Category Archives: Translations

“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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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Aelfric of Eynsham

In Aelfric of Eynsham’s homily, “On the Greater Litany” (“In Letania Maiore”), he also draws from St. Augustine’s egg material when quoting Lk. 11:12.

“God is our Father through his mildheartedness [ie, mercy]. And the fish betokens faith, and the egg, holy hope; and the loaf, true love.

“God gives these three things to His chosen, for no man can have God’s kingdom unless he has these three things. He must believe rightly, and have hope in God, and have true love for God and men, if he would come to God’s kingdom.

“…The egg betokens hope. For the birds do not propagate like other animals, but first give birth to an egg; and then, with hope, the mother raises that egg to be a bird. In like manner, our hope does not yet come to what it hopes for, but is like an egg. When it gets what it has been promised, it will be a bird.”

This translation is adapted from The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Vol. 1: The Sermones Catholici, or Homilies of Aelfric, by Benjamin Thorpe.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Even More St. Augustine

In Sermon 105, c. 4-10, St. Augustine elaborates further on the symbolic meaning of the “three opposing” choices of gift in this passage, and he gives the egg a little more credit. Here’s the egg parts from chapters 5-10:

“What’s left is hope — which, it seems to me, is compared to an egg. For hope is for a thing that has not yet arrived; and an egg is something, but it’s not a hen yet.

“And so quadrupeds give birth to children, but birds to a hope of children.

“Therefore, it is for this that hope cheers us on: that we may despise present things and hope for what is to come, forgetting what is behind us, when we are reaching forward along with the Apostle [Paul]. For he says it this way: ‘But one thing I do: I forget what is behind in stretching forward to what is ahead, leaning toward the finish line, to win the palm leaves of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.’

“Nothing is such an enemy of hope as considering what is behind us — that is, to put hope in those things which cross our path and slip past us….

“Be afraid of the example of Lot’s wife. For she looked behind her, and she stayed where she looked. She was turned into salt; she was pickled in brine as an example for the prudent.

“The Apostle Paul has spoken about this hope, like this: ‘For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For why does a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for that which we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’

“‘For why does a man hope for what he sees?’

“There is an egg. It is an egg, and it is not a hen yet.

“And there is a turtleshell. The turtle is not seen, because it is covered by the shell. With patience, it can be awaited. Let it warm up, and it will come back to life.

“Work toward this finish line: to lean forward, to forget the past. For the things which are seen are temporal things.”

“‘Not looking back,” he says, ‘at what is seen, but considering what is not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal things, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Cor. 4:18)

“Therefore, reach out your hope to those things which are not seen. Wait for them! Hold on! Don’t look back!

“Fear the scorpion coming for your egg! See how it strikes with its tail, which it holds behind it.

“Therefore, don’t let the scorpion kill your egg! Don’t let this world kill your hope, I tell you, with the poison that’s behind it, which goes against you!

“How much the world says to you! How much ruckus it makes behind your back! It’s all so you will look back — that is, put your hope in things of the present. But not really of the present — they can’t be said to be things of the present, because they don’t stay that long.

“And it’s so that you will move your hope away from what Christ promised and has not yet given you, but which He will give because He is faithful. It’s so that you will turn your soul away, and wish to quit, still in this dying world.

“…If I have hope, if I hold onto hope, my egg will not be struck by the scorpion.”

“…All those who blaspheme against our Christ because of these adversities — they are the tail of the scorpion.

“Let us put our egg under the wings of this Gospel hen who clucks, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’ to those false and wandering ones. ‘How often would I have gathered together your children, as the hen gathers her chicks? But you would not.’

“It is not said to us: ‘How often would I’ and ‘You would not.’

“For this Hen is the Divine Wisdom. But He assumes flesh so that He may fit with His chicks.

“Look at the other hen – the one of molting plumage shaking her wings, with a voice broken and quavering and weary, and sluggish to gather her little ones.

“Therefore, let us put our egg — that is, our hope — under the wings of this Hen over here.

“Perhaps you notice how a hen can peck up a scorpion. So therefore, would that this Hen would also peck up and devour these blasphemers, creeping out of their caves and crawling across the earth, and stinging us with evil! Let the Hen drag them into her Body and turn them into eggs!

“…Let them stop blaspheming. Let them learn to adore. Let the stinging scorpions be eaten by the Hen, and be converted by being drawn into the Body! Let them be trained on earth, and crowned in Heaven.”

This is actually topical, as one of the old games with Easter eggs was to knock your egg against that of a neighbor at table, and see which egg was the strongest.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: More St. Augustine

In Sermon 61, St. Augustine references Luke 11:12 and other passages to show that, even when we are wicked, the Father still loves us and is good to us.

Sermon 61, 1-2:

“A wonderful thing, brothers! We may be evil, but we have a good Father.

“…Therefore, brothers, since we evil ones have a good father, let us not remain evil forever.

“Nobody evil does good. If nobody evil does good, how can an evil person do good to himself?

“The One Who is always good makes good out of evil… We know He gives His children good things ‘according to the time’ (Rom. 9:9): good temporal things, good bodily things, good carnal things, even when we may be evil.

“And what are these good things, if you doubt them?

“Fish. Eggs. Bread. Fruit. Grain. This light, this air. These things which we observe — they are good.

“Men are celebrated for such riches, and they do not recognize other men as their equals in such things — in things, I say, for which men are celebrated — loving flashy clothing, rather than considering the same skin that’s underneath.

“These riches are good things, all the same. But all these good things which I have mentioned, they can be owned by either good people or evil.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Tertullian

Tertullian also references Luke 11:12 in his book Against Marcion, lib. IV, c. 26. (Adapted by me from Peter Holmes’ 1870 translation.)

“Even if he has offended, man is more friends with the Creator than with Marcion’s [demiurge] god. Therefore he knocks at the door of Him to whom he has the right to come — the One Whose gate he could find, Whom he knew owned bread, Who will be home in bed with the children Whom He had willed to be born. Even if the knock comes late, Time belongs to the Creator.

“…So recognize Him Whom you call the Creator as Father, too. It is He Who knows what His children need. For when they asked for bread, He gave them manna from heaven… not a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg.

“…Marcion’s god, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a scorpion to give away, so he couldn’t deny what he didn’t own. Only God could do it — He who holds, but does not give out, the scorpion.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: The Venerable Bede

I think I will look around and find some egg quotes in the Fathers. Here is one.

From St. Bede’s commentary on Luke (Lk. 11:12):

“‘Aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget illi scorpionem?’

“In ovo, indicatur spes. Ovum enim nondum est foetus perfectus, sed fovendo speratur.”

“‘And if [a man’s son] should ask for an egg, will [his father] hand him a scorpion?'”

“Hope is shown in an egg. For an egg is not yet a complete offspring, but it is hoped for and kept warm.”

Bede seems to have gotten this from St. Augustine’s Letter 130 to St. Proba, “a religious handmaiden of God.” She was a nun who wrote letters full of questions, to folks like St. Jerome and St. Augustine. This letter was one of the many answer- slash- treatises she got from these guys.

“‘Aut si ovum petit, numquid porrigit ei scorpium?’ …

“Spes in ovo, quia vita pulli nondum est, sed futura est, nec iam videtur, sed adhuc speratur. Spes enim quae videtur, non est spes.”

“‘But if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?’…

“Hope [is signified] in the egg, because the life of a hen is not yet there, but it is coming; nor can it now be seen, but it is still hoped for. For ‘hope which can be seen is not hope.’ (Rom. 8:24)

Augustine and Bede both compare the fish, egg, and bread to faith, hope, and charity; whereas the snake, scorpion, and stone represent the devil making unbelievers in God, worldliness making unbelievers in eternal life, and the hardheartedness making people who have no charity.

You’ll also notice that St. Augustine is using a cool (but more inaccurate) Old Latin translation of the Bible, because the Vulgate hadn’t been finished yet. And both versions of the Bible use “numquid,” a question word indicating that the answer is “No.”

St. Augustine is going by the state of the art, when it comes to Greco-Roman natural philosophy. But St. Bede seems to indicate more clearly that an egg is alive — just not ready to go.

I suspect that monastic life in England included more contact with chicken coops than the life of a minor North African Roman aristocrat, or a bishop in Hippo.

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Partial Translation of St. Albert’s 32 Sermons

It turns out that there is a partial translation available of a partial version of St. Albert’s 32 Sermons.

But there’s a reason I’d never seen it before!

First of all, the gentleman who translated it, Fr. Rawes, was really not interested in doing a full translation, but rather was writing up a meditation book for the priests of his new confraternity (that’s like a club for praying together), the Society of Servants of the Holy Ghost.

So he translates the major headings, but then goes off in his own direction. Also, many of the major headings are altered somewhat to sound more modern (which is to say, Victorian), and there is no clear line drawn between his own work and that of the original author. His preface says he didn’t see this as being a problem, as the treatise was readily available and priests all could read Latin easily, right?

Second, he was translating the version attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas as a treatise, which leaves out a bit of stuff; and he really did think he was doing an Aquinas work.

The book has been available on archive.org since 2008, and has been reprinted by Aeterna Press. Apparently they also have no suspicion that it’s a St. Albert the Great-related book instead of a St. Thomas Aquinas-related book.

So anyway, here is a link:

The Bread of Life: or, St. Thomas Aquinas on the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.

Arranged as Meditations, with Prayers and Thanksgivings for Holy Communion,

By Father Rawes, D.D.

London: Burns and Oates, 1879.

So now what?

Well, I intend to finish the translation, because it should be done fully, authentically, contemporaneously, and under the correct title and author!

Also, Fr. Rawes was not providing references other than the Scriptural kind. The Latin editions do include references to patristic and ecclesiastical writers, but sometimes they are incorrect or outdated. Also, sometimes they have missed something entirely. (Like the reference to Valerius Maximus that I located this morning!)

Still, Rawes’ meditations are undoubtedly cool. The original is a deeply prayerful book, and includes a lot of examples and neat thoughts that don’t appear in the Aquinas-attributed version. So it’s not surprising that Rawes would want to “fill in” what was left hanging. It makes me happy to think that I’m not the only fan of the book, but it makes me sad to think that he never read the real one. (At least up to the point of publication in 1879.) I have discovered a colleague!

Here’s the Catholic Encyclopedia on Fr. Henry Augustus Rawes, DD, STD. He was an Anglican convert who spent all his fortune on his parish. He was a member of the English Congregation of Oblates of St. Charles. Besides the Society of Servants of the Holy Ghost, he also founded a confraternity for devotees of St. John the Evangelist. He wrote a tonload of books and hymns, and he passed away in 1885 in great holiness.

Fr. Rawes, pray for us!

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The Last Bit of Sisibut’s “On Eclipses”

Didn’t post it yesterday because my Internet connection was not working.

But because you figure out wonderful things —

Why, when the greatest power of the Sun
is reputed to be twice-nine times greater
than that of the terrestrial orb,
does he not overwhelm the terrestrial cones
with light?

Take up the reckoning work of reason.

On the other hand, gaze upon Phoebus
who travels through the sublime vaults of the world
and may illuminate every lowly land
from his high passages.

This is remarkable however one may touch on it:
in that whether he should have strewn his fires
or have beamed them on a slanting axis,
they are crushed at the Earth’s radius.

The rest of the lights of the Sun,
by which radiant darts he becomes more visible,
spread through the vast voids
unhindered by the [Earth’s] globe
as long as the pyramid’s peak may complete
its residing shadow.

By which neighbors’ shadows,
when damp Phoebe drives her icy yoked team
deepest through them, sometimes
she is discolored.
She misses her absent brother,
and lacks her bloodless face.

But why is only the Moon plundered of light?

Indeed, it is not wonderful.

Of course another light warms
those needing her light;
for when the nearest part of the cone begrudges it,
she badly hopes for the sky rays of her brother.

But the remaining choir of stars
is not touched by shadows,
and their brightness is their own,
nor are they reddened by the Sun.

Yet rush up to the lofty astral rays
far beyond the Sun; clear and bright,
it is dragged off,
attached to the vertex of the sky.

Besides, why would it not always be paled
by the orb every six months?
The curved passages come around
by a slanting track.

On the other hand, when by wandering,
the curved thing amasses twisted deviations
from what is fixed, the sun leaves the cone
beyond reach, and twists the robe of night,
and shines upon his sister.

These things are the reason for it:
where the red-gold brightness of the august Sun
is crushed by sudden shadows, lacking light,
Luna passes between Earth and Sun
with the nourishing wheel of her body,
protecting her brother from straight obstructions.

I’m not as sure about the translation of this part of the poem. I also haven’t read “De Natura Rerum,” so I’m not sure if St. Isidore touched on any of these topics. There are also various terms used for “curved” which have different connotations. So I’m not sure I get this entirely, although obviously Sisibut is inquiring about orbital mechanics, and why we can see anything at all during lunar eclipses at night.

The king and the bishop had sort of a frenemy relationship. Part was because Sisibut believed in just ordering his still-Arian Visigoths, and the local population of Spanish Jews, to convert or be forced. (Standard for your barbarian king, but not appreciated in a guy who presumably should know better. Sisibut didn’t get any sainthood attributions.) Part was because Sisibut was learned enough to fund Isidore’s book projects, and then to write reviews of them with his own sharp questions.

(When you are Isidore of Seville and probably the most learned man in Europe (except for your dead brother and the dead pope, Gregory the Great), you may have just a tad bit of alpha male pride to lose.)

Anyway, it’s a bit fun to see Sisibut alternating between scientific principles of astronomy and poetic conventions drawn from mythology. The Sun is Phoebus (Apollo), the Moon is his sister Phoebe (another name for Artemis as Selene). The chariot of Phoebe’s Moon is drawn by a team of pure white animals (Sisibut doesn’t make a choice between deer, crescent-horned oxen, or horses, just calling them “gelidos”). The Earth is Tellus.

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More Excerpts from King Sisibut’s Eclipse Poem

(Of course, at its nearest border, the aether separates the turbid
from the pure; the inviolate may pass through.)

But Tellus, with the shading cone of her vast body
(Which holds a middle axis deep within)
holds back the light of [the Moon’s] brother {the Sun];
moreover, she pales [the Moon] to uselessness,
as a star, until her swift wheel’s smooth shadow
should cross past [the Moon’s] threshold’s
heaped moundworks and, as a rotating mirror,
the freedwoman [Moon] renews his fraternal blazings
through the sky.

Which of course is exactly how a lunar eclipse works. The earth’s shadow does block the sun’s rays, and moonlight is just reflected sunlight.

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King Sisibut of the Visigoths: Excerpt from “On an Eclipse of the Moon.”

After receiving St. Isidore of Seville’s book De Natura Rerum (On the Nature of Things), which included an explanation of several lunar and solar eclipses in 611 and 612 (for the benefit of the people, and at King Sisibut’s urgent request), King Sisibut sent back a very interesting and learned Latin poem. (Possibly to show that he had read the book.) It’s called various things: “De Eclipsis,” “De Eclipsis Lunae,” and “Sisebuti Epistola: Ad Isidorum.”

Here’s the beginning, which gives some interesting insight into Visigoth mythology or legends still being alive among the people.

You, perhaps, in a sacred grove
slowly give birth to a wandering song
Among melodious springwaters
And musical breezes;
You pour forth a clear-flowing mind
with Pierian nectar.

But a confused mess of things
clouds up our heads,
And cares pursue with
thousands of sword-bearing soldiers.

Heralds crack the ear, law courts bark,
trumpets awaken,
And we are brought across the Ocean,
even as far as the snowy Basque-country
when it may hold,
nor does cringing Cantabria spare us.

Lo! what things you point out —
how they wreathe Phoebus’ hair with leafy ivy;
They would shade his rays
more reverently!

Lo! you may order one to fly about
through the enflaming aether!

But, o magus, as the calamity-eagles outran
the slow elephant-strength
And the tortoise, weakened by the Molossian flyer;
so we have followed the dew-spraying moon with our song.

Yet I, struggling under an earthborn burden,
will tell these things: why the curved circle
May bruise the tired orb dark red,
And why its snowy face’s glow may be wasted away.

It is not (as the people believe)
That totally hateful woman
Howling in the murky shadows
Of underworld caves,
Who draws it down with her high-roving mirror.

Nor has she conquered it with a charm,
Nor with Stygian dew, nor with earth-herbs
Does she attack with an air-cracking
and binding clang.

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St. Columbanus Refutes Genghis and Conan

What is best in the world?

To please one’s Maker.

St. Columbanus. Instructiones variae, “Instructio III: De sectando mundi contemptu et coelestium bonorum amore.” Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, vol. 80, 235.

UPDATE: St. Columbanus may be riffing off the philosopher Seneca, in his creepy Epistle LXX to Lucilius, on the topic of why suicide is a good plan if you’re a Stoic:

“Optima est, quae placet.”

The best [means of suicide] is what pleases [oneself].

If it really is a reference, it is pretty bold. It’s basically a big swipe at Seneca, turning his entire point on its head. We aren’t here to please ourselves and especially not in a destructive way; we should be trying to please God.

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St. Ephrem’s Dragons

St. Ephrem, Epiphany Hymn 8, verse 16:

“In the beginning, the Spirit of fruitfulness
brooded on the waters,
and they conceived and gave birth
to dragons, fish, and birds.
The Holy Spirit brooded on the waters of Baptism,
which gave birth to mystical eagles —
pure virgins and guides of the Church;
and mystical fish —
celibates and mediators, of course;
and mystical dragons —
those clever ones, of course,
who are made as simple as doves.”

This Syriac hymn takes advantage of both the Genesis translation of sea creatures as “dragons,” and the Greek notion that giant serpents are dragons.

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Heavenly Warrior Dragons

More good Christian dragons! This one is sort of a punishing one, however. It sounds like the Irish kenning of “dragon” for “great warrior” has crept into the story, and they’re talking about a warrior angel.

However, this is from the Vita S. Kannechi, the Life of St. Cainneach of Aghaboe. He was a busy guy — hung out with St. Columba, became famous in Scotland as St. Kenneth or St. Canice, and bopped around the continent a bit before coming home. This was pretty typical for a roaming pilgrim Irish monk back in the day. However, this life was written in the 8th century, so the dragon story is not necessarily anything contemporary to the guy. (The Life of Columba that mentions Cainneach is very contemporary, however.)

Vita S. Kannechi, c. 9:

“Therefore St. Cainneach promised to spend the future, his sepulture, and his resurrection in this offered city with the above-mentioned king. But having frequently visited the saint, the angel of God who had predicted his resurrection in Ireland, rebuked him for the incautious promise. So then St. Cainnech was in anguish, between his promise and the angel’s word.

“But the Lord, the True Judge, helped him. For a fiery dragon descended from Heaven and cut off the outside toe of St. Cainneach’s right foot. St. Cainneach left his toe there, fulfilling his promise; and obeying the angel’s word, he went back to Ireland. Indeed, this above-mentioned king was afterwards a wonderful man and a bishop.”

Only the Irish would link dragons and pinkie toes.

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St. Ammon’s Dragon Guards

St. Ammon or Amun was an early Christian monk who lived in Nitria, Egypt. He and his wife were forced into an arranged marriage while young. On their wedding night, they agreed to remain celibate together, and kept the vow for eighteen years. After that, they mutually consented to get away from their families’ plans: his wife keeping the house and inviting other vowed virgins to stay there, and him heading out to the desert to be a hermit. Other people heard of his holiness, and tons of other hermits camped out in his area, just as with the popular St. Anthony of Egypt. This caused St. Anthony to invent monasteries for men, and he passed the idea along to St. Ammon for keeping a dull roar among his several thousand hermits. It all went well, and his feast day is October 4.

In this story, we see a bit of the Greek “dragon = big python snake” and a bit of a more Western approach. We also learn that Egyptian desert dragons are scary, but not always bad, and that snakes listen better than people do (as St. Martin of Tours also complained).

Anyway, this story is from St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.):

I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it.

When he would have come to us, he refuted our faintheartedness and faithlessness. So arriving at his little cell, we rested, received by him with much love. Truly, he told us that in this place where he always stayed had been a certain holy man named Ammon, whose disciple he had been; through Ammon, the Lord had done many things of power. And so he told us this one, among others.

“Frequently,” he said, “thieves came to him, carrying off the bread from him which was the only thing he ate, and was what he stored for his most continent way of living. And when he had suffered this annoyance frequently, on a certain day he proceeded into the desert; and coming back from there, he ordered two huge dragons to accompany him; and then he ordered them to stay at his monastery door, and they went in and guarded him. The thieves came according to custom, and saw what the guards on the threshold were, so that the dragons saw them; and [the sight] made them unable to move or think; they lost the power to speak and they collapsed immediately. When the old man realized this, he went out and found the thieves half-dead, and coming near and rousing them, he rebuked them, saying, ‘You see how much stubborner you are than these beasts; for they obey us according to God, but you neither fear God nor go blush to disturb the life of God’s servants.’

“Nevertheless, bringing them into the cell, he set the table and asked that they take food. Truly, with pricked hearts and their whole minds, they turned away from brutality; in short, they did better than many who began to serve the Lord earlier. For they did such great penance that after a few seasons, they also could do the same signs and the same works of power [as Ammon].

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.**

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’*** And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.”

* Vipers: literally, “horned serpents,” a translation of the Greek “cerastes”. It all means “vipers.” There’s a specific species in Egypt that has little scales standing up above its eyes and looking like horns.

** Anointing him with oil: Presumably, oil of the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is plenty ancient.

*** “Who destroyed the great whale” — Isaiah 27:1. “In that day the Lord, with his hard and great and strong sword, shall visit Leviathan the bar serpent, and Leviathan the crooked serpent, and shall slay the whale that is in the sea.” Also, since Christ compared Himself to Jonah, and since He was in the belly of Sheol for three days and nights when He was dead, Hell is the “great whale,” and Hellmouth has often been portrayed looking like a stylized whale mouth, in pictures of Jesus leading out the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

There is such a thing as a Nubian Spitting Cobra and a Red Spitting Cobra, both of which are found in Egypt. Maybe that’s what’s meant by the poison breath?

Here’s a translation of all of The History of the Egyptian Monks. Unfortunately I didn’t find it until after I did mine!

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Filed under Bad Christian Dragons, Good Christian Dragons, Patristics, Saint Stories, Translations