of their respective historical contexts. Rather, it was one coherent and unified Word of God. Accordingly, many believed it was encoded with theological truths, some of which could be discovered through careful study. Joachim’s discoveries often came via encounters with God’s Spirit.

Joachim illustrates his theory of the three overlapping eras of history.

Central to his findings was the correspondence between the Old and New Testaments. Simply put, Fiore believed the events recorded in the Old Testament prefigured those of the New, which in turn, predicted the future. This was linked to Joachim’s famous tripartite division of history, with each epoch corresponding to a person of the Trinity. Thus, the Age (status) of the Father began with Adam, came to fruition with Abraham and ended with Christ, while the status of the Son began with King Uzziah of Judah, came to fruition with Zechariah—John the Baptist’s father—and was about to end in Joachim’s own time.

The last point accounts for the popularity of Fiore’s prophetic message. According to Joachim, the Age of the Holy Spirit, believed to have begun with Saint Benedict of Nursia, was soon to be fulfilled. In fact, this would occur in the year 1260 — and people needed to prepare. Why 1260? Revelation 12:1-6 reads: “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun … and (she) fled into the wilderness … so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.” It was that simple.

According to Fiore, in 1260 the Age of the Holy Spirit would fully unfold, ushering in a new world ruled by perfect, divine Love. There would be no more need for laws. Freedom, tolerance and peace would prevail. Life would be “without scandal, without worry or terror, since God shall bless it and He shall sanctify it.” At this time, the Gospel would become subordinate to a greater, “eternal gospel” (Revelation 14:6). Indeed, for Joachim, Jesus’s crucifixion was no longer the most important event in history. It was awesomely meaningful, for sure. But something else was coming. Something greater than even Christ himself. And that was the Holy Spirit, who would bestow on humankind a perfect and direct knowledge of God.

A 1573 fresco depicting Gioacchino da Fiore, in the Cathedral of Santa Severina, Calabria, Italy

Joachim became dissatisfied with his position as abbot, and received permission from the pope to once again become a hermit. In 1189, he built a hermitage (today, known as San Giovanni in Fiore Abbey). Since he had a number of disciples, it turned into an entire community of hermits. The strict regime that he set up for them was approved by Pope Celestine III in 1196, thereby creating the Florensian Order. He died in 1202. His remains were moved to San Giovanni in Fiore in 1226. His tomb is still visited there.

His followers continued and were called “Joachimites.” Many belonged to the new Franciscan Order. Some friars came to believe they had a special role to usher in the Age of the Holy Spirit, which  was supposed to bring an end to the Church in its entirety. The ecclesiastical establishment found these ideas quite threatening. As time went on, Joachim’s prophecies came under greater scrutiny by the authorities. In 1263, Joachim’s writings (not the man himself) were officially declared heretical.

The influence of Fiore’s ideas lived on and can be seen to this day. The Third Reich and Marxism have been called versions of his “new age” teachings, and some see him as a foretaste of the “age of Aquarius” and other “new age” ideas.

More

A Catholic vlogger under the title Sensus Fidelium complains that Vaticum II falls into the category of Joachimite excesses beginning in the 20th Century, quoting Pope John the XXIII calling for a new Pentecost.

Nice 10-minute comparison of Augustine’s and Fiore’s view of history:

An intriguing AI-generated bio from 2023 [link]

Details about the Florensian Abbey [link]

If you want to know everything, this dissertation should get you there.  [link]

What do we do with this?

Joachim had an international reputation in the late 12th century. He functioned as an “apocalyptic advisor” to a number of the popes of the 1180s and the 1190s. Despite living on a lonely mountaintop in his monastery in Calabria, the prophet’s fame had spread very wide. So it shouldn’t surprise us that King Richard the Lion Hearted, when he’s on his way to the Third Crusade and he has to spend the winter in Sicily (because you can’t sail during the winter on the Mediterranean), stops in Messina to asks for Joachim’s prophetic advice about what will happen. There are accounts of Joachim meeting with the king in the winter of 1190-1191. Richard, like any medieval figure, believed in prophetic visions which could provide guidance as to what was to come. One of the accounts says Joachim predicted a victory for Richard — and we know Richard achieved at best a kind of Pyrrhic victory. Consider your own experience with prophets. Do you despise them?

Scholars have traced how Joachim de Fiore’s influence has continued to impact Eurocentric thinking [see Paul Ziolo]. Our present Speaker of the House in the U.S. has been focused on the dawning of the Age to Come his entire life. [Rod’s post about this]. Ask Jesus how important his teaching about this is.

Patrick of Ireland — March 17

Patrick

Bible connection

Read Acts 2:14-24 

What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.

All about Patrick of Ireland (c.395-c.492)

Because Patrick lived so long ago some of his life remains a mystery to us. For instance, his death is believed to have been on this day in about 492, but the date is controversial. We do know that he was born into a wealthy family in Britain, to a father who was a Christian deacon. We do not have evidence about Patrick being particularly faithful himself as a child.

When he was sixteen, Patrick was captured by a group of Irish raiders and taken back to Ireland as a slave where he remained for the next six years. He worked as a shepherd, living an isolated life, and turned to his family’s faith during this period, becoming very devout. After six years in slavery, he escaped. According to his writings, he ran away after God spoke to him through a dream. Once he was home, he had another dream and an angel told him to go back to Ireland and tell his captors the good news of Jesus.

The Muiredach Cross at Monasterboice in Co. Louth

At this point Patrick began religious studies that lasted fifteen years. Once he was ordained as a priest, he returned to Ireland. Since he was familiar with the language and the culture, Patrick built traditions from Ireland into his lessons about Jesus. He chose not to attack Irish beliefs, but to incorporate certain practices and demonstrate how they were fulfilled in Christ. That’s why he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol of worship, on the cross and created the Celtic cross. He famously used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the concept of the trinity. Patrick had spectacular success in converting the Irish and a body of stories developed around him and his successful evangelism tactics for centuries following his life.

We have sometimes incorporated lighting a “fire of resistance” into our celebration of Patrick because of this story. It is told that Patrick came to the Hill of Slane in County Meath in an early attempt to convert pagan Ireland to Christianity. On the eve of the Christian feast of Easter in 433, which coincided with the Druid feast of Bealtine (Beal’s fire) and the Spring Equinox, Patrick defiantly lit a bonfire on the Hill of Slane. By doing so, he violated a decree (and an ancient tradition) that no fire should be lit in the vicinity when the great festival fire of Bealtine blazed at the royal seat of power on the nearby Hill of Tara, easily visible from Slane.

The lighting of a fire may seem trivial, but at the time it was equivalent to declaring war on the Druid religious leaders and challenging the power of the High King of Ireland. That small act of starting a fire was a turning point in Patrick’s life and in the history of Ireland.

We remember the courage and love Patrick showed when he returned to those who had stolen his youth, and became their servant, bringing the revelation of Jesus to the Irish people. His life is a testament to listening to God, following dreams, and courageously giving witness to what one receives from the Holy Spirit.

More

Read Patrick’s Confession online!

There are interesting translations of Patrick’s famous prayer: Breastplate.

Nice biography and Patrick: Bio

Patrick’s miracles offered by a chatty writer for the Jesuits.

What do we do with this?

Light a fire! Where is your faith being run over or where is it nonexistent? That is a good place to light a fire in some way. You may not be called to be a dramatic as Patrick (but maybe you are!). But what can you do to give people a chance to know Jesus and escape what enslaves them?

Celtic Christianity [a guide from the Northumbria Community] is good at taking individuals seriously while still appreciating how we are all tied into the gift of life from God. Try the “Breastplate” prayer above and see if it helps calm your anxiety and increase your sense of being solid in your own place in Creation and in Eternity.  If its old language does not feel right in your mouth, rewrite it in a way that does. What might you say as your waking prayer each day? When you  are walking into a anxiety-provoking situation, what would you like to remember?

Perpetua and Felicitas — March 7

Image

Bible connection

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given;  they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”  They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. — Revelation 6:9-11

All about Perpetua (c. 182-c.203) and Felicitas 

We have little idea what brought Perpetua to faith in Christ, or how long she had been a Christian, or how she lived her Christian life. Thanks to her diary, and that of another prisoner, we have some idea of her last days—an ordeal that so impressed the famous Augustine that he preached four sermons about her death.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman who, at the turn of the third century, lived with her husband, her son, and her slave, Felicitas, in Carthage (the ruins are a suburb of Tunis, today). At this time, North Africa was the center of a vibrant Christian community. Emperor Septimius Severus may have  believed Christianity and there is doubt about the tradition that he fomented persecution in North Africa. The hostility to Jesus followers that broke out was probably a local issue. Among the first to be arrested were five new Christians taking classes to prepare for baptism, one of whom was Perpetua.

Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He begged her to simply deny she was a Christian:

“Father do you see this vase here?” she replied. “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”

“No,” he replied.

“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”

All this was recorded in her own hand and later formed into a book you can still read, that includes an account of another victim. The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (Latin: Passio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis) describes her imprisonment as a Christian in 203, completed after her death by a redactor. It is one of the oldest and most illustrative early Christian texts.

In the next days, Perpetua was moved to a better part of the prison and allowed to breast-feed her child. With her appearance before the authorities approaching, her father visited again, this time, pleading more passionately: “Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life.”

He threw himself down before her and kissed her hands. “Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers; think of your mother and your aunt; think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!”

Perpetua was touched but remained unshaken. She tried to comfort her father—”It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power”—but he walked out of the prison dejected.

The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua’s friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua’s son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!” Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who still suckled a child, added, “Have pity on your father’s gray head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor.”

Perpetua replied simply: “I will not.”

“Are you a Christian then?” asked the governor.

“Yes I am,” Perpetua replied.

Her father interrupted again, begging her to sacrifice, but Hilarianus had heard enough: he ordered soldiers to beat him into silence. He then condemned Perpetua and her friends to die in the arena.

Perpetua, her friends, and her slave, Felicitas (who had subsequently been arrested), were dressed in belted tunics. When they entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn’t have to wait long.

Immediately a wild cow charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn’t long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

The process was too slow for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.

In his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider tries to understand how Perpetua (and othes with her) made such a big impression on many who saw her — their guard became a Jesus follower!

Perpetua’s authoritative influence lay not only in their visions; it lay in the lives that embodied the visions. … [The formation of their way of life and demeanor came] through the recitation of certain phrases that people can repeat day by day, and especially when they are in toruble. …The phrase “I am a Christian” has tremendous importance…[It connotes] an entire way of life, an entire value system, that was fundamentally contrary to the way of life embodied in the amphitheater (p. 50).

The state murders did not offend the crowd, but the way the Christians showed their alternativity impressive hundreds.

More

Docudrama: Lost Legacy Reclaimed: Perpetua  

The story told as a seven-minute episode on Dateline:

What do we do with this?

John the Revealer sees the blood of the martyrs as the seeds of the church. The willingness of Perpetua and her newly-converted friends to die rather than worship the Emperor (and the Empire complex), is the signature act that validates the possibility of faith and transformation for those dominated by Rome. Notably, their community in death transcends class. For race-dominated, Eurocentric Christians, it is noteworthy to consider that they were Africans.

Is martyrdom dead? Is your Christianity all locked within your personal identity? Does it intersect with the Empire in which you live? Have you already recanted when asked to worship the “emperor?” These young women ask us important questions with their courage, faith and deaths.

John Cassian – February 28

John Cassian

Bible connection

Read 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:3

Therefore, “Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

And, “I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

All about John Cassian (c. 360-c.435)

John Cassian taught: “God can be sensed when we gaze with trembling hearts at that power of his which controls, guides, and rules everything, when we contemplate his immense knowledge and his knowing look which the secrets of the heart cannot evade.”

His writings reflect his adventurous, radical, ever-seeking life. He was born in the Danube Delta in what is now Dobrogea, Romania, in about 360 (some sources place his birth in Gaul/Southern France). In 382 he entered a monastery in Bethlehem and after several years was granted permission, along with his friend, Germanus, to visit the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt. They remained in Egypt until 399, except for a brief period when they returned to Bethlehem and were released from their vows.

After they left Egypt they went to Constantinople, where they met John Chrysostom, who ordained John Cassian as a deacon. He had to leave Constantinople in 403 when Chrysostom was exiled, eventually settling close to what is now Marseilles, France, where he was ordained a priest and founded two monasteries, one for women and one for men.

John’s most notable works are the Institutes, which detail how to live the monastic life, Egypt-style, and the Conferences, which provide details of conversations between John and Germanus and the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These writings have been very  influential from his lifetime until the present.

Cassian also waded into the big controversies of his day. He ably warned against some of the excesses in Augustine of Hippo’s theology when Augustine defamed Pelagius, whose writings Cassian also found extreme, in parts. He also defended the nature of Christ against Nestorius. John Cassian died peacefully in about 435.

John Cassian, like many during his time, was seeking to deepen his relationship with God and to escape a corrupting culture. He tried to balance the tension between pursuing an individual purity, loving God in solitude where distractions were limited, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers taught him, with living in a community with like-minded companions who could guide one’s journey. His life is a testament to seeking holiness individually and to loving God and others in community.

A quote from Conference Nine:

We need to be especially careful to follow the gospel precept which instructs us to go into our room and to shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we can do it.

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord.

We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but who looks hard at our hearts.

We pray in secret when in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits we address God and reveal our wishes only to Him and in such a way that the hostile powers themselves have no inkling of their nature. Hence we must pray in utter silence, not simply in order that our whispers and our cries do not prove both a distraction to our brothers standing nearby and a nuisance to them when they themselves are praying but also so as to ensure that the thrust of our pleading be hidden from our enemies who are especially lying in wait to attack us during our prayers. In this way we shall fulfill the command “Keep your mouth shut from the one who sleeps on your breast” (Micah 7:5).

The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out. There lies true sacrifice. “The sacrifice which God wants is a contrite heart” (Ps 51:19). This indeed is the saving oblation, the pure offering, the sacrifice of justification, the sacrifice of praise. These are the real and rich thank offerings, the fat holocausts [a sacrifice in which the offering was burned completely on an altar] offered up by contrite and humble hearts. If we offer them to God in the way and with zeal which I have mentioned we can be sure to be heard and we can sing: “Let my prayer rise up like incense before your face and my hands like the evening offering” (Ps 141:2).

More

Hit all the tabs on this site and you will know eveything [link]

Cassian’s tomb in Marseille [link]

What do we do with this?

John is such a scholar! Let’s think about our own study. What would you do with Micah 7:5? John reads it in a contemplative way, using it to speak into his personal relationship with God. He sees all the Bible as a means to that end. You might say, he starts his reading from his relationship with God, not from the words of the Bible.

In fact (as 21st century people see fact) Micah’s colorful analogy has little to do with relating to God or the devil, the  prophet is talking about not being able to trust your intimates when trouble comes.  John Cassian goes beyond the “facts.”

Do you want to think about what you are doing with these different ways to look at the same sentences? You could start with the prophet, start with yourself, or start with God, or even think of the words as having meaning in themselvesall might be profitable. How do you start your study of the Bible?

John changed his life when he met the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and he had to go to great lengths to meet them! When was the last time you went to meet someone who could inspire or guide you? When did you last go to “the desert?”