Saint Augustine of Hippo, Angelic Doctor of the Church

Augustine of Hippo is arguably the most influential Christian writer of all time, with the possible exception of Saint Paul whose epistles are the earliest Christian writings, and which delineated for the nascent church its primary creeds and basic beliefs concerning who Jesus was and why his life and death were meaningful to us.

 

It is possible that Augustine is more influential than Paul because Augustine’s interpretation of Paul’s letters have dominated Christian thought since his time.

 

Augustine’s life spanned the mid-fourth century to the mid-fifth century CE. He entered the Church just at the Christianity was completing its transformation into the official religion of the Empire, and the indispensable administrative apparatus of the same. Saint Augustine’s fixed that transformative process into the structures that we recognize today.

 

Augustine was midway through his career as a public servant before he converted to Christianity, entered the priesthood and was made a bishop.

 

All of which happened in rapid succession. It only took him four years to go from priest to bishop.

 

His mother was a Christian, but his father was not, and his father had wanted him to have a regular career in the traditional Roman mode of life. Augustine adhered to his father’s wishes for a time, but at the beginning of the fifth Century the Empire was in a process of conversion and all of the good jobs were going to Christians. Eventually he converted, only after becoming convinced that he would have a good career in the Church, and would only encounter dead ends outside of it.

 

His gambit paid off, they put him on the fast track to Bishop.

 

Augustine was a prolific writer, in the modern day he is most famous for his Confessions, and his magnum opus, The City of God.

 

He worked tirelessly against heretical groups like the Manicheans, the Pelagians and the Donatists.

 

He penned the controversial doctrine of creation ex nihillo, as apart of his seminal teaching on original sin. In addition to this, he gave the Church its teaching on sacramental theology, and he argued for the authority of the Church in all matters private and public.

 

His theology would dominate Christian thinking up until the scholastic period, but Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most influential of the scholastic theologians leans heavily on Augustine for nearly all of his views, which is to say that Augustine continued to exercise an indirect influence on the church as the preeminent standard of orthodoxy.

 

Scholastic theologians often deviated from the logic of Augustine, but on the occasion that they might draw a different conclusion from Augustine, they often ran afoul of the hierarchy.

 

By the time of the protestant reformation, both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that their work represented a realignment of the church with Saint Augustine, and Saint Augustine’s theology continued to dominate protestant thinking.

 

In my own work, Saint Augustine stands as my principle opponent.

 

His doctrine of original sin, his doctrine of double predestination, his teaching that torture can be considered a form of charity if it brings someone to the point of conversion are anathema to the way, and represent a stark contradistinction to the life and ministry of Jesus.

 

Saint Augustine of Hippo has the title of Angelic Doctor of the Church, but he was a villain, he was brutal and cruel, and a hypocrite of the highest order. He should be read in that light.

 

Augustine

 

 

Given 2020.08.28

The Feast of Saint’s Peter and Paul, Founders of the Church

Not all Christians celebrate the lives of the Saints, but many do, and today is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who after Jesus were the principle founders of the Church.

We celebrate their feast on the day of their ascension, which is most often the day of their death, in the case of Peter and Paul it is the date they were martyred, the day they were killed as enemies of the Roman State.

Their influence on Christian doctrine was greater than Jesus’, more enduring. Paul, through his letters wrote the core pieces of Christian Doctrine, and Peter was the first pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Patriarch of the Latin Church.

Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye, though Peter bore the title of chief among the disciples, Paul was the greater teacher and more closely approximated the way of Christ.

As I mentioned, Peter is given credit for founding the church of Rome, the lore of the Church tells us that he was its first bishop, this is a myth however, that title was not even in use during Peter’s day.

It is accepted as true that both men were put to death in Rome, martyred there on account of their commitment to the Church and its mission, they were mot put to death so much for the content of their beliefs, but for leading the kind of secretive society that was feared by the emperors of Rome. Christians were perceived as a threat that has to be curtailed.

Paul was a Roman citizen, he travelled broadly throughout the empire and for from his home of Tarsus. He founded many churches in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, his letters are the earliest known Christian writings, and though not all of those ascribed to him were written by him, Paul’s actual influence is imeasureable.

A casual observer of history may find this odd because Paul he never met Jesus, and prior to his conversion he was the type of man who would punish other members of his community if they were not properly observing the traditions of his synagogue, Christians were his chief target.

After Paul’s conversion to Christianity he led the mission to the gentiles, opening the teachings of the church to the masses, he made it so that a person did not need to become Jewish first in order to become a Christian.

Peter initially opposed him in this but once their dispute was settled at a meeting in Jerusalem officiated by Jesus’ own brother Saint James, the matter was settled and the gentiles were allowed the full franchise of membership in the community of the blessed.

Peter and Paul

Given First 06.29.2020

The Feast of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons

Irenaeus served as the bishop of Lugdum (now Lyons), in France. He was born c. 130 CE and died c. 202 CE, serving during the Apostolic era, and he is listed in the ranks of the martyrs of the Church, though the details of martyrdom are unknown.

Irenaeus was a prolific writer. He was connected to the Bishop Polycarp who was himself connected to the Apostle John, making him only three steps removed from the ministry of Jesus.

Irenaeus’ surviving works show how he was deeply committed to the unity of Christian doctrine. He ardently opposed the heretical sects of groups like the loosely affiliated Gnostics, as well as the Montanists, and he was among the first to argue for the doctrine of apostolic succession, positing that a bishop of the church should stand in an unbroken line of succession that goes back to the first apostles.

What is most important about Irenaeus’ work is something referred to as the Irenaean theodicy, this is why I lift him up and write about him.

Theodicy is the specific field of theological work devoted to understanding the problem of evil, and its ultimate resolution by God.

The Irenaean theodicy was the leading doctrine in the church up until the time that it was supplanted by Augustine’s teaching on original sin, three centuries later, after which Saint Augustine’s teaching became normative throughout the Christian world.

St. Augustine suggests that creation was made perfect and without blemish, and then there was a fall into sin, which came from nowhere and nothing resulting in a degree of chaos and disorder which completely separates creation from God. Whereas Irenaeus posited that the though the world is fallen it is not wholly fallen, making it so that the breach is not irreparable, putting forward that God’s plan for the resolution of evil is to slowly draw all things to the divine.

For saint Irenaeus the perfection of the created order happens as a process of assimilation, which he calls recapitulation, imagining that each individual-being is on a journey, coming ever closer to God; as we draw near our imperfections fall away.

Irenaeus’ theology, which was never condemned, provides a strong theological grounding for the theology of universal salvation which has persisted as a teaching among Christians from the very beginning of the Church, though only among a stark minority.

Irenaeus

The Feast of Saint John, the Baptist

A Homily

John came, and john bore witness to the light
John, born in darkness as all of us are
John saw the light, shing in the deep night
Comforted by its warmth, John felt it first
Feeling it while he was still in the womb
Kicking in the waters, as the light dawned

John was not a man prone to vanity
You would not have seen him chasing the wind
Like a servant, John harvested honey
Faithful to the way, not puffed up with pride
John was a friend and brother to Jesus
The elder cousin of the messiah

Herald and prophet, man of the desert
John turned to us, saying reflect, repent
He came like an angel, with a pure heart
A divine messenger, pointing the way
The way is not in stillness or silence
The way is a path of service and love

He took on the burden and paid the price
John showed us how to stand against power
He came into the world ahead of Christ
Drawing breath while he listened in the womb
The breath he drew was ruha, the spirit
Holy Sophia filled John with wisdom
.
John lived and breathed, washed in the divine flame
Dipping his cup in the fountain of life
Walking with him, by whom all things were made
John’s path was the way of humility
Obedient, unphased by paradox
Born first, and the first to be sacrificed

He lived by the Jordan, serving the light
Not perplexed, or tempted to turn away
He saw in his cousin the end of night
He made a place for him in the desert
He prepared the way as God’s own herald
Ministering to the sick and grieving

Jesus and John. the Son and the herald
Working together in the name of God
Baptizing all into the way of peace
Bathing their flock in the way, in the light
Keeping to their mission even to death
John showed us the way, turn and be blessed!

John the Baptist

 
From the Gospel According to Mark – 2018.06.22

Saint Romuald of Ravenna

Today we celebrate the life Saint Romuald, I lift up his memory for one reason in particular, and that is this:

The man was a realist and he encouraged a sense of realism among his followers.

He was an outspoken critic of the way the lives of the saints were written about and disseminated, he could not tolerate the popular tradition of the hagiography, replete with their embellishments, miracle stories which he flatly called out for the lies that they were.

His criticism of the tradition merits our respect.

Romuald was a member of an aristocratic family, he lived between the mid tenth and early eleventh century CE. He was the founder of the Camaldolese order, in the Benedictine tradition.

He had a wild youth and was said to have given himself over to the sins of the flesh, but later he became credited for breathing new life into eremitical and aesthetic monasticism.

He became a hermit.

He is said to have founded and or reformed many monastic institutions, though not all of his work was successful.

Through the promulgation of his rule he encouraged monks under his care to lead solitary lives, engaged in mediation and the interior reflection on the self. He was interested in the process of a person’s inner thoughts. He encouraged his followers to watch and be mindful of their thoughts as if they were watching fish in a stream.

In this way he was like a Zen master.

Romuald was heavily influenced by the Orthodox practice of hesychasm, which has also been associated with quietism, both of which highlight the long standing practice of deep mediation in the Christian tradition, which puts it his teaching on par with the practices of Buddhist monks in the Himalayas and Japan.

Tell no lies about him, he was an ordinary man.

Romuald

Saint Columba, Colmcile – The Patron Saint of Poets

Saint Columba, Saint Columban, Saint Columbanus; by whatever name you would like to refer to him, he was an Irishman and as such it is fitting that he is the patron saint of poets, because poetry flows through the Irish blood, and the Irish call him Colmcile.

What we know of the life of Colmcile has been magnified by myth, taken on a supernatural bearing through the typical aggrandizements that characterize the hagiographies of the saints, but Columba was famous for his non-supernatural work above all, for his missionary work and building monasteries in Scotland among the Picts.

The timeline of Colmcile’s life crosses over with that of another famous Irish Saint named Columbanus (the Latinized version of Columba, Columban) , Columbanus was also famous for his missionary work, and building monasteries on the continent, in Frankia and Burgundia, and as far South as Lombardy.

Colmcile’s is said to have lived in the mid 6th century CE, while Columbanus’ time lime extends to the early 7th century.

Both men are believed to have set out from Ireland to do their missionary work in in the company of twelve companions, like Jesus with his disciples. Colmcile’s work is said to have been concentrated in Scotland, and Columbanus work is said to have begun in Scotland but then it was quickly transported to the European Mainland.

There is a listing of the names of Colmcile’s companions, on this list are the names are those of Columbanus the Younger and a man known as Cummain.

Two things have been suggested by modern historians: one suggestion is that Columbanus the younger is actually the Columbanus who continued the missionary work on the continent in the name of Columbanus the elder, who was actually Colmcile or Saint Columba, the other suggestion is that all of the deeds committed by Columbanus (the elder and the younger), Columban, Columba, Colmcile and Cummain are the deeds of one person, a person who was a prolific writer.

Two of Colmcile’s poems have survived and it is for this reason that he is the Patron Saint of Poetry. He is also considered to be the founder of the abbey at Iona which preserved so much of the historical deposit of ancient writing through the dark ages.

Columbanus - Patron Saint of Poetry
Given First 06.09.2020

The Feast of Saint Justin Martyr, the Philosopher

Today is the feast of Saint Justin the Martyr, a Christian philosopher from the second century CE. He and his students were put to death at the very beginning of the Christian era, around the year 165 CE.

Few of his writings have survived, but the work we do have demonstrates how influential Saint Justin was in shaping our understanding of Jesus as the second person of the trinity, the Son of God, and the incarnation of the divine logos.

Justine established the theology that Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua bin Joseph was the embodied manifestation of God’s reason and rational aspect in the world.

Justin’s work also fixed into Christian consciousness the notion that all people carry a seed of the Word within them, insofar as all people are created in the divine image and share in being of God.

This doctrine is referred to as the Logos Spermatikos and it stands in stark distinction to the much more pessimistic theology of Saint Augustine of Hippo three hundred and fifty years later, who devised the doctrine of Original Sin.

The theology of Saint Justin the Martyr suggested that when God breathed life into Adam, God imparted to him God’s own self in the form of the divine logos, making Adam, and all humankind subsequent to him, into the creatures that Aristotle referred to as “the rational animal,” unlike every other animal on Earth.

What Justin taught was this: human beings bear the fullness of God within themselves, but Adam’s sin has corrupted us and occluded it, causing the seed lying within us to go dormant, thereby cutting us off from our inherent potential, the ability to live our lives in the fullness of God’s promise.

Our capacity to understand the truth, perceive beauty and do good, our desire for justice and mercy became more or less latent.

Saint Justin taught that waters of baptism were to the seed of the Word, what ordinary water is to a seed of any kind, actuating that potential, like the germination of a seed, and a source of nourishment for the Word dwelling within us, showering us with grace.

He taught that the sacrament of baptism provides us with grace that activates our potential and sets on the path to living a full spiritual life.Justin Martyr
Given First 06.01.2020

The Feast of Saint Leonidas, the Father of Origen – A Reflection

Little is known about this martyr from the early 3rd century except that he was beheaded by the Egyptian prefect Lactus in 202 CE, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus.

He would not be worthy of mention except for the fact that he was the father of the great philosopher and theologian, Origen.

Origen is considered a father of the church, but he is a controversial figure. His writings were condemned during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, though he himself was not officially anathematized, all of his work was, at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 CE.

Nevertheless, Origen’s work remained influential, guiding the thinking of the Church for centuries, and continuing to influence us into the twenty-first century.

But he is not a Saint of the Church and therefore we cannot celebrate his feast day, so I have chosen to celebrate him through his father.

Origen’s doctrine of apocatastasis is likely the particular teaching which caused him to fall out of favor with the hierarchy of the Church. Though it did not happen in his own day, but three hundred years later, after Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, this doctrine began to be seen as dangerous, and heretical.

The Doctrine of apocatastasis instructs the believer in the understanding that all things emanate from God, and will return to God in the end, even the devil and his angels.

For Origen this understanding was merely the logical conclusion of the basic faith commitments that were held by all Christians in his time. We should note that these basic faith commitments are also held by most Christians today, and throughout the history of the Church, as they are succinctly set forward in the prolog to John’s Gospel.

Origen was not attempting to teach something radical or new, he was expostulating on the faith as he had received from his teacher Clement of Alexandria.

The doctrine of apocatastasis implies a theology of universal salvation and ultimately it was seen as a challenge to the authority of priests and bishops, to the Christian Emperor to the logic of the sacramental system, as delineated by Saint Augustine in the fifth century and subsequently accepted in its entirety by the Church and the whole magisterium.

Origen’s work was condemned, and he was marginalized because of the way the threat the hierarchy perceived as being axiomatic to his teaching.

It was pure unadulterated hubris on the part of the Church.

Origen followed in his father’s footsteps to a martyr’s death c. 252 – 254 CE, during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius. He was imprisoned and tortured and died after being released at the age of sixty-nine.

He was a philosopher and a theologian unparalleled in his day.
Given First 04.22.2020