Saturday, December 03, 2011

Saint John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus (also known as Doctor of Christian Art; Jean Damascene; Johannes Damascenus; John Chrysorrhoas ("golden-stream"); John Damascene) was born in 676 A.D. at Damascus, Syria. His father, though a Christian, was esteemed by his Saracen countrymen, and was the chief financial officer for the Muslim caliph, Abdul Malek. 

John was educated by  a captured Italian monk named Cosmas. Between the Christian learning of the monk, and that of the Muslim schools, John became highly educated in the classical fields such as geometry, literature, logic, rhetoric, and more. After his father's death he was made chief councilor of Damascus.

Saint John defended the use of icons and images in churches through a series of letters opposing the anti-icon decrees of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, and retired to the monastery of Saint Sabas, near Jerusalem, where he was ordained priest by John V, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Saint John was anathematized by name by the Council of Constantinople in 754 over his defense of the use of icons, but he was later defended by the Seventh Council of Nicea in 787. 

Saint John of Damascus wrote “The Fountain of Wisdom”, the first real compilation of Christian theology, along with other works defending the orthodox faith, commentaries on Saint Paul, poetry, and hymns. He was a philosopher and an orator, and he was such an excellent speaker he was known as Chrysorrhoas ("golden-stream"). He adapted choral music for use in the liturgy.

Saint John is considered the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1890 by Pope Leo XIII.

Saint John of Damascus died of natural causes in 749 in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Pope Saint Leo the Great

Pope, Father of the Church, and Doctor of the Church

Pope Saint Leo the Great is a Latin Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church. He was born around 400 A.D., at Tuscany, Italy. His family was of Italian nobility. He was a strong student, especially in scripture and theology. He was a deacon and priest. As deacon, he was sent to Gaul as a mediator by Emperor Valentinian III. 

He was elected Pope in 440, when the Western Empire was disintegrating and heresy rife. His chief aim was to sustain church unity. To achieve this end he established the vicariates of Arles, as the center of the Gallican (France) episcopacy, and Thessalonica, as the center of Eastern Illyria (Adriatic coastal regions from Albania northward). He established closer relationships between distant episcopates and Rome, and had the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the whole Church recognized in an edict of Emperor Valentinian III in 445. 

He fought the heresies of Pelagianism, Manichaeanism, and Priscillianism, and upheld the decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople against Eutyches by a dogmatic letter confirming the doctrine of the Incarnation. Later in the general council held at Chalcedon, this letter was accepted as an expression of Catholic Faith concerning the Person of Christ.

Pope Saint Leo the Great reformed Church discipline, built and restored churches, and protected Rome from the Huns (a nomadic people, probably originating in northern central Asia) under Attila and the Vandals (an ancient Germanic people) under Genseric. When Attila marched on Rome, Leo went out to meet him and pleaded for him to leave. As Leo spoke, Attila saw the vision of a man in priestly robes, carrying a bare sword, and threatening to kill the invader if he did not obey Pope Leo. As Leo had a great devotion to Saint Peter, it is generally believed the first pope was the visionary opponent to the Huns. When Genseric invaded Rome, Leo's sanctity and eloquence saved the city once again.

Pope Saint Leo the Great was an eloquent writer and homilist, writing valuable letters and sermons encouraging and teaching his flock, many of which survive today.

Pope Saint Leo the Great died of natural causes at Rome, Italy in 461. He was the 45th Pope.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Saint Cyprian of Carthage - Bishop, Martyr, and Early Church Father

Saint Cyprian of Carthage (also called Thaschus Caecilius Cyprianus) is a Latin Father of the Church.

Cyprian's writings are of great importance and following Tertullian, he was the second great Christian Latin writer. Of his numerous writings, Saint Jerome said “it is unnecessary to make a catalog of the works of his genius, since they are more conspicuous than the sun”.

The persecution of the Church by the Roman Emperor Decius began around 250, and Saint Cyprian lived in hiding. He secretly ministered to his flock and his enemies condemned him for being a coward and not standing up for his faith. Because the persecutions of Decius had been so severe many Christians fell away from the faith. The question of the reconciliation of lapsed Christians with the Church had given rise to the custom of admitting them to Communion if a martyr requested this favor for them. Cyprian at first opposed the practice, but the sincerity of their contrition caused him to relent.

This gave rise to the schism of the deacon Felicissimus who opposed readmitting any who had apostatized. Upon returning to Carthage in 251 Cyprian excommunicated the leaders who opposed reconciliation for those returning to the Church. He supported Pope Cornelius against the anti-pope Novatian.

In the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Valerian, he was exiled to Curubis in 257, then brought back to Carthage and was martyred by beheading in 258. His name occurs in the Communicantes in the Canon of the Mass.

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The following is from Saint Jerome's "Lives of Illustrious Men" in regard to Saint Cyprian:

"Cyprian the Bishop - Cyprian of Africa, at first was famous as a teacher of rhetoric, and afterwards on, the persuasion of the presbyter Caecilius, from whom he received his surname, he became a Christian, and gave all his substance to the poor. Not long after he was inducted into the presbytery, and was also made bishop of Carthage. It is unnecessary to make a catalogue of the works of his genius, since they are more conspicuous than the sun.

He was put to death under the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus, in the eighth persecution, on the same day that Cornelius was put to death at Rome, but not in the same year."

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The following are a few quotations from some writings, a letter, and a sermon by Saint Cyprian of Carthage:

You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.

Saint Cyprian, from The Unity of the Catholic Church

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Whatever a man prefers to God, that he makes a god to himself.

Saint Cyprian

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Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides of death always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence the first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father's mercy.

Saint Cyprian from Letters, 253

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You who are envious, let me tell you that however often you may seek for the opportunity of injuring him whom you hate, you will never be able to do him so much harm as you do harm to yourselves.

He whom you would punish through the malice of your envy, may probably escape, but you will never be able to fly from yourselves. Wherever you may be your adversary is with you, your sin rankles within. It must be a self-willed evil to persecute a person whom God has taken under the protection of His grace; it becomes an irremedial sin to hate a man whom God wishes to make happy.

Envy is as prolific as it is hurtful; it is the root of all evil, the source of endless disorder and misery, the cause of most sins that are committed. Envy gives birth to hatred and animosity. From it avarice is begotten, for it sees with an evil eye honors and emoluments heaped upon a stranger, and thinks that such honors should have been, by right, bestowed upon himself. From envy comes contempt of God, and of the salutary precepts of our Savior.

The envious man is cruel, proud, unfaithful, impatient, and quarrelsome; and, what is strange, when this vice gains the mastery, he is no longer master of himself, and he is unable to correct his many faults. If the bond of peace is broken, if the rights of fraternal charity are violated, if truth is altered or disguised, it is often envy that hurries him on to crime.

What happiness can such a man enjoy in this world? To be envious or jealous of another, because such a one is virtuous and happy, is to hate in him the graces and blessings God has showered down upon him.

Does he not punish himself when he sees the success and welfare of others? Does he not draw down upon himself tortures from which there is no respite? Are not his thoughts, his mind, constantly on the rack?

He pitilessly punishes himself, and, in his heart, performs the same cruel office which Divine Justice reserves for the chastisement of the greatest criminal.

Saint Cyprian

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Lastly, the following is from the "Acts of the Martyrdom of Saint Cyprian" by Saint Pontius:

On the morning of the 14th of September, a great crowd gathered at the Villa Sexti, in accordance with the order of the governor Galerius Maximus. That same day the governor commanded Bishop Cyprian to be brought before him for trial. After Cyprian was brought in, the governor asked him, "Are you Thascius Cyprian?"

The bishop replied, "Yes, I am."

The governor Galerius Maximus said, "You have set yourself up as an enemy of the gods of Rome and our religious practices. You have been discovered as the author and leader of these heinous crimes, and will consequently be held forth as an example for all those who have followed you in your crime. By your blood the law shall be confirmed." Next he read the sentence from a tablet. "It is decided that Cyprian should die by the sword."

Cyprian responded, "Thanks be to God!"

After the sentence was passed, a crowd of his fellow Christians said, "We should also be killed with him!" There arose an uproar among the Christians, and a great mob followed after him. Cyrprian was then brought out to the grounds of the Villa Sexti, where, taking off his outer cloak and kneeling on the ground, he fell before the Lord in prayer. He removed his dalmatic and gave it to the deacons, and then stood erect while waiting for the executioner. When the executioner arrived, Cyprian told his friends to give the man 25 gold pieces.

The most blessed martyr Cyprian suffered on the 14th of September under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus, in the reign of our true Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong honor and glory for ever. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop, Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a Latin Father of the Church, and Doctor of the Church, was born in Poitiers, Gaul (France), around 300-315 A.D (sources vary, many say his birth year cannot be accurately determined, yet was near the end of the third century A.D.). His parents were wealthy pagan nobility and Hilary was raised as a polytheist. He apparently received a good education, which included the study of Greek, which was a rare thing in the education of someone from the west. Hilary is sometimes referred to as “Hammer of the Arians” and “Athanasius of the West”.
Hilary's early life was uneventful as he married, had children (including Saint Abra), and studied on his own. He began to realize the absurdity of polytheism, and through his studies he came to believe in salvation through good works, and then monotheism. He set about learning what God is, and after some research into the nature of God, he was convinced that there can be only one God. His studies led him to read the Bible for the first time, where he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament. He was baptized, and by his endeavors to confirm others in the faith and to encourage them to virtue, though a layman, that he seemed already to possess the grace of the priesthood. Saint Hilary lived the faith so well he was made bishop of Poitiers in 353, even though he was married and a father (the concept of clerical celibacy was just beginning to emerge in the west). Hilary is the only Doctor of the Church to have been married and a father.
Being aware of the rampant success of the Arian heresy in the eastern Church, Hilary opposed both the introduction of Arianism into Gaul and the emperor's attempt to run Church matters. He was exiled by Emperor Constantius II to Phrygia (present-day west central Turkey) in 356. There he assisted at the synod of Seleucia (Asia Minor) in 359, and he did so well in defending the Church against the Arians, that the heretics had him sent back to Gaul in 361. Hilary introduced Eastern theology to the Western Church.
Saint Hilary was a prolific writer, and Saint Jerome mentions several of his works including: “twelve books Against the Arians and another book On Councils ”, Commentaries on the Psalms, a valuable commentary On Matthew, and many others.
Saint Hilary died in Poitiers in 368 of natural causes. His feast day is January 13.
Saint Jerome wrote that the Church had two “fair cedars” to oppose Arianism, Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the west, and Saint Athanasius the Great in the east.
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Saint Jerome mentions Saint Hilary of Poitiers in his book “Lives of Illustrious Men” as follows:
Hilary the bishop
Hilary, a bishop of Poitiers in Aquitania, was a member of the party of Saturninus bishop of Arles. Banished into Phrygia... he composed twelve books Against the Arians and another book On Councils written to the Gallican bishops, and Commentaries on the Psalms that is on the first and second, from the fifty-first to the sixty-second, and from the one hundred and eighteenth to the end of the book. In this work be imitated Origen, but added also some original matter. There is a little book of his To Constantius which he presented to the emperor while he was living in Constantinople, and another On Constantius which he wrote after his death and a book Against Valens and Ursacius, containing a history of the Ariminian and Selucian Councils and To Sallust the prefect or Against Dioscurus, also a book of Hymns and mysteries, a commentary On Matthew and treatises On Job, which he translated freely from the Greek of Origen, and another elegant little work Against Auxentius and Epistles to different persons. They say he has written On the Song of Songs but this work is not known to us. He died at Poitiers during the reign of Valentinianus and Valens.
Below are some quotations from Some of Saint Hilary of Poitiers' works which can be read online in full by clicking here:
From On the Trinity, Book I:
While my mind was dwelling on these and on many like thoughts, I chanced upon the books which, according to the tradition of the Hebrew faith, were written by Moses and the prophets, and found in these words spoken by God the Creator testifying of Himself I Am that I Am, and again, He that is hath sent me unto you. I confess that I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God's eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity.
From a Homily On Psalms by Saint Hilary of Poitiers:
We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.
Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

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