The Gospel of John: A Commentary by Presbyter Paul Slish

“In beginning was the Word and the Word was with the God, and God was the Word. This one was in beginning with the God.  All things through him came into being, and apart from him came into being not one thing that has come into being.” (John 1:1-2)

The above is a fairly literal translation of the first two verses of the gospel of John.

We see that the Word was pre-existent to creation. “In beginning” the Word was already there. He was in existence before creation.  “In beginning” is how Genesis begins in the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Hebrew Bible.  So when God “In beginning made the heaven and earth, the Word was there also.

The Word was with God.  Now the preposition translated “with” is not one of the two common Greek prepositions for “with.” This preposition (pros) is generally translated “to” and in particular means “to” in the sense of “came to” or “at”, often indicating position.  I put ‘to’ for ‘pros’ in the following. Mark 4:1 reads literally “And again He began to teach by the sea, and gathers ‘to’ Him a great crowd, such that He into a boat embarked sitting on the sea. And all the crowd ‘to’ the sea upon the land was.”  The crowd gathered “to” him.  The crowd was “to” the sea. That is, positioned at the edge of the sea.

So the Word is “to” God.  He is “with” God in the sense that they are face to face in close communication.  What a beautiful description of the intimate relation between the Word and God.

Who is this Word? The gospel tells us “God was the Word!”  So the Word is God.  Thus the Word is eternal as God is eternal. This is a teaching about two persons of the Trinity: God and the Word.  Now Genesis 1:1 tells us “In beginning God made the heaven and the earth.”  We will see clearly later that God is also called the Father.  The Word is called the Son.  Two persons but both are God. We’ll also learn about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

“All things through him [the Word] came into being, and apart from him came into being not one thing that has come into being.”  The Word created all things.  Not a single thing came into being apart from the Word.  He created all things.  Again this demonstrates the Word is eternal and He is God. Not a thing came into being apart from the Word.  This means the Word did not come into being.  He already existed.  Therefore he must be eternal and thus he must be God.  Why? Because only God is eternal.

Now since the Word created all things that has implications for us personally.  It means he created us.  We did not come into being because of random processes.  Through Him, the Word, we came into being. The Word uses the means of our mother and father, but ultimately we came into being through the Word.  Consequently there is meaning and dignity to your life.  If you are discouraged for any reason, call to mind that you came into being through the Word.  That is a comforting thought.

Let’s look a little more at the encouragement this gives to us.

We “have received the spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’”  We are now in God’s family!  In speaking of the Lord Jesus, the Word, Hebrews 2:11-12 reads, “For both He [the Word] who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one; for which reason He [the Word] is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’”

The Lord Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters.  We are part of His congregation.  That is of great encouragement when we experience difficult times.

Lastly, hear Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him [the Word] freely give us all things.”

Think about it.  God the Father loves us so much He did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all! He makes perfect provision for our sin, and He is with us through every step of our lives. Let us rejoice in these truths and trust God for opportunities to share them with others.

Awakened: The Faithful Labors of St. Basil the Great

In the year 360, the Emperor Constantius II convened a council of Bishops from the Eastern and Western churches of Rome to settle an ongoing dispute about the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. Thirty five years earlier, the Catholic faith in the Trinity had been asserted at the first Council of Nicea, but since then the Arian denial of Christ’s fully divine nature was still held by some prominent and vocal Christian leaders, both secular and ecclesiastical. Twenty years old and having only been baptized three years before this council, Basil was in the process of awakening to his faith and discerning God’s calling for his life when he attended this controversial council. He began the council as a semi-Arian, holding with his companions a diminished understanding of Christ’s divinity, but by the end of the debates of bishops and priests became convinced that Christ was truly the second person of the Trinity. This foundational experience would ultimately shape Basil’s entire life.

Basil was ordained a deacon two years after his commitment to Nicene Christianity, and only three years later was made the presbyter of the Church in Caesaria. During his time as presbyter, Basil successfully debated Arians time and again, patiently but firmly elucidating both Christ’s divinity and God’s Trinitarian nature. One of his most important theological tracts was in fact On the Holy Spirit, wherein Basil defended the Scriptural status of the Holy Spirit as the third and fully divine member of the Trinity. Underscoring how important the Holy Spirit is to knowing the God we worship, Basil wrote,

“And His operations, what are they?  For majesty ineffable, and for numbers innumerable.  How shall we form a conception of what extends beyond the ages?  What were His operations before that creation whereof we can conceive?  How great the grace which He conferred on creation?  What the power exercised by Him over the ages to come?  He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages.  It follows that, even if you can conceive of anything beyond the ages, you will find the Spirit yet further above and beyond.  And if you think of creation, the powers of the heavens were established by the Spirit, the establishment being understood to refer to disability to fall away from good.  For it is from the Spirit that the powers derive their close relationship to God, their inability to change to evil, and their continuance in blessedness.  Is it Christ’s advent?  The Spirit is forerunner.  Is there the incarnate presence?  The Spirit is inseparable.  Working of miracles, and gifts of healing are through the Holy Spirit.  Demons were driven out by the Spirit of God.  The devil was brought to naught by the presence of the Spirit.  Remission of sins was by the gift of the Spirit, for “ye were washed, ye were sanctified,…in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the holy Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).  There is close relationship with God through the Spirit, for “God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).” (Basil, On the Holy Spirit 19.49)

This excerpt serves only to gesture at the eloquence and care with which Basil read and interpreted Scripture, throughout both this tract and a multitude of sermons and letters.

His theological and pastoral reputation resulted in Basil being consecrated Bishop in the year 370 on June 14th, his feast day in the Anglican liturgical calendar. He was promoted again to Archbishop soon after, and in that office Basil expanded his ministry, opening a soup kitchen for families stricken by drought, giving away his own inheritance from his wealthy family to aid the poor, and continuing efforts to spread the teachings of Nicene Christianity and demonstrate the unscriptural nature of Arianism. During these efforts, the Emperor Valens repeatedly sent a representative to first request, then demand, and finally to threaten Basil to compromise with Arian beliefs. The Emperor, an Arian himself, even banished Basil numerous times, but Basil simply continued in his duties as Archbishop. When the Emperor’s representative, Modestus, expressed surprise at Basil’s stalwart defiance, Basil replied, “Perhaps you have never dealt with a bishop.” Finally, Emperor Valens attended Basil’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy himself, and was so moved by Basil’s devotion to worshipping God that he donated land for the building of a cathedral for the Archbishop.

Basil maintained a warm and affectionate relationship with his Christian brothers and sisters, showing kindness and holding profound friendship even with those priests and bishops whom he had debated theology so rigorously. Sadly, he spent the last few years of his life ill, and at fifty years of age lay on his death bed reciting sermons and even ordaining priests. Crowds of people visited asking for prayers and advice from their dying Bishop, mourning over him while he continued to preach the faith. Then, it is said that he prayed, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and passed away in peace. Reports are that his funeral was attended by Jews and Pagans as well as Christians, and in their grief the crowd overwhelmed the hymns being sung in his honor. They sought what they believed Basil had obtained – the peace which passes all understanding, which cannot be found in this life. Basil himself wrote in one of his famous epistles:

“I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.”

Having turned from this vanity, Basil focused his attention instead on worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth, such that he worked on proper formulas of liturgy that would eventually become the Liturgy of St. Basil, which would profoundly influence liturgical practices and versions of which are still observed in the Byzantine Rite and the Coptic Church. A moving prayer from a modern version of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great reads this way:

“Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”


By Anthony G. Cirilla

The Pope of England: The Reluctance and Zeal of St. Gregory the Great

A version of this summary was presented at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church on March 13th, 2016.

John Calvin wrote, in his Institutes, that St. Gregory the Great was “the last good pope.” Although that is surely unfair to the papal legacy, it points to an interesting question: why do Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox Christians admire and recognize the feast day of a pope who is known, at least in part, for his role in strengthening papal authority and, according to some scholars, initiating the medieval Catholicism that the Reformers would seek to, well, reform? I believe that it is because St. Gregory represents a catholicity of the Christian faith in the true sense of the term: he held important theological discussions with Christians in the East, was a beloved leader of Christians in Italy, and directed evangelistic work over the people of Anglo-Saxon England. Still today, his feast day in Anglicanism is held on March 12th.

Reluctance, followed by zealous fulfillment of his duty, marked much of St. Gregory’s life decisions. He did not wish to enter the world of secular government; he became the Prefect of Rome, the highest civil position in Rome in the day. He did not wish to leave the monastery he had founded around the year 574 and dedicated to St. Andrew, because he found a deep satisfaction in a life dedicated to prayerful devotion, “in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without.” But when Pope Pelagius II enlisted Gregory to be his ambassador to the secular and ecclesiastical authorities in the Eastern church, he dutifully obeyed, which resulted in Gregory settling an important doctrinal controversy with Patriarch Eutychius, who was denying the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gregory debated Eutychius publicly before the Emperor, pointing to passages such as Luke 24:39 where Christ instructs the apostles to behold his hands and feet. This attention to careful scriptural detail led St. Gregory into another task he took on reluctantly at the insistence of his admirers, an analysis of the Book of Job. Gregory’s Moralia on Job remains one of the most important works of scriptural exegesis of the text, and he recounts beautifully his turn to the Holy Spirit to guide him in his labors:

“In a strait between my alarms and my devout aspirations, I lifted up the eyes of my mind to the Bestower of all gifts [James 1, 17], waiving my scruples, I fixed my thoughts on this, that what an affection flowing from the hearts of my brethren enjoined upon me, could not certainly be impossible, I despaired, indeed, of being a match for these things, but, stronger for my very despair of myself, I forthwith raised my hopes to Him, by Whom the tongue of the dumb is opened, Who maketh the lips of babes to speak eloquently, [Wisd. 10, 21], Who has marked the undistinguished and brute brayings of an ass with the intelligible measures of human speech.  What wonder, then, that a simple man should receive understanding from Him, Who whenever He willeth, utters His truth by the mouths of the very beasts of burden?”

St. Gregory did not want to become Pope either, desiring to return to the monastic life after a missionary trip to Anglo-Saxon England, but after the death of Pelagius II, Gregory was unanimously voted as candidate for the office, in spite of his attempts to refuse the position. Regardless of this reluctance, he pursued his duties with unwavering vigor. He worked to regularize liturgical worship throughout the Church, and it is attributed by some sources that he initiated what would become known as the Gregorian chant. He promoted Christian charity in his own country, helping impoverished Italians harmed by Lombardian occupation of Northern Italy, and ensured that many poverty-stricken people had food, sometimes cooking their meals himself. He wrote numerous edifying works on the Christian faith, including 33 sermons, a text on pastoral care called the Dialogues for which he was best known, and over 850 of his letters survive today. He was sainted in the years immediately following his death, and stories abound of his encounters with angels, miraculous prayers for the living and the dead, and even reports that a dove hovered by his ear while he wrote his sermons.

It is said that Gregory saw Anglo-Saxon men in the Roman marketplace, slaves according to Bede, and struck by the encounter he was filled with a desire to bring the Gospel to their people. Before becoming pope himself Gregory had asked Pelagius for permission to evangelize in the British Isles. The Romans were so displeased with the absence of their beloved Gregory that they had forced Pelagius to recall him back to Italy, but Gregory did not forget his mission there. After becoming pope, he installed Augustine (not that Augustine) as the Bishop of Canterbury, and as a result of this mission the English church flourished so well that they began to send out missionaries of their own to Germany and other lands. One certainly need not be Roman Catholic to agree with St. Gregory the Great’s words on the importance of missionary work:

“Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.”

Anthony G. Cirilla

Our Fellow Scholar: The Faith and Love of Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Last week we remembered St. Polycarp of Smyrna, one of the three Apostolic Fathers. Polycarp ensured the preservation of the seven epistles of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, another major apostolic father, whose Feast Day is recognized on February 1st in the Anglican liturgical calendar. Ignatius was born in 35 AD, two years after Christ’s Resurrection. He became bishop of Antioch, and later was martyred under the Roman Emperor, Trajan. His epistles were written mostly from prison while he waited for his execution, and they are eloquent, stirring exhortations to faith in Christ. He stresses the importance of corporate worship, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the Authority of Scripture and orthodox doctrine, especially Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection in a physical human body. Above all, Ignatius is the first Church Father to emphasize the profound importance for Christians to live in obedience and communion with a bishop dedicated to the pure Gospel, and to the priests and deacons whose authority they represent.

Of corporate worship, Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, “A man who excludes himself from the sanctuary is depriving himself of the bread of God, for if the prayer of one or two individuals has such efficacy, how much more powerful is that of the bishop together with his whole church.” Encouraging his friends in Rome not to despair over his own imminent execution, he wrote, “For good does not reside in what our eyes can see; the fact that Jesus Christ is now within the Father is why we perceive Him so much the more clearly. Christianity lies in achieving greatness in the face of the world’s hatred.” Holy Communion provided a comfort for Ignatius as a sign of his hope beyond the loss of his earthly life: “There is no pleasure for me in any meats that perish, or in the delights of this life; I am fain for the bread of God, ever the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David, and for my drink I crave that Blood of His which is love imperishable.”

Of the clergy responsible for administering Holy Communion and the congregations committed to their charge, Ignatius wrote, in the Epistle to the Ephesians mentioned above, “…your justly respected clergy, who are a credit to God, are attuned to their bishop like the strings of a harp, and the result is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ from minds that are in unison, and affections that are in harmony. Pray, then, come and join this choir, every one of you; let there be a whole symphony of minds in concert.” A bishop himself, Ignatius stressed that it is from Christ, not men, that clerical authority comes; he writes, “I am by no means perfect in Jesus Christ as yet; I am only a beginner in discipleship, and I am speaking to you as fellow-scholars with myself.” Ignatius continues in that same letter: “Faith is the beginning, and love is the end,” and his letters show how an orthodox faith upheld by bishops, priests, and deacons and the congregations, in worship and in service, is the earthly manifestation of Christ’s love.

by Anthony G. Cirilla

The Fires of Polycarp: Bishop, Martyr, and Saint

Read at St. Stephen’s on Sunday, January 24th, in recognition of the feast day of St. Polycarp (69-155) of Smyrna, celebrated in Anglicanism on the earlier date of January 26th, rather than February 23rd.

Born on 69 AD, only 36 years after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Polycarp is one of the three Apostolic Fathers, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. Much of his life is recorded in the second century text, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a major source for this brief discussion. As an Apostolic Father, Polycarp forms an important historical link between the apostles’ ministry in the Book of Acts and the councils held over scriptural doctrines by the early Church Fathers in the second, third, and fourth centuries. A bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp knew John the Presbyter and others, who had witnessed the ministries of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on a personal level. For refusing to worship a false idol, the Roman emperor had Polycarp burned at the stake, but the accounts read that the flames would not touch him, so they killed him by the sword.

As bishop, Polycarp met with other ecclesiastical authorities frequently, including the Bishop of Rome, Anicetus. The two bishops discovered disagreements between themselves about worship practices, including the date of Easter, but agreed that doctrinal and spiritual unity was more important than differences of liturgical tradition – as important as they nevertheless recognized these to be. He also played a role in preserving and copying much of the New Testament. But flexibility on lesser matters did not weaken Polycarp’s commitment to total integrity in his faith to Christ. When the heretic Marcion, angry that Polycarp ignored him, asked, “Do you know me?”, Polycarp replied, “Yes, I know you, the first-born of Satan.”

Polycarp’s integrity shone most brightly, of course, when the threat of burning at the stake was presented to him. He replied to the Roman Emperor, “Eighty and six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong… How then can I blaspheme my king and saviour? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked!” About his own death he said, “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the Martyrs I may show the cup of Christ.”

It is clear that the fires of the Holy Spirit were with Polycarp in the testimony of his life, which can be seen in his sermon to the Philippians, preserved in the writing of his younger contemporary, St. Irenaeus. We close with a sample of his stirring exhortation: “To Him all things in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the Living and the Dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved.”

By Anthony G. Cirilla

Deeming all things in His Hand: The Ministry of St. Anthony of Egypt

A version of this was delivered at St. Stephens Anglican Church on January 17th, the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt.

Eleven saints are known by the name of Anthony, most of whom are either named after or took their names from St. Anthony of Egypt, an early promoter of the monastic life modeled after Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. Born to wealthy parents, Anthony never received a formal education or even learned how to read, instead learning all he knew of Scripture from faithfully attending worship and listening carefully to what he heard there. His parents died when he was eighteen years old, leaving him to care for his younger sister and his parents’ estate. Dutifully, he continued to worship at the Lord’s House with his sister, and after sixth months of this he heard a reading from the Gospel: “If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor; and come and follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven.” Convicted by these words, Anthony set aside enough money for the care of his sister, and sold the rest of his parents’ estate and gave it away to the poor. This incredible act of faith would pale in comparison to the rest of his testimony, recorded in The Life of St. Anthony by his contemporary, St. Athanasius, one of the bishops involved in the formulation of the Nicene creed which we recite still every Sunday.

Athanasius knew St. Anthony personally, and wrote “that all regard him with wonder…for not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God.” For his devotion to the Gospel, Anthony struggled against demons, who first tempted him with sin, and then gathered around him in the darkness tormenting him with dark visions, lies, blasphemies, evil illusions, and even physical attacks. But Anthony persevered in his prayers, rebuking the demons with the bold words, “Faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.” Athanasius reports then that as Anthony looked up, “he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him.” The demons vanished.

Anthony continued to battle demons and pray for miracles by the grace of God, giving wise counsel according to Scriptures to many who sought him out. Anthony showed respect to all deacons, priests, and bishops he met, himself never seeking ordination and humbly seeking their spiritual guidance. He battled the Meletian heresy which diminished the purifying power of repentance, the Arian heresy which diminished the divinity of Christ, and the Manichean heresy which diminished the goodness of God’s creation. He astonished the Greek philosophers with how eloquently he defended the Gospel against their educated arguments, and corresponded with Emperor Constantine and other powerful members of government without fear of offering rebuke when it was needed.

Easy it must have been for St. Anthony to live free from fear of men, for he knew and had faced the full wrath of Satan and his demons, and knew those fallen angels tremble in fear of the Lord. Athanasius records one of his sermons, where he said, “Let us not have a thought of cowardice in our hearts, nor frame fears for ourselves, saying, I am afraid lest a demon should lift me up and cast me down… but rather let us be courageous and rejoice always… if they see us rejoicing in the Lord… deeming all things in his hand… we shall see the snares of the demons are like smoke, and the evil ones themselves flee.”

By Anthony G. Cirilla

The Swan’s Bishop: A Look at the Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln

St. Hugh of Lincoln’s Feast Day is held on Nov. 17th in the Anglican liturgical calendar. Depictions of St. Hugh often include a picture of a beautiful white swan at his side. This comes from a story in his life, written by Adam of Eynsham, Hugh’s chaplain and friend, who reports that Hugh was a lover of animals. Often he was found in the gardens of his monastery in Lincoln with the wildlife that visited him. One of these, a wild swan with stark white feathers and a long neck, would eat from his hand and follow him wherever he went. The swan seemed to regard itself as Hugh’s guardian, because it would attack any who came near to him, and watched over him while he slept.

Hugh lived in medieval England eight hundred years ago, when kings saw bishops as serious political peers. Born in France, Hugh entered the Carthusian monkhood around the year 1160 when he was about 20 years old. Nearly twenty years later, he was sent by the Carthusians to be prior of the monastery in Lincoln, England. This monastery was built by King Henry II, as penance for murdering St. Thomas Beckett, and is where Hugh would become the swan’s bishop. But it was also where Hugh would become known as a bishop feared by kings and loved by the people of Lincoln and beyond.

Finding the living quarters of the monastery unacceptable for the monks, Hugh convinced Henry II to fund renovations that made Charterhouse more livable. His leadership and piety led the numbers of the humble establishment to grow. Next, Hugh set his sights on King Henry’s unjust hunting laws, which were a hardship for Hugh’s parishioners. So persuasive and diplomatic was Hugh, that King Henry changed his laws and even permitted Hugh to excommunicate one of the King’s foresters. Hugh advocated for the poor and resisted government oppression of its citizens through taxation, and served as a counselor and diplomat for King Henry II, King Richard I, and King John. He was an effective ambassador to France and improved relationships between the French and the English, though sadly on a return trip home from France as spiritual and political advisor, he caught sickness and died shortly after.

The most admirable component of Hugh’s time as bishop occurred in the reign of Richard I. In misguided response to to the Crusades happening abroad, religious persecution of Jews broke out in England. Hugh provided sanctuary for the persecuted Jews, standing against  angry mobs in the streets of Lincoln, and at the risk of his own life quelling these violent attacks.

Like the swan who watched over him, Hugh watched over his Christian flock and his Jewish countrymen with diligent devotion, fiercely protecting the poor, caring for the sick, and raising standards of education for children. King Richard I said of him, “Truly, if all the prelates of the Church were like him, there is not a king in Christendom who would dare to raise his head in the presence of a bishop.” St. Hugh of Lincoln stands as an example for the public service that Christians ought to provide, and in his dealings with kings, priests, monks, and the members of his diocese, steadfastly represented the power of the Gospel. The swan’s bishop lived with genuine faith in, and gave testimony to, the motto of his monastic order: “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”

By Anthony G. Cirilla

Not by Shield or Helmet: Spiritual Warfare and the Pursuit of Peace in the life of St. Martin of Tours

The feast day of St. Martins is held on Wednesday the 11th of November, and this presentation on him was delivered the following Sunday.

In light of the tragic loss of life in the wake of brutal terrorism in Paris that transpired recently, it is fitting to consider the testimony left to us of St. Martin of Tours, who is held as a patron saint of France. He was bishop in Tours for some thirty years, and his brave military service and commitment to compassion and peace inspires us to place our final hope in the irresistible grace of Jesus Christ, not in the promises of politicians or weapons of war.

The Life of St. Martin was composed by Sulpicius Severus, who not only lived in St. Martin’s time, but also spoke with those who witnessed his Christ-centered life and even interviewed him personally in the process of writing Martin’s hagiography. This brief summary is therefore based primarily in Severus’s depiction of the saint. It is a remarkable life – by the grace of God, St. Martin served in the Roman army, then entered clerical orders, debated with the Devil and spoke with angels, performed numerous miracles, showed compassion to those in poverty, and even converted a robber to Christianity after that robber had kidnapped him and held him hostage.

St. Martin’s close relationship with the Lord began at the age of 10, but at 18 he was required by law to enter military service. While on duty in the dead of winter, he saw a poor man on the side of the road dying from the extreme cold. Despite the fact that his service would keep him in the cold as well, Martin took pity on the man, and used his sword to cut his own coat in two. He gave half of the coat to the man, saving his life, and then endured the mockery of his fellow men at arms for how foolish his half-coat looked.

That night, Christ appeared to St. Martin in a dream wearing the half of a cloak Martin had given to the poor man. Christ, commander of the heavenly host, announces to the multitude of angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” This vision prompted Martin to leave military service so that he could pursue a new vocation, as a priest and leader of spiritual warfare. Caesar Julian wished to block Martin’s exit from the military force, but Martin told him: “I have served you as a solider; allow me now to become a soldier to God.” Furious, the emperor accused him of cowardice, to which St. Martin replied: “If this conduct of mine is ascribe to cowardice, and not to faith, I will take my stand unarmed before the line of battle tomorrow, and in the name of the Lord Jesus, protected by the sign of the cross, and not by shield or helmet, I will safely penetrate the ranks of the enemy.”

This fearless commitment to God’s calling marked St. Martin’s incredible ministry. By Severus’s account, the Holy Spirit granted Martin the ability to see the Devil in whatever form he was present. When the Devil threatened him that he would resist Martin at every turn, he replied, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what any can do unto me.” And the Devil fled from him.

During his ministry as Bishop of Tours, St. Martin confronted pagans who were worshiping an ancient pine tree, exhorting them to cut their idol down. They agreed on one condition: that Martin would show faith in his God by standing in the path of the falling tree. With his terrified followers watching, St. Martin stood as the pagans felled the ancient pine. As it rushed towards him with deadly speed, St. Martin made the sign of the cross, and suddenly the tree spun and fell harmlessly to the side. Many of the unbelievers there, amazed, committed themselves to Christ that very day.

Like St. Martin wearing his half-cloak, we may be mocked by wearing the outward sign of our Christianity. We should not shy from the conflicts of spiritual warfare, but we should, like St. Martin, starkly separate the practical necessity of military service from the peaceful sharing of Christ’s Gospel. When we put our steadfast faith first in the help of the Lord, not in mortal shields and helmets, then we can share in the compassion and confidence with which St. Martin, by the grace of God, encountered the perils of the world. As we pray for Paris and Beirut and any others who endure the dangers of terrorism, we must remember with gratitude the sacrifice of those in the military who strive to keep their fellow citizens, whether Christians or non-Christians, safe. In both times of peace and of war, Christians must always share the Gospel peacefully and with confidence, remembering that true peace comes not from government, but from God.

By Anthony G. Cirilla

Overcoming the Earth: The Life and Works of Our Blessed Martyr, Severinus Boethius

Boethius’s feast day is October 23rd, and these remarks were shared on the following Sunday to commemorate a figure who, once so well known to people of faith, has become obscure to the modern Church. With Hallowtide just past, it is fitting to reflect on exemplary lives of faith such as that lived by Boethius.

Unlike many medieval saints, Boethius was never ordained, never entered the ministry, and never entered monastic orders. He was a scholar and a politician in early sixth century Rome working under the rule of the Germanic barbarian, King Theodoric. Theodoric recognized the talents of Boethius, and both admired and feared him. He admired Boethius for his learning in the seven liberal arts, the academic curriculum of the time, and for his skill at reconciling differences between politicians of both church and state. Theodoric’s admiration led him to install Boethius as consul of Rome in 510, and he gave the same honor to Boethius’s sons in 522. That same year, Theodoric made Boethius Master of Offices, which gave him executive power over affairs both foreign and domestic.

But Theodoric feared Boethius’s close ties to the Emperor Justinian and the Eastern Church. As an Arian who denied the doctrine of the Trinity, Theodoric feared that Boethius’s attempts to reconcile eastern and western Trinitarian disputes might lead to a Roman rebellion that might seek help from Byzantium to regain independence from Ostrogothic rule. So when the Senate falsely accused Boethius of treason, an accusation that stuck only as a result of political enemies Boethius had made defending the public welfare, Theodoric had Boethius imprisoned on false charges and brutally executed with no trial.

Among other works, Boethius had written five theological tracts for his friend, Pope John I, referred to collectively as the Opuscula Sacra, where Boethius used his training in logic and philosophy to defend the Christian faith. Two of these argued for the rationality of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and one of these includes his formulation of personhood as “an individual substance of a rational nature,” a definition still in use by modern theologians. A third treatise defended the orthodox view of Christ’s nature as God and man, and a fourth explained how the goodness of creation, including human goodness, logically depends upon the goodness of God. The final treatise, On the Catholic Faith, explicates general foundational doctrines for all Christian believers.

However, Boethius wrote his most important work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while imprisoned and on death row. Admitting his despair at the loss of his former life and freedoms, Boethius portrays himself in dialogue with Lady Philosophy, his lifelong object of study. Philosophy reminds him that earthly goods come and go, but the only value of earthly goods is in their power to turn our sights to the Father of Heavenly Lights, from whom comes every good and perfect gift and does not alter like the shifting shadows. He reminds himself and us that nothing in this world can yield satisfaction to our longing for happiness, and seeking after such frail goods will only lead to despair. Philosophy means the Love of Wisdom, and true wisdom resides in conforming our broken desires to the only essential source of happiness: the light of Divine Love which orders all things and grants all earthly gifts their true meaning.

Boethius reminds us that the mind of God is not limited to human perceptions of time and space, that all existence depends on his loving sustenance, for it is in God in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Boethius reminds us that our vision can be transformed to understand the world from this God-centered perspective. “Superata tellus sidera donat” – “Overcome the earth, and you will be given the stars,” Lady Philosophy tells the imprisoned Boethius. Despite his prison walls, Boethius remembered that true freedom comes from God, and regardless of station or situation in life, that freedom is available to all who turn from the misery of self-rule, and instead obediently remember that we live in the sight of a just and moral judge who sees all things.

By Anthony G. Cirilla, Nov. 5th

The Comfort of Repentance: A Brief Introduction to the Life of Saint Cyprian

On September 20th, we remembered the life of Saint Cyprian, whose feast day is commemorated on September 16th

The year 250 AD was a dark moment for Christians living under the Emperor Decius. He declared that Christians must sacrifice to pagan gods, and demanded that they sign a statement affirming this worship, or face execution. Many Christians were killed, but many committed idolatry to ensure their own safety. When Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, exhorted his Christian brethren to formally repent of this public sin, many refused, and thus Cyprian had to shepherd a flock both persecuted and heretical. Pastoral duties have not gotten easier since the time of Saint Cyprian, whether the challenge is simply getting Christians to come to air-conditioned worship in the relative safety of the western world, or the devastating persecution happening in the Middle East. Saint Cyprian is a reminder that the challenges we face now are the same ones the Church has always faced, and by the grace of God has always overcome.

Cyprian was well prepared for his duties as priest and bishop of Carthage. Before converting to Christianity, he was trained in law and oratory and taught rhetoric, and after his baptism at the age of 35 he immediately gave a significant portion of his wealth away. Until Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome, Cyprian was known as the most eloquent and practical of the church fathers, using his training in rhetoric and scripture to craft beautiful homilies and epistles targeted to address the real concerns of his flock.

Almost a decade after the persecution lead by Emperor Decius, Emperor Valerian led a new, even more bloodthirsty persecution, and Cyprian was ordered to cease leading worship and performing his priestly duties. He refused, and for his crimes of celebrating Holy Communion, worshiping with and ministering to his Christian brothers and sisters, he was executed. When the Roman official pronounced his death sentence, Saint Cyprian replied only, “Thanks be to God.”

Saint Cyprian reminds us of the urgent need to earnestly repent of our sins for our spiritual health, and of the mystical union of Christ’s church as the refuge where we seek God’s grace. I close with words that he wrote to his friend Donatus:

“When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me… I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered….

“But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly.”

By Anthony G. Cirilla