The World Is Changing

The world is changing.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea is the first time since 1945 that the armies of a major world power have crossed an international border and seized territory with the intent of keeping that territory for itself.  A revolution in world affairs has just occurred; the passing shadow of this world that we have known for the entire life span of most of the people reading these words has ended.  Many are still putting their heads in the sand about this fact but doubtless it will not be too many more days, weeks, or months (I very much doubt that it will be years) before that is no longer an option.  The Western world’s morality sunk into the toilet two generations ago and is now flushing itself into the sewer, so it would be ridiculous to think that they could keep up their geopolitical domination of the planet in their present moral state.  The world is changing so we must pray.  Pray the Rosary every day.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

Saint John of Damascus

December 4 is the Feast Day in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church of the man generally considered to be the last of the Fathers of the Church: Saint John Damascene.  John of Damascus was born in the year 676 and died in 754; his life spanned one of the great hinge points in the history of the world.  The classical world of Mediterranean unity that had sprung up with the poems of Homer thirteen centuries before, continued and flourished with the expansion of Greek culture, colonization, and the might of the Roman Empire which built the highways on which the Church traveled in its first great expansion was now dead.  Islam had come out of the desert four decades before John of Damascus’ birth and during his lifetime it split the Mediterranean in two, a rupture that persists to this day many long centuries later.

Saint John Damascene was a great opponent of Leo the Isaurian’s iconoclast heresy and a strong defender of the veneration of holy images but what earned him the title of last Father of the Church was his compilation of the Orthodox Faith.  In it he catalogues and summarizes the works of the Fathers and the decisions of all of the Councils of the first theologically turbulent seven centuries of the Church’s existence.  It is a marvelous summary of Christian antiquity, an era that was then at its end, and it helped to set the foundation for the maintenance of the Church in the medieval age that was at that moment being born.  Interestingly Saint John Damascene seems to regard Islam as another of the Christian heresies, a claim echoed in the twentieth century by Hilaire Belloc in The Great Heresies (I don’t receive a dime from Amazon, but this book is seriously worth reading by anyone interested in confronting the enemies of the Catholic Church).  There is much evidence I think to support the supposition that, at its beginning at least, Islam was at least greatly influenced by the anti-Trinitarian heresies that had so troubled the Greek East for the three centuries before its birth.  I will do a post on that subject at some other time.

John Damascene was a figure of some note in the court of the Ummayad caliphs in Damascus, holding the position of minister of finance for a time.  He was the last great figure of the Greek East to have gained an influence over the whole Church, East and West, and his life marked the end of an era in the history of the Church and the world.  The land of his birth is the now tortured country of Syria.  Saint John Damascene pray for us and for your native land, that its people return to the True Faith of the fathers of the fathers of their fathers.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome, and for the conversion of the Muslim people.

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

My own thoughts gleaned from others and from my own experience of offering these Mysteries.  If they are a help then take them use them where you will, and if they are a hinderance then please ignore them.

The Agony in the Garden is a poignant scene.  For it was another garden that God established for man in the first place.  The garden of paradise, and it was there that our first ancestor fell from grace into the darkness and of sin.  So now Our Lord and Savior enters another garden; in the dark of night after offering Himself to the Father for our salvation in the Cenaculum he enters the garden once more.  Except this is a garden disordered by sin.  The only thing awaiting Him in this garden are temptation and betrayal.  The temptation comes from the Tempter himself, the same who had deceived Eve so that she plucked the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and ate it.  We do not know what words passed between the enemy and Our Lord in that garden but we know that He was sorely tried, and kept praying to his Father to let that chalice pass from Him.  But, in a reversal of what Adam and Eve did, when Our Lord was tried by temptation in this terrible garden He called out to the Father for aid and then resolved to do his Will.

The Scourging at the Pillar.  The relentless tearing of Our Lord’s flesh as that bone studded whip end ripped into his skin.  This is pain that most of us cannot understand, suffered in reparation for all the times that we have sought the pleasures of the flesh that destroy our relationship with God.  It is our sins, each and every one of us both individually and as a group, that flung this whip onto his back and drew his blood.

When He was crowned with Thorns the soldiers stripped Him and dressed Him in a torn purple cloak.  They placed a reed in his hand and put on his head a crown of sharp and mangled thorns that drew yet more blood from Him and caused Him more pain, mocking his Kingship.  We did all this and we do all of this every time that we put anyone or anything above our King, and we do it all the time.  When we worship this world or its fruits then we strike Him with our fist and spit in his face.  Yet He sits there and takes and makes no move to protest.  God is Love.

He carried his Cross then, the weight of our sins, on his back after have taken such a beating.  The Jews mock Him and declare that the “have no king but Caesar (Jn. 19: 15)”, trading the God who brought them forth from Abraham’s loins, and from exile in Egypt and in Babylonia back to their land, and who had cared for them above all other peoples for a mortal man, a foreign conqueror whom the day before they had wanted to expel from their land.  Think of the enormity of what they did there, and we must remind ourselves that we are vulnerable to this same temptation every day of our lives when we choose to worship the world and ignore the Lord who bore our sins upon his back.

Our Lord then reaches the hill of Golgotha, the skull place, and is stripped, tied to those planks of wood, and nailed to his Cross.  He is then raised up before the mocking gaze of all the people just as the serpent was raised up in the desert to heal the people in the book of Numbers.  The crowd ridicules Him, feeling that this is their moment of triumph.  He is crucified between two criminals (Lk. 23: 39-43).  These two thieves, murderers, revolutionary terrorists, whatever they were represent the two segments of mankind it seems.  We are all, all of us sinners, thieves and murderers, subject to the just judgement of God. The one mocks the Lord, wants to be freed on his own terms, and dies alone; the other acknowledges his own guilt, that he deserves death (as all of us sinners truly do), declares the innocence and majesty of Christ, recognizes his Sacrifice, and is saved.  Our Lord cries out to his Father in torment and the crowd mocks Him all the more and mocks the prophet Elijah as well, but his Father hears Him.  In the end the Father’s Will is done and the sin of Adam and Eve is reversed.  Grace is born in the world.  The veil of the Holy of Holies is torn.  God no longer resides in an empty room on a hill in Palestine but comes into the whole world through the Sacrifice of his Son that gives birth to the Church.

The important thing in meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries is to remember that it is our sins that are inflicting these torments on Our Lord and to meditate accordingly.   Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch and on Friday for the See of Carthage, for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The See of Carthage

It seems altogether fitting to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on Friday for the See of Carthage.  Once a mighty fortress of the Catholic Church it has long been reduced to ruins and desolation.  This is the land that gave us the great doctor St. Augustine, the great pastor St. Cyprian, and the great mind of Tertullian.  Latin was used in the Liturgy in North Africa while the Greek of the East was still used at Rome.  This See of Carthage had such a towering influence on the Catholic Church, yet in our day and time Islam dominates the region to such an extent that it is possible to travel through these lands and not see a hint that any Christian had ever even set foot there, much less that they were a cradle of the ancient Church.  What happened?

The city of Carthage lay at the northern tip of Africa some 130 miles across the Mediterranean from Sicily and just north of the city of Tunis, the current capital of Tunisia.  It was founded by Phoenician settlers from Lebanon during the early part of the first millennium before Christ.  Carthage developed into a powerful city state that fought three brutal wars with Rome for mastery of the Mediterranean during the third and second centuries B.C. that ended in its defeat and destruction in the year 146 B.C.  Refounded by Roman colonists a century later the city of Carthage and the province of Africa quickly became one of the wealthiest and most Latinized and Romanized regions of the Empire.

Ruins of second century Roman baths in Carthage with the Gulf of Tunis and the hills of Cape Bon in the background. (Photo taken by me October 27, 2009)

Ruins of second century Roman baths in Carthage with the Gulf of Tunis and the hills of Cape Bon in the background. (Photo taken by me October 27, 2009)

The beginnings of the Church in Carthage are unknown but by the end of the second century A.D. it seems to have been thriving.  This was the age of Tertullian the first great Latin theologian who, though he fell into error, did much to strengthen the spines of the faithful in Africa throughout a trying period: this also was the age of the celebrated martyrs Felicity and Perpetua who suffered death in the arena of Carthage on March 7, 203 A.D and March 7 remains the feast day of these two martyrs and their companions.

St. Cyprian (Feast Day September 16) followed a half a century later and guided the Carthaginian church through the persecution launched by the Roman emperor Decius in the middle of the third century and who was martyred himself in 257 A.D. under the emperor Valerian.  The See of Carthage persevered to the age when the Edict of Milan brought peace to the Church throughout the Empire and went on to produce, from its outlying regions, the great doctor St. Augustine of Hippo who set the Western Church on the course that was to guide it through the tumult of the collapse of the Roman Empire on to our own day.

Despite this great roll call of saints the church of Carthage and North Africa was plagued by schism and division throughout its life.  Tertullian himself fell into the error of Montanism, followed came the century long battle with the Donatist heresy from which the See of Carthage never really recovered.  During the fifth century A.D. the tribe of Vandals from eastern Europe came storming through Gaul and Spain and arrived in North Africa.  They conquered the province of Africa in 429 A.D., wresting it from Roman control for the first time in 600 years, and sounded the death knell of the Western Roman Empire by cutting off the grain supply from Africa to Italy.  More important for the See of Carthage they brought their Arianism, the heresy that denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and that took hold with many of the barbarian tribes at this time, with them.  The religion of Arius was the religion of the ruling class, while the population as a whole remained Catholic.  Another source of division was added to a province already plagued by schism.

After a century of Vandal rule the Catholic emperor Justinian in Constantinople reconquered Africa but the province’s greatness religiously, politically, and economically was now in the past.  It lingered under the Byzantines until Islam came like lightning out of the desert in the middle of the seventh century.  Carthage was largely cut off from Constantinople by the Arab conquest of the Levant and of Egypt though it was separated from those lands by vast swathes of desert and ocean.  Eventually though the Muslims did make their way to Carthage, conquering the city in 698 A.D.

The city of Carthage itself fell into ruins when the Arabs founded Kairouan and then Tunis.  The Church dwindled from over 400 bishops at its height under the Roman Empire to a mere 5 just before the era of the Crusades, and then it disappears from history.  Some small remnant must have remained for a time after that but history does not remember them.  The See of Carthage fell into abeyance.  It is true that it was restored for a time, during the 19th century when the French colonized Algeria and Tunisia, but the Church unfortunately came with the occupiers and when they left if followed.  The Church was never able to make a dent among the Muslim populations of North Africa during the century of French colonial rule.  Today whatever church buildings that exist here are used only by foreigners on holiday.  There is at present an Archdiocese of Tunis, presided over by the current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal.  The rest of the ancient dioceses and bishoprics of this once fruitful land are now only titular sees once described by the term in partibus infidelium.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on Friday for the See of Carthage, for its liberty and its salvation, and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The See of Antioch (The other See of St. Peter)

The city of Antioch was in many ways the mother of the Church in the Roman world.  It lay just inland from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea in modern-day Turkey in the region of Hatay near the current border between Turkey and Syria.  The city became a great metropolis following the conquests of Alexander that opened up the highway of trade from India and the east to the Mediterranean.  Antioch, during Roman times, was in a highly favorable location at the western terminus of the Silk Road and took full advantage of this to profit in the exchange of goods between distant Asia and the rest of the Roman Empire.  During the apostolic age Antioch was the third city of the Empire after Rome itself and Alexandria.  It was here that the Prince of the Apostles seems first to have moved to after leaving Jerusalem and he became the city’s first bishop before moving on to Rome.  Paul and Barnabas also spent much time preaching and winning converts in the city.  St. Luke, companion of St. Paul and author both of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles was a native of Antioch.  And it was in Antioch that the name of Christian was first applied to believers in Jesus Christ and members of the Church.

After the age of the Apostles had ended the church in Antioch continued to supply the Church with great teachers and martyrs.  St. Ignatius of Antioch’s, who himself was a hearer of the apostles, letters written on the way to his martyrdom in Rome provide us with a fascinating glimpse of the Church during the decades following the death of the apostles, and give ample evidence of the primacy of the church of Rome even at that early date.  St. Ignatius’ Feast Day is October 17.

Following  Ignatius the city continued to supply the Church with bishops and martyrs, among them Babylas who suffered martyrdom under the reign of Decius during the middle of the third century.  The church of Antioch expanded its reach to become the leading church of the East, and second only in primacy to Rome, by the ascension of Constantine to power during the early fourth century.  The church there unfortunately was also a place of discord and a birthplace for heresy.  Paul of Samosata in the third century was bishop of Antioch and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  And the ideas of Arius, while first publicly proclaimed in Alexandria, have their roots in Antioch.  The Arian heresy which also denied the divinity of Jesus Christ but were far more successful than Paul’s troubled the Church for three centuries following the Edict of Milan.

Antioch continued to form a part of the Pentarchy, the five great Sees (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria) of Roman times but fell into decline after the rise of Constantinople in the fourth century.  Constantinople became master of the East religiously, politically, and economically and Antioch suffered both from the Christological disputes and the resulting schisms in the Church, and from the depredations of the Persian Empire during the epoch of wars between Rome and Persia that stretched from the third to the seventh centuries during which Antioch and/or its hinterland were often battlegrounds.  The Muslims conquered Antioch in 638 AD and the city was now on the front lines of the almost constant warring between the Constantinople and the Caliphate and its importance in the Christian world rapidly diminished.  The Orthodox Church was unable regularly to supply a patriarch for the city as its Muslim political masters showed a preference for their Monophysite rivals, hostile as they were to Constantinople.  The Byzantines briefly reconquered the city in 969 before losing it again to the Turks during the following century.  Antioch was taken by the Crusaders in 1098 and they established the Latin Patriarchate of Antioch which endured for more than a century and a half before the Turkish reconquest of the city and the martyrdom of its last resident Latin Patriarch in 1268.  The city of Antioch has more or less disappeared from the map since that time and the site is now occupied by the Turkish city of Antakya.  The Pope continued to appoint Latin Patriarchs of Antioch, none of whom were able to take residence in the city after 1268, until the Patriarchate was abolished in 1964.  There are now a whole host of Patriarchs of Antioch, five at last count; none of whom actually reside in the city.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for this ancient and once great apostolic See of the Church: for its liberty and its salvation, and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  We should also remember the currently suffering land of Syria which forms the patrimony of this ancient See in our prayers, if we can find the heart.