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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Saint Ambrose of Milan

Bishop, Early Church Father, And Doctor of the Church

Saint Ambrose of Milan (also known as The Honey Tongued Doctor; Ambrogio) was born around 340 A.D. in Trier, southern Gaul (modern Germany). He is a Latin Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church. His father was Prefect of Gaul (a region of western Europe that covered roughly what is now France, Belgium, and neighboring parts of Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany). He was the brother of Saint Marcellina and Saint Satyrus. He was educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome. He was a poet and noted orator and he was a convert. Ambrose distinguished himself as a lawyer and as consular governor of Liguria and Æmilia, with his residence in Milan.

When the bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement was leading to violence. Saint Ambrose intervened to calm both sides. While he was striving to hold an orderly election of a bishop to that see in 374, he impressed everyone involved so much that while he was still an unbaptized catechuman, he was chosen to fill the see. He resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, and out of his reverence for Baptism, as he was still only preparing for it. To prevent further violence, he assented, was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated bishop on December 7, 374. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock.

He studied the Scriptures and the Fathers, and preached every Sunday, frequently on virginity. His popularity enabled him to withstand the fierce Arian heretics and the encroachments of the secular powers on the Church. His influence over the rulers was such that when Emperor Theodosius had caused the massacre of thousands of citizens at Thessalonica, Ambrose insisted on his doing public penance, which the Emperor did. His preaching helped convert Saint Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. He called and chaired several theological councils during his time as bishop, many devoted to fighting heresy. Saint Ambrose welcomed Saint Ursus and Saint Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution, and then sent them on to evangelize in Gaul and Germany.

The title "Honey Tongued Doctor," initially bestowed because of his speaking and preaching ability, led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, and wax refiners. Ambrose left many writings on Scripture, priesthood, virginity, and doctrinal subjects, and composed many hymns and is one of the founders of Christian hymnology. Ambrosian Chant, Ambrosian Hymnography, and the Milanese (Ambrosian) Rite are named after him.

Saint Ambrose died of natural causes on Holy Saturday, April 4, 397 at Milan, Italy , and his relics are at the Basilica of Milan.

Below are some quotations from Saint Ambrose of Milan:

No one heals himself by wounding another. -- Saint Ambrose

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Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies. -- Saint Ambrose

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But if these beings angels guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers. -- Saint Ambrose

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The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.

There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.

He who read much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others. So Scripture says: “If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.”

Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that you may charm the ears of people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership. Solomon says: “The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise”; and in another place he says: “Let your lips be bound with wisdom.” That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning. -- from a letter by Saint Ambrose

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To avoid dissensions we should be ever on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous. Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them. -- Saint Ambrose

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saint Jerome: Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church

Saint Jerome (also known as Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius; Girolamo; Hieronymus; Man of the Bible) is a Latin Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church. Saint Jerome was born to a rich pagan family in 347 A.D. at Strido, Dalmatia. He led a misspent youth. He studied in Rome, Trier, and Aquileia, and he became a lawyer.

He converted in theory, and was baptized in 365. He then began his study of theology, and had a true conversion. He visited Rome, studied at Trier and Aquileia, and in 373, Jerome set out on a journey to the East.

From 374 to 379 he led a life of seclusion and prayer in the desert of Chalcis. Jerome lived for years as a hermit in the Syrian deserts. He was reported to have drawn a thorn from a lion's paw, and the animal stayed loyally at his side for years. Traveling to Antioch, he was ordained a priest. He was a student and friend of Saint Gregory Nazianzus, and through him came to study the Scriptures.

Jerome was secretary to Pope Damasus I who commissioned him to revise the Latin text of the Bible. After visiting Rome, and journeying through the Holy Land, he retired to a monastery in Bethlehem. There he prayed, fasted and labored on the Latin edition of the Bible. The result of his 30 years of work was the Vulgate translation, which is still in use.

He also engaged actively in controversy with Bishop John of Jerusalem, opposing the doctrines of Origen and Pelagius. Saint Jerome was the friend and teacher of Saint Paula, Saint Marcella, and Saint Eustochium. Saint Jerome's friendship with Saint Eustochium was an association that led to so much gossip, Jerome left Rome to return to the desert solitude. Saint Eustochium had traveled with Paula and Jerome to the Holy Land where she helped with the Vulgate Bible translation, working as Jerome's housekeeper, and by reading and writing for him when his eyesight began to fail.

Saint Jerome lived his last 34 years in the Holy Land as a semi-recluse. He wrote translations of Origen, biographies, histories, and much more. Saint Jerome died of natural causes in Bethlehem in 420, his remains are interred in the church of Saint Mary Major at Rome, and his relics are in the Sistine chapel of Saint Mary Major.

Saint Jerome is the patron saint of archaeologists, archivists, Bible scholars, librarians, libraries, schoolchildren, students, and translators.

You can read Saint Jeromes "Book of Illustrious Men" by clicking here. He wrote about a large number of ecclesiastical writers in this volume, and it is an interesting read.

Saint Augustine of Hippo once wrote of Saint Jerome: "What Jerome is ignorant of, no man has ever known."

Below are some quotes from Saint Jerome:

I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: "Search the Scriptures," and "Seek and you shall find." For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

No one should think that I mean to explain the entire subject matter of this great book of the prophet Isaiah in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.

Saint Jerome from a commentary on Isaiah 

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In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: in my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was.

Saint Jerome's letter to Saint Eustochium

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The measure of our advancement in the spiritual life should be taken from the progress we make in the virtue of mortification; for it should be held as certain that the greater violence we shall do ourselves in mortification, the greater advance we shall make in perfection.

Saint Jerome

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You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard.... But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?

Saint Jerome from Against Vigilantius, 406AD

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saint John Chrysostom: Early Church Father, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saint John Chrysostom (also known as Greatest of the Greek Fathers; Golden-Mouth; Giovanni Crisostomo) is a Greek Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church.

He was born at Antioch, Asia Minor (modern Syria) around 347 A.D. John's father died when he was young, and he was raised by a very pious mother.

He studied under the pagan Libianus, most famous orator of his day. He devoted himself to an ascetic life, and he  was baptized around 369 and he was ordained reader. For two years he lived in a cave near Antioch, but his health being impaired by austerity, he returned to the city.

He was a preacher and priest for a dozen years in Syria. While there he developed a stomach ailment that troubled him the rest of his life. He had been ordained priest in 386, and in the twelve years that followed John was engaged chiefly in preaching and writing. It was for his sermons that John earned the title "Chrysostom" (golden mouthed). They were always to the point, explained the Scriptures with clarity, and sometimes went on for hours.

In 398 he was elevated to the See of Constantinople, a move that involved him in imperial politics and where he experienced popular resentment by his sweeping reforms.

As a result John was deposed and exiled in 403, by Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria. John was recalled by the empress. John criticized the rich for not sharing their wealth, fought to reform the clergy, prevented the sale of ecclesiastical offices, called for fidelity in marriage, and he encouraged practices of justice and charity. John's sermons caused nobles and bishops to work to remove him from his diocese and he was exiled a second time from his diocese in 404.

John was banished to Pythius, but died on the way in 407. His relics are in the choir chapel of Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome.

Saint John Chrysostom is a Greek Father of the Church, and he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 451 A.D.

Below are some quotations from Saint John Chrysostom:

It is clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive; in fact, it persuaded the whole world. 
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Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good.
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You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of  charity, the prayers of the priests. 
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You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,. . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful. 
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What prayer could be more true before God the Father than that which the Son, who is Truth, uttered with His own lips? 

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It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop...while buying or selling...or even while cooking. 

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It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He who was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their Power and Grace are God's. This is my body, He says. This word transforms the things offered. 

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What harm did Cain do to Abel? Contrary to his intention he did him the greatest good, for he caused him to pass to a better and a blessed life, and he himself was plunged into an abyss of woe. In what did Esau injure Jacob? Did not his envy prevent him from being enriched in the place in which he lived; and, losing the inheritance and the blessing of his father, did he not die a miserable death? What harm did the brothers of Joseph do to Joseph, whose envy went so far as to wish to shed his blood? Were they not driven to the last extremity, and well-nigh perishing with hunger, whilst their brother reigned all through Egypt?

It is ever thus; the more you envy your brother, the greater good you confer upon him. God, who sees all, takes the cause of the innocent in hand, and, irritated by the injury you inflict, deigns to raise up him whom you wish to lower, and will punish you to the full extent of your crime.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Saint Gregory the Great: Pope, Early Church Father, and Doctor of the Church

Pope Saint Gregory the Great (also known as Gregory I; Gregory Dialogos; Father of the Fathers) was born in 540 A.D., at Rome, Italy. Saint Gregory is a Latin Father of the Church, and Doctor of the Church. He is also one of the four Traditional Doctors of the Latin Church (along with Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Jerome).

Gregory was the son of a wealthy Roman senator and Saint Silvia. He also was the nephew of Saint Emiliana and Saint Tarsilla, and the great-grandson of Pope Saint Felix III. Gregory was educated by the finest teachers in Rome. He was prefect of the city of Rome for one year, then he sold his possessions, turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome, and he entered the Benedictine Order, where he was a monk.

He was appointed cardinal-deacon, and then sent to the Byzantine court to secure aid against the Lombards. The result of his six year sojourn was a conviction that Rome must not rely on the East for help. After his return he saw English children being sold in the Roman Forum, and he wanted to become a missionary to England. The people of Rome would not allow him to leave. His desire was realized when he sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury, with a band of missionaries to England in 590.

Gregory was elected 64th Pope by unanimous acclamation on September 3, 590, and was the first monk to be chosen as pope. With his election to the papacy, he published a work on episcopal duties, which was used for centuries. He enforced the celibacy of the clergy, and supervised church funds. 

He strengthened the prerogatives of the papacy by demanding supreme authority over all churches, judging bishops, and hearing the complaints of prelates. He established the system of appeals to Rome, and is recognized as an administrator and lawyer. Gregory collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chant. He also sent missionaries to France, Spain, and Africa.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great died of natural causes on March 12, 604 at Rome, Italy.

  • "As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.  "

    Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Reading the Early Church Fathers | -Welcome to The Crossroads Initiative

Reading the Early Church Fathers | -Welcome to The Crossroads Initiative