Category Archives: Church

Mattel, Say “Catholic.”

Just say it, Mattel. Say it. It’s not hard. CAAAAATH-LIC.

“Barbie® celebrates Dia De Muertos 2020 with a second collectible doll inspired by the time-honored holiday. Dia De Muertos is a two-day holiday in early November when families gather to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. This colorful and lively event is filled with music, food, sweets, offerings and flowers. The Barbie® Dia De Muertos series honors the traditions, symbols and rituals often seen throughout this time.”

So yeah, let’s totally avoid the words “Catholic” and “Mexican.” Let’s avoid the fact that it’s a religious holiday. And why do you think it’s only about “ancestors,” and not about all the dead, and especially the Poor Souls who have nobody to pray for them? And what exactly do you mean by “offerings,” Mattel? And what are the two days of the “two-day” holiday, Mattel? Why would you say “early November” and not give the dates????

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Two steps forward, two steps back.

It’s not about going to cemeteries to “celebrate the lives” of the beloved dead, although that happens. It’s about praying for the souls of the dead, and asking them to pray for us from Purgatory and Heaven. It’s about remembering that dead Christians are still part of the Communion of Saints, and hence present with us as a “cloud of witness” — which is why people have cemetery picnics and put up temporary prayer station. It’s about making reparation for the sins of those who died repentant but were sent to Purgatory to purify them for bliss in God’s presence, and for praying for the unbaptized or pagan dead to be under Christ’s mercy, also.

And of course it’s not just a Mexican holiday, although Mexico got the full benefit of the traditions of all the Hapsburg monarchs’ domains in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, all the way to eastern Europe and the Far Eastern missions, courtesy of many religious orders and settlers. Everywhere there are Catholics and decent weather on November 2, it’s a big deal.

And no, dressing up candy skulls and such are not a pagan Mexican thing, sorry. It’s a danse macabre, memento mori thing from medieval Europe. It got big in the 1400’s and stuck around through the 1600’s, but hung on in places like Spain and Italy up until the present, and it got to Mexico by way of the Spanish settlers. You don’t have to like the aesthetic, just like you don’t have to like hellfire and brimstone spirituality; but it’s Christian unless people are purposefully paganizing it.

If anything, it was meant to combat the Aztec spirituality where the gods were wearing people’s body parts, and the jaguar god idea where skulls and headhunts were used to enslave human souls, with the idea of honored relics and cheerful deathless skeleton pictures anticipating the full joy of blessed souls reunited with their resurrected glorified bodies.

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Forgotten Titles: Mary of the Pregnant Women, and Mary of the Slapped Face

I was browsing around some webpages about Old St. Peter’s in Rome, and found out that there used to be a big side altar, right next to the nave’s entrance doors, which was dedicated to S. Maria Praegnantium. (Handy if you were really big and needed to pray.)

The altar included an old picture of the Virgin Mary holding Barely Toddler Jesus. Mary has one arm curled protectively around her Son, Who is standing up and blessing the onlookers. With the other hand, she holds a gauze veil across His privates, while highlighting His bellybutton to prove that He was born of her. Otherwise, He’s a totally naked little boy, showing that He is true man as well as true God.

Today, there’s a whole chapel dedicated to her, under the name of the Madonna delle Partorienti (My Lady of the Women Giving Birth), and it’s in a place of honor. But here’s the catch: it’s downstairs in the crypt, under St. Peter’s. So maybe there’s an elevator now, but there didn’t use to be. For a shrine for pregnant women. (Facepalm. Men. Usually that’s not the problem, but here, it pretty clearly is.)

There’s also a chapel for another old medieval icon of Mary, which was also moved from Old St. Peter’s. S. Maria della Bocciata, or the Madonna della Bocciata (of the Slap, or of the Rejection) , was a wall fresco of Mary holding Baby Jesus, which was in the portico between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead. Jesus is turned away from His mother and is blessing the onlooker below. But Mary has an odd-looking face, which some see as swollen, and her cheek has a dark spot that looks like a big bruise.

It’s a miraculous picture, because apparently it used to look normal, and it was painted in the 1200’s. It used to be called “S. Maria in columna,” Mary on the pillar. (Probably a picture of the Spanish apparition of Mary, “Our Lady of the Pillar,” which has Baby Jesus sit-standing against Mary’s shoulder. Her feast day is October 12, which is also Columbus Day from Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. Columba, Columna. Horrible pun.)

But one day in 1440, a drunken soldier, who had just lost a game of bowls, had a tantrum and threw one of the little balls or rocks that they were using for the game, and hit Mary’s picture right in the face. Drops of blood fell from her painted cheek and stained the floor; and ever since then, the picture has borne the bruise damage as a rebuke to those who disrespect the Blessed Mother. (And I’m sure we remember the similar thing that happened to the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.)

So of course the picture was removed from the wall before the old basilica was demolished, and now it also has its own home, down in the crypt. The two bloodstained paving stones sit behind grates on either side of the picture, and you’re meant to reach through the grates and touch them.

Unfortunately, this is another shrine that used to be a lot easier to visit, back when it was in the portico! But in this case, people actually got more attached to “the Rejected Madonna” after it was moved several times during all the building and renovation. So you never know.

Here’s a PDF from the Knights of Columbus, who funded the restoration of various crypt chapels, including these two. There are nice photos of the two pictures.

Many fragments and reproductions of Old St. Peter’s stuff live in the crypts. On the right hand wall of the Rejected Madonna’s chapel is an old inscription from the “sacellum” or “oratory” of the saints, which was created by Pope St. Gregory III, and dedicated at the opening of an anti-iconoclast synod in Rome on November 1, 731. To make his point stronger, the pope changed the Roman date of All Saints’ Day from May 13th to November 1, thus creating Halloween.

So the first Halloween decoration ever is sitting under St. Peter’s, in the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata!! Being all holy and historical and stuff!*

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata. Includes some nice big pictures. The remains of Cardinal Peran are back in his country now.

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna delle Partorienti.

Today is Mary’s birthday (December 8, feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary). The eve of the feast was associated by St. Brigid of Sweden with a devotion to St. Anne and the Virgin Mary, praying for pregnant women by starting a simple novena of nine Hail Marys a day, or even nine Hail Marys per month of pregnancy (which she received in an vision from Mary). St. Anna Maria Emmerich received a similar vision, where Mary asked pregnant women to say nine Hail Marys at noon on September 8, and then to continue saying nine at noon for nine days.

(But any time during the day is fine – it’s noon somewhere. Noon was associated with saying the Angelus and hearing the Angelus bells ring, so Mary was trying to make it easy.)

*There are two known inscriptions. One is all about the guys who witnessed the synod and the pope being happy to praise the Lord (which is the one in the chapel), and the other is all “anathema” and “interdict” to violators of the synod’s teaching. Which would be Emperor Leo III.

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“The Emperor Constantine” by Dorothy L. Sayers

It turns out that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a _lot_ of cathedral and radio plays, but that only some of them were available in print in the US – until recently. Wipf and Stock put out a series of reprints earlier this decade. You can get them on paper for about $20, or as Google Play ebooks for about $5 less.

The Emperor Constantine is a pretty fun play that was written for the (Anglican) Colchester Cathedral folks. Using the old legend that Constantine was the grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of Colchester through his daughter Helena), Sayers created a hometown proprietary interest in Constantine and the exciting events of his reign, as well as his successes and failures at being a good emperor and a good Christian man.

One of the important features of the play is a “courtroom battle” at the Council of Nicaea, using what we know about the speeches given at the Council by Arius (in defense of his novel system of Arianism) and Athanasius (speaking for orthodoxy and his elderly bishop, Alexander).

Which brings us to the old Big Finish audio play, Doctor Who: The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox. Symcox is married to BBC writer Paul Cornell, and she’s also an Anglican curate. Supposedly she put a lot of study into this audio drama, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and/or outright lies.

The entire plot of her story is that Erimem, a pagan ancient Egyptian queen traveling with the Doctor, is determined to get Arius a chance to speak at the Council of Nicaea. (When actually, Arius was practically the first guy to speak! It was Athanasius who had to get special permission to speak for his bishop, because he was considered too young to formally participate in the Council.)

Arius was 60, and Athanasius wasn’t even 30 yet. Of course, the audio play portrays Arius as being younger than Athanasius, and Athanasius as being an old stick in the mud. It just boggles the mind. There’s also a lot of confusion of the way various eras of Egyptian monks acted. And so much stupid.

Symcox also insists through several characters that there is not much importance to the question of whether Jesus Christ was God Almighty from all eternity, or just a sort of hemi-demi-semi god. The whole Council of Nicaea is silly; everybody just wants to oppress free thought and Arius; and Christianity is mean to women. (Remember that she is an Anglican curate in the UK. She gets paid by her government to teach Christianity.) It’s slightly more subtle than that, but not much.

And yet, Symcox had a good feminist example before her, in the form of Sayers’ play. Sayers is a giant part of Anglican and English literary culture, as well as BBC history. I can’t imagine that Symcox was totally ignorant of Sayers’ play. If she was, why was she?

It’s amazing how many layers of goodness and fun, as well as deep thought and interesting characters, can be found in Sayers’ play — even though it’s just a minor work in her portfolio.

And it’s just as amazing how many layers of stupidity and malice can be found in stuff written by SJWs, purely for SJW reasons.

(And yet, believe it or not, they have a whole series of Erimem novels in the UK now, just as they have a whole series of novels about the execrable Bernice Summerfield. Blehhhhhhhh.)

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The Real Reason Halloween is on October 31

Muslims, of course. And iconoclast emperors.

Okay, let’s recap the status of All Saints’ feasts.

Back in the day, the celebration of all the martyrs not otherwise celebrated, or all the saints not otherwise celebrated, usually took place in the spring. In Edessa, it was on May 13, from AD 320 on. In Lebanon and Syria, you have celebrations in Lent, or on the first Thursday after Easter from 411 on, a celebration of all martyrs. In Antioch (from the days of Ss. Ephrem and John Chrysostom) and in Wurzburg, All Saints (ton Hagion Panton) was the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the West, it was on April 20.

When the Pantheon in Rome was turned into the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 609, the building was dedicated on May 13, and Rome began celebrating All Saints’ Day on May 13. There was some spread of the new date, but it was all voluntary changes. Rome did not push it on other areas. Ireland, for one, still celebrated on April 20. But it was a big feast, and Pope Sergius I wrote a long litany in Greek for it in AD 690.

And then, in 731 in Rome, the date changed again.

It was a sad time in Church history. Emperor Leo III, Leo the Isaurian, was a skilled general and governor from Syria, who had overthrown Theodosius III with the help of other military officials. His strong governance had brought peace to the Empire and driven back the Bulgars and Muslims. But he had also brought in forcible Baptism of Jews and Montanists, and then decided that he could smoothe things over with the Muslims by scrubbing Christianity of images and saints. He declared icons illegal in a series of laws that came out from 726-729. Much of the aristocracy supported him, but most theologians, monks, and normal laypeople hated it.

Over in the West, people just ignored Emperor Leo’s dumb edicts. In the East, people who defied the new laws got punished — or they got the heck out, moving to places like Rome with less economy and more freedom. Ironically, one of the strongest voices against Emperor Leo was St. John of Damascus — who lived in Damascus and other places in the Muslim caliphate, and thus could not get silenced by Emperor Leo.

Emperor Leo III also had a feud going with Pope Gregory II. In 722 (the year of the forcible baptisms), the Emperor demanded more tax money and tax food from Rome and the papal estates, because there were war expenses. But Rome was having trouble feeding its own people, and had no surplus money or food to send. The imperial governor got insistent, and the Roman populace threw the rascal out. (And the Pope didn’t object or anything.) Since imperial forces in Ravenna were busy holding off the Lombards/Longobards, and since Emperor Leo was too busy to send troops from elsewhere, the Romans got away with it.

In 725, Emperor Leo sent a new guy, Marinus, to be Dux of his Roman lands. Things might have smoothed over, but Marinus made a serious attempt to put a hit on the Pope. He got recalled, another guy was made Exarch of Ravenna, and the plot continued. It got discovered, the plotters talked, and nobody in Rome loved Constantinople.

Then the iconoclasm laws came along. The East says that Gregory II excommunicated the Emperor. The West says that he sent some strongly worded letters telling the Emperor to butt out of religious matters, and that iconoclasm was evil and stupid. Emperor Leo sent a new Exarch, who started a new plot to kill the Pope and the major notables of Rome. This plot got discovered, too. The Exarch then made a deal with the Lombards to attack Rome as a joint force, but the Pope managed to get the Lombards to change their minds. Gregory stayed openly courteous to Exarch Eutychius, and helped him fight off a non-religious revolt. Eutychius was grateful, and things were looking up. Then Gregory II died on February 11, 731. He was later declared a saint; his feastday is on February 13.

Since he was such a saintly guy and had led the fight against iconoclasm, a lot of people showed up for Gregory II’s funeral. One of them was a Syrian priest, Gregory son of John. He seems to have been something of a scholar and a holy type of guy, but he must have really made an impression.

Because on February 22, 731, this visitor to Rome got elected Pope. By acclamation of the people of Rome.

He was so flabbergasted that he followed an old custom, and asked permission from the Exarch of Ravenna. (Because he was from the East, where bishop was more of a government bureaucratic position.) It was granted, and he was consecrated bishop and Pope on March 18. (No telling what his old bishop thought about it.) He was the last pope until Pope Francis to have origins outside of Europe.

Pope Gregory III started things off with a bang, by sending nice letters to the exiled/deposed Patriarch of Constantinople, and nastygrams about iconoclasm to Emperor Leo III. The emperor put the pope’s messenger in prison.

Pope Gregory III doubled down. He put up a full ikonostasis at the base of the two-story main altar structure of the old St. Peter’s Basilica. He called a synod against iconoclasm and for devotion to Mary and the saints, to be held in November 731. And he also ordered a new oratory to be built in the main nave, all the way down front, and just to the left of the doors going to the main altar. The oratory featured two altars (one honoring Mary, the other St. Gabinius) with a big arch covering them, and a consolidation of saints’ bodies and relics, buried all around the floor and under the altars. And with images and statues, of course!

On November 1, 731, just before the start of the synod against iconoclasm, the new oratory was dedicated. Pope Gregory III announced that from now on, the feast of All Saints in Rome would be celebrated on November 1. (Which of course made the eve of the feast a time for fasting, prayer vigils, and whatever stuff you do to stay awake during fasting and prayer vigils.)

Emperor Leo III sent a fleet to punish Rome, but it was wrecked.

The new date of the feast was still promulgated by free choice; but a lot of kings and missionaries were interested in it because it was a blow against iconoclasm. (And overbearing Byzantine emperors.) Ireland doesn’t seem to have picked up the new date for a long time.

Pope Gregory III reigned until his death on November 28, 741. (He and Emperor Leo III died in the same year.) He was buried in his oratory of Mary and the saints. Unlike Leo, Pope Gregory III was later declared a saint, and his day is December 10.

So there’s no Celtic pagan holiday. The reason we have Halloween is an emperor who was soft on Muslims and hard on icons, and a Pope who fought back.

Everything else is just decorations and candy.

* Other achievements by Pope St. Gregory III — Appointed St. Boniface the archbishop of Germany, and a papal legate, in order to support missionary work among German pagans and lapsed Christians. Founded and perpetually funded a hospital for the poor, dedicated to the Eastern Ss. Sergius and Bacchus. Founded a monastery in Rome named St. Chrysogonus. Restored Rome’s walls. Built, restored, re-roofed, and decorated many churches in Rome. Put a lead roof back on the Pantheon. Helped recapture Ravenna from the Lombards.

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Ever-Everything….

After Christmas Eve Mass, when all the young kids and parents had gone home, and only middle-aged people and college students were left chatting in the vestibule, it emerged that one young woman had never learned what it meant that our Blessed Mother is called “Ever-Virgin.”

Kiddies, this is your cue to click somewhere else on the Internet….

Ever-Virgin (“Aeiparthenos” in Greek) is an ancient title, and it means what it says. The Church has always believed, and always taught, that Mary was a virgin, physically and every other way, throughout her pregnancy, childbirth, and entire life. As a special sign from God, her hymen remained physically intact at all times. Most virgins have their hymens wither away in middle age or break by accident, at some point, if they do not break it by sex. This did not apply to Mary’s physical integrity. Since she was resurrected and carried off to Heaven bodily, she is still a physical virgin up in Heaven; and she will remain a physical virgin forever.

This is not a sign that God is obsessed with virginity, or hates women having sex. Obviously not… God invented sexual reproduction, and created humans to reproduce that way. If he wanted us to be totally asexual, we’d be budding things off or splitting in two like amoebas.

Mary is ever-virgin for several reasons. First, as a sign that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the son of a human woman, not a normal human being born to two normal human beings. He is true God and true man, and Mary’s continued virginity shows this strange and wonderful situation.

Second, we are told that in Heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage. The same is true of eternal life after the general resurrection and Judgment. We will all be in a mystical union with God and each other, which will fulfill our emotional needs; and reproduction and sex will no longer be needed, because we will be immortal. Just as celibate priests and religious are supposed to live without sex as signs of this life to come, the same is true of Mary in her life.

There are other reasons and Biblical prophecies involved, but I won’t mention these right now. I’ll pass on towards what seems to be the crux of the problem with Mary, for a lot of modern women….

Mary is also the New Eve, the new mother of all the living, and the second person in the Bible with the honorable title “Woman.” She is not only an ever-virgin woman, but forever the “bride unwedded,” ever-Ark of the Covenant, ever-mother to Jesus and His mystical Body of believers. She has lived the life of a wife and a widow in a difficult time, and her hands were busy with weaving and work as the ever-Valiant Woman. But now she works in heaven as the ever-queen mother to the Son of David. All generations will call her blest.

But on the other side, remember that she was also the ever-insulted and ever-whispered about. Without having any of the fun, she must have suffered rumors and nastiness all her life. Even now, she gets to hear this crud; and it hurts and disappoints her, because she loves all of us. But she went through it all without sinning — somehow. With God’s help and grace.

Mary is the subject of some awfully strange ideas. Some people are threatened by the way God chose her to represent the troubles of all women: young and old, maidens and mommies, sinners and saints. We ladies have a tendency to try to keep up with the Mrs. Joneses, and we are unlikely to be able to keep up with Mary. She is the ultimate multitasker; and unlike Mary Poppins, she really is practically perfect in almost every way!

But everything Mary did, she did out of weakness and normalness. She was not a goddess. She was a human woman, although specially graced by not having to deal with original sin. But Eve had that. Mary only stayed sinless by trusting God, and asking Him for help when she was troubled. Since she was a human, that probably was all the time.

And yes, later on, God lived in her house and was her kid, but that would probably make it harder not to kick against God’s ways!

The other side is that other people think Mary was useless and not worth any notice, and should get no credit for anything she did. Clearly this is not so. Mary was not a doormat; she was a smart and independent woman. She thought and pondered; she made mistakes even without sinning. She was no puppet, or a mere container sitting on the shelf. When she thought she should do something, she moved fast.

So the moral of the story of Mary, especially for women, is that we need God every day, in every way, if we want to do all the things we need to do and be all the things we have to become.

But the other moral is that although we are weak and imperfect, God wants to give us graces and strengths. He wants to see us grow and become great ladies. He is on our side; and He will be our help always, if we let Him.

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Burying the Lead: Blessed Laura Vicuña

Laura Vicuña was a Peruvian-Argentinean girl who lived a saintly life and died in a heroically edifying way. The Salesian Brothers and Sisters in Argentina supported her cause for sainthood, and she was named a Venerable back in the early 1900’s, eventually being beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s.

Here’s the problem. Laura lived a difficult life because her desperately poor widowed mother became the live-in girlfriend of a ranch owner, who then started to go after Laura as she got older. (She died at the age of 13, though, and the guy had been going after her for over six years. So obviously he was a sick puppy, and it’s not clear if he went after her younger sister, Julia, also.)

The ranch owner was also a violent man, when he was drunk and when he wasn’t. He beat up the mother, and he beat up Laura when she refused him. Finally, Laura’s mom fled with her two kids to another town, but the abuser followed, demanding to rape Laura. Laura tried to draw him off or prevent her mom from letting him in, by leaving the place they were staying by another door. Instead she received a crazy beating from the man in the middle of the street, in the middle of town. He almost rode off with her unconscious body, but townspeople intervened before he could. He finished his work by throwing her down in the middle of the street. Laura recovered consciousness, but died of her injuries, after making her mom promise not to go back to him and then forgiving her killer.

All this was covered up in the normal outlines of her life. They said that she had tuberculosis (which she did), and that she had offered God her life to get her mom and sister out of the bad situation (which she did). But they said that it was the tuberculosis that killed her, as opposed to her internal bleeding and injuries. And they said that the bad situation was her mom living an immoral life, not the whole family being subject to a crazy abusive would-be rapist.

(It’s a little weird, because the normal story about St. Maria Goretti, from about the same time, is perfectly clear about the man having rape and murder as his intentions.)

A minor point is that the normal story still emphasizes that Laura was a friend to everybody in school, loved by the teachers, and a leader in sports. Apparently the real story is that Laura worked hard, was devout, helped everyone, was a favorite with the teachers for her good qualities — and was absolutely despised by every other girl in school, except for her one best friend. She was poor, she was stubborn, she had normal looks, and she was showing everybody else up.

Here’s another point. Laura’s mom, Mercedes Pino, was treated pretty poorly by life. Her husband Domenico Vicuña came from a rich family, while hers was poor or middle class. When they married against his family’s wishes and he was disowned by his family, her family also disowned her. She kept the family going for six years after her family died, living an honest life as a dressmaker and hatmaker. But in 1899, thieves broke into her store and cleared out the whole inventory, plus the store appliances. Seeking a new start, she took her girls into the frontier lands of Argentina, where there was supposed to be plenty of opportunity. She was willing to work hard as a maid and cook. So nobody knows why she agreed to become Manuel Mora’s mistress as well as his housekeeper.

Like Mercedes’ dead husband, Manuel Mora came from a good family. Unlike her husband, he had a long list of prior convictions, and wasn’t shy about shooting or stabbing people. Thanks to his family’s influence, he got a good grant of cattle land along the frontier. To give him credit, he was good at running estancias and raising cattle, and he dressed well. However, he was known to treat his hands like slaves, the local natives like worse than slaves, and was in the habit of whipping anyone who displeased him. He was then in need of a mistress, because he had branded his previous one like a cow and then driven her off the ranch.

Apparently he was very charming to Mercedes in the beginning, and implied that he was planning to marry her. But that was all just lies. He did initially pay the kids’ tuition for boarding school, but eventually he refused to pay more because he wanted easy access to Laura. (To their credit, the sisters then awarded Laura and Julia scholarships.)

One sad point is this: Laura didn’t understand what was going on with her mom and the abuser until she was ten, and one of the sisters taught about marriage as a Sacrament. The poor kid fainted dead away, right in the middle of class. (No doubt some of her classmates had been hinting stuff that she hadn’t understood.) It’s just as well, though, because the abuser made his first move on her after the end of that school year, in 1902.

That wasn’t the end of her troubles, either. She wanted to join an order, both for religious reasons and to get out of the bad home situation. (Which would also have lightened the financial load on her mom and sister, although obviously her sister would have been up next for unwanted attention from the abuser.) But she was refused admission to the order of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, not just because of her age (the standard outline’s explanation), but because her mother was living an irregular life, and they feared giving scandal. Yes, crappy things happen to the holy.

Piecing together her story from different English sources is not only difficult, but pretty horrifying. Obviously you can’t teach everything to kids, but come on, people!

Blessed Laura Vicuña has been named a patron saint of abuse victims.

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St. Eusebius of Emesa on Gospel Sources

St. Eusebius of Emesa was born about AD 300 and died around AD 360. He was a student of St. Eusebius of Caesarea, the church historian and Gospel commentary writer, but he also studied and taught in Antioch. His Homiliae in Evangelia was originally written in Greek, but we don’t have that original; we have the Latin. Some of his stuff also survives in Armenian. We have a few bits and pieces of him in Greek.

He seems to have been a very devout Christian, but his flock in Emesa (famed for its sun/mountain god, Heliogabalus, which was worshipped in the form of a black rock) distrusted his interest in astrology and threw him out of town for a while. He wrote many commentaries on Scripture, and was known to be pretty darned Trinitarian for a friend of so many Semi-Arians. An interesting character, all around.

Here’s a translation from the Latin version of Homiliae in Evangelia, “In Natale Domini, in Aurora” (Christmas at dawn):

And then it is added: “And Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

O most wise mother, and most worthy alone of such a son! She who “kept all these words… in her heart” for that reason, and “kept” them for us, and committed them to memory, so that they could be written down according to her instruction, her narration, and her recital; and could be published and preached throughout the whole world and in all the nations! For the Apostles heard these things from her, and they wrote down what she dictated, and it was committed to us to read.

Why, therefore, would one not believe the Gospels?

Who would presume to contradict them, when they are fortified by the authority of both mother and Son?

For the Apostles and the Evangelists heard certain things from the Lord’s mother, just as they have written these things and the rest, about the childhood of Our Savior. Indeed, they had gotten to learn many things from seeing and hearing the Lord Himself.

We should also take an example from the Lord’s mother, and we should faithfully keep the things they have reported about Our Savior in our hearts, and be careful to commit them to memory.

For it is written about those who hear “the word” of God and do not commit it to memory, that the devil “comes and takes away” the word that was sown in their hearts, lest they be saved. (Mt. 13:19)

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Lack of Belief in Infallible Scripture Implies a Fallible, Limited God

There are different ways to define the infallibility of Holy Scripture, and there are different ways of defining what the Bible contains.

But the basic idea is the same for both Jews and Christians; the Bible is important because it is God’s trustworthy revelation to us.

Given this premise, one would think that people would be a bit more careful about what they infer from the Bible, or how careless they are about ignoring it.

For example….

“The pericope of the adultress” is obviously a story about the Jesus we know and love. A lot of people think it’s obviously by Luke, and there is some verbal evidence of this. All the same, a lot of modern people are willing to ditch this famous bit because it’s not in Luke; and some even claim that it isn’t and never was inspired Scripture, even though it was used in the Church as a reading from earliest times.

Well, obviously if Jesus is God, and if God is omnipotent and omniscient, Jesus Christ is quite capable of looking out for His own reputation, and protecting His Bible from unwanted, un-inspired incursions.

And yet, there’s the adulteress’ story, large as life and twice as famous.

So either Jesus Christ is God, and approves, and inspired that part too… or Jesus Christ is not God, and it doesn’t really matter except to manuscript scholars.

And in fact, there is no indication in OT or NT that only the original author of a book is capable of being inspired, and that scribes and editors cannot be inspired. The Psalms had multiple authors, and they’re inspired.

So yes, it is annoying when a Bible translation takes it upon itself to remove verses. God is a big God, and He is quite capable of handling His own books. It’s even more annoying when Christians actually swallow this idiocy.

Another example is Margaret Barker’s work. Her idea is that real Judaism involved Yahweh and a female god (yeah, “El” is not a female name, but let’s pass that over), and that it was cruelly destroyed by King Josiah when he cleaned all the idol-crud out of the Temple. The Bible was then corrupted and changed to remove all evidence of this divine spouse thing, except for little bits that only Barker has been smart enough to uncover and understand. Also there was a Jewish version of the “trail of blood” connecting these female El-worshippers to early Christianity, and yet the only trace of them is the stuff in the NT about Mary and Holy Church.

Well, if that’s true, then who cares if the Bible was “corrupted”? Obviously this female El must be the worst god ever at protecting her reputation and her worshippers. She is a pathetic weakling, and the only prophet she has dug up in the last 3000 years is an English academic. Sad.

But there are two other possibilities. 1) She was always an imaginary being that got globbed into real Judaism, and she obviously didn’t belong in a true book about the relationship between Israel and the true, omnipotent, omniscient God. 2) She is an imaginary being invented by an English academic, and globbed onto real historical Middle Eastern paganism and syncretism.

The last explanation seems the most likely.

Obviously, the infallibility of the Bible isn’t something perceived as relevant by non-Christians, and it shouldn’t be dragged into academic discussions. But any Jewish or Christian believer should keep this in mind, as an easy crap detector.

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Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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Marian Shrines for Cyclists

Mary has a long relationship with athletes needing help, and many sports have favorite Marian shrines. Cyclists have Our Lady of Ghisallo, sometimes called Our Lady of the Bicycle, or Our Lady of Cyclists. It’s an old roadside shrine which stands along the route of the Giro di Lombardia. The small chapel was built by a medieval man who was saved from bandits by Mary’s protection.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s image is a painting of Mary, with Christ as a baby or toddler seated on her knee; He blesses the onlooker while she bends toward him, nursing him. But there’s a common variation on prayer cards where Mary is not nursing Him, but lifting toddler Jesus onto a bicycle seat! Medals of Our Lady of Ghisallo or the “Madonna del Ghisallo” are pretty common, too.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s patronage of cyclists was made official by Pope Pius XII in 1949. The relevant feasts are October 13 and November 2 (because a lot of people go there to pray for dead cyclists’ souls).

A post about the place with a nice picture, from a cycling blog. Did you know that Cadel Evans donated his Tour de France yellow jersey to the chapel? No, me neither.

Here’s a bigger article about the place, with some amazing pictures.

There’s also a Museum of Cycling on the grounds, basically to handle all the donations and ex votos that overflow from the chapel. Here’s a news story about it. And another.

Other bicycle shrines include Notre-Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide-d’Armagnac, in the Aquitaine in France; and Nuestra Señora de Dorleta in Leintz Gatzaga, Spain. (Also spelled Lentz and Leniz.)

Notre-Dame des Cyclistes is an old Templar chapel. Pretty cool. It was approved as the French national shrine for cyclists by Pope John XXIII, in 1959.

This blog article talks about Spanish cyclists’ devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption of Dorleta, as well as the shrine itself.

The post also includes a more generic Spanish devotional statue, Our Lady of Sports (Nuesta Señora de Deporte), aka the Virgin of Athletes (La Virgen de los Deportistas) which features Toddler Jesus standing on an Olympic podium, and Mary with a gold medal around her neck. I have to say, it makes me smile and cry.

“Do you not know that everyone runs in the race? Indeed, they all run, but one wins the prize. So run so that you can get it.

“And everyone who strives to win, stops doing anything else — and they do it for a crown that withers, but we for an incorruptible one!

“So I run, but not as one without a finish line, and I box, but not like one pounding the air. I drill my body, and bring it under control.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

“Forgetting what lies behind, and leaning forward toward what is before me, I head for the finish line, for the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

“And therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us, let us lay aside every burden and throw off every sin prone to entangle us; and with endurance, let us run the race set before us.” (Hebr. 12:1)

The post also includes a prayer to Our Lady of Sports. Here’s part of it:

“Our Lady and Mother,
we place in your hands all the efforts made by all the world’s athletes,
so that we can win a ‘crown that withers.’

May our physical efforts be a part of our search for higher virtues,
that forge character and give dignity and meaning to our lives.

As disciples of Our Teacher, Jesus Christ,
life itself is a competition,
and a striving for goodness and holiness.

Intercede before Him for all of us.
May all our work, sacrifice, and worry
culminate for us and for our families
in being filled to the brim with His love, His joy, and His peace.

Amen.”

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The Tour de France Visits Lourdes

As sometimes happens, the Tour de France started a Pyrenees stage in Lourdes yesterday.

Stage 19 is pretty late in the Tour, so plenty of athletes had already gotten bunged up. And so, it’s not surprising to learn that many athletes, staff, and fans sought help from God, visited the shrine, and drank the water, or applied it to their injuries; and even the less devout seem to have visited the Grotto for quiet reflection. Just for a morning moment, the Tour became a pilgrimage.

But did the sports media spend any time reporting this? Not much.

Here’s a site with some nice behind-the-scenes pictures of the pre-race shrine action. “Beardy” is a photographer specializing in cycling.

The race rider shown lighting candles is Andrea Pasqualon, from the team Wanty-Groupe Gobert. He’s Italian.

Marco Marcato of Italy, who rides for the UAE team, speaking to a nun, and bringing his bike along to the Grotto.

Here’s a video uploaded by the folks from the shrine! Nice view of the river behind the reporter. It shows a blessing of normal laypeople’s bicycles, among other matters of interest. It’s a behind-the-scenes view of mixing logistics, crowd control, and a holy shrine.

The most famous connection between Lourdes and cycling came back when Gino Bartali, a pugnacious but pious bike racer from Italy, brought flowers to the Grotto. He was a Third Order Carmelite who was buried in the habit; and he rode races with a dozen medals on his bike, while dedicating all his wins to St. Therese. There were even rumors that a little girl had once seen an angel giving his bike a push!

Mussolini hated him for refusing to go along with Fascism. He helped a family of Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in his own apartment for years! He also served as a courier for the Florence part of the Catholic network for hiding Jews, delivering forged documents all around the countryside while riding his bike. (The excuse was that he was training! Perfectly normal! The documents were hidden inside his bike frame.) After the war, he refused to talk about his heroic work. But it was remembered; and Yad Vashem now names him as one of the Righteous among the Nations.

So when Gino Bartali pedaled toward Lourdes in Stage 8 of the Tour de France back in 1948, it’s not surprising that his devotion led him to win the stage and then visit the Grotto in thanks. He prayed for safety, not victory; and although he did win several stages (including ones run through rainstorms and snowstorms!), he didn’t win the Tour. Still pretty good for an “old man,” who’d spent the best years of his career racing death instead of other bikes.

May light eternal shine upon him!

So yep, Lourdes and the Tour de France are old friends, even if the media may not be.

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“Because of the Angels”

I have been learning Ancient Greek by way of Professor Mueller’s Greek 101 on The Great Courses, so of course I am rummaging around in Greek texts of the Bible. I was also looking at an interesting 1994 article by Fr. Thompson about St. Hildegarde of Bingen’s ideas about sex and the priesthood.

He notes St. Hildegarde’s “misquote,” or rather, her deliberately partial quote, of 1 Corinthians 11:9. Rather than St. Paul’s “….the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man,” she quotes it as “The man was… created for the sake of the woman, and the woman for the sake of the man.” This is a pretty common thing for medieval authors to do. They know the quote, and they know that the reader knows the quote. But they like to show that an opposite version of the quote is also true!

So anyway, this led me to look at 1 Corinthians 11 with fresh eyes.

Okay, so the rule that St. Paul is teaching is that is that Christian men at Mass (unlike Jewish men at synagogues or the Temple, or so one is told — but see below) do not cover their heads at prayer, because Christ (Who is God) did not cover His head at prayer. But Christian women (like Jewish men and women) do cover their heads at prayer.

St. Paul was Jewish first. What did he learn about the creation of woman?

Woman was created to be the man’s ‘ezer, his helper and rescuer, much as the Lord is the helper of Israel.

Similarly, God has a glory around Him (shekinah in Hebrew, doxa in Greek). Sometimes the glory is displayed, but mostly it was concealed from the people, inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies. The glory concealed God, but also revealed His Presence.

So when Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her glory and given to her as a covering, he’s comparing women and hair to God and His glory cloud.

So yeah, not exactly a disrespectful attitude.

Finally, the whole situation with wearing a covering or not is referred to as being “because of the angels.” But earlier, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul asked the Corinthians, if they didn’t already know that Christians were going to be judging angels? So obviously, it doesn’t have anything to do with angels being the boss of Christian women…

So what is really going on?

1 Corinthians is a letter with a lot of stuff about discipline and manners. But it is couched in a context of eternal dignity for all Christians. So the whole letter is addressed to the Corinthians in the Church. Paul says they have been sanctified (hegiasmenois) and called to be holy/saints (kletois hagiois). He says they have been enriched by all the Word and by all knowledge (en panti logou, kai en pase gnosei), and that in their community, they do not lack even one spiritual gift.

But all the same, stuff is going wrong? Why?

St. Paul blames a lack of love among the members of the Church. Then he goes through all the bad stuff they’ve been doing, from lawsuits among themselves and sexual sins, all the way down to a general lack of orderliness. He answers some questions, in case they just haven’t been putting the pieces together; then he wades back into the disorder problems.

And that’s where we find the hairy comments about heads and hair.

First off, Paul points out that all the spiritual gifts and knowledge only belong to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus —

“Who for us has become wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

Now the interesting bit is that the same Greek word for “became” shows up in the Septuagint/Gospel version of one of the famous quotes about Jesus — the lyrical bit from Psalms, about how the stone which the builders rejected has become (egenesthe) the head (kephalen) of the corner. So St. Paul is thinking about Christ as our head, from the very beginning of the letter.

(There may also be a horrible continuing pun about Greek Kephas from Aramaic Kepha, Peter the rock, versus Greek kephalos, head.)

Obviously St. Paul has a thing about Christ and Temple theology, so it’s not surprising that it shows up again in 1 Cor. 3:9-17.

“For we are God’s coworkers. Y’all are God’s field –

“Y’all are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation. And another is building upon it; but each one must be careful how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there — namely, Jesus Christ…

“Do y’all not know that y’all are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all?

“If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For the Temple of God, which y’all are, is holy.”

He goes on to point out even more about Christian dignity as baptized children and members of God Himself:

“So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to y’all: whether Paul or Apollo or Kephas, the world or life or death, or the present or the future. They all belong to y’all; and y’all belong to Christ, and Christ to God.

“So let a human being count us as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Cor. 3:22-23, 1 Cor. 4:1)

Paul goes on to point out that he’s trying to act like a trustworthy steward, and that God is the only real judge of his work; even Paul can’t judge himself on that point. Then he points out that if he and Apollos are nervous about God’s judgment, it’s a bit much for the Corinthians to be so confident that they’re heading for heaven. And it is at this point that the angels show up for the first time in the letter.

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death. For we have become a spectacle [theatron egenethemen] to the world [tou kosmou], both to angels and to humans [kai angelois kai anthropois].” (1 Cor. 4:9)

I really like the way this is put. Christ has become the head of the corner, and Christian apostles have become a gladiator theater show!

Paul then talks about all the trouble and disrespect that the apostles face in their mission. He describes them as being treated like gunk scraped off a plate (peripsema) and like throwaway scum (perikatharma). He compares himself and other apostles to the prosperous and popular Corinthian Christians, and urges the Corinthians to imitate his own hardy attitude and loving behavior.

He points out that he is not just sending Timothy to be a reminder of the teachings, but that he will be coming himself. Anybody who is a big talker will then have to prove that he has as much of God’s power as Paul can wield. Do they want a loving Paul, or a punishing smitey Paul?

This brings him to the next topic: a supposedly Christian man who is sleeping with his own stepmother. Ew! Even the pagans don’t do that! Maybe only God can judge someone’s stewardship… but in this case, Christians not only can judge, but must judge their own.

“The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. Although absent in body but present in spirit, I for my part have already pronounced judgment, as if present, on the one who has committed this deed… Is it not your business to judge insiders?… Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Cor. 5:2-3, 12)

After this comes all the talk about lawsuits. Disputes should be settled within the Church, if at all possible; and it should be possible.

“How can anyone among y’all, with a case against another, dare to bring it for judgment to the unjust, instead of to the saints?

“Do y’all not know that the saints [hoi hagioi] will judge the world [ton kosmon]? If the world is going to be judged by y’all, how are y’all unqualified for the most minor cases?

“Do y’all not know that we will judge angels? Then how much more, the things of this life?” (1 Cor. 6:1-3)

Angels as underlings again.

Anyway, St. Paul advises two things — that people put up with injustice rather than drag things outside the Church, but also that the Church get its act together and quit letting the members do bad things. People were supposed to change their ways after being baptized and becoming part of Christ. Just as people sleeping with prostitutes make themselves one with the prostitute, Christians shouldn’t be trying to drag Christ’s Body into their own sins. The body of a Christian is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul moves along to talk about marriage. Of course, for those who can handle it (like Paul) —

“It is a beautiful thing for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1)

[In Greek, “kalos” means good, beautiful, noble, clean, etc.]

But otherwise, marriage is a good thing.

And this is where it gets interesting!

“But on account of immoral sexual behavior,” [dia de tas porneias] “each man may have his own wife, and each woman may have her own husband. Let the husband do his duty to the wife, and the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority [exousiazei] over her own body [tou idiou somatos]; but rather, the husband does. Yet neither does the husband have authority over his body; but rather, the wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:2-4)

O ho ho! Shades of Yentl! And yup, the phrase is put exactly the same way for either husband or wife. (Everybody tells me that Paul is soooooo sexist.)

Paul goes on:

“Do not deprive one another — unless perhaps by mutual consent, so that y’all might be at leisure for prayer for a time. But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.

“However, I say this as a concession, not as a command. For I wish all human beings could be as I am.

“But each person has his own gift from God — one this, another that.

“And so I say to the unmarried people and to the widows, that it is beautiful for them to remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:5-9)

And now it gets interesting again.

“But to those who have married, I send this message [parangellou] — I, not the Lord.

“A wife is not to be separated from a husband.

“But if she has been separated from him, let her remain unmarried, or let her be reconciled with her husband.

“And let a husband not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor.

Paul then says that if a Christian has an unbelieving spouse who wants to stay married, they should stay married; the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified in his union with the believer, and their children will be holy/saints/members of the Church. If the unbeliever doesn’t want to be married, the believer can let them go. In general, everybody should live as they already do (barring sin).

“Concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord. But I give my personal advice from experience, as one who is trustworthy from having received the Lord’s mercy.” (1 Cor. 7:25)

Again, his advice is to stay as you are; but if a person wants to marry, that’s fine too. This will cause some suffering in the present life.

But ideally, all Christians should live as if the world were about to end, because it is an ephemeral place and Christians are immortal. Christians should set aside anxiety and live for God.

This leads to a discussion of eating food offered to idols. Basically, it’s a bad idea because it gives the wrong idea, and thus leads people astray. Paul talks about how he doesn’t use all his rights as an apostle; other Christians should be thinking of helping others, too. He advises everyone to “run so as to win,” exercising and training themselves with discipline in every possible way. Do not be overconfident in Christ’s mercy. Avoid idolatry and think of the good of others around you.

Again he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. In fact, he tells them to be “mimetai,” mime actors! (“Hypocritai” are the talking actors with masks or makeup.) In Greek society, the students of a philosopher or trademaster were expected to try to imitate him in every way; so were the students of a rabbi in Jewish society.

So finally we get to the stuff about headcovering.

As St. Paul says in a paraphrase of Genesis 2, the woman was literally created out of the man, not the man out of the woman. So man is literally the head of humanity and woman is literally the human rib; whereas the head man of all men is Christ, the new Adam; and Christ’s head is God. This much is clear reasoning.

The tricky bit is that, since Christian men are the image and glory of God, their heads should be exposed; but that since Christian women are Christian men’s doxa or shekinah, their heads should be hidden. Possibly this is talking about how humans are fallible and should be modest before God. In this idea, God’s glory should be exposed and revealed to the world, and should not be covered before God because it is of God. Probably I am missing something Jewish about this.

OTOH, Paul then says that the woman ought to have “authority” (exousian) “on the head” (epi tes kephales). I am not clear why the obvious meaning (going by the earlier passage in 1 Corinthians) is not taken — that the wife does still have authority over the body of her husband, even though he is her head. Possibly this is because it’s a feminine “kephales.”

But in that case, wouldn’t it be saying that the woman has authority over her own head, even if she should be wearing a headcovering and isn’t? Wouldn’t that fit Paul’s argument style better? (And indeed, this is one interpretation — they have more authority than non-Christian women, and need to exercise it so they’ll be ready for judging the world.)

The stumbling block seems to be Paul’s interjection, “because of the angels/messengers” [dia tous angelous]

Traditionally the saying is associated with the idea that bad angels liked the looks of the daughters of men, including their hair. But that doesn’t seem to have been a factor in the Adam and Eve story, in early Jewish tradition. If anything, Eve was a figure of authority in Eden, and Satan resented the fact that such a newbie, made out of meat instead of spirit, was being given such power by God.

All the angels (or messengers) mentioned in 1 Corinthians, up to this point, are good angels. So what is the deal? Is “authority on the head” a symbol of Christian humans being able to judge angels? A sign of dignity, scholarship, and power, or a sign of awe before the Lord?

(long aside follows)

Before the Diaspora, it was not required that Jewish men ever cover their heads, although it was considered pious to do so during prayer, at synagogues, or in the Temple. Temple Judaism did tend to regard covering the head or face as an expression of awe before God or of penance. OTOH, grief or reckless behavior could require one to bare the head and expose the hair. Headcoverings for male scholars were a sign of dignity and learning. Covering the heads of boys was thought to make them more serious. But it may in fact have become customary for Jewish men to cover their heads always, and particularly at prayer, as a contradiction of Christian custom.

As with most of the ancient world, Temple Judaism only wanted married women to cover their heads outside the home, basically as a sign that they were taken. It was only gradually that unmarried Jewish women began to cover their hair; it would not have been the custom in the time of Jesus or Paul. Pagan Greek and Roman married women covered their hair.

After the loss of the Temple, custom got meaner; it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife if her hair was ever seen outside, and showing female hair was said to be the same as showing female genitalia. Similarly, the idea that married Jewish women should shave their heads and keep their hair covered forever, even from their husbands inside their bedrooms, was a late medieval or early modern idea, apparently born of an excessive sense of “keeping a fence around the Law.”

Obviously none of this, er, devotional creativity (ahem) has anything to do with Christian women or the strictures of St. Paul. Similarly, Christian women should dismiss the moral reasoning behind Muslim headcoverings. We should not be anywhere on the same page with the heretical Quran. (And yes, I shouldn’t have to say something as obvious as that.)

(long aside ends)

Amusingly, there is at least one Christian group today that believes that only women wearing headcoverings have the authority to exorcise demons. Others associate it with angels covering their faces before God. (Actually, I only know about angels throwing themselves down before God, and seraphim covering up God from human sight.)

Anyway, Paul quickly moves on from the headcovering issue, unlike the rest of us!

“However, in the Lord, woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman. For just as the the woman came out of the man, so the man exists because of the woman. But everything comes from God.

“Judge for yourselves whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God while unveiled.” (1 Cor. 11:11-13)

Then the next knotty problem: long-haired men in the congregation.

“But on the other hand, doesn’t Nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor [atimia] to him?” (1 Cor. 11:14)

Men or boys having long hair was a sign of effeminate sexiness among the pagan men who liked catamites. Some Jewish men grew their hair long, which was… um… misunderstood.

In ancient ancient Athens, atimia was a legal term for losing the powers of citizenship. You weren’t exiled, but you couldn’t vote or act as a juror, and you couldn’t defend yourself by suing anyone else. So having atimia growing on your head is pretty much the opposite of having exousian over your head.

This is the point of the argument where Paul says that long hair is the shekinah glory (“doxa“) of women.

“However, if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for long hair was given to her instead of a warm cloak.” (1 Cor. 11:15)

Presumably “was given” is a reference to Eve in Eden. A peribolaion was often a man’s traveling cloak. Some suggest that it is referring here to chest hair, heh… Probably not, but it’s a fun idea.

Paul ends his comments with:

“So if anyone is inclined to be argumentative — we have no other practice, and neither do any of God’s churches.” (1 Cor. 11:16)

This got a lot longer than I planned on! Let me know if you actually read this wall of text!

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“De Inhonesto Feminarum Vestiendi More”

A lot is said about supposed Vatican or papal documents on feminine modesty in dress. But the Internet is not exactly great on providing exact information. So here I present a literal (but unofficial) translation of an actual Vatican document.

(The bad news is that the OCR is terrible, and the book is not in public domain in the US. I will try to find an original volume or some microfilm, if I can remember to do it.)

You can find the Latin document in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22 (1930), on pages 26-28.

Here is that volume on vatican.va.

Here is that volume on Documenta Catholica.

Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries:
“De inhonesto feminarum vestiendi more”

(aka “On a degrading custom of female dress”)

Issued by: The Congregation of the Council (Sacra Congregatio Concilii — now subsumed into the Congregation of the Clergy)

Unofficial translation: Maureen S. O’Brien

——————————-

Our Most Holy Lord Pope, Pius XI, with the force of his supreme apostolate, which is performed within the whole Church, never ceased to teach what St. Paul did — that is, “The women in decorative* apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety… and with good works, as is right for women professing piety.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

And numerous times as occasion was given, the same Supreme Pontifex expressed disapproval sharply, and condemned a degrading custom of dressing among both Catholic women and girls, introduced today here and there, which not only offends gravely against feminine splendor and ornament, but even more is also the true ruin of these women in the temporal world — and what is worse, throws others into the most miserable everlasting ruin.

Therefore, it is nothing strange if bishops, and others in the office of Ordinary, have also opposed this kind of crooked license, and every kind of forwardness, in their own dioceses and with one voice — enduring, with a strong and patient soul, no few mockeries and scorn for this reason, brought upon them by people of bad will.

And so, let this Sacred Council describe the vigilance and merited action of this kind of Sacred Prelate with approval and praise, to the clergy and people of approved discipline. Then may it encourage them vehemently, so that they may persevere what they have undertaken, with advice and a suitable beginning. And let them urge eagerly for the sake of men, until this deadly plague may be rooted out from the honest association of humans.

So that it may be put into effect more easily and safely, this Sacred Congregation has decided to establish what follows:

I. As occasion is given, let parish priests and preachers particularly “insist… reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2) about how women wear clothes, so that they may understand modesty, that they may be the ornament and guard of virtue; and let them warn parents not to allow their daughters to wear disgraceful clothes.

II. Mindful of that most grave obligation which they hold, to care for the morals of their offspring and for their first religious education, let parents show particular diligence so that their daughters may be set up solidly in Christian teaching, from their first years; and let them eagerly kindle the love of the virtue of modesty and chastity in their souls, by word and example. Let them be busy with imitating the Holy Family’s example in their own families, in order to set up and govern their families in that way. And so let each family have a cause and an invitation for loving and serving modesty behind its domestic walls.

III. Let parents keep their daughters away from public drills and assemblies of exercise [in immodest clothes]. If their daughters should be forced to take part, let them take care that their clothing shows that they have dignity. Never allow them to wear degrading clothing.

IV. Let principals of colleges and schoolteachers strive to embue the souls of girls with a love of modesty, so that they may be efficaciously influenced to dress worthily.

V. Let these principals and schoolteachers not admit girls that wear clothes that are less than worthy, into colleges or schools; and let those who have been admitted be sent back to their mothers, unless they stop and become reasonable.

VI. Let religious women** not admit girls, nor tolerate those already admitted, who will not keep a Christian custom of dress, in their colleges, schools, oratories, or recreation facilities, according to the letters from August 23, 1928 sent by the Sacred Congregation of Religious. Indeed, let them show particular care in educating female students, so that the love of holy bashfulness and Christian modesty may drive deep roots into their souls.

VII. Let pious women institute and encourage associations of women, which by advice, example and goal of work may decide ahead of time to restrain abuses in the wearing of clothes, by the Christian modesty which disagrees with it; and to promote purity of customs and worthiness of dress.

VIII. Let no one who wears degrading clothing be admitted into pious associations of women. Indeed, if an admitted woman should go wrong in such things afterward, and she will not act reasonably after being warned, let her be expelled.

IX. Let girls and women who wear degrading clothing stay away from Holy Communion, and from the office of godmother for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. And if the case warrants it, let them be prohibited from entrance into their churches.

X. When festivals occur throughout the year, let parish priests and sacerdotes, as well as heads of pious Unions and Catholic guilds, take the particular opportunity to teach Christian modesty to women, especially on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Do not let the opportunity pass to call them back and excite them for dressing according to Christian custom. And on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin, let them complete the particular prayers in every cathedral and parish of the Church, whatever the year; where one can do so, let it be considered an opportunity for encouragement, during solemn sermons for the people.

XI. Let the diocesan council act with vigilance upon what was given in the declaration of the Holy Office on March 30, 1928, advising women efficaciously on better means and reasons for modesty, at least once a year, by declaration.

XII. Indeed, so that this healthy action may advance more efficaciously and safely, it is preferred that bishops and others in the office of Ordinary, also in the third year, alone and with relation to religious institutions, should observe the norms of that instruction given in the Letter “Orbem Catholicum” from June 29, 1923, also upon the condition and status of things concerning the custom and works of women’s dress.

Given at Rome, from the chair of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, on January 12, on the Feast of the Holy Family, in the year 1930.

Donato Cardinal Sbaretti Tazza, Bishop of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, Prefect.

Giulio Serafini, Bishop of Lampsacus, Secretary.

* Greek: kosmein – “decorated”, with connotations of “orderly, decorous.”
Latin: ornato – “decorated, ornate.”

** religious women = nuns and sisters.

Stuff to notice:

1. Nothing is said about the particular fashions being condemned.

2. No particular hemlines, necklines, or other measurements are mentioned.

3. Totally okay with Italian churches making you wear more clothes, if you want to see the indoors.

4. That said, it’s also totally okay for laywomen to start clubs and apostolates about their concerns.

Other stuff to notice:

This site has a totally different wording for this decree. Their Latin decree appears to be on a similar topic but written in 1954, from the same Congregation but with different folks in charge. Obviously I need to check the 1954 volume of Acta.

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Sacred Art Worships God

Here’s a nice story for the Christmas season: “The Song of the Minster,” by William Canton.

As the story says, the arts and crafts can be true worship of God. When humans collaborate with living animals or plants, we tame them and make them more themselves, rather than less. But when artists collaborate with the Lord’s inanimate creatures, it allows those creatures to become more themselves, as well.

Turning our back on art, or making things in the service of God deliberately ugly, is a sort of cruelty to the creatures.

This is from an old chapter book with marvelous pictures, and it has been reprinted by St. Augustine Press. It’s too late to order for Christmas; but you can always get something in the New Year!

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